Saturday, June 29, 2013

Story Structure: Fasteners (MicroTension)

Hi, folks, time to wrap up my posts on story structure. This month, I am using analogies with building structural elements to shed some light on story structural elements. These analogies only go so far. I hope you find something useful. I'm going to compare micro tension to fasteners in buildings. Micro tension is what holds your book together.

Nails and screws are tiny metal spikes that are driven into wood. Bolts are metal pins inserted through wood. Cleats are angle iron pieces used to strengthen wood. You get the picture. Structures are fastened together with buckets of small pieces of metal. This week is all about the fasteners that hold your book together. 

Stories have many kinds of bits that hold them together. Without all these bits your story will fall apart. You are the master craftsperson and your decisions -- where to use fasteners and what fasteners to use -- will ultimately define your structure.

Here are some of the fasteners that you will use to make your structure hold together:

EMOTION -- This fastener is used for character. You must dig into what your character is feeling and shade your wording to capture that feeling exactly.  Many people are turning to THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman and Betsy Puglisi to sharpen the emotional expressions of their characters.

LYRICISM -- This fastener is about the words. You can go over the top with it, but tiny touches of brilliant lines (you know the ones you jot down because you have never heard that thought expressed so well) stitch your book together. Your book needs the wordsmith in you to do better.

SENSORY -- This fastener is used especially in setting. You must make your readers feel. Every book has a sensory psyche that creates mood. Setting must engage all five senses, and you will turn yourself inside out trying to find the perfect vivid descriptors. Do it. Surpass yourself.

SOUL -- This fastener is used to shore up theme. Stories must say something. Tiny fiery thoughts embedded throughout your story will give it a soul. Yes, you challenge readers. Slap them. Wake them up. Infuse your story with immaterial bits. What are you circling?

SUBTEXT -- This is a dialogue fastener.You must create tension by having your characters say one thing but mean another. Look closely at dialogue. Are your characters saying things they should be thinking?  

SUFFERING -- This fastener is used to hinge character and plot. This isn't just about one more stupid thing happening to your character. You must do what rips out her heart, defeats her soul, breaks her spirit, ruins her life ... dang, writing is hard.

SURPRISE -- This is another plot fastener. It is all about finding the uncertain instead of the expected.  Turn corners that are unexpected. Contrast characters, moods, settings in interesting ways. This tension keeps the reader with you. Take our breath away, please...

TRANSCENDENCE -- This fastener is a big risk one and isn't found in every book. If it works, you will never be forgotten, If it doesn't work, it will wreck your whole book. It takes chutzpah to use this one. Well crafted foreshadowing leads to that moment when the reader is like: Did she really go there? It's shocking. Readers will freak out. Blog posts will fly. Think about those moments that you can never forget  in your reading experience and then let that into your creative blood and see what happens. Does your structure need this?

Be aware of the fasteners that hold your book together. Place each carefully with confidence. Donald Maass in his book FIRE IN THE FICTION has some good thoughts about micro tension that may be of some use to you. Whew, this was a big topic. I hope that you have enjoyed this series. Come back next week for my next series: Pitfalls in writing.

 Here is this week's doodle:  Abstract in watercolor

And finally a quote for your pocket.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars. Walt Whitman. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Story Structure - Floors (Persona)

Hi, folks, I'm continuing my series on story structure. Today, I'm going to share an analogy about floors.  A floor is the surface of a room where you stand. It's flat, low and static. The sure steady surface in your novel is your author persona. You are going to put flooring into every book you write so it makes sense to me that you understand it and lay it flat.

Persona is something no one says much but just like your characters on the page and your plot is on the page, you are on the page.  I'm not talking about "author intrusiveness"  which must be scrubbed out. This is the Voice -- a steady assurance from your inner diva, child, or chipmunk who is telling your story. I talked about this some in my post "author persona."

Make sure you have decent floor material. If you are victim, dang, it's going to leak into your book, unless you start building some inner chutzpah. If you are full of pride. Fail. If you are full of humility. Fail. If you are boring in real life you must find an inner persona who is not boring. I hope these thoughts are making you think about what is bleeding on the page. You know, this is what I think: put down the expensive stuff -- the best part of you.

You must cultivate the ability to be the same voice every time you dive into your story. I like this part of writing. I like tossing off all the ups and downs of me and the waves of this life that are pounding me into the shore. I feel the stuff of my everday life flowing away as I put on my alter-ego -- SuperScribe. Rock steady. Unchanging. Able to spin out stories that will capture the planet. Yes, I have fun when I am writing. I laugh my head off. I don't shy away from the glories of muhaha!. I let myself be larger than life.  I slip into this persona and let the words flow.  It's exciting and comforting at the same time. Sometime your writing persona just might help your real self grow and be better.

Well, that is a little chat. Put some solid flooring in your books.  It can be a rough floor or smooth as glass. I'm pretty sure that Gary Paulsen lays in dirt floors, but Gail Carson Levine places down an awesome kind of flooring imbued with magic sparkles.  Your floor will be unique, so don't try to Mark Twain, J. D. Salinger, or Harper Lee us. OK? Find the original you. See you next week with more on story structure.

Here is the doodle of the week: "Abstract Cat."

Henceforth I ask not good fortune. I myself am good fortune.  Walt Whitman

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Story Structure -- Joists (Scenes)

Hi, folks. I'm continuing my series about story structure. I'm using analogies to structural elements of buildings to shed some like on some structural elements of stories. This week I'm comparing the scenes to joists. Joists are load-bearing boards or girders that run from beam to beam or from floor to beam. They carry some of the weight of the building insuring that the structure is sound. Scenes also carry some of the weight of each story. They fit within chapters, and they glue your story together, like the joist's job in a structure. There are various kinds of joists, and there are various kinds of scenes. I'm going to describe the basic structure of the scene then talk about a few variants. Hopefully this discussion will help you create much more "sound" stories.

The scene is the basic load-bearing element of the story. A basic scene works like this. First, action and dialogue mix, followed by the main character's emotional reaction to the action and dialogue, and then the character thinks about the action and dialogue, and finally the character decides what to do next. The basic scene will appear over and over in your story unless you are seeking something very avant-garde.

HINT: Don't move on to the avant-garde until you can easily produce fluid basic scenes that all connect and move seamlessly from one to the next.

You will use a few variations of the basic scene in your story, especially for action sequences. You might have an action/dialogue, emotion and then action/dialogue/emotion and finally cap that with a basic scene action/dialogue/emotion/thinking/decision. This set-up is generally one chapter. Chapters contain one to three scenes or a hybrid like described. If you try to put more in a chapter the thing implodes. I have found that stories that don't use enough of the basic scene generally collapse.

HINT:  Action/dialogue sequences need breaks to give the reader a chance to breathe and process. If your action and dialogue goes on too long you will lose your reader. Find those long sequences and break them up.

One kind of special scene starts inside the main character's head -- I calling this a hook scene. I see this start in books a lot. The action and the dialogue happen off scene. We start with emotion and the thinking of the character wrapped together and that leads to first basic scene of a story. A hook scene must be shorter that a basic scene and  is generally used to connect the reader with the main character emotionally and intellectually. The author uses this short scene to hook the reader. You have to tap into a universal emotion and/or intellectual depth to make this one work. Also this emotion and thinking must lead to a real problem in a basic scene. Put a row of hook scenes together and lose your reader.

Now I'm going to touch on the passing scene. This scene is used for transition, usually from one setting to the next. Use it sparingly These scenes are very short. Something like:"Our journey from Earth to Titan took weeks. My emotions ran the gamut. I thought about leaving my father, my pony, my boyfriend, and my favorite burger joint behind, but now I must look forward. The engines fired up as we approached the landing base on Titan." This passing scene gets us from point a to point b, and we have some deep emotional connection, more than in a basic scene. 

HINT: Use passing scenes to bring your reader close to the bone of your main character.

There are special scenes that happens toward the end of stories. I'm calling these the bank scenes. One bank scene generally shows up in all books as the "darkest moment." The events of the whole book leads to this scene of revelatory emotion and thought from your main character. Your character feels deeply failure, remorse, agony of decision, pain, brokenness -- no feeling that we like to feel. Your character thinks deeply about the cosmic consequences of her journey  Another bank scene is comes after your climax. This scene again is in response to all the scenes in your story. The main character feels deeply, thinks thoroughly and comes to her truth. 

Check out your scenes and make sure that your interior structural story elements are sound. Look at your scenes and make sure they are complete or purposeful hybrids. Create a strong story.

And now the doodle:  "Alien landscape"

You need a quote for your pocket too!  Here's a good one:
Whatever satisfies the soul is truth. Walt Whitman

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Story Structure -- Beams

This week I'm talking about story structure. This is the second in a series. I'm using building element analogies in my discussions this month. I'm going to compare beams to chapters. I am also suggesting you that you go back to my previous story structure posts.  I hope that you find something here that resonates.

Beams are a structural element of housing that bear the load of the structure. Each chapter must also carry some of the load of your story. Unnecessary beams add weight to your structure and make it unsound. Unnecessary chapters add weight to story, these chapters must be cut or they drag it down. Each chapter needs to move the story forward. If you can't answer the question: Why is this chapter in this book?" Toss it. Next, you need to have enough beams to hold up the weight of your house. The same for stories. Missing chapters can be problem. An author, in a desire to get to the "good stuff" of the action, leaps ahead, missing sections in stories that make the work seem slight. Finding the right length and number of the chapters takes tons of practice.

Beams are connecting structural elements and so are chapters. Each chapter must truly fit with the one before it. It must be securely attached.  Each one leads to the next. How is this achieved? Beams are bolted together, so are good chapters. If your character is falling asleep at the end of a chapter, you leave yourself with with little to connect to the next chapter, other than to wake up. I caution, use "the sleeping character chapter transition" sparingly; it weakens your story. A good choice is to find the place something interesting happens for your character snoozes and end the chapter there. Start the next chapter when the an interesting thing happens not when the gal wakes up.

For example if your gal falls off a cliff and ends up on a ledge, end the chapter there, not when she falls asleep on the ledge. Don't start the next chapter when she wakes up, but when the surprise solution to that cliff problem shows up (perhaps the hot guy tries to help and they both fall into the river -- you know something unexpected), readers will want to turn the page. You have bolted your chapters together. Look at the beginning of chapters and think about bolting them to the previous chapter. Always connect chapters with high action or emotion.

Beams form corners in buildings. So major turns in stories happen at chapter ends that segue into chapter beginnings. If a beam is too long, the house collapses. If a chapter is too long, the story collapses. Perhaps the action goes on for twenty pages, the story really sags. Perhaps there are long descriptive passages for a dozen pages, the story sags. Cut to make it work. A good trick is go to the mid-point of the saggy chapter and cut the chapter in half. This often reveals what you need to cut or add. Do the work to make your story structure strong.

Here are my thoughts on short chapters. If a beam is too short you don't leave enough room under it for the rooms to be created.  This doesn't mean you can't have a short beam.  It's just, if all the beams are really short, it weakens the story. I am seeing stories these days with extra short chapters. These books tend to have hundreds of chapters. I find this weakening stories. It's a cinematic approach to writing. I'm not saying you can't be successful with it. I mean, straw huts don't have beams. It is viable form of building and it has been around forever. But stories can be so much more than huts. (Yes, I am saying that cinematic film offers a very limited story-telling structure). In the end, I'm asking you to consider if you can say more by varying chapter length.

OK!  You have some chapter stuff to think about.  Remember this is just an analogy and that they only go so far. I hope that you move forward with projects and create master works.

Here is another abstract piece: Transparent Olives

.Tuck this quote in your pocket:

Rexamine all that you have been told... dismiss that which insults your soul. Walt Whitman.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Story Structure -- Ridge Beam

Hi folks, I will spend the month of June sharing what I have learned about story structure in my writing journey. Here is a link to my previous series on this topic, covering five important structural components to story plots.  This month I will draw a series of analogies to building structure to help illuminate structural components of stories.

First up is the ridge beam. This seriously important beam connects the trusses of a roof. It's the beam the rafters connect to. It's basically the part of the building that brings us under one roof.  Stories need singular focus to work. In a way they need to bring our readers under one roof.  You will create this ridge beam for your story by understanding what your character wants. This one desire must be clear from the get go and all other desires must subordinate to it. It's a simple concept with satisfying results.

Some authors write characters that want too many things, like they have mommy issues, they want true love, they desire to have successful careers, they hunger for fame, etc.  The reader  has to look in so many directions as they take the story journey, and by the end of the book, they don't care. What is important is that the author chooses one ridge pole from these many desires and uses the rest as rafters.  Subordinate ideas to the main beam through your story and your readers will thank you. 

Another mistake is switching your main character's desire mid-stream. This breaks the roof over your story unless you are very careful  and resolve that desire and place a new one in place and stick to it.  Mostly desire switching just creates a mess. Proceed with extreme caution. Another huge problem is a character who just doesn't want anything. This story needs a roof to bring all those great ideas together. Dig into that main character's psyche and figure out what's going on. Your readers will rejoice.

HINT: If you can't easily communicate what your main character wants in a sentence or two, you don't know and need to figure that out.

Laser focus on the want of a character throughout a story rivets readers. It holds them in place within your construct  Your job as a writer is do whatever you can to not give your character what she wants, thwarting her desire, exploring the consequences of her desire, and finally letting your character obtain her deepest desire or not obtain it by uncovering the tragedy unfullfilled desire.

Trust your ridge beam and create powerful stories that readers will not wat to put down. Come back next week for more on story structure. I hope you find help here to craft stories for the ages.

Here is this week's doodle: Abstract #1

Finally a quote for your pocket

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world. Walt Whitman.