Saturday, June 30, 2012

Story Structure -- Climax

Hi folks, this is the last in my series of essential story turning points. Today I'm going to write about the pinnacle turning point of any book -- the climax. You know what it is, that moment we have all been waiting for -- Harry takes down Voldemort. Frodo defeats the eye of Sauron by tossing the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth for her hand and finds her feelings are quite changed!

I mean a good climax is something you can never forget: a moment in a story where your protagonist triumphs, against all odds, against all obstacles, against every freaking thing you the author could throw at the poor gal or guy or bunny, etc. He, she or it has embraced truth, resolved difficulties and have found a way to the journey's end.

Ah, I feel so fulfilled. I mean, I'm so glad I stuck in there and reached the end of this story. The climax was a doozy. Everything is resolved and I can go to bed now because I've stayed up way past my bedtime reading and it was worth it. If a book has a really satisfying journey I will cut out time to reread it more than once. It will change my life. It will make me view the world in a new light. No pressure, dear writers, but I want you to write a book like this because I'm hungry to read books like that.

There are few things that can go wrong with the climax that I have noticed from time to time in books that I have read. Sometimes the climax is in the wrong order or is not big enough. The character took down the Philistine, the lion and finally the bear. Hey, that is the wrong order. Look at your story arc and make sure the conflict is rising. Or the character did a bunch of stuff but you know he met the girl and got the girl. No problems. It was pretty easy to destroy all those aliens too. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.

Another problem is the the protagonist just doesn't get anything. This ending is a real bummer. You know he and the girl were going to hook up, but she decided to dump him and, yeah, that's it. In the last minute of the game, he fumbles the ball and it is totally not funny. The team loses and, yeah, that's it. Caution, the story does not have to work out for your protagonist, but your reader will thank you if you give her just a touch of satisfaction or hope or complete something for her. Katniss did end up with Peta in the end. Please. Please. Please.

One more problem that I see from time to time is the "Why not throw the kitchen sink at the protagonist too" climax. This one goes on and on. I mean, Billy Bob took down the zombie apocalypse, stopped the alien invasion, got the healing serum to Sanctuary, hooked up with Emmy Lou, climbed K-2 and resolved all his issues with his father. I mean, what was this book about anyway? Look at your ending. Books can only hold so much. Cut. Cut. Cut.

Oh, I hope something here helps your story reach its highest heights. I will be back next week with a new series about Pitfalls.  I've fallen into so many ditches writing.  Help is on the way.  See you next week.

This week's doodle is: "Face Study in Yellow."

Here is this week's quote:
Do what you can to do what you ought, and leave hoping and fearing alone. Thomas Huxley (Yes, his grandson wrote a Brave New World.)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Story Structure -- Darkest Moment

Hi folks,  if you heard me talk at the Writer's League of Texas conference and want to read my series on writing a synopsis, follow this link.  There are several in the series so after reading the post, page down to "Newer Post" and it will lead you to the next in the synopsis series. Now on with business, I'm continuing my series about the five essential turning points in novels. This week I'm covering the darkest moment that I call Gethsemane.  This is the moment after your character has tried his best to achieve his purpose and nothing has worked. He is now being called to do the one impossible thing that no one can endure. He's left alone and doesn't really know where he is going to find the strength to face this one last terrible challenge. This challenge will seperate him from everything he loves.  He wrestles with his decision and is in great distress. Finally he sees he has only one true choice and accepts it. Then his best friend betrays him  to his enemies who will do their worst. 

Yes, stories need this moment. I don't think that you can skip it.  It usually comes right before the climax of the book. It's generally a scene or two long.  No more.  Some climaxes last one chapter others go on for multiple chapters, hence the placement of darkest moment will vary. The resolution or continuation of subplots can also shift around the darkest moment position some. I think that the most important piece of this moment is that internal and external suffering of your protaganist meet here.  Weakness is revealed and released.  I like to use a boxing match analogy for this moment too. The fight has gone for multiple rounds. The underdog has been pummeled by the champ.  The underdog is losing the fight, not just physically but mentally, and at this moment, he remembers all the training, the wise stuff he's heard from his mentors, the things he's overcome to get here and he rallies.

Hope this helps you define your structure.  Will be back with the last in the series next week.   Seize the day!

Here is this week's doodle: "Jubilee, baby."

Here is another quote for your pocket.:

May you live all the days of your life. Jonathan Swift

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Story Structure -- Center Point

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series about the five essential turning points in novels. This week I've covering the center point. Many call the center point, the point of no return. Some call it the tent pole. I must confess I have gotten a better handle on this turning point in novels because of e-reader technology.

When I had read about 100 books on my e-reader, I had an ah-ha moment.  E-readers have some nifty features, and one is keeping tabs on the percentage of the book you have completed. I started noticing that if something didn't turn in a novel at the 50% percent page, I would get antsy. I might even stop reading the book. My writer self perked up at this. I began to analyze what was going on, and I learned a thing or two. Here goes.

The center point is certainly a point of no return. The character can never return:  she can never home, she can never be a person that has not loved, she can never return to a place of safety after this point, etc.  So the center point plunges the main character into consequences. If she doesn't figure this out, i.e. find a solution, she will never have a family or home again, she is going to suffer forever from a broken heart, or she is going to die. 

This center point is also another decision point for the character.  I have noticed this can work two ways: an event leads to a decision or a decision leads to events. (I'm not sure if these two are the only ways to make a decision at center point, just the two I've noticed.) In one case, a gal might have been at odds with a totally annoying guy for the first half of the book, but then the totally annoying guy saves the gal from mega-embarrassment at the mid-point. Ah, the gal has been wrong, this totally annoying guy is really a habenero hottie.  So "the saving" was the event, and she changed her opinion about totally annoying guy. Ah, I think they might fall in love...

Here's the other way the decision at the center point can work. A loser guy travels really far to get a ring of ultimate power to the safety of the magical elf city, and that's what he signed up for.  The ring needs to be carried on to the volcano to be destroyed, but this loser guy is done. He's dumping the ring with the elf king and going home!  Let everyone argue about what happens next, he thinks, but dang it, none of the bozos in the elf city seem to be capable of carrying the ring to the volcano. No one expects him, loser guy, to step up, but he did get the ring to the elf city, and, heck, that was hard.  So loser guy makes a decision and steps up for second half of the journey that will be a million times harder than the first half! I think loser guy needs a name change to hero. Yay!

I hope this little discussion about the center point of a novel will help you find, define, and refine the center point of your novel.  Keep creating!   See ya next week.

This week's doodle is: "Girl in Patchwork Coat."

Finally a quote to tuck in your pocket this week.

In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive. Haruki Murakami

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Story Structure -- The Decision

Hi, folks. I'm writing a series about story structure, and I'm touching base with the five turning points that I find essential. Last week I chatted about the moment when everything changes. This week I'm going to discuss the next essential turning point in the plot and  I call it "the decision."  This plot point is the protagonist's reaction to "the moment."  The decision has to have high stakes. It must be a difficult decision for your character make but the only one too. It should launch your main character out of his humdrum life. His decision must have a specific goal and require lots of action. His decision also marks a new direction -- he will face challenges that he would have never faced without this decision. Generally, this decision should be made around chapter 3 to 5 for most books. There is always some leeway with where the decision hits, but it must hit. The decision should showcase the strengths and flaws of your character.

Here is how the decision works by a few genres. In a mystery, a murder has occurred (the moment) and the main character decides to solve the mystery for whatever reason and sets out on a journey to do just that. In a romance, the gal meets a hot guy (the moment) and she makes decision to help the guy with some hare-brained plan or her decision will force her to spend lots of time with the guy -- like she'll go to band camp with him, she'll partner him in science class, or support her sister's bid to hook up with his best friend -- you know, whatever forces them to hang out together. In an adventure,  the main character has the chance to leave dull Boringsville and decides to go for whatever reason -- to climb Everest, take that rocket to Mars, or defeat a secret society that is taking out world leaders.

Sift around your work-in-progress and identify your main character's decision. Can you improve it? Up the stakes? Make it clearer? Do it! I hope your work grows in leaps and bounds this summer. See you next week. :)

Here is this week's doodle: "Baby Jube."

Here is a quote for your pocket:

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. Maya Angelou

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Story Structure -- The Moment

Ah, lazy summer days have arrived. I hope you make some worthy goals for the these days. I like to keep it short and sweet for the summer months. Through June I will focus on story structure.   For me, there are five essential elements that stand out in terms of story structure. I'm going to beat these elements out over the next five weeks.

The first element of a rocking plot is "the moment everything changes." This moment usually shows up on the first page, occasionally on the first line and sometimes hangs back until the end of the first chapter and once in a blue moon hangs back to the third chapter. The author usually establishes an every day world and then there is a moment that sets of a string of dominoes tumbling that will continually fall over until the end of the story. Without this moment you have no story.

So dig around in your work-in-progress and ask yourself, what has happened upfront that I can't take out this novel or I don't have a novel.  If you don't have a moment like that you have a problem. Another problem can be too many moments where everything changes. I mean, the chickadee receives a letter, loses her job, crashes her car, gets bad news from the doctor, signs up for the camp, volunteers at the homeless shelter, inherits a million dollars, receives a mysterious message from a prince and gains an evil stepmother. I mean where is this story going?  You have to pick the one moment and stick with it like glue. No domino moment or multiple domino moments and your readers are going to grumble and lose interest.

My best advice identify the moment that everything changes.  Your work will thank you.

Here is my doodle, "Perspective."

Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. Hilary Cooper