Monday, November 21, 2011

Nanowrimo: the third quarter drop-dead

Home stretch!

Well, theoretically, anyway. But I find that right about now is when people tend to start dropping during Nano. First of all there's, well, Thanksgiving. Which even though it's a holiday, involves family, and family is never conducive to marathon writing. (They don't like to lose us to a book, it's just the truth. It brings up all kinds of feelings of abandonment and inadequacy. So - pretend you're going shopping and go to a cafe to write, that's what they're for.)

But also, let's face it, it's EASY to write a first act. It's new, it's fresh, it's exciting, it's like the first flush of being in love. You're so high you don't stop to think, and that means you don't get in your own way.

It can even be not so hard to get through Act II, part 1 to the Midpoint. But it's that third quarter where things get murky. You feel like you're not getting anywhere. In fact, you have no freaking clue where you are, or why in the hell you're wherever the hell you are to begin with, and you just want to give up and sleep for a week, or eat turkey and chocolate for a week, or all of the above.

I had a friend in movie development who called it "the third-quarter drop dead."

Well, here's an interesting thing. Structurally, this is EXACTLY the point in your story that your hero/ine is feeling those exact same things. In other words, it's the BLACK MOMENT, or ALL IS LOST MOMENT, or the VISIT TO DEATH, which almost always ends up as the climax or just before the climax of Act II.

It's as if we as authors have to work ourselves into the exact same hopeless despair as our characters, as if nothing good will ever come out of this situation and we might as well give up right now - in order to convey that emotion on the page and feel that exhilaration when the character SOLVES the problem and gets that final revelation and makes that final plan.

So if you find yourself in this situation, you might want to review the elements of Act II: Part 2, and take a look at some of these questions to see if they might help you find your way.


ACT II:2

In a 2-hour movie this section starts at about 60 minutes, and ends at about 90 minutes.

In a 400-page book, this section starts at about p. 300 and ends toward the end of the book.

Now, remember, at the end of Act II, part 1, there is a MIDPOINT CLIMAX, which I'll review briefly because it's so important.

In movies the midpoint 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.

And I strongly encourage you as authors to pay as much attention to your midpoint as filmmakers do with theirs.


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 on MIDPOINT).


Act II, part 2 will almost always have these elements:

* RECALIBRATING– after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the midpoint, the hero/ine must REVAMP THE PLAN and try a NEW MODE OF ATTACK.

What’s the new plan?

* STAKES

A good story will always be clear about the stakes. Characters often speak the stakes aloud. How have the stakes changed? Do we have new hopes or fears about what the protagonist will do and what will happen to him or her?


* ESCALATING ACTIONS/OBSESSIVE DRIVE

Little actions by the hero/ine to get what s/he wants have not cut it, so the actions become bigger and usually more desperate.

Do we see a new level of commitment in the hero/ine?

How are the hero/ine’s actions becoming more desperate?

* It’s also worth noting that while the hero/ine is generally (but not always!) winning in Act II:1, s/he generally begins to lose in Act II:2. Often this is where everything starts to unravel and spiral out of control.

* INCREASED ATTACKS BY ANTAGONIST

Just as the hero/ine is becoming more desperate to get what s/he wants, the antagonist also has failed to get what s/he wants and becomes more desperate and takes riskier actions.

* HARD CHOICES AND CROSSING THE LINE (IMMORAL ACTIONS by the main character to get what s/he wants)

Do we see the hero/ine crossing the line and doing immoral things to get what s/he wants?

* LOSS OF KEY ALLIES (possibly because of the hero/ine’s obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).

Do any allies walk out on the hero/ine or get killed or injured?

* A TICKING CLOCK (can happen anywhere in the story, or there may not be one.)

* REVERSALS AND REVELATIONS/TWISTS

* THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL and/or VISIT TO DEATH (also known as: ALL IS LOST).

There is always a moment in a story where the hero/ine seems to have lost everything, and it is almost always right before the Second Act Climax, or it IS the Second Act Climax.

What is the All Is Lost scene?

* In a romance or romantic comedy, the All Is Lost moment is often a THE LOVER MAKES A STAND scene, where s/he tells the loved one – “Enough of this bullshit waffling, either commit to me or don’t, but if you don’t, I’m out of here.” This can be the hero/ine or the love interest making this stand.

THE SECOND ACT CLIMAX

* Often will be a final revelation before the end game: often the knowledge of who the opponent really is, that will propel the hero/ine into the FINAL BATTLE.

* Often will be another devastating loss, the ALL IS LOST scene. In a mythic structure or Chosen One story or mentor story this is almost ALWAYS where the mentor dies or is otherwise taken out of the action, so the hero/ine must go into the final battle alone.

* Answers the Central Question – and often the answer is “no” – so that the hero/ine again must come up with a whole new plan.

* Often is a SETPIECE.

More discussion on Elements Of Act II:2

And here are the elements and questions for Act Three:

ACT THREE

The third act is basically the Final Battle and Resolution. It can often be one continuous sequence – the chase and confrontation, or confrontation and chase. There may be a final preparation for battle, or it might be done on the fly. Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelations of the second act.

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It is often divided into two sequences:

1. Getting there (Storming the Castle) (Sequence 7).

2. The final battle itself (Sequence 8)

* In addition to the FINAL PLAN, there may be another GATHERING OF THE TEAM, and a brief TRANING SEQUENCE.

• There may well be DEFEATS OF SECONDARY OPPONENTS (each one of which should be given a satisfying end or comeuppance. (This may also happen earlier, in Act II:2).

* Thematic Location - often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare
-
* The protagonist’s character change
-
* The antagonist’s character change (if any)

* Possibly ally/allies’ character change (s) and/or gaining of desire (s)

* 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)

* RESOLUTION: A glimpse into the New Way of Life that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he’s learned from it.

• Possibly a sense of coming FULL CIRCLE – returning to the opening image or scene and showing how much things have changed, or how the hero/ine has changed inside, causing her or him to deal with the same place and situation in a whole different way.

* Closing Image

More on Act Three:

Elements of Act Three

What Makes a Great Climax?


Elevate Your Ending


Now, I'd also like to remind everyone that this is a basic, GENERAL list. There are story elements specific to whatever kind of story you're writing, and the best way to get familiar with what those are is to do (or take a look at story breakdowns on three (at least) movies or books that are similar to the KIND of story you're writing.

What KIND Of Story Is It?

I hope that there's something there to get you through that third quarter, but I'll post a few more brainstorming tricks this week.

In the meantime, good luck with the family! I mean, Happy Thanksgiving!

- Alex


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

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)




- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Nanowrimo: Best writing advice

Okay, this has probably been going on forever and I’m just catching on. But I just discovered that the Amazon pages of my books are continually compiling the most highlighted quotes from my books.

To explain for those of you who might not have an e reader - yet - you can highlight passages of books that you read on your Kindle to refer back to at your leisure. Whether or not you, the reader, know that this information is being compiled online is a different question. Some books you might not want to have those special passages highlighted, if you see what I mean.

But the Big Brother aspect is a different post. This highlighted quotes feature is actually totally EXCELLENT news for me because it means today, instead of a long blog post on what I think is important advice, I can just give you a pithy list of what readers think is the best advice in my Screenwriting Tricks books. and you all know how much I love lists.

So here you go:


Top Ten highlighted quotes from Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.



On LOGLINES/PREMISES --


- The premise sentence should give you a sense of the entire story: the character of the protagonist, the character of the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the tone, the genre.

- All of these premises contain a defined protagonist, a powerful antagonist, a sense of the setting, conflict and stakes, and a sense of how the action will play out.

- Write a one-sentence premise that contains all these story elements: protagonist, antagonist, conflict, stakes, setting, atmosphere and genre.

On a character’s GHOST or WOUND

- We all unconsciously seek out people, events and situations that duplicate our core trauma(s), in the hope of eventually triumphing over the situation that so wounded us.

On CHARACTER ARC:

- The arc of the character is what the character learns during the course of the story, and how s/he changes because of it. It could be said that the arc of a character is almost always about the character realizing that s/he's been obsessed with an outer goal or desire, when what she really needs to be whole, fulfilled, and lovable is _______ (fill in the blank).

On HOPE and FEAR

- Our fear for the character should be the absolute worst case scenario:

- The lesson here is - spend some quality time figuring out how to bring your hero/ine's greatest nightmare to life: in setting, set decoration, characters involved, actions taken. If you know your hero/ine's ghost and greatest fear, then you should be able to come up with a great setting (for the climax/final battle) that will be unique, resonant, and entirely specific to that protagonist (and often to the villain as well.)

On PLAN (and ACT II)


- This continual opposition of the protagonist's and antagonist's plans is the main underlying structure of the second act.

ON CONFLICT/ANTAGONISM

- STACK THE ODDS AGAINST YOUR PROTAGONIST. It's just ingrained in us to love an underdog.

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- Top ten highlighted quotes from Writing Love


- “Every genre has its own game that it’s playing with the audience.”

- The game in the romance genre is often to show, through the hero and heroine, how we are almost always our own worst enemies in love, and how we throw up all kinds of obstacles in our own paths to keep ourselves from getting what we want.

- A great, emotionally effective technique within the final battle is to have the hero/ine LOSE THE BATTLE TO WIN THE WAR.

- This continual opposition of the protagonist’s and antagonist’s plans is the main underlying structure of the second act.

- I’m a firm believer that just ASKING the questions will prompt your creative brain to leap into overdrive and come up with the right scenes. Our minds and souls long to be creative, they just need us to stop stalling and get our asses in gear.


- So once you’ve got your initial plan, you need to be constantly blocking that plan, either with your antagonist, or the hero/ine’s own inner conflict, or outside forces beyond her or his control.


- Very often in the second act we will see a battle before the final battle in which the hero/ine fails because of some weakness, so the suspense is even greater when s/he goes into the final battle (climax) in the third act.


- The final battle (climax) is also a chance to PAY OFF ALL YOUR SETUPS AND PLANTS. Very often you will have set up a weakness for your hero/ine. That weakness that has caused him or her to fail repeatedly in previous tests, and in the final battle (climax) the hero/ine’s great weakness will be tested.


- “Get the hero up a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down.”


- After I’ve finished that grueling, hellish first draft, the fun starts. I do layer after layer after layer: different drafts for suspense, for character; sensory drafts, emotional drafts, each concentrating on a different aspect that I want to hone in the story, until the clock runs out and I have to turn the whole thing in.

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And that happens to be the step I'm on right now, pass after pass after pass. But it's coming together! How's everyone's Nano going?

- Alex

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

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)




- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Ready, Set, Nano!

It's here - the big day. Big month. Big everything.

The queen of suspense, Mary Higgins Clark, said about first drafts:

Writing a first draft is like clawing my way through a mountain of concrete with my bare hands.

Isn't that the truth?

Well, the point of Nano is to write so fast that you - sometimes - forget that your hands are dripping blood. It's a stellar way of turning off your censor (we all have one of those little suckers) and just get those pages out.

I'll be posting Nano prompts throughout the month, but here's a list of helpful hints if you find yourself stuck.


1. Keep moving forward – DO NOT go back and endlessly revise your first chapters. You may end up throwing them out anyway. Just move forward. If you’re stuck on a scene, just write down vaguely what might happen in it or where it might happen as a place marker and move on to a scene you know better. The first draft can be just a sketch – the important thing is to get it all down, from beginning to end. Then you can start to layer in all the other stuff.

2. Keep the story elements checklist close at hand for easy reference.

- Story Elements Checklist for Generating Index Cards

Or if you prefer the elements in a narrative:

Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet



3. Review the elements of the act you're stuck on.


- Elements of Act One


- Elements of Act Two, Part 1


- Elements of Act Two, Part 2


- Elements of Act Three

- What Makes A Great Climax?


- Elevate Your Ending


- Creating Character


4. As you're writing, you will find out more about your story. Write the premise again, and make sure you have identified and understand the Plan and Central Story Action.

- Plan, Central Question, Central Story Action

- What's the Plan?

- Plan, Central Question, Central Story Action, part 2


5. When you’re stuck - make a list.

- Stuck? Make A List.

6. Do word lists of visual and thematic elements for your story to build your image systems. Start a collage book or online clip file of images if that appeals to you.

- Thematic Image Systems


7. Remember that the first draft is always going to suck.

- Your First Draft Is Always Going To Suck


8. You can always watch movies and do breakdowns to inspire you and break you through a block.

Good luck, everyone - and feel free to stop in and gripe!

- Alex


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

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)




- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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