Showing posts with label starburst method. Show all posts
Showing posts with label starburst method. Show all posts

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.

Monday, April 30

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 8: The Rough Draft & Narrative Drive

In the final installment of the Starburst Writing Method we're going to take the scenes we created in the last two installments and use them to write our rough draft. We want to be true to the characterization and plot we have so lovingly developed over the past few weeks, while being careful to maintain and develop narrative drive.

So, first things first. Let's discuss narrative drive.

Narrative Drive
What is narrative drive? Larry Beinhard in How To Write A Mystery says it best:
Narrative Drive is what sells books: To agents, publishers, readers. We all know near-illiterate, insultingly dumb books that (a) have made the bestseller list to our incredulous envy; and (b) have had us reading them even as we say to ourselves, "My God, why I am reading this brain-damaged idiocy?"

What is narrative drive? The best way to discover narrative drive is to read material that you can't put down, but you don't know why. It should not have literary merit (whatever that is) or have real and fascinating characters or be informative about subjects that interest you.
I think of narrative drive as that indefinable something that grabs you by the throat and pulls you -- at times kicking and screaming -- through a book. For me Stephen King's Misery is a prime example of this. Please don't misunderstand, I think King is a fabulous writer and Misery was probably one of his best works. It's just that I hate the particular kind of psychological terror he portrayed in the book and yet I couldn't stop reading. It was the last horror story I read for a good long while.

Now we know what Narrative Drive is, let's move on to the important bit: How do we infuse our stories with that quasi-magical quality that will keep good folks up far past their bed-times?

I don't think there's any recipe for imparting narrative drive to ones story, but one of my writing instructors had this to say:
Begin and end each scene with a question that the reader will be compelled to answer and they will be hard pressed to put your book down.
 An Example
Here's the opening sentence of J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
For me that sentence raises the questions: Who is it that Mr and Mrs Dursley are comparing themselves to? Who is it that isn't normal and what is it about them that makes them this way?

Here's the last sentence of that same chapter:
He [Harry Potter] couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: 'To Harry Potter -- the boy who lived!' 
 I'm left wondering why people need to meet in secret, what happened to Harry Potter and why he is so important to so many people.

Not a bad way to start a book!

Wrapping Up
By now, if you've been following along, you should have a rough draft of a story and I find that's often the hardest part. The next hardest part is finishing the darn thing!

I think the real trick of being a professional writer is simply finishing what we start. We all feel at a certain point that what we're writing is complete drivel but the professional writer battles through the feeling, revises, rewrites and ends up with something they're proud of where the rest of us (and I'm too often in this camp!) become discouraged and  bury our effort in the bottom drawer of a desk drawer, or under our bed, where it will languish for the next few decades.

This series of articles on the Starburst Method has been a rough draft for a book I'm putting together. The book will include more material -- for instance, I'd like to have said something about pacing.

 The Starburst Method, Part 1: A one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft

Further Reading:
Writers Despair
Writers: Don't Despair

"Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 8: The Rough Draft & Narrative Drive" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Thursday, March 29

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 4

101 Dalmations, Glenn Close

Welcome to part four of my series on The Starburst Method. In this section we're going to put our summary aside and meet our characters. We're going to find out how old they are, what their traumas are, whether they like chocolate (of course!), and how they like to relax when they're not working.

This section builds on our three previous sections, which you can find here:

Let's get started!

4. Over the next day or two write one page of description about each of your main characters and half a page of description about each of your supporting characters.

But wait! There's more:

4.1. Character Stats. Comb through your synopsis, completed in Part 3, and write down all the character names you've used and begin a character sheet, or half-sheet, for each one. It's up to you what to include in this, but I like James Frey's division of character traits into the physiological, sociological and psychological. [2]

Height, weight, age, sex, culture, skin color, physical scars, beauty marks, allergies, overweight/underweight/average, hair color, eye color. What sort of clothes are hanging in your character's closet? What kind of clothes does your character wear at work? At home? When out with friends?

Were your character's parents wealthy? Is your character wealthy or barely making ends meet? What kind of neighborhood did your character grow up in? Did your character go to a public school? A private school? Is your character a liberal or a conservative? Are they apolitical? Is your character religious? Do they regularly attend religious gatherings? Where did your character grow up? Do they still live there? Where do they want to live?

 Is your character intelligent? What is their IQ? Extraverted? Introverted? Has your character ever been in a serious relationship? Are they in one now? If no, do they want to be in one? Does your character have a phobia or intense fear of anything? Is your character ambitious? Does your character feel an overwhelming sense of guilt about anything? What does your character have an aptitude for? Does she have a special ability? What habits does she have? What sort of things irritate her?

Now that we've got a good basis to work from, let's discover your character's role, motivation, goal, conflict and reward. Then we'll write a very short summary of it all; a mini-story.

4.2. Role. Begin your character sheet with a sentence or two that summarizes the character's role in the story. For instance, in my story, Sir Henry is the aristocratic head of the expedition. He's the leader, the mover and shaker who brings everyone together. Although he doesn't have the money to mount the expedition himself, he has the will and the social standing to bring all the character's together. He is the catalyst. [1]

Other roles a character might have in a novel: Protagonist, Antagonist, Mentor, Shadow, Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Trickster, just to name a few. Here's a link to a post I made yesterday that lists dozens of character archetypes.

4.3. Motivation. Write one paragraph about your character's motivation. Characters, like the rest of us, are motivated by one of two things: First, by something they want and, second, by something they would like to avoid. For instance, in The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble (played by Harrison Ford) is motivated to escape from the people guarding him by a train crash -- he needs to flee or he'll die. Another motivation to act is found in love stories. The hero must act in order to win the affection of his beloved.

4.4. Goal. Write one paragraph about the character's goal. Motivation generally looks backward while a goal looks forward. For instance, a character's goal might be to kill the man who bankrupted her father. The bankruptcy of her father, an event in the past, is the character's motivation, while her goal is an event planned for the future.

4.5. Conflict. Write one paragraph that develops the main conflict in the character's life. Conflict generates narrative drive, it moves a story forward. Two things that create conflict are, first, anything keeping a character from their goal and, second, raising the stakes.

Let's say that our heroine wants to kill the man (this is the antagonist of our story) who bankrupted her father. The antagonist has no idea who our heroine is is or what her plans for him are. Or so she thinks. As she closes in on the villain, the man becomes alerted to her intention and makes plans to flee (heroine is separated from her goal). Before the antagonist flees, though, he sets a lethal trap for his pursuer (raising the stakes).

Another example of raising the stakes might be: At first our heroine wants to execute the man who bankrupted her father, but then she decides that she isn't a cold-blooded murderer, but someone involved with organized crime threatens her life if she doesn't stick to her plan.

4.6 Reward. Write one paragraph about what the character's reward will be. The reward is often different from the goal. For instance, if a character's goal is to keep a church from closing her reward should be more than just the church not closing. Since she has been motivated (let's say) by the wonderful memories she had as a child coming to church with her family, her reward might be working with a philanthropist to help save other endangered buildings from the jaws of a nefarious developer. That is, I view the character's reward as broader than the goal.

4.7. Summary. Summarize everything you've discovered about your character in 100 words or less. Essentially, you want to create a short story -- a very short story -- about what happens to them. This is what I think of as a character arc.

I was going to illustrate these points with a character I have been developing though these lessons, but since this article is getting rather long I'll make that a post of its own.

In the next part of this series we will use our character sheets to expand our story. Now that we know our characters better, we will go back to the 5 paragraph plot synopsis we made in Part 3 and expand each paragraph into a page. Not a bad start!

1. A number of years ago I had the good fortune to buy "The Weekend Novelist Writes A Mystery," by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick. Wow! Great book. One of the things that helped me enormously was the four roles the authors advise an author to create first, before they do any serious writing: Killer, Victim Sleuth and Catalyst. See chapter one of "The Weekend Novelist," for more details.
2. How To Write A Damn Good Novel, by James N. Frey.

Saturday, March 17

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 3

Today we are going to continue our discussion of what I've been calling the Starburst Method. Previously, we formulated a one or two sentence description of the story and expanded it into five sentences which roughly follow the 3-act structure of a play. For your convenience, here are links to part 1 and part 2:

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

3.Turn each of your five sentences, or mini-paragraphs, into individual paragraphs.
Keep the following points in mind:
3.1. Each paragraph should contain conflict.
3.2. The first four paragraphs must end with a problem, something that creates conflict.
3.3. Have last paragraph tell how the story ends.

I love it when other people give examples, so I'm demonstrating these steps by writing a short story. I'm a bit self-conscious about putting my writing out there, but this is just an example and it has been rather fun to do. Perhaps a few of you will follow along and write your own stories with me!

Here are the five sentences I came up with in part two:

1) A wealthy English aristocrat dies of a heart-attack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh. The aristocrat's death is quickly followed by the death of two men who were with him when the seal was broken: A wealthy American financier and the financier's nephew.

2) Afraid that her son will be the next casualty, the aristocrat's wife hires a private detective to uncover the true cause of the deaths, whether it is an ancient Egyptian curse or something more mundane. The detective accepts the commission and he and a college travel to Egypt to investigate.

3) As the detective arrives at the camp a renown archeologist, one who was present when the seal on the tomb was broken, dies in the most agonizing of ways. The man, an Egyptologist, was competing with an equally renown colleague from another institution. Could his rival have taken advantage of the situation to off his rival and blame it on the curse?

4) Although everyone discounts the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse being the cause of the deaths, they spurn the detective's efforts to arrive at the truth. Did these men die from natural causes or from an ancient curse, or perhaps someone among on expedition is systematically killing people.

5) In the end, the detective uncovers the cause of the deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier. The archeologist was killed as a red herring.

Now I need to expand these mini paragraphs.

1) Sir Henry Winthrop, a wealthy English aristocrat leading an expedition in The Valley of the Kings, dies of a heart attack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a Egyptian pharaoh. The locals believe the man triggered an ancient curse and now the entire party is under a death sentence. For the most part, the scientists in the expedition do not believe the murmurings of doom – Sir Henry was elderly and in a state of excitement before he died, not the best thing for a man with a bad heart -- and put talk of a curse down to local superstition. After a day or two life around camp begins to return to normal. Then Mr. Kevin Reid, one of the men who broke the seal on the tomb and the money behind the project, takes ill and dies. Once again, the cause of death is, apparently, natural – septicemia. But what lies behind the disease itself? Something natural or, perhaps, supernatural?

2) Afraid her son will be the next casualty, Sir Henry's widow hires a private detective, Hexanon Pennystripe, to uncover the true cause of the deaths, whether it be an ancient Egyptian curse or something considerably more mundane. Her only interest is the well being of her son and only child. The detective accepts the commission and prepares to travel to Egypt with his intrepid colleague, Dean Armandale, to investigate. Before our crime fighting duo travels to meet up with the expedition in The Valley of the Kings, Armandale flies to New York to speak with Mr. Martin Reid, the nephew of the recently deceased Mr. Kevin Reid, and his sole heir. Upon arrival he finds himself too late, for Mr. Martin Reid has taken his own life. Has the ancient curse of the pharaoh claimed yet another life?

3) Haxanon and his sidekick, Mr. Armandale, arrive in the Valley of the Kings just in time to witness the agonizing death of renown archeologist, Dr. Paisley Blue. Dr. Blue had contracted Tetanus some days ago and nothing Doctor Brian White used in treatment was effective. Dr. Blue, a world renown Egyptologist, had been competing with Dr. Marie Bruster for the prestigious chair of antiquities at Yale. Was this really a job to kill for?

4) Most people on the expedition publicly discount the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse causing of the deaths and view Hexanon's willingness to entertain the possibility with distain. In fact, the one thing that seems to unite the expedition is their distrust of Hexanon Pennystripe and his good friend and colleague Dean Armandale. They are the newcomers, the outsiders. Hexanon wonders whether it is simply that those on the dig do not appreciate strangers in their midst asking impertinent questions, or whether it is something more sinister. Are these deaths all from natural causes, as they appear, from an ancient curse, or is there an all too human hand behind everything?

5) At the end of the story Hexanon uncovers the cause of the men's deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier. Sir Henry died of natural causes, Mr. Kevin Reid was killed and his money passed to his nephew, Mr. Martin Reid. Martin committed suicide and the money was set to pass to the murderer. The archeologist was killed as a red herring. The murderer was medical doctor, Dr. Brain White. He was the common thread between the men. He was the one who infected Dr. Paisley Blue with Tetanus.

Notes: There are several things I need to do:
- I need to develop the background of Doctor White and make it clear that he was at school with Mr. Martin Reid, nephew of the wealthy Mr. Kevin Reid. I also need to hint at the incident that led Martin to leave all his worldly possessions to the good doctor.
- I need to put more emphasis on the role of the detective.
- Most important of all: Thing of a better name for the detective!

In Part 4 we will flesh out the characters we've created.

Thanks for reading!

Photo credit

Wednesday, March 14

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1


We've all developed our own writing methods. If there's a million writers in the world then there's AT LEAST a million methods. No one method is better than another, just different. This method might suit you and it might not. My hope is that you'll find something in it you find useful.

A few months ago I sat down at my writing desk after a particularly grueling shift at my day job and tried to write but the words wouldn't come. I asked myself, "How do I write a story?" How do I approach the initial idea and transform that into a story? That's when I began putting this method together. If you like it, try it out!


There are about 10 steps to this method so, to keep the size of my posts manageable, I'll roll it out over the next several days. Today, we'll take a look at the first step.

1. Formulate a one sentence description of your story

This comes from two screenwriters, Blake Snyder author of Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, an iconic book on screenwriting, and Michael Hauge, author of The Hero's 2 Journeys. One thing these men have in common is the advice that, before you do anything else, formulate a log-line or a one-line; a sentence that summarizes your story.

Why do this? Why start from a one-sentence summary of your story? For one thing, it will help prevent you from straying from your initial idea and drifting off point. That said, if you intentionally decide to change your story's focus because you discover the idea isn't working for you, that's fine.

Also, and this is from Save The Cat, you need to make sure that your idea for a story creates a "compelling mental picture". In order to do this it needs to have all the elements of the story in it, only compressed.

Now, I'm not sure that Blake Snyder meant exactly this, but one of Nathan Bransford's posts was enormously helpful to me in understanding this technique, specifically his excellent post Query Letter Mad Lib. Here is Mr. Bransford's formula for how to compose your one sentence description:
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].
For instance:
Hexanon Pennystripe, a man who describes himself as the greatest detective on earth, has just accepted a case no one believes he can solve -- including himself. But when an ancient curse takes another man's life, Hexanon knows he must put his vanity aside and capture the killer in order to restore order to the world.
The death of a wealthy English archeologist sparks talk of a curse when three other people involved with the expedition die from seemingly unrelated causes.
Now, I'm sure you can do much better than either of those examples, but you get the idea.

Next time we'll talk about the next step: expanding your sentence into five sentences that, taken together, mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

Thanks for reading!

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive