Showing posts with label #howtowrite. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #howtowrite. Show all posts

Saturday, January 16

Good Storytelling: Unique Stakes (Part Three)

Good storytelling: unique stakes (part three)



















This is Part Three of a mini-series. This part can be read on its own, but if you would like to read the first two parts they are here: 

Good Storytelling: Give Your Characters Something to Die For (Part One)
Good Storytelling: Goals, Stakes and Consequences (Part Two)

Unique Stakes

Quick review. Each character has a goal. For example, in Star Wars IV, Luke Skywalker wanted to destroy the Death Star. After all, anything called a Death Star probably needs to be destroyed!

What will happen to a character is based on whether she achieves her goal. Those are the stakes. Think of gambling. If I place a bet on my team to win the Big Game then the stakes of the bet are the amount of money I could gain or lose. In Luke Skywalker's case, when he prevented the Death Star from blowing up the rebel's base on Yavin IV the resistance was preserved.

But that was Luke's main goal--that was the story goal--and, as such, he shared that with many other characters such as Princess Lea. Luke had other goals that were unique to him. For example, he wanted to learn how to fly a variety of spacecraft and he wanted to learn how to control the force. 

Sure, Han Solo was an accomplished pilot and Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Jedi skilled in controlling the force, but Luke--while he did have the capacity to be both these things--wasn't there yet. 

And that these (becoming a better pilot, becoming a Jedi) were his goals said something about him, they made him unique. 

That's what I mean by unique stakes.

Character Creation

What does your character want? What drives him? What gets him up in the morning? The answers to these questions show who your character is.

Stakes help reveal your character's personality. 

Here’s a trick I learned:

If you’re not sure what desires drive a character, ask: If this character won an obscene amount of money, what is the first thing she would do with it? Would she rush to the bank to make an investment? Would she fly with 20 of her closest friends to Vegas? Would she buy a house? Would she get married? Would she give it all away to charity?

In Luke Skywalker’s case the answer is easy: he would take care of his aunt and uncle and then go offworld to the Academy and learn how to fly all sorts of aircraft.

What does your character fear? When he was a kid what kind of beasties lived under his bed?

The best character’s fears are a unique blend of the universal and the particular. A few universal fears are shame, boredom, hunger, pain and death, but characters are particular and these universal fears need to manifest themselves in the character’s life in a unique and preferably quirky way. For example, one of the things I loved about Mr. Monk was that he was scared of milk. Milk! That fear was unique and revealed his character.

Sherlock Holmes was not fond of being bored, he required a difficult, interesting puzzle to solve. 

Luke feared letting his aunt and uncle down. He also feared being bored, being trapped on a planet where nothing exciting ever happened.

A character’s wants and fears tie them to their goal

In Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones is terrified of snakes. And of course snakes are found in any dungeon or ancient temple worth the name.

Luke is scared of turning to the dark side of the force like his father did.

In The Matrix, Neo is scared that Morphius will die because he, mistakenly, believes that Neo is The One. Of course it turns out that Neo IS The One, and Morphius doesn’t die, but that was the fear that motivated Neo to act.

The Reader


A character's wants and fears need to tie into the reader's wants and fears.

It’s good when a character’s wants and fears tie in with their goal--which, for the protagonist is the story goal--but we write for wonderful people, our readers. We want to draw them into our story.

This is another advantage of writing a genre story. For example, if you’re writing a romance story you know what your reader will want to feel. She will want to vicariously fall in love along with the protagonist, have a good cry with her when it doesn’t work out and then have renewed hope at the end when the lovers get back together.

If you’re writing a horror story the reader is going to want to be terrified. 

And so on.

It’s the stakes that tie the reader to the characters--especially the protagonist--and, in so doing, the stakes tie the reader to the story.

Readers Stakes versus Character Stakes

For example, in William Goldman's wonderful story, The Princess Bride, why did Inigo Montoya devote his life to becoming a master swordsman? It was because the six-fingered man (Count Rugen) killed his father and Inigo had sworn to avenge his father's death. 

So yes, sure, Inigo's goal was to kill Count Rugen but I would argue that, generally, he wanted to do right by his father. The love that Inigo had for his father was the glue that kept him focused on his goal. 

What are the stakes for Inigo? When Inigo finally fights Count Rugen it seems as though Inigo is dying, felled by a sneaky, dishonorable blow meted out by Count Rugen. We understand from the very beginning: the stakes of this contest, this battle, are life and death and Count Rugen isn't going to fight fair.

All that is true, but I would argue that for Inigo the stakes that matter to him aren't life and death--his life and death--they are whether he succeeds in avenging his father. If he were to discover that avenging his father would mean his death he wouldn't hesitate. If Inigo doesn't succeed in avenging his father's death, it seems to me that Inigo wouldn't want to live. 

Does the reader think about it that way as well? I don't think so. I think we care much more than Inigo does about his life. Yes, absolutely, we want to see justice done. We want Inigo to complete his quest and kill the dishonorable Count Rugen. But it is also very important to us--much more important than it is to Inigo himself--that he survive.  

So all that has been building up to this: the stakes of the character aren't necessarily our stakes, the reader’s stakes. We sometimes care passionately about something the character themselves doesn’t seem to care a lot about. And that's great! What we want as writers is to get our readers to care passionately about our characters and what happens to them. 

Okay! That's Part Three of this series. There's only going to be one more part. In the final part I'll talk about internal and external stakes. That's it for now! Good writing.

Tuesday, December 29

Good Storytelling: Goals, Stakes and Consequences (Part Two)

Good Storytelling: Goals, Stakes and Consequences (Part Two)

[This is Part Two of a mini-series on good storytelling. This part can be read on its own, but if you would like to read Part One it is here: Good Storytelling: Give Your Characters Something to Die For (Part One)]

This might seem obvious, but in order for a character's stakes to matter the character’s goal must be clear.

Goals

Every main character must want something. This goal, achieving it or failing to achieve it, will define the character’s arc. (And each arc will itself usually have a beginning in the Ordinary World, a middle in the Special World and, in the end, the Return.) 

The protagonist’s arc is also the arc of the story.

External Goals

All characters have external goals. In Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones's external goal was to obtain the Ark of the Covenant. He didn’t have an internal goal.

An external goal is something concrete, something you could take a picture of, something that exists in the external world independently of your character.

Internal Goals

Shrek, though, had both external and internal goals. His external goal was to get the fairytale creatures out of his swamp. His internal goal or challenge was to allow himself to be connected to others. In addition, there is tension between Shrek’s external and internal goals. He wants the fairytale critters out of his swamp because he is the ultimate loner, but his internal goal/challenge is to become more connected to others. His love for Princess Fiona is the concrete manifestation of that inner challenge.

An internal goal is usually a need or challenge that the character must meet or overcome. Usually it is the internal need or challenge that is met at the end of the B-story and that contributes to the epiphany that gets the character out of the All Hope is Lost moment and helps him formulate a new plan.

I’ll say more about all this later on, but I wanted to begin to introduce the ideas here.

One Goal to Rule Them All

A main character--like the real people they are a fiction of--can, and should, have more than one goal, but it must be clear they want one thing desperately and they must want it more than anything else. The thing that the protagonist passionately wants becomes the story goal. If the protagonist achieves the goal then she's succeeded, if not then she's failed.

For instance, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, if Indiana finds the ark and brings it back with him then he has succeeded. If not, he's failed.

What are the stakes? If Indy achieves his goal then he gets professional kudos and the opportunity to study a fascinating artifact. If he doesn't, then the Nazi war machine will use the ark to help turn the tide of war in its favor. 

Of course, the goal can change along the way. In “The Firm,” Mitch McDeere starts out wanting to be a rich lawyer then, about halfway through the story, his goal changes: he just wants to be free, he doesn't want either the FBI or the mob to own him.

The stakes must matter to the characters

This seems obvious. If the stakes don't matter to a character that's like creating a beautiful car but neglecting to put gas in the engine. 

Tying Stakes to Goals

The other day I was walking through a fairground and one of the hawkers called out to me: 

"Hey! You wanna play this game? I know you do. It's fun and you could win a great prize." 

"Oh?" I said. "What prize?" 

The youth held up a big stuffed pink and green elephant.

No thanks. It would be cheaper--a lot cheaper--for me to go out and buy myself a stuffed elephant! 

Now, if he'd held up the promise of a critique by, say, Stephen King I'd have played. Heck, he wouldn't have been able to get rid of me!

Why? Because the stakes, the possible consequences of a course of action--in this case winning a critique by Stephen King--are connected in the right way to my desire to become a better writer. That is, the stakes would help further my goal.

When the stakes help a character further their goal then the stakes will matter to your character.

Tying Stakes to Emotions

This is basically just another way of saying the same thing I just said, but it takes the topic from another direction. 

This point about the stakes needing to matter to your characters is also about believability. 

When the going gets tough and your character is getting beaten up, whether literally or figuratively, the character needs a believable reason for why they keep on keeping on.

How do you, as a storyteller, make it plausible that your characters will go through hell to achieve their goal? You make the stakes matter to the characters. Okay, but how do you do that? Simple: you tie the stakes into your character's wants and fears.

I think this is one reason why stakes are often life and death. Whether or not a person continues living matters a great deal to them and it doesn't need explanation. If a burglar pulls out a gun and points it at your character, the reader understands the character's panic. 

-- --
Thanks for reading! I'll post Part Three in this series soon. In the meantime, good writing.

Monday, December 28

Good Storytelling: Give Your Characters Something to Die For (Part One)


First, a caveat. In the following I say things about ‘all X,’ for example, ‘all main characters,’ but of course statements like that are generalizations. There are wonderful stories that do not fit into the patterns I describe.[1] 

That said, I think reading about the hero’s journey is valuable even if the stories you are interested in would traditionally have been described as more literary. After all, there are patterns, rhythms, to good storytelling regardless of the story being told. And while I do wholeheartedly agree that there are more ways for a story to express these patterns than are described in the hero’s journey, I do believe that the hero’s journey IS one way to access those patterns.

The Importance of a Good Stake (Punny ;)

I've already discussed the importance of having goals and the inevitable conflict that follows from that (blog post: Storytelling). But the amount of conflict depends on how high the stakes are.

Think of it this way, if you bet the price of a coffee on your sports team winning a particular match you wouldn't care as much about the outcome as if you had bet your entire rent for the month. (Not that I’m recommending that!)

Stakes and Suspense

Goals--especially diametrically opposed goals like the ones I’ll talk about, later--are important because they create conflict, but this conflict means little without high stakes. The stakes control the suspense. Low states, low suspense. High stakes, high suspense.

Stakes are the possible consequences of a course of action. What will happen if the protagonist achieves her goal? What will happen if she doesn't?  

For example, let's say we have a character, Rob. Rob is on a diet, he wants to lose 20 pounds before his brother's wedding. Here are two versions of the story:

Version 1

Possibility A: Rob loses the 20 pounds and doesn’t have to rent a tuxedo.

Possibility B: Rob failed to lose 20 pounds and had to rent a tuxedo.

The story question: Will Rob lose 20 pounds and not have to rent a tuxedo or will he fail and be forced to rent a tuxedo for his brother's wedding?

Either way, so what? Why should we care? I don't know about you, but I don't have strong feelings either way about rented tuxedos!

Let’s increase the stakes.

Version 2

Rob makes a bet with his brother that if he can't fit into his tuxedo in time for the wedding he'll pay for the wedding. But paying for the wedding would wipe out Rob’s savings and he wouldn't be able to fulfill his lifelong dream of climbing Mount Everest. And if he doesn’t fulfill his dream of climbing Mount Everest he will be depressed, stop making friends and develop an unnatural addiction to Cheetos.

Now we have:

Possibility A': Rob loses the 20 pounds and so not only fits into his tuxedo but is able to fulfil his dream of climbing Mount Everest. Afterward, Rob starts a new blog to share his experiences, meets lots of other cool people and lives a meaningful life surrounded by those who care about him.

Possibility B': Rob fails to lose the 20 pounds and so not only has to rent a tuxedo but can’t fulfil his dream of climbing Mount Everest. Rob becomes depressed, never blogs, becomes addicted to Cheetos and dies alone.

Here’s our new story question:

Will Rob be able to lose the 20 pounds before the wedding and fulfil his dream to climb Mount Everest or will he fail, pay for his brother's wedding, become depressed and die alone?

That's a better story question. Obviously the example is tongue in cheek, but hopefully it illustrates the point. 

As soon as Rob has something with emotional weight to lose, we begin to care more about what happens to him.

In order for this to work, though, the possible consequences of a course of action must be clear.

-- --

That's it for now! I'll try and get Part Two of this miniseries up tomorrow or the next day. I'm blogging a draft of my new book on writing, so your input on anything I write would be greatly appreciated! If you think I'm wrong about anything I say, please let me know! I enjoy discussions about writing. Thanks for reading.

Cheers.

Notes:

[1] 
I went looking for examples of stories that I didn’t think easily fit the form of a hero’s journey. For example, Pulp Fiction. Yes, Pulp Fiction is a film, but… See Note 2, below. Anyway, I came across the article, “Not Everything Is A Hero's Journey,” over at NarrativeFirst.com. (I looked for the author’s name, but couldn’t find it. My apologies. If anyone knows the author’s name please tell me and I'll add that information.)

Although I disagreed with some things in the article, I liked this part:

“There can be nothing more destructive to the world of storytelling than this compulsion for spiritual metamorphosis.

“Stories are about solving problems. Sometimes, solving those problems require the centerpiece of a story, the Main Character, to undergo a major transformation in how they see the world. Sometimes they don't. There is nothing inherently better about a story where the Main Character transforms.” 

I really liked the author's style and wit. I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to read the article (I’ve listed it in Further Readings).

But, anyway. The hero can, and often does, fail to achieve his goal. One of the ways the hero can fail to achieve his goal is that he fails to transform. To my mind, though, the hero’s transformation does not guarantee success. That said, I liked the comment that stories are about solving problems. Yes! Agreed.

Also, I liked the comment, “There is nothing inherently better about a story where the Main Character transforms.” Of course, it depends on what one means by better. What is the criterion? Perhaps I’m going too far afield, but is the criterion subjective (I liked this story better than that story), or objective? 

I favor the idea that there is an objective aspect to such a criterion. Let’s say we have two stories. Here’s the question: Could one story help someone live a better life than the other story? For example, if we had two identical populations, and one took the first story as a myth and the second took the second story as a myth and we ran the simulation over 1000 generations, in which population would individuals have lived more meaningful lives? And we could run this entire experiment many hundreds or thousands of times. Would one civilization be much more successful than the other? Of course, such an experiment isn’t possible.

Anyway. I do think that is why we are fascinated with stories. It’s why a character’s goals matter to us, it’s why stakes matter to us, it’s why we care about endings. But I’m open to people disagreeing. I love those sorts of conversations.

[2]
Books versus films. I regard a book as a way of carrying a story around in the world. Similarly, I regard a film strip--or these days a thumb drive containing an electronic file--as another way of carrying a story around in the world. Of course there are differences. In a book bits of ink form letters which form words and when read images unspool in the theater of the mind. In a film images are displayed on a flat surface and they flick by so quickly that our eyes and brains are fooled into seeing motion. Sure, films--flicks--generally don’t require the viewer to bring the same mental equipment to bear to unspool a story as books do but, in terms of the story told, I don’t believe there is an essential difference between the media.

Or, to put it another way, a book or film is a medium/container for a story in something like the way a body is thought to be a medium/container for a mind. It’s the story that is the essential thing, not the specific form in which it exists in the world. Or something like that. At least, that is one way of thinking about it.

Further Reading:

Not Everything Is A Hero's Journey, over at Narrativefirst.com.

Friday, December 25

Storytelling


My Dad was an amazing storyteller. Because of him, I’ve spent a lifetime thinking about stories, thinking about whether there’s something that great stories have in common.

There is: the hero’s journey. (Also called the monomyth.)

I started blogging about writing in 2010 because I believed that, as Seneca wrote, "by teaching we are learning." My blog grew from that quest.

The sort of stories I focus on are genre stories. Those are the kind of stories that keep decent hardworking folk up until indecent hours, unable to put their book down until they find out what happened, whether the hero or heroine rescued their love, recovered the treasure, saved the day. 

The key to writing good genre fiction is to create suspense. Which means creating complex, compelling, characters, putting them in an interesting yet hostile setting, introducing believable opposition with clear stakes, and wrapping it all up in a well thought out plot.

So...simple. ;)

Genre

I know it’s an obvious point, but stories within the same genre have a common structure. An example: for a story to be a murder mystery it must have both a mystery and a murder. There will be a sleuth and they will uncover various clues. Some of these will help the sleuth nab the murderer, some won't. Certain characters will be red herrings and there will be at least one murderer. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, at the end of the story the sleuth will reveal not only the solution of the mystery but how they uncovered the suspects' lies to arrive, finally, at the truth. As a result, order is restored.

Murder mystery stories are a subgenre of mystery stories, but the divisions and subdivisions don't stop there. There are many different kinds of murder mysteries, each with a more demanding set of requirements. A cozy or whodunit (think of Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers) should have all the above as well as a logical, rational solution. No hocus pocus, no unfounded intuitions. The focus is on the mystery of the murder itself--how it was accomplished--as well as how the sleuth goes about solving the crime. It is crucial that the storyteller plays fair with the reader and tells them everything the sleuth learns as he or she learns it. A hardboiled detective story, on the other hand, often focuses less on the mystery and its solution and more on action and gritty realism. 

I'm not going to go through each genre and give a detailed map of reader expectations. What I'm going to do is talk about a structure that is common to all good stories, regardless of genre. At least, that's the plan. 

A Three Act Structure

Most stories can be broken into three acts.

Act One—The Ordinary World—First Quarter

Act One is where you introduce your characters and the world they live in. As the story unfolds, readers find out more about the characters as they interact with each other as well as with the world around them, both physical and social. We see their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and fears, their quirks and idiosyncrasies. The most important character in all this is the hero because the story revolves around his quest. That's what a story is, fundamentally: a description of a character's pursuit of a goal.

The Inciting Incident And The Call To Adventure

The Ordinary World of the hero is static, at least in the beginning. Often, there is something deeply wrong with the hero's normal existence. The hero exists in a state of imperfection. He isn't happy but he's afraid that if he tries to change anything things will get worse. 

During the Inciting Incident something happens that changes the hero's world. This change will eventually effect the hero and shatter his status quo. The Inciting Incident creates an imbalance, an inequality, that must be addressed. This is the problem the hero seeks to solve, the wrong he seeks to right, when he answers the Call to Adventure.

For instance, in the movie Shrek the namesake character is an ogre who says he wants to be left alone in his swamp. Of course, what he really wants is for people not to make up their minds about him before they meet him. He wants to forge some sort of connection with others, but he's afraid of being rejected because it happens so often.

When Lord Farquaad exiles legions of fairytale creatures to Shrek's swamp (this is the Inciting Incident), Shrek's solitude is stripped away. This sends Shrek and Donkey off on a mission to confront Lord Farquaad and convince him to send the fairytale creatures somewhere--anywhere--else. But Lord Farquaad has another idea. 

Lord Farquaad proposes (this is Shrek's Call to Adventure) that if Shrek conquers the fire-breathing dragon and frees Princess Fiona from her imprisonment in the castle, that he will grant Shrek's wish and clear his swamp. Shrek accepts and, in the process of accomplishing his mission, falls in love with the princess. Now Shrek has another goal, to tell the princess he loves her. What prevents him from doing so is his fear of rejection. This fear is what Shrek has to overcome if he is to achieve his goal and win Fiona's hand in marriage.

The Lock In

At the end of the first act the hero is locked into their quest. He has a moment of realization and understands that if he takes up the quest he must leave his ordinary world behind. It is important that the hero understand the stakes involved and, despite the dismal odds of success, choose to take up the quest knowing that, if they do, there is no going back.

In Shrek, when Lord Farquaad gives Shrek his Call to Adventure, Shrek has a choice: accept or not. But archers perch atop the walls ready to shoot him dead if he refuses. After that, Shrek is locked in to the quest. 

In Star Wars when Luke finds his aunt and uncle dead, massacred by storm troopers, he understands there is no going back. His ordinary world is gone. 

I think the most obvious case of the Lock In is The Matrix. At the end of Act One Morpheus gives Neo a choice: take the red pill or the blue pill. The red pill will change Neo's entire world and show him the truth he has always searched for. The blue pill will restore the status quo of the Ordinary World. His choice is irreversible.

Act Two—The Special World—The Middle Half

At the end of Act One the hero answers the Call to Adventure and crosses the threshold into the Special World. Here everything is different, strange, reversed. The hero's strength (usually characters have at least one strength) isn't going to serve him as well here, perhaps it even puts him at a disadvantage. 

In the first part of Act Two the hero goes through a series of Tests And Trials, most of which he fails, and he makes new acquaintances, both Allies and Enemies. It is also here, at the beginning of Act Two, that the B-story starts. Some of those the hero meets will become his staunch allies and will join his quest while others will become his enemies. This time of Trials and Tests is also a time of Fun and Games. In a movie this is where you often have a feel-good montage.  

The first half of Act Two often contains a moment of bonding. If there is a romance, the hero and his love interest may deepen their relationship. After all, the hero is about to confront the villain and, perhaps, pay with his life. If there is no romance, the story will likely still contain a moment of bonding between the hero and their sidekick, a pause, a girding of the loins, as well as a review of the stakes. What will happen if the hero loses? If he wins? Who will it effect? 

The Midpoint

Finally, the moment of confrontation has arrived. The Ordeal has begun. Since we know the stakes of the battle we watch anxiously as the hero risks everything to defeat his foe. The confrontation between the hero and his nemesis can be a physical one but it needn't be. Sometimes they are each going after the same item. In the movie Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy loses the ark to Dr. René Belloq, his nemesis. In Star Wars, Luke discovers the Death Star.

Regardless of whether a physical confrontation occurs, the Midpoint represents a sea change in the story. Where before the hero was passive, now he is active. This doesn't occur all at once, but the Midpoint marks the change. Often this change occurs because the hero receives information. This information could be about the villain. It could also be about the nature of the Special World and the villain's--as well as the hero's--place in it. 

After the confrontation at the Midpoint the stakes of the battle get cashed out. If the hero is successful, he will get a reward. If the hero isn't successful then usually this is just the beginning of the grief that rains down upon him and those he cares about. Often, if the hero fails at the Midpoint he will also fail at the Climax of the story. Similarly, if the hero wins at the Midpoint he will likely win at the Climax.

Regardless of whether the hero wins at the Midpoint, the stakes go up. Way up. The hero hasn't resolved the conflict, he has increased it. I can't stress this enough. Where before it was only the hero's life at stake now it is also the lives of the hero's allies. Perhaps, by the time we reach the Climax, even the lives of his loved ones back home--as well as, perhaps, the world or even the entire galaxy!--will lie in the balance. 

Another important change that occurs around the Midpoint is that now it's not just the villain who is driving the story forward, it's also the hero. You even see this in stories that have a non-traditional structure, stories such as The Usual Suspects.

Disaster

Toward the end of Act Two matters have radically changed, and for the worse. There is often a Major Setback, quickly followed by an All Hope Is Lost moment (or, rather, by a series of them where each is more intense than the one before). As the name implies, something occurs that transforms the hero's world, or his view of it, and brings him to his lowest point.

For instance, in the movie Shrek the Major Setback comes when Shrek overhears Princess Fiona talking with Donkey. Shrek misunderstands who Fiona is talking about and jumps to the mistaken conclusion that Fiona thinks he is ugly and unlovable. Since he was working up the courage to tell Fiona he loved her, this revelation comes as quite a blow.

The All Hope Is Lost moment comes shortly after Shrek is cruel to Donkey. Of course we, the audience, know Shrek is acting as he is because he mistakenly believes Donkey was deriding him. Shrek tells Donkey to go away, that he isn't welcome in his swamp again, ever! This is Shrek's lowest point. As a result of his own actions, Shrek has become estranged from the two people who care about him most.

Act Three—The Return Home—Last Quarter

After the All Is Lost moment the B-story is usually resolved. Because of the way the B-story ends, an important change occurs in the hero and he is able to resolve his inner conflict as well; this often takes the form of an epiphany. The hero then uses this revelation to figure out how to turn matters around and make one last desperate try to achieve his goal. 

 I don't mean a superhuman ability--though, depending on the kind of story this is, it could be. But whatever it is, the ground must have been laid for it, otherwise it would be a cheat. Perhaps the hero is now, finally, able to think clearly. Perhaps the hero lacked empathy but now understands how other people feel.

Whatever the case, something fundamental within the hero changes and, as a result, he is able to defeat the villain and achieve his goal. (I should mention, though, that not all heroes have an internal conflict. If there is no inner conflict, the hero can draw upon some characteristic that defines him such as his strength or his knowledge. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good example of a hero who lacks any significant internal conflict.) 

(Note: Though, having said this, one of my readers quite rightly pointed out that Indiana Jones starts out the movie doubting that the power of the Ark is real. By the end he knows it is. So his is a journey from ignorance to knowledge.)

One way of describing this point in a story, this beat, is that the scales drop from the hero's eyes. He thought he knew how things were, but he didn't. To use Shrek as an example again, the ogre thought he knew how the Princess and Donkey felt about him, but he didn't. He was dead wrong. After the All Hope Is Lost point Donkey comes to Shrek and tells him Fiona wasn't calling him ugly and unlovable. Donkey doesn't tell Shrek she was describing herself because that's not his secret to tell. This is when the proverbial scales fall from Shrek's eyes and he realizes he acted like an idiot. Shrek decides to do what he should have done long before, he decides to risk rejection and ridicule and tell Princess Fiona he loves her.

Here's another example. At the end of The Matrix Neo realizes he's The One, and that he loves Trinity. At that moment the scales drop from his eyes and he sees what he had been blind to. He finally understands and this realization transforms him. It allows him to do something he wouldn't have otherwise been able to do. Neo triumphs over The Matrix and becomes The One. 

I'm not suggesting that this life-transforming moment of self-realization occurs at the end of every story. It doesn't. But it happens often enough that I wanted to mention it. 

But, of course, the hero doesn't have to win. Sometimes the revelation comes, but too late. Sometimes the revelation doesn't come at all.

Aftermath

In the Aftermath, or Wrap Up, the audience sees the effects of the hero's efforts. How did the hero's Ordinary World change as a result of his adventure? What was his reward? Or, if he failed, what was the cost of his failure? This is where any loose ends are tied up.

Caveat

I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that there's only one story structure. As Chuck Wendig says, every story has a unique structure if looked at in all their particularity. No one can look at the structure of a story and say, "That's wrong!" just because it's different. The bottom line is: If a story works, then it works.

The structure I've talked about, above, is one I've been thinking about and working on for a while now. I think that it describes over 90% of the stories I've read, listened to, or watched; or at least parts of it do. That's because it looks at a story abstractly. It is a web of generalizations and so is almost guaranteed to get something right! 

As I write I like to think about the structure of the story I'm working on and make it explicit. Often, if I feel something is wrong with a story but I just can't put my finger on it, I go back to basics and study various story structures in an attempt to puzzle out what the problem is. I think that's the bottom line. If something helps you, use it, if it doesn't, ignore it. Let your own sense of what is right for you be your guide.

Recommended Reading

Talking About Detective Fiction, by P.D. James.

Storyville: What is Literary Fiction? by Richard Thomas over at litreactor.com.

Le Guin’s Hypothesis, at Book View Cafe by Ursula K. Le Guin.

On Serious Literature, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

How To Write A Murderously Good Mystery

How To Write Like Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie's Secret: Break The Rules.

Wednesday, November 2

(NaNoWriMo Day 2): 2nd Key Scene: The Climax

(NaNoWriMo Day 2): 2nd Key Scene: The Climax


I find that when I write, as in life, I need to know where I’m going in order to get there. Yesterday I tackled the first key story scene, now I’ll leapfrog to the second to last: the Climax.

What happens at the Climax will determine everything else in the story, at least in terms of which goals feature in the preceding scenes, sequences and acts.

Subplots: An Aside


I’m not going to go into subplots in any detail today, but I thought I would at least mention them. A subplot has the same structure as any storyline (this sequence is from Shawn Coyne's book The Story Grid): Inciting Incident, Escalating Complications, a Midpoint Crises, a Climax and a Resolution.

In a main arc, all or most of the key story scenes must be onstage—think of a murder mystery where you don’t actually get to ‘see’ the body, you only hear about it after the fact through dialogue or narration, but you don’t get to see it through the viewpoint character’s senses. That would be FRUSTRATING!

In a subplot, on the other hand, omitting key scenes—especially minor ones—is absolutely necessary. After all, if a subplot and the main story arc each have equal weight then you would be writing two stories rather than one. [1]

Depending on the length of your final manuscript you’ll have at least one subplot. The key thing is that the ending of each subplot should integrate back into the main story line in such a way that it ratchets up the stakes and propels the story forward.

For example, in The Matrix Cypher betrays Morpheus to the Machines in exchange for being reinserted into the Matrix. That’s the subplot. (The story question in that movie was: Is Neo the One?) In the first of the three big setbacks, Cypher betrays the resistance and kills Switch.

Cypher is about to kill Neo when he says something to the effect, “If Neo really is the One then I won’t be able to kill him, some kind of miracle will have to happen to stop me.” Right then someone I thought was dead gets up, grabs a weapon and kills Cypher. This closes out the subplot AND ties into the main arc by adding weight to the idea that, despite the Oracle’s denial, Neo is indeed the One.

Let’s test the subplot: 


a. Were the stakes raised because of the resolution of the subplot? Yes! Agents have captured Morpheus and are torturing him for the codes that, if surrendered, will snuff out the last spark of human resistance.

b. Does the resolution of the subplot advance the main plot? Yes! The Oracle has told Neo he will have to choose between his life and Morpheus’ life. Neo decides Morpheus must live and goes to save him. This launches us into the last long and wonderful action-packed race to the finish. Terrific subplot!

c. Was the subplot itself well-formed? Yes, though I won’t step through its structure here.

The Story Question


The story question is simply: Will the protagonist succeed in achieving her goal? For example, here is the story question for Jim Butcher’s novel Storm Front:

“When a series of grisly supernatural murders tears through Chicago, wizard Harry Dresden sets out to find the killer. But will he succeed when he finds himself pitted against a dark wizard, a Warden of the White Council, a vicious gang war, and the Chicago Police Department?” [2]

Now, let's focus on what this post is really about, the climactic scene of your story.

The Climax: Breaking It Down


Yesterday I said that the Inciting Incident was the most important scene in your story—and it is. If the Inciting Incident falls flat, readers will become bored and stop reading. The Climax, though, is the second most important scene in a story. As someone once said to me: the first few pages of a novel sell that novel, the ending of the novel sells the next novel.

What is it?


The Climax answers the story question. It unambiguously shows the reader whether the protagonist won or lost the final confrontation with the antagonist.

The Climax should be unexpected. The best climaxes surprise us in the moment and then, upon reflection, seem inevitable.

The Climax should unfold because of the choices the main characters (especially the protagonist and antagonist) have made throughout the story.

Where is it?


The Climax usually occurs at some point in the last ten or five percent of the story. After the story question is answered the story is over. All that is left to do is wrap things up and cash out the stakes.

How is it connected to the protagonist’s desires?


Since the Climax unfolds from the choices the main characters make in the story—especially the choices the protagonist makes—and since the protagonist’s choices are driven by their external (and possibly internal) desire, ultimately, it is the protagonist’s desires that drive the action at the Climax.

How is it structured?


I’m not normally going to break down the structure of a key scene, but the climax strikes me as the most persnickety of the key scenes. (Here I draw from Jim Butcher’s article, Story Climax.)

a) Specific and Vivid


A specific, vivid, concrete event should mark the start of the Climax.

b) Protagonist is Alone


The protagonist needs to meet the antagonist by herself, alone, without backup.

c) Protagonist is Active


The protagonist needs to be active, she must bring the fight to the antagonist rather than the other way around.

d) False Failure


There should be one last gut-wrenching moment where your readers think (again!) that all is lost (e.g., Neo dies at the end of The Matrix; he gets back up, but the death itself is an gut-twisting ‘oh no!’ moment.).

e) Actions Must be Voluntary


The hero needs to make one last choice. Jim Butcher writes:

“Your protagonist has to CHOOSE whether or not to stay true to his purpose or to let himself be swayed by fear, by temptation, by weariness, or by anything else. In that Dark Moment, he has to make the call that ultimately reveals who your protagonist really is, deep down.” [2]

Further, this choice should be one that any rational person would consider completely insane. Why would anyone turn away from the only thing that has any hope of working to do thing that can’t work! But sometimes your protagonist has to turn away from the sure thing, from the way things are done, and do the apparently irrational thing that takes faith, that draws on their special skill, their special talent, their special way of seeing the world. Trust yourself Luke, use the force.

f) Dramatic reversal 


Jim Butcher writes, “The intrinsic nature of the story or of the protagonist's character influences or causes the events of the confrontation to be changed in an unexpected way, causing an outcome that is in harmony with the principles of poetic justice.” [2]

In other words, the solution your protagonist comes up with, why she wins the final confrontation, has to stem from your protagonist’s character, her strengths and weaknesses, his internal and external desires.

For more on this see: Jim Butcher On How To Write A Suspenseful Story Climax

The Climax: Examples


At the climax of The Matrix Neo becomes the One and transcends the Matrix. He lives in it but is not of it, he is no longer bound by it. Neo’s transformation reaches back to the desire he had at the beginning of the movie, to know the answer to the question, “What is the Matrix?” In general, Neo wanted to know the truth about the world around him and his place it in. You know, the simple stuff. ;)

Also, notice that Cypher tells Neo (and it seems as though he’s genuinely trying to help) to just do what they all do when they see an agent: run away. And Neo does this. Even after he fights Agent Smith in the penupulate fight of that movie, Neo is forced to flee. Agent Smith is operating on a higher plane, one no human has ever reached. It is only when Neo is forced to stop running (by being shot in the chest several times!) that something entirely illogical happens. After Trinity tells Neo she loves him and gives him a kiss he comes back to life. He has achieved his goal and now transcends the Matrix. Essentially, love played the role here that faith/trust played in the Matrix.

I’ll give you another example just because I loved the ending so much! In Edge of Tomorrow the protagonist, Cage, is branded a coward. This is because when given a choice between fighting and fleeing Cage displayed a decided preference for fleeing. By the middle of the movie, though, Cage has gained some courage and he is learning to care about the good of the group and not just his own personal good. By the end of the movie he is willing to lay down his life for his team and for the greater good. There is a very clear, consistent, entertaining progression from cowardice to courage.

Testing The Scene Example


Does the climax of The Matrix answer the story question, “Is Neo the One?” Yes! We get to see (as much as such a thing can be seen) Neo transform into the One. We also see his power in action when he destroys Agent Smith.

Did the climax of The Matrix surprise us? It surprised me. Even though I was fairly sure Neo was the One it did make me reconsider when Smith shoots and kills Neo. At that moment I honestly thought Neo was going to die and fail in his quest. So I was surprised when, after suitable prompting by Trinity, he gets up and obliterates Smith.

Does the Climax unfold because of the choices of the main characters? Yes. Neo chose to rescue Morpheus, and he did this believing that he wasn’t the One. He did this believing his fate would be to simply die but that his death would ensure Morpheus would live.

How the Climax is implemented in three genres: Action, Romance & Mystery


Action Genre


The Climax Scene is the ultimate confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. In the action genre—as, indeed, in all genres—the protagonist and antagonist come into direct and final opposition. There can be no ambiguity that, this time, only one of them will walk away from the fight.

Romance Genre


The Climax is where the lovers get back together.

We haven’t looked at this scene yet, but the All Hope is Lost point in a romance is where the lovers break up, and this breakup seems final. Irrevocable. There is no possible way these two people can have any future with each other. The Climax settles whether their breakup really is forever. In the overwhelming majority of romance stories, they join together.

It’s important to note, though, that when the lovers reconcile it is because something deep within one or both of them has changed. They were incompatible because of something essential to each of them—or something they thought was essential. Often this happens in the Proof of Love scene. One or both of them do something selfless for the other even though there is no hope of reconciliation. This act of selflessness demonstrates the change that has occurred, or is occurring, within.

Murder Mystery Genre


In a mystery story the Climax is the big reveal. Here the sleuth goes over each person's motive, means and opportunity for committing the crime. In so doing, all the clues are trotted out and the sleuth explains how each relates to the murder. Most of the clues will prove to either be about crimes (or, possibly, titivating embarrassments) that have nothing to do with the murder.

I’ve written a number of articles on the topic of writing a murder mystery. If you’d like to give them a look I've listed them here along with a brief summary: How To Write A Murderously Good Mystery. (At some point next year I hope to publish the information contained in those many, scattered, articles into a medium sized book.)



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 a book that's on my desk right now. I love it! It's basically a writing prompt generator that's also a pulp-and-paper book. Just now I opened it at random and here's the prompt I got: Upon winning the lottery, a gold prospector develops short-term memory loss. Here's another: On vacation for the first time in years, a night watchman goes on a blind date. If you're a story geek or you love playing around with writing prompt, this book will make you happy! Here's the link: The Amazing Story Generator: Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts.



That's it for today! Thanks for reading and I'll talk to you again tomorrow, when I talk about another key story scene.

Word count so far: 1678
Word count for this article: About 2,100 words.
Word count so far: 3,778 words.

Notes:


1. This does happen. Some stories are told from the viewpoint of multiple characters, the aptly named viewpoint characters. For example, the lovers in a romance are often viewpoint characters, each finding their voice every other chapter. Sometimes this is effective, sometimes not. But if this is the first long-form story you’ve written don’t worry about subplots. At least, hold off on thinking too much about them until you’ve got the main arc hammered out.

2. Story Climax, Jim Butcher.

Tuesday, November 1

(NaNoWriMo Day 1) First Key Scene: The Inciting Incident

(NaNo Day 1) First Key Scene: The Inciting Incident

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose. —Stephen King

Welcome to NaNoWriMo madness! Every day this month my plan is to blog about a key scene, one that pretty much any story of any genre has to include. Then I’ll take a closer look at how this scene, this structure, this general idea, is implemented in three popular genres: Action, Romance and Mystery.

Today I'm going to talk about the Inciting Incident.

The Inciting Incident


What is it?


Exciting. The Inciting Incident—or the Exciting Incident as it is sometimes called—is the most important event of your story.

Shatters the status quo: The Inciting Incident shatters the protagonist’s status quo and sets events in motion. Everything before this event, this scene, is stasis. Equilibrium. After the Inciting Incident the story has a trajectory, a direction.

Necessary.  If this event did not happen there would be no story.

To sum up: the Inciting Incident does two things; it has two functions. First, it excites the attention of the audience and, second, it draws the main character (either immediately or after a chain of actions and reactions) into the story.

Where is it?


Although the exact position of this event will vary depending on the genre and the particular story, it generally occurs in the first ten percent of your manuscript. It’s not going to be the first thing you use to capture your reader's attention (so not on the first few pages) but since there’s really no story without this event, it needs to happen soon.

How is it connected to the protagonist’s desires?


Note: Most characters have an internal desire and an external desire but all have an external desire.

Whatever genre you are writing in, this event needs to be connected to your protagonist’s desires, to her goal. For example, as we’ve seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark the Inciting Incident has to do with Indy’s lifelong dream of finding the Ark.

At this moment in the story the protagonist probably has no idea what achieving her goal will cost her, or even whether she will actually want her object of desire if and when she claims it.

Before I move on to look at the form Inciting Incidents take in various genres, let’s look at an example.

The Inciting Incident: An Example


The Silence of the Lambs by Robert Harris is one of my favorite books, one of my favorite movies and, IMHO, one of the more successful adaptations of a book to the big screen. I’m pretty sure you’ve either read the book or watched the movie so, before you read on, think about it. What do you think is the Inciting Incident?

(* elevator music *)

(* theme from Jeopardy *)

Ready? Okay. The Inciting Incident occurs right after Clarice Starling is pulled off her training run by someone who looks official and who Starling calls “Sir.” She is told that Crawford wants to see her in his office. This creates a question in the reader/viewers mind: What does Crawford—a person who can send other folks on errands and who has an office—want with this cadet? Is she in trouble?

The Inciting Incident occurs when Jack Crawford offers Starling the assignment to get Dr. Hannibal Lector to take a survey and, while she’s at it, to attempt to get as much information from him as she can.

Here's another example, this time from Star Wars IV: A New HopeAlthough there doesn't seem to be consensus on the point, I'm one of those who think that, in A New Hope, the Inciting Incident was when Darth Vader, seeking the plans for the Death Star the Resistance 'acquired,' attacks and boards Princess Leia's shuttle.

When Darth Vader attacks Princess Leia's diplomatic craft Vader introduces an imbalance that initiates a chain of events that eventually involves Luke's family and lead to Luke's Call to Adventure.

Granted, the Call to Adventure doesn't come till much later, but the Inciting Incident (Darth Vader boarding the shuttle) has set in motion a series of events which will culminate in the Call to adventure (Obi-Wan Kenobi asks Luke Skywalker to help him deliver the plans for the Death Star to the resistance base on Alderaan).

Testing the Scene


Is it necessary for the other scenes to happen: Yes! If Starling hadn’t accepted the assignment (her acceptance of the Call to Adventure) then none of the other events in the story would have occurred.

Is it exciting? Sure, though not as exciting as the scene where Starling meets Dr. Lector for the first time (that was one of the most riveting scenes in the movie).

Does it connect to Starling’s external desire? Yes! As you will recall the antagonist in SoTL is Jame Gumb, the serial killer who has been dubbed “Buffalo Bill.” Starling has two overriding desires in this story. The first, internal, is to silence the lambs. The second, external, is to catch the serial killer. You’ll notice that it’s here that we first learn of Buffalo Bill and his crimes—news clippings line the wall behind Crawford’s desk. Also, this is the first time the suggestion of a connection between Dr. Lector and Buffalo Bill is made.

How the Inciting Incident is implemented in three genres: Action, Romance & Mystery


Action Genre


Action stays very close to what I’ve just said, but it the excitement needs to be cranked up. (For more on this see Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid.) In an action story this event really does have to reach out and grab the reader’s imagination by the short and curlies.

For example, In Raider’s of the Lost Ark this was the scene where Indy finds out the Nazi’s have discovered Tanis, the resting place of the Ark. For me, that was a great hook.

Romance Genre


The Inciting Incident in a love story is the event that initially throws the two characters together and into conflict. Typically this occurs when they meet for the first time.

Generally, two things are communicated to the reader.

First, there is something special between these two characters. They’ve never felt quite this way about anyone before. Sometimes the attraction is purely sexual and sometimes there is more, it depends on the genre and subgenre of the story.

Second, they can’t stand each other. He’s too proud, she’s too prejudiced. He rich and titled, she is poor and a nobody. He is the warden of a prison, she is an escaped prisoner. He is a vampire, she is a vampire hunter. The list goes on. The important thing is that there is, baked into who these two characters are, an inherent incompatibility, a reason why it would be pure foolishness to even think these two people could ever be together.

Mystery Genre


We saw that with an action story we want to ratchet up the excitement, well in a mystery we want to ratchet up the (wait for it ...) mystery. We want to emphasize the strangeness of the event. Imagine that your pen starts to glow a brilliant emerald green or your cat gives you dating advice.

If you’re writing a murder mystery this is usually where the murder happens. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t have to be where the murder happens, but it almost always is. And that makes sense. After all, who-dun-it is the central question! Investigation cannot begin until a body is found.

I’ve found that often when the murder mystery is included as a subplot then the discovery of the body will either be combined with the Inciting Incident of the main plot or the body will be discovered later on in the story.



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 a book that transformed how I thought about storytelling, Robert McKee's Story. Granted, Story was written primarily for screenwriters, but anyone interested in story structure will find this information indispensable. From the blurb: "In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen."



That’s it! Tomorrow we will go over another key story scene. Stay tuned and good writing! Please share your word counts, if that would help motivate you. :-)

My word count: 1,678 words written, 1210 published. That’s it so far! I’m going to continue writing and I’ll update my wordcount tomorrow. :-)

Wednesday, March 27

How To Write Description

How To Write Description
Have you ever read a wonderfully descriptive passage and wondered, "How'd the writer do that?"

Today, Kim Aippersbach, in per post How to write description, tells us how. First, though, here's the description Kim uses:
And then they were crossing out of the tube into another foyer, and escorted by Christos through a pair of sleek doors clad in fine wood marquetry to a hushed hallway graced with mirrors and fresh flowers. And then into a broad living room backed by wide glass walls taking in a sweeping panorama of the capital, with the sun going down and the dusk rising to turn the city lights to jewels on velvet for as far as the eye could see, under a cloud-banded sky. (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold)

1. Be active

The first thing I noticed: there isn't a single instance of the verb "to be."For a passage of description, there is a remarkable amount of action here. The characters are moving through the setting: "crossing into" and "escorted through" "and then into," so the reader is carried with them. But even the inanimate objects don't just sit there. They are "clad," "graced," "backed." The sun goes down, the dusk rises and turns, the eye sees.

2. Focus on important, key, details.


When describing something less is more.
The next thing I noticed is how much Bujold doesn't tell us. Do we know whether the room is carpeted? Do we know what color the furniture is? Is there a couch in the living room? Does it matter? She gives us only the most telling details, enough to convey luxury, taste, beauty. The rest we can fill in for ourselves.

3. Filter the description through your point-of-view character.


Kim writes:
Description reveals character, can even reveal emotion, by showing what the character sees. 
Here's how Kim sums it up:

Three Rules for Writing Description

1. Use strong verbs that contribute to the atmosphere you want to create.
2. Only describe the telling details.
3. Be aware of who is narrating the scene, and describe it through their eyes.
My article has just been a quick summary and doesn't do justice to Kim's analysis. She provides a detailed discussion. It is a wonderful, and wonderfully informative, article!

Other articles you might like:

- Mark Coker, Founder Of Smashwords: Six Ways To Increase Book Sales
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean

Photo credit: "FOREST KING" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, February 9

8 Tips For Finding The Motivation To Write

8 Tips For Finding The Motivation To Write

Sometimes we don't want to write.

Perhaps you've hit a rough patch in your work-in-progress, perhaps you've come back from vacation or--like myself--taken time off to heal an injury.

Often getting back into the swing of things can be daunting and there's the guilt of having taken time off, for not having written (or edited) for a few days.

Deadlines loom--and perhaps pass, unmet.

It's natural to want to give up, to push the anxiety-inducing project to the side.

That's where I'm at now, and I'm looking for ways to pull myself out of this funk and WRITE.

So, in that spirit, here are 8 reasons to write, even if, like me, you don't feel like it.


1. Reward yourself


Give yourself something, a reward, when you finish your writing goal for the day.

For some, this might be a glass of nice wine, for others this might be a piece of fine chocolate--or perhaps a cup of hot coco with masses of miniature marshmallows dissolving into white foam on top. (You can perhaps guess what my preference would be! I'm a sucker for hot chocolate.)

Or perhaps you could get some time to yourself. For instance, if you have children, perhaps you could arrange for someone to mind them for 15 minutes or so while you take a nice hot bubble bath.

Or, if neither of those excite you, perhaps give yourself permission to watch a movie or an episode of your favorite TV show.

In the article How to Find Your Daily Writing Motivation James Chartrand writes that there are three things to keep in mind when choosing a reward:

a) The reward must be personal


It has to be something you want and something you're not going to feel guilty about afterward.

b) The reward has to be immediate


In order for the reward to work you need to give it to yourself as soon as you accomplish your daily goal. This way the reward will be associated with the stimulus (meeting your goal) and unconsciously you will feel that much more motivated, next time, to sit and write.

c) It has to be special


If your reward is something you regularly indulge in it won't motivate you to write because you'll be able to indulge in it regardless. James cautions that it may take several weeks for this method to reach its peak effectiveness, but it does work!


2. Set up consequences


Jody Calkins in her article 3 Keys to Getting Motivated to Write recommends also setting an extreme consequence that will befall you if your writing goal goes unmet. For instance, 50 pushups or crunches.

Or babysitting the neighbor's kids.


3. Warm up with a writing exercise


You wouldn't start exercising without warming up first, the same goes for writing. Do a writing exercise for 5 or 10 minutes to help get your creative juices flowing. But be sure to keep it to under 15 minutes or so. The goal isn't to start a whole new project (unless it is, then go for it!) it is to get you back into a writing mindset so you can work your way back into your old project.


4. Re-read a few pages of your previous work


Trish Love Elliott in Ten Ways to Find Motivation to Write recommends re-reading your previous pages as a way of working back into--and renewing your passion for--your project. She adds, though, that one should guard against getting so caught up in editing that you don't move on and write new words.


5. Write in a new place


One thing that sometimes works for me is going to my local (overpriced) coffee shop and treating myself to a decadent beverage--the more decadent the better! It helps if you surround yourself with all the accoutrements of a writer. The idea is to put yourself back into the mood, so play the part of the writer hanging out at the coffee shop, channeling her muse.


6. Read


To start yourself off, read for 15 minutes. If you're having a hard time believing you can actually do this thing, that you've got to be crazy to even think you could write, and so on, get a bestselling book from a second hand store or from the library. Pick one you think is horrible. The idea is to find a published book that sold well but makes you think: Hey! I can do this!!

Because you can.


7. Get your friends involved


Ask one or more of your friends to phone or email you and inquire whether you wrote. Be honest with them!

If you don't have anyone you feel comfortable asking to do this for you, set up your calendar program (I use Google Calendar) to send you an email reminding you to write.


8. Start small


In the beginning, when you're trying to ease back into a project, it's best to start small. Rather than demanding of yourself that you work for three hours, try 15 or 30 minutes. Once you're back in the groove you can increase the amount of time spent writing or editing.

Here are a few tips on how to, once you get back into a daily routine, keep it going: 12 Writing Tips: How To Be A Writer.

Do you have any advice, any tips or tricks, to share? How do you help yourself keep to a daily writing schedule?

Other articles you might like:

- Describing Character Reactions And Emotions: She Smiled, He Frowned
- Tags, Traits And Tells (Podcast)
- Good Writing: Using The Senses

Photo credit: "Untitled" by eflon under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.