Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Royal Order of Adjectives & Going On Vacation

The Royal Order of Adjectives & Going On Vacation

Lists are powerful.

I don’t know what I’d do without them. Lists of names for characters, lists of locations, lists of interesting words (like rutabaga).

Today I’m making lists of another kind, lists of items I must remember to take with me on vacation.

Yes, I’m leaving the country and won’t be back until the end of the month. I probably won’t post here again until I get back, though I may put a few vacation pics up over on my website and ramble about where I am and what I’m doing.

The Royal Road of Adjectives

Before I leave, I’d like to mention something I came across when I was doing research for my program: the Royal Order of Adjectives. I hadn’t heard of it before—maybe that doesn’t say a lot for the school system up here—but, apparently, there’s an accepted order that the various kinds of adjectives should adhere to.


Once I read a few examples it made sense; it’s something I’d like to convince my program to check for so that I can scan my own work to make sure my adjectives are standing to attention in the proper order. 

Here’s the handy-dandy graph, complete with examples. This is from Grammar.ccc.commnet.edu’s page dedicated to adjectives. It’s the best primer on adjectives I’ve come across, highly recommended if you’re into that sort of thing ... which it seems I am. Now. 

The Royal Order of Adjectives (click to enlarge)

For example: A delicious little square vase of old red Italian silk roses.

It’s interesting to play around with the adjectives in the chart and see what sentences you can come up with!

While you’re doing that I’m going to slink off to parts unknown. I’ll miss blogging here, but it’ll be nice to have a short break. I’ll be back, with renewed vigor, at the end of the month. I might even have a few stories to tell! It’s amazing what crawling out of one’s writer’s cave every once in a while can do.

Photo credit: "Serpent" by Daniel Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Keeping A Writing Journal

Keeping A Writing Journal

“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. [...] [I]f you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair.”
Madeleine L’Engle
Today I want to talk about something a bit different: writing journals and whether writers should keep one.

I keep a writing journal and it has helped me enormously. That said, I suspect if you saw it my journal wouldn’t look like anything you’d classify as a writing journal. 

For the last few years I have scribbled, daily, in a book I keep ready-to-hand when I’m in the house. (When I go out I keep a pad of paper in my purse and transfer anything I write there into my daily journal.)

While this journal may contain the odd (and I do mean odd ;) insight into life, the world and everything, what mostly fills its pages are bits of writing that in years past I used to commit to random pieces of paper, pieces that would drift around my office. Inevitably, they would disappear and I would be left with the vague feeling that I’d written something important on one of them. 

I think what happened is that I’d grab a piece of paper and use the reverse side for a shopping list, or to take a message, or to dash off a to-do list, and then I’d forget there was writing on the back and recycle it.

After years of this I hit on the notion of keeping a notebook as a kind of—this is how I think of it at least—RAM. The book is, essentially, an extension of my memory. I write in it all the things I would like to remember a hour, or a day, or a year from now but absolutely won’t unless I record them.

And it’s much more difficult to misplace a book than unattached slips of paper!

My writing journal is also the place where I doodle, do math, sketch out cover ideas, program code, and first drafts of blog posts and stories.

Yes, it is a bit of a hodgepodge, a dogs breakfast (for some obscure and likely bizarre reason I love that phrase, “dogs breakfast”) but being-difficult-to-find is a step up from lost. To mitigate this problem I’ve developed a system of labeling that involves multi-colored highlighters and yellow post-it notes. My goal is to make it obvious what information each page contains, especially when that information is the first draft of a story.

After writing that I feel a bit naked! I’ve never discussed my writing journal before.

Anyway, there it is. I wish I had developed this system years ago, less of my writing would be lost and a (crude, confused) record would exist of what I’d written on a day to day basis. 

You might wonder: Would keeping this sort of life-in-a-bucket journal be of help to you? Maybe! If you regularly lament that you can’t find a short little note, or a writing sketch, you jotted down then, perhaps, an everything-in-a-tin journal might be helpful.

One thing I can guarantee you: after a year or two, seeing a couple dozen journals snuggled up beside each other on your bookcase will make you feel like a writer—because you are!

Either that or it’ll remind you of the movie, “Se7en.” Whichever. ;)

Photo credit: "Stargazin" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Subplots And The Great Swampy Middle

Subplots And The Great Swampy Middle

Today I’d like to talk about something that puzzled me no end when I first began writing: subplots. I’ve been reading Robert McKee’s book, “Story” and what follows draws liberally from his insights.

The Shifting Sands of Terminology

Subplots, main subplots, main plots, central plots, minor arcs, major arcs, and so on. As I’ve read about writing over the years each of these terms has been pressed into service to describe the interwoven threads of a story.

The idea that I came away with—and it’s not at all a bad way of looking at it—is that a novel length story isn’t composed of just one plot but many. One of these plots will form the spine of the story and the other plots, the subplots, are woven around the spine, strengthening it, giving it depth and complexity. 

The plot that forms the spine of the story, let’s call this the central plot, this plot line involves the main character’s pursuit of her goal, the obstacles she has to overcome, the cost of winning/failing as well as the final outcome.

But not all stories have subplots. There are good stories—heck, great stories!—that don’t have subplots. “The Fugitive” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” for example. 

So, what’s the deal? Do we need subplots? If so, why? What do they do? What’s their function in a story?

Subplots are a tool—one of them—that will help get a writer through the Great Swampy Middle of Despair.

Everyone who has struggled through a first draft is intimately acquainted with what Jim Butcher calls The Great Swampy Middle (GWM). Let me, first, talk about what the GWM is and why it exists, then I’ll discuss how subplots are a solution to this problem.

Why the Great Swampy Middle Exists

I’ve often written about the three act structure and in those posts tend to make it seem as though the following is how a story is divided up into three acts.

Act One: The first 25% of the story.
Act Two: The middle 50% of the story.
Act Three: The last 25% of the story.

But as was the case in “Star Wars: A New Hope,” the third act can be—and often is—much shorter than the first one. McKay writes in “Story”:

“In the ideal last act we want to give the audience a sense of acceleration, a swiftly rising action to Climax. If the writer tries to stretch out the last act, the pace of acceleration is almost certain to slow in mid-movement. So last acts are generally brief, twenty minutes or less.”

As McKee says, in reality a story often breaks down as follows:

Act One: The first 25% of the story.
Act Two: The middle 60% of the story.
Act Three: The last 15% of the story.

Act Two bulges out from between acts one and two like a grotesque muffin top. With sixty percent of the action of the story unfolding in the second act it’s easy to get bogged down here. And that gives birth to the Great Swampy Middle of Despair.

Subplots are one of the tools we can use to firm up this flabby middle part.

How To Defeat The Great Swampy Middle

Robert McKee in “Story” writes that there are two things that will help us get through the GSM. They are:

1. Use subplots.

McKay writes that “Subplots have their own act structure, although usually brief.” As an example, McKay weaves three subplots into a hypothetical central plot with each subplot peeking at a different time.

Let’s break this down.

a. Subplots increase the number of major scenes.

By weaving subplots around the central plot we can have an interesting reversal every chapter or so. Although not every subplot will have four major scenes—an Inciting Incident and three Act Climaxes—there will be enough so that an interesting event happens regularly enough to keep a readers attention.

b. Subplots give a story depth by giving it layers of complexity.

For example, think of “A Midsummer Nights Dream.” All the love stories end happily but some end “sweetly, some farcically, some sublimely.”

c. One of the subplots (often the most developed subplot) can contrast the theme of the main plot, giving the story a depth and interest it would otherwise lack.

For example, the central idea or theme of a story could be about True Love, what it is and how it affects those in its merciless grip. The main plot could revolve around the protagonist and his search for, and finding of, true love. As a counterpoint to this, one could have a subplot about two people who think they’re in love but who really aren’t. They say and do all the right things but, in the end, when their love is tested it fails. They cannot—will not—sacrifice everything for the other. 

Then we see the aftermath. What one couple gains and the other looses. This gives the theme a depth it would have lacked had only one aspect of the central idea been explored.

d. Each complication in a subplot affects the central plot.

In “The Matrix” Cypher betrays Morpheus to The Agents. This was a victory for Cypher; it got him closer to his goal of once again being submerged in The Matrix. This same event was, obviously, a major blow to Neo. So here we see how a major scene in a subplot creates conflict/tension in the main plot and, as a result, drives the story forward.

2. Increase the number of acts.

The second way to defeat the Great Swampy Middle of Despair is to increase the number of acts. You will have noticed that many stories—especially action-packed stories—don’t have subplots. They don’t need them. The audience wants a fast paced story and with a major reversal coming every few minutes that’s what they’re going to get. 

The movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral” had five acts and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” had—hold onto your hat—seven! Which, as McKee points out, means there was “a major reversal every fifteen or twenty minutes.”

The downside of this is obvious: the pace can be exhausting! Both for the writer(s) and the audience. Each reversal, each climax, must outdo the one before. And that’s difficult to do. It’s easy to resort to cliches or to dangle the hero off the edge of a cliff one too many times and stretch the audiences/readers suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. 

Sameness—even when it’s a stunning explosion-filled end-of-act climax—gets old fast.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Now go write something just for the sheer pleasure of it. (grin)

Talk to you tomorrow. Cheers!

Photo credit: "fields of gold" by Helmut Hess under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Guest Post by Chris Pitchford on Writing And Programming

Guest Post by Chris Pitchford on Writing And Programming

Today I’m going to do something a bit different. I don’t usually have guest posts, but when I discovered Chris Pitchford was coming out with a new book, The Agility of Clouds, I asked him to talk with us about his writing process, about how he—a programmer by trade—thinks about writing.

Take it away, Chris!

*  *  *

Programming is nothing like writing fiction, except that it’s totally like it.

I'm a software developer and a writer, and the two supposedly “non-overlapping magisteria" might be more connected than you might think. I'll leave the poetry of code as a discussion for another time, and focus here on similar processes. Writing a solid and engaging application is really like writing a solid and engaging story, at least, in how I view it all.

Bear with me please, as I go through my process of creating software. When I start building a new application, I start with the data involved as the core concept around which all the other elements are built. I define a model of the data, whether it's a username and password, or messages sent about, files uploaded or whatever. Even if I’m rushing and jump right in to building form elements within a user interface: a text field is different from a checkbox; they represent different data types. Those types become central to the development, and I make sure they are defined first.

But you'll notice—because you're clever that way—that in addition to mentioning the data model above, I mentioned software controls like form elements. The interface is just as important as the model, and the attention to detail in creating elegant controllers is the first thing a user will see and the last thing they remember. The last component of the application I build is the glue that binds the data model and the user interface. These views of the data are the transport mechanisms that deliver the pieces of the data from the database to the interface, and return the results of any interaction.

It all works very well, for projects large and small, in different programming languages and even different environments—mobile apps vs. server applications, for example. The whole process I just described is really just a design pattern, called in this case the "Model/View/Controller" paradigm, but how does it relate to writing? Well, that's the premise of this little article, and I appreciate your patience in staying with me so far.

So, let's just imagine I start writing a completely new story ex nihilo, my imagination the only thing that's filling a blank page with prose. Have I skipped the core foundation of the structure I mentioned earlier? Not at all, as the tone of the words I chose to write is one of those fundamental concepts. The model of the story, like the data of the application, is always present. Even if I'm not explicit about the style of what I'm writing before hand, I'm defining part of the model in how the words will follow my modest start.

Of course, when I write the actual words of the story, that is the interface that the reader will interact with. Their own imagination and background are as important as the words on the page; the story only comes alive when it's read. So, all the details of pacing, grammar, word choice and even dialogue attributions are part of the interface that helps the reader become immersed and merge with the story. But in order to get the details and the model to cohere, I have to have a plot, or glue that binds the themes to the details. After I set the model of the story that I write, I loosely outline the plot so that I can make sure the goals and results of the writing are revealed in the details.

Okay, that’s fine in theory; how does it work in practice? For my novel, The Agility of Clouds, I had originally focused on the character who was eventually to become the antagonist, Father Time. I outlined a story that followed his humble origins in Ireland to the English colonies in the New World before the Revolution, where his latent paranormal abilities would be awakened. His mentor would be the formidable Lady Seramis Helleborine, who became so interesting to me, she would eventually become the main character of her own book—the book I’m referring to—The Agility of Clouds.

But at first, the story was too dark, and I lacked a definitive theme—the reason why I was writing. For The Agility of Clouds, I decided on a theme very important to me to serve as the purpose of my writing: empowering women and minorities at a time of disenfranchisement and slavery. I further defined my style—specifically, the dialogue—to more closely match eighteenth century modes of expression.

With that new model in place, I created a new outline or view of my story. In this new outline, I plotted the development of the story as well as the emotional arcs of the characters. I made sure to cover the areas that would make the emotional connections I felt with the characters and their stories apparent to the reader. Then, it’s off to the races, and I will let you, dear reader, determine how the interface, or the actual text of the novel works!

*  *  *

Thanks Chris! A fascinating perspective; I'll never look at a user interface the same way again.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Chris Pitchford's latest book is The Agility of Clouds. Here’s a bit more about Agility as well as the man behind it:
C. J. Pitchford is a programmer and peripatetic prog-rock paramour and parent, living in a neighborhood in Denver, CO named for a cemetery and a mental health institute. He wonders which one of those is where he will end up…

His newest release, The Agility of Clouds, a sailpunk adventure in the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jo Walton, launched September 1. “Forced to spy for King George II of England by the scheming Lord De La Warr, Lady Seramis Helleborine faces the most dire enemy of all: Father Time. Of course, her enemies hadn’t counted on opposition from one of the most brilliant minds of the eighteenth century, as she pursues justice across the skies in her improbable airship, The Agility of Clouds.” Available in ePub for Kindle at amazon.com, it is also available in an illustrated trade paperback edition at amazon.com and in an illustrated iBook format at the iTunes Bookstore.
Photo credit: "Featherweight" by Daniel Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Using adverbs in dialogue tags: a matter of style or a sign of timidity?

Using adverbs in dialogue tags: a matter of style or a sign of timidity?

Writers are often told not to use adverbs in dialogue tags. For example:

“You are dead to me,” he said coldly.

Or, worse:

“You are dead to me,” he whispered coldly.

(I bet you cringed just reading that!)

One reason adverbs are discouraged in dialogue tags is it encourages telling rather than showing. As Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

In “On Writing,” Stephen King tells us that fear lives at the heart of all weak writing. Specifically, the fear that readers won’t understand what we’re trying to communicate. King writes:

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one’s own pleasure, that fear may be mild—timidity is the word I’ve used here. If, however, one is working under deadline—a school paper, a newspaper article, the SAT writing sample—that fear may be intense. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.

“You probably do know what you’re talking about, and can safely energize your prose with active verbs. And you probably have told your story well enough to believe that when you use he said, the reader will know how he said it—fast or slowly, happily or sadly. Your man may be floundering in a swamp, and by all means throw him a rope if he is … but there’s no need to knock him unconscious with ninety feet of steel cable.”

Most authors love to use adverbs in dialogue attributions.

Stephen King admits he’s used adverbs in dialogue attributions:

“Is this a case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do?’ The reader has a perfect right to ask the question, and I have a duty to provide an honest answer. Yes. It is. You need only look back through some of my own fiction to know that I’m just another ordinary sinner. [...] When I do it, it’s usually for the same reason any writer does it: I am afraid the reader won’t understand me if I don’t.”

That said, King has used fewer adverbs over the years, both in dialogue attribution and elsewhere.

I say all this not to defend King, since he needs no defense, but to give you a feeling for the lay of the land. What I really want to talk about is not that we shouldn’t use adverbs in dialogue tags but, instead, whether this dislike of dialogue tags is perhaps one of those things that change with the times.

Adverbs in dialogue attributions, past and present.

Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” was my favorite book growing up. There was something about it, some quality. If you pressed me to put that quality into words I’d say it was magical and then feel disappointed in myself for under describing it. “A Wrinkle in Time” was one of the books that shaped how I think and what I like.

“A Wrinkle in Time” contained many tags (about 60) with adverbs in them. To put that in perspective, J.K. Rowling used fewer such tags in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” (about 40) and her book was over 20,000 words longer than L’Engle’s.

The finding that surprised me the most was from “The Goldfinch.” In that novel about 200 of the dialogue attributions contain an -ly adverb. That’s more than are in E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” and James Patterson’s “Along Came a Spider,” combined. Actually, Patterson’s book only contains four such instances.

Even “The Maltese Falcon,” one of my favorite books, contains around 50 such tags.

Could it be that our attitudes, or perhaps our tolerance for, adverbs in dialogue tags has changed over the years? For example, the dialogue tags in “Never Go Back,” published in September 2013, are adverb free. That’s right, the book contains no tags with adverbs.

But, against that idea, “Lord of the Flies” was written in the 50s and only has six or so adverbs in its tags. And Jim Butcher’s latest book in the Dresden Files series, published just this year, contains well over 100 dialogue tags with adverbs in them. 

Perhaps one could argue that, at least in part, whether to use adverbs in one’s dialogue tags is part of one’s writing style. Yes, Stephen King attributes use of adverbs to timidity—and he may well be right—but perhaps adverb use could also simply be a component of an author’s voice.

The most interesting thing that came from my investigations into using adverbs in dialogue tags is that the practice seems to cut across the literary/genre boundary. That surprised me. Of course, this could simply be an artifact of the small sample sizes I’m working with!

What do you think? Is the use of adverbs in dialogue tags a weakness—a sign of timidity—or is it simply a matter of style?

Thanks for reading!

Photo credit: "Boat Abandoned On The Beach" by A Guy Taking Pictures under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Six Ways To Rekindle Your Enthusiasm For Your Work In Progress

Six Ways To Rekindle Your Enthusiasm For Your Work In Progress

Enthusiasm. Passion. Inspiration.

These words are pale descriptions, gestures toward the drive that causes us to bury ourselves in basement offices and spend hours writing (and then hours more reading). 

I feel as though I’ve just come off a bender. For a week I’ve had that white hot passion of creation living inside me, almost like a drunkenness burning me up inside, driving me on.

It was wonderful!

And yes, I let everything else in my life slide and for that my apologies. I was programming, something I haven’t done in years, and it felt wonderful to flex those old muscles. 

Now, though, that the program is done the passion has bled away and I woke up today feeling decidedly uninspired.

How To Rekindle Your Enthusiasm

My renewed passion for programming made me think about my WIP and how dispassionate I feel toward it. I was looking for a topic to blog about. I don’t want to saturate you with news about my program and all the cool things I’m discovering, I’ll blog about that often enough in the days and weeks and months to come. But then I thought, well, that’s what I’ll write about, getting one’s enthusiasm back. (And, yes, I do this often; write the blog post I need to read.)

The Great Swampy Middle of Despair

At the moment I’m slogging through the middle bits of a first draft. I’ve adopted Jim Butcher’s terminology for the middle section of a novel: the great swampy middle of despair. (I added the part about despair, but I think it fits.)

You saw or read Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” right? Remember the part where Frodo picks his way through the Dead Marshes. That, right there. That’s the great swampy middle.

So, today, I thought I’d write about how to rekindle one’s enthusiasm, how to fall back in love with your WIP.

1. Don’t get out of bed right away.

Close your eyes. Imagine. What story are you working on? If you’re writing a first draft, or are at the index card/outline stage, the first few moments of consciousness can be pure gold.

Keep your eyes closed. Don’t think about all the meddlesome, anxiety provoking minutia of the day ahead (the day crouching before you like a starving tiger). Don’t think about all the boring things, all the tedious tasks, you have to do. Think instead about the story you’re in equal measures discovering and creating.

Where did you leave off? What is the viewpoint character doing? (Or, alternatively, what is the narrator experiencing?) What do they want? Why don’t they get it?

Use this time of creative semi-consciousness to rev up your muse.

(Yes, you may fall back to sleep but that’s what the snooze button is for!)

2. Keep a writing journal ready to hand.

I never know when inspiration will pounce. I’ll be thinking about a problem, trying to solve it, then as I’m walking to my car with my arms full of groceries, bam! My unconscious births a creative solution.

If you’re anything like me you need to write this down. I can’t tell you how many times I had a revelation, one I was sure to remember it was so staggeringly obvious—and then I forgot!

The journal doesn’t have to be fancy. I have two, and both are plain. One is a simple lined book with a spiral binding. I keep the cover closed with an elastic band—but it works! The book is small enough to live comfortably in my purse. Now when I have an idea I have a place to write it down. I keep another journal with me during the day—I think of it as my RAM. I write everything in there, lists, little reminders, story ideas. It’s where I scribble out rough drafts for these blog posts! I leave it on my bedside table before I go to sleep just in case I have a story idea during the night.

3. Have a support network.

I have people in my life who know me well enough and like me well enough to badger me, to be the two year old in the backseat: Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you ...

Yes, you don’t want too much of that but I can’t tell you how many times just knowing there were people who would realize I was slacking off, how much that motivated me to shake off the blahs, the negative thoughts, and keep going. And not only to keep going, it helped fan the fading ember of enthusiasm, of passionate affection, back to life.

4. Have a system.

I almost entitled this point “outline” but decided against it because, while I think everyone would benefit from having some sort of system I don’t think everyone would benefit from outlining. Different strokes and all that.

Take where I’m at right now. As I mentioned, I’m slogging through the middle of my story, poised right between, right on the cusp, of my kick-ass protagonist confronting the Big Bad.

I think what was bothering me about the scene was that she was too passive. But anyway. I turned away from my slog to do something (for me) infinitely more pleasurable—write a simple VB program in an attempt to find an objective measure for whether (given my tastes and predilections) a book is well written.

That has taken me away from my WIP for almost a week, but I’m able to go back and reengage with my material because I made an outline.

Yes, things in the story have changed, have deviated in small and large ways from the outline. And that’s fine. That’s as it should be. A story is a living, breathing, entity that has a will and a trajectory of its own.

Still, though, my outline keeps me tethered to the main themes, it helps me keep in mind the major beats and why they’re there. It tells me where I’m headed.

So, that’s my advice: Have a system. It doesn’t have to be a detailed system. Your system may be to collect images of what your characters look like from the many interesting recesses of the internet and pin them to various boards using Pinterest. Or you may scout the internet for exotic photos that may become the various locations in your novel. Perhaps you even have it worked out that this location, these people, come onstage in the beginning, then we shift to this board of pictures over here for the middle and then ... and so on.

The important thing is to have something that will help you get back into the groove if life calls you away, interrupts your progress, and steals the momentum you’ve build up.

5. Do something you love.

Do something that feeds your soul. Something that, when you hold the image of it in your mind, makes you smile.

6. Imagine something wonderful.

Writing is imagining. Use your imagination to experience how you will feel, not just once you’ve completed the first draft, but once you’ve done the last edit, once you’ve received your manuscript back from your copy editor and, by god, you’re done! Finished.

It’s quite the feeling, quite the high to have not only birthed a story but shared that story with the world.

Our stories are potentially immortal. They carry with them a bit of who we are, a bit of our souls, ensuring that a part of us will live on. If that’s not something to get excited about, I don’t know what is.

Photo credit: "Canon EOS 1N and Kodak Ultramax 400 - Cat shot" by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Analysis of 16 books: Stephen King is correct, the adverb is not your friend.

My Analysis of 16 books: Stephen King is correct, the adverb is not your friend.
I had a busy weekend.

What was I doing, you ask? I was combing through the contents of my digital bookshelf looking at the words, especially adverbs, my favorite authors (and others) used and how often they used them. 

I was curious whether genre authors tended to use adverbs more than their literary brethren.


Before I discuss the results gleaned from my weekend of wordy exploration let me emphasize two things.

a. So far I’ve only analyzed sixteen books of the millions that exist. Also, most of the books I analyzed were chosen because I love them. As a result, my sample set is profoundly skewed.

I hope to add more books to this analysis in the future and that should help to ease--though not eliminate--this problem.

b. As you probably guessed, I didn’t sit down and read all these books, a pencil in one hand, a pad of paper in the other! I wrote a program. Although I spent all weekend coding (my apologies for not posting on Saturday as I had promised) my program is woefully primitive. In order to get up and running in a relatively short period of time I’ve used approximations. 

For example, ideally no words used in dialogue would be part of this analysis. I tried to take them out but couldn’t make it work in the time I had. 

The Results: Adverbs

There’s so much we could talk about but to start things off, let’s talk about adverbs that end in ‘ly.’

Stephen King famously said in “On Writing” that, “The adverb is not your friend.” He even italicized it. 

King confesses to using adverbs. His admonition is to use them sparingly and with thoughtful deliberation.

But a mischievous part of me wondered: Does Stephen King heed his own advice? And, even if he does now, was he always as conscientious?

I won’t make you wait for an answer. He was.

Though King never used many adverbs to begin with, throughout the years, book after book, he has continued his war with the adverb, gradually diminishing its presence in his work. 

Here are the highlights of my analysis:

Adverb Variety

William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” has the greatest variety of adverbs, while Stephen King’s “Under The Dome” has the least.

Adverb Frequency

Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” narrowly beat out E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” for the most adverbs used. Once again, Stephen King’s “Under The Dome,” had the fewest adverbs, though Lee Child’s “Never Go Back” came in a close second.

Only: the most used adverb

Hands down, “only” was the most used ‘ly’ adverb. (Of course, only isn’t just an adverb, it can also be used as an adjective or an informal conjunction.)

Further, the popularity of “only” isn’t just with genre authors. It was also the most common adverb in “Lord of the Flies” and “The Goldfinch.”

Of the 16 books I included in my analysis only three deviated from this pattern: 

E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey”
James Patterson’s “Along Came a Spider”
Jim Butcher’s “Storm Front”

For these books, “really” was the most common ‘ly’ adverb.

Really, Slowly, Suddenly

The second most common ‘ly’ adverb was “really.” This was true for eight of the sixteen books I looked at. Other popular choices were: 

- Probably (“Never Go Back,” by Lee Child, “Under The Dome,” by Stephen King), 
- Finally (“Along Came a Spider,” by James Patterson), 
- Suddenly (“Salem’s Lot,” by Stephen King),


“Suddenly” is one of the words we are often told not to use. Never. Ever. Which is why I was startled by what my analysis revealed. Six out of the sixteen books I looked at had “suddenly” as one of the most frequently used ‘ly’ adverbs: “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “It,” “Salem’s Lot,” “Twilight” and “Lord of the Flies.”

There is no question that “Lord of the Flies” is well written. Golding won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1984. My conclusion: it’s not so much which words are used as how the words are used. 

Don’t be a word snob!

It seems the pros use many of the words we’re told to stay away from. Yes, the pros use them sparingly, but these authors certainly haven’t eradicated them from their vocabulary. And neither should you! It isn’t what you have it’s how you use it.

Go easy on adverbs.

It seems Stephen King was right, the adverb is not your friend. One of the things which clearly separated “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey”--two books which are widely held up as examples of books that are poorly written--from the rest was adverb use. Perhaps adverbs are a bit like salt, or anchovies. A little goes a long way.

Today I’ve concentrated on what we might call weak words, words we’re often advised to steer clear of. Next time I’d like to focus on strong words, words (strong verbs) we’re encouraged to use. Do the pros use more strong words or, again, is it just a matter of how the words are used?

By the way, just in case you’re curious, I did analyze my own writing and, compared to Stephen King, I’m definitely (see that? I just (ack!) can’t help myself) an adverb lover.

Thanks for reading. Cheers!

Photo credit: "Over Looking The Coastline" by A Guy Taking Pictures under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Descriptivism and Word Lists

Descriptivism and Word Lists

In the next few weeks and months, in addition to looking at the abstract principles of writing I want to spend time examining actual writing. I want to dissect various novels in an effort to understand how they’ve been put together as well as what makes them work. 

“Very” is a four letter word

A few days ago I came across this article from litreactor.com: “8 Words to Seek and Destroy in Your Writing.” It’s a good list. I agree with Mark Twain that the word “very” should be used sparingly, if at all, and there are other words and phrases (“it’s a fact that”) which don’t add meaning to sentences. The more unnecessary words a sentence has, the more difficult it is to read.

But one of the lists I came across included “you” as a problem word. Another listed “as.” Yet another advised writers to eschew “fierce” in favor of “ferocious.” 

Everyone has their own opinions on these things, and that’s as it should be—it would be intensely boring if we agreed with each other about everything—but in my humble opinion advising writers not to use the word “you” is crazy!

Prescriptivists vs Descriptivists

In linguistics there’s a distinction between those who champion one way of speaking over another—prescriptivists—and those who objectively analyze and describe how a language is spoken—descriptivists.

I’m more of a descriptivist. In that spirit, I wanted to spend time looking at various kinds of books and examining how they’ve been put together. I would like to discover, as much as possible, what makes them great (or terrible).

To start with, I think it would be illuminating to take a look at the words most commonly used in various kinds of books. That way, if I’m writing (for example) a mystery story I could look up what words mystery writers tended to avoid as well as which ones they tended to use. 

Note that this exercise isn’t about finding words a writer should use or those they shouldn’t; that’s completely up to the writer. There are no right or wrong words, but I think information about relative word frequency could be interesting and helpful. 

I propose to divide books up into two broad categories:

A. Best selling books.

For my purposes I’m going to count any book that has made it onto a national best seller list. For example, the New York Times Best Sellers list. Also, any book that has had a rank of 100 or less in the (paid) Kindle store is a best seller. (These books would be further divided according to genre.)

B. Award winning literary books.

This list would include books that won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Man Booker Prize, the Edgar Awards, the National Book Awards, and so on.

I’m interested in what are the most commonly used words in books in each of these categories and subcategories. Further, I’m interested in whether particular words are unique to particular categories. However, since I do not have a lot of time to spend on this, I’ll initially limit myself to, say, 20 books in all. That is not going to be a representative sample (not even close!), but hopefully it will be enough to reveal an interesting pattern or two.

Weak Words

I’ve compiled a list of words I’m going to call “weak words.” These are words like “very” and “literally,” words that generally don’t add to the meaning of sentences and so serve only to bloat them, making them harder to read.

As a descriptivist it would seem to stand to reason that if there is a certain word every award winning literary book uses then beginning writers shouldn’t be encouraged to steer clear of it (for example, “you”). Similarly, if no literary book uses a certain word (for example, “very”)—or if only a smattering of them do—then it would be interesting to investigate further and see if there’s a reason for that.

I hope that when I’m finished with my investigation I’ll be able to publish an article entitled, “Top 10 Words Award-Winning Literary Writers Never Use.” (It would be interesting if there was a word that literary writers never used that best selling writers always did and vice versa.)

Although Stephen King generally isn’t regarded as a literary writer, I’m particularly interested in seeing the difference between the 100 most common words in Stephen Kings’ “Under The Dome” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight.”

Beyond Words

While I’m at it, I also want to take a look at the first 300 words of a few novels—novels I’ve loved, novels I would have been thrilled to write. I expect it will turn out that many of these novels communicate a lot of information quickly and in such a way that it draws the reader in. 

Specifically, I want to ask the following questions:

1. What is the narrative point of view?

Is it first-person, second-person, third-person? Does the POV alternate between viewpoint characters?

2. If the POV is third-person then:

a. Is the narrator ensconced inside a character (the viewpoint character)?
b. If yes to (a) is the narrator the same entity as the viewpoint character or are they different. For example, does the narrator know things that the viewpoint character couldn’t.

3. Does the narrator float between viewpoint characters?

4. How many of the characters are introduced? What do we know about them from the descriptions given?

5. What are the character’s goals? What is their motivation for pursing their goals?

6. Has the writer set up a time-frame in which the character’s must obtain their goal? (I like to think of this as a ticking clock.)

 I believe it will turn out that most novels establish the answers to these questions in the first few paragraphs.

Short Stories

If this goes well, down the road I wouldn’t mind looking at the first 300 or so words of short stories and comparing the amount of information imparted there to the amount given at the beginnings of novels. It would be interesting to see just how much more information is crammed into the first few paragraphs of a short story.

That’s it! I missed a post this week so I’ll blog again on Saturday (tomorrow) and talk about my analysis of J.K. Rowling’s, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Try-Fail Cycles And The Gap

Try-Fail Cycles And The Gap

As many of you know, I’m reading Robert McKee’s, Story. It seems like each page—certainly each chapterhe looks at an old concept in a new way, one that reveals fresh and previously unsuspected dimensions of the writer’s craft. Today, I want to talk about a concept McKee introduces, one related to but distinct from try-fail cycles: the gap. 

Try-Fail Cycles and The Gap

Try-fail cycles

We’re all familiar with try-fail cycles. The protagonist wants something. He tries to get it. A complication is thrown in his way. He circumvents the complication and forges ahead seeking the object of his desire. Another complication gets in his way. And so on until the end of the scene when the character either achieves his object of desire or is denied it. 

You see the pattern: desire, action, result. The protagonist desires something, tries to get it several times, fails each time because of a complication he didn’t foresee and then, finally, either achieves his desire or fails to do so.

The Gap

I think the gap is a part of many, if not most, try-fail cycles. Here’s how McKee explains it in Story:

“The protagonist seeks an object of desire beyond his reach. Consciously or unconsciously he chooses to take a particular action, motivated by the thought or feeling that this act will cause the world to react in a way that will be a positive step toward achieving his desire. From his subjective point of view the action he has chosen seems minimal, conservative, yet sufficient to effect the reaction he wants. But the moment he takes this action, the objective realm of his inner life, personal relationships, or extra-personal world, or a combination of these, react in a way that’s more powerful or different than he expected.

“This reaction from his world blocks his desire, thwarting him and bending him further from his desire than he was before he took this action. Rather than evoking cooperation from his world, his action provokes forces of antagonism that open up the gap between his subjective expectation and the objective result, between what he thought would happen when he took his action and what in fact does happen between his sense of probability and true necessity.”

An Example of The Gap at Work: The Matrix

Mckee uses the script from Chinatown to illustrate the gap, and it is a terrific example, but I’m not going to use it. Why? Because McKee used it in his book of course it’s a great example! Of course it works! Instead, I’m going to look at one of my favorite movies, The Matrix.

There’s a scene at the beginning of The Matrix where Trinity is sitting in a room with police officers encircling her, their guns drawn, ready to shoot. Remember it? That’s the scene I want to talk about.

There aren’t a lot of try-fail cycles in this scene. Police officers try to arrest Trinity (as their lieutenant described her, “one little girl,”) and she kills them. Further, she kills them by doing things like running along walls and using visually stunning martial arts moves. (Later on she discovers that agents—beings who can kill her—are after her, but that’s later in the sequence.)

There are three perspectives we can view this scene from: Trinity, the police officers and the audience.

The expectation of the POLICE:
The police officers assume that, though this particular situation may be a little strange, they can handle it. After all, it’s only “one little girl.” 

The reality the POLICE find:
The police find a young woman who has a fondness for black plastic, one who is a killing machine.

The expectation of the police and the reality they find are way off. There’s a huge gap. That’s part of what makes this scene interesting.

The expectation of TRINITY:
Trinity is suspicious that her line was tapped but she believes Cypher when he says it’s clean. She expects to receive the call that will allow her to escape the Matrix.

The reality TRINITY finds:
Not only doesn’t the call come, but police officers surround her, guns drawn. She’s not worried about the police, she knows she can handle them, but now she knows the line was tapped. How is that possible? What does it mean?

The expectation of the VIEWER:
The first time I watched The Matrix this scene was an eye-popper. I suspected Trinity was much more lethal than she seemed, but I had no idea what form that would take. 

The reality:
The entire scene was extreme. First, it is not very often that one of the good guys kills police officers. That was shocking. Second, the way she killed them ... I don’t think anyone had seen anything like it before. The combination of martial arts moves and special effects was cinematic eye candy.

In the end, what matters is the reaction of the audience, but the reactions of the characters feed into this. As we watch, we process the reaction of the police officers. We understand the gap between what they expected and what they found. We also understand the gap between what Trinity expected and what she found. This all goes into our reaction, it adds depth to it.


One of the things I like about McKee’s way of looking at scene building—his notion of the gap—is that it emphasizes the inner world of the character. It focuses the writer’s mind, as well as the readers/viewers, on the character’s thoughts and expectations. In so doing, it emphasizes that this inner world is going to be at variance with the world of the story. After all, if everything was exactly as our characters imagined there would be no story; at least, not an interesting one.

Photo credit: "trinity river, fort worth, texas" by Greg Westfall under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Creative Visualization as a Writing Technique

I know some of you are rolling your eyes at the mention of creative visualization, but bear with me a moment. Yes, creative visualization has been embraced by myriads of snake-oil-salesmen as a way to “get rich quick” or to “make all your dreams come true,” to which I say an enthusiastic: bah humbug! (That said, if you’re using creative visualization and you’re getting rich quick, good for you. Ignore me.)

What I’m talking about today is using creative visualization as a tool to help folks meet their writing goals, whatever they may be.

My Attempt At Creative Visualization

As some of you know, I’m smack dab in the middle of my WIP which means that I’ve been slogging through the (cue ominous organ music) Great Swampy Middle of Despair. Predictably, I started to wonder why I ever wanted to write in the first place because I’m obviously horrible at it; and so on and so forth. The old demons of doubt reared their ugly heads and, unfortunately, it’s all too easy to believe them. Thoughts--these kind of negative thoughts--do have power (the power we give them) and can become self-fulfilling. And, let’s face it, it’s easy to find reasons not to write. Oh look, the kitchen needs cleaning and I really should go grocery shopping.

While I was procrastinating yesterday I read a fabulous article, On Giving Up, by Monica Bhide over at one of my favorite blogs, Writer Unboxed. I should mention that when I read Monica’s article I was in full-on panic mode. In her article, Monica wrote about feelings of inadequacy she had experienced and it was as though she was speaking for the both of us.  

Monica Bhide obviously shook off her feelings of inadequacy to write again and, in reading her article, I remembered a technique I used years ago: creative visualization.

I thought, Well, I may not believe it will work but what do I have to lose? So I closed my eyes and spent a minute or so imagining completing my word count; I imagined how that would feel. I imagined the pen in my hand and the feel of the paper as I wrote. 

And you know what? It worked! I astonished myself by writing more than twice the number of words I needed to.

Now I’m not saying, “Close your eyes, think good thoughts, and great things will follow,” (let’s face it, horrible things happen to good people) but I do think that our thoughts can paralyze us, convincing us that we are less than we are, that we can do less than we are capable of. As powerful as these thoughts are, when we understand what’s happening and consciously take steps to balance these negative thoughts with positive ones we can surprise ourselves by what we can accomplish.

That’s my wish for you today, whatever negative, pointless, goal-destroying thoughts you may have, balance them with positive ones. Even if you don’t believe you’ll finish your word count today, close your eyes and spend a minute imagining yourself doing it. Then go write, even if it’s only a word. Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. You can do it!

Have a great weekend.

Photo credit: "Bee Enjoying The Flowers" by A Guy Taking Pictures under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robert McKee And Characterization vs Character

Robert McKee And Characterization vs Character

I’m reading “Story,” by Robert McKee and kicking myself for not doing this long ago. I’ve reached the part where McKee talks about the difference between character and characterization and says some eye-poppingly interesting things. Useful things.

If you haven’t read “Story,” get your hands on a copy. If you don’t want to shell out 40 dollars for a hardcover, take the book out from the library. You may end up disagreeing with what McKee says--and that’s fine, different strokes and all that--but it can help you grasp the essence of what makes a story absorbing: character and structure working together.

What Is Character? Characterization vs Character

McKee writes:

Characterization is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny: age and IQ; sex and sexuality; style of speech and gesture; choices of home, car, and dress; education and occupation; personality and nervosity; values and attitudes–all aspects of humanity we could know by taking notes on someone day in and day out. [...] This singular assemblage of traits is characterization ... but it is not character.” 

McKee goes on:

“TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure–the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

True character has to do with whether someone is loving or cruel, generous or selfish, strong or weak, and so on. In life as in art “The only way to know” whether someone is generous or selfish, kind or cruel, and so on, is to “witness him make choices under pressure [...]. As he chooses, he is.”

Yes!! That. What he said. I’ve felt this myself but hadn’t put it into words. Of course Dwight V. Swain, Jack Bickham and Jim Butcher have said much the same thing but for some reason when I read McKee’s “Story” the light went on. 

McKee goes on:

“Pressure is essential. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.”

Exactly! And these choices are made in sequels.

The importance of structure–and the reason why structure and character are two sides of the same coin–is that character can only be revealed over time through the choices a character makes. It is the unfolding of these choices we call structure.

For example ...

Character Arc

1. Beginning of story: Characterization

At the beginning of a story, in the setup, characters are described; characterized. Readers are told what the character’s gender is, approximately how old they are, and so on.

2. First choice: The Character’s deep nature is revealed through their choices.

I re-watched The Matrix yesterday. At the beginning of the movie Thomas Anderson (aka Neo) makes a number of choices. 

- He chooses to follow the white rabbit to a nightclub even though he knows he has to work the next day. 
- At work, he has a choice whether to trust Morpheus and do something dangerous or play it safe. 
- At the end of Act One he has to choose whether to take the blue pill and forget all about The Matrix or take the red pill and learn the truth, even though learning the truth will cost him everything.

Notice how these choices build on each other, becoming more difficult (the stakes increase) and, correspondingly, more revealing of Thomas Anderson’s deep nature.

3. Conflict between characterization and deep nature.

Here the writer shows that the character’s deep nature is at odds with his characterization.

McKee calls James Bond a lounge lizard. Bond wears expensive clothes and lurks around nice hotel lobbies chatting up and bedding beautiful, rich women. That’s all part of his characterization. But his character is quite different. The average lounge lizard wouldn’t risk his life to defend his country--he wouldn’t know where to begin.

McKee writes:

“[The character’s] deep nature is at odds with the outer countenance of the character, contrasting with it, if not contradicting it. We sense that he is not what he appears to be.”

4. The character’s choices become more difficult.

After a character’s inner nature, their deep nature, has been exposed they must be driven to make even more difficult choices.

5. End of story: The character--who they are at the deepest level--has been profoundly and permanently changed.

By the end of the story the character’s choices have “profoundly changed the humanity of the character.” 

McKee sums it up like this:

“Whether our instincts work through character or structure, they ultimately meet at the same place.

“For this reason the phrase ‘character-driven story’ is redundant. All stories are ‘character-driven.’ Event design and character design mirror each other. Character cannot be expressed in depth except through the design of story.”

That’s it for today! 

Photo credit: Untitled by Helmut Hess under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Structure of a Short Story: The New Plan

The Structure of a Short Story: The New Plan

So far our story has set a fairly quick pace. We’ve introduced the setting and the protagonist. We’ve introduced the protagonist’s allies and enemies. We know what the protagonist’s goal is as well as the obstacles to her achieving it. We have seen the protagonist devise a plan to make her goal a reality, act on it and fail miserably. Now it’s time to react to this failure, come up with a new plan and put it into motion.


Now the pace is going to slow. The protagonist needs time to react to all that has happened. She needs to sit down, take a breath, regroup and reflect. 

Show the protagonist’s reactions to this loss, show her emotions--or lack of them. What happened? What didn’t go according to plan? Why? Going forward, what are the options? What are the outcomes/stakes for each option? 

Each of the protagonist’s allies might argue for a different course of action but, ultimately, the protagonist must choose between them or, even better, put forward a plan of her own, one that is bolder, more daring, than all the others.

In other words, now’s the time for a sequel. (BTW, for more about scenes and sequels see: Scenes, Sequels, Sequences and Acts & Jim Butcher on Scenes and Sequels.)

Scenes Like a Funhouse Mirror

Short stories often reflect the macrocosm as though in a warped funhouse mirror, speeding through certain parts--or only implying them--to dwell on others. (I think I picked the metaphor of a funhouse mirror because I’m reading Stephen King’s “Joyland.” Wonderful story.)

In my previous posts in this series I mentioned that short stories are different from novels but that they have the same important bits. And that’s true, but sometimes these important bits occur offstage: either before the story began or in the time after it ends.

For example, one of my favorite stories, Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” is (or so I would argue) basically a sequel. There are two courses of action being discussed and the girl, the protagonist, must choose between them. 

I think that, often, literary short stories are sequels. The protagonist reacts to an event that occurred before the story began and the reader tries to figure out what the event was, as well as its significance, from how it affects the characters.

A note about the structure of a short story and how it often differs from that of a longer work

The crisis of the last section (First Complication) occurred more or less at the Midpoint of our short story, though if we were writing a novel this would occur earlier at around the 30% mark. 

 Note that the Midpoint isn’t a point, it’s a sequence that consists of several short fast-paced scenes, each scene running into the next with little pause for reflection. In each scene the protagonist tries to achieve her goal (the story goal) and in each something happens to deflect her. (see: Try-Fail Cycles)

In this sense, a short story is condensed. Where in a novel there would be ample time between the failure of the protagonist’s first attempt and her gearing up for her main assault, this span of time is telescoped in a short story. The protagonist of a short story has to adjust to the conditions of the special world, make friends and allies--as well as enemies--in a few short paragraphs rather than chapters.

Formulate a New plan

What follows are some of the stages/events that often occur after the protagonist’s first big failure. 

This list is not meant to be in any way canonical--when it comes to stories there’s no such thing--but thinking about these points has often helped me figure out why a certain part of my story isn’t working as well as I’d like.

 a. Emotion

At the beginning of the sequel, show the protagonist’s emotions. Show her emotional reaction to the failure at the end of the previous scene. Is she sad? Angry? 

b. Thought/Review

The protagonist reviews the situation and focuses on one or two aspects of the attempt as significant. These are the aspects the writer wishes the reader to dwell upon. This is where much of the protagonist’s character development will occur. 

For example, who does the protagonist blame? Herself? Her friends? The antagonist? I've found that heroic protagonists tend to blame themselves. Especially if one of their companions is injured in her attempt to achieve her goal. 

c. Anticipation/Reason

Show the protagonist anticipating what is to come. What can she do now? Have the protagonist--or her allies--think of two or three ways of achieving her goal. For each goal reveal what the outcome would be; what the new stakes would be.

d. Decision

Have the protagonist decide on a new path of action. The important bit here is that the writer clearly communicates to the reader why the protagonist picked one course of action over another. 

For example, continuing my example from last time, let’s say the protagonist’s goal is to stop her grandmother’s house from being repossessed by the bank. Let's say that our protagonist comes up with these three options:

i. Go to the mob and borrow the money. 

ii. Plunder the trust fund her father set up for her so she could go to college and become a doctor.

iii. Beg her cousin to let grams live with her. (The protagonist absolutely hates her cousin and the feeling is mutual.)

If the protagonist chooses (iii) then it shows the reader that she is willing to swallow her pride. That would tell us a lot about the protagonist's character. We would see that she would rather do something she absolutely hated rather than let someone she loved come to harm. 

If the protagonist doesn’t choose option (iii) that also tells us something about her. For example, if she chooses (ii) then she will achieve her goal--her grams house will be saved--but she will have sacrificed both her dream and her father’s dream to make it happen.

The question is: How much does the protagonist’s pride mean to her? Is she willing to give up her dream to save her pride?Her decision will tell us a lot about her. This, right here, is the nuts and bolts of character development. 

e. Action

Show the protagonist begin to act on her new plan. For example, let’s say that the protagonist has chosen to save her grans house by plundering the trust fund her father set up for her. At the end of the sequel we could show her getting in her car and leaving for the bank.

Next time we’ll look at the Major Setback and talk more about how the second half of a story differs from the first. Cheers!

Photo credit: Untitled by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.