Archives for posts with tag: plot development

This post part of a series called “Don’t Do This” aimed at helping you avoid bad writing habits, identify and steer clear of the pitfalls of poor writing, and become the writer-communicator that people want to follow. (Because no one has arrived. And all of us can use platinum ideas, to be better at the craft of writing.)

It’s like a book online. Free. Bite sized, motivating, practical bits. You’ll like it because it’s all about what works, the how-to for an immediate increase in your writing effectiveness.

Get every word, catch the take-away to apply, and become a sharper writer, right now…
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“drive safe” and reasons.

It’s wintertime in Michigan. That means instead of saying, Have a great day! with a saccharine lilt, we say, Drive safe, with sober sincerity.

Michigan winters bring dangerous roads. Especially with the 193-car pile up yesterday on I-94 that killed people — a horrific event on both sides of the highway involving 76 semis, 117 cars, and a truck full of exploding fireworks. The phrase, drive safe, echoes everywhere.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate us. The crash-crazy event is on everyone’s mind. The reverberating WHOA, THAT WAS AWFUL skitters across social media.

Think writing, now.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate even the smallest phrases on the page. Everything you write must have a reason, a motivation, and a core to why it’s there. 

Because all quality, powerful, emotion-evoking and mind-changing words must exist for meaning’s sake. We simply cannot afford to use words for words’ sake. I know this sounds Duh! but we’re all guilty.

We’re in love with our own words. But we simply can’t be. You and I must Happily. Let. Go. No, I’m not going to burst into the Disney song, but I am going to say this:

For nonfiction writing,
the words you choose 
must
echo your
key intentions.
And…
For fiction writing,
the words you choose 
must
be saturated with
your characters’
 motivations.

Think about it.
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For anything nonfiction.
emails to blogs to books…
(Get this.)
Your goal is to write the most dynamic — and, yes, succinct — piece, with words chosen to equal the diamond of your idea. Forget the frills, the fluff, the foo — we need clear, purpose-filled words. Unless the words drive the reader to your point, you have to let them go (cue music). Edit. A lot. (Keep asking yourself, Do I really need this?) 

Wordsmith your ideas to get them to the bright, powerful meaning they deserve. Wordsmithing is a cool word, don’t you agree? Tell someone, I’m wordsmithing, and watch his or her face. Your wordsmithed ideas are the ones that  burn onto the page — and into the reader’s heart.

_____________________

For all forms of fiction.
short stories to screenplays to epics…
(Get this.)

In every scene — every paragraph — your character’s motivation is at work. Her reasons surface in her words, her movements, her choices. If it’s not surely tied into her reasons, her internal drives, then rewrite. Edit. A lot.

Wordsmith your ideas to get your story to the enticing, powerful movement with meaning —  burning onto the page and into the reader’s heart.
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Don’t do this:
Don’t fall in love with your words.
Be willing to toss words, lines, paragraphs, entire chapters with gusto.

Do this:
Be flexible — even joyous — at slicing, tossing, and shifting. Expect to reform your page with everything you write. Rarely — if ever — will you get the diamond the first time. Pros take heavy-duty machetes to the page.

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Don’t do this:
Don’t start writing without thinking deeply. 
As in jumping into an idea prematurely. He who fails to plan plans to fail. And he who swims in the idea pool with shallow waters doesn’t swim far.

Do this:
Write out your motivation.
* In nonfiction writing,
what response do you want the reader to have, after reading your work? You need a powerful phrase that nails the reader’s reason to read your work. In marketing terms, that’s your reader’s benefit. Have a driving benefit in mind before you write.

But how do you get to the on-fire benefit? 

Here’s how: Before you start, write a guiding phrase that states WHY someone would read what you write. Then write the action that you want your reader to take, at the end of reading your piece. Use that guiding phrase in all that you write. Keep it in front of you. For every paragraph. Every word. Seriously. Everything you write must be tied into that phrase.

* In fiction writing, every living creature in your story must have a clear and guiding motivation. So before you start, write them down — what drives every person to feel what he or she feels, to do what he or she does. Use motivations to guide all that you write. A.L.L. Keep the motivation in front of you. For every page. Seriously. Everything that your character does must be tied into that motivation.

You know, I was supposed to be on I-94 yesterday. Yes, at that exact time, in the exact place where the 193-car pile-up happened. Because of the poor weather, I changed my plans. I took drive safe as a serious, action-inducing motivation — a motivation that changed my behavior. And, boy, am I’m glad that I did.

Find your motivations. Use them.

Oh. And drive safe. Please.
Life is precious.

* Thup
coffee-oct2-14

Hey, friends. Check out my guest blog for James Prescott in the UK…

http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/blog/10-life-messes-part-1/

See you there.
* Thup
coffeeSept17-14

In fiction, to truncate time is to jump — or skip over — time in the story.

Authors truncate time because we readers don’t need to know every single minute in the character’s life.

Or every single hour. Or every single day. What the heck, we can skip whole months and years, if we want to, and the story goes on.

For example…

* The wet ropes kept slipping, so it took him about five minutes to wrap them around the ship’s metal bars…
* Within five hours, we’d broken down the sprawling camp and packed the two jeeps full…
* The next morning, even after the sun rose, it was still dark as the rain continued
* After five days of driving the reluctant horses across the dusty plains, we rested…
* It took five weeks for the party of twelve to cross the range…

(Okay, you might not get away with five weeks… but if you’re writing/reading a War-and-Peace-type-of-story-thingy, hey, it might happen.)

Truncating time is tricky.
You have to pick and choose the place of your time loss with thought. You have to choose your amount time loss with care.
(It has to make sense.)

In our personal lives, though, truncating time doesn’t make sense.

We have to go through things, good and bad.
We can’t skip the hard parts (even though we’d like to).

(Oh, how we’d like to.)

Pain happens.
Rejection.
Loss.
Death.

And it never comes at a time that’s convenient.

Instead of truncating the time, we go through it.
Minute by minute.
Hour by hour.
Day by day.
Week by week.
Month by month.
Until the bad has passed, and we are okay again, in a new now.

Yes.
We do get through.
The pain gets to be less.
We do find a new path, a new way.
(And it’s good.)

But in the middle, we wish for truncated time.

Think about those around you.
I bet you can be there for someone who wishes for truncated time.

And if you’re in the middle this,
of time you wish could be skipped,
reach upward and outward.
Find a way to give love. Because love, on any level, heals.
And healing takes time.

* Thup
coffeeJul7-14

At its base, art is about the complexity of life.

For example.
Sometimes, we as people are just not enough. We miss the mark of someone’s expectations. Always. At some point.
It’s the way it goes.

And when we’re not enough for someone.
They may ignore us.
They may turn on us.
(They may do both.)
Oh, people. So human. So flawed. So completely uugh sometimes.
(All of us.)

A few may extend grace. But that’s rare.
(unfortunately. so unfortunately. rare.)

Writers, in your story, your hero has to get to the place where he or she is not enough. He doesn’t meet expectations. He gives up.

In other words.
Nothing works.
Nothing matters.
(A moment of death.)

It’s the hero’s decisions at that point that make your story run its fingertip along the sand of humanity.

Story is complicated.
(So is life.)

Artists draw or paint it.
Photographers capture it.
Dancers express it.
Writers write it.

Perhaps that’s the way we, as a people, can deal.
As in understanding.
As in catharsis.
As in simply being human.
Through art. Creativity. Expression.

Humanity.

* Thup
coffeeJune21-14

Yes, I believe in success formulas.
They’re everywhere.
For just about everything.
(In work, life, and love.)

Okay. So if you want to be a successful writer (or creative artist),
read through to the end of this post.

Because writing has success formulas, too.
For instance…

* Look at Blake Snyder‘s Beat Sheet. Following Snyder’s formula, movies surge through the box office to pulse in our veins. We remember the movies: their meaning, their message, and how they made us feel.

* Look at Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and The Hero’s Journey. Following Campbell’s formulas, books surge through bestseller lists and into our cognitive and emotional pathways. We remember the journey, the challenges, and the characters like they’re our friends.

* And I believe that we’re hardwired for story –
hardwired to receive epiphanies, challenges, and emotional catharsis through story. Time after time, story captures and changes us.

You may not like formula, but it’s there.
And it works.

I sat in the movie theater two nights ago enveloped in The Edge of Tomorrowbreathing Blake Snyder’s beats, ticking them off one by one. And I loved it. The formula worked — the beats of story lined up perfectly. The opening image…the setup…the theme stated…the catalyst….right up to the mirrored closing shot. To me, the movie met all my expectations, and then some.

Expectations.
The operative word.
We go about life with expectations.
Some good, some bad.

Regardless, we like to have our expectations met.
The fulfillment of expectations brings certainty.

Tony Robbins names certainty (predictability) as one of our Six Human Needs. When we expect something, and it happens, we feel good.

As artists, we have to meet expectations…while also bringing freshness to the formula. We all know The Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day with a twist. Yep. Same concept. Same premise. Same players. Different setting and scenarios. How did the writers get away with it? They made the twist twisty enough.

(By the way, Robbins also says that we need uncertainty. Hence the need for the twist.)

The Formula vs. The Twist
How much do we stick to the formula? How much do we deviate from the formula (how much of a twist is too much)? I believe balance is learned, then practiced — to learn the skills of the formula, and then to know how much to push the artistry into difference, beyond the receiver’s expectations. It’s something we have to try out.

So.
Learn the formulas. Use the formulas.
Then, yeah, just get creating and see where it goes.
(Writers, WRITE.)
Push the formula. Then push it a little more.

Oh. And here’s an Aside Life Application (of course)
(You know me — loving life application):

Life truths (formulas) make for our lifestory’s success.
(Covey’s Law of the Farm is a formula to pay attention to.)
(Maxwell has Seven Laws.)
(Blanchard says we need to get to higher levels of interaction.)
(Goldsmith says our formulas work to a point, but we need to be careful to not let our formulas be our downfall.)
(And on and on. There’s no shortage of life truths and formulas.)

Ignore the life formulas, and you get way off track. Yeah. Bad.
So. Really. Get to the good. Get going, get learning. There are a lot of formulas ready for us, waiting for us.
Let’s. Use. Them.

They will save you (and me) from a lot of wrong thinking, hurtful actions, and pain that could have been avoided.

And. As we write today
(or draw today)
(or paint today)
(or take that photograph today)
(or whatever-create today),
may we know the formulas and use them.
(May the formulas be with you.)

Balance between formula (certainty) and twist (uncertainty) creates the best result.

* Thup
coffee white

PS. Here’s a list of Leadership Gurus with a lot of great formulas.
PPS. Okay, let’s not forget Zig Ziglar. Read or listen to him, and you’ll find success formulas growing all over the place.
PPPS. And, oh yes, Nick Vujicic‘s life truths. POWERFUL. Watch this.

Public service announcement:  Writers of fiction, this post is for you.

Warning:  Contains embedded content and conclusions for the Average Joe and Josephine’s life.

(Read on.)
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Mounded foam on my latte is good.
(No question about it.)
coffeeJune2-14

But are bubbles good?
coffeeJune3-14

I mean, both the latte and the black coffee came from reputable shops.
But somehow, the bubbles bug me.
I’m used to a smooth, black surface on my coffee.

Something doesn’t seem right.

Fiction writers, at the opening of your story, this is the feeling you want your reader to have.

Everything seems fine.
(There’s nothing bad happening, really.)
But something — just one little thing — is off.

It’s subtle.
But it’s there.
(trouble lurks)

Even on your first page, before all breaks loose, your hero’s Ordinary World has bubbles.

In my current story, I’m in the process of putting bubbles into the story. Story outline in hand, I’m deliberately placing (“planting”) little, bothersome pieces in earlier chapters that, if you’re really paying attention, simply don’t seem right. Later on, those plants give the reader an, oh! I get it! I knew something wasn’t right! confirmation (so he/she can pat him/herself on the back for “catching’ it).

Bubbles entice the reader, prepare the reader, and draw the reader further into the story’s web.

We should pay attention to bubbles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But in our lives, we often don’t pay attention to the bubbles. We pass over the bubbles, brushing them off as outlier thoughts with no impact on our lives.

Brushing off bubbles can be dangerous.

If something doesn’t seem right, paying attention might be the thing to do. (Just sayin’.)

I’ve been caught in bad situations because of not paying attention to bubbles.(Haven’t you?)

Sometimes premonitions give us warning (as in this article, on the possibility of a sixth sense).

(By the way, fiction writers, you can get away with creating premonitions in some stories. But back to reality….)

Bubbles are more than premonitions. They’re our brain catching inconsistencies. We simply need to pay attention. Because there’s something in our brains going on all the time, where the parts of the brain work together to signal, to alert us to potential danger.

Some call it gut instinct kicking in (even Oprah puts in her two cents on gut instinct). But there’s something more.

Referring to his bestseller, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell states, “When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.”

Those “instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.”

We notice the bubbles. Our brains are smart. But, then again, we can blow off the smart signals our brain is sending to us.

FBI, CIA, and Special Ops persons are trained to pay attention. They’ll be the first to tell you how much the Average Joe and Josephine miss, on a daily basis.

(By the way, I ADORE Joe Navarro’s book, What Every BODY is Saying: An ex-FBI Agent’s guide to speed reading people. Paying attention to body language is one way for us to notice bad-bubbles people. And as a writer, it’s full of practical description for us to “show, don’t tell” our characters.)

So.

While it’s cool for your main character to blow off the bubble-event or clue (it makes good story), in real life, blowing off the bubble-event or clue brings us trouble we could have avoided.

Sometimes we simply need to pay attention. Because though bubbles look harmless (and even fun), and we may brush them off as non-important, bubbles can spell danger.

If something in life seems off, we need to pay attention.
Don’t go on as if nothing’s wrong.
(Take care of yourself.)

* Thup

 

There are three kinds of out that shake up our lives.

Out of commission.
At some point in time, all of us are thrown out of commission. We’re absent: either slipped out or torn out of what used to be.

We face challenges, trials, and off-the-grid events that pluck us from “normal life” (whatever that was). And the new day-to-day that results, in this intermediary land of out of commission, is downright weird. Bizarre. Unsettling.

Some pull back. Some lash out. But no one stays the same.
(All have some kind of response.)

Outside the norm.
At some point in our lives, we get a jolt: Something that we thought was okay is not.

We face new challenges, new ideas, and in-the-face reactions that spin us into “fresh perspective” (whatever that is). And the new day-to-day glimpse at the nuances of this revealed life, in the land of outside the norm, is downright disassociating.

Some pull back. Some lash out. And some reject the jolt — and stay the same. They avoid change, purposefully or by default (ignoring).
(And, someday, the jolt will rise up again…most likely, worse.)

Out from under.
At some point in our lives, if we’re lucky or blessed or smart enough, we realize we’re free to choose how to respond. No one can make us (on the inside) think or believe anything. And no one can make us (on the outside) react in any way. No matter how an event presents itself in our lives, we alone create the meaning of the event. We frame an idea, and our perspective comes on the heels of our beliefs. Our actions, then, follow.

No doubt: We’ll face people, places, and events that challenge.  But (again, if we’re grown-up enough), try-as-they-might, those events (or people) won’t be able to push us down, hold us back, or mold us into something we’re not. And the new freedom, in this fresh understanding of how we are free to choose our response — no matter what happens — is downright grace-filled.

Knowing when to change and when to stand in your boots is the definition of wisdom.

Authors. Screenwriters. Storytellers of any kind.
These are the realizations that your Hero goes through, in story.

Your Hero will be thrust out of commission. He will be pushed outside the norm. He will be faced with ideas and actions and decisions that make him question his core. I hope. And, at some point he will emerge, out from under someone else’s indictments. I hope. Because “out” is part of the character’s arc.

(It’s in our arc that we grow.)

* Thup
CoffeeMar13-14

“Plan B”
Just the sound of it rings disappointment.
(“This is SO not what I wanted.”)

Your Hero will face Plan B.
(He will want Plan A, and Plan A will fall through.)

He will struggle.
He will doubt himself.
He will question his decision making.
If he made a mistake, forcing Plan B into his life, he will beat himself up a little bit.
(This is what we do in real life.)

This is all good.
(in story)

So, yeah,
when your Hero is faced with Plan B, all is not peachy-keeny.
Give him angst.
Bad dreams.
Anger.
Depression.

And, finally, resolve.
(Firm resolve, to make Plan B work.)

Because we all face Plan Bs, and it’s good to have a Hero who’s like us.

Oh. And, by the way.
When I face Plan B, pull up the bootstraps, and walk forward,
it’s nice to have friends nearby.
(Do you feel that way, too? I thought so.)

So give your Hero a friend.
To listen.
To nod.
To simply be there.
(Or to play a big role.)

Support.
Care.
Love.
(That’s what being together in the big, messy world is all about.)

* Thup
coffeeMar5-14

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try,
you can’t hide it.
The everyday camouflage isn’t working.

Like this.
coffeeMar1-14
(“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”)
<<Pay no attention to the scone beneath the lid.>>

Who are we fooling?

Writers.
In good story, your Hero’s shoving down the Capital-P Pain.
In good story, your Hero thinks he’s okay.
He thinks he has this handled.
(“No worries. It’s not that bad. I’m okay.”)

But we all know.
<<he’s not okay>>

If our Hero doesn’t take care of whatever it is,
it’s all going to come crashing down.
(As I always say, good for story, bad for real life.)

We all have things we hide,
under the big bad umbrella of Capital-P Pain.

People walk all around us, sit next to us, talk to us…
(maybe it’s even us)…
All trying to cover up Hidden Pain.

What Hidden Pain is your Hero trying to cover up?
(And what-cup-lid-circumstance is he trying to put on top,
but it isn’t big enough?)

Write that.
That’s your character motivation. That’s your character arc.
Maybe that’s even the root of your plot twist.
(Pay attention to the man behind the curtain.)

Oh. And, friend.
We all carry Capital-P Pain. Yours. Mine. Ours.
Pulling back the curtain and looking it in the eye
is a good thing.
(Don’t let it get you. You’re bigger than that.)

* Thup

This morning,
the blinds in the reflection in my cup aren’t really wavy.

Look carefully at the picture below.
(The reflection distorts reality.)
coffeeFeb19-14
Too many times, we reflect distorted thinking to others.
The reflection looks real. But it’s not.

Let me explain.

Events happen. (good and bad.) We see, hear, and feel the event.
But then we interpret the event. We give the event meaning.

The meaning may be true.

Or, because it’s filtered through a reflection of our thoughts, the “picture” in our minds might be distorted. Not real. False.

Distorted thinking messes with us.
Distorted thinking makes something that’s straight look bent.

Writers.
Your Hero has some distorted thinking, doesn’t he?

He goes through an event, interprets the event (“What meaning does this have to me?”) and comes back with an idea.

Make it a wrong idea.
(ooh.)

The best story-grabbing-can’t-put-the-book-down happens when the reader KNOWS that the idea is wrong, but the Hero DOESN’T KNOW that the idea is wrong.

Our Hero heads out and on his merry way and, all the while, we readers start waving our hands and shout, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t go that way!”

The Hero’s distorted thinking disturbs us.
(And it should.) Because when you let readers in on the distortion, it HOOKS them in. (YEAH! Exactly.)

But.
In real life.
Drop the distortions.

No one wants that kind of drama.
(Think Straight. Get to the truth.)

Don’t let distorted thinking get the best of you. Because, if you reflect the distortion into your relationships, it can destroy them.
(sobering)

(Good for story. Not good for real life.)

* Thup

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