Book Notes: Writing for Story by Jon Franklin

I highlight and take notes when I read nonfiction books. Once I finish a book, I format and edit my notes so that I can easily remind myself of what I learned without having to re-read the book. These notes are not a substitute for reading the book, they only serve as a reminder of key concepts.


Shorter form writing (or presenting, video creating , etc…) is more difficult because every sentence is more valuable and needs to deliver a message.

Basic short story form: conflict, then resolution.

“Chance…favors the prepared mind.”  It’s hard to discover a specific story.  But if you keep opened minded looking for stories, you’re bound to run into good ones eventually.

A story must show a relationship between character, situation, and action.  If any pieces are missing, then it won’t be a good story.

Introducing a complication, internal or external, introduces tension and suspense.  “The world is chock full of complications” – you just need to learn to be aware of them and spot them.

Find complications by looking for action – figure out the motive for the action and you’ll likely find the complication.

Resolutions break the tension that are created by complications.  Stories without resolutions make poor stories.

“Negative lessons are painful and inefficient…What the reader really wants is to be shown some insightful choices that have positive results.”

Resolutions must come from the character’s own efforts otherwise they are unsatisfying.

Outlining a the story.  First, conflict: “Cancer strikes Joe”.  Limit to 3 words, verbs must be string.  Second, resolution: “Joe overcomes cancer.”  Use these 3 word phrases to outline.

Once conflict and resolution identified, write action statements that will help develop the character towards the resolution. Each statement identifies the end of that section.  Eg:

Complication: Ducker gambles life
Development:
1. Ducker enters brain
2. Ducker clips aneurysm
3. Monster ambushes Ducker
Resolution: Ducker accepts defeat

Flashbacks are allowed once per conflict resolution, usually after an interesting complication.  Flashbacks are disorienting, so you have to use them after the most gripping part of the story to keep readers reading.

“The simpler an outline is, the more it focuses your thoughts on the important relationships in your story”

The resolution must always match the conflict – if not, rewrite one of them.

Each of the three actions should be related to the resolution.  They should show the process.  Cut out unnecessary actions.

“Foreshadowing is the technique by which the writer unobtrusively inserts details early in the story that will allow him to conduct his dramatic scenes without the necessity of explaining background details.”  This is what comics do – to give a good punchline, the setup needs to happen early on so the final delivery can be quick and impactful.

Don’t spend lots of time on a rough draft.  Writing you spend lots of time on becomes precious and difficult to cut later on.

Follow your outline.  Add the beggining lines, foreshadowing, at the end.  If you start straying from your outline stop OR adjust your outline and make sure it still makes sense.

Polish is not that important.  Good story is.

Don’t mistake style for substance.  It’s okay to mimic certain styles, but there still needs to be a good story there.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Key points:

  • Use action verbs
  • Show, don’t tell
  • The strongest thought should appear at the end of a section.
  • Cut out unnecessary parts
  • Foreshadow events
  • “Simplicity, coupled with clarity, equals elegance”

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