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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Reading For Craft

How-To: Writing Books That Deliver

Every writer has his or her bookshelf favorites. It’s important to find the writing mentors that can expand our depth and style in the stories we hunger to write. But there are also some mentors whose writing principles cross over genres and over years. These are the craft books we return to again and again: as beginners, advanced and professional, because each time we learn something new to apply. They have stood, or will stand, the test of time.

 As I read with pleasure a plethora of writing craft books over the years, I keep an ongoing list of suggestions for my students and clients. So if you’re looking to add to your own writing library, or give a gift to an upcoming writer, here are some top selections from my favorites.

Getting Started

Writing Fiction For Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy.

This is one writing book I heartily wish had been written when I started out. Although no time spent on developing craft is ever-wasted time, the foundation advice given here enables a new writer to focus on valuable learning techniques, instead of hit or miss possibilities.

Crafting Novels & Short Stories, from the Editors of Writer’s Digest

The editors from Writer’s Digest have excerpted top quality articles from their books and their magazines then compiled them into over thirty-nine chapters to give writers practical applications for craft and creativity. It’s a goldmine.
The wide range of talent and perspective offered by the contributors is like a delightful banquet. This book’s advice will keep any reader busy for the entire year ahead with pleasurable, propelling instruction. Highly recommend!

The Productive Writer, by Sage Cohen

“The good news is that anything is possible in the realm of productivity if you are clear about the path or goal you are choosing, and committed to discovering and doing what it takes to get you there.”

Sage Cohen says that productivity is a lifestyle choice and by the time you finish this book she will cover every aspect of what that lifestyle can look like for a writer, or any other entrepreneur with some adjustments to their particular business. Her suggestions stem from the concept of “Putting the “You” in Productivity.”

Developing Craft

Make A Scene, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Rosenfeld takes basic functions and elements and launches them into powerful scenes. Then she thoroughly examines scene types to highlight their particular qualities and strengths.

The Scene Book, by Sandra Scofield

Scofield doesn’t deal only with theory and definitions, but also extends her insights into how-to applications through examples of novels and movies. And then gives concrete exercises for personal works in progress to find just the right fix to make scenes live beyond correct structure into living scenes.

Showing & Telling, by Laurie Alberts

She cuts through confusion, misunderstanding and error to provide practical understanding towards achieving balance, in fiction and nonfiction between these two concepts. Alberts gives clear definitions, shows how to use each, in either scene or summary, and how to blend the two together “to create vibrant and essential prose.” This book is a MUST.

Plot versus Character, by Jeff Gerke

His system integrates plot and character to deepen the quality of your novel, by both building on your strengths and reshaping your weaknesses. However the key dynamic in this book is the detailed development of a character’s inner journey. Gerke himself points out that a good novel can be written without this component and still be enjoyable. Yet, how much richer to experience your protagonist’s transformation from the inside out?

The Writer’s Compass, by Nancy Ellen Dodd.

Beginning with a story map and a picture map, Nancy Ellen Dodd uses a 7-stage process to combine creative thinking with analytical perspective to shape quality storytelling organically. It is intense. The 7-stages are not a formula, but organic, fluid, changeable, and encourage free-form development.

How To Blog A Book, by Nina Amir

Amir covers all the basic how-to questions of blogging in general and how to promote and profit. There are three main categories for fiction writers where her suggestions can fortify a writing life with ongoing creativity.

Purpose. Characters, setting, genre, and story question under Amir’s topic questions guide into the reason for the story as well as the needed proposal/promotion plans. Purpose gets you to the heart and enables the portion-by-portion development.
Consistency. The writing becomes continuous and connected. We finish the book.
Craft. Composing in bite size sections on a day-to-day basis highlights the quality we  ‘publish’ next. We tighten our scenes, focus our settings and build real characters.

Wild Ink, by Victoria Hanley

There are two invaluable reasons to read Wild Ink’s second edition. First, it encompasses a thorough introduction to the diverse YA market. Second it demonstrates an excellent understanding of voice from which all writers can adapt her principles to their own audiences. The wide range of possible topics, styles and content Hanley supplies are also shown by the interviews she includes from several YA authors in fiction and non-fiction. I found it interesting that one common thread amongst everyone was the need to be true to the voice of the story.

Hanley gives an outstanding Your Inner Teen Exercise to help identify where you have strengths or weaknesses identifying with the emotional range necessary for honest character development, voice, and dialogue. The questions can easily be adapted to other genres to increase understanding of characterization.

Writing the Fiction Series: The Guide for Novels and Novellas by Karen S. Wiesner.

Writing a series can be like juggling multiple eggs on an ice rink. Just one slip can create a crack that runs throughout the whole series. Often writers don’t realize that one novel is about to become a series and have to learn to balance along the way.

Wiesner details the definitions, catalyst, styles, focus, organization, and marketing required for any series by showing explicit examples, case studies and stumbling blocks. She thoroughly examines and warns about the importance of characters and consistency when writing across extended novels. On the surface this might seem to be common sense, but in reality it is a danger that can sink your series, and/or lose future readers.

Moving Forward

The Art of War For Writers, by James Scott Bell

In this book James Scott Bell applies Sun Tzu’s principles for clarity in battle planning to encourage quality, craftsmanship and courage to writers. He offers a plethora of tactical principles to help each writer along the working path, to harness the courage and skill required to keep writing and reach Sun Tzu’s standard.

The Constant Art of Being A Writer, by N.M. Kelby

In her first section, The Life, Kelby addresses the basic mindset requirements, decisions, and pitfalls available to all writers. The Work, comes next with articles and follow-up exercises on craft skills and how to take your vision to find its shape.

In section three, The Business, she gives practical detailed advice over what you can control and what you can’t; professional conduct, contract, agents and editors, marketing, book sales, book tours, survival tips and estate planning. Her foundational advice, “Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that you are a writer.


The Tricked-out Toolbox, by Melissa Bourbon and Tonya Kappes.

They share as writer to writer and their advice is plentiful: marketing, branding, websites, blog/grog, networking, promotion, trailers, swags, budgets, and PR. One of their best offerings is not in the table of contents but runs throughout the book—sanity.


Write Away, by Elizabeth George

Novelist Elizabeth George brings the depth of excellence and longevity to Write Away that she also does to her absorbing suspense novels. Her premise is that an understanding and mastery of craft will enable writers to navigate the problems we encounter in our novels.

In addition, with each chapter opening she shares an excerpt from her personal journals. These excerpts open a window into the emotional journey that writing requires, regardless of experience and success. Her psychological and practical insights into characterization provide ample creative fuel, no matter the specific genre.

The Key, by James N. Frey

Mythic features are often considered to be the domain of speculative fiction.  But James N. Frey considers them to be the foundation markers for all quality fiction, regardless of genre. In The Key, he sets out the reasons, the functions, the techniques and the possibilities.

One reason Frey gives is that every great fiction story experiences a transformation of character, and mythical journeys and heroes provide universal and ongoing dramatic patterns. We, as readers, are emotionally and psychologically hotwired to respond. Using mythical motifs increase reader identification and satisfaction in the story. 

Happy reading. Have a great holiday season!

Share: What is one of your 'must have' writing books on your shelf?

Read deep, marcy

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reading For Craft

Writing a Series
Not only does writing one novel require creativity, stamina, and endurance to reach publishable quality, but writing a series can be like juggling multiple eggs on an ice rink. Just one slip can create a crack that runs throughout the whole series. Often writers don’t realize that one novel is about to become a series and have to learn to balance along the way. Or read, Writing the Fiction Series: The Guide for Novels and Novellas by Karen S. Wiesner.

Not only does this book fill in a long overdue gap in craft skills for novel writers, but it also delivers. Although I knew a preview copy was enroute, I couldn’t wait so purchased the kindle copy to get started. And I stayed up very late my first night reading. This does not happen very often with craft books. In fact only a few of the writing books I read make it to my column.

Wiesner is also the author of First Draft in 30 Day, and from First Draft to Finished Novel. One ongoing feature of her books is her inclusion of practical, accessible, worksheets and graphs. Organizing one novel can be daunting at times let alone a series. Weisner skillfully blends the organizational skills together into comprehensive sanity. Although, here I do need to note that the sketches and outlines didn’t always show up well on the e-book version. The print copy is much better at the design layout for easier reading.

In Writing the Fiction Series she extends her additional resources first, by including ongoing advice and encouragement from series authors and publishers across multiple genres, and second, by making the full interviews available on her website. There are over one hundred. This is a field that is vibrant and hungry for good writing.

And that is the key behind this book: writing a quality series. Wiesner details the definitions, catalyst, styles, focus, organization, and marketing required for any series by showing explicit examples, case studies and stumbling blocks. She thoroughly examines and warns about the importance of characters and consistency when writing across extended novels. On the surface this might seem to be common sense, but in reality it is a danger that can sink your series, and/or lose future readers.

I happened to be doing novella research of my own on three separate series in different genres and applied Wiesner’s criteria. Some were written by the same author and some by multiple authors. Each book did a good story individually. Every series tripped up. One I tracked for location ties, one for character, and one for premise, an ongoing mystery. The mystery series in particular had all kinds of inconsistencies—the worst being the last book mischaracterized an earlier murder altogether. Not a good way to finalize a series and hope readers will return for the next.

Writing the Fiction Series warns you of the potential landmines and shows you navigable routes to write a sustainable high-concept fiction series and enjoy the process. Advice that is long overdue. Advice that is fun to implement.

Share: Have you ever stopped reading a series you really liked at the beginning? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reading For Craft


Short Stories

“I think that finding a voice in writing has everything to do with integrity and little to do with stylistic imitation.” Maeve Binchy

As writers first trying to identify voice, and then discover our own is often a long difficult road. We often hear editors say they are looking for a fresh voice and sigh, not sure whether we fit or not. Reading through a variety of different and distinct voices helps us to clarify distinctions, which in turn can give us a roadmap to seeing our own so that we can avoid imitation.

When we read through a compilation of short stories by different authors we will find ourselves automatically drawn to some stories, ambivalent about others, and perhaps even bored by a few, regardless of the quality of writing. This is a valuable method of studying voice because now we ask ourselves some hard questions as a reader. First read a short story for sheer reading enjoyment. Then take a few moments to jot down your initial response. Let it sit for a few days and then re-read with a critical eye. What exactly affected you positively or negatively and why?

Are you bored by the subject itself or the viewpoint? What would you do differently? Is your ambivalence due to the POV character? Why? Do they remind you of someone personally or is their tone of voice off putting? What would you do to change it? Same questions re the areas you feel positive—why exactly? What changes if made in that story would cause you to dislike it?

Sometimes it is daunting to dissect a novel in order to discover just how did the author manage to do that. Reading a short story collection opens many opportunities to not only examine voice, but also character, scene, theme, language and plot under a welcoming magnifying glass.

Reading in one theme genre alone helps to narrow a study even more while also showing the wide possiblity of diverse voices on one topic. With Christmas coming it’s a perfect match for Christmas spirit and  meaningful examination.

Below are three Christmas series I have read and am reading this year. The series 12 Days of Christmas by Kathy Macias, told by twelve authors, includes historical and contemporary stories with both first and third person POV. The Pioneer Christmas Collection has several voices. And last year’s The Log Cabin Christmas  includes a variety of authors.
                  read deep, marcy

Share: What short story collection has helped you study writing?


                                          The Twelve Days of Christmas Series, Kathy Macias      

                                                     The Pioneer Christmas Collection


 The Log Cabin Christmas Collection

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reading For Craft

Classic Corner

The Key, by James N. Frey

This timeless book is a must have for anyone who writes fantasy or science fiction. However The Key addresses core issues that impact all genres, because mythic elements are found at the very heart of all stories that have any impact on a reader.

Mythic features are often considered to be the domain of speculative fiction.  But James N. Frey considers them to be the foundation markers for all quality fiction. In The Key, he sets out the reasons, the functions, the techniques and the possibilities.

One reason Frey gives is that every great fiction story experiences a transformation of character, and mythical journeys and heroes provide universal and ongoing dramatic patterns. We, as readers, are emotionally and psychologically hotwired to respond. Using mythical motifs increase reader identification and satisfaction in the story. 

“If the modern writer is made aware of these forms and the cultural role of myth in the lives of modern man, he or she will be able to use them as a powerful tool that speaks to the reader at the deepest level of the unconscious mind.”

To demonstrate, he develops a sample myth-based story. Step by step he introduces the character types, motifs and structures giving clear definitions, and then implements them into the creative draft from idea to outline to rough scenes. And along the way he points out variations and difficulties. This is not a blueprint formula, especially for your hero.

Frey himself warns against the danger of this trap. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. The mythic hero needs to be just as three-dimensional, interesting, passionate, and dramatically driven as any other dramatic character.  You will need to put more work and care—not less—into the creation of mythologically heroic characters.”

Another important aspect he highlights is subtle perceptions that affect out attitude. He proposes a situation in which his daughter is dating a gas station worker.  If he is rude to customers, shortchanges and unreliable, then he’s a jerk. But if he’s employee of the month, courteous and attentive to customer needs, then he’s okay. Frey notices that we respect people who are good at what they do, regardless of the job. Recognizing values plays a key insight into mythic heroes in the everyday. Where Frey also adds we find the conflict—in common-day struggles.

Just as his subject stands up to the passage of time, so does Frey’s analysis of a myth-based novel in development. Definitely belongs on a writer’s classic bookshelf.

Share: Who do you think is the most complex mythic hero that you have read?

Read deep, marcy

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Reading For Craft

Classic Corner

The Scene Book, by Sandra Scofield

“….but it is in a scene that you capture the hearts and imaginations of your readers.”

A few months ago I reviewed another classic book on scenes, Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. There seem to be more craft books written on scenes that any other specific category, at least on my personal bookshelves. And they are all well written and helpful. But recently as I looked through them for a current workshop I noticed that only one showed well-worn edges and had so many colored stickies it resembled porcupine quills.

The Scene Book addresses the required principles, but adds a depth and clarity to the practical application that bridges theory into story, whether fiction or narrative non-fiction such a memoir.

Scofield lists four basic elements as necessary for each scene.
“Every scene has event and emotion.
Every scene has a function.
Every scene has a structure.
Every scene has a pulse.”

“Some vibrancy in the story makes the scene live on the page and makes it matter to the reader.” Scofield calls this the pulse and I’ve not seen this addressed as succinctly as she does. Personally I think this is a critical element, especially in fantasy genres where we are already stretching imagination to the limits, and memoir where we are bridging personal lives with compassion and understanding. It ties it to the emotional resonance we are trying to develop.

Sometimes it will be subtle she says and other times a heavier beat, but always present. “Pulse is emotional, an attitude, a state of desire or need. Tension is built from action; it arises from pulse, must it must be created through conflict, whereas pulse is a kind of “steady state,” awaiting the trigger to escalate.”

Another strength to The Scene Book is that Scofield doesn’t stop with theory and definitions, but also extends into how-to applications through examples of novels and movies. And then gives concrete exercises for personal works in progress to find just the right fix to make scenes live beyond correct structure into living scenes.

 Share: What book has helped you most understand how to write a scene?

Read deep, marcy

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reading For Craft

I Could Tell You Stories


“We store in memory only images of value.”

Memoir is one of the most poignant forms of storytelling and so akin to a novel that both have been mistaken for each other at times. Reading and studying memoirs offers a banquet of human experience. Where to start? Where to recommend? With a bookcase overflowing with excellent memoirs and how to write memoirs, I felt that choosing only one book would be impossible.

Then I realized that whenever anyone asks me about writing a memoir, or in the workshops I teach, this is the first book I hand them—literally. Hampl shares the quality of memoirs by telling stories with rich meaning. It’s the perfect place to start craft whether for memoir or fiction writing. Our personal stories within our circle of family and friends will be enriched and our fictional characters more multi-layered.

In her study, I Could Tell You Stories, Patricia Hampl notes that memoir is a landscape bordered by memory and imagination. “For to remember is to make a pledge: to the indelible experience of personal perception, and to history itself.”

As Hampl explores the realm of memory she points out that both Kafka and Rilke saw memory, “not experience”, as holding the sovereign position in imagination.

For herself Hampl discovered: “The recognition of one’s genuine material seems to involve a fall from the phony grace of good intentions and elevated expectations.” What a fresh perspective on motives.

Although she shares specifically via the route of memoir, this door of recognition applies to all forms of writing. If we are unable to infuse our memories, or perhaps our search for our memories into our work then we rob it of honest quest and discovery and an imagination that connects. Each person’s voice is unique and bears witness to life. But in order to share, we first need to identify what really matters to us so we can build our stories, real and imagined, with genuine impact of heart.

“How did I come to believe that what I knew was also what mattered? And, more to the point for the future, is it what matters?”

Share: What is your favorite memoir?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Reading For Craft

Pacific Coast Justice


Trying to dive into the mystery genre is like trying to decide what to eat at a lavish banquet. The range runs from light-hearted cozy to deep psychological mind games. And even within a category, such as a cozy, the intensity can run from low pulse to heart pounding marathon.

Then, once in a sub-category, what criteria can be applied to quality, for both writers and readers? Details. I read so many mysteries that it is a pure delight when I find a series that not only keeps me up at night reading but also can’t wait for the next series, by that author.

Inspirational crime novelist Janice Cantore’s Pacific Coast Justice fulfills both. Main character Carly Edwards is a dedicated police officer in Las Playas, California. She is ‘real’, a woman who struggles with relationships, faith questions, and integrity in the workplace. Carly could be our neighbor, friend, or sister. The shifting clues flow through the plot from the beginning to the end with increasing stress just where they catch a reader by surprise. In addition, as an ex police officer herself, Cantore brings an added layer of authenticity in procedure and protocol without overpowering the reader with extensive explanations but instead with confidence. That sense of accuracy extends to the locations as well. As readers we see what Carly sees and feels and hears—an in the moment ride-a-long.

Mystery writer Elizabeth George says that the details that show a person’s landscape “imprint an impression of a character in the reader’s mind.” The external and internal are achieved through specific and telling details. These are details with a message attached to them, the kind of details that no reader forgets. She keeps her characters real and grounded in daily life.

Those specific and telling details are threaded unobtrusively throughout Cantore’s series. If you are an aspiring mystery writer, find an author that incorporates those telling details in your specific sub genre and study the aspects of how thoroughly they are presented. Don’t settle on only recent publications too, but go back and see how the author started off. Or perhaps you need an assortment: one author that describes location well, and another voice, and another plot.

Personally as a reader, I prefer challenge, curiosity, and nail biting without adrenalin terror or graphic sensory overload. I had to stop watching one of my favorite TV series Bones when I found myself needing to close my eyes more and more with each episode. However, I recognize my squeamishness is in the minority for that genre style. And in reality, it’s not a category I am drawn to. The acting and script quality kept me watching even though from the onset I had to close my eyes, at least for the opening incidents. Although I consider myself a qualified viewer to assess Bones, as a writer I could not possibly pen any material.

Find the “imprint impression” that impacts you first as a reader, and then write your own quality stories that keep fans asking for more. Enjoy!

In alphabetical order, here are a few more published series that have kept me up past midnight so far this year:

Colleen Coble: Rock Harbor Series and The Hope Beach Series

Earlene Fowler: Bennie Harper Mystery Series

Jenn McKinlay: A Library Lover’s Mystery Series

Ramona Richards: Jackson’s Retreat Series

Share: What favorite series have you read recently? What details draw you to read that particular author?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Reading For Craft

Welcome to Last Chance

How can you resist a title like that? What kind of story will it tell? We are all drawn to different genres for the special insights they offer according to our reading whims. Some of the reasons I enjoy a good contemporary novel are to visit other places, meet new characters, or feel at home in a family or friendship. And sometimes get a flavor of how other people might handle the ups and downs of life. Especially when critical choices loom. Seasoned novelists offer these getaways with complexity and satisfaction. However it’s not often to see such a high level with a debut novelist.

However Cathleen Armstrong hits the mark with her invitation to this fictional small town in New Mexico. Along with Lainie Davis we find ourselves stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Some town residents would like a little more highway traffic to come through their town and others prefer the anonymity. To any local outsider its only claim to fame is the Dip’ n’ Dine roadside diner. For other outsiders it’s a place to drive through on the way to anywhere else.

Lainie is on the run, from her past and maybe even herself. She knows how to hide in big cities like Los Angeles, but how does she stay hidden in a small town where gossip is faster than speed dial. At first she stays because she must, then she stays because the people offer her a home-style life she never had. The charm captures her and finally she prepares to stay because she really wants to—except what will she do if her past catches up with her. This really is her last chance.

Welcome to Last Chance is Lainie’s story, but the small town does truly weave its own charm with unexpected twists and turns. I am really glad to know there will be more opportunities to visit it again and step back into the complexities, secrets, and hope that Last Chance offers as shelter on a dusty highway.

Quirky characters. Small town ambiance. Danger and decisions.

This is the best kind of contemporary novel.

Share: What do you look for in a good contemporary novel?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reading For Craft

Reading For Craft also means reading quality stories in the genre of your choice. Over the next few weeks we’ll look at some wonderful stories by excellent novelists in different categories. There’s a reason that as readers we become fans. When we find a storyteller we can trust we always want more.

On Distant Shores

One of my favorite novelists is Sarah Sundin, Wings of Glory historical series, and now Wings of the Nightingale series. Yet you don’t need to only enjoy an historical to appreciate Sundin’s works because her stories capture timeless elements. Her committed accuracy to historical details is the icing. The history weaves seamlessly though lives, as honestly as breathing—simple and complicated together. Her dedication to detail raises the bar, both for the story and for the genre. She makes it look so natural that as a reader you are transported to the common day of her characters.

Recent release On Distant Shores, by Sarah Sundin is the second of the Nightingale trilogy and a welcome return to the World War II battle zone where the flight nurses struggle for their patients and for themselves.

Lt. Georgiana Taylor loves her job and her life, but as the war continues to batter resources and stamina she begins to wonder if she can genuinely fulfill her role as a flight nurse or if she is in over her head. Especially with her family demanding she return stateside. Then she meets Sgt John Hutchinson, a non-commissioned pharmacist who challenges her to prayerfully make her own decisions and let God lead her instead. 

In return, Georgie’s attempts to now mend her unraveling circumstances re-challenge Hutch to live his own words of trust instead of accepting the debilitating misery creeping into his own heart as the war erodes his personal life at home and on the battlefields. Even his friendship with Georgie is perilous as rules forbid any fraternization.

On Distant Shores catches you by the heart and keeps you reading until the very last sentence. And not want to say goodbye. Just what a well-written novel should do.

Share: Who is one of your favorite historical novelists? Why?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Compose Through Metaphor

Sample Movie Deconstruction (5 A)

“Avatar is primarily an action-adventure journey of self-discovery, in the context of imperialism and deep ecology.” Wikipedia

Another aspect to consider when looking at endings is how the plots and themes and characters are brought to completion. What is the message that is left in the air? A movie or a novel may effectively tie together the ribbons into a neat bow and still not be pleasant. How do you want readers to walk away from your novel—what word or image or metaphor is important to linger?

The quote above accurately shows both the theme and the conclusion behind Avatar, regardless of how much viewers agree. It doesn’t leave the audience in confusion. Imperialism results in death and destruction. The world must respect the ecosystem of its roots. Jack Sully discovers peace. All viewpoints that are open to continued conversation or argument personally. However the closing image is Sully as a Na’vi, a tribe of peace who nurture their ecology and whose culture does not practice imperialism. Image metaphor.

The series Firefly addressed all its story questions as well in the final movie Serenity. Since the series got cancelled before Joss Whedon had the opportunity to develop the whole story, he produced a movie sequel rather than leave fans adrift. The situation in the opening episode of Firefly with Reynolds and Washburn fighting for freedom from the Alliance comes to a full battle scene at the end as well—completing the circle. Each main character’s storyline is brought to completion, although not happily to many fans, and the mystery behind both the Reavers and River comes into full light and disclosure. Mal Reynolds has fought a successful battle, opposite to the opening sequence. Truth has won out over deception. Serenity, the spaceship is still able to fly.  Serenity—the state of being serene—at peace. Word metaphor.

Journal Prompt:

1.                     What ending image did your movie use? Was it a metaphor that has lingered?

2.                     What would have been better, in your opinion?

3.                     What word or image or metaphor do you want your novel to end with?

Share: Why do you consider your choice for your novel the right one?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Build Your Story World

Sample Movie Deconstruction (5)

“At the end of a scene, we want to feel that something important occurred. A change took place. The fortunes of the character and the path of the story have shifted.” Donald Maass

Not only does each scene need to fulfill this movement, but also the end scene needs to maximize and bring to completion the story’s beginning question. In the first blog I asked you to journal if the movie met your expectations and why or, why not? If it did not, chances are it did not fully answer the beginning question, or at least not to your emotional satisfaction. Have you ever wanted to throw a shoe at your television in frustration at a bad ending?

The character needs to be transformed in some way. His perspective on life has shifted. Her values have reshaped. Something new has been added to life or some hindrance removed freeing up a new beginning.

The beginning story situation needs to be resolved, even in an ongoing series. If there has been a murder—justice, if romance—decision, a journey—completed. The main character can leave the question or possibility that he will return again, such as Indiana Jones, but the main quest, conflict or dilemma right now has to be answered.

Sometimes both can be answered with a surprise or twist, but that too needs to fit naturally within the genre.  For example, in Avatar, at the beginning all Jake Sully wants is to be able to walk again and he is willing to do whatever is asked to fulfill his personal need. He really doesn’t care about anything or anyone else. At the end, he is willing to die for the Na’vi. However instead of death he becomes one, with full restoration of his body beyond any possibilities he could have ever conceived.

Journal Prompt:

     1. Go back to your notes and write out exactly how and why the character changed and the story question became resolved.

     2. Are they reasonable or not? Are there holes? Is there emotional satisfaction? 

     3. What could have been an alternate ending? 

Share: What would you have changed in the ending if you could?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Create With Mystery

Sample Movie Deconstruction (4A)

“A Turning Point is like a cliffhanger—a moment when the story is taken in a new direction and we wonder what will happen next.” Victoria Lynn Schmidt. Ph.D.

Each point has a goal a purpose, to catch the viewer or reader up into the atmosphere and conflict. If done well it catches us unawares. We might think we know where the story is going but the shift changes everything. The person is not who we thought. The danger is nearer. The betrayer is a loved one.

However these points also need to connect to the seeds planted in the very beginning. Rosenfeld says the purpose of the beginning is to lay a foundation, pull “the reader into the action of the significant situation”, and “create a sense of mystery or suspense by withholding information.”

Here are the rest of my turning shifts from the first episode of Firefly that I shared last week. I’ve marked in bold the pieces that sparked a mystery for me.

Eight) Dining area—meet passengers

             Meals—comment made “here to judgment day”

Nine) Mole discovered on board

Ten) Callie shot

Eleven) Argument—establishes himself as captain. I don’t ever remember anyone      saying his name. (Reynolds)

Twelve) Reevers—fear evident

Thirteen) Whitefall—land is desert setting/old West echo/shoot-out

Fourteen) Reevers attack on planet—saved barely

Fifteen) Close—offers to let the doctor stay on board despite being a fugitive

“still flying means a good day”

Journal Prompt:

            1. Look at the focus point of each shift you noted in the last journal prompt and write next to it what characteristics echo back to the beginning scene you’ve journaled out?

Share: Which of my above creates the most curiosity for you in this sequence? What does it make you want to know?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Build Your Story World

Sample Movie Deconstruction (4)
Now that we have a working scene list, it provides a visual map to help identify and focus balance. Later, too, we can examine which scenes were external, or internal, and what function did they provide overall, as character development, plot sequence, or setting, or atmosphere.

Depending on the storyline and genre, the framework of a movie or novel will include different sections or categories. Whether set up as a Three-Act structure, or as a beginning, middle, and end sequence, there are specific turning points that cause a directional change apart from scene endings. Each scene has its own focus point, or beat, that marks one from the previous and from the next. However these markers imply an even greater shift, even in a quiet story.

In the movie you’ve watched can you identify a prologue and/or an inciting incident? Where does Act One, Act Two, and Act Three appear? What marks the climax/resolution?

Look also for possible parallel versions of the above as well. For example, are you tracking the movie as action, so plotting out these turning points by events? Or do you primarily view it as character driven, so note emotional and thematic shifts.

In the movie Count of Monet Cristo, both can ‘plot’ lines can be tracked. For example, is the inciting incident when his best friend, Mondego, becomes jealous of Edmond’s relationship with Mercedes, which increase when Bonaparte singles Edmond out for a secret reason? Or does it occur when Edmond is arrested?

Journal Prompt:
  •           What announces the prologue, the inciting incident, each act and climax/resolution in your movie?
  •       Are they soft or loud, subtle or glaring?

Share: Which was the most startling? Why?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Construct With Memory

Sample Movie Deconstruction (3A)

As I continued my rough brainstorm sample I did from Episode One in the series Firefly I wrote out my perception of the scene changes. For each I choose what I thought to be the concept that stood out. Surprisingly though they did always match the purpose for each scene, or the scene goal. But they did trigger memories of other movies and stories, which gave me a foundation to connect from. Or, perhaps more of a hint or tip of something else under the surface.

It looks a little scattered however, it is a brainstorm with a purpose. I wanted to see where I thought the scenes changed. In this instance I did not have a list of headers. But when I’ve done this where I can compare the headers it’s interesting to see what matches and what doesn’t.

Here are the first seven out of fifteen. And again, this is the first episode so it’s all first view introductions.

One) Scene Change—six years later. What kind of music are we listening to?

Two) Series opening credit—theme song—what does the opening echo—a western.

Three) Pause for a moment on each character-what is your impression—why?
                (meant to go back later)

Four) meet??

Five) Persephone—Docks. Is that the name?

Six) Deal with Badger gone bad—pull out guns like a western

            “man of honor in a den of thieves”

Seven) Shepherd (Captain-main character) boards Serenity (spaceship). Then everyone boards.

After I marked out the scene shifts I was quite surprised at the several connections to westerns, which continued through almost all fifteen-scene breaks.

Journal Prompt:

1.     Take a small sequence in the movie and next to each scene or episode heading write down your own notes as to when the scene changed.

2.     What kind of mix is there between people, action, theme or location?

3.     Did they trigger memories of other similar styles?

4.     Does the ratio match your perception of the movie?

Share: Did any aspects surprise you? Why?
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