Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gary Provost Tool

by C.L. Phillips

Last year I purchased the audio tapes from Gary Provost's workshop.  After listening to the tapes (and no, I'm not saying how many times), I came up with this template to help me analyze novels.

Inciting Incident
POV Character's Goal
Strategy (used by POV Character)
Bleakest Moment
Learns a lesson
Decision Point
Emotional Hole

I've turned this into a little table (in MS-Word), and now use it to both summarize and plan future work.  I thought I'd throw it out here for discussion.  Perhaps you have something similar that you use, or maybe this can be of use to you.

Here's a completed table for a novel that many of us know, the Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.

Inciting Incident 

Fernando Valenzuela calls.  He has a franchise case for Mickey.

POV Character's Goal

A big financial score; get the case that will set him up for life.


1.  Get the case and charge A list fees.
2.  Convince the accused (Roulet) to go to trial (drives bigger fees).
3. Add false publicity pressure to drive Roulet to make a decision
4.  Have investigator (Levin) check out the story and the victim
5.  See Levin's dead body to stengthen his resolve and stick to his plan (exact words)


A cheating ADA.  A know it all family lawyer (potentially blocking his fees).  The client (Roulet).  A lying jailhouse snitch.  Jesus Menendez (the price of sellout, good vs. evil), the ultimate villain and killer (no spoiler here but you know who she is)


Financial security (at first)
Life of potentially innocent man
Stakes raised when Mickey realizes Roulet has killed before and Jesus is innocent.
Stakes raised when Roulet threatens Mick's daughter
Stakes raised when Levin is killed
Stakes raised when Mickey is accused of killing Levin 

Bleakest Moment

When Jesus refuses to shake Mickey's hand (and the words "lowest point in life personally and professionally" are used in book).

Learns a lesson

Mickey changes internally; cares about guilt and innocence

Decision Point 

Mickey decides he's willing to do whatever it takes to get Roulet to save his family; may cost him is license or worse.

Emotional hole

Mickey wants to be a good father; have a family but his divorce cost him that chance.  Will he have another?

Hope this is something that helps someone else as much as it has helped me. I've used this guide as a cheat sheet when talking to agents about my own novel.  I use the words inciting incident, goal, strategy, conflict, stakes, bleakest moment, lesson, decision point and emotional hole to communicate the key points of my novel quickly and accurately.

May your novel find its readers.  May your marketing efforts bring those readers to you easily, and may this idea take both your writing and your marketing to a new level.

Please share other ideas and tools that you use.  What other tools make communicating your story effortless?


Jessica Ferguson said...

This is great! I was/am a Gary Provost fan. I have some of his tapes, etc. and I've read all of his how-to books. Make Every Word Count is definitely a winner.

Your template is fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

Ramona said...

That's some good stuff, C.L. Simple and practical. Thanks for sharing!

Jenna said...

Interesting. I don't outline or think of my work in these terms - at least not until after the fact; like, now - but... interesting.

Gina said...

This is really interesting. I don't know what to say beyond that, but I wanted to say something so you know it's being read.

C.L. Phillips said...


Thanks for the feedback. I just did a "home retreat" and used a slightly different version to help me outline an entire novel. :))

Can't wait to see how it works in real life from start to finish. If you use this, let me know how it works for you.

Take care.