Showing posts with label am writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label am writing. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 6

How to Write a Book, Part Two

How to Write a Book, Part Two


This article is part two of How to Write a Book.

2. Figure out how many words you can write a day.


As you write your Zero Draft you’ll also get an idea for how many words you can write in a day. You want to shoot for a SUSTAINABLE amount. Writing a book isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

NaNoWriMo is wonderful practice for writing everyday. It doesn’t matter if you can write 50,000 words a month, but trying helps you get in touch with your inner writer and figure out your average word output.

If you can’t write every day, that’s fine! Perhaps you have an insane schedule conceived in the depths of hell and can only write once a week. That's okay! All you’re trying to do at this point is figure out how many words you can write over a certain time period.

3. Create a story outline.


Don’t worry if you don’t know how the story ends (the Climax) or what the middle bits are (Midpoint Crisis) or even what sets all these events in motion (the Inciting Incident). That’s what we’re going to work on now.

Take what you know about the story and:

a) Internal: build on your understanding of the story, and
b) External: shape the basic story outline so it fits the structure of your chosen genre. 

Before we think any more about (a) or (b), though, let’s talk about suspense.

3a. A note about suspense.


I’m interested in writing stories that entertain. Not everyone is! And that’s fine. But I love a rousing, suspenseful, tale. Since these kind of stories are what I love to read it’s natural that they’re also what I love to write.

Another thing: It’s MUCH more difficult to sell books that aren’t entertaining. Yes, there are folks who read and enjoy stories that do not have even the faintest smidgeon of suspense—I’ve met them!—but that’s not my audience.

When I write these posts I’m writing to those who, like me, want to craft stories that entertain.

3b. Begin at the end.


When I create an outline for a story I begin at the end.

Sounds perverse, doesn’t it?! But—especially if you’re writing something with the element of surprise—it makes sense to start with what we KNOW and then work out what needs to happen for us to get there.

For example, let’s say you know that Bob Boisterous murdered Sally Soffit with an experimental drug because Sally was going to get the promotion Bob coveted.

Means: Experimental drug
Motive: Bob wants the promotion
Opportunity: Bob says he was taping a podcast in his private studio when the murder occurred—and it seems as though he’s telling the truth.

You know Bob has to get caught which means he has to make a mistake. Let’s say Bob put the poison in Sally’s coffee. When she tasted the coffee she cringed and said, “Someone put sugar in this,” but drank it anyway because she was caffeine deprived and in a hurry.

The killer didn’t know Sally would tell anyone her coffee was too sweet or that the person she told would remember it. When the dregs of Sally’s coffee is analyzed it seems to only contain coffee because the killer switched the cups.

Our detective thinks Bob’s behavior is fishy. Bob hated Sally (and vice versa) and Bob’s grief seems false. If he had nothing to do with her death, the detective feels he wouldn’t be as intent on hiding his true feelings.

Also, the victim’s comment about the sweetness of the coffee (Sally NEVER used sugar) is enough to make our intrepid detective suspicious. Further, the detective knows of a poison that would act on the victim in a way consistent with what the coroner told him about the body.

The murderer was counting on the death being put down to natural causes—the victim had a heart condition and the effects of the poison looked like cardiac failure.

You get the idea. Everything is much easier once you know where you’re going. Because of this you can save a LOT of time.

3c. Complete your outline.


At this point you don’t have to know every last little thing about the plot but try to have something down for the main points. Keep in mind that your outline isn’t written in stone! It can and will change as you write.

Even if your outline has gaps it helps to have the bones of the story written down. You’ll be able to see which parts are missing. A well-defined, concrete, problem is much easier to solve than a nebulous ill-defined one.

ACT ONE (25%)
(This is the Ordinary World. Describe it as you introduce your characters IN ACTION. Give them an initial problem to solve, setbacks, etc.)
Inciting Incident: What is the Inciting Incident?
Call to Adventure: What draws the protagonist into the quest?
Journey to the Special World: What mini-quest takes the protagonist from the Ordinary World into the Special World of the Adventure?

ACT TWO (26 to 75%)
(Introduce the Special World of the Adventure. It should be starkly different from the Ordinary World, inside out and upside down.)
Trials: What challenges does the protagonist have adjusting to the Special World?
Approach the cave: What crisis compels the protagonist to confront the antagonist at the midpoint?
Midpoint: What happens at the confrontation? Does the protagonist win or lose? Do they acquire any information?
Complication: Something goes very wrong and complicates the protagonist’s quest, what happens?
More complications: Events keep going wrong. What happens?
All Hope is Lost: What happens at the All Hope is Lost point?

ACT THREE (76 to 100%)
(All subplots have been closed out or will soon be closed out. We’re concentrating on the hero’s quest, racing toward the finish line.)
Race to the Finish: How does the protagonist get his/her mojo back and get back on track?
Climax: What happens at the climax? Does the protagonist win and, if so, how?
Wrap up: What happens to the major characters?

You don’t need to answer these questions in any detail at this point. This will just give you the big points, the turning points.

Now we have an outline. Granted, this outline will vary depending on the kind of genre you’re writing for, but you’ve got the bare-bones done. High-five!

4. Decide how long you want your finished manuscript to be.


Now figure out how your story fits into, or onto, your outline. When I think of this step I think of pulling a dress (your story) over a mannequin (the outline).

I’m not going to fib, this step is a bit of a dark art. Let’s start by deciding how long we want the finished manuscript to be.

If you’re writing a fantasy you might want to shoot for 90,000 to 100,000 words or, if you’re writing a romance, you might want to keep your word count closer to 60,000 or 70,000. It’s my experience that mysteries range from anything between 60,000 to 85,000 words.

Let’s say you decide to shoot for around 80,000 words and use a three act structure.

Act 1: 20,000 words.
Inciting Incident (5%): 4,000
Call to Adventure (10%): 8,000
Journey to the Special World (20%): 16,000

Act 2: 40,000 words.
Trials (26%): 20,800
Approach the cave (40%): 32,000
Midpoint (50%): 40,000
Complication (55%): 44,000
More complications (60%): 48,000
All Hope is Lost (70%): 56,000

Act 3: 20,000 words.
Race to the Finish (76%): 60,800
Climax (90%): 72,000
Wrap up (98%): 78,400

Of course you might not want to use three acts, perhaps you’d prefer four or five or even six! All the major points (Inciting Incident, Call to Adventure, etc.) will be the same. Also, keep in mind that at the end of each act, a major event should occur which spins the hero’s journey (the through-line) in a different direction and increases the stakes.

As far as what happens in each act you’ll want to adapt it to the genre you’re writing in. For instance, here’s a five act structure for a murder mystery.

5. Write your first draft.


Congratulations! You’ve got an outline. Sure, there are gaps but you’re getting the feel for the general shape of the story, the major moments. Now let’s see what we can do about filling in the missing bits.

For example, there’s 4,000 words between the Inciting Incident and the Call to Adventure. One thing that can help get you through the gaps are scenes and sequels.

I’m putting together an example outline for Murder in Meadowmead. I’ll try to finish that up today and publish it tomorrow (Wednesday).

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. In the meantime, good writing!



Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put 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’m recommending: The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, by Donald Maass. I’ve had the privilege of taking a couple of workshops from Mr. Maass. He’s terrific! If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, take it! His books are amazingly helpful. Highly recommended!

From the blurb:
While writers might disagree over showing versus telling or plotting versus pantsing, none would argue this: If you want to write strong fiction, you must make your readers feel. The reader's experience must be an emotional journey of its own, one as involving as your characters' struggles, discoveries, and triumphs are for you.

Readers can simply read a novel...or they can experience it. The Emotional Craft of Fiction shows you how to make that happen.



Friday, June 2

How to Write a Book


How to Write a Book


The question I’ve been asked more than any other is, “How can I write a book?” Here's my attempt at an answer. Please keep in mind this is just ONE WAY to write a book not the only way.

How to write a book


Neil Gaiman once said—and I’m paraphrasing—that each time he writes a book it’s a different process. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Each book is different, each book presents its own challenges and its own rewards. But if you’ve never written a book and would like to take a peek at how I TRY to do it, read on.

1. Write a Zero Draft


You’ve heard of discovery writers. A discover writer doesn’t have preconceived notions about the content or shape of their story (though they may have an idea, or a few ideas). They write by the seat of their pants, discovering where the story takes them.

(For more about what a Zero Draft is see: The Zero Draft: How To Beat Writer’s Block.)

My Zero Drafts are strange amalgams of discovery writing and conscious plotting, heavy on the discovery. (If you’re curious about how I go about getting ahold of a character, see my posts Let's Make a Detective! and Let's Create a Sidekick!.)

That said, when I’m in discovery mode, I try not to consciously think too much about the structure of my story; I brainstorm.

But everyone’s different. Some folks like to dictate their ideas, their musings, into a recorder (if you don’t want to buy a voice recorder there are some decent apps—Android; Apple—that do basically the same thing).

Free writing. After you've practiced free writing for a while you'll get a feel for what works best for you. Myself, I find it works best if I put on my favorite tunes, curl up in my office chair with my writing journal and write longhand.

1a. Do not censor yourself.


Some folks refer to the Zero Draft as a ‘vomit draft.’ Gross, right? But that’s what it’s supposed to be! The Zero Draft is a safe place. Don’t censor yourself, don’t question your ideas, write them down. Remember, no one but you is EVER going to see your Zero Draft.

1b. Ideas, not words.


In a Zero Draft it isn’t the words that's important, it's the IDEAS.

After all, YOU have to discover the story before anything you write will make sense. You have to call the events of the story, as well as the characters, to life within you. If you haven't gotten ahold of the ideas how can anything you write evoke them? At least, that’s my take on it!

I find that the act of writing often works as a kind of invocation. And, ultimately, I think that’s what a zero draft is. It's an invitation to your characters to come to life and do interesting, scandalous, things in the settings, the playgrounds, you create for them.

1c. How long should your Zero Draft be?


The Zero Draft can be any length you like, regardless of how long you want your finished manuscript to be.

As I said, above, the purpose of the rough draft is to call your story into existence, to form that first connection with it. Here’s what I’ve found: 

The shorter your Zero Draft is the better. 

The Zero Draft will be a bit of a mess (after all, it is a vomit draft!) so short is good; less mess to wade through. Also, keep in mind that the Zero Draft is just a beginning. Your understanding of your characters, your understanding of your overall story, will change over time. Your names for them will change, their desires will change, their childhood peccadilloes will change, their connections to other characters will change.

Next Post: In my next post in this series I'll talk about creating a story outline. Stay tuned!



Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put 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.




Sunday, February 12

The Structure of Character

The Structure of Character


Most of the time I focus on story structure rather than character structure.

Now, you might wonder: Is “character structure” really a thing? Do all the different elements that go into making up a fictional human have a structure?

I think they do, though it’s not as clear cut as it is with story structure. By the way, I’m not putting this forward as the way things are, I’m musing aloud. In what follows I lay out my reasoning, and I would be very interested in what you folks think! :-)

Motorboat Example


To make things easier, I’m going to refer to the following diagram in what follows:



In this figure you see three things:

- A shark
- A man driving a motorboat
- An island

When we talk about character, the following terms are often used:

- Motivation
- Goals
- Desires (internal & external)
- Flaw
- Wound

I want to try and explain what I mean by each of these terms with reference to the above diagram.

MOTIVATION: The shark is the man’s motivation for heading to the island.

DESIRE: The man’s desire sets his goal. We can’t actually see the man’s desire. In this case it’s something like, “Stay alive!”

GOAL: The island is the man’s goal. If the man reaches the island he’ll be safe from the shark.

FLAW/WOUND: Flaws come in many different varieties. The character can have a physical imperfection: a sprained leg, a scar, a physical wound, and so on. The character can also have a psychological flaw. He could be depressed or his anxiety levels could be so high he can’t think straight. Or perhaps he’s lost someone he loves. In terms of the motorboat example, if the man had a broken arm it would be more difficult to steer the boat toward the island.

Desire vs Goals


Some folks talk about internal desires and external desires—and that’s great! An example of an internal desire would be the desire to be loved. An external desire, on the other hand, would be wanting Handsome John, the crown prince of Egodia, to ask one out on a date. This way of talking about things is fine—great!—but I prefer to simply think about these things in terms of desires and goals.[1]

A desire, at least in the sense I’m using it here, has the following connotations:

  • It is about the heart rather than the head. 
  • It is personal vs impersonal.
  • It has to do with “unkickables”; that is, things you can’t take a picture of—things like the desire to be loved or to be a success.
  • It is broad vs narrow.


A goal, on the other hand, is very different:

  • It is about the head more than the heart.
  • It is impersonal vs personal.
  • It is “kickable”; tangible. That is, you could take a picture of it. This covers things like winning the lottery and climbing Mount Everest.
  • It is narrow vs broad.

The way I think of it, a goal is a specific, concrete, expression of a desire. While the desire is broad, general, even nebulous, the goal is concrete. One could take a picture of the character accomplishing it.

For example, if a character—let’s call her Jane—has the desire to be rich, there are several concrete, specific goals she COULD have:

  • Buy a lottery ticket.
  • Go to school and become a lawyer.
  • Become a day trader.
  • Rob a bank.

And so on. Jane’s personality, skills, background and environment will no doubt influence which goal Jane selects, but that GOAL will be an expression of her DESIRE to be rich.

Of course, you could think about desires differently. For example, Jane could have a specific desire (e.g., I want to get rich by becoming a day trader). That’s fine. Think of desires and goals however makes the most sense to you!

The Structure: Incompatible Desires


When I talk about the structure of character I think about how desires and goals relate to one another. Specifically, how the secret to making a lifelike character is to give her incompatible desires (which, in turn, translate into incompatible goals). In a well-structured story this will eventually force the character to prefer one desire, one goal, above another.

Perhaps the best way to communicate what I mean is to look at examples:

Example 1: Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris


I’m guessing that you’ve either read the book or seen the movie. If not, what are you waiting for!? If you’d like to read a summary of the story, head over to Wikipedia.[2]

In Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling has two main desires:

Desire1: Save lives, help those who can’t help themselves.
Desire2: Gain status, be recognized and valued for accomplishments.

These desires are expressed as the following goals:

Goal1: Save the girl ([name], the senator’s daughter) Buffalo Bill has captured.
Goal2: Climb the career ladder at the FBI. (Graduate and become a full-fledged FBI agent. Be recognized and rewarded for hard work and excellence.)

Before Clarice started working for Jack Crawford her internal and external desires were in sync. She believed her superiors at the FBI were interested in saving innocents, that this concern trumped their ambition.

Another way of saying the same thing is that, in the Ordinary World of the story, Clarice’s goals were aligned. AFTER she begins working for Crawford she realizes her superiors in the FBI don’t care about saving Buffalo Bill’s victims as much as they care about politics—that is, in not ticking off the wrong people and climbing the career ladder.

When Clarice’s internal and external desires come into conflict her life becomes disharmonious. Clarice realizes she must choose, one desire must rule the other. Either she will give up her ambitions and try to save the girl or she will let go of her desire to rescue the innocent in favor of getting ahead at the FBI. Whichever way Clarice chooses it will reveal her character. In the end she does the only thing she can given who she is: she tries to save the girl.

Example 2: The Matrix


For both Neo and Trinity their goals change during the course of the movie. At first Neo is focused on finding Morpheus and figuring out what the matrix is. When he accomplishes that at the Lock-In his desires change. Neo wants to be what Morpheus wants him to be: the One. He also wants to protect the resistance—both the movement and the people within the movement, especially Trinity. So ...

Desire1: Protect and serve the resistance.
Desire2: Become the One.

Early in Act Two these desires are in harmony, but after Morpheus is captured they come apart. At this point Neo believes he has a choice: save Morpheus and die himself or sacrifice Morpheus and live on in the hope he (Neo) will become the One.

Goal1: Kill Morpheus before the agents can extract the codes from his mind and use them to quash the resistance. (Morpheus dies, Neo lives.)
Goal2: Rescue Morpheus and, in so doing, give up his own life. 

Neo wants to save the resistance—and himself—(Goal1), and he wants to save Morpheus (Goal2), but he can’t do both. So he chooses, and his choice reveals his character and sets him apart as a hero. He chooses to give up his own life so that Morpheus might live and the resistance continue.

So, what do you think? Is there a structure to the desires of a well-drawn character?



Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. 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’m recommending something a bit different. Sometimes I use a voice recorder to start my writing off. I love writing while I walk! The voice recorder I use is the Sony ICD PX333. I’m sure there are better recorders out there, but not for $29.99! I’ve had it for years and I've dropped it, used it out in the snow, the rain, and it still works fine! If someone else would like to recommend another voice recorder, please do!



That’s it! I was a bit late with this post—there was a lot to think about! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. Till then, good writing!

Notes:


1. To me this seems like a simpler system, though I likely find it simpler simply because it clicks with me. Each of us is different and so it’s reasonable that we each need to make sense of these concepts in our own way. If my way of thinking clicks with you, great! If not, then ignore it. Do whatever makes sense to you.

2. Although the book and the movie are quite similar there are significant differences. For example, Clarice’s anger plays a much bigger part in the book as does Crawford’s scheming and behind the scenes manipulations.

3. The Oracle has told Trinity that the man she falls in love with will be the One.

Wednesday, October 5

How To Write A Choose Your Own Adventure Novel, Part 4: Structure

How To Write A Choose Your Own Adventure Novel, Part 4: Structure


Over the years I've written a few articles about the various ways a story can be structured (see: Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction, A Story Structure In Three Acts), but CYOA stories are in a class by themselves. (Google CYOA structure to see what I'm talking about). If you do, you'll see dozens upon dozens of CYOA branching structures.

(How to Write a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel, Part 1)

This multiplicity reinforces something Chuck Wendig said: at the most concrete level there is no such thing as one story structure. Rather, each story's structure is unique. [2]

You might ask: Well, if that's the case, Karen, why do you go on about story structure like there is one, and only one, structure that all stories have?! ('One structure to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.' Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Great question! It's all a matter of specificity. It depends on to what extent we abstract away from the specific details of the story to more general details. For example, I think it's a safe bet that no two coastlines are exactly the same and yet, when mathematicians compare their shapes they can be seen to exhibit the same fractal pattern. The same can be said for leaves, the shells of certain snails, and so on. [3]

My point is that—as with the hidden geometric structures of coastlines—it's only when we pull back from the particular details of any story that structural commonalities between them emerge.

The Unique Structure of a CYOA Story


This post is about two kinds of structure. The first kind is the sort of structure I just talked about.

The second kind of structure I'll discuss is unique to CYOA stories and has nothing—or at least very little—to do with the first kind. To make this less confusing, I'll call the first kind of structure, "story structure" and the second kind of structure, "branching structure."

I want to stress that everything I say here is given with the intention of providing a person new to writing CYOA stories a place to start. If you write a story that doesn't fit into the kinds of structures I talk about, that's great! The important thing is not that your story has a certain kind of structure as opposed to another—or any kind of structure for that matter!—it is that you've written a story you love, that you're excited about. One that, when you read it, works. Ultimately, that's the only test that matters, whether you and your intended readers feel that reading your story was time well spent. (see: Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Rules For Writing)

The general structure I'm going to talk about is—and I want to stress this—given purely as a place to start. If you have your own ideas about how you want to write your CYOA story, go for it! Ignore everything I say here. On the other hand, if you're looking for a place to start, like an oyster using a grain of sand to form a pearl, then take what works for you and ignore the rest.

CYOA Terminology


First, let's get some terminology out of the way. This is how I think about CYOA stories, but I'm not saying this is how anyone else thinks about them!

Narrative block: What I have been calling a narrative block is also a node on the decision tree. For example:



Narrative Chain or Path: A narrative chain is composed of linked narrative blocks. For example, the following narrative chain is composed of 21 narrative blocks:

Narrative Chain or Path. (Click for larger image.)


Complete narrative chain. A complete narrative chain represents a complete story. These narrative chains reach the lowest level, in this case level 21 (see my discussion of levels, below).

Cut narrative chain. What I call a cut narrative chain tells a full story too, in it's way, but the player doesn't reach the lowest level. An example of a cut narrative chain would be one in which the character died before she reached the end of the adventure. A cut narrative chain is a narrative dead end.

Clusters: The CYOA stories I've looked at seem to have 2, 3 or 4 main clusters. For example, the following structure has two clusters ...

Narrative Clusters. (Click for larger image.)


... while the following structure has four clusters:

Narrative Clusters. (Click for larger image.)


You get the idea. Each cluster has a branching structure of narrative blocks inside it. In what follows I'll talk about a structure with only two clusters because it's simpler.



Levels/Depth: What I'm calling a level refers to the depth or length of the narrative chains. Generally speaking, the longest narrative chains seem to be 20 narrative blocks in length. The figure, above, has 21 levels.



Want to have all this information in one place? Get How to Write a CYOA Story! Right now it's only $0.99.



Notes:


1. "Writing Tips how to Write a Choose Your Own Adventure Story," by Len Morse.

2. Chuck Wendig uses language in uniquely creative ways which makes most of his blog posts NSFW. Be warned. But this particular blog post is truly excellent (as most of his posts on writing are): 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure.

3. "Earth’s Most Stunning Natural Fractal Patterns", by Jess McNally, Wired Magazine.

Monday, October 3

7 Steps: How to Write a Story Description

7 Steps: How to Write a Story Description


I like writing descriptions for my stories about as much as I like eating day old spinach. So! In the best tradition of procrastinators everywhere I decided to write a blog post about how to quickly write a good description. 

By the way, if you think this topic sounds familiar, I’ve written about it before, though with a slightly different focus. Here are links to those posts: 


Let’s get started!

How To Write A Pain-Free Story Description, Quickly.


If you outlined your story this process should be relatively pain-free. If you didn't outline, answering these questions may help strengthen your story's structure.

i. Who is the main character?


In J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular children’s story, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we’re given the main character’s name right in the title!  Harry is an orphan who lives with his odious Aunt Petunia, her intolerant husband, and their spoilt child Dudley.

ii. What is unique about the main character? What is their special gift? What can they do that no one else is able to? Has their special gift marked them in some way?


Harry Potter had been able to mortally injure Voldemort. In Lord of the Rings, only Frodo could carry the One Ring to Mount Doom. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson gives Lisbeth Salander elite computer skills, she can do things that none of the other characters in the novel can do.

iii. What is the initial setting?


As a baby, Harry was left with his obnoxious Aunt Petunia Dursley, Uncle Vernon Dursely and their bratty child Dudley Dursley. Harry is not accepted for who he is and he is constantly reminded that his aunt, uncle and Rodney all hate having him around and wished he would leave.

iv. What is the main character’s initial goal?


Harry’s initial desire—the thing he wants most when we’re first introduced to the character—is to be part of a family. He desperately wishes his parents weren’t dead, that he was living with them. Or even that he knew more about his parents. Harry, like all of us, wants to find people who accept him for who he really is.

v. What person or force opposes the main character achieving his/her initial goal?


In Harry’s case, his Aunt, Uncle and their spoilt son Dudley oppose Harry. They are his antagonists, his tormenters. 

vi. What is the story goal?


The story goal is the main character’s overriding goal. Whether the main character will attain the story goal is determined at the climax of the story.

Harry Potter’s overriding goal in the first book is to protect the only home/family he has ever known, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from harm. He wants to figure out how Voldemort is endangering the school (and the world in general) and stop him. Specifically, he wants to prevent Voldemort from getting hold of the Philosopher’s Stone and getting back his power.

vii. Description of Antagonist.


What person or force opposes the main character achieving his/her story goal?

Voldemort opposes Harry. Or, to put it another way, it is impossible for both Harry and Voldemort to both achieve their main goals. 

viii. Positive stakes: If the main character achieves his/her goal what would the consequences be for the main character, the main character’s allies, the antagonist, the antagonist’s allies and the world in general?


- Harry: Will be able to stay at the only place he’s ever felt accepted, it’s his only real home.
- Voldemort: If Voldemort doesn’t get the Philosopher’s Stone then he won’t be able to get his power back which means he won’t be able to take over the world and remake it in his image.
- Harry’s allies: Life can go on as normal.
- Voldemort’s allies: Their dreams of attaining wealth and power will be dashed.

ix. Negative stakes: If the antagonist achieves his/her goal, what would the consequences be for the main character, the main character’s allies, the antagonist, the antagonist's allies and the world in general?


- Harry: Harry would be dead.
- Voldemort: Voldemort would, eventually, rule the world and kill billions of people including Muggles.
- Harry’s allies: Dead.
- Voldemort’s allies: Bloated with wealth and power.

x. Break into Act Two.


What happens, what occurs, to transition, to carry the main character into Act Two?

Hagrid arrives to grant Harry one of his wishes: he tells Harry what he really, truly, is—a wizard—and gives him the incredibly welcome news that he will be attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the fall. The school, or rather the people there, become Harry’s new family and give him the sense of belonging he sought.

xi. The Special World of the Adventure. 


Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter discovers he’s a wizard and that he has been accepted into a school created just for people like him. Not only will he fit in, he is regarded as  something of a hero.

xii. Complication/Antagonist/Pinch Point.


Voldemort is attempting to get his power back. If he does he will destroy the entire world, Harry and Hogwarts included.

xiii. Test and Trials.


While in the Special World of the Adventure, the main character learns about his parents and himself. He discovered how his parents died, why and how he came to live with the Dursleys, why he has the scar he does, and Ron Wesley’s family accepts him.

Putting the Description Together


Okay! You will notice that not all of the above points directly contribute to the description, but they help lay out the essential structure of the story, it’s backbone. 

By this time you should have one or two sentence descriptions for each of the above points. Now let’s knit this information together into a description. (Not each and every point will be used, but they allow us to  double-check that our story is well-formed.) By the way, I’ve taken this particular description from the publisher’s book page.

Initial setting: “Eleven-year-old Harry Potter is an orphan living with his cruel aunt and uncle when ...”

Break into act two: “... he makes a discovery that will change his life forever: he is a wizard. He is whisked away to the mystical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ...” 

The Special World of the adventure: “... to learn magical skills, from potions to spells to flying on broomsticks.”

Complication/Antagonist/Pinch Point: “But an evil power is rising, the same one that threatened to destroy the entire world when Harry was only a baby. 

Test and Trials: “As Harry learns the truth about his family, his childhood, and his mysterious lightning-bolt-shaped scar, he finds unforgettable friendship, a loving surrogate family, and ...”

Description of Antagonist: “... the courage to face the darkest force ever to menace the wizarding world.”


That's it! If you'd like to read more about story structure, here are a few links:


Monday, September 26

C.S. Lewis: Writing Advice

C.S. Lewis: Writing Advice


To say that C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, while true, doesn't begin to cover the enormity of my debt to him.

When I was a child he was the writer. I read the seven Chronicles of Narnia books in a gasp, one a day. My parents didn't see me for a week!

Mom would knock on my door and try to lure me out of my room every once in awhile—her efforts were NOT rewarded. But that's okay. She was a reader too and C.S. Lewis was on her 'approved writers' list. And she knew there were only seven books!

Today I was going to continue my series on how to create a Choose Your Own Adventure story (see here and here), but I'm not going to do that. Something happened on the weekend that I'm still reacting to and, as a result, I have the attention span of a gnat and the emotional stability of ... hmmm, well, say, of someone watching "The Fault is in Our Stars" for the 10th consecutive time!

Instead, I'm going to write about C.S. Lewis' advice to writers. For me, this is a bit like hugging a favorite blanket. I loved Lewis' work as a child; his novels are exemplars of what I consider interesting, absorbing, well-written stories.

C.S. Lewis' Writing Advice:


C.S. Lewis gave many different kinds of writing advice over the years. What I share, below, is his advice as it relates to language use. This advice comes from a wonderful blog post over at Aerogrammestudio.com, Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis.

1. Clarity is King


C.S. Lewis writes,

"Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else."

A similar piece of writing advice, one that Stephen King often gives, is to kill your darlings. In other words, remove those bits of text that don't do anything to further the story but which the writer is inordinately attached to. This is advice to ruthlessly de-clutter our writing in an effort to make our story as streamlined, as clear (and therefore as compelling) as we possibly can.

King follows the rule of thumb to reduce his manuscript word count by 10% before he submits it. Excellent advice, and not just for fiction writing.

2. Be direct. Forceful.


C.S. Lewis writes,

"Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them."

In other words: use language like an athlete training for a big race. Make your sentence a sprint, make your scene a five minute mile.

What does the athlete want? Often the goal is either to win the race or beat their own best time. A writer's goal is similar. We want our books, our stories, to reach the number one spot on the bestseller lists or, failing that, we want our work-in-process to be the very best we've ever written. The way to do this is, I would argue, similar in both cases: be intentional. As you write, hone your skill. Try out new things. Do you feel most comfortable writing in the third person? Try it from the first person! Do you write best using the past tense? Then try writing from the present tense. Do you normally write from one point of view? Next time, try alternating points of view. And so on.

Words and paragraphs are tools a writer uses to create and communicate meaning. Be ruthless. Pair down your words, hone the meaning and in so doing you will expose the story.

3. Favor concrete nouns over abstract ones.


C.S. Lewis writes,

"Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean 'More people died' don’t say 'Mortality rose.'"

Again, clarity is king.

4. Don't let fear drive you to use adverbs.


C.S. Lewis writes,

"Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was 'terrible,' describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was 'delightful'; make us say 'delightful' when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers 'Please will you do my job for me.'"

I know this post is about C.S. Lewis' writing advice and yet I keep turning to Stephen King (if you haven't read On Writing you really, really, should), but what Lewis says here is very close to what King says in On Writing BUT Lewis' comment is more explanatory. I'll give you a quote from On Writing and then I'll say a few words about how Lewis' advice helps explain what King is on about. I'm devoting time to this because I've often been puzzled by King's assertion of the link between fear/timidity and adverb use). King writes:

"Adverbs, you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously; it is the voice of little boys wearing shoepolish mustaches and little girls clumping around in Mommy’s high heels. With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

"Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?"

Lewis is talking about adjectives while King is talking about adverbs (at least those that end in -ly), but I think the point each writer is trying to make is, essentially (ack!), the same.

When we write things like, "She jumped up and down. It was delightful," it IS like we're giving our readers stage direction. We're telling them what they should see in their mind's eye, we are telling them what they should feel. We say: This event is delightful, that is how you, Dear Reader, will think of it.

But, of course, that's telling not showing. As Lewis says, we're sloughing off the job of picturing this to the reader. Why? We do this because of fear. We do this because we're scared that, otherwise, our writing won't be able to communicate the meaning we want to express, the thought we want to express. Fearful and perhaps a bit embarrassed, we reach for an adjective or adverb that will tell the reader how they should feel, rather than using language, using our writing, to drag them into the world of the story and the mind of the narrator.

(Stephen King: What is writing? Telepathy, of course!)

5. Use the right word for the right job.


C.S. Lewis writes,

"Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."

This is KISS: Keep it simple, silly. Again, go for precision. Choose simple words that cleanly and clearly express your meaning.

If you would like to read about C.S. Lewis' daily routine, here's a blog post about just that over on BrainPickings.com: C.S. Lewis's Ideal Daily Routine.


My hope is that you will find something in this post that inspires you to continue writing strong, fearless, prose. (That's also my hope for myself!)

Just as athletes must train, so writers need to hone their craft. I like to use short writing exercises to try out new things (for example, to write in a different tense or from a different perspective). Here is a list of writing prompts if you'd like to try it out.


That's it! I'll talk to you again on Wednesday. Until then, good writing!

By the way, if you love listening to audiobooks (I do!) as well as radio plays (I do!) here is the best of both: the Chronicles of Narnia turned into a radio play! The best part is that you get it for free if you subscribe to Audible.

(Yes, that's an affiliate link, but this is a product I would love to buy and so don't hesitate to recommend. Also, clicking this link won't increase the price you pay for the product, but Amazon will put a small amount of money in my account, and every little bit helps to sustain this blog. If you'd like to contribute in another way, I also have a Patreon page.) Thanks!

Wednesday, September 21

How To Write A Choose Your Own Adventure Novel, Part Two



A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post, How to Write a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) story. It's one of my favorite posts because I love CYOA stories. I mean, who wouldn't? They're a cross between a book and a game!

Anyway, I've always wanted to expand on that first post and, today, decided there is no time like the present. If you haven't read my previous post, and don't have time right now, here's a list of what that post covered:

  • What a CYOA story is.
  • A way of thinking about the plot in a CYOA story.
  • The overall structure of a CYOA story.
  • The structure of each block or scene in a CYOA story.
  • What kind of endings a CYOA story might have.
  • What kind of characters to include.
  • Whether a CYOA story should have a subplot.
  • Pros and cons of writing a CYOA story.
  • Today I want to expand on one of the themes I touched on back then: the structure of each block or scene in a CYOA story. Next time I'll discuss in more detail the unique overall structure of a CYOA story.

Enough preamble, let's get started!

The Narrative Blocks of a Choose Your Own Adventure Story


Novels are composed of scenes and sequels.

Let's talk about scenes. Just like a story, each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning we establish the characters and setting, in the middle conflict is generated by characters who strive to achieve their goals and inevitably fall short. At the end of the scene, though there is a resolution of sorts, often the hero will fall short of reaching his scene goal.

So that's a scene. What is a sequel? I'll let Jim Butcher explain this. On his Livejournal, he writes:
Sequels are what happens as an aftermath to a scene. They do several specific things:

1) Allow a character to react emotionally to a scene's outcome.

2) Allow a character to review facts and work through the logical options of his situation.

3) They allow a character to ponder probable outcomes to various choices.

4) They allow a character to make a CHOICE--IE, to set themselves a new GOAL for the next SCENE.

Do you see how neat that is? Do you see how simply that works out?

1) Scene--Denied!

2) Sequel--Damn it! Think about it! That's so crazy it just might work!--New Goal!

3) Next Scene!

Repeat until end of book.

Scenes


When I write a scene, I use index cards, one card per scene. The cards themselves can be physical index cards—I've outlined that way many times!—but, of course, there's an app for that these days. I use the Index Card app. In any case, here is the information I put on the cards:

1. GOAL: What does the main character want?

For each main character in the scene, list her goal for that scene. Each character's goal should be concrete and specific enough to take a picture of. Note: each character's goal should tie into their overall story goal.

2. STAKES: What does the character have to win or lose?

For each main character in the scene, if the character achieves her goal, what will she win? Conversely, if the character loses, what will she lose? Whatever it is, make it concrete, make it something you could take a picture of.

3. WHO: Who is in the scene?

Make a list of all the characters in the scene and then, for each of them, go through these questions:

What is this character's goal?
Does the character achieve her goal?
If the character doesn't achieve her goal, what does she lose?
If the character does achieve the goal how does her life change? What does she win?

4. WHAT: What happens in the scene?

Summarize what happens in the scene in one or two sentences.

5. WHERE: Where does the action in the scene take place?

  • Is the setting vivid? Memorable?
  • Does the setting present the main character with a challenge?
  • Is the setting unusual? Suprising? Unexpected? Remarkable? (Think of Fangorn Forest in the Lord of the Rings.)
  • Does the setting help you showcase the characters strengths and weaknesses?
  • Does the setting have special significance to any of the characters?
  • Does the setting tie in with the theme?

Note: Not all these questions will be relevant for each setting.

6. WHEN: When does the action in the scene take place?

Does the action take place inside or outside? Is it day or night? What time is it? What date is it?

7. URGENCY: Why does the main character have to attain their goal now?

Why must the protagonist attain their goal? What is pushing them, and the action of the story, forward?

Often—perhaps too often!—this is taken care of by a ticking clock of some kind. This doesn't have to literally be a ticking clock (though sometimes it is). Perhaps one of the characters is ill and requires treatment, or perhaps (as with Sherlock Holmes) the main character is simply bored.

8. OPPOSITION: Urgency is a force pushing forward (—>) where Opposition is a force pushing backward (<—).

Urgency and Opposition both act on the main character, and perhaps other characters, but definitely the main character.

For example:

Urgency: The main character is ill and must receive treatment soon or they will die.

Opposition: The nearest hospital is over a day's walk away and the character requires treatment within the next couple of hours.

Resolution: The character collapses but is found by a hiker who happens to have a satellite phone.

Urgency: Sherlock Holmes is bored. If he doesn't get an interesting case soon, he will start shooting up Mrs Hudson's walls.

Opposition: John Watson, or perhaps Mycroft Holmes, wants Sherlock to do something ordinary and uninteresting.

Resolution: Someone comes to Sherlock with an interesting case.

For more about structuring a scene see: Using Index Cards to Outline a Novel.

Sequel


Sequels help orient the reader in the overall story and are great for revealing character. Let's face it, we read not just because we're interested in what will happen next, we read because we're interested in the characters, in what is happening to them. That's why we care, that's what pulls us through a book.

Making readers care about your characters is essential to good storytelling. If we can do that then we will have devoted readers. Mastering the sequel is the key to this.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What are the elements of a sequel? Here's Jim Butcher again:
Here's the basic structure to a sequel. [...]:

1) EMOTIONAL REACTION:

2) REVIEW, LOGIC, & REASON:

3) ANTICIPATION:

4) CHOICE:

And it MUST happen in THAT ORDER.
Let's go over this point by point:

1. Emotional reaction.

Sequels are all about reaction. At the beginning of the sequel we see the character reacting to whatever happened at the end of the scene. Recall that at the end of the previous scene the character underwent a stressful experience—most likely a setback—and now we get to see how they react to it. This, right here, is a large part of character development. How we react to major setbacks reveals character. This is true in real life and it's equally true in literature.

2. Review, Logic & Reason.

The character has had their emotional reaction, now they need to think about what happened. The character goes over exactly what happened and they seek to understand it. Why did it happen? The character seeks to understand their failure.

3. Anticipation and Planning.

The character turns from looking backward to looking forward. Given that this happened in the past, what is likely to happen in the future? Given that the antagonist whipped my hide just now, how can I change my tactics so that doesn't happen again? Part of the anticipation phase is thinking of various things that could happen, various possible futures, possible paths the protagonist could take. The protagonist thinks about each of these possibilities and how he or she could respond.

4. Choice.

Now it is time for the protagonist to choose which path to take. He has had his emotional reaction. He has calmed down and thought about it calmly. He has thought about various things the antagonist could do next and how he might counter it. Now it is time to choose among these possibilities and finalize the plan. This gives the protagonist a new goal and leads into the next scene.

Next installment: How to Write a CYOA Novel, Part Three.

Want to have all this information in one place? Get How to Write a CYOA Story! Right now it's only $0.99 on Amazon.



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'm recommending, Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell. From the blurb: "Ramp up the tension and keep your readers hooked! Inside you'll find everything you need to know to spice up your story, move your plot forward, and keep your readers turning pages. Expert thriller author and writing instructor James Scott Bell shows you how to craft scenes, create characters, and develop storylines that harness conflict and suspense to carry your story from the first word to the last."



Summary


This has been a blog post about how to write a CYOA story, but what I've said, above, is true for any story. Next time I will dive into the unique aspects of CYOA stories and examine their structure. Also, I'll talk about how to approach scenes and sequels given the branching nature of a CYOA story.

That's it! Tomorrow I'll post a writing prompt on my Wordpress site (I tweet them as well), so head over there if you'd like to do a quick writing warmup! Otherwise, I'll talk to you again on Monday. Have a great weekend and, in the meantime, good writing!

Wednesday, September 14

Writing Advice: The Wisdom of the Web

Writing Advice: The Wisdom of the Web


Today I want to share some of what I'm calling the Wisdom of the Web. There are many wonderful writing blogs out there with wonderfully helpful content. Today I'd like to share three blog posts I thought contained excellent advice.

1. The 5 Most Common Mistakes Writers Make When Seeking Book Reviews, by Gisela Hausmann.


This is from C.S. Lakin over at Live, Write, Thrive.

Top Amazon reviewer Gisela Hausmann gives advice on how to approach a reviewer with a request to review your book. This is a daunting task since top Amazon reviewers receive more than 200 requests per week!

According to Hausmann, here are a few mistakes to avoid:

  • Make sure your request does not read like a form letter. You're a writer, let your distinct voice shine through. Think of your email more as an audition than as a solicitation.
  • Focus on how your book is different from other books in your genre.
  • Do your research. Discover what the reviewer likes to read. Study their Amazon Profile.
  • Keep your email brief, 150 words or less.
  • Be persistent. Don't give up! Just because a top reviewer doesn't agree to review your book right off the bat doesn't mean they're not interested in your work. They can only review so many books!

2. Five Tips For Creating Intrigue, nownovel.com.


Here are a few tips on how to keep readers reading:

  • Begin in the middle of the action.
  • Tell each chapter from a different character's point of view.
  • Vary the format of your novel. Try including letters, journal entries or emails.
  • Have varied sub-plots. (e.g., tragedy vs comedy, etc.)

3. 25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called "Aspiring" Writers, by Chuck Wendig


a. Chuck Wendig says, Drop the 'aspiring' in 'aspiring writer.' If you write then, dang it all, you're a writer!

b. Writer's write. Don't aspire. Do!

c. Push through the bad days. Every writer has bad days. A professional writer shuts out the nagging voices of negativity and writes.

d. Develop your own voice. Some writers find it natural to write from a 1st person perspective, others prefer a 3rd person perspective. Some writers find it natural to write science fiction, others mystery stories. Some writers find it natural to write in past tense, others in present tense, and so on. The only way you'll know which kind of writer you are is if you plant your butt in a chair and write.

e. Finish what you write.

f. Learn the rules so you can break them.

g. Writing is a skill and like any skill—bricklaying for example—it can (and must!) be learned.

h. Read voraciously. Read critically.

i. Don't be discouraged when your work doesn't sell. If you keep at it you'll get better.

j. Talking about writing is not writing. Thinking about writing is not writing. Reading about writing is not writing.

k. Get used to rejection. Chuck Wendig writes, "You need a leathery carapace. A chitinous exoskeleton. Writing is a hard-knock career where you invite a bevy of slings and arrows into your face and heart. It is what it is." Amen.

l. Write! Chuck Wendig writes, "You’re a writer. You can make anything up that you want. It may not be lucrative. It may not pay your mortgage. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what’s going on between you and the blank page before you. It’s just you and the story. If you love it and you want to write it, then wire your trap shut and write it. And write it well. Expect nothing beyond this — expect no reward, expect no victory parade — but embrace the satisfaction it gives you to do your thing."

Let me add my own point here:

m. Invest in yourself and use an editor. Most of us don't know a professional writer who can look over our work and give us feedback. The next best thing is enlisting the help of the best editor you can afford. But don't send your editor all 80,000 words of your first novel! Find an editor who will take a 10 page outline of your book along with the first chapter. That way, if you end up having to start over from scratch it's much less work for your editor and much less expensive for you. Most importantly, you'll save time. And in the end, time is our most valuable resource.

That's it! I hope you found something of use in these points. If you did, please let me know! If you didn't, please talk to me. Tell me what your goals are as well as what is keeping you from meeting those goals. You can use the comments, below, or email me (karenwoodwardmail (at) gmail (dot) com). I would love to hear from you!

Talk to you again on Friday. In the meantime, good writing!

Monday, August 22

Make Your First Podcast: Intro and Outro


This post continues my series on how to start a podcast. Last time (Make Your First Podcast On Your iPad) we talked about what software you might want to use. Today we're going to look at something almost as important as software: the podcast format, specifically the intro and outro.


Podcast Format: Intro Text


Every podcast I've listened to has an intro and outro. Here—thanks to Albert Costill and his article The Definitive Guide to Podcast Intros—are the common elements of an intro:

  • Podcast name *
  • Episode number
  • Episode title *
  • Music/sound effects
  • Domain name
  • Your name and (if applicable) the names of your co-hosts. *
  • Subject of podcast: The idea here is to let your listeners know in one or two sentences what this episode is about.
  • Sponsors: If you have sponsors, this is often a good place to mention them.
  • Warning: Give your listeners a warning if the episode is going to be not safe for work.
Every podcast intro won't contain all these elements! I've marked (*) the ones every podcast I've listened to has (your mileage may vary).

Here's what this might sound like:
Hello and welcome! You're listening to my podcast, [Podcast Name], episode [Episode Number].

Today we're talking about [Subject of Podcast], so let's get started!

[Intro music for 2 or 3 seconds.]

Hello everyone. My name is [Your Name]. If this is your first time listening, it's good to have you with us. For everyone else, welcome back!

[Podcast Name] is produced every month and show notes can be found over at [Domain Name], forward slash podcasts, forward slash [Episode Name and/or Number]. If you enjoy listening to [Podcast Name] please consider subscribing so you don't miss an episode. You can also find me, [Twitter Name], over on Twitter/Facebook/etc.

Now, on with the show!
After that, launch into the podcast proper.

Outro Text


The outro is even simpler. From my own listening experience, here are some common elements of outros:

  • Podcast name *
  • Ask to rate the episode on iTunes
  • Plug a sponsor
  • Tell listeners other places they can connect with you (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, your website, etc.)
  • Tell listeners what the next episode is going to be about.
  • Ask listeners to comment and submit their own answers/opinions/observations for a question you answered in the podcast.
  • Give listeners a challenge to complete.
  • Tell listeners where they can download the show notes. *
  • Thank listeners for listening. *
  • Tell your listeners when the next podcast will be released. (e.g., I'll chat with you in a few days time.)

Here's what this might sound like:
You've been listening to [Podcast Name]. If you'd like to comment on any of today's topics or subscribe to the series, find us at [Domain Name], forward slash podcast. Tweet us at [Twitter Name]. Find us at Facebook.com forward slash [Facebook Name] or search [Podcast Name] on iTunes.

Thanks for listening to [Podcast Name]. If you like what you hear I would love it, if you have a moment, to head over to iTunes and give us a review or a rating. It really does help other folks find the podcast. Thanks for listening, chat with you again in [a few days/a week/etc.].
Well, that's it for today! Thanks for reading. This coming Thursday I'll blog about what options exist for the beginning podcaster in terms of hosting a podcast. Yes, this part can be pricy, but I've discovered a few options that—in the beginning at least—are either free or cost very little money, and by "very little" I mean one or two cents a month.

Stay tuned and good writing!


Other articles you might be interested in:


Write Now: 4 Tips For Growing A Readership
How To Record An Audiobook At Home
Aaron Sorkin On How To Write A Gripping Monologue

Friday, August 12

Aaron Sorkin On How To Write A Gripping Monologue

Today I want to talk about how to write a gripping monologue. And who better to turn to than Aaron Sorkin, master of the monologue.



Aaron Sorkin


Sorkin's resume includes “A Few Good Men,” “Malice,” “The American President,” “The West Wing,” and “The Newsroom.” One of the things Sorkin is known for is his terrific, fantastic, get-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer, monologues.

Which seems like nothing short of a magic trick since monologues are often boring. They tempt a writer to dump a bunch of not-necessarily-wanted facts on her audience. Then readers become bored and irritated and meander away in search of something more gripping.

An Example of a Gripping Monologue


The first time I saw one of Aaron Sorkin's monologues I was watching “A Few Good Men.” At the time I had no idea who Sorkin was, but was captivated by Jack Nicholson’s performance—he played Colonel Nathan R. Jessup—when he took the stand at the end of the movie.

Tom Cruise’s character, Kaffee, attempts to get Colonel Jessup to admit he ordered a code red. This is what the entire movie has been leading up to:

Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*
Judge Randolph: You *don't* have to answer that question!
Col. Jessep: I'll answer the question!
[to Kaffee]
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to.
Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*
Kaffee: *I want the truth!*
Col. Jessep: *You can't handle the truth!*
(From: Quotes for Col. Nathan R. Jessup )

It’s a great scene. So, how did Aaron Sorkin do it?

Aaron Sorkin’s Tips For Writing A Gripping Monologue


1. Make Your Audience Want The Information.


Sorkin writes:

“A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing—when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern.” (How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin)

The idea is to make your audience want the information the protagonist uses in his rant. In Jessup’s case, this was the information that he did in fact order the code red. It’s the information we’ve been waiting for all movie long. It’s the information that will save Kaffee’s hide.

2. Have The Monologue Reveal That The Character Is Exceptional


Chances are, your character has hidden depths. He can do things that none of your other characters can do. Jessup says:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.”

Whatever you might think of him, Colonel Jessup is, in his own way, an extraordinary individual.

3. Have The Monologue Reveal That The Character Is Human


Yes, Colonel Jessup made mistakes. Big mistakes. But he is also, in his way, honorable. He is committed to defending his fellow Americans. Jessup’s monologue brings out aspects of the man that humanize him. For example, here’s a line from Jessup’s speech:

“We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

And that’s it!

I’ll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing!

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