On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Big Giveaway of Prizes, No Purchase Necessary.

Happy New Year Everyone! As my last entry of the year, I wanted to let you know about some bonzo prizes you can enter to win. Famous Writing Institution Gotham Writer's Workshop is offering an iPad 2, a 10-week writing workshop, a Kindle eReader, a Nook eReader, and great magazines and books for writers.

No purchase is necessary.

This contest is limited to the USA or Canada, and entry deadline is midnight Friday January 13 2012. Below is a list of 63 prizes. 63 individual drawings will be held. You can enter up to ten categories.

Good luck!

Enter the Contest now: http://www.writingclasses.com/ContestPages/WishList.php?referrer=27440

Entry Deadline midnight Friday Jan 13 2012
Canada or USA

LIST OF PRIZES:

The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again by Sven Birkerts

Gotham Baseball Cap

The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack

Submit: The Multimedia Guide to Submitting Short Prose (2 DVDs)

The 50 Funniest American Writers edited by Andy Borowitz

A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft edited by Andrea Barrett & Peter Turchi

Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing by Roger Rosenblatt

The Seven Basic Plots by Christpher Booker

Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversation with America's Poets edited by Alexander Neubauer

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters by Marilyn Allen & Coleen O'Shea

Six-week Creative Writing 101 Online Course

Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little by Christopher Johnson

Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces by Roy Peter Clark

Poets & Writers (One-year Subscription)

The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story by Frank O'Connor

The New Yorker 2012 Desk Diary

How Not to Write a Sitcom by Marc Blake

Write/Rewrite Wall Clock

Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Ed.) by Moira Allen

Fiction Gallery by Gotham Writers' Workshop

Write That Book Already! The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now by Sam Barry & Kathi Kamen Goldmark

Six-week Reading Fiction Online Course

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith

The Writer (One-year Subscription)

Zoetrope All-Story (One-year Subscription)

Six-week Script Analysis Online Course

Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch eReader

The Dialogue: Interviews with Master Screenwriters (3 DVDs)

Writing Movies: The Practical Guide by Gotham Writers' Workshop

Jeff Herman's 2012 Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman

The Maeve Bincy Writer's Club by Maeve Binchy

Four-week "How to Blog" Online Seminar

Four-week "How to Get Published" Online Seminar

The Yahoo! Style Guide by Chris Barr and Yahoo! Editors

Apple iPad 2

Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns

Gotham Sweatshirt

Script (One-year Subscription)

Daily Muse: Writer's Diary 2012

Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide by Gotham Writers' Workshop

Write What You Don't Know: An Accessible Manual for Screenwriters by Julian Hoxter

Word Hero: The Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines That Live Forever by Jay Heinrichs

Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book edited by Sean Manning

Barron's Painless Grammar (3rd Ed.) by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D.

The Film Novelist: Writing a Screenplay and Short Novel in 15 Weeks by Dennis J. Packard

Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves: Telling Stories in an Age of Blogging by Jerry Lanson

Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

Is Life Like This? A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne

The Word Snoop by Ursula Dubosarsky

The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates

Messenger Bag

10-week Writing Workshop - Online or in NYC

Final Draft Screenwriting Software

Bookmarks (One-year Subscription)

Gotham Writers' Workshop $100 Gift Certificate

Playwriting for Dummies by Angelo Parra

Amazon Kindle eReader

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson

The Well-Spoken Thesaurus by Tom Heehler

Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart

$50 Barnes & Noble Gift Card

So, Is It Done? Navigating the Revision Process DVD

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Writing Subplots

There are two main purposes for subplots:

1. to assist with the denouement of the climax – the subplot provides some mechanism of the story that is necessary for the Story Question to be successfully resolved.

2. to highlight the moral struggle that the protagonist undergoes. The subplot main character struggles with the same moral problem, but answers it in a different way.

I found that in most “popular” or “mainstream” novels and movies, there were usually five general story lines:

A line – Story Question; external story
B line – Protagonist’s “hidden need”; internal story
C line – antagonist story line
D line –additional external story line
E line – additional internal story line

Story lines focus on the different constellations of characters, whereas subplots describe story events. Therefore, you can have more than one subplot in the C, D and E story lines, although one is often sufficient. I advise caution, since too many subplots easily muddy the forward thrust of the story.

Most subplot story lines, especially on the E line, should ideally progress through the following stages of a Story (from John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story). Remember that, for the subplot, the SP main character should struggle with the same issue as your protagonist but answer it in a different way. For example, in Lord of the Rings, Smeagle/Gollum mirrors Frodo, and Boromere mirrors Aragorn.

Stage 1: Weakness, Problem, and Need

Your SP main character has a weakness within himself of which he’s not aware at the beginning of the story. The weakness is MORAL (it hurts others) as well as PSYCHOLOGICAL (it hurts the character). Your SP main character also has a story problem stemming from this weakness. Finally, he has a need to solve this weakness.

Example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Toula’s WEAKNESS: she doesn’t appreciate her family, although her family desperately wants her to join with them and are sad that she pulls away.

Toula’s PROBLEM: she wants to be seen as an individual, but her family holds to her so tightly that she will *never* be free.

Toula’s NEED: she must learn to be proud to be part of her Greek family as well as to be an individual.

Stage 2: Desire

Your SP main character has an outward desire, the story question of the subplot.

Example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Toula’s DESIRE: she wants to fall in love and get married.

Stage 3: Opponent

The opponent is the character who is competing with the SP protagonist for the same goal.

Example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Toula’s GOAL: she wants to be an individual, separate from her family.
Family’s GOAL: they want Toula to be part of the family.

Stage 4: Plan

Your SP main character must have at least a vague idea, or maybe a more detailed plan, of how he plans to fight the opponent to gain his desire.

Example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Toula’s PLAN: she will keep dating Ian, whether or not the family approves.

Stage 5: Battle

Your SP main character and opponent battle for supremacy . This is a punch-counterpunch series of actions.

Example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

BATTLE: Toula’s family tries a number of tactics to get her to separate from Ian: forbidding her to see him, using guilt, and introducing her to more *suitable* men. Once they realize that she’s going to marry Ian despite their best efforts, they take over control of the wedding plans. Toula continuously battles for her identity apart from the family.

Stage 6: Self-Revelation

After a great deal of painful struggle, your SP main character realizes and solves his need that you identified in Stage 1. Don’t make this revelation too easy or too obvious (don’t have your character come out and say it!), or your story will fall flat. Instead, demonstrate how this need has been solved.

Example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Toula is depressed the night before her wedding because she realizes she will never be free of her family. Her grandmother enters the room and shows Toula a picture of herself as a bride, then gives Toula the wedding crown that she wore. Toula suddenly realizes that her family’s inclusiveness is a good thing, full of rich history, identity, and love. Toula is speechless as she hugs her grandmother.

Stage 7: New Equilibrium

Your SP main character has solved his need, or else lost his opportunity to solve it. Desire (Stage 2) is gone so that he simply will continue to live his life at a higher (or lower) level than before.

Example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Toula celebrates the wedding reception with Ian and her family. Toula’s father gets up and makes a joke that although the two families are different, they are in fact now unified. Toula and Ian are then shown six years later walking with their own little daughter to Greek school. Toula tells the daughter that she can marry anyone she wants.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mixed Metaphors

Hi Everyone --

I couldn't resist. I received this in an email, and just had to share it with you, my dear friends.

**

Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners.....

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse, without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River .

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap,only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Writers Write

I thought so -- there's no easy way to be a writer, except to write. This is the time.

On a writing loop I belong to, this question came over the wires:

I finished my first manuscript last September. I was naive and eager and began submitting it to agencies right away. I received some really nice letters back and also some constructive criticism, which I took to heart. I made some drastic changes to the manuscript, which I feel improved it considerable. My question is, what do I do with it now?

At what point can I resubmit the same manuscript to an agent? 3 months, 6 months, never? Help!


This great answer is from Kaye Dacus, a multi-pubbed author of some terrific books. You can check out her website at http://kayedacus.com.

What else are you writing? How many other manuscripts have you finished? If you haven't already been asked that by the editors/agents you've had contact with, you will.

My advice is to set this one aside and write/complete/revise another manuscript. And then another. And then another. The best way to train for becoming a multi-published author is to finish multiple manuscripts now, before you're agented/contracted. I'd completed four manuscripts before I ever dreamed of submitting anything to anyone---and I worked on that fourth manuscript for three years (two of those years in graduate school as my master's thesis with the help of two published authors and half a dozen critique partners). By the time I submitted it to anyone, I was already most of the way through the first draft of my fifth manuscript and planning my seventh through tenth. And that fourth manuscript became my first published novel.

We learn more about the craft of writing with each manuscript that we complete and revise---our voice, our storytelling, our own individual style becomes stronger and stronger with each new story we write.

So, as I've said to the members of my local group many times: Bravo for finishing your first manuscript. Now write the next one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Literary Agent Submissions: A First-Hand Account

As an aspiring writer, how is your query received by the agent? Read on for a little first-hand description.

I read an interesting essay last week on the Amazon Create Space community by someone (Mr. Mysterious) who’d done a two week internship (7 work days total, since there were snow days) in NYC last winter. I wrote to ask for permission to post this on my blog and unfortunately didn’t receive a response, so am taking the liberty here of just summarizing his observations and impressions because they’re so helpful. I’m assuming this is OK since this guy posted on a public forum loop.

Mr. Mysterious worked for an agent mainly reading queries and samples – since this agency requested a synopsis and first 5 pages when querying. He estimates during his time there that he went through 300-350 queries, averaging about 50 per day. For eight hours (not including lunch or bathroom breaks, or other duties and time expenditures), that might be about six or so per hour, or even more roughly speaking, one every ten minutes. This isn’t much time to impress someone who is reading, say, eight pages per submission (1 page query, 5 page sample, 2 page synopsis).

Many of the queries were “way too long,” and he found himself skimming the long ones and/or those with detailed plot descriptions. He felt shorter was definitely sweeter, and he paid closer attention to the concise ones. Queries were usually mediocre, and the handful that weren’t often had sample writing that was.

Mr. Mysterious always read the sample, even if he didn’t like the query. If the query didn’t have a sample, he requested the author to email it back in the body of the email.

After a day, he stopped reading the synopses:

1. Some were too long, occasionally even longer than the sample.
2. After awhile they started to sound the same.
3. If he didn’t like the sample, he didn’t care about the synopsis.
4. They took a long time to read, and when going through a large pile of correspondence the principle is: the faster the better.

The authors didn’t always follow the requested guidelines for number of pages (the longest sample was 20 pages), and although Mr. Mysterious didn’t immediately disqualify these writers, he was definitely annoyed and gave a less careful reading.

Out of 300-350 queries, Mr. Mysterious found exactly ONE that went into the YES folder, and 40 into the ?MAYBE? folder. These query samples had skillful writing (voice, characters, settings, etc.). A few maybes were included even though he didn’t like the samples simply because the writer had some good credentials: a former literary agent or previously pubbed by a reputable publisher and/or major magazine. Many of the credentials cited in the queries were trivial or irrelevant. Credentials only mattered to the intern when they were of something/someone he’d heard of.

The agent who was mentoring this intern rejected the YES, and from the maybes requested pages from one and left two others as possibles. The rest were rejected. The accepted ones he didn’t quite remember but doesn’t think they had credentials in their queries. Neither the agent nor Mr. Mysterious liked the query from the writer from whom she requested pages.

I was fascinated to read that Mr. Mysterious found the same terms appearing in many queries. For example, GUARDIAN – there were a lot of guardians in these samples. He didn’t mention what sorts of genres the agent specialized in, but it sounded like YA and adult, science-fiction-y adventure.

Here’s a quote from the intern’s post: “A lot of queries were like, Main Character is just your average kid/just wants to be your average kid, EXCEPT HE SHOOTS LIGHTNING OUT OF HIS BUTT WHEN HE FARTS.

“A lot of queries, especially YA Urban Fantasy queries, read like they’re all written from the same template. Off the top of my head.

“NAME, a [number] teen year old at [school name] has enough to worry about with [insert generic school/teenage problems], without [insert discovery of paranormal abilities, an ancient conflict, discovery of paranormal abilities AND an ancient conflict]. It will be up to Name to [stop conflict, learn to control abilities]. That is, if he doesn’t get [insert fantasy problem and/or generic school/teenage problems,] first.

“Jake, a thirteen year old at springwood high, has enough to worry about with not making the base ball team and getting dumped by text message, without a sect of ancient warrior chipmunks bringing their civil war to his town of Springwood. As the prophesied Tailless One it will be up to Jake to bring peace to the chipmunks, if he doesn’t get his heart broken by text message again first.”


This intern also found many girl meets boy stories, where the guy is just too amazing for words. After a few too many samples like this he rolled his eyes and passed on all of them.

Another interesting observation is that writers wanted to “start with a bang,” for example a plane crash on the first page. Mr. Mysterious found this stuff uncompelling, if not frankly boring. I would take a guess here that this is so because if you (the reader) don’t care about the characters yet, you don’t really care what happens.

Here’s another quote: “As an intern reading the first few pages of your novel, I was about the most detached person in the world from your story. I wasn't doing this for fun. Or as a favor, cause I knew/liked you. I was doing this, because it was my job, and as you may have guessed, a rather monotonous job at that (though certainly not without its rewards and excitement.) What this means is, the world might be ending in your story, but I was sitting there in an office, tired from my commute, hungry cause I skipped breakfast, and with a lot more queries after you to get through. And the world outside my window? Still there.

“As such, your primary goal in those first five (imo) should be to make the reader, be he agent, intern, or prospective buyer, care. If you make the reader care, he'll be hooked whether you drop a bomb on him or not. If you fail to make him care, then no matter how many bombs you drop, they'll all be duds. (lol, couldn't resist.)”

There were so many queries that he quickly started looking for reasons to reject. Some of these were:

1. Lots of typos.
2. Grammar or tense issues.
3. Blandness, clich├ęs, not being interesting.

Mr. Mysterious kept reading especially if the samples had Voice and/or Humor. He suspects there are two types of Voices that are professional: an overt or stylized voice that is immediately intriguing, and a subtle or realistic style of voice. Some examples of voice that he gives are:

Overt/Stylized: Coen Brother’s The Big Lebowski, Chuck Palahuik’s Choke, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Doestoevsky’s Notes from The Underground, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian. These overt voices portray exceptional, unique characters with stories that leap off the page.

Subtle/Realistic: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, anything by Hemmingway, John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Orwell's 1984, a lot of classic plays like The Glass Menagerie, and Death of a Salesman. You could imagine someone you see in the supermarket being able to tell these stories. This style often occurs in literary fiction.

5-10 pages for a sample may not be enough to capture this type of subtle voice well, and may not play well to a hurried agent or intern. However, different agents specialize in different genres, so you should look carefully for the type of agent that takes your type of stories.

*

I find it interesting to think that this intern found himself jaded and impatient after only a few days on the job. Keep this in mind when presenting your story. And thank you, Mr. Mysterious, for your sharp insights into the pubbing biz.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This is Why I Write



I love this picture. Isn't this so true -- when no one understands or wants to hash out an issue -- when you may not even KNOW there is an issue -- books have a way of gently taking you by the hand and showing a better way. Novels especially, because they just tell a story, and buried within that story is the kernel of what you need, or the model that you can follow to be just a little braver or stronger.

Keep writing, my friends. You don't know how your words may touch someone.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Blog Book Tour: The Story Template

Hi Everyone. My book will be featured on a number of blogs today, and I plan to list reviews on the side of this blog over the weekend. Thank you for your interest!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story

Taegais Publishing, LLC (July 25, 2011)

***Special thanks to Amy Deardon for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Amy Deardon is married with two children, and spends much time taking care of her family. In her life BC (before children) she was a scientist who did bench research. She is also a Christian who came to faith under protest through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus.

Amy has written one novel, A LEVER LONG ENOUGH, about a small military team that travels back in time to film the theft of Jesus' body from the tomb. This book won two awards.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

THE STORY TEMPLATE is a programmed learner that allows the writer to develop her story from chaos. The book uses a series of exercises for the writer to construct her story’s four foundational pillars; learn how to use the “secret weapon” of story structure: the story template; build character depth and believable change; and construct subplots. THE STORY TEMPLATE then reviews writing techniques, and finishes with discussions of editing, writing the synopsis and query letter, submitting one’s work to agents, and types of publishing that the writer may wish to pursue.

Product Details:

List Price: $15.95
Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Taegais Publishing, LLC (July 25, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0981899730
ISBN-13: 978-0981899732

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Writing a novel or screenplay sounds like a great idea until you sit down to start. Where do you start? Many different methods exist to write the story, ranging from extensive preplanning to venturing onto the first page without an idea. This book describes an approach to developing story--laid out as a sequential series of exercises to facilitate implementation--that you can use whether you prefer a structured or loose approach to writing. You can use it at the start to develop an idea fragment, or later to rescue a partial or completed manuscript that doesn't seem to be working. The method works whether you want to write plot-driven (genre) or character-driven (literary) stories. It enables you to efficiently use your time and creativity by breaking down the process of story building into a logical plan. You will not waste time sitting at your keyboard, wondering what you should write and how you can organize your ideas into a complete manuscript.

The idea for this book originated from my own learning process in producing a novel. Having written scientific articles, newspaper columns, and other nonfiction, when I decided to write a novel I was surprised by how difficult it was to get the words down. I tried outlining, and I tried just going ahead. I had wonderful ideas, but although the scenes I wrote were exciting the story itself often seemed somehow “wrong.” I threw out more pages than I care to remember. Through sheer grit I finished the novel, but when I thought about writing another my heart sank. I decided to first solve the problem of understanding how story worked.

I chose twenty entertaining, modern novels in different genres, and fifteen more-or-less recent films (and I've since confirmed my preliminary observations with tens of more stories). One at a time, I took them apart: I made a list of each scene, then did a word count or timed the scene, calculated percentages and other statistics, and graphed each story onto a five page chart. I studied each story's progression, then compared the progressions of different stories to determine common pathways. I also read all that I could on constructing stories. The writing how-to literature was heavy on techniques (plotting, point of view, characterization, dialogue)--all of which are important--but there wasn't much on blending it all together. Screenwriting how-to books were stronger on structure, but still didn't give me all I needed.

I studied story after story, puzzling out how they were built. First, I identified elements called story posts, and found that these posts fell reliably within the timing of the whole. Then I found consistent trends of progression in the plot, as well as consistent trends of development and interactions in the characters. My biggest surprise, in fact, was finding just how unvarying were the underlying levels of the story. I also identified a unit of story construction I call a “bubble” that bridges the gap between the high concept ideas for the story and individual scenes.

Once I had my background knowledge, I coached students to develop their stories, and thereby constructed an algorithm for the practical application of this theory.

So, what is this “story template” that is the title of this book? Is this a formula or blueprint you can mindlessly follow, like a paint-by-numbers canvas?

In a word, no. I like to call what I found a template since it describes the shape or progression, on a deep level, of virtually all stories. Recognizing this pattern in a story is something I liken to sketching a face. An artist will tell you that a person's eyes are about halfway down the head, and are separated by another eye width. The bottom of the nose is halfway between the eyes and the chin, the mouth is proportionally between the nose and the chin and extends to imaginary vertical lines drawn below the eyes' pupils, the tips of the ears hit about eyelid level, earlobe tips at bottom-nose level, and on and on. Faces are infinitely varied, yet if the artist ignores these rough proportions, no matter how carefully sketched the face will always look “wrong.” Similarly, you will use the template to ensure that your story elements are proportionally correct and all present. The template gives you a guide, but never dictates, what you can write.




Getting the story shape right is the first, and (in my opinion) the hardest step to writing a gripping novel or screenplay. Without good structure, the story tends to meander without a point: although it may have high action, it is characterized by low tension.

You may want to first read this entire book to get an overview of story before starting with the exercises. Keep in mind that shaping a story is intensive work, and it will take you weeks or even months to get your story organized. This is normal. Don't get discouraged, and don't skimp on the exercises. Take your time to thoroughly work through each step. At the end, your story will be much stronger, and the actual writing will go like a dream.

This book is not sufficient for producing a finished story ready for publication or production. You will need to master further writing techniques such as characterization, description, dialogue, transitions, editing, etc. I will touch upon a few of these to give you some direction, but the only way to get really good is to practice. Fortunately, many excellent books are available for help. See Appendix One to start.
Outline of The Plan

I like to use the metaphor of constructing a house to envision building a story. To assemble a house, you move from larger to smaller elements to sequentially put something together. Only after you have worked through many tasks is it finally time to do the fine details of painting the windowsills and installing the wallpaper. Similarly, while you have ideas about character arcs and plot twists, and maybe you've even written some scenes, you will be well served to develop a direction before writing through your manuscript. If you write your first draft as the ideas occur to you, then this will comprise your story planning. You'll find that you probably don't have enough material to form an entire novel or screenplay, and even if you do it may not hang together. Believe me, this is a laborious and frustrating way to go.

The Story Template gives a series of actions for you to do that will allow you to develop your story ideas with a minimum of angst and wasted energy. Some exercises will be quick, others will require a great deal of thought, and perhaps even a marination of thought, before finishing. Don't be in a rush--some of your best ideas will come as you play with character or event possibilities. As you continue to develop your story you will probably revisit different components of these exercises, going back and changing previous work, as you move through this programmed story outliner. That's okay. Just go with the flow, and have fun.

When you've finished with these exercises, you will be ready to start writing your manuscript, with ease and flow and speed, because you will have already done the hard organizational work. Even if you want to change the story as you're writing, you'll be able to do so with an understanding of how to balance the changes. You will have a detailed roadmap that will allow you to bring your vision--your book or screenplay--to completion.
Writing Tools

You are a writer. Before you start, you need to assemble the following items:

1. A tool with which to do your major writing, either a computer, an old-fashioned typewriter, or paper and pencil. If you do handwrite your notes, you may want to treat yourself to a special pen that you love, and is only to be used for your magnus opus.

2. A system to organize your template exercises. I prefer hard copy: printing out computer files, or writing on loose leaf paper, then placing the sheets in a three-ringed binder. This notebook may inspire you and give you a sense of accomplishment as you look through to see how much you've done. Not as recommended is keeping files only on computer because they're harder to flip through, mark up, and juxtapose ideas; or a spiral or bound notebook because you can't replace pages or change their order. But do what works for you.

3. A small notebook to carry with you at all times. Use this to jot down any thoughts that come to you.

4. Index cards. Get two packs, and we'll go over how to use them to story board. Also get a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker (thin tip) for bold marks. Finally, you may want to purchase an index card binder to permanently keep your cards in order.

Getting the Words Down

Here are some tips to help you get the words down:

1. Decide on a daily quota of words that is manageable. A good starting goal might be 300, but remember to keep pushing this number up as you become accustomed to the writing process. Create a log to record your daily output. Post this on your refrigerator or otherwise keep it prominent in your daily life.

2. Set aside at least fifteen minutes at a time in which you can remain undisturbed. Aim for an hour or more if you can.

3. Don't start your writing session by checking your e-mail or doing anything else except for writing.

4. Turn off anything that might distract you--music, radio, or television. Some people can write through these things, but try without for a few days to see if you do better.

5. If you're stuck, do free-writing where you talk to yourself on paper. Something like, “I'm trying to figure out what Jason's problems with Mike might be in this scene. I was thinking about…”

Let's get started.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Growth of Amazon

Let me say at the outset that I have a love-hate relationship with amazon. I love being able to get books so easily, and I love love love my kindle. I bought a kindle fire for my husband out of my minimal personal funds, and am hopeful he'll love it also. (He wants one but doesn't want to "spend the money").

On the downside, as a seller I feel like amazon takes my little widow's mite to itself. My publisher is offering my book at a 55% discount, which means they are paid $7.20 for each $16.00 book. Printing, shipping, and miscellaneous costs leave very little to go into the coffers. By contrast, amazon takes $8.80 per book. Yes, they ship, but is this fair? Furthermore there is no one to talk with at amazon about this. The publisher choices are to lower the discount to get more per sale (a problem for other reasons), or suck it up until and unless I the author get better sales. I actually had a good wave of sales and was building momentum until amazon raised the price. Now, I don't know. It is discouraging, believe me. No one reads this blog anyway, so I guess I can complain a bit. Sigh.

The summary below is from frugaldad.com.

Amazon Infographic

Source: Frugaldad.com

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fantasy Genre

Fantasy Genre

The Fantasy genre (monsters, genies, magical powers, time travel, and so forth) has been around since at least the time of Greek mythology, but it's interesting to study how "alternate reality" stories have developed in the modern era. Three early modern stories, that are now considered classics, are:

*The Nutcracker (scored by Tchaikovsky, premiere 1892, adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" written in 1816)

*Alice in Wonderland (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, written in 1865)

*The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum, written in 1900)

These early-modern fantasy stories are similar:

In The Nutcracker, at a Christmas party Clara is given a nutcracker that her brother promptly breaks. After midnight Clara dreams she sees the mouse king and Nutcracker fighting -- and through her heroic slipper-throwing she dispatches the mouse king and breaks the spell on her beloved Nutcracker, who is really a handsome prince. The prince takes her to the Kingdom of the Sweets where he and Clara hold court over all the dancing subjects in the kingdom celebrating the prince's return and Clara's bravery. The End.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is bored waiting with her sister, then sees a white rabbit with a watch run by. After falling down the rabbit hole she eats and drinks strange things, shrinks then grows tall, talks to disappearing cats, attends bizarre tea parties, rumbles with the Queen of Hearts ("Off with her head!") and basically has a confusing time of it before waking and realizing it was all a dream. The End.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy on her way home from rescuing her dog is caught up in a tornado and dropped in the land of Oz. She's chased by the Wicked Witch of the West, wears diamond slippers (ruby in the Judy Garland 1939 movie), and wanders through the country picking up assorted companions as she goes to find the Wizard of Oz so he can send her home. (NOTE: I'm still trying to figure out Dorothy’s line at the end. It goes something like, "I learned that when I go looking for my heart's desire, I don't have to go farther than my own backyard, because if it isn't there, I never lost it in the first place." Huh??). The End.

Does anyone see what the common theme in these stories might be?

I think the reason these don't work well as stories is because they don't have a point. They are PREMISES, without a goal-directed narrative. In all three, the main character goes on a journey, but comes back exactly the same as before. Well, Dorothy in Oz DOES have a character arc, but it's a trivial one: She basically learns that it's good to be home. This is like saying that the grass is green. Do I CARE about what happens to Clara, Alice, or Dorothy? Not really.

All three of these were written when fantasy types of stories were just beginning to emerge. The story world in these stories was sufficiently entertaining for an audience not as sophisticated in terms of story type and development as we are today with mega-special effects and mind-twisting story worlds.

So, in light of this, how might one make a story gripping? How might one cause the reader or viewer to identify with the protagonist?

Answer: There must be an element within the protagonist with which your reader or viewer identifies. By this I'm not talking about statistical data (white male, 30s, lives in Chicago, day trader), but rather, what the protagonist desires in the story, the point through which the character arc traverses. In other words, there must be a goal.

Let's do another example: Rocky, a classic film that I love love love! But wait a moment. I detest boxing; I can't stand the violence, crowds, yelling, smoke, blood, etc. I'm not an Italian man. I don't live in Philadelphia. I don't go to bars, or have friends who trash their houses with a baseball bat when they're angry. I don't punch raw meat. I do love dogs, so I could see myself running with Rocky’s Boxer, Budkins, but that's about it. Oh, and the music is great.

But surely this isn't enough to keep me watching. What I love about this movie is Rocky's determination to make something of himself: he doesn't want to be "just another bum from the neighborhood." Gee, I can definitely identify with this. I know that this is a hard thing to accomplish. I watch Rocky's heartbreaking struggle: he's pushed down at every turn, but somehow through a lucky break and some very hard work, he's able to claw himself up to prominence. He doesn't even win the final fight, but he knows that he has indeed become a Somebody through hard work and determination because he was able to “go the distance” with Apollo Creed.

Rocky's character arc parallels the course of triumph that I wish for my own life. He fights; I fight. He's knocked down; I'm knocked down. He makes progress; well, maybe I can make progress too. There's some hope.

The reader or viewer must care about your protagonist. To do this, there must be a deep abiding drive in your protagonist that your reader or viewer can identify with, and root for, and hope to see victorious. If your hero can do it, the reader or viewer thinks, then maybe so can I.