Saturday, December 26, 2015

Plotting Part 3: Fleshing Out Your Story

Since it is a lot to remember to think about, I wrote a little javascript application to walk through the development of the logline, the story's theme, the 8 key transition scenes and to help develop it all into a full outline. You may find the page at:

Below are some additional considerations, divided up by story part, to help flesh out the rest of the scenes and make sure everything is covered.

Part 1

  1. How do you introduce protagonist? Is he sympathetic?
  2. Do you demonstrate his primary traits through his actions?
  3. Do the descriptions slow things down? Interrupt the story?
  4. Do you show his greatest desire? Is it the same as the external plot goal? Does he think it will solve his personal problems?
  5. Do you show his greatest Need? Does his desire conflict with this?(Will The Truth change his greatest desire to something else or will it change the means of achieving his greatest desire?)

  6. Does he already want to change his circumstances/setting? Why doesn't he?
  7. Do you demonstrate his belief in The Lie? Does he come to believe The Lie as a result of something that happens at the beginning of the story?
  8. Do you show how his past caused this belief? Hint at it? Should you? (Is the backstory significant enough to motivate the protagonist through the story?)
  9. Do you show that belief causing/could cause problems for the protagonist by creating a self-limitation, or weakness in him, or generally making him unhappy?
  10. Do you show The Lie becoming a problem for him at the start, or in the Inciting Event or the 1st Plot Point?
  11. Do you show that belief causing/could cause problems for others?
  12. Do you show him defending The Lie/refusing to change?
  13. Do you show his capacity to live by The Truth if only he believed it?
  14. Do you show the setting supporting that belief in The Lie?
  15. Do you highlight those parts of the setting that will change or appear to change in the protagonist's perceptions as a result of The Truth, or (if he does not return to the same setting at the end) which will contrast with the setting created by The Truth?
  16. Do you foreshadow The Truth, how he will learn about it, it's capacity to defeat The Lie, or how it may be tied to his greatest Need?

  17. Do you show the protagonist doing something that leads to him becoming involved in the story?
  18. Do you show him rejecting the opportunity to get involved in the story? (Resisting change.)
  19. Do you show him beginning to grow aware and uncomfortable with some of The Lie's effects by the end of Part 1? How does his use of The Lie begin to change?
  20. Do you show the protagonist making a fateful decision that ultimately leads to the 1st Plot Point? How does it result from the events in Part 1?
  21. Do you show how the events of the 1st Plot Point changes his situation? Does it change the setting or move him to another setting? Is the impact big enough? Does it "destroy his world"?
  22. Do you show him accepting or rejecting this change? Does he consider this a good or bad thing?
  23. Do you show him making a determined decision as a result of the 1st Plot Point? What is his new Goal? Was his prior goal replace or changed?
  24. Do you show how The Lie will continue to cause big trouble for him in his new situation as a result of the 1st Plot Point? 

Part 2

  1. Do you show the protagonist continuing to act according to The Lie?
  2. Do you show The Lie continuing to hamper him?
  3. Do you show his ideas about The Lie changing as he tries to hold onto it?
  4. Do you show him managing to get closer to the goal despite these setbacks?
  5. Do you show how this also pushes the thing he needs farther away?
  6. Do you show him gaining skills/knowledge/allies/resources (intentionally or not) he will need for the second half of the story?
  7. Does he see the power of The Truth demonstrated and how life might be following it?
  8. Do you reveal something new about the antagonist in the 1st Reversal?
  9. Do you reveal something now about the protagonist? 
The Turning Point/Midpoint

  1. Does a dramatic event happen at the midpoint of the story?
  2. Do you show the protagonist learning something about himself?
  3. Do you show him learning something about the antagonist or the nature of the conflict?
  4. Do you show his behavior changing as a result of these two revelations?
  5. Do you show him taking initiative in the conflict?
  6. Do you show how he begins to use The Truth to take initiative?
  7. Do you show how The Lie continues to hold him back? 

Part 3

  1. Do you show the protagonist beginning to use The Truth to resist The Lie and overcome obstacles?
  2. Do you show The Truth forcing him to change? What does it cost him? What does he give up?
  3. Do you mirror an event in the 2nd half, similar to one in the first, where the protagonist acts according to The Truth where before he had acted according to The Lie? (To show his character growth.)
  4. Do you show him continuing to hold onto The Lie, though it makes things difficult? What mistakes does he make because of it?
  5. Do you show the protagonist's renewed determination after the 2nd reversal? What did he lose? How does the antagonist cause it?
  6. Do you clearly show The Truth? Does a character explicitly state it?
  7. Does the protagonist start to betray The Truth and claim what he most wants by using The Lie? What does he give up?
  8. Do you show how the protagonist's victory is turned to defeat? How is the antagonist responsible?
  9. Do you show how The Lie made this possible?
  10. Does the protagonist choose the Truth at the end? How does it symbolically cost him his life? What important aspect of it does he lose?

Part 4

  1. How does the protagonist's choice continue to make him suffer--both mentally and physically?
  2. How does it make pursuit of his goal more difficult?
  3. Do you show the protagonist questioning his choice?
  4. Do you show him being tempted, bullied, mocked for following The Truth? How else might his belief be challenged?
  5. By what small act can he show he is a completely different person than before?
  6. Does the tension/action build throughout Part 4?

  7. How does the protagonist's personal revelation lead to or empower him to face and overcome the antagonist? Does it come before or during the climax?
  8. Does it work the other way around with the confrontation leading to the final revelation?
  9. What does he do to defeat the antagonist that he could not do before embracing The Truth?
  10. Does the protagonist get the thing he desires in addition to the thing he needs? Does he sacrifice it?Does his reason for wanting it change or perhaps it just doesn't matter to him anymore? Does focusing on the thing he needs empower him to also obtain the thing he desires?

  11. Is the resolution short, sweet and soon after the climax? Does it drag on too long?
  12. Does it tie off all the important loose ends? (Assuming you didn't deliberately leave any dangling for sequels to address)
  13. Do you clearly answer the thematic question? Does a character explicitly state the theme?
  14. Do you show how the protagonist's new situation contrasts with his starting situation? Has he returned to the beginning location?
  15. Does the ending mirror the beginning in some way? Does he demonstrate his new character?
  16. Do you give the reader a sense of how life will continue for the main characters?
  17. Does it end on the right emotional note?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Plotting Part 2: Beginning Your Plot

The 8 Key Scenes (with an Optional 9th)

Each of the four story parts begin and end with an important event that marks the transition from one story phase to the next. Add in two special scenes which occur in the middle of Part 2 and Part 3 and you have 8 key scenes to shape out the skeleton of your story.

The Opening Scene—This is one of the most important scenes of the story and usually one of the hardest to get right. It has to let us know what kind of story to expect and hook us with a story question that makes us wonder what is about to happen next. Ideally it should introduce the protagonist, or the antagonist, or possibly a side character that will connect the two—to give us someone to identify with or care about. Ideally, it should also introduce the main conflict of the story, or at least foreshadow it, or another conflict that ties into the theme (Inner Plot) of the story—so that we'll wonder what happens next. While it's doing all this, it also needs to begin to introduce the setting and the tone of the story.

The First Plot Point—After spending the first 25% of the story trying to avoid or deny the main conflict, or just being trapped in his lie, the protagonist is forced to act when something changes his world forever. He may get slapped in the face with the story conflict, or even be given a positive opportunity that sets him on course to the story conflict, but he is ultimately forced to make a choice to go somewhere or do something to set things right. Even if all the protagonist can do is try and make a new life for himself in a new place or under new circumstances he cannot keep his current life.

The First Reversal (1st Pinch Point)—After spending the first half of Part 2 just trying to figure out how to respond to the 1st Plot Point, the antagonist steps in at the 37% mark to wreck things again. Any progress the protagonist has made is probably lost—or worse—discovered to be harmfully misguided. This emphasizes the fact that the protagonist can't just adapt to the problem but must face it directly if he is to ever find peace/happiness again. It will usually reveal the problem to be bigger, more powerful or more complicated than first thought and that acting upon The Lie is not only not helping the protagonist to reach his Goal, but actually making things more difficult. If the First Plot Point forces the protagonist to commit to action, the First Reversal ups the tension and urges him forward.

The Mid Point—Exactly halfway through the story, everything changes again. Like the First Plot Point, the Mid Point marks the beginning of Part 3 with a major change in the protagonist's situation where the protagonist switches from defense to offense. I have heard it said that if the First Plot Point was positive, then the Mid Point should be negative and vice versa. Either way, the protagonist finally begins to understand The Truth, both of the general nature of the conflict and of himself. He won't have given up on The Lie yet, but he will begin to see that he needs The Truth to solve his problem. From now until the Third Plot Point, the protagonist will begin to take charge of the situation and set things right (insert training montage here) using the resources gained in Part 2. While his inner conflict between his dependence on The Lie and his need for The Truth will begin to fade as he leans on The Truth (he may even begin to resist the effects of The Lie), he will be forced to make an ultimate choice between the two at the end of Part 3.

The Second Reversal (2nd Pinch Point)—Having begun to understand and use the power of The Truth, the protagonist is forced to face the cost of continuing the conflict. Halfway through Part 3 (62% of the way through the story) the Second Reversal appears, where the Antagonist strikes back and the protagonist pays a big price. (If the protagonist has a mentor that is going to die, this is where they bite it.) From now on, the protagonist continues progressing with renewed--even fierce--determination.

The Third Plot Point—At the end of Part 3, 75% through the story, the protagonist was at the final point of victory where his Goal was in reach. All he had to do was turn his back on The Truth and act according to The Lie. (Feel the power of the dark side!) He may have even started to do just that, but then disaster strikes as the Third Plot Point arrives. The antagonist engineers a major disaster and the protagonist, knowing he can no longer merely use The Truth while clinging to The Lie, is forced to choose. He can reject The Lie, which may cost him the Goal he had been fighting for, or reject The Truth, which will cost him the one thing he most needs. If this is a positive character arc story, he will be forced to recognize how The Lie has failed him and reject it, sometimes almost reflexively. This illustrates that the protagonist's values have clearly changed because to reject The Truth would be to sacrifice these things he now values. From now on until the climax, that choice will be tested as everything else the Protagonist once valued may be stripped away to prove his commitment to The Truth.

The Climax—Having been stripped of everything but The Truth, and starting Part 4 at the lowest of low points emotionally, the protagonist pushes straight toward the final confrontation with the antagonist. Enduring a final series of challenges to his commitment to The Truth (sometimes including the mockery of bystanders or even urging from allies who believe the fight is lost or the cost too high to continue) the protagonist confronts the source of his problems directly and all the cards are laid out on the table. Ideally the climax of both the inner and outer plots will occur together at the end of the story. Often that final revelation of The Truth in the inner plot will empower the protagonist to defeat the antagonist in the outer plot. With a sense of inevitability, and yet still an element of surprise, the protagonist completely overpowers the antagonist and fully appreciates his new relationship with The Truth.

The Resolution—It might not be a full scene. It might only be a paragraph or two, or even a couple of lines—though if your name is J.R.R.Tolkien it might run on for chapters—but the resolution is no less important than any other scene. This is the reader's emotional payoff for enduring the struggle. It shows the results/reward of living by The Truth by indicating how the protagonist and his circumstances have changed as a result of his decision to embrace The Truth. It's also a final chance to answer any remaining story questions which may have gone unanswered in part 3 and part 4.

The Backstory—Your optional 9th scene, is an important event in the protagonist's past (often traumatic) that convinced the protagonist of The Lie. Screenwriters sometimes refer to this as "the character's ghost" because it haunts him, reminding him of The Lie while motivating him to live by it. If the event is dramatic, it may be shown in flashback—especially at the end of part 3 where the protagonist wrestles with refusing The Lie. If it is important to the outer plot, it might be used as an opening scene. It may also only be referred to indirectly or remain a complete mystery (to the reader) throughout the story.

Next time—Plotting Part 3: Fleshing Out Your Story, with an extra bonus feature.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Plotting Part 1: How Story Works

You’ve come up with an idea for a story, brainstormed all the cool elements you’d like to include and mapped out the relationships of the “good guys,” the “bad guys” and everyone in between so that you know how their motives all differ from each other (providing conflict) and how their goals are at cross purposes (so that they can’t avoid each other). You’ve even come up with your core sentence, determining the heart of the story you plan to write, and the main themes you’ll be dealing with.

So how do you actually turn that into a story?

The Purpose and Function of Story
All stories are fundamentally about conflict. Two (or more) forces, each trying to change the world around them in contradictory or at least incompatible ways, come into conflict. The strengths and weaknesses of each are weighed and the implications of each are considered, and a winner is finally chosen and the results are projected.  In a way it’s almost like a scientific experiment. In fact, some years ago, I rambled on my much-neglected blog about how I thought storytelling could be considered mankind’s first science. ( I’ve learned a lot more about how stories work since then, but I am just as convinced now as I was then that this is true. In fact you can pretty much see it in the story’s shape.

2 Plots, 3 Stories, 4 Parts
Every complete story has two plots which I refer to as the Outer Plot and the Inner Plot.

The Outer Plot – is simply the sequence of external events the provokes the protagonist into acting. The outer plot goes something like:

Part 1: A problem occurs which the protagonist may first try to avoid or deny until it affects him personally by changing his circumstances. By the end of Part 1 he cannot go back to anything like his old life until he fixes the problem.

Part 2: The protagonist first struggles to avoid or fend of the problem’s effects or the antagonist’s attacks while trying to figure out the true nature of the problem. The protagonist will be gathering (sometimes unknowingly) the knowledge/weapons/skills/allies/resources /etc. he will  need to ultimately face the antagonist/problem, but probably won’t be able to attack the antagonist/problem directly at this point. If he does, he will fail badly because he is completely unprepared.

Part 3: At the mid-point of the story, the protagonist has gained some insight into the true nature of the problem or a weakness of the antagonist and formulates a method or plan to attack. The protagonist goes on the offense, making progress toward his goal while paying increasing costs at the same time.

Part 4: After having been stripped of nearly all of his resources, the protagonist comes face to face with the antagonist and, while at the very point of losing, pulls one last trick out of his hat in a desperate all-or-nothing attempt to defeat the antagonist.

The Inner Plot—While the protagonist is dealing with the conflict of the Outer Plot, this is mirrored by a similar struggle taking place within the protagonist. The the outer struggle tests the protagonist’s abilities and methods to overcome the external conflict, while the inner struggle tests his values and his understanding of himself, his relationships and place in the world. How he responds to this inner struggle and how he feels about the results determines which of the three basic story types or Character Arcs the story falls into.

The Positive Change Arc: The protagonist starts out with a misunderstanding about himself, his world or life in general. This may sometime be caused by or associated with some significant past personal event. We shall refer to this misconception, or aspect that must change, as The Lie.

The Lie leads to a weakness or a fear which the protagonist must overcome in order to obtain the thing he needs (The Truth) to be truly happy. Unfortunately, the protagonist finds himself in a situation where facing The Lie may cause him to sacrifice his Goal, or the thing he wants because he thinks it will make him happy. The Inner Plot is all about how the protagonist discovers the power of The Truth to overcome The Lie and then sets himself free by learning to commit to it. This is the most common inner plot and is often used with an “everyman” protagonist who functions as a stand-in for the audience.

The Flat Change Arc: The protagonist already knows The Truth but his commitment to it and his ability to apply it is being tested. Everyone else, however, lives according to The Lie—or variations of The Lie. While the outer plot remains unchanged, the inner plot almost seems as if it consists of only Part 3 and Part 4 of the 4 plot parts. If the objective of the positive change arc is for the protagonist to solve the problem by discovering The Truth and change himself, the objective of the flat change arc is for the protagonist to save everyone else by demonstrating the power of The Truth. This is the next most common inner plot and is often used in action hero, superhero or suffering hero type stories.

The Negative Change Arc: The protagonist not only doesn’t know The Truth, he never learns it. As The Lie pushes him further and further from The Truth, the protagonist clings to The Lie even tighter, determined to pay any price to achieve his Goal or go down fighting. He usually fails to accomplish his Goal, but if he does, it is an empty and meaningless victory for which he’s sacrificed everything that could have made him truly happy. He usually fails to see how The Lie has harmed him, but even if he does he will still be powerless to comprehend or implement The Truth. These stories are tragic cautionary tales where the protagonist destroys himself and often the people around him by acting according to The Lie.

Stay tuned for... Plotting Part 2: Beginning Your Plot (The 8 Key Scenes, with an optional 9th)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 After Action Report & Lessons Learned

Every year except for last year (which we will neither mention nor think about) it seems my writing process for NaNoWriMo improves by some measure and 2015 is no exception. This year, due to changes at work and time demands from taking martial arts, I’ve probably had nearly half the time to write than in years past and yet I have, for the most part, kept up with my writing quotas. Following are some tips, tricks & techniques I found useful.

Disclaimer: Everyone approaches NaNoWriMo differently and I’m sure a number of people will consider some of these techniques “cheating.” It largely depends on what you think the “rules” of NaNoWriMo are. My opinion is that the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to get writers into the habit of writing regularly and to help them gain the confidence and skills necessary to continue do so. It is not necessary that you write a new book, that you complete a new book, that you write only one book or that (despite it’s name) that it even be a novel or work of fiction. The one absolutely rule for me is that you start on November 1st and that you write fifty-thousand words by November 30th. So here are some of the techniques that have been particularly helpful for me this year.

1. Have a plan — I knew back in 2007, when I first started NaNoWriMo, that I had to have as much pre-planning completed as I could before it started so I would spend as little time as possible stopping to think about what comes next. Since my scenes generally run around 1K each, that means I need to start the month with at least a list of 50 scenes. Of course I didn’t quite do that this year. So — not for the first time — things got a little sketchy toward the end, requiring that I fall back on some other techniques.

2. Write what interests you right now — The important this is getting words on the page. Whatever motivates you to do that, pursue it. So...

2.a. It’s OK to skip around — I admit I actually like to go through my scenes fairly sequentially because — though I do like to plan things out — I always discover things in writing that I will build on in later scenes. There is certainly no reason you couldn’t later go back and change scenes after  discovering the foreshadowing you wanted to include or just generally set up for reveals that hadn’t been planned ahead of time, that’s what editing is for, just try to not get caught up in going back and revising until after NaNoWriMo is over. The important thing is to keep moving forward.

2.b. It’s OK to write more than one story / thing — There are certainly more than a few writers (mostly pantsers I expect) who start out writing one story, then change their mind in mid-nano because either a side character or a sub-plot became more interesting. The idea that this is OK was something of a revelation to me. In the past I normally just gutted through one story, but lately I’ve also had some random stories that have come bursting out of me at high word counts. Sometimes I think it helps to have a major change in tone or plot to freshen things up during NaNoWriMo rather than trudging through the same story for the entire month — but then I’m severely ADD so that could also be a problem when my goal is to have a complete novel at the end. At least that time normally wasted sitting around trying to decide what will happen next and how it will happen, is now used productively.

3. Capture every moment — Some people can crank out 100K novels in November that are actually decently written. I hate and envy those people. OK, I don’t hate them, but I definitely envy and maybe feel just a twinge of disgust. :)Though every year I refine and improve my process, I usually just barely do 50K in November.

NaNoWriMo is all about focus. To succeed, I have to snatch every spare moment of time and use it to produce story. Even when I’m not writing, I’m mentally reviewing what I’ve written and planning what to write next. I think that level of focus helps bring out aspects of the story that would never be discovered if I were to take a more leisurely pace and split my attention with daily concerns. To help cature this, I usually carry a little fat notebook with me wherever I go. Everything in my head, setting, dialog, history, narrative, it all goes in the notebook.

4. Forget the keyboard, try the pen  —  When I am sitting at the keyboard taking an hour or more to write a mere dozen or so words I can sometimes crank out hundreds of words a minute simply by ditching the keyboard for the pen. Perhaps it’s just that I’m left-handed and so stimulate the more creative right side of the brain when I write by hand, or perhaps  the act of physically coordinating my hand when writing slows my ADD brain down enough to focus my thoughts, but I find this change in technique particularly effective when other approaches fail. I’ve written as much as a third of my nanos by hand this way.

5. If you’re not ready to write the scene, then write about the scene — I’ve a bad habit of rehearsing scenes in my head to get them right. For example, in dialog, I may know that I have three or four subjects that need to be addressed during the scene, but I want the conversation to flow freely and naturally from one topic to another so that if a character starts with subject ‘A’, the next character will naturally respond with ‘B’, and another ‘C’. But sometimes these subjects may not be naturally related. You may need to have characters go from ‘A’ to ‘B’ then back to ‘A’ or even ‘D’ before going on to ‘C’. Planning all this out, along with the right emotional notes, the shift in character relationships as well as the overall plot can be difficult, yet I can’t afford to spend a lot of time rehearsing.

Sometimes when I’m not sure how to write a scene, I just write about the scene. I write about what I want to happen or options I’m considering. Often I’ll start writing the scene this way and immediately after describing it, have worked out what I want to do during that process. Part of my editing process is doing a “show don’t tell” check to see if I’ve mentioned an emotion without illustrating it, or summarized a conflict that should have been played out step by step. Since writing about the scene is all about telling, it often provokes me into going back and writing the scene I was talking about.

5.b. This technique is also useful if you are writing a character's reaction to a prior scene ( where they were not the POV character) but you're not sure precisely what that reaction should be. Try re-writing the prior scene from their POV. The details of setting and action are not what are important here. Feel free to summarize those, only focus on the new POV's responses to them. If that doesn't work, play reporter and question them about it, writing down their answers.

6. Capture every thought  —  I learned the lesson of Technique #3 by accident while seeking help in the NaNoWriMo and other writer forums for difficult scenes which I was trying to decide how best to handle. Often, just by describing the problem and adequately defining it, the answer would come to me. I don’t have the time I used to have to hang out in forums during November, but I can accomplish the same thing with Technique #3. In fact anything I write about my NaNoWriMo project or even writing in general can prove helpful, so as a result, whether it’s a forum post or a blog post like this one. I write it in my NaNoWriMo doc file first (I create a new one on Nov. 1) then copy and paste it into wherever I want to share it. At least it gives me the chance to spell check it first.

7. Write just write!  — What do you do when it’s 11:15 PM, you’ve only written a couple hundred words and didn’t even make it to one thousand the day before? The answer is write, write anything no matter what. The best way to jam out a massive word count is to not even think about the writing. Authors call this free writing and it is actually a good way to free up the mental blocks and get the word flowing. Just scroll to the bottom of your document and write about whatever is on your mind, whatever you’re feeling, whatever frustrations you’re having with your story or anything else that is distracting you. Not only will it help you get your word count back on track and reduce the urge to just quit because you've fallen so far behind, it can also (as in Technique #3) help you figure out what you need to do to get your story going again.

8. Delete nothing — This has been a basic rule of mine since year 1(of my participation in NaNoWriMo.) Forget that the keyboard even has a delete key. One of the biggest tricks of NaNoWriMo is turning off the internal editor. Sometimes though, it’s hard to ignore the obvious. When I find something that obviously needs to be changed I just put brackets around [it.] ←- the part that needs to be deleted and write that part the way it should be. Sometimes, though, a new paragraph will take two or three runs at it before I get the phrasing right. This can make it hard to figure out what’s extraneous, what’s being kept and thus where I should go next. This, unfortunately, may lead to me dragging these mistakes out to the end of the paragraph/page/scene/document, which is not a bad thing in itself except that it sucks up some of the time that was saved by not going back and editing and deleting some of the word count. And did I mention I had ADD? It’s surprising how distracting something like that can be.

[and] [to earlier] [NaNoWriMo] [that I’m not] [conversation] about [I need] [book] [work through] [in]  [so that I know] [read] [it is particularly difficult I find it’s just because] [by hand] and in [was]
[this year] some [can’t] [adding] was can [when all things are said and done] [Focus on ] [what I’m thinking about making happen] [sometimes]

In Conclusion...
I hope you find some of these techniques helpful. If you don't like/disagree with any, don't feel you have to use any if then. If you have some additional techniques or variations you like to use, please share. Most importantly, whether it's November or not, always keep writing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Do You Really Know What Your Story is About?

This last year has been a gut-wrenchingly horrible disaster.  The only way I survived it was by getting lost in a new story that is so personal, I can't really talk about it right now.  I've done a number of things to take charge of my life, and in the writing arena, I finally decided to sign up for Holly Lisle's writing course How To Think Sideways, which encapsulates pretty much everything she learned from when she decided she wanted to be a writer, until she first got published and won all these awards.

In the first month, she presented a lot of clever ideas for tapping into your own subconscious and determining what stories are truly important to you.  I can't tell you what they are because, not only are they copy-written, I've paid a lot of money to learn them, so don't ask.

One technique I do want to talk about is something that is not unique to her.  In fact I came up with my own version of it years ago, and though her approach does offer an interesting angle I need to figure out how to incorporate into my process, over all I prefer my own approach.

That technique is the story sentence.

We used to play a game on the NaNoWriMo forums called 20-word synopsis, which really caused me to develop a system for writing synopses.  I call it my four questions and I don’t even start writing a story until I can answer them and produce a one sentence synopsis.
Who is the story about?
Not so much their name, but what is their role in the story? An orphaned street urchin?  A bored housewife?  An Evil necromancer who loves candy?  Start with a basic noun and adjective.
What do they want?
This is going to be the thing that moves the story forward.  This is what they are going to struggle and sacrifice for.
What is stopping them from achieving it?
Either the villain or natural forces or whatever the Protagonist is struggling against.  Often there is both an external conflict: overthrow the evil empire, and an internal conflict: must address a childhood trauma and overcome a debilitating fear of snakes to defeat the evil snake god.  If one is more important than the other, focus on that.  It’s up to you to decide if that secondary conflict should be added into your synopsis as an additional complication.
What is at stake?
This is the bad thing that will happen if the Protagonist fails.  This is why we should care about the story, what makes it interesting.
If you want to try and play the 20-word synopsis, try answering each question in five words or less.  For a book synopsis you’ve got a little more room, but this should help you focus on the important and interesting parts.
There is also an unofficial fifth question I like to answer before I start writing, though it never goes into the synopsis. 
How does the character change over the course of the story?