Showing posts with label Dan Wells. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dan Wells. Show all posts

Monday, November 18

Dan Wells' Seven Point Story Structure: The Second Plot Turn And Pinch Points

Dan Wells' Seven Point Story Structure: The Second Plot Turn And Pinch Points

This post continues my series on story structure. Here are links to the earlier posts:

The First Plot Point/The First Plot Turn (25%)

Whatever you call it, the events at the end of the first quarter of the story prepare the reader for the events at the midpoint.

In the hero's journey, this--the first plot turn--is the place where the hero enters the Special World, it's where he crosses the first threshold.

Two things happen:

a. The hero accepts the quest, and
b. The hero is locked into the quest.

Let's take these one at a time.

a. The hero accepts the quest

This doesn't have to happen at exactly the 25% mark, it can happen at any time in the first act. But it needs to be clear that the hero is entering the Special World of Act Two of their own free will. It must be the hero's choice. 

This acceptance doesn't have to be long and involved. It can be a subtle as a head nod. But the hero must intentionally take up the quest. It's a choice. 

Even if the villain is blackmailing her by threatening all she holds dear, still, the hero has to be shown accepting the quest. She sees the dangers, she knows what taking up this quest could cost her--she knows the stakes--yet she accepts. She commits herself to a course of action.

b. The hero is locked into the adventure

Something happens to "lock in" the hero. For example, at the 25% mark, at the tail end of Act One, Neo (The Matrix) is presented with a choice between the red pill and the blue pill. If he takes the blue pill he'll go back to his regular life, his ordinary existence. He will turn aside from the Special World of the adventure. 

If, on the other hand, Neo takes the red pill then his life will be irreversibly transformed as he is ushered into the true world, the world of the adventure, the world where the scales will, finally, be removed from his eyes and he will, at long last, discover the answer to the question: What is The Matrix?

I think The Matrix is one of the clearest examples of the hero being locked in to their quest, but once you start looking for it you'll see it in practically every movie you watch. 

The Second Plot Turn (75% to 95%)

I think of the second point turn as the third act twist

Here's how Dan Wells explains it: At the midpoint, the hero resolved to do something. At the resolution/climax the hero does what he resolved to do. This point, the second plot turn, is where the hero gets the last piece of the puzzle to finish the quest.

The hero realizes "he has the power" or "the power is within him" or some such variant. 

As Dan Wells says, when you see this sentiment in an outline, or just say it aloud, the concept seems cornball to the extreme, but it's powerful; that's why it's used so often. That said, Dan Wells reassures us that all genre novel outlines sound a bit silly, so don't let that hold you back.

In The Matrix Trinity tells Neo "I love you. Now get up!" He gets up  and wipes the floor with the agents of the matrix. Why? Because he's the one. He has the power within him.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry is the boy who lived. He's the boy who could find the philosopher's stone because he was pure of heart. He didn't want to use the stone, only to find it. He had the ability/power within him.

In Star Wars IV: A New Hope Luke is told to use the force, that the power is within him.

Pinch Points

Pinch points add zest to your story and help keep it on track. 

Pinch points are where we see, first-hand, the antagonistic force and the dastardly things it is capable of. Pinch points apply pressure on the hero. They remind us of the central conflict of the story. They help push the hero into action.

There are two pinch points. The first is halfway through the first part of the second act and the second is positioned halfway through the second part of the second act. (see: Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive. That article contains an illustration of where pinch points fall in the three act structure.)

Note: Though both pinch points have the same function, since the stakes are constantly increasing, your second pinch point is going to give the hero a 'pinch' that's more like a punch.

If you use a three act structure in your stories then you'll know that the middle of the Second Act can seem to stretch out before you like the great swampy middle of despair. Pinch points can go a long way to keeping the story on track and reminding your readers what it's all about, who the big bad is, and what the hero is fighting for.

Examples of pinch points

These examples are courtesy of Dan Wells:

Loss of mentor

For instance, Gandalf's apparent death in The Fellowship of the Ring. I re-watched this movie last night; "You ... shall not ... pass!" and then: "Run you fools!" Fabulous scene. 
This was a vivid pinch point. It showed us the power of the Dark by way of the formidable beasts of power which lived it in its depths. If a beast of the depths could claim the most powerful of them, Gandalf, then what chance did the rest of the fellowship have? A great way of showing the reader/watcher the strength of the opposition.

Loss of everything

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone the second pinch is a sequence of events. It begins when the hero, Harry, and his two friends, Ron and  Hermione, go into the dungeon and are presented with a series of trials. The last trial takes Ron and Hermione away and Harry is forced to continue on, alone.

*  *  *  *

That's it! Or at least, that's the nuts and bolts of Dan Wells' 7-point system. He has a lot more to say in the videos, especially about how this system applies to romance stories. And a lot, lot, more. Highly recommended.

Till next time!

Photo credit: "beaver moon" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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.

Wednesday, October 30

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure: Starting At The End

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure: Starting At The End

Last month, as I thought about the writing sprint that is NaNoWriMo, I thought about Dan Wells' seven point system for story creation.

Well, perhaps not creation.

Where ideas come from and how we choose them--or they choose us--is a mysterious process. What is less mysterious is what we need to do to spin an idea into a story concept and make sure we have enough material to make it stretch over 50,000 words.

(For part one of this mini-series, click here.)

1. Start At The End: The Resolution/Climax Of The Story

It sounds counterintuitive and perhaps a wee bit crazy, but I've found it to be fabulous advice: when you write a story, begin at the end.

Dan Wells uses J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as his example. BUT. It's been years since I read that book so I'm going to use Star Wars IV: A New Hope instead. (And, yes, I know that one's a book and the other's a movie, but those are just two different mediums, two different ways, of telling a story.)

So. What is the resolution?

Resolution: Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star and saves the Rebel Alliance from destruction. 

Of course Luke won! But resolutions really are as simple as this, answering "yes" or "no" to the story question. (For more on story questions, Jim Butcher has an excellent discussion of the subject.)

2. Write Your Hook: What Is Your Starting State?

We know how the story ends so now we have to figure out how it begins.

As you write the hero's starting state, keep in mind your hero needs to change, to go through some sort of arc.

For example, if you want your hero, your protagonist, your kick-ass dude or dudette, to end up wiping the floor with the antagonist they need to start out weak. Otherwise, there's no change and that wouldn't be interesting. Well. Not as interesting. A vividly rendered Big Bad getting their nether-regions handed to them by an uber-hero will never lose its appeal for me.

(That's not quite true. Your hero could start out strong, lose everything in the middle, and then claw his/her way back up just in time to pound the Big Bad back into oblivion at the end. Or something. The shape of the change, of the arc, is entirely up to you.)

Hook: Luke is an orphan--or so he believes--who lives with his aunt and uncle. He craves a life of excitement, of adventure. He wants to visit far off planets but lives a life of drudgery on a backwater planet far, far, away from anything he considers remotely interesting.

In the beginning of the story Luke isn't in charge of his destiny, others--his well-meaning aunt and uncle--decide what goals he pursues. At the end of the story Luke is a hero of the rebellion, he destroyed the Death Star and saved the Rebel Alliance. Further, he managed all this because he took charge of his life, trusted himself and his special ability.
Note: As we've seen, Dan Wells calls the hero's starting state "the hook". I want to mention that you'll occasionally come across another use of the phrase. Specifically, as that initial something that "hooks" the reader, the thing that keeps them reading, that generates narrative drive (/suspense). To read more about this other use of the term see: The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest.
Okay, back to talking about arc, change, movement. Looking at Luke, his character, at the beginning of his journey and comparing that with where he ended up, we can see this arc as taking him from weakness to strength. That said, it is also an arc, a journey, from inexperience to experience, from distrusting himself to trusting himself. From unbelief to belief.

That's it for today. Next time we'll look at the first plot turn and the Midpoint.

Photo credit: "new garden gnomes ..." by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, October 25

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure
As I mentioned the other day, I'm putting a book together from posts I've written over the years. Yesterday I found one languishing in the purgatory of my drafting bin, it was about Dan Wells' 7-Point System for building a story. Here it is.

Dan Wells 7-Point System

Dan Wells is a bestselling horror writer, podcaster and gamer who developed a popular 7-point system for stories. Many have watched Dan Wells' videos on YouTube, and I highly recommend them.

Dan Wells' 7-Point Structure

This is the skeleton DW develops his stories around:

- Hook
- Plot Turn 1
- Pinch 1
- Midpoint
- Pinch 2
- Plot Turn 2
- Resolution

We'll go through each step in what follows, but first a few general remarks on story creation.

Pantsing vs Plotting

Writers come in many varieties. Some like to make things up as they go along, having the end of the story come as a surprise. These folks are called pantsers or, as Dan Wells says, discovery writers.

I have no end of admiration for pantsers. The idea of starting off on a story, of committing to it, before I know, say, how it ends, gives me the willies. People like me, folks who crave outlines like ... I don't know. Like humans crave oxygen? Like plants need water? Like your kids want the most expensive, least available, thingy-ma-bob for Christmas? Anyway, we're called plotters or, less awkwardly, outline writers.

Like any kind of structure, Dan's 7-Point Story Structure works whichever kind of writer you are, discovery or outline. If you're a discovery writer and like to find things out as you go along, your first draft becomes a zero draft and you comb through it, extracting an outline that helps as you through that valley of despair known as "revisions".

Getting Ready

Perhaps this part applies more to plotters than pantsers. It helps to figure out what your SETTING is going be (place, date, time, social environment, and so on), who your main CHARACTERS are, what your main character's GOAL is (i.e., how they can get that which they desire above all else) as well as the ANTAGONISTIC FORCE that's preventing him from reaching his goal.

I call the main character's goal, the goal she has for most of the story, the STORY GOAL. The story goal and the ANTAGONISTIC FORCE together provide the conflict needed to drive the story forward.

Keep in mind, though, that what initially goads the hero into action often isn't the story goal.  

For example, in the beginning of Shrek we learn that what the ogre values above all else is private time. Aloneness. This aloneness is ripped away from him when the peace of Shrek's swamp is shattered by an invasion of fairy tale creatures.

This invasion provides the impetus for Shrek to head off to meet Lord Farquaad. It gets the story going. I would argue, though, that seeking privacy, aloneness, is just Shrek's initial goal. The story goal is for Shrek to find his mate, to find connection with other critters, and to learn how to change so that such connection is possible. That's the goal Shrek takes up when he accepts Lord Farquaad's quest at the 25% mark. This is also the first plot turn. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, before you put pen to paper here are the sorts of things you should have an idea about:

- Who the main character is, his (or her) strengths and weaknesses, what he (or she) desires most.
- What the story is about, its dramatic premise.
- The setting (place, date, time, social environment, and so on).
- What the character wants, his or her goal.
- What is keeping the character from attaining that goal (the antagonistic force).
- Dan Wells didn't mention this, not that I recall, but I find it also helps to know what kind of story you want to tell. (see Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story)

Photo credit: "Bernini" by Daniele Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, December 13

Roleplaying Games And Writing, Does The One Help The Other?

Did you know that Dan Wells, Chuck Wendig and Jim Butcher, three wonderful and wonderfully successful writers, not only are avid gamers but also create roleplaying games?

What is the connection--is there a connection--between between a successful writer and gaming?

Jim Butcher

Did you know there's a Dresden Files role-playing game? That's right! Jim's also a LARPer and avid role-player. He goes so far as to, at least occasionally, take the his world-building-ideas on a trial run with his weekly gaming group.

Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig of Terribleminds needs no introduction. One thing I didn't find out until recently is that he is an avid gamer as well as game designer.

About a year ago Chuck wrote an article entitled Twenty-Sided Troubadours: Why Writers Should Play Roleplaying Games. Trust me on this, even if you would rather try and cross the North Pole naked than try a roleplaying game, his post is a great read. Here are a few highlights:

Writers should playing roleplaying games because:

1. The essence of roleplaying is characters in conflict.

What is at the heart of great storytelling? Character driven conflict.

2. Pacing

Pacing is tricky. It's not the easiest thing to get right. Too slow and it'll be easy for your readers to put your book down, too fast and you'll burn them out. As Chuck writes:
Constant action is naught but the electric cacophony of a single guitar chord blasted over and over again.
You have to ease off the gas sometimes and let your readers breathe a little.
This becomes abundantly clear at the game table. ... Let the characters talk to one another. Even the tried-and-true “our characters walk into a tavern” schtick reveals this, to some degree: they don’t kick open the door and start throwing punches. A tavern fight starts simple. Drinks. Laughs. A goblin says some shit. A paladin encourages restraint. A warrior gets all up in the goblin’s business. Someone throws a bottle. And then — explode. Spells and swords and shotguns and goblin venom.

3. No Such Thing As Writer's Block

You can't get writer's block when a goblin spits in your face. You have to do something. Anything.

4. You Have A Built In Audience

Gaming is a group activity. You can tell immediately if what you're doing works.
This [gaming] isn’t something you do in isolation. ... You’re in the thick of it. Your words — whether as a player or, more importantly, as the game master — are the central focus. You can tell when you’ve hooked them, and can tell when you’re losing them. You shuck and jive and duck and weave and do any kind of narrative chicanery to keep the momentum going, to ensure that the table doesn’t spiral off into restless side-conversations (“Do you think an Alchemical Exalted would be able to beat Jesus, if Jesus were wearing like, Mecha Armor given to him by the Three Wise Men?”). ....

Your story is the story of the moment, and it reminds you just how important it is to keep the audience in mind — not just your intent as storyteller but their interests, their needs, their attention.

It also reinforces the cardinal rule:

Never be boring.
Chuck Wendig prose is definitely not boring.

I encourage you all to go and read Chuck's article. It's great, I love his use of language, sometimes even the spicy bits: Twenty-Sided Troubadours: Why Writers Should Play Roleplaying Games.

Dan Wells

Last, but definitely not least, we have Dan Wells. You might know him as a bestselling horror writer, or from, or from his YouTube videos on how to write a short story or, well, the list goes on.

Here's Dan's connection to roleplaying: Dan's 7-point system for how to structure a story was drawn from a Star Trek Roleplaying Game Narrator's Guide.

But that's not all. Dan is designing his own game. (See: My Game Design I Keep Talking About)

Dan has been designing games since he was a kid. He writes:
I consider game design to be very similar to fiction writing, at least in terms of why I do it and what I get out of it. Both are creative outlets that let me tell a story and craft an experience for my audience. If I can get you to feel something while reading my books or playing my games, I’ve done a good job; if I can get you to feel something specific, I’ve done a great job. (My Game Design ...)

Could Roleplaying Games Make Us Better Writers?

Could be! Only one way to find out. :-)

Have you played a roleplaying game? Did it help your writing? Does writing help your gaming?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Write A Twitter Story
- The Dark Art Of Critiquing, Part 1: What Makes A Story Good?
- How To Earn A Living As A Self-Published Writer

Photo credit: "fairies never die" by kait jarbeau is in love with you under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, September 23

Dan Wells On Writing A Short Story

I love advice on how to structure stories and I like Dan Well's system. Here's a talk Dan Wells gave at Life, The Universe, and Everything in early 2010.

Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 1 of 5

Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 2 of 5

Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 3 of 5

Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 4 of 5

Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 5 of 5