25 September 2008

Help Your Readers/Audience Connect

In most plot consultations, I never read a writer's work. Instead, the writer tells me their story scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter. I find I can better "see" the plot and structure minus the words. Sometimes, however, in an on-going plot consultations after we have worked our way through the first draft and I understand what the writer's vision for the project is and have a pretty firm idea of the overall plot and structure, I will read and comment on the manuscript itself.

In the case of a recent "reading" plot consultation, I was delighted to find that the writer I had been working with not only has created dramatic action with compelling characters and significant meaning, he also has a flair for words in creating his wonderfully imagined "exotic" world and delightful characters. It's one thing to listen to what a story is about and quite another to read that same story. Thankfully, this writer's project works at both levels.

However, I am finding, among other things, one consistent problem -- author intrusion. In the middle of a terrific scene, he will suddenly switch to summary and in his own voice describe one of his clever inventions for the story. This quirk of his not only instantaneously yanks the reader from the "dream" he's created in scene, his digression confuses the reader. The reason for this? Often, he spends time describing something that leads nowhere.

Example: the protagonist -- a boy of 13 -- has gotten in trouble yet again. This time the principal gives him a three day suspension from school and demands he meets with the board to hear whether he will be sent to a prison or a reformatorium. The author then goes into great detail about the prison and even includes a picture of the prison. The prison is named where the reformatorium is mentioned only as one of many.

Since the protagonist is sent to the reformatorium not the prison, the only thing the prison name and description contributes to the story is to create confusion.

The reader and the audience is constantly scrambling to determine what is important to remember throughout the story. When a character or a setting is given a name, we generally assume that which is named is something of importance.

In the first draft, get the story down. In subsequent drafts, consider your audience and write to them. Keep your reader in mind throughout. Do everything you can to make the transition into the story world seamless and effortless for the reader. If the reader becomes confused, they usually will not blame you as the author, but themselves as the reader. Before long, they give up. And you lose a potential fan.

Do you write primarily for yourself? When, in the process, do you usually consider your reader?

21 September 2008

Character Consistency & Writing in Scene

Two recent consultations. Two common problems.

1. Telling rather than showing.
A scene shows. A summary tells. The difference? A summary puts distance between reader and character (this also applies to bloggers who blog about themselves). A summary is necessary for a variety of reasons, but scenes are where the story plays out.

Invite your readers in by setting the stage and creating a compelling reason to stick around (character dilemma) and read more (dramatic action). Do this in scene and stick to the universal story form for structure and impact.

2. Not keeping the character consistent.
Determine what the character does to sabotage herself from achieving her goal. This becomes the basis for the character transformation. Be consistent. If her flaw is that she doesn't stick up for herself, then don't have her fighting back in the first 3/4 of the project.

Any other ideas???

18 September 2008

Addendum to Previous Post

I ran into a couple of writer friends yesterday, one of whom usually comments on the blog. They each said they had read the last post, but hadn't left a message.

Too chaotic to ask why not, but I wonder -- did the subject of breaking through emotional walls put them off???

I find the quest in the question posed in last week's post a worthy one. The closer we get to ourselves emotionally, the closer we can get our characters. I found a list of emotions I'll share below. Try exploring these emotions with your protagonist.

The key is not to ask yourself what you would do in the situation, but ask yourself what you would do if you were the character in the situation. Always bring the emotion through the character herself.

Identification with the protagonist is paramount to creating a compelling read, whether a novel, screenplay, memoir, or a blog. Readers identify with characters, through the character's emotion.


Did I miss any???

12 September 2008


I recently received the following query. Any of you have anything to suggest???

I really enjoyed the workshop and have gotten so much out of it. I will definitely be contacting you for future plot consultations.

I really want to break through my emotional walls in order to take my writing to the next level. Do you have any recommendations for books that may help with this? I have been looking at Julia Cameron and Eric Maisel. There are so many books on this topic that I wondered if you had any favorites.


I used to call Carolyn Myss my spiritual guru. Although I haven't followed her for a few years, the help and insight she offered remains with me. I especially benefited from listening to the audio version of Energy Anatomy: The Science of Personal Power, Spirituality, and Health.
I have reread The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle more times than I can count and am rereading it yet again now.

Although both of these resources are more spiritual guides than emotional, I found great help and comfort in them. I hope they might serve you well, too.

09 September 2008


At the writers conference this past weekend, I asked an audience of writer which of them knew the Crisis of their story. I had been talking about the three important scenes -- one each in the:
Beginning (1/4) -- End of the Beginning
Middle (1/2) -- Crisis
End (1/4) -- Climax

We had reached the Middle section and after I discussed the parameters of the Crisis, I asked for a show of hands. Barely a smattering. Surprised, I reworded my question. Still just a few.

I asked if they were worried about that. The answer lay in their looks of bewilderment.

I've always been fascinated in the study of energy. I tried to show this pivotal scene energetically. With the help of the Plot Planner template, I showed how a story rises in intensity. The dips only come in moments of introspection and planning by the protagonist (under-the-line scenes). The rest is conflict that rises with obstacles and antagonists and insight into the character's issues (above-the-line scenes), deepening what was introduced in the Beginning.

After having read for this long, the reader/moviegoer demand a release or irritation will set in. The best place for the scene of greatest intensity so far -- the Crisis -- is around the 3/4 mark in the story. What does the protagonist still need to learn? A story is about character transformation. What situation can you put your character in that flows from the story and would provide the greatest impact energetically to both the reader and the protagonist?? For a new self to be created, the old self must be stripped away. What would best provide a mirror for the protagonist to see who they really are?? How they get in their own way?? Sabotage themselves?? Write that scene = the Crisis

The Climax at the End will show the newly created self, the character transformed. The protagonist confronts her greatest foe at the Climax and prevails in a way she never could have at the beginning of the story.

Each ordeal, each obstacle, each antagonist in the Middle provided the protagonist with opportunities to learn about herself. The Crisis in the Middle is the moment she can no longer hide her head in the sand or talk her way out of problems or rationalize her failings or blame others for her inadequacies. The Crisis forces her to wake up, become conscious, begin the process toward wisdom.

Do you know the Crisis of your story???

04 September 2008


Tomorrow begins the East of Eden Writers' Conference. Steinbeck Country is difficult to describe to anyone without some first hand experience in dry, dusty heat, yellow hills and giant oak trees, hawks and buzzards, cows and sheep. The road trip runs through dirt so rich it's called black gold. Men and women bend in the hot sun to pick strawberries.

250 anxious, eager, inspired, tortured writers will be on hand at the conference -- energy galore.

For me, the excitement is teaching writers plot and scene and structure.

I'll let you know how it goes....

When was the last time you put yourself out there for your writing???