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

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.