19 November 2009

Middle: Territory of the Antagonists

(**Coming soon = 2nd Annual International Plot WriMo 
  • Pre-plot new story 
  • Plot revision of NaNoWriMo
  • Final test plot before send-off
Begins December 1, 2009)

The Middle of a novel, memoir, screenplay encompasses a whooping 1/2 of the scene and page count of the entire story. More writers lose their nerve in the middle of the Middle than in any other spot of the writing process.

Two ways out:
1) Develop a list of all the antagonists that will interfere with the protagonist reaching both her long and short-term goals. (For a list of antagonists, go to: Dramatic Action Plotline.) Once you have the list in place, you'll likely find the need to introduce some of the elements earlier. CAUTION: do not go back and do it now. Make notes to yourself and attend to them in the next rewrite.

2) Develop the exotic, unusual world of the Middle. Once the protagonist moves from the Beginning into the Middle she usually enters a new world -- at least new to her. Let us see, smell, taste, feel, hear that world with the use of authentic details.

Links for more on both the exotic world and the use of antagonists:

First Draft versus Rewrites

Writers Travel Two Journeys

Meaning of Crisis and Climax

17 November 2009

Plot versus Character

Funny to have two plot consultations with two different writers with such antithetical points of view when it comes to Plot versus Character.

In my previous blog post, I ranted about plot getting a bad rap. The day after, I consult with a writer who cares only for plot (or, since I believe character transformation is critical to plot, rather the dramatic action side of plot.) This writer states his preference right up front when he declares that he doesn't know how the character changes (Character Emotional Development) or what the story means over all (Thematic Significance). Further, he informs me, he doesn't care about that. All he wants is an action-packed story that will sell. (mass-market airport book as described by yesterday's writer)

Hmmmmm, I know there are writers of mystery and suspense who are quite successful without doing much to develop the character. But, it seems odd to me to think of a character going through all she does and not be affected by the dramatic action on some level -- perhaps not to a level of transformation but at least change. And, at the end of a long, exciting read, why not leave the reader with something to think about?

Oh, well, those are my ideals.

I'm here to support writers in their quest to follow their dreams. Not to judge. At least, not too harshly, but to help writers develop their stories.

When I have a spare moment -- yeah, right!-- I plan to do a survey of writers and ask what is their preference for writing Character-driven versus Action-driven stories AND which do they prefer reading?? Stay tuned....

14 November 2009

An Insult to Plot

At first, I'm offended. But I'm always a little touchy when it comes to put-downs on plot.

A writer gives up dreams of literary genius. Okay... this could be good. Writing a novel is a journey; can't afford unnecessary baggage. Letting go of genius allows her to write what comes to her. Not to censor herself. Let it be crap. Trust the process as she messes around exploring different voices on her search for her own true, authentic voice. 

...for a "mass market deal you buy in the airport." My fur bristles at that -- oh, yeah, I don't have any fur... 

First off, I've never known anyone who would pass up the chance to write a mass market blockbuster novel sold at airports. It's much more of an accomplishment than the writer gives it credit for. Much harder than she thinks. 

Wait a minute. Slow down.... Me being defensive doesn't serve the writer well. 

What she is truly saying is the Dramatic Action plot is easier for her to create than the Character Emotional Development plot

She's approaching the time in the story when she has to peel back another layer of the protagonist. Get closer, go deeper, find the internal motivational stuff behind the character's actions. 

Actions = external. 

Motivation = internal. 

Some writers prefer one over the other.

I say: be thankful you have a strong front story (dramatic action, plotted) in place filled with conflict and suspense. Use that as the base for the rest of the story. 

You want to develop an important narrative voice. 

Okay, write the mass market plotted draft first. 

Think of what you are doing as a layering. 

Get the first layer down = dramatic action easiest for you. 

Ask yourself constantly: 

  • Why is the character doing what he's doing = motivation. 
  • Have him set goals that he hopes will take him closer to his  big , overall story goal. 
If that's a mass market plotted story, so be it...

Finished first draft allows for the next layer to go on.

For more on Character Emotional Development versus Dramatic Action plots:

12 November 2009

Slogging through the 1st Draft

I wrote today's Twitter (1/2 pt. = commits to journey. Things seem to get a bit better. They're about to get way worse = Crisis 3/4 pt.) based on something I heard Andre Agassi say in an interview about his memoir. I missed the part about why he despises tennis from the start but at around the Middle of his journey to wholeness, he quits drugs and alcohol and commits to tennis for the very first time. 

Agassi's Halfway turning point does what all good Halfway turning points do: signals a move from ambivalence to commitment. At that point, as Agassi quickly finds out, rather than get better, the Halfway point signals that things are about to get way worse. 

The writer / protagonist (today's on-going plot consultation illustrates how closely the two are tied) leaves the ordinary world when she signs up for a series of on-going plot consultations with the goal of finishing a writing project she has started and stopped for years. 

She slips into the writers life with ease. Fortunate to have a lifestyle that supports writing and reading and fully sinking into the writers life, she sets up a dream writing schedule. Every morning, write with coffee. Write and walk. Write and errands. Write and eat. Write and read. Write and sleep. Sounds heavenly. Only distractions are those she allows. 

Yesterday she hits the wall. Comes up with two new writing projects in quick succession. Retires to bed sick. Rejects vision of literary genius. 

She hits the exact same point in her writer's journey that the protagonist is about to encounter on the hero's journey. Up until now, the writer and the protagonist have gone through the motions. Now, with full commitment, the writer and protagonist step forward thinking that by making the commitment, the hard work is behind them. They step forward into thin air without a clue that the worst is yet to come...

Crank up the energy. Next is the Crisis...

09 November 2009

Scene Organization

Whether you like to work out the elements of your story on the page or are a pre-plotter, everyone benefits from a bit of periodic organization. 

See how many of the key scenes you can identify in the story you're imagining, writing, or perfecting:

1) Set-up: The set-up you create in the Beginning makes the journey the protagonist undertakes in the Middle feel inevitable. 

2) Inciting Incident: A moment, conflict, dilemma, loss, fear, etc. that forces the protagonist to take immediate action.

3) End of the Beginning: The protagonist's goal shifts or takes on greater meaning and turns the story in a new direction, launching the character into the actual story world itself.

4) Halfway Point: The moment the protagonist consciously makes a total commitment to achieving her goal and does something that signifies she has burned all bridges back and thus can only go forward. 

5) Crisis: The all-is-lost moment.

6) Climax: Just as it looks as if all is permanently lost for the protagonist, she saves the day.

For more on key scenes:

05 November 2009

5 Benefits of Writing a Truly Awful, Lousy 1st Draft

1) Rather than stop and start over again and again, when you allow yourself to write a truly awful, lousy first draft from beginning to end, you actually finish a draft all the way through.

2) Until you write the end, you do not have a clear grasp of what comes earlier.

3) You accomplish what you set out to do.

4) Once you have a skeleton in place, a writer is able to stand back and "see" her story in an entirely new light

5) One of the greatest benefits of writing a truly awful, lousy 1st draft is that it's all up from there...

For more on the benefits of writing a truly awful, completely lousy 1st draft:

The End Is the Beginning

Writer Self-Sabotage

First Draft Twitters

First Draft versus Rewrites

First Draft Blues

02 November 2009

Tracking Conflict, Tension, and Suspense

The Plot Planner I create for writers during an On-going Plot Phone Consultations (and encourage all writers to create for on their own for their individual writing project) is simply a line that divides scenes into "above the line" scenes and "below the line scenes."

Characters grow and change based on the Dramatic Action they experience during the story. If the action is simply action with no conflict, tension, or suspense, the story does not move and the character does not grow.

In today's consultation, the writer has a tagline that is so snappy and compelling, it could sell the project alone. I was excited to hear more about his character who, based on the Character Emotional Development Profile, fits my favorite definition of a great protagonist = a strong, flawed character unafraid of taking big risks and willing to show a bit of a dark side (This writer's protagonist hasn't shown the dark side yet. When we plot out the 2nd half of the project, I'll be curious to find out whether a dark side emerges... or not.)

The plot for his project works, but the execution scene-by-scene falls short. Too many scenes fall "below the line." The potential for popping them above the line is terrific so long as when he writes the next draft, the writer focuses on writing the scenes from this new point of view = creating conflict, tension, and suspense and /or curiosity in every single scene. Well... I exaggerate. A story benefits from quieter scenes, too, but even those "below the line scenes" create more intensity and depth if they have a pallor of tension, a hint of conflict, a whisper of overarching suspense (Gawd, I can tell I'm tired...).

For more Plot Tips on creating scenes above and below the line, go to:

International-Plot-Writing-Month-Day_26 (NOTE: this is a day from last year's International Plot Writing Month that takes place in December and is designed to support writers who are in the process of creating the rough draft of their stories now in NaNoWriMo)

Second Draft

Elements of Plot

Plot & Subplots

Character Development and Dramatic Action

(NOTE: For more articles about creating conflict, tension, and suspense, go to the top, right corner of this webpage and in the white, rectangular box write tag words for what you're interested learning more.)
(NOTE: Another critical element of a good plot that reveals itself on a Plot Planner is Cause and Effect. For a simplistic definition, visit my Twitter.