Showing posts with label Larry Brooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Larry Brooks. Show all posts

Sunday, April 21

How To Create A Villain Your Readers Will Love To Hate

How To Create A Villain Your Readers Will Love To Hate

Have you ever had the experience of suddenly seeing something everywhere after you begin studying it? Of having something 'on your mind'?

That's what's happening to me with antagonists/villains.

A few days ago Larry Brooks wrote an excellent article, The Flipside of Hero Empathy, about the importance of crafting an antagonist your readers love to hate, and how that generates narrative drive. I thought it was brilliant so I'm sharing it with you. It's all about the basics of the craft, but those are strangely easy to forget.


"Your reader needs to feel something for your hero."

We know this. We want our readers to care intensely about our protagonist and about whether he/she will achieve his/her goal.

Dramatic Tension

The antagonist is "the obstacle to the hero's question. Therefore a good antagonist will help build dramatic tension or what I call narrative drive.

The Antagonist

The antagonistic force tries to prevent the protagonist from acquiring his/her goal, often because the antagonist wants it, or something it would lead directly to.

Also, the antagonist is often very much like the protagonist but with one crucial difference. For instance, Luke and Darth Vader were both strong in The Force and both trained as Jedi Knights. One could say that they both wanted what was best but they had very different ideas about what that was.

Similarly, Dr. Belloq was Indiana Jones's antagonist in Raiders of the Lost Ark. They were both archaeologists, they were both passionate about finding and bringing back relics and they both liked Marion Ravenwood, Indiana's old flame. The big difference? People were more important to Indie than relics.

Empathy & Narrative Drive/Dramatic Tension

Larry Brooks holds that if readers have both a) empathy for your protagonist and b) a strong desire to see the antagonist get what's coming to him (/go down in flames) then your story will have oodles and oodles of narrative drive, that couldn't-put-it-down-if-they-tried quality which most of us would like our stories to have.

After all, if readers desperately not only want the hero to achieve his/her goal but want the antagonist to go down in flames then they will keep turning pages until that happens.

The Following

Larry Brooks writes:
I mention this killer (literally) television program [The Following] because it offers one of the most compelling, interesting and deliciously hateable villains, maybe ever.
I haven't watched this series yet, though it's on my to-do list.

Which antagonist(s) do you love to hate?

Other articles you might like:

- Joe Konrath Is Having A 99 Cent Sale
- Dean Wesley Smith Writes A Novel In 10 Days
- How To See Through Your Character's Eyes

Photo credit: "Snow" by Luis Hernandez - under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, February 27

A Pep Talk

Everyone needs a pep talk, even writers.

Whether it's writing a book or sending off a short story for a contest, or writing for a genre you love but have never written for. Don't just think about it, do it! Stretch yourself.

Find a dream worth pursuing and then never, ever, give up.

Here's a pep talk that's gone viral on YouTube. Enjoy!

Thanks to Larry Brooks at for posting this link.

Other articles you might like:

- How To Edit: Kill Your Darlings
- 6 Ways To Get Rid Of Infodumps At The Beginning Of A Story
- Write A Novel In A Year, Chuck Wendig's Plan: The Big 350

Photo credit: "little dog in tuscany 2" by francesco sgroi under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, December 31

Scene Goals: What Do Your Characters Want, Why Do They Want It, How Do They Get it?

Scene Goals: What Do Your Characters Want, Why Do They Want It, How Do They Get it?

Merry (almost) New Year! Today I'm going to talk about scenes and how to make sure each one pulls its weight in your story. First, though, I would like to solicit ideas from you, the wonderful folks who read my blog.

What sort of topics interest you?

1) Writing
2) Editing
3) How to self publish
4) News about the book industry and where things are headed
5) The structure of stories
6) What editors/publisher are looking for and how to help your story get accepted
7) Time management: setting goals, scheduling to your time, etc.
8) Platform building: Do writers need to blog? Social media: Do we need it and, if so, how much?
9) How to grow your twitter following
10) Indie publishing: How to design a great cover
11) Programs and apps that help writers
12) [Insert your topic here]

What kind of articles about writing would you most like to read in 2013? Do you have a specific question you'd like answered? You can leave a comment on this post, or contact me directly through my contact page, here. I'm also on Twitter and Google+. I'd love to hear from you! :-)

Scenes: How To Write A Riveting Scene

Now that I've made my impassioned appeal for your feedback (grin) let's move on to something writing related: scenes and how to write a scene your readers won't be able to put down.

I'm working my way through the second draft of my NaNoWriMo manuscript and I'm thinking about things like:

- What should each scene accomplish? 
- What are the essential elements any scene has to have?

Fortunately for the writing world we have Larry Brooks and his marvelous site, Larry writes:
Have each scene CHANGE the story and the reader's experience of it, even just a little.
That's from the article, Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Write a Scene. Any Scene.

In other words: What do your characters DO in your story and what DRIVES them to do it?

What are their goals? Why do they want those goals? What are the stakes? What happens if they don't accomplish their goal? What happens if they do? Cash this out in concrete terms.

On Christmas day I watched all three original Star Wars movies, so I'll use Luke Skywalker as my example. If Luke failed to destroy the Death Star in A New Hope then the Empire would have crushed the resistance movement and taken control of the galaxy. If he does, then the Rebel alliance has a chance.

But that example didn't have to do with scene goals, it had to do with story goals. Remember the scene where we meet Luke and his uncle for the first time? What is Luke's goal? To help his uncle find two droids to help out with farm duties. Luke is hoping that if the droids work out well that he can leave the farm and go to school. C-3PO, on the other hand, simply wants to escape his captors and not be separated from R2-D2 while R2-D2 wants to continue the quest Princess Leia gave him.

My point is that all the principle characters in the scene want something. Something tangible. Something that is easy to state in a few words.

The Kinds Of Things Characters Want

K.M. Weiland from WORDplay talks about the kind of things your character might want in a scene:
1. Something concrete (an object, a person, etc.).
2. Something incorporeal (admiration, information, etc.)
3. Escape from something physical (imprisonment, pain, etc.).
4. Escape from something mental (worry, suspicion, fear, etc.).
5. Escape from something emotional (grief, depression, etc.).
Those 5 points are from Structuring Your Story's Scenes, Pt. 3: Options for Goals in a Scene. It's a terrific article. If you haven't already, I recommend subscribing to her blog feed, she writes many articles about writing and every one I've read has helped me.

Evaluate Your Scene Goals

Another thing Weiland mentions is testing your goals. She writes:
1. Does the goal make sense within the overall plot?
2. Is the goal inherent to the overall plot?
3. Will the goal’s complication/resolution lead to a new goal/conflict/disaster?
4. If the goal is mental or emotional (e.g., be happy today), does it have a physical manifestation (e.g, smile at everyone)? (This one isn’t always necessary, but allowing characters to outwardly show their goals offers a stronger presentation than mere telling, via internal narrative.)
5. Does the success or failure of the goal directly affect the scene narrator? (If not, his POV probably isn’t the right choice.)
I'm going to try and keep these points in mind as I continue editing my manuscript today.

Talk to you again tomorrow!

Please do think about the questions I asked, above:

What sort of articles about writing would you most like to read in 2013? Or do you have a specific question you'd like answered? 

I'm going to leave you with this quotation from Stephen King. It doesn't have any direct bearing on what I've been talking about, but I thought it was great advice and wanted to share:
The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing . . . . It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn't, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. (The Real Importance of Reading,
Talk to you again in the New Year! (wave)

Other articles you might like:

- How To Sell Books Without Using Amazon KDP Select
- Edward Robinson And How To Sell Books Using Amazon KDP Select
- The Magic Of Stephen King: How To Write Compelling Characters & Great Openings

Photo credit: "PopStar" by Wolfgang Staudt under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, December 3

Writing A Story? Make Sure You Have A Concept Not Just An Idea

Writing A Story? Make Sure You Have A Concent Not Just An Idea

NaNoWriMo is over but as I begin to edit my manuscript (I gave it a week to rest. More time would have been better, but I'm impatient) I'm looking ahead to my next story and what this one will be about.

When I came across The Secret To a Successful Concept by Larry Brooks, I knew I'd found the perfect article.

Larry says--and I agree--that each story begins with an idea. The trick is to turn that idea into a concept. But not just any concept. You want to develop the idea so it grabs your reader's attention and keeps them turning the page.

How does one do this?

Larry writes:
The secret of a successful concept is to move from the situational to the actionable.
From a state-of-being to a call-to-action.
From a snapshot toward a moving and evolving set of images and possibilities.
From an explanation to a proposition.
From a character to a journey.
From a story about something to a story about something dramatic.
In other words, don't just tell a story, create DRAMA.

What is drama? Here's David Mamet's definition:
The quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific, acute, goal. (David Mamet On How To Write A Great Story)
Larry Brooks holds that drama results when you turn a story idea into a story concept.

Here's an example of a story IDEA:

- My father when he was a child growing up on a farm.

This idea is just a snapshot. How do we transform a story idea into a story concept, something deep enough, juicy enough, to support an entire novel? This is how: We create a sequence of dramatic events. But before we get into that ...

Not About Pantsers And Plotters

Larry stresses that the difference between working with a story idea and a story concept doesn't have anything to do with HOW a story gets written. The key is understanding the difference between a concept and an idea. Being able to intuitively tell when your idea needs more work before you wade into your first draft.

Story Concepts: Examples

Idea: A story about growing up on a farm.

It's a perfectly good idea, but it has no drama. Who is our hero (I call gals heroes too) and what is his or her quest? What does he or she need to overcome to accomplish his or her specific goal?

A story about growing up on a farm… as a black slave in love with his white master’s daughter in 1861 South Carolina? (Larry Brooks)
That has it all. Our hero is in love with the farmer's daughter, someone completely off-limits to him. Here we have obstacles and conflict galore! Not only would the farmer kill the hero if he found out how he felt about this daughter, our hero has a whole segment of society set against him.

Also--and I love this!--the hero's goal is specific (he wants to be with the girl he loves) and universal at the same time. His goal is easily pictured, it's something we can all relate to, AND it is intensely personal for our hero.

Turning Story Ideas Into Story Concepts

Larry Brook's approach is twofold:

1. Ask a compelling question, one the reder wants answered.

2. Make sure your compelling question form (1) leads to other compelling questions.

Here's Larry's example:
- What if a boy grows up as a slave in 1961 South Carolina and falls in love with his master’s daughter?
- What if that daughter is half-white, from his relationship with another slave years before?
- What if that slave has hidden the fact she is, in fact, his mother?
- What if she is killed by the master before the truth is revealed?
- What if she left her son a hidden note, to be delivered if anything ever happened to her?
What a great way to transform a story idea into a story concept! Larry Brooks' blog,, is chalk full of great information.

Other articles you might like:
- Amazon's KDP Select Program Has A Lot To Offer New Writers, But What About Established Ones?
- NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!
- Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season

Photo credit:"Sleeping 猫" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, November 7

Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive

Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive

Think of what a story would be without structure. Many of us don't have to imagine it, we have those stories buried under our beds!

Structure helps move a story along, it lends novels that most mysterious of things: narrative drive. The I-can't-put-it-down quality that keeps sane people up way past their bedtime.

Structure also helps writers when we have that feeling: Gee, shouldn't something be happening about now? But what? Following a structure, or even reading about it, can generate ideas.

The Purpose Of Writing/Storytelling

Screenwriters talk about structure more than novel writers, so I've been studying screenwriting. Not with the intention to write a script--novels are challenging enough!--but to learn about different story structures.

Whether we're talking about writing a novel, short story or a screenplay, it's the same basic idea: We're telling a story to an audience. We are entertainers seeking to wow the crowd.

One concept I discovered recently, that of the Pinch or Pinch Point, is another tool a writer can stow away in her toolbox just in case she needs it. And, during NaNoWriMo, who knows what will come in handy before the month is through.

Pinch Points

A pinch point is a reminder. It's a reminder of who the antagonist is and what is at stake. Further, this reminder isn't filtered by the hero's experience. In other words, it's not just how the hero sees the antagonist, or antagonistic force, this is how they are. Here we see their true nature. (Story Structure Series: #9 – Pinch Points, Larry Brooks)

The Structure Of Your Story: How To Use Pinch Points

There are two pinch points--sometimes just called "pinches"--in a novel or screenplay. Assuming a three act structure, the first pinch comes halfway through the first part of the 2nd act (3/8 mark) and the second pinch comes halfway through the second part of the 2nd act (5/8 mark).

Clear as mud? Here's a drawing:

First Pinch Point:

The first pinch point reminds us of the central conflict of the story.

Second Pinch Point: 

The second pinch point, like the first, reminds the audience of the central conflict of the story, but it also is linked to the first (Wikipedia, Screenwriting). It shows the audience the threat (whatever it is that still stands in the way of the hero achieving his goal). The pinch point scene lays out what the hero has yet to conquer/overcome/accomplish. (“The Help” – Isolating and Understanding the First “Pinch Point”, Larry Brooks)

My background isn't in screenwriting but, to me, pinch points seem a lot like sequels. Not exactly like a sequel, though, because sequels come after the scene, after the action. Perhaps a pinch is like a scene+sequel. You show your audience the antagonist in all their unadulterated glory (or horribleness) and then you see the aftermath, the personal consequences for the hero, the goals he has still accomplish and why he must accomplish them.

Examples of Pinch Points

First Pinch Point 

[I]n Star Wars, Pinch 1 is the Stormtroopers attacking the Millennium Falcon in Mos Eisley, reminding us the Empire is after the stolen plans to the Death Star R2-D2 is carrying and Luke and Ben Kenobi are trying to get to the Rebel Alliance (the main conflict). (Screenwriting, Wikipedia)

Second Pinch Point

In Star Wars, Pinch 2 is the Stormtroopers attacking them as they rescue the Princess in the Death Star. Both scenes remind us of the Empire's opposition, and using the Stormtrooper attack motif unifies both Pinches. (Screenwriting, Wikipedia)
So, in Star Wars, the pinch points remind us that the Big Bad is the Emperor. Further, the pinch points are related--the second one calls back to the first--through the use of Stormtroopers.

Even if we end up not using them, the concept of pinch points can help remind us that we shouldn't lose sight of the antagonist in the story. Sometimes this is a danger when the antagonist works behind the scenes, through his or her minions, and receives little "on stage" time.

# # #

If you're doing NaNoWriMo this year, best of luck! How's it going? It's been tough for me. Life has a way of intruding on my writing time. But that's okay! I'm at approximately 12,075 words, hopefully I'll have over 14,000 by the end of the day.

Go NaNo-ers! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher
- How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character
- Chuck Wendig And The Battle Song Of The Storyteller

- Syd Field's Podcasts (Syd Field was the first person to publish a book on modern screenwriting)
- StoryFix (Run by Larry Brooks)

Photo credit: "Ice Storm" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons 2.0.