Becoming A Story Genius

School’s out, which means I’m able to be more of a writer. This summer, as I revise my novel, I Feel For You, I’m studying how to be a story genius. The “textbook” I’m using is Story Genius: how to use brain science to go beyond outlining and write a riveting novel. 

According to author Lisa Cron, a story is basically “about how someone grapples with a problem they can’t avoid, and how they change in the process.” (pg. 30) Story is, therefore, the internal struggle and change–compared to plot, which is the external events. The book not only talks about why our brains crave story, but it also helps provide what the author calls “a blueprint” for your novel. The blueprint talked about in Story Genius “is not a general outline of the things that happen in the plot; it’s a fully realized synthesis of the internal and external layers of your story from beginning to end.”

Throughout the book there are sections the author calls What To Do.  I stop and work on those in my IFFY novel notebook — which is just a notebook (see above picture) where I put ideas, thoughts, diagrams, drawings, explanations… whatever has come up in the course of writing I Feel For You. For me, it is easier to allow imperfection when I write on paper. Something about switching to Scrivener (the writing software I use) makes it feel more like it has be to be… well, good. So I do the brainstorming on paper.

Story Genius would be great for those who have an idea, but haven’t started writing yet. I’m revising, but it is still helpful for that as well. The shitty first draft has been written, but I knew I needed to ratchet up the tension. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly sure how. Working through Lisa Cron’s book allows me to pin-point WHY the lack of tension, the absence of urgency–and it is also helping me know how to build that urgency into my manuscript.

I’m far from finished, but I definitely have a better handle on what my STORY is — and a blueprint for the plot events that need to happen to create that story.

Plot Revisions


Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an app for revisioning plot? Like a map app or something. I could certainly use it right about now, when I’ve been away from my novel for too long (Oh how I’ve missed you, dear Work In Progress!)


Plot Mapping App

Sadly, as far as I know, there isn’t such an app (If you know of one, please share!). However, I bought a couple of books that have helped me to create my own map–albeit, not nearly as fancy as the one pictured. My plot map looks more like scribbles on paper, but whenever I start to get lost, I can refer back to it. plan, a map or sorts, to show me where I am headed. I suppose there are those who map everything out from the beginning, but I didn’t know enough about this world to be able to do that in the first draft. However, in the 3rd…4th? draft, I’m glad to have something to look at when I’ve been away from the novel for any length of time (as I have of late).

So the books that have helped me map my plot are Story Structure Architect and The Writer’s Little Helper. story structure architect

Writers little helper

Both of these books have some great tips on how to set up the structure of your story. I relied on the Writer’s Little Helper to get me started and then used Story Structure Architect to flesh out my plot and sub-plots.

Here is a picture of what my plot map looks like (messy handwriting and all):



Stay Tuned for more info about how to develop (or revise) plot.

Happy writing!

Re-visioning for PLOT

Right now I’m in the middle of trying to re-vision the plot of my 3rd novel, I Feel For You

Revision - the precision part of writing.

Revision – the precision part of writing.

(IFFY). I’m using Scrivener – and really loving the corkboard part of it for visualizing. One thing I’ve been working on is adding information based on the book The Writer’s Little Helper (by James V. Smith) to the summary (what shows up on the corkboard).

I’m adding all the information on “The Scene Card” (page 114 of the 2006 ed.) So each summary tells:

  • who is in the scene,
  • what happens,
  • where and when it takes place
  • whether it is a master, major, or minor scene (as described in The Writer’s Little Helper, 42-43),
  • what the purpose of the scene is,
  • and finally the ratings on the ACIIDS intensity scale (pg.

This is what it looks like:

Scrivener's Corkboard

Scrivener’s Corkboard


Is it really necessary to go away to write?

Here I am again at writing camp heaven on big Glen Lake. I’m looking forward to a week of writing, sharing writing, and talking shop with other writers all hours of the day and night. What a fabulous way to get a good jump on a big re-write. And who wouldn’t be inspired by this view?

Writing Camp Heaven

When I talked to my husband about coming up here for a week to write, he pointed out that I could write at home. Which I can. But I also can (and do) cook, parent, clean, do laundry, take my mother-in-law to the doctor, answer the phone and shoo away telemarketers, cook some more, clean some more, garden, break up fights….. The list goes on. The great thing about coming up here to write–my MAIN job is to write. I only have to cook when and if I want to. I don’t clean other than to pick up after myself, and I certainly don’t do laundry or break up fights or any other of the multitude of things I have to do at home.

So yes, I can write at home. But it takes nerves of steel.

Tune in this week and see how my rewrite is coming along. Now however, I’m going to write.

Revision – Ways To Hear Your Writing Differently


Where I’m at in the writing process determines if I love revision or hate it. When I’m in the midst of revision–like I am now–I often hate it. Still, I’ve found a couple of things that help me gain a new “ear” for my writing, and therefore make it easier for me to know what needs to change.


1. My writing group.

Reading my story out loud helps me catch awkward sentences, repetitive language, lack

Hear Differently

of transitions, and other problems. But for some reason, when I read my writing out loud to my writing group, I hear it differently, and catch even more. Of course, another added bonus to reading to my writing group is that my group members (I really do have the best writing group ever) catch the stuff I don’t. In our group, everyone has a copy of the piece of writing. The author reads it out loud and then sits back and lets the other members discuss the piece. The chance to be the fly on the wall is a huge benefit to me as a writer. Did they get what I was trying to say? Did they get something totally different? Where were they confused? Where did they laugh? What did they like? Not only does my group help me know if my writing is “working”, but they inspire me to keep going.

2. Recording my writing

Audio Edito

Life gets pretty crazy, and though I want to write every day, I don’t always get the chance. The biggest drawback to this lack of daily writing is that the story gets too far away. Maybe those who write shorter pieces don’t have this problem, but trying to remember what happened three chapters ago in my novel when I haven’t written for a week or two, gets really difficult. One of the ways I deal with this is by recording my story and listening to it as I drive to and from work. Even better, I got my daughter to record it for me (not without it costing me, of course), so now I hear it as if it is someone else’s story, and that helps me to be more objective in my listening.  Not only can I keep the story going in my head, but I’m forced to listen to it without making changes. This may not always be good, but since I’m revising for plot right now, I don’t want to get caught up in the little details (which inevitably happens when I pull it up on the screen).

Audacity is a free audio editor and recorder that works on both PCs and Macs. I did have to download a free converter in order to convert the audio recording to mp3 so I could put

Cassette Tape
(an old audio medium)

it on my iTunes and move it to my iPod (which is what I use in my car–seeing as my car is old and only has a non-working cassette tape player–do people even know

what that is anymore?) The only other thing I purchased was a cheap microphone. It’s possible you could record with the built-in microphone, but it probably wouldn’t work as well.

Audacity open on computer

Audacity is pretty simple to use. I’m one of those “read directions only if I can’t figure it out” kind of people, so I just opened it up and got started. The red circle is record and the yellow square is stop. At first I read from a paper copy, but then I switched to split screen on the computer


Which looks like this:

Split Screen
Audacity and Scrivener

I do the actual recording in my closet (it’s a very small walk-in closet) because all the clothes prevent the echo or tinny effect that I get otherwise. And it also helps prevent other “noise” entering into the picture. (like the cat barfing or the kids fighting)



Once I’m done reading, I hit stop and then go to File and Export. I just put it on the

Export as MP3

desktop because I’m going to then import it into iTunes.







When I tell it to save, it allows me to put in some more information. This is really helpful when I pull it into iTunes, otherwise I have to try to find it.








When I open iTunes, I go up to File and click on Add to Library. Then I find my MP3 file on my desktop and add it. Kind of exciting to see it there!

My Story in iTunes








I move it to a playlist so I can listen to all the tracks in order, and then finally I can transfer it to my iPod.  Here is the first few paragraphs of my novel in progress, I Feel For You. (it is me reading (my daughter forbade me put her voice on the internet)–and I didn’t record it in my closet, sorry for the background noise.)  Valentine’s Day Storm