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Monday, December 31, 2012

Grab the Reader on Page 1

Picture Credit: http://www.doorsofperception.com/social-innovation/

I must start by apologizing that it has been a few weeks since my last post. I have been painting my house and was overwhelmed with just getting the bare minimum done. Now that I have finished that project (and I'm thrilled about how great it turned out) I can get back to my regular routine of posting once or more every week.

Now, let's get back on topic. If you read the classics, you will notice that many of them start with heavy back-story. It's all information that will later add to and enhance the story. The rules have changed for modern authors. Readers want to be thrown into the story. Does back-story still matter? Of course! But don't give it all at once--ESPECIALLY at the beginning.

Look at your first sentence. Does it make the reader die to know more? What about the first paragraph? What about the first page? The whole book should be set up in a way that the reader wants to finish it, but the beginning is especially crucial.

How do you do this?

First, start with a character outside his or her comfort zone. If on the first page the character is comfortable with what he or she is doing, then it is not going to be a gripping beginning. Of course, the intensity is not going to be as high as later in the book because the story needs time to develop, but the reader will feel the tension if the character feels it.

Second, introduce the story problem early. Now, you should not make a big announcement that the character is sad because he or she has this problem. Likely, the extent of the problem hasn't even developed yet. But give hints. In Hunger Games, before the concept of what the hunger games are is introduced, Katniss is already dreading the reaping that will happening that afternoon. In Harry Potter, it begins with an introduction to the Dursleys and immediately names their fear that someone will discover their secret. This fear of the Dursleys is the key motivator that causes them to treat Harry the way they do, and in turn Harry's lack of family is a huge motivator for his actions.

Earlier I mentioned that the beginning is not a place for chunks of back-story. Quite frankly, there is very seldom a place for chunks of back-story. Don't get me wrong, back-story is essential. But give it in small bites and in places that it flows with the story.

While there is certainly more to a book than a fantastic beginning, taking care to grab the reader from the start will put you on the right track.

Happy writing!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Medieval Sports

Depiction of the game Cambok
Picture Credit: http://junkyardsports.com/blog/2005/10/cambok.html

There are a few medieval sports we are all familiar with, such as jousting, tournaments, and archery. We like to picture knights in armor participating in tournaments that threaten their lives while the peasants watch.

What about everyone else? The desire to have fun and compete in sporting events is not a new idea, nor was it reserved for the wealthy.

Peasants also enjoyed sports. Even the most lowly of peasants had a chance to improve their standing with the the nobility if they excelled in the war-related sports (jousting, tournaments, and archery). With that as an incentive, these sports became important to learn--especially for any young man who showed promise.

However, these were not the only sports--not by a long shot. Most of the sports were for enjoyment, not war practice. Here is a sample of some of the other medieval sports played.

  • Bowls- A game where players roll grapefruit-sized balls toward a target ball. Points are gained for how close players can get without actually hitting the target. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Cambok-A field hockey game using bent sticks called camboks, used by shepherds. Not much is known about particular rules. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Camping or Camp Ball- One of the most dangerous ball games. The goal was to get a ball from the starting point to a specified ending point (often as distant as the other side of town) by throwing it back and forth among team members while the opposing team is doing anything they can to stop the progress. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Colf- The ancestor of golf. Sticks were used to hit rocks into holes. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Gameball- The ancestor of American football. There were two teams and two goals. The object was to get the ball into the opponent's net. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Hammer Throwing- Villagers would actually use anything from cartwheels to rocks, but it got its name from throwing sledge hammers. Participants would stand one at a time in a marked circle and spin to gain momentum before releasing the hammer. The goal was to get the hammer further than the opponents. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Hurling or Shimty- The ancestor of hockey. Two teams used sticks to get a small ball past the other team's goal. The ball was made of bronze, leather-bound wood, or hard-packed hair wrapped with twine. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Pitching Quoits- The ancestor of horseshoes. Players toss rings at a stake. The rings were usually made of iron, but could also be rope or rubber. Players win two points for encircling the stake, or one point for getting closer than the opponent. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Skittles- The ancestor of bowling. Players throw wooden balls at a row of pins (called skittles) to knock them over. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Stoolball- The ancestor of baseball. A stool or chair is placed to mark Home, and another one is placed to mark the Base. The pitcher stands near the Base and throws the ball with the intention of hitting the Home. The batter tries to prevent the pitcher by hitting the ball away. Once the batter hits the ball, he runs to the Base, circles around it one time, and runs back to Home. If he can do this before the pitcher gets the ball back and hits Home with the ball, he gets a point. Learn more about the sport here.
  • Wrestling- Medieval wrestling matches could take several hours. The goal was to throw one's opponent to the ground so that he lands with both hips and one shoulder, or both shoulders and one hip hitting the ground at once. No holds were permitted below the waist. Learn more about this sport here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Obstacles: What's the Big Deal?

Picture Credit: http://www.funzug.com/index.php/
We've talked before about the story problem (view the discussion here).

This time I'm going into more information about the obstacles characters will face. EVERY character should have his or her own agenda--remember, each character thinks he or she is the main character.

For each character, answer the following three questions:

  1. What does the character want?
  2. Why does the character want it?
  3. What is getting in the way?

Now, these questions will be answered differently depending on the precise situations the characters encounter, but within the story characters should have overlying goals (whether or not they know what their goals are).

Take time to really think over your answers to these questions. What do they REALLY want? What do they THINK they want? Peel back the layers on their goals--what is driving them at the core?

The plot and subplots will feel forced if people are trying to get things without much of a reason or if they like or hate each other without a reason. Even the villains don't see themselves as "bad guys". They consider themselves justified in what they are doing. If we could have an interview with Adolf Hitler--one of the most evil people in history--what would he say? Would he tell us that he went through life trying to be a "bad guy"? No. He'd give us justifications for everything he did and try to explain that he was really a "good guy".

Another thing to consider is it isn't just the "bad guy" who gets in the hero's way. Think about your own life. Do you agree 100% of the time with the people around you who you care about? Absolutely not. Contention and clashing of wants from multiple "good guys" can sometimes be more effective than "good guy" vs. "bad guy" because all contending groups have worthy goals.

When looking at what gets in the characters' way, there are internal and external obstacles.

Internal Obstacles

  • Prejudices
  • Misconceptions
  • Misunderstandings
  • Flaws and Weaknesses
  • Conflicting Desires
External Obstacles

  • Physical Objects in the Way (think of a rock they must climb over)
  • Circumstances
  • Interference From Others' Wants
  • Society Expectations and Rules

Monday, November 5, 2012

Medieval Farming Calendar

Picture Credit: http://jothelibrarian.tumblr.com/post/8686987791/

My main character grows up on a farm. The fantasy world where my story takes place is similar to our own medieval time, so I used it to make sure that any mention of farming was realistic. It was fascinating learning more about medieval farms.

One website that was particularly helpful gave much information about crops and livestock as well as a calendar of what the farmers were doing different times of the year. It is found at: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2001/20010212/agriculture.shtml.

One interesting note is that farmers generally had what they called winter crops and spring crops, named after the time of year they are planted. Winter wheat and corn were planted in the fall with the expectation that they would come up as soon as the temperatures warmed back up. If the spring was especially cold or stormy, though, the entire crop could fail.

To protect themselves, they planted more wheat and corn in the spring. These crops didn't generally do as well as the winter crops because their growing season was shorter, but they were less risky than the winter crops.

The following farming calendar is dependent on climate. It is an approximate for farmers who lived in central and northern Europe during the middle ages.

  • January: Clear the ditches, cut wood, spread manure
  • February: Mend any broken fences; kill moles; add lime, chalk, and manure to the soil
  • March: As soon as the ground is soft enough, plow and harrow; sow the spring wheat
  • April: Plant onions and leeks, the piglets will be born
  • May: Weed the winter corn, do any needed home repairs, sow pulses, plant the garden vegetables (except for turnips)
  • June: Start harvesting the hay
  • July: Finish harvesting the hay, begin harvesting the winter corn and wheat
  • August: Finish harvesting the winter crops, begin harvesting the spring wheat and corn, gather in the straw, plant turnips
  • September: Harvest the vegetable garden crops, plow the fields for the winter wheat and corn, sow the winter wheat, take the excess stock to market
  • October: Turn the pigs loose to forage on acorns and beechnuts, thresh the wheat
  • November: Take in firewood, continue threshing the wheat
  • December: Slaughter the hogs, begin spreading manure for next year's crops

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Show and Tell Time!

Picture Credit: http://blog.aacriminallaw.com/drug-offenses/
Okay, let's take a look at the oft-repeated phrase "Show, don't tell." What does it mean? Any writing is telling a story, right? No matter what, you are using words to explain (unless you are literally drawing a picture).

The idea is to explain something so that readers will understand the feelings of the characters and what is happening in the scene without informing them point-blank.

Think about real life--or even good movies, for that matter. What makes you recognize an emotion? It's almost never the fact that a person spells it out for us. What specific things are happening that make you recognize an emotion?

Let's look at an example that fits in with the fact that today is Halloween:

John was afraid of the mummy. He wanted to get away, but he was trapped.--Telling

John swallowed hard and pressed tighter against the smooth wall. The mummy advanced one step after another, it's yellowed bandage hanging so that it's leathery skin poked through. John's eyes searched again for any opening or crevice that would save him. But the wall's polished surface didn't change. He couldn't keep from looking back at the monster, and he gasped at the air that no longer seemed breathable.--Showing

When you explain a few specifics about what John was doing, you no longer need to state that he was afraid, that he wanted to get away, or that he was trapped. The same is true if you want to say that a forest is pretty. What specific details does the main character notice that makes him or her think the forest is pretty? For that matter, why is the main character noticing those details?

Giving every possible detail would make for an insanely boring book--there is a difference between the dry facts of a text book and a novel. Choose the specific details that your character notices based on who they are, what they're doing, what they're thinking about, and their past experiences. A handful of specifics let the reader get caught up in the drama and FEEL what the main character feels. A list of the character's emotions is too sterile to make a reader feel what you want.

Basically, the rule is to filter everything through the main character's head. If he or she is happy, explain to me what happy feels like. What does it look like in the things around him or her (the way the things are perceived)? It doesn't matter if you are describing scenery, the main character, a side character, or anything else. The description should help the reader understand what is going on in the main character's head.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Characterization--Let's Get Real

Picture Credit: http://www.freepik.com/free-vector/vector-cartoon-

Ever notice how there are only actually a couple smurfs? In the whole smurf village there are only a small handful of individuals. For the most part, they look the same. They talk the same. They react the same. They all have quite the dependence on Papa Smurf to do all the thinking. They even have the same voice.

Don't get me wrong, I grew up on the smurfs and they should remain just the same. But when this starts describing all the characters in a book it is likely a sign of a problem.

Just to test yourself, take the names out of entire dialogues. How easy is it to hear a difference in the way the characters express themselves and they way they think? People don't all sound the same--neither will good characters. If your characters are all sounding or thinking alike, re-evaluate them. Dig deeper. As a writer, you should know more about your characters than the reader will ever learn. Not just the main characters, either. Think about each character that makes an appearance in the book:
  • What are their goals?
  • What are their likes and dislikes?
  • How do they perceive themselves?
  • How driven are they to pursue what they want?
  • What are their quirks?
  • What is their baggage?
  • How do they react in scary situations?
  • How do they react in a crowd?
  • What makes them self-conscious?
  • What is their background like?
  • What do they think about their life?
  • How doe they deal with stress?
  • What sort of medical conditions have they dealt with in life?
  • What is their financial condition and how does it effect them?
  • What is their religious preference?
  • Do they like pets?
  • How do they look at others around them?
  • What prejudices do they have?
  • What are their shortcomings?
  • Are they ever inclined to be impulsive, if so what situations draw that out?
  • How much exercise do they get?

The list can go on and on. If you want to REALLY get to know your characters, pick up "The Plot Thickens" by Noah Lukeman. By the time you answer his pages of questions, you will know your characters inside and out.

Once you get to know your characters, the point is NOT to put every detail onto the page. The better you know your characters, the more realistic their actions and emotions will be. That is something the reader will notice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Horse Research

Picture Credit: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/

In my book, my characters rely on horses for everyday business, and my main character loves the freedom she feels when she rides. Unfortunately, I have very little experiences with horses. Even though horses aren't discussed with any detail, I felt that my lack of knowledge about the animals would shine through. I spent time researching several different aspects of horses to make sure I keep them believable to all of you who have more hands-on experience with them.

A good website to learn more horse facts is: http://historicalnovelists.tripod.com/equineda.htm

Horse Sizes:
Pony- Technically, a pony is any non-Arabian horse under 14.2 hands tall (a hand is four inches). The generic idea of a pony is from 9 to 14 hands, and 250 - 850 pounds.

Light Horse- These are between 14.2 to 17 hands and weigh 600-1200 pounds. The average weight is 900 pounds.

Draft Horse- These are over 17 hands and weigh more than 1400 pounds. A draft horse is not a plow horse, because it weighs too much and would sink in the mud. Big plow horses are mixed breeds of draft horses and light horses.

Not counting thoroughbred racing, horses can be trained to draw loads around age 3. They are trained to the saddle at age 4 and are considered in their prime at 5. A 20-year-old horse is old, but they can live into their 30's. Although, historically when horses were treated poorly--especially in the Victorian era horses were completely broken down by the time they hit 12 years.

Horses working or exercising less than 2 hours per day are idle. Light work is between 2 and 3 hours per day. Medium work is between 4 and 5 hours. More than 5 hours of work in one day is heavy labor.

Feed must be split into two to four feedings per day and the horse must be cooled down before eating. They must also be allowed an hour to digest before resuming work. Mules and donkeys are much more hardy, leading them to be preferred by much of the lower class.

In the early 20th century, US Army daily horse rations were: 12 lbs of oats and 14lbs of hay per horse (figuring for the average 900lb horse).

A horse also needs 5 to 12 gallons of water per day and 2 to 3 ounces of salt per week.

Horseshoes were invented in the Middle Ages. Before that time period, horses could only be ridden for so long before the riders must wait for the hooves to grow out again.

Horses who do not work on hard ground or for extended periods of time will not wear out their hooves sufficiently to require horseshoes. However, if the horse lives in a damp climate, they will be much more likely to need horseshoes because the damp pasture will soften their hooves.

Horseshoes must be changed every 6 to 10 weeks.

Even owners of unshod horses must inspect their feet regularly and either remove excess growth or level uneven wear.

Walk- One foot at a time. Horses use this for leisure and when they are heavily burdened. It can be kept up all day. The pace is around 3-4 miles per hour.

Trot- Two diagonally opposite feet move while the remaining pair bear the weight. This is a bouncy gait. The pace is around 8-10 miles per hour.

Canter- Only one hoof is down at any time. The horse steps the same as a gallop, but it is an easier pace for the horse, around 10-17 miles per hour.

Gallop- Only one hoof is down at any time. This is always short-term. The speed varies depending on the athletic ability of the horse, but an average horse can go somewhere around 30 miles per hour. Thoroughbreds (meant for distance and not speed) can go 40 miles per hour. Quarter horses (meant for speed and not distance) can go up to 50 miles per hour.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Join a Writers' Goup

Picture Credit: http://www.writingforward.
Few things are as helpful as joining a writers' group. I belong to the League of Utah Writers, which I joined in 2009. Since I joined the group, I've been to some amazing conferences where I've learned techniques to better my writing. All the techniques I currently use for every step of the writing process are things I've learned from the classes.

I've also been privileged to meet some incredible people. I've met and talked with other authors and have been able to learn from their experiences. I took classes from the editor Clint Johnson (no relation of mine) and came to realize how much he could help me. I had him edit my book and have gained immensely from his help. My book wouldn't be what it is today without his guidance. I've met agents and people representing publishing houses so I could better understand the options I'm interested in for getting my work published.

Oh yeah, and there's the fact that it's all been a TON of FUN!

I started writing back in 2000, but in the 9 years I tried off and on to write I didn't learn a fraction of what I've gained in the last 3 years since I started participating with the League of Utah Writers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Make it a Job

Picture Credit: http://www.teenwriters
When I say to make writing a job, I don't mean that it has to be drudgery--if you hate writing then you're trying to break into the wrong business. But if you only write when you feel like it or when you aren't busy then you won't write.

Set a time aside for yourself every day for when you will write. Also, set a minimum requirement for yourself of the amount of work you will get done every day. Then keep your appointment!

Some people say they will only write when they are feeling inspired. If that's the case, then I'd recommend feeling inspired on a very regular basis. Others say that if they are struggling with writers' block then they put it off for another day. The best way to get over writers' block is to push past it--consider it the brain's way of trying to get off being lazy.

I know from my own experience that if I let myself off the hook whenever I have writers' block by surfing the internet, playing computer games, or leaving my computer to do something else entirely, then I start having writers' block every time I sit down. I can also say that if I don't have a minimum amount of work I require of myself or a set time when I will work, it doesn't get done.

Looking at everything you must do to get your work ready for the publisher can be daunting, but if you will schedule time for yourself and use discipline to take it one bite at a time, it's amazing how quickly it goes and how rewarding it is watching your work improve.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Making a Sword

Picture Credit: http://medievalswords.stormthecastle.
One of the interesting tidbits I researched for my novel is the process of making swords. My characters function in a fantasy world similar to our own medieval period, so I specifically looked at making medieval swords.

First off, I need to forewarn readers that this contains interesting facts about sword-making, not step-by-step instructions. I did find a website specifically geared toward people trying to learn the craft of swordsmithing, so if that is your intent, visit it: http://www.anvilfire.com/FAQs/swords_faq_index.htm.

  • The average completed sword weighed 2-4 pounds on average--no more than 10 pounds for a very heavy "sword of war".
  • Swordsmithing is a dying craft (due to a lack of need today) and the swords manufactured today are of a lesser quality than the average medieval sword.
  • Swords came in different price ranges based on quality. A cheap sword could take a week by itself to make. Expensive swords could take up to a few months.
  • Before the "Work" is Begun, the swordsmith must look at exactly what metals should be used and the size and shape of the desired weapon
    • Swordsmiths specialized in making swords and were much more reliable for weapons than the run-of-the-mill blacksmith who worked mainly with softer metals and molds
    • An experienced swordsman will have his or her specific preferences for the weapon--customers worked with swordsmiths over a period of time, with each weapon telling the swordsmith what should be different next time.
  • Forging takes place
    • By the 10th century, swords were made out of steel (a combination of iron and carbon from charcoal) and iron. They forged the blade by taking bars of each and "folding" them together over heat to give the sword optimal strength and flexibility. 
      • If it was too flexible it wouldn't be as sharp and it would bend in battle, but if it was too stiff then it would break
    • While shaping the blade, quenching (or cooling it rapidly) will harden it and slow cooling will make it flexible so they used a combination of the two.
    • Too much heat in the fire or too little heat would make the sword brittle. Bellows were invented to help keep the heat regulated--before they were invented the apprentices would blow into the fire.
  • Annealing
    • After the sword is the right shape, it is slow cooled (usually wrapped in insulating material) to soften it enough to make the edges easy to grind and sharpen.
  • Polishing
    • Grinding is often referred to polishing. Initial grinding takes place at a stone grinding wheel, but then it is fine-tuned with small rocks or metals.
  • Hardening
    • Now the sword is put back in the fire to be quenched multiple times to increase the strength.
  • Tempering 
    • When the blade is done, the fine-tuned hardening is called tempering. The fire is kept much cooler and the blade is put in for only a short time before it is pulled back out and quenched.
  • Attaching the Hilt
    • Now the blade is done and the hilt should be attached. Hilts (like the blades) were specific to the swordsmen's tastes. Often, a cutler (or specialist in hilts) would be the one to attach the hilt.

For more fun, look at common misconceptions regarding swords and armor here: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/aams/hd_aams.htm

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Story Problem

Picture Credit: http://darrellcreswell.wordpress.com/
In writing, one of the key elements to evaluate is the story problem.

The story problem is the key issue that drives the characters and plot. It should be a big-enough problem that it takes a book (or movie) to solve. If a short conversation between a couple characters would clear everything up, then the story problem lacks the intensity it needs in order to drive the story.

There are 3 major types of story problems:

  1. Danger or threat
    • This can be a threat dealing with loss of life, safety, or happiness
    • There does not have to be a gun involved for a character to be threatened
  2. Hardship or lack of opportunity
    • The character begins the story in an undesirable situation and works to get out
  3. Mystery
    • Anything that generates curiosity
    • The character (and reader) could be trying to figure out an odd event, a secret, or gaining understanding
Once you identify the story problem (or problems), consider the types of obstacles the characters will have to confront. Also consider the types of things the characters you pick will need to try before they can overcome the obstacles.

Next, look at some of the troubles the characters will run into while trying to solve the story problem. If the character is invincible in every way and brushes past all problems the story will quickly become boring. Even super heroes have some weakness they are fighting against. Some types of troubles are:

  • Disadvantages- reasons they are the underdog more than someone else would be in their position
  • Uncertainty- misdirection in what they are trying to do versus what they should be doing if they understood the situation better
  • Conflict
    • The "good guy" versus the "bad guy"
    • The "good guy" versus other "good guys" due to differences in opinion, personality, or motivations
    • The "good guy" versus the setting
    • The "good guy" versus himself or herself
  • Increasing troubles- if a trouble is constant for an extended period of time, it loses its urgency
    • Raise the stakes
    • Intensify
    • Setback

The problem, the obstacles, and the characters' attempted solutions, and the characters' troubles will generate the plot.

  1. An incident is needed to introduce the story problem
  2. The character faces the problem
  3. The character reacts to the problem
  4. The result from the character's action is seen
    • This can be a positive or negative result, as long as there is something to tell
  5. The character faces the result of his or her actions
The story will run through these steps until it resolves itself in a natural way. Surprise endings are great, so long as they feel natural and unavoidable based on the characters and the world the characters live in.

Hope you find this look at the story problem helpful! Happy writing.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Facts About Wagons

Photo Credit: http://wheelsthatwonthewest.

In writing my book I ran into the fact that my characters use wagons to get around town--when they're not on horseback. I have no experience with wagons so I did some research on them to learn the names of the parts and how a person would go about climbing into a wagon (I guessed there would be a step but I wasn't sure).

My favorite website I found in researching wagons is a PDF written by Kelsie Harder: http://www.canvocta.org/PDF/A%20Vocabulary%20of%20Wagon%20Parts.pdf

Some of the wagon terminology I learned is:

  • Axle- The wooden bar that is placed under the running gear and on which the wheels are set; each wagon has two axles.
  • Bed- All sides of the structure set on the frame, usually called wagon bed.
  • Brake or Block- A thick piece of wood attached to the brake beam; serves when pulled against the back wheel to slow or stop the wagon.
  • Brought-on Wagon- A wagon that was bought from a manufacturer.
  • Dry out- To lose moisture, as the wooden parts of the wheels.
  • Fifth Wheel- An iron-sliding bar in the shape of a circle placed on the front running gear in order to give the front of the wagon free play in turning or in being guided.
  • Front Gate- Removable front portion of the wagon bed.
  • Sand Bed- A wagon bed with half sides; used when sand is being hauled.
  • Side Boards- Removable sides of the wagon bed. The bed is referred to as a double bed when two side boards are in place, etc.
  • Sun Cracks- Cracks that appear in a wooden hub; split places caused by the weight pressure exerted on the hub.
  • Tail Gate- Removable back portion of the wagon.
  • Tongue- A long, heavy piece of wood used to guide the wagon; it is usually square but tapered toward the front. With metal slats attached to the sides.
Look up Kelsie Harder's PDF to learn many more wagon terms.

And for those who are wondering--not only do wagons have steps, but you can even buy them on E-bay.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Outlining My Way Through, Steps 5-10

Picture Credit: http://www.cartoonstock.com/

This is the last blog in my outlining series. See also my introduction posting here.

The first 4 steps of the process can be viewed here.

Tonight I'm going through steps 5-8. Of Dan Well's outlining system. You can also watch his You-Tube video on it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcmigQ9NpPE

As with the last blog, the examples I use here are all going to come from Harry Potter, Book 1 because so many people are familiar with it and it is a good example.

Step 5- Plot Turn 2

This plot turn gives the hero the last piece he needs to successfully bring about the resolution just when the resolution seems impossible.  In stories with a happy ending, it can usually be summed up with the statement: The power is in you.

  • Harry finds the stone is in his pocket.
Step 6- Pinch 1

Something goes wrong to force the hero into action and introduce danger.  The hero must be shaped and prepared for the resolution he must later bring about by this pinch, which he must be forced to handle on his own. 
  • Harry and his friends confront the troll.

Step 7- Pinch 2

This makes the situation hopeless.  It makes readers worry there is no way the hero can win, and is often the loss of a mentor.
  • Harry leaves his friends behind to face Voldemort alone.

After this completing this exercise, you will have a skeleton of the main plot of the book.
  1. Hook: Harry has a sad and boring life.
  2. Plot Turn 1: Harry travels to Hogwarts.
  3. Pinch 1: Harry and his friends confront the troll.
  4. Midpoint: Harry and his friends learn the truth about the sorcerer’s stone.
  5. Pinch 2: Harry leaves his friends behind to face Voldemort alone.
  6. Plot Turn 2: Harry finds the stone is in his pocket.
  7. Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.

Step 8- Create Subplots

Each story will also have vital subplots.  Determine which subplots are needed to support the main plot and complete steps 1-7 for each of the subplots. 
            Subplot Categories: Action, Character Development, Romance, Betrayal, etc.

Step 9- Try / Fail Cycles

The hero (and potentially the side characters) must have try/fail cycles to earn a victory.  This gains appreciation from the audience when they are victorious in the end.  If the hero is an “invincible” character, he or she can have try/fail cycles that appear to be victories, but still do not get him or her the goal.  This also keeps the hero’s goals fresh in the audiences mind through new adventures rather than a continual re-hash of what they already know.

The Princess Bride has good examples of both types of try/fail cycles
  • Inigo Montoya spends the entire movie attempting to avenge his father.
  • The Man in Black attempts to rescue Buttercup.  Even though he is successful in the majority of his battles, they don’t result in her rescue.

Step 10- Charting Your Outline

After completing skeletons for each of the subplots and planning the try/fail cycles, create a chart showing which scenes in the book each will be furthered.  The more subplots and try/fail cycles furthered in a scene, the more powerful that scene will be.  Scenes that only further one category will pace the story and keep it moving.  Subplots and try/fail cycles do not have to begin at the start of the book or resolve at the end, but if a lot of emphasis is put on them, readers will expect them to be resolved at the end rather than in the middle.

Main Plot
Subplot 1
Subplot 2
Subplot 3
Try/Fail 1
Try/Fail 2



Plot Turn 1


Pinch 1
Plot Turn 1
Plot Turn 1


Pinch 1
Plot Turn 1

Pinch 1


Pinch 2
Pinch 1

Plot Turn 2

Pinch 2

Pinch 2

Pinch 2

Plot Turn 2
Plot Turn 2

Plot Turn 2




As a reminder--I love using this to help set up the story before I write, but it can also be used as an editing tool after the book is written. In that case, you would go through the same process to evaluate the strength of your plot. If you are writing a series of connected books (versus books that each stand alone) then do this process for each book and for the series as a whole.

That's it on outlining! Thanks for staying with me through this series of blogs. I hope it helps you as much as it helps me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Outlining My Way Through, Steps 1-4

Picture Credit: http://less
In the introduction to this series of blogs, I talked about why I am big on outlining now. See it here.  In this blog I'm going to talk specifically about Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure, which can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcmiqQ9NpPE

Here it is:
  1. Hook
  2. Plot Turn 1
  3. Pinch 1
  4. Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2
  6. Plot Turn 2
  7. Resolution
This is the order that it appears in stories, not the order that you go in when planning/evaluating the plot. As I go through the steps, I'll use examples from Harry Potter Book 1 because most people are familiar with it.

Step 1- Resolution

Begin building your story by determining the ending. The resolution is the main point of the story. It may be based on plot (which ends with an "explosion") or character (which ends with a change to the character). Powerful stories have both plot and character resolutions, but right now we are focusing only on the main plot. Subplots will come later, so pick the one that you most want to emphasize. For the rest of the examples below I am going with Harry Potter's plot resolution, but as fun practice, you can put together what the outline would be for the character resolution line.
  • Plot resolution example- Harry defeats Voldemort.
  • Character resolution example- Harry learns he is strong enough to fight alone.

Step 2- Hook

This should be the opposite state of the resolution because the story is how the resolution came about.
  • Harry has a sad and boring life.

Step 3- Midpoint

This is where the hero begins moving from reaction to action. This point is where they commit to the task needed to bring about the resolution.
  • Harry and his friends learn the truth about the sorcerer's stone.

Step 4- Plot Turn 1

 This is where the story gets started. It is the first movement the hero makes toward the midpoint.
  • Harry travels to Hogwarts.

That's enough for tonight. In my next blog I'll take you through the next steps.
See it here

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Outlining My Way Through, Introduction

Picture Credit: http://www.tinamoss.com/2013/01/
I have enough to say about outlining that I'm not going to try doing this one in a single posting. I never considered outlining to be for me and I went through draft after draft of my book without anything more than an basic plan for the overall plot in my head. For the most part, anything that happened was as much a surprise for me as for my characters. I enjoyed the idea of discovering the story with them and through them.

Unfortunately, draft after draft had HUGE holes that I didn't see until after I finished because I was too close to the story to look at it objectively. I will never say that everyone must do an outline before they write. Each writer must decide what does and doesn't work for him or her. But I can say without a doubt that I have been converted to being an outliner.

During a writers' conference, I attended a class taught by Dan Wells about Story Structure and Outlining. I have to admit that when I showed up I didn't think there would be much I could get out of it. What was I to learn from a horror writer who lived by outlines when I wrote fantasy and wanted nothing to do with outlines?

During his class, Dan Wells opened my eyes to a system of outlining that I had never considered. I was amazed at how applicable it was. He pointed out that it could be used in the initial planning stage of a book or as a way to evaluate the plot after it was written. At the time, I was certain I would continue writing as I always had and use his outlining tool as a way to evaluate my plot during the editing.

When I evaluated the plot of my book (which I thought at the time was almost ready for a publisher) using his outlining structure, I found to my astonishment that it did not have a point! Not only did it have major holes, but I could not specify what the plot was.

Since then I have re-written my book after having outlined a planed story structure. I can't sing Dan Wells' praises enough. In the next few postings I will go through his outlining method and how it helped me. But he has posted it on You-Tube. It's a five-part video and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn to write.


Visit the first 4 steps here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Late Nights Can be Productive

Picture Credit: http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/m/
Well, here I am again--looking down at the clock on my computer every half hour--but late night or not, I've been able to get a lot done tonight. I finished getting my different social networking sites running last night, but I didn't get them linked together. It's taken me longer than I would have liked tonight, but finishing feels good.

I even learned how to create my own button to lead people to this blog from my other sites! Thank heavens for Google and Amy Lynn Andrews' blog on how to do it. Thanks, Amy. http://bloggingwithamy.com/how-to-make-a-blog-button/

I can't count the nights that I've stayed up longer than I should to get things finished! But I'd rather get things done in one night than stretch it into two.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Persistence is the Key

Picture Credit: http://mikemichalowicz.com/how-to-be-the-master-of-professional-persistence/
The first thing I've learned in this process is to be persistent! I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to give up, but as I keep plodding along, I'm finding that the process can be fun even when it is long. It's been a fun ride, and I wouldn't trade it.