22 December 2007

Plot Question and Answer

Loads of plot consultations this month. Writers scramble to achieve this year's goals, before it's too late....

Haven't had time to debrief here, what with the holidays. But I was just feeling on top of Christmas, had a quiet moment, and decided to tackle emails. The first new email unanswered by me -- 12/5 -- is the following... I haven't blogged lately, so I thought I'd post and answer her email here at the same time, to save time.

I hope her question and comments might help other writers interested in character growth or character emotional development.

Writer's Question and Comments:
I can't begin to tell you how helpful your two DVD workshops and book have been to me! They are so clear and well-done that I do believe I've got it! (The Great Gatsby and Tom Sawyer).

I have my story in mind and have outlined all 60 chapters, about three scenes each, and examined each scene and plot. However, I am weak in developing the other characters in my story and how to show their growth or lack of growth. I feel I'm contriving a scene to show how main characters deal with one delay after another to build tension. Could you recommend a method or specific one of your DVDs to help with this? For example, I'm reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Fowlett right now ... there is one escape scene where the main character is attempting to saddle a horse and get away from the antagonists and she keeps dropping the reins and is unable to quickly get on the horse to make her escape. This seems like such a simple device and yet a couple of pages are dedicated to describing how it's going for her. I can hear your "voice" so clearly that I laughed out loud ... yes, this is exactly what you mean when you say to have it get bad for the protagonist, then make it worse, and then make it worse several more times. The tension that scene built was palpable!

I plan on consulting you when my project is complete for a full analysis. Since I am really just beginning, I don't have enough for you right now.

Thank you again. I do hope you can recommend something for me. I'd really appreciate it.

Writing in North Carolina,

Dear Nancy,
Thank you for your kind words! What a wonderful gift. Thank you.

I feel like you're asking two questions here:
1) How to develop "the characters in my story and how to show their growth or lack of growth."
2) How not to contrive "a scene to show how main characters deal with one delay after another to build tension."

#1 is about the character. I hope this isn't redundant since you've seen the DVD, but I recommend using the Character Emotional Development Profile info to help.
The Beginning 1/4 of your project, you introduce the flaw and fear and hate.
The Middle 1/2, you develop the flaw and fear and hate.
The End 1/4, you show the transformation.

In other words, you don't have to show the growth until The End. Should be smooth after you've written the Climax (last big scene of the entire project.) Once you determine how the character will show her transformation in the Climax, just go back into the scenes that build to the Climax and show the character as she moves closer or further away from her goal.

#2 is about character, too, but is mostly about the dramatic action.
Which one probably depends on whether you are a character driven writer or dramatic action driven writer (there's a test at http://www.blockbusterplots.com, if you're not sure which you are).

In other words, are you building a scene to show character growth first and the dramatic action second?
Or, are you building an action scene first, and have the character react to the action second?

Either way, if you're writing scenes through cause and effect, your scenes can't be contrived. If each scene grows out of the scene that came before --- "because that happens, what happens next?" -- then the scenes are organic and formed out of causality.

Great good luck on your project.

Winter Solstice tonight -- tomorrow the days begin getting longer........

Lots to be grateful for, including your generous words.....


05 December 2007


Think of the CRISIS, which generally occurs around 3/4 into the entire project, as the ANTAGONIST'S CLIMAX, or where the antagonists prevail.


The CRISIS is the PROTAGONIST'S moment of truth, where afterwards nothing is ever the same.


In the CRISIS, the PROTAGONIST has a breakdown that leads to a break through.

01 December 2007

Plot and Character

Thanksgiving came quickly. Not much advance planning except in brief contemplation when I plotted out vague ideas of food and events. Tradition dictated lunch and Thanksgiving dinner at home. Old family friends to join us for dessert. Next day, leftovers at the beach. Fingers crossed that once again Northern California would offer up one of the best beach days of the year.

Decisions made for who brings what, where and when.... Pre-plotting gives me a feeling of control over that which I know is uncontrollable. As much as I can plot out the events, the dishes, grocery lists, and sleeping arrangement, I know from experience that with the characters involved, disaster loomed.

The End of the Beginning arrives the Monday before Thanksgiving as the first family members trickle in.

Old friends invited say yes. Wednesday spent pre-cooking with Sister One, Mother, and Niece One. The doorbell rings. Niece Two beams at my look of surprise. Niece Three arrives. More sleeping arrangement plotted out. Grocery lists grow longer.

The big day arrives. Antagonists and allies align. Yes, predictably, the fun and surprises led to a Crisis, but this year there was also a personally satisfying Climax at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk on a glorious ride on the Big Dipper, the oldest wooden roller coaster in America.

One of the benefits of working with writers about plot is knowing the Universal Story form inside and out. As weird as it sounds, I live plot. That means I, as the protagonist of my own life, have the power to create Climax after Climax of my own liking.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? The challenge is to stay conscious of my own Character Emotional Development. If I get too caught up in the Dramatic Action of others in the moment, I lose clarity.

05 November 2007

Changing POV

Q: My current story has my two main characters. The P.O.V. shifts from one to another in alternating chapters as the chase continues to a surprising climactic ending. I have written a plot summary (chapter by chapter so I know where it is going) and what the arc of the story will be. I have completed three chapters so far, but would appreciate any tips you might share with me on plotting my story with a shifting P.O.V. in this way

A: A quick tip I can give you is this ~~ on your banner paper, draw two plot planner lines, one above the other. One each for the two major characters. Use these lines to plot out their individual plots. Develop a plot profile for each to help with their individual character transformations. This way you're ensured to have two deeply developed characters and are able to plot out their individual stories and how the two intertwine with each other.

29 October 2007

Elements of Plot

The following are questions that came up after the last post. Thought the questions and answers might help other writers so I include them below. Happy plotting...

Q: So basically it’s the scene(s) in the climax section that we have to watch out for in terms of the final CED, to see if the character has evolved from the initial fatal flaw in the beginning of the story?

A: Yes, the scene in the Climax is what each and every scene has been driving towards throughout the entire story, which is why it's a good practice NOT to go back and start over again until you have written all the way to the Climax and are pretty sure what that scene is. If you find yourself in that cycle of constantly going back and beginning again, you'll perfect those early scenes that may end up being cut when you finally understand the Climax. Once you know the Climax, you have a much better idea of how best to begin the project.

Q: And what you are saying is that it is suffice by just marking it in a different color to denote the arc or character journey in emotional development? Subplots, therefore don’t need to be marked separately in Plot Planner because it is intertwined within the Dramatic Action?

A: Some subplots deserve their own Plot Planner. In that case I recommend that one line is above the other so you can see how the subplot works with the major Dramatic Action and Character Emotional Development plot.

Q: On the last question, so summaries don’t show thematic details?

A: On a subtle level, thematic significance shows up everywhere ~~ in scene and summary ~~ though word choice, mood, etc. However, you only plot out scenes on the Plot Planner and on the Scene Tracker.

Q: (Anyways, how would we know to mark the summaries for Theme in plot planner if we don’t even track that info in scene tracker). Is my understanding then to just mark those scenes (not summaries) whether above or below the line, that have thematic details, correct?

A: This is true only in later drafts. The Thematic Signficance does not always emerge until after the story becomes more stable ~~ beyond the first couple of drafts. In the early drafts, don't worry about the Thematic Significance. You'll have enough to work with just honing down the Dramatic Action plot and the Character Development plot.

I apologize if I seem to be reiterating my questions, I just want to make sure I am interpreting your response correctly. I know you are extremely busy and I really do appreciate all of your help.

ps. You're right, PP and ST is addicting. And I have resumed back to my writing with more confidence! By the way, I ordered your DVD with the focus on CHildren Writers and eagerly await to be enlightened by your method again. Perhaps by watching you explain your method, I'll get a greater sense on everything you have written in your book.

A: Yes, I believe you will get a greater sense of how the Plot Planner works and how the Character Development profile helps to build the Character Development plot line. Let me know what you think.

Q: Was also wondering, are all of your DVD workshops pretty similiar and touch on everything that is on the book or do you delve into any advance topics on plotting for example with the DVD you have that uses Memoir of a Geisha?

A: The DVDs are different in that they are live workshops that were taped (some better in quality than others).

Thanks in advance Martha for everything and for your continued support!!!

A: Thank you, and great good luck with your project!

17 October 2007

Plot and Subplots

The following are questions Livvy had after my responses in the 10/11 post below.

Q: I did have a question on your Folly example (note: Folly is a mystery by Laurie R. King). You said to use one color to write “arrival” to note Dramatic Action above the line? Then you said to use another color to write “fragile” to note the Character Emotional Development below the line? So am I supposed to plot two points for the same scene? I thought it was either or. Or are you saying for the initial CED, to just note it underneath “arrival” above the line in a separate color just to distinguish it from each other as the beginning emotion? So then for future CED tracking, do I keep it below the line?

A: Yes, to your first question. Both the Dramatic Action (DA) notation and the Character Emotional Development (CED) notations go above the line with different colors to distinquish from each other. Why above the line? Because in the arrival scene we know that the Character is not in control due to her emotional state and the reality of what she has undertaken. Therefore, there is conflict, tension and suspense in the scene and so, belongs above the line.

No is my answer for your second question. The only CED notations that go below the line are the ones where the protagonist is in control. For instance, when she throw away all her medication, we know that in that moment she is in control. This dramatic action is a major symbol of how she is trying to become even more in control of her life.

Q: Are the CEDs that are plotted below the line supposed to show just the progression of the protagonist’s internal flaw or is there a way to show a relationship subplot as well?

The way I look at it, I view the Dramatic Action as the “A” story (or Plot) which is the problem in the outer world that needs to be solved. I am thinking that CED would be the “B” story (or subplot) which is the internal conflict or fatal flaw, which reveals what the protagonist needs to achieve internally in order to help resolve the external goal of the plot. So basically, Plot is dependent upon the Fatal Flaw or “B” story for resolution. But then you need a “relationship” subplot or “C” story to validate whether or not that internal change has occurred in relation to something in the outer world.

A: If how you "look at it" best serves your writing, I recommend that you proceed that way. Personally, I find that the different plot threads can't always be separated in this way, in that they are too interdependent on each other. For example: sometime after she has thrown her pills into the water, she becomes paranoid of sounds she hears. Feeling compeltley empty, she wades into the water. We, the reader, find this alarming attempt at squelching her paranoia, putting an end to her suffering, an act of trying to commit suicide. Yes, what triggered the paranoia is external, but also internal, too.

Folly is definitely Character-driven, but is also a mystery ~~ who attacked her at home and is out to get her? A subplot also turns the story into a murder mystery when she attempts to find out who murdered her great uncle.

In the end, when she shows in the Climax behavior that she could never have demostrated at the beginning or even middle of the story due to all that came before, we know that she has been tranformed at depth by the dramatic action throughout the story.

Q: Can some of the scenes / summaries that are plotted Below the line in the plot planner show Thematic significance? Or does Theme details only correlate with scenes above the line?

A: Thematic details, if you're deliberate about including them, happen in scenes both above and below the line. They are not dependent on tension, conflict and suspense.

11 October 2007

Character Development and Dramatic Action


Q: How do you specifically track emotional development within the plot planner?

A: Using the Plot Planner template, plot the scenes in the Beginning ¼ of your project either above or below the line, depending on if the character is in control (above the line) or an antagonist of some sort holds the power (below the line). Note the aspects of the Character Emotional Development (CED) introduced as is now ~~ flaws, fears, secrets and all. Use a different color from the notes you write for the Dramatic Action (DA) plot line.

For example, in Folly by Laurie R. King, the protagonist is introduced as fragile, doubtful, exhausted, and fearful upon her arrival at the island. In one color, write “arrival” to note DA. In another color, write “fragile and fearful” to indicate the CED at this point.

Feeling fragile and fearful and on the edge is not a temporary emotional state (the temporary emotions belong under the “Change” column of the Scene Tracker). Feeling fragile and fearful and on the edge is where she is in her overall lifetime emotional development due to what has come before (the backstory).

The Middle section shows scenes above or below the Plot Planner line that show how the character's current emotional development affects her life on a deeper level. In the Middle, the shorthand for her emotional development usually shows how her internal antagonists ~~ her fears, flaws and secrets ~~ sabotage her from reaching her goals.

In Folly, the Crisis ~~ the scene of most intensity in the story so far ~~ the protagonist is on the brink of a full-blown breakdown. This serves as a wake-up call, a moment of no return. She now understands the extent of her fragility, but she is also given a glimpse into who she could be with focused and conscious effort.

The End shows her CED in terms of the degree to which she keeps control as she works her way to mastery. The moment of true mastery is shown in the Climax.

In essence, each set of notes in the color for CED should show a visual pattern of the CED arc.

Q: On page 156 under the PLOT PLANNER section, you mention on finding a scene where the character emotional development is at its peak. Using your scene tracker tool, how would I go about finding one?

A: Divide all the scenes on your Scene Tracker and divide by ¾. Around that mark, look for the scene where the emotional stakes are at their highest.

Q: Within the PLOT PLANNER section of your book, you have a chapter on plotting the Thematic significance. I see how it is being done through scene tracker, but how is it being plotted on the plot line so that a visual representation of the theme is seen on the plot line? I take it that was your purpose for this section and not to revert back to scene tracker? I’m a little confused as I am taking it for granted that Plot Planner and Scene Tracker should be two separate tools.

A: Yes, the Plot Planner allows you to see the different plot threads as they interplay together throughout the project. By plotting the scenes above or below the line and indicating the three plot line elements, each in a different color, a writer is able to see the ebb and flow of their scenes at the overall story level.

The Scene Tracker is meant as a way to see how the different plot threads work together within each scene.

Q:I'm confused about the definition of "scene" in the first and second halves of the book. In the first half, I was instructed not to include summaries as scenes, but in the second half (the plot planner), it says that scenes that go "below the line" include summaries. I'd already weeded out the summaries from my scene list, and now I'm confused.

A: Some of the information you may want to keep track of on your Plot Planner sometimes comes in the form of summary. Scene, however, is where the story unfolds.

20 September 2007

Mostly It's about Writing

Mostly it's all about the writing and staying fluid.

But, I, too, find benefit in the movement, the lining things up getting-ready-ritual. I'm sure you're jumping forth between writing and organizing by now.

Keep imagining,

Original email:
Thanks again for all your help. I've printed your scene tracker 20 times, labeled, and laminated back to back (10 laminated sheets) so I can use dry eraser and reuse them from story to story. Watch all this organization throw me into a writer's block. Oh, please say it isn't so.

I've even gone as far as laminating my blank master GMC charts, storyboard, plotline, character, conflict, conflict comparison, pertinent backstory for character GMC, character arc and romantic conflict/connection worksheets so that I can use dry erase on them and reuse them.

Geez, talk about anal, but at least it feels like I'm becoming organized. lol

02 September 2007


Thinking about something is cerebral and is generally written in summary

Feeling something is visceral and is generally written in scene.

Track your story. How much out of body or in the head time versus how much in the body, experience time does your story encompass?

Use the Scene Tracker Kit to deepen each and every scene you write.

For more information, go to:

14 August 2007

Consider the Reader

We as writers may start out writing just for ourselves, but even for those who are the most resistant to admit it, we each long for a readership to enjoy our projects.

Once a writer embraces that truth, our relationship to our writing changes.

One way to consider your readers or audience is to get closer to yourself. What kinds of writing do you like? How does your favorite author begin their stories? In scene or in summary? How do your scenes compare to theirs in terms of complexity, interest, excitement, character development, and truth?

What constitutes the Beginning, the Middle and the End of their projects? Can you detect what launches the character(s) into the heart of the story world towards the end of the Beginning? Does the Crisis reveal anything about the character to the his or herself or does the highest point in the story so far function only on the Dramatic Action level alone? How does the Climax show the character doing something they could not have done at the beginning of the story? Is there Thematic Significance to their writing? Is there to yours?

One of the greatest personal benefits of writing is the opportunity to dig deep for our own individual truth. The first draft for many writers skims the surface as we look for meaning and conflict shown in scene and how the characters will show their transformatio over time. Often, what we write in these first drafts is what we've heard before or learned from our family and friends, in school, and through our own reading and the news.

But once we read what we have written, we immediately sense when something does not ring true. There is no better way to learn what is true for us and what is not, than to read our words ourselves first.

As I stated in my plot book for writers, Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple, my hope for you and for me is that our search for the truth through our writing remains active and honored. We dig for the truth not only for ourselves, but for our future audience as well.

We each share the need to be heard.

We each have something vital to offer.

22 July 2007

The Payoff

Readers turn the pages based on their interest in the characters or the excitement caused by the dramatic action or both. The Middle goes on for quite awhile (1/2 of the entire project), and sure, there is lots of conflict, tension, suspense to keep the reader reading, but all those scenes are building to something and that something is the payoff ~~ the Crisis (about 3/4 of the way through the entire book).

It's like climbing a hill. We keep hiking for lots of different reasons, but in the end we're hoping to get to the top = the payoff. In the case of a story, the Crisis is getting to the top. Except, the reader and the character reaches the top only to realize they're only part way there, that another peak awaits them ~~ the Climax ~~ the ulimate payoff for the reader, the crowning glory of the entire project.

Analyzing other books similar to your genre helps writers begin to "feel" the energetic flow of the story and better helps you apply the principles to your own work. Plus, you'll find lots of great hints and tips and ideas when you are reading as a writer, not just a reader.

13 July 2007

Take the Plot Test based on Theme

You've written some stuff. You feel good about your characters, you've got some action, but what drives your energy for showing up is exploring the deeper meaning of life.

Start with an unusual setting and some "different" characters.

Set the time.

Figure out your obsession.
Say it's with finding out who you really are, your own unique identity (insert your obsession). Generate scenes with that in mind ~~ the character's interaction with others, trying to figure out her place in the world ~~ that's better ~~ a universal theme for kids and all of us...

As you write, look for clues to finish the theme to make it thematically significant: how DOES one figure out his place in the world? Through trial and error? Okay. And so what, really, does that mean overall? Finding one's place in the world takes trial and error, but in the end....

The anwer to the ...above must be worthy enough for you to give up hours of your life to write, worthwhile to the character to go through the struggle of a journey, worthwhile for the reader to give up hours of her time to read your story?

Picture books, because they push away subplots, make the concept of plot is easier to grasp.

Take, for instance, Where the Wild Things Are by Sendax.

What is it? 34 pages? Many of which are drawings. I can't remember and I'm not going to get up and check, but lets say there are 17 pages of written language.

Beginning: 1/4 of entire project introduces characters while showing where and when the story takes place, and demonstrating a major character flawy that will help drive the action of the story (go to:
http://www.blockbusterplots.com/character-development.html for the character Plot profile info.).

In the Beginning of Where the Wild Things Are we meet Max, the cat and the mom. Max shows his wild side and drives everyone crazy.

End of Beginning: a scene signifying no turning back, entering the heart of the journey toward transformation
At the end of the Beginning of Where the Wild Things Are, Max is sent to his room with no dinner and there he watches his room turn into a forest or is it a jungle?

The Middle: 1/2 of the page count showing trials and errors, antagonists. Whateve keeps the conflict, tension, suspense or curiosity of the audience high.
Where the Wild Things Are ~~ journey to Wild Things, conquering wild things

Middle of the Middle: Showing an unsual world
Where the Wild Things Are ~~ shows 4 or more pages of covered with pictures demonstrating wildness

Crisis: Middle builds toward the 3/4 mark and the biggest scene of all
Crisis is a scene forcing the character to a new awareness.
Anything energetically higher than anything that has come before
Where the Wild Things Are ~~Max has everything, but he is lonely for love.

The End: Lots of significance toward the Climax.
Where the Wild Things Are ~~ journey home.

Cimax: The character "showing" the transformation
Where the Wild Things Are ~~ settles down to eat his dinner

One page of Resolution ~ his new life from then on
Where the Wild Things Are ~~ and his dinner is hot.

Of course for a novel, or screenplay, or historical you'd have lots of sub-plots that follow their own template as described above, but at a sub-level ~~ they are sub-plots, afterall.

05 July 2007

Creating Plot

Plot is as much about timing as it is the dramatic action and the transformation the character undergoes.

To satisfy your readers, placement and timing of each scene becomes critical.

Spend too many words, pages, time in the beginning of the piece increases your chances of losing your reader right off the bat. Readers want to be grounded, understand who is who, and what is what, and then the reader demands something big happen ~~ the End of the Beginnning.

The balance between back story and front story, between internal dialog and overt action, between character development and action is delicate and must always be kept in mind.

Just because the story comes out onto the page in a certain order, does not mean that's where the scene or summary or narration will stay.

How the act of creation happens is mysterious and magical.

Placement and timing is under the author's control and is part of the craft of writing.

17 June 2007

Women's National Book Association San Francisco

At an event hosted by the Women's National Book Association San Francisco yesterday, I had an "aha" moment. At first, I hesitated. The last big "aha" moment was when I realized how many writers struggle with plot. Since I had spent 12 years studying about how the dramatic action works with character development to create a compelling story, I set out to help other writers find their plots and experience the freedom of structure. And, my life was transformed.

"Aha" moment Number Two feels as broad and universal. Honing writing skiils and learning about the craft of writing is only one half of the whole of being a writer. Finding a marketplace and readership is the other half. Yes, even you who are beginning a project. Yes, even you who are almost finished. Yes, even you who have already published.

Yesterday, writers were hungry to know more about this mysterious other half -- the shadow side of creating art, the side that involves money and sales figures and promotion and more. One of my fellow panelist spoke of being blindsided by the marketing aspect of helping the project she had so deligently crafted get a fair shake in a marketplace of shorter and shorter lifespans for books.

I teach one element of the craft of writing. Sure, plot is critical. Without dramatic action, character development, and making sense you have nothing but potential.

With a great book and a good understanding of what the next step involves, you'll find the readership you dream of.

Yes, even you who are still working on plot.

Learn about both sides.

30 May 2007

Finding the Story

All memoirists incorporate true events in their stories. Often, writers of fiction do the same thing.

Using true events can lead to a richness of authentic details and emotional revelation. However, just because something meaningful and life-changing happened to you does in no way guarantee that the events will be meaningful to your audience. And, of course, the true events must contribute to the overall story plot, or these authentic details will end up weighing down the story.

The events themselves must build in conflict, tension, and suspense and provide some sort of thematic signficance in the end.

A recent plot consultation revealed a tragic story of loss the writer lived through. This is not unusual. Most of us have had one or more traumatic events. Writing about it helps bring meaning and closure. However, the one event is not always enough to wrap an entire novel around.

As we proceeded in the consultation, it became clear that the writer needed more to hang the story on than this one event.

Story is all about the protagonist undergoing a journey and becoming transformed in the process. The journey itself must be built on exciting dramatic action in order to please and entertain your audience.

The aftermat that ensues after a trauma and what is lost and what is gained can provide this excitment. If not, a secondary plot line may be needed to create more page-turnablilty to the project and show the overall character transformation.

16 May 2007

The End

The final 1/4 of the project.
The protagonist now knows what's not working and goes in pursuit of what does.
She is challenged every step of the way, only now in the End, she attempts to react in a new transformed way.
Each scene shows her finding her power little by little.

The Climax
The Climax comes almost at The End of the story itself.
The Climax is the biggest scene in the entire story.
The Climax is what the story is all about.
Each scene in the entire book has worked its way steadily toward this moment ~~ the Climax.
The Climax embodies the transformation.
The Climax shows the protagonist doing something she is now only able to do because of each of the tests and trials she underwent in the middle.

The Resolution
The Resolution is the final tie-up of everything.

The End builds at a fevered pitch to the Climax.
The energy drops off after that.
The Resolution brings final closure.

03 May 2007

Getting Closer to the Character

People read stories and go to the movies 70% for the character. We love to peek into other people's lives, even if the other people are mere characters in a book or movie.

This last writer's story was filled with dramatic action, which made for an exciting story. I found myself anxious to hear what happened next, and what happened after that. The writer masterfully provided more and more compelling action, and did so seamlessly through consistent cause and effect. The Dramatic Action plot line rose quickly and effectively.

Still, amid all the intrigue and mystery, suspense and fear, the characters became cardboard action figures who allowed the dramatic action to happen. The more exciting the action, the more the characters were ignored and the less I found out about how the characters. especially the protagonist, were being affected by the dramatic action. Without the help of the character to draw me closer, I found myself separating further and further from the story.

At this point in the consultation, I went over the importance of goal setting ~~ both at the scene level and the overall story level. The better a writer is at establishing concrete goals for their characters, the easier it is for them to keep track of the affects on the character as the character succeeds and fails in achieving their goals.

[Note: At a recent Plot Planner Writers Workshop, one of the writers expressed confusion between a goal and a dream. A goal is quanifiable and under the protagonist's control. In other words, the character is capable of succeeding. Whether they actually do or not is up to them. A dream, on the other hand, requires a bit of magic or help from outside sources. The protagonist cannot fulfill his or her own dreams, but must rely on the help of others.]

In the consultation, I never find out why the protagonist is missing when her husband is nearly killed. Why? Because the writer didn't know either. A critical door into the character on a deep, personal level was never opened by the author and thus, would have robbed the future readers or movie-goers from the intimate bond of knowing.

The writer used the protagonist to advance the Dramatic Action plot line, but ignored the Character Emotional Development plot line almost completely.

Still, she had done the hard part. The story was written. The dramatic action propelled the story in fast and exciting ways. Once pointed out, the doors are easily opened. By attending to what's behind each door, the writer's chances improve for bringing satisfaction to future fans through knowing the character even better than the character knows herself.

26 April 2007

How Personal Themes Affect Your Writing

Mary Cronk Farrell posted a question on the last entry I made:

Thank you for sharing your wisdom on theme and giving a story depth. I have just finished the first draft of my mystery novel and am beginning to revise using your plot planner scene tracker. I have no idea what my theme is. Can you give me some ideas about how to tease it out? The characters are working out some conflicts besides the mystery, so I know there is some kind of theme about relationships. But what?
Thank you!

Rather than answer her within the comments, I thought I'd cut and paste here what I wrote in the most recent Blockbuster Plots eZine. (If you would like to sign up for the free monthly plot tips eZine, go to: http://www.blockbusterplots.com/contact.html).

I hope the exercise helps, Mary! And thanks for your comments.

On the final class of a recent University of California Santa Cruz extension plot workshop series, I asked writers to complete an exercise meant to reveal themes of their lives. Once again, as in every case, at the end of the exercise, the themes emerging in each of their stories dramatically reflect each writer's personal themes.

Following is the exercise adapted from Philip Gerard's book, Writing a Book That Makes a Difference:

Look into your own personal back story ~~ all of life's experiences and history that has made you who you are today. Which scene has stayed with you in detail and emotion since the moment of the experience? The really big stuff, either traumatic or ecstatic, follows life's paradox: that which is big actually means very little. That which is small can mean everything.

Look for the small cause that created a lasting effect. For example: You wanted something with all of your might and you got it. Or, you wanted something with all of your might and you did not get it. Two similar dreams, two thematically opposite outcomes and lasting effects.

We as writers are conduits of creation. Inspiration flows through us to the page, having been touched by our body of experiences and residue emotional development based on those experiences.

18 April 2007

Giving a Story Depth

Most writers have a preference for one plot line over another. Some are Character-driven writers. Others are Action-driven writers. Some have strengths in both. Not many are Thematic-driven.

The deeper meaning of a story comes up out of the story itself over time. Thus, the Thematic Significance plot line is generally saved for the last or is either ignored or overlooked all together.

The more aware a writer is about their own personal themes, the more attuned the writer will be in the search for deeper meaning.

For an exercise to determine your own personal themes, go to:

Recent testimonial from Florida:
"It is amazing how each session the plot, theme and content gets clearer and clearer as you direct me. The scenes I had the most resistant to reveal the most... I feel myself getting closer to a story line....and it is my story and it is not. because what I lived is not who I am....for the first time I am coming out of the closet..."

02 April 2007

Yet Another Case of Waxing on For Too Long in the Beginning

The Universal Story Form is made up of three parts: the Beginning, the Middle, the End.

Simple, right? Right.

The Beginning makes up of 1/4 of the entire page, scene, or word count.
The Middle makes up 1/2 of the page count.
The End makes up 1/4 of the page count

Simple, right? Well, it should be, but sometimes it's not, and for a very simple reason.

Often writers go on for too long in the Introductory mode at the Beginning. This is normal. Writers warm up at the Beginning. They get to know their characters. They usually write in summary, giving all sorts of what they believe are important details about the characters and the story up front.

What's wrong with that, you ask? Absolutely nothing, in the first draft, that is. After the first draft, this rambling on and on poses a significant problem.

By going on for too long in the Beginning, the writer alienates the reader or movie-goer. Your audience to become impatient to get to the "good part" -- the Middle. They grow tired of the introductions and want to get to the heart of the story world itself -- the Middle. They want something big to happen, be swept off their feet, so to speak.

Write to the End without going back to the Beginning. Once you have the first, ugly, messy, not worthy, vomit, and all the other ways people describe their first drafts, divide the entire page count by four. If you find the Beginning drifts way beyond the 1/4 mark, consider cutting all the writing you did to get warmed up. Generally this adds up to be the first 50 - 100 pages. Now you see why I want you to write all the way to the end without going back? If you had done what too many writers do and get stuck in the syndrome of hitting the middle of the Middle and then going back to the Beginning, your Beginning will be all polished and nice, and much, much more difficult and painful to cut than if you have only written it once.

(For tips on how to push yourself beyond the middle of the Middle without going back and starting again, please visit the tips page on http://www.blockbusterplots.com)

21 March 2007

Character Development Plot versus Dramatic Action Plot

The writer tells me scene by scene her children's picture book story.

As I create her own individual Plot Planner, it becomes obvious how each scene flows one into the next in flawless cause and effect. The tension rises in each scene greater than the scene before. She reads me a couple of short scenes. Her writing is lyrical and her voice unique. I listen intently, becoming more and more immersed in her story. Convinced of the merit to her story, I wonder aloud about her next step -- has she researched agents? The energy of her story builds to a terrific and fitting Crisis. She leaves us guessing, and then reveals a surprising Climax. Wonderful resolution.

I study the Plot Planner in awe, and then it hits me. She has written a compelling children's story filled with Dramatic Action which is tough to do in so few pages, but the story is almost completely devoid of any character development and thus little or no meaning.

Quickly I scan the PP. There, in the first scene, she effectively "shows" us the protagonist's flaw. And that's it. The Character Development Plot is then dropped entirely. With very little effort, the way to the character's transformation -- the heart of every great story -- becomes clear. Insert a more apt reaction here. A more profound understanding there. Before the writer knows it, both the Character Plot and Thematic Significance weave effortless into the strong and effective Dramatic Action Plot.

Wonderful example of how a story can work effectively on one level only. In this climate of so many stories competing for the marketplace, however, stories must deliver on more than one level at a time.

Soon this writer will have herself a lasting story. First she has to incorporate all three plotlines:

Dramatic Action
Character Development
Thematic Significance

She has done the hard part. The path to completion is right there in front of her. I wish her the best of luck and look forward to reading her story when it's published.

16 March 2007

Archetypes -- People Who Exhibit A Particular Trait Strongly

Archetypes appear more clearly in people who exhibit one trait strongly.

I am inclined to study the people I work with. Most plot consultations take place over the phone, so I rely on overt comments and breath, perceived posture, expressions, and movements. For help on a deeper level, archetypes shed meaning.

Over and over she laments her uncertainty. She blurts out doubts in herself, her abilities, the actual presence of others. Why bother, she cries out? A writers' life demands more from us than we think we are. When called, if we fail to show up, we are haunted, hounded, and worried to death. The writer's eyes dart in opposite directions. They do not track like a paired event and it's difficult to follow her because I'm not exactly sure where she is physically.

However, I can track her perfectly on a archetypal level. Her worry over not being worthy fills her every cell. It drifts out of her pores and affects the rest of us. Her dance of self-doubt feels like it will go on into eternity. To see what each of us struggles with on such a concrete level allows us to better understand our own lives. And thus, our characters' lives.

Fear and doubt, insecurity that verges on the edge of self-destruction, we all have it. No matter if we succeed or fail, we are still hounded. We measure ourselves. How courageous are we? How much of ourselves do we commit? How do we keep going in the face of such doubt?

Either you don't. Or, you do...

01 March 2007

Trying Too Hard

After today's plot consultation, plotlines and subplots, flashbacks and time jumps still linger.

The writer is guilty what many of us are ~ he tried too hard.

At some point in every writers life, we ask ourselves ~ who would want to read this? And, why? In our fear of not measuing up or worried the story falls short, we add another subplot here, switch events around, change the point-of-view, and mess with the format.

I think this is part of the writer's personal journey. Our egos keep our minds so filled with fear and uncertainty we trip over the story itself. Yes, the writer's craft is to take what flows out on the page and craft it into a story. So long as we focus on the story, I think we get it right. It's when the writer gets in the way that the process weighed down. Tricks and too many twists can pull the story under.

I hope when the writer sees his very own individual Plot Planner I created for him during the consultation and finessed with plot tips after, I hope he'll reconnect with the core or heart of the story itself. When we try too hard, we tense up. The story tenses up, too. To trim and snip and cut isn't always easy. I hope when he sees his story minus the words, he'll see the story is worth the time and attention it is going to take to get it right.

19 February 2007

When the Writing Gets in the Way

I appreciate that not everyone writes to be read. Writers who say they write for themselves may or may not mean that the writer does not care about the reader, but that the reader does not dictate the story, the writer does.

For writers who want to be read by the mainstream reading public (whoever that is), don't let words get in the way of meaning.

A writer recounts an exciting, well-thought out Dramatic Action plotline (he has entirely ignored the Character Development plotline for now and whatever deeper meaning the story has is yet untapped). I do not read the words. I listen for the structure and plot. I have no idea of the writer's writing, not even the story's true point-of-view. Today, during the story recounting, the writer's words got in the way of a truly exciting Climax.

Too florid, they clouded comprehension. Granted, he was reading summaries of scenes, but still, his "voice" seemed stilted and the words themselves demanded individual attention.

The actual Dramatic Action propels my mind to the next exciting moment. Skipping over complex details, I wait impatiently for the next scene. His tongue trips over the words. In the end, I am left wondering, huh?

I knew the writer knew; I had learned to trust him partway through The Middle. But besides rich and poetic words, he sprinkled his story with complext names. Without any Character Emotional Develpment with which to fix the characters by name, I had little to ground me. At the Climax, I found I had no idea of the villian slayed. The crowning glory of the story left in confusion.

Moral of the story with your reader in mind:
1.) Strive for meaning on the word, scene, and overall story level. Write the scenes moment-by-moment as clearly as possible as an invitation to the reader to sink deeper.
2.) Develop the character's inner world as carefully as the outer one.
3.) Help the reader remember who goes with which name.

11 February 2007

Characters Consistency is Paramount

Partway through a two-hour plot consultation, the writer I was working with related a scene in which the protagonist does something entirely out of character. The protagonist of this young adult novel steals pot from her father's illegal pot growing shed.

"Whoa!" I cried. "Where does this come from? You've set up the story so that the protagonist does not respect her father because of his pot growing, right?"

"She's not going to smoke any. She wants to get back at her dad."

"She's going to take enough so he'll know?"

"No, just a bud or so."

"How is that getting back at her father?"

"Well, maybe it's not, but she needs to have the pot for later in the story."

"Ah, ha!"

What this writer has done is not an uncommon mistake. Writers, in their zeal for the dramatic action plot, lose sight of the character development plot.

Character is the story. Thus, character consistency is paramount. This writer knew that. But because the plot demanded that the protagonist get busted for the illegal pot, she had justified the action to herself. The process of having to jusify it to me made her realize the problem.

When the writer saw the error of her ways, she also realized the act was actually a flaw in the dramatic action plot as well and immediately found the answer that had been sitting there all along. The protagonist's sidekick was the one who takes it. As we proceeded in the consultation, the logic of this revealed itself more and more throughout the story.

29 January 2007

Mystery Writers Need Plot, too!

Are you nuts?

Leave a fire roaring, dog snoring, husband chatting, and a pot of soup bubbling for the long walk down a cold hallway in the dark and all alone to a quiet and still room filled with expectations and uncertainty??? Lately, so goes the lament from many of the writers I work with on an on-going basis.

Everyone seems slow to jump into the writing life this year. Rather, self-doubts, and threats of going back and starting again, fear and uncertainty hold us back.

The drama keeps us engaged with our writing, or so we think. Actually, the drama of self-doubt separates us from the work. Granted writing a mystery or a romance, a screenplay or a memoir, or any other creative endeavor demands more from us than we sometimes believe we're up for. By concentrating on ourselves and our own vulnerabilities as writers, we skim the surface of the writing life and lose our focus of the work itself.

Yes, writing and finishing are about us finding time, strength, determination and persistence. Dig a bit deeper and you'll find the story waiting.

Create a writing ritual:
Light a candle and ask to be shown the way.
Play your favorite music and ask to be filled with creative energy.
Turn on a water fountain and ask to live in the flow.

It is not to be in the know... It's to be in the mystery.

Believe and Receive.

Give your fears to your characters, put your head down, and keep going.

The story awaits.

07 January 2007

Happy New Year!

The private plot consultations resume next week. Until I have a chance to write a new plot post, please read my comments below. I'd enjoy your impressions.