31 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Thirty-One

Today marks the final day of International Plot Writing Month. Thank you for visiting and following along. I'm pleased to know the information has helped so many of you prepare for your next rewrite and that you're confident and ready to begin writing tomorrow.

On this last day:
1) If you don't have one already, create a space devoted for your writing.

2) Organize your space. Purge and cleanse the space of everything but your manuscript and notes. 

3) Hang your Plot Planner for easy viewing from where you'll do your daily writing.

4) Create a writing ritual for yourself. For instance, every morning at 4:30AM before I begin writing, I make myself a cup of green tea and drink a glass of water. From having done the same ritual everyday for so many years, my body knows immediately up I'm up to and responds in kind. 

5) If you're going to write during family time, consider creating some sort of signal so your family members know you're working and honor your time by not interrupting. Isabel Allende lights a candle and as long as the candle burns her family knows not to bother her. A dear friend hangs a sign indicating her "office hours" that day. So long as it's hanging on her writing studio door, her husband knows not to enter. The more seriously you take your writing time, the more seriously your family and friends will honor your writing time, too.

6) Tonight after all the festivities of saying goodbye to '08 and greeting '09, before you fall asleep, see yourself tomorrow going through each step of your ritual and really see yourself writing, for even longer than the length of time you scheduled. Ask the "powers that be" to help support your efforts in the morning and to show you in ways that only the great beyond is able to that you have been heard...

7) Great good luck!!

I hope you'll continue to visit here for inspiration as I unwind from plot consultations and comment on the problems other writers confront in their process and offer tips to keep going.

My intention is and always has been to help support writers to keep at the business of writing.

30 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Thirty

It's time to create your writing schedule for the new year. Take out the calendar you bought on Day Twenty-Seven.

Think long and hard about your daily life and obligations, and your personal best and most productive times of the day. Decide how many days a week you are willing to devote to your writing. Add an extra day to that. 

Now mark on your calendar the days and time you will devote to your writing. If you have to, wake up an hour early or stay up an hour later than you are used to. (I find my most productive creative writing time is at 4:30 AM. Don't ask me why. But, it's a magical time to be awake when the rest of the world sleeps. I always wake up automatically. Getting out of bed is another matter entirely, but the point is, I do. It's a habit now. You will, too.)

By scheduling in your writing time like this, you'll be more apt to stick to the schedule. Plus, when friends or family or work request/demand your time, you'll more easily be able to tell them the truth:
I have a pre-arranged appointment at that time. We'll have to come up with another time.
If you don't have the time pre-scheduled, chances are much greater that you'll put yourself and your writing last, which invariably means you'll not get to it. 

Don't despair if you find that honoring yourself and your writing time difficult at first. With practice, however, you'll find yourself joyfully committed to your special writing time. An added bonus is that when the muse finds you consistently showing up, creativity will more readily be available to you. The habit itself creates miracles and mysteries. 

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-Nine

Continue with Day Twenty-Eight assignment.

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-Eight

I'm running out of energy!! This daily posting practice is a challenge for people like me who rail against any and all kinds of routine. This month has given me a great appreciation of all you NaNoWriMo Winners!! I work better in fits and starts, intensely focused writing with times of backing off and recharging.

Enough about me. 

Back to International Plot Writing Month....

Reread your manuscript, keeping in mind all the work you've done this month. Take notes right on your manuscript -- detailed enough so that when you reach them in your rewrite you know what you were thinking. 

Mark out with a big black X any and all words, paragraphs, and chapters you plan to delete in the next rewrite. Add ideas of what you wish to add or create in the next go round. Keep your Plot Planner in front of you as you work your way through your manuscript. 

I'm giving you two days for this (though since I'm behind you'll have to work fast!! My apologies.)

27 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-Seven

Five days and counting...

As you continue to arrange the scene Post-it notes from yesterday, don't fret about your manuscript's chapter numbers or formatting. You can address those issues in January when you undertake writing the next draft. 

For now, concentrate on the plot and structure for the overall book. 

Move scenes around in anyway that best serves the manuscript. Be creative. Switch the Crisis to the End of the Beginning. The Climax to the Crisis. Be brutal. Make broad cuts and assess results. 

Line things up. Organize. Think of the work you're doing like packing before undertaking a long trip. Plan ahead now so you can let go and have fun during January's rewrite. 

Two steps for today:

1) At the top or bottom of each of the three parts of your Plot Planner, write the protagonist's goal. The protagonist starts the story with a specific goal in mind. That goal usually shifts, either subtly or radically, when the protagonist moves from the Beginning to the Middle, after the Crisis, and as she faces the End.

2) Buy yourself a '09 calendar - day-to-day at-a-glance or monthly or one of those big hanging ones for the entire year. 

If you are just joining us, begin on Day One and move forward to today.

26 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-Six

Cause and Effect

Using the master Plot Planner you created on Day Twenty-Five, now draw a line from one scene to the next when they are linked by cause and effect. In other words, if the action in one scene causes the action in the next scene, draw a line to connect the two of them. Continue that way through every scene. 

Where one scene does not cause the action in the next, do not connect the two scenes with a line. Leave them blank.

Six days left and counting...

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-five

Above and Below
For twenty-four days, you have analyzed your story through plot and structure, searched for meaning, arranged scenes, and considered the energetic flow throughout. In the process, you have likely seen your story in a completely new way, and even perhaps, yourself, too. 

7 days left -- time for finesse and nuance. Let the countdown begin.

Collect the the Beginning, Middle, End Plot Planners you created on Day Thirteen, Day Twenty-one , and Day Eight respectively. 

Transfer the scenes onto Post-It notes (helpful if you use different colored Post-It notes for the different plot lines -- blue for character emotional development, red for dramatic action, yellow for thematic significance, orange for political elements, etc.).

Arrange the Post-It notes on banner paper -- sorry, I wish there was a smaller version possible, but if an average novel is 60 scenes, you can imagine how long the Plot Planner for the entire project will be. 

Trick this time? Arrange notes either above or below the Plot Planner line determined by who holds the power in the scene. When the character is in control, the scene goes below the line. When the character is out of control and an antagonist in control, the scene belongs above the line.

Above the line - scenes with conflict, tension, suspense.

Below the line - scenes where the protagonist is in control.

(While you're at it, clear a place on the wall to hang the Plot Planner when the month is over and you're ready to begin the official next draft rewrite with an entirely new vision of your story.)

24 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-four

The Middle (cont.)

The Crisis is the highest point energetically in the story so far. 

Both the Character Emotional Development plot line and the Dramatic Action plot line rise to a Crisis. These can happen separately (the 1/2 mark as one and the 3/4 mark as the other). The greatest impact occurs when the two happen simultaneously at the 3/4 mark.

Either way, the Crisis represents the end of something, a death -- figuratively or symbolically or metaphorically -- a job, a relationship, a belief, or an old personality. 

A Crisis is life taking the protagonist by the shoulders and shaking her until she has to wake up, become conscious, see life as it really is. Without creating some sort of learning or awakening or consciousness, an event is does not constitute a true Crisis. 

Falling Energy
Once the Crisis hits, the reader and the protagonist need a time of rest. The story has exploded and now, reeling, both the character and the reader need time to adjust, take things in, plan, come to terms.

This is where the character often decides whether because of what happened in the Crisis, she will take on the mantle of the victim or the victor and thus, determine the final 1/4 of the story.

By slowing the action and drama for a bit now, allows the energy to rise more quickly in the End and with greater impact. 

Plot the scenes that come after the Crisis in your story and before the final (1/4) -- the End.

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-three

The Middle

Following are several posts that deal with the Middle (1/2). My hope is that they may stimulate more insight about what works in your Middle and where you might put a bit more attention.

The Middle
The Middle
Consider the Reader

22 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-two

The Middle (cont.)

Consider the "middle" of the Middle of your story. 

The scenes in the middle of the Middle of a story often line up looking like below. So long as the unusual and/or exotic world is intriguing and mysterious and fascinating enough, you're in good shape. By the time the reader is at the middle of the Middle she has surrendered to the dream you've created. The story and the characters have actually replaced parts of the reader's world and become real for her. 
The early Middle and middle of the Middle are the honeymoon stage. The reader likes the character as revealed so far. The reader wants to hang out with the story and the characters. The middle of the Middle the protagonist is still on her best behavior -- relative to her and her alone. 

Eventually, later, closer to the 3/4 mark and when the Crisis hits, the character opens up more and more to the reader as the stakes rise higher and higher. Under pressure, the protagonist reveals who she really is, flaws and all. 

But, that's for later. For now, here, in the middle of the Middle, the character has settled a bit into the new world and no longer feels so much like a fish out of water. She begins to catch on to the rules of the new world. 

In other words, the story can slow down a bit here (keep in mind, however, a sort of major shift or "hit" usually occurs at the exact 1/2 of the entire page count mark.) 

  • Continue to plot out your scenes on the Middle of your Plot Planner
  • Research the unusual world for authentic details. Take notes for your next draft. 
  • Consider how the Middle and the End work together. What in the Middle is contributing to the overall character transformation of your protagonist at the End? 
  • How many of the following antagonists** are you using to create conflict, tension, and suspense. The antagonists must arise out of the story itself and contribute to the overall meaning or thematic significance of your story overall. (If you do not know the thematic significance statement for your story, continue the exercises on: Day Four and Day Seven.)
**Antagonist List
Other people: friends, family, lover, co-workers, boss, children
Nature: flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, freezing temperatures, drought
Machine: anything mechanical or electronic
Society: rules, laws, customs, traditions, expectations, religious institutions, dogma
God: spiritual beliefs
Self: flaw, hatred, prejudice, fears, past mistakes

21 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-one

The Middle

You created the Beginning (1/4) of your Plot Planner on Day Thirteen and the End (1/4) of your Plot Planner on Day Eight.

Now it's time for the Middle (1/2) of your Plot Planner.

I want you to create the Middle portion of your Plot Planner similar to how you created the other two parts of your Plot Planner. To review, so far, you have an index card or piece of 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper or whatever works best for you as the Plot Planner of the Beginning and one for the End of your story AND a smaller version for the Middle where you had plotted at least one or possibly two scenes from the Middle section.

Today, expand the Middle portion to its own index card. Simply draw a line similar to below:
Write in the Crisis scene you came up with in your first draft. Plot any other scenes you remember in the middle 1/2 of your draft. Don't refer to the draft itself. Just write what comes to you. Don't push to remember. Give each scene/event a title. Write the scenes above the line in the order of appearance in the story. Write in pencil.

20 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty

I bet you're itching to get back to writing, aren't you? 

All you wordsmiths out there, patience. This analytical stuff is counter-intuitive for most creative types. But trust me. The more you stick with it now, the better your next draft. Plus, I want you eager for the word and sentence and paragraph level. That way, you'll stick to the writing schedule in '09 that you create for yourself at the end of this month.

And, besides it's Winter Solstice. This is the time to release old stuff you don't need, which includes scenes and chapters your story doesn't need. Any scene -- energy -- that doesn't line up with the story's highest good, release it to the universe and it will go to a better place. 

The 1st draft often produces quality of a lower vibrational level than subsequent drafts. The more you purge now, the more space your story has to receive that which serves the work best.

As we release the unneeded words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs, our stories embrace a new identity and with that comes a new higher more vibrant and dynamic meaning.

The more you line your story up with the correct material, the faster the story will create.

Think of what we're doing now as the anticipation stage and the main event as writing the next draft. Remember, in an earlier post, when I talked about the three ways to create more emotion in your story:
  • Anticipation
  • The main event
  • Reaction
Character anticipation can be the strongest emotional stage. I want you prepared and excited when the time comes for you to embark on your next draft.

The Middle (1/2)
I love the Middle of stories. By the Middle, I've committed to the story. I know nothing too terribly awful will happen for awhile -- at least not as awful as I know will come later -- and I can sink into the story world itself, hang out with the characters, and get to know them better. Of course, all along and deep down, I know the story is building to a Crisis. I can taste it, sense it, feel it coming. I try to pretend the Crisis will not come, but after a while it's obvious. Doom is about to hit, has to hit. There is no other way for the story to go. 

What is the unusual, exotic world of the Middle in your story?
What character flaw continually sabotages the protagonist?
What other antagonists get in her way? (Remember, the Middle is the territory of the antagonists.) (Use as many as you need to create tension, conflict and suspense...)

The Middle 1/2 often has a plot of its own -- with a Beginning (as the character enters the story world itself, she feels like a fish out of water), a Middle that rises in intensity (a major turning point often happens in the middle of the Middle), and an End that culminates at the Crisis. (Do NOT confuse this with the Climax -- the Climax comes at the End of the overall story itself and shows the character fully in her own personal power.) The Crisis shows the protagonist at her worst -- after all, it's a Crisis.

The 2nd draft is well spent at the overall plot and structure level. Until the form of the story works, -- a likable character, action linked by cause and effect that rises and falls and rises again that all adds up to mean something -- finding just the right word in just the right sentence can be premature. Writing a book can drag on forever, often both because we love the characters and because we bury our heads in the words rather than taking time to analyze. 

Happy Winter Solstice

19 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Nineteen

If you like fluffy words and easy stories, skip this month-long analyzation of plot and structure. The International Plot Writing Month is about writers intent on finding enlightenment through their stories.

It can happen to you. Your path? The revisioning process in preparation for the next rewrite. In a flashing moment something opens. Your story is new all through. You see the same unsame world of your story with fresh eyes. 

This universe-renewing power comes by grace, not logic. The old Chinese devised problems, called koan, to stop their students' word-drunkenness and mind-wandering. Didn't you feel that, at least a little, after NaNoWriMo? Word-drunkenness. I like that.

My intention this month is to have you "meditate on koans." Or, another way of saying: Don't waste your life merely sensing; channel thought and feeling to one purpose -- your story -- and then let it happen. Put your mind--and all else you have--to it.

What is the right answer to a koan? There are many right answers and there are also none.

Writing a story is an act of creation, after all. 

Tomorrow we begin the Middle (1/2). 

For now, finish up connecting the dots between the Beginning and the End.

If you're just beginning the month with us, please start at the beginning and work your way forward.

Gratitude to: 
Shambhala Pocket Classics Zen Flesh, Zen Bones complied by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki for some of the text and concepts offered here.

18 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Eighteen

For those of you who hit this blog and are not writers, explore an issue you face using the Universal Story form. Go to Day Twelve for the steps to take.

For those of you who are preparing for the next draft of your novel, memoir, or screenplay by following the day-by-day suggestions here, how did the read-through go? I hope you found moments of brilliance. I'm sure you found lots of clunky writing, passages that at one time made so much sense and now make absolutely no sense at all. Whatever you found, be gentle with yourself. The first draft of anything is suppose to resemble vomit-on-the-page. The first draft is all about getting words on the page.

Now, take time to rethink your story.

The best way to begin is to reread the Beginning (1/4) and the End (1/4). Look for any connections to deeper meaning and make notes on how best to expand those connections. Search for opportunities to foreshadow in the Beginning what comes at the End.

Forget the Middle for now. The Middle (1/2) is the exotic or unusual world of the story world itself and generally functions in its own unique way. However, the Beginning and the End need to link up. See what you can find.

Recheck the list of scenes you created on Day Three. Of the scenes that were NOT listed, which ones can be cut altogether? Of the scenes that WERE listed, how many can be cut altogether.

Check the Plot Planners you created for the Beginning and the End. What scenes do you wish to include that you had forgotten earlier? Add those now.

Keep your focus on the overall meaning of the story while you analyze the Beginning and the End.

Good luck....

17 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Seventeen

Got it! I stayed open and waited for inspiration. Finally, it hit.

It's time....

Pull out that binder with your manuscript that you created on Day Two.

With all the work you've done in the past sixteen days, read your manuscript from beginning to end. Do not take notes. Do not edit. Just read. Like a reader. Keep in mind the deeper meaning you've been exploring in the past couple of weeks.

16 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Sixteen

When I first started helping writers with plot I was known as the Plot Queen. My friends and family had been calling me that for years for the way I've always plotted out Thanksgiving dinners and parties I throw.

The lists I make are illustrated, linear, and compulsive -- a list of guests (characters), and then the sequence for shopping and preparation (which correlates to the anticipation scenes you write), and then I plot out the main event. The "follow-through scene" invariably comes the next day, unscripted, when I clean up and relive the fun.

Now, I'm even more obnoxious. My plotting compulsion has transfered to everything that happens in life. I translate political and historical events, strangers and friends' behavior, everything that happens into the Universal Story form -- the hero's journey. Often, by identifying the archetypes involved in friends' dramas, I help them separate from what's happening on a physical level into a deeper wisdom -- similar to what I do with writers stories in the plot consultations I offer.

So, what's the point??? Just to say that with everything I've plotted and helped others plot throughout the years, I neglected to pre-plot this most special month -- the first ever International Plot Writing Month.

The idea came so suddenly and only a week or so before the first day of December...

No excuses. Been fun for me so far, but today I lost the energy for where I was going.

Need a day to regroup.

Keep at your plot and structure analyzing. Catch up if you fell behind. Re-scan the posts. Begin again from Day One.

Thank you for your patience....

Until tomorrow, keep warm.

15 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Fifteen

We're halfway through December -- International Plot Writing Month. I trust the time you've spent reading the posts and exploring the exercises has given you a new angle, passion, and energy for your writing, and has deepened the meaning of your story.

So much of writing is by feel. The suggestions here are simply ways to help support your groping...

The Climax decides the Beginning. Examine the Climax you've written for insights into what is being revealed about the protagonist. Think of the protagonist's flaw as the weakest link in her growth -- I'd like to write: spiritual growth but am afraid the word spiritual will be misunderstood. What I'm referring to has nothing at all to do with religion -- it's the part of you that is beyond the physical body. Oops... I was talking about your protagonist, not you...

What does the protagonist have to overcome in herself in order to do what she does at the Climax???

A story is a spiritual quest. Once the character has taken the challenge and entered the story world itself -- Middle, she is knocked around, shaken up, challenged, and tested. In order for the quest to have meaning, the protagonist must share the gifts she has learned with the "tribe".

This is why so many stories are circular -- the protagonist must return home with the elixir -- the End circles back the Beginning...

Any character/person brave enough to step outside her comfort zone is being invited on a quest. Sharing the gifts completes the circle.

What is your protagonist's flaw? What does she do to sabotage herself from achieving her goals? What does she do to get in her own way of attaining her dreams? What is she doing to herself unconsciously that the story forces her to become conscious of and, once she aware of herself, is able to do things differently and thus, reach that which she longs for in life AND helps make the world around her a better place??? The answers to these questions will help determine what belongs in the Beginning of your story.

14 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Fourteen

The Beginning

The work you did yesterday -- Day Thirteen -- creating a Plot Planner for the Beginning (1/4) of your story -- comes in handy today.

Every writer faces a multitude of choices, two of which are:
1) Deciding where to begin your story
2) Which Point of View to use.

Today we'll go over #1 -- Deciding where to begin your story.

One of the many benefits of NaNoWriMo is that it forces a writer to keep writing all the way through the first draft to the end. Without this sort of discipline, many writers end up creating a horrible habit for themselves -- the going-back-to-the-beginning syndrome. NaNoWriMo writers often have less trouble cutting the typical 35-100 pages from their WIP because they haven't invested hundreds of hours by going back to the beginning and starting over again, over and over and over again. That is not to say cutting any of our work is ever easy, but it's easier than if you've invested umpteen hours and perfected every word and sentence.
In other words, deciding which scene best starts the story often includes the realization that major cuts are in order.

Once the shock and resistance fades, look over the Beginning scenes you plotted out yesterday. Compare those Beginning scenes to the End scenes you plotted on Day Eight.

The fact you have completed at least one draft of your story gives you an advantage. You know what the Climax of the story is.

The dramatic action in any story forces the character to transform over time. At the Climax of the story, the character is then able to do something she was unable to do at the Beginning of the story. She needed to go through every other scene in order to be transformed and get to the place where she could face her greatest fear--at the very least thematically.

The Beginning (1/4) of your story should foreshadow what has to come at the Climax. The Beginning scenes should set the tone, the mood, a "ticking clock", the theme, introduce all the major characters, including the setting -- which often serves as a secondary character in stories -- and get the story going.

Keep the scenes that create conflict, tension and suspense, and/or curiosity or have the potential to create those elements.

Cut or combine and compress the scenes that are slow, benign, and telling.

Another reason the decision of where to begin your story is so difficult is because the "inciting incident" -- the moment when the protagonist lost her balance -- often occurs years before the story begins.

Writers try all sorts of techniques to capture that moment -- flashback, telling in summary, info dumping in dialogue, and the like. For now, try to keep the story going without revealing the moment from the past. For now, create a first scene that can function as an "inciting incident" -- a new moment when the protagonist lost her balance enough so this time she is forced to take action.

Once the protagonist launches into the heart of the story world -- the Middle -- she takes on a quest, a journey to regain the earlier capacity or balance she had lost so long ago. At the Climax at the End of the book, she will use this capacity -- it's not a new ability or balance, it's the one she lost so long ago -- at the Climax.

The Beginning (1/4) of your story is determined by your Climax.

Study the Beginning and End Plot Planners. Take them with you as you shop and drive. Search for connections while you wait in line, traffic, or just have a moment or two to daydream...

Ask for guidance from your story. What are you really trying to say in your story overall??

Take your time.

The answers are right there in front of you...

Good luck. Oh, and have fun.

13 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Thirteen

The Beginning

Every story involves a quest. The problem is that the quest generally does not begin until the beginning of the Middle or 1/4 of the way into the story, which begs the question -- what do you do with the Beginning 1/4 of your story? 

The first quarter of the book, the Beginning, has to hook the reader. But, how?

I'll offer you a few suggestion tomorrow and on Monday. For now, I want you to create the Beginning portion of your Plot Planner similar to how you created the End of your Plot Planner on Day Eight.

To review, so far, you have an index card or piece of 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper or whatever works best for you as the Plot Planner of the End of your story AND a smaller version for the Beginning and Middle where you had plotted at least one or possibly two scenes from the Beginning section and at least one or three at the most from Day Five

Today, you are to expand the Beginning portion to its own index card. Simply draw a line that travels from the left to the right with a gradual ascent that ends at the End of the Beginning.
Write in the End of the Beginning scene you came up with in your first draft. Plot any other scenes you remember in the first 1/4 of your draft. Don't refer to the draft itself. Just write what comes to you. Don't push to remember. Give each scene/event a title. Write the scenes above the line in the order of appearance in the story. Write in pencil.

12 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twelve

What do you think so far? Is plot and structure what you thought it would be? 

My hope is that as you analyze your story inspiration flows...

When asked what was the most important element in her novels, Barbara Taylor Bradford said, "The character is the plot of the novel. Character is destiny. Your character is your destiny. My character is my destiny. And, with that, I knew how to write a novel." 

In honor of anyone with energy waning, I congratulate you on what you've accomplished and offer the following as yet anyway to look at the Universal Story Form.

When I’m not helping writers with their plots, I volunteer at the local Children’s Shelter. Rather than let pain and betrayal sit and fester, I invite the kids to explore the universal story form as it plays out in their lives.

Birth sets us on a journey. Beginnings and endings, conflicts and challenges, friends and foes, crises and climaxes are all part of that journey.

Start with where you are right now. Write your way to where you wish to be.

Stories have at least four big scenes.

1) The End of the Beginning
By the time the counselors, kids, volunteers, and I all huddle inside the Shelter classroom, there is no place to escape. I break down stories to seventeen year-old boys who loom large and twelve-year-old girls who are already women.

I start with a focus on the Beginning. The beginning 1/4 of the story leads to a moment of no return, a moment when life shifts, when good turns bad or bad to worse, the end of all that has been—the End of the Beginning.

After the kids write the beginning of their stories, a girl with clear brown eyes writes that she wants more time with her dad. She dreams of playing baseball like him. At the End of the Beginning, her dad dies.

Another girl shows a mom in heaven remembering her beautiful little girls. The End of the Beginning is when the girls go live with an uncle with a belt.

Now, try it for yourself. Think about your life. Are you feeling frustrated? Bored? Challenged? Dissatisfied? Has an event taken place recently that makes what you want feel impossible to attain? What is the moment when things went wrong?

Focus as closely as you can to the now.

Now that you cannot go back to the way things were before that moment hit—write that. Describe what you want that you now think is out of your reach.

2) The Crisis
In stories, the event that marks the End of the Beginning thrusts the character out of their old world and into a new one. Thus, begins the Middle, which is 1/2 of the story. In real life, when one door closes, we, too, enter a new world, be it a new physical place or a new psychological state. This new world is where you have the chance to evolve and ultimately be transformed.

Unfamiliar with our new surroundings, we venture forth feeling like a fish out of water. Often afraid, we encounter obstacles that trip us up and cause us to falter. We stumble over hurdles. 

Our resistance causes pain.

The kids write down three bumps that shake their main character to their core. Three things that stop them and interfere with their dreams. I advise the kids that we only find out whom we truly are when we are challenged. Adversity does not build character. Adversity reveals character.

Who and what have you gone up against lately? Who or what stands in the way of your happiness? Friends and family? Societal norms, handicaps, or you yourself? Do your fears and prejudices and flaws prevent you from achieving that which you long for? How do you sabotage yourself? Write that.

The challenges in the middle rise in intensity until something explodes at the Crisis.

The Crisis may have already happened in your life. The Crisis may be something you can see happening if you don’t take control of your own life. A Crisis is a deep disappointment, a blow that sends you to your knees, the dark night of the soul. The Crisis is a breakdown that has the potential to cause a break-through.

Write about something you are unable to do now. Consider what Crisis you must experience first to force you to move on, let go, detach, surrender, do things differently, believe in yourself. 

What does the Crisis represent to you getting control of your own life? What you write about now, you may not have to experience later.

After her father’s death, the girl with liquid eyes writes about feelings of denial. She falls into depression. Next comes rage. She turns violent and is placed in a group home. Separated from all she knows and understands, she experiences a Crisis.

3) The Climax
In all great fiction, the main character undergoes a transformation. The dramatic action in the Middle and what happens at the Crisis changes everything. Once unconscious of whom they are, the character now becomes conscious.

Character transformation is a form of alchemy. Rather than metal turned into gold, challenges and disappointments transform into gifts and opportunities. The victim becomes the victor. 

You, too, have the opportunity to be transformed by what happens in your life.

At the Shelter, I give examples of characters overcoming tremendous odds and showing, at the Climax, their transformed self. At the end of all great stories, the main character is able to do something they were unable to do at the beginning of the story. The same applies in life.

You have written about where you are. Consider where you would like to be. What must you shed to get there? What must you learn? As you move toward your ideal, you carry with you all you have learned. Your old self dissolves.

The Climax at the end of the story shows an action taken that demonstrates your new awareness, skill, strength, belief, and/or personal power. At the Climax, the new self is now able to confront antagonists and conquer challenges that the old self could not.

At the end of her story, the girl with the brown eyes faces the pain of losing her father. She learns to control her anger. This prepares her to confront her mother whom she blames for her father’s death.

Write a Climax that shows you facing your greatest fears. Imagine what that moment will feel like, taste and smell like, look and sound like. Describe yourself as a victor, a champion, a survivor, a body transformed and living the life you dream of. Dream big. Write that.

4) The Resolution
When someone real or imagined is transformed, the experience means something. Consider what you would like your life to stand for so far. Write that.

At the end of the day at the Shelter, the kids barely have time to explore what they want in life. Many of them will soon be too old for the system. The place that protects abandoned, abused and neglected kids will release them on their own. Will the glimpse they have in writing their stories help shape what comes next? One can only hope.

We talk about what stories mean overall: Good triumphs over evil (the girl with the belt). Self-control leads to happiness (the girl with the liquid brown eyes. In her story, her main character is ultimately reunited with her family. She joins a baseball team.)

Stories reflect the heartbeat of the universe. All of us pulse to this universal rhythm. The more integrated the hero’s journey in our psyches, the more satisfying the act of writing and the more meaningful life becomes.

The paradigm of endings causing new beginnings causing discomfort that builds to a crisis happens over and over again in stories. Our lives revolve in much the same way on both grand and minute scales.

Open your eyes after a Crisis. Wake up to the deeper meaning of life around you. Let go of attachments. Break free from anxiety. Determine what you really want. Rise up out of depression. Locate opportunities for transformation. Let go of disappointment. Expose your fear to the light.

Shine a light on your life through your writing. Awareness leads to the possibility of transformation. 

Dream big. 

Write that

11 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Eleven

I am undecided what to cover next: the Beginning (1/4) or the Middle (1/2)?

While I wait for inspiration, I'll summarize what we've covered thus far. 

Check off what you've accomplished:

1) Manage NOT to read your manuscript -- Day One
2) Fill out a Character Plot Profile for your protagonist and major secondary characters and antagonist, if a person -- Day One
3) Print a hard copy of your manuscript and insert in a binder -- Day Two
4) Make a list of scenes you remember in your story -- either as plot points or just a list of the events themselves -- Day Three
5) List themes touched on in your story -- Day Four
6) Plot the major 3 - 7 scenes/event on a Plot Planner -- Day Five
7) Consider how the major scenes/events are linked together through Character Emotional Development and Dramatic Action and Thematic Significance -- Day Five
8) Craft a one-sentence blurb of what your story is really all about -- Day Six and Day Seven
9) Organize your miscellaneous notes --Day Eight
10) Expand the PP to include all the scenes you remember in the End (1/4) -- Day Eight
11) Identify the protagonist's transformation at the Climax --Day Nine
12) Consider an Anticipation scene and Follow-up scene for each major scene/event in the build-up to the Climax -- Day Ten

We're more than 1/3 of the way through the International Plot Writing Month. Congratulate yourself for sticking with this. 

As the nights grow longer and the days colder, we move deeper into the cave. Light a candle for you and one for your story. 

This is the time of introspection. Dig deep into your story. Analyze and re-vision

Before you know it, the new year begins and the days suddenly grow longer. By then, you'll be off and running on your next draft, certain of where you're headed and filled with anticipation, excitement, and expectancy...

10 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Ten

The End
The End (final 1/4 of the story) is made up of more than the Climax. When you followed the assignment for Day Eight, I trust you were able to remember and plot out scenes from this final section besides just the Climax.

Yes, the Climax is the crowning glory and it really deserves more than one day, but it's time to move along. 

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, said at a commencement speech: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."

Your job as writer is to connect the dots. And, because you know the future -- the Climax -- you don't need to rely on trust. You can actually connect the dots.

Work backwards from the Climax -- which is the moment when the protagonist finally stands firmly in her power, stands up to her greatest fear or confronts the thing that has beat her up spiritually. The scenes in the final 1/4 of the project lead up to the Climax.

As you see, the line ascends quickly. The scenes you plot here serve primarily to advance the protagonist to the Climax. Nothing new can be introduced, no pontification or philosophizing. The reader does not want the story to end, but they can not stop reading. They have to know what happens. Keep things moving.

These final scenes show the protagonist beginning to develop and rely on her intuition. She fights for one step forward. Falls two steps back. Conflict, tension, suspense at every turn -- yes, even if you're writing a memoir for your kids, keep it exciting. Keep the story moving. You, as the author, may not want it to end either. You have fallen in love with the characters. They have taken over your life. Get over it. Move steadily to the Climax.

In the End, the protagonist still has foes to confront and overcome. Only now, she is armed with a new understanding of herself. For the first time, her goal truly comes into focus. She can see it. She moves toward the light -- one step forward toward the ultimate transformation, beat back three steps.

Yes, the Climax spotlights the character in full transformation as she demonstrates the necessary new skill or personality, gift or action, but the scenes that build up to the Climax show us the transformation unfolding step-by-step. The reader lives the experience with her. Together the protagonist and reader moves closer and closer to her goal, firmly aware that she had to experience everything she did throughout the entire book to get to this final stage -- the Climax.

Ask yourself -- do the scenes that lead up to the Climax reveal most dramatically her steps toward transformation?

1) For maximum effect, check that every scene you've plotted on your Plot Planner for the End (final 1/4 of the story) has both: 
a) a preparation or anticipation scene that comes right before 
b) a follow-up, reactionary scene that comes right after.

It's like playing tennis. Huh? I know, playing tennis is nothing like writing, but... As a kid, I learned "turn and step, hit, follow-through." 

1) Turn -- preparation step. 
Hit -- main event. 
2) Follow-through -- reaction. 

1) Preparation or anticipation creates emotion. Often, the anticipation of some feared event is worse than the actual event itself -- creates tension, conflict and suspense.

2) Without the follow-through step in tennis, your hit is erratic. Without showing the effect of the action on the character in writing, you rob the reader of revealing emotion. And, one can never have enough emotion in a story.

09 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Nine


People who know me aren't surprised I start at the End. I've always done things a bit backwards. But, I have three valid reasons for beginning this way: 

The End never gets the attention the Beginning does. Writers often never even get to the End. They begin to stall out in the Middle of the story and end up running back at the Beginning, over and over again. Or, if they do get to the End, they've lost so much energy for the story, the End is vague and underdeveloped. 

This paradigm echoes in other aspects of real life. Most of us live basically the same story over and over again. If we are brave enough to literally or figuratively leave everything we know (End of the Beginning), by the time things start to get messy -- which they have to in the Middle -- we usually give up, turn a blind eye, stick our head's in the sand. We end up back "home," licking our wounds. 

In stories, once the protagonist advances into the Middle of the story, she does not have the option of turning back. (Note: there are no rules to writing.)

The protagonist is tough enough to go all the way into hell and face her biggest fear or her worst ordeal (the Crisis in the Middle). After that Crisis, she then makes the journey back to share the gift -- not running home crying, -- returning a victor. Where, in the End she faces the ultimate antagonist at the Climax, which often turns out to be herself. 

(Please note: I'm using two different words to mark two different moments of highest intensity respectively:
Crisis, which occurs in the Middle at about the 3/4 mark in the story
Climax, which occurs in the End (1/4) one scene or chapter before the last page of the entire story)

The Climax is the crowning glory of the entire story and, thus, deserves focused attention.

In real life, a person who suffers a Crisis either goes back to the "tribe" to share her triumph and help others learn from her life, mistakes, awakening -- her Climax. Or, in real life, she can turn away from the challenge and remain unchanged, thus, never reach the Climax. Just because we survive an ordeal does not always mean we are transformed by it. 

In stories, however, the character undergoes a transformation. Therefore, the protagonist must face her greatest antagonist at the Climax in the End, be it an external person or an internal fear.

The Climax determines every scene that comes before or leads up to the Climax. Once you know the Climax, you know exactly which scenes to keep and which scenes you've written that need to be cut or revised so that they point thematically to the Climax.
  • Does the Climax of your story rise to the greatest intensity of the entire story? 
  • Think of your story as energy. Does the Climax deliver an energetic impact?

Some people believe that we incarnate in the world to heal a specific wound but that, at birth, we then forget our task. Most of us spend all of our lives unconscious of this deeper destiny. 

It's the opposite in a story. What happens throughout the story makes it impossible for the protagonist to remain unconscious. The Crisis in the Middle forces the protagonist to consciousness. This gives her the ability to face the greatest challenge of the entire story -- the Climax at the End -- and not only survive, but to triumph. 

The Climax at the End usually hits one scene or, at the most one chapter, from the last page of the project. By then, the protagonist has learned everything she needs to know, scene-by-scene throughout the entire story, to do what she came here to do. 

The End feels inevidable because every scene that comes before the Climax has led the reader scene-by-scene to that very moment.
  • What is your protagonist's true journey? purpose? 
  • What is it that only your protagonist can do? deliver? conquer? overcome? 
  • What is the gift only your character has (granted they have to go through all the trial and challenges throughout the story to get there, but...)? 
  • Why your character?
Keep an open mind. Be loose. Use the information in whatever best serves your writing. My goal here is to help you prepare and make you excited to tackle writing the next draft.

08 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Eight

Today is two-pronged:
1) Organize
If you haven't already, print out your manuscript. Do NOT read it. Be sure to include a header on every page with your title in caps/name on the upper left and the page # on the upper right. 
Don't worry about spell checking or chapter breaks. just make sure the pages are numbered.

Insert in a binder. 
[Warning: printing manuscript is a snap compared to hole-punching the pages. However, it's important to have the manuscript bound and in one place.]

Divide the total number of pages in the binder by 4. Stick a post-it note at the 1/4 mark and another one at the 3/4 mark. 

Put the binder away, for now.

Gather all your extraneous notes. Divide them into file folders labeled Beginning (1/4), Middle (1/2), End (1/4). Straighten up your desk. Purge everything you can that you accumulated while writing the draft. Put things in order.

You're entering a new phase. Time to cleanse and prepare to step into the next draft.

2) Plot the End
Pull out your index cards or paper or whatever works for you. Keep the Beginning and Middle sections of the Plot Planner you drew earlier. Cut off the End. Using an entire index card turned horizontal for the End this time, draw a line that travels from nearly the bottom edge steeply to nearly the top edge of the index card and then down. 
Write in the Climax and Resolution you came up with in your first draft. Plot any other scenes you can remember in the final 1/4 of your draft. Don't look. Just write what comes to you. Give each scene/event a title. Write the scenes above the line in the order of appearance in the story. Write in pencil. 

Often in fulfilling either/both assignments, writers find disaster hits. Coffee spills on the manuscript or the index card rips. Perhaps, you stub your toe, break the pencil lead, or yell at the dog for tracking muddy paws across your Plot Planner. If this happens, note the resistance. 

Accidents are a rebellion against authority. 

Ask yourself: to whom have I given up my authority?

Perhaps you've given your power over to the belief that this stuff is too hard or that you've always hated getting organized and plotting, that you aren't smart enough to get this, or that your story is no good and who is ever going to want read your work anyway? Or, your story is so great you don't need all this added work. Could be, you're racing to get the assignment completed because there are so many other things to get done. 

You have the choice to buck up and do the work or mire in the muck. 

I vote that you get back into your body and reclaim your power. The work you are doing is important. You deserve the time it takes to get this right.

Hey, it's the holidays. This is suppose to be fun. You're shaking things up. Doing things differently. Or, like one of the few commenters commented earlier -- it can't hurt. Right?

Your story is amazing. You are amazing. Being an artist takes discipline. You are an artist. You can do this....

07 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Seven

Today, your assignment, if you choose to say yes, is to carry your Plot Planner index cards and a pencil or pen with you everywhere. 

I see you standing in line at the post office and the grocery store serenely grateful for the wait because it allows you more time to ponder your story. I see you waiting in the dentist's office or in thick traffic with your eyes up and to the left glazed over as inspiration fills you. I see you unplugging from negative thoughts about that nasty brother-in-law coming for dinner and plugging into your story instead.

What is your story really saying? What do all those words you wrote add up to? Your story is a reflection of a truth. Not necessarily true for all time, but true for the story itself, and likely for yourself, too. What is the deeper meaning? The truth beyond the physical? The protagonist has undergone a transformation. What does that mean?  Jot down whatever comes to you on the back of your Plot Planner.

To proclaim International Plot Writing Month in December and not mention the holidays is like standing mute in a room filled with angels and trolls. In our zeal to capture the holidays just right we run ourselves ragged. Part of this impulse is running from the darkness as the days turn shorter and shorter. It echoes back thousands of years to our fear that the failing light would never return without our intervention. 

Fitting in writing time becomes more and more impossible as we await the rebirth of the sun and as the year winds down. Instead of fighting what is, I invite you to continue analyzing your stories instead. The work you do this month will make next month's rewrite a breeze. 

Think of the work you do this month as your holiday present to yourself. Think of International Plot Writing Month as your writer's plot guide through the holidays....

Next week we start in on the End of your project (the final 1/4 of the total pages or word count. If you haven't already, write the Climax today. It doesn't matter how vague -- read: inspirational or how awful -- read: creative, just get something on paper.)


Oh, and remember -- no reading your manuscript. Not yet.....

(If you are joining us for the first time, please go to Day One and work your way back. Welcome.)

05 December 2008

International Plot Writing Month -- Day Five

If you do not have a draft of a story written, follow the steps outlined this month to generate ideas for one now. (You'll have to use your imagination and fill in the missing blanks, but you're good at that, right? After all, you're a writer.....

(Having just heard from Lubin, Poland and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Czech Republic among others earlier, I've changed the name of the event to International Plot Writing Month.)

I appreciate how we each desire to be heard and at the same time fear that what we have to say has no meaning. Desire and fear drown out the muse. Do what you must to silence your ego. Listen to your story instead.

Every story has its own unique energy. At the same time, everything around us follows a similar path. We are born, challenged, come to fullness, and die to who we were. Within the greater pattern, a similar version repeats itself innumerable times throughout our lives. 

Today, using the scenes/events you generated on Day Three, let the energy of your story alight on the pattern itself with the help of the Universal Story Form (below is the template. On the site is further info)


3 scenes/events At the Least
  • Scene or event that symbolizes the end of what was -- End of the Beginning scene
  • Scene or event that symbolizes a Crisis
  • Scene or event that symbolizes a Climax

7 scenes/events total At the Most
(Do NOT refer to your manuscript. Use the scenes you generated yesterday. No more than 7.)
  • Scene or event that launches the story itself 
  • Scene or event that symbolizes the end of what was -- End of the Beginning scene
  • Scene that falls at the halfway point 
  • Crisis 
  • Scene just before the Climax 
  • Climax 
  • Resolution
Think of these 3-7 scenes/events as energetically holding more meaning and symbolism than the others (remember no more than 7 scenes/events total and no less than 3 scenes/events). 

Some of you will be able to hold these 3-7 scenes/events in your head. Others, like me, benefit in 2 ways by actually drawing a Plot Planner (PP) on paper:
  • The task involves larger muscle groups than merely sitting in front of the computer while writing, and pulls you deeper into your body.
  • The visual reminder when affixed to the wall or refrigerator or bathroom mirror will help keep your story in mind all weekend.
Do whatever it takes to firmly imprint in your mind's eye the PP with your own unique 3-7 scenes. 

This weekend, mull over how these major scenes/events are linked together in 3 ways: 
  • Dramatic Action (Find the thread on the Character Plot Profile you filled out on Day One under "Dramatic Action Plotline." Your character's goals, which can change as the story develops, determine the Dramatic Action)
  • Character Emotional Development (Find this thread on the Character Plot Profile you filled out on Day One under "Character Emotional Development Plotline." Remember, story is about character transformation. Determine how the character transforms and how that process is revealed in your major 3 -7 scenes/events)
  • Thematic significance (Find the thread in the words you generated on Day Three). 
Keep asking yourself what your story is trying to convey. 
Make a list of ideas while patiently awaiting inspiration. 
Search for meaning as you work, play, and prepare for 
the descent into the longest night of the year. 
By Winter Solstice, I plan to have us to 
the Crisis of the story -- an apt time of the year...

If you have not yet finished your draft, do so now. At the very least, write the Climax.
If you are just joining us today, please begin on Day One and work your way back here.