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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Overview Character Development: Story Question Part Two

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The deep tension…comes from impossible situations, situations where there is no clear right or wrong, no clear winner or loser, no clear yes or no.”   Ronald B.Tobias

What’s the Story?
            Marion Dane Bauer

1.    Ask what the main character wants and what his problem is.
2.    What will the resolution be? Achieve? (may realize desire is not important)
3.    What is the climax?

When the character changes is when comes the point of resolution. She needs to struggle and not just internally.

Ask so what? Richard Peck says, “need to throw characters into the deep end and watch them swim out on their own.”

The hero must solve problem on their own. Adults must be absent or silent to the resolutions.

Deal with subject matter that is appropriate to the child’s age level. Understand a child’s sense of priorities or perception. One time a grandchild said with pride that his dad had let him be alone at the park, which we knew was impossible. In fact, his dad stood just a few feet away watching. But the child felt ‘big’ because there was some space between them rather than being hand held. His vocabulary though didn’t reflect the physical reality but did his emotional perception.

The subject matter must be true to the genre. An historical must stay true to the time period. Look at the motivations that can occur.

Start in the middle of the story with action & dialogue, no backstory upfront unless it is crucial to the character and must still be an active emotional encounter. Connect us to the main character immediately.

Who—what—when—where—why are timeless questions because they are relevant.

The story answers the main question what happens and this part must not be vague. Give specific answers, not only for the whole book, but also for each chapter. Each chapter (and sometimes scene) has its own mini story question. We’ll discuss this more next section in Plot.

As you are developing your options and focus keep asking a lot of “what if” questions. And then what happened. These ideas apply to developing conflict, the character development and the overall story trajectory.

Develop Possible Story Questions

            Make a cause-effect relationship between your character’s behavior and his fate, his deeds, and his rewards. Look at the various options.

            Will Joe get the girl?
            Will Joe get Ellen now that his arm is crippled?
            Will Joe want Ellen when he finds out she just wants his money?

Story grows out of research and brainstorming different possibilities.
Research—need to read ***. Are you visual? Gather photos. Write out the scenes you see in your mind. Use brainstorming techniques that work for you: journals, writer’s notebook, or idea file.

Consider three stages of story development. First the General overall for ideas. Next the Specific for genre, setting, sounds etc. and third Detail for atmosphere and accuracy.


            Make an outline not even a draft but “a preparation” Tobias says as your framework to think in
1.    Start with a beginning.
2.    Pick an ending.
3.    Set some short-term possible objectives for your character.

            When developing your story questions Swain suggest that the first step is to get the idea of your story clear and it requires five key elements: character, situation, objective, opponent, and disaster.
Then suggests you ask the “will he or won’t he” pattern.

Action Steps:

1.      Write a brief sketch for a plot that involves a character in an external purpose and an internal struggle (mental/psychological).

2.     List three or four turning points, possible crisis points, from your story.

Share: Name one objective or disaster you choose for your character.

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Overview Character Development: Story Question Part One

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Stories help us see what is true, and that visions of truth are nourishing to the human spirit.” Katherine Paterson


As mentioned last week a story grows from the character’s emotional core. What? Why?

Dwight V. Swain says a story is a succession of motivations and reactions. Every story deals with specific instance. Even sci-fi and fantasy are grounded in concrete realistic details.

An issue or stumble is not the event itself but how the character perceives and reacts to it will direct the degree of value to it. The character makes his own judgment and does this based on his own feelings.

For example, a single fact can cause a multitude of reactions such as a late BART or freeway delay. What are some personal reactions being experienced? By the adult driving? By a child passenger? How much of their emotional focus is tied up into where they are going, or a situation left unresolved earlier that day that one or the other fear the delay will be used to discuss the unfinished conversation?

For the story to work the reader has to care about the character and care if he succeeds or fails or at least identify with his need to succeed or fail. Therefore the reader identifies with the character’s feelings and struggles.

Because something happens as in a previous event #1, therefore Event #2 follows=cause and effect.

            Cause becomes motivating stimulus.
            Effect the character reaction.

The reaction contains three components: feeling—action—speech. Sometimes one of them is implied rather than stated outright.

Take some of the motivational sentences you’ve been working on since the segment on tone and expand them according to a deeper cause and effect that reflects and responds to your characters’ background.

Here is an extended motivational two-sentence structure from Dwight V. Swain.

a) The first sentence is a statement that establishes, character, situation and objective.
“When humans suddenly begin to grow to twelve feet height, John Storm tries to find out why.”

b) The second sentence asks a question while identifying the opponent and disaster.
But can he defeat the traitors in high places who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be the result of an extra terrestrial plot?"

 As you work up your story questions, themes, direction, and characters this form may become more succinct, but for now it’s a good start towards creative possibilities.

Examine Possible Conflict

There are two dogs but only one bone.

Examine many possible layers of motivation. Keep asking ‘what if’ questions to find the depth of motivation, both external and internal.

 Continue to write up potential story lines.

Andrea wanted to get a job at the ballet.

Then list twenty things that could go wrong. Include creative offbeat possibilities.

Put your character between a rock and a hard place, says Ronald B. Tobias. Forget easy solutions.

It applies from the youngest reader up. One of my youngest grandson’s favorite books is Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea. As you can see the story question/conflict is in the title. The little dinosaur battles a pile of leaves and a bowl of spaghetti, a big slide and talking grown-ups, J and many other daily conflicts. And with every encounter he WINS! Except… guess what?

Action Steps:

1.     Practice reading openings or titles. Notice what details jump first.
2.     As you read stories beginnings write down what you think the story question is. See if it gets answered.

3.     Write down your possible story idea in the question form.

4.     List twenty possible obstacles—include really crazy ones.

5.     Write up in two as in two-sentence structure from Swain.

Note: Also look at the back cover or market introduction—does it fulfill its promise re the story?

Share: What was the funniest obstacle you wrote down?

                                                         Read deep, marcy

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