30 August 2010

Overarching Tension

Meddlesome, murky, sagging are words often used to describe the Middle of an early draft of a novel, memoir, or screenplay. 

One way to support the Middle is by providing an overarching tension -- Will she or won't she? When the reader is clear there is something significant at stake, like life or death, and will be revealed later in the story, the reader is willing to wait and first enjoy a bit of a romp in the exotic world of the middle of the Middle.

More than any other part of a writing a story, the Middle is fraught with antagonists, both for the protagonist and for the writer. Will she achieve her goal? Will you? Or, will the antagonists in the Middle prevail?

Make a list of the antagonists preventing the protagonist from her reaching her goal in the Middle -- both internal and external antagonists. 

Make a list of the antagonists facing you in the Middle -- both internal and external antagonists with the potential to send you off track, stall out, stop writing.

See how the lists are similar and how they are different.

If you're unable to surmount the obstacles awaiting you on your pursuit of finishing your story, can your protagonist? The two journeys are intertwined. Like on a plane with the use of the oxygen mask, attend to yourself first before looking after your story. 

Watch the words you tell yourself. 
Stop thinking so much. 
Get back into your body and write.

Release as much of the overarching tension in your personal story as you can while you systematically build up the story tension. 

The stronger you are, the better your story. 

24 August 2010

Writing is Risky

Do you ever feel like the further you put yourself out there teaching, writing, consulting, living, the more vulnerable you feel?

It's risky, following the energy out of the comfortable zone.

Inside a turtle's shell seems the perfect place to dream and imagine. It's also a good place to lick wounds. So many decisions, so much work, too challenging. Always on the edge of barely knowing. 

The part that believes I'm not good enough, not smart enough, not brave enough, not enough whispers how easy it would be just to stop... 

Safety becomes confining. Life pulses minus one. 

Still... the shell is protective and cool and all mine. 

So tell me. Have you put yourself out there for your writing today? Take any risks?

20 August 2010

Character Flaw

Every protagonist has a number of challenges to overcome in a story. Each of the core challenges can be seen as a separate plot line and plotted out over the course of the story. 

A major core plot line revolves around the protagonist's inner story. To satisfy the inner plot line, the protagonist must undergo a deep and fulfilling transformation. Often this is accomplished by introducing the character at the Beginning of the story with a flaw that must be eventually overcome to achieve her ultimate story goal. 

Following are a few examples of character flaws:

1. Always the victim and unable to take responsibility for actions
2. Control freak
3. Argumentative and short-tempered
4. Liar and a cheat
5. Stubborn
6. Always have to be right
7. Perfectionist and procrastinator

Character flaws in otherwise function individuals are often created in response to the character's back story. The back story is the moment when the protagonist loses her innocence. Because of what happens to the character in the back story, she now (in the front story) holds beliefs or exhibits actions that reflect a deep psychological issue that sabotages her from achieving her overall story goal.

The character flaw is introduced in the Beginning (1/4) of the story, deepened in the Middle (1/2) as the stakes rise and her internal flaw trips her up more and more often until she can no longer deny her part in her failure, an awareness which triggers her ultimate transformation at the End (1/4) of the story. 

05 August 2010

A Guided Imagery Tour of Your Story

I sometimes do brief guided imagery work in plot workshops to relax writers before they begin plotting their stories (for most highly creative writers, the work I ask of them is very stressful and counter-intuitive and can involve quite a bit of resistance on the part of the writer. all writers are anxious about their writing in a group setting), and I use my voice. Guiding an imagery tour on a blog is awkward because you close your eyes. You also need the directions... You figure it out.

Oh, and if, at anytime during the exercise, you are so moved to leap to your feet and write, by all means... do it.

Find an hour of undisturbed time (nice if you do this in bed before you arise in the morning or at night before falling asleep).

Make yourself comfortable sitting or lying down.

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

Let the breath out slowly and mindfully (in other words, concentrate on the air of the breath itself as it passes through your nostrils and how it feels against your upper lip and...)

Arrange the first scene of your story in your mind.

Take another breath.

Let it out.

Settle into the scene. Wait for the fuzziness of the image of the character in the setting clear.

Take a breath. 

See your protagonist move from the first scene to the next scene in your story.

Like a film reel, let each scene play out moment-by-moment to the end of the story. Instead of seeing the words of your story on the computer screen, see the actual action take place behind your eyelids with your imagination.

1. Transitions are often determined by character motivation. When the reader understands what motivates the character to transition between two scenes (locations, time periods), the story flows. In order to image your story, you move between scenes. Without the character motivation, the movement becomes episodic. Character motivation provides a sense of cause and effect, and the movement of the story flows. If the character motivation isn't in your scenes as written, it likely will pop up now. Watch for transitions and keep character motivation in mind to incorporate in your story.

2. Foreshadowing opportunities reveal themselves. You may have noticed in real life that nothing appears out of nowhere, out of the blue? Well, even if you haven't noticed that, in stories, one scene serves to foreshadow what comes next or later in the story. The first scene is preparatory, sets up a feeling of anticipation in the audience. Watch each scene to see what it foreshadows about the upcoming major turning points in the character emotional development plot and the dramatic action plot.

3. Thematic tie-ins hover over the story as you imagine it. Watch for them and take note.

02 August 2010

Follow the Energy

A couple of months ago in a plot interview, Brenda Novak, author of nearly forty romance novels and more than 3 million books in print and multiple honors, shared a trick she uses when she gets "...stumped. Some people call this writer's block. I loose steam, the tension leaks out of the story and my productivity grinds to a halt. When this happens, I have to retrench to a point when I know the story was working and branch off in a new direction. Every time this happens, however, I find a better way and get excited and start churning out pages again. So I believe it's a good thing, a compass, of sorts."

Follow the energy...

The more energetically charged, passionate, excited, filled with possibility we are, the more energetically charged, passionate, excited and filled with possibilities our writing and writing lives are. A loss of energy is a great time to check in with yourself.

What we desire never comes from pushing. Yes, I appreciate all the examples that prove the opposite is true. However, when we are in the flow of life, there is always enough time, enough support, enough imagination, enough stamina available for whatever we put our minds to.

Keep in mind, Brenda's advice is not permission to go back and rewrite the beginning again.

Instead, give her method at try -- "retrench to a point where you know the story was working and branch off in a new direction" from there. 

Let me know how it works for you.

PS--If you decide to retrench, follow the energy withthe 5 Key Scenes in mind.