24 August 2009

Meaning of the Crisis & Climax Cont.

Continued from 8/22 blog post:

One of the most gratifying aspects of reading and going to the theater is the experience of living someone else's life (meaning to enter into the protagonist's skin) and surviving a Crisis. Stories give us the idea that we, too, can survive the dark night of the soul and know that moment when consciousness slays the ego. 

Suspense builds as we read or watch for what the character does next.

When we, in real life, get hit with a Crisis, we can either accept what is and move on OR we can return to unconsciousness, crippled by victimhood. 

In stories, the Crisis (the scene of most energetic intensity in the story so far) serves as a slap in the face, a wake-up call, the moment when the character becomes conscious of life's deeper meaning (thematic significance = look for more on this in the next blog post). 

Stories are about, at their core, their essence, character transformation. After the Crisis, in order for character transformation to occur, the character moves out of unconsciousness to a place of acceptance. 

The author decides whether the character will move from the Crisis to acceptance only, or whether she will move on into enjoyment and ultimately, if she sets a goal for herself, to enthusiasm. 

After the Crisis, the character is now consciously even more aware of all the sensory details around her, more alive, more alert. She is absolutely present in what she does. The reader senses the alert, alive stillness within the character in the background of the action. 

Her earlier goal -- outer purpose -- expands into something much bigger now that she is empowered by consciousness. This new strength, insight, power fills her with enjoyment in the next step towards transformation. Added to that enjoyment comes an intensity and creative power beyond her imagining.

Once the character is awakened -- thanks to the Crisis, -- she moves toward her outer goal and her enjoyment turns into enthusiasm. From this moment on, the story's energy field vibrates. Tension builds. Behind each step the character takes, the story grows in intensity and energy. 

The character is more involved in each step (moment-by-moment action) as she steadily moves toward her goal than she is at arriving to her goal. Stress falls away. Confident she will arrive at her goal, in the knowing, she savors each moment in aliveness, joy, and power.

"[The character] will feel like an arrow that is moving toward the target--and enjoying the journey." A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.

The Climax is the "target" -- the moment when the character steps out of her ego and into pure alignment with the creative source. 

The Climax (the scene of highest energetic intensity much more so than that of the Crisis) is the place where the character is once again tested. In the Climax, the character is often confronted again by her greatest antagonist. Unlike earlier encounters, this time, however, the character is able to yield, walk around, embrace, or turn the opposing energy into a helpful one. Because of all the antagonists she has been confronted by and learned from along the way (the Middle = 1/2), at the Climax, the character is able to show us yet another way to live life in triumph. 

The reason the story can not continue for many pages moments or pages after the Climax is that when a goal is met the tension is gone. 

In the Resolution, the character surrenders to the return movement in a state of joy and the story ends. 

In a series, at the end of one story, the author promises a new wave of creative energy to come along with renewed enthusiasm.

(NOTE: I invite you to also consider the above elements of the Universal Story form as a template for your own individual writer's journey. In your knowing of the structure, you are able to bypass a Crisis yourself and rather, everyday write with a sense of consciousness more concerned with the next sentence than reaching the end, more concerned with sending out queries than attaining an agent, more concerned with your next story than reviews...)

22 August 2009

Plot Question & Answer; Meaning of the Crisis

(NOTE: I often use this forum -- the Plot Whisperer -- to answer questions I receive from writers I've worked with. I know each writer's entire story and, since I do not believe in divulging writers' plots, I change the writer's question about her own specific story to the universal.

At the Crisis point [between the protagonist and her father]... does she need to confront him any further at that point? Later in the Climax, [she shows -- in action -- the transformative power of her new-found wisdom]. MF

To confront her father at the Crisis, the dark night of the soul, the breakdown, the death of her innocence, she would be acting from her old personality, who she has always been. 

Rarely does the transformation come simultaneously in the same scene as the Crisis (if any of you have an example of this, please share...) 

The Crisis leads to transformation. 

Example: Rarely in real life do we change immediately upon being hit by a Crisis. Often, for us to change and transform our deeply entrenched habits, we need more than one Crisis -- the second being worse than the first. 

The first near-death experience affects you deeply and has the power to bring you to consciousness. Then, before you know it, you're "over it" and revert back to your old ways = your ego takes back its power over you and you descend back into unconscious behaviors and the cycle begins again.

Second near-death experience makes a deeper impression = true change begins.. sometimes. 

Sometimes, at this point, consciousness prevails over ego and transformation begins. 

Sometimes, we revert back to our old selves and the cycle starts again.

This is also true in stories.

MF, your protagonist does not need more than one wake-up call. She is young and smart and gets it. 

From the "hit" she gets at the Crisis, her transformation happens over several scenes (the End -- 1/4). Dissolving old habits and creating new, healthier ones takes practice. Often the new behavior shows itself only intermittently at first. True mastery comes over time and shows itself in all its glory at the Climax.

In other words, your protagonist is not ready to respond in a transformed way at the Crisis -- that is reserved for the Climax -- of which, yours is perfect.

19 August 2009

Fall Line-up; Writers to Watch, Their Books to Read

WRITERS TO WATCH (books with a Fall 2009 release date by authors who have credited my plot support as helpful to their publishing success): 
Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey (Penguin) 
Love in Translation by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga (St. Martin's) 

The House by Anjuelle Floyd (Neptune Publications)
The Lodge by David Brandin (iU -- Editor's Choice Award) 
(If I neglected to mention your book, please let me know and I'll add you to the list.)

09 August 2009

The Zen of Plot Twists

Even knowing what I do about the Universal Story form and plot, or perhaps because of what I know about the Universal Story form and plot, I marvel all the more at the creative ways authors push at the edges, play with the unexpected, build excitement, and provide plot twists.

Creative writing is an art. Writings' artists -- writers -- balk at structure and rail against limitations, discipline and order. (I've written extensively in earlier posts about the biology and rebellious nature of writers.) All the better, because stories at the best are about struggle. We as writers, too, are at our best when, well-informed of the expectations, we use the confines themselves to provide more struggle, deeper and more profound even than the story on the page.

Within the boundaries and rhythm of the Universal Story form, the writer is free to do anything. That's where the magic happens. Intuitive wisdom steeped in our shared past serves as a guide.

Writers seem to fall into three categories:
#1 Writers who find the rhythm within 
themselves and are able to consistently tap 
into that rhythm. 

#2 Writers who learn the rhythm over 
time and study, their writing 
at first awkward
in their self-consciousness. 
After several books, 
they settle into the rhythm naturally.

#3 The pity are those writers 
who stumble into the rhythm by chance and, 
when faced with the impermanence 
of their ability in subsequent stories, 
these writers' egos prevent them from studying the craft, 
preferring instead to settle for the one-book wonder.

For those of you who fall into category #2, a couple of tips:

This, too, shall pass.

1) Lull the reader in the moment of the scene, all the time knowing that this, too, shall pass. Invite the character and the reader or viewer to sink into the moment-by-moment action through the use of authentic sensory details. Do everything in your power to help them attach viscerally to the momentary happiness, despondency, safety, fear, success, disappointment, and despair.

2) You, on the other hand, by honoring the fleetingness of every situation, are able to stay in balance and create the unexpected. As the character reels through one event, you as the writer create an effect that cuts even deeper and raises the stakes ever higher. It's best if / when you can pull a detail planted earlier in the story into the effect to bite the character in the butt (plot twist)(one way to keep track of all the authentic, thematically significant details is by tracking your scenes as you write them on a Scene Tracker.)

The character and reader react to the cause. You, on the other hand, use the transience of all forms and the inevitability of change to your advantage.

3) The character identifies with the cause and the effect. You, on the other hand, cannot afford to identify with your writing, with the scene, with the outcome or you begin to fear the loss of your writing, the scene, the outcome. If you do, you build up anxiety about the next scene and stay too long in the comfort zone. An appreciation that this, too, shall pass brings detachment and allows you access to an inner dimension of the Universal Story form. You become freed from any imprisonment.

This, too, will pass. Suddenly there is space around the writing of the next scene. Within that space, you enjoy writing without attachment and are able to explore thematic universals and the eternal. 

Space consciousness allow you to detach from the clutter of your words and research and fear and frustration to work in harmony, rather than resistance, with the rhythm. Within an alert inner stillness in the background as the writer, you can create dramatic action in the story in the foreground.

An understanding that this, too, will pass applies to the writer and to the writing, and the character and the scenes within the story. The Zen-like practice of detachment allows writers access to plenty of plot twists.

06 August 2009

Writer's Journey Mirrors Hero's Journey

The middle of the Middle is the territory of the antagonists both for the writer and for the protagonist, too.

Antagonists, internal and exterior, sabotage the protagonist from reaching her goals. The very same antagonists plague the writer as well. 

In the Middle, the writer begins to doubt herself. Her way becomes murky. She looks to others for validation. Old beliefs of not being smart enough, good enough, or productive enough turn from a murmur to a roar. She rails against never receiving the credit she believes she is due. Accepts all the old criticisms she throws at herself. She fears. She falters. Her passion for her project wanes. The antagonists begin to win. 

Rise up out of the lower energy systems and move to the "third eye", the place of wisdom -- of intuition.

Listen, not with your mind or through your ego, but to that deeper voice. Make time for yourself. Partner with the process. Pull your protagonist and yourself through the slog and toward the Climax. See your way clear.

04 August 2009

Writing Your Second Book

Yesterday's blog -- First Draft Twitters -- was in response to a writer who has written one very successful book and is now slogging her way through draft one of book two.

I've found that for most writers Book Two is at least as difficult to get written, if not more, than Book One.

Doubts about ability, luck, the depth of the creative well crop up more in draft one of book two.

Same advice applies for draft one of any book -- just get it down. Can't finesse that which isn't written.

03 August 2009

First Draft Twitters

In my Twitter today I chose the wrong words.

To be sure there is absolutely no confusion = when I say "Keep going back to the key scenes", I do NOT mean go back to rewrite the key scenes. NEVER GO BACK AND REWRITE YOUR FIRST DRAFT UNTIL YOU WRITE ALL THE WAY THROUGH TO THE END. (I apologize for the caps -- my zeal to make my point sort of looks like I'm yelling. Not my intention. I apologize.)

What I meant to Twitter (or is it Tweet??), is that as you make your way through your first draft keep referring to the key scenes. Create a pre-plot visual with the loose ideas you have for the end of the Beginning scene (1/4 mark), the halfway point scene (1/2 mark), the Crisis scene (3/4 mark), the Climax scene (chapter or scene before the last one).

A pre-plotted visual aid like a Plot Planner can serve as your beacon. Put the visual up on your computer so you see it at all times.

Things will get choppy. If not before, then for sure somewhere in the middle of the Middle (1/2). Listen for the fog horn when overtaken by gloom and doom. Hug the coast and keep your eye on the light when the storms hit. You can survive this, I promise.

First draft is the generative draft. There is something truly magical about watching the words fill a page, a scene, a chapter, the book = watching something come out of nothing but a hit of inspiration.

We muck it up by trying to control the uncontrollable.

The first draft is often filled with angst and uncertainty, loneliness and insecurity. It doesn't have to be. Keep your head down and keep faith in yourself and the creative process, and keep writing.

When doubts send you sprialing off track, keep coming back to the key scenes. Write your way toward them one by one. Your job now is to get the inspiration down on paper. There will be plenty of time for fear and doubt later. Wait until you read the first draft for the first time. Moments of brilliance drown in the "vomit". Uncertainty and angst are sure to strike again.

About the loneliness, heck, a writer's life is lonely, but only so long as we look outside ourselves and beyond the inspiration for validation.

One thing I can promise you if you sign up for this writers life for real... Your life will be fraught with uncertainty and angst so long as you attach yourself to the process. Separate yourself / your ego from your task and you'll be fine. Trust the process. Magic happens.