Saturday, September 6, 2014

Do You Love Your Story Enough to Commit to It?



Today the Sir Writesalot blog is honored to welcome a guest post from a young author, Rachelle O'Neil!



Relationships take work, whether they be with a parent, sibling, friend, or spouse. It is universally acknowledged that, in order to have a successful relationship that goes beyond the barest superficiality, you’re going to need to invest some hard work into it. And that requires a commitment to the relationship. Writers have another type of relationship that they cultivate: the relationship with their stories. And our stories are like some of our deepest relationships with people: they depend upon an intense commitment. So the question then is this: Do You Love Your Story Enough to Commit to It?

Commitment, though an easy enough word to say, is a difficult concept to truly understand. According to dictionary.com, “commitment” is a “a promise or pledge; an obligation.” So how does it apply to our stories?



Commitment is being faithful:
In a successful romantic relationship, each member is faithful to the other. As marriage vows go, “forsaking all others…” I’ve heard many writing friends describe the way they jump around from story to story, and I’m no stranger to the tendency, either. When we get slightly bored with our current story, we tend to work on something else and let the current work slide. Now, understand that I’m not saying you can’t work on multiple projects at once. I do urge caution, though, since you can only spread yourself so far. But the important part is that you’re actually seeing each of these projects through to completion, not just playing with different ones until you get bored. In human relationships, that’s called cheating or playing the field. Don’t get sucked into the trap of being unfaithful to your story. “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love.” – Anne Morriss

Commitment is sticking out the messy and hard times:
Sometimes, you get stuck in a rut. And that rut isn’t always pleasant. In a marriage, it may be the daily grind of diapers and 3am feedings. In writing, it might be times your characters aren’t behaving or the plot gets stuck about halfway through the draft. It can also be research and editing; I find myself slipping away from my story now that I’m ready to edit. And I can’t let myself give up on all the work I’ve done. Besides, I still love this story; it’s just hard. It’s so tempting to give up on your story when nothing seems to be going right. But that’s when your commitment (or lack thereof) shows through. Anyone can want to write a book; you must prove that you WILL write that book. Besides, if writing was easy, everyone would do it, and where would the fun be in that? In addition, the trials you go through to write will make your story unique. As the grandmother in the movie Letters to Juliet says, “Life is the messy bits.”

Commitment is reminding yourself why you fell in love:
At the beginning of a relationship, everything is fun and exciting. Those moments when you first get the inkling of this story idea, figure out your main character’s backstory, and come up with a brilliant title. Those are the beginnings of your story, and they are incredibly fun. They’re when you fall in love with your story and decide to make this a long-term thing. But as the actual writing and editing processes go on, you forget what made you so excited. You get frustrated and confused and maybe even bored. When those times come, you’ve got to remind yourself what was so neat about this idea. Why did you light up when it came time to work on this story? Why did it make your creativity bounce all over the realms of possibility? Why did it fill your heart? Look back; rediscover your character sketches and drawings; delve into an aspect of the story that always fascinated you. I love designing outfits on Doll Divine, and, though I tend to get distracted on there, the time spent usually does get me excited about my story again. Create Pinterest boards for your story; do freewriting exercises; deepen backstory. There are many things you can do to remind yourself why you love it. Take advantage of them. “When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.” – attributed to either FranĀois de la Rochefoucauld or Nancy Coey

Commitment is choosing your relationships wisely:
Not every person you’re attracted to will make your perfect mate. In the same way, not every story idea that pops into your head is meant to be. I have story ideas overflowing from my mind, but not every one of them can support its own story. And, honestly, I’m not really in love with some of them. Writing a book is a long-term commitment; you can’t just choose any story idea that pops into your head. Single out the ideas that make you glow with excitement, the ones that have the potential for depth, and the ones that can stand the fires of writing. And then commit yourself to those ideas. “There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” - Unknown



So, are you committed to your story? How hard has it been to work on it through good times and bad? How do you cope with the struggles inherent in the writing and editing processes? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear your thoughts!

_____________________________________________________

Rachelle O'Neil is a young author with a passion for Tolkien, temperaments, and Truth. Though she's always loved writing, she took her first plunge into serious storytelling with the One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) program and has just continued to learn since then. She has a thousand stories in nearly that many different genres floating around in her head, on her computer, and scattered across various notebooks that she dreams of one day bringing to life. She blogs every Friday at The Ink Loft and can be found on Twitter and Pinterest


Thursday, August 14, 2014

11 Awesome Websites for Writers

Here I list some of my favorite online resources for fiction writing tips and inspiration! And no, nobody's compensating me in any way to promote these.


GoTeenWriters.blogspot.com

Other writers I follow are constantly posting articles from this site, and for good reason! You don't have to be a teen to take advantage of their extensive writers-education articles on topics like character background, getting published, how to get good inspiration, developing ideas, writing prompts, and much more! They’ve also got a great Pinterest account and a Facebook group with a fun and helpful community.

WritersWrite.co.za

If you’ve been in the online writing community long, chances are you’ve come across Amanda Patterson’s Writers Write blog. She has many posts on everything writing related, from plotting to book promotion and author quotes to writing humor. One of the best things about her site is that in addition to her posts, she has many guests posts from other experienced writers. This site also serves as a promotion for Writer's Write courses for purchase.

Springhole.net

Plot generators, character quizzes, articles on world-building, name generators, the Mary Sue test--this website has it all! Note that it also has a lot of role-playing related stuff, but has a large emphasis on writing fiction. Springhole.net provides all kinds of writer-resources, from a town description generator and articles on naming characters, to a science fiction plot generator and tips on how to create better fantasy species. So check it out; there's a lot to browse through!

HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com

K.M. Weiland’s website is a favorite of mine, with tons of helpful articles. She covers a wide range of topics with in-depth quality content. While beginners can benefit, she goes beyond the basics in order to help you take your writing to the next level! She also an awesome YouTube channel with writing advice and has several books on various aspects of writing, which look excellent though I haven’t read them yet.

BehindTheName.com

This is my go-to website for name meanings and history, and their random yet customizable name generator is a favorite of mine! With a forum all about names, name meaning theme lists, and more, it’s a haven for naming characters.

WritingForward.com

Prompts, grammar tips, exercises, publishing advice, inspiration, and much more for all types of writing! Taking advantage of this site could make you an expert on all things writing! The site has great organization to help you discover what interests you from their archives.

Creative-Writing-Now.com

This site covers novel writing, but also has resources for other types of creative writing, even scripting. The site is well-organized, so just browse around for whatever writing type, genre, and topic you are interested in! Similar to Writer's Write, this site also promotes writing courses for purchase, but has plenty of great free resources.

BeKindRewrite.com

This site covers all things fiction, including writing prompts, writer resources, tips on character development and exposition, writing inspiration, "fiction philosophy," and more. While this site may not be as polished as some of the others, it's fun and bubbly with a lot of interesting articles and posts to check out!

JodyHedlund.com

Jody’s author page includes a blog that has many articles for writers on topics such as editing, getting published, developing characters, time management, mechanics, and pre-writing.

Tumblr.com

Nope, Tumblr isn’t just SuperWhoLock and weird GIFs, it actually has a lot of great writing blogs. Here’s a few to get you started:

Pinterest

It’s not just for cupcakes and wedding dresses, Pinterest has a huge writing community that pin a bevy of resources—from character inspiration to info about various ways to poison your protagonist, to the proper way to write a villain. This is my main source for writing inspiration and tips. Here are some Pinners who have some good pin boards for inspiration and tips:

@writersreleif
@jesskhoury
@amandaonwriting
@brennach
@writingmaverick
@kmweiland
@stardaniels
@novelistunite
@drcrusher
@xdamselflyx
@sarahselecky (her writing prompts board!)
@ellastark
@thescorpioracer
@sjtesh


Disclaimer: Not all of the things recommended here are guaranteed to always be 100% appropriate in terms of mature content, language, topic, etc. View at your own discretion.

What are some of YOUR favorite online writing resources or people to follow? Comment and tell me!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Story Sparks #3

Just a few scraps form my writing notebook...

You can use these ideas but rephrase them in your own words. If you use the exact idea credit me, but if you use your own version of the idea no credit required!

Dialogue


"Live by the sword die by the sword."
"That's why I use a gun."

"Don't forget to dot your T's and cross your I's"

"How can I fix the world when I can't even fix myself?"

"I've got a problem and I need to be able to get advice on the problem without the fact that I have the problem being criticized."

"Always forgive. Never forget."

"When I die I plan to take all my secrets with me, not leave them scattered about."

"Don't inflict your nostalgia on me. I've lived too much of poverty to romanticize it."

"I didn't do it."
"You mean you're not the one who made the explosion?"
"Oh, that. Come to think of it I may have had something to do with it."
"Something to do with it?"
"Well, partially responsible."
"Partially responsible?"
"Alright, largely responsible."
"Largely?"
"Okay, it was all me. Me me me! I did it! and I'm not ashamed of it either. Hahaha."

"People are like electronics: they only act how you want them to if you treat them gently."
"I once had a DVD player that would only work if you hit it."

"I am always happy when I wake up and find I'm still alive. Especially with you around."

Plot Ideas

Someone changes their birth certificate by a year so they are charged as a minor and don't have to go to adult prison.

Rent-A-Date: There's a service that will rent out dudes to take on a date who will pretend they are your new boyfriend. A girl rents a date to avoid the rampage of people always trying to get her to hook up when she has to go to a family event. She ends up falling in love witht he rent-a-a-date. (After I thought of this I realized movies similar to that have been done before, but whateve.)

Guy gets amnesia, but ends up living a happy life for a few year, until he finds out that he used to be someone else. This leads him on an emotional roller coaster as he searches for clues about his past life. (Thought this up a long time ago, now it sounds rather like a Bourne movie to me now.)

Settings

At night, the dock was a gallery of lights reflecting on the lake.

The sun made the clouds aureate and coated the earth in melancholy beauty.

Periwinkle fields on a grey day.

A house made of doors.

Neon signs flashing on cracked wet pavement as a 40's song plays in the distance.

Scraps

Skies scarred with jet plane trails.

Blinded by the darkness

I will print out a picture of the sun and hang it on the stars for you

Winged lions with cashmere skin

Trees rush past your shifting starry eyes

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book Cover Mistakes that Sabotage Sales: How to Avoid Common Self-Publishing Fails




Below I analyze why 5 bad book covers fail and how you can avoid common mistakes.

If you’re self-publishing, your biggest selling point is probably your book cover, since you’re probably not very well known and don’t have a huge advertising agency. Before people even pick up your novel to read the description on the back or flip through the pages, they must be enticed by the cover.

Disclaimer: I’m actually not a cruel person, I just sound like one. I understand that writers generally don’t have graphic design training and they are often self-publishing. I commend people who are just starting out with graphics and are willing to try even though their work isn't perfect. But, as the point of this article is constructive criticism, I'm going to be a little rough.


What They Did Wrong:


No Font Contrast.

The entire cover of the book is confusing because each set of words is approximately the same size. When fonts are similar size and weight, the viewer is reduced to wandering around wondering what to focus on. Not to mention that the background is so busy it's nearly impossible to read the words--espeically if the cover is a small icon in an e-book store.

Poor Photo Quality

I’m shocked at how often I see poor photo quality in book covers, whether it’s the entire cover or an element of it. You have to use images at the size they are. You can get away with blowing up images just a little bit touching them up, but only to an extent. Don’t think you’re going to sneak by with a slightly sub-par photo. If it’s pixilated or grainy, people will spot it faster than you might think. It’s utterly amateurish. You can solve this by at least having a close idea of what your book cover dimensions will be before you start working, and always ere on the side of too big than too small. And if an image just isn't big enough? You can try stylizing it, or just throw it out.

Lengthy Title

The cover of "Spring Will Sing of Love Everlasting" is evidence for why lengthy titles are not advisable, in general. You’ve only got a few seconds to get someone to take a closer look at your book, and a title that’s hard to read because of its length isn’t going to help, especially if you’re selling it online where viewers may only see a little icon of your book cover. Long book covers are also hard to format graphically and are a huge pain to the designer. If you use a long title, expect that your title will pretty much end up being the ONLY thing on the cover. There are exceptions where long titles are perfectly fine, but it's a good rule of thumb to keep titles around 3 words.

What they did right:

Limited themselves to 2 fonts and put a stroke/shadow on the text to help it stand out. It didn't quite work, and I generally wouldn't recommend relying on strokes to make text legible, but it's a step in the right direction.




What They Did Wrong:


Bad Photoshop.

Just plain unconvincing Photoshop is the most common mistake I see. The girl's hair looks oddly pasted on her forehead and is unrealistically faded out where it meets the edge of her arms. The color of her hair was also clearly done in Photoshop, instead of with dye.

What they did right:


You may notice that the girl has a purplish tint to her skin, which helps her seem to be a part of the purple background. One of the most common mistakes I see is where the foreground is clearly pasted on the background, but this photo would likely have avoided that for the most part if it weren't for the poorly Photoshoped hair. Also, the title font is an example of a good decorative font, because it's stylized without being cliché or hard to read.





What They Did Wrong:


The Font.

Pretty sure that's Segoe Print, which is basically a substitute for the dreaded Comic Sans. It's not even acceptable for a children's book, let alone something marketed to teens. This is why you don't use common decorative fonts and you do make sure you know your audience.

Again, Bad Photoshop.

You can tell the girl and boy are not actually standing together, and definitely not standing in the field, and the sky is oversaturated. This is a pretty simple manipulation, but it can be hard to get smooth edges. I recommend looking up some tutorials for tips and techniques (YouTube has a zillion) for whatever program you are using, or else avoiding the need to cut out difficult things like hair.

What They Did Right:

Used a bar to put the author name on. This is a simple well-accepted trick to give your text a good background without having to have a big blank space in the photo or blurring it out somewhere. Using a solid banner in a complimenting color or a slightly opaque banner in black or white is a good technique. Here's an example of a banner used more stylishly: 







What they did wrong:


No Text Contrast.

Contrast is one of the most important elements in graphic design. You must contrast font types, font sizes, and definitely make sure your font color contrasts well with the background color so it’s readable. The title here is difficult to read because it doesn't contrast well with the background, especially on her hair and dress. While on this topic, note that you should NOT use more than 3 fonts, preferable only 2, and limit yourself to 1 decorative font if any.

Bad Font.

Two reasons not to use decorative fonts: They are often hard to read, and they are hideously overused. Basically, if it’s a decorative font and it came default with your word program, chuck it out the window as the scourge of the earth. That’s right, I’m talking fonts like Bradley Hand ITC, Papyrus, Sego Print, French Script MT, and the ever accursed Comic Sans. Please, spare us. As I’ve said before, there’s no better way to date your graphics than a poorly chosen decorative font. There ARE good decorative fonts out there (search online), but you’ve got to be savvy and make sure they are clearly legible, and not overused to the point of looking cliché.

Bad Photoshop

This is probably the MOST common mistake, even semi-professionals get this wrong. While the photo-manipulation for the "Dangerous" book cover is pretty good for a beginner, it fails to be convincing. Real fire doesn’t looks so opaque.

What they did right:

Got a good model and Photoshoped her properly. Sorry, but a beautiful girl with the nice polished look is a selling point. Admittedly, her makeup is a bit overdone and her skin is a bit TOO airbrushed to be convincing, but honestly from the amount of ugly models I've seen on amatuer covers, it's refreshing. (Note that people aren't inherently ugly or pretty, it's all about posing, expression, camera work, and post-processing.) Most models for amateur covers look like little more than cell phone pictures of the author's BFF without even basic editing like getting rid of blemishes and smoothing waistlines to not be lumpy (even skinny people get lumpy waistlines with tight clothes). If you can't get a good model with good post processing, I recommend using stock.





What They Did Wrong:


Aiming Too High

Not to be a Johnny Raincloud, but cover design is the one place where you should be realistic about what your skills are. If you don't have the skills to make some complex fantasy photo-manipulation, don’t try for it. Go for something a bit more simple, maybe even minimalist. It might not be your dream-cover, but at least it will look professional. Again, this is purely talking about designing a cover that's going to get you readers. If you want to, maybe make two covers. One for yourself just to indulge, even if it isn't top quality, and another just to look professional and sell your book.

Too Busy

This cover would be most accurately described as a jumble. Amateurs often feel the need to cram as much as possible into their covers and forget that white space is important. There's a difference between a cover that's interesting and one that's cluttered. This cover has an uncoordinated conglomeration of images that clearly do not fit together. You should either have a seamless and convincing manipulation, or make it clear that you are not trying to make the images look like they are in the same scene. Take for instance the cover of "City of Ashes." It's clear that the woman is NOT meant to actually be standing over the city, because she's so extremely oversized, successfully avoiding confusion.

What They Did Right:

A few of the background images are quality, even though they are improperly manipulated. Also, they left a decent amount of space around the text, not cramming the letters to the edge of the page as many amateurs do. The fonts, pixilation, and colors are still pretty horrendous though.



 

A Word on Author Names


Author Name Size

You’ve probably noticed that sometimes authors put their name in huge letters in caps on the cover of all of their books. Like, the author name is bigger than the title of the book. Generally this is because the author has made a name for themselves and this is their main selling point. I probably wouldn’t recommend this, since chances are people will have no idea who you are (of course, if you’re reading this and you happen to be famous, ignore this part). On the other hand, if your name is of reasonable size this can subconsciously convince your reader that they are getting something from a quality author. If you make your name the the size of Patrick Ord’s, it’ not pretentious but shows that you at least have self-respect, which will in turn cause people to respect you more.

Pen Names

(Take note that is purely Money-Making-Me speaking here, not Anti-Discrimination-Me speaking. Please don’t hit me.) Things like difficult pronunciations, lengthy names, and ethnicity should be taken into account. If your audience is average American teens but you’ve got a name like Leishakajio Muilioa, shorting it to something like “Leish Muil” might be a good idea. Also, if your name is just plain lousy you might want to consider changing it. Names like Bob Lice and Sam Hog are not likely to be attractive to readers.

Unfortunately, gender is an important consideration that can affect sales. Because let’s be honest, if you’re a guy writing Amish Romance novels, or a girl writing historical war fiction, you might just want to choose an androgynous pen name. If you wanna be the first male Amish Romance writer and be proud of your gender instead of hiding it, go right ahead, but don’t blame me when you’re broke.


Good articles on this topic:




How to Get a Good Cover


Software

First recommendation? Don’t use MS Paint. Get yourself a real graphics program. You can get a subscription to Photoshop for around 40 dollars for 1 month, or if you’re really a cheapskate (which is fine) you can get Gimp to do most of what you probably need for FREE. Just Google it and download it from the program with no money or strings attached! Making book covers is hard, but you might be surprised to learn that you actually don’t need as much artistic skill as you may think. It's more about design rules and using quality images than anything. You don't have to be a creative geniuses to get a decent cover.

Stock Images

Too often I see book covers flop because the designer tried to use photos of friends taken with the family camera instead of photos of actual models taken with a professional camera. If you can take good photos yourself and know some people would make good models go for it, but if you don't have a knack for it leave it to people who are at least serious hobbyists.

Good stock images can make designing a book cover easy. Of course, the danger of stock is that the image will likely have already been used somewhere, but that’s not as big of a deal as you might think, especially if you use the image creatively. Even the best graphic designers often rely on stock.

Be really careful in buying stock from a reliable source to avoid copyright infringement. The last thing you want is to spend all kinds of time on your book cover and get it printed, only to find it is stolen artwork. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If the stock is free, it’s probably either lousy or illegal. You CAN find some decent creative commons work, but you have to abide by the rules which often require crediting the artist. Search around for a site that is reliably legal, quality, and has reasonable prices. Prices range from around $10 to hundreds depending on quality and image resolution size, but you can get some good deal if you do just a bit of research. 

Have somebody do it for you.

Now, I get it, you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend. But there are plenty of high school and college kids with good skills looking to get a start in graphic design. If they’re your friends they might do it for a hundred bucks or even just a Starbucks gift card. But don’t expect someone to offer their professional services for nothing in return—especially if it’s not a close friend. Pay them or do them some kind of favor.

If you don’t know anybody, you can always try online. Places like DeviantART are good because they have forums specifically dedicated to commissions, and you can check out the person’s work before committing to use their services.

If you’re working with a professional just let them do their thing and don’t hover over every design decision they make. But if this person is more of semi-professional, it’s often good to give them an idea of what you want by showing them examples of book covers similar to your vision.



Links


8 mistakes to avoid when designing your book cover

Five Dead Giveaways that your Cover is an Amateur Job

http://paperandsage.com/site/category/pre-made-book-cover/ <<< I ran across this site where you can by pre-made customizable book covers. Not all of the covers are PERFECT but they look totally professional and seem pretty darned affordable for such quality work.  I'm sure there are other services like her's, so this is another good route to look into!

Story Sparks #2

Just a few scraps from my writing notebook...

You can use these ideas but rephrase them in your own words. If you use the exact idea credit me, but if you use your own version of the idea no credit required!

Dialogue

“Why don’t you ever want to hang out?”
“Because good company corrupts bad morals.”

"I believe in freedom of choice--If you don't choose I shoot you. If you choose wrong I shoot you."

"I trust the inaccuracy of my instinct more than I trust the correctness of yours."
"Wow, that's low self esteem."

"It's easy to give your death, try giving your life."

"Sometime I say things I don't mean to say things I do mean but don't know how to say."

"Are you married?"
"Mostly."

"What do you do for a living?"
"Erm...I'm a taser tester."
"So I guess you're rich, huh?"

Plot Ideas

A depressed wealthy man picks up a hitchhiker and ends up traveling with him across the country.

"A few classmates were fresh out of jail and others were bound for top universities. [And one was both.]" –Salman Khan quote I modified to make interesting.

A makeup artist who also happens to be a sniper. (This may or may not have been inspired by the fact that Jeremy Renner used to be a makeup artist.)

An actor who kind of hates himself and all of his roles and is tired of being famous. And perhaps he falls in love with a girl who hates him as the celebrity version of himself. (Vaguely inspired by Robert Pattinson.)


Scraps

We ran through the feilds, crushing butterflies beneath our feet
The sun made the freckles on my back shine brighter
And the balmy wind still makes goose bumps on my skin when I'm alone.

The exotic aroma of raspberry tea rises in smoky steam, a burst of spice and sweetness.
Warmth from the fairy-floral painted cup seeps into my bony fingertips.
The cascading winds of the night have stilled and the gaping sky bursts with the afternoon sun.
Flutters brush by my window, with fragile wings colored by chalk dust in shades of goldenrod and tangerine.
The butterflies have come out to taste the dew drops.


"ENTER for a free vacation to jail!"

Monday, May 26, 2014

Story Structure: Plot Points



A story without structure is like a body without bones: it’s messy and won’t get very far. Structure gives both you and your readers a clear sense of direction and purpose. If you check around for story structure outlines, many of them will based on Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. It is a basic plot structure, typically used in screenwriting. However, it can really apply to any media form because it follows a basic three act structure. This one is somewhat based on Snyder’s outline as well. Note that all of the elements of this outline are not completely set in stone, but this is a good structure for sequence of events. Sometimes it's hard to analyze exactly where every point of a story falls into the beat sheet, but you'll get the idea. The three most basic ingredients you need before you can fill out the details of this structure are: a protagonist, a goal, and an adversary. It also helps to have ideas about your story’s theme, your character’s hamartia, and your character’s plan to get whatever it is they want. (Note, I’m gonna talk about Disney’s Tangled a lot, and I’m not exactly sure if I lined up all the plot points right, but they make good examples.)

Act I


Opening

Your opening should be attention-grabbing and set the tone for the rest of the story. For example, in Tangled, we see a wanted poster in a shadowy forest with a humorous illustration of the co-starring character of the film, Flynn Rider, who is giving a narrative epilogue which denotes that the preceding story will be a lighthearted and amusing off-beat fairy tale.


Theme Stated

I’m not really sure how frequently novels do this, but I know that in screenplays the “theme” of the film is in some way presented, either as a statement or a question, within the first five or ten minutes of the movie. This statement is the premise which the rest of the story addresses, an obvious example being Pride and Prejudice’s opener: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” In Freaky Friday the “theme stated” is where the mother and daughter state that her life is much harder than the other's. By the end of the story the statement can be proved, disproved, or if it’s question it can be answered—but the protagonist must not know the full truth or untruth of the premise until late in the story.

Set-Up

Nothing has happened yet, the character’s world is still business as usual, but the stage is set and ready for something life-altering. Showing your character’s life struggles and desires is important here. This is where we see how angsty yet self-conceited the socialite’s life is, how invisible the youngest daughter feels, how the 30 year old wishes he has someone to marry and start a life with him. In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe this is when the four children go to live with Professor Kirk. In Tangled, Rapunzel wants to see the “floating lights” but Mother Gothel will not let her, saying that the world outside Rapunzel’s tower is too dangerous. So, while nothing has changed, the stage is set for action.

The Catalyst:

This is the inciting incident, the big moment, the spot where the story really starts. This is where the world is flipped upside down: the protagonist gets superpowers, the car accident happens, the protagonist discovers a mysterious old box in the attic. In Rapunzel’s case this is when Flynn comes into her tower, and in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe this is when Lucy first enters the wardrobe. The catalyst thrusts the protagonist into action and is the first key event.



Debate

This whole new world the protagonist was just thrown into can be a lot to handle, and your protagonist may not know how to deal with it. He or she usually questions how to go on, or whether to go on at all. For example, maybe he thinks he found the perfect girl, but doesn’t know if he is good enough to pursue her. Or she was offered a place as queen, but doesn’t know if she can handle such a duty. In Tangled, Rapunzel has much indecision about continuing with her adventure—she longs to see the outside world, but worries she is doing wrong to Mother Gothel by running away from the tower. In the debate stage, the protagonist still has time to turn back. Rapunzel repeatedly considered forgetting the whole thing and going back to her tower before Mother Gothel even knew what happened, but at the same time loves her newfound freedom and wants to go on the adventure. She goes back and forth like, a dozen time. Not all debate scenes have to be this extreme, but you get the idea.


Transition into Act II: The Decision

The protagonist is done debating and makes a big decision: she will get revenge on the man who killed her family, he will find the girl he loves and woo her, she will use her newfound talent to change the world, he will find the cure for the disease. In Tangled, Flynn takes Rapunzel to the Snuggly Duckling Inn, and Rapunzel is inspired to follow her dream to see the floating lights. In this section, Rapunzel commits to the adventure and there is no turning back. In The Lord of the Rings this is where Frodo decides to journey to Rivendell. The world your character knew before is gone and they are officially committed to the new journey or goal.


Act II



B Story Comes Into Play

While this comes in at different times, the B story should be introduced no later than at this point. Perhaps your A story is stealing the crown jewels, but your B story is a love story (a very common B story)—now is the time to start bringing that love story into play. In Tangled, the A story is seeing the Floating Lights and the B story is Rapunzel and Flynn’s romance. The B story begins when the friendship between Flynn and Rapunzel begins to develop into romance as they share heartfelt moments in revealing personal secrets to each other around the fire. The B story is often used to observe the A story and give insight. In the Star Wars prequels, the friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan (the B story) plays an important role in the A story (Anakin’s turning to the dark side), but also discusses the main plot, as in where Anakin complains that Obi-Wan is holding him back (just as he believes the Jedi as a whole are holding him back from saving Padme) and where Obi-wan tries to set Anakin straight on the burning planet, but ends up mourning their lost friendship.

Fun and Games/Promise of Premise

This is what you sold your story on, the fun part that the readers want to see. If you sold your story on action, we better see a thrilling car chase, and if you sold it on romantic comedy, we better see all kinds of awkward situations with maybe some kissing thrown in. This is where we see the highlights of the genre. By choosing a certain genre, you are promising to come through to your readers on certain elements. So in a mystery story this is where we see all the cool Nancy Drew detective work, in a fantasy story we explore the strange new surroundings and creatures and in a sports story this is where we see training and maybe even minor competitions in preparation for the big game.

Midpoint

This can either be an up or down on your plot roller coaster, but from here on out things should move fast and be fairly intense—no more messing around, turn up the heat! This is where we bring in false defeat and false victory. The protagonist either thinks he lost it all or thinks he's won. You can use one or both of these elements throughout your story, and even use them multiple times. For example, in The Princess and the Frog, this is where Tiana is able to be turned back into a human and realize her restaurant dream, but realizes it is a false victory because it is the people that matter, not the restaurant dream. In Tangled, Rapunzel is tricked into believing that Flynn has betrayed her—a false defeat. The A story and B story should also cross here. For example, the villain kidnaps the hero’s love interest (cliché, I know) and the villain tries to force her to either save her love interest or solve the A story. This puts the A and B story at tension, which is an especially good element for relationships (and, as mentioned, B stories are often relationship stories).

The Plot Thickens

Blake Snyder calls this plot point “Bad Guys Close In.” In other words, the aliens have not only landed, but they come armed; the superhero must not only save the city, but save his whole family. Things are really coming down to the wire, and the leads may wonder if winning is even possible. In The Princess and the Frog, this is where the voodoo dude tricks everyone into thinking Charlotte married Prince Naveen and Ray gets killed.


Darkest Moment

The protagonist hits bottom. It looks like things will never work out right. His love interest gets engaged to someone else, or the doctors say she cannot be cured, or he sees no way to stop the bomb from going off. The protagonist often even considers giving up. In Tangled, Rapunzel is heartbroken, thinking that her dreams are shattered and Flynn has betrayed her. She feels that perhaps Mother Gothel was right, and that the outside world really is nothing but cruel—basically, she has gone as low as she can go, to the point that she almost resigns herself to her fate. Likewise, at this plot point your protagonist should generally think all is lost and should hopelessly despair. 

Transition into Act III

This is where things start to look up. The protagonist gets determinations and a new perspective, which causes her to see a possible way out. Remember that B story we introduced earlier? The B story often helps give the A story a push in the right direction at this point. The love interest gives the protagonist words of encouragement, the protagonists remembers words of wisdom from his mentor, etc. In The Return of the King, this is where Sam carries Frodo up the mountain. Note that this is very similar to “Transition into Act II” because it is where a decision is made to act and carry on. 




Act III



Climax

This is it, the big moment, the bursting point. Either we win now or we lose for good! In sport movies this is where the whole team either walks away in shame, or wins the world championship. This is where Frodo battles Gollum for the ring, Scar fights Simba, and Luke fights Darth Vader. This is where we see the most action and drama with very little down time. This is the big game, the final showdown.


Finale and Resolution

The miraculous solution arises and is implemented. In Tangled Flynn saves Rapunzel from Mother Gothel and Rapunzel saves Flynn from death. In Batman Begins, Batman lets the train crash, killing Ra’s al Ghul. In The Return of the King, the ring finally gets into the lava in Mount Doom. The final problem is solved and everything is over, one way or another. 



After Picture

The after picture is the final image that shows that a change has occurred since the beginning of the story and gives and may give an indication about how the things will continue after the story is over. The after picture is the exhale after the storm, a denouement. All loose ends should be tied up. Example: Sam gets married and has a family, Frodo goes across the sea with the Elves, Batman starts to rebuilds his parent’s home, Rapunzel gets married to Flynn, and Tiana gets her restaurant where Naveen plays jazz in it. In Princess Diaries, Mia flies over Genovia, narrating her plans for the future. Disco parties and happy laughing friends are a common "happy ending" after picture, but I would encourage creativity in this area. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Story Sparks #1

Just a few scraps from my writing notebook... 

You can use these ideas but rephrase them in your own words. If you use the exact idea credit me, but if you use your own version of the idea no credit required!

Dialogue

"You know, nobody's gonna want to marry you with a name like that."
"Good, 'cause I don't wanna marry nobody."

"He sorta covers up his emotional side with his crazy side."

“People die every day. I can't care about all of them, so I might as well care about none of them.”

“What's the matter with you?” she asked.
His eyes were bloodshot. “I'm having another existentialist crisis.”
She reeled back and slapped him in the face. “Better?”
He shrugged, rubbing his check. “Yes actually."

"If you don't like yourself that means you have some good in you. Only bad people totally like themselves." (I feel like this is inspired by some quote but idk.)

"He's the kind of trouble-maker that will scratch every single one of your DVDs and CDs on both sides."


Plot Ideas

A millionaire brags that it is only laziness that keeps people from being rich, and that he could start with nothing and be a millionaire in a year if he wanted to. Someone challenges him to prove just that. The stakes? Whoever loses gives the other all of their money and stock market shares. The millionaire takes the bet.

A teen who has a hobby of breaking into houses and businesses and leaving them a piece of chocolate. He gets a kick out of sneaking in places, but just wants to have fun so he doesn’t steal anything.

A wealthy man and his butler switch places

A hedonistic rockstar is forced to take care of his sister's foster child for a month.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Building Plot


Whether you have no plot, half a plot, or just need to spice things up a bit, this article gives advice on to create and solve conflict in a character-centered story, along with a few ideas for inspiration.

Growing Plot from Character



In many stories, the protagonist is the heart and the plot is the body. This is a good strategy. The character drives the plot and the plot in turn creates needs for the character to attempt to overcome and structure to make the story flowing and paced.

Often I start with a character and a few loose ideas about that character, but not a very strong plot idea. If you’ve got a well-developed character but are lacking in plots, it's a good idea to grow your plot from your character. Write down what you know about your character: his or her personality, past, future goals, etc. Once you know what your characters have been through, where they want to go, and what kind of person they are, you might get some ideas about what is missing or what needs fixing in their life. I’ll illustrate how to do this method.


Meet Mitch. His mom was a perfectionist and she tried to make him perfect. He rebelled, and even now that he is twenty-something, much of what he does is driven by the desire to annoy his mom and assert himself. Mitch was bullied at the boarding school his mom sent him to, and with no one to protect him, he developed haphephobia (fear of touch) and an outer shell of autonomy. Also because of bullying, he gave up on social life and receded into more a nerdy endeavor: computers. As a teen, he was still bullied but started hanging out with some shady kids who promised to teach him self-defense if he would do little things for them, like illegally downloading movies for them, and hacking their friends’ Facebook accounts. This is how Mitch became a hacker. Eventually, he got caught on a fairly minor offense, but the government agreed to let him off if he would start helping them instead. Now he tries to stay out of big-time hacking and makes a living as a freelance worker helping websites improve their security. Oh, and how does he annoy his mom? By spiking his hair, wearing guyliner, not having a “real” job, and never coming to family events, just to name a few.


Okay. So now we’ve got a character with a past and a personality. How can we grow a plot out of this? We’ve got quite a lot to go on. For a short light-hearted story, maybe his mom makes a big effort to get him to come to the family New Year’s party, using all kinds of tricks and persuasion. For a longer more intense story, maybe a bad guy tries to force Mitch to do some hacking work for him. Maybe the “bad guy” is a girl who kidnaps him to try to force him to hack something. Maybe she also has a crush on Mitch, but when she tries to make a move on him, his haphephobia flares up. Just brainstorm: use as many “what ifs” as you can!

Sub Antagonists



Say you’ve already got a good protagonist and antagonist and your main plot is shaping up. But, things are looking a little sparse. Maybe what you wanted to be a novel will only amount to a short story if you write it with the overly-basic plot you have now. If your plot is too simple, worry not, for there is a cheat: sub-villains!


Just having one fight with the villain doesn’t amount to much. Just think if Star Wars was about nothing but a kid who is told his father is Darth Vader, then fights him. There would not be enough time for character development, Luke wouldn’t gone through enough for his final battle to be triumphant and dramatic, and there certainly wouldn’t have been three movies.


Take The Lord of the Rings for example. Frodo and Sam had to get past all kinds of people trying to get the ring from them before they could have the final battle with Sauron and Gollum. This is a technique the Alex Rider series often utilized. There would be some sort of assassin or henchman that Alex had to get through before he could have the final battle with the villain himself.


Create a sub-antagonist you have to defeat before you can tackle the main antagonist. For example, before defeating the crime lord, have your protagonist have to get through the crime lord’s body gaurds. And remember, an antagonist doesn’t always have to be a person. For example, if your protagonist is battling a more abstract “villain” such as cancer, he or she may struggle to find funds for treatment before they can fight the cancer itself (I should note that some have argued that a disease cannot be an antagonist, but that is irrelevant to my point here).

Make conflict stacks, Russian doll plots: to get to one goal, they have to get through several other goals first. Make. Them. Suffer. Be a sadist. Give them a really, really bad day.

Example: your protagonist found the perfect girl, and his goal is to go to the coffee shop she works at, and ask her out. Simple, right? Not by the time we're done with him. Perhaps this is the last day he has to ask her out before she's gone forever, because he overheard her saying she had found a new job and is quitting the coffee shop this weekend. He decides he better ask her before it's too late. First, he gets a haircut to look as stylish as possible, but ends up getting the worst haircut of his life. Let's say he solves that by the masterful innovation of his sister, and he's all set to go to the coffee shop. Next, he realizes he left his car in a no-parking zone on the street outside his house, and it's been towed. But, he solves that by getting a taxi. The taxi gets caught in traffic. Time is running short. When he finally gets there, a car runs through a puddle, splashing all over him as he stands on the sidewalk. His shirt is ruined. He checks his watch, only a few minutes left until closing time. He runs to the clothing store, changes in the fitting room, and runs back to the coffee shop. Just as he enters, he sees the girl of his dreams hugging another man. He is silently devastated, until he overhears that it's her brother. Soon, he sees her getting ready to leave. Finally, it's his chance to ask her out. But, did I mention he's chronically shy? After he painfully stammers his profession of love, the girl finds him cute and says that yes she'd love to go out with him. The guy is ecstatic. It was all worth it. Now, all this doesn't just make the story longer, it makes it more interesting (in this case, somewhat comical as well) and the triumph more triumphant. The more misery your protag has to go through, the more happy we will be when he gets what he wants--or the more devastated we will be if he fails. So next time your plot seems too simple and boring, brainstorm every obstacle you can throw in your protagonist's way.

What is the Worst Thing That Could Happen to Your Character?



The emphasis in this sentence is on YOUR character. What is specifically bad for YOUR character. If the only friend your character has left is her sister, make that sister move away for college or a job. Oh, does your character get bullied at school? A perfect time to send him to live with the bully and his family for a week. Did her parents dies and now she has to take care of her younger brother but she worries she isn't doing a good enough job? Let's confirm those worries and get the younger brother into trouble for getting into fights. In this technique, it helps to think of opposites. If your character is a high-class movie star, send him to spend a week in a slum. If your character is a down to earth hermit who likes to sit home alone and read, send her on a road trip with a pretentious movie star.


Of course things like the death of a loved one or death of self are typically the WORST thing and can work well, but in order to be interesting, those things should be specific in some way to your character. Nearly everyone is upset when they lose their mom, but what is different about it for your character? Did he wish he would't have become estranged from her years ago? Was he dependent on her because she was the only one who understood him, and now he feels utterly alone? Does he deal with pain and loss in a unique way? Similarly, nearly everyone is upset to die. But why is YOUR character upset? Is it because he knows he won't live to see his sister's wedding next month? Because her best friend is going through depression and she worries her friend might commit suicide without her support?

On another note, don't always think that you have to do something terrible to your character to have an engaging story. People don't always have to die and become severely traumatized for an interesting story! Take for instance my character, Bart. He is the laziest college student you've ever seen. He is overweight, bribes others to do his schoolwork to get a passing grade, and does nothing but eat junk food and his own personal movie-watching-and-reviewing hobby. For him, the worst thing that could happen is losing his family, but the worst thing that could happen to him that is specific to his character would be being forced to get off the couch and work hard. So, to make Bart miserable, we could assign him a huge project at school, have his mom tell him that she'll cut off his funds if he doesn't start helping more around the house, or even send him to a work camp if we're feeling especially creative. The point is, we are putting the character in a situation that is unpleasant for him specifically, whereas another person might not mind much.

Have your protagonists solve the plot in a way that is unique to them.



We’re not here to see just any ole normal person solve their problems in a normal way. We’re here to watch your fascinating character do their thing, to see your creativity as an author. The method your protagonist uses to solve her problems is what reveals her character. For example, in the Star Wars prequels, Padme's first instinct is often diplomacy while Anakin's first instinct is fighting.


Remember Bart? The lazy guy? Say he got sent to that work camp. How would he solve that in a way that was unique to him? A regular person might try to work hard so the people in charge guards don’t start picking on him. But not Bart. Physical labor is not in his vocabulary. Bart would probably do the same thing he does with school assignments: barely scrape by, and somehow bribe or blackmail other people to do it for him. This is an example of how a protagonist approaches his dilemma in a way that is unique to and consistent with his personality.

Suggestions for Plot Elements:

Suffering: He gets a cold, she gets a life-threatening disease, his air conditioning goes out in the heat of summer, she can't get enough sleep.

A Want or Need: riches, fame, a good cup of coffee, money, medical care, a poison antidote, something to eat.

A Rescue: Your protagonist must rescue her brother from bullies, rescue his mom kidnappers, rescue her friend from financial troubles, or rescue his girlfriend from an awkward situation.

Detainment: This could have serious consequences if your protagonist's main goal is time-dependent. Maybe he is too polite to pull out if a conversation with a chatty old lady, her flight is canceled, or he gets kidnapped by the bad guys.

Revenge: This can be a powerful driving force, whether or not it is justified. Your protagonist could get revenge against the girl who bullied him in elementary school, the villain who killed her father, or the cousin that always made him feel inferior.

A Surprise Discovery: she finds old documents in the attic and discovers he's adopted. Or, more creatively, discovers her parents used to have different names. Were they secret agents? Criminals? Or maybe your protagonist discovers something about himself. Maybe he discovers he has special talent in some area, or she finds out she is blood-related to a group she always hated.

A Mentor: Add a mentor, then throw him out. Whether the mentor is in the form of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Brom, Yoda, Mr. Miagi, Gandalf, or the dance teacher, your protagonist much must learn something valuable from him. Mentors are a great tool for character development. Maybe your protagonist spends a lot of time ignoring the advice of the mentor, only to remember the mentor's profound teaching in the climax if the story. Additionally, getting rid if the mentor can be very traumatic for your character. He might not even know how to go on without his mentor. And remember, you don't always have to kill the mentor, maybe the mentor is called to a mission of her own, has to leave town for business, or gets into a fight with the protagonist and leaves in anger. Also, it's always great to have the mentor come back at a key moment, either physically, or in memory.

Psychological issues: Your protag doesn't have to be crack crazy to have some troublesome mental disorders. PSTD is a common one for action adventure characters, such as Tony Stark's stressful flashbacks in Iron Man 3. It's good to keep in mind that the character should have both external AND internal problems to deal with. In fact, sometimes she might have to fight more with her own mind more than anything else. For example, in Princess Diaries one of Mia's main problems was her own social awkwardness, inferiority complex, and fears about becoming a future queen. So, maybe your protag can't shake the feeling that maybe he was wrong about starting the revolution, that peace really is better than a chance for freedom, or is convinced she is not worthy of her love interest, or knows he has to fight a bully to protect someone but fears violence because he came from a violent home, or develops debilitating depression after her best friend dies at his side on the battle field. Note that mentors can be useful characters to help your protag either get over or cope with his psychological issues.

Note: remember that conflict doesn't always have to come from bad circumstances. For instance, if your protagonist comes into some luck, remember that there will always be the ones who either want to cash in on your his success or take his success away. A typical example, if your protagonists gets a cute boyfriend, maybe her old boyfriend wants to break them up, or or her best gal wonders if her new boyfriend has a tall dark best friend SHE could potentially have.

Useful Links:





Customizable generators: http://www.plot-generator.org.uk/