15 July 2014

How to Turn a Lackluster Middle into Page-turning Excitement

A writer revising the rough draft of a novel stalls in the middle where he finds some quirky, secondary characters, one of whom is a potential "romance plot" suitor, a couple of magical and mystical settings, several subplots of enchantment, various minor characters and… not much excitement. Appraising the long, dull corridor spanning the entire Middle, the writer despairs both at how to keep his revision ideas organized and, more importantly, how to amp up the tension and excitement.

Each secondary character and setting, subplot and minor character holds the potential for tension and excitement especially when paired against what the protagonist wants. This takes stepping back from the rough draft to dig deeper into the other characters individually, discovering their importance to the overall meaning of the story beyond helping the protagonist get to where she needs to go and devising goals and aspirations that interfere with the protagonist's goals and aspirations. This means you need to get to know these other characters as well as you know your protagonist.

In the rough draft, these secondary and minor cardboard characters served you while writing the protagonist's storyline. Now, in the revision, is their time to shine. Antagonists rule the middle and are there to teach the protagonist what she needs to know in order to prevail at the climax at the end. This learning is not easy and is fraught with dangerous and often unkind challenges.

Fill out a Character Profile for each character, defining goals in direct opposition to what the protagonist wants while also mirroring traits the protagonist is oblivious of and needs to confront and overcome over the course of the entire story.

(For more: Plot Whisperer and Blockbuster Plots books for writers and PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month video series.)

11 July 2014

Benefits of a Solid Concept and the Art of Pitching Your Story

Summer means Writers Conferences and pitching your story. You find yourself sitting at lunch next to a literary agent. How quickly and compellingly do you draw her into your story? How intriguing is your concept?

When friends ask what your story is about, rather than drone on about every single plot point, learn how to rattle off a pithy pitch that sends even people overhearing you begging for more.

Think of the concept and pitch as the seeds out of which grow action and characters interacting in a meaningful way.

Some writers won't write a word until they come up with a concept that renders them eager for more. Others don't tackle the task until they've finished writing and editing and are ready to query.

Wherever you are with your story, the time is never too early to ask yourself: What is your story about really? Brainstorm. Keep a notebook. Narrow down what your story is about to one or two lines and you're ready to pitch.

Concept, Logline, Pitch Workshop is the next workshop for all ages and all genres at A Path to Publishing.

Join literary agent and publishing insider Jill Corcoran and me and 22 other writers for the opportunity to refine your story concept, develop a log line and perfect your pitch.

05 July 2014

Pre-Plotting Made Simple

How to Pre-Plot:

1. Brainstorm ideas: Rough Sketch the 4 Energetic Markers on a Plot Planner

2. Test Concept Ideas for Feedback

3. Interview Your Main Characters

4. Write a Transformational Statement for Protagonist

5. Fill in Scene Ideas on your Plot Planner
  • Contrast Beginning and End
  • Exotic Middle World of the Antagonists

6. Write

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For more: Read my Plot Whisperer and Blockbuster Plots books for writers.

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Need more help with your story? 
  • Looking for tips to prop up your middle with excitement? 
  • Wish you understood how to show don't tell what your character is feeling? 
  • Are even you sometimes bored with your own story?
  • Long to form your concept into words? 
We can help you with all of that and so much more! View your story in an entirely new light. Recharge your energy and enthusiasm for your writing.

1st video (43 minutes of direct instruction + exercises for your own individual story) FREE
PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month includes 8 videos  (5.5 hours)  + 30 exercises total

02 July 2014

Cause and Effect Scene by Scene

Cause and effect within and between scenes allows you to seamlessly lead the reader to each major turning point by linking the cause in one scene to the effect in the next scene. This sequencing allows the energy of the story to rise smoothly.

If the sequence breaks down, scenes come out of the blue, and your story turns episodic. The reader, in turn, becomes disconcerted.

A story is made up of scenes with a clear dependence on each other. Conflict in a scene represents the motivating cause that sets a series of events in motion. As you test for cause and effect notice how some features of your story are more important than others. Look for patterns and see what elements lead to the thematic significance and which do not.

Scenes with No Cause and Effect 
As important as it is to study how scenes are linked by cause and effect, it’s just as important to analyze scenes with no line(s) linking them to others. Note any unexpected objects, locations, and actions in and between scenes deserve foreshadowing and earlier mentions and hints.

The reader (and the protagonist) doesn’t have an outline of the story and thus can only anticipate what is coming by discerning the clues given along the way by the use of foreshadowing. The life of the story takes on its own particular shape, and its sequence seems inevitable to the reader and audience because of foreshadowing.

Emotional Cause and Effect 
Use cause and effect to convey emotion in the protagonist. In one scene, a character responds emotionally to an event. In the next scene, we see the outcome of that emotional response, which, in turn, becomes the cause for another emotional effect. Each scene is organic; seeds planted in the first scene create the effect in the next.

Your Turn
Once again, push aside the words of your story. This time, stand back from it to determine the causality between scenes and the overall coherence of your story. View your story as a whole. With such an insight, you are better able to turn scenes with emotionally rich characters who are experiencing conflict into the driving force behind an exceptional story.
(Taken from: The Plot Whisperer Workbook Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories)
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Need more help with your story? 
  • Looking for tips to prop up your middle with excitement? 
  • Wish you understood how to show don't tell what your character is feeling? 
  • Are even you sometimes bored with your own story?
  • Long to form your concept into words? 
We can help you with all of that and so much more! View your story in an entirely new light. Recharge your energy and enthusiasm for your writing.

1st video (43 minutes of direct instruction + exercises for your own individual story) FREE
PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month includes 8 videos  (5.5 hours)  + 30 exercises total

 ~~~~~~~~
For more: Read my Plot Whisperer and Blockbuster Plots books for writers.

24 June 2014

Emotional Elements of Plot: Stories that Last Evoke Emotion

Dramatic action creates the pace of a story and determines the level of story excitement. The thematic significance reveals the meaning of the piece.
An emotional connection is fused between the reader and the story through the character emotional development. Not simply how a character develops and transforms physically and intellectually, outfoxing and out-thinking and out-performing an antagonist, readers feel an emotional connection through the development of a character’s emotional maturity. In other words, how a character develops emotionally and spiritually provides connection, identification and interest.

Emotion and Emotional Development 
How do the following two lists differ and how are they the same?

  • Honest
  • Courageous
  • Deceitful
  • Stingy
  • Fugal
  • Shy

Versus

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Pensive
  • Apologetic
  • Defensive
  • Happy


Each of the examples originates in the character. How they differ is one is a list of character traits. The second list is of emotions.

Character emotional development and emotional change are each an essential scene element. They both: sound alike are related are often confused

Character Emotional Development 
Showing how the character’s traits change and/or transform over the course of the entire story defines the character emotional development plot and the development of such is an essential element in every scene. The protagonist’s emotional development takes place over time and culminates at the end of the story in a lasting transformation. The character’s emotional development can be plotted from the beginning to the end of the story.

Emotional Change 
In every scene, the protagonist displays a range of emotion reactions to the dramatic action. How she reacts often is reflective of the burden she carries from her backstory. These emotions, which fluctuate within each scene, are usually transitory and fleeting. Showing your character’s emotions shift and change is an essential element in every scene.

Plot is how the events in a story directly impact the main character. Always, in the best-written stories, characters are emotionally affected by the events of the story. In great stories, the dramatic action transforms characters. This transformation makes a story meaningful. The dramatic action demands a goal. The character emotional development demands growth.

Steps toward Transformation 
Each obstacle and antagonist in the dramatic action plot provides the protagonist with opportunities to learn about herself and thus advance her character emotional development plot. Before she can transform, she first must become conscious of her strengths and weaknesses. Stories show a character changing, at the least, and transforming at the most profound. Often you can accomplish this by creating a flawed character. Eventually, she will have to face that flaw and overcome it in order to achieve her ultimate goal.

Examples of Character Flaws

  • Always the victim and unable to take responsibility for actions           
  • Control freak
  • Argumentative and short-tempered 
  • Liar and a cheat 
  • Stubborn 
  • Always has to be right 
  • Perfectionist 
  • Procrastinator 
  • Sits in judgment

The main character’s flaw establishes the protagonist’s level of emotional maturity and points to the potential for growth or transformation. Her flaw interferes with achieving her goal and riles up her emotions.

How to Use a Character Flaw 
A character flaw is a coping mechanism that arises from the loss of an original state of perfection that occurred in the character’s backstory. The character stores the emotion created by what happened in the backstory. Her flaw is designed to compensate for a perceived vulnerability, sense of insecurity, and feeling threatened.

No matter how confident, every major character demonstrates lessons learned from the wound inflicted in her backstory that now is lodged in her core belief system. In reaction, she often surrenders some or all of the authority over her own life to someone or something else.

Emotion in the Beginning 
The beginning of your story establishes who the character is, flaws and all. Your readers can look back to this portrait and compare it to who she becomes as she undergoes a transformation after the crisis. The portrait also foreshadows who she will be at the climax.

At the beginning of a story, the character’s emotional reactions help identify and introduce her. By the end of the beginning scene at the one-quarter mark of a story, all of the protagonist’s most defining traits, positive and negative have been introduced. This turning point scene reveals the most defining character trait of all.

What emotion does your protagonist communicate about entering the middle of the story?

  • eager 
  • reluctant 
  • resistant 

This choice of hers shows her defining character trait starting out the story:

  • courageous 
  • timid 
  • afraid 

Emotions Intensify in the Middle
The emotions the protagonist managed to keep in check in the beginning of the story begin to unravel in the chaos and uncertainty of the unfamiliar world in the middle of a story. Overwhelmed and fearful, challenged and hurt, the protagonist becomes vulner­able. Most importantly, the middle deepens the audience’s appreciation for the protagonist’s emotional maturity, or lack thereof, by her emotional reactions as the obstacles become more difficult to surmount.

All the outer events, ordeals, successes, and failures of the character constitute the dramatic action of a story and provide the catalyst for change. The farther the protagonist penetrates into the new world of the middle and the more obstacles she confronts, the character’s emotional defenses begin to break down and her emotions turn bleaker and darker. Unable to function at a superficial level any longer, she begins to experience heightened emotions, ones that touch the core of her being. When she is prevented from reaching her goal, her emotional reaction changes subtly over time, flicking back and forth in the scene like a trapped fly.

Emotional Maturity 
One of the defining elements of the final quarter of a story are the number of complications the protagonist is slapped the nearer she moves toward achieving her goal. With each complication, the protagonist suffers some sort of reversal. Yet, unlike the reversals in the middle of the story, the protago­nist no longer loses power even if she is physically, mentally or emotionally restrained or injured. As the character emotional development changes, her emotional expression changes, too. What begins with the display of emotional upheaval transforms into emotional maturity.

At the end of a story, as a result of the action on the page, the character’s transformation is revealed through the change in her choices and in her emotional responses from how she acted in the beginning and in the middle. 

The plot of a story is about a character faced with a series of conflicts and obstacles while in pursuit of a goal, which, over time, inspire her to change her choices. In the end, she is transformed, and her ultimate transformation creates her anew with a different understanding of herself and her existence.
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For more: Read my Plot Whisperer and Blockbuster Plots books for writers
~~~~~~~~~
Time to rewrite your story? 
  • Ready for a massive rewrite? Re-vision first!
  • Confused about what you're really trying to convey in your story?
  • Lots of action, no character development? Lots of character development and no action?
  • Looking for tips to prop up your middle with excitement? 
  • Wishing you understood how to show don't tell what your character is feeling? 
  • Are even you sometimes bored with your own story?
  • Long to form your concept into words? 
We can help you with all of that and so much more! View your story in an entirely new light. Recharge your energy and enthusiasm for your writing.

1st video (43 minutes of direct instruction + exercises for your own individual story) FREE
PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month includes 8 videos  (5.5 hours)  + 30 exercises total

20 June 2014

17 Steps to Becoming an Effective Communicator with the Muse

A romance writer awakens with her right eye swollen. I suggest that a male in her life wants her to open-up to something she’s refusing or unable to see (issues on the right side of the body often have to do with male energy. The right is female. Eyes = sight).

Her eyes widen and she quickly mumbles that she needs to get to know her male protagonist better as if she knows what I’m talking about. I don't need to know what's going on. Only she does and she did.

How real are the muses that have been credited throughout history for all that writers and musicians and artists create? Does something outside of ourselves truly “sing through” us when we write? What if that same energy or spirit communicates with us in other ways, too? Messages sent through our bodies and through the natural world at large to help guide us from one success to the next with clues and signals how to by-pass negative emotions and reside in a place of emotional maturity?

If you knew the muse to be true, would you listen? Could you be open? Should you be trusting? 

17 Steps to Becoming an Effective Communicator with the Muse
  • Give yourself the time needed to daydream and doodle, take quiet walks in nature and quiet your mind enough to truly listen
  • Be open to all different expressions of inspiration and ideas 
  • Ask the muse for specific help in solving problems creatively and for real understanding 
  • Invite the muse in and feel understood
  • Create an environment where the muse feels safe to open up 
  • Rid yourself of negative emotions 
  • Avoid interrupting the muse 
  • Avoid judging what comes 
  • Watch for signs from the muse
  • Ask for signs
  • Jot down what you see and hear and intuit
  • Become aware of nature around you
  • Look for meaning in what you come across, notice, are drawn to
  • Relinquish your opinions and control over what you think you need or want to provide space and acceptance for new ideas and opportunities 
  • Show you’re interested and open to inspiration 
  • Accept the communication that comes to you without criticism or judgment
  • Show interest in what the muse is sharing with you by taking notes, writing furiously, giving thanks 

18 June 2014

Character Emotional Development: Transformation and Emotional Maturity

The emotional steadiness your protagonist develops in a story (character emotional development plot) from all that happens to her (dramatic action plot), I call change, maturity, transformation, transcendence (your genre and your story -- action-driven | character-driven -- define the level of character development that fits the underlying meaning of your own individual story).

The lessons she learns in the middle, having suffered greatly and paid dearly, lead to this change at the end of the story. All of the lessons and wisdom and skills and abilities she learns are critical for her ultimate success at the Climax.

Some abilities and skills are external and necessary to complete the dramatic action plot. Others are internal. All of the internal lessons and wisdom gained point directly to emotional maturity as shown by the protagonist's ability to understand and manage at the end those same emotions that continually tripped her up in the beginning and then felled her in the middle of the story.

Characters who have endured trauma, deception, abandonment, betrayal, abuse, pain, loss, sadness either before the story begins or during the story and are left unhealed (backstory wound) typically become emotionally stuck at the time and place of the trauma. For her to achieve her goal, she must first become conscious of her backstory wound and then move towards healing the past in order to successfully move into the future.

The following are some traits that point to emotional immaturity (as shown in the beginning and deepened in the middle of the story) compared to emotional maturity (as shown at the end of the story):
  • Own Desires versus Delayed Gratification = Ability to keep long-term commitments
  • Blaming versus Responsible = Acceptance of current life circumstances as a result of personal decisions
  • Intellect versus Intuition = "See" a solution and research best course of action
  • Reactive versus Proactive = Value-based decision-making
  • All the Answers versus Open-Minded = Desire to learn and seek counsel
  • Rigid versus Adaptable = Willing to be flexible. Open to change
  • Self-conscious versus We are All One = Possesses a spirit of humility
  • Narrow-minded versus Alternative Views = Open to others' opinions and views
  • Critical versus Non-judgemental = Respect for others' right to their beliefs
  • Entitled versus Grateful = Appreciative
  • Shutdown versus Resilient = Express disappointments, plot a plan, move on
  • Erratic Mood Swings versus Emotional Steadiness = Peaceful state of mind
  • Uncooperative versus Realistic Optimism = Willingness to seek out opportunities
  • Removed and Shutdown versus Approachable = Actively building relationships
  • Shaken versus Steady = Secure in who you are
  • Intense versus Humor = Not taking oneself too seriously
~~~~
Need more help with your story? 
  • Ready for a massive rewrite? Re-vision first!
  • Confused about what you're really trying to convey in your story?
  • Lots of action, no character development? Lots of character development and no action?
  • Looking for tips to prop up your middle with excitement? 
  • Wishing you understood how to show don't tell what your character is feeling? 
  • Are even you sometimes bored with your own story?
  • Long to form your concept into words? 
We can help you with all of that and so much more! View your story in an entirely new light. Recharge your energy and enthusiasm for your writing.

1st video (43 minutes of direct instruction + exercises for your own individual story) FREE
PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month includes 8 videos  (5.5 hours)  + 30 exercises total
 ~~~~~~~~
For more: Read my Plot Whisperer and Blockbuster Plots books for writers

17 June 2014

Writer Path Retreat Photo Montage





Friday, May 30th, 2014,







Jordan Rosenfeld

and I meet up at Mt. Madonna

before the 18 intrepid writers who signed up for our weekend writers retreat. Our spacious cabin greets us. Anticipation envelopes us. The first writer arrives.

So begins the 1st ever Writer Path Plot and Scene Retreat.
 









Sign-ups now available for next year's Writer Path Retreat May 1st - 3rd, 2015!

13 June 2014

Beginnings Hook Readers. Endings Create Fans

Ten reasons why I nearly always begin a plot workshop, consultation, presentation at the Climax and why you should begin with ideas about what happens at the end of your story and plot your way to the beginning:
  1. Fresh start 
  2. Shakes things up
  3. Pulls writers out of their comfort zone
  4. Forces writers to move beyond the character's backstory into the real story
  5. Key elements reveal themselves at the end
  6. How to portray the character in the beginning emerges from how the character acts at the end
  7. When you know how your story ends, you are better able to determine where to begin your story
  8. Most writers write the beginning 100 times and are lucky if they write the climax even once
  9. Writing the end seals the promise you can write from the beginning and get there
  10. The climax becomes the beacon that guides you to finish
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Need more help with your story? 
  • Ready for a massive rewrite? Re-vision first!
  • Confused about what you're really trying to convey in your story?
  • Lots of action, no character development? Lots of character development and no action?
  • Looking for tips to prop up your middle with excitement? 
  • Wish you understood how to show don't tell what your character is feeling? 
  • Are even you sometimes bored with your own story?
  • Long to form your concept into words? 
We can help you with all of that and so much more! View your story in an entirely new light. Recharge your energy and enthusiasm for your writing.

1st video (43 minutes of direct instruction + exercises for your own individual story) FREE
PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month includes 8 videos  (5.5 hours)  + 30 exercises total
 ~~~~~~~~
For more: Read my Plot Whisperer and Blockbuster Plots books for writers.

10 June 2014

A Soul Shattering Tip How to Plot the End of Your Novel, Memoir, Screenplay

October 17, 1989, at 5:04:15 p.m. (PDT), the epicenter of a magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit nearly smack in my garden. The doorframe I clutched shifted erratically, the floor beneath me shook, the house creaked and moaned and all water in the little neighborhood pool rose up into the air and broke over the side. As Robert Page, U.S. Geological Survey writes of the event:

"It was a wakeup call to prepare for the potentially even more devastating shocks that are inevitable in the future."

That's sort of like what happens to the protagonist when hit by the Crisis around the three quarter mark of your story. The ground shakes, uncovering all illusions about herself and the world around her, leaving her blinded by the truth of her own insignificance.

What truly defines the protagonist is what she does after the crisis. From one extreme of intense vulnerability to another of shame and discomfort WHILE also knowing she had a part to play in her own demise AND that the crisis is merely a wakeup call to prepare her for the potentially even more devastating shocks that are inevitable in the future.

Her motivation must be strong and meaningful to go forward in the face of such torment. So much easier to get lost in the haze of addictions and self-loathing… oh, that's the human condition. For your protagonist, there is no stopping beyond a spell of reflection, gathering resources and allies and letting go of everything that no longer serves her.

At the point she steps over into the last quarter of the story to gain her true freedom, the End begins. 

Along the way on her ascent to the Climax, quake your story with some of those inevitable and more devastating aftershocks. Entering the End she's wobbly, uncertain, and highly vulnerable. Her emotions are at their peak. The hits give her chances to stretch beyond who she was beforethe crisis, come into mastery or at least a firm grip of all the lessons and knowledge she's gained and prepare her for the Climax where she demonstrates who she is becoming.
~~~~
Need more help with your story? 
  • Ready for a massive rewrite? Re-vision first!
  • Confused about what you're really trying to convey in your story?
  • Lots of action, no character development? Lots of character development and no action?
  • Looking for tips to prop up your middle with excitement? 
  • Wish you understood how to show don't tell what your character is feeling? 
  • Are even you sometimes bored with your own story?
  • Long to form your concept into words? 
We can help you with all of that and so much more! View your story in an entirely new light. Recharge your energy and enthusiasm for your writing.

1st video (43 minutes of direct instruction + exercises for your own individual story) FREE
PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month includes 8 videos  (5.5 hours)  + 30 exercises total

 ~~~~~~~~
For more: Read my Plot Whisperer and Blockbuster Plots books for writers.