28 April 2009

Humor Writing / Character Consistency

Humor writing continues to be in great demand = as always, comic relief keeps the darkness at bay.

Writers with the gift or innate talent to write funny lines make it look easy. It's not. As with most aspects of writing, humor writing can be taught: timing, subject matter, and how to keep from crossing over to satire. With humor writing, the reader laughs along with the characters. Satire holds human folly and vice up to scorn, derision, or ridicule and causes the reader to laugh at the characters or at least at the characters' action.

Good humor writing can blur aspects of character development, dramatic action, and even thematic significance when going for a laugh. A character can even act "out of character," if doing so is funny and furthers the story.

In the end, however, humor writing like every other genre in that the story at its core is still about the protagonist's transformation. Humor writers, like all writers, benefit from plotting out in logical and meaningful character change step-by-step to the ultimate transformation that drives the Climax. The character who delivers the punch line at the end of the story behaves differently at the Climax than the character we're introduced to in the Beginning. At its deepest level, that change is what the story is about.

At the Climax, the protagonist faces her biggest fear, deadliest antagonists, most taxing test, deepest prejudice. This is the moment the entire story has been steadily marching toward.

After the Climax, the energy of the story immediately drops. In the Resolution, the character acts in her newly transformed way. This reinforces that her new skills are fully integrated in her new life. The character, now surrounded by allies, has nothing to fear. Here, at the end, she demonstrates her new behavior with ease and great humor.

25 April 2009

Especially for Memoir Writers

Anxious to leave a legacy, more and more baby boomers are turning to writing their memoirs or the next Great American Novel. For some, the story reveals itself effortlessly. Others have difficulty raising the veil for clarity. In the second case, I often find the problem lies in having lived a vast and rich life. What to put in and what to leave out becomes the dilemma.

In order to bring a story to fullness, a writer searches for the underlying sttucture that will best demonstrate some sort of meaning. As far as I'm concerned, there are three ways to do this.

1) Write what you are drawn to write and see what you end up with
2) Pre-plot scenes and ideas on the Universal Story form, alert for the moments that could constitute a major Crisis which in turn creates a jumping off place for the crowning glory of the work ~ the Climax.
3) Write what you are drawn to write and, at the same time, plot out scenes and ideas, keeping in mind the Universal Story form.

A scene does not warrant staying in a story merely because "it happened that way."

A good writer also knows that in order for a certain passage or sentence or character or plot turn to be in a story is not because of the beauty of the writing or the cleverness in the plotting or the depth of the characters, although these things are critical in captivating the reader. A good writer knows that each line and each element in each and every scene belongs there because it has a definite purpose in providing an overall meaning to the piece.

The only scenes that belong in a piece are the ones that best show how a character responds to the challenges, conflicts, tension, and suspense in one's own life as they move closer to transformation, and that contribute to the overall meaning of the story.

17 April 2009

One Plot Strand Stronger than Another

As an addendum to Plot or No Plot, I'd like to clarify the Plotless...

When I say literary novels are plotless, what I mean is that the Character Emotional Development plot-line is at the fore and drives the story. Dramatic Action is present, though generally as a prop more than a plot. Thematic Significance makes the entire story worth reading. And... the Universal Story Form is always flawlessly present.

14 April 2009

Plot or No Plot

I recently perused the stacks for reading material with several writer friends. One of them picked up a book and exclaimed, "Does it have a plot? I'm not reading one more book without a plot!"

When I first started teaching plot to writers more than six years ago and then writing about plot extensively, plot was little talked about. I remember searching for plot in the index of several of the most popular writing books at the time and only one had even a page dedicated to the subject. 

Now, the taboo has been lifted and plot seems to be the "it" element most discussed in writing circles. 

And then there is literary fiction....

As much as I appreciate the need for plot and the struggle writers face in creating compelling and multi-layered plots, I love plotless books. I love when the language takes center stage and characters who develop without much dramatic action dominate. 

Literary fiction is essentially plotless and yet all of my favorite books and the ones I remember the most fall in that category. 

Sometimes I worry I've gone too far in my zeal to support writers in creating well-rounded stories with exciting action that transforms the protagonist and in the end means something. 

Plot is well and good, but often no plot is sublime....

Thematic Significance of Your Story

..as I'm in this second rewrite deep...I'm losing track of my big idea--what's the biggest problem that I should keep in mind as I'm moving ahead? I think it's to get closer to the character, with every action meaning something, showing...the theme will arise out of all that as the plot is well defined at this point...right?

Support surrounds you and your story always. What a leap of faith, of bravery... I'm so proud of you!!!

Q: what's the biggest problem that I should keep in mind as I'm moving ahead?
A: This is the $64 million dollar question, isn't it???

Q: I think it's to get closer to the character, with every action meaning something, showing...the theme will arise out of all that as the plot is well defined at this point...right?

A: Yes.
Constantly ask yourself: what am I trying to say?? What is my story trying to convey?? What do I want the reader left with at the end??

Keep writing down thematic ideas as they come to you. Which ones seem to consistently show up in one form or another in most scenes? What does that mean to you?? What beliefs do you carry about these ideas?? Are they consistent with what you're showing in your story??

Explore your own themes, beliefs; they usually show up in our writing.

The more honed in you are to the deeper meaning, the big problem that needs to be solved in your protagonist's life, the more focused the scenes start to become.

Don't stress about it -- trying too hard gets you all stiff and the muse has absolutely no way of breaking in.

Take lots of walks asking the question you asked me. Be sure to carry a little notebook and pencil in your pocket because answers will flow.

Ask yourself right before you drift off to sleep. Be sure to wake up and immediately write down what comes to you.

It's all there. I promise...

Great good luck!!

07 April 2009

Plot for Murder Mystery Writers

Two male writers, both writing murder mysteries -- one for the adult market, the other targeted for urban middle-grade boys.

In reading the two character profiles I was sent before the plot consultation, I quickly ascertained their writing preferences. The adult writer had complex goals plotted out for his characters with spotty character traits. The middle-grade writer had well-thought out character traits for the protagonist AND the major secondary characters, too, and the character goals had more to do with the internal life of the protagonist than to solve the mystery.

For the writer of the adult mystery, I wasn't too concerned about the spotty character information. In a murder mystery, the more complex the crime, the less complex becomes the demands for the protagonist transformation. Plus, we had worked together before and I knew he struggled with character-driven plot and excelled in dramatic action-driven plot. However, when we were actually in consultation, I learned that the protagonist was going to take action at the Climax that for him would have been completely out of character and something that was impossible in the beginning of the story based on who the character was. I immediately knew the writer was in trouble. He quickly caught on, too.

In order for the character to transform enough to do the action that would be required of him at the Climax, the writer had to step back and plot out his character emotional development over the course of the book in order to make the final action taken by the protagonist to be believable and inevitable in the end. The writer groaned, but only so much as if to say he already knew, was resisting, and needed me to give him the shove...

The writer for an urban middle-grade audience had the exact opposite weakness. In order for the murder mystery to work as a murder mystery, he was going to have to put his preference and strength -- everything character-driven -- aside and delve into the dramatic action -- the solving of the mystery -- itself.

My wish? I wish these two writers could meld together to create the next blockbuster story on the New York Times bestseller list. Or, since we're dealing with real life here, I wish them both the time and motivation and passion to work on their area of weakness until it becomes a strength. That way we'll end up with two uniquely different blockbuster murder mysteries for two uniquely different audiences.

I wish them both well....

03 April 2009

Birthday Wishes

My mom blogged about my birthday.  Svensto
No wonder I dabble in magical thinking...

02 April 2009

History Provides the Perfect Antagonist

A writer I've been working with on an on-going basis picked a unique time in our country's history to write about. Built into this time frame is an event where nature colluded with industry and for five days led to the deaths of many in the community. 

It's an age-old dilemma -- what brings a livelihood to everyone in an entire community ends up killing them. Unwilling to admit to what is right there in front of them, people trust the "powers-that-be" -- they would never knowingly poison an entire community in the name of profits, or would they?? Issues specific to this time in our shared past have been repeated countless times before this specific event and will be repeated countless times in the future = creating a thematic universality to her story.

The event lasts five days and serves as a perfect antagonist. Every step the engaging cast of characters take toward their own personal goals is thwarted by the event. Page-turnability is built in as the events unfold. 

Years of research and the author's own passion for the time have contributed to the authenticity of the project.

As the days pass, the situation worsens. The built-in "ticking clock" creates tension and conflict and challenges all the characters, though in the end the protagonist is affected the most and is transformed at depth.

I've always been a sucker for a great historical. Hers has got all the elements. I wish her loads of luck in writing the next draft all the way through, taking care to treat the event as a major character and plotting out each and every turn the event itself takes as it destroys everyone around it.