Friday, December 9

How To Use An Editing Program To Improve Your Writing

How To Use An Editing Program To Improve Your Writing


A good editing program will tell you how many words your story has, how many of those words are unique, how many sentences there are, how many paragraphs, how readable your text is, the number of cliches you’ve used, and so on. 

And that’s great, but one thing I don’t like about editing programs is that, often, the numbers displayed don’t give any context. For example, if I have 10 adverbs in my story is that bad or good?

The trick, I’ve found, is to compare my writing with that of my favorite authors; those people whose work I both love and envy. For me that’s writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood.

What follows is a comparison of two of my trunk stories—I wrote them when I was a teenager—with sections of Stephen King’s and Neil Gaiman’s work. 

Here are the results:



As you can see, the major difference between my old work and my favorite authors is the number of cliches in dialogue and redundant words. Beyond that, my old stories had more vague and abstract words. Also, my sentences were shorter than my favorite authors and I used shorter paragraphs.

That information is valuable. It shows me ways I can work on improving my craft.

Conclusion


Editing programs can be wonderful if you take the stats they give you with a grain of salt. Their value is in letting you compare your writing with others, to see the differences and similarities. If I love Stephen King's writing but he uses a few adverbs, I'm not going to be overly concerned about using a few adverbs even though I agree that they are weeds that deserved to be plucked from one's writing.

My own personal yardstick is the authors I admire, the authors I want to write like (and I don’t mean exactly like; each writer needs to have his/her own voice). But you have ideas about what good writing is and what bad writing is, and you've acquired these ideas from reading other writers. There are authors you think are terrific writers and authors you would be devastated if anyone compared you to.

The editing program I use is Pro Writing Aid. It doesn’t work well on larger blocks of text (10,000+ words) but it tells you many things about your manuscript: grammar, overused words, readability statistics, cliches, sticky sentences, vague words, repeated words, sentence length, consistency, dialogue, pacing, pronoun use, and much more. I’ve used the program on and off for a couple of years and, because I personally use and like their product, I’ve become an affiliate for them. 

What editing programs do you use? Have they helped you become a better writer? I'd love it if you shared your experience. :-)



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I'd like to recommend The Mental Game of Writing: How to Overcome Obstacles, Stay Creative and Productive, and Free Your Mind for Success by James Scott Bell. Lately I've been struggling with anxiety and find reading "you can do it!" books soothing. And James Scott Bell is a really nice guy (I met him!) who gives terrific advice.



That's it! Have a great weekend and I'll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing!

Wednesday, December 7

Editing Your Zero Draft

Editing Your Zero Draft


NanoWriMo is over! If you participated and wrote more than you would have otherwise, you’re a winner. If you ended up writing 50,000+ words, that’s awesome!

It’s been a week since NaNoWriMo ended so you’ve had a chance to distance yourself a little bit from the story. If you don’t have sufficient distance from your writing the danger is that when you read your Zero Draft you won’t be able to be objective. What I try to do is put my manuscript away for a week or two so I can come back to it with new eyes.

In any case, after enough time has passed rescue your manuscript from the drawer and read it from start to finish. There’s only one rule: don’t edit until you’ve read the whole thing. This is torture for me, but it’s important to re-load the whole story into your mind without changing anything.

When I read something that’s not right, a misspelling, etc., I want to go into the file and fix it but if I were to do that then I’d start adding sections that didn’t need to be added and deleting material that was necessary for the development of a future event.

I find one way to lessen the temptation to edit is to print a hardcopy of the manuscript and, if I must make notes, then at least I can’t change the electronic file. By the way if you want to save paper and load your manuscript into an app that allows you to mark up a file I recommend GoodNotes, it’s the app I use.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you read:

- Does a character’s name change halfway through the story? Is the name spelled the same way throughout the manuscript? Do all the names you use begin with a different letter? Are all the names sufficiently distinct from each other?

- Is each character absolutely necessary to advance the plot? Can two (or more) characters be merged into one? Or are there too few characters?

- Do NOT worry about grammar or spelling (other than for names) at this stage. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to end up not using a lot of the text in your Zero Draft. Fiddling with grammar and spelling would just waste your time.

->After your first read through.

After you’ve read your story through try to answer these two questions:

(a) What state of affairs represents happiness to your protagonist? Being together with friends and family? Winning the lottery? Retiring from their job? Going into business for themselves? Traveling the world?

(b) What danger threatens to keep the protagonist’s dream from becoming reality?

Now try and answer these questions:

What is the protagonists external goal? That is, what concrete thing or state of affairs does the protagonist desire to bring about? For example, in Die Hard John McClane wants to protect his wife and the other hostages and defeat the terrorists.

Is there a physical object that represents this goal? For example, in Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones wanted to bring the Ark back to the United States.

In the recent movie “Arrival” the protagonist’s external goal is to understand why the aliens arrived on earth, to understand the alien language.

Make sure you know what the protagonist’s goal is—it will form the spine of your story.

Story Structure


I’ve written quite a few posts about story structure (link and link) so I won’t go into that here. But be sure that your protagonist’s external and internal goals are what drives the key scenes of the story.

Antagonist


Another thing to focus on at this stage is that the protagonist has a suitably strong antagonist. You want the antagonist and protagonist to have the same goal and for it to be impossible for them both to achieve the goal. Also, it tends to work well if the protagonist and antagonist are alike in many ways.

If the antagonist is the protagonist's nemesis then he/she will be quite a bit like the protagonist but differ in at least one important respect.

In Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Beloq is Indy’s nemesis. Both men are archaeologists and are driven to procure relics. But they operate by very different moral codes and view the relics they hunt for very differently. Indy appreciates the relics for themselves while Beloq is primarily interested in what the relic can do for him in terms of wealth or power.

The number one thing that you need to keep in mind as you re-read your Zero Draft is to be kind to yourself. There are going to be awful bits and there are going to be glorious bits. Don’t stress about the disastrous passages, focus on the good, focus on what works. Stay positive.

If you’re anything like me there are going to be a LOT of drafts between now and your final one. It’s a process of weeding out what doesn’t belong and gradually shaping the story. It’s early days still. If you keep at it you’ll end up with a story you love.



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I am feeling whimsical so what better book to recommend than Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling. From the blurb: "When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt's fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…"



That's it! I'll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing. :-)

Tuesday, December 6

Writers: How To Get Rid Of Fear

Writers: How To Get Rid Of Fear


I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
—Frank Herbert, Dune

Fear is real. It’s that hard fist that twists your gut, that grabs hold of your heart and squeezes. It’s an elevated pulse and the inability to catch your breath.

Everyone’s number one fear is different. Perhaps you might be terrified by the thought of receiving a one star review. Or of your mother/father/grandmother/child discovering you write erotic fiction. Or of publicly putting yourself out there, doing the work, publishing your writing, and failing horribly. Or ... I could go on forever.

Beating The Fear


Here are a few things I do to deal with fear that work for me:

1. Recognize that fear is an emotion.


Often my fear is just a feeling of untethered doom. I’m not afraid of any one thing, the fear just flows through me grabbing the things I’m currently most anxious about and blowing my natural hum-drum concerns WAY out of proportion.

2. Start shutting off the fear by shifting from emotional mode to analytical mode.


This is true for me: the more fearful I am the less rational I am.

I’ve found that strong emotion and analytical thought don’t happen at the same time. If I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack I’m not thinking rationally and vice versa. Which makes sense. If I’m having a fight or flight response the blood is being directed toward the bits of me that are good at either fighting or fleeing. And, sad to say, none of those bits are inside my noggin.

But it’s often difficult to make that transition from run away emotion to analytical thought. Here are a few questions I ask to help me shake the fear, to help me take back control:

3. Name your fear.


By “name” I mean write it down. Be specific. Often fear is just a feeling of untethered doom, it’s not cognitive at all. Force yourself to pin down exactly what you’re afraid of. What are you afraid of losing? If what you fear comes to pass, what would that state of affairs look like?

Sometimes I have quite literally been afraid of nothing. After writing my fear down I realize that even if it came to pass it wouldn’t significantly damage me or anything I care about.

Keep in mind that fear is a shapeshifter, a chameleon. It’s more of a feeling than a thought. As I said, for me it’s often a feeling of doom that wraps it’s black tendrils through me and follows me wherever I go.

Often we don’t really know what we’re afraid of, or the fear shifts, takes on different forms. Since we can’t pin it down it lurks in our head and takes on innumerable forms.

Fear has physical effects that are themselves harmful. It is very difficult to be emotional—and fear is one of the strongest, primal, emotions there is—and thoughtful at the same time. The very presence of fear makes it more difficult to think clearly.

Fear feeds anxiety. Write down what you’re afraid of, pin it down. Be explicit. Detailed. As soon as you see it you can start thinking about it rationally and the fear will begin to lose its power over you.

4. Do something.


In general, doing something is better than doing nothing, even if that something is simply reciting an affirmation like Frank Herbert’s “I must not fear.”

Do nothing and your fear will probably win. If you do something then the fear might still be there but maybe it won’t. If you keep trying, if you keep working at it, you will find something to banish the fear.

Don’t let fear paralyze you. When that happens the fear becomes an endless loop feeding itself, continually growing stronger as you grow weaker.

5. Do something that will make what you fear less likely.


Do something practical that will mitigate the consequences if what you fear comes about. For example, my number one fear used to be that I wouldn’t be able to support myself with my writing. What did I do when the fear hit? I threw my energy into writing and publishing!

6. How likely is it that what you fear will come about?


My fears are generally rational in the sense that they _could_ happen, what I tend to lose sight of is that it is improbable in the extreme that that exact thing will happen.

When you write down your fear be sure to make it specific. Detailed.

Don’t just write: I am scared I will be a failure.

Write: I am scared that after all the years of work I put into my manuscript, after all the money I spent having it edited, that I will publish it and everyone who reads it will hate it and leave a one star review.

There are LOTS of ways to be a failure and it’s easy to give that fear power if we don’t pin it down exactly what we’re afraid of. After we write it down our rational mind can go to work analyzing it and (this has been my experience) it immediately starts to lose it’s power over me. If that doesn’t happen then I’m usually not being specific enough.

7. What can you do to make the fear less likely?


Fear is often a reaction to change or potential change. Change is scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Often change is both good and bad. The trick is to optimize the good and minimize the bad. Ask yourself: what can you do that would make it less likely for what you fear to come about?

For myself: Write more. Publish more. The more one writes and publishes the better one becomes at both. Professional writers aren’t those who have no fear, they are people who have learnt to write anyway to, as Steven Pressfield says, Do The Work.

8. The worst case scenario rarely happens.


When I’m stressed I imagine a worst case scenario. And that might be okay—after all, it’s not a bad idea to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. What I find I have to keep firmly in mind is that this worst case state of affairs isn’t my current state of affairs _and it may never be_.

I want you to imagine something. Imagine a state of affairs, one not as bleak as the worst case scenario your mind/brain/soul is fixated on. Now realize that this future is possible. Perhaps it is just as likely as the bleak one that has been gnawing at you.

9. Every day do one thing that brings you closer to your goal.


Ask yourself: What could I do that would make my fear less likely to come true?

Every day do something that brings you closer to your goal then write it down what you did in your writing journal. Then, at the end of the month, look at what you did that month.

Look at where you were at the beginning of the month and where you are now that the month has come to an end. Realize that you have made progress toward your goal. Realize that you _can_ achieve your goals!

10. Embrace Failure.


If you’re not failing you’re not trying and if you don’t try you’ll never win. Simple as that. To banish fear we must act. We must fail to win.



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

I’m re-watching the TV show Supernatural. I love that show! Though I love the Sam and Dean characters, they aren’t the stars of the show, the monsters are. This is a monster book for writers: Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction by Philip Athans with an introduction from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.



That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on Wednesday. In the meantime good writing! Don’t let fear win.

Thursday, December 1

How To Write A Cosy Mystery: The Sleuth

How To Write A Cosy Mystery: The Sleuth


I’ve talked before about my inability to write a mystery story, something a number of you empathized with. I’ve always thought it was odd I couldn’t write one since I’ve read them all my life.

Well, I think I’ve had a breakthrough! The other day I realized most of the mystery stories I’ve read in the last few years were written before I was born. Perhaps one reason I’ve had such trouble writing a contemporary mystery story is that I’m out of step with todays readers. So I took my own advice (see: How To Tailor A Story To Readers), chose a category, and read a few contemporary mysteries—cosys.

I chose the cosy because it seemed to be a successor to the locked room mystery (that doesn’t seem to be the case, btw) and chose 4 authors from the top 10. I bought one book from each author, downloaded them and read them.

The two books I plucked from the top 10 still have a rank of less than 1,000. The other two I read were the first books in a series and not currently in the top ten—though the last book in the author’s series was. That said, all books had a rank less than 5134

To give you an idea what that means, according to the Kindle Best Seller Calculator a book with a rank of 5133 sells about 32 books a day. Not bad! Sure, if the author is charging a dollar for the book they’re only receiving about 30 cents in royalties but that’s still $9.60 per day or $288 per month. That’s a bill payment. [2]

My point is that the book that is currently selling the _least_ well of the four I read is still selling well enough to, literally, help pay the bills. So let’s take a look at the characteristics of a modern cosy.

I’m not going to talk much about these four books today. Instead I’m going to go over what a cosy is generally. In an upcoming post I’ll zero in on the books I read, focusing on their specific structure and content.

Today, let’s look at the characteristics of the sleuth.

Sleuth


The Sleuth Is An Amateur


The sleuth is, generally speaking, not a professional investigator. She may be, for example, a party coordinator, a mystery writer, a bookstore owner, a caterer, a librarian, but she’s generally not a police detective, coroner, medical examiner, private detective or even newspaper reporter.

The Sleuth Has A Connection To The Police


Because the sleuth is an amateur it comes in handy for her to have a connection to a professional like a police detective. Perhaps the sleuth’s boyfriend is a police detective, or one of her in-laws is a detective. If it’s a small town and your sleuth runs the local bakery then you could always just have the detective come in for a coffee and sweet pastry every morning.

The Sleuth Is Likable


The sleuth is usually unambiguously good. They are no antiheroes in a cosy mystery! And as soon as I wrote that I thought of Sherlock. Not that Sherlock is a cosy, it’s not! But still. It’s a quintessential British mystery. I would argue that even though Sherlock defines himself as a high-functioning sociopath that he is both good and (for the reader at least!) likable. Why? Because he has various good-guy qualities. For instance, he is loyal; he stands by those who stand by him. And he is good in the sense that he does not repay those who do him good deeds with evil—at least not intentionally! Anyway, moving on ... ;)

The Sleuth Investigates


What does the sleuth investigate? Three things: the crime scene, the suspects and the clues.

Although the murder itself is often done offstage, the sleuth should investigate the scene of the crime. Generally this means going there and taking a look. Since she’s not a professional and, really, has no legitimate reason to be there, this can take a bit of creativity. Which may be why the sleuth often finds the body! Problem solved.

Much less common, the sleuth learns about the crime scene through intermediaries—for instance, she might not have been on the case when the first murder occurred and so must talk to the detectives who were, study their notes, etc.

(I’ll cover the suspects and the clues in a later post.)

The Sleuth’s Hook


The Sleuth, being an amateur, needs a reason to investigate the crime. Perhaps this is why—at least in the books I’ve read—the first victim is often found either on the sleuth’s property or nearby.

Another possibility is to isolate everyone in the story so that characters can be pressed into different roles. For instance ...

  • It could be that the worst snow storm in recorded history has cut off the inn, or possibly the entire town. 
  • It could be that a flood has demolished the only bridge into, or out of, town.
  • It could be that the sleuth is part of a team building exercise.
  • It could be that the sleuth is part of a small English village.

The Sleuth As Character


The sleuth is, of course, the protagonist so the same pointers apply here that apply for any protagonist. When the sleuth is introduced, answer as many of the following as you can:

  • What does the sleuth desire above all else?
  • What is her ruling passion?
  • What does she fear?
  • What does she do better than anyone else?
  • What are her tags?

The Sleuth: Tropes 


There are some tropes having to do with the sleuth that have, perhaps, been used a time too many.

Leaving the big city.


In a startling number of cosy mysteries the sleuth has moved from the big city back to a small town.

Disastrous romantic relationship in the backstory. 


Often she has had a disastrous romantic relationship in the city and this is part of the reason why she moves back to her hometown. Often the significant other comes to visit the sleuth and this becomes a subplot.

The sleuth becomes the owner of a small business and struggles financially.


Sometimes the sleuth inherits the business from a family member such as a parent or grandparent.



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I'm recommending Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme by Martha Alderson and Jordan Rosenfeld sold by Writer's Digest. From the blurb: "Writing Deep Scenes teaches you how to write strong, layered, and engaging scenes—the secret to memorable, page-turning plots. It's filled with practical tools for building layers and nuance into your scenes, employing the right scene types at the right junctures, and developing a profound understanding of how plot and scene intertwine."



References


This article drew from material in the following articles:

4 Things You Should Know About Writing a Cozy Mystery Novel
20 Tips for Writing the Cozy or Traditional Mystery
Writing the Cozy Mystery
The Mystery of Mysteries: 16 Steps to Writing the Cozy Mystery
How To Write a Cozy Mystery

Notes:


1. How To Write A Murder Mystery, by Lee Goldberg.

2. I’m NOT saying that if you choose to write a cosy that you will meet with similar success! I know you know that, but I thought I’d better say it anyway. :-)

Monday, November 28

How To Tailor A Story To Readers

How To Tailor A Story To Readers


Usually we just want to write the best darn story we can, one that we love and—hopefully!—others will love as well. And it's a good bet others will. But perhaps you want to target your story to readers of a certain kind of story.

Which brings us to the other way of writing a story; namely, to find out what folks love and then write that kind of story.

A Few Questions


1. Which category do we want to target?


Let’s say we’re interested in writing a mystery story that features a British detective and that we’ve singled out the category:

Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > British Detectives

2. How many books do we want to examine?


We want to pick the most popular books that most closely fit the kind of book you want to write. Pick between 5 and 10. Buy them, read them, study them.

3. What to look for?


  • How long is the book? How many words?
  • Read the blurb. What elements are highlighted? Does the blurb fit the story?
  • Look at the cover. What items are featured? What themes in the story do these items reflect? Do the themes/items featured fit the story?
  • How many protagonists? One or two?
  • What point of view is the story written from? First, second or third?
  • If the book is written using the third person, is the narrator limited, omniscient or something in-between?
  • Is the pacing fast? Slow?

I’m not suggesting that anyone research a market and then write a book designed to sell in that market. That’s not an attractive thought for many, perhaps most, writers. And that’s fine. But there are many fine writers who have taken work as a ghostwriter, or a copywriter, or other area where one needs to be able to write to spec.

Even if you would never consider writing to a market, if you’ve written a story that you know fits a particular category, it might still be worthwhile to try and answer the questions in (3). Why? Because it will help you market your book to readers of that category.



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I want to recommend one of James Scott Bell's books, Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between. From the blurb: “Some writers start at the beginning and let the story unfold without a plan. They are called "pantsers," because they write by the "seat of the pants." Other writers plan and outline and know the ending before they start. These are the "plotters." The two sides never seem to agree with each other on the best approach. But what if it's not the beginning or the end that is the key to a successful book? What if, amazing as it may seem, the place to begin writing your novel is in the very middle of the story?”



That’s it! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. In the meantime, good writing!

Friday, November 25

Turning An Idea Into A Story

Turning An Idea Into A Story


I know I’ve touched on this in a couple of previous posts. To be honest, there’s an old story I’ve written, one I love, but I know the structure is wrong. While I’ve become much better at spotting structural defects in the works of others, when it comes to my own work it’s devilishly hard because I’m so close to it.

I think that this is, at least in part, because I don’t need to read the words to grasp my story, it’s already in my head.

What I want to think about today is how to take an idea and treat it a bit like a piece of knitting or crochet that needs to be blocked. By this I mean, just as I would stretch a crocheted snowflake over a mould so that it would take on the appropriate shape, so a story idea can be positioned within a structure to see how well it fits, where it’s thin as well as where it bunches.

True, I wrote about this last time, but today I want to approach it from a different angle. Last time I talked about a writer’s audience and how this can influence the content of the work. Today I want to focus on shaping the story idea itself.

As always, I would love to know what you think! Are you getting a bit worn out by NaNoWriMo? What kind of articles would you like to read? If you feel that you haven’t achieved your writing goals, what would you say was the single biggest thing holding you back?

The Beginning of a Story Hypothesis


“(1) A state of affairs, present or projected, that symbolizes happiness to your hero.

“(2) A danger that threatens his chances of achieving or maintaining that state of affairs.”[1]

What I try to do is imagine each of these states of affairs as vividly and concretely as I can. Then I write them down. This serves as a foundation for my story.

Example: Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.


What state of affairs symbolized happiness to Clarice Starling?

As the title of the movie suggests, the lambs being silent.

Let me unpack that. Clarice was abandoned by her mother after the death of her father. She was angry. How could her mother abandon her own child? But then Clarice abandoned the lambs because it was out of her control. Like her mother, she couldn’t do anything to help. By the time we meet FBI trainee Starling, though she is still angry with her mother on some level, she’s more angry with herself.

What danger threatens Clarice’s chances of achieving or maintaining the said silence? Two threats: the serial killer Jame Gumb and the FBI. The serial killer because he’s the one killing the girls, Clarice’s lambs. The FBI because they care more about politics and advancement than about saving a life.

Example: Raiders of the Lost Ark


The state of affairs that symbolizes happiness to Indiana Jones is taking the Ark back to the university’s museum.

The danger that threatens Indy’s chances of achieving this state of affairs is, primarily, Belloq, his nemesis. Belloq is also an archeologist, one who keeps stealing the relics Indy recovers.

Now it’s your turn. I’d like you to think of two things and creative a vivid mental picture of each of these situations:

1. What state of affairs, present or projected, symbolizes happiness to your hero?
2. What danger threatens your hero’s chance of achieving or maintaining this state of affairs.

Five Elements In Every Story


Swain writes that the following five elements are in every story (see below). In what follows I use Raiders of the Lost Ark as an example.

1. A Protagonist


A protagonist is the person who the world pushes on, the one who is threatened by a specific danger. He is also the person who, eventually, pushes back.

Example: Indiana Jones, relic hunter.

2. A Situation/The Inciting Incident


This is the “backdrop of trouble that forces him [the protagonist] to act.”[1]

Example: Two men from army intelligence visit Indiana Jones and tell him that the Nazi’s have discovered Tanis, the resting place of the Ark.

3. The Objective/Protagonist’s Goal


The concrete thing or state of affairs the protagonist desires.

Example: The Ark ensconced in the university’s museum back in the USA.

4. An Antagonist


The antagonist not only resists the protagonist, he fights against him.

Example: Whenever Indiana Jones finds a significant relic, Dr. RenĂ© Belloq is there to snatch it away from him. Now, Belloq is working for the Nazi’s and he uses his knowledge of Indiana Jones’ character against him.

5. The Disaster


If there is nothing at stake the story isn’t as exciting. Further, the stakes must be personal, they must endanger the people and things the protagonist cares about most. Also, the stakes must increase until, at the climax, the protagonist is faced with a disaster that is “Something Unutterably Awful.”[1]

Example: The Nazi’s have not only found the Ark, they open it releasing the raw power of God.

The Story Question


The story question is formed by fitting two sentences together.

Sentence 1: This is a statement and it should establish the PROTAGONIST, SITUATION and OBJECTIVE.[1]

Sentence 2: This is a question and it should establish the ANTAGONIST and the DISASTER.[1]

Here are a few different forms a Story Question could take:


Dwight V. Swain:

First form: “Will this focal character defeat his opponent, overcome his private danger, and win happiness?”[1]

Will Indiana Jones defeat Dr. René Belloq, overcome the Nazi war machine and avert global disaster?

Second form: When [Situation/Inciting Incident] [Protagonist] wants [Protagonist’s Goal/Thing That Makes Her Happy]. Will she lose her chance for happiness because [Antagonist] [Disaster]?

Example: When Indiana Jones learns that Nazi archaeologists are close to recovering the Ark of the Covenant, he sets out to claim the ark for the United States and her allies. Will he lose his chance to avert global disaster because Dr. Rene Belloq once again snatches Indy’s prize away from him?

Jim Butcher:

*WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL*. But will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*? [3]

Or: When [Inciting Incident occurs] [Protagonist] [Protagonist’s Goal]. But will he succeed when [Antagonist Opposes Protagonist]

Example: When Indiana Jones learns that Nazi archaeologists are going after the Ark of the Covenant he sets out to claim the Ark first. But will he succeed when Dr. Rene Belloq discovers Indiana’s plans?

Whatever form your story question takes it should be answerable with a “yes” or “no.”

Other Ways of Structuring a Story


These really aren’t other ways, they are different ways of representing or thinking about the same way. If you’re writing a short story or even a piece of flash fiction, these might be of a bit more help:

a. The Three O System: Objective, Obstacle, Outcome.[1]


Example: Indiana Jones wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to the USA. Unfortunately, Indy’s nemesis, Dr. Rene Belloq, is set on getting the Ark for the Nazi’s and he has no qualms about playing dirty. If Belloq succeeds the world as we know it could be destroyed.

b. Who, What, Why: WHO wants to do WHAT and WHY can’t he?[1]


Example: Indiana Jones wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to the USA. Unfortunately Dr. Rene Belloq and the Nazi war machine are set on taking the Ark for themselves.

The Secret Sauce: Linking this in with the protagonist’s character


I’m a fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. A BIG fan!

Every time Butcher releases a new book I block off a few hours of my day, curl up in my favorite chair and read the book cover to cover. Sure, I’ll go back later and re-read it. The second time will be slower, more careful. I’ll look at the structure of the story and try to analyze how Butcher created certain effects in the reader. But the first time through is pure unadulterated pleasure.

One thing I’ve noticed about the books of the Dresden Files series is that the main character, Harry Dresden—though clever and able to think well in the moment—isn’t the brightest bulb. Which is convenient since Dresden is uncompromisingly committed to doing the right thing (a.k.a. the moral thing).

What’s the right thing? It’s the unselfish thing. In other words, “Adherence to principle despite the temptation to self-interest.”[1]
What’s the wrong thing? It’s the selfish thing. In other words, “Abandonment of conviction for the sake of personal advantage.”[1]

This should really come through at the climax. Make sure that the moral issue is brought into play. The hero (and this is a big part of what makes a character a hero) does what he does for unselfish motives while the villain does what he does from selfish motives. I’m not saying it’s quite as clear cut as this, but (thinking about the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen) self-interest seems to be a dominant trait in most antagonists.[2]

As a result, though, often heroes are more good than bright. I’ve just mentioned Harry Dresden. It’s not that he’s stupid, far from it! But there are many people who are more intelligent than him in one way or another. That said, he excels at three things. First, he can think well under pressure. Second, he can think well in the moment, making a split-second decision that will (usually!) turn out to be the correct one. Third, he’s a planner, able to think of multiple possibilities and planning for them. He’s not brilliant but he can be exceptionally clever.



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend Master Lists For Writers by Bryn Donovan. The author goes over setting, various plot types, how to write action as well as dialogue—and that’s for starters! From the blurb: “Whether you’re writing novels or short fiction, screenwriting, or any other kind of storytelling, MASTER LISTS FOR WRITERS is a rich source of inspiration you’ll turn to again and again.”



That’s it! I hope NaNo is going well for you. Remember, as long as you’ve written more than you would have otherwise, you’re a winner! I’ll talk to you again on Monday. In the meantime, good writing!

Notes:


1. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain.

2. It is also true that every antagonist is the hero of his own story. The antagonist might see himself as a savior, unselfishly sacrificing himself—as well as, perhaps, those he cares about—for a greater good. Of course it could also be the case that he’s lying to himself!

3. Fundamentals—Story Skeletons by Jim Butcher.

Wednesday, November 23

Storytelling: How To Figure Out What Isn’t Working

Storytelling: How To Figure Out What Isn’t Working


Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King, WD

Today I’d like to talk about self-editing.

I’m sure every writer has had this experience: you’ve written a story, you’ve fallen in love with the story, but you know it doesn’t work. But it could be fixed. If only you could figure out what isn't working.

That’s what I want to begin exploring today. I want to look at how to take a story idea and, as it were, stretch it out over the dress frame of story structure. The goal is to see where the story is ‘thin’ as well as where it bunches up due to excess material.

One thing I find ironic is that I’m MUCH better evaluating another person’s story, at seeing where it has gone off the rails, than I am at evaluating my own work. I think it’s a bit like my friend’s attitude toward her kids. She knows her children aren’t perfect because no child is, but she sees them through the rose colored goggles of a loving mother. Because of this, parent-teacher conferences can be a bit rough but they do help ground her in reality!

My friend isn’t alone. It is difficult to clearly see what we love.

What follows is an attempt to help writers—myself included—evaluate their own work. We need to be able to tell whether our story works and, if it doesn’t, evaluate where it has gone off the rails and fix it.

Note: As usually happens, I didn’t get through as much of this material as I would like, but I’ll pick the subject up again tomorrow. Cheers!

The Importance of Having an Ideal Reader


Before we get started, let’s ask the most fundamental question we can: What is a story? When we write a story what are we doing?

In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain writes:

“To bring a story into being, you need to think of it not as a thing, but as something you do to a specific reader—a motivation; a stimulus you thrust at him.”

I’ve talked before about the ideal reader. Stephen King talks about this in On Writing:

“Someone—I can’t remember who, for the life of me— once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?’ For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.” [1]

♢ ♢ ♢ 

“Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of the first draft, when the door is closed. And you know what? You’ll find yourself bending the story even before Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence. I.R. will help you get outside yourself a little, to actually read your work in progress as an audience would while you’re still working. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to story, a way of playing to the audience even while there’s no audience there and you’re totally in charge.” [1]

♢ ♢ ♢


“I believe each story should be allowed to unfold at its own pace, and that pace is not always double time. Nevertheless, you need to beware—if you slow the pace down too much, even the most patient reader is apt to grow restive.

“The best way to find the happy medium? Ideal Reader, of course. Try to imagine whether he or she will be bored by a certain scene—if you know the tastes of your I.R. even half as well as I know the tastes of mine, that shouldn’t be too hard. Is I.R. going to feel there’s too much pointless talk in this place or that? That you’ve underexplained a certain situation … or overexplained it, which is one of my chronic failings? That you forgot to resolve some important plot point? Forgot an entire character, as Raymond Chandler once did? (When asked about the murdered chauffeur in The Big Sleep, Chandler—who liked his tipple—replied, “Oh, him. You know, I forgot all about him.”) These questions should be in your mind even with the door closed. And once it’s open— once your Ideal Reader has actually read your manuscript— you should ask your questions out loud. Also, needy or not, you might want to watch and see when your I.R. puts your manuscript down to do something else. What scene was he or she reading? What was so easy to put down?” [1]

The idea is that you don’t write your story for a sea of generic faces, your write your story for one person.

Why does this work? Let's take a closer look at this in the next section.

The Ideal Reader as Avatar


I’d like to borrow an idea from marketing and talk about avatars. In marketing, an avatar represents your ideal client.[2]

I think it’s a great idea to have an avatar/Ideal Reader in mind when we write our stories. What market are we targeting? For instance, let’s say I’m writing a horror story. Who would my Ideal Reader be? Well, obviously, someone who reads a lot of horror stories!

But, beyond that, I would want to know who my avatar’s favorite authors are. I would want to know how many hours she read per week? I would want to know what kind of horror story she liked best. I would want to know what kind of clothes she preferred. (If you do a promo and give out a free t-shirt, this is relevant!) I would want to know what 'gave her the creeps.' I would want to know what she found engaging. I would even want to know what names they liked. And that’s just for starters!

I’m not suggesting that you change how you write to fit someone else’s tastes, far from it! I'm just saying, know the Ideal Reader for the story you want to write. The trick is picking the right avatar for the book you have in mind. In that way, writing to an avatar can help keep you on track.

As Dwight V. Swain writes:

“Your goal ... is to elicit a particular reaction from this reader. You want to make him feel a certain way ... suck him into a whirlpool of emotion.”[3]

So you’re writing a story for some one person and your goal is to make him feel. Feel what? It depends. Sadness, happiness, fear, excitement, puzzlement, love. The question is, How do you get your reader to feel the way you want him to feel? Swain doesn’t answer this right away except to say that this is a “story’s whole and total function.” He also writes:

“The function of a story is to create a particular reaction in a given reader.”[3]

Which reader is this? Well, it’s any actual flesh and blood person who reads your story, but when you’re writing, this reader is your Ideak Reader. It is the reader “who shares your tastes and interests.”[3]



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I would like to recommend Choose Your Own Story: Wendigo's Wizarding Academy by John Diary. It's a Choose Your Own Adventure book and it looks fun. Plus, it's only 99 cents!



That's it! I'll talk to you again tomorrow. In the meantime, good writing!

Notes:


1. On Writing by Stephen King.

2. Of course, a company might not have just one avatar. Take Coke for example. They could have an avatar that represents their loyal older demographic, a 62 year old male from the buckle of the Bible Belt who has been drinking Coke for thirty years. His favorite movie is Top Gun and he loves sports. There could also be another avatar that represents a younger demographic. Perhaps they’re 19 years old, own three pairs of Nike runners, have one year of college and love horror movies. (Don’t laugh! Avatars can be oddly specific.)

3. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain.


Tuesday, November 22

Create a Character Readers Can't Help But Care About

Create a Character Readers Can't Help But Care About


What the creator of character needs is not so much knowledge of motives as keen sensibility; the dramatist need not understand people; but he must be exceptionally aware.”—T.S. Elliot

I’ve more or less finished my series on key scenes and would now like to talk about how to create a character readers can’t help but care about. Let’s start with a few common questions. (By the way, pretty much everything I say in this post is inspired by two books: Techniques of The Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain and Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain.)

How many characters should I have in a story?


As you would expect, the number of characters in a story will depend on the length of your story. Here’s the rule of thumb: use only the bare minimum needed to advance the story. That is, use the minimum necessary to drive the story forward.

How can I tell if a particular character is necessary?


There are two questions you can ask about each character. First, Does this character advance the conflict? In other words, Does it advance the story? Dwight V. Swain writes:

“If a story person isn’t for or against your hero, leave him out. Every character should contribute something: action or information that helps or harms, advances or holds back.”[1]

Second, can two or more characters be combined? If the contribution of two or more story people make can be made by just one character then combine them.

How can I tell if readers will find a particular character interesting?


Your characters need to be stressed. There needs to come a point in the story where a character either overcomes the situation and gets rid of the stress OR it breaks her. Swain writes:

“Let pressure strip away the gloss and reveal them as they really are.” [1]

How much inner growth should my character go through over the course of a story?


What time-span does your story cover? 24 hours? 48 hours? Days? Years? Centuries?!

How much inner growth your character experiences will depend on the timespan of your story. If it takes place over the course of 24 hours then chances are the character won’t change as much as the protagonist of a story that is stretched over a decade.

How can I bring a character to life?


a) The character must be UNIQUE and VIVID.


You want your story, you want what happens to your characters, to hook into a reader’s emotions. Swain writes:

“Liking characters is vital to your reader. So is disliking and feeling pity and contempt and respect and tenderness ... / Why? / Because without such variations of emotional reaction, the reader can’t care what happens to your people. / If he doesn’t care, he can achieve no sense of inner tension when they’re endangered.”

So the 64,000 dollar question is, how do I make a character _unique_ and _vivid_? Here’s how:

i. Each character, even a walk-on, must have a dominant impression.


Here are examples of what Swain means by a dominant impression:

distinguished person
cruel man
sexy woman
flighty girl
rowdy boy

ii. Fit a character’s dominant impression to your character’s role in the story.


One question which comes up here is, should you cast the character to type or against type?

For example, if your protagonist is a hero, do we cast him to type or against type? If we cast him to type then we might make him a “tall, dark, handsome, physically prepossessing man.”[1] In this way we fit the character to match your audience’s preconceptions.

If we decide to cast the protagonist against type Swain suggests that we might make him ugly, gawky and/or awkward. If we do this then we intend the character to clash with your audience’s preconceptions.

Pros and Cons of casting to type:

Pro: When we cast to type the reader will be familiar with the kind of character we’re creating. Familiarity is a powerful thing. As Swain writes, a familiar character “makes for easy reading ... demands no thought, no readjustment.”[1]

Con: When we cast to type the reader will be familiar with the kind of character we’ve created and this increases the chance he will become bored.

Pros and Cons of casting against type:

Pro: Casting against type after adds realism and interest.

Con: Your audience won’t be immediately familiar with your character. Swain writes, “... you must be prepared also to devise ways to get Reader to accept that contradiction.”

iii. Modify the picture.


Is the dominant impression accurate? That is, does the dominant impression give a true impression of the character, of the kind of person she really is?

For example, if the character’s dominant impression is that of a dignified person then we need to ask whether this is a mask she adopts to hide her stupidity or selfishness.

Or say that the character’s dominant impression is that of a cruel person. Is the character truly cruel or is this just an appearance the character uses to mask an overly generous inner nature?

Characters, like flesh-and-blood people, are contradictory. Inconsistent. Capturing this inconsistency is a big part of what makes a character interesting. A word of caution, though. Be selective in your introduction of inconsistencies. If you introduce too many then it might be difficult to maintain the dominant impression.

For instance, think of Quark on Deep Space Nine [link]. In more than one episode we got a peek at Quark’s softer nature, but this didn’t change his dominant impression: greedy alien.

For more on this see: [link to article about conflicting desires. McKee]

iv. Different kinds of tags


An example of a tag is:

black hair
a stutter
shuffling one’s feet

Tags are important for two reasons. First, because they are how a dominant impression is created. Second, tags help readers tell one character from another.

According to Dwight V. Swain there are at least four different kinds of tags: tags of appearance, tags of speech, tags of mannerisms, tags of attitude (also called traits). Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Appearance: 

Examples of tags of appearance: Tall, short, handsome, blue eyes, skin color.

Speech:

University professors talk differently than truck drivers or longshoremen. Sex workers likely have a vocabulary that is different from the average pastor’s wife!

Beyond this, a dialect is a tag, so is an accent as well as habitual expressions (e.g., “well now” “one more thing”). Swain writes:

“We fumble, grope, speak precisely or pedantically or slangily or to the point. Our use of language reflects background, experience, occupation, social status, psychology, and a host of other things.”[1]

Mannerisms:

For example, scowl, flutter, rub hands, tug earlobe, person who dodges eye contact, close talkers, doodlers, nail cleaners, smoker, uses hands when talking—even over the phone!

Attitude/Traits:

Tags of attitude are also called traits. Examples of traits are being habitually apologetic, being fearful, being irritable, being breezy, being vain, being shy, being obsequious, being fearful, being irritable, being breezy.

Also, hobbies can be tags of attitude: being a aficionado of miniature trains, being a collector of Star Wars memorabilia, and so on.

How many tags per character?

How many tags should a character have? This depends on their importance to the story. Are they a walk-on, a minor character or a major character?

Walk-on: If a character is a walk-on they might be the guy who delivers your protagonists pizza never to be seen again. This sort of a character only needs one or two tags.

Minor: If a character is a minor character then perhaps give them one or more tags from each category.

Major: If a character is a major character then give them one key tag from each category. Key tags are tags you’ll mention each time you re-introduced the character.  You’ll probably want to give the character more than four tags, though, because otherwise your descriptions might seem repetitive.

BRING TAGS ON IN ACTION!!!

This point is extremely important. Vital. Don’t make your descriptions static. Swain writes:

“Often, the best trick is to try to find some bit of stage business on which to hang the tag.” 

For example:

For a proud woman: “She stood there for a moment, the violet eyes ever so steady. Only the slightest trace of heightened color showed in the smooth cheeks. / Then, with a quick, deft movement, she snapped the purse shut, turned still without a word and, blonde head high, left the room.”[1]

Irascible character: “Get out!” he roared, jowls purpling.”[1]

Use tags whenever character is re-introduced

I’ve mentioned this already, but it’s important enough to get its own point. Use the tags every time the character has been offstage for a while and needs to be re-introduced. For example:

“If a girl has dark, wavy hair, let her run her fingers through it, smooth it, brush it back, complain how it won’t hold a permanent, or the like, at virtually every turn.” [1]

Summary: Guidelines for using Tags


  • Tags are used to create a dominant impression.
  • Tags are used to reinforce a character’s personality.
  • Tags are used to modify the dominant impression and show how the inner person can differ from the outer.
  • There are various kinds of tags: tags of appearance, speech, mannerism and attitude.
  • We looked at how many tags a character should have depending on their importance to the story. Are they a walk-on, a minor character or a major character.
  • Finally we talked about how to re-introduce a character with their tags.




Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’m recommending Techniques of The Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain and Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain. I’ve read these books cover to cover and unreservedly recommend them!



That’s it! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. Till then, good writing.

Word count so far: 22,454
Word count this post and last: 1,000 + 1639
Total words this month: 25,093

Notes:

1. Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain [http://amzn.to/2fphS6v].

Monday, November 21

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk


NaNoWriMo is coming to an end. We can see the finish line.

If you're making your word count goal, awesome! Go you!!

If you haven't made your word count (like me), even if you are so desperately behind you don't think there's any hope you'll catch up, take heart!

How many words have you written for NaNoWriMo? Are those words you would have written if you hadn't done NaNo? If not, you're already a winner!

If you're having trouble finding the motivation to continue, or you're looking for a new direction, here are a few ideas.

A few questions that might help you decide what to do:

1. Have you changed your mind about the genre that best describes your story?


This sounds ludicrously, obnoxiously, aggressively obvious, but judging from the beginning efforts of many writers—my own included!—it isn't.

When you began writing your story on Nov 1, what genre did you think best described the story forming in your tortured writer's soul?

Is that still the genre you're writing in? If not, don't panic! Panic helps no one.

If you've genre-hopped then that means you've found out more about your story. That's awesome! You thought your book belonged in a certain category and now that you know more about it you realize that's not the case.

Sure, maybe you'll have to go back and rewrite some scenes, but so what? If you're anything like me, you'll likely end up radically revising each scene—and likely more than once!

Yes, like anything worthwhile, writing is a lot of work! There's a reason why there are SO MANY writers and are, relatively speaking, so few authors.

2. Is your protagonist still the focus?


If so, great! If not, remember that this is a zero draft, these are musings, scribblings. What you write here need only have the slightest of passing resemblances to a story. This is a chance for you to play with words and ideas and, in so doing, to discover your story's shape, its dimensions.

Discover your characters. Put them in different situations. What are their likes? Make us love them, make us identify with them, then torture them. Turn their lives inside out. What do they do next?

Actions often show a person's values much more clearly and more eloquently than words ever could.

In any case, as your story develops, as it unfolds in front of you, you might very well come to understand that the fictional person you thought was the protagonist—meaning that her goals, her desires, drive the story—isn’t. Perhaps she’s the antagonist, or the protagonist’s helper. There are all kinds of possibilities.

It could also be that you haven't met your protagonist yet. In a zero draft everything is on the table.

3. What does your protagonist want? What drives your protagonist?


Quickly! Before you look at any of the slips of paper tacked to your walls, write down your answer to these questions:

a. What does your protagonist want more than anything?
b. What does your protagonist fear more than anything?
c. How does your protagonist achieve the thing she wants?
d. How does your protagonist avoid the thing she hates?
e. What specific, concrete, goal does your protagonist have?

Examples:


Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark wanted to find the Ark and bring it to the United States.

In Stranger Things, Will Byers friends’ goal was to find Will and bring him home.

In the TV Series Supernatural Dean and Sam want to rid the world of monsters. Each episode this general goal is seen through the lens of a different adventure. Either the boys are detecting, chasing and killing a specific monster—one that is actively menacing a specific person or group of people—or Sam and Dean are worried about becoming monsters, of becoming the thing they hate.

Which brings us to ...

4. What does your protagonist hate?


Often the thing we fear the most seems the most real, the most likely to happen. Perversely, the future we dread is often the one we spend the most time thinking about. What would this look like for your protagonist?

For example, if your character fears disconnection then perhaps she desperately wants to feel as though she is connected to something larger to herself. Something important. Something beautiful.

Perhaps, concretely, your character loves her business and fears she’ll lose it. Her life will be nothing without her business and so she will do anything, go to any extent, to save it, to protect it.

Or perhaps your character loves a person. He can't image life without her and, as a result, will do anything to preserve his connection to her.

I find that, often, a fear can be a more concrete thing than a love and so can be easier to start from.

Here is the link to a list of articles I’ve written for NaNoWriMo.



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I want to recommend Cruising for Murder: A Myrtle Clover Cozy Mystery by by Elizabeth Spann Craig. From the blurb: “When Myrtle and her friend Miles set out for adventure on the high sea, they assume most of the trip’s excitement will result from shore excursions to charming Alaskan villages. They feel as if their ship has come in. But when a fellow passenger disappears, Myrtle realizes she must seize the helm and find the killer...before more souls are lost.”



That’s it! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. Until then, good writing!

Friday, November 18

10th Key Scene: The Wrap Up

10th Key Scene: The Wrap Up


Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as a writer.” —Ray Bradbury

In honor of NaNoWriMo, every day this month I’m blogging about a key scene, one that any suspenseful story will include, either implicitly or explicitly. So far I've posted articles about the Inciting Incident, the Lock-In, Tests and Trials, Pinch Point One, the Midpoint Crisis, the All Hope is Lost scene, the Epiphany and the Climax.

Today I'm going to talk about the Wrap Up.

The Wrap Up: Breaking It Down


In the Aftermath, or Wrap Up, the audience sees the effects of the hero's efforts. Here you must answer the questions:


  • How did the hero's Ordinary World change as a result of her adventure?
  • What was his reward? What was the cost of his failure?


Or, as Jim Butcher puts it in Story Climax:

“RESOLUTION: Time to hand out the medals, kiss the girl, go to the wedding, put the star on the Christmas tree, raise the curtain on the rock concert, attend the funeral, or otherwise demonstrate that with the conclusion of the story, some kind of balance has been restored. The catharsis is complete, the tension eased, and the reader can catch their breath now.

“My advice to you on resolutions: Keep it short. Once you've gotten through the Showdown, write as sparingly as possible to get to the end, and don't draw anything out any more than you absolutely must. You've already kept your poor reader up until 3:30, your heartless bastard. Let them get some sleep before they have to rush off to their shift in two hours!” (Jim Butcher, Story Climax)

In my experience the Wrap Up is short, about half as long as an ordinary chapter. The story is over, there’s no more work to be done. Wrap things up quickly and type those two beautiful words: The End.

Checklist


  • What is your protagonist’s story goal? Did your protagonist achieve the goal?
  • If so, what did your protagonist and her allies gain? What did the world gain?
  • If not, what did your protagonist and her allies lose? What did the world lose?

Does your writeup communicate this? If so, great!

Genres


There is no difference between genres!



Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I want to recommend Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen, by Robert Mckee. From the blurb: “... in DIALOGUE, McKee offers the same in-depth analysis for how characters speak on the screen, on the stage, and on the page in believable and engaging ways. From Macbeth to Breaking Bad, McKee deconstructs key scenes to illustrate the strategies and techniques of dialogue.”



That’s it! This is the last post this week, I’ll talk to you again on Monday. :-)

Good luck in the final stretch of NaNoWriMo!

Word count so far: 21,854
Word count for today: 600
Total words this month: 22,454