Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing Tools

Writers struggle with plot, and scenes, so when the time comes to plan a tight, crisp blend for both, the task can be overwhelming. Not to mention the big question about whether the plot and resolution is deep enough. Check out this outline that might help put the tools together.

A Plot Resolution Outline
Forces Us to Think Through Scene by Scene.

Shows Quickly and Precisely —

(1) Depth of Protagonist’s Conflict How Deep is Deep Enough?

(2) How to Resolve Obstacle Describe Dilemma in a Short Phrase

(3) How Plot Leads to Resolution

Build Up Emotion From Turmoil

Explore —
A lawyer chooses to take a road of self destruction with race cars that ultimately could kill him — a man-against-himself story.

State Conflict — Starts when he fails in a trial.
What is the character's deep problem? Is it — "lawyer loses client"? How does that tell us anything about the lawyer's inner struggle. Why is the lawyer obsessed by the failure of a trail?

What made that case different? What force from his past played a part? Lawyer knew his client? Owed something? Committed some blunder that cost the trial? An associate made a mistake?

Answers Tell Writer About the Level of Depth in the Story.

Ask — What Makes the Story Important for Reader?

Dig Deeper for Answer Remember the key — lawyer made a miscalculation
Past problem linked to a social force — owed loyalty to partner, overcompensates from past mistake

Blunder results because present loyalty is misplaced — casts doubts on the lawyer's ability

Develop Outline to Find Character's Innermost conflict — Forms a Richer Story 

First line — Lawyer Fears his Past Blunder When He Failed to Consider Loyalty to a Partner

Resolution —

Once the Character's Real Conflict is Disclosed, Move to Outline's Resolution

Ask — Does Lawyer Come to Realization of Flaws Or Become Self-Destructive?

Look at the Outline— Problem = Lawyer Fears his Past Blunder Use Plot Structure

a) b) c)

Resolution: Lawyer Finds New Type of Partner to Restore His Faith


[A Lawyer Retreats to Rural Town/ Begins Race Car Hobby — Self Destruction

[B Finds New Love/She Falls Into Legal Problem With Race Cars

[C Lawyer Relives Guilt—New Partner Requires His Loyalty
Conclusion — Lawyer Uses Skills Help New Love

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Words Come Alive

Showing a Culture’s Development

In a historical novel, waves of migration stream into small villages that struggle to become a culture as outside forces change the protagonist (P). But how does a writer Show those forces instead of bore the reader with textbook-style facts?

When Edward Rutherford reveals his characters in his novel Russia, the author uses Show instead of Tell to see how Lebed fights a roving marauder for her son’s life. Later he pits Ivanushka as a man adrift between the need to travel east for trade, or become a priest with the church as the land vibrates from the crossfire of Christianity and Islam.

Writers usually feel the compulsion to setup the background so the the reader sees the full scope of the P’s world. But the amount of details in Russia could put people to sleep.

Telling the background would list the many migrations from the Scythians, Alans, Bulgars to other groups who headed west. The politics would have to be explained from Rome’s fall, to the rising strength of the Byzantine Empire, Poland and Venice. Religion would have to mention the Jewish Khazars and how the Greek Orthodox community struggled to find a place to worship.

The technique of Show puts the reader right into the scene by making the character the focus instead of the list of facts. The facts emerge as the character tries to solve a conflict.

Lebed searches in the forest for her lost son to find the boy in the arms of a migrating Alan. The woman left her small hamlet without bringing any fighting force. The people lived on farming. The village lacked ties to nearby bigger towns where a force could help. Those forces didn’t exist. The power Lebed saw came from the Alan and the Scythian who moved at will in her land.

Rutherford shows the emergence of a version of a political state around 1,000 years later. The character Ivanushka drifts between trying to understand his world and please his family. His trading venture comes not because of an overabundance of his community, but because his Kiev lies between two economic powers. He drifts to think about being a priest as the changing religious forces threaten Kiev with devastation.

In both examples, readers learn about the facts of history, but from the eyes of the character. Usually Show means a technique where the reader sees the specific action of a character or sees an emotion. Telling is a technique where the reader is told a term like “angry,” instead of seeing, “the man’s wrist tightened on the wrinkled letter.”

Rutherford does more than simply link the technique of Show to reveal the people in Russia. He drives the social structure by showing readers the forces around the character.

A culture’s belief system needs to be described for readers so the page-turner understands some characters. Cultures dictate how many see themselves. For example, a law office culture drives many associates to think of having a limited time to prove themselves — either they advance to become partners or they leave.

Rutherford’s Russia shows a glaring difference between Russian and American culture. In Russia, the culture has formed from centuries of lying in the crossroads of Europe and Asia. As such, the fears developed from how they could not control their own destiny. Migrations and invasions pushed many to respond instead of act.

On the other hand, a character in America’s West would display some dominant confidence as the person has seen his culture move across the continent — no barriers whether nature or tribal could stop the flow of expansion.

Those elements play at the tug-of-war that torments some characters. Those conflicts heighten the story but require planning. Details are needed, but Showing rather than Telling gives a bigger punch for the effort.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Words Come Alive
Writers seeking to find ways the protagonist (P) faces a conflict can use the 1992 movie Thunderheart as an example of viewing factions around the P.

Any conflict focuses on how P copes with barriers that face P’s goals. Yet those barriers might arise from different factions of social or political forces.

The movie’s P, FBI Special Agent Raymond Levoi, thinks his goal moves him to solve the murder of a local Native resident. Yet he discovers his goal requires him to sort out the groups in play. That is a problem because they are numerous.

His goal faces more understanding of his Lacoka background, a link he has denied. Those forces become personified by: Walter Crow Horse, tribal cop; Milton, the head of the tribal council milita; and Grandpa, a shaman type of wise man.

Each person can be seen through the lens of a faction or cultural mindset. Walter Crow Horse seeks to blend the wisdom of nature from the past with today’s world. That faction turns activist when it sees rights being lost to a community. Milton, despite being Native, has turned his back on nature and the past. His goal seeks to further a status in White society with wealth and power. Grandpa yearns for the days of the past and while he enjoys watching TV, he listens to the wind and the owl for messages of how to proceed in life. His faction keeps the old paths alive with stories and respect for the hills and valleys.

For any story, a conflict exists. To develop that tension, find the ideas in play with the story. Then ask, “who believes in one approach instead of another?” Find a character to represent those ideas. Usually those characters come from one faction or another. Those factions will be lined up to either support or oppose P’s goals. Characters are not stereotypes. But they exist within a cultural mindset. However, each character surrounds himself with several cultural mindsets and can vary his approach depending on the influence of one over others.

Factions are the key. Levoi wheres the shades of the FBI. But evolves when he sees mystical owls.