25 March 2009

Lead the Reader to the Plot

White pebbles help Hansel and Gretel find their way home. Breadcrumbs simply vanish.

Stories are shown in scene. Each scene leaves little pebbles to advance the plot on at least three levels:

Dramatic Action plot
Character Emotional Development plot
Thematic Significance plot (and more...)

A Few White Pebbles to lead the reader to the important parts of the story:

  • Cause and Effect = because of what happens in one scene, the next scene arises. Cause and effect leads the reader from one scene to another. Cause and effect lessens confusion about motivation, which leads the reader deeper into the real time moment of the story.
  • Authentic Details = generic details lull the reader to daydream rather than follow along with the story. Authentic details ground the reader in the world of the story unfolding moment by moment.
  • Foreshadowing = Provide a few beats of foreshadowing so the reader does not just read right past an important scene. Example: A powerful secondary character triggers the Crisis. In the Beginning (1/4), she's introduced in conflict with her father. She wants to sing in Nashville. He wants her to get a swimming scholarship for college. Both of her strengths and the core conflict are alluded to in the first scene in which she appears. The second time the secondary character appears is practicing vocals with her band. The audience does not yet know the importance of this character in the overall story. The reader is still scrambling to get oriented in the story; determine who is who, what's going on. To help ensure that the reader does not just read right past the practice scene, toss out a few white pebbles to lead the audience. Scene of introduction contains dialog about what is coming: "we're practicing at the house after school today." The reader anticipates the later scene. When the scene comes, the reader pays attention.
  • Exotic World = Show the scene as an exotic world that identifies the daughter as uniquely separate from her father.

Any white pebbles to share?

19 March 2009

How to Create a Classic Story Plot

The Universal Story form echoes in every great movie and in our lives, too, both as observers and as ourselves.

In some form or another, everyday we leave behind the known world and enter an unusual and exotic world of the unknown. Once there, we go through an outer journey that affects who we are internally.

The sequence repeats itself in each scene, at the chapter and act level, and in the overall story itself. We face foes and find allies. In the Middle, mostly unconscious, we stumble around, out of balance. A Crisis hits. The dark night of the soul overtakes us. Out of the darkness comes a gift = a wake-up call. But not everyone "wakes up" the first time disaster hits. Often, one Crisis hits at the halfway point only to be repeated again at the 3/4 mark.

The ascent to the Climax is about shedding the skin of who we or the characters were in order to become who we are meant to be.

How we face the Climax has everything to do with choices and grace. Transformation at depth or superficial proclamations that amount to nothing but air? Victim or victor? You decide about your own life and about your writing life, too.

When we enter a movie theater or begin a new book, we take the journey with the character.

The author creates an outer dramatic action story -- mystery, romance, historical, rescue, some concrete goal that is achieveable -- in order to show an inner character emotional development story. Both plot lines rise at the End of the Beginning, falter in the Middle, are shaken at the Crisis, and deliver at the Climax.

The showing of character transformation (along with incorporating tons of other aspects of good writing) suspends time and entertains.

At its best, a story not only transforms the character.

Truly great stories transform the reader, too.

What stories have transformed you?

17 March 2009

Dialog -- When is Enough Too Much?

Writing a story often comes in drafts. Each draft / layer is determined by your own personal writing preference.

Some writers write their entire first draft in dramatic action. Character emotional development comes later. Meaning comes later still. Others begin with character. Still others start with dialog. First draft has little action. Little character emotional development. Terrific dialog.

Well, some of the first draft dialog is terrific. In other places, the dialog serves as a place to dump information. With dialog, especially in the first quarter of the story, less is more. Only tell as much as needed to inform that particular scene. Leave the info dumping for later (or better yet, forgo it all together).

By less dialog, I mean less in terms of how much each character says at a time. Lots of short and specific dialog back and forth in rapid succession, keeps the pages turning and draws the reader deeper into the heart of the story world itself.

Dialog is a gift. At its best, dialog communicates to the reader the character's interior world, their thoughts and dreams, how they lie to themselves, to others, their beliefs, patience level, expertise, intelligence. At the same, great dialog advances the dramatic action plot.

The Dramatic Action plot is the external movement that allows the character to show who they truly are, first to the reader, then to themselves and then on a trajectory for character emotional transformation. Rather than random movements, the Dramatic Action plot works best if wrapped around the protagonist's well-defined goal. Dramatic action plays out in scene. Dialog comes from the dramatic action and unfolds moment-by-moment.

Think of dialog between two characters like two ships passing in the night. Each speaker has their own agenda, their own reason to converse. The characters' words lap up against each other. Often their words have little effect. Sometimes their words throw the other completely off route.

To create conflict on a secondary level, use the character's individual goals to help define their point of view in dialog. When each character comes to the conversation with something to prove or accomplish, the story moves forward. (And, sprinkle the dialog with authentic details and word use that reflects the time and setting.

13 March 2009

Plot Authentic Details

The Middle of every story begins with the entrance to the story world itself. The more exotic and unusual this world, the better the read. 

List sights and sounds, smells and tastes, texture and mood of the setting of your story. 

First list may be general and generic. Refine the list as you refine drafts. Little-by-little find the exact right authentic and unusual and historically-just-right word, detail, object, sensation...

Each day draws me deeper into the exotic and unusual world of a premiere surf spot, The Hook at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, California.

The Hook
  • Mean age range: 25-30 years old
  • Principal occupation: surfing
  • Palm trees tower 
  • Cypress trees sway in the bay breeze
  • Fog horn blares
  • Gulls cry
  • Surfboards stick out from truck beds, latched atop car roofs
  • Boys dressed head to toe in black zip by like seals astride bicycles built for two = boy and surfboard
  • Nightly news tracks high and low tide each day
  • The aroma of bacon, eggs, and hash browns rolled in flour tortillas waft from a shack known for "rolling fatties"
  • Girls in uggs, cotton sun dresses, and hoodies 
  • The smell of seaweed at low tide
  • Snippet of conversation: "Hey, dude. The sun's coming out. I might have to go surfing."
  • Mexican music floats in on a hazy layer of marine warmth

Thematically, the place reeks of youth and movement and the power of nature, though I have yet to mention the sea...

What are some authentic and unusual details of your story world??

12 March 2009

Self-Sabotage and Success

A local wrestler wins the state title. In the beginning, odds were against him due to internal fears and flaws. The newscast chronicles his story with a thematic flair that it's not unusual for someone to binge on toxic food when faced with possible success. Wrestler's dad seemed also to serve as antagonist in someway personal to the family itself. Mom sends the boy on a journey to an exotic land. He trains at a wrestling camp, sheds his old beliefs, practices important new steps, returns home and wins the state title. 

The newcaster's easy acceptance of our often compulsive and self-sabotaging behaviors when faced with possible success was refreshingly honest...

Isn't that what writer's block is all about? Self-sabotage. Isn't that why so many writers have never finished a story? Or if they have, it sits on a bottom shelf in the dust?

Moving forward, becoming conscious, finishing, showing up takes energy and trust, study and discipline. 

Discipline... When did it become associated with punishment? "You'll be disciplined for that..." Only in the past decade or so have I come to understand the other side. Root word of discipline is disciple. A writer who writes and finishes serves as a disciple of the creative force. 

It takes energy and discipline to achieve our goals in life and never more so than in a writers life. 

How do you keep energetically strong?? What is your discipline???

08 March 2009

Boston Globe

Thanks to Google alerts, I find the Plot Whisperer is mentioned in the Boston Globe.

Of course, I commented.
Hope you will, too...

04 March 2009

Heart and Soul of a Story

Yesterday's post was in desperation. The work I was reading was good. 

By about the End of the Beginning (1/4), I found the plot working, the character believable though not completely likable, the issues of value. 

I wanted it to be great. 

Continued reading to the end today. Things picked up shortly before the Halfway mark. The heart and soul of the work emerged. I shed tears. I really cared. 

Made me a believer again. 

Cautiously though....

Work needs to be done. More authentic details. Entire first quarter reworked. Character deepened. More foreshadowing. Smoother flow. Interconnecting thematic significance on all levels.

Can't help but wonder -- how many times will he rewrite his piece to make it truly memorable??? 

How many times do you rewrite a piece from beginning to end in an effort to make it truly memorable?? 

03 March 2009

What Makes a Good Story?

I don't know anything about video games. Truly. I'm embarrassed to expose the underbelly of my ignorance about one of the largest revenue markets out there, but here goes...

Video games have a character doing stuff -- action driven. Character propels from one event to the next. Setting. Mood. Theme. Journey.

It's a story.

There's also a character doing stuff to reveal self -- character driven. Character propels from one event to the next. Setting. Mood. Theme. Journey.

It's another kind of story.

So many stories created today -- online, hardcover, softcover, movies, music videos, plays, radio, newspapers, video games...

What makes for a good one?

Likable characters. Exciting action. Meaningful issues???

Enough, I guess. Thousands of stories are published in one form or another everyday.

The good ones are so rare.

Seems to me, a good story makes real time, rather than pass unconsciously, bring us to consciousness...

02 March 2009

Unsatisfying Climax

Viewed two movies recently, both of which left me disappointed and dissatisfied at the end.

The first movie is actually made up of three movies -- the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I watched all three on a marathon movie day while recovering from an awful flu going around. Non-stop action and conflict, tension, suspense and curiosity effectively kept my mind off my coughing. However, my disappointment at the end nearly sent me spiraling back into the abyss of illness. Exaggeration, of course.

I was truly dismayed at the ending. Yes, I understand about the power of the ring and the evil lure of greed it evoked in all who saw it, but still... The Climax of every great story is when the audience and/or reader get to see in moment-by-moment excitement, the protagonist act in a transformed way and doing something they were unable to do anywhere else throughout the story. In other words they needed to go through every other trial and test and scene first in order to be transformed at depth overtime.

Even in the final seconds of the highest point in the entire story -- the Climax, Frodo was the same Hobbit he started out being -- brave with the urge to do his best. The only transformative change came in him being as seduced by the ring as everyone else. He ends up wanting it even as much as Gollum.

The other movie was Vicki Cristina Barcelona. The characters were amazing, the scenery beautiful, the action exciting -- all the elements of a truly wonderful flick until the very end. Every single character remained unchanged by all that transpired -- thus no character transformation which in the end equalled extreme disappointment.

Anyone else seen either movie??? Anyone else disappointed??