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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Welcome to the White Stone Series

Light That Fractures is released. J

            Still struggling with months of grief, Geena Morisi resolves to begin the New Year with hope instead of holding onto her anger. When an unexpected windfall arrives, she has to choose whether relinquishing her desire for justice betrays her twin sister’s memory or honors her life. Geena wavers back and forth between past and present trying to decide which path to take. Can she return to her art studies, manage her day care job, and raise her orphaned niece only on her own terms? Her decision will have repercussions to change not just her life, but Ana’s too.

White Stones Series: Hope, Faith, Heart

Six young women face life transitions that create tense relationships and struggles of faith. Will they have the courage to challenge their personal fears and experience new beginnings that stretch their hearts into hope?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Overview Plot Development: Patterns Part Three: Story of Purpose

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“It must be something he or she will be willing to fight for with tremendous drive and force.”  Lee Wyndham
A sense of purpose achieved is often seen in short stories where a character has a problem or purpose and must chose what to do about it. And it works equally well for a developed novel when the problem creates several twists and turns.

Often the problem can be stated as a question, which then makes the solution to the answer. The problem must be valid and within the possible achievement of the main character. Then the plot evolves from the situations and the characters. The solutions are achieved by one, or all, of three means: courage, ingenuity and special capacity.

In the engaging 1880’s historical, The Adventures of Pearley Monroe by Marci Seither, twelve-year-old Pearley faces a variety of problems including a jewel thief, a mining explosion, and a bear.  One special capacity, when he encounters the bear, is his knowledge and experience so that he can save himself and his little sister. If his sister had been the main character then her being little could have been the key to a solution to save them. Or the fact that she was a very fast runner.

Definition of Purpose achievement: situation +problem +solution=synopsis. The Character has to keep struggling right up to the end. The Climax is the answer.

This pattern works well in all genres. Here are a few more examples to explore.

Realistic: Jacob Have I Loved, YA, by Katherine Paterson (courage and ingenuity).

Mystery: The 101 Dalmatians, ages 8-12), by Dodie Smith, (courage and ingenuity).

Quest: The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, ages 11-YA, by Patricia McKillip (courage and ingenuity and special capacity).

Jane Fitz-Randolph recommends answering each of these questions before you write a Story of Purpose Achieved pattern.

            “What does my character want?
            What prevents him from getting it?
            What does he immediately do about it?
            What happens because of what he does?
            What Black Moment does all this lead to? (This is the crisis)
            What, finally, does he do to achieve his purpose? (This is the climax)”

Action Steps:
1.     Go to the library and choose a variety of magazines in different age groups. Skim read through the short stories, and see how many fall into the purpose category.

2.     Choose the plot line that held the most interest and adapt the pattern to one of your own story ideas.

Share: What did you decide your character wants?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Overview Plot Development: Patterns Part Two: Incident Story

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

            “The surface story is the one in which the action occurs, the one where the suspense is, the one that keeps the reader reading to find out what happens.”
                                                                                              Jane Fitz—Randolph

In her book, How to Write for Children and Young Adults, Jane Fitz—Randolph notes five plot structures that work well for these ages.

Incident Story

Technically according to the definitions we’ve looked at the incident story is not a plotted story but it works well for the very young and their perception of plot in that it captures their attention. The main character becomes interested in what happens around him and responds. A good example would be the classic Good Night Moon where a sleepy child notices her environment. These stories are usually quite short, about 300 to 700 words.

In an Incident Excursion the environment is more or less familiar, such as a trip to the grocery store, or a walk in the park. Each incident or encounter becomes more interesting.

            “When we reach our favorite
spot Mr. Squirrel
waits on his branch just for me.
We say hello.

First he somersaults, then runs
fast upside down
leaps up trunk, twirls down again.

We laugh, we clap.
He flourishes fluffy tail
then takes a bow.”  Excerpt from A Walk in the Park (not yet published)

In an Incident Adventure the situation is unfamiliar. Fitz—Randoph reminds us to “remember adventure from the very young child’s pov”. The very popular “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak definitely takes our hero on an adventure.

But for the very young an unfamiliar situation can be as ordinary as a fire truck hosing down a fire or watching a puppy given a bath for the first time.

Incident stories still must have an interesting sequence of events that build to a climax and both must have unity. Look for ways to us repetition, rhythm, and rhyme when appropriate to the story. In the story “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst, the terrible, horrible, very bad day phrase is repeated throughout each frustrating incident that he encounters.

For this story style the more specific and concrete the better.

            “Paint word pictures that help the child to visualize.”
                                                                                                Jane Fitz—Randolph

Action Steps: (Suggestions taken from Jane Fitz-Randolph)

Begin to practice tracking plot patterns for different ages and genres. For every story you read look for the plot patterns.

1.     State the story in one sentence. Then write a brief synopsis.

2.     Make specific note re the Beginning: Time, Setting, Principle characters. Include the Set up situation or problem.

3.     As you read mark the Middle: continuing scenes/action/plot.

4.     End: climax/resolution.

Share: Did anything surprise you? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Overview Plot Development: Patterns Part One

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Plot is an arrangement of events, an ordering of raw life.”
                                                                                                Ronald B. Tobias

Tobias sees plot as a process and not an object, but does note that there are many patterns that grow out of the process.

According to Tobias there are plots of the body (forza) or plots of the mind (forda).
Is it an action story, an adventure that relies on doing? Or does your story deal more with the inner workings of character and human nature?

The mechanics of the story is shaped by which plot is chosen. Plot driven, or character driven? Patterns of action, or patterns of behavior?

Often genre fiction will have a straight line, no flashbacks, limited sub-plots, whereas mainstream has multiple plot, complications and sub-plots, and may use flashbacks. 

There are several opinions as to how many plot patterns there are and how they can be interpreted.  The very basic two are considered to be ‘hero/heroine leaves town’ or ‘a stranger comes to town’.

Tobias has an outline for both 20 Master Plots and 36 Plot Patterns. Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D, lists 5 Dramatic Throughlines, 6 Conflicts, and 21 Genres in her book Story Structure architect. From that foundation she develops 55 Dramatic Situations.

Regardless of what style pattern you choose there are four basic characteristics that each requires according to Tobias.

1.    Study the pattern that best suits your story
2.    Determine what the dramatic phases of the pattern are (usually three or four)
3.    Translate each dramatic phase of the pattern into an action.
4.    Begin the scene as late possible.
Below are some examples that Schmidt gives for a character succeeds Throughline.

Action Steps:

1.     Choose two different ways for your character from the list below.

2.     By what means do they use to accomplish their goal?

1.     Problem>Solution
2.     Conflict>Peace
3.     Danger>Safety
4.     Question>Answer

Share: Which one do you prefer and why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Overview Plot Development: Sequel

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Sequel, according to Swain, is a unit of transition that links two scenes. Its purpose is to translate the disaster into a new goal to telescope reality and to control tempo. This is the aftermath. What holds sequel together is topic.

Feeling is the common denominator in sequels and the focus is on the character’s dominant feeling. Scenes tend to hold interest and the sequel gives plausibility so therefore they can be different in different genres. It’s not meant to be a formula, but a guideline.

A sequel may be a few lines, or a whole chapter, depending on the genre and the external/internal priorities of the story. For example, “Kristy hesitated at the tunnel entrance as she heard the pounding footsteps grow closer. She had no other options. She pulled her hood over her head and burrowed into it hoping it would protect her from the spiders.  She took a deep breath, stepped inside, and closed the concealed door.”

A whole chapter version could involve a flashback as to why Kristy is afraid of spiders or knows where the concealed door is.  It would be valuable if the decision she makes at this point contains threads that could be explored throughout the story.  But if it’s only needed as motivation and emotional decision, then short is sufficient.

Action may not require much in sequel—just enough to give a credible reason/emotion for next step.

Back to motivation-response.

Scene: live through a scene—it’s the action; step by step with the character.
Goal—conflict—disaster (new information received)
                        The goal is the character’s decision to act. The new information shows failure                                      (disaster).

                        Example:  John decides to ask Suzy to the prom.
                                            She says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I already said yes to George.”           

            Sequel: the decision making process, a bridge between scenes.
                        Reaction—dilemma—decision=new goal

                        Example: John forces a smile. “Well, I hope you will save me a dance.”
                                         Suzy blushes, “of course.”

Action Steps:

1.     Write a brief scene and sequel—keep it short. Can start with either.

2.     In a book you’re reading this week, identify a scene and sequel. Does it meet Swain’s criteria?  Why or why not?

Share: What is your opinion of using scene and sequel? Helpful or too structured?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Overview Plot Development: Scene

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“A good story is an experience with people in which someone turns a corner or a hair.”
                                                                                                                        Sidney Cox


A workshop I took with author Donna Fletcher Crow helped me to grasp the concept by the way she set it up. I still refer to my notes when I need a reminder.

            Scene: is External.
                         is the active action of the plot
                         is where the character has a goal which meets conflict which ends in disaster.

            Sequel: is Internal
is the reaction of the character in his/her POV.  What happened? How    do I feel?
is the dilemma for the character asking, What do I do now? What choices do I have? (to develop this you can ask as a series of questions and see what is the motivation is for each)
                             is the decision/goal for next scene. (good if you can make an action)

There needs to be at least one scene—sequel per chapter and sometimes three. Reader age and story question will guide that decision. Sometimes the scene—sequel will work with alternating chapters if a story lends itself to that style.

According to Swain, the scene is a unit of conflict. It organizes conflict, telescopes reality, and intensifies them.

The big moments in the story are scenes which give a blow-by-blow account re conflict. The purpose is to provide interest and to move the story forward. Time unifies the scene-live through it. For example in a fight scene that is going on the character will not usually take time here to reminisce.

A goal in a scene is a decision to act by your character. An implicit goal is of resistance. An explicit goal is of achievement.  Goals include possession of something, relief from something, or revenge for something.

Then disaster can come in the form of new information received, (airline is on strike) or an unanticipated third party causes difficulty and forces the character to change goals (uninvited guest shows up at party at the restaurant). Keep goals short term.

Action Steps:

1.     Choose a scene from a book you have been reading in your reader age category and track the goals and big moments. Are they in sync?

2.     Take one of your own scenes and write it in two versions: one zoom-in and one zoom-out.

Share: Which gives the most effective emotional resonance?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Overview Plot Development: Roadmaps

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Facts exist independently, outside people. But they have meaning and/or significance only as we have feeling about them; react to them.” Dwight V. Swain.

Plot is a roadmap. Like other maps there are several ways/routes to plan the journey. The rising line of tension grows out of the characters as they struggle against reversals and recognition. The plot can be simple or complex depending on the story question.

Scene Basics

Scenes are considered to be the basic building blocks of story structure.

“It’s a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story “now.”….  It could be put on the theatre stage and acted out.” Jack M. Bickham

Within those moment by moment segments, though, are a series of cause-effect or stimulus-reaction. Dwight V. Swain refers to this as a motivation-reaction unit, which we looked at briefly in Character Development. These units combine to become the building blocks of scenes, the core motivation from cause and effect. The motivation stimulus=character reaction: feeling, action, and speech.

The trigger can be anything, positive or negative. “A motivating stimulus may come to you on a level at which you aren’t even consciously aware of it.” It is the why behind the how in your story, Swain says, that creates the situations for an individual to make value judgments, by responding to facts with feelings. We can’t control the way we feel—we just do. But in some degree we can control action.

Dwight V. Swain wrote a detailed explanation of a scene-sequel in his well-known book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. And, according to Swain, writing in a series of interlocked Motivation Reaction units gives the technical foundation to write scenes, which is a unit of conflict unified by time. The struggle may be emotional, or physical or mental, but there are no pauses. The scene completes itself. He compares the moment by moment to a series of blows and punches as in a boxing match.

Motivation Reaction Unit


            1. Needs to come from real feelings.
            2. Needs to be credible motivation.
            3. Avoid dead ends.
            4. Maintain credibility.
            5. Keep aiming towards goal.
            6. Keep in mind main conflict.
            7. Create interesting obstacles.

Action Steps:

1.     Take the motivations and goals that you developed for your character in the last the last session and measure them against the M-R unit.

2.     Fill in any that are missing or need to be made stronger.

Share: Which was the most difficult to identify for your age reader?

Read deep, marcy

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