Diary 3: How changing the protagonist changed everything

Diary 3: How changing the protagonist changed everything
Photo by Lukas Denier / Unsplash

This is going to be a one-shot, seat-of-the-pants type affair, about how I'm not pantsing any more and totally being sensible about writing blog posts with style, sagacity and all that jazz...

Climate Anxiety

We've had another heatwave here, and it made it pretty much impossible to work, especially over the weekend when I normally try to do these posts. The thermometer hit something in the region of 32C, so not as hot as the July heatwave (that was more like 38C), but bad enough.

British houses are made to keep heat in, generally speaking, not out. We've got a draughty late-Victorian/early-Edwardian, but even with that advantage, it was pretty bad. Plus, it turns out I'm on an antidepressant that causes issues with thermoregulation. Great, huh?

We're incredibly lucky, though. We live in one of the least-affected parts of the country, we aren't on fire, we don't have a hosepipe ban, we aren't running short of water (yet). Mustn't grumble. But climate anxiety, on top of regular anxiety, on top of lack of sleep, and we've got a recipe for not getting things done on time.

Except that something good has happened, totally by accident.

The podcast that changed it all

When it's okay to run, I still do that. And when I run, I mostly listen to podcasts. For the last few days, I've been listening to The Story Grid, which puts out weekly podcasts on top of all their daily YouTube shorts and longs, books, pdfs, courses (I'm not calling them "trainings").

There's a lot of stuff.

Story Grid is one of those very technical deep-dive type "write your book now" things that've taken over the world. Most people like formulas, and although they claim otherwise, Story Grid is no exception. They've just got more formulas. Lots of numbers. The six this, seven that, nine of the other. Nazgul, maybe. Or Hobbits.

It gets overwhelming fast.

It's also really hard to dive in and just listen to an episode on spec because they are in the middle of what seems to be a 3000-episode long deep-dive into one person's short story, or scene, which is using inspiration from another scene, and in order to get into that, you have to already know what the eighteen somethings are, and the POP and the SAM are, and how they relate (or not) to all the other methodologies you've no doubt tried in the past.

It's, you know, a lot.

BUT. Despite this being the Mount Everest of all writing methodology challenges, I've been listening to them.


Oh god.

They've helped.

Like, really helped.


I'm going to need to do a long post where I provide some context for all this, but for about the last year, I've been trying to figure out this Amnar novel and have had no idea how to do it.

Then I made this change. Yeah, one weird trick territory, but hear me out.

I want to devote a proper post to this, one where I tease out how all this unfolded in more depth (but not Story Grid depth or we'll be here until we die), and I'm not just writing that to say you should sign up or anything.

I'll lay out the bones of it here, but I've always had issues with things like coming up with a decent tagline, synopsis, elevator pitch. All the essential stuff. Then, back at the beginning of July I changed one character.

One character I thought was totally minor.

There to be a bit of a foil, maybe.

Just one minor change.

Well, two. Age and gender.

For the last five weeks I've been pootling along with this adjusted character, doing what I thought was "background work". Then over the weekend, listening to this podcast, I figure out that it's not background.

It's just... ground.

And the result of that?

Tagline, synopsis, plot, structure, beats, all suddenly fall into place.

A word of caution

This is not a way of advertising Story Grid. I'm not being paid by Story Grid to say their work is amazing, and I still have a lot more to do. Some of it is picking the right random thing to listen to on a run, at the right time, when I'm in the right headspace.

Some of it is just listening to the weird nudges you get from time to time about being creative. But it's got me thinking a bit more about how a lot of the time writing is about making what seem like minor decisions that turn out to be huge things (something that, incidentally, was mentioned on the podcast I was listening to.

And that's all for this week.