Sunday, November 12, 2017

Nanowrimo Week 2: Act II Part 1 Questions and Prompts

ACT TWO, PART ONE

by Alexandra Sokoloff, from STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

(Elements of Act I checklist is here).


In a 2-hour movie Act II, Part 1 starts at about 30 minutes, and ends at about 60 minutes.

In a 400-page book Act II, Part 1 starts at about p. 100 and climaxes at about p. 200.

Act II, Part 1 is the most variable section of the four sections of a story. I have noticed it also tends to be the most genre-specific. It doesn’t have the very clear, generic essential elements that Act I and Act 3 do – except in the case of Mysteries and certain kinds of team action films, which generally have a more standard structure in this section.






IF THE FILM IS A MYSTERY, this section will almost always have these elements:

-QUESTIONING WITNESSES
-LINING UP AND ELIMINATING SUSPECTS
-FOLLOWING CLUES
-RED HERRINGS AND FALSE TRAILS
-THE DETECTIVE VOICING HER/HIS THEORY

IF THE FILM IS A TEAM ACTION STORY, A WAR STORY, A HEIST OR CAPER MOVIE (like OCEAN’S 11, THE SEVEN SAMURI, THE DIRTY DOZEN, ARMAGGEDON and INCEPTION) then this section will usually have these elements:

- GATHERING THE TEAM
- TRAINING SEQUENCE
- GATHERING THE TOOLS
- BONDING BETWEEN TEAM MEMBERS
- SETTING UP TEAM MEMBERS’ STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES that will be tested in battle later.

There may also be

- A MACGUFFIN
- A TICKING CLOCK

But if the story is not a mystery or a team action story, the first half of Act 2 will often have some of the above elements, and ALL stories will generally have these next elements in Act II, part 1 (not in any particular order):

- CROSSING THE THRESHOLD - ENTERING THE SPECIAL WORLD

(This scene may already have happened in Act One, but it often happens right at the end of Act One or right at the beginning of Act Two.) How do the storytellers make this moment important? Is there a special PASSAGEWAY between the worlds?

- THRESHOLD GUARDIAN (maybe)

There is very often a character who tries to prevent the hero/ine from entering the SPECIAL WORLD, or who gives them a warning about danger.

- HERO/INE’S PLAN

- What is the hero/ine’s PLAN to get what s/he wants?

The plan may have been stated in Act I, but here is where we see the hero/ine start to act on the plan, and often s/he will have to keep changing the plan as early attempts fail.

- THE ANTAGONIST’S PLAN

Same as for the hero/ine: the plan may have been stated in Act I, but here is where we see the villain start to act on the plan, and often s/he will have to keep changing the plan as early attempts fail. Even if the villain is being kept secret, we will see the effects of the villain's plan on the hero/ine.

- ATTACKS AND COUNTERATTACKS

How do we see the antagonist attacking the hero/ine?

Whether or not the hero/ine realizes who is attacking her or him, the antagonist (s) will be nearby and constantly attacking the hero/ine. How does the hero/ine fight back?

- SERIES OF TESTS

How do we see the hero/ine being tested?

In a mentor story, the mentor will often be designing these tests, and there may be a training sequence or training scenes as well. Sometimes (as in THE GODFATHER) no one is really designing the tests, but the hero/ine keeps running up against obstacles to what they want and they have to overcome those obstacles, and with each win they become stronger.

The hero/ine USUALLY wins a lot in Act II:1 (and then starts to lose throughout Act II:2), but that’s not necessarily true. In JAWS, Sheriff Brody doesn’t get a win until the big defeat of the Midpoint, when he is finally able to force the mayor to sign a check and hire Quint to kill the shark.

- BONDING WITH ALLIES – LOVE SCENES

This is one of the great pleasures of any story – seeing the hero/ine make lifelong friends or fall in love. Besides the more obvious romantic scenes, the love scenes can be between a boy and his dragon, as in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON; or between teammates, as in JAWS; or a man and his father or a woman and her mother (some of the most successful movies, like THE GODFATHER, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and STEEL MAGNOLIAS show these dynamics). What are the scenes that make us feel the glow of love or joy of friendship?

Or in darker stories, instead of bonding scenes, the storytellers may show the hero/ine pulling away from people and becoming more and more alienated, as in THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER, THE SHINING, CASINO.

In a love story, there is always a specific scene that you might call THE DANCE, where we see for the first time that the two lovers are perfect for each other (this is often some witty exchange of dialogue when the two seem to be finishing each other’s sentences, or maybe they end up forced to sing karaoke together and bring down the house…). You see this Dance scene in buddy comedies and buddy action movies as well.

- GENRE SCENES (action, horror, suspense, sex, emotion, adventure, violence)

Act II, part 1 is the section of a story that will really deliver on THE PROMISE OF THE PREMISE.

What is the EXPERIENCE that you hope and expect to get from this story? – is it the glow and sexiness of falling in love, or the adrenaline rush of supernatural horror, or the intellectual pleasure of solving a mystery, or the vicarious triumph of kicking the ass of a hated enemy in hand-to-hand combat?

Here are some examples:

- In THE GODFATHER, we get the EXPERIENCE of Michael gaining in power as he steps into the family business. There’s a vicarious thrill in seeing him win these battles.

- In JAWS, we EXPERIENCE the terror of what it’s like to be in a small beach town under attack by a monster of the sea.

- In HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, we get the EXPERIENCE and wonder of discovering all these cool and endearing qualities about dragons, including and especially the EXPERIENCE of flying. We also get to EXPERIENCE outcast and loser Hiccup suddenly winning big in the training ring.

- In HARRY POTTER (1), we get the EXPERIENCE of going to a school for wizards and learning and practicing magic (including flying).

(I want to note that for those of you working with horror stories, it’s very important to identify WHAT IS THE HORROR, exactly? What are we so scared of, in this story? How do the storytellers give us the experience of that horror?)

Ask yourself what EXPERIENCE you want your audience or reader to have in your own story, then look for the scenes that deliver on that promise in Act II, part 1. Well, do they? If not, how can you enhance that experience?

And another big but important generalization I can make about Act II, part 1, is that this is often where the specific structure of the KIND of story you’re writing (or viewing) kicks in. For more on identifying KINDS of stories, see What Kind Of Story Is It?

Act II part 1 builds to the MIDPOINT CLIMAX – which in movies is usually a big SETPIECE scene, where the filmmakers really show off their expertise with a special effects sequence (as in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and HARRY POTTER, 1), or a big action scene (JAWS), or in breathtaking psychological cat-and-mouse dialogue (in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). It might be a sex scene or a comedy scene, or both in a romantic comedy. Whatever the Midpoint is, it is most likely going to be specific to the promise of the genre.


THE MIDPOINT –

- Completely changes the game
- Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action
- Is a point of no return
- Can be a huge revelation
- Can be a huge defeat
- Can be a huge win
- Can be a “now it’s personal” loss
- Can be sex at 60 – the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems

More discussion on Elements of Act Two.



=====================================================

All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 14.99.


                                           STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE





Thursday, November 09, 2017

#Nanowrimo: Are you stuck? Do you have a PLAN?






Almost one third of the way through November! This is a very good time to pause (briefly) and ask yourself: 
WHAT'S THE PLAN?

Because the Plan really is the key to storytelling.

The Protagonist's PLAN drives the entire STORY ACTION. The Central Action of the story is carrying out the specific Plan. And the CENTRAL QUESTION of the story is – “Will the Plan succeed?”

The PLAN, CENTRAL QUESTION and CENTRAL STORY ACTION are almost always set up – and spelled out - by the end of the first act, although the specifics of the Plan may be spelled out right after the Act I Climax at the very beginning of Act II. 

Take a favorite movie or book (or two or three) and identify the PLAN, CENTRAL STORY ACTION and CENTRAL QUESTION and them in a few sentences. Like this:

- In The Silence of the Lambs, the PLAN is for Clarice to barter personal information with psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter to get Lecter to reveal the identity of the serial killer who has just taken a new victim hostage. (The CENTRAL ACTION is going to be bargaining with Lecter and following his clues, and the CENTRAL QUESTION is - Will Clarice succeed in learning Buffalo Bill's identity before he kills Catherine Martin?)

- In Inception the PLAN is for the team of dream burglars to go into a corporate heir’s dreams to plant the idea of breaking up his father’s corporation. (So the CENTRAL ACTION is going into the corporate heir’s dream and planting the idea, and the CENTRAL QUESTION is – Will they succeed in planting the idea and breaking up the corporation?).

- In Sense And Sensibility the PLAN is for Marianne and Elinor to secure the family’s fortune and their own happiness by marrying well. (How are they going to do that? By the period’s equivalent of dating – which is the CENTRAL ACTION. Yes, dating is a PLAN! The CENTRAL QUESTION is, Will the sisters succeed in marrying well?)

- In The Proposal, Margaret’s PLAN is to learn enough about Andrew over the four-day weekend with his family to pass the INS marriage test so she won’t be deported. (The CENTRAL ACTION is going to Alaska to meet Andrew’s family and pretending to be married while they learn enough about each other to pass the test. The CENTRAL QUESTION is: Will they be able to successfully fake the marriage?

- In Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant’s PLAN is to break up Katharine Hepburn’s wedding by sending in a photographer and journalist from a tabloid, which he knows will agitate her and her whole family to the point of explosion. (So the CENTRAL ACTION of the story is using the journalists to break up the wedding, and the CENTRAL QUESTION is – Will he be able to break up the wedding?)

Now, try it with your own story!

- What does the protagonist WANT? 

- How does s/he PLAN to do it? 

- What and who is standing in his or her way? 

For example, in my witchy thriller, Book of Shadows, here's the Act One set up: the protagonist, homicide detective Adam Garrett, is called on to investigate the murder of a college girl - which looks like a Satanic killing. Garrett and his partner make a quick arrest of a classmate of the girl's, a troubled Goth musician. But Garrett is not convinced of the boy's guilt, and when a practicing witch from nearby Salem insists the boy is innocent and there have been other murders, he is compelled to investigate further.

So Garrett’s PLAN and the CENTRAL ACTION of the story is to use the witch and her specialized knowledge of magical practices to investigate the murder on his own, all the while knowing that she is using him for her own purposes and may well be involved in the killing. The CENTRAL QUESTION is: will they catch the killer before s/he kills again - and/or kills Garrett (if the witch turns out to be the killer)?

- What does the protagonist WANT? To catch the killer before s/he kills again.

- How does he PLAN to do it? By using the witch and her specialized knowledge of magical practices to investigate further.

- What’s standing in his way? His own department, the killer, and possibly the witch herself. And if the witch is right… possibly even a demon.


Again, the PLAN, CENTRAL QUESTION and CENTRAL STORY ACTION are almost always set up – and spelled out - by the end of the first act, although the specifics of the Plan may be spelled out right after the Act I Climax at the very beginning of Act II. 

Can it be later? Well, anything’s possible, but the sooner a reader or audience understands the overall thrust of the story action, the sooner they can relax and let the story take them where it’s going to go. So much of storytelling is about you, the author, reassuring your reader or audience that you know what you’re doing, so they can relax and let you drive. 

It’s important to note that the Plan and Central Action of the story are not always driven by the protagonist. Usually, yes. But in The Matrix, it’s Neo’s mentor Morpheus who has the overall PLAN, which drives the central action right up until the end of the second act. The Plan is to recruit and train Neo, whom Morpheus believes is “The One” prophesied to destroy the Matrix. So that’s the action we see unfolding: Morpheus recruiting, deprogramming and training Neo, who is admittedly very cute, but essentially just following Morpheus’s orders for two thirds of the movie. 

Does this weaken the structure of that film? Not at all. Morpheus drives the action until that crucial point, the Act Two Climax, when he is abducted by the agents of the Matrix, at which point Neo steps into his greatness and becomes “The One” by taking over the action and making a new plan, to rescue Morpheus by sacrificing himself.

It is a terrific way to show a huge character arc: Neo stepping into his destiny. And I would add that this is a common structural pattern for mythic journey stories - in Lord of the Rings, it's Gandalf who has the PLAN and drives the reluctant Frodo in the central story action.

Here’s another example. In the very funny romantic comedy It’s Complicated, Meryl Streep’s character Jane is the protagonist, but she doesn’t drive the action or have any particular plan of her own. It’s her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), who seduces her and at the end of the first act, proposes (in a very persuasive speech) that they continue this affair as a perfect solution to both their love troubles – it will fulfill their sexual and intimacy needs without disrupting the rest of their lives. 

Jane decides at that point to go along with Jake’s plan (saying, “I forgot what a good lawyer you are.”). In terms of action, she is essentially passive, letting the two men in her life court her (which results in bigger and bigger comic entanglements), but that makes for a more pronounced and satisfying character arc when she finally takes a stand and breaks off the affair with Jake for good, so she can finally move on with her life.

I would venture to guess that most of us know what it’s like to be swept up in a ripping good love entanglement, and can sympathize with Jane’s desire just to go with the passion of it without having to make any pesky practical decisions. It’s a perfectly fine – and natural – structure for a romantic comedy, as long as at that key juncture, the protagonist has the realization and balls – or ovaries – to take control of their own life again and make a stand for what they truly want.

I give you these last two examples – hopefully - to show how helpful it can be to study the specific structure of stories that are similar to your own. As you can see from the above, the general writing rule that the protagonist drives the action may not apply to what you’re writing – and you might want to make a different choice that will better serve your own story. And that goes for any general writing rule.

ASSIGNMENT QUESTIONS: Have you identified the CENTRAL ACTION of your story? At what point in your book does the reader have a clear idea of the protagonist’s PLAN? Is it stated aloud? Can you make it more clear than it is?


And you guys, you really need to understand this. This idea of a CENTRAL STORY ACTION goes back THOUSANDS of years, to the Golden Age of Greek drama. Aristotle laid it out in the POETICS.

If you think you can fight thousands of years of dramatic structure (which is by now, I would venture to say, part of our DNA strand...) well, good for you, you rebel, you! But why make things so hard on yourself? Think about it. Thousands of years, this stuff has worked. Fight it at your peril, is all I'm saying.

- Alex




=====================================================

                                        STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $12.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)










You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

#Nanowrimo: Day One, Act One (questions and prompts)


by Alexandra Sokoloff

                         Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


And we're off!

Remember, having a daily word count is great motivation, but this Nano deadline is only to help you write in a concentrated way. Don't beat yourself up if you're not hitting your word count - even when you're not writing, your subconscious is always working on your book for you and with you.

And if you're stuck, try brainstorming on one of these questions.


ELEMENTS OF ACT ONE:


- OPENING IMAGE/OPENING SCENE

Describe the OPENING IMAGE and/or opening scene of the story.

What mood, tone and genre does it set up? What kinds of experiences does it hint at or promise? (Look at colors, music, pace, visuals, location, dialogue, symbols, etc.).

Does the opening image or scene mirror the closing image or scene? (It’s not mandatory, but it’s a useful technique, often used.). How are the two different?

* What’s the MOOD, TONE, GENRE (s) the story sets up from the beginning? How does it do that?

* VISUAL AND THEMATIC IMAGE SYSTEMS

(More discussion here.)


* MEET THE HERO OR HEROINE

How do we know this is the main character? Why do we like him or her? Why do we relate to him or her? What is the moment that we start rooting for this person? Why do we care? Wnat are her SPECIAL SKILLS?


* THE ORDINARY WORLD/THE SPECIAL WORLD

What does the Hero/ine's ordinary world look and feel like? How does it differ in look and atmosphere from THE SPECIAL WORLD that s/he will enter when s/he goes after her heart's desire?


• HERO/INE’S INNER AND OUTER DESIRE

What does the Hero/ine say s/he wants? Or what do we sense that s/he wants, even if s/he doesn't say it or seem to be aware of it? How does what s/he thinks s/he wants turn out to be wrong?


• HERO/INE’S PROBLEM

(This is usually an immediate external problem, not an overall need. In some stories this is more apparent than others. You can also have a hero/ine with no apparent external problem. At first!)


* HERO/INE’S GHOST OR WOUND

What is haunting her from the past?


• HERO/INE’S CHARACTER ARC

Look at the beginning and the end to see how much your hero/ine changes in the course of the story. How will you depict that change? (something to keep in the back of your mind.)


• INCITING INCIDENT/CALL TO ADVENTURE

(This can be the same scene or separated into two different scenes.)

How can you make this moment or sequence significant?


* REFUSAL OF THE CALL

Is the hero/ine reluctant to take on this task or adventure? How do we see that reluctance?


• MEET THE ANTAGONIST (and/or introduce a Mystery, which is what you do when you’re going to keep your antagonist hidden to reveal at the end).

How do we know this is the antagonist? Does this person or people want the same thing as the hero/ine, or is this person preventing the hero/ine from getting what s/he wants?


* OTHER FORCES OF OPPOSITION

Who and what else is standing in the hero/ine’s way?


• THEME/ WHAT’S THE STORY ABOUT?

There are usually multiple themes working in any story, and usually they will be stated aloud.


• INTRODUCE ALLIES (May not happen until Act II)

How is each ally introduced?


* INTRODUCE MENTOR (you may or may not have one)

What are the qualities of this mentor? How is this person a good teacher (or a bad teacher) for the hero?


• INTRODUCE LOVE INTEREST (you may or may not have one).

What makes us know from the beginning that this person is The One?


* ENTERING THE SPECIAL WORLD/CROSSING THE THRESHOLD

What is the Special World? How is it different from the ordinary world? How can you make entering this world a significant moment, emotionally and visually?

This scene is often at a sequence climax or the Act One Climax. Sometimes there are a whole series of thresholds to be crossed.


* THRESHOLD GUARDIAN

Is there someone standing on the threshold preventing the hero/ine from entering, or someone issuing a warning?


• SEQUENCE ONE CLIMAX

In a 400- page nook, this should occur by p. 50 at the latest. How do you make this moment significant? What is the change that lets you know that this sequence is over and Sequence 2 is starting?

(Each sequence in a book will have some sort of climax, as well, although the sequences are not as uniform in length and number as they tend to be in films. Look for a revelation, a location change, a big event, a setpiece.).



* PLAN

What does the hero/ine say they want to do, or what do we understand they intend to do? The plan usually starts small, with a minimum effort, and gradually we see the plan changing.

• CENTRAL QUESTION, CENTRAL STORY ACTION

Does a character state this aloud? When do we realize that this is the main question of the story?


* ACT ONE CLIMAX:

In a 2-hour movie, look for this about 30 minutes in. In a 400-page book, about 100 pages in.

How do the storytellers make this moment significant? What is the change that lets you know that this act is over and Act II is starting?

You will also possibly see these elements (these can also be in Act Two or may not be present):


***** ASSEMBLING THE TEAM


***** GATHERING THE TOOLS –


***** TRAINING SEQUENCE


And also possibly:

***** MACGUFFIN (not present in all stories but if there is one it will USUALLY be revealed in the first act).

*****TICKING CLOCK (may not have one or the other and may be revealed later in the story)

\
• PLANTS/REVEALS or SET UPS/PAYOFFS

Discussion here

• HOPE/FEAR and STAKES

(Such a big topic you just have to wait for the dedicated post!)



* And always - look for and IDENTIFY SETPIECES.


=====================================================

All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.


                                           STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------

You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:






Thursday, October 26, 2017

Huntress series sale, new release, and news!

Happy almost Halloween/Dia de los Muertos!





This post about my new release in the Huntress series is just a bit late because, well - I got married this week. To my partner in crime and in life, bestselling Scottish Noir author Craig Robertson.


The ceremony was in Los Angeles, a gorgeous and magical production put together at pretty much the speed of light by my closest actor, writer, director, production designer – and Buddhist scholar/minister! - friends whom I’ve known since we performed together in the theater department at Berkeley. We danced down the aisle to Dean Martin, nearly got a reason that we should not be joined that turned into a fantastic performance of my favorite Shakespeare sonnet, murdered a wedding cake - and promised to love till death us do part. 

So there’s the happily ever after I know some of you want! On to more bloody business.



Saturday, October 21, 2017

#MeToo - and the Huntress Moon series

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Instead of finishing my normal Nanowrimo Prep posts for this month, the posting I’ve been doing on social media has revolved around the #MeToo campaign – focusing awareness on sexual harassment and sexual assault - YET AGAIN - in the wake of the “exposure” of a pretty universally known “secret” that producer Harvey Weinstein is a serial sexual predator. Like the one in the Oval Office.

Image by artist and graphic designer Victoria Siemer (also known as @witchoria)

Please. Spare me. These aren’t secrets. These are facts of rape culture. These entitled, predatory men have been blatant about their misogyny and abuse, and have been enabled and supported by frightening numbers of people. 

And that has to STOP.

So this week I’ve been posting some of my #MeToo incidents on my Facebook page, including one incident that just took place at Bouchercon in Toronto, which has generated some interesting discussion.

And while I will get back to some Nanowrimo prompts next month, I absolutely believe that there is no craft without content. And now is the time to talk about content, and the power we have as authors to change social atrocities like rape culture.

I wrote the Huntress Moon series because I am sick to death of women and children being raped, tortured, mutilated,
and murdered for entertainment in novels, movies, TV shows – and oh yeah - real life. 

The Huntress series turns the tables. The books follow a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer who kills men. A lot of them.

The fact is, one reason novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is that it’s the stark reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators — we’re the prey. But after all those millennia of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say: “Enough”? And maybe even strike back? Well, that’s a story, isn’t it? And it’s a story that needs to be told now, more than ever, given this political nightmare we’re living. The premise is a way to explore the third rail of crime: the inherent, entrenched, misogyny of the system.   

 And this series is a way for me to explore SOLUTIONS. I am not writing fantasies about clever serial killers. I’m writing from real-life psychology and pathology, using real-life examples and profiling, to counter some of the absolutely ridiculous and false portrayals of this pathology that we see in film and television and books.

Serial killers are NOT criminal masterminds. They do NOT have artistic or poetic bents. They are serial rapists who have graduated to murder. It’s a facet of the male pattern violence that we are seeing revealed in the #MeToo stories and lists from millions of women and teenagers in the past few weeks. Mass shooters – that’s also male pattern violence, with domestic abuse being a key indicator of the type of man who commits this particular atrocity. 

You read the #MeToo stories - much less LIVE them! - and the totality of it seems overwhelming. The fact that we have a serial sexual predator and blatant misogynist (and racist, white supremacist, xenophobe, looter, plutocrat…) in the most powerful office in the world, determining national and international policy, appointing judges, reversing laws that protect women and children – all that is part of the totality and even more overwhelming.   

However, there ARE solutions. There are practical and actually very obvious ways to CHANGE this horrific culture of rape and predation. I've spent years now, researching and interviewing experts about real psychology, real systemic failures, and real solutions. I've written ALL of that into the Huntress series, enacted by characters who reader really care about.

One of the keys to understanding male violence is that it is NOT universal. It is a percentage of repeat offenders who commit these crimes (whether identified or not) over and over and over again. We need to be very clear on this point. The problem is not all men. The problem is a percentage of repeat offenders. 

To underscore this point, in the Huntress series, my FBI investigators are mostly men, gay and straight, different races - with one key woman on the team and lots of female leads from various social and legal and religious services. I wanted to depict the kind of men I know, that I have always known, that I personally have always been easily able to identify and not randomly lump in with criminals. I wanted to depict THEIR struggle with the overwhelming force of entrenched rape culture, and their difficult fight to work within the system to change it. I wanted the situation of their hunt for this unusual, very female killer to force them to grapple with extremely real life, practical, workable solutions to changing the system.

I cover different facets of different legal and societal systems in each of the books. And in the new one, Hunger Moon, which comes out next week, I have Special Agent Roarke and his team working toward a very explicit, law-enforcement based, multi-pronged approach to identifying and convicting serial sexual predators. 

If we ALL, male and female, binary and non-binary, LGBTQ, people of every race and variation thereof, could come to understand that we need to deal with this segment of repeat offenders, we COULD change this. We could.

It is NOT overwhelming, when we take a breath and break it down. And commit to doing better for everyone. Women, men - and especially, especially children.

But we need to know the facts. We need to know where the systemic failures have been. And we need to keep speaking out against EVERY predator. Always. 



Don’t give up. There is a way forward. Si se puede. We can do this.

       -- Alex 
 PS: I have a lot going on this week (!) - but I will be posting elaborations on this topic: from some of the real-life solutions that my FBI investigators are grappling with, to the real psychology of serial killers, to the real-life crimes that inspired the Huntress series, to ways we can amplify growing protests against this political nightmare we’re living in, to organizations you can donate to to help.

                                                  




The Huntress Moon series is on sale right now for $1.99 US, 99p UK, and 1.49 AU.   

Amazon Prime readers can read Book 1, Huntress Moon for free.


 
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                    Out October 24, 2017 in print, ebook and audio. Pre-order here.




In the new book, Roarke and his FBI team are forced to confront the new political reality when they are pressured to investigate a series of mysterious threats vowing death to college rapists... while deep in the Arizona wilderness, mass killer Cara Lindstrom is fighting a life-and-death battle of her own.

For thousands of years, women have been prey.

No more.

 Enter to win one of 100 print copies on Goodreads.



Hunger Moon is Book 5 of the Huntress/FBI series. The series is chronological and it is strongly recommended that you read the series in order, starting with Huntress Moon.

 



 


 


                 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Nanowrimo Prep - Identifying Act Climaxes: Raiders of the Lost Ark

by Alexandra Sokoloff



So now that we've talked about WHY Act Climaxes (plot points, turning points, act breaks, curtain scenes, whatever you want to call them) are important, let's take a look at some classic examples so you can see HOW they work.

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First, a quick review of what each Act Climax does:

Remember, in general, the climax of an act is very, very, very often a SETPIECE SCENE – there’s a dazzling, thematic location, an action or suspense sequence, an intricate set, a crowd scene, even a musical number (as in The Wizard of Oz and, more surprisingly, Jaws.).

Also an act climax is often more a climactic sequence than a single scene, which is why it sometimes feels hard to pinpoint the exact climax. And sometimes it’s just subjective! These are guidelines, not laws. When you do these analyses, the important thing for your own writing is to identify what you feel the climaxes are and why you think those are pivotal scenes.

Now specifically:


ACT ONE CLIMAX

- (30 minutes into a 2-hour movie, 100 pages into a 400 page book. Adjust proportions according to length of book.)

- We have all the information we need to get and have met all the characters we need to know to understand what the story is going to be about.

- The Central Question is set up – and often is set up by the action of the act climax itself.

- Often propels the hero/ine Across the Threshold and Into The Special World. (Look for a location change, a journey begun).

- May start a TICKING CLOCK (this is early, but it can happen here)


MIDPOINT CLIMAX

- (60 minutes into a 2 hour movie, 200 pages into a 400 page book)

- Is a major shift in the dynamics of the story. Something huge will be revealed; something goes disastrously wrong; someone close to the hero/ine dies, intensifying her or his commitment.

- Can also be a huge defeat, which requires a recalculation and a new plan of attack.

- Completely changes the game

- Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action

- Is a point of no return.

- Can be a “now it’s personal” loss

- Can be sex at 60 – the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems

- May start a TICKING CLOCK.

- The Midpoint is not necessarily just one scene – it can be a progression of scenes and revelations that include a climactic scene, a complete change of location, a major revelation, a major reversal – all or any combination of the above.


ACT TWO CLIMAX

– (90 minutes into a 2 hour film, 300 pages into a 400 page book)

- Often can be a final revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is.

- Often comes immediately after the “All is Lost” or “Long Dark Night of the Soul” scene - or may itself BE the "All is Lost" scene.

- Answers the Central Question

- Propels us into the final battle.

- May start a TICKING CLOCK


ACT THREE CLIMAX

- (near the very end of the story).

- Is the final battle.

- Hero/ine is forced to confront his or her greatest nightmare.

- Takes place in a thematic Location - often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare

- We see the protagonist’s character change

- We may see the antagonist’s character change (if any)

- We may see ally/allies’ character changes and/or gaining of desire

- There is possibly a huge final reversal or reveal (twist), or even a whole series of payoffs that you’ve been saving (as in BACK TO THE FUTURE and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE)

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RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Story by George Lucas & Philip Kaufman
Directed by Stephen Spielberg

Please feel free to argue my points!

And note all times are APPROXIMATE - I'm a Pisces.

1 hour 55 minute running time.


ACT ONE CLIMAX:

Act One Climax here is easy: the great Nepalese bar scene. Total setpiece scene – the visuals of that snowy mountain and the tiny bar, the drinking contest that Marion wins, the fight between Indy and Marion with its emotional backstory and sexual chemistry, the entrance of Toht and his heavies, who are ready to torture Marion for the medallion, the re-entrance of Indy and the huge, fiery fight, which ends in the escape of Indy and Marion with the medallion and Marion’s capper line: “I’m your goddamn partner!” (34 minutes in).

Everything you could ever want in a setpiece sequence, visuals, action, sex, emotion: and all we need to know to understand what the story is going to be has been laid out.

MIDPOINT

An interesting and tonally very unique Midpoint happens in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. I’m sure some people would dispute me on this one (and people argue about the exact Midpoint of movies all the time), but I would say the midpoint is the scene that occurs exactly 60 minutes into the film, in which, having determined that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place in the archeological site, Indy goes down into the Well of Souls with the medallion and a staff of the proper height, and uses the crystal in the pendant to pinpoint the exact location of the Ark.

This scene is quiet, and involves only one person, but it’s mystically powerful – note the use of light and the religious quality of the music… and Indy is decked out in robes almost like, well, Moses - staff and all. Indy stands like God over the miniature of the temple city, and the beam of light comes through the crystal like light from heaven. It’s all a foreshadowing of the final climax, in which God intervenes much in the same way. Very effective, with lots of subliminal manipulation going on. And of course, at the end of the scene, Indy has the information he needs to retrieve the Ark. I would also point out that the midpoint is often some kind of mirror image of the final climax – it’s an interesting device to use, and you may find yourself using it without even being aware of it.

I will concede that this is a two-part climax, though – the twist that comes just after it that Marion is still alive is a big emotional beat, and the subsequent twist that Indy doesn’t release her because leaving her captive will buy him time to get down into the Well of Souls, is a great relationship beat (great maybe isn’t the word I’m looking for; maybe the word is more like “male”.)


ACT TWO CLIMAX

(About 1 hr. 15 min. in) After the big setpiece/action scene of crashing through the wall in the Well of Souls to escape the snakes, Indy and Marion run for a plane on the airfield to escape, and Indy has to fight that gigantic mechanic. Indy has to simultaneously race to stop the plane, with Marion on it, from blowing up from the spilled gas (reliving his nightmare – losing her again). He saves Marion just before the plane blows up. And the capper- Indy learns the Nazis have put the Ark on a truck to take to Cairo – cut to Indy on a horse, charging after them.


CLIMAX


Of course, the opening of the Ark and the brutal deaths of all the Nazis who look at it. This is a unique climax in that the protagonist does virtually nothing but save his own and Marion’s lives; there’s no battle involved; they’re tied up all the way through the action. It’s a classic deus ex machina as God steps in (metaphorically) to take the Ark back.

But this non-action is actually a big CHARACTER ARC for Indy. I'll be talking about that in the full story breakdown I'm doing for Raiders this month, since I'm using the film to teach the Sisters in Crime Sinc into Great Writing workshop at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in Toronto.

If you want to get this free breakdown, be sure you're signed up to my Story Structure extras list!

Okay, so any examples of your own for me today? Or any stories you're having trouble identifying the climaxes of that we can help with? Or problems with your love life? I'm here to help.

- Alex



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All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.


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This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
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WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


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HUNGER MOON, Book 5 of my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI Thrillers, releases October 24. The books follow a haunted FBI agent in pursuit of a female serial killer,  and it really is a series that needs to be read in order, so Thomas & Mercer has put the first four books in the series ON SALE for $1.99 US, 99p UK, and 1.49 AU.

 
Click here to shop.


 Enter to win one of 100 print copies of HUNGER MOON on Goodreads.