[Repost] Blake Snyder Beat Sheet ….(along other things like Kathryn’s book)

Because I need to catch up with revising my manuscript — I was sucked into a reading frenzy (love HAVING a good book do that to me), I am going to share one of the blog posts I found to help simplify story structure. While there are many good writing books about structure, I’ve never seen a “cheat sheet” incorporate theme and a B story so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Oh, if you are wondering what book put me behind (it’s outside my usual genre but the story grabs at a soul level and paints motion in a way I’ve never experienced before), it would be the recently released Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft.





The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is the best plot structure template I’ve come across.

It breaks down the three-act structure into bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your overall story.

See my review of the Save the Cat books by Blake Snyder (where the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet originated), and buy the book. It’s a great resource!

Below is an explanation of each beat. Please see how it works with graphic novels by visiting Graphic Novel Story Structure. Thanks!


Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.

Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.

Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.

Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.

Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.

Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.

B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.

The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.

Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.

Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.

All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.

Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.

Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.

Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!

Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.


Hero’s Journey picture used from http://paperhangover.blogspot.com/2011/06/writing-101-story-circle.html

(REPOST) The Why of Weapons: The Great Sword of War

This is a fabulous well-researched piece on weaponry. (Definitely online with the avoiding the four-door horse, I’ll explain later. Anyway, I wanted this both at my fingertips and to share it. Hope you enjoy!

Mythic Scribes
Fantasy Writing Community


2014-01-25 13:40:20-05
The Why of Weapons: The Great Sword of War
This article is by Joseph Malik.

Today I’m going to discuss an underrepresented weapon in fantasy, although it was likely the single greatest casualty-producing weapon on the medieval battlefield until the development of the longbow.

A Gran Espée de Guerre by Michael “Tinker” Pearce. (www.tinkerswords.com)

It’s a sword. It’s arguably the sword. It’s the Oakeshott Type XIIIa great sword of war, referred to as a gran espée de guerre.

Calling it a sword is something of a misnomer, as it was really a demolition tool that happened to be sword-shaped.

Weighing between two and three pounds, a gran espée de guerre typically had a wide 30- to 40-inch blade, six to ten inches of handle, and a spatulate tip built to shatter bones and wreck armor. This sword was typically not ornate. Soldiers didn’t trick out their grans espées de guerre because construction workers don’t trick out their shovels.

The gran espée de guerre is often called a “greatsword,” and is often incorrectly referred-to as a “two-handed sword.” It is, in point of fact, a sword intended to be used with two hands but it works just fine with one. Assuming that your hero can get a hand around it, of course. (Halflings, Hobbits, Kender, gnomes, and dwarves, you can just leave now. We’ll catch up with you in a few articles when we get to the saxe.)

Despite frequent depictions in historical literature and art, fantasy authors often overlook the gran espée de guerre, going instead for either the two-handed Type XX, the Scottish Claymore, or something equally monstrous (bigger, of course, is always better).

Eddard Stark rockin’ a true “Two-Handed Sword,” an Oakeshott Type XX. The Type XX is a descendant of the Type XIIIa, and came into use a few hundred years later as a raised middle finger to knights in full harness. (HBO Entertainment)

In fact, the greatsword is so widely misrepresented, and apparently so misunderstood, that a Google search for “greatsword” returns this in the first ten results:

Ah, yes. The medieval greatsword. History is awesome. (monsterhunter.wikia.com)

And this:

You will put so much more than an eye out with that thing. (skreems.deviantart.com)

The gran espée de guerre was a professional soldier’s primary weapon from about 1100-1350 AD, the sweet spot of the Dark Ages where a lot of authors choose to place their fantasy milieus. For nearly three hundred years, it was the greatest casualty-producing weapon – maybe not the killing-est, but the hurting-est – and consistently the weapon that would get its wielder off a field in one piece.

Then, as now, soldiers used what they used because it worked at the time. Let’s look at why.

The gran espée de guerre was heavier than a longsword, not as deadly sharp as an arming sword, and not as task-specific as a true two-handed sword like the Claymore. It combined many different facets of metallurgy and physics to produce perhaps the ultimate hand-to-hand combat weapon of its day.

To understand this, you first need to understand that armored combat is not fencing. Nor is it tightly-regulated re-enacted historical competitive combat you see at the (insert historical society of your choice) Faire. It’s not even close. Sword-shield-sword-shield-bam-bam-bam makes for a fun sport, but the myriad safety considerations of sport combat reduce you to a hideously small range of options that, on a battlefield, would get you murdered in short order.

Hand-to-hand armored combat – whether it’s in helmets and hauberks or modern IOTV’s – is a matter of wearing your opponent down until he no longer presents a threat. Period. In advanced military combatives, where we learn to engage opponents in heavy body armor, we train to throw, sweep, stomp, choke, lock, and break bones. You engage and neutralize the threat. And you do it with a degree of abandon because your body is not merely protected in armor; it’s weaponized.

Trends and customs come and go, but the basis of physical combat has not changed. Medieval armored combat, like modern armored combat, was a matter of trying to break the other guy apart inside his armor between weapon strikes.

And that brings us to armor.

Your character is not going to cut someone in half through his armor. That’s why armor existed. If anything in the day could cut through armor easily, people wouldn’t wear it. That has not changed throughout history. (If you run up against a weapon that you know for certain will compromise your armor, you leave. That, also, has not changed throughout history.)

Armor has always sucked. It sucked for the Etruscans. It sucked for the Romans. It sucked for the Norse. It sucked for the Mongols. It sucked for Harold and his armies. Even our modern armor in today’s military – the Interceptor and the IOTV and even the Dragon Skin back when we could use it – sucks. Soldiers wear armor, and have always worn armor, despite the fact that it sucks; we wear it because it works. I’m a professional soldier. If I knew I was going into a fight where my armor wasn’t going to matter, believe me, I would leave it in my tent. Any soldier would.

Armor works.

Check that. Most armor works. (Second Life)

A different avenue to threat neutralization was to wreck your opponent’s armor to the point where he either had to retreat for his own safety, or where he could no longer fight effectively because all his broken armor was hampering his mobility. The gran espée de guerre was designed for this. It might not kill an opponent, but it would neutralize him, and that was plenty.

Steel was prohibitively expensive at the time the gran espée de guerre was in use, so most armor was made of iron. Look up the shear steel process and then imagine making a suit of armor from it. Go on; I’ll wait.

Having a suit of steel armor in 1100 AD would be like driving a car made of hammered gold today.

Armor from 1000-1300 AD was primarily iron mail, with reinforced areas of wrought iron, cuir boulli, and, very occasionally, steel. (The full field harnesses we saw in pseudo-historical-fantasy atrocities like John Boorman’s Excalibur didn’t come about until a couple of hundred years after the gran espée de guerre had outlived its usefulness, at which point the massive Type XX greatsword was giving their wearers a run for their money.)

Sword edges around this time period were made of steel, typically welded onto iron spines. Steel is harder than iron, but iron has flexibility and impact resistance, called ductility, that steel lacks. The flexibility of an iron spine meant that your sword wasn’t as likely snap in half while you were beating someone up with it.

In order to make a flexible blade that still had sharp edges, the Europeans – and the Romans before them – welded steel edges onto iron spines. There were other ways to come up with a workable result, but welding was the most convenient and cost-effective solution, and it must have worked because it’s how people made swords and tools for over a thousand years.

A broken-back saxe blade by Jeroen Zuiderwijk, moderator at swordforum.com. Note the weld line along the edge where the steel is folded into the iron. Historically-accurate swords would have a line like this along each cutting edge.

A carbon steel edge will bite into iron the way a diamond will bite into glass. The gran espée de guerre coupled this differential in hardness with a peculiar type of edge geometry: a stout edge with a bevel that made it functionally less like a kitchen knife and more like a splitting maul. This was not a particularly sharp edge by any definition that you’d recognize today. It would not shave you, nor part a dropped silk scarf like a katana, nor do any of the other magically-sharp stuff that a hero’s sword always seems to do in fantasy novels. In point of fact, you’d have to punch the edge of the sword to cut yourself on it.

No, seriously.

The reason you don’t use a “sharp” sword against armor is that sharpness, in simplest terms, is reduced drag. Reduced drag results from a combination of edge bevel and sectional density. In order to make an edge razor-sharp, you have to file down the edge until it is quite thin. This makes for a long bevel with a very shallow slope (authentic swords didn’t have secondary bevels the way modern kitchen knives do). This is the edge you find on a straight razor, and it is ridiculously delicate. Straight razors are honed with a leather strop, literally aligning the molecules.

If you slam an edge that delicate against plate iron, you will make a useless spot on the blade. (If you drop a straight razor onto a marble countertop, you can destroy it.) This is why I sigh inwardly every time I read fantasy works where the hero has a super-sharp battlesword and he’s cleaving badguys in twain, armor and all, as if it’s a lightsaber. He’d hack through about two and a half mooks before his sword became a metal cricket bat.

However, a gran espée de guerre, with its beefy edge and trick bevel on five or six feet of moment arm – arm’s length, plus blade – would sink its teeth into iron. It may not compromise the armor – it may not even draw blood – but that didn’t matter.

Stick with me on this.

The primary function of armor is not to stop a weapon, but to redirect it. Armor does this by either absorbing a weapon’s energy, or by glancing the weapon off a curved surface such as a cop, a plate, or a helmet.

Driven against an iron or cuir boulli surface, the beveled edge of a gran espée de guerre bites and transfers the full force of the blow instead of skipping off. A gran espée de guerre might not penetrate an iron helmet, but it would make a dent you could rest a cantaloupe in. That’s the kind of injury that sidelines a guy for days, if it doesn’t leave him drooling and twitching for the rest of his life.

Against a hauberk or byrnie, the gran espée de guerre transmits far more kinetic energy than other weapons of the time. The trick bevel not only damages the mail but carries the impact to the padding beneath. It hits like a crowbar, breaking bones under repeated blows before all but the finest mail falls away in tatters.

This has a lot to do with blade harmonics and center of effort, as well. If you look at the Type XIIIa . . .

Mmmm. Just look at it. It doesn’t mind. Go on and look.

. . . the ideal point of impact, where the main focus of the mass comes together, is just past the end of the fuller. The fuller serves to lighten the sword. Yet the tip of a Type XIIIa is built heavy. The weight is carried forward for the same reason that Abrams tanks fire rods and not big bullets: for maximum penetration, you want to stack mass behind the impact. The Type XIIIa is amazing for its concentration of effort. It is an engineering miracle, considering the time period.

A full-speed blow from a gran espée de guerre wouldn’t kill you in sturdy armor, but you’d be done for the day. A hit to the chest or back – or even a heavy blow driving the edge of your shield against your helmet – would leave you out of breath and seeing pink-and-purple Rorschach tests everywhere for a few minutes, and you would probably have to be carried off the field.

That’s what the gran espée de guerre brought to the fight: BAM. “You’re done.” BAM. “You, too.” BAM. “I can do this all day.”

Up until now, we’ve discussed using the gran espée de guerre on foot. Brandished from horseback, it was a slate-wiper.

If you were a professional soldier – a knight or well-paid mercenary, as opposed to a conscripted mook with a spear and a linen jack – you brought home big bucks swinging this monster on the field, sending badguys home one after the other to get their armor fixed.

It was a “Great Sword of War.” A war sword.

The war sword.

The weapon is not undefeatable. You can counter a greatsword by engaging with a gran espée de guerre of your own, or bum-rushing the wielder with five or six of your buddies and taking him down. Ideally, you’d use a combination of both. One or two of you are going to get injured or maimed in the process, though, and generally the caliber of military discipline required for such a stunt didn’t exist back then. So if you were wielding this sword on a battlefield, you’d find that things were pretty much going your way most of the time.

Soldiers carry weapons that get them off the field in one piece. That hasn’t changed since the days of living in caves and fighting with rocks and sticks. The gran espée de guerre is a weapon that did exactly that, yet it’s criminally underrepresented by authors who haven’t given a lot of thought to why their heroes carry the weapons they do.

There’s your why.

Your fantasy writing doesn’t have to be historically or physically accurate. But when you start digging into the history and physics of weaponry, you can come up with some interesting springboards for your own writing. Consider the gran espée de guerre and then look at your hero’s sword.

Most of all, have fun. And write, dammit.

Why do your characters carry the swords that they do?

About the Author:

Joseph Malik is one of the authors of The Syria Policy Playbook. He has worked as a stuntman, a high-rise window washer, a freelance writer, a computational linguist, a touring rock musician, and a soldier in U.S. Army Special Operations. He currently serves in the Army Reserve and consults for infrastructure development projects in areas of ongoing geostrategic concern. His blog on writing and fighting can be found at m-j-malik.blogspot.com.

See Also:

Medieval Archery for Fantasy Writers
Medieval Armor – A Primer for Writers
Ask Me About Swords

2014-01-26 17:02:16-05
Fantasy Writing Discussions January 27, 2014
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a question from other people
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Wrangling Interconnectiveness…Or No, We’re Not All Going To Get Along


The world and its events are interconnected now perhaps more than any other time in history and it is remembering this interconnectedness which helps drive a good story plot and produce believable character development.

I’m going to bring up one of my groups I spend many predominately non-writing hours (Predominately because I do use it occasionally for research and ideas). This group is called the Society of Creative Anachronism or SCA. Okay…so what is it and why is it important?

Well, it is an international nonprofit group stretching throughout North America, Europe, Austalia, etc. and strives to recreate the best of the medieval world from the fall of Rome until around 1650. The people recreate, train, research and play with the various disciplines from combat (this it the place I fence) to the finer arts such calligraphy, leather working, brewing, costuming, and countless other application of things.

A fantastic group which I will now use as an example. This anachronistic band of tens of thousands find themselves competing with computerized game systems and battling the affect of rising gas prices which is bringing a trend of declining membership coupled with the need for a fresh infusion of new blood.

There is a current discussion going on on how to fix this. I bring it up just to show outside influences bring effect whether you want it or not.

There are no isolated happenings as I discovered when I moved from high school ‘point in time’ history with its focus on date memorization and no real context to – POW – college with viewing happenings in its much larger format. Such as ….What was happening politically? Economically? What was happening in the popular mindset? What other events had just gone down? What were the fears? The hopes?

These are great tools where you can even theorize and project probable happenings in today’s near future.

You might ask what does this have to do with writing?


Unless you have put them there, how many protagonist live on a deserted island? Who and what have influences on them? Do you know why?

To back up just a little, my story is set in an approximate 14-15th century European-like setting which means I’ve considered styles of communication, the sciences, economics, faiths, popular mindsets, etc. I have gone through bouts of analyzing every story thread to wrangle every drop of influence to cavalierly striding forward while muttering that the reader doesn’t need to know ‘that’ so perhaps I won’t have to either.

I’m closer to admitting it’s a real art form identifying all the important influences to a character or a situation because words on the page not only paint things directly but it swirls with subtle undercurrents as well.

Going forward now. As I’ve been working on my manuscript, I’ve had an interesting time figuring out how my characters get from one marker to the next, shuffling through what is truly important to the story and what is superfluous, and also what to reveal when. Part of this learning curve is my insanity of not writing one complete book as my first one but an epic series. (I’m choosing not to include the bad novelette I wrote when I was much younger about the runaways living in hidden apartments in the sequoias).

Anyway, this week, as I have been going through major revisions…I was able to identify where my protagonist’s love interest’s story arc felt incomplete.

(Yes, it was in the middle…imagine that)

Well, I’m happy with the set-up, pleased with the ending, enjoy the suffering he (Mathias) faces, and even happy with his external conflict with the leader of this Mithraic religious group and the puzzle and battles with the wererats but there was a point where Mathias just disappeared. I couldn’t even feel his pulse which was weird because I know I hadn’t killed him.

Well, Mathias (or his corpse) wasn’t talking nor any of his buddies or enemies or even his pegasus so I said fine. I decided to go back and look at his family history.

I went on location to one of the prettier rooms in my local library and sat down with my various timelines. I figured out all the people who are his most important/influential (good and bad)…parents, friends, enemies… and delved into what probably happened to him in his younger life along with the mindsets of his most influentials and why did they have them.

It was exciting and grueling…if you haven’t experienced this weird combination you can opt to shake your head…but I ended up with some real diamonds.

I now totally understood Mathias’ mindset of why he is extremely hesitant to admit love, why when he feels the pull of “more than attraction” he flees and why it continuously haunts him.

I’m excited about revising certain scenes this week because I have the tools to make them stand out and not just Mathias (POV character 2) is more 3-dimensional and he gave up some important secrets. This exercise also showed me unexpected interconnectedness with my protagonist, Aunia, and my third POV character, Wendalin.

Anyway, Happy Writing to you all! And please feel free to share what exercises you might be using to get to the most important interconnectedness in your stories.

What can Fairy Tales Teach Us?

20140118-010133.jpg Fairy tales. I, like so many others through the ages have had these first stories dig deep into my heart, first by the “hearings” and now by the “tellings.” (‘Fore fairy tales ARE meant to tell and not necessarily made to show) Cinderella, Rapunzel, Blue Light, Little Tin Soldier, The Frog Prince… well maybe not the Little Match Girl, that one always makes me cry but the story still resides in my library as much as the others. Dark tales, that’s what fairy tales were before they were sanitized.

Perhaps this modernization has lead those not actually familiar with the tales to think the fairy tale world is all light and fluff. They weren’t. Even as a child, I never wanted to actually STAY in that world. Are you kidding me? The risk of being eaten or murdered, mutilated, beheaded, incinerated, neglected, abused or other unpleasant things were quite high. These lands have places where you might be required to slice off your own pinkie finger in order to finish a ladder to reach your beloved… and if you were naughty you could have your eyes pecked out or made to dance in iron shoes. How many young princesses lost their voices for years while watching, usually their brothers, be transformed into beasts or fowl? However, in fairy tale land the payoff IF you survive and you are GOOD and a little lucky, then you got a happy ever after…supposedly without any post trauma stress disorder syndrome.

What magic do these dark creations with its cookie-cutter protagonists and antagonists, woven with repeated thematic story lines have? And why do they work?

Is it because they bear a message, perhaps a moral, and offer children a means to problem solve and build emotional resiliency? Well, you can easily google studies that will point affirmatively that these dark tales work in a child’s psyche as a means to explore the dangerous and the distressing in a reasonably safe environment. I mean, the big bad wolf does not usually leap from the book to get you, does he? And the reader, a child or perhaps an inner child or two, will experience (through the story) that by being good, kind, and clever you usually can find a way to overcome the obstacles even if truly horrific things are happening such as parents abandoning you in the woods, having to throw a fake good samaritan who had wowed you with a candy house into the oven to protect yourselves from the slaughter, or discovering your husband has been keeping his murdered wives up in the room he’s forbidden you to go in.

See dark tales… Interesting fact. When things get too sanitized and say the witch doesn’t die at the end of Hansel and Gretel children have more nightmares. Why? Well, the witch is still out there…and that’s frightening. The story you see is not yet complete and add a child’s fertile imagination… Begs the question, as a reader yourself, do you get frustrated with stories with loose ends or do you like it that way so you can keep imagining?

These stories also work MOST…. (writers cue for attention) …because they represent the building blocks of archetypes. Characters, story quests and setting itself are all archetypes. After all there are probably dozens if not hundreds of Snow White story versions told throughout the world. Same character, same quest with only minor differences. How many stories are in a castle? In a child’s room? Or in the woods? If I say Rupunzel do you immediately think tower and loneliness and the Three Little Pigs do you feel a big breath and the foolhardiness of building with substandard materials?

Does this mean I’m suggesting the story you’re writing should be able to be plugged into a Grimm’s or Hans Christian Andersen tale? I would hope not…or at least not usually. And I’ll explain why in the next paragraph. But the case is… people are hardwired for stories and these fairy tales make up an important part of our “cultural language.” The wisest course would appear to use archetypes’ skeletons and then flesh it and dress it into our own story’s uniqueness because using aspects of the archetypes taps into that soul deep communication.

But it’s important to remember in fairy tales much is missing… for example, when Little Red Riding Hood is entering her grandmother’s house we don’t know if the basket feels heavy in her hand, or if she really picked the flowers along the path or she just pretended and took a nap, or if she waved to the woodcutter on the way because he was related on her dead father’s side or ignored him because he smelled like garlic. We don’t know if she was afraid of the wolf or if he reminded her of her first puppy which her mother made her give away. We don’t even know if she’s hoping her grandmother will give her a huge hug and a new hood. But in fairy tales it doesn’t matter because these details can be added or changed at a whim. What’s important are the main elements like… grandmother what big ears you have..what big teeth you have. Can you imagine how many of us could get plopped into a fairy tale’s archetypical spot and the tale would proceed with little change.

Hence the fleshing and dressing… For example, what happens if Red is a teenage boy, or the location is the moon or Red is really a werewolf herself? These would be in the making for a probable interesting twist to an archetypical story. Also bear in mind, traditional fairy tales are stories at the simplest level. They bear no subplots or subtexts. They could be likened to mother’s milk, nourishing but eventually we grow to need bread and meat.

The most important thing in a story though is to be able to make that connection with the audience…to have them take away something, some sort of emotional experience one gains by journeying with the protagonists and experiencing the changes and revelations along the way. After all, plot is a series of events but story…that is what happens, the affect and changes on a person as the events unfold.

Well, fairy tales contain “story” by having the reader project much of him or herself into the hero/archetype. We imagine Hansel and Gretel are thrilled when they find their way home and are reunited with a now presumable loving father, that Cinderella is happily married since she’s out of poverty with someone who treats her well, that Red is grateful to be rescued from the belly of the wolf and will be more careful about strangers, or at least the toothy kind, but gets to live happily ever after with her grandmother…or even that the one-legged tin soldier had a brief bittersweet moment of happiness when he realized the toy ballerina loved him enough to join him in the flames. We get all this by how we would feel in those situations.

This may suggest that to create the greatest emotional reach to our audience we should create just enough of an elegant skeleton so our reader will project their own emotions through our characters. It bears consideration. After all, I don’t think I’m the only who finds it difficult to get into stories which leaves me unemotionally moved.

What are your thoughts?

The Pen….Psychologist’s Couch or Pom-Poms?

20140111-103434.jpgIs it better for a writer to be a therapist for his or her protagonist or for the villain?

Seems like an easy thing to fall into…. you know… be a therapist by harvesting all these juicy emotions and situations where real life turns on its ear and the emotional fall-out needs some sort of silver lining. Savor a bit of that “doctor, heal thyself” mentality. After all, emotional coin is what’s needed to purchase a character’s fleshing-out. You know, pump the air into a flat character.

And We can monitor their development. But we cannot be kind.

Instead we can note how throwing barriers and frustrations against our characters cause them to react and evolve. Yeah. I suppose a therapist is out of the question. Storytellers should be psychologists albeit sadistic ones. Yes? And then the characters clam up when we “pop them on the couch.” Guess they have our number –oh reason number 5 for writer’s block.

How to get the characters talking again… I know. Change of venue…perhaps storytellers do best from hanging out in their villain’s lair knocking back a few drinks with the big bad laughing at the situation the naive/stupid/pretentious protagonist is in and what he/she doesn’t know. Perhaps we, the storytellers can drop in and gossip with the minions to get the drop on what a real mental case they think super-villain is BUT the payout will be better than their meager lives would be otherwise. Maybe we would pop over and commiserate with our protag’s sidekick about how poorly things are going with her friend, Protagonist wonderful, and remind her she may be neglecting her own life. I suspect by the time we get back to our protag we can revel in the feeling of being a two-faced backstabber who is sure to cause conflict on every page.

Does this mean we’re more like scientists not only observing the human equation but holding experiments? Interesting thought. We could invite all the cast to an impromtu happy hour and take note who socializes with who, who avoids who, who confronts who, who flirts with who and who hides in the corner. What happens in no-crap situations like if romantic interest gets hit with the tab or bartender hands villain a box of kittens.

(What would be the takeaway for an exercise like this?) A stronger idea who your characters are, who they want the world to believe they are, what their failings are, what their strengths are, and what the optimal change would be. We’d know how each one would react to disappointment, frustrations, hairy situations AND also how they react to each other. We would have already put thought into why they do what they do. We could inform other storytellers that no one reacts in a vacuum, there are reasons for what the characters are doing for all to see and it doesn’t always jive with what they are feeling inside their skins. (See, this is great for making for external/internal conflict.)

And one more exercise dear social scientist for dissecting the psyche. Have you considered how you have changed in the last year, five years, 10 years. What was your turning point? Your spouse’s? Your parents? Your best friend? Afterall, how your protagonist and other POVs evolve are critical to story so why not grab some real life inspiration?

I’ve been working on various ideas on how to further flesh out my story, make it real, and while the process is exciting I can’t get over the other idea of why stories are important. It isn’t just for the creative outlet but it is to connect with others. I, like many others, want to make an impact, to help/inspire/guide in some way. And that happens if and when we can touch a reader who can relate to our protagonist. Perhaps we can help generate the thought ‘If protagonist extraordinaire could get through xyz then maybe I can too.’ Or perhaps we can generate the desire to do better than protagonist unlucky by causing the reader to think “I can do better than that with my life” by seeing what NOT to do.

So I’m going to wager this — storytellers are not the therapists for society but more like the mentors and cheerleaders (or doomsayers). We find a way to connect without being preachy and we can change the world.

What’s your thoughts?

Organizing the muse

Face it… to be creative is to be chaotic even if your muse follows more to a plotter’s dance than a pantser’s one and it’s great BUT what happens at the end of the day when you’re holding a giant ball of snarled creativity aka your beloved manuscript and wonder despondently how you will unsnarl the tangled story threads into a neat but still dynamic semblance of greatness. You know, villian B commits atrocity C because sidekick W ran off with family member 3 but only because Plot line yellow was rising and caused Protag almighty to realize desire to discover 7x was groomed because descendant of family member 3 is helping Villian B to destroy…. And protag’s inner desires is to be the savior of area terminal because family member 4 stood by while family 3 ran off and did nothing causing protag to be less confidant in… but protag’s strengths are…. but villian…. This conflict leads to this interaction leads to this conflict leads to internal upheaval to Villian A leading to external upheaval of area terminal but Protag is distracted by shadow elusive pitching….. And why did family member 3 run off in the first place? Is it relevant?

Exciting when the snarls as they untangle lead to unexplored juicy areas or ring with that a-ha! “This so works” moments but then again, how does it feel when the poor muse has drifted away causing or perhaps instead lending to the pulsing super writer mind flattening into the “I’m so fried, it hurts” crispy brain.

This loop has continued to astonish, excite and infuriate me again and again. I’ve walked away disgusted and discouraged and find myself back at it again but with more tools under my belt.

Tool #1: An excel spreadsheet of scenes. I found the format too rigid and I got lost in who, where, how. However, it did let me plot the first draft,

Tool #2: Snowflake Method. Great method by the way. If you want to know more about this technique visit http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/ Got a more cohesive idea of the general shape of the story but writing less words for me, for some insanely torturous reason that escapes me, is harder than writing more. Plus I have this problem with delayed instant gratification.

Tool #3: Timeline. This helped me a lot and I use this ALL the time. I don’t have to write linearly but it is easier to know what is going on by knowing what happened linearly. This was one of the tools I learned from James N. Frey workshop. For those who don’t know, he’s the author of the “How to Write The Best Damned…” book series, I have a timeline for overview of everything and then timeline for each main character. This timeline has also helped me with figuring out external and internal desires for my main characters which goes into my….

Tool #4: Character documents. These docs, which I keep on Evernote, allows me to free associate when one of the characters decide to divulge something to me and I don’t have a place to put it on a timeline. This snippets and nuggets sometimes show up while I’m writing as improved fleshing out of characters on page and creating better conflict, flashbacks, subtext, etc. It is a loose format that my creative side likes without getting lost on a scrap of paper and me wailing….where did that go? Or worse, forgetting a really good idea.

Tool #5: The Add-In document. This one came about because I was looking to refine keeping track of the boiling down, pumping up micro-tension revisions. Many of us know we need to look at each scene with what the protag wants most in the whole world — externally and internally, what ideas/actions/characters/situations can be combined, what can be sheared, what needs to be added, etc. But my question continually turned up as “how do you keep all those ideas straight and accessible when a free flowing story thread presents itself AND moves off the page you’re working on through various chapters?” And this is when the Add-In/Change document was created –again on Evernote. I can put these thoughts into some semblance of order and drop in as needed. I currently have 3 such docs — Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3. I think this one is a keeper. (I use “comments” in the manuscript and then copy the comments into this doc)

Tool #6: Leverage of technology. I don’t always have the option of sitting in front of my laptop during the day and I have found a way to have technology work for me with sites such as Evernote which I can access anywhere from any computer. Another option is smart devices. I use Siri to transcribe quick notes on the fly and I can export the notes to whichever format I’m working on. I revel in this kind of freedom because it allows me to range from tinkering with words to producing a wash of fresh ideas.

Finally, and this tool is good for a variety of reasons…
Tool #7: Encouraging the writer within and learn from others. This is one I will be working on this year as I sorely miss my writers’ group. Writing alone is isolating and I feel deeply that it is important to have that connection with the writing world…a place outside your own head. I definitely recommend joining a good group, if you can. Face to face, I find, is best but online or at the least, through books or blogs will allow you to learn and take inspiration from others.

I’m hoping as we enter this new chapter of 2014 some of this rambling might help others discover techniques which may work for them. I’m also curious to learn, in this instance, organizational tools other writers use and I wish all the Keys to the Universe for their writing.