29 January 2009

A Tough Nut to Crack

The only real antagonist is the protagonist herself.

1) Draw a bubble in the middle of a piece of paper. Write the protagonist's deepest held belief, the one that prevents her from having that which she wants more than anything else in the world. Or do this exercise on yourself to determine what's blocking you -- I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough, I don't do enough -- pick one, create one, we've all got them.

2) Spiraling out from the bubble, create other bubbles each with an external antagonist that these deepest held beliefs attract -- accidents, bad men, addictions, drama, dead-end jobs, half-finished projects, arguments = conflict, conflict, conflict -- blockage, blockage, blockage... walls that keep the protagonist from achieving her goal(s).

He was balled up, resistant, bitter, deeply resentful and so tight he could barely speak, ready to take offense, full of self-pity = a mess.

Came around to see how the experience (our plot consultation) could work in his benefit. (He didn't stand a chance -- I know what I'm doing and I've worked with so many just like him...)

I give him huge credit for not falling deeper into victimhood. He arose out of the muck long enough to shine.

We'll see how it goes... Wish us luck...

26 January 2009

Don't Relinquish Your Power

My apologies up front. After today's consultation, I'm in the mood to rant.

Hold onto your own personal power no matter the cost.

Don't give your energy over to another and/or to a belief that no longer serves you. Let me repeat that. Do NOT give your energy over to another or to a belief that no longer serves you.

Don't forget, no matter who critiques you, you are the artist. You are the final decision-maker.

Don't give your power over to anyone else.


Take notes.

Thank them.

Do for them what you want them to do for you.

Go home and mull over what they have to say.

What resonates with you, follow.

What doesn't feel right, let go of...

You're in this with the divine.

Trust yourself.

Listen to yourself.

Whatever drains your energy run from.

Whatever fills you up move toward...

Have fun...

23 January 2009

Plot Therapist

"I believe talking about the story blocks the story."

"So do I," I say, wondering where the writer is going with this.

Later in the plot consultation, she reveals that she had reunited with an old friend who had successful published a book. She read it. Now she's blocked.

"So because you talked to your old friend about your story, you're blocked?" I asked.


"Then why are you talking to me about your story?"


"Because you're the block buster..."


22 January 2009

Bird's Eye View of Your Story

I'm humbled by how many writers open up to me about that most vulnerable part of them -- their stories. 

Immediately ascertainable is how closely a writer is identified by the story. 
1) This is the story they have told themselves and lived by their entire lives. 
2) This is a fun romp, thrilling mystery, or pure romance.

#1 is generally character-driven. 
#2 is often action-driven.

(To see which way you write, Take the Test).

I get to not only sit in the crow's nest and analyze the plot and structure of the story, from that vantage point I often also see a higher archetypal pattern emerge.

For instance, in a character-driven memoir about strong political and historical and religious themes, the protagonist (the writer) is betrayed as a kid by her father. Later she falls in love with four men. She is betrayed by all four of them.

A bigger picture unfolds... Or, is it only my imagination?

Are there other ways to tell this story? You bet ya. 

How much of that which comes intuitively throughout the plot consultation do I divulge? Like a palm reader, say everything and let the writer decide? 

How much would you want? 

Fascinating journey this is, being a plot consultant to writers. 

15 January 2009

Authentic Details

Draft one, writers attempt to create a story with a Beginning, Middle, and End, filled with Dramatic Action that affects the characters in meaningful and coherent ways -- a firm foundation. 

Subsequent drafts, writers create more layers, each of which benefits from the use of authentic details. Authentic details "show" who the characters truly are by the objects they surround themselves with and how their actions support their dialog, and allow the reader to sink into the exotic, unusual story world. 

For example: Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman -- "... In some distant arcade, a clock tower calls out six times and then stops. The young man slumps at his desk. He has come to the office at dawn, after another upheaval. His hair is uncombed and his trousers are too long. In his hand he holds twenty crumpled pages, his new theory of time, which he will mail today to the German journal of physics..."

Authentic details make the story unique, come alive, pulse with meaning.

Research reveals authentic details. How do you find yours?   

13 January 2009

Writing for Ourselves. Writing for Others.

Now on her third book, the writer moves away from herself. 

Memoir writers aren't the only ones who write about themselves. Many of us write to work things out in our minds, our hearts, to learn our own individual truths, to make sense of our worlds. 

Memoir writers shape their stories around their own lives and stick to the truth and call their work a memoir. 

Fiction writers take their lives and embellish for meaning or humor or excitement's sake to create a novel or screenplay or short story.

Some of us tire of ourselves and find more compelling fodder. 

Others continue to delve into the well of our lives. 

How many of your stories are about you?

12 January 2009

Choosing POV

Today's consultation challenged conventional point of view and arrangement. Most stories revolve around a protagonist who is changed at depth over time by the dramatic action that happens to her. The story is arranged into chapters and told through either:

First person present -- I revel in the balmy ocean breeze 
First person past -- I reveled in the balmy breeze
Third person present -- she revels in the balmy ocean breeze 
Third person past -- she reveled in the balmy ocean breeze

Today's consultation revealed a story more about the transformation of a culture which is changed over time by the dramatic action that happens to the characters who live in the culture than to one particular character.

Some of the most difficult aspects of writing a story, be it a screenplay, novel, or short story, are deciding where the story begins, who's tells the story -- POV, and how best to arrange the overall flow the story.

We seem to gravitate toward a favorite way of telling a story. First person allows the writer and thus, reader closer access to the character. Third person allows the writer and thus, reader less intimate access to the protagonist from her point of view but more access to information beyond the character herself. 

What's your favorite?

11 January 2009

Memoir Writing

I'm personally excited about an upcoming plot consultation with a well-respected veteran writer and photographer of some 50 years for most of the top news agencies and magazines in the country and the world.

From the early info I require about the character (for a memoir writer that is the writer himself) and theme, I sense this writer is interested in using his action-packed background of intrigue and danger to illuminate his flaws and fears and thus give meaning and significance to his life.

Memoir writing at its best shares the writer's past with the reader in order to entertain, enlighten, motivate, and/or make sense of life itself. 

One of my personal favorites is Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton.

Have you read it? Did you like it? Any memoirs you recommend? 

08 January 2009

2nd Draft Blues

He finishes the first draft with a vengeance. His vision of a complex story crystalizes. The characters reveal themselves. The story world captivates. Action builds to a dramatic climax. Character grow and transform. Thematic threads run deep throughout the manuscript. 

Celebration over his accomplishment is short-lived and little acknowledged in his eagerness to keep going. 

He rounds up his notes and begins crafting and writing draft #2 and immediately comes to a screeching halt. 

The quality of his writing in draft #1 dismays him. Doubt sets in. Energy lags. Procrastination takes over.

Yet, another example of what I've addressed the last two entries. 

Any success stories about starting out on the next draft of your project?

06 January 2009


Comment from yesterday's post Great Doubt. Great Faith. Great Effort:

"This is one of my biggest struggles. I have faith in myself and my story, but I have a hard time finding the energy to actually write. Any tips on dealing with this?"

The comment came anonymously, so my answer won't appear personal.

Your lack energy for your writing is like a character who resists the call to adventure. Resistance generally comes from one or more of the following character profile traits (each of which has the potential to create dramatic action):

  • fear
  • flaw
  • prejudice

At least that's what happens in stories -- it's the character herself who gets in her own way -- the Character Emotional Development plot line.

Based on that assumption, following is a tip for finding the energy to write:

1) Make a reminder sign -- a post-it note on the mirror, a ribbon hanging from the lamp shade, something to remind you of this tip.

2) As you brush your teeth or otherwise prepare for bed, meditate on your resistance.

3) With your head on the pillow, make a goal for yourself for the next day. Imagine yourself taking action, step-by-step toward your goal. Anticipate possible antagonists -- your own resistance included. See yourself in your mind's eye replacing the story you have been telling yourself that is causing your resistance with something different.

This is your life. You are in charge. You may not want to be. That's fine. Feel the resistance.

Now, tell yourself a different story, one that draws you to the successful completion of your goal.

There's no hurry. Either way, the day will come and the night will go. The only thing that changes is your attitude and your action. Think of it less a journey and more a process -- the process of being a writer...

Any other tips???

02 January 2009

Great Doubt, Great Faith, Great Effort

The final plot phone consultation of '08 illustrated to me how thirsty we writers are for support and someone to believe in us. 

A writer with an incredible gift for dialog and in collaboration with an accomplished illustrator is creating a graphic surfer girl novel for middle grade. The plot rocks, the protagonist feisty, the setting unique, the father-daughter issues universal, the theme significant. The problem? Somehow along the way the writer lost energy for the story. 

The longer we chatted and the more praise I expressed, the more enthusiastic he became about his project. By the end -- it took us two, two-hour sessions to work our way all the way through the story, he was pumped and ready to devote the time and attention needed for the next and, dare I say it, final draft before beginning the submission process.

As thrilled and honored as I was to work with him on this worthy project, when I hung up from our call, I was also a little sad. I wondered about all the writers out there who may not be able to afford a service like I provide and are without someone to encourage and support them. I despair over the gifts out there half-started and never to be finished. A dream that never has a chance to manifest because of self-doubt, little faith and thus, the inability to put forth the effort needed to finish.

It's all a journey. And, the writer's journey is as filled with conflict, tension, and suspense, crises, and obstacles as any compelling story. It's our path to take and up to us to find what we need to make it to our own climax.

Any tips and tricks to offer other writers about how to restore faith when doubt stills all your writing efforts? 

(The phrase: Great doubt. Great Faith. Great Effort. -- comes from The Little Zen Companion and are the Three Qualities Necessary for Training.)