First Story Part 2 – How To Write It

mood01So how do you get a 9-year-old to write a story? Sure, it’s hard to get his butt in the chair and actually write, but once there, what does he do? What have they taught him in grade 4?

Much to my shock, it’s actually quite a bit. And yet, it’s also quite simple.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds and hundreds of books about how to craft a story. Seems everyone has an idea. Stephen King. James Scott Bell. Dilbert.

But looking at the 5 page hand out the teachers gave The-Youngest, it made me realize that sometimes it’s actually not that complex.

Forget the 400 page books on character. Forget the tomes on plot. Forget everything about what you’ve read. Here’s how to write.

Like you were 9 and you had nothing in your head on how to actually do it.

#1. Ask what if. It’s that easy. It’s the basics of story-telling. What if you were transported to the minecraft world? What if you were an NHL goalie and you were in a shootout for the Stanley Cup? What if you were a new Stepdad and spent most the time being constantly confused and bewildered?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

All stories can start from there. All of them. What if Dinosaurs came back to life? Jurassic Park. What if a giant shark decided to attack a beach community? Jaws. What if there was a school for wizards and by writing about it, you could make billions of dollars? Harry Potter. What if women liked porn and bad writing? Fifty Shades of Grey.

See? If in doubt, start with what if.

#2 But where can you get the what if ideas? Try, Building Ideas With Memories. I call it mining your own life, but it’s the same thing. The-Youngest looked at what he did on vacation, what made him scared, what hobbies he had, what events in his life were important.

#3 Begin with Something Happening. In the case of The-Youngest, he had to follow “The night I followed the (blank), this happened”. So, “The night I followed the cat and the cat had to fight a dog.” Isn’t this the essence of how to get a story going? A character, in movement (following), another character, (a cat or turtle or bunny) when something happens.

So, what could happen in Minecraft? Or in an NHL game? Or to some poor stepdad who has no idea how to scorekeep?

After much thinking and talking with The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom, he settled on a minecraft story.

#4 Figure out who your good character is. Figure out your bad guy. What traits do they have? What defines them? Make notes.

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

All stories, yes, all stories, succeed or fail on their characters. Howard the Duck sucked so bad because, well, Howard the Duck sucked so bad. The Dark Knight succeeded because it had a tortured Batman and one of the greatest villains of all time, Heather Ledger’s Joker.

So, The-Youngest made himself a list of traits. (Interestingly enough, one trait was that the bad guy was good looking, while his good guy was ‘not good looking.’ Hmmmm. Interesting.

#5 When you write, use feeling words. It’s how we connect to the characters. We need to feel what they feel if we are to feel for them. Wait, does that make sense? It sounded good in my head, but whatever, think about how your character reacts to what happens. Not just physically, but emotionally. How does it affect them?

Annoyed. Scared. Disgusted.

He made a list.

#6 Use your senses. Smell. Taste. Sound. Sight. Touch.

This is to draw us into the world. A world with 5 senses becomes real. It becomes relatable. Now, I’m not sure he actually remembered this in his final draft, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing. Eating zombie flesh tastes yucky, right? Smells bad too, right? But how does it taste? How would it feel in your hands? What details are so totally gross that you can barely stand to look at it?

He may have forgotten about this one a bit. As do I.

#7 How does your story begin? How does it end?

I always know this, but I struggle with the middle. Still, as a learning tool, it’s vital. If you know where it starts, you can, uhm, you know, start, and if you know where the story is going, where it will end, you can throw things at the characters that prevent them from getting there. Until they do. The end.

#8 Then you write.

Seriously.

So he began with an idea.

What if someone hacked into his minecraft account and destroyed his valuable supply of diamonds, blocks of gold and stacks of ender pearls?

He worked on his characters, the good guys, Florence and Flo. He worked on his bad guys who had made a fatal mistake of leaving a small electronic trail F&F could follow and exact revenge.

He knew where he wanted to start, he used a few ‘feeling’ words, and he wrote a pretty damn good story.

It is here if you want to read it.

Nothing like a good minecraft story

Nothing like a good minecraft story

FLOYD AND FLORENCE’S MINECRAFT ADVENTURE

This is a story about how 2 cousins named Floyd and Florence helped the police capture Henry and Jerry. They are wanted all over canada for major robberies. Floyd is 15 and Florence is 12. Floyd is an expert minecrafter and Florence is a noob at the game. Florence is staying for the summer break at Floyds house.

 Floyd helped Florence make a tree house. Florence learned how to place a block, how to hit, how to move, how to mine and how to craft. Together they created a giant castle with a moat.They have 3 double chests full of diamond blocks. These are super hard to get.

One night when Floyd is out with Florence at mc donalds, SOMEONE BROKE IN TO Floyds back door and went straight after the computer. They put it in their bag and they left. Henry and Jerry (the bad guys) hacked into Floyds computer and got on their server. They destroyed Floyd and Florence’s castle but they accidently left a sign there saying where their campsite is on the server. Floyd and Florence were very upset at first but then remembered that they had a backup laptop hidden in the basement.

While Florence is asleep Floyd goes on to the backup computer and gets the server. He follows the sign Henry and Jerry put there and he finds their camp site and gets their stuff back. Floyd sets up a trap at the camp site so when they go in their big main shack it will blow up. The trap is also a virus. It tells the police where they live.

When the police get to Henry and Jerry’s they arrest them. They find $3,000,000 worth of stolen things. Floyd and Florence get rewarded $1,000,000 and really good laptops. Floyd and Florence bought a lot of NERF GUNS and video games. Their parents let them play Minecraft any time they wanted.

the end

I was so proud of him. The ending even made me laugh.

It’s amazing what your children can teach you. In this case, it was to remember, at the end of the day, a story is pretty simple (and writing one can even be fun!)

Chaos theory for writers

butterfly

Silk’s Post #109 — One of the light-bulb moments for me at this year’s Surrey International Writers’ Conference came during the terrific panel discussion, “Edge of Your Seat Tension” with bestselling mystery/suspense authors Chevy Stevens, Hallie Ephron and Robert Wiersema.

The inciting question was a perennial one: do you outline your stories before you write them? (The debate between OPs and NOPs – or planners vs. pantsers, if you will – never ends, does it? It’s the Mobius loop of writing.)

Three heads nodded in unison, well, figuratively anyway. Yes! They all outline!

Damn. The buoyancy leaked out of me like a deflated balloon. I hated to hear this endorsement of the dreaded outline, especially from these admired writers.

Why? I am outline averse. I’ve tried traditional outlining a few times and never could stick it out to “the end”. I’ve flirted with all sorts of other plot planning schemes – from the formulaic to the esoteric – and I just haven’t found a method yet for anticipating my way through the entire sequence of a novel-length story from start to finish.

I lack that crystal ball in my head. Damn. How do these people do it?

Then one of them (Robert, I think) gave the game away. He always writes an outline, he said, and then always departs from it fairly quickly. I had a vision of a happy train jumping the track and chugging off across the hills and dales toward some unmapped and unscheduled magical station. A railroad relative of the Hogwart’s train, perhaps. Hallie chimed in with her own admission of outline abandonment. Chevy noted that her publisher likes her to stick to an outline. She sounded a little sad about that, I thought, like a kid who has to stay inside and finish her homework before she’s allowed outdoors to play.

This was all very liberating. Pantsers unite!

But wait. These writers do still outline, even knowing their stories are, more likely than not, going to skitter off in some unanticipated direction later. Why do they do it? I sensed I was still not off the story structure planning hook (in fact, I’m now immersed in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, which seems a promising approach for naturally organic writers like me).

But I’ve been thinking about the tangled and dense issue of story planning for a long time, and there’s something that still bothers me about outlines. Something I’ve struggled to put my finger on. Something opaque that should be obvious, but isn’t (at least to me). Tonight I think I may have just conjured it to the surface.

It’s about predictability.

All writers (and readers) know that predictability on the page is a story-killer. A stone cold murderer of suspense. A fast track to boring oblivion.

But prediction is exactly what an outline seeks to do. It’s supposed to be a roadmap to a pre-determined destination. Just follow the map, strewing words about as you go, and you have a book. You don’t want the resulting book to be predictable for the reader. Yet the outline should do exactly the opposite thing for the writer.

Or should it?

We’re all familiar with the “Butterfly Effect”, a key element in scientific chaos theory. This charmingly named phenomenon comes from the title of a paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972 by Edward Lorenz, titled “Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” (Eat your hearts out, all you writers out there trying to come up with a catchy title for your new book.)

In more scientific language, Lorenz’s theory is defined in Wikipedia as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic non-linear system can result in large differences in a later state.” Basically it means that predictability goes out the window when many different forces begin interacting with each other in complex ways. Wikipedia goes on to note:

The butterfly effect is a common trope in fiction, especially in scenarios involving time travel. Additionally, works of fiction that involve points at which the storyline diverges during a seemingly minor event, resulting in a significantly different outcome than would have occurred without the divergence, are an example of the butterfly effect.

( Note: This is not all there is to chaos theory. In fact, it’s the simple-to-understand part. Understanding the rest of it probably requires two or three high level university degrees in mathematics.)

To my own (admittedly non-scientific) mind, chaos theory’s application to plotting practically jumps off the page. After all, what is storytelling, if not a “deterministic, non-linear system” for examining the unpredictability of cause and effect in the great saga of human behaviour?

And maybe that’s why outlines so often collapse somewhere along the way to getting a story written. It is hellishly difficult to predict all the twists and turns – the chaos – that will result from the interactions between all the characters and elements the writer brings to life on the page.

Perhaps a good story should be capable of surprising the writer by jumping the tracks envisioned in an outline. At that point, what’s a writer to do?

a) Drag the story out of inconvenient chaos and back to the original outline?
b) Stop writing and do a new outline?
c) Go with the flow?

Chaos theory for writers would suggest that c) is the best answer. Maybe writing is an art, not a science, but the best stories are the ones that reveal some kind of truth about the real nature of life. And life is both messy and precise at the same time.

Just like the unpredictable act of storytelling.

Is productivity only measured in words?

Karalee’s Post #93

siwc2014For the next four days our 5Writer member Silk will be attending the Surrey International Writer’s Convention for her annual mixing with authors, agents and fellow writers. This year Silk has a bent for learning more about publishing and social media as well as attending lectures on the craft of writing . And of course, much information is exchanged among the attendees after hours in the bar and at dinner.

Joe will join her on Friday to do much of the same and  I’m sure they will fill us in on their experiences next week.

In the meantime I will encourage them to tweet #surrey2014 about exciting news or such and I may join them for a drink one evening. The conference will be exciting and tweets are already rolling:

Hallie siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

sean cranbury siwc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

kc dyer siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Cranbury, author and presenter has shared his work re social media if you want to check it out.

I’m not attending as I’ve dedicated my time and funds to the Writer’s Digest course I’m taking: 12 Weeks to a First Draft. That brings me to a quick discussion on productivity.

 

 According to the MW dictionary, the word PRODUCTIVE means:

: doing or achieving a lot : working hard and getting good results

: producing or able to produce something especially in large amounts

: causing or resulting in something

 

To me writers inevitably measure their productivity in their word count. Is productivity only measured in words?

Undoubtedly that is what matters in the finale since words are what our end product is. But before The End is achieved, there is so much behind the scenes work going on before, during and after our first and subsequent drafts until the book is ready for publishing.

My course has me looking at many aspects that go into making a great story. It’s not simple characters, settings and plots, but rather layers of depth that create a complex story with compelling characters and plot lines. That means a lot of time spent on ‘What if’s’ and looking (deconstructing) other books to see how other authors achieved their goals for an unforgettable story.

This week my mind-mapping  has continued and expanded to include sub-plots and how my protagonist and antagonist can become more emotionally complex, which also makes the main plot more complicated too.

I am having LOTS OF FUN and making great progress in my story. To me I have been very productive this week, albeit much of my work hasn’t directly added to my word count. It’s work that is very important, the backstage work that Silk talked about in her last post. This has to be mastered too in this craft of writing that we have chosen to do.

So this week my productivity has been:

  • most of my mind-mapping has been completed
  • character development, setting and plot lines are being layered in
  • Word count: words cut 760; words added 1600; total in first draft 2500
  • Hours in my office: 30
  • Times I journaled my progress: 0. I suck at this and need to follow-through even if only to see if it helps. I won’t know if I don’t try it.
  • Pies eaten: 1/4 pumpkin. My favorite and there’s so many pumpkins right now….
  • episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 0

If anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. I found this blog also helpful in developing my own story and not only for the one month go-for-it for NaNoMo.

Happy writing!

Play Ball

file3371253285836

Paula’s Post #85

While I’ve been dithering, (trying to decide whether the laborious process of deconstructing a novel is a waste of time when we should be writing), a healthy majority of my hardworking 5writer colleagues have been doing just that.

Deconstructing.

So, since this is baseball season: and this is the opening night of the World Series, here is the box score so far:

Joe – hit a line-drive to left field and started deconstructing Gorky Park, Michael Cruz Smith’s novel of a Moscow police detective, drawn into a very political murder.

GorkyPark

Silk – slammed a long fly ball into center field, and is now flying around the bases on the heels of Shoeless Joe, as she analyzes the spare southern prose of James Lee Burke’s, Glass Rainbow (what a great title).

glass-rainbow

 

Karalee – is off to the races, er, I mean at the plate, after an injury time-out to care for her ailing husband, who is now on the road to recovery. Karalee has the bat on her shoulder and is taking dead aim on Dick Francis’ Proof. 

dick francis proof

Helga? Helga is on deck. For now, she’s just taking a few practices swings. In the next few weeks, her life will be filled with trade rumour turmoil as she packs her bags and looks forward to life in the Grapefruit leagues. (No, she is not leaving the 5writers but, like me,  is looking to enjoy some sunny weather in the south over the next few months. A 2writer subset of the 5writers will be playing winter ball.

Me? Yeah, I’m getting ready for winter ball, too. Only it feels like I’m still sitting on the bench while the game plays out before me. Self-benched. Sitting it out while I ponder the writers’ ‘C’ word: commitment.

This ‘deconstruction exercise’, as I’ve discovered, involves double-down commitment: not only do we need to each choose a novel to spend an agonizing number of hours ‘deconstructing’, for most of us, the warm up and first-innings also involve choosing a literary style or genre we plan to commit to until the last pitch is ‘pitched’. In other words, we not only need to choose the genre, style and type of the novel we wish to deconstruct, but it only make sense that this is a novel of same ilk as our novels-to-follow. A double – commitment.

It’s like being at Mike’s Gelato, faced with a dizzying array of flavours and choices. If only I could experiment a little more, taste a few more flavours, maybe order up a triple scoop, mixing up sorbetto and gelato, chocolate and salted caramel twisted sister, – oh wait – this is my baseball World Series post, – if only I could buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, too.

Okay, enough already. As the great Yogi Berra once said:

“If you come to a Fork in the Road. Take it.”

Time to “Play Ball”.

file000393008610

Later this week, I promise to ‘commit’ to deconstruction. Right now, I’m still waiting for a sign from ‘the manager’.

 

Backstage at a bestseller

backstage

Silk’s Post #105 — When Paula wondered in her last post whether the 5/5/5 exercise of deconstructing a novel was a waste of time – didn’t it make more sense to stop with the procrastinating and diversions and just dive in to writing our own novels? – I admit I was conflicted too.

My enthusiasm for getting started on a new project was boosted by our 5/5/5 mini-retreat in Vancouver, and I couldn’t wait to shake off the demons of sloth and get back to writing again. Did I really need this deconstruction side trip? I have what I think is a strong story premise and promising characters. It felt like this was the time to step on the gas, not the brakes.

At the same time, I know that building a plot and structure that really works for this story will be an architectural challenge. And I know I haven’t mastered this fundamental skill. Do I really want to spend the next year of my life creating a novel that can’t pass book-building inspection, and is destined to fill yet another bottom drawer for eternity?

So I decided to at least try it. The possible up side (finding the magic plotting bullet) outweighed the possible down side (getting derailed from my writing). I figured the likeliest outcome would be that I’d re-read a great book and at least get inspired, at the expense of a quick start on my own story.

Well, it looks like I was wrong – in a good way. Let me explain.

The thing about learning a delicate craft – like writing – from books, or workshops, or courses, or writers conferences, is that these are a lot like elementary or high school studies. Learning from books and lectures has some major limitations. You can memorize and grasp concepts and follow step-by-step instructions all you like, and at the end you’ll probably have a book. But will it be a good book? A well-constructed book? A book that a smart agent will take a chance on? A book that compels readers to turn the page? A book they’ll actually remember a month after they read it?

I’ve read that most new writers essentially learn their craft through trial and error. That’s certainly been my path. But how much of this learning-from-your-mistakes can you do and still remain inspired? Frustratingly, finding out exactly what mistakes you’ve made is a whole challenge in itself. A critique group certainly can help here, but many unpublished writers learn that they’ve (probably) made mistakes through rejection letters – without getting the feedback needed to actually learn from those mistakes.

Another of the oft-repeated pieces of advice to writers is to read read read. Read widely, but especially read great writers and learn from them. The theory seems sound: learn by example. Somehow, by osmosis, you will absorb the literary genius of a bestseller and replicate it, with practice. Kind of a monkey-see-monkey-do thing.

While reading is an absolute essential for writers, and it’s easy (almost too easy) to mimic another writer’s style and voice, there’s one little hitch in learning to plot through exposure to good writing.

As a front-of-stage reader, the backstage mechanics of plot and structure are invisible to you, hidden behind the curtain. That’s the magic. The more skilled the writer, the more opaque are the pulleys and levers and ropes and set and lighting elements that make the whole show work seamlessly. The girl who appeared to be sawn in half emerges whole. The doves fly out of the hat. The magician disappears in a puff of smoke. You, the reader, are simply transported, disbelief suspended.

Every time I read a great book I find myself fooled once more. Even though I’ve learned much about writing, I get swept away in a good story and at the end I find myself again wondering: how did the author do that magic? (Formulaic books are another thing altogether, their plots often transparent and predictable.)

glass-rainbowBut within the first 10 page of deconstructing my chosen book, The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke – using the methodology suggested by James Scott Bell in his book Plot and Structure (see “How to Improve Your Plotting Exponentially”), I realized I had just stepped backstage.

This is where the magic gets done. Immediately, secrets began to be revealed. The pulleys and levers became exposed as I watched the master writer at work, behind the curtain, and documented what I saw.

The bizarre thing about novel deconstruction is: all you’re doing is reading, but with one difference. You don’t sit in front of the curtain in the audience and let the plot sweep you forward. You simply go backstage and stop the action at the end of every scene to examine what the writer has actually done.

Every page, every paragraph, every word in the opening of The Glass Rainbow had a job to do. By page 1, the reader had been sucked into the humid, decaying world of a marginalized and lawless society, set at the slow-simmering pace of the deep South. By page 2, the reader had seen inside the sleuth/protagonist’s heart-of-hearts and come to understand what he values, what he fears, what drives him. By page 6 the troubling circumstances of the crime that triggers the whole plot, and the challenges of achieving justice in this case, had been introduced.

All this was accomplished in 2 scenes and maybe 2,000 words. The magic? Even though the pace was as unhurried as a road gang prisoner sweating over his labour under the noonday Mississippi sun (the setting of Scene 2), the reader on the audience side of the curtain had quickly been swept deep into the plot and hooked on the story, the characters, the setting … the mystery of it all.

And now that I’ve been backstage, I have a good idea how James Lee Burke did it.

Wow.

For me, this exercise is not a diversion from writing. It’s an internship with a master.

 


Box Score

Books deconstructed: < 1% of one book

Pages of my book written: 0

Blog posts written: 1

Travel planned and booked: 1 trip (New Zealand)

What I’m reading this week: The Glass Rainbow, James Lee Burke; The Ascent of Women, Sally Armstrong; New Zealand, Lonely Planet

Health status: Miserable cold

Pies eaten: 1/3, variety: pizza

Best thing this week: Discovering deconstruction

Worst thing this week: Relentless Ebola news everywhere

Basically, you have to write

Karalee’s Post #90

ecard3

 

Our writing group is busy preparing for our fall two day retreat meeting starting tomorrow. We do have a long to-do list and it does have a lot to do with writing fiction.

 

On the other hand, we need to stay focused in order to make sure the list doesn’t remain in the to-do category.

ecard1

 

I’ve recently gone back to the basics in outlining a new manuscript and already feel a bit stuck.

 

 

If you believe in karma, meant-to-be concepts or in sheer luck, it does happen at times.

I follow a blog by C.S. Lakin called Live Write Thrive and she sent a title today called ‘Ramping Tension to the Max in Your Novel’. Now I don’t know if you experience this phenomenon, but when I’m stuck, or on the verge of understanding a concept, or need to learn about something in particular, often the solution arises from unexpected places. Sometimes it is downright eerie, but maybe every so often my stars align or something.

So when Live Write Thrive popped up in my inbox today it must have been meant to be. Not only does it address the topic of tension, and the concept suddenly became clearer to me, she also gave a her checklist at the end of the blog to go through in designing and writing your novel.

All in one place! My lucky day, but then, I was ready to delve into the whole topic and much deeper than before as my learning continues.

Her checklists are as follows and each are definitely worth a close read:

  • concept with a kicker
  • protagonist with a goal
  • conflict with high stakes
  • theme with a heart
  • plots and subplots in a string of scenes
  • secondary characters with their own needs
  • setting with a purpose

ecard2

I’ve discovered that learning about writing also teaches yourself much about, well, yourself. Me, I have a whole book in my head at once, but have difficulty talking it through out loud as well as having my story flow like a movie on the page.

 

So thank-you this week C.S. Lakin, I will definitely work through your checklists!

Last week I touched on the release of Kindle Unlimited. This week in the blog Build Book Buzz  readers are encouraged that when they download with Kindle Unlimited to read 10% of each book. Why? If they don’t then the author doesn’t get paid.

Just another little point for us aspiring authors to understand in the self-publishing world.

Happy writing!

 

Shake it, baby, shake it

Joe’s Post #102

Shake It, Baby, Shake It.

Or rather, ‘Shake it up.’

gwdtPaula’s post this week hit on an important thing. Shaking it up. She used The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as a great example of a character that’s about as far from vanilla as rocky-road mixed with cherry-garcia.

Wait, hold on, I suddenly need to grab some ice cream for some reason.

Ok, I’m back.

Here’s the thing. As new writers, we simply have to find a way to be better. Practice alone isn’t enough. Not in this day and age. Maybe in any day and age.

So it got me a-thinkin’. And when I gets me a-thinkin’, I start looking around on the interweb to find me some good ideas and maybe somethun’ that’s kinda cool.

And this is what I found. It’s an interesting idea. A way of rethinking how to do a character’s journey.

5 Stages of Grief.

five-stages-of-grief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, it’s for scripts, but the idea is sound.

Who would have thought to take your characters through the 5 stages of grief?

The first stage – Denial. This is not something I need to work on. Not ever. I’m that good … and yet when I applied it to my character it kicked up a scene to a whole different level. Ok, I haven’t written the scene, yet, but I have changed my outline and it packs a lot more of a whallop!

Especially the idea that the bigger the stakes, the more the character has to deny it.

Hmmm. That’s pretty cool, actually.

Second Stage – Anger. Again, something I am personally quite familiar with, especially when some person freaking slows down in the freaking fast lane to less than the freaking speed limit so they can check a freaking text they got from their freaking boyfriend that showed a freaking cat freaking sitting in a freaking bowl.

But for writers, I think this stage is about the big emotional payoff to whatever got them started on their adventure. Anger works, but so do other emotions. In my case, though, yup, kicking the anger up really made it seem like it mattered more. Like mattered a whole hell of a lot!

Why oh why do I persist in writing characters who are afraid of emotion? Hello, Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud.

Third Stage – Bargaining. If I don’t have to do this one, will it be ok? Probably not, but I had this in the outline so I’ll just think how I can kick it up a notch.

Fourth is Depression – or the protagonist’s darkest moment. Hey, if your story doesn’t have that, add it in. I saw another book that asked, what is your antagonist’s greatest moment? They can be, and usually are, the same thing.

d and hNot always, though. To me, Harry Potter’s darkest moment (spoiler alert, spoiler alert) was when he found out that Dumbledore knew Harry’s fate all along, a moment of personal betrayal so great it hollowed out my chest.

But if you can find a way to shake up that dark moment, when despair threatens to overwhelm a character, when all seems hopeless and you just found out your dad is Darth Vadar and your friends have been captured and will likely be tortured to death, yeah, find a way to do that.

Lastly – Acceptance. At the end, in the middle, even in the beginning. That catharsis of letting go can be powerful. I mean, hey, Luke Skywalker literally lets go.

Like the article says, all of these stages can be in any order or can occur over and over, again. It’s just a really clever way of shaking up a character in your story a bit.

Any other insights on how to shake it up, baby?

12 steps to creating a great book

Joe’s Post #99

hobbs and writingSo how do you plot out a great book? How do you go from a blank page to 500 pages of awesomeness?

Damned if I know how to create a great book, but I do have a process for starting a book.

I was thinking about the process while I drank a cup of timmies coffee and munched on a chocolate chips muffin. It’s quite the process, really. Writing a book. Like God, we create a world from nothing, a story from the cobwebbed part of our minds, and then we sit somewhere and try to make it all work.

Honestly, it’s amazing to me that anyone wants to do this. But here’s how I look at creating a book. Thanks to Kris and Dean, to Don Maass and a zillion other writers, editors and agents that I’ve listened to.

The 12 Step Program for Writers…

1)    What makes your main character different or unique?  All stories, I believe, start with character. There was a time I thought it started with plot, but what really drives a story?  Who is he?  What strength will your character have that defines how they drive the story? For a detective, it might be an attention to detail or a love of puzzle solving or an ability to into other people’s minds.

Bricksburg

Bricksburg

2)    What is the setting?  When?  Where?  What is unique or magical? Ah, it’s that last question that really matters. How can you make the setting different and engaging?

3)    When the story opens, what interesting thing is the main character doing?  The moment you write ‘sitting’ or ‘thinking’ or ‘taking a poo,” have a look at redoing that opening. What INTERESTING thing is the main character doing?

Now stop here for a moment. If you’ve spend a good 10 min on this, great! Spend 15 more. A hour. Whatever. Knowing all this stuff for the opening will help make that opening rock. And, you know what, the more time you spend on character, the better the book will be.

Then look at what you’ve written, and ask yourself, how can I make it better, snappier, have more action, have us more engaged, have us locked into your novel more?

4)    What external event will affect the character? What gets the plot going? For a romance novel, that’s meeting the love interest. For a crime novel, that’s, well, the crime.   Is there a problem?  I hope so. There better be something for the main character to overcome. An obstacle. Is there a time limit? Noting like a good deadline to create tension. Does it connect with ‘the interesting thing the main character is doing’? An obstacle to doing that thing, perhaps? What is the character’s strength that will help him solve the problem?  What is the character’s weakness or failure that will hinder him?  I love the weakness thing. I often forget to add great weaknesses to my character.

5)    Which character or force will the main character fights against?  The heart of the conflict. It can be internal or external or, even better, both. Who is the antagonist?

6)    What is the main character’s stated goal? Go deeper. What is the hidden goal, his personal need? This adds depth to the story. Your character wants to be a writer, get that great American novel written (that’s her goal, her ‘want’), but she’s doing it because her father read a lot and valued writers more than anything so, she really wants to please her father, make him proud. (And you can go deeper from here? Ask why? A lot.)

7)    What problems get in the way of that goal? List 3 obstacles. Go on, write them down. Then add a few more. Make thing worse and worse. Make your main character get farther and farther away from the goal. How will the character change or grow due to the problems or obstacles put in his way?

8)    What is at stake if the character fails?  Or why should we care?  What is the personal cost? So what if your main character fails? Make it matter.

luke9)    What is the darkest moment for the character?  What is the best moment for the antagonist?  This is what makes great fiction, that moment of despair or when all hope is lost and yet your main character finds a way to go on. It’s that moment he stands in shock, his hand cut off and finds out his dad is, like, holy crap, Darth Vadar.

10)    What will the hero lose or have to sacrifice? What happens against your character’s will?  It could be external or internal. But something’s got to be lost.

11)   How will the book end?  It doesn’t always have to have a happy ending, but your genre will tell you which way to go. But if the journey isn’t complete, then is it really an ending?

12)   What is the theme?  What is the book about? There are whole books written about this. Even Karalee wrote about theme. It’s a hard one to nail down, sometimes, but so worth the effort.

Now, doing these 12 steps will not create an outline or a book, but more like the basis for either. A foundation for your story. A guiding light.

It’s a cool system for those who write with an outline and those who free-form writers. Outliners can take those ideas and create a series of scenes. Free-formers can use them to help keep the story focused. Either way, a story is born.

Did I miss anything?

 

 

Writing progress

Karalee’s Post #76

 

I’m in the East Kootenays for the next couple of weeks helping a friend on her hobby farm. I’m busy feeding horses and walking dogs and taking care of the house while she is away.

 

 

I’ve time to write and have been making headway on my new story. For the first time I have an overall feel of how a book needs to come together as I’m writing it. It’s like a breath of fresh air and I see it as a breakthrough for me. All the hard work learning this craft called writing is starting to become general knowledge that I can pull from instead of trying to learn it all as I go.

It feels similar to when I was learning to be a physical therapist in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. Learning every peripheral nerve, muscle and bone took months, but at some point became part of my general knowledge. This was the foundation though, upon which I could then start problem-solving orthopedic injuries, etc. and apply treatments and recommendations to clients.

I feel I am at this point in learning the writing craft and that I finally have a good foundation to build upon.

My foundation also includes an outline so I have an idea of where my story is going and I know where to aim for at the end. Some parts of my outline are in great detail as I visualize the scenes, but others are sketchy and open to my creative juices as I get there.

It is wonderful to have a feel for how the structure works, how the plot can unfold, and how my characters have to be realistic and have the reader care about or relate to them on an emotional level as I’m writing. Now I am more cognizant of not having the amateur information dumps and fillers like I have had before. Note Silk’s last post on this topic. Thanks Silk!

I’ve been concentrating on dialogue lately and this week Brian Klems, the Online Editor of Writers Digest, wrote a column The 7 Tools of Dialogue that is well worth the time to read. I am very glad to say that I am using some of these techniques automatically and that is also good for my confidence.

As I write I’m also keeping in mind what James Scott Bell put so succinctly in his book Plot and Structure. He says that the questions below are what all agents, publishers and readers think about when they open a book:

  • What’s this story about?
  • Is anything happening?
  • Why should I keep reading?
  • Why should I care?

Happy writing!


A story in there… somewhere… waiting to get out.

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Paula’s Post #67 –

So, another shocking admission. Occasionally, not often, but occasionally, I need to actually ‘search’ for a subject for my weekly 5writers post. But we 5writers like to ‘riff’ on a theme, and Silk provided much needed inspiration when she started us off this week with a great post yesterday entitled ‘Artful reality and cutting out the dull bits.

So let the scissors fly.

Snip, snip, snip.

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Silk’s post of yesterday was about cutting out the dull bits to improve pacing, conflict, tension, paring away to the essence of a story so that only the ‘drama’ remains, illustrated by Alfred Hitchcock famous question: “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?”

Quite independently, I’ve been thinking about paring down, too. And not just my busy schedule. Yes, It’s been another hectic week here in the desert. March is the best month to visit Greater Palm Springs, and between the La Quinta Arts Festival, Polo in Indio and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

Nary a dull moment.

Up this week?

Home tours for clients, bocce tournaments, tennis clinics, margarita parties, and entertaining a couple of very special house guests. Admittedly, my ‘writing time’ is more or less confined to just rolling story ideas around in my head, hoping to find settings, characters, plot and most of all, beginnings, middles and ends in the nascent jumble of ideas that is my next novel.

This is fun, but not always easy.

I know that when I’m ready, I’m going to need to apply a bit more discipline to this process of ‘finding’ my story, a process that is both creative and judicious. A process that requires keeping those scissors close at hand.

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On the one hand, I’m excited because I have a general idea of my story, some settings, characters, plot and sub-plots. But right now, the ideas are all a bit of a jumbled mess, ricocheting around in my head.

I haven’t written much down yet. Unlike my 5writer colleagues Joe and Karalee, I’ve yet to start on my outline.

I will, I promise, but for the past 9 months my husband and I have been ‘living out of a suitcase’ (at least metaphorically speaking) since the sale of our home in West Vancouver and the purchase and renovation of our new little house in the tiny coastal town of Gibsons Landing, B.C.

So yes, I feel adrift. I need a place to call home. A place to set up my writer’s ‘corner’ and start writing. (I doubt I’ll snag a whole room – this time I’ve promised that my husband gets the one and only room we’ve officially designated as an ‘office’ in our new little ‘downsized’ house. But a corner would be nice.

In the meantime, I’m thinking about the essence of ‘story’ and why some people make it in this ‘biz’, while others, equally talented, equally motivated, equally creative… fail. We’ve all had fantastic story ideas that have failed in their execution. The fast-penned YA thriller I whipped out in under 5 months during our 5writers5novels5months challenge an excellent case in point.

I know I had a pretty good story idea, a great premise, the genesis of some strong, quirky characters and plenty of action. But all this good stuff lay buried, lost in a jumbled mess. Somewhere… a story lay trapped, waiting to get out.

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Someday, I may cut away not just the “dull bits” of my story, but also the bizarre… the confusing… the dropped threads… the repetitive and the extraneous, until I find my story.

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Yesterday, I stumbled upon a site, (new to me at least) called ViralNova, featuring trending stories on the web. If you haven’t ‘clicked to it’ by now, the photos above are from that site. The ‘story’ of a poor little stray dog, literally a filthy mess when found on a road way. At least this story had a happy ending.  This lucky pup got an extreme makeover. The photos of her transformation are now making their way around the Internet, going viral.

It turns out the stray Shih Tzu was rescued by La Société Protectrice des Animaux de Québec (SPA) (Quebec Society for the Protection of Animals) in Canada in 2011.

My story?

Hopefully the one I’ve already written will one day get rescued, too. Oh, and the one in the planning stages, I’m just hoping there’s a story in there, waiting to get out!

 

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