Digging Right Now 716I haven’t done one of these in a while. For one thing, I’ve been busy writing! I finished all three of my fifties novellas (and I’m in the middle of editing them right now), I’m just (like this weekend) finished with second round edits on my novel, Infamous, contracted with The Wild Rose Press, and I’ve started the second novel to follow-up Infamous.

I’ll have lots more info for you on all of that in the coming months. But for now, what I’m digging this month.

Click it.
Click it.

First, we have to talk about Game of Thrones. In my opinion, it was the best. season. ever. In fact, it was so good that when I finished it on the last Sunday, I started watching again on the

following Thursday and rewatched the entire season.

The Battle of the Bastards! Daenerys and dragons! The taking back of Mereen! Killing the khals! Bran and Whitewalkers! Hodor! “I drink and I know things,”! The Green Trial! I could go on. And on and on. The point is, it hit every structure and pacing note imaginable. Every episode was top-notch. If you’ve never watched Game of Thrones, I not only suggest you do so immediately (get HBO Now for a month or two), I’m wondering what the hell you’re waiting for.

Next, let’s talk about what I’m doing in my down time. I’m playing video games, of course. I play lots of what’s called casual games. I play Happy Street and Hollywood University on my iPad. I’m an Animal Crossing fanatic. (My AC:NL dream code is 4600-4766-5087; go ahead and visit me.) Yes, I’m blushing as I admit that.

I have lately been investing a lot of my free time in The Sims 4. In many ways, it’s not as good as it’s predecessor. I mourn the open town and the color choices, particularly. However, other than loading screens, TS4 has its own high points. Being able to do more than one thing at once and great graphics on low-end machines are two of them. All the same, it amuses me, and that’s all that matters. Maybe in a few years, when computers catch up to higher end gaming, we can have an open town again. For now, I’ll play both versions.

Finally, let’s circle back around to writing. A book was recommended in the crit group I belong to called Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. It’s to the right there and that’s an affiliate link. This book was everything I’ve ever looked for on story structure for romance novels.

I read an article recently from BookRiot that the forumalaic elements of romance are like the elements of a sonnet. Yes, there are certain beats you want to hit if you want to write a good kissing book (what the author of the book calls them), but that’s no different than a lot of other writing that is revered. So what? It doesn’t make them any less enjoyable to read, if they’re your thing. They’re definitely my thing, and understanding why they work is, as well.

What are you enjoying this July? Also, happy birthday to me: I’ll be 42 on Sunday!

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writeresI once wrote a post about the Hero’s Journey structure in the movie Clash of the Titans. That post is my second most popular post (by a long shot). Clearly, structure is something we all want to learn about. It’s one of my favorite topics. Structure is the skeleton on which our entire story hangs.

In light of that, I wanted to share the most awesome resource I found. Okay, found is a strong word. Let’s try, ‘I received in a newsletter because K.M. Weiland is an awesome writer folk and I like to know what she’s talking about.’

She created the Story Structure Database. To see an example of this tool at work, check out the structure for Pride and Prejudice. (If you haven’t read it, run to your bookstore now and grab it. Yes, it really is that good.*)

From the site:

Austen begins by masterfully hooking us with her famous opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The subtle irony gives us a sense of conflict from the very first and lets us know that neither the wife in search of the fortune nor the man in search of the wife will find their goals so easily.

Of course, we all know it’s a great first line. But, now we know exactly why. And we can try to accomplish something similar in our own first lines.

This database is full of books and movies, and other people can contribute. I highly recommend using this writer resource if you are having any difficulty with or just want to learn more about story structure.

Tweet: Structure is the skeleton on which our entire story hangs. http://goo.gl/C91TEz

*Link: $0.99 e-book Pride and Prejudice from Amazon.

Then

09.17.2008
Structural Integrity, Baby

When I start a story, I figure out pretty quick what that first turning point is going to be and where the plot (and subplots) will have to get to for it to happen. I’m a pantsy plotter. That also sets me down the road of “What happens next?” Well, the whole world just turned on it’s side–for good or bad, or both–and people (characters) are going to be scrambling to figure out how this new world works, where they fit in it, and how the heck they get to their goal now.

Don’t think of it as outlining, which still makes me cringe, and doesn’t really allow for narrative structure, anyway.  It’s a road map.  It’s where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how you’re going to get there.


Now

I am a die hard plotter and outliner. I plot the story. I plot the acts. I plot the scenes. I plot the beats in the scene. Not all at once. At first, I immerse myself in the story with pictures of the characters and settings, a soundtrack, and handwritten biographies. Then I write several thousand words. Then I stop. Then I get annoyed because it’s going somewhere I don’t even get and what is the stupid motivation here, anyway? Then I rip up what I have, plot the entire story, in acts. Then I start writing. Before I start each scene, I note the beats of the scene. What happens, what changes, where does it get all twisty?

I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.

“I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.” ~ Click to Tweet

Image courtesy of Kimberly Vohsen via stock.xchng

Alicia Rasley (blog) is a wildly talented writer and teacher who should get more recognition than she does. I bought her e-book in PDF, Discovering the Story Within, before people were even reading e-books. (My only complaint: it’s full of awesome worksheets, but the PDF is protected against copying, pasting, highlighting–anything you right-click to do, so filling them out in a word-processing program is impossible.)

Plotting

But, for today, and for GMC month, I’d like to point you to an article she did on her site called Plotting Without Fears.

In this article she tells you the quick and dirty way to plot a story. Find your one-sentence idea, your theme,  and your hero. Then, she shows you how to figure out what questions your story will answer and the goals and conflicts.  Finally, taking that information, she shows you how to use structure to form a plot.

There’s a lot of vital information packed in this article.

Motivation

This article, also by Alicia, on motivation is made up of three parts to help you get GMC right.  First, knowing the difference between your (the author’s) goal and your character’s goal. This is a crucial distinction. Nothing should ever happen in a story because you need it to happen; rather, it should happen organically from the character’s goals, motivation, and because of conflict with the antagonist.

Second, she says motivation should pro-active:

Pro-active: Motivating movement TOWARDS something. Success is a pro-active motivation because it draws the character forward towards itself.

Reactive: Motivating movement AWAY from something. Guilt is a reactive motivation because it propels the person away from itself.

Finally, she urges us to know the difference between external and internal motivation.  To help you understand the difference, she says:

External motivations tend to be more or less universal. Internal motivations are what will individualize your character. Most of us want success; the question is why? Your internal motivation for wanting success (to win the love of your father) might be different from mine (to get revenge against those who scorned me).

Then, she includes a fantastic list of some external and internal motivations that are worth the click there, just by themselves.

She concludes by distinguishing between story and backstory,  goal and motivation, motivation and action.

Motivation is the past.
Goal is the future.
Conflict is the present.

I urge anyone who writes, whether they’re just starting out or have been doing it for years, to explore the wonderful articles on her site.

Photo by Patrick Hajzler used with permission. Find Patrick on stock.xchng.

 

Character Development Series

Turns out, I had so much to say about developing characters, I wrote a series of posts. Here they are, in order:
Develop Characters Without Worksheets
Writing Free Form Character Biographies
How to Find a Character’s GMC?
My GMC “In the Wild”
Plotting and Motivation

12111This post is the first in a series I’m beginning on The Hero’s Journey story structure.  It’s important to note, you can use any structure you like.  In fact, go crazy, have fun.  But, some of the most popular (I won’t say best) films use this structure.  Notable examples include the Star Wars flicks and pretty much anything Disney makes.

I’m not saying it’s the best structure you can use.  What I am saying is that if you’re writing popular fiction (as opposed to literary) you could do worse than to at least try to understand how this structure works.  The best way I know to do that is to apply it to anything and everything, films and stories you encounter every day, to become more comfortable with it.

This is a mish-mosh of The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and it’s use in the movie, Clash of the Titans.


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I bought another pack of index cards.  I’m at this point in my story where I’m chucking what doesn’t work (after 11k words, trust me when I say: it could be worse).  I’ve got to keep what works (mostly the characters) and dig deep and find the goals and the antagonist(s) and the conflict.

(Why do I forget these things when I first start writing?  It’s like I have to play with my characters for a bit before I can rip them apart and say, “You’re not quite right.”)

So, I’m in the grocery store and there’s this pack of index cards. A big stack, probably a 100.  And they’re unlined… *sigh* (The lined ones restrict my process, somehow).

Next thing I know, despite the fact that the last time I tried using index cards to plot it was a colossal failure, I bought index cards.  Again.

I get so caught up in how well it works for authors like Roz Morris (who convinced me to do it last time with her very good book, Nail Your Novel
, and she’s just so passionate and convincing) and Johanna Harness (who I’ve linked to before about her use of magic index cards).  They make it sound so fun, and creative, and organic.  But, that’s where it doesn’t work for me.

I think I crave the structure that goes with them.  Being able to make sense out of something huge and messy. As first drafts tend to be.

I write down everything floating in my head, and really, that’s a lot.  But it’s not a whole novel. And, so, I have my index cards, which amounted to about 20 for the first act, 8 for the second act, and 2 for the fourth act (I write with a 4 act structure) the last time I tried.  Nothing for act three.  The middle. Which, you might’ve heard, has been known to sag.  Be boring.  Or be full of crazy, not-organic stuff, that a writer just makes up to fill her damn index cards.

I need what happens next to come from the choices and actions my characters take before.  And I just don’t know how to do that with index cards.  It doesn’t work that way, for me.

What works for me is a notebook. A big, fat notebook with lots of pages.  Where I will just write scenes down all over.  Make outlines. Draw conflict boxes. Write letters from my characters.

Does anyone need any index cards?

I learned a few years ago, when I lost an entire weekend to the time-suck that was Seasons 1 and 2 of Grey’s Anatomy, if you watch a television series in order, for at least a season, you can actually learn a lot.  A season of television (good television, anyway) has story structure, character arc, and escalating conflict.

Think about it.  You get 22-25 or so episodes in a season of (most) TV shows.  A season is structured to introduce the season’s conflict, build the tension, tie up the plot in a nice bow, and introduce next season’s story question.  An episode does the same thing, only on a smaller scale.  Look closer.  That’s right.  You can divide an episode into about four parts, usually where they place commercials, that have those same elements.  And, ideally, a scene would do the same.  I think some writers miss this, but a novel should be the same way.  Novel > Acts > Chapters > Scenes.  And they all perform the same way.

Just like story structure, a season of television has characters who have to grow.  Bob Mayer explains perfectly why a character needs an arc:

If you take your protagonist as she is at the beginning of the book and thrust her into the climactic scene, she should lose to the antagonist.  A key portion of the story is her growth into a person, that by the climactic scene, can defeat the antagonist.

If they could beat the season’s big-bad at the beginning, then what’s the point?  Each episode shows the character face a challenge and grow to become the hero who can win in that final battle.

And, of course, every episode ratchets up the stakes in the conflict just a little more so that, by season’s end, you’re begging for the showdown.

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I thought that, just to do something different, keep things fun!, I’d write about something that I actually can do, rather than whining about what I can’t.  I know, crazy ideas, I’m full of them.

I believe that as writers, even when we start writing the first words, the conception of our writing career, we all have pieces of craft that come naturally to us.  Maybe, for someone witty, it’s dialogue.  For the anal person, it may be structure or outlining.  For the introspective, perhaps it’s dishing out emotional punch.  Either way, our personalities and experiences come with us to the computer, and one or two things, we don’t have to bleed for.  It’s like when you’re in high school, and you guess the next song to come on the radio, and you think, “Awesome.  How’d I do that?”

Well, it doesn’t matter how.  You got mad skillz, baby.  Unfortunately for you and me both, staying on focus is not mine.  To the point: structure.

I got mad structuring skillz.  Or the potential for them.  Whatever.  And the entry actually begins…here.

When I write, I know I will have four turning points.  Big, important, can’t-turn-back-now scenes that change the course of the story for the main characters (for all of them, really).  It’s like mini-stories.  They’re that big of a deal, because they end one act, and begin another.  I also know that each act will get shorter, to increase pacing. I have a number in my head, and I actually tend to write over that, but I also know I tend to overwrite anyway, so cutting about 10% usually puts me back on track.  If my turning point doesn’t fall in that, if it happens sooner, then I know it’s not my turning point.  It’s an important scene, and it’ll only make the story better, but it’s not my turning point.  Never write filler to make sure your first turning point is, say 30k words.  Just don’t.  Filler is bad.  It’s the junk food of writing.

Most of this I know thanks to Jennifer Crusie and Bob Meyer (though you can’t read it now, they’ve taken it down and are writing a book I am sure will be most awesome and I am totally going to purchase).  But I also noticed that it was something I did naturally.

When I start a story, I figure out pretty quick what that first turning point is going to be and where the plot (and subplots) will have to get to for it to happen.  I’m a pantsy plotter.  That also sets me down the road of “What happens next?”  Well, the whole world just turned on it’s side–for good or bad, or both–and people (characters) are going to be scrambling to figure out how this new world works, where they fit in it, and how the heck they get to their goal now.

Don’t think of it as outlining, which still makes me cringe, and doesn’t really allow for narrative structure, anyway.  It’s a road map.  It’s where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how you’re going to get there.