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

Tuesday, November 12

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure: The Midpoint

 Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure: The Midpoint

This post continues the series on Dan Well's 7-Point Story Structure (Introduction, The End & The Beginning).

You see a pattern here. First (as we discussed last time) we figure out how we want the story to end. Does the hero win the day? Lose big? Based on that, we start constructing our arc, how the hero changes over the course of the story. 

It's the same here. Knowing what happens at the midpoint helps us set up what's going to happen at the first plot turn. 

Story Arc

I talked a bit about this last time, but it bears repeating. I think that in writing there are no rules but one: there must be change. That said, what shape that change takes is completely up to you.

In general, there are two kinds of change, two sorts of opportunities for it: change in your plot and change in your characters. Let's call this external change and internal change.

External Change

All dramatic stories have external change. 

Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favorite movies but let's face it, Indy doesn't change. And, frankly, that's part of what I like about that movie. It's an action-adventure movie and isn't apologetic about it. 

But Raiders has a lot of external change. At the start of the movie Indy gets his prize--a golden idol--taken from him by Dr. Rene Bellog. At both the beginning and the midpoint Bellog says to Indy, (this is a paraphrase) "Anything which you have is mine to take." What happens at the end of the movie? Bellog is dead--face melted off--and Indie has the ark. So there's change. External change.

Internal Change

In most stories the main character will have both internal as well as external goals.

I read something the other day about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I think it was the blog of one of the screenwriters from that movie. He pointed out that Charlie doesn't change. And I thought about it. That's true. He doesn't. Willy Wonka does. 

One of the nifty things about internal change is that, often, by meeting his internal need (the internal need drives the change) the hero finds the good trick out of the predicament he is in, often around the "all hope is lost" point.

(Maybe your story won't have an all-hope-is-lost point, and that's fine. But if it does, having your main character's solution to his internal problem help him figure out how to meet his external need is a neat trick.)

Shape of the Arc

The shape of the arc--this applies to both internal and external arcs--is completely up to you.

Often, a hero will start off weak, go through struggles, fail some--okay, fail a lot--but grow and change and, by the end, be strong enough to defeat the Big Bad. 

But that's not the only shape the arc could take. In a tragedy, the hero ends weak--he doesn't achieve his goal and often loses his life and/or the lives of those he loves. But that doesn't mean he has to start off strong. He could start off weak, become strong, then come crashing down. 

That said, if you're not writing a tragedy, often writers start the hero off weak and become strong. This is what Dan Wells does. But that doesn't mean the hero has to start off weak. They could start off strong, become weak, then become strong again. In actuality, the number of possible combinations is constrained only by your creativity.

There is only one constant, one rock-hard rule: there must be external change. (I mean, think about it. What would a story be without external change? A straight line. Reading such a thing would make watching paint dry look like a death match.) 

The Midpoint

At some point around the middle of the story the hero will start to move from their beginning state to their end state. 

For simplicity, let's say the hero ends on a note of strength. He achieves his goal, saves the day, gets the girl. Whatever. In this case we'd start him off weak. The town bully kicks sand in his face and goes off with the girl he has a crush on. And that's a good day for him.

(Of course you could take him/her from strength to weakness then back to strength again, or any combination you could think of.)

In any story, this transition isn't going to happen all at once, and the hero is going to relapse/fall back a time or two, but the midpoint marks a sea change. The hero is no longer a passive explorer of his new situation, of the Special World, now he takes the fight to the enemy.

As Dan Wells says--and also Larry Brooks and a number of others--the character moves from REACTING to events to ACTING on his own. In The Usual Suspects Keton kidnaps Keyser Söze's lawyer and tries to force him to give up his boss. The attempt is both short-lived and unsuccessful, but he tries, he takes the reins, or at least attempts to.

After the midpoint the hero will increasingly take the initiative. He will lead rather than follow, he will guide rather than be guided.

Further, this decision to stop running, this decision to turn and attack, has to be conscious. The hero must make it consciously and with intent.

A few things to keep in mind about the midpoint:

- In general, the midpoint will parallel the resolution of the story. If the hero achieves his goal at the end then the hero will have some degree of success at the midpoint

- Also, at the midpoint the hero will receive some information about his adversary--his nemesis/the Big Bad/the antagonistic force. This new information changes the way the hero understands/looks at/perceives the antagonistic force, at whatever force prevents the hero from attaining his goal. He gets a clearer picture and, as a result, his understanding of the story world--as well as his place in it--shifts.

Larry Brooks points out that sometimes it is only the audience that receives this extra information (see: story structure series: #6--Wrapping Your Head Around the Mid-Point Milestone.)

That's it for today! Next time we'll talk about the First Plot Turn.


Photo credit: "melancholic cat" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, March 26

8 Ways To Channel The Power Of Your Unconscious Into Your Writing

Tim Ferriss Asks Fred Waitzkin, Author Of 'Searching For Bobby Fisher,' About The Processes And Tricks He Uses In His Writing

This morning I read a terrific article by Tim Ferriss about an interview he did with Fred Waitzkin, author of Searching for Bobby Fisher, a book about his son's journey to win the national chess championship.

8 Ways To Channel The Power Of Your Unconscious To Help You Write

Specifically, Tim Ferriss was interested in the tricks and processes Fred Waitzkin has used to help him write fiction. Ferris writes:
[I disagree with labeling Fred Waitzkin's son, Josh, a prodigy] because Josh has a process for mastery, and he’s applied it to many fields, not just chess. As it turns out, he’s not the only one in his family with this skill. His father, Fred Waitzkin, has processes and tricks he uses for writing both non-fiction ... and fiction…
Although there is no cut-and-dried method for summoning the muse, here are various processes the elder Waitzkin has found useful. They all involve ways to access your unconscious.

1. Write down your dreams.

Working on The Dream Merchant with numerous characters and dramatic scenes to bring to life I had to learn how to access my unconscious. This is an important part of my creative process. Let’s start simply. We all dream but some of us cannot recall our dreams in the morning. You can train yourself to remember your dreams. Put a pad on the shelf beside your bed and begin writing the second you open your eyes. Even before you open your eyes reach for the pad. Don’t turn on the light. Start scribbling in the dark. You will remember your dreams if you do this. The way I think of it, and I’m not a psychologist, you’ve created a bridge between your conscious and unconscious.

2. At the end of your writing day leave a small portion of your writing unfinished.

As a novelist I want to travel on this bridge, regularly–in fact, every day I want to cross over. Here is a deep trick that I learned from an interview with Ernest Hemingway: At the end of each writing day I leave unwritten a small portion of what I still had in my mind to compose that day.

[Tim note: Hemingway would routinely leave a sentence half finished, as discussed in A Moveable Feast.]

Then riding home on my bike from my office, at some level my mind is working on the unwritten paragraphs that I might have written but didn’t. I’m working on these paragraphs while I’m chatting with my wife or watching the ball game—but I am making connections that I never imagined. 

3. Always carry something with you to write in.

This can be either a pad of paper or an app on your cell phone. 
Sometimes my thinking is just a vague sense of impressions but other times an idea comes rushing to the surface. I always carry a small pad in my pocket to write it down. I’ve learned that if I don’t write it down, the insight is likely to disappear like many unwritten dreams. Then when I begin writing again the following day, I’ve discovered that the unwritten scene already contains hints and urges about where the narrative might next go–very often there are elements here that I hadn’t consciously thought about before.

4. Treat your unconscious as a collaborator, give it assignments.

When I was writing The Dream Merchant this dalliance with the unconscious felt very natural and I was able to give this hidden part of myself assignments. I would say to myself what does Jim worry about at night in bed? Or how does he tell his wife that he is going to leave her for another woman? Then I would be riding on my bike or watching the game, and the answer would rise to me–this would happen surprisingly often. Although each time it was a little thrilling, this bolt from the blue connection with a shadowy hard working world that we don’t know so much about.

5. Don't give up.

One last point about my unusual dialogue with myself: It takes practice like running or swimming fast miles. When I haven’t written for a month or two I cannot access this part of being and I have to begin training in my fashion. But it gives me confidence to know that I have been there before and will probably be able to get back again.

6. Get energized.

For me, inspiration is primarily energy.
.  .  .  .
I look for energy all over the place. Often just riding my bike along the river for three miles from my house to the office heightens my mood. Then I make a cup of green tea and look at my work from the previous evening. I always read back several pages before I try to write anything new. Moving back through interesting material seems to give me momentum to push ahead…

But what if there is no energy? I read the paper. I switch on sports talk radio. I look at my watch. I pace. I am eyeing the lunch hour. It’s getting closer to lunch. One hour before I meet my friend Jeff for turkey burgers. Forty-five minutes. Now I’m getting nervous. Thirty-five minutes before I have to leave my office! Suddenly I feel an urgency. I CAN’T leave for lunch without writing one good paragraph. I’m sweating, feeling the time pressure… and the words pour out. Sometimes a writer can do more in a fervent half hour than in a dreary eight-hour day. I’ve often played this game with myself.

There are many energy tricks. Sometimes in the afternoon when I’m groggy I wander over to Starbuck’s for a coffee. But it’s not just caffeine. I know all the women who work there. They know me. We chat. I love these talks–okay, innocent flirtations. Sometimes I even get a free latte. When I get back to my office I usually feel fired up.

7. Get friends to help you break through if you're deadlocked.

I have a couple of friends that I rely upon. They are very perceptive about the human heart. I’ll talk quite specifically about what isn’t working in a section of my book. I listen closely to what they think. I’ve done this many times. My wife Bonnie has helped me many times like this.

Here is the curious thing. Often her advice or the idea of a friend isn’t what I end up doing. But listening to the ideas engenders a new idea. The whole point is that you have to get moving. Movement begets movement. You need to get unstuck.

8. Make your characters "true".

When you are trying to create a character he or she must be “true.” Fiction is not making up stuff out of whole cloth. It is always linked to a writer’s experience. Fiction is a wonderful tango between the writer’s experience and his imagination.
To read Tim Ferriss's excellent article, click here: The Alchemy of Writing--More Tips from a Pro.

Other articles you might like:

- 4 Ways To Enchant Others
- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean
- Writing And The Fear Of Judgement

Photo credit: "The lonely walk" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, March 17

Chuck Wendig On Story Structure

Chuck Wendig On Story Structure
I don't know what I was doing last January, but I let this gem of a blog post fall by the wayside (adult content warning): 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure. (As you probably know, all things Chuck Wendig come with an adult content warning, so keep that in mind before you click the link. That said, my article is 100% kid friendly; though I doubt many kids are interesting in reading about story structure!)

It's time to correct my oversight. This is the first in a series of posts--likely three posts--that will take a look at what Chuck Wendig has to say about narrative structure. Let's get started!

Every Story Has A Structure

Chuck Wendig writes:
Structure is either something you design as a storyteller or something that just happens.
Structure, on its own, could be either felicitous or infelicitous. Put another way, if a story's structure is like a skeleton, then some stories have entire limbs missing, or growing where they shouldn't.

When this happens, many authors have the gut instinct that something is wrong even if they can't sense the arm growing out of their poor story's forehead. Or something like that. Chuck Wendig's metaphor is much more colorful and infinitely more memorable.

I've often wondered if writer's block is caused by one's muse shouting that the story structure is off. Like spoiled milk just turned, there's a niggling sense of unease; something isn't right.

Structure As Story Architecture

My dad used to love eating sandwiches on the couch while he watched TV, but it drove my mother--who had to clean up the crumbs--nuts! "Father, you'll ruin the couch!" she'd say. One day, dad replied, "Dear, I was not made for the couch, the couch was made for me."

A similar point could be made about story structure. As Chuck Wendig writes,
Structure serves story; story does not serve structure.
Just as you want certain things in a couch--my dad preferred his large, sturdy and eminently comfortable--you'll want a certain kind of structure for a certain kind of story. Chuck writes:
A cathedral is built toward certain considerations: the beauty of God, the presence of God’s story, the need for acoustics, the accommodation of seating, the sacrificial altar, the DJ booth, and so on. You design a structure to highlight the type of story you’re telling. Using a non-linear structure in a mystery story is so that you maximize on the uncertainty and use the rejiggered narrative to create suspense. Structure has purpose. Structure is where art and craft collide.

Two Things Any Story Needs To Have

In practically all stories--heck, in order to have a story--something needs to happen, usually something goes disastrously wrong--and then someone, the hero/protagonist has to fix things and re-establish order.

Certainly something has to change--there has to be a change of state--and the hero must respond in a meaningful way to the change.

Try telling a story in which absolutely nothing changes to a bunch of girl scouts sitting around a campfire. You'd get pelted with half-roasted marshmallows!

Well, no, they'd probably start talking amongst themselves or walk away, and that's worse. I'd rather pick the candy equivalent of napalm out of my hair for the next two weeks than bore people.

Not that I've ever participated in a melted marshmallow fight.

Nope. Never.

Moving on ...

Chuck sums up this point by saying that two things are essential to storytelling:

a) conflict
b) a hero/protagonist who responds to the conflict.

It's important that the hero intends to respond. If someone accidentally puts out a fire that would have claimed several lives--well, that's great--but it doesn't count the same as doing it on purpose. (Some comedies are built on this premise. For example, Mr. Magoo got himself into, and out of, potentially disastrous situations all the while completely oblivious to the danger he was in.)

The hero needs to realize what the stakes are, perhaps be terrified, but he, or she, needs to act regardless.

I'll leave it there for today. Next time we'll talk about Aristotle and his theory of tragedy, the magic of three, and how the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm. Stay tuned!

Update: Here is the next and final post in this series: Chuck Wendig On Story Structure, Part 2.
Do you think about your story's structure before you sit down to write, or are you more of a pantser, making it up as you go along?

Other articles you might like:

- To Blog Or Not To Blog, That Is Jane Friedman's Question
- Hugh Howey's 3 Rules For Writing
- 7 Secrets To Writing A Story Your Readers Won't Be Able To Put Down

Photo credit: "dem bones" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, March 16

To Blog Or Not To Blog, That Is Jane Friedman's Question

To Blog Or Not To Blog, That Is Jane Friedman's Question
Well, not really. It's L.L. Barkat's question.

Jane Friedman--web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review and blogger extraordinaire--invited L.L. Barkat to contribute a post to her blog.

Nice, right? Jane Friedman has one of the most popular blogs in North America; its reach is enormous. So, what did L.L. Barkat blog about?

It is time, Barkat announced, for experienced writers to stop blogging.

This call did seem to possess a certain amount of Chutzpah, being issued, as it was, on the blog of an experienced writer. L.L. Barkat writes:
[I]n 2006, I started blogging. Over six years, I wrote more than 1,300 blog posts, garnered over 250,000 page views ....

But on Saturday, November 10, 2012, I suddenly did the unthinkable. I myself stopped blogging.
.  .  .  .

Is blogging a waste of time? ... For the experienced writer, my answer is yes … in 2013.
L.L. Barkat's post has, it must be said, the advantage of being unambiguous.

Jane Friedman's Response

Contrary to how it may seem, I'm not here to write about L.L. Barkat's post. No. I'm here to write about Jane Friedman's short but eloquent response.

I don't usually share another person's comment without asking, but in this case I think Ms. Friedman won't mind; it was publicly posted on her own blog.

1. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's not worth doing

Many writers blog, a lot more than used to even five years ago, and it has become more challenging to attract readers. But, even in this rich reading environment, it's far from impossible.

Besides, just because a thing is difficult (like, say, breaking in as a writer) doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Jane writes:
If it were, then why bother writing fiction or poetry or memoir or essay? Thousands upon thousands of writers are already out there doing it—more so than ever—but yet we all know and agree that a new voice still has the chance of finding an audience.

2. Blogging is less difficult for experienced writers

Jane Friedman writes that  if anyone should  be discouraged from blogging--and she's not saying they should--it would be new writers not experienced ones.

New writers may find it more difficult to split their writing focus between their manuscript and their blog--something I can attest to!

Jane gives us three things to think about when considering whether to try blogging:
(a) what is giving you energy rather than taking it?
(b) what will lead to career progress in your *current* situation, and
(c) do you have something to say—or a voice/personality—that's a great fit for a blog?
Jane concludes:
Blogging can help both new and experienced writers with discipline, focus, and voice development. But it is indeed a waste of time if you're doing it because someone admonished you to (e.g., to build your platform), and it's a forced chore. If you're not enjoying it, neither are your readers.
Also, it's easier for an established writer to maintain a popular blog because one's audience will also be made up of those who read, and liked, your books. Jane writes:
Established authors likely have more reason to blog than beginners for the simple reason that they have an existing audience who seek engagement and interaction in between "formal" book releases (or other writings). It may take less effort to interest and gather readers if you're known, and it's valuable to attract readers to your website (via a blog) rather than a social media outlet since you don't really own your social media profiles, nor do you control the changing tides that surround them. You DO, however, own your website and blog (or should).

3. Growing your blog

Although blogging can be discouraging, especially in the beginning before you've developed any sort of an audience, there are things you can do to attract readers.

New and experienced writers alike can grow their blogs by contributing to writing venues--other blogs for instance--that are more popular than their own. Jane Friedman writes:
Such efforts not only bring you into contact with new audiences/readers, but also drive traffic back to your existing site or blog.
I have also found that blogging regularly--whether it's once a day or once a month--helps build an audience.

#  #  #
What do you think? Is blogging beneficial for writers, experienced or not, or is it just one more thing to distract them from their works-in-progress?

Other articles you might like:

- Hugh Howey's 3 Rules For Writing
- 7 Secrets To Writing A Story Your Readers Won't Be Able To Put Down
- Review Of Grammarly, Its Strength And Weaknesses

Photo credit: "songs about buildings and trees" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, February 26

Chuck Wendig Says That Editing Is Writing

My title comes from Chuck Wendig's latest post. He writes:
Let’s get something out of the way:

Editing is writing.
This--his way of drilling down to the core of relevant writing issues--is one reason I've been increasingly eager to read Chuck Wendig's posts.

Believe it or not, there is some disagreement about the point. Some reasonable, smart, experienced, articulate writers would insist that, to the contrary, editing is most emphatically NOT writing.

The Problem With Saying Editing Is Not Writing

For me, here's the problem with denying that editing is writing: I'm a writer, but I spend most of my time editing because I write fast drafts.

Here's how I write a first draft: for two or three (glorious!) weeks I'll say goodbye to the collective illusion we call the real world and climb through a rabbit hole--or slink into a closet, or creep inside (what looks like) a phone booth, or ...--into a world it's up to me to create.

This is the part of writing I can't wait to get to. Writing a fast draft helps me stretch my creative muscles in a way I rarely get to otherwise. Of course, by the end, I can't wait to get to the editing!

The upshot is that I spend the overwhelming majority of my time editing that first draft (and editing, and editing, and ...).

Yes, I insert new scenes here and there, and I cut others, but I think of that as editing not writing. I can't say, "I'll write at least 1,000 words today" because I write as much as I need to and it varies day to day.

But perhaps that's wrong. Perhaps editing is writing and writing is editing.

Chuck Wending writes:
At the end of the day, the actual execution of your editing process is writing. It’s you doing surgery and excising all the unsightly tumors from your work and filling in the gurgling wounds with better material: healthy flesh, new organs ... Sometimes it’s as simple as killing commas and adding periods. Other times it’s as complicated as dynamiting the blubbery beached whale that is your entire third act, picking up all the viscera, and filling in the hole with clean, pristine sand. Sometimes it’s a leeeetle-teeny-toonsy bit of writing. Sometimes it’s a thousand rust-pitted cauldrons of writing.

Writing is editing. Editing is writing.

Writing is rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting.
I would encourage you to read the rest of Chuck Wendig's article, though I should note it contains mature language.

By the way, all quotations are from Chuck Wendig's post February 26, 2013 post unless otherwise noted.

What do you think? Is editing writing?

Other articles you might like:

- Looking At Plot: Urban Myths And What They Teach Us
- Write A Novel In A Year, Chuck Wendig's Plan: The Big 350
- The Importance Of Finding Your Own Voice

Photo credit: "la nebbia di settembre" by francesco sgroi under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.