Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo: The Final Battle (Elements of Act Three)

So if you're gotten this far with Nano, you're probably heading for your climax.  (Sorry, there's no way to talk about this without sounding like Fifty Shades.) 

I'm actually heading into the rewrite of my own Act III of Blood Moon, so it looks like I'll be finishing Nano at the finish line, in my own weird way!

So I thought it would be a good time to review what an Act Three Climax does. In general:


- Is the final battle.

- The hero/ine is very, very often 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)

Let's take one of my favorite climax examples - the ending of JAWS - the film.

(And if you haven't seen “The Making of Jaws” , I really urge you to check it out. I swear, DVD bonus features are the best thing that EVER happened for writers and film students. No one needs film school anymore – just watch the commentaries on DVDs.) 

Peter Benchley, the author and co-screenwriter, was talking about the ending of the film. He said that from the beginning of production Spielberg had been ragging on him about the ending – he said it was too much of a downer. For one thing, the visual wasn’t right – if you’ll recall the book, once Sheriff Brody has killed the shark (NOT by blowing it up), the creature spirals slowly down to the bottom of the sea.

Spielberg found that emotionally unsatisfying. He wanted something bigger, something exciting, something that would have audiences on their feet and cheering. He proposed the oxygen tank – that Brody would first shove a tank of compressed air into the shark’s mouth, and then fire at it until he hit the tank and the shark went up in a gigantic explosion. Benchley argued that it was completely absurd – no one would ever believe that could happen. Spielberg countered that he had taken the audience on the journey all this time – we were with the characters every step of the way. The audience would trust him if he did it right.

And it is a wildly implausible scene, but you go with it. That shark has just eaten Quint, whom we have implausibly come to love (through the male bonding and then that incredible revelation of his experience being one of the crew of the wrecked submarine that were eaten one by one by sharks). And when Brody, clinging to the mast of the almost entirely submerged boat – aims one last time and hits that shark, and it explodes in water, flesh and blood – it is an AMAZING catharsis.

Topped only by the sudden surfacing of the beloved Richard Dreyfuss character, who has, after all, survived. (in the book he died – but was far less of a good guy.) The effect is pure elation.

Spielberg paid that movie off with an emotional exhilaration rarely experienced in a story. Those characters EARNED that ending, and the audience did, too, for surviving the whole brutal experience with them. Brilliant filmmaker that he is, Spielberg understood that. The emotion had to be there, or he would have failed his audience.

This is a good lesson, I think: above all, in an ending, the reader/audience has to CARE. A good ending has an emotional payoff, and it has to be proportionate to what the character AND the reader/audience has experienced.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is another terrific example of emotional exhilaration in the end. Once George Bailey has seen what would have happened to his little town if he had never been born, and he decides he wants to live and realizes he IS alive again, the pleasures just keep coming and coming and coming. It is as much a relief for us as for George, to see him running through town, seeing all his old friends and familiar places restored. And then to see the whole town gathering at his house to help him, one character after another appearing to lend money, Violet deciding to stay in town, his old friend wiring him a promise of as much money as he needs – the whole thing makes the audience glad to be alive, too. They feel, as George does, that the little things you do every day DO count. 

So underneath everything you’re struggling to pull together in an ending, remember to step back and identify what you want your reader or audience to FEEL. I cannot stress this highly enough. 

Another important component in an ending is a sense of inevitability – that it was always going to come down to this. Sheriff Brody does everything he can possibly do to avoid being on the water with that shark. He’s afraid of the water, he’s a city-bred cop, he’s an outsider in the town – he’s the least likely person to be able to deal with this gigantic creature of the sea. He enlists not one but two vastly different “experts from afar”, the oceanographer Hooper and the crusty sea captain Quint, to handle it for him. But deep down we know from the start, almost BECAUSE of his fear and his unsuitability for the task, that in the final battle it will be Sheriff Brody, alone, mano a mano with that shark. And he kills it with his own particular skill set – he’s a cop, and one thing he knows is guns. It’s unlikely as hell, but we buy it, because in crisis we all resort to what we know.

And it’s always a huge emotional payoff when a reluctant hero steps up to the plate.

It may seem completely obvious to say so, but no matter how many allies accompany the hero/ine into the final battle, the ultimate confrontation is almost always between the hero/ine and the main antagonist, alone. By all means let the allies have their own personal battles and resolutions within battle – that can really build the suspense and excitement of a climactic sequence. But don’t take that final victory out of the hands of your hero/ine or the story will fall flat.

Also, there is very often a moment when the hero/ine will realize that s/he and the antagonist are mirror images of each other. And/or the antagonist may provide a revelation at the moment of confrontation that nearly destroys the hero/ine… yet ultimately makes him or her stronger. (Think “I am your father” in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK)

The battle 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 battle he hero/ine’s great weakness will be tested. 

PLACE is a hugely important element of an ending. Great stories usually, if not almost always, end in a location that has thematic and symbolic meaning. Here, once again, creating a visual and thematic image system for your story will serve you well, as will thinking in terms of SETPIECES (as we’ve talked about before) Obviously the climax should be the biggest setpiece sequence of all. In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Clarice must go down into the labyrinth to battle the monster and save the captured princess. In JAWS, the Sheriff must confront the shark on his own and at sea (and on a sinking boat!). In THE WIZARD OF OZ, Dorothy confronts the witch in her own castle. In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Indy must infiltrate the Nazi bunker. In PSYCHO, the hero confronts Tony Perkins in his basement – with the corpse of “Mother” looking on. (Basements are a very popular setting for thriller climaxes… that labyrinth effect, and the fact that in psychological parlance “basement issues” are our worst fears and weaknesses).

And yes, there’s a pattern, here - the hero/ine very often has to battle the villain/opponent on his/her own turf.

Do you know what your hero/ine's greatest nightmare is? Is there some way you can make the location and situation of your final battle a visual and thematic depiction of that nightmare? It really pays off to 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 your 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 the villain as well.)

A great, emotionally effective technique within battle is to have the hero/ine lose the battle to win the war. AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN did this beautifully in the final obstacle course scene, where the arrogant trainee Zack Mayo, who has always been out only for himself, sacrifices his own chance to graduate first in his class to help a classmate over the wall and complete the course, thus overcoming his own flaw of selfishness and demonstrating himself to be true officer material.

Another technique to build a bigger, more satisfying climax is is to have the allies get THEIR desires, too – as in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

And a particularly effective emotional technique is to have the antagonist ma have a character change in the end of the story. KRAMER VS. KRAMER did this exceptionally well, with the mother seeing that her husband has become a great father and deciding to allow him custody of their son, even though the courts have granted custody to her. It’s a far greater win than if the father had simply beaten her. Everyone has changed for the better.

Because CHANGE may just be the most effective and emotionally satisfying ending of all. Nothing beats having both Rick and Captain Renault rise above their cynical and selfish instincts and go off together to fight for a greater good. So bringing it back to the beginning – one of the most important things you can design in setting up your protagonist is where s/he starts in the beginning, and how much s/he has changed in the end.

I bet you all can guess the question for today! What are your favorite endings of screen and page, and what makes them great?  Make a list!

And especially - what are great examples of final battles that are the hero/ine's greatest nightmare?

Good luck, Nanos!  Go for it!

- Alex


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.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holidays in the Dark

Well, the holiday season has started - I'm just waiting for the Black Friday death toll numbers to post.

You're not going to catch me out there shopping. Instead I thought I'd blog a little about holiday books.

It’s a little strange for me to think of myself as a holiday writer,  first because my own family is so exceedingly casual about holidays. The actual date means very little; as long as we celebrate within a month or so of the day, it counts.  A typical Christmas for us has traditionally been munching down avocado and turkey sandwiches while reading the (now sadly defunct) Weekly World News (Bat Boy! Alien Spawn!) aloud around the table, and ending the evening with an Absolutely Fabulous or Fawlty Towers marathon.

And since I cross mystery, thriller and supernatural, and my books fall very much on the darker side, I’m not the first person you would think to put in that cheery holiday category, either.

But then, I don’t write cheery holiday stories. True to form, my take on the holidays is a little, well, warped. And yet holidays figure prominently in almost everything I write. I’m not trying to be outrĂ© about it, honestly, it’s just that there’s so much more to most holidays than the “Good tidings to all”, overcommercialized surface we usually get.

The truth is, holidays are like candy for a supernatural author because they are so metaphorical and simply dripping with thematic and visual imagery.  You don’t have to work half as hard to create an atmosphere because the imagery and meaning have been there for thousands of years – it’s all imprinted on our unconscious.

My first novel, THE HARROWING, takes place over a long Thanksgiving weekend.  It’s an anti-Thanksgiving weekend, really: five troubled students at an isolated college have decided to stay in their creepy old Victorian dorm over the holiday break because they don’t want to go home to their dysfunctional families.

While I have to say up front I have a great time at Thanksgiving NOW, in the past it’s always been an anxious time of year for me.  Any holiday revolving around food (and what holiday doesn’t?) is fraught with tension because, to be perfectly blunt, I was a dancer, with all the attendant food issues.  I also have this theory that Thanksgiving became a major holiday mostly to give married couples a way to split up their annual holiday visits between the two different sets of in-laws. 
Take that familial power struggle, add football and drinking and the necessity of someone, meaning the women, being chained to an oven for a  good two or three days - and the potential for disaster is I believe higher than average.

But that makes Thanksgiving an almost perfect holiday for me, in a genre sense.

I write (and read) supernatural stories with a strong psychological component, so I’m always on the lookout for psychological crucibles.  The premise of THE HARROWING is that five lonely and troubled college students combine to attract an equally troubled spirit, and I wanted to create an atmosphere that was so tense that whatever haunting was  taking place might be explained simply as the collective neurosis of the young characters.  Thanksgiving instantly provided all the gloom, bad weather, abandonment and anxiety I could possibly hope to cram into a concentrated time period.

And it’s a completely realistic situation right from the start:  students do stay at college over the holidays, they usually do so  because they don’t WANT to go home, and there is nothing on earth spookier than a deserted campus. Perfect for a ghost story.

But on the warmer side – the story is also very much about completely disparate people coming together as a true family, the first real family any of them have ever had, and Thanksgiving is a perfect setting for that theme, as well.

I’m sorry to say that in my second novel, THE PRICE, I may have  corrupted the happy holiday ideal even further. THE PRICE is set in a labyrinthine Boston hospital, where someone who may or may not be the devil is walking the wards, making= deals with the patients and their families.   Because I figure, if there is such a thing as the devil, and if what he wants is human souls, then trolling in a children’s hospital would be like shooting fish in a barrel. What wouldn’t you do if your child was dying?

In THE PRICE the featured holiday is Easter, and of course a key theme is resurrection.   Idealistic Boston District Attorney Will Sullivan is the golden son of a political family, with a stellar reputation, a beautiful and devoted wife, Joanna, and an adorable five-year-old daughter, Sydney.  Will also has a real shot in the Massachusetts  governor’s race… until Sydney is diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable tumor.  Now Will and Joanna are living in the twilight world of Briarwood Medical Center, waiting for their baby to die, and going out of their minds with grief.   But around them, patients are recovering  against all odds, and the recoveries seem to revolve around a
mysterious hospital counselor who takes a special interest in Will and his family.

Then one terrible night Sydney is rushed into emergency surgery and is not expected to survive… but instead almost overnight she goes into remission.  Except that Will doubts this miraculous recovery, and must race to uncover the truth in order to save his family.

Easter is the season of miracles, and perfect for the story, which goes from the bleak, cold, stark hopeless dead of winter (in Boston!  The very thought strikes terror into my Southern California soul…) to warm, lush, colorful, abundant spring when Sydney miraculously starts to recover (and believe me, the one actual winter I ever spent on the East Coast, it really was a miracle to see spring arrive seemingly overnight).  The themes of sacrifice for love, redemption through suffering, salvation, return from the dead, and above all, what we are truly willing to do for those we love - are all part of the deep mythos of Easter.   It’s also easy to get your main characters into church (those gorgeous Boston cathedrals…) where certain moral and thematic  issues can be played out, and the idea of the devil in the flesh – or perhaps just in the main characters’ minds – does not seem so far-fetched.

As an added bonus, Easter is an incredibly visually rich holiday to mine when one of your main characters is five years old.   Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs, fluffy flowery dresses… the latent set designer in me just had a great time with that one.

And to further stand the idea of happy holidays on its (their?) head… or maybe I mean take it back to the source, my police procedural BOOK OF SHADOWS revolves around pagan holidays (that is, literally, Holy Days):  the Summer Solstice, Lammas, Mabon.  Good grief, I can’t even do Halloween in the traditional sense… it’s got to be Samhain.

But I guess that’s my point, here.  Holidays are so much more than  tinsel and glass balls and getting trampled to death at WalMart to the canned soundtrack of holiday music that malls and radio stations and elevators and grocery stores bombard us with relentlessly (now starting Christmas carols before Thankgsiving, please someone just kill me). There are layers of meaning to every holiday that resonate to the very core of human existence. And it’s all there for every author to explore and every reader to experience.

Give me the off-beat holidays, any day.

Wishing a profound, mythic, and non-fatal holiday season to one and all.

Five troubled college students left alone on their isolated campus over the long Thanksgiving break confront their own demons and a mysterious presence... that may or may not be real.
Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award (horror) and Anthony Award (mystery) for Best First Novel.
“Absolutely gripping...It is easy to imagine this as a film. Once started, you won’t want to stop reading.”
--London Times
Amazon/Kindle : $2.99
Nook: $2.99
Amazon UK (paperback/e book from Little, Brown)  Amazon DE Amazon ES Amazon FR 

An ambitious Boston homicide detective must team with a beautiful, mysterious witch from Salem in a race to solve a satanic killing.  

All e books,  $3.99

“A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn't-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended.”
---Lee Child

What would you give to save your child? Your wife? Your soul?

A Boston District Attorney suspects his wife has made a terrible bargain to save the life of their dying child.

All e books $2.99

"A heartbreakingly eerie page-turner." - Library Journal

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Femme Noir (The Next Big Thing)

I’ve professed my undying love for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, many a time on this blog, but I do have a serious beef with this year’s line up.

The noir panel was all men.

I mean, really? In 2012?  When Megan Abbott and Kelli Stanley and Cornelia Read are attending? When Christa Faust is not only in the room, but up for an Anthony?

I guess all the women were stuck in binders or something.

(Kudos to the one panelist, John Rector, who knows a little about noir himself,  who jumped to point this absence out.)

Bouchercon was over a month ago and this noir sans femme thing is still rankling me, so I decided to blog about it.

This is also partly because I was asked (multiple times) to take part in the latest author blog hop, The Next Big Thing, in which authors post their answers to a set of ten questions about their latest books on their blogs and then tag five more authors for the next week, and possibly Kevin Bacon is involved, and then we take over the world.

So my horror/thriller author pal, the wildly dark, or darkly wild, Sarah Pinborough, tagged me two weeks ago, and I did my ten question interview on Huntress Moon last week - here -  and now it’s my turn to tag five authors and link to their interviews this week.

And because I am still seething over the noir panel, I chose a theme of fantastic dark female characters, and tagged my authors accordingly:

Michelle Gagnon is a thriller writer who has recently brought her powerhouse female perspective and adrenaline-charged storytelling to the YA thriller genre with her latest, Don't Turn Around. Noa is a terrific teenage role model; I hope we'll see more of her.  Read her Q & A here

- Christa Faust knows noir backward and forward, and has virtually created a whole new direction for the genre and its characters. Angel Dare is an alt heroine who brings OUT everything that noir anti-heroines like Gloria Grahame were doing in a coded sense, and Butch Fatale takes the "two-fisted detective" archetype to a new meaning.  Read her Q & A here

- Wallace Stroby. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am VERY picky about men writing "strong women", and on the dark side, Stroby is as good as it gets, both shattering and reversing noir gender stereotypes. His Crissa Stone series presents a thief who doesn't just hold her own, but leads and controls motley collections of doomed male gangsters. And I'm even more fond of Stroby's Sara Cross, who mirrors the classic noir paradigm: she's a truly good woman whose near-fatal flaw is a tragically bad man. Read his Q & A here

- Zoe Sharp actually DOES write a kick-ass female lead, Charlie Fox, who works as a bodyguard and makes the physical reality of her job perfectly plausible (I've learned a lot about self-defense from these two...) while she battles uniquely feminine psychological demons. And her new installment in the Charlie series is set in New Orleans!

(Right, that’s only four.  I can count, at least up to ten, but getting authors to do anything on deadline is like herding cats.)

I really encourage you all to click through to their interviews, especially for the fun question on who they would cast in a film or TV version of their books. Always a good exercise for any writer, you might get inspired!

So not everyone above is writing noir, exactly. Stroby, definitely. Faust has a lot of noir influence but I’d say her work is more like female-driven pulp, with a strong emphasis on camp humor, too. Sharp and Gagnon write dark and intense, but it’s not noir any more than I’m writing noir, which is not at all.

I’m also no way a noir scholar, and let’s face it, the lines are blurry (Is it noir? Pulp? Neo-noir? Just a good old B movie?) and I’d like to leave the question open for everyone to jump in and define it for us in their own words.  Personally, I know it when I see it!  No, really - for me, the key difference is that, for example, in Zoe’s and Michelle’s story worlds, there is the possibility and even probability of redemption, while in the classic world of noir, there is none, or very little. Doom and fate figure predominantly.

I liked John Rector’s capsule summation on that B'Con panel: “Noir pushes people to extreme circumstances and there is no happy ending. The hero/ine is fighting the good fight... but loses.”

So I guess the personal line I draw between “noir” and “dark” is about that possibility of redemption and at least temporary triumph. You can win the battle even when you know the war rages on. In my own books, there’s plenty of dark, but not noir’s overwhelming sense of inexorable fate; my own themes are more about the people caught up in a spiritual battle between good and evil. And no matter how dark it gets, there’s always the presence of good.

In fact, some of my favorite dark thriller writers: Denise Mina, Tana French, Mo Hayder, Karin Slaughter, Val McDermid, seem to me more fixed on exploring that spiritual evil than fate. As dark as they get, I wouldn’t call what they’re writing “noir”, because it IS more spiritual, they’re dealing with a more cosmic evil.  Or maybe the evil they depict is so rooted in a feminine consciousness and feminine fears and demons that it doesn’t FEEL like noir. But that could be me splitting hairs, you tell me! That’s what this blog is about.

And there’s another element that I consider classic noir:

Threatening women.

Threatening to men, anyway, apparently! 

But the presence of shadowy – or maybe the word I mean is shaded – women is key. For my money some of the most interesting women ever put to page or celluoid are noir femmes, and part of that is because quite a few noir writers and filmmakers and actresses actually made a point of exploring the dark sides of women.

And noir takes on significantly different meaning when the leading roles are played by women instead of men. These days Sara Gran, Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Christa Faust and Wallace Stroby are all doing really exciting work genre-bending by putting women in the protagonist’s seat and then absolutely committing to what it would look like and feel like and mean for a woman to take that lead in circumstances we don't usually see women in.

I was enthralled by Sara Gran’s Dope, which explores a noir standard, addiction, and the noir paradigm of the tarnished white knight committed to a hopeless and destructive person - all from a completely feminine point of view. Likewise Wallace Stroby’s Sara Cross (in Gone Til November) is a committed knight... lawman... lawperson... who very nearly falls because of a fatally seductive man, and any woman who’s ever been tempted will understand her struggle. 

Gran has created another classic yet entirely unique noir heroine in her latest, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead; I can’t think of another noir character so reliant on my favorite force in the world: synchronicity. But also, back to addiction: is that synchronicity drug-induced?  Claire’s pot habit might be useful juice for her detecting instincts, but one gets the feeling it’s playing hell with her personal life.

Megan Abbott layers a specifically feminine addiction, the pathological narcissism that anorexia can be, into her latest, Dare Me - to chilling effect. And I’ve never seen anyone else portray the feminine counterpart of criminally sociopathic male athletes, but you better believe these cheerleaders are exactly that.

Abbott, Gran and Flynn (in Sharp Objects) are also sometimes writing female protagonists battling female antagonists, with men relegated to secondary roles. I find it a deliriously welcome reversal of the traditional order.

I suspect it's easier, or really I mean more natural, for women to achieve a genre bend with noir and thrillers because we're working against a very entrenched male tradition. If we're just fully ourselves, it's going to look new to the genre.

But men can get there. I think Dennis Lehane did a brilliant genre bend with his male characters in Mystic River by going places that men don't usually go in their own psyches  - they'd rather assign that scary stuff to female characters to distance themselves from the experience instead of having to put themselves into those vulnerable positions. Which  personally I think is cheating.

And as Stroby is proving, consciously committing to the physical and emotional reality of a shaded female protagonist is possible for a male author, too.

By looking at crime through a specifically feminine lens, these authors are creating a new genre. I don’t know what to call it, but I know I love it.

And I know there are more of these authors and books out there, and I want to hear about them, so let’s have it. Who are your favorite dark female leads – and villains? Which authors in our genre do you think are portraying ALL the facets of women, black, white, and every shade of gray in between?

And yes, what is your definition of noir?  I'd love to know.

- Alex

Sunday, November 18, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Best Writing Advice

I recently 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.


- 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.


- 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).


- 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.


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


- 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.


And that happens to be the step I'm on right now, pass after pass after pass. Sometimes it feels more like sewing than writing. But miraculously, it's coming together! How's everyone's Nano going?



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.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE