Whether you’ve just finished a project or you’re just starting to write, dealing with the blank screen (page) is daunting. It can make even the best ideas shrivel up in your head and freeze your fingers. Some believe that story structure is essential to success and that all writers should plan their story in advance. Others believe that spontaneity is crucial for creativity and advise that everyone should tell their story. What should a writer, especially a new writer, do? That both are correct. The structure of the story is important, and spontaneity can be a boon for creativity. Neither one nor the other is the only correct answer. There are tools that can help all writers, regardless of their preferred method of story development. A tracing tool for all is the phrase of the story.

Where Do You Start?

You look at the screen and think that the brilliant idea you came up with is really a cliché, or that it is too light to be the epic novel you came up with, or that the idea is just a two-stage plot. Don’t quit. It’s not that bad. All you need is a judgement. But before we start this, we need a common understanding of what conspiracy means.

What is the Plot?

To paraphrase and merge the definitions of Dwight V. Swain, Donald Maass and Jessica Page Morrell:

It’s a mouthful, but all these things are part of the word that the plot represents. What changes, how things change, the intensity or tension of your story comes from the situation, the genre and the tropes you select to build your plot. Still overwhelmed? There are a lot of pieces to trace and it can be overwhelming. So let’s reduce it to a bite-sized piece-the judgement of the story.

What is The judgement of the Story?

This is not a slogan. A slogan is a tease. That’s not what we want right now.

The judgement is closer to a newspaper line. But that’s not it either. It’s not for marketing. It’s not for your readers to understand.

It’s a tracing tool, a phrase meant to help you focus your story. Maybe you’re like me. You’ve heard that writers are supposed to sum up their story in one judgement, but you don’t know how to do it.

I didn’t understand it until I took the course “How to Revise A Novel” by Holly Lisle. Simply put, she indicated that the judgement includes a protagonist, an antagonist, a conflict and a hook. She recommended that the judgement should not exceed thirty words. With his more detailed course instructions, I finally figured it out. Since then, I have studied how others use the phrase from the story and finally made it my own.

It is both easier and more difficult than it seems. Those of you who are grammar nerds may find my next statement objectionable. Don’t worry about grammar when you are building the story judgement. It’s not about making a well-constructed judgement. It’s about understanding the essence of your story.

Let’s take a closer look at the parts of this judgement.


The first name, the character, is usually your protagonist, main or focal character. A name at this stage does not help you. Instead of a name, identify your character by his dominant character trait, his job or vocation, or his role in the story. This is a place where clichés are acceptable, but if you can be more specific and unusual, it’s better. The adjective you choose to improve your character should describe a small part of what makes your character unusual.

Let’s say we have an army doctor. Now we give the army doctor a descriptive adjective. He’s a wounded army medic. Large. Advance.


What does our army doctor need? Hmm, let’s say he’s going back to civilian life. All right. It’s pretty ordinary. Let’s make this more precise. He’s looking for a flat in London. Better. Maybe he found out that returning to civilian life is not easy. How can we reduce this to convey stronger feelings?

He is not fulfilled by civilian life. All right. This implies that it needs to be accomplished in one way or another. We continue to work on this until we have a better idea of what he needs. Maybe he needs to overcome PTSD. Wait, you say. It’s not terribly original. Remember, the phrase is to help you focus your story, not necessarily to show all the beautiful details that make your story unique.

Not Written in Stone

The phrase is a tool. It is neither static nor immutable. If you change your mind at any stage of the writing process, you can take a break and rewrite the judgement. Change the protagonist or the obstacle or the whole thing. Or you can keep writing your new story until the end. Rewrite the judgement before revising your story. He will help you through the revision process.

Do you have to use a story judgement? No. You can draw or draw through a story. Depending on your understanding and internalization of how to write a story, panting can mean that you have a lot of revision to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you are a clean writer, you may only need minor revisions. It’s a question of what you, as a writer, need to do to be your most effective and effective narrator.

Some writers start with little more than a glimmer of an idea. Others use copious notes and detailed outlines before writing a word. There are writers who write the ending first and writers who write random scenes that they can sort of put together after in a different order. Choose the tools, methods and steps that are right for you. The way you write should be your own. Whether you rely on spontaneity or use detailed outlines, or even use the premise method, a tool like the phrase will help you get started, but will disappear out of sight as soon as you set your process on fire.

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