Author Insights: Elaine La Joie on Making Peace with the Possibility of Bad Reviews (+ an Autographed Book Giveaway)

And we’re back! It’s time for the next installment of our “Author Insights” series. In this series, I’m introducing you to writers who’ve taken their writing all the way to the finish line of publication, and they share their “lessons learned” with you. There’s nothing quite like learning from a writer who has made to the other side.

Plus, if you leave a comment at the end of the post before Friday, May 12th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, you’ll be entered to win an autographed copy of the author’s book in a random drawing. Please note that you must be located in the United States to win.

Meet Elaine La Joie, author of The Empath as Archetype

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Elaine La Joie. Elaine and I have worked together in various ways over the past 15 years since we first met after attending the same coach training program. Elaine has gone on to become not only a coach but is now also a shaman, who specializes in working with empaths. Elaine has chosen the self-publishing path and has put out five books, now bundled into one in the The Empath as Archetype. Her books are particularly valuable for sensitives and empaths who find themselves stuck in challenging relationship situations. Being a shaman and an expert in the Enneagram Four, Elaine always brings a higher view of relationship interactions I find illuminating and freeing. 

I asked Elaine to share her insights about writing her books with us. 

Elaine La Joie on Writing The Empath as Archetype

Elaine La Joie

I had wanted to write ever since I was a child, but I always thought I’d write fiction. However, after coaching empaths for a few years I found myself writing non-fiction.

At first I wrote short essays for my blog about topics that came up during client sessions that I thought most empaths would appreciate.

Then, as I expanded my knowledge base from plain coaching to the Enneagram to shamanic energy work, I found myself explaining these concepts to new clients, which took too much time away from diving into the healing work, so I decided to write a guide that clients could read before they started working with me.

Structuring a Complicated, Massive Topic

However, the book I imagined was complicated. I was bringing together topics from the Enneagram, shamanic energy work, and archetypes, and then writing specifically for the empath archetype. It was overwhelming.

Instead of writing I found myself spending time thinking about how to arrange this massive treatise, which led to frustration and procrastination. I solved this by going back to observing my clients and what we needed to unravel and work on first before major progress could be made.

This helped me see the three disparate topics my clients needed to understand before they could achieve deep healing and shift their ingrained patterns, and I organized my work accordingly. I wrote three books about the archetypal drama triangle, which is particularly problematic for the sensitive empath, shamanic energy work, and the enneagram archetype of the empath. I published these on my website.

Navigating Expanding My Reach with Amazon

Once I had self-published the books on my site, I had a few sales, mostly from new clients and others curious about my work. The feedback was good, but small. I kept writing, this time shifting to major case studies with the assumption that the reader had absorbed the concepts in the first three little books.

Because I wanted to expand my reach, I started looking into how to upload my books to Amazon. Luckily by the time I was ready to publish on Amazon, they had made the process relatively straightforward and free with both their digital system (Kindle) and their softcover publisher (CreateSpace).

But I noticed that I was procrastinating again—the thought of having my books reviewed by the general public was for the most part scary and unappealing.

Making Peace With the Possibility of Bad Reviews

My books were written for a very specific audience, an empath who wants to change his or her life. A non-empath would not understand these books. An empath that was interested but not ready to look at the shadow work required to heal themselves would most definitely find my books upsetting. They might leave rotten reviews. In many ways I felt like I was setting myself up to be misunderstood and misrepresented.

At the same time, I knew this work would be helpful to that segment of the population of empaths who were ready to dive in and do the deep healing work.

So, I had to prepare to get bad reviews. I made two shifts with my thinking that helped tremendously:

  1. I made a conscious decision not to take any reviews personally and to trust the work would reach the audience for whom it was intended. Because I am an empath, and empaths tend to take everything personally, I had to remind myself that my feelings in the moment would pass; I should honor my feelings, but not take them too seriously, even the happy feelings around good reviews. This helped me be both less attached to good reviews and less fearful of bad reviews.
  2. I reminded myself that personal work for anyone is very difficult, and that it is a common human behavior to shoot the messenger. My work is all about being the messenger for people who are hurting and wanting to heal themselves. In doing one-on-one work with clients, it is relatively easy to match my client and maintain a relationship that works for both of us, but every once in a while a client tries to shoot the messenger. It doesn’t happen often because we have built up a relationship of acceptance and trust, but when it does, I don’t take it personally because I understand the nature of healing work and the role of the shaman. Once I started thinking of my writing as working one-on-one with my favorite clients as my audience, it was easier and less scary to move forward. However, because I wasn’t really working one-on-one with each reader, it was guaranteed that I would be shot down at least one time out of ten.

Luckily for me, most of my readers so far have wanted to do the work, so most of my reviews on Amazon have been very good. Many empaths can be shy, so I receive much more positive feedback through emails than through reviews, which is also heartening. There are awful reviews as well, such as one from a reader who gave my last book one star after starting with it first instead of last. This person did not to read the other books, but gave them all one star reviews anyway. This was both amusing and upsetting at the same time, but in the grand scheme of things, the work is out there, and people can take it or leave it, just as they take or leave one-on-one session work.

Overall my writing experience has been a very good one. I have been very lucky to have a niche in which to write. I also entered self-publishing right when the process became easy and straight forward.

As it turned out, the literal process of self-publishing was easy—the hardest step was moving past my fears and putting the work out there.

About The Empath as Archetype

The Empath as Archetype by Elaine La JoieThe Empath as Archetype contains the first five volumes of The Empath as Archetype series by Elaine La Joie, including:

  • The Empath and the Archetypal Drama Triangle
  • The Empath and Shamanic Energy Work
  • Motivations of the Empath
  • The Empath and Shadow Work
  • The Empath and the Fan-Hero Family System

These books, written over seven years, are a compilation of case studies of Elaine’s clients, and are now available in this collected edition.

Elaine begins with the Archetypal Drama Triangle, explaining the most common archetypal system humans can be caught in, but gives examples particular to empaths. She moves on to describing shamanic techniques including Soul Retrieval and Underworld Work, used in her practice to help her clients heal wounds common to empaths. Next comes a description of the most typical blindspots and faulty beliefs for empaths as described by the Enneagram Type Four and how to change to more productive beliefs and behaviors. In the final two volumes she explains particularly troublesome relationships in which empaths can become entangled, including the common family system that can produce the narcissistic personality.

The Empath as Archetype is available on*

About Elaine

Elaine La Joie, shaman and certified life coach, has worked with empaths and highly sensitive intuitives for more than ten years. During that time she has helped empaths understand themselves and their relationships while using shamanic energy healing to resolve past traumas, including severe abuse. These books offer empaths insight into their relationship and into the hidden motivations of themselves and others so that they can understand their loved ones and create the lives they truly desire.

Please visit Elaine’s website at for more resources for empaths.

Enter to Win an Autographed Copy of The Empath as Archetype

Elaine has graciously offered to give away three autographed copies of her book to my readers. Leave a comment on the blog about one of your own writing lessons or something you learned from Elaine’s insights before Friday, May 12th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time and you’ll be entered in the random drawing. Please note, you must be located in the United States to win.


* This is an affiliate link, which means my Called to Write business receives a small commission from any purchases you make using this link, and which I deeply appreciate.


Solve Your Story Problems In Advance with Jeff Lyons’ Premise Line Development Method

Today I’m sharing an interview with my colleague Jeff Lyons, master storyteller, Enneagram expert, screenwriter, novelist, and author, about his new book, Anatomy of a Premise Line *.

Jeff and I ran a teleclass series and workshop in 2013 about using the Enneagram for story development. In fact, he has another book coming out later this year called Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller, so stay tuned for that one, too!

The brilliance of Jeff’s premise line work is that it helps you solve your story problems in advance. Something I see often is writers struggling with massive rewrites of various types, novels, screenplays, what have you, and swearing on their mother’s graves NEVER AGAIN to write without plotting and developing their stories first. 

Jeff’s method is a powerful tool to help you get your story straight before you write your way into a corner and have to reverse engineer a proper story to find your way out again. Take a gander here and you’ll get a sense of how this whole thing works and why it’s so valuable. Then, get thee to Amazon (affiliate links provided) and dive in!


Why did you write this book?  Does the world really need another book on how to write better?

No, the world doesn’t need another book on how to write. The world has more than enough books on writing, the world is glutted and drowning in how-to-this and how-to-that, when it comes to writing craft.  You are correct.  The world doesn’t need another book on writing.

Which is great for my book, because it’s not a book on writing, or how to write, or what to write, or on anything related to writing. It is a book about story: how to develop a story, how to structure a story, and how to know if you even have a story.

Anatomy of a Premise Line is a book about story development. Writing and storytelling are two different things and they have nothing to do with one another. They are different skills sets and require two different kinds of talents. You don’t have to have a pen or paper, word processor, or be anywhere near a written language of any kind to tell a story.  Stories can be danced, mimed, painted, sculpted, or written, but stories don’t need writers. They only need storytellers. The problem is—and this is why I wrote this book—storytelling (i.e., story development) is not taught in MFA writing programs, or in film schools, or anywhere else, really.

Writers are on their own, for the most part, in developing their story development skill sets. That’s the need this book fills: this book is the missing class you never got in that expensive MFA program, or film school.

What makes Anatomy of a Premise Line different than all the other story development books out there?

That’s just it, there aren’t a lot of story development books out there. In fact, there are almost no books on real story development in the marketplace. That’s one of the differentiators for sure between my book and other books, but the main differentiator is that Anatomy of a Premise Line teaches how to leverage something called a “premise line” to discover and uncover any story’s right, true and natural structure. Many writing books mention story premise in passing; some might even devote a whole chapter to the idea of “what is a premise,” but this is the only book devoted entirely to the subject of premise development and idea testing.

This is the main distinction between Anatomy of a Premise Line and all other books on story development (the few that are out there) in the marketplace. If a story is going to fail, it will first do so at the level of the idea itself, i.e., at the premise level. This book teaches writers how to master this invaluable tool and how to use it to uncover the perfect structure for any story. Every story has a structure; every story must have a structure. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a story, it’s something else.

Anatomy of a Premise Line teaches any writer how to use that structure to build a map that can guide their entire writing process from inception to writing pages. By leveraging the power of the premise line, a storyteller can learn how to harness the natural structure of their story in one or two sentences. The book has many examples from the worlds of film and literature demonstrating how this works.

I liken it to the old saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a night; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Anatomy of a Premise Line teaches you how to fish so you can create stories for your whole life, not just muddle through one night of writing with some flavor-of-the-month story technique. 

What is the biggest problem your book addresses for writers and storytellers?

Anatomy of a Premise Line addresses the problem of, what I call, “premature writing.” Think about it, what happens when a writer gets a new idea for a story? They get excited, they chew on the idea a little while (very little), they get filled with anxiety because of the pressure to write something—anything—and they just start to write.

This is, in fact, the consensus advice to writer, “Just write, don’t edit, don’t hold back, just do it—just write. The story will write itself—trust the process.”

Well, for a few lucky souls this approach can work, the “just do it” strategy can produce some useful writing, but for the vast majority of writes this is horrible advice. Writers think that writing will get them where they want to go, but this is not what happens.

Instead, after a few weeks, or months, and hundreds of pages they find themselves lost in the story woods wondering, “Where did the wheels go off the wagon?” The story isn’t working and they invariably have to backtrack to find their way again.  I call this “backing into the story.” Everybody does it—everybody, without exception. That’s the main problem this book addresses, because when you are forced to back into your story you lose writing time, money, and creative energy struggling to get back on track and find your path again. This can be avoided completely!

I’m on a mission to train writers to hold back from the urge to relieve their creative anxiety by starting pages before they know their story’s structure. Develop your story’s premise first, figure out the basic architecture, and develop your premise line; only then can you know if your story is going to work or fall flat. You can know right at the inception of your idea whether or not that idea will support a serious commitment by you as a writer. It can be done. You can avoid “premature writing” and getting lost in the story woods, if you let the premise development process guide you to the right, true, and natural structure of your story—BEFORE you start writing pages.

The premise development process can literally cut your writing time in half by saving you from getting lost in the story woods, and providing a solid story map that can guide you thorough the entire writing process. This is not exaggeration, this is what I’ve seen happen with literally thousands of writers.

Is this book for screenwriters or novelists? How about creative nonfiction?

Story is story; writing is writing. They are not the same thing. Remember, storytelling has nothing to do with writing. Writing is just one form a story can take, and whether that form is a haiku poem, or a screenplay, or a thousand-page novel is irrelevant. Certainly screenwriting  and novel writing are very different activities, and each has its own peculiarities.

But, Anatomy of a Premise Line is about story, not writing, so I don’t care (nor does the book) what kind of writer you are, in terms of your preferred format. All I care about is what kind of story you are telling, and have you discovered your story’s right, true, and natural structure.  Consequently, the book makes no preference as to screenwriting, playwriting, novel writing  or creative nonfiction; it’s for anyone who tells stories.

I really want to ask you about how you write. What sparks a story for you? Do you have rituals?

The way I write is something I would not recommend to anyone. In fact, avoid my writing process at all cost. I do EVERYTHING you advise your readers NOT to do.

Here is my ritual: Get up, have coffee, feed the cat (so far so good), get on Facebook and spend an hour kibitzing, get on Twitter and check statistics and notifications and respond, get on LinkedIn and track all the mail/posts/messages, get on Stage 32 ( and respond to new contacts and review posts, write for a little while, check email, check Facebook again, check Twitter again, repeat. This is my day. I spend as much time on social media distracting myself as I do writing. I find this is necessary for me. I need distractions to write. It’s counter-intuitive, but that’s what works for me. My day is from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. pretty much every day, seven days a week. I’m writing and distracting myself all day long—literally. Run away from this as fast as you can and do not do this if you want a life. You have been warned.

As to what sparks a story, who knows? I think it’s different for everyone. For me it’s a mix of my personal neurotic fears and dreams and wishes and obsessive desires. Right now I’m obsessed about the 11th century because I want to write a novel about that period, and I’m all wrapped up in the corruption of the Catholic Church and Popes, and kinky Cardinals and God only knows where that’s coming from inside my subconscious mind. But, it is, so I have to listen. What makes us write the things we write are all very much about us working out our own personal peccadilloes. So, somehow, right now, medieval Catholic perverts are my path to emotional self-healing. Go figure.

What question should I have asked that I didn’t?

“Chocolate or vanilla?” I still can’t decide.

Thanks, Jeff!

Pick up your copy of Anatomy of a Premise Line on Amazon here.*


Jeff LyonsAbout Jeff: Jeff Lyons is a published author with more than 25 year’s experience in the film, television, and publishing industries as a writer, story development consultant, and editor. He is an instructor through Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio, and lectures through the UCLA Extension Writers Program, and is a regular presenter at leading writing and entertainment industry trade conferences.

Jeff has written on the craft of storytelling for Writer’s Digest Magazine, Script Magazine, and The Writer Magazine. His book, Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success* is published through Focal Press and is the only book devoted solely to the topic of story and premise development for novelists, screenwriters, and creative nonfiction authors. His second book, Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller, is due in 2016. Visit him at and follow him on Twitter @storygeeks.

*  Amazon affiliate link



Find your character’s moral problem with the Enneagram

Lyons Fin 018Today’s article is a guest post by story and Enneagram expert Jeff Lyons of His article touches on a often overlooked aspect of story development that many writers miss and their story structure suffers as a result: their main character’s “moral problem”.

Jeff will be teaching us more about how to identify a character’s moral problem in his upcoming workshop here in Berkeley, California (I’m co-hosting) on October 26 and 27 on his method of Rapid Story Development. We’d love to have you join us if you’d like to learn more.

Now here’s Jeff’s article:


The problem is moral

Hands down, the most important and most overlooked story structure element all writers either miss altogether or bungle is the moral problem. This pesky problem is not just a nice perk — it is a make-it-or-break-it story structure component of any good story.

The moral problem is the hole in the heart of your protagonist. He or she starts off the story in some pickle, some predicament of their own making, ideally brought about by the very moral problem to which they are oblivious. This problem is making them act badly in the world. They are hurting people emotionally, mentally, and maybe even physically due to this lack. It’s the hurting of others that make it a moral issue, and not just a psychological one (the distinction is about hurting others versus hurting oneself). The character needs to learn some lesson about how to live in the world so that they no longer hurt others; some lesson that elevates them (hopefully, but not always) to be a better person. They learn that life lesson that makes them moral again.

Good stories have protagonists with this hole in their heart. And the best stories rip out the protagonist’s heart and then somehow heal it again, before the heart gets put back inside (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course — unless this is a Clive Barker horror story).

How to find the moral problem

So, the question becomes: how does a writer figure out how to find one of these heart-holes? How do you assure that your protagonist has a meaningful moral problem and an equally meaningful growth-moment at the end of the story where they see the error of their evil ways? Some writers have a natural gift for this and flawed and tortured protagonists come to them as gracefully as flight to an eagle. For others (i.e., most of us) the process of finding a good moral problem is more like trying to find a taxi on a rainy night.

The good news, however, is that there is a tool that any writer can use to help them crack this problem, regardless of their natural gifts. That tool is called the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a powerful archetypal system that describes the nine core personality drives underlying all human behavior. Each of the nine drives is rooted in thoughts, feelings and actions that largely determine how we interact with the world, for good or ill. Everyone has an Enneagram type — including fictional characters and stories themselves. Writers have used this tool for many decades to develop multi-dimensional characters, but it can also be used as a story development too, when coupled with story structure principles. It is this relationship between the Enneagram and story structure that gives writers a doorway to finding the most dramatically powerful moral problem for their protagonist.

What’s your character’s poison?

Let’s take an example and walk through the problem as a point of illustration:

You just wrote the movie The Verdict. Frank, the protagonist, is a ambulance-chasing, alcoholic lawyer who is constantly looking for the next sucker to scam into hiring him. You know he’s a drunk. You know he’s in pain. But what’s his moral problem? Is his alcoholism the moral problem? Alcohol hurts lots of people. Is his pain the moral problem? If so, what’s the pain? How do you figure out which it is? Writers spend lots of time caught up in this maze of questions and confusion.

Enneagram to the rescue. Each of the nine Enneagram personality styles has something called a “poison”. This poison is the hole in the heart. It is the thing that poisons everything they do, everything they feel, everything they think. So, what’s poisoning Frank? Certainly alcohol is, but that’s mostly just hurting him. It’s not hurting other people. What he’s doing that’s hurting others is that he is using them. He sees people as targets, not people. So, we have the answer, right? He’s using people. That’s the moral problem, right? No, not quite. That’s what he’s doing; that’s not why he’s doing it. The moral problem is the motivation, the thing causing the using.

The Enneagram poison can help you quickly answer this question and find the real moral problem. Of the nine personality styles, the 3rd style (“The Achiever”) is the one who has the poison of secretly feeling that they have no personal worth or value. This fits Frank’s actions to a tee. For him, people have no value; they’re things to be used. He ultimately feels this because deep down he believes he has no value or worth himself and therefore no one else has value either. Over the course of the movie he learns that, indeed, not only do people matter, but that he himself matters and he can make a difference in the world.

And so not only does the Enneagram technique of looking for the poison explain the motivation behind the protagonist’s immoral behavior, it also points to the final self-revelation at the end of the story, where the hero or heroine realizes how to heal the hole in their heart. In this case, Frank realizes he has value and so do other people. He is able to make a new choice as a result.

Moral problem and story structure

As a writer, having this key piece of information — a clear moral problem — is critical for you to not only address your main character’s development and arc, but also to guide you on how best to structure your story so that key story beats, like the inciting incident, low point, and final climax, are all driven by the engine of the protagonist’s moral problem.

This is a deep subject, but a critical one for any writer. The moral problem can make or break your story, and the Enneagram can help you rapidly navigate the difficult questions that might otherwise hang you up and drag out the development process.

If you’d like to learn more, join us in Berkeley on October 26 & 27. Early registration ends TOMORROW, Thursday, October 10. Find more and register here:

Your turn

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Thanks for reading.


Using the Enneagram to move from character to story

Lyons Fin 018In the third and final session of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons (recordings no longer available), we talked about “Bridging the Gap from Motivation to Structure With the Enneagram.” Today’s post is a recap of what we discussed.

His process for “bridging the gap” from premise line to character to story is quite fascinating, and he illustrated it using a breakdown of The Great Gatsby according to the Enneagram.

Bridging the gap

Here’s an overview of the process:

  • Step 1. Write out your premise line and log line.
    (See the last post for more on premise line development.)
  • Step 2. Define the moral problem that best illustrates the story’s premise line.
    (In Gatsby, Nick focuses on trying to fit in and be liked, he isn’t being his truest self, which is a form of lying.)
  • Step 3. Look for the Enneagram type that best represents the motivations (not behaviors) of someone with that moral shortfall.
    (Nick most aligns with the Enneagram type 9.)
  • Step 4. Study the integration and disintegration points for that type to identify what the character is capable of and what they’re greatest opponent might be.
    (Points 3 and 6, respectively.)
  • Step 5. Explore the entertaining moral argument possibilities between those two types.
    (Can you succeed and achieve without giving up your soul?)
  • Step 6. Brainstorm about the communication styles, “pinches”, and blind spots of each of those two types.
    (Nick has various challenges that Gatsby can poke at and wreak havoc with.)
  • Step 7. Map your story using these Enneagram components and correlate them with the visible structure components we discussed last time.
    (This includes the protagonist, moral problem, chain of desire, focal relationship, opposition, plot & momentum (midpoint complication, low point, and final conflict), and evolution/de-evolution and is the more complex step where the story is broken down into a greater level of detail).


Your turn

Have you considered using the Enneagram in your story development? Will you consider using it in the future? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Constructing a powerful premise line as a framework for story structure

Lyons Fin 018In the second class of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons (recordings no longer available), we talked about “The Critical Importance of Premise Line Development.” Today’s post is a recap of what we learned.

Jeff started off by talking about the importance of being clear about what you’re writing is about a situation or a story:

  • A story is about a person on a journey of change, where they are trying to achieve a goal or attain a desire and have a revelation about themselves at the end. Stories include relationships, because, as Jeff says, “Stories are conversations, not monologues.”
  • A situation, on the other hand, is usually some kind of problem or predicament with a solution that tests a protagonist’s problem-solving skills but doesn’t reveal character. Few, if any, subplots, twists, or complications are required to solve the problem, and it ends in the same emotional emotional space it began in. Standard genre beats may still evident but not the deeper underpinnings of story structure.

While Jeff doesn’t suggest that story is better than situation or vice versa, he says that they require different building blocks to successfully deliver them. A story will rely on deeper story structure components, while a situation will rely on entertainment value, great set pieces, and good dialogue, but won’t reveal character or be driven by a moral problem or theme.

And what is story structure?

Jeff defines story structure differently than the way most of us have learned to think of it. Most of us think of things like inciting incidents, turning points, mid-points, climaxes, and resolutions as story structure. Jeff describes these as “story beats” and says that most writing systems that purport to be about structure are actually focused on these typical beats and are missing the deeper, natural structure implied by both premise development and character motivation.

Getting from idea to premise line

When a story idea first arrives, it often comes as an “undifferentiated mass”. It’s a collection of swirling notions and intuitive instincts that don’t translate yet into a clear organized story structure.

Jeff uses premise line development as a tool to begin to decipher the fuzzy, abstract ideas into a more concrete, contained story — the nascent beginnings of story structure. He compares it to stepping down electricity from the power plant into a useable form in a residential setting. It has to go through transformers to make it available at a functional level. The premise line is the first step in translating from that vague mass of ideas into something resembling a story.

The way that he does this is by using seven core elements to begin to tease out the components of the story and shape them, including:

  • Character — do you have a sense of a character who will be central to the story?
  • Constriction — what happens that pushes the character off the line they’re on at the beginning of the story?
  • Desire — what does this character want? At this point, we’re not talking about something specific or tangible, that comes later, but rather a sense of a core desire or motivating force.
  • Relationship — who is this character in relationship with? (Again, stories are conversations.)
  • Resistance — what is the push back or opposition that stops the main character from getting what they want?
  • Adventure and/or Chaos — what is the adventure or chaotic experience the character has that leads them to the epiphany at the end?
  • Change — this is the dramatic epiphany the end — how the character changes as a result of their experiences.

Moving from premise line to visible structure

Once you’ve identified your premise line, you can then move to a more “visible structure” for the story. This is a process of taking what you’ve started with and beginning to develop and flesh out the pieces of the story more deliberately. At this stage of the process, you’ll make the following shifts:

  • The character becomes the protagonist.
  • The constriction becomes the moral problem of the protagonist. (This informs the inciting incident.)
  • The character’s desire becomes a chain of desire (a sequence of goals or desires all related back to the character’s core desire).
  • The relationship becomes the focal relationship for the story, the person the protagonist experiences the journey with.
  • The resistance becomes the central opposition. At the outset and premise level, you may just have a sense of an opposing force. At this stage it would become personal, dramatic, and/or personified.
  • The adventure/chaos becomes the plot and momentum of the story through the second act. (This is the part of the story that includes the typical story beats, like midpoint, low point, and climax).
  • The change is the evolution or de-evolution of the protagonist.

Bridging the gap using the Enneagram

In order to make the transition from that undifferentiated mass of the original idea to the more visible structure of the premise line all the way into a visible, clear structure, Jeff uses the Enneagram to help identify the specifics for each one of these elements, such as:

  • The best protagonist for the story, based on the personal change the story is designed to illustrate.
  • The best opposition or antagonist for the story, designed to help provoke the protagonist into that change.
  • Brainstorming and understanding the protagonist’s core desire based on their Enneagram type, to design a chain of desires that the character seeks that drives the story forward.
  • The best allies or focal relationships for the protagonist.
  • The best likely inciting incidents, turning points, midpoints, low points, and battles/climaxes that will stimulate your specific character and/or be driven by him/her to the final outcome of the story.

The Enneagram doesn’t tell us the ONLY options for each of these, but rather suggests the best form for each of these elements. Then as the writer, it’s up to you to begin to craft the specific story details to deliver that. (Form follow function, after all.)

For instance, at the broadest level, an Enneagram Three seeks approval from the outside as a way of validating themselves, but what they really need is to have their own sense of value and sense of self. So a story about a Three would be designed to play out that journey in a visual, visible metaphor organized around the ideas of approval-seeking as the constriction, taking an action that would cause a loss or challenge based on that approval-seeking as an inciting incident, to a low point where the Three finally realizes they are sacrificing themselves on the altar of approval and giving up everything to do so, all the way to a climactic moment where the Three stops looking outside themselves for approval and decides to find it within.

At a more specific level of story detail, those ideas could play out with a businessman who will never say no to a contract, trying to please everyone and perform by juggling and obfuscation, but he finally says yes to too many projects and the house of cards he’s built around himself comes crashing down. He would then realize he needs to choose projects and work that HE values, and by so doing, recognize his OWN inherent value. It’s HIM that makes the projects successful, not the game he’s playing.

And of course, we can get even more specific from there, as well as fleshing out the details of his supporting relationships and opposition.

Your turn

Do you develop a premise line for your work? Tell us about it! We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Using the Enneagram for Story Development

Lyons Fin 018In the first class of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons (recordings no longer available), we talked about “The Secrets of the Enneagram Most Writers Are Overlooking.” We had a mix of participants on the line, it seemed to be about 50-50 on who had prior experience or knowledge of the Enneagram and who did not, and Jeff did a great job of making the material accessible to everyone. Today’s post is a recap of what we learned.

Jeff talked about how powerful the Enneagram can be for writers because of its archetypal patterning of human drives and behaviors that transcend cultural boundaries.

He walked us through a quick overview of each of the nine Enneagram types, or styles, as he calls them. He describes the styles as being nine basic strategies for living, including showing us how we behave when we feel successful, weak, vulnerable, and strong. His descriptions of the types quickly demonstrated how powerfully the Enneagram types can be used for character development and why so many writers have used the Enneagram that way for so long. He also described several ways writers can use the Enneagram beyond simple character development, which I’ll give you the highlights of in a moment.

The Nine Core Enneagram Styles

To start, though, let’s take a look at the nine core Enneagram styles:

  • The One is the “do the right thing” person who derives their sense of safety, security, and love in the world by following the rules and doing things perfectly.
  • The Two is the “to be loved” style, sometimes called “the caretaker”. Twos look for the person with the most power in their environment and make themselves indispensable to that person in order to feel loved. They manipulate in order to get the love they want. Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction is an example of an extremely unhealthy or “disintegrated” Two.
  • The Three is the “performer or achiever” and focuses on getting EVERYONE’s approval (not just one person in power, like the Two). Jeff described the Three as a “therapist’s nightmare”, because they tend to perform emotion rather than feel it (though they do have and feel emotions deeper down).
  • The Four is the “to be special” style. This type has a negative side, feeling that something is missing. They can be melancholy, depressed, and always looking for someone to help them solve the problem of “what’s missing”. They “long to long” and are often overly self-oriented.
  • The Five is the “thinker” type who controls their environment by controlling information. They don’t like intense emotions and control the people around them by controlling (sometimes withholding) information. Keanu Reeve’s character “Neo” in The Matrix is a great example of a Five who controls his world through data, at the beginning of the story in particular.
  • The Six is the “safety-security” style. Sixes always have a plan, they know where the pot holes and the landmines are. They tend to have a problem with trust, but if you win their loyalty, they’ll be a friend forever. If their lives are working, they tend to be happy, but they will also dismantle their entire lives in order to have a problem to solve. There are also “counter-phobic” sixes who tend to strike first if they think you might be a threat to them.
  • The Seven is the “to have fun” style. “Why have one friend when you can have 100 friends?”, as Jeff said. Sevens are great at having fun and enjoying life, but they also have a tendency to be addictive types and their fast-paced, highly-active lifestyles are designed to help them avoid their inner pain.
  • The Eight is the “self-reliant / leader” style. They control people by making the rules. They are the most projected on than any other Enneagram type, because they have such a strong presence that can feel confronting. They can be very protective of the downtrodden and provide leadership or can become dictators at an extreme. They avoid relying on other people.
  • The Nine is the “peacemaker”, the one who finds safety by finding common ground. Nines make sure that everyone is heard except themselves — they are self-abandoning. They don’t get in trouble, but they are also not seen.

Character Development & Beyond

Here are some story development applications Jeff described for the Enneagram:

  • Determining your characters’ core personality types — this has been done by writers for years.
  • Determining your protagonist’s growth arc — Each of the nine types has a specific drive toward “disintegration” and a higher place within them for “integration”. Studying those paths of disintegration and integration can help writers get clearer about their characters’ growth arcs in their stories. This has also been done for years by writers.
  • Choosing the best protagonist for your story, depending on the moral problem you want your character to solve in the story and the type of story you are telling. For example, love stories are often Two-driven stories, and pure sci-fi stories are often Five-driven stories.
  • Selecting the best opponent for your protagonist, based on your protagonist’s Enneagram type and growth arc, so they are designed for maximum conflict that will provoke the protagonist’s growth.
  • Choosing the best allies for your protagonist, so your characters interplay with each other for best effect.
  • Designing and structuring your story to naturally take your protagonist through exactly the right crucible that forces them to move from their moral problem into their point of integration, or revelation, by the end of the story.
  • Understanding the types of stories we will be innately drawn to tell, based on our own Enneagram styles, which can make us more conscious writers.

All of these help us “pre-structure” our stories BEFORE we go into story beat development, which is what so many of us are familiar with already and tend to think of as story structure (like Blake Synder’s Save The Cat method, for instance).

Next week, in the second class of our series, Jeff will be talking to us about:

  1. Premise line development and its critical importance in story development.
  2. Story structure components.
  3. How to tell the difference between whether or not you have a story or a situation.

Your turn

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? What has it helped you shift or change in your own life? If you’re a writer, do you use it in your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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The Power of the Enneagram

I’ve been a follower of the Enneagram since 1998. The Enneagram is a powerful system that is highly useful for understanding your personality and inner motivations.

My work colleague told me about it one day, and mentioned that she was pretty sure I was a “Six” just like she was. Horrified to be lumped into a category with someone I often struggled to get along with, I quickly set out to prove that I WASN’T A SIX! I didn’t care what it actually was, I just didn’t want to be THAT.

I took a few tests online and found that the results were mixed. In some I WAS a Six. The horror! In others, it came back as a Four. Hmm. (The tests can be a great place to start if you’re curious about this.)

My colleague suggested that the best way to “get” the Enneagram was to attend a panel discussion, where I could watch and hear from groups of particular types. I think over the years I’ve now attended two different Enneagram panel series and one other Enneagram class here in the local San Francisco Bay Area.

But what I vividly remember is watching the panel of Fours in the first series I attended. I was already suspecting I was a Four — the Individualist, the Dreamer, the Romantic, the Tragic Romantic, the Artist — and I was determined to find out once and for all. (The names vary depending on whose book you’re reading, and some people don’t even like to use the names at all because of the projections people make onto them.)

Fours are known for wanting to be different and special. Unique. It’s both a source of pain and pride for them.

At that first panel series, I watched the entire row of Fours talk about their experiences being a Four. We got all the way down to the very end of the line (there must have been 12 to 14 people easily), and the last woman said, “I don’t know, I just don’t really identify with everyone else here. I mean, I know I’m a Four, and I know you all are too, but I just feel different.”

Right then, I knew in my core, as she expressed EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING, that I was, in fact, a Four.

It wasn’t exactly a thrilling revelation, though it certainly did alleviate my other drama about my colleague (Fours seem to, ahem, like, create, and attract drama). Mostly it hit me: “Oh man, you mean all that stuff that Fours are? I’m that too??”

personality-typesMost of the Enneagram books out there tend to look at each of the nine types from a fairly negative perspective, and a lot of people can be overwhelmed by that. I quickly learned that most of Helen Palmer’s books were too dark for me, and found Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery* by Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson. I loved the levels of integration and disintegration they described because it gave me a sense that there was hope for improvement and it helped me learn a ton about myself and my suddenly transparent behavior and fixations.

So fast-forward a few years.

Over time, the Enneagram has been a great tool for me for both understanding and getting along with my Nine husband (a Peacemaker) and helping my clients understand themselves better (of course many of them tend to be Fours :) ). One of my colleagues has written a series of books for empaths based around the core Enneagram principles* that I highly recommend. I’ve written a few articles related to the Enneagram myself, and have a page on my old website about the Enneagram and how it relates to high sensitivity.

And once I started writing fiction, I turned to the Enneagram to use it to develop my characters. But I thought of it as simply that, a tool to help me develop each character individually.

I never really thought of it as anything more, or how the characters might be related to each other through the Enneagram.

Then last October, I was following one of my fellow ScriptMag columnists online, Jeff Lyons, who tweeted something about a class he was offering and I discovered that he also offered writing-related, “rapid story development” Enneagram classes and I was enthralled! I wanted to know more right away. It didn’t take long for us to talk about him coming here to Berkeley to teach his method.

What amazes me most about it is that he uses a combination of story premise and the archetypal Enneagram system to do story structure work. Not just character, not just motivation, not even just how characters are related. He works with his own proprietary story premise model with the Enneagram to tackle character, plot, and structure in a holistic, integrated fashion.

Who knew!?

I can’t wait to see how he does it, and I hope you’ll consider coming to join us too. He’s going to be teaching the Enneagram in a very hands-on fashion — it sounds like perfect hybrid of observation, teaching, taking action, and getting a chance to put it into practice. He’s even going to do some 1:1 “magic time” with a few lucky participants on their own story structure and premise. It’s going to be amazing.

If you can’t come and be there live, or if you want more information, we’d love to have you join us over the next three weeks for a three-part interview series with Jeff so you can get a sense of this ground-breaking tool. You can find out more about the teleclass series and register here.

Your turn

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? What has it helped you shift or change in your own life? If you’re a writer, do you use it in your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.




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Your Precious Time

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to enjoying my life more.

Part of my Life Purpose is to be a Lover of Life — a Venusian goddess of fun, play, delight and savoring. Not something that comes naturally to me.

Instead, I’m more of an all work and no play kind of girl. I easily fall into a more “masculine” approach to my life and my business: I’ve inherited a strong delayed gratification mentality. I push myself hard to get to the outcome I want, delaying rewards. I’m better (there’s always more) at not neglecting the self-care the way I used to, but I don’t get around to the really fun, delicious, Life Savoring that I want to be enjoying. At least not until recently.

In part because of my work with my Artist’s Way Accountability and Support Group and in part because of my own calling in this direction, I’ve been paying close attention to spending my precious time wisely in work or at play.

Here’s what I’ve been putting my focus on, and I’d love to hear how you’re inspired by this and how you decide to use your precious time:

1. Enjoying what I’m actually doing, no matter how simple or mundane.

As an Enneagram Four, it’s all too easy for me to get all dramatic about doing “special” things (you know, grand sweeping gestures and the like) and to poo-poo the ordinary and the mundane.

But those seemingly “little” moments are what add up to the beauty of life — watching my son run around with other kids on the lawn. Folding laundry while listening to my husband read to our little guy. Snuggling up watching a movie together. You know.

2. Prioritizing “Real” Life activities.

As a creative entrepreneur who operates largely in the virtual world (blogging and writing on my computer, speaking with clients by phone or Skype), I’m making a point to emphasize more Real Life experiences too, like spending time in the garden with my hands in the rich soil, creating community experiences in our neighborhood like the fabulous progressive dinner we had over the weekend, or simply sitting in the sunshine on my front porch while holding coaching calls.

3. Turning off the virtual world.

I’m also making a point to unplug more from the iTouch, Twitter, Facebook, and my computer. They are seductively engaging, but I find my time swirling away from me into a vortex of web searches and information indulgences.

4. Taking small daily steps to move me towards my Big Dream rather than looking for single massive actions.

This is a big pitfall for me — I look for giant blocks of time to do one project, but then never QUITE get around to it. I’m learning to take “turtle steps,” as Martha Beck trained coach Jill Winski calls them, consistently. And consistently again.

I received a reminder of this on Twitter via @AdviceToWriters over the weekend from Anthony Trollope (a 19th century novelist):

For me, this includes taking small steps to take care of the business of living, like keeping up with my book keeping and paperwork, as well as the business of living my Life Purpose. That way, I don’t get overwhelmed and feel unable to keep moving ahead with my Big Dream.

5. Choosing a grounded approach.

There’s a lot of conversation around integrating the masculine with the feminine. About being goddesses in our own lives. I agree.

I think it’s also about being grounded in remembering what really matters. For me, that is my inner sense of well-being, my connection with my son, my relationship with my husband, my connections with the communities of people I care about, and fulfilling my Big Dream.

Despite what my mind and ego like to say to the contrary about achieving my Big Dream, it’s not ONLY about “making it happen” or “getting it done.” I want to ENJOY my life along the way, have FUN while I’m doing it, no matter what my current circumstances are — no matter how much money I have or don’t have, no matter how much sleep I’m getting or not getting, no matter how many clients I have or don’t have, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

How are you spending your precious time?

I’d love it if you’d share with me the most powerful way this article has inspired you to think about enjoying YOUR precious time.


Coming Attractions

~> May 3rd, 2011. My Artist’s Way Accountability & Support Group continues. Details.

~>June 9th, 16th, and 23rd, 2011. Mark your calendar! My brand new Life Purpose Breakthrough Group event series for getting you back on track with what you were put here to do will be happening on June 9th, 16th, and 23rd — only 4 spots available in each group. Find out more here. Three groups are available: Intuition & Inner Wisdom, Creativity and Big Vision. Which one is yours?

~>May 26th to May 28th, 2011. Attending Andrea J. Lee’s Wealthy Thought Leader event via simulcast.

~>May 28th, 2011. Next broadcast of my Dreamification Radio show on Radio Lightworker. Details. Listen from anywhere in the world to this Internet radio show.