There are many aspects of being an author, but in the end, we are all looking to tell stories. Join us as we talk to Valerie Francis about The Story Nerd Podcast, a show centered around the concepts and theories surrounding storytelling.
The Story Nerd Podcast demystifies story theory so writers spend less time studying and more time writing. We’ll learn directly from host Valerie Francis about concepts that are common to all stories across film, television, novels and screenplays.
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Mark Lefebvre, Valerie Francis, Kevin Tumlinson
Mark Lefebvre 00:03
Hello, and welcome to Self-Publishing Insiders Draft2Digital live. I am the Draft2Digital part of this. My name is Mark Leslie Lefebvre. And I am honored to have a fellow Canadian in the virtual Draft2Digital Studios with me, Valerie Francis. Welcome, Valerie. Welcome.
Valerie Francis 00:22
Thank you, Mark. Thanks for having me.
Mark Lefebvre 00:24
So before we get into Story Nerd, the podcast and story theory and all that stuff, let’s let listeners know, viewers know a little bit about your background as a writer, as an editor, etc.
Valerie Francis 00:38
Okay, well, I started, my first book came out in 2015. And then I followed another one up in 2016. And at the time of my second book, that’s when I discovered the Story Grid. And before that, I had been trying to find out, how do I write stories that work? In my first novel, I would write a scene and sometimes it felt good. And other times my spidey senses were tingling, and I had no idea why. So thanks to the Story Grid method, I was able to sort of demystify story theory. I was able to crack the code and I eventually went on to become a certified storyboard editor. And I still am, I’m still a novelist, working on my third novel now. Now, however, my studies are branching further than Story Grid. And yeah, so that’s me. I’m a total story nerd, the more chances I have to talk about stories and story theory, the happier I am.
Mark Lefebvre 01:37
Oh, my goodness, that’s exciting. You also shortchanged yourself a little bit in terms of talking about your own writing. Because I have to admit, I am a fan. I want to quickly give props, this is a beautiful hardcover version of this, I call it a sort of a thriller romance. Masquerade. Can you talk a little bit about Masquerade? Why I’m not [inaudible].
Valerie Francis 02:04
Your video has been freezing. So I don’t know what you just asked me. You said, can you talk? I’ll just go ahead and talk about Masquerade.
Mark Lefebvre 02:14
You talk about Masquerade, and we’ll see. So I asked a question about Masquerade for those, if the audio didn’t come through properly.
Valerie Francis 02:27
Okay, so this is my second book. And it is a steamy romance. If you like the Netflix version of Bridgerton, you’ll like Masquerade. Open door romance is another way of describing it. And this is the book that I was working on when I discovered Story Grid. And at the time, the Story Grid method was completely overwhelming. You know, I read the book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, and I thought, okay, this is good stuff. If I can just figure it out, I might be able to build a career. And so what I did was just take one, just one lesson from story theory. And I used the whole novel as an exercise in perfecting that one concept. And Masquerade has now sold in 46 countries. And Mark, you and I have discussed my marketing about Masquerade. I’ve done some marketing, but I haven’t gotten crazy with it. I haven’t spent thousands and thousands of dollars on Facebook ads. I spent a couple of hundred dollars on Facebook and Instagram ads. And I did a couple of newsletter promotions. That’s all. So it’s now sold in, yeah, all over the world.
Mark Lefebvre 03:42
Wow, that is awesome. Congratulations. And I wanted to get into now, I guess the Story Nerd podcast and you and Melanie, and why you launched this podcast and what it’s about.
Valerie Francis 03:57
The Story Nerd podcast, our newest venture, our baby, we’re having a total blast on this podcast. So Melanie is also a certified Story Grid editor and she is also an author. She started out as my client actually, that’s how I first met her. One of the hardest working women I’ve ever met, I have to add. And I used to do the Story Grid Editor Roundtable podcast. I did that for three years. And that came to an end. But ever since it ended, I would get messages, emails, social media comments, from writers who said that they really missed that show. And they want it back and could we do it again? Now I’m game for it. Because listen, I love an open mic. That’s all I really need is an open mic and I’m happy to talk forever. But it’s the kind of show that you really need someone to do it with you, because you know, otherwise it’s just a big monologue and that’s kind of dull. So eventually Melanie said, hey, I’d love to do that with you. It sounds fun. So we started, it launched a month and a half ago. And the whole point of it is to help writers demystify story theory. Because Melania and I, Melanie Hill, she’s in Australia, that’s why she’s not here with us today, because she is sound asleep at this hour.
Mark Lefebvre 05:17
Hopefully having a nice peaceful sleep, knowing we’re talking about her.
Valerie Francis 05:21
That’s right. We talk with writers all of the time. You know, I’m talking to writers in Canada, of course, in the US and the UK, Australia and New Zealand, I’ve had clients in Spain, in Germany, everywhere. And we kind of get the same feedback over and over. Writers want to write better stories, they want to be able to have a living as an author. And story theory kind of sounds good. But they open up a story theory book and have no idea what the person is talking about. And so they put that aside, and they pick up another book, and then that’s saying something different altogether. It’s completely confusing. Melanie and I have been there, trust me, I’ve been there, and so has she. And so what our mandate is, what our mission is on Story Nerd, is to help shepherd writers through this maze of story theory, so that it’s less daunting. Because it really, it’s not that hard. There are a limited number of concepts. Hallelujah! At first it feels like there’s thousands and thousands of concepts, and you’ll never figure it out. And, you know, I would get to the point where I’d think, no, no, my brain is full, I can’t, I just can’t take anything else in. And then there’s something else to learn? That’s how it feels initially, and we get it. So we want to be able to help writers get over that total feeling of overwhelm and that feeling that makes them just say, forget it, I don’t need theory, I’m just going to toss it out the window and do my own thing. So we want to explain it in plain language terms. One of the big challenges that we have as writers, and that story theory has, is that there’s no common language, ironically enough, to discuss the different concepts. Because all the different theorists, they’ve kind of learned it as they’ve gone along. And they’ve described things to the best of their ability. But there’s no school that we can go to, there’s no standards, like if we were accountants, for argument’s sake, it doesn’t matter where we would study accounting in the world, we’d all have the same understanding of what a debit is, and what a credit is, and what a balance sheet is, we’d have generally accepted accounting principles that we’d have to adhere to. As writers, we don’t have that. So just the term genre, for instance, is fraught with anxiety and confusion, because there’s always a different understanding of what genre is. One of them isn’t right and one of them isn’t wrong. We just need to understand that they’re looking at the same concept from a whole bunch of angles. So that’s something that Melanie and I are trying to do. Season one, which is just finishing up now, it’s all about genre. Season two, which was, we recorded the first episode tonight, and it’ll come out in a few weeks. Season two, I’m looking at a concept called the hero’s gift expressed. And Melanie is looking at forces of antagonism. So we’re studying 10 films in a season, tackling it from a particular perspective. And sometimes we find a film that’s a good example of something else that wasn’t on our list of things that we plan to talk about. We’ll just sort of do a little go off in a little sidetrack, and explain that so that listeners can file that away. Even if they’re not ready to use that concept, they’re like, ah, okay. Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a really good example of character development. Great. I’ll come back and I’ll watch that film again when I’m ready to do character development. Make sense?
Mark Lefebvre 09:13
Oh, my God. I love that. I love that. Now, I do want to just remind folks, you can leave comments, we’ll pop up questions towards the end. I see there’s already some great questions. Also, this comment from Randall, who said, “The Story Grid Roundtable podcast was so awesome, really miss it.” I’m gonna say Randall, well then you got to jump in on the Story Nerd podcast, right Val?
Valerie Francis 09:34
Absolutely. I think he probably already does. Hi, Randy.
Mark Lefebvre 09:39
So I want to get into this. So one of the challenges, I mean, I’ve been a fan of the podcast and trying to understand the concept of Story Grid and Story Theory and stuff like that. And I haven’t listened to every podcast of season one yet because there are spoilers. So I’ve only listened to the episodes of the movies I’ve seen. So for example, Rogue One. I think that was the first episode. Right? Oh, Rogue One came out this week, sorry. I’m looking at it backwards. Rogue One was the most recent one. And then I think there was an earlier one. And then I do you have a bone to pick with you in this question …
Valerie Francis 10:21
You’re not the first, Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 10:25
But I think this is important, because I think there’s an underlying message for people. The cartoon that was released on the Disney Channel earlier this year, Turning Red, which I adored, I thought it was amazing, maybe because it was Canadian. There was girl power in it and there was all kinds of elements to it, and watching the sort of all female production in the directors and the writers and all that working behind the scenes. I just thought it was awesomeness defined. And then I was listening to you and Melanie talk about the story. Now, not that it ruined it for me, because I still think it’s a great movie, and I still love it. But you spotlit things I didn’t even think about. Like, there were some underlying messages that were oh, oh, that’s not good. That’s not a positive message. That’s a stereotype or whatever. Like, can you talk a little bit about how you guys … And I love that you both had different takes on it as well.
Valerie Francis 11:26
Yeah. So it’s almost a job hazard. But we have such a cool job that this is the type of hazard I can live with. As writers, we all come into this business because we love stories. We love to watch movies, we love to read novels. We’re just story nerds, right? Yeah, that’s why we’re here. But we come at it as fans of stories. And that’s great. But as soon as we decide that we want to become a writer, we got to get up from the reader side of the table and walk around and sit at the table as a writer and see stories as a writer sees stories. So that means that, like for films, for example, and we did Turning Red for you because you had asked. And I think in Season Three, we’ll do The Princess Bride for you, because you asked for that one as well. That’s William Goldman. That’s a safe bet that that one’s working. So we did Turning Red for you. And after I watched it, I thought, oh, I’m gonna make an enemy. I’m not going to be popular. Eh, I’ve been there before. Because with films in particular, and Rogue One is another example. Dune coming up later, it’s the last episode of the season, is going to be another example. Top Gun Maverick. Another episode. When we go to films, and filmmakers have a lot more tools at their disposal than novelists do or screenwriters do. They have access to a cast first of all, so you have all that talent from actors and people’s favorite stars. They’ve got professional musicians creating amazing soundtracks. They’ve got costume designers, they’ve got CGI. We have words on a page and our reader’s imagination. That’s it baby, that’s all we have. So naturally, I mean, let’s look at Top Gun Maverick, for example. There’s very little story. It’s like rice paper thin, that story. But Tom Cruise, to give credit where credit is due, he knows how to make a movie that will get people out to the theaters. And that was his job. So this is why in North America anyway, before the film, Tom Cruise comes on the screen and talks about how the flying sequences are real. The actors learned how to do this. They’re actually flying the planes, no CGI here. Big selling point, huge selling point. And the movie is grossing all kinds of … It’s I think the biggest highest grossing movie of his career. Okay, that’s great. As a writer, we’re going to strip all that away. You know, my daughter went to see Top Gun Maverick again last night for her second time. Had nothing to do with Tom Cruise with the flying sequences, had everything to do with the shirtless Miles Teller, I’m telling you, right now, that’s what she wanted to see. But that’s what gets people out to watch, right? As the writers we got to take all that away. We don’t have Miles Teller, we don’t have Tom Cruise. We don’t have real aircraft. All we have is the story. So we get rid of the soundtrack and all the nostalgia. What we do have is world building. And in a story like that, or Rogue One, or Dune, we use the writing craft to create a world that readers want to come back and visit over and over and over again. So that’s the hazard that we look at films, films in particular, but also novels. We look at it and we see the story for what it is, like the craft of writing for what it is. And often, especially if it’s a heavy CGI movie, there’s not a lot of story to it. But there’s lots of exceptions and Guardians of the Galaxy is an exception. That is a really well written story. Plus it’s, you know, super cool, and lots of fun music and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, so when we’re watching films, and the reason we do films on the podcast is because stories have the same high level structure, it doesn’t matter what the medium is, it doesn’t matter if it’s a film, or a long form television show or a novel or stage play. It’s the same high level story structure. So we can watch a film a week and talk about the big story concepts. There’s no way Melanie and I would ever be able to read and analyze a novel every week and do a podcast about it. And our listeners wouldn’t be able to read that many books and keep up with us either. So that’s why we’re talking about films every week and focusing on those high level story structures. But you know what? It’s okay. If you look at a film, like Rogue One, for example, which is the episode that came out this week, there’s some plot holes in it. There are. Was it fun to see C3PO and R2D2? Oh, yeah, yeah, it was, it was fun to be in that world. 100%. And sometimes I think, you know, I sound awfully cranky, criticizing these movies. And I don’t mean to be but I’m just having, I’m looking at it through a very narrow lens of just the story. So for example, with Rogue One, Jin, who is the protagonist, the female protagonist in a sci fi movie, awesome. But she is passive until the second half of the movie. And one of the storytelling principles, a foundational principle is that your protagonist needs to be active. They have to have an active object of desire or a goal. You know, when the story starts, there’s something that they want to accomplish, you know, they want to get the girl or they want to get the guy or they want to save the kid, or the whatever they’re trying to do. They’re actively pursuing it right out of the gate. Because there’s so much Star Wars goodness to soak up in that movie that a viewer watching the movie just once through can get lost in you know, like, the great sound effects of the spaceships flying and that kind of stuff. But if you strip that away and look at the movie, you realize, you know, I was really kind of caught up in all those great, strange, wonderful and weird creatures. And K2SO is cracking me up. But I’m not really emotionally attached to the protagonist, I don’t have any empathy. That means that the reader isn’t hooked or the viewer isn’t hooked. That’s what it means to hook your reader is to get them emotionally involved in the story. And there are tactics to do that. It’s not a mystery. There are people who have figured out how to do it. And it’s in a whole bunch of different theory books, they’re all looking at it a little differently. So Melanie and I are looking at all the different approaches to it, and explaining it in real plain language using an example of the film of the week.
Mark Lefebvre 18:34
I love that. And I think one of the other things is, not just for you and Melanie, is, yeah, of course, you can read the books, and you can break down the books and stuff like that. But you want your viewers or listeners to have seen the film. And you can watch a film in two hours, you can watch, maybe if it’s an episode of a TV show, or something that’s an hour or whatever. So you can watch it quickly, a lot more quickly than most people can read. Although there are there are blessed readers who read really, really fast, but I’m not one of them. So what that means is like, if I want to learn about one of the episodes in this season, okay, they’re gonna be talking about this. I’m gonna go watch it. And then I’m going to listen to what they have to say. And then it’s fresh in my mind. And as a writer, I can go yeah, whether or not I enjoyed the film or love the actors or the directing any of the things that they did, the cinematography. I’m going to focus on why did this resonate with me as a watcher potentially, and how can I do that as a writer?
Valerie Francis 19:36
Yeah, exactly. Now, what we’re trying to do when we’re choosing our films is to have a real mix. So in Season One, we kind of did more recent movies. In Season Two, okay, so here’s, Season Two kicks off with Legally Blonde. We’ve also got The Matrix. We’ve also got Guardians of the Galaxy. A Few Good Men.
Mark Lefebvre 20:01
And across genre too, right? So I love that. It’s not just one type of film.
Valerie Francis 20:07
It’s really important to us that we’re hitting all the genres and being as broad as we can, because our listeners are writing in all the genres. And one of the things that we have to start to do as writers is we have to consume stories actively, consistently, widely and deeply. So it’s a whole new skill. So this is one of the things I love about having someone else on the show with me. Melanie is picking films that I might not have ever even heard of. We had this on the Roundtable podcast, too. There were some films I’d never heard of them before. So it was really fun to watch a totally different genre film so that we could see how the principles of storytelling are applying to it. So that’s what we’re trying to do. And you talked about people who can read really quickly, I’m one of them. But since becoming a writer, my reading has slowed down a lot. The reason, I’m reading more actively. I mean, it’s doesn’t take any trouble just to flip through a book and generally pick up the story, or listen to an audiobook while you’re also cleaning out the garage. You’re then picking up just the high level story and the plot points, right? And that’s great. I still do that. Sometimes. I mean, listen, no housework would get done at all in this place if it wasn’t for audiobooks. But when I have my writer hat on, I read slowly, I might go through the book once and just decide, okay, there’s a lot of stuff in there. That’s really good. I want to go back. And I’ll go back and I’ll read the book again, much slower this time, with a pen and post it notes and a notepad. Or I might see a passage in a book. And I’ll highlight it, which I know sounds like a crime to some people that I write in novels. I do. I do. And they’re dog-eared and they’ve been through the war by the time I’m finished with it. Well-loved, exactly. Because I’m learning things from it that I can apply to my own story. Like, oh, that’s how they introduced that. Like, for example, in my current novel that I’m writing, Immortal. It’s a supernatural vampire thriller. But when I started working on it, I thought, well, how do they introduce the supernatural in a story? I mean, I’ve read tons of supernatural, but how do they do it? So I just read, you know, I went to the bookshelf and pulled off a bunch of novels that I like, and I just read the first half dozen chapters. Just okay, how are they doing it? How are they doing it? Rosemary’s Baby blew my mind. It’s simply talking about a door in the apartment. I thought, oh, that’s so cool. In Rosemary’s Baby, I think it’s the first chapter even, they’re going to look at an apartment. And the apartment, if memory serves, is empty except for this armoire, which is against a door, it’s blocking off a door. And so the woman says, you know, that’s kind of strange. Why you blocking off a closet, like, that doesn’t make any sense. And I can’t, it’s been a few years since I read it. So I’m sort of fuzzy on the details. But we know, by the end of that scene, that the door, the armoire is in front of the door because like the boogeyman is back there, like there’s something back there that should not get out.
Mark Lefebvre 23:52
Okay. And that was such a subtle way to show it, right?
Valerie Francis 23:57
Right. Nosferatu, which is Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son. He named his son Joe King. I mean, does the guy have a sense of humor or what? In Nosferatu, again I think it’s in the first chapter. He actually describes Nosferatu as like an old guy in a bed, in I think it’s a nursing home. Again, it’s been a few years. Ann Rice, one of my all-time favorites, Interview with the Vampire. He introduces himself as a vampire. Like, okay, all right. So the lesson I learned, the broader lesson I learned, is that your reader will go with you, whatever world it is you’re trying to create. Your reader will go with you. But you need to tell them what kind of world they’re entering. And then whatever, and this ties into world building, which we’re talking a lot about in Rogue One, this week’s episode. Whatever rules it is you set up for your world, whatever … You know, if it’s a supernatural world, it’s a supernatural world. If it isn’t, then it isn’t. You have to respect that. You can’t suddenly whip some crazy thing out at the end of the book that is destabilizing. Even in Harry Potter, where they have magic, there’s limits to the magic, right? So JK Rowling couldn’t suddenly then, in book seven, make the magic do something that it doesn’t do just to get herself out of a jam. Because the reader would have cried foul pretty quickly, of course, so your reader will go with you. If you know how to set up the beginning of your story, one of the things that you’re doing is gently but clearly explaining to your reader, this is the kind of story I’m going to tell you. Haunting of Hill House, the same thing. You get the creeps right from page one, it’s great.
Mark Lefebvre 25:56
So there was that other element, and I think you said you’re gonna focus on it in Season Two. And that, was it the hero’s gift fulfilled?
Valerie Francis 26:03
The hero’s gift expressed. Yeah.
Mark Lefebvre 26:07
Sorry. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that, maybe give us a hint of what that means and where someone might see it in a story?
Valerie Francis 26:17
Oh, yeah, for sure. So think of the gift as the character’s superpower. Now, this might take you a little while to think about and to identify as you watch movies. And you may or may not have already identified it in for the main character of the book you’re working on right now. But it’s really worth spending some time thinking about, because if you set it up properly at the beginning, then it makes your ending sing. It makes it really enjoyable for the reader. And this is a marketing 101 concept, is that your customer will remember the last interaction they had with your service or product. So for us, it’s a book. So they’re going to remember the ending, it doesn’t matter what came before. If the ending doesn’t satisfy, they’re not going to recommend your book to anybody. And this is a word of mouth industry. So this concept of the hero’s gift expressed is one of the things that sets up that really satisfying ending that will encourage your reader to tell their friends because it’s so good that they have to tell their friend about your book so that your friend reads it, and then they can talk about it. Right. That’s how it works. So the gift is a superpower. It’s something that your character can do that nobody else can do. They might, there might be other people in the fictional world that come close, but your character is better at it than anybody else. That’s set up early, early, early in the book. I’m just trying to think of an example. Well, okay, I will give you Legally Blonde, since we’re about to record it tonight. And so I will scoop myself but that’s okay. Legally Blonde, you kind of think of that as a story that, it’s kind of fun. It’s kind of like meh, whatever. You know, it’s just a little bit of fun. Legally Blonde, structurally, from a storytelling perspective, is rock solid, rock solid. Right in the second scene, it’s in the first five minutes. So that would be, you know, the first say five pages to 10 pages for a novelist. In other words, what you would submit to an agent if you were trying to get an agent, or what the reader would see in the free preview if you publish independently, like you know, directly through Draft2Digital, for example.
Mark Lefebvre 28:47
Yeah, you could do that.
Valerie Francis 28:50
So Elle Woods, her superpower is she has an unbelievable knowledge of fashion and beauty. And it’s that’s in like minute, I think it’s like four minutes 30 seconds where it’s set up and we see that there’s all these sorority girls and they all clearly know fashion, they know how to do their hair, they know how to do their makeup and put an outfit together. But she stands head and shoulders above the rest. Why do we know that? Because she’s out shopping for a dress that she wants to wear to a special dinner with her boyfriend, because she thinks her boyfriend Warner is going to propose, so she wants to have a new outfit. The saleswoman looks at her and says something like, you know, I love it when I see a dumb blonde with daddy’s money. And she rips off the sale tag and brings this dress over to Elle to sell it to her at full price. Well Elle traps her in a question immediately, asks her about the fabric, asks her about the stitching. Elle knows that that stitching cannot be used with that fabric so she clearly knows more about it than the salesperson. And she knows it’s an old dress because it was from last year’s Vogue or something like that. So right in the first five minutes, we see that Elle knows more about this than the average bear. Then it’s built upon throughout the whole film. And at the very end of the film, when the stakes are the highest for Elle, she’s trying a legal case as a law student, a first year law student. I mean, yes, I’ll just go ahead and spoil it, because we’ve all seen Legally Blonde by now. At the very end of the movie, Elle is trying this case, and it’s a murder trial. And she has the victim’s daughter on the stand who is saying that the stepmother, Elle’s client, killed the dad. Okay, great. Elle knows that the stepdaughter is lying because she said she was in the shower washing her hair, yet she had a perm that day. And you cannot wash your hair for at least 24 hours after having a perm. Otherwise, you will lose your curls. And the stepdaughter has big curls. So it’s her knowledge of fashion, because fashion comes in a little earlier in the movie, right? And beauty and the whole industry and the people for whom fashion and beauty are important. It’s her knowledge of all that, that makes her win the case at the end of the day. And we love that Elle wins that case, she’s a total underdog and we are there with her. Everyone is against Elle. We love that the fact that she knows you can’t wash her hair for at least 24 hours after having a perm is the thing that got her client off a murder charge. Come on, how great is that?
Mark Lefebvre 31:44
But what I love is it’s plain. It’s very obvious. It’s in plain view the entire movie. And it also is something that potentially people would think is a “useless skill” potentially. But actually right? Like, it’s not heart surgery. It’s not understanding of some legal statutes or anything like that. And yet it becomes her superpower that she uses to win.
Valerie Francis 32:05
Yes, yeah. So when you’re writing your own novel, you know you’re going to get to a point where your character, your hero, your protagonist, is at what’s called on an “all is lost” moment, a dark night of the soul. They are, everything looks hopeless, it looks like they are never going to achieve what they set out to do. If you observe people watching a movie, like next time you sit down with your family to watch a movie, look at the other people in the room. This is the moment in the film where they sit forward, or they go, oh my God, what’s going to happen? Like, I can’t believe this. They might even shift around in their seat, sit on their feet, jump up and down. Like this is the point where it’s like, oh, I can’t handle it. That’s the all is lost moment. It’s really dark. And when you’re writing, you’re going to put your own character in that position. But then you got to get your character out of that position. So how are you going to get them out of that position? Well, the character realizes that they have to change, and they’re going to draw upon their gift. Katniss Everdeen, what’s her gift? It’s not actually archery, it’s her empathy. Right? She self-sacrifices for her sister. And this is at the end what makes her, and she’s very intelligent. What makes her win the day. She outsmarts the villain by saying, neither of us will win. That will really screw them over. Because she doesn’t want to kill Peeta. That’s empathy again. That’s what saving the day for her. We saw it at the beginning. We saw her relationship with Rue. You know, this is why when we get to the end, it’s surprising yet inevitable. Right? That’s Mamet, David Mamet. That’s what he says. It’s surprising, because we’re not expecting Katniss to say we’ll both take the poison berries, and we’ll both die, and then that’ll screw them up. Well, that’s a curveball, we’re not expecting that. But it’s inevitable given what we know about Katniss, what has been set up about Katniss, right? So this is just one small concept. If this is the only thing that a writer chooses to focus on, and it’s really good just to focus on one concept at a time and incorporate that into your writing. And then in your next novel, you can maybe put in two or three, just build as you go. But if you only take one concept and put that into your story, all of a sudden, your story, if your writing level is here, all of a sudden, you take a quantum leap. With just one story principle. How cool is this Mark? Like, this is why Melanie and I are like, we have to make sure people understand it’s not that scary. What can we do? What can we do?
Mark Lefebvre 35:14
Oh, that is fantastic. So I want to get into some of the questions from viewers. So I’m going to start off with this one from Randall. Randall says, “Valerie, how can a newbie to Story Grid get to the point of using it when self-editing their personal work?”
Valerie Francis 35:31
Well, thanks, Randy, that’s a great question. Just exactly what I said, take one concept at a time. Like there’s, there’s only two ways in my opinion, to really get a good look at your manuscript. You can put it in a drawer for a little while, a week even, and get a little perspective from it. Or you can give it to someone else who knows what they’re doing to look at it for you, those are the only two ways that I know how to do it. So if you’re gonna do it yourself, you kind of gotta have a little bit of distance from it. But then read through, read your manuscript through just looking at one principle. Like, when I wrote Masquerade, it was what Story Grid calls the five commandments at the scene level, because there are, the stories have nested a nested structure, and whatever it was, the whole thing overwhelmed me. But I looked at this this thing called the five commandments. And I said, oh, I think I understand that. I think I might be able to do something with that. So I just wrote scene after scene, just trying to get the five commandments working. And my book is now sold all over the world.
Mark Lefebvre 36:33
And sold to people like me who are not your target audience, and yet I loved it to death, thought it was fantastic.
Valerie Francis 36:39
And you have voluntarily spread the word about it. You’ve given it as a gift. I haven’t asked you to do that.
Mark Lefebvre 36:46
No, no, I’ve given it as a gift because like, gorgeous hardcover, and there’s just so much. And then just, I just got a loan to copy to a friend. And she raved about it. I thought it was amazing. She just couldn’t, well she had to put it down, she had to go to sleep. But she didn’t want to put it down at the end of every night.
Valerie Francis 37:05
And she posted about it on social media. And the only reason I know that is because when you reply to her, you tagged me in it. Oh, that’s right. So this is this is what happens, you get to the end of the story. And it’s like, ah, I have to tell … I know who would really love this, or so and so has a birthday coming up. She would love this book. That’s how it works. If people remember nothing else from this interview. remember that story theory is not as scary as it sounds. And on the Story Nerd Podcast, we’re going to help explain it to you as clearly as we can, so that you can write better stories and earn a living as a writer.
Mark Lefebvre 37:44
Good stuff. Awesome. So I’m going to bring up a question from Julie. And Julie asks, do you think taking a professional lesson is the key to getting over that intimidating learning curve for the Story Grid? Trying to learn it from a book is just totally mystifying.
Valerie Francis 38:01
Julie, another great question. I don’t know if you subscribe to Seth Goden’s blog, but his email today was about exactly this thing. Yes, I think getting a Story Grid editor to help you over that initial hump, if nothing else, is an investment in your career. Because it is, it’s a lot to take in. It’s like drinking out of a firehose, I understand that. I had to hire someone to help me understand it. And I had to hire Shawn Coyne. It was really expensive. He’s not cheap. He’s wonderful. He has demonstrated a whole lot of patience. But there’s only one of him, which is why he’s certified a bunch of us so that, you know, we can sort of spread the word. It will be faster, it will be cheaper, it will be easier. And Seth’s point this morning was that whenever we’re deciding to make a purchase or not, we tend to look at the initial upfront cost. And he used getting a puppy as an example. Initially, one dog like a purebred might cost more than a rescue. But after that, it’s all the same. You can’t forget that no matter what the dog is, it’s got to eat, it’s got to go to the vet. So in there’s going to be an investment in time and money. Social media doesn’t cost anything to create a Twitter account. But there’s a huge investment in time and effort. So as writers, you know, there’s two ways to learn: implicitly or explicitly. Implicitly would be spending 20 years reading every book you can get your hand on, and then spending another 10 or 15 years just trying to write things and seeing, you know, throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks. Or you can take six months, a year. Sit down with a Story Grid certified editor. Like when I work with people I do it in six month blocks, which sounds overwhelming initially, but it flies by. And we dig into this theory and I work with clients from where they are, answering their specific questions about theory, but applying it to their specific novel, given where they are in their writer’s journey, because we all start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where you start, it really doesn’t. Just dive in and get going. So the short answer to your question, Julie, is, yes, it’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s less frustrating. And it’s a lot more fun. Hire an editor. That’s what I think.
Mark Lefebvre 40:28
Thank you. Another question from Randall, and we’re gonna pop that up here on the screen. So Randall says, “So if we’re writing in a specific genre, we need to read deeply. Read a lot of masterworks, so to speak. A writer should really understand the key scenes of the genre?”
Valerie Francis 40:45
Yeah, so there’s two things to think about. There’s what structure you want your story to be. Most stories are called an arc plot structure, which is also called a classical structure or the hero’s journey. It’s what we think of when we think of what a story is, okay? So there are things that that needs to do. But then there are things that a particular genre needs to do to make it that genre. If you’re writing a love story, the lovers have to meet. At some point, they’re going to have an argument and break up. At some point, they’re either going to get back together or not. There are going to be some characters in the story who really want the lovers to get together, there are going to be some characters who want them to stay apart. There’s always a secret, one or both of the lovers has a secret that they’re keeping from each other. And when that secret’s revealed, that’s what usually causes the breakup, that kind of stuff. And when you read deeply within your genre, you get to see what these are. It’s really cool. Because sub genres will also have them. So if you’re used to, like, vampire fiction has its things. You got to see the vampires hunting. Otherwise, what’s the point? We’re reading, we want that scene. We don’t need it a lot of times, but we need it at least once, because it helps establish the world and all that good stuff. So yes, start by reading really deeply in the genre that you want to write in. And then if you’re trying to innovate your genre, start reading other genres, because story has the same form, no matter which medium it is, and no matter which genre it is. So you’ll get, if you’re writing love stories, you might get a great idea from a Western of all things, or science fiction, or an action story, or it’s really cool. It’s really cool. And if you want to blend genres, you must study The Power of the Dog, which is next week’s episode on the Story Nerd podcast.
Mark Lefebvre 42:51
Awesome. Okay, so we got this from Elyssa, she said, you mentioned that your books look like they’ve been through war, you have to mark them up. What kind of things do you mark, she asks. What kind of notes should we take when we read deeply?
Valerie Francis 43:08
I love this question. Thank you, Elyssa. I would start by picking a concept that you want to know more about, and read the book for that concept. So if you want to just look at the act breakdown, you know, all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Okay. Aristotle told us that. Modern stories tend to break that middle into two parts. So that gives us four acts. So you might just read the novel, finding where those act breaks are. That’s kind of the first thing I do. And then I put post it notes, so I can easily find what I’m looking for. I might want to see how they handle flashback. So I’ll just read for the flashback. I might want to really examine the point of view. So I’ll just read for the point of view. Or I want to see how dialogue is being handled. So I’ll just read for dialogue. So pick one aspect of storytelling theory and read for just that, and only when, you might … And if it’s a really great book, like Gone Girl, you might read that thing a half dozen times and see something different every single time. You might just want to find the climax of the whole book and see how it’s being set up. I hope that helps.
Mark Lefebvre 44:36
Thank you so much. So we are getting close to the wrapping up. Valerie, can you please let listeners know where they can find you online, where they can find Story Nerd podcast?
Valerie Francis 44:47
Absolutely. Well, you can find the Story Nerd podcast, Mark has it up on the screen now. That’s storynerd.simplecast.com. Come and subscribe and listen and have fun with us every week. And you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @Valerie_Francis.
Mark Lefebvre 45:03
Awesome. Valerie, I want to thank you again so much for spending the time with me today. Thanks to the listeners, the live viewers who are asking some great questions. You can find more great content over at draft2digital.com/blog. And you can also get some tips for, if you’re looking for promotions as authors, d2d.tips/d2dpromoform. There’s other great things you can do, you can subscribe to us. You can even follow us on Tik Tok, d2d.tips/tiktok. And last but not least, I’m going to close with his great video that Kevin Tumlinson put together about the Draft2Digital Print beta, which you as an author can get involved in. So Valerie, thanks again for hanging out with me this afternoon.
Valerie Francis 45:46
You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me. Bye, everyone.
Kevin Tumlinson 45:50
It looks great. But there’s just something about having your words in print. Something you can hold in your hands put on a shelf sign for a reader. That’s why we created D to D print a print on demand service that was built for you. We have free beautiful templates to give you a book a pro look, and we can even convert your ebook cover into a full wraparound cover for print. So many options for you and your books. And you can get started right now when you sign up at drafted digital.com/print Beta