Why story coaching?

Coaching

No matter where you are in your writing career, your work can almost always be helped by feedback from fresh eyes that do not have a vested interest in the work itself.

Story analysis can help you see challenges in your story that might be invisible to you, whether through inherent biases or because you see the story clearer in your head than it has been recorded on the page.

Story analysis can also help you see opportunities in your work that you overlooked, if only because you are too close to it. Your priority for that early draft, in all likelihood, was simply to get things out of your head and onto the page, and we all walk with the fear of wandering down so many blind alleys that we never come out of the other end, wherever that end may be.

 

So fine, story analysis is helpful. But what the hell is story coaching?

Almost by definition, story analysis happens AFTER you have completed a draft (or several). It comes AFTER you have wandered the desert of creative confusion. It comes AFTER you have bled your creative juices onto the page and have become smitten with your creation.

And in some very unfortunate cases, it never comes at all, because the storyteller never completed the project, whether due to fear of failure, a sense of being intractably lost, or simply because Life intervened to distract from the task at hand.

This is where story coaching can help.

Story coaching is about a work-in-progress, whether a screenplay, a novel, the writer him or herself…whatever the storyteller needs most.

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As with life coaching, business coaching or athletics coaching, story coaching is about providing guidance to the storyteller on a regular basis, whether simply as a second set of eyes to critique the work or as a mentor who uses the work-in-progress as a framework within which to help the storyteller develop as an artist.

Story coaching is also about commitment and accountability for the storyteller.

By hiring a story coach, the writer has made his or her creative art a priority in life. Why else spend the money?

And working with the storyteller, the story coach establishes expectations and deliverables, whether that is new story ideas, number of newly written pages, rewrites. These are the foundations of creative habits that can be difficult to develop and entrench in solitude because the creative process is so personal and fraught with self-doubt and self-recrimination.

 

But I can get this from a writing course or a writers’ group.

Yes, this is true…to an extent.

Writing classes can be invaluable, depending on the composition of your classmates and the skill of your instructor.

With a roomful of students, however, it can be difficult for the instructor to provide truly focused guidance to an individual student. More typically, the student is presented with a spectrum of general direction, all of which can be valuable but only some of which may be germane to a given work-in-progress.

Writers’ groups can also be a wonderful resource, again depending on the composition of the group. That composition and the individual writer’s position within the skill hierarchy, however, are critical.

Most writers’ groups are comprised of peers with relatively equal experience, and so may not be able to provide the more advanced analysis and mentorship that an individual wants or needs. And if an individual is the most advanced or skilled within a given writers’ group, he or she may find little opportunity for improvement.

[NOTE: I firmly believe that you will always find something in the feedback of any group of readers. The question is more whether it is worth the effort you put into the group.]

Sports

Although it is not impossible, you are very unlikely to ever become a professional football or hockey player by spending any amount of time playing flag football or pond hockey with friends. Why would we expect storytelling to be any different?

 

How do I know a story coach is right for me?

You don’t. Well, you don’t until you start a conversation with him or her.

 

Oh, hey! Is the story coach going to try to tell me what stories to tell?

Absolutely not.

The story coach is here to understand what story you want to tell or help you understand it better yourself, and then help you tell it in the most effective manner.

You are the Creator. The story coach is not.

 

If you want to learn more about Story Coaching, feel free to reach out to me (no obligation) at:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

SWYS-Facebook-Cover

Beyond happy

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We spend a lot of time in search of happiness, which I define as a blissful state of satisfaction. Being happy makes everything a little easier—work, family, life—and even where there are hard tasks ahead, happiness seems to make them less daunting, less onerous, less tasking.

When I am happy, I can roll with whatever punches life throws at me, and nicely have found that life throws fewer punches when I am happy.

And although not perfectly so, I find happiness is infectious. When I exude happiness, I am no longer perceived as a threat to those around me and therefore allow others to stay in their own happy place, or in some cases, make it easier for them to experience happiness.

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Although happiness may initially have an external source or motivation—a job you love, good friends—it is very internal. It is a state you choose to be in. And any external impact it has is purely passive; a choice others make in its presence.

Thus, I believe, there is another level beyond happiness that is more active, more empowering, and if taken wrong, possibly more intimidating.

Joy.

Where happiness is about contentment, satisfaction and peace, joy is the embodiment of love, laughter, engagement and play. Joy takes happiness and dials it up to 11.

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Joy is the ultimate expression of freedom, and as such, it cannot be easily contained. It exudes from every pore, every movement, every thought. It is an aura that precedes your entrance into any space and remains a gleeful echo long after you have moved on.

Joy changes how we see the world around us, finding glimmers of light in even the darkest of moments. It is not about self-delusion or selective memory, but rather a complete reframing of the question of the moment.

Like happiness, joy is a choice we make as individuals. But it is a more difficult choice to maintain because it ultimately demands an expanded consciousness to what is around us and an eternal openness to the possibilities in life.

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As such, joy demands more faith than happiness, which is more easily rationalized.

Happiness, when you choose it, makes sense. Joy doesn’t have to make sense. And perhaps, the less sense joy makes, the more joyful it is.

To embrace the irrational is to truly be open to the possible.

Because it is difficult or impossible to suppress joy—not sure I know why you would want to—joy can be seen as obnoxious or intrusive to those who have yet to find their happiness or joy. That is unfortunate for those individuals.

For those in joy, however, this is another opportunity to explore, understand and exchange. In this way, joy begets joy, even if not always from person to person.

All this to say that while I continue to explore happiness in my life, I have chosen to embrace joy and hope to share it with as many people as I can.

It is my gift to myself and to others.

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To vote, or not to vote…that is your decision

I used to think that not voting was a valid form of political protest, but I now understand that it is only the first step.

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If you choose not to vote, I respect that. But I challenge you that it accomplishes nothing.

If you choose not to vote as a protest, I presume that you want to change the system in some way. And yet, you have offered no alternative.

The election will go on whether you vote or not. The raccoon that raids my recycling bins won’t vote either.

When people protest through marches, sit-ins or hunger strikes, they make themselves visible. When you don’t vote, you remain largely invisible. So if you’re not going to vote—a right I voted to defend, in some ways—then do something.

Hold a “we didn’t vote” rally. Gather other non-voters and raise your voices in protest. Offer your own platform; suggest an alternative to the current electoral system.

If your idea is viable, you might gain support from voters. You might actually create the change you seek.

But if you simply do not vote, then you are not only invisible to the rest of us, but you remain complicit in the system you despise.

Parliament Hill

I am always right (motivation)

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If I move into a beautiful New England home with my beautiful family and on our first night, the walls run red with blood and a disconnected voice cries “Get out!”, I go to a hotel and move the next day.

I do not search for an explanation (or at least not that night). I do not instinctively head for the dusty attic, the dank dark basement or that rather nasty looking shed under the menacing weeping willow in the darkest corner of the back yard.

So when I read about characters doing just that in a novel or screenplay or watch actors do it at the movies, I find myself thinking they deserve whatever comes next because they are idiots. What the hell motivated them to have that stupid response? Out of the gate, I disconnect from the character.

Now, despite the title of this blog post, I am not suggesting that only my instincts should be followed in screenplays, novels, etc.—these would be damned short stories if everyone did—but rather it is a call to writers to help me, as a reader or viewer, understand why the character behaved the way he or she did. Until I do, I cannot really bond with the character.

This isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

Whenever a character responds to something or takes an action, you have to ask yourself, why did he or she do that? And over the course of your story, are all of that character’s choices consistent with his or her personal journey from before your story’s opening to its conclusion?

And as if that isn’t difficult enough, you then have to ask yourself, have I written the story in such a way that the audience can see the logic of the choices, even if only in hindsight?

This last point is crucial, because as writers, we often know or understand things about our characters that never make it to the page. Thus, while everything may seem completely consistent and logical to us, it may still be confusing to our audience, who is not privy to the machinations within the head of the writer god.

At the same time, you never want to spell it out for the audience, because then story reading or watching becomes too passive an exercise and the audience doesn’t engage. You need to feed your audience just enough information that it can begin to make inferences about your characters’ behaviours and so become connected with your characters.

The good news is that this is unlikely to happen in your first draft or at best, will happen in drips and drabs.

As you develop your story past draft one, you will find moments of inconsistency or more likely, your trusted readers and advisers will find inconsistencies. Take those in and mull them over. Odds are, fixing those issues will not require a major refocus of your story…just a heavy-brush rewrite. And your story will improve.

So if the walls run red with blood, a disconnected voice cries “Get out!” and your protagonist doesn’t, I better understand why.

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(Images are the property of the owners and are used here without permission.)

One week in

Well, it’s now been a full week for my new blog, and I wanted to thank everyone for their interest and support.

36 of you, in fact, have gone so far as to sign on to follow my blog, which is quite thrilling and humbling…I shall try not to disappoint.

I don’t know where I am going with this blog, but I know it will be an adventure, and I very much look forward to hearing your feedback. Not just your likes (which are lovely and appreciated), but also your thoughts and impressions on what I have written or photos I have posted.

Do they stimulate ideas, do you disagree, do you have suggestions on improvements?

I want to hear it all. I want to engage, not just entertain or bemuse.

Let’s have fun!