"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 14 Pull out the stops for the Dark Night of the Soul

Act 2 ends with the Dark Night of the Soul

Dark minded creature that I am, it's often my favorite part of the film or novel. In great television series you'll find them too.
It's the moment in the story where your protagonist, scarred and battered, needs to hit his or her emotional bottom. And the reader/viewer must too.

This is an all-out, deeply haunting crisis. ALL IS LOST, or appears to be. Your protagonist is facing his deepest fear. It is almost always a terrible and difficult test; one which prepares the protagonist for the final confrontation with the antagonist in the climax. Despair. Hoplessness. Doubt. Emotional gripping. It appears that the protagonist has lost everything or wonders if all has been worth it. This test brings understanding and often and epiphany. It makes way for the transformation that follows.

Dorothy locked in the witch's tower with that cruel hourglass running out.
In the  marvelous film the Station Agent Finn is in the bar getting stinking drunk. Walks home and passes out on the railroad tracks. 
Rose trying to free Jack as the Titanic sinks into the icy north Atlantic amid despair, chaos and panic.
In Toy Story Woody and Buzz fall into the hands of the sadistic Sid and seems like they'll never be reunited with Andy and moving day looms....  

Now you're at the climax of Act 2. Think of this segment of your story and as  the curtain dropping. Setting us up for the finale.

It's November 26....just a few more days o f writing,  and lot of Thanksgiving calories ahead of you....keep writing, keep trying...

My entertainment credo has not changed a whit. Strong combat and soft satire are in our story cores. Virtue triumphs over wickedness in our fables. Tyrannical bullies are routed or conquered by our good little people, human or animal. Basic morality is always deeply implicit in our screen legends. But they are never sappy or namby-pamby. And they never prate or preach. All are pitched toward the happy and satisfactory ending. There is no cynicism in me and there is none allowed in our work.” ~ Walt Disney.

Monday, November 25, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 13 Bring Act 2 to a Boil

In the Act 1 you've introduced two big changes into the protagonist's life. These changes require the character to enter into the conflict, cross a threshold into the story. Some parts of the story such as the subplots might be simmering, but by the middle the plot should be cooking at a full boil.
Characters are best revealed by making decisions and discoveries and revealing secrets. Middles are where your character’s values are also revealed.
Middle chapters show the characters becoming more emotional, the struggle more personal. This forces the protagonist to confront inner struggles.
Act 2 is the best place to weave in backstory that is pertinent to the plot. Generally  back story is best use to explain why characters do what they do. Readers only need to know about the portions of your character’s history that are entwined with his or her motivation and core personality. 
I like to think of Act 2 as a long, wobbly bridge--the kind that spans an impossibly deep cavern with raging waters below. In Act 2 some of the characters don't make it across the bridge. 
In the second half of Act 2 things need to close in on your protagonist, time might be running out/
Other plotting tips as Act 2 boils away: 
It is usually a series of tests. During these tests the protagonist often makes mistakes.
The protagonist is bonding with his/her allies and also losing allies.
Things are starting to spiral out of control.
Things are growing darker and darker.
Often the protagonist crosses a moral line.
Are we having fun yet?  

 “As the writing progresses, the novelist begins to uncover connections and relationships that she had not realized in her outline or planning. The themes, major and minor, begin to appear in different forms. The writer must learn to capitalize on these from the Prince of Serendip, for through them she will discover what her novel is about.” Oakley Hall

Thursday, November 21, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 12 The Midpoint is a Game Changer

Readers need to witness your protagonist surviving the midpoint reversal where EVERYTHING CHANGES.
The midpoint is like a second inciting incident. However, this time, instead of just reacting to the event, the protagonist moves forward with a new plan. A good example of midpoint shakeup is in the film Titanic when the ship hits the iceberg.

Here are some tips for the midpoint:
It needs to be a huge game changer.
It needs to raise the stakes.
Betrayal, loss, defeat, or a win, a secret or new information revealed locks the protagonist  into a new situation or dilemma.
The information gained now starts turning things in the protagonist's favor. 
It starts a chain reaction that leads to the climax.
Midpoint reversals work best when the readers don't see them coming.
They occur at roughly the 50% point in your story.
In a romance the lovers can finally make love or realize the truth of their feelings. In a mystery often a second body turns up, a major clue is uncovered, or the investigation heads into a whole new direction.
The midpoint will always require regrouping, recalibrating. 
Now the quest, goal is really personal and the stakes are higher.

Time running out is often a new problem that happens at the midpoint.

Tip for pitching your story: Mention the inciting incident, midpoint and climax.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip 11: Avoid flabby middles

     In a fiction manuscript, the middle, or Act 2 begins just after the first plot point and continues to the place in the novel called the Dark Night of the Soul.  Middles are the long, sometimes wobbly bridge that transports a reader from the opening of a novel or story to the climax. Middles are where most of the story takes place, including the subplots. And middles are also where writers most often get tangled or stuck.
            There are unhappy adjectives applied to the toil of writing middles—terrible, muddled, and deadly. The events in the middle must be substantive and layered, creating a deepening reality and series of complications. Many of the writer’s problems with writing center on these crucial concerns. Perhaps the chief mistake that beginning writers make is that the middle of the story doesn’t send the plot skittering off into a new direction somewhere in the middle. In other words, a big game changer/reversal is needed.

Beginning writers often don’t install enough surprises, twists, and complications that the reader hasn’t seen coming, but when they happen, revive the story, increase interest, and push it forward with renewed momentum. Because the ‘job’ of the middle chapters is to heighten the reader’s curiosity and involvement and hold him until the ending arrives.
            Then the other problem with writing middles is the writer’s mood—which is quite often flagging and sometimes desperate. One reason that writing middles is so difficult is that the writer has often lost momentum. Openings are fun to write and the writer is filled with promise and optimism. But of course, the confidence and push that ignites you in the beginning can wane as you hit the middle which has somehow morphed into a bottomless bog.  Doubts assail us and the tough questions about what the story is about begin to surface. So the task while writing the middle is twofold: you often need a means to revive yourself AND the story
In the middle chapters the protagonist’s motivations become more intense and personal, obstacles and setbacks increase and become more horrific. Middles heat up things, make the characters desperate, limit their options, and create unbearable pressures
Remember, middles increase stakes for your protagonist AND antagonist.  
More to come on writing middles in Tip# 12
         "The middle of a story develops the story’s implicit promise by dramatizing incidents that increase conflict, reveal character, and put in place all the various forces that will collide at the end of the story’s climax." ~ Nancy Kress

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip #10 Trust in your Reader

Trust your readers is advice that I have been giving my students and clients for twenty years now. Remember that each reader brings his or her knowledge and life experiences to the page. Trust they can interpret, surmise, understand human nature.

The less you trust that readers can follow your tale, the more often you state the obvious, or repeat key information, the harder it is for them “ to stay in this holy pocket of suspended disbelief.”

Tell the story; don’t give readers information for interpreting the story. This means you’ll be writing in scenes and your character’s thoughts won’t give away the store. (or insert favorite cliché here) This means we’re back to that oft quoted “show, don’t tell’ advice. Characters, action and dialogue carry the story.

So trust yourself, trust your reader.  Have belief in your craft. Shape a story that is clear,   compelling, with just enough twists and surprises.  Trust that your readers will pay attention. He or she doesn't need to be told everything, doesn't need instructions on how to think or view the characters or situation.  

"No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence or whose attitude is patronizing." - E. B. White

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 9 Trust Yourself...most of the time

Trust yourself and keep writing. You don't need permission, you don't a reason to avoid a girls' night out, you don't need to justify your time spent with your story or characters. 

Trust that what you're writing this month, this day is the best you can do. It likely won't be perfect or profound. But it will come from within and will come from what you love. Storytelling. Wordplay. The oceans and moons and starlight and characters that live inside your head.

Trust the process. Stories have a way of taking shape. Characters have a way of stepping into the limelight. Ideas will alight like fireflies at dusk.

Trust that you will learn from this draft, this immersive experience just like you learn from accomplishment or heartache.

Trust that when you're writing you're fully alive, creating with purpose. Writers have written from prison, from exile, aboard ships and while dying. They wrote out of need and trust. It's your story to tell, so tell it.

Once November ends and you catch up on sleep and your neck unkinks, then you'll have time to work on rewrites or check in with your critique group.That's the 'most of the time' part.  This is the trust and plow ahead time.

The hardest part is believing in yourself at the notebook stage. It is like believing in dreams in the morning.” – Erica Jong
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Saturday, November 09, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 8 Scenes are Based on Change

Scenes are the building blocks of fiction where you stage drama in a continuous unit of action taking place in one location, depicting characters up close. Scenes are built from a goal and then the conflict which arises when that goal is opposed. Scenes always have an outcome-- a win, lose or draw-- and portray some form of change in the story, and if possible, emotional reversal. Scenes also drive the story forward, dramatize events and conflicts, provide context for the unfolding drama, and information and character development.

A scene needs to change the story direction and the character's emotions.  She loves me, she loves me not. Good news becomes bad news. A beloved friend arrives, but brings trouble. A happy event (wedding) turns into a disaster. An escape turns into a capture. A capture turns into an escape. See where I'm going here? Change throws characters off balance, which is where they should be teetering away....

Scenes often end by things blowing up or going awry. This doesn’t mean that you deploy incendiary devices in every scene, but whenever possible the scene ends with an unanticipated, yet logical development. When possible, scene endings throw the protagonist or focal character off balance or raise an unexpected question.  Or a scene can also end with a character being happy, which only sets him up for a fall. Most scenes end by hooking the reader through a cliff hanger or some means of unfinished business.

 Questions to evaluate your scenes:

Does the scene make the reader worry?
What does the protagonist want in the scene?
Does my character have choices or decisions to make at this point?
Have I surprised the reader somehow, and if so, does the surprise work or is it contrived or melodramatic?
Are there visual details in the scene?
Do my sensory details stir the reader’s emotions?
Is there enough at stake in this scene?
Have the conflicts/obstacles/motivations in the story grown in complexity or evolved in unexpected ways?

“For a piece of fiction, you need at least one fully realized scene, taking place here and now (or there and then). The essential story is an event—what happened, who did it, to whom, where, when, how, why. You may prepare for the event without making scenes and without concretizing scenes in a time and space, but the event itself must be created on the page: continuous, like a  piece of music, and spatial like a painting. And the event must make sense—that is, all the characters, places, conflicts and other elements must plausibly connect here.” Josip Novakovich