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About a hundred years ago, I was an unhappy lawyer taking writing classes in my free time. One of my greatest teachers was Adair Lara, who was then a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Recently, I was perusing Adair’s website and noticed that she does story consulting. Having just finished a 30-page plot outline for my next novel, I wanted an expert’s opinion on whether the story, as conceived, worked. Although Adair is not a novelist, she has a keen eye for structure. A few weeks ago, we spent 90 minutes talking about my story. In that short time, she helped me realize there were elements of the story that were inessential. And there were great moments to be expanded. In particular, she scribbled out about 15 “beats” — emotional turning points — in the story. The rest, at least for now, should go. Write just the beats, she said, and then you’ll know what, if anything, is missing. While I was obviously bummed that certain aspects of the story should be ditched, I was insanely relieved to learn this before I’d written a single word. I spent the next two weeks revising my plot outline, highlighting the beats, and I’m happy to report that I will soon start writing. Best of all, when I sent Adair a thank-you e-mail the day after our meeting, she replied, “Good luck — it’s a great story.” Here’s hoping…

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