Showing posts with label star wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label star wars. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 2

How To Turn Story Ideas Into A Novel

How To Turn Story Ideas Into A Novel


Today I discuss Jack Bickham's advice about how to transform your story ideas into a novel. All quotations are from Mr. Bickham's excellent book, Scene & Structure.

The Game Plan: How to develop your story ideas into a novel


Let's dive right in.

1. "Consider your story materials as presently imagined. Look for and identify, in terms of days, weeks or months, that briefer period of time when 'the big stuff happens.' Plan to eliminate virtually everything else."


I've had these kinds of big-picture ideas. Not only do you know what's going to happen to your protagonist--what she wants, what opposes her, her motivation, and so on--but you know the history of the entire story world! The hard part: Where do you start? Where do you begin telling the story?

Jack Bickham says: Start when 'the big stuff' starts happening to your character.

For example: 

In Star Wars IV the big stuff started happening when Darth Vader boarded Princess Leia's shuttle while she was on a diplomatic mission.

In American Beauty the big stuff starts to happen when Lester Burnham sees his daughter's friend, Angela Hayes, shake her pom-poms (literally!).

In Breaking Bad the big stuff starts to happen when Walter White discovers he's dying from cancer.

2. "Think hard about your most major character and what makes him tick – what his self-concept is, and what kind of life he has built to protect and enhance it."


In Star Wars IV Luke Skywalker wanted to travel, to see the galaxy, and to become a pilot; he loved flying. In Luke's case what was notable was the contrast between the life he lived (a life of duty) and the life he dreamt of living.

In American Beauty Lester used to see his life through the eyes of his wife, his friends, his boss, his neighbors, his colleagues. He bought the kind of house they would envy, he has the kind of job that lets him fit in well at dinner parties and barbecues. 

Then something happens, a crazy event that shatters everything. It's as if a mischievous cherub shot him through the heart and he does something massively inappropriate, he falls madly in love with his daughter's friend, Angela. 

As a result of this intoxicating experience, Lester's life re-orients. No longer does he see himself through the eyes of his wife or his neighbours, or his friends. No. He sees himself and everyone else through the eyes of his beloved: a sixteen year old child. As a result he sets about destroying his old life and erecting a new one in its place, one that he hopes will meet with Angela's approval.

At the beginning of Breaking Bad Walter White is the guy with the enormous brain and the small life. Other people make his decisions for him. He's safe. Predictable. Then Walter White discovers he's dying and he, in his words, "wakes up." Rather than passively accepting money for his treatments he gets the money himself. His way. 

3. "Identify or create a dramatic situation or event which will present your character (and your reader) with the significant, threatening moment of change."


Everyone is going to have their own opinions about this, but in Star Wars IV I think this moment of change came when Luke stood in front of the smouldering ruins of his uncle's home and saw the charred skeletons of his aunt and uncle. That was the moment of change, the moment that Luke went from child to adult and took up his own quest.

In American Beauty the moment of change was bizarre: Lester fell head-over-heels in love with his daughter's teenage friend. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary moment in a perfectly ordinary day. And then, wham! Lester's life changes forever. There's no smoking skeletons, but his old life, his old world view, is just as thoroughly transformed.

In Breaking Bad their was more than one moment of change, but, arguably, the big moment happened in the oncologist's office as Walter White was told he had a short time to live.

#  #  #

I'm going to end here but Jack Bickham continues to list another five points, but I encourage you to pick up a copy of his book, Scene & Structure, or get it out of the library. 

All the best to you as you work diligently on your WIP!

Photo credit: "The Jet Pack Pack" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, April 19

Parts of Story: A General Story Structure



Now that I've talked a bit about genre and how important it is to know what genre, and subgenre, your book falls into, I'd like to step back and look at what all genre stories have in common. What follows is a description of what I think is the most common structure for genre tales. 

A Three Act Structure


The lion's share of stories can be broken into three acts.

Act One—The Ordinary World—First Quarter


Act One is where you introduce your characters and the world they live in. As the story unfurls, readers find out more about the characters as they interact with each other as well as with the world around them, both physical and social. We see their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and fears, their quirks and idiosyncrasies. The most important character in all this is the hero because the story is going to revolve around his quest. That's what a story is, after all: a description of a character's pursuit of a goal.[1]

The Inciting Incident And The Call To Adventure


I'll talk more about this in the next section, but The Ordinary World of the hero is relatively static, at least in the beginning. Often, there is something deeply wrong with the hero's normal existence. The hero exists in a state of imperfection. He has reached a false local optimum. He isn't happy, and he knows he's not happy, but fear prevents him from changing; the fear that if he tries to change things will get worse. 

During the Inciting Incident something happens that changes the hero's world, a change that will, eventually, shatter his status quo. The Inciting Incident creates an imbalance, an inequality, that must be addressed. This is the problem the hero seeks to solve, the wrong he seeks to right, when he answers the Call to Adventure.

For instance, in the movie Shrek the namesake character is an ogre who wants to be left alone in his swamp. Of course, what he really wants is for people not to make up their minds about him before they meet him. He wants to forge some sort of connection with others, but he's (understandably) afraid of being rejected because it happens so often.

When Lord Farquaad exiles legions of fairytale creatures to Shrek's swamp (this is the Inciting Incident), Shrek's solitude is stripped away. This sends Shrek and Donkey off on a mission to confront Lord Farquaad and convince him to send the fairy tale creatures somewhere--anywhere--else. But Lord Farquaad has another idea. 

Lord Farquaad proposes (this is Shrek's Call to Adventure) that if Shrek conquers the fire-breathing dragon and frees Princess Fiona from her imprisonment in the castle, that he will grant Shrek's wish and clear his swamp of fairytale creatures. Shrek accepts and, in the process, falls in love with the princess. Now Shrek has another goal, to tell the princess he loves her. What prevents him from doing so is his fear of rejection. This fear is what Shrek has to overcome if he is to achieve his goal and win Fiona's hand in marriage.

The Lock In


At the end of the first act it often happens that the hero is locked into his quest. He has a moment of realization and understands that if he takes up the quest he must leave his ordinary world behind. It is important that the hero understand the stakes involved and, despite the dismal odds of success, choose to take up the quest knowing that, if he does, there is no going back.

I've just talked about the movie Shrek. When Lord Farquaad gives Shrek his Call to Adventure, Shrek has a choice: accept or not. But archers perch atop the walls ready to shoot him dead if he refuses. After that, Shrek is locked in to the quest. 

In Star Wars when Luke finds his aunt and uncle dead, massacred by storm troopers, he understands there is no going back. His ordinary world is gone. 

I think the most obvious case of the lock in is The Matrix. At the end of Act One Morpheus gives Neo a choice: take the red pill or the blue bill. The red pill will change Neo's entire world and will show him the truth he has always searched for. The blue pill will restore the status quo of the Ordinary World. His choice is irreversible.

Act Two—The Special World—The Middle Half


At the end of Act One the hero answers the Call to Adventure and crosses the threshold into the Special World. Here everything is different, strange, reversed. The hero's strength (usually characters have at least one strength) isn't going to serve him as well here, perhaps it even puts him at a disadvantage. 

In the first part of Act Two the hero goes through a series of Tests And Trials, most of which he fails, and he makes new acquaintances, both Allies And Enemies. It is also here at around the beginning of Act Two that the B-story starts. Some of those the hero meets will become his staunch allies and will join his quest while others will become his enemies. This time of testing is also a time of Fun And Games. In a movie this is where you often have a feel-good montage.  

The first half of Act Two often contains a moment of bonding. If there is a romance, the hero and his love interest may deepen their relationship. After all, the hero is about to confront the antagonist and, perhaps, pay with his life. If there is no romance, the story will likely still contain a moment of bonding, a pause, a girding of the loins, as well as a review of the stakes. What will happen if the hero loses? If he wins? Who will it effect? What will be the cost? What will be the reward? 

The Midpoint


Finally, the moment of confrontation has arrived. The Ordeal has begun. Since we know the stakes of the battle, we watch anxiously as the hero risks everything to defeat his foe. The confrontation between the hero and his nemesis can be a physical one but it needn't be. Sometimes they are each going after the same item, the same treasure. In the movie Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy loses the ark to Dr. René Belloq, his nemesis. In Star Wars Luke discovers the Death Star.

Regardless of whether a physical confrontation occurs, the midpoint represents a sea change in the story. Where before the hero was passive, now he is active. This doesn't occur all at once, but it marks the change. Often this change occurs because the hero receives information. This information could be about the antagonist. It could also be about the nature of the Special World and the Antagonist's--as well as the hero's--place in it. 

After the confrontation at the midpoint the stakes of the battle get cashed out. If the hero is successful, he will get a reward. If the hero isn't successful then usually this is just the beginning of the grief that rains down upon him and those he cares about. Often, if the hero fails at the midpoint he will also fail at the climax of the story. Similarly, if the hero wins at the midpoint he will often win at the climax.

Regardless of whether the hero wins at the midpoint, the stakes go up. Way up. The hero hasn't resolved the conflict, he has increased it. I can't stress this enough. Where before it was only the hero's life at stake now it is also the lives of the hero's allies. Perhaps, by the time we reach the climax, even the lives of his loved ones back home (as well as, perhaps, the world or even the entire galaxy) will lie in the balance. 

Another important change that occurs around the midpoint is that now it's not just the villain who is pushing the events, driving them, it is also the hero. You even see this in stories that have a non-traditional structure, stories such as The Usual Suspects.

Toward the end of Act Two matters have radically changed, and for the worse. There is often a Major Setback, quickly followed by an All Hope Is Lost moment. As the name implies, something occurs that transforms the hero's world, or his view of it, and brings him to his lowest point.

For instance, in the movie Shrek the Major Setback comes when he overhears Princess Fiona talking with Donkey. Shrek misunderstands who Fiona was talking about and jumps to the mistaken conclusion that Fiona thinks he is ugly and unlovable. Since he was working up the courage to tell Fiona he loved her, this revelation comes as quite a blow.

The All Hope Is Lost moment comes shortly after when Shrek is cruel to Donkey. Of course we, the audience, know Shrek is acting as he is because he mistakenly believes Donkey was talking against him. Shrek tells Donkey to go away, that he isn't welcome in his swamp again, ever! This is Shrek's lowest point. As a result of his own actions, Shrek has become estranged from the two people who care about him most.

Act Three—The Return Home—Last Quarter


After the All Is Lost moment the B-story is usually resolved. As a result, an important change occurs in the hero and he is able to resolve his inner conflict. As a result, the hero is able to figure out how to turn matters around and make one last desperate try to achieve his goal. 

 I don't mean a superhuman ability--though, depending on the kind of story this is, it could be. But whatever it is, the ground must have been laid for it, otherwise it would be a cheat. Perhaps the hero is now, finally, able to think clearly. Perhaps the hero understands how other people feel (he lacked empathy), or perhaps he had to release a certain way of thinking that was holding him back.

Whatever the case, something fundamental within the hero changes and, as a result, he is able to defeat the villain and achieve his goal. (I should mention, though, that not all heroes have an internal conflict. If this is the case, 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.)

One way of describing this point in a story, this beat, is that the scales drop from the hero's eyes. He thought he knew how things were, but he didn't. To use Shrek as an example again, the ogre thought he knew how the Princess and Donkey felt about him, but he didn't. He was dead wrong. 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, he decides to risk rejection and ridicule 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 this realization transforms him. It allows him to do something he wouldn't have otherwise been able to do. Neo triumphs over The Matrix and becomes 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.

Aftermath


In the Aftermath, or Wrap Up, the audience sees the effects of the hero's efforts. How did the hero's Ordinary World change as a result of his adventure? What was his reward? Or, if he failed, what was the cost of his failure? Tie up loose ends.

Caveat


I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that there's only one story structure. As Chuck Wendig says, every story has a structure and there are as many story structures as there are stories. No one can look at the structure of a story and say, "That's wrong!" just because it's different.

The structure I've talked about, above, is one I've been thinking about and working on for a while now. I think that it describes over 90% of the stories I've read, listened to, or watched; or at least parts of it do. That's because it looks at a story abstractly. It is a web of generalizations and so is almost guaranteed to get something right! 

I like using story structures. Often, if I feel that something is wrong with a story but I just can't put my finger on it, I go back to basics and study various story structures in an attempt to puzzle out what the problem is. I think that's the bottom line. If something helps you, use it, if it doesn't, ignore it. Let your own sense of what is right for you be the bottom line.

Links/References


1. Often stories have more than one main character. In these cases there is, still, often, one character whose arc is predominant. Where this isn't the case then I look at the story as really a combination of many stories that are held together by a common thread such as a person or theme.

Also, while I usually use the term "protagonist" to describe the main character of a story here the word "hero" seems more appropriate.

Monday, January 7

The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 2

The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 2

This is a continuation of my series on the Starburst Method:

- The Starburst Method: What It Is And What It Can Do
- The Starburst Method: Discovering Your Characters
- The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 1

You don't have to read the previous articles to understand this one, though I would encourage you to read The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 1 since this is a continuation of that material.


3. Entering The Special World


The Special World is different. We're not in Kansas anymore.

Whatever rules for acting, for getting ahead, your hero knew in the Ordinary World no longer apply. This is a different reality.

A popular way of demonstrating this strangeness is to test your hero with a series of trials, at least one of which he should fail miserably.

Bar scenes are great for demonstrating how alien the Special World is. Of course the setting doesn't have to be a bar, it can be any kind of watering hole, any place where a lot of different kind of folk meet and where it's easy for the crowd to get ... er ... lively. (Think of the bar scene in Star Wars IV.) This is where your hero can get a crash course on the new rules, the new conventions, as well as meet new friends, make enemies and generally get things moving.

Threshold Guardian


I think the concept of a threshold guardian is one of the most useful concepts in my writer's workbox. I suspect different folks think of the Threshold Guardian in different ways, and would give him different attributes, so what I say here pertains specifically to how I think of him.

So, preliminaries aside, what is a Threshold Guardian? Here's how I think of it: 
A Threshold Guardian is a force--usually a person--that tries to keep the status quo.

How A Threshold Guardian Operates In A Story


Let's back up a bit. When your hero is still lounging in the Ordinary World he'll receive what a lot of writers refer to as a Call To Adventure. This will be an invitation, a reason, for the hero to leave his current existence, his life as he knows it, and enter the strange wonderland of the Special World.

For instance--and I know I talk a lot about Star Wars IV, but, what can I say? I thought it was a great movie!--Obi-Wan Kenobi gives Luke a clear call to adventure when he invites him to learn the ways of The Force and travel to Alderaan.

Refusal of the Call is common too. Luke says, Thanks but no thanks. I can't go. I have responsibilities. I have to help out my uncle and aunt on their farm. And that's a perfectly good reason.

In a sense (this is what I'm going to argue, you might not agree with me) Luke's uncle fills the role of a Threshold Guardian. Why? Because Luke's uncle does everything he can to prevent Luke leaving the farm. Even Luke's aunt says to the uncle something to the effect: Why don't you just let Luke go? The uncle has the best of reasons, I'm sure, but he is like a jealous dragon guarding his treasure and Luke is on top of the pile.

But many different kinds of archetypes can be involved in a Call To Adventure. For instance, The Mentor. After the hero refuses the call often it's the mentor who gets him back on track. For instance, the Frog brothers in The Lost Boys were unlikely mentors to Sam Emerson. Also, though I won't go into it here, The Shadow and The Trickster can also, in their own distinctive ways, be effective Threshold Guardians.

What's the point?


The Threshold Guardian--regardless of which guise he appears in within your story (The Shadow, The Mentor, The Trickster, and so on)--is going to be a pivotal figure in moving your hero from the Ordinary World into the Special World.

Sure, Luke's uncle never got much screen time, but when it comes to why Luke accepted the Call To Adventure his uncle is the single biggest reason. It was his death, and that of his aunt, that both removed Luke's reason for refusing the call--the farm didn't exist anymore--and gave him a positive reason--avenge his relative's deaths by helping to destroy the Empire and, of course, Darth Vader--for taking up the adventure.

How this would this look: An example


Here's an example using--yes, you guessed it!--Star Wars IV:
1. Ordinary World

Whenever there was something that needed fixing around his uncle's farm Luke Skywalker was somewhere else racing his speeder dreaming of adventure.

2. Setting & Friends

Then he met two droids--one snarky and self-absorbed but loyal and the other quirky and full of heart but with a knack for finding adventure--who changed his life ...

3. Special World

... by leading him to mysterious old Ben Kenobi who the droids referred to as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke he used to teach his father before his father was killed by a minion of the Emperor: Darth Vader. Obi Wan offers to train Luke in the way of The Force and take him on a quest to save the Rebel Alliance and help defeat Darth Vader and, ultimately, the evil Empire.

Luke would love to accept but he declines because his uncle and aunt need his help to run the farm.

When the Emperor's minions kill Luke's uncle and aunt and obliterate their farm Luke swears vengeance and, taking up his father's lightsaber, asks Obi-Wan Kenobi to be his teacher.

4. It All Falls Apart

When our intrepid band of unlikely adventurers spots an enormous planet destroyer known as the Death Star they come to the attention of the being, now more machine than man, who killed Luke's father: Darth Vader. With their ship impounded, Obi Wan dead and an ungrateful princess on their hands, how will they ever save themselves let alone the rebel alliance?

5. The Challenge

Luke and his not-so-merry band of adventurers have to overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles if they are going to rescue the princess. Can they learn to work together in time to save the rebel alliance, defeat the Empire and save the universe?
Or something like that! I wrote this example in 15 minutes so I'm sure you can do better. Hopefully you can see what I've been talking about as well as where we're headed.

I had wanted to get through parts four and five today but it looks like that's not happening! Tomorrow, even if the post is a bit long, I'll get through this Hero's Journey section. Promise!

Update: Here is a link to the next article in this series: The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 3. (And I do keep my promise!)

Other articles you might like:

- The Starburst Method: Discovering Your Characters
- How To Format A Word Document For Uploading To Amazon
- The Magic Of Stephen King: An Analysis Of The Opening Paragraphs Of The Dead Zone

Photo credit: "See No Vader, Hear No Vader, Speak No Vader" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, January 3

The Starburst Method: Discovering Your Characters

The Starburst Method: Discovering Your Characters

First of all, I'd like to thank all the folks who contacted me with feedback about my last Starburst Method post: The Starburst Method: What It Is And What It Can Do. Your comments were overwhelmingly positive and reminded me again why I love to write. Thanks! :-)

Let's dive back in.

Yesterday I talked about what our objectives are. We're starting with an idea, perhaps a vague one, and shaping it until we have a clear notion of our stories' main themes. At that point we'll start developing the story itself. First we'll develop a five paragraph summary after which we will hone our ideas even further and craft a sentence that summarizes our entire story.

Why are we interested in creating a summary of our story?

I talked about this in the last section, but, basically, it will help us wow both editors and family members when we're asked what our story is about. Also, It will keep us on track while we write it. Last, but certainly not least, it will allow us to spot any weaknesses in the skeleton of our story before we write it.


What we need to begin: Some idea of what our story is about


This could be as vague as: I want to write about a group of clueless young people going to vacation in a lonely cabin in the woods. We just need something, some seed, to start from. Hopefully this will act like (to switch metaphors) a grain of sand in an oyster and we'll form something wonderful around it.

This blog post is more of an exercise, so you'll need pen and paper or the electronic equivalent. Okay? Ready? Let's go!

I'd like you to write down your answers to the following questions:


1. The Protagonist


- Is your character, as my grandmother would have said, gainfully employed?

If so, what do they do? Do they like what they do? If not, what would they rather do?

- If your character doesn't have a job, how do they get by?

Perhaps they do something less than reputable.

- What is your character's name?

If you don't know yet, that's fine.

- Your character has a special ability. What is it?

This could be something paranormal like being able to read another person's mind or it could be something wonderfully mundane like being unbeatable at chess or having an eidetic memory. Or being a fantastic cook.

- Your character has a weakness. What is it?

Perhaps they are egotistical in the extreme, perhaps they have no social graces, perhaps their age puts them at a disadvantage, perhaps--as in Mr. Monk's case--their strength is (attention to detail) is also their weakness.

- What, above all else, does your character want? In other words, what is your character's dream?

For instance, Mr. Monk wanted to be a detective again. More than anything else, that's what he wanted. For each episode, each story, in that series Mr. Monk had a goal and that goal reflected this this want, this overall desire, in some way. We're not talking about concrete goals here, we're talking about lifelong, life-directing, desires. For instance, wanting to be a well-paid, full-time, writer.

The BIG question:

- What is your character's goal? 

This should be something concrete. Think of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark. What was his goal? To acquire the ark. In Star Wars IV: A New Hope Luke's goal was to destroy the Death Star. Yes, ultimately, Luke wanted to defeat the empire but his goal in that story was to destroy the Death Star.

You may not know the answers to all these questions right now and that's fine. We're 'priming the pump' here. The really important question for our purposes is the big question: What is this character's goal?


2. The Antagonist


I like to think of the antagonist as the hero of his own story. In their own eyes they're doing the right thing, even the good thing. Sure, not all antagonists are like this. There are megalomaniacs who are bent on ending the world, but those guys (and gals!) are usually kinda crazy and while that's fun to read it's a different kind of antagonist. I find that they become less of a person and more like a force of nature.

I probably should have said something about this yesterday, but in this series of articles I'm talking about writing a very simple story, so we're looking at the conflict that exists between two people (external goal) or between a person and themselves (internal goal).

So, with that in mind, answer the same questions as you did for the protagonist, but now with the antagonist in mind.

Go on, I'll wait.


3. Make Sure The Antagonist's Goal And The Protagonist's Goal Are Mutually Exclusive


It has to be impossible for both your protagonist and antagonist to achieve their goals. They can both fail, but they can't both succeed. For instance, if Indie gets the ark then the Nazi's don't have it and vice versa. The Death Star cannot both be destroyed and, at the same time, obliterating planets in the service of the Empire.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones's attempts to acquire the ark were repeatedly blocked by his rival Dr. Rene Belloq. Belloq's goal was to get the ark. Indiana's goal was to get the ark. Only one of them could have it.

I'm not going to say that the goal has to be tangible, but if you haven't written many stories you might want to be kind to yourself and go with something tangible, something like an ark or a maltese falcon or a ring.


4. What Are The Stakes?


We're almost done for today, just one more thing: What are the stakes? What happens if your protagonist doesn't achieve her goal? Another way of saying this is to ask: What happens if the antagonist achieves his goal?

Dreams vs Goals


Before we go any further I'd like to say a word or three about DREAMS and DREAMS VERSUS GOALS. In Star Wars IV Luke's dream was to defeat the Empire, which meant defeating the Emperor. How, in practical concrete terms, could this happen? Answer: By accomplishing the goal and destroying the Death Star.

In Raiders Indie had two dreams: defeat the Nazi's and have the opportunity to study the ark. How could he make each of these dreams come true? By accomplishing the goal and acquiring the ark.

In Raiders the Nazi's would have won the war. In Star Wars IV the Death Star would have gone on destroying planets and the rebellion would have been crushed.

So, what is at stake? It is the dream.

Here's how I think of it: The goal is like the dream's avatar. Indie's dream and Belloq's never go head to head, they can't. They can only compete at the level of goals.

Make The States Clear and Personal


We need to know (a) what the states are--what happens if the protagonist fails and the antagonist doesn't--and (b) what this means for the world in general and, specifically, for the protagonist.

For instance in Raiders if the Nazis had gotten hold of the ark it wouldn't have been good for the world, but it would have been even worse for Indie because he'd have been dead. (Of course in Raider's, strictly speaking, Indie failed and the ark itself stepped in to save the day.)

In Star Wars IV if the Death Star isn't destroyed then the rebel alliance will be crushed and the empire will have won but it would be even worse for Luke because he, and everyone he cared about, would be dead.

In Jim Butcher's book Changes if Harry Dresden doesn't save his daughter from the Red Court then he, and everyone he is related to, will die.


Summing Up: Examples


At this point you should have something like this:

Star Wars IV:  Protagonist


Name: Luke Skywalker

Occupation: Former farm hand, Jedi in training, helps out the rebel alliance.

Special Ability: Strong in the force.

Special Weakness: He is impatient. Young. Rash. Prone to anger. He may not be teachable, he may fall to the dark side of the force.

Wants/Dream: To find out who is father was and exact revenge on the person who killed him, as well as on the empire in general.

Character's Goal: To destroy the Death Star and, in so doing, defeat Darth Vader and the Empire.

Star Wars IV: Antagonist


Name: Darth Vader

Occupation: Former Jedi, Emperor's apprentice.

Special Ability: Strong in the force.

Special weakness: Anger and pride made him vulnerable to the dark side of the force.

Wants/Dream: To make the empire strong--unassailable--and snuff out the rebel alliance.

Character's Goal: To safeguard the Death Star and use it to solidify the Emperor's hold over the known universe.


To Be Continued


In the next section of this series we will take the basic skeleton we've come up with and flesh it out. Specifically, we'll learn more about the ordinary and special worlds our intrepid protagonist must venture through as well as pit our protagonist, the hero of our story, against his arch-nemesis.

Update: Here is a link to the next article in this series: The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 1.

Happy writing!

Other articles you might like:

- The Starburst Method: What It Is And What It Can Do
- The Magic Of Stephen King: An Analysis Of The Opening Paragraphs Of The Dead Zone
- Scene Goals: What Do Your Characters Want, Why Do They Want It, How Do They Get it?

Photo credit: "A Little Rancor" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, November 7

Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive

Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive

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

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

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

The Purpose Of Writing/Storytelling


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

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

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

Pinch Points


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

The Structure Of Your Story: How To Use Pinch Points


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

Clear as mud? Here's a drawing:




First Pinch Point:


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

Second Pinch Point: 


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

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

Examples of Pinch Points


First Pinch Point 

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

Second Pinch Point

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

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

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

Go NaNo-ers! :-)

Other articles you might like:

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

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

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