Just The Tip: Writing a Book? What if HOW You Tell the Story is More Important Than The Story Itself?

IN: Just The Tip, Writing

I know your dirty little secret. (Not that one. God forbid anyone on the internet finds that one out.)

You want to write a book.

This means three things:

  1. You’re paralyzed with fear that it’ll suck.
    It’ll suck so bad that the entire world will snub you and right after that, they’ll revoke your social security number and put you on display as an example of what NOT to do as a human.
  2. You’ve gotten really good at procrastination.
    I should really potpourri that one cupboard underneath the sink in the powder room in preparation for the guests we might have over for New Year’s 2015. Better now than never!
  3. You worry—like 24 hours a day worry—that no one will care what you have to say.
    You don’t even feel important enough to sit in the dunk tank down at the local fair, let alone write a book and have anybody care. 

The good news? People look in the medicine cabinet, not in the cupboard underneath the sink. Duh.

The bad news? You will always feel this way…no matter how many things you’ve written, and how many people have loved it.

But there is a way to pull a fast one on the self-doubt. There is a way you can stay sane. There IS a way you can actually finish the stupid book. (I know you call it that in your head.)


Kidding. Not all the time. Just some of the time.

The real advice? Get confident on how to tell a story.

Something I know to be true is this: The way you tell the story is more important than the story itself.

Without the dynamics of a compelling story, you’re the most boring person in the room. With the dynamics of a compelling story, however, you could be talking about the way you flip your eggs in the morning and be the most interesting fucking person that’s ever lived. (If that’s not a topic you’d assume no one would care about, I don’t know what is.)

My favorite book on this big, fat earth on learning how to tell a compelling story? Story Engineering.

In it, Larry Brooks shares a technique for solidifying your concept—which always needs to be in play to keep the story moving and unfolding—and keep people giving a shit about whatever you’re saying.

The technique is this: Put it through the “What if?” test.

“If the concept is rich and compelling to any degree, phrasing it as a “what if” questions will not only be possible; it’ll be clarifying and empowering. Because a good question demands an answer. And that answer? Is your story.”

You should be able to start with one overarching “What if?” question, which should lead itself to another “what if?” question, which should lead itself to another “what if?” question, eventually forming a chain and, ultimately, defining the story itself.

In the book, he uses the example of The Da Vinci Code to illustrate.

What if Christ didn’t die on the cross after all?

What if the entire Christian religion is a contrivance and a deeply held secret resulting in a conspiracy?

What if there is a highly secret group of men whose life mission is to preserve that secret?

What if they are willing to kill to protect it?

What if there are other secrets?

What if the fabled Holy Grail is, in fact, the womb of Mary Magdalene, bearing the child of Jesus?

What if that child survived, and the lineage continues to this day, meaning the ancestors of Christ are walking among us?

What if Leonardo da Vinci was a member of yet another secret group that knows this to be true?

What if da Vinci gave us clues to this fact in his paintings, especially The Last Supper?

What if the museum curator at the Louvre is killed because of what he knows?

What if he leaves clues about the hidden messages, and about those behind his murder, written in his own blood?

What if members of a secret group of priests are being killed in an effort to expose the truth behind the church’s two-thousand-year-old two-thousand-year-old conspiracy of deceit?

What if the hero of our story is called in to decipher the curator’s cryptic messages, and finds himself accused of his murder?

What if the woman who is helping him is not who or what she seems to be?

What if she is connected to the truth in a way that is more significant than anyone knows?

What if someone known to the hero seems to be helping him, but has manipulated him to apply his skills toward his own dark means, and intends to kill him once he has proof of the underlying truth?

I like this technique—mostly because it forces you to keep the importance of tension at top of mind…and then lets you simply fill in the details thereafter.

Too often, we start with the details, and try to link them all together into one big story, adding in tension later, but by starting with the structure of the story first, you’re guaranteeing yourself that you actually have a story—and not just a bunch of diary entries strung together.

And when you work through the structure, you might still feel paralyzed, you might still procrastinate, and you might still worry every single day, but at the very least one thing you won’t do?

Is give up before you’ve started.

Because last time I checked, the most important part of writing a book?

Is writing.