Become a Manuscript Whisperer

You’ve seen those strange shows. Reality tv aimed at getting your pet/horse/strange Japanese youtube character to follow some unspoken direction. Creating a cohesive whole – otherwise known as story design – is a lot like getting some animal to animate in convincingly human terms.

‘Writing’ is ‘what I did on my summer vacation/personal fantasy on the train’ – but ‘Story Design’ is laying the bricks of a very rugged and methodical oven. It’s so unlike initial creative instincts to ‘just write’ – because it’s practically antimatter by comparison. It’s supposed to invisibly hold everything together, creating a speed and direction that seems like magic to the outside observer.

Writer’s Myth # 1:

Writers come up with a what-if and that becomes the premise of the story, right?

You’d think, but not from what I’ve seen. New writers get zapped with what-ifs meant to drive the dialog, but they usually end up being the arc of a specific scene, which will echo by and then be recorded. The larger story design has yet to materialize.

Which brings us to the tools of Manuscript Whispering…

Manuscript Whispering Step 1: The Notebook that Never Was

Keep the smallest moleskin possible on your body at all times. You are diabetic, and that notebook is the antidote. Be subtle if you need to, make it an address book, etc. but you need that notebook more than your laptop, keys or the litany of other usual suspects in distracting devices.

When some what-if story idea appears, one you really feel strongly would be a good story, write it down. You’ll know when it’s the right kind of thought bubble. It will demand your pen immediately. But before you set your pen down afterwards, write down whatever the characters would do or say in that situation in order to…

A. PHYSICALLY and EMOTIONALLY *GET* to that scene…
B. REACT after it happens… (and with who?)

You will naturally come to the end of the scene using these before/after prompts, and what’s more, you’re creating cohesive, self-contained units of story building blocks that don’t depend on you knowing the end of the entire story arc to constructively develop on their own.

Other uses for your Whisperings:

a. character names
b. ironically juxtaposed character profiles
c. titles and unusual little symbolisms
b. your theme/pitch/unique gimmick.

This is your primordial goo of evolving ideas. No one should see it but you. Moleskins come with convenient elastic straps for this purpose. You’ll be surprised how many people feel better once their loved ones have their votes reneged.

Manuscript Whispering Step 2: The Gimmick that’s Not

Give up on the idea that you would never use a ‘gimmick’ and understand your ideas will need to be looked at with a critical marketing perspective. Something unique or starkly differentiating your story from all the others like it – that is a gimmick. That’s all it is. You can have a pure art. Finding a playful way to make it worth reading to someone other than you is unavoidable. Also, it’s easier to agree with yourself on that gimmick from the beginning. Back-peddling on this is a bear.

Writer’s Myth #2

Pitch-writing is hard and takes a certain extroversion writers don’t have.

I will challenge you to a duel on this one. Writers are excellent communicators. Most writers who find they can’t pitch will discover the problem is with their ‘gimmick’ or uniquely differentiating idea. It’s not there. Ideas which are cliche are going to sound lame because they are. A little secret? Your gimmick is your story arc. They’re like mirror twins. Don’t look!

Manuscript Whispering Step 3: The Character in the Negative

A lot of a writer’s time is spent on defining what a character IS. This isn’t bad. But what if you read the blocks of story dialog you’ve collected over, say, a six month period, realize what kinds of characteristics are being projected in these discrete expressions of your growing story DNA, and then reversed them?

Balance in a story is what conflict is made – and resolved – from. If you have a lot of blocks that are red (heated dialog) – what is their common subject? If not a subject, a motivation. Once you’ve defined the similarities, next come up with characters to defy the ones you’ve already created on these common themes. If you already have too many characters, as many detail-oriented writers tend to create, begin to consciously ‘shadow’ the negative characteristic in another character. Likewise, a villain can only be so ‘bad’ before he or she is totally inaccessible, and therefore unrealistic, un-scary, and even worse, un-problematic. People cause us problems because we care about them. Dabbing similar shades of kindness and cruelty from your villains to your catalyst gatekeeper-types and vice-versa will give you the bridge conversations to ultimately net your story blocks together.

Even with the extraordinary adventures of every-day life, I’ve slowly built up an armory of these personal blocks. Writing software brags about them, but to DIY makes you a writer and gives you a chance to come up with the illusive, so-called “unique” idea that every writer is after.

You’ll dog-ear and number those blocks – it even helps to keep different color pens to separate them, or quickly color-code the mood or character of your off-hand writing in your notes. And in a about a week of on-the-side typing, you’ll have something you’ll actually like. It will stand on its own legs and look finished, even without the sheen of buffing and editing that will finally send it out of the plant.

Now does it sell? That’s a post for another weekend. But if you’re tired of manuscripts taking forever, and shouting the story out as a one-block continual narrative doesn’t work, try a little whispering.

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