Wednesday, March 14

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1


We've all developed our own writing methods. If there's a million writers in the world then there's AT LEAST a million methods. No one method is better than another, just different. This method might suit you and it might not. My hope is that you'll find something in it you find useful.

A few months ago I sat down at my writing desk after a particularly grueling shift at my day job and tried to write but the words wouldn't come. I asked myself, "How do I write a story?" How do I approach the initial idea and transform that into a story? That's when I began putting this method together. If you like it, try it out!


There are about 10 steps to this method so, to keep the size of my posts manageable, I'll roll it out over the next several days. Today, we'll take a look at the first step.

1. Formulate a one sentence description of your story

This comes from two screenwriters, Blake Snyder author of Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, an iconic book on screenwriting, and Michael Hauge, author of The Hero's 2 Journeys. One thing these men have in common is the advice that, before you do anything else, formulate a log-line or a one-line; a sentence that summarizes your story.

Why do this? Why start from a one-sentence summary of your story? For one thing, it will help prevent you from straying from your initial idea and drifting off point. That said, if you intentionally decide to change your story's focus because you discover the idea isn't working for you, that's fine.

Also, and this is from Save The Cat, you need to make sure that your idea for a story creates a "compelling mental picture". In order to do this it needs to have all the elements of the story in it, only compressed.

Now, I'm not sure that Blake Snyder meant exactly this, but one of Nathan Bransford's posts was enormously helpful to me in understanding this technique, specifically his excellent post Query Letter Mad Lib. Here is Mr. Bransford's formula for how to compose your one sentence description:
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].
For instance:
Hexanon Pennystripe, a man who describes himself as the greatest detective on earth, has just accepted a case no one believes he can solve -- including himself. But when an ancient curse takes another man's life, Hexanon knows he must put his vanity aside and capture the killer in order to restore order to the world.
The death of a wealthy English archeologist sparks talk of a curse when three other people involved with the expedition die from seemingly unrelated causes.
Now, I'm sure you can do much better than either of those examples, but you get the idea.

Next time we'll talk about the next step: expanding your sentence into five sentences that, taken together, mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

Thanks for reading!

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive


  1. Greeting Karen!

    I've had those kinds of "after work" days too!

    Since I'm prepping myself for ScriptFrenzy next month, I'm familiar with a log-line, but the Mad Lib method is new to me. I'll have to give it a try. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Thanks for your comment! I'm so glad I was able to share the NBs Mad Lib method with you, it's helped me out more than once.

    I tried to comment on your post, but that didn't work out, so I thought I'd make my comment here. I'm so sorry about your broken window, I hope that whoever did it gets caught. Wouldn't it be nice if we could write our own lives? :)

  3. I'm glad I followed up my comment to you, to see your comment to me! Wow, that was a strange sentence to write. :)

    Windows can be fixed, I'm just glad on one was around that may have resulted with injury. There are a number of kids that play around here.

    As for writing our own lives, that would be awesome! I promise that I would leave enough happiness and money for everyone else. LOL It reminds me of one of Canada's famous actors, John Candy's movies, Delirious. It was about a soap opera screenwriter...very funny.

    Strange, I couldn't comment again on my Wordpress account. So, I changed to my Google Account.

    1. lol I didn't know that was you! I read the first line of your comment to me at least 10 times trying to understand it. "What comment? What's he talking about?" I asked myself. hehe. Then I went back to your blog and saw the name you posted under and I realized that WordsFromTheNight was you.

      Ah, I amuse myself sometimes.

      I never saw delirious, but I was just thinking that I should watch more movies. Thanks for the recommendation! :)

  4. This sounds a lot like Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method...

    1. Yes! There certainly are similarities. When I saw Randy's system I was delighted to find there were points of overlap.

      I love reading books on writing, it's been a passion of mine for a long time. After a while I found that, at a fundamental level, many of the books were saying the same things, just in different ways.

      As you can see from my article, I've drawn from many different sources.


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