10 December 2006

Ticking Clock

The last few consultations have brought writers with well thought out scenes that draw the reader into the Beginning 1/4 of the project. Each one was able to develop the character emotional development through dramatic action in the Middle 1/2. In other words, for these three writers, three quarters of their projects work, at least on a structural plot level.

However, these same three projects had little or no real Climax to top off the entire work. In each case, the protagonist is reawakened by the Crisis. They are shown struggling to take full ownership of their newly discovered consciousness. This is all good. What starts as a twinge, in the quick build-up to the Climax, the protagonist more and more recognizes quite painfully each time her actions and speech do not align with her new understanding of herself and the world around her.

But in none of the cases was the character shown having fully healed this schism in the Climax.

The Beginning sets up the scene of highest intensity in the story so far ~ the end of the Beginning. This scene shows the shift or reversal outside the character that sends her into the heart of the story world.

The middle sets up the scene of the highest intensity in the story so far ~ the Crisis. This scene shows the character’s consciousness of the shift or reversal inside her.

The End sets up the crowning glory of the entire story ~ the Climax. This scene shows the character fully united with her new self-knowledge, new understanding of the world, new sense of responsibility through her actions and her words.

In one case, the writer mentioned that she felt the Grandmother in the story would die. The answer presented itself. In the Grandmother dying, the Climax takes on a deeper relevance as the protagonist of this young adult novel is given the opportunity to assist her grandmother's spiritual departure. That the grandmother was sick and death looming, the conflict, tension and suspense shoot higher. The clock keeps ticking. The sense of everything coalescing in the final minutes builds to a fevered pitch.

The Climax is the crowning glory of the entire book. Once you write that most important scene all else will fall into place.

T.S. Eliot said, “The end is in the beginning.” The Beginning of any comprehensive and well-crafted story tells as much about where we are going as to where we will be at the end. This means that until you write the Climax you will not truly know the Beginning. Keep writing all the way through to the Climax.

29 November 2006

Ain't it the Way

P"Ain’t it the way?"

So ended an email from a best-selling author who had just recounted an exotic plot twist she had come up with now that she was writing the end ~ not brainstorming or plotting out or talking about, but actually writing the end of her second book.

Yesterday I spoke to a college writing class. A student asked what everyone worries ~ "Won't the universal story template lead to formulatic outcomes?"

The act of creation is an amazing thing.

The linear, organized approach of pre-plotting acts as a jumping off place to better and broader ideas, twists, complexities, and depth. Writers with a grasp of the unlying story structure save themselves from stumbling for years in the dark.

So long as writers stay more open to the characters than the Plot Planner, the characters will take the writers where the story needs to go. Writers aware of readers or viewers' expectations for delivery are better able to decipher what the characters are truly revealing.

I'm working here under the basic premise that plot is made up of three intwining threads:
Character Emotional Development
Dramatic Action
Thematic Significance

The opportunities are endless.

Ain't it the way?

05 November 2006

Reading Conference

Yesterday ended three days at the 40th Annual California Reading Association Conference.

I presented as an author and a speaker. With a background in special education as a non-verbal dyslexia child and an adult speech pathologist and learning disability therapist, I brought my passion for plot to share with teachers. One teacher arrived; she was also an aspiring writer. The other attendees were my fellow author presenters, a testiment to comaraderie and all writers' hunger for plot.

Writers are who I serve.

The generosity of the absolutely amazing conference committe allowed me the opportunity to take another step toward integration of my past life in education with my now life as a plot consultant. I arrived as an advocate for readers. I left with a deeper vision.

As readers, we gain comprehension through the words as they appear on the page. As we mature, we come to understand, either consciously or not, that there is a basic, universal rhythm to story, to life. Many writers and readers intuitively tap into this rhythm. For the rest of us, instruction proves helpful.

The majority of my time is devoted to writers. A part of me will always advocate for readers.

I have the great good fortune to try again, this time with librarians at the upcoming California School Library Association Conference.

04 October 2006

Cause and Effect/Beginnings

The first quarter of any writing project introduces the story's major characters, their goals, the setting, time period, themes, and issues. In the quest of accomplishing this task, many writers forget the importance of Cause and Effect. When scenes come at a reader one after another with nothing linking them together, the piece feels episodic and thus, off-putting to the reader.

Consider instead finding ways to link the scenes by Cause and Effect. Ask yourself: Because this just happened in this scene what happens next? The operative word here is: because. Because of this, then that. Not, this happens and this happens and this happpens next. But rather, because this happens, then this happens next, and because of that, this happens next. Cause and Effect is a seamless way to draw the reader deeper into the story.

Also, keep in mind the needs of the Beginning. This is not the place where you necessarily deepen the character or the plot; it is the place of introduction.

To read more on Cause and Effect and the specific parameters for each part of a novel, screenplay or memoir, visit, www.blockbusterplots.com and click on Plot Tips.

12 September 2006

For the Scene Only

Watch your delivery of backstory ~ the story of what, in the past, made the character who they are today (in story time).

Writers want to cram everything right up front.

"I know all their history, why would I want to withhold it from the reader?"
"I wrote it that way."
"It's the good part."

Writers spend lots of time imagining and writing every little detail about a character's past, be it for a child or an adult. So, of course, writers would want to tell everything right away. Perhaps, in the process, even show off a bit how clever they are. Until, one understands how curiosity works.

Not telling everything makes the reader curious. Curiosity draws the reader deeper into the story world. The reader wants to fill in the "who," "what," "how" (the "where" and "when" have already been clearly established right up front to ground the reader). They keep reading. This is good.

Tell the reader only what they need to know to inform that particular scene. This is especially true in the Beginning (1/4 mark). During the first quarter of the project, the character can have a memory. But, for a full-blown flashback, where you take the reader back in time in scene, wait until the Middle.

(PLOT TIP: If you're absolutely sure you absolutely have to include the flashback, try using one when you're bogged down in the middle of the middle.)

31 August 2006

What's the Point?

Rarely do I read a writer’s work before a plot consultation, other than the Character Emotional Development Profile (on the Tips page of www.BlockBusterPlots.com) for the main character(s) and the Thematic Significance Statement for the project. So, I can't prove this impression. But, I wonder if the writers who start out really verbal and attempt to tell me everything at once, write that way, too. In other words, is the first 1/2 hour of settling down into the plot consultation process mirrored in as many pages for the writer to settle into the rhythm of their own writing? I don't know the answer; it's just something I wonder about.

Everyone is different, but it’s not unusual for these same writers to balk over my organized approach. I wait patiently as they dart back and forth, interjecting tidbits here and there. I sense their fear that structure surely constricts and will destroy the magic and mystery of the creative process itself. I listen to each of their words carefully as I steadily and gently corral their scenes and ideas into the universal story form. But, I can’t help wondering. Does this same sort of frenetic activity also show up in their writing?

Perhaps at the root of this are writers who, in surrendering completely to the whims of the muse, are uncertain as to what the project is really about. Getting to the point can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what the point is. Determining your characters’ goals and your own personal writing goals helps.

05 August 2006

Historical Fiction plot

Authentic historical facts and details serve to ground the reader in another place and time. To find those just-right details, one must research. In researching, we writers uncover lots and lots of fascinating tidbits. One nugget leads to another which leads to the next. The more we find, the more we want to weave into the story.

Today's consultation served as a prime example of when not to use historical facts and details.

Rule of thumb: If historical facts and/or details serve to deepen and inform the story itself ~ meaning either the dramatic action plot, or the character emotional development plot, or the thematic significance plot, or all three at once ~ use them.

However, if you find yourself wanting to add those titillating tidbits because they are fascinating to you and thus, you reason, the reader will find them fascinating, too ~ wrong.

Whether a novel, short story, or screenplay, the story itself is all that matters. Even one unrelated or distantly related historical fact can dilute the story overall and will often confuse the reader.

Don't use historical facts because you can. Use what will enhance the story.