mbarker: (Me typing?)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting May 25, 2017

Writer's Digest, February 2000, on pages 40-42, has an article by David Curran with the title "Step up to Stronger Dialogue." In it, David recommends three exercises to help you learn to write good dialogue. Here we go!

1. One-sided conversations. Start out with a simple one, a one sided conversation. For example, pretend you're eavesdropping on one side of a phone conversation (yes, it could be someone with a cell phone standing in the checkout line in front of you). So, write the monologue without adding any observations about the speaker's thoughts or gestures. Just the conversation. Put in a bit of mystery, why does the speaker react to the other person in a certain way? Maybe build in a little bit of conflict. Work on the voice, so that this person sounds like they have their own way of speaking. Go ahead and free your imagination. Where are you likely to get one-sided conversations? Someone talking to their pet? Someone talking to their computer? Someone talking to the hand? Tell a story, beginning with a little hook, a middle that reveals the story conflict, and an ending. Try several different conversations, and read them to your friends. See how they react!

2. Real conversations. Now, go to a restaurant, food court, bar, someplace that people are talking, and try to write down some real conversations. Record is much as you feel comfortable with. Yes, you may have trouble hearing, the conversations may well be fragments and full of extraneous stuff. But, that's what real conversations are like. The speakers know the context – but a writer has to provide that context. Tone, gesture, facial expressions, all that stuff – the writer has to work around it. Still, you may have found some useful tricks. When you overheard feelings, what gave it away? "Say as little as you need to establish context. The only way to get the hang of this is to practice, and a good place to practice is with two-sided conversations."

3. Two-sided conversations. Find a newspaper with classified ads by men and women seeking mates (yes, you can use the web, too). Now, build some characters. What did they intend to say, what did they reveal that they didn't expect to. Combine the needs, feelings, flaws and so forth to build a character. Feel free to combine ads. Now, with some characters, work on a two-sided conversation. You know the motives: lonely people looking for something. Put that in dialogue. Tell us about these ad-crossed lovers talking to each other. Then, do it again!

So, one-sided conversations, a little research on real conversations, and two-sided conversations out of advertising. Then, have fun. Try mixing it up, perhaps with letters, perhaps with videoconferencing.

"These exercises should help you with more than just good dialogue. You'll also be learning to develop believable characters with unique voices."

There you go. Let the talking begin!

mbarker: (Me typing?)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting May 19, 2017

Writer's Digest, March 2000, on pages 38-39, had a article with the title "Tales of the Unexpected" by Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet. The subtitle was "It's a delicate balance, keeping readers interested in your fiction while still keeping the story believable."

So, how do you provide that spice of the unexpected, the surprise! "Every time you present a new character, describe a setting or develop a plot, create something your readers aren't looking for – something that will jar their sensibilities, cause a grin, or make them wonder.

Characterization by surprise? That's right, make your characters break assumptions. Then explain just why they're different.

Setting the scene? Incongruent, bothersome details can easily salted into. "Unexpected details in the setting, then, should not only whet readers' appetites. Collectively, they can actively engage your audience, pushing them further into your story."

The plot beckons. Surprising turns, with a reasonable explanation, are much more interesting. But "every twist must be prepared for, be explained and ultimately make sense in the larger context of the story. If you cannot prepare your readers to make the leap to the unexpected or have them believe the leap is possible, you have failed to create a satisfying surprise.

A satisfying conclusion. "The key to creating the unexpected in character, setting or plot is that you control reader response." If the reader thinks your story is going to be just the same old same old, they aren't going to read it. But lead us down a road not usually taken… We'll follow you anywhere.

There is a side box that suggests some points for keeping readers hooked:

– Think outside the box. Look for the unusual detail, the different setting, the road not taken.
– Go beyond stereotypic characters. The hooker with the heart of gold may seem different, but she's been used before.
– Play fair with your endings. O. Henry twists need preparation.
– Provide explanations for every unusual character, element of setting, or event.
– Stake out that middle ground of the unusual. Try to avoid the extremes of the slightly quirky and the unbelievably outlandish.

So, an exercise? Well, take something you've written and check the characters, setting, and plot. Do you have surprises and twists, unexpected pieces in the mix? Are there good explanations for them, too? Now, look over the whole piece -- are the surprises clumped, or spread out so that we get a little bit everywhere?

And, of course, WRITE!

mbarker: (Burp)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting May 10, 2017

Writer's Digest, February 2000, had an article on pages 34-36 with the title Jump-Start Your Brain by Steven James. The subtitle reads "When your creative batteries are dead, facing a blank page is as much fun as digging in the trunk for your jumper cables… By the side of the road… In a snowstorm. Here, we offer the ultimate in roadside assistance: seven ways to grab a spark and recharge." So, let's take a look!

1. Explore your L. I. F. E. What the heck is that? Literature, imagination, folklore, and experience. "A limitless well of ideas waiting to be tapped." That's right, take those classic plots and put them in a different time and place. See what your imagination throws up that you find interesting. Look for the motifs of myth, fairytale, folklore. Think about your own experience.

2. Change your perspective. Steven recounts noticing that in a hotel in Denver, there were exit signs above the exit doors, but also at their base. He thought that was odd, since only someone crawling on the floor would need a sign there… And then he realized that's where you should be in a fire! "Creativity isn't seeing what no one else sees; it's seeing what anyone else would see – if only they were looking. New ideas are born when we view life from a fresh perspective or peer at the world through another set of eyes." So take a look at your story from another person's perspective. Writer journal entry, a complaint letter, a love note from the point of view of the main character. Try switching the point of view, playing with first or third person. What would you do if you are in the story?

3. Let serendipity happen. Step away, stop worrying, relax – and see what happens. Break your routine. Do something different. You never know what you might find the circus!

4. Set boundaries. Photographers carefully consider how to frame the picture, what to leave out. Writers don't have viewfinders, but… Sometimes we need to set more limits. Focus. "What's your story about? What's the theme? The deadline? The word count? If you aren't assigned boundaries, sent them yourself!"

5. Look for connections. Combining ideas, the intersection of thoughts, is often where creativity spouts. Take two or more familiar things, randomly chosen, combine them and see what you get. Think metaphorically! Look for the connections, and see what happens.

6. Ask stupid questions. Obvious, stupid questions are a good way to explore problems. Try describing the finished story to someone. What has to happen to get there? What does the reader need to know? Ask what's missing, what you've left out. Use "what if questions" to kick you into action. "No question is too stupid when it comes to framing and improving your story. Just be brave enough to accept and embrace the answers!"

7. Question your direction. Make sure you're going the right direction. Don't just keep writing page after page of the story that's headed nowhere. "Question where you're going. Don't assume that you must be going in the right direction just because you're picking up from where you left off yesterday.… Stay on track."

Now, on page 35 they included a creativity starter. It's really pretty simple. Three steps:

1. Explore your L. I. F. E. What's a favorite memory from your childhood? What happened? Why is the event or person so memorable? Write that down in a short paragraph or so.

2. Change your perspective. How would someone else relate the same memory? For example, how would your mother describe the memory of your father's laughter? What would be different about her recollection? What language would she use? Again, write down some ideas in a short few notes.

3. Set boundaries. Does this memory fit into your current writing project? How? If not, can it fit by refocusing on what you are writing now, or can you funnel this creative burst into another project? How? Go ahead, write down your notes about this.

"Don't be afraid to let your thoughts go far afield if you're stuck. Focusing on the future instead of your current rut can help you climb out and move on."

There you go. Kickstart your brain! Feel those little sparks running wild. And then…


mbarker: (Burp)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting April 28, 2017

Looking back through old drafts of email, I found this (2014? What the heck?). Thought you might enjoy it...

Here is one version.

1. Write. Watch for things that interest, excite, or otherwise make you feel something. Carry a notebook, memo pad, tablet, your smart phone, and write them down. John Brown calls them zings. The little bits and pieces among the torrent of information that we all swim in that make you wake up and notice them. Whatever you call them, start paying attention!

2. Finish what you write. I would guess maybe one out of five zings really snags you, and insist on being written about. But whatever it is, regularly pick one out and write it up. Fill in the context, the setting, characterize, add to it -- whatever it takes to let your reader understand. Short story, poetry, essay, nonfiction, fictionalized account... Put it together.

3. Get it out there. On this list, use subs, fill, or wherever it fits. If you're ready, use KDP or one of the other programs to get it out there in front of the public. Send it out in letters to the editor, put it on your blog, add it to your Facebook wall, twitter about it -- I guess that should be tweet about it? -- Or even submit it to ye olde publishing system.

4. Keep it out there. Point people at it, remind them that it is there, put it out in other formats.


mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting April 21, 2017

Here you go! A small scenario, set for you...

The unicorn horn was laying in the middle of the other bits and pieces at the flea market. But when I touched it, the ivory was fresh. I picked it up and cradled it, wondering. Then I looked at the vendor and said, "Where... where did you get this?"

He shrugged. "Some guy at another sale. Over in Iowa, I think? You wanna buy it?"

AND... over to you. Who am I? Why do I recognize fresh unicorn horn? Even worse, where did that darned horn come from? And what am I going to do about it?

Add some characters, a bit more setting, and...


mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original posting April 20, 2017

Oh, well. If you ramble over to and set it up to toss you 6 random quotes, you might end up with a list as follows. Then if you roll your die (or pick a number from one to six? Come on, come all, just pick one!), you might choose:

1. Men are equal;  it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference. Voltaire
2. Those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address. Lane Olinghouse
3. Be brief, for no discourse can please when too long. Miguel de Cervantes
4. The strongest man in the world is the man who stands alone. Thomas H. Huxley
5. Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers. T. S. Eliot
6. We all have such a finite time to leave the world better than we found it. Dave Kellett

So, there you go! You have picked one of these little quotations? Now, can you turn it into a story? Add some characters, a little scenery, a complication, try fail cycle, and all that jazz, and then…


mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting April 17, 2017

This has been floating around on twitter recently.

    Screech up to a yard sale. Ask if they have any haunted amulets. Yell at the dog in your backseat, "I'm GETTING the spell reversed, Greg!"

So, your assignment, should you choose to accept it. Dream about this. What is happening? Who are the people? What happened before that led up to this? What will happen next?

Oh, of course, write it up!

And should you be caught, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

cue fast-paced bouncy music as the cord burns...


mbarker: (Burp)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original posting April 7, 2017

Over here, google news showed me an article about writing exercises!

And, since I know you probably need more exercise, here's a summary. Go ahead and read the article, it's short, but...

        1.      Observe people. Wherever you are, there's likely to be a mall, coffee shop, or some place that you can practice the fine art of people watching. Pick out someone intriguing, and make up your own story about them.
        2.      Take a look at old postcards and photographs. Heck, search for antique photographs on eBay? Take a look at that image. What does it make you think of?
        3.      Browse graveyards and phone books. Names, epitaphs, all that good stuff! Let the etchings inspire you!
        4.      Stop reading, and listen. Podcasts, audiobooks, YouTube, we have lots of audio and visual alternatives. Pay attention to the stories, and how they're told, then... write!
        5.      Writing prompts. Try timed exercises -- that ticking clock makes writing pour out, sometimes, too. There are various sources of writing prompts around the web now.

Go ahead. What's your favorite exercise?

mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting April 1, 2017

Writer's Digest, March 1996, for the technique of the month, had an article on pages 29-31, and 67, by Arthur Plotnik, with the title "The Elements of Force." The subtitle is a teaser!

"From oath to understatement, force comes to expression in a thousand potent forms, yet our discourse runs to the feeble," says this author and editor. But it doesn't have to be this way: Read on to discover how you can load your writing with word grenades, sound bursts and other power boosters.

Word grenades? Whoa!

Arthur starts out by talking about the tendency to deal with stock situations with stock phrases. However, sometimes we want "to express the extraordinary, to achieve self-expression, to pierce resistant minds," and the way to do that? Deploy the elements of force!

For example, the force of love. He describes visual effects in films, and the simple single-syllable words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach."

And then he talks about where expressive force comes from. Words, symbolism, sound, figures of speech, arrangement… Impingement! We may think of forceful expression in terms of rules from freshman composition:

– Use powerful verbs, closely linked to subject and object
– use concrete language that stimulates the senses
– trim the fat; omit redundant words and needless clauses

But Arthur is going to provide us with a series of helpful tools. Start out with powerful charms. What does that mean? Well, some words have associations. In particular, specific things that kick us in the experiences and emotions. Words and associations, resonating in our minds. Now, how can you do that?

Start with power boosters! High-energy verbs. We all know that verbs are the action in sentences. So use the ones that have punch behind them. Novelty, freshness, and zing.

Word grenades. Arthur is talking about the difference between a pile of words such as "The students made a total wreck of our apartment like some kind of wild animals have been locked up in it," and "The students savaged our apartment." One word, savaged, explodes with meaning. Find that energetic word and put it in your sentence.

Sound bursts. Onomatopoeia? Words that sound like nature. Shared sounds, the hiss of stimulants, and the crunch of hard consonants. Use those sounds that are built into our words.

Wake up images. Sometimes we need the exciting image in the middle of description so that we think about what's happening.

Tension. We all know you want conflict in your story. Well, expressions can provoke worry, disturbance, fright. Headlines are often crafted to make you jump. Build the tension, and then provide catharsis or release.

Nowness. Be careful of fashion, fads in vogue today often sound awkward tomorrow, but while they're fresh, they certainly can add a little to your writing. Just be aware that you are also dating yourself. And even with the best of intentions, you may not be able to keep up with the hippies? Hipsters? What are the cool young people called today?

Music, rhythm, soul. Attention to music. Ethnic dialect, regional accents, and musical rhythms often make audiences feel comfortable.

Forces of nature. Natural forces and disasters certainly provide a lot of energy. Beware cliché and melodrama, though.

Irreverence. Prick, don't bludgeon. Insults and blasphemies are shocks, but readers don't like them. A little irreverence, however, can make the audience think about things.

Sincerity. Honest, heartfelt values. You need to mean it, and say it in a way that shows you are honest about it. You can't fake sincerity. But when you really mean it, sometimes it shows.

All right? So there's a whole group of possibilities for helping your writing express your meaning with force. Light the fire with high energy verbs, blow things up with some word grenades, make your words sound off, and give your readers images they don't expect. And that's just the first four!

An exercise? Well, an obvious possibility is to take something you have been working on, a scene or action sketch, and look for places you used each of these tools. Then go through, and see if there are places you can tighten it up by applying one or more of these tools! Can you slide in a high-energy verb? How about planting a word grenade in that scene? What are the sounds of your words? Add in an image that makes the reader pay attention? Go ahead, make your reader's day!


mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 27, 2017

Oh, ho, to the purple prose we go! Over here

you'll find a collection of the 2016 Winners and dishonorable mentions for the contest to see who can write like Bulwer-Lytton (of "It was a dark and stormy night..." fame).

Now, your job is to run your eyes across these beauties, and then pick one, and use at least the kernel of that as a seed to write your own sketch, scene, or even a whole story. I mean, take a look at this:

“Penguins, damnable penguins,” Cooperman muttered bitterly, staring hard into the maelstrom of cheap gin and bargain-basement vermouth swirling hopelessly in the low ball glass he held in his pale, doughy hand, the shards of rapidly melting ice crystals cruelly reminding him of those endless winter nights in the Antarctic weather station, and of Kwakina, with her lithe, lubricious figure, and tuxedo-feathered form.

One of the dishonorable mentions, but what does poor Cooperman dream about? And what is going to happen to the mismatched couple? Go on, you can tell us!

Pick one of these somewhat excessive bits, and make the core of it yours. Then tell us all about it!


mbarker: (Me typing?)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 23, 2017

Writer's Digest, March 2001, had an article by Nancy Kress on pages 10-12. The title was "Out Of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire." The subtitle was "Why bad things should happen to good plots: creating problems for your characters keeps your plot moving and your readers entertained."

Nancy starts with a short anecdote about novelist Maureen McHugh. Apparently Maureen has a sign above her computer. She says, "It is the only thing I know about how to plot."

Wow! What do you think the sign says?

Actually, it says, "THINGS GET WORSE."

All right! Nancy reminds us that "stories are about things that went wrong." The basic story plot is first, something happens that someone doesn't like, second, the problem gets fixed or it doesn't. Of course, that's not quite enough to build a plot about. So what should you be looking at? Nancy recommends thinking about four questions.

1. What can go wrong for the protagonist? Your character want to do something positive, reasonably straightforward, and knows how it's supposed to go. Then the writer gets into it. What can go wrong? And let the character deal with that.

Nancy gives the example of a woman on her way home from work with just enough time to go to the bank and cash a check before she picks up her son at daycare. What could go wrong? Some possibilities! An accident on the way. At the bank, a robbery, and Susan is taken hostage. At daycare, the little boy doesn't want to go home. No matter which one you introduce, now the character has some extra things to do and think about.

Now admittedly, lots of stories have built-in problems. Mysteries usually start with a murder, and someone's trying to find out who done it. Along the way, lots of things can go wrong.

2. How can solutions make situations worse? Well, suppose that your character tries to do something to fix the problem. And in the process of fixing it, makes things worse.

For example, Susan could drive away from the accident to call for help. But when she gets back, the police and ambulance are taking care of things. Should she tell them she caused it? Or, as a hostage, Susan might try to escape. And get shot in the process! Whoops. Or maybe thinking about her little boy not wanting to go home, Susan quits work to spend more time with him. But… Now she doesn't have that income.

3. What else can go wrong? Novels often have multiple unrelated troubles. Pile them on! Make sure they have some natural relationship, but adding problems can keep the story going.

4. What can go wrong for the other characters? Your protagonist has got lots of other people around. "Sometimes, you can generate interesting plot developments by asking what can go wrong for these people."

That poor woman trying to cash a check and pick up her child? There's a husband who certainly might have some reactions to all that other stuff. But he could also have some problems in his own life. An affair, new job, heart attack, being arrested? Those are certainly going to affect Susan.

Clearly, these questions are not a formula for mechanical plotting. Instead, they're to help you brainstorm, to take that idea for a story and turn it into a full-fledged plot. Go ahead, use them to find your own personal exciting combinations.

So that's the article. But, there's a sidebar on page 11 that summarizes these four questions. Here's how Writer's Digest put it.

– Think about what your character is trying to accomplish. What are some of the things that can go wrong?
– Don't let your character off the hook too easily – think of how solutions to the character's problem can make the situation even worse.
– Once you've established a primary problem, throw your character a few curveballs by developing additional woes.
– Allow your secondary characters to have problems of their own. How do these troubles affect your protagonist?

So, there you go. What can go wrong, how can fixing it make it worse, what else could go wrong, and who else can have problems?

Lots of ways to build up that fire!

mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 22, 2017

I've lost track, I may have written about this before. James Scott Bell, who has been teaching writing for over 20 years, has a pile of books, articles, and so forth out there, and... he says, "I believe this may be the single most powerful writing strategy I have ever developed."

The title of the book is "Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between." It's by James Scott Bell. I got mine from Amazon, on the Kindle store.

Basically, Bell was taking a close look at the midpoint. He was trying to figure out just what belongs in there, and why everyone had so much trouble with it. So he started by looking at movies and novels, and seeing what was in the middle. What he found was a moment within a scene that "tells us what the novel or movie is really all about."

One moment that defines the whole story? Wow!

Now, his whole book is talking about how this works and why this works. But, let me pick out some of the highlights. Then you can decide if you want to read the book yourself. I do recommend it, in case you can't tell.

So, Chapter 1 kind of throws down the gauntlet. Here he sketches a plotter, carefully outlining, a pantser, scribbling away with artistic freedom, and even someone in the middle, and promises to help all of them! Then, in chapter 2, he explains where he found this new insight. Right in the middle!

Chapter 3 talks about stakes. "A great novel is the record of how a character fights with death." Simple, right? Life or death. But… Bell admits, there are three kinds of death. Physical, especially for thrillers and such like, is pretty obvious. However, professional death is also a possibility. Where failure means your career is down the toilet, there is no future. Mysteries often use this. Or, perhaps the death is psychological. Dying on the inside. Romance, oddly enough, is probably about facing psychological death – if you don't get together with your soulmate, you're going to die on the inside.

Now, chapter 4 adds in the two pillars. You've probably heard of the three act structure. Between Act I and Act II, between the introductory bang and the middle turning pages, you need a doorway of no return. You tell us who the characters are and the situation, and then something happens that forces that character to deal with the major problem of the plot. Something that makes sure that "there is no way back to the old, comfortable world." Something that forces the main character to confront those life-and-death stakes!

You want to check your first doorway of no return? Bell gives us a checklist!
1. Does your introduction give us a character worth following?
2. Do your opening pages have a disturbance?
3. Do you know the death stakes of your story?
4. Is there a scene that forces the character into the confrontation with those death stakes?
5. Is this strong enough? Can the lead character resist going into battle?
6. For novels, does this scene occur before about 1/5 of your total page count?

The second pillar, as you might've guessed, is another doorway of no return. Bell labels it the "Doorway of No Return #2." Guess what? This time, the doorway makes inevitable the final battle and resolution. That's right, in the second act, we have "a series of actions where the character confronts and resists death and is opposed by counter forces." Then the second doorway looms! This might be an event that feels like a major crisis or setback. It could be a clue, discovery, revelation. Whatever it is, it pushes the lead character into Act III – the climax, the final battle, the resolution.

1. Have you created a major crisis or setback that the lead must overcome?
2. Is there a clue or discovery that makes the final resolution possible?

There you go. Two doorways. And, in between them, you'll discover…

Chapter 5. The magical midpoint moment. Bell calls this the "look in the mirror" moment. What happens here? Well, basically, the lead character looks at himself (in the mirror). There are two basic thoughts that occur here. In a character-driven story, the lead looks at himself and wonders what kind of a person am I? What kind of person am I becoming? What will happen if I overcome my faults? What do I need to change? In a plot-driven story, the lead looks at himself and considers the odds he faces. Typically, death seems certain! So, transformation or facing the toughest odds. Either way, the character looks in the mirror and thinks about what to do.

That moment, and it's not even a whole scene, is the magical midpoint moment. Bell lays out a golden triangle based -- well, peaked -- with that mirror moment. That's right, take a triangle, and put the mirror moment at the top. That's the middle, and everything else in your story fits around it. On one side, the ending, you know the ultimate transformation that the character is headed for, and on the other side, the beginning, you know their pre-story psychology, where they came from.

So that's the middle. One little moment that makes a story! With a look in the mirror (or whatever your character uses to reflect on their situation), and either a thought about who I am and how I am going to change OR a thought about just what kind of odds I have to overcome. And then...

Chapter 6. Backup and think about the pre-story psychology, how did your character get here.

Chapter 7. Look ahead, and describe the ultimate transformation that your character is headed for. Show it to us. Make it visual. Bell suggests a two-step process.

1. Write a paragraph about the inner realization. Free write this, how does the character feel, what kind of thoughts go through their head?
2. Brainstorm actions that prove the transformation has taken place. Not just an internal change, what do they do that shows they are a new person?

Chapter 8. Whoosh! Mirror moment, back story, and ultimate transformation. Simple, right? And yet, it provides a framework to help guide your writing. In fact, in this chapter, Bell walks through how each kind of writer might use this. First, for the outliner, the plotter, Bell suggests starting with a set of "signpost scenes." Here's his list of 14 signpost scenes.

1. Opening disturbance. The ordinary world, and a change, challenge, trouble, or difference.
2. Care package. Someone that the lead character cares about at the beginning of the story. Show the lead doing something.
3. Argument opposed to the transformation. The lead character states a belief that will be overturned by the end.
4. Trouble brewing. Things may settle down after the initial disturbance, but now a greater trouble is coming.
5. Doorway of No Return #1. Something pushes the lead character into Act II, where they face death!
6. A kick in the shins. While trying to solve the problem, achieve the objective, do something, there is a significant setback for the lead character.
7. The mirror moment. This is where the lead character faces what's going on.
8. Pet the dog. During all the turmoil of Act II, the lead character still takes time to help a person or animal weaker than themselves.
9. Doorway of No Return #2. A major setback, crisis, clue or discovery that sets up the final battle.
10. Mounting forces. The opposition brings in even larger opposition!
11. Lights out. Alone, in the dark, all is lost. The dark night of the despondency!
12. Q Factor. Something gives the lead an emotional push, the courage to fight on, to make the right choice. Often a memory or reminder of emotional impact from Act I, or a trusted character recalling the lead to the need to fight for the right.
13. Final battle. Will the lead overcome the forces of evil (outer) or will the lead make the right choice (inner)?
14. Transformation. Show us the change to a stronger or different self, and build the emotional resonance for the audience.

There you go. With the golden triangle, you can focus on the mirror moment, transformation, and back story, and lay them out against this list of signpost scenes.

Pantser? All right. Go ahead and start writing. Meet the characters, try out a few scenes, see what happens. After about 10,000 words or so, stop and take a look at this checklist:

1. Who is the main character? What is their problem?
2. Do they have a moral flaw that is hurting others? If not, could you give them one?
3. How did they develop it? What's the back story on it?
4. Do you want to write an upbeat ending? If so, how will they overcome the flaw and be transformed? What will that scene look like?
5. Do you want to write a downbeat ending? If so, show how the character has a chance to be transformed, but rejects it.

Think about the mirror moment for the character. What do they see in the mirror? Write their inner thoughts.

There you go. You've got the big pieces, the back story, the transformation, and the mirror moment. Write around that! Keep going!

In Between? Use what you like. Probably, start with the outline of the mirror moment and the transformation. Then go back and fill in some pre-story.

Bell also takes a look at how genre, character, theme, and even parallel plots (or multiple subplots?) fit into this approach. If you like to start with a genre, go ahead. He suggests you might start by filling in the sentence, "My XYZ is about (character/vocation) who is (death stakes situation)." XYZ is the genre, and of course, the character, vocation, and death stakes situation describe your story. Next, brainstorm your mirror moments. Do you want it to be internal or external? What is the moral flaw of your character? What are the odds that they face? Third, brainstorm transformation and back story. Your genre work is going to sizzle with that golden triangle in the middle.

How about character? Well, you might want to start by thinking about transformation. What does this character want to achieve, how do they need to grow and change? What will they do to show how far they have come? Then go back to pre-story, and finish up by thinking about the mirror moment to tie that together.

Theme? One of those grand statements about life, the universe, and how it all fits together? Go ahead, pick your statement. Now, who would be a good character to reflect that. You probably want to go directly to the mirror moment, and focus on the kind of death they are facing. What's a scenario that puts them face-to-face with death and that thematic statement? Come up with several versions, and then pick the one you really like. Then lay out the transformation, and go back to the backstory. Bam!

Parallel plots, subplots – guess what. Put a golden triangle in each one, and work out the pieces.

That's it! You've got the writing from the middle insight firmly in your grasp. Now, go practice it.

An exercise? Sure. Take a story, or a novel, that you know well and like. Now, what is the mirror moment in that story? What's the transformation, and what is the backstory? Study how your favorites have done this, or even how you have done it yourself.

By the way, Bell finishes his book with chapter 9, Some Writing Tips. He's got a pile of good information there, so don't think it's all done yet. But the writing from the middle insight really seems to be pretty much wrapped up at the end of chapter 8, so I'll stop here for now.


mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 15, 2017

Writer's Digest, February 2001, on pages 24-27, had a piece by James Scott Bell with the title "Burn & Build." The subtitle is "To write fiction from the heart, you've got to come up with an explosion of ideas, then sort through the rubble."

Bell starts by reminding us that "great fiction is an emotional experience for readers." So you need to get involved, too. How do you do that? "Look into your heart, and find what makes you burn. Search for emotional sparks. Set off an explosion of creativity. Then step back, and see what your heart is telling you to write."

So how do you explode? Here are eight different ways!

1. Make a list. Ray Bradbury is famous for his list. You can do it too! Think about things that excited you in the past, and just quickly make a list of one or two word reminders. Memories! "Each of these is the germ of a possible story or novel."

2. Find the outrage. What issues trigger you? What really upsets you? Make a list of your issues. Pick one, ask what sorts of characters would care about it, and put them on opposite sides.

3. See it. "Let your imagination play you a movie. Get in a quiet spot, relax, close your eyes." See what your imagination shows you. When you get a compelling image, follow it.

4. Hear it. Listen to music that moves you, and see what develops.

5. Research. Start reading. On the net, or even in books. Interview people. Travel. See what you find.

6. Write what makes you burn. First thing in the morning, after you've been dreaming all night, sit down with the paper or computer and write "What I really want to write about is…" Write for 10 minutes without stopping. Just follow the thoughts that come to you, stream of consciousness.

7. Find your obsession. Obsessions push characters. What do people obsess about? Ego, winning, looks, love, lust, enemies, career… Create a character. Give them an obsession. And watch where they run.

8. Open up. Write an opening. Then see what possibilities, choices, characters that suggest to you.

Now, look at the pieces. These exercises, or any other exercises you like, can spark ideas for you. Once you've got something that you are excited about, what do you do with it? Well, calm down, and think about it. Take the pieces from the creativity, and put them in a pattern. Consider the following checklist:

– What sort of leading character does my idea suggest?
– What sort of character might oppose the lead? Why?
– How can I make these characters fresh, exciting, and original?
– Is there enough at stake here to sustain a novel? Or would it be better as a short story?
– What plot springs from the characters? What does the lead want, and why can't they get it?
– Am I still excited about this?

Explode, then play the pieces. You'll never run out of ideas.

Now, then. What are we gonna do? Right, write!

mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 9, 2017

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami changed quite a few lives forever. One of those was a four-year-old boy whose father died that day. He does not remember his father. He has grown up with his mother, and an older man who has taken several of the quasi-orphans in that area under his wing. But... whenever the boy meets someone who knew his father, he has one simple request.

"Tell me about my father."

So, imagine that you are one of those people he asks. What do you tell him? Feel free to ponder what his father was really like versus what you are going to tell this youngster who is looking up at you, trustingly. His mother stands nearby, watching you, a bit anxiously. What do you say?

Write that scene. And the dialogue.

mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 5, 2017

Writer's Digest October 1995 on pages 35-37, and page 60, have an article by William H. Lovejoy with the title "Creating Action Scenes That Move." The subtitle is "The two worst things that can happen in action scenes are for the events to be unbelievable or to have the action come to a screeching halt. Before your hero takes a step, learn the techniques to keep the action moving."

That sounds exciting, doesn't it? William starts off with two heroes – well, a hero and heroine. The hard-boiled detective is in a fistfight. But, with one punch he knocks out his opponent, and readers just don't believe it. On the other hand, our tired heroine is running through the dark forest, and runs, and runs, and the reader just get bored. So what happened? Well, here are the tips from William.

Get Real. Unless you're writing science fiction and fantasy, you need to obey real physical constraints. Hand-to-hand personal confrontations usually are short. Make sure you remember the physical capabilities of your character. Even the greatest hero, probably gets hurt a little bit. Deal realistically with weapons. Most of us need research.

Get their hearts pumping. Words and pace make speed. Keep it moving. Paragraphs, sentences, words get shorter. Make it faster. Simple words. Read it aloud, and make sure the pace and rate go faster and faster and faster…

Make them talk. Dialogue! You can inject uncertainty, keep the readers aware of what's happening, and dialogue is just more interesting. It needs to sound right.

Use some restraint. You want unusual, one-of-a-kind action scenes. Don't just repeat things. No gratuitous violence, all right. There has to be a reason for an action scene that's violent. "The purpose of the scene must be clear – to evoke a response and readers, to move the plot along, to reveal character traits, or whatever."

Prepare the reader, research the weapons, and pump up the pace! Avoid unbelievable or boring, and make your readers happy!

There we go. An action scene! Let's see. Sports, war, avoiding the runaway sheep, even chopping and dicing vegetables for dinner, there's plenty of action to go around. So if you want to practice, pick your action, lay in a couple or three characters, and... ring the bell, and may the best pepper steak win!

Go ahead. Write my day.

mbarker: (Burp)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 3, 2017

This morning, walking in to work, something dropped this line into my brain:

Under the morning sun, burning through the fog, it was just a rusty bench on a beach where a prince sat, staring out at the waves, his flippers curled underneath him.

There you go! Feel free to use, abuse, or even transform this line, and tell us about this prince and his flippers. Merman? Someone looking for that littlest mermaid? Well, you think about it, and then...

mbarker: (Me typing?)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 23, 2017

Over here,

Sarah Hoyt contemplates what makes a good book. Historically, we have seen classical references, advancing change, and so forth. Ludic? Oh, that means are they fun! So...

Sarah suggests that there's popcorn books, the ones that are just a short escape (pulp fiction? Who said that?). Then there are the ones that make your voice heard. The ones that have something in them that's unforgettable! But, suppose that's what you want to write. How do you do that?

Well, Sarah suggests looking towards mirrors and the point of pain.

What? Yes, that point where the world shatters, and it's never the same again? That's what she likes to write.

That doesn't mean the popcorn books aren't good. If people enjoy them, great. But… If you want to go for the gold, try a shattered mirror and pain.

Mirrors? What does that remind me of? Oh, now that reminds me of James Scott Bell’s book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. Over here, he talks about it

Where the key is the mirror moment, where “The character is forced to look at himself. As if in a mirror, only it’s a reflection of who he is at that moment in time. Who am I? What have I become? What do I have to do to regain my humanity? Sometimes, it’s the character looking at the odds. How can I possibly win? It looks like I’m going to die—physically or spiritually. Now what am I supposed to do?”

And the mirror cracked….

So, there.

mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 21, 2017

Recently, at an international gathering here at the university, someone performed a lengthy song/poem. I think it was Malaysian, but I could be confused about that. Anyway, behind them there was both the original words and what was supposed to be an English translation. I'll admit to not paying a lot of attention, but one verse caught my eye. Here, let me show you what the English words said...

If there is a well on the farm,
We can take a shower.
If we live long enough,
We can meet again.

Somehow, that juxtaposition of thoughts -- okay, if there's water, we can take a shower. And, if we live a long time, maybe we'll meet again? What?

So, here's your challenge. Take those lines, and consider them as dialogue. Now, build a scene where the characters use these in a way that makes sense. Does one person say them, or two? Why are they saying them?

Go, write!
mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 13, 2017

Digging through some old papers, and stumbled across this fragment. Feel free to finish it up, okay?

This is a story of long ago, when magic walked the Earth, and Luna was a young goddess who watched over her people. This is a story that cannot be told, and yet it must be. This is a story of...

Go on. A rope of straw? A ragged beggar's fondest wish? What do you want to tell us about?


mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 7, 2017

That's right! Over here Sarah Hoyt talks about what to do when your novel has been through the wringer and needs to be sewn together again. Obviously, not all novels need this level of surgery, but, consider these points:

1. Is your ending the strongest possible? You want to make a deep emotional impression on the reader. If not double check:
– Who is the most affected or changed by what happened? Can you get the reader in that person's head at the end, or at least get their feelings about it?
– Does your ending drop an elephant from the ceiling? It may be meaningful, but you need to foreshadow it. So, go back and add foreshadowing!

2. Is there a lot of nonsensical running around? Action is good, but it needs to be meaningful. So,
– Look at the scenes. Are they advancing the plot, do characters get closer to the goal, do they learn something?
– If not, can you change the scenes so they push the character towards the goal?
– If not, can you write new scenes that do that?
Try-fail cycles! Just like the three in the middle of every fairytale. Not random, building towards the final climax.

3. Is the final climax satisfying? Did it get lost in a swamp of minor squirmishes (Sorry, I loved that word so much, I had to borrow it!). Doublecheck:
– The final encounter is not a bang but a whimper? Whoops! Start adding more detail.
– The big battle is just a bunch of little battles? Choose one, and make it the focus.

4. Lots of other goodies to check:
– Every character gets a character arc! Even minor ones.
– Every large change/idea/reveal is foreshadowed and motivated.
– Vary the locations for your scenes. Everything shouldn't happen in the same place.
– Avoid killing characters twice, unless they are vampires or other undead.
– Brilliant ideas? If it's a series, make sure it's consistent.
– Make sure character descriptions are consistent, especially minor characters. Watch those hair colors, speech tags, and so forth.
– If it's a series, try to let new readers enjoy the books too. Not always possible, but try.
– Watch out for characters who acquire persistent habits.

And of course, the biggie. Keep writing!



The Place For My Writers Notes

August 2017

202122 23242526
2728 293031  


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 26th, 2017 05:18 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios