Resources I Found While Writing My Novel & Things I Learned

I started this blog back in August of 2008 shortly after I started writing this novel. Initially it was on another website of mine. Last post before the move to this website was in March 2012. Resuming it here.

22 Rules of Storytelling

"Back in 2012, now-former Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats tweeted a series of pearls of narrative wisdom she had picked up from working at the studio over the years." Here is a resummarizing of 22 Rules of Storytelling from Pixar.

From the Book, Save the Cat Strikes Back.

Betty Ryan's short pitch guide (p. 123)
  1. Opening image — a brief "who" of the hero
  2. Catalyst — the thing that sets the story in motion
  3. Break into two — the essence of the story and poster
  4. Midpoint  —The complications that challenged the hero
  5. All is lost  —how the hero loses everything
  6. Break into three  —the solution to the hero's dilemma
  7. Final image  — how he is transformed by the story

"A movie, I think, is really only four or five moments between two people; the rest of it exists to give those moments their impact and resonance. The script exists for that. Everything does." - Robert Towne

The ScriptLab lists 8 sequences: 2 in Act One, 4 in Act Two and 2 in Act Three
  • SEQUENCE ONE - Status Quo & Inciting Incident
  • SEQUENCE TWO - Predicament & Lock In
  • SEQUENCE THREE - First Obstacle & Raising the Stakes
  • SEQUENCE FOUR - First Culmination/Midpoint
  • SEQUENCE FIVE - Subplot & Rising Action
  • SEQUENCE SIX - Main Culmination/End of Act Two
  • SEQUENCE SEVEN - New Tension & Twist
  • SEQUENCE EIGHT - Resolution
Or see this Cheat Sheet: 7-Point Story Structure
  • PLOT TURN 1 should be the call to adventure. (Example from Harry Potter: Magic!)
  • Use the PINCH to apply pressure and introduce danger.
  • The MIDPOINT, PLOT TURN 2, and the second PINCH can be shuffled around a bit as needed.
    At the MIDPOINT, the MC and friends move from reaction to action. They confront new ideas, learn something and decide to do something about it. This may actually come fairly early in the book. In other words, midpoint does not need to mean “halfway” here.
  • For PLOT TURN 2, something horrible happens, but now the main character has what he needs. This will move us from trying to succeed to succeeding. The MC despairs, but is then told or realizes, “The power is in you.” Think Star Wars.
  • In PINCH 2 the plan fails. The MC is confronted by the jaws of defeat. Classic examples include the loss of a mentor and the loss or perceived loss of “everything.” Here the MC is forced to grow up in some way.
  • The RESOLUTION wraps up in a satisfying way the plot thread. This can be traditional mystery resolutions. A big fight scene. The MC saves the day. Whatever the primary goal of your hero’s plot was. But also think of it in terms of character movement. If the MC began as a rule breaker/loner, he might achieve a more powerful position by becoming a team player in the climax.
The Plot Turn/Pinch structure facilitates the use of TRY/FAIL cycles. The MC should TRY/FAIL at least twice before achieving his goal, otherwise the goal might be too easy for the reader to care. During the course of this, you may use the fails to demonstrate consequences–“Choose wisely or else.”

Larry Brooks talks about the Four Parts of your story:
  • Part 1 of your story… the Set-up. then the Inciting Incident takes place at about the 2% mark in the story.
  • Part 2 of your story… the Response. First Plot Point
  • Part 3 of your story… the Attack. Midpoint
  • Part 4 of your story… the Resolution.

More on Pixar Story Rules

Readers admire a character more for trying than succeeding - and - "Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it."

More on Emotions from Peter Dunne’s Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot: A Guide for Screenwriters

"Essentially, Peter teaches that the plot, beat for beat, is merely there to support the emotional relationships between the characters. And ultimately, the emotional story is the main focus of your script (and film). That emotional structure is the real story. Not the plot, per se." This is from Finding the Emotional Core of Your Story Blog/Page

Speaking of Emotion, I have just run into a quote by Orwell on autobiography

Which he says "never mention the humiliations that make up severity-five percent of human life." - This is from Tom Wolfe on the "Emotional Core of the Story"

I "think" I am missing the Emotional Core of my novel's story. So I looked around for information and found Screenwriting Tip #12: What is Emotion.

Gideon's Screenwriting Tips sway: "The five basic human emotions are happiness, sadness, love, anger and fear.." "Some psychologists believe all are emotions lie along a spectrum polarized by fear on one end and happiness on the other. Everything else is a subcategory of these two key emotions." A discussion of Malow's Theory of Human Motivations which says human needs include
  • Physiological....
  • Safety....
  • Love/ Belonging....
  • Esteem....
  • Self- Actualization – morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts. These are egocentric behaviors allowing us to function as individuals."
Then it says "Karl Iglesias has reduced scripts to requiring four emotional elements. Audience love stories to satisfy the following needs:
  • to obtain new information
  • to bond/ socialize
  • to understand and resolve conflicts
  • to get completion/ closure
  • to be entertained"
My research on this topic also elicited the information that the core emotions of the story should be at its core not on its surface.

I have been accepted to the Odyssey Online Workshop on writing scenes.

I thought I was rejected when told I was on the short list for a spot (I was told the same thing last year) but this year a few days later, I was accepted. Even the first email that I thought was a rejection however, was very useful and I had spent the time in between the two emails doing things on my story suggested by the first email. So, now my opening is entirely different. And the first chapter is a little longer than I wanted. Still, I think it is better.

I submitting the first thousand words to an Odyssey Online Workshop.

Last year I submitted the previous first thousand words for another of their online workshops. The application is $10 and for that I received back a couple of paragraphs of suggestions when they told me I hadn't made the cut. Those suggestions were the best suggestions I got all year. I am hoping this thousand words actually gets me into the workshop this year but even if it doesn't I am hoping for such useful suggestions as I got last year. If I don't get in, I plan to get a critique from them of my first 20,000 words as soon as I go through them again.

I have been accepted to the Odyssey Online Workshop on writing scenes.

I thought I was rejected when told I was on the short list for a spot (I was told the same thing last year) but this year a few days later, I was accepted. Even the first email that I thought was a rejection however, was very useful and I had spent the time in between the two emails doing things on my story suggested by the first email. So, now my opening is entirely different. And the first chapter is a little longer than I wanted. Still, I think it is better.

I submitting the first thousand words to an Odyssey Online Workshop.

Last year I submitted the previous first thousand words for another of their online workshops. The application is $10 and for that I received back a couple of paragraphs of suggestions when they told me I hadn't made the cut. Those suggestions were the best suggestions I got all year. I am hoping this thousand words actually gets me into the workshop this year but even if it doesn't I am hoping for such useful suggestions as I got last year. If I don't get in, I plan to get a critique from them of my first 20,000 words as soon as I go through them again.

I paid for a premium membership with ProWritingAid.

ProWritingAid has been so very useful to me. It finds overused words and that helps me (it even tells me how many instances I should take out). It tells me how many times I use passive case and doesn't recommend that I take it out all the time but tells me my percentage is too high and recommends how many to take out. It points out long sentences and usually I cut them in two but occasionally I leave one the way it is after being sure it makes sense, It makes sure my spelling is consistently British spelling!!! Of course for Americans writing in American English (as opposed to what I am doing), it would check American spelling to make sure it is right. It introduced me to the idea of sticky sentences (haven't figured out what to do about most of them but I can now see them). It does so much. I cannot tell you how useful I am finding it. And I am still discovering ways it can help me. You can try it for free. I wish I had found it years ago.

I am becoming more and more impressed with http://prowritingaid.com.

Who would have thought an online editor could be so useful. I love the way ProWritingAid finds overused words, vague words, sticky sentences (I never before knew what sticky sentences were), etc. They have a free version and that is what I have been using and they sometimes give you a pop-up to offer you a week of premium version just by tweeting about it. But Premium version is only $35 a year and that sounds really worth it to me.

I had forgotten the rule about having characters with names that start with the same letter. For a fast reader, this can get confusing.

Haven't yet decided what to do about Katherine and Kitchner but decided Hofmann was one too many names that started with an H So I changed his name to Fuhrmann. Later changed Katherine to Eleanor.

Show vs Tell from Curiosity Quills

I am having trouble with Show vs Tell: Words to search for and think about:
Words to watch out for
Felt / Feel
Heard / Hear
Saw / See
Knew / know / had known
Wondered
Realized
Decided
Seemed
Began
Wished
Hoped
Passive Voice words
To be Is
Are
Was
Were
Has
Had
Have
Have Been
Did
Does
Do
Also: Past Participles (verb form often ending in -ed)
Other weak words
Oh
Just
Well
So
Like
As
As if
While

The 5 Essential Story Ingredients By Steven James from Writer's Digest.

1. Ingredient #1: Orientation
2. Ingredient #2: Crisis
3. Ingredient #3: Escalation
4. Ingredient #4: Discovery
5.Ingredient #5: Change.
Read the article for details, suggestions, etc.

10 THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN WRITING A LEGAL THRILLER from Writer's Digest.

1. Take full advantage of your attorney’s profession.
2. Let your attorney mess up.
3. Stress stress.
4. Know the law.
5. Don’t create an infallible character.
6. Rip from the headlines for ideas.
7. Consider all the viewpoints at your disposal.
8. Know your vocal.
9. When in doubt about a fact or a piece of research, pick up the phone.
10. Avoid getting lost in technical details.
Read the article for details, suggestions, etc.

THE 5 C’S OF WRITING A GREAT THRILLER NOVEL from Writer's Digest.

1. Complex Characterizations
2. Confrontation
3. Careening
4. Coronary
5. Communication
Read the article for details, suggestions, etc.

Showing Character Emotion from Writer's Digest.

"You want to avoid directly stating emotions in your writing. You’ve all heard it before: show, don’t tell. If your character is feeling anger, avoid telling the reader that “Sheila was mad.” Emotion stated so directly is not particularly convincing, and it certainly doesn’t make the character feel alive to the reader. Details are convincing. Instead, describe Sheila’s demeanor. What does she see, think, feel, taste, or smell?"
....
* Use fresh imagery.... use specific, imaginative, and active verbs....
* Show, don’t tell....
* Appeal to the reader’s senses.... using all five senses."
from the course Character Development: Creating Memorable Characters

How to Structure a Killer Novel Ending from Writer's Digest.

"A blueprint for storytelling." "The Four Parts of Effective Storytelling." "Guidelines for a Compelling Ending"
"The one rule of Part 4—the resolution of your story—is that no new expositional information may enter the story once it has been triggered. If something appears in the final act, it must have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play. This includes characters.
"Aside from that one tenet, punishable by rejection slip if you dismiss it, you’re on your own to craft the ending of your story. And in so doing, the enlightened writer observes the following guidelines and professional preferences."

How to Use a Rhyming Dictionary to Improve Your Prose

“A rhyming dictionary provides a peek into words that sound similar to a word with an easy to use format. It’s mostly a database of words that are organized around a root sound with a look up facility to find the root.” and “When writing a scene, where mood is important, verb sounds can help establish the feel, i.e. the reason jazz feels like blue as well as being contemplative and moody, is because the sound connects to the action blew that shows how the saxophone or clarinet is being blown.”

Writer's Digest: 3 Easy Revision Tips and Strategies to Improve Your Manuscript

1. "Start on page one... and work your way through...."
2. "Circle passive voice words and eliminate them.... passive terms such as was, were, are, is, and have been... slow... down stories and makes it less exciting for readers.
3. "Delete all clichés" [they list] 12 of the most common writing clichés all writers should avoid (plus, there are hundreds more in the comments section—heck, feel free to add your own!)..."

Previous Posts upto March 2012