Showing posts with label key scene. Show all posts
Showing posts with label key scene. Show all posts

Monday, November 21

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

NaNoWriMo is coming to an end. We can see the finish line.

If you're making your word count goal, awesome! Go you!!

If you haven't made your word count (like me), even if you are so desperately behind you don't think there's any hope you'll catch up, take heart!

How many words have you written for NaNoWriMo? Are those words you would have written if you hadn't done NaNo? If not, you're already a winner!

If you're having trouble finding the motivation to continue, or you're looking for a new direction, here are a few ideas.

A few questions that might help you decide what to do:

1. Have you changed your mind about the genre that best describes your story?

This sounds ludicrously, obnoxiously, aggressively obvious, but judging from the beginning efforts of many writers—my own included!—it isn't.

When you began writing your story on Nov 1, what genre did you think best described the story forming in your tortured writer's soul?

Is that still the genre you're writing in? If not, don't panic! Panic helps no one.

If you've genre-hopped then that means you've found out more about your story. That's awesome! You thought your book belonged in a certain category and now that you know more about it you realize that's not the case.

Sure, maybe you'll have to go back and rewrite some scenes, but so what? If you're anything like me, you'll likely end up radically revising each scene—and likely more than once!

Yes, like anything worthwhile, writing is a lot of work! There's a reason why there are SO MANY writers and are, relatively speaking, so few authors.

2. Is your protagonist still the focus?

If so, great! If not, remember that this is a zero draft, these are musings, scribblings. What you write here need only have the slightest of passing resemblances to a story. This is a chance for you to play with words and ideas and, in so doing, to discover your story's shape, its dimensions.

Discover your characters. Put them in different situations. What are their likes? Make us love them, make us identify with them, then torture them. Turn their lives inside out. What do they do next?

Actions often show a person's values much more clearly and more eloquently than words ever could.

In any case, as your story develops, as it unfolds in front of you, you might very well come to understand that the fictional person you thought was the protagonist—meaning that her goals, her desires, drive the story—isn’t. Perhaps she’s the antagonist, or the protagonist’s helper. There are all kinds of possibilities.

It could also be that you haven't met your protagonist yet. In a zero draft everything is on the table.

3. What does your protagonist want? What drives your protagonist?

Quickly! Before you look at any of the slips of paper tacked to your walls, write down your answer to these questions:

a. What does your protagonist want more than anything?
b. What does your protagonist fear more than anything?
c. How does your protagonist achieve the thing she wants?
d. How does your protagonist avoid the thing she hates?
e. What specific, concrete, goal does your protagonist have?


Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark wanted to find the Ark and bring it to the United States.

In Stranger Things, Will Byers friends’ goal was to find Will and bring him home.

In the TV Series Supernatural Dean and Sam want to rid the world of monsters. Each episode this general goal is seen through the lens of a different adventure. Either the boys are detecting, chasing and killing a specific monster—one that is actively menacing a specific person or group of people—or Sam and Dean are worried about becoming monsters, of becoming the thing they hate.

Which brings us to ...

4. What does your protagonist hate?

Often the thing we fear the most seems the most real, the most likely to happen. Perversely, the future we dread is often the one we spend the most time thinking about. What would this look like for your protagonist?

For example, if your character fears disconnection then perhaps she desperately wants to feel as though she is connected to something larger to herself. Something important. Something beautiful.

Perhaps, concretely, your character loves her business and fears she’ll lose it. Her life will be nothing without her business and so she will do anything, go to any extent, to save it, to protect it.

Or perhaps your character loves a person. He can't image life without her and, as a result, will do anything to preserve his connection to her.

I find that, often, a fear can be a more concrete thing than a love and so can be easier to start from.

Here is the link to a list of articles I’ve written for NaNoWriMo.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I want to recommend Cruising for Murder: A Myrtle Clover Cozy Mystery by by Elizabeth Spann Craig. From the blurb: “When Myrtle and her friend Miles set out for adventure on the high sea, they assume most of the trip’s excitement will result from shore excursions to charming Alaskan villages. They feel as if their ship has come in. But when a fellow passenger disappears, Myrtle realizes she must seize the helm and find the killer...before more souls are lost.”

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. Until then, good writing!

Friday, November 18

10th Key Scene: The Wrap Up

10th Key Scene: The Wrap Up

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as a writer.” —Ray Bradbury

In honor of NaNoWriMo, every day this month I’m blogging about a key scene, one that any suspenseful story will include, either implicitly or explicitly. So far I've posted articles about the Inciting Incident, the Lock-In, Tests and Trials, Pinch Point One, the Midpoint Crisis, the All Hope is Lost scene, the Epiphany and the Climax.

Today I'm going to talk about the Wrap Up.

The Wrap Up: Breaking It Down

In the Aftermath, or Wrap Up, the audience sees the effects of the hero's efforts. Here you must answer the questions:

  • How did the hero's Ordinary World change as a result of her adventure?
  • What was his reward? What was the cost of his failure?

Or, as Jim Butcher puts it in Story Climax:

“RESOLUTION: Time to hand out the medals, kiss the girl, go to the wedding, put the star on the Christmas tree, raise the curtain on the rock concert, attend the funeral, or otherwise demonstrate that with the conclusion of the story, some kind of balance has been restored. The catharsis is complete, the tension eased, and the reader can catch their breath now.

“My advice to you on resolutions: Keep it short. Once you've gotten through the Showdown, write as sparingly as possible to get to the end, and don't draw anything out any more than you absolutely must. You've already kept your poor reader up until 3:30, your heartless bastard. Let them get some sleep before they have to rush off to their shift in two hours!” (Jim Butcher, Story Climax)

In my experience the Wrap Up is short, about half as long as an ordinary chapter. The story is over, there’s no more work to be done. Wrap things up quickly and type those two beautiful words: The End.


  • What is your protagonist’s story goal? Did your protagonist achieve the goal?
  • If so, what did your protagonist and her allies gain? What did the world gain?
  • If not, what did your protagonist and her allies lose? What did the world lose?

Does your writeup communicate this? If so, great!


There is no difference between genres!

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I want to recommend Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen, by Robert Mckee. From the blurb: “... in DIALOGUE, McKee offers the same in-depth analysis for how characters speak on the screen, on the stage, and on the page in believable and engaging ways. From Macbeth to Breaking Bad, McKee deconstructs key scenes to illustrate the strategies and techniques of dialogue.”

That’s it! This is the last post this week, I’ll talk to you again on Monday. :-)

Good luck in the final stretch of NaNoWriMo!

Word count so far: 21,854
Word count for today: 600
Total words this month: 22,454

Wednesday, November 16

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Three

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Three

Ever had a day where it feels like you need to do twelve zillion things? That’s the way I’ve felt for the past few days and, as a result, have probably accomplished less! SO, I’m going to give myself permission to post less for the remainder of the month.

I’m happy with the amount of writing I’ve done (my plan is to gather these posts together and put them in a book), so yea! And I’m going to continue in the same vein, though I need to accept that I can’t do a post a day. I need to take the weekends off to catch up on odds-n-ends.

What follows is the last post in a series on the structure of a romance story, the first part is here and the second here. Also, I’d like to reiterate that everything I say in this post has been inspired by these videos.

Act Three: The Midpoint

Everything is different now that the girl and the boy have been intimate. Speaking of which, if this is a spicy love story then the boy and the girl have a series of increasingly intense physical encounters.

 Whatever the spice level of the story their physical intimacy has made the girls problem even more difficult to solve. Why? Well, this could be because ...

  • the boy is an arsonist, the girl is a firefighter.
  • the boy is a forger and the girl works for a company that insures paintings.
  • the boy ruined her family’s fortunes.
  • the boy is a thief, the girl is a sherif.
  • the girl is on the trail of a killer and all the evidence points to the boy.

Whatever the reason, the girl decides that they cannot be together in any meaningful way. She realizes that they are doomed and that her terrible problem is farther than ever from a solution. Despite this, she loves the boy though she’s not sure how he feels about her.

The All Hope is Lost point arrives at the end of  Act Three (recall that I’m using a four act structure). What exactly this looks like, what form it takes, depends upon your story. If the boy is a thief then he might be arrested. If the boy is a duke then he will inherit his family’s estate and become a duke. Whatever happens it will divide the lovers forever.

The important thing is that, here, it must seem hopeless, the difficulties must become bigger and more formidable until they are overwhelming.

At the end of Act Three the lovers say goodbye. They say, tearfully, that they wish things could have been different, but this is the end of the road, the end of their story.

Act Four

The girl experiences a dark night of the soul. She has never been so miserable in her entire life. Similarly, the boy feels that, thinks that, all is lost.

The boy has an idea ... or maybe the girl does. The idea is for a new direction. A solution to the girl’s terrible problem has appeared.

The girl feels that the boy’s solution is remarkable. She can hardly believe it. The solution has cleared the way for the lovers to be together.

The boy is delighted. Depending on what kind of a romance story this is, he might ask the girl to marry him. The girl might ask him what changed his mind, because when she first met him he made it clear that he wanted to be a bachelor for life. To which the boy might say something like, “Our experiences together have changed my mind. I have discovered that I love you and I cannot live without you.”

And the boy might cock an eyebrow at the girl and say something like, I thought you had no interest in being a duchess? To which the girl might reply that her recent experiences, as well as the time they spent together, had changed her mind. She has discovered she loves the boy and can’t live without him. Therefore marrying the boy will make her happy even if she has to be a duchess.

They join hands, walk off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. From the blurb: “Story Engineering starts with the criteria and the architecture of storytelling, the engineering and design of a story--and uses it as the basis for narrative. The greatest potential of any story is found in the way six specific aspects of storytelling combine and empower each other on the page. When rendered artfully, they become a sum in excess of their parts.”

The end!

You’ll notice that I haven’t carried through the theme from yesterday, which was intended to be a kind of blueprint for the creation of a rough draft. I do want to pick that theme back up, later.

Honestly, I’ve started doing something I should have begun years ago. I’ve started diagramming books I’ve loved. When I started writing the post on Tuesday about the structure of a romance story I began diagramming Laurell K. Hamilton’s first book, Guilty Pleasures. I LOVE Guilty Pleasures and it is fascinating laying the bones of the story bare.

I guess I never did this before because I thought it would be a bit tedious and dry; it’s anything but! And it is incredible to me—amazing—that I didn’t notice any of this before when I read the book for pleasure.

But that’s how it works, isn’t it?

The best structured stories are just so fun to read the story sucks one in. One is inside the story, the events unfolding in the mind’s eye, and one never notices what happens behind the scenes.

That it! I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I’m going to go back to writing about key scenes.

How’s your writing coming along? Myself, I’m a bit behind. Still, even if I don’t write 50,000 words this month I’m going to be happy because I’ve been able to get a considerable amount of work on my book done and that’s the main thing. :-)

Word count so far: 20,754
Word count for today: 1,100
Total words this month: 21,854

Tuesday, November 15

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Two

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Two

Okay! It has taken me an exorbitant amount of time to write the following 1,200 words, but I did have to do some research—which I loved because it involved re-reading some of my favorite books! I know, I know, it's a hard life.

What follows is a continuation of my post, The Structure of a Romance Story. In that post I go over the first act, so if you haven’t read it you might want to or the current post won’t make a heck of a lot of sense.

Act Two

Circumstances have forced the protagonist and antagonist to spend a lot of time together.

In Guilty Pleasures, someone, or something, is murdering vampires. The police don’t care about the case and aren’t anywhere close to solving it, so Nikolaos, the head vampire of St. Louis, asks Anita to take the case. Anita tries to refuse but ultimately agrees when she realizes the alternative is having her mind stripped away. Jean-Claude, Anita’s only ally, protects both himself and Anita. This ensures they are thrown together at various places in the story, regardless of how either of them feels about the other.

In Dead Until Dark, Eric Northman uses his position as sheriff to acquire use of Sookie’s unique telepathic ability to discover who is embezzling from him.

What shall we do? Let’s say there’s a brutal serial killer turning nice, decent, hard-working citizens—some of them human, some of them vampire—into piles of body parts.

Anita was of unique use to the master of the city in Guilty Pleasures because of her skills as a vampire hunter and sleuth. Anita was also of unique use to Jean-Claude because, by virtue of their bond (one she didn’t consent to!), she could keep him nourished even as he was being starved, tortured. Sookie was of unique use to the vampire sheriff in Dead Until Dark because of her ability to read another person’s thoughts.

Lily Anderson is of unique use to the Big Bad (provisionally, let’s say the Big Bad is the head Vampire of the US) because of her telepathic abilities. There is a vigilante group targeting vampires and their human sympathizers. Perhaps it looks to the police and the Big Bad like Damien is behind this vigilante group. Unfortunately, Lily can’t read Damien’s thoughts, he’s too powerful.

Keep in mind that the more folks she reads the more difficult it is for her to stay sane (I introduced this in the first post). The fewer people she has to read the saner she’ll be.

The boy is really angry about having to spend time with the girl.

Dameon is upset that Lily is so unreasonable. He has offered her money, power, a good position in society, but she looks at him as if he’s a monster. It is as though she doesn’t care about money or what it could do for her, how it could improve her life. She makes no sense, he can’t figure her out, and that makes him angry. Angry with himself, angry with her, angry with life.

The girl is really angry about having to pend time with the boy. Additionally, she wishes she didn’t find the boy attractive.

Lily is angry too. Damien tries to boss her around. He can’t see that money is a means to an end: happiness. But if you’re already happy, who needs money beyond what’s essential to live? True, she’s never been to a world class restaurant, or the opera, or worn designer clothes, but Lily tells herself she isn’t interested in those sorts of things. Her version of happiness is curling up with a good book over a hot cup of cocoa.

The boy wishes he didn’t find the girl attractive. Nevertheless, he can’t stop thinking about her. She drives him crazy. The boy tells the girl she is ruining his life.

Damien's arguments are solid. Rock solid. Or so he tells himself. Repeatedly. Still, he can’t stop thinking about Lily. This irritates him. Sure, she is very attractive, but it goes beyond that. He’s met attractive girls before but they’ve never turned his thoughts against him. He hates that he feels happier when she’s around and sadder when she’s not.

The girl forces the boy to rethink his entire existence.

A moral dilemma presents itself to Damian. Before Damian met the girl he wouldn’t have hesitated to do what was best for his business, best for himself. Now, though, his first thought is about Lily, how the matter will affect her.

The boy forces the girl to rethink her entire existence.

The girl has a business opportunity. Before she met Damian her first thought would have been about how the business, what it does, fits in with her worldview. Now she thinks about Damien and whether he would say it was a good financial opportunity!

The boy is convinced that the girl is a dangerous person.

Lily is bad for him. Dangerous. She makes him pause over decisions that should be reflexive. That’s both bad for business and bad for his standing in the family, especially now that there are whispers about him being the one who has been embezzling.

The girl is convinced that the boy is infuriating.

The girl asks the boy what he thinks about the business opportunity that came her way. She did this only to be nice—it had nothing (NOTHING!) to do with being an excuse to see him. And, after that, he had the temerity to brush her off!

The boy notices that, despite their mutual feelings of antipathy, they work well together.

Damien is good at what he does, good in business, at anticipating and planning for crises but bad at handling people. Lily is good at handling people. Because of her, those she works with are happier and more productive.

The girl notices that the boy exhibits flashes of humanity.

Damien is polite and has impeccable manners, especially with elderly women who he invariably charms.

The boy learns that his friends think they are perfect for each other.

Damien’s friends have noticed that Lily has made him chill out, relax. He laughed out loud the other day.

The girl learns that her friends think they are perfect for each other.

Lily tends to rush into things without thinking. She pauses now to think things through. In general, she has made better choices.

Every time the girl starts to like the boy a teensy-weensy bit he does something outrageous that infuriates and alienates her.

Because of one of Damien’s decisions her best friend loses something important. Perhaps her friend's business, perhaps her friend's parent’s business. Perhaps her friend is fired from her job because of something Lily let slip and now her friend hates her.

Boy: I’m going to kiss you now.

At first the girl is shocked and enraged by the suggestion. “Don’t you dare!” But then they kiss.

If this is a spicy love story then Damien and Lily will have sex. If this is a sweet romance, the girl and the boy may just kiss or possibly hold hands.

Whatever intimacy the girl and the boy share makes the girl’s problem worse. (The girl has been attempting to tackle her terrible problem in various ways throughout the story.)

Perhaps, now, the girl can read some of the vampire’s thoughts. This not only is bad for her sanity but the girl has overheard something the vampire had very much wanted to keep secret.

Resolution: Damien and Lily can no longer contain their passion for the other and decide to throw caution to the wind.

While Damien regrets that their intimacy makes Lily’s problem worse he can no longer contain his passion. Lily feels more-or-less the same, though she does not tell him she has overheard his secret.

This brings us to the end of Act Two.

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 two books. The first is Paula Hawkins book, Girl on the Train. I read it and enjoyed it, though not as much as Stephen King’s book, The Dead Zone. I've but The Dead Zone on my "to re-read" list, and not just because it’s a terrific book. It's also timely.

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

Word count so far: 19,454
Word count for today: 1,300
Total words this month: 20,754

Sunday, November 13

The Structure of a Romance Story

The Structure of a Romance Story

As you probably know, I’ve been blogging about story structure more-or-less every day this month. My goal was to isolate around 30 key scenes that the overwhelming majority of well-structured stories contain.

And I still want to do that, but the fact is I’m running out of key scenes! There’s only two left: the Race to the Finish and the Wrap Up. So instead of trying to come up with additional Key Scenes I’m going to delve more deeply into the structure of each one.

Today, though, I’m taking a break. It might not make a great deal of sense to you why I’m blogging about this today. All I can say is that sometimes the muse wants what she wants. Go figure!

Today I want to talk about the structure of a romance story. True, recently I wrote about 6 Scenes Every Love Story Must Have, but this is different. This time I want to delve into the characters in a romance story and how their wants and desires shape events.

I’ve done something like this for mystery stories but not quite this way. I’m not sure what you’ll think of it, so I welcome feedback. This is an experiment. Would you like more posts like this? Would you like NO MORE posts like this? I want to write articles you like reading so please, let me know! :-)

The Structure of a Romance Story

Before we get started ...

  • In what follows I use a four act structure
  • In what follows the protagonist is a gal and the antagonist is a guy. When I write, “The girl has a problem,” this means the same thing as, “The protagonist has a problem.”
  • Everything that I say in this post has been inspired by these videos. Not JUST those videos, but they do a terrific job of laying the essential structure bare, and in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek way.

Act One

The girl has a terrible problem.

The girl doesn’t always have a terrible problem, but she often does.

Have you read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books? If so, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing those books up in this context since they’re classified as urban fantasy/horror! I don’t read Hamilton’s books anymore[1], the series morphed into something else, but in the first three books Hamilton developed a beautiful, brilliantly executed, love story between Anita and a vampire named Jean-Claude.[3]

Anita Blake has a problem: she’s a necromancer. Not only do her abilities freak out normal people, they terrify the monsters! And not just zombies. Blake is a licensed vampire hunter who, due to her kill rate, has earned the nickname The Executioner. (So, who do you think she falls in love with? Ding, ding, ding, that’s right! A vampire.)

So, for our example protagonist, in honor of Anita Blake, let’s make her a vampire hunter and (tip of the hat to Sookie Stackhouse) a telepath. I’ll call her Lily Anderson.

What’s Lily’s terrible problem? She’s being driven slowly insane by the steady onslaught of other people’s thoughts. The only solution is to withdraw from society, become a hermit and live in the woods—but Lily feels that’s just another kind of death. Still, she doesn’t have a choice, not if she wants to stay sane.

The boy either refuses to help the girl solve her problem or he lacks the ability to. Furthermore, his very existence makes the girl’s problem worse.

Again, let's follow Hamilton’s lead and make the antagonist a vampire. I’ll call him Damien Morton.

How does Damien’s very existence make Lily’s problem worse? Damien wants Lily to use her powers to help him with a problem he’s having. But using her powers brings Lily to the edge of madness and that’s something she’d like to avoid, thank you very much.

The boy has a unique quality that makes him catnip for most women.

We could explain this by saying that whatever it is that transforms a human into a creature of eternal night refashions the body to make it inhumanly gorgeous.

Or we could say that vampires have certain standards and only turn the spectacularly attractive.

Or we could say that most vampires are no more good looking than most humans, that they only appear attractive because they use their powers to glamor weaker minds into seeing them a certain way. In other words, they use mind control.

I like the last one.

Also, the boy is obscenely rich.

The girl has no interest in this unique quality.

Due to Lily’s mental abilities she is immune from vampiric thought control. She doesn’t see the illusion Dameon projects, she sees him as he really is.

Lily isn’t interested in the boy’s money. She believes that everyone with money, especially if it’s old money, is an insufferable snob. (Not that she’s prejudiced or anything! ;)

The girl finds the boy irresistibly attractive. 

Lily sees Damien as he really is and finds him irresistibly attractive.

But Lily’s attraction to Dameon is based on more than the physical. There is something about him, something she can’t quite articulate. She feels as though she knows him even though they’ve only just met.

Lily can’t stop thinking about Dameon. To make matters worse, she has started dreaming about him, odd twisted dreams filled with blood and death.

What is the boy’s problem? What is the thing that makes the girl’s ability very attractive to the boy?

In the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Bill Compton, the first vampire Sookie Stackhouse ever met, was sent to find out everything he could about Sookie and her unique ability. Her other love interest, Eric Northman, routinely wants Sookie to use her telepathic abilities to give him an advantage in business negotiations.

What’s Damien’s problem? Let’s not reinvent the wheel. Damien runs the business interests of a very old, very wealthy, vampire clan. They have a spy in their midst, someone another very old, very wealthy, vampire clan planted. He needs to find out who. His job, his standing, is on the line. He needs Lily to read the minds of his employees and reveal the culprit.

The girl wishes she’d never met the boy because he has made her problem worse.

When Lily uses her ability it takes her to some very dark places.

The boy is not interested in most girls. He intends to stay single forever.

Dameon is a vampire so he can’t date humans—the temptation to suck their blood is too strong—and he despises other vampires. Other sorts of magical critters exist but they aren’t seen much these days. The fey, for example, have fled to another dimension. Some humans have psychic abilities but these abilities are usually so weak that they’re just humans to him. He realizes he is doomed to eternal loneliness and busies himself with work and various charitable foundations.

Even though the boy is committed to the single life, he is attracted to the girl on several levels. This surprises him. He never dreamt he could be attracted to someone like this. The boy’s attraction to the girl makes him feel completely out of control. He doesn’t recognize himself anymore. This makes him angry.

Sure the boy is lonely, but he’s been lonely for a long time. It’s not like he’s never happy. After all, this is the life he chose. It’s the life he made for himself. He’s attached.

Put it this way, his life is a bit like a ratty old bathrobe that has hidden charms for its owner but everyone else looks at with mild disdain.

My point is that the girl makes the boy look at his life in a new way, he feels its defects. She makes him see the old bathrobe through other eyes.

This makes the boy profoundly grumpy. Everything was fine before the girl came into his life. If only she would leave, things could go back to normal.

The girl sees that the boy is angry and doesn’t understand why.

In her mind, everything she has done is reasonable. She can’t understand why he doesn’t like her, why he’s always grumpy with her.

Something bigger than the two of them forces the boy and the girl to work together even though neither of them wants to—or maybe only one of them wants to. 

We haven’t yet talked about what brings the boy and the girl together, what forces them to work with each other even though neither of them really wants to.

In Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, Jean-Claude knows about the various supernatural communities in the city and can get people to talk to her. He helps her catch killers and, in so doing, saves lives. But having contact with Jean-Claude is dangerous for Anita. He is seduction incarnate. He is the dark side whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

Even though she knows Jean-Claude is dangerous for her, even though each time she sees him she feels a bit of herself slip away, she has to consult with him in order to solve crimes and save lives.

I wouldn’t say that Jean-Claude behaved like a lunatic, but he is certainly not thrilled about having such a gifted vampire executioner in town. He would like to bring her under his sway, but he knows that is one thing Anita will never allow. And it does drive him a little bit crazy.

How will this work for Damien and Lily? Well, let’s borrow Hamilton’s essential setup only we’ll twist it a bit. Damien wasn’t born a vampire, he was made one by the head of a very old, wealthy, family. That means he’s not really family. Sorta, kinda, almost, but not quite. Nevertheless, Damien has a head for business and under his leadership the family has done well, so they’ve given him free reign with their money. As a result, if anything happens in the city chances are Dameon knows about it or he knows who will know and, if he likes, he can put Lily in touch with them.

As I’ve mentioned, Lily can read thoughts. She has been invaluable to the police. The problem is that her ability is driving her insane. She has tried to quit but the police keep coming to her, begging her to help. “Only you can catch this guy and save another girl from a fate worse than death.” They don’t say, ‘Or madness’ but she feels it hanging in the air between them. She goes back, she always goes back.

There’s only one person she can’t read: Dameon. His mind is like a tall cold glass of water on a hot summer day. The problem is the silence feels good. Too good. It’s addictive. And he knows this. Dameon wants to control her and use her ability for his ends. She’ll let the police pull her back in so she can save lives (as well as the chief’s career) but she won’t let herself be used as a chit in the high stakes games Dameon plays in the underworld.

The boy behaves like a lunatic whenever he is together with the girl. He bosses her around and interferes with her life. For his part, the boy sees many things in the girl he could improve, or would like to see improved. The boy thinks the girl should be grateful for his interference in her life. Because of this the girl begins to hate the boy.

Dameon is pragmatic. If he had Lily’s gifts he could make ever so much more money, but that’s just the beginning. He could have power. Real power. He could break away from the family and begin his own dynasty. It’s not like he would stop Lily from helping the police, if she really wanted to do that. He honestly can’t understand why she refuses to work for him. After all, being around him keeps her sane! But, no. She would rather help the police and go slowly mad instead of helping him make a better life for them both.

For her part, the girl thinks that the boy is a horse’s ass.

Lily thinks that Dameon is an undead calculator. He has no imagination, no heart. And he doesn’t have an unselfish bone in his body.

The bottom line for the girl: He is making her terrible problem worse.

Dameon makes her crazy. Literally.

At the end of every article I post I like to pick a book I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share my favorite books with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend a book that I've written! The Structure of a Love Story.

From the blurb: "Love is love, but there tends to be a certain pattern to how it progresses, both in fiction and real life. I go over three different kinds of love stories and pivot to examine six scenes any romance story must have."

That’s it! You’ll notice I’ve only talked about the characters and their dilemmas, I haven’t said anything about what happens in scenes and sequels, I haven’t talked about a Call to Adventure, etc. I’m saving that for later. What I’ve done here is intended to be something like a Zero Draft; writer’s jazz. We’re just playing, making word pictures.

Tomorrow—unless you tell me to stop!—I’ll follow this post up with Act Two.

How’s NaNoWriMo coming along? I’m a little behind at 19,454 words. I had hoped to be at about 26,000 by this point.

Talk to you tomorrow, good writing! :-)


1. I loved the first three books in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series and unreservedly recommend them. I stopped reading the series around 2010 because (and this is just my own opinion) Anita Blake was no longer the same character I had been introduced to in Guilty Pleasures. Neither was Jean-Claude, and a great deal of the appeal of that series was the changing, tumultuous, visceral, relationship between those two characters.

3. Regardless of their primary genre many stories have a love story as the B-Story.

Friday, November 11

(NaNoWriMo Day 11): 9th Key Scene: The Epiphany

(NaNoWriMo Day 11): 9th Key Scene: The Epiphany

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

In honor of NaNoWriMo, every day this month I’m blogging about a key scene, one that any suspenseful story will include, either implicitly or explicitly. I then take a close look at how this scene, this structure, is implemented in three popular genres: Action, Romance and Mystery. So far I've posted articles about the Inciting Incident, the Lock-In, Tests and Trials, Pinch Point One, the Midpoint Crisis, the All Hope is Lost scene, and the Climax.

Today I'm going to talk about the Epiphany.

The Epiphany: Breaking It Down

The All Hope is Lost scene immediately precedes the Epiphany. In that scene, as the name implies, something happens that transforms the protagonist’s world (or perhaps just the protagonist’s view of it) and brings her to her lowest point in the story.

After the All Hope Is Lost moment the B-story is resolved.[3] As a result, an important change occurs in the protagonist and she resolves her inner conflict. One result of this change is that the protagonist is able to figure out how to turn matters around and make one last desperate attempt to achieve her goal.

 About this “important change,” I don't mean a superhuman ability—though, depending on the kind of story this is, it could be! Whatever the change, the ground must have been laid for it. Perhaps the protagonist is now able to think clearly because she finally has the empathy she has been lacking, or perhaps she has been able to release a certain way of thinking that has been holding her back.

Whatever the case, during the Epiphany, something fundamental within the protagonist permanently changes and, as a result, she is able to escape from whatever had caused the complete and total destruction of all her previous plans.

Of course, not all protagonists have an internal conflict. If the only conflict is external, the hero can draw upon some characteristic that defines him such as his strength or his knowledge. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good example of a hero without any real internal conflict. At the end of that movie it is his broad knowledge that saves both himself and Marion, the object of his desire. Jones says: “Marion! Don’t look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens.”

One way of describing the Epiphany is that it’s at this point in the story that the scales drop from the protagonist’s eyes. She thought she knew how things were, but she didn't. To use Shrek as an example, the ogre thought he knew how the Princess and Donkey felt about him, but he didn't. He thought they believed he was hideous and unlovable but he had misunderstood them. After the All Hope Is Lost point Donkey comes to Shrek and tells him Fiona wasn't calling him ugly and unlovable. Donkey doesn't tell Shrek she was describing herself because that's not his secret to tell. This is when the proverbial scales fall from Shrek's eyes and he realizes he acted like an idiot. Shrek decides to do what he should have done long before—risk rejection and tell Princess Fiona he loves her.

Here's another example: At the end of The Matrix Neo realizes he's the One and that he loves Trinity. At that moment the scales drop from his eyes; he sees what he had been blind to. He finally understands and it is this realization that transforms him. It allows him to do something he wouldn't have otherwise been able to do; namely, triumph over the Matrix and become the One.

I'm not suggesting that this life-transforming moment of self-realization occurs at the end of every story. It doesn't. But it happens often enough that I wanted to mention it.

But, of course, the hero doesn't have to win. Sometimes the revelation comes, but too late. Sometimes the revelation doesn't come at all.

The Epiphany: Key Points

- A significant resolution. We can speak about this resolution in a couple of ways.

Speaking about this resolution using the language of subplots (or, if you prefer, the A-Story, B-Story, C-Story, and so on), this is the place where subplots are cashed out and the various threads of the story merge into one.

Speaking about this in terms of conflict, whether internal or external, this is the place where the conflicts are resolved. Not a final solution or answer, but the various conflicts come together in a synthesis that provides the protagonist with an idea about how to push forward past the devastation that came with the All Hope is Lost point.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Internal Conflict: At the Epiphany, the protagonist’s internal conflict (if she has one) is resolved. Like their flesh and blood counterparts, characters want things, even things that are incompatible. For example, a character might both want to save someone from being killed and be a model FBI Trainee. When these two internal drives come into conflict (as they often do at the All Hope is Lost point) the protagonist must choose.

External Conflict: At the Epiphany, the protagonist’s external conflict is resolved and the storylines merged. For example, in Edge of Tomorrow, Cage’s squad—J Squad—was not his biggest fan. One of his recurring challenges is getting J Squad on his side. Just before the All Hope is Lost point, Cage acquires a crucial piece of information, something he has been trying to discover the entire movie: the location of the head mimic, the Omega.

In the Epiphany, Cage uses his relationship with the Angel of Verdun (Sergeant Rita Vrataski) to get his Squad to follow them and attack the Omega. This gathers three storylines (his love story with Vrataski, his strained relationship with J Squad and his quest to defeat the aliens) into one.

Here’s another example: In The Matrix the B-Story is Trinity’s feelings for Neo. At the end of the movie, after Neo has been shot dead in the Matrix, Trinity tells Neo (what’s left of him) that she loves him. She tells him that the Oracle said the man who she loved would be the One. So, since he’s the One, he can’t be dead. Then she kisses him. The confession and the kiss close out the B-story and, one feels, are the reason why Neo rises from the dead seconds later.

The change is permanent. The internal and external changes are permanent. Once these threads are bound together there is no going back.

Strength becomes useful. Occasionally, the protagonist’s strength in the ordinary world comes back into play. For example, Cage was in public affairs—he was a spin doctor. He was good at talking people into believing things. He uses this skill at the Epiphany (as well as earlier) to get J Squad on his side.

Where is it?

The Epiphany occurs early in Act Three, about 75% of the way through the story. In terms of scenes, it appears after the All Hope is Lost scene and before the Climax. This scene propels the protagonist and his allies into their race for the finish.

How is it connected to the protagonist’s desires?

Each of the hero’s desires, internal and external, represents an arc. At the Epiphany these arcs, these story lines, merge. At minimum, the B-Story will merge with the A-Story.

The Epiphany: An Example

This one is drawn from Edge of Tomorrow. We recently looked at the All Hope is Lost scene in that movie (this occurs when Cage loses the ability to reset the day). It is right after this that our plot-lines begin to merge. I’ve discussed this, above, so I won’t go into it again here.

As part of my research for this article, I’ve re-watched the three-quarter point of the first Lord of the Rings movie as well as that of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In Lord of the Rings there is a moment of Epiphany. Frodo has long come to suspect he must go off on his own, leaving the others behind. After Boromir, maddened by the presence of the ring, attacks Frodo, the hobbit accepts that he must continue the quest on his own and leaves.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark—a brilliant action/adventure movie—there really is no moment of Epiphany, at least not that I saw. And that’s okay! This movie didn’t have much of a B-Story. Yes, there is the developing relationship between Indiana and Marion, but there aren’t any hidden currents, it’s all there on the surface. And it works beautifully!

Testing the Scene Example

Is the A-Story Merged with the B-Story? Yes. Cage has just had a huge setback, the biggest in the story so far: he has lost the ability to reset the day. On the plus side, their mission is clear, even though they are least well equipped to deal with it, they need to take out the Omega (the Big Bad). That means they need help. This initiates the collapsing of three storylines, Cage’s love story involving the Angel of Verdun, his dysfunctional relationship with J Squad and his main goal of defeating the aliens.

Is the change permanent? Yes. Cage, Rita Vrataski and his troupe band together on the race to the finish. They all have the same goal: to kill the Omega.

Also, the scene involves what used to be the character’s strength in the Ordinary World. Cage uses his ability to spin a story to get his troupe on board with the plan.

How the Epiphany is Implemented in Three Genres: Action, Romance & Mystery

Action Genre

See the example, above.

Romance Genre

Let’s take a look at the movie, Pretty Woman. The All Hope is Lost point comes when Edward Lewis asks Vivian Ward to be his mistress. The night before Vivian broke her rule and, for the first time, kissed Edward. And then she told him she loved him. Her epiphany is that money is not an adequate surrogate for love. She wants to be a girlfriend, perhaps a fiancee, NOT a mistress. This is a discovery about herself, not about her profession or about him. As a result of this insight she breaks up with him.

In general, in a romance book, this is the point at which the protagonist often realizes what she really wants.

Perhaps there were two men courting her. One of them is wealthy, has social standing and her parents love him. The other one doesn’t have bean, her parents hate him but he makes her happy.

It is often at this point that the protagonist has an epiphany and realizes that the only reason she wants money and social standing is to be happy. Since the wealthy fellow doesn’t make her happy but the poor one does, she finally knows who she wants to walk off into the sunset with. Unfortunately, though, there’s a problem. The poor fellow doesn’t want to be with her anymore! And we’re off on the race to the finish.

Murder Mystery Genre

From what I’ve seen, the stage of a story I’ve been calling the Epiphany unfolds a bit differently in murder mysteries.

Generally speaking, the protagonist doesn’t have the same sort of arc in a murder mystery as she does in other genres.

In a murder mystery the progression is from ignorance to knowledge. So it makes sense that the All Hope is Lost point for the sleuth is to feel that he or she has been, once again, plunged into ignorance. For example, in Agatha Christie’s delightful story of love and betrayal, Death on the Nile, Hercule Poirot actually has this line at just this point: “I know nothing. Nothing!”

But we’re not here to talk about the All Hope is Lost point. The epiphany, as the name suggests, is like the light shining through the clouds just when the night seems bleakest. Don’t be too relieved, though. This light could be illusory. The detective could think he’s onto something when, in reality, he is simply being played by a devilishly clever antagonist.

During this scene the protagonist can do a number of things, but usually she does one or both of the following:

a) Clears out dead wood. The detective confronts one or two suspects and questions them. As the audience, you’re not sure if they’re telling the truth, or whether the sleuth thinks they’re telling the truth. This is a bit like a person in a pitch black room groping for a light switch.

This is also a point where certain possibilities are ruled out, certain suspects are disqualified from consideration.

b) Introduces an alternate theory of the crime. For example, in Basic Instinct just after the three-quarter mark, detective Nick Curran is stumped. Roxy, Catherine Tramell’s live-in lover, has died, killed in her attempt to usher Nick into the great hereafter. When I first watched this story I had thought Roxy was the murderer. Roxy’s death was the All Hope is Lost point from the perspective of the sleuth because now he has no idea whodunit.

The epiphany comes, or begins, after Nick gets a clue from Catherine about a stalker she had in college. Nick does a bit of digging and uncovers the fact that his on-again-off-again girlfriend, the department psychologist Dr. Beth Garner, appears to have had a crush on Catherine in university, going so far as to dress like her. When Nick confronts her, Beth swears it was the other way around, that Catherine dressed like her, was obsessed with her.

Nick begins to doubt that Catherine is the killer and starts to pursue a new theory of the crime. This new theory is nurtured and investigated during the Epiphany. (Sure, this theory turns out to be a diabolically clever red herring masterfully planted by Catherine, but that’s part of what made Basic Instinct a terrific movie!)

So, as you can see, the shape of this key scene is a bit different when implemented in a murder mystery, but the essential idea is the same: gather together whatever you need to begin the race to the finish.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend an excellent resource. If you’ve never read this book please do, even if you get it from the library: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. Donald Maass is the head of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. As such, he has read thousands of manuscripts and has written extensively on the subject of how to write stories that sell. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a couple of writing conferences where Mr. Maass was a speaker and made it to two of his workshops. Amazing! If you ever get the chance to attend one of DM’s talks or workshops, do yourself a favor and go! (BTW, I wrote an article about the advice contained in one of Donald Maass’ workshops: How to make your readers care about your characters on the first page.)

That’s it! Sorry for the long post but this one required extra research. I’ve discovered a lot of uniformity over the various genres when it comes to Key Scenes, but the Epiphany is one that has unique features when it comes to the murder mystery.

Word count so far: 14,220
Word count for today: 2,940 (This is the number of words in my draft and so might change by the time I publish the article.)
Total words this month: 17,160


2. For an excellent analysis of Silence of the Lambs read the latter part of The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. He goes into the internal dynamics of character creation in explicit and loving detail.

3. Other subplots can be resolved here as well. Basically, this is a time of merging, where all the storylines come together in preparation for the race to the finish. Note, though, that one or more subplots could have been resolved earlier. This is just the place where, if a subplot exists, it’s time to tie it off and get ready to focus on defeating the Big Bad.

Wednesday, November 9

Title: (NaNoWriMo Day 9): 8th Key Scene: Tests & Trials

Title: (NaNoWriMo Day 9): 8th Key Scene: Tests & Trials

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

In honor of NaNoWriMo, every day this month I’m blogging about a key scene, one that any suspenseful story will include either implicitly or explicitly. I then take a close look at how this scene, this structure, is implemented in three popular genres: Action, Romance and Mystery. So far I've posted articles about the Inciting Incident, the Lock-In, Pinch Point One, the Midpoint Crisis, the All Hope is Lost point, and the Climax.

Today I'm going to talk about a scene (or sequence of scenes) often referred to as Tests and Trials.

Tests and Trials: Breaking It Down

After leaving the Ordinary World and entering the Special World of the Adventure, the protagonist goes through a series of Tests and Trials.

The Special World is radically different from the Ordinary World. Metaphorically, it’s inside out and upside down, Kansas vs the Land of Oz. In this new environment the protagonist is a fish out of water. She doesn't have any idea of the rules, the norms, that govern conduct in the Special World.

Part of being a fish out of water has to do with her strengths and weaknesses being flipped. Qualities that were strengths in the Ordinary World now become weaknesses and her weaknesses are now strengths. Think of Luke Skywalker in the Mos Eisley Cantina or Frodo and company in The Prancing Pony.

Many of the things we said of the Ordinary World are also true of the Special World. For instance, the protagonist will often meet new friends as well as make new enemies.

Though I’m not going to say much about it here, the B-Story often begins now and will involve new friends the protagonist makes in the Special World. To read more about A- and B-Stories I recommend Steven Pressfield’s article: The “A” Story and the “B” Story.

Another similarity between the Ordinary World and the Special World is that, on entering the Special World, the protagonist will have a clear initial goal, one that will soon take on new dimensions.

Tests and Trials, Fun and Games

As soon as the protagonist enters the Special World she will begin a series of Tests and Trials, mini adventures which highlight the strangeness of the Special World. Because her strengths are now weaknesses, and vice versa, she will fail quite a lot and in ways she couldn’t have foreseen.

As the protagonist goes through her Tests and Trials she’ll often receive aid and advice from her new friends and be hindered by her new enemies.

Tests and Trials are often also a time of Fun and Games, a time of bonding through adversity.

During this period it may seem as though the protagonist loses sight of her story goal, and that’s fine. It gives the audience a breather, perhaps they have a laugh or two. Here you have time and space to develop your characters and make your readers care about them.

Often, at the tail end of Tests and Trials the protagonist has her first big success. For the first time she triumphs over her tormentors. There’s a brief celebration then, suddenly, the Big Bad rears his head (this is the first Pinch Point—for more on this see here and here).

Key Points

  • The protagonist is a fish out of water in the Special World. She doesn't know the rules.
  • In the context of the Special World the protagonist’s strengths become weaknesses and perhaps her weaknesses become strengths.
  • The protagonist has a well-defined goal going into the period of Tests and Trials.
  • The protagonist makes new friends and gains new enemies.

Where is it?

The Tests and Trials part of the adventure comes at the beginning of the second act, about 25% to 35% of the way through the story.

How is it connected to the protagonist’s desires?

The Tests and Trials portion of the story should be connected to the protagonist’s internal and external desires, but there is a bit of wiggle room here. New elements are introduced into the story as the protagonist meets new characters and learns about their desires, their goals. One thing we need to show here is how the desires of the new characters mesh with those of the protagonist. Are they compatible? Incompatible?

This is an important part of character development and adds depth to the story.

Tests and Trials: Examples

In Edge of Tomorrow the Test and Trials portion of the story begins when Cage, drenched in the blood of an alpha, dies and wakes up in the previous day.

In the beginning Cage has no idea what’s happening. He’s put through tests and trials as, desperate, he tries to learn how to fight all the while keeping himself—and as many others as he can—alive. This sequence also has incredibly funny parts. There’s one scene that, even though I know it’s coming, I laugh out loud every time I see it. Cage is NOT a fighter by any stretch of the imagination—in the beginning of the story, he can’t figure out how to take the safety lock off his weapon!

Testing the Scene Example

Fish out of water. In the Ordinary World Cage creates propaganda. He’s good with words, with creating a narrative, but he couldn’t shoot a gun to save his life. Literally! He doesn't know the rules, the norms. Check.

Well defined goals going in. Cage’s goal is to NOT fight. Even when he’s on the beach in the midst of the battle he tries to run back to safety! But, as soon as he figures out that if he doesn’t learn how to fight that he will die, he begins to apply himself. So, yes. He has a well defined goal: survive.

Makes new friends and enemies. In Cage’s case he ignores the people who are hostile to him and makes friends with those who can help him. Check.

How the Midpoint is Implemented in Three Genres: Action, Romance & Mystery

Action Genre

I’ve covered the action genre, above.

Romance Genre

It depends on the kind of romance story you’re writing, but this is generally the “getting to know each other” phase that my male friends hate and my female friends (including moi) get all dreamy over.

Any romantic contact with the antagonist is forbidden (he’s a prince, she’s a pauper, etc.), and even if it wasn't forbidden the protagonist knows a relationship would never work. Never EVER. Still, the protagonist keeps thinking about the antagonist, she wants him to notice her. Then she does something mortifying and, sure enough, he notices her! He comes over and offers her a hand but she just wants the floor to open up and swallow her.

It turns out he likes her, he thinks she’s cute and different. Perhaps their essential incompatibility appeals to him because he’s not looking for a serious relationship.

And so on.

Murder Mystery Genre

In a murder mystery this is where the sleuth acquaints himself with the case by questioning suspects and investigating clues.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend one of my favorite Agatha Christie murder mysteries, Murder on the Links: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

From the blurb: “An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course. But why is the dead man wearing his son's overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse . . ..”

That’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow.

Word count so far: 12,755
Word count for today: 1,465
Total words this month: 14,220

Tuesday, November 8

NaNoWriMo Day 8: 7th Key Scene: Call to Adventure

NaNoWriMo Day 8: 7th Key Scene: Call to Adventure

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.

The Midpoint: Breaking It Down

In the Call to Adventure the protagonist accepts a quest, takes on a challenge that will occupy her till the Climax at the end of the story. I’m going to call this challenge the Story Goal because it will be the engine driving the action of the story, of the plot, right up to the very end. This goal defines the protagonist’s arc and becomes the story’s backbone, tying all the other character arcs to itself.

The protagonist doesn’t always accept the Call to Adventure. Often she rejects the Call and must be talked into it, often by a mentor. If a mentor is involved they may give the protagonist something that will aid her on her journey. For example, in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi gives Luke his father’s lightsaber.

What is it?

A problem/challenge. At the Call to Adventure the hero is offered a challenge or adventure.  The Call must make it clear what the hero’s goal is.

Stakes established. The Call to Adventure should reveal the states. We need to know what will count as a win and what will count as a loss, and we need to know how the protagonist will be rewarded for a win and what price will be exacted if she loses.

Call is freely accepted. The protagonist must be able to reject the Call to Adventure. Sure, there might be dire consequences if she rejects the Call but, nevertheless, it’s important that she has the opportunity.

The upshot: During the Call to Adventure, a decision must be made, action then taken and a conflict faced.

The Difference Between the Inciting Incident and the Call to Adventure

As we saw when we talked about the Inciting Incident, the Ordinary World is relatively static at the beginning of the story. Often, there is something deeply wrong with the protagonist’s normal existence, but it could also be that she is simply in stasis. She is surviving but she isn’t living.

Another way of looking at the protagonist’s initial state is that she has reached a kind of false, local, optima. The protagonist isn't happy and knows she's not happy but is scared that if she tries to change, her life will get worse.

For example, in the movie The Matrix, at the beginning of the story Neo—or, rather, Mr. Thomas Anderson—knows that something is wrong; not just with his life but with the world. He doesn’t know what exactly is wrong, but he has searched for the answer all his life.

The _Inciting Incident_ shatters the protagonist’s status quo, her state of equilibrium. Something happens that changes the protagonist’s world, a change which will, sooner or later, shatter her status quo. The Inciting Incident creates an imbalance, an inequality that the protagonist must, eventually, address.

At the beginning of _The Matrix_ words, unbidden, flash on Anderson's computer screen: "Follow the white rabbit." I would argue that this is the inciting incident, the event that sets a series of other events in motion that, eventually, leads to his call to adventure. Or the Inciting Incident could have happened in the backstory when Cypher first began to work for the first Matrix.

One could argue that Anderson receives a few calls to adventure, but I think that the Call came when Morpheus tries to talk Neo out of his office building so he can avoid the Agents capturing him. Mr. Anderson declines the Call to Adventure. This changes when, at the end of Act One when, Neo is offered the choice between the red pill and the blue pill.  Then he makes a choice and is locked into the quest.

I find it fruitful to view the Inciting Incident and the Call to Adventure as conceptually distinct because they serve different, though complementary, functions.

As we saw in that section, the Inciting Incident (which is an exciting incident) is meant to a) grab the audience's attention and b) sets the story in motion by breaking the status quo. The Call to Adventure, on the other hand, connects the hero to the cataclysmic changes in the Ordinary World.

You can see how these two events, the Inciting Incident and Call to Adventure, would often go together.

The bottom line: If how you view the Inciting Incident and Call to Adventure works for you, then great! In the end there's only one rule: use what works for you.

Where is it?

The Call to Adventure happens at the same time or shortly after the Inciting Incident. Definitely within the first act (the first 25% of the story).

How is it connected to the protagonist’s desires?

The Call to Adventure connects the protagonist to the changes in the world that the Inciting Incident introduced. The Call to Adventure must also be a call to take some action that will move the protagonist closer to fulfilling their internal and external desires.

The Midpoint: Examples

In Star Wars IV: A New Hope, the Call to Adventure occurs when Obi-Wan Kenobi asks Luke to join him as he travels to Alderaan to bring the plans for the Death Star to the resistance.

Testing the Scene Example

Was a challenge put forward? Yes! Obi-Wan Kenobi asked Luke to join him on a dangerous mission to aid the rebel alliance.

Are the stakes clear? Yes. If the information Princess Leia gave to R2-D2 isn’t delivered to the resistance then the rebellion will be defeated.

Is the quest freely accepted? Yes. Luke rejects the Call at first, but after his aunt and uncle are murdered by the Empire Luke takes up the quest and accompanies Obi-Wan Kenobi.

How the Call to Action is Implemented in Three Genres: Action, Romance & Mystery

Action Genre

I’ve gone over this, above.

Romance Genre

I said before, when we were going over the inciting Incident, that that point is where the lovers-to-be are thrown into conflict. The Inciting Incident is the point at which the protagonist’s world is altered, but it’s not necessarily where the Call to Adventure is given.

In a romance story the Call to Adventure has to do with the call to bond with another human being, the call to make oneself vulnerable. It  is the call to love another even as we wish to be loved.

By the way, in doing research for this article I came across a terrific resource: The Hero’s Journey for Romance Writers.

Murder Mystery Genre

In a murder mystery, the Call occurs when the sleuth agrees to take on the responsibility of solving the murder and, by so doing, to bring justice to the community.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by by Robert Mckee. From the blurb: “From Macbeth to Breaking Bad, McKee deconstructs key scenes to illustrate the strategies and techniques of dialogue. DIALOGUE applies a framework of incisive thinking to instruct the prospective writer on how to craft artful, impactful speech.”

That’s it! If you’re doing NaNo, how’s it going? My take on NaNo is that as long as you write more in November than you would have otherwise, you’re a winner!

Talk to you again tomorrow, in the meantime, good writing!

Word count so far: 11,385
Word count for today: 1370
Total words this month: 12,755

Monday, November 7

(NaNoWriMo Day 7): 6th Key Scene: All Hope is Lost

(NaNoWriMo Day 7): 6th Key Scene: All Hope is Lost

Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.

The All Hope is Lost Scene: Breaking It Down

The All Hope is Lost scene occurs at the end of a series of try-fail cycles.[1] Each time the protagonist and her allies fail, the stakes are raised.

First try-fail cycle. The protagonist and her allies make a plan to defeat the antagonist and achieve the story goal. The plan fails.

Second try-fail cycle. The stakes are higher now but the protagonist and her allies don’t give up. The plan is revised and they try again. The revised plan ends in failure. This failure is more dramatic, more severe—perhaps one or more of the protagonist’s allies die or abandon the quest. Whatever the case, the plan fails spectacularly.

Final try-fail cycle. This is the All Hope is Lost scene. The stakes are now the highest they’ve been but the protagonist is not giving up. She thinks on the fly and tries one lasts thing. Perhaps it seems as though this time the plan will work, but it doesn’t. She fails and she fails spectacularly. There is now no hope at all that the protagonist can succeed in her quest.

What is it?

- Setup. Before the final try-fail cycle—the All Hope is Lost scene—there often is a ‘suiting up’ scene where the protagonist and her allies prepare for battle. This also serves another purpose, it tells your readers what the plan is and all the ways it can go wrong! (This is going to be a sequel.)

- Cause. What causes the final try-fail cycle to fail? It could be anything. Perhaps the protagonist’s plan hinges on one critical element that fails. Perhaps one of the protagonist’s allies is captured or killed, perhaps he turns traitor and gone over to join the antagonist’s band of un-merry men. The point is that the plan contains a critical element and, because element doesn’t come into play[2], the plan fails.

- Unexpected. What causes the final plan to fail should happen in a way that the audience won’t foresee. Though, looking back it must make perfect sense. Further, the plan will fail in a way the protagonist couldn’t have anticipated, but which in retrospect makes perfect sense.

- Stakes. Part of what makes the All Hope is Lost scene the All Hope is Lost scene rather than, say, the protagonist-is-mildly-inconvenienced scene, is that the consequences of failure are worse, much MUCH worse, than we thought they would be. Sure we spelled out the stakes, but the protagonist had underestimated. WAY underestimated.

As bad as things seemed at the end of the last try-fail cycle, now here, the protagonist plumbs the depths of the true bottom. We have now reached the lowest point in the story. It turns out that what the protagonist thought was the true bottom—the worst things could possibly get—was only a way-stop on the way to complete and total ruin.

Where is it?

If you’re using three acts, the All Hope is Lost point comes at the end of the second act. If you’re four acts, the All Hope is Lost point comes at the end of the third act.

How is it connected to the protagonist’s desires?

At this moment the protagonist’s desires seemed destined to be unsatisfied.

The All Hope is Lost Scene: Examples

I think one of the most effective All Hope is Lost scenes is in the movie Edge of Tomorrow. In that movie the protagonist, Cage, has a special power: every time he dies the day is reset. Why? No one is sure, but it happened when an alien bled all over him as the two lay dying on the battlefield. Something happens to Cage’s blood. The thing is, if Cage ever bleeds to death or has a blood transfusion, his death will no longer reset the day. That would be game over for humanity.

 Cage’s external goal is to kill the Omega (the Big Bad). If humanity is to survive, the Omega must die. Toward the end of the second act Cage uses a piece of tech on himself to find the Omega’s location. It works! That’s when the event that triggers the All Hope is Lost moment occurs: Cage gets shot in the leg and wakes up in the hospital having received a blood transfusion. He can no longer reset the day!

Testing the Scene Example

Setup. The setup here was Cage and Vrataski getting the gadget they needed and it was easier than they thought. They are then ambushed and they flee. It is their flight that initiates the All Hope is Lost scene.

Reason for failure. The reason for Cage losing his ability wasn’t exactly unforeseen, but it was a good time to play this particular card.

Stakes. The negative states going into the scene were, “If we fail to get the Omega’s location this time we might be able to get it next time.” It would have been a disappointment, a setback, but not a game-ender. Cage losing his ability is a game ender. It means rather than having tens, hundreds, or even thousands of tries to win a battle, they now have only one. It is a great way to launch into the action of the third act.

How the Midpoint is Implemented in Three Genres: Action, Romance & Mystery

Action Genre

I’ve covered this already with the example, above, from Edge of Tomorrow.

Romance Genre

In a romance, the All Hope is Lost scene is where the lovers break up once and for all. Something has happened, come between them, and they realize (or one of them does) that their relationship is impossible. She has been deluding herself; this can never, will never, work.

So, not only is it a break up, it is a finally-final breakup.

Murder Mystery Genre

In a murder mystery this is usually where it seems the murderer will get away with his crimes. The sleuth has a few ideas but he hasn’t been able to come up with the whole picture. He sees bits of it, parts of it, but not the whole thing. There’s a memory flickering at the edges of his consciousness, or perhaps an idea, but he can’t ... quite ... grasp it.

Perhaps something one of the other characters has said has been bothering him, a phrase that keeps rattling around inside his skull. He knows it’s signifiant but he just can’t think.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. From the blurb: “On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does ...”

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

Word count so far: 9,985
Word count for today: 1400
Total words this month: 11,385


1. What I’m calling the All Hope is Lost scene is also known as the Major Setback.

2. This element could fail to come into play for various reasons. One of the protagonist’s allies doesn’t show up, the widget for the doohickey doesn’t arrive, the parcel isn’t delivered, and so on.

Saturday, November 5

(NaNoWriMo Day 5): 5th Key Scene: The Lock-In

(NaNoWriMo Day 5): 5th Key Scene: The Lock-In

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.Harlan Ellison

Today I’m going to talk about the Lock-In. Before I say more about this scene, though, I’d like to talk about something else.

A Clarification: What I Mean by “Key Scene”

What follows is my take on this, you might not agree with me and that’s fine. That’s great! How boring would it be if we all agreed?

I’ve been saying that the key scenes I’ve been blogging about are scenes that any narrative story will have either onstage or offstage.[3] Let me clarify what I mean by this.

Sometimes people write to me and say, “Karen, you’re wrong! One of my favorite authors, Jane Doe, has written a best selling novel and she’s never even heard of a story climax!”

Folks have been creating stories for millennia but many of the terms, the words, we use to describe elements of these stories are of recent invention. That’s okay. Things don’t come labeled with names. The Grand Canyon could have been called something else!

Just because a writer doesn’t know the term “story climax” doesn’t mean the stories they’ve written are devoid of a climax. If the book is selling well, I guarantee you it’s there!

Every well-formed narrative story has a climax, a moment, where the final conflict, the final confrontation, between the protagonist and the antagonistic force is played out and only one of them leaves victorious (or they could both lose). Maybe this scene isn’t written down on the page, maybe it is one of those stories I hate where the climax is gestured to offstage. But all narrative stories have one.

Similarly, at some point in any narrative story there will be a place where the protagonist is locked into her quest. She’s committed. There’s no going back.

This is true of all the narrative works I’ve read or watched. That said, there are non-narrative, non-representational works I’ve read/viewed that this isn’t true of. But what I’m talking about here are the kind of stories that have been told around campfires for millennia, the kind of stories children beg their parents to tell them before bed: stories told with the intention of entertaining an audience.

Plot Point One: The Lock-In: Breaking It Down

The idea of a plot point was introduced by Syd Field in his eminently readable book, Screenplay. It’s the idea of a significant event, a complication, that spins the action of the story around in a radically different direction.

According to Field there are only two plot points, one at the end of Act One (The Lock-In) and another at the end of Act Two (The All Hope is Lost Point[2]). Other folks like working with a system in which there are four plot points, four scenes that spin the action of the novel in a different direction: the Lock-In, the Midpoint Crisis, the All Hope is Lost point and the Climax. That’s fine too!

What is it?

This complication has the effect of locking the protagonist into her quest.

One of my favorite examples of a lock-in occurs in the Matrix when Morpheus gives Neo a choice: take the red pill and learn the truth he has been searching for all his life, the truth about the Matrix, or take the blue pill and continue life as before. Whichever choice Neo makes, there’s no going back.

In Star Wars IV: A New Hope when Luke finds his aunt and uncle dead, murdered by storm troopers, he understands there’s no going back. His ordinary world is gone.

Key points: 

  • The Lock-In should be be a clear point of no return. That said, sometimes this transition is figurative. Sometimes one character says to another, “If you do this, there’s no going back.” Perhaps that is a bit on the nose, but it does the job.
  • There needs be be a complication, a twist. The action of this scene needs to push the main plot in a different direction.

Where is it?

The Lock-In occurs at the end of Act One. In practice I’ve found that it can come anywhere from 25% to 30% of the way through a story.[4]

How is the Lock-In connected to the protagonist’s desires?

The protagonist's desires—internal and external—set the protagonist's goal. It is that goal that the protagonist is now committed to achieving.

Stepping Through an Example

I’m going to use Star Wars IV: A New Hope as my example.

Is this a point of no return? Yes. Luke’s aunt and uncle are dead. The farm has been destroyed. Luke cannot go back to his old life.

Is there a complication, a twist? Yes, and for the same reason. Because Luke’s aunt and uncle are dead his entire world has changed, his life has just gained a new direction. Luke doesn't even think about the academy anymore, his goal now is to aid the resistance.

How The Lock-In Is Implemented in Three Genres: Action, Romance & Mystery

I’ve found that during the Lock-In, regardless of genre, there is often some banter, a moment of bonding, between the protagonist and one of her companions (most likely a helper/sidekick).

Action Genre

We’ve just taken a look at Star Wars IV: A New Hope, so I won’t go over those points again here. One of my favorite Lock-In scenes is from Edge of Tomorrow where not only is Cage stripped of his rank as officer and made to join the cadets on the front line, but his fellow soldiers are told that he has been caught impersonating an officer!

Romance Genre

The central tension in a romance is whether the antagonist and protagonist (the lovers) will bond with each other. The exact form this bond takes depends on the sub-genre.

The Lock-In often coincides with the Confession of Love. Depending on how that goes the lovers may break up or possibly have their first kiss—or at least a significant kiss. It could be that their first kiss was more or less humdrum. If that’s the case then this kiss will blow their socks off!

See: 6 Scenes Any Love Story Must Have

Murder Mystery Genre

I’ve found—and here I’m drawing on my own personal experience as an avid consumer of mystery stories—that often a major clue is given at the Lock-In, something that transforms the second victim’s life and acts as a Point of No Return for that character.

Also, often, a second body is found at the Lock-In, something that spins the investigation off in a new direction. In this case, the second body is the clue.

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. :-)

I know it looks a bit like a textbook, but don't be put off! This is a wonderful reference: Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham. I've read this book cover to cover and it helped me enormously, especially when it comes to understanding sequels and the logical order of story events. Cheers!

That’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow, but I might take a break from writing about key scenes.

How is NaNoWriMo going for you folks? Please share! :-)

Word count so far: 6,778
Word count for today: 1,500 non-fiction + 790 fiction = 2,290
Total words this month: 9,008


1. I say every narrative story ever written because some stories are not representational.

2. Another name for this is the Major Setback.

3. If a scene occurs “onstage” then the narrator tells us about it. If a scene occurs “offstage” then we hear about it indirectly. Another character might talk about it or perhaps the viewpoint character will have a flashback.

4. Screenwriters will know exactly which page a key scene should fall on, but its position in a novel is less precise. That said, if you want your story to be easy to turn into a movie, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Lock-In at between 25% and 30%.