Blogiversary Winners & a New Worksheet!

by Jami Gold on July 10, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Gift box with text: A Gift for...You! Story Development & Revision Worksheet

Ta da! I made it to the four year mark for blogging. *whew*

Appropriately, we had enough comments on the Blogiversary Contest post to earn four winners! Yay! Or boo… Depending on if you’re one of the winners or not. *sad face*

I wish everyone could be a winner. Seriously. But random.org does its random thing without caring about what we want. *sigh*

So… A Gift for Everyone!

I can’t make everyone a winner in the contest, but I can give everyone a gift by releasing a new worksheet. Yay!

A couple of my readers (*waves “hi” to Lou and Suzy*) asked me to take a look at John Truby’s work and see if I could come up with a worksheet based on his teachings. Last week, I picked up John’s book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

As someone who writes by the seat of her pants, I can’t apply everything he teaches. (This post is an excellent introduction to his approach and the terminology on the worksheet.) The chapters on premise, world-building, symbolism, and story arc are insightful for everyone, but some of his advice might not apply to plot-driven stories because he’s very character-arc-focused.

I’m still digesting the chapter on plot, so I’m not sure if a beat sheet could be made from his ideas or not. (His 22 steps are very flexible, which is good for creativity but bad for MS Excel formulas. *smile*)

However, his chapters on big picture story development were helpful enough on my revisions this past weekend that I thought a worksheet based on those elements alone would be good to share. Some of us might want to think through all of these questions during initial story development, and others of us might save some of these questions for our first revision pass. Either way, I hope this helps us all!

Introducing the Story Development & Revision Worksheet

This worksheet contains two tabs that cover four aspects of our planning and revision process:

  1. Story Ideas
    Found at the top of the Story Premise Development tab, this is a place to brainstorm story ideas and discover which ones might resonate with us.
  2. Story Premise
    At the bottom of the Story Premise Development tab, this section helps develop our initial story premise into its full potential. We can identify tricky aspects (Will it need a huge cast of characters? Does the protagonist start off “good,” leaving less room for growth? Etc.) and come up with a strategy for overcoming the issues (what John Truby calls the “designing principle”). We’ll also identify the protagonist, central conflict, and one verb phrase that sums up the cause-and-effect chain (“takes revenge,” “falls in love,” etc.).
    Note: As a pantser, I might answer some of these questions before drafting, but during revisions, it’ll be helpful to take a second look and ensure the story holds together.
  3. Character Arc
    At the top of the Character & Plot Arc tab, this section defines the choice the character is going to have to make, their ending point (Self-Revelation), and then their beginning point (Desire, Weaknesses, and Need). With these elements, we can see our protagonist’s arc of change, but John states that it’s easiest to work backward, from ending to beginning. (Agreed. I’ve taught that backward technique in my Lost Your Pants? workshop for years.)
    Note: As a pantser, I might have vague ideas for some of these items before drafting, but during revisions, these questions will also help us find our theme within the character arc. That way we can ensure our theme is fully developed.
  4. Plot Arc, Story World, and Symbols
    At the bottom of the Character & Plot Arc tab, these sections highlight some of the elements we can use to tie the character’s arc to the rest of the story. The bottom two lines contain questions to make us think about how we’re building our theme and how we can deepen the meaning of our story.
    Note: As a pantser, I might have vague ideas for some of these items, but during revisions, these questions will also help us fully develop the theme and story arc.

(Note: If you’re not familiar with MS Excel, how to enter text, or how to switch between tabs, check out my Beat Sheet 101 post. If you’d rather have this worksheet in MS Word, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do.)

The Story Premise Development tab (click to view full-size image):

Displays the first tab of the Story Development & Revision Worksheet

The Character & Plot Arc tab (click to view full-size image):

Display of second tab of the Story Development & Revision Worksheet

Click to download Story Development and Revision Worksheet – MS Excel ’07 version (.xlsx)

Click to download Story Development and Revision Worksheet – MS Excel earlier versions (.xls)

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for changes to this worksheet, as it’s very much just my first stab at trying to gather and apply John Truby’s teachings. Also, let me know if you’d like further information about any of the elements. I’m happy to explain more. *smile*

And Now… The Blogiversary Winners!

And finally, the news you’ve all been waiting for. Here are the winners of my 4th Annual Blogiversary Contest:

Sharon Hughson

Kirsten

Loni Townsend

Taurean Watkins

Congratulations to you all! (And I swear that’s how random.org spit them out, even though one of the winners was heavily lobbying for a win. *narrows eyes and wonders if someone did hack random.org*) You all should receive an email from me within the next day, so start thinking about what prize you want. Should I be worried? *smile*

Have you studied John Truby’s teachings before? Does this worksheet succeed at capturing some of his story development advice? Do you have suggestions for improvements? Do this worksheet help make up for the fact that you didn’t win? *sad face* Do you have any suggestions or reminders for me about other writing helpers I could put together?

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38 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee July 10, 2014 at 6:17 am

I’ve never studied or used John Truby’s teachings before, but I look forward to adding your spreadsheet in my Numbers spreadsheet I sometimes poke at.

I have a single spreadsheet set up where I can plug in a WiP and check whatever I want, including a checklist from Janice Hardy’s “spit shine”. These look like nice additions for that template. Thanks!

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 9:39 am

Hi Carradee,

Ooo, a master spreadsheet? That sounds both awesome and intimidating. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee July 10, 2014 at 9:50 am

😀 It has one tab for the title, tagline, and page count. The tabs from there are arranged dependent on when you’ll use them when working on a story. The “spit shine” checklist comes last.

It’s in Numbers, and there are some aesthetics I’m still tweaking, and I want some more references in there (to give you due credit if I ever share it with anyone)…but someday I do want to set it up to share with folks—and to convert it to Excel, for that matter.

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Carradee July 10, 2014 at 9:55 am

I meant to say “tagline, word count, and page count”. Sorry.

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 10:00 am

Hi Carradee,

Awesome! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. 🙂

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Carradee July 10, 2014 at 10:39 am

Do you have a list anywhere of all your sheets? So I can double-check that I have them all?

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Hi Carradee,

You can find all of the worksheets I’ve done on my Worksheets for Writers page. 🙂 Thanks for asking!

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Carradee July 10, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Thanks! 🙂 *goes off to double-check that she has them all*

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Loni Townsend July 10, 2014 at 7:07 am

*jaw drops* I won? Holy cow!

Thanks for the links and worksheets. As a fellow pantser, would you say John’s book ranks up pretty high on the need-to-own scale?

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 9:58 am

Hi Loni,

You sure did! 🙂 Congratulations!

Hmm, as for your question, I’d say that John’s book is best for intermediate to advanced writers who are looking for insights to deepen their stories. He has a whole chapter on symbolism, another on story world, another on the moral choice (theme), etc.

It’s more insight-based and less of a how-to than many other books, so new-ish writers would probably be lost or overwhelmed. It would be good for writers to first have a handle on story structure and why story structure is the way it is. (He dislikes much of what’s taught about story structure, but he still follows the same ideas anyway–because that’s just how stories work. 😉 )

Also, as I mentioned, I think his advice would be most useful for those who write character-driven stories. His insights are very focused on theme and character arc. He considers those the point of a story, and his plot tips emphasize how to support the theme and character arc.

For most stories, that’s a great approach! Yet some authors write stories where the characters have a flat arc (and I hope to do a post on handling that in the future). He includes tons of examples (everything from Star Wars to Ulysses), so plot-driven authors could get some insights from his work, but they might not find his advice as applicable.

You could check out this post to see if any of it seems applicable. His book covers much of the same information but goes much deeper.

I hope that helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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angela July 10, 2014 at 7:51 am

I freaking LOVE your beat sheets, Jami! Thanks so much for all you do for writers!

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 9:59 am

Hi Angela,

Aww, thanks! I hope that’s helpful. 🙂 Thanks for the comment and thank YOU for all you do for writers!

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Sharon July 10, 2014 at 9:50 am

*screaming and dancing* I won. I love your random.org but I didn’t hack it. Wouldn’t even know where to start with that.
I’m also excited to check out these new worksheets. Some of the premise work I do at Hiveword, and I also find writing with pencil on paper helps my creative juices flow at the brainstorming stage.
I’m talking on the phone with Kristen Lamb today and getting to work with Jami Gold. Fan girl Heaven. I might die from excitement.

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 10:03 am

Hi Sharon,

LOL! Sure you didn’t hack it. 😉 I’m just teasing you… Congratulations!

I’m so glad it worked out for you! 🙂 I’ll be in touch. Thanks for the comment!

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Kristen Stevens July 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Congrats to the winners! Jami, I love your spreadsheets and so I’m really interested to give this a shot! Muuuch appreciated!

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Hi Kristen,

Aww, thanks! I’m happy to help. 🙂 Thanks for the comment too!

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Kathryn Goldman July 10, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Did I ever tell you that my real name is Kirsten?

What? You don’t believe me?

OK, thanks for the gift of new spreadsheets.

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Hi Kathryn,

LOL! Um, no. Good try though. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Kat Colmer July 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm

This worksheet is very timely, Jami; I’m about to start drafting the sequel to my YA PNR, so a big thank you. Your other worksheets have been a fantastic help with the first novel 🙂

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Hi Kat,

Yay! I’m glad to hear it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kirsten July 10, 2014 at 6:16 pm

🙂 Yay!!! I’m the real Kirsten, and I’m so excited!
What a perfect time for me to get some book doctoring, as I’ve been diligently preparing for yet another revision of my very first novel. I suspect you will have your work cut out for you with this one but it will be fun, I promise.
I’m so grateful for all the fine writing advice you keep sending my way. Let’s see if it’s done me any good so far. 🙂
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Hi Kirsten,

Yay! Congratulations! (And yes, I can tell that you’re the right one. 😉 ) I’ll be in touch!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) July 10, 2014 at 9:47 pm

YAY! I won! I so rarely win these things. I’m so grateful to win this “Beta read up to 25,000 words” I really need it for this particular story, once you read the first part (which is within the 25K max) you’ll soon get why! (LOL)

My old beta-readers (also writers, and also parents/teachers) are so busy in their multiple careers and aren’t as available, I may still ask some of them, but I’ll just have to wait longer.

That’s not a big deal as I’m not anywhere ready to shop it around yet.
But it’s beyond alpha-level IMHO.

Nice of you to share a new worksheet tool for all, Jami, though I have to say that I tried using MS Excel once a few years ago, and let’s just say I wanted to down 8 1/2 bourbon shots afterwards…(I’m OVER 21, not a drinker, I just COOK with alcohol)

This has less to do with your beat sheet system and more to do with my less than keen math skills…

Besides, whenever I hear “Excel Spreadsheet” I think “Banker” or “Master Mathematician.” Neither of which describes me. No offense to any practicing (or former) bankers and/or master mathematicians who may come to this blog, okay?

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Jami Gold July 10, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yay! Congratulations! 🙂

I hope I’ll be able to help answer your questions for your story. I’ll be in touch!

And good news–this new worksheet has NO numbers whatsoever. LOL! It’s just in Excel because that’s where it was easy for me to do the “save as” formatting. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Sonia G Medeiros July 11, 2014 at 11:57 am

Congrats on your 4th blogiversary!

Great worksheets too. I’ve used your other ones with this WIP. Very helpful. 😀

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Jami Gold July 11, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Hi Sonia,

I hope this new worksheet is helpful too! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Rebekah Loper July 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

Congrats to the winners!

I’ll be honest – excel intimidates me. But this new spreadsheet has the things I juggle the most (and mostly only on index cards) with writing, and so I may just have to bite the bullet and comfortable with… the basics of excel, at the very least!

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Jami Gold July 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Hi Rebekah,

This worksheet has no math, so the Excel part is just for formatting. 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for the comment!

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Ane Ryan Walker July 14, 2014 at 11:45 am

Love the new worksheet! You are so fabulous to share these, god bless.

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Jami Gold July 14, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Hi Ane,

I hope it’s helpful! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Killion Slade November 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Thanks Jami for the beat sheet and directing me toward John Truby’s book. I agree with Loni that this style is definitely for the more advanced writer who is looking to kick their story level up a notch! I’m loving it 🙂

As I’ve been working through his book and walking through the steps, it has helped develop a strong premise which has been hard to grasp because of several [simultaneous] working components. His exercises truly help to focus, drill down, and find out what’s most important.

The chapters on the character arc are amazing! I was pleasantly surprised to learn I was able to write out this section on both my main heroes, without pulling out my hair by the roots. The one thing I [am still learning] is understanding the difference between desire and need and how it effects the arc to provide a warm-fuzzy-can’t-get-enough-of-that-character kinda feeling. He states that the desire for the character isn’t what he/she wants out of life, but only for this story. That was a huge clue in driving that focus. he also states that the need should be something the character doesn’t even know he/she needs it until they make a decision which leads them to the self revelation. Very subtle, but very powerful!

Definitely spending the time to work through these exercises is a terrific opportunity to strengthen while in revisions.

Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

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Jami Gold November 14, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Hi Killion,

Yay! I’m glad it’s been helpful for you. 🙂

One thing to keep in mind is that different mentors might have different definitions for these terms, so it’s great that you’re understanding the point behind the terms. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Lost-chan April 24, 2015 at 4:26 am

Hi! I’ve been drifting to and fro this website and google for and about beatsheets. These sheets are extremely helpful for narrowing my thoughts, I’ve found, and asking me things that I didn’t know that I needed to be asked.

I was often perplexed by the questions, and eventually, I found that I needed to change some of my previous answers to make way for answers. It helps to make everything cohesive, I suppose.

Although I’m a bit stumped into one of the questions: What opponent is competing with the hero for the same goal? (Look deeply for what protagonist and antagonist are fighting about—like whether good or evil is in control.)

What if there’s no ‘personal’ villain? like, there’s an evil dude, but he affects everything, not the hero himself personally — that’s why they don’t have the same goal.

Also, this is for a fanfic, but the story seems to call for more than a hundred pages that I supposed that it can be called a novel now…

Anyhoo, thanks! 😀

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Jami Gold April 24, 2015 at 10:59 am

Hi Lost-chan,

Great question! I am by no means a John Truby expert, but in his book, he shares this information about the opponent:

“If you look at a number of good stories, it often appears, at first glance, that hero and opponent are not competing for the same goal. But look again. See if you can spot what they are really fighting about. For example, in a detective story, it appears that the hero wants to catch the killer and the opponent wants to get away. But they are really fighting over which version of reality everyone will believe.

The trick to creating an opponent who wants the same goal as the hero is to find the deepest level of conflict between them. Ask yourself “What is the most important thing they are fighting about?” That must be the focus of your story.

Star Wars: Luke’s opponent is the ruthless Darth Vader, and each is competing over who will control the universe.”

So you’re right that it’s not necessarily about a personal villain, but in some ways the hero will take it personally because they care about the world being different from how the villain wants it, whether that’s controlled by good/evil, cities are safe/destroyed, knowing the villain is innocent/guilty, etc. At the same time, the opponent has the ability to attack the hero’s greatest weakness, so in some ways, that makes it personal on the other side too.

I hope that helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carina August 4, 2015 at 3:28 am

Hi,
Just want to say thank you for sharing your spreadsheets!

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Jami Gold August 4, 2015 at 6:09 am

Hi Carina,

You’re welcome! I hope they’re helpful. 🙂

Reply

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