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This month at WriteOnSisters we’re talking about pitching! A pitch comes in many forms – query, synopsis, one-liner, or book blurb. Anything that “sells” your book to anyone else is a pitch. Usually pitches are written after a novel is complete, because that’s when a writer needs to “sell” their novel to an agent or a publisher or directly to the masses via self-publishing. However, I’m going to encourage you to use pitches differently…
As story development tools.
Yes, I’m suggesting we write those dreaded pitches before and during the novel writing process. I’ll give you three reasons why…
#1 – To test the Story Premise.
It’s common screenwriting advice to write a logline (aka a one-line pitch) before writing the first draft as a test to make sure you have the basic story premise down (PROTAGONIST + PROBLEM + GOAL) and to confirm these elements connect. Read How To Write A Logline for more on that.
Other benefits of writing a one-line pitch? When people ask what you’re writing, you have a concise, catchy answer for them!
#2 – To see things from an Agent/Publisher’s Perspective.
A synopsis or query (aka a paragraph or one-page pitch) includes the story’s major plot points. Once you’ve done some story development (for plotters that can be a beat sheet or outline; for pantsers that’s the rough first draft), write a test query letter to put yourself in the mindset of an agent or publisher. Now, from a publishing professional’s perspective, does this synopsis make sense or are there plot holes? Does it intrigue or confuse? Does it sound original or generic? Would it stand out from the thousands of other queries received? Be honest. The reason you’re doing this now is so you can make changes to your WIP long before you’re at the submission stage. Because by that time, well, it’s a little late.
#3 – To clarify the Hook.
A book blurb is a pitch to the reader that leads with the “hook” that gets them to buy your book. This is a little different than a synopsis in that a blurb doesn’t include spoilers like plot twists or the ending. And because those things are omitted, it forces you to see if you can sell the story without revealing that amazing twist. Because you have to! If you can’t, that’s a sign you need to come up with a proper hook. Also, finding and defining the book’s hook helps locate structural issues, like too much set up. I blogged about that in this post: What Book Jackets Teach About A Story’s Hook.
So even if you’re not near the official agent/publisher pitching stage, I’ve just given you three reasons to stay tuned this month as we blog about all things pitching, including query letters, the elevator pitch, and the increasingly popular Twitter pitch.
Do any of you write pitches before or during your writing process?
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/write-pitch-before-finishing-novel/
Once upon a time I was working on a revamped novel idea – a fun, scary, action-packed revenge story. It was going to be great. I was feeling especially confident after reading this blog: “Why Revenge is Such a Brilliant Plot for Beginner Writers.” I pictured myself pounding out this simple revenge story while my other novel, a more complicated mystery-thriller, percolated. What a swell plan, and then I noticed something was missing…
STAKES. Holy moly! There were no stakes! And I don’t mean that my vampire hunter heroes forgot their wooden stakes. No, the problem was if my vengeful hero didn’t get her revenge… oh well. Shrug. No biggie. She’d survive. Though all the other points made by the above blog are spot on, like having a proactive hero with a goal, an absence of story stakes can be the revenge plot’s downfall. Beginner writers beware!
But wait, don’t revenge plots inherently have high stakes like dangerous situations and even death? Yes, but putting your hero in life-threatening danger during their quest is a scene stake not a story stake. Every scene needs stakes (aka consequences), but the overall story needs ONE BIG CONSEQUENCE if the hero fails to achieve his goal. It doesn’t matter how many scene stakes you throw at your hero if the overall story stake is missing.
Note that story stakes must be dire enough to make the reader care. If all that happens to the heroine upon failing is she feels crummy, well, so what? In SAVE THE CAT, Blake Snyder explains that stakes need to be “primal”, such as survival, hunger, love, protection of loved ones, and death, to ensure that the audience is invested in the hero’s quest. I struggled against this advice. I mean, come on, does what’s at stake always have to be love or death or survival? So I thought about all my favorite books and TV shows and films, and oh my gosh, yes, the answer is a resounding YES. And the most common primal stake? Love. Even if the story isn’t a romance, even if it’s a life-or-death action flick, love is often a big story stake. This might be why most stories have a love subplot. But the love doesn’t have to be romantic. It can also be paternal or platonic. Just make sure your character cares about someone, then jeopardize that relationship or the actual life of that person to create or raise stakes.
Of course, it’s not just revenge plots that can overlook story stakes. It can happen in any genre. So, to make sure it doesn’t happen to you (and me – again), I’ve made a handy Story Stakes Checklist…
1) If the protagonist fails, what happens? Would she lose a loved one, or die tragically, or get her heart irrevocably broken? Would her home be destroyed? Would evil rule the world? Something bad must happen if the protagonist fails to achieve her goal.
2) Is this the worst thing that can happen to the protagonist? What is your protagonist most scared will happen if he doesn’t achieve his goal? What would figuratively or literally kill him? Or both?
3) Are the stakes tangible? Will an actual action happen if the protagonist fails to achieve his goal? Will his lover dump him? Will he be sent to jail and separated from his family? Love, like all stakes, loses its power if it’s not connected to a concrete event.
4) Are the stakes worth fighting for? Your protagonist can’t “kind of” want her goal. Achieving her goal must mean everything to her! Failing would ruin her life! The protagonist can’t be ambivalent to the stakes.
5) Who else cares about the stakes? If only the protagonist cares, the stakes may be too small. Think about the other characters in the story. Do they care if the protagonist fails or succeeds? At least one should or else the protagonist might be a drama queen with trivial stakes. Stakes cannot be inconsequential.
6) If your protagonist succeeds, does she save the day? Avoiding the stakes must feel like a giant victory!
Making readers care about your story and protagonist is difficult to pull off, but with primal story stakes it’s possible. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, figure out the stakes before you start writing, because without stakes, you won’t have a compelling story, and it’s best to find that out before you’ve written tens of thousands of words. Trust me.
For More Blog Posts from Heather, click here!
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/6-questions-to-ask-to-make-sure-your-story-has-real-stakes/
Last November I attempted my first NaNoWriMo, but since I’m a turtle-paced plotter and not a fast-fingered pantser, I approached it like this: A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win NaNoWriMo. Despite that excellent plan, I didn’t win (see Results of a Slow Writer’s First NaNoWriMo). There were two reasons for that, one of which was that I started a new freelance writing gig mid-month that ate up most of my time, and the other was that “pushing ahead” on my project, something NaNo encourages, did not work for me. Despite all my preplanning, my story simply wasn’t ready to be churned out in one go. I hit roadblock after roadblock because I hadn’t developed something crucial regarding the story or the characters, and had to go back to change things, and try again. Which, I suppose, is what writing is all about. But I’d rather develop those things before I get into the messy process of writing. So what was I missing?
This is something I’ve been struggling with for years: what exactly needs to be developed before I start to write? I know how to beat out a story arc (Outlining Method 1: Story Beats) and hone a life-changing character arc (The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint). I even made myself a handy Pre-Writing Checklist. Yet my story outline still stinks! It’s like I’m stuck in the Outlining Outhouse, re-plotting, re-plotting and re-plotting, hoping to eradicate the stench. But I can’t, so I burn it down and dig a new hole – only to fill it with more crap.
How can I escape?
In desperation I turned to more writing craft books. After a few useless misses, I found THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby. It is exactly what I need: story development steps to go through before one starts writing. Truby also stresses that this approach is for all writers, plotters and pansters alike. Why? Because it’s less about story structure (i.e. this action happens here and is followed by this action and then this action, etc.) and more about story elements that are needed to create not just a good story, but a great story. And I think that is the most valuable aspect of Truby’s book — discussing what makes a story great and giving the reader actionable questions to answer to develop that greatness in their own work.
And what makes a story great? A Moral Argument.
Some of you might be going, “No kidding! I knew that!” Well, so did I. But it’s a very difficult thing to write. It must be woven so seamlessly into the plot that it won’t be seen by the reader but rather felt. That’s what I was going for, but I wasn’t quite hitting the mark. I’m sure with enough practice I could have got it, but I want to have a great novel published before I’m 80, so I’m ecstatic that Truby has written a book to speed up this learning process. Because this outhouse reeks and I cannot wait to get out of it!
So for Camp NaNo, my goal is to not spend all my time in the outlining outhouse. The plan is to work my way through THE ANATOMY OF STORY to develop my novel idea, and then write an outline that hopefully won’t completely stink. I’m sure I’ll find myself in the outhouse every once in a while, but at least now I know how to escape it and write a better – no, great! – story.
Any of you guys going to Camp NaNo this summer?
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/camp-nano-my-escape-from-the-outlining-outhouse/
I’ve been reading writing craft books for almost two decades, and it’s gotten to the point where most of them don’t tell me anything I don’t already know. But recently I had a creative crisis that prompted me to look hard for new information, and after a couple misses I came across THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby. I highly recommend you check it out. I’m not going to regurgitate the book’s content here; I’m simply going to highlight a small tidbit I found in Chapter 3 that has completely changed how I approach developing a protagonist’s journey…
Early on in my career, I learned that the hero’s WANT and NEED are two separate things and integral to the Character Arc. Let’s refresh…
WANT = What the hero desires and believes will make them happy. WANT is the motivation behind the hero’s GOAL.
FLAW (personal characteristic) + LIE (personal belief) = What prevents the hero from achieving their GOAL.
NEED = What will actually make the hero happy. The NEED overcomes the hero’s FLAW and counters the LIE they’ve believed up until the Climax of the story. Recognizing this need is what prompts the hero to change; acting on this need is what allows the hero to triumph in the end (which may or may not involve achieving the original GOAL).
Note: The above applies to stories with a positive character arc rather than a negative character arc. Also, an arc period. Some people don’t think having the hero change is a necessary part of a story. I do simply because I prefer stories where the hero changes and am disappointed with stories where the hero doesn’t change. But I recognize that this is my opinion and not the law.
Now back to this Character Need thing…
Notice the use of the word “personal” in the definitions above. Most students of writing craft learn that the hero’s NEED is something deeply personal that affects the hero. Truby calls this a “psychological need.” However, he also identifies another type of need: moral.
“In average stories, the hero only has a psychological need [that] involves overcoming a serious flaw which is hurting nobody but the hero. In better stories, the hero has a moral need in addition to the psychological need… [which is] hurting others.” — John Truby, The Anatomy of Story, pg 41.
So, if there are two types of NEED, there are two types of character FLAWS: psychological and moral. Sometimes a psychological flaw (such as alcoholism) has an obvious moral flaw (hurting the ones you love) attached to it, but not always. Take a psychological flaw like low self-esteem. How does that flaw hurt others? It’s easy to brainstorm ways, but up until now, this is not something I’d ever made a point of doing. And I realize this was a missed opportunity to: 1) add more poignant conflict to the protagonist’s relationships; 2) create deeper stakes; and, most importantly, 3) perfectly intertwine Character Arc and Theme.
In my post The Controlling Idea – Not Your English Teacher’s Theme, I talk about how a story’s Theme always revolves around a human value, and when we test values we are debating morals. But before coming across this concept of a hero’s “moral need” I had developed Character Arc and Theme separately. I knew each was affected by the other, but my process was more like putting two things side-by-side and trying to make them complement each other. Now I approach Character Arc and Theme as puzzle pieces that fit together and develop them in tandem.
This was such a lightbulb moment for me, and made my WIP’s character revelation scene finally click into place. I’ve been playing with the character arc for months. It’s always been connected to the theme, and there was a moral flaw in there somewhere too, but before I clearly identified the moral need, I hadn’t been able to really focus my heroine’s character change into something powerful. Now I think I have.
In conclusion, the tiniest writing tips can be just what you need for a story breakthrough.
PS – Are you wondering why Dustin Hoffman from the movie Tootsie is in the title card? Well, because his character is a perfect example of psychological and moral need working together, as John Truby discusses in THE ANATOMY OF STORY.
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/character-need-psychological-moral/
Starting a new project is always exciting. After I applied to a writers grant with my current WIP this February, I decided to start another novel, or rather resurrect an idea I’d developed a year earlier. I already had character sketches and a beat sheet complete, so I rushed right in to writing a scene-by-scene outline only to discover by Act II that I didn’t actually have a story.
How the hell did that happen?
Well, I skipped some pre-writing steps, things that I knew I should do, but I just got so excited about the characters I’d created and the world I’d built that I wanted to start writing asap!
Since I had a beat sheet and character sketches and world-building notes, basically everything that most people advise writers to do as part of the pre-writing stage, what exactly was I missing? Well, in short, I needed to flush out the story premise more. So I read some blogs and books aiming to help writers achieve a “Killer Concept” or “Steal-Worthy Premise”, but found them to be impractically vague. Instead, I took stock of what makes a great story, and came up with my own list of things to do before I begin writing…
#1 Write a LOGLINE. Broken down to its components, a logline is: FLAWED PROTAGONIST + DESIRE + PROBLEM + GOAL. For example, the logline for ZOOTOPIA: “A too-small bunny (FP) wants to be a cop (D), but no one believes she can do the job and they put her on meter maid duty (P), so she sets out to prove she’s capable of real police work by solving an unsolved case (G).” If you can’t fill in those blanks, you don’t yet have a story. Now, I am a screenwriter so of course I wrote a logline before I began writing (it’d be sacrilege if I didn’t!), but in retrospect it was too vague: I had a protagonist, but didn’t know her flaw; I gave her a desire, but exactly who and what were standing in her way (the problem) was a bit unclear, and that resulted in an unfocused goal. Bottom line, this short sentence needs to be specific to be helpful. For more detailed tips on writing loglines, click here.
#2 Clarify the STORY QUESTION. In other words, what does the reader want to find out from reading your book? Hint: this question revolves around whether the hero will succeed or fail at their goal. The burning desire to learn the answer is what “hooks” a reader into your story. For example, in the movie ZOOTOPIA the story question is, “Will Officer Hopps solve the case and prove she belongs on the police force?” This story question is the spine of the narrative; every scene must make the reader wonder how this question will be answered. For more on hooking your reader with a question, read this.
#3 Make a POINT. Every powerful story has a message, so what lesson or warning are you trying to communicate to the reader through your story? This does not mean your novel needs to be preachy; in fact, the point of most stories is very subtle, but if it’s not there, readers will come to the end and shrug, “So what?” To have a point, a human value (such as freedom, love or justice) must be at stake. For more information, read this post on Theme.
#4 Know the END CHOICE. Note the word “choice.” Most writers have a general idea of how they want their story to end — the prince and princess live happily-ever-after, the detective catches the criminal, the widow deals with her grief and moves on — but they don’t know what choice the protagonist has to make to get to that ending. Or worse, they don’t have the protagonist choose between anything! It’s absolutely imperative that the hero has to choose between two opposing things that they want (read this post to find out why), and readers must know these things will collide at the end of the story, and not knowing what the hero will choose creates suspense! I dislike stories that don’t have this end choice because they are predictable and boring. Because this is a big pet peeve of mine, I have already blogged about it in this post: How To Write Unpredictable Stories.
Of course, there is so much more that goes into developing a story than just these four things (like character sketches, the hero’s arc, and worldbuilding), but in my opinion nailing down the above story elements before you start writing can save valuable time and help avoid dead-end-story frustration. At least for me, it does. 🙂
What about you guys? Do you have a pre-writing checklist? Or do you just dive right in to the prose?
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/pre-writing-checklist/
Welcome back to Masterplots Theater on this the very last day of the A-Z Challenge! Yippee! We made it! And as happens every year, we get to Z and go, “What the heck are we going to write for this letter?” Of course, now that I think of it, we could have picked zombies, but I already talked enough about zombies in X is for X Meets Y. So the word of the day is *drum roll* ZOOMORPHIC!
What the heck does that mean?
Zoomorphic: “Having the form of an animal.” — Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Great! I get to talk about all my favorite animated movies where the characters are animals. And then I read this:
Zoomorphism: “Art that imagines humans as non-human animals.” — Wikipedia
Oh wait, that’s the opposite of this:
Anthropomorphism: “The attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities.” — Wikipedia
Right. So that means most animated animal films, such as FINDING NEMO, ICE AGE, THE LION KING and RATATOUILLE are actually anthropomorphic. Darn.
So I went back to the drawing board, aka Google, to research stories where humans take the form of animals, but then remembered that Robin already wrote about the Metamorphosis masterplot. So you know what? We’re just going to go with the basic definition of zoomorphic (“having the form of an animal”) and talk about movies with animal characters that act so much like humans that we can pretend they’re humans in animal form. Okay? Because Z is a difficult letter and we can cheat a little.
Zoomorphic Plot Notes:
The defining element of this somewhat made-up masterplot is that the characters are animals that act human, so much so that they talk like us, walk on two legs, and wear clothing. In this way, FINDING NEMO does not fit in this category, but FANTASTIC MR. FOX does.
The setting resembles human civilization, with the animal characters living in houses and cities, getting married, having jobs, and even establishing organized leadership such as royalty or government.
Probably the most significant characteristic of this plot is the moral issues it addresses. The animal society mirrors human society, including all the problems and -isms (racism, sexism, classism) that we deal with.
Example to Study:
ZOOTOPIA! Because it’s my new favourite film and a perfect fit for this masterplot:
· CHARACTERS: They are all animals who talk, have human-style relationships, and work people jobs. They also wear clothes, and there is a hilarious scene in a nudist yoga centre that makes light of this.
· SETTING: Zootopia is a modern city with houses, businesses, roads, transit, technology and government. Heck, the bunny protagonist even has a smart phone that she uses to call, text, listen to music and take photos. It doesn’t get more human than that!
· MORAL ISSUE: Racism. Because what better way to send a “we should all live in harmony, no matter our differences and our history” than to put a bunch of very divergent animals together in the same city, some of whom used to be “prey” to the others.
· MASTERPLOT: Zootopia falls under the Fool Triumphant category because 1) the protagonist (Judy Hopps) is a bunny that nobody expects to succeed because bunnies aren’t supposed to be police officers, 2) she’s up against the Establishment (police force) who discriminates against bunnies, 3) she gets a name change when she passes cop training and becomes Officer Hopps, 4) the film sheds light on a serious moral issue through comedy, and 5) the disregarded protagonist exposes the establishment as the true fool, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Stories that fit my Zoomorphic Masterplot criteria: FANTASTIC MR. FOX, MICKEY MOUSE and DONALD DUCK films, THE SECRET OF N.I.H.M., and REDWALL.
And that’s it! The April Blogging A-Z Challenge is finished! Thanks for being part of Masterplots Theater. We sincerely hope you enjoyed the show.
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/a-z-challenge/masterplots-theater-z-is-for-zoomorphic/
Welcome back to Masterplots Theater! All month we’ve been talking about writing individual masterplots, but what if you’re deliberately writing a story in two genres? What the heck is that? Well, I’d call that a “mashup”, or for the purposes of the A-Z Challenge, an “X Meets Y” masterplot.
But the real question is: should you write a mashup? Or should you stick to one genre? After all, mashups are either breakout hits or dismal failures. Done wrong and they can mess with your whole story and make you wonder why you ever committed to such a frankenstein-like project. However, done right and you’ll wow the masses.
X Meets Y Plot Notes:
The defining element of an X Meets Y masterplot is that it not only uses but embraces two or more genres equally. This means that each genre gets the same level of screen time and importance. For example, adding a bit of comedy to your horror flick doesn’t make it a mashup. That’s just a horror film with some funny lines. Same with a romantic comedy. If it’s a romance with a couple funny situations, it’s still just a romance. But if it’s a fully flushed out Love Story with comic throughlines and laughs throughout the entire tale, that’s what we now call a Rom-Com — a mashup so popular and prevalent it has become it’s own genre.
Because of this dual-genre thing, two plots are generally required for an X Meets Y story. It’s important to note that these plots could be told separately, but together they make mashup magic! The plots will intertwine either from the get-go (like in SHAUN OF THE DEAD) or gradually (like the episodic murder mysteries and season-long zombie plague story arc of iZOMBIE).
Some masterplots are heavy on the character arc (like Rite of Passage or Love Story) and some are not (like Adventure or Horror). Likewise, some masterplots require lots of action (like Pursuit and Escape) but others don’t (like Institutionalized or Buddy Love). Armed with this knowledge, aim to combine plots with opposing characteristics. I feel this is one reason why SHAUN OF THE DEAD works so well — the action-packed zombie horror juxtaposes perfectly against the heartwarming romance.
Finally, the brilliance of the X Meets Y masterplot is its wide audience appeal. For example, people who don’t generally like horror flicks enjoy SHAUN OF THE DEAD because it’s also a romantic comedy. So if done well, this masterplot can be a hit!
Example to Study:
SHAUN OF THE DEAD is so obviously a perfect example of this masterplot (as I explained in the above section), therefore I’m choosing something different for the official example: the television show iZOMBIE…
· 2 GENRES: Cop procedural (Mystery) meets zombie horror (Thriller). No wonder I love this show so much — it is literally my favourite genres and masterplots together, with a dash of Comedy (but not enough to make this a triple mashup).
· 2 PLOTS: In every episode there is the murder-of-the-week mystery and also a zombie plot. The murder plot and the zombie plot often seem unrelated at the beginning, but reveal themselves to be connected by the end of the episode. However, it would be absolutely possible to tell the story from one perspective (cop-Mystery) or the other (zombie-Thriller), but they’re more fun together.
· OPPOSING PLOT CHARACTERISTICS: Mystery plots are less action-heavy than Thrillers, and we see this in how the iZombie detective scenes are more brain-teasers (the audience trying to solve the mystery along with Liv and Clive) and the paranormal scenes are more brain-eaters (thrills and chills). *Sorry for the lame zombie joke; I couldn’t resist.
· WIDE AUDIENCE APPEAL: I can only speculate about this since I haven’t done an in-depth survey on the show’s viewers, but I do know that my boyfriend and I both love iZombie despite our different tastes in TV shows. Plus, it was just renewed for a 3rd season, so its ratings must be good!
Books: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER by Seth Grahame-Smith (historical + paranormal), THE LUNDAR CHRONICLES (fairy tale romance + dystopian quest), OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon (historical romance + sci-fi / fantasy), PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Seth Grahame-Smith (classic lit + horror).
Films: SHAUN OF THE DEAD (horror + romantic comedy, aka a rom-com-zom flick), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (pseudo-documentary horror), THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (sic-fi-horror-comedy-musical), CRIME AND MISDEMEANORS (romantic comedy + murder mystery), NEAR DARK (vampire-western), KUNG FU HUSTLE (action-musical), WESTWORLD (western + sci-fi), OUTLANDER (historical + sci-fi), JERRY MAGUIRE (sports flick + rom com),
Thank you for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed X is for X Meets Y and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, Y is for Yarn.
So… have you ever tried to write a mash-up?
For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/masterplots-theater-x-is-for-x-meets-y-genre-mashups/
Welcome back to Masterplots Theater! Today we’re going to talk vengeance, for all those writers who are just dying to exorcise a past wrong through fiction…
Vengeance Plot Notes:
The main drive of this masterplot is simple: the protagonist seeks revenge on the antagonist.
The antagonist must have done something that warrants the hero’s desire for vengeance. In other words, the hero must have moral justification for seeking revenge.
In Vengeance stories, the hero feels like they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands because the institutions that normally deal with the crime committed against them are not doing anything about it, either because of incompetency or inability. Thus, the justice the hero seeks is of the vigilante variety.
It’s important to note that the hero’s vengeance (the villain’s punishment) must fit the crime. So if the villain cheated the hero out of millions of dollars, the hero can’t plan to kill him. That punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and the audience won’t “buy into” the story. But if the villain brutally murdered the hero’s entire family, then the hero setting out to kill him is a plot the audience can root for. Though if you don’t subscribe to the “eye for an eye” philosophy, this masterplot is probably not for you.
Vengeance masterplots tend to be action heavy. Even if there are moments of character reflection about the nature of good vs evil, revenge and retribution, forgiveness and atonement, these moments are not the bulk of the story. Especially in movies, fight scenes rule this masterplot.
Example to Study:
I have combed my Goodreads list, but alas, I haven’t read any revenge novels! So I am going to use a movie I have seen as an example: GANGS OF NEW YORK.
· PROTAGONIST SEEKING REVENGE: Amsterdam Vallon returns to Five Points, New York to kill gang leader Cuttings.
· MORAL JUSTIFICATION: Cuttings killed Amsterdam’s dad in a brutal gang fight.
· VIGILANTE JUSTICE: It’s mid-19th century New York! The police don’t care about gang leaders killing other gang leaders. So obviously young Amsterdam has to bring Cuttings to justice himself.
· EYE FOR AN EYE: Cuttings killed Amsterdam’s dad, so Amsterdam plans to kill Cuttings. It’s simple caveman math.
· ACTION: Though not filled with as much as straight up vengeful violence as KILL BILL, action still makes up the bulk of this film, including a lot of fights, and of course everything culminates in a final, bloody battle where the hero’s vigilante justice is served.
Books: TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis, THE FIRST WIVES CLUB by Olivia Goldsmith (a neat example of revenge that isn’t violent but rather image-focused), HAMLET by Shakespeare, and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexander Dumas.
Films: KILL BILL, DJANGO UNCHAINED, UNFORGIVEN, THE CROW, POINT BLANK, MUNICH, and OLDBOY.
Thank you for joining us today, we hope you enjoyed V is for Vengeance and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, W is for Wretched Excess.
And if you guys know any great novels based on the Vengeance masterplot, do tell!
For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/masterplots-theater-v-is-for-vengeance/
Welcome back to Masterplots Theater! Is your story about a someone on a mission to stop a murderer? Great! But do you know whether it’s a thriller or a mystery? If you’re like me, you might have answered, “It’s both — a mystery thriller!” Thing is, I’ve discovered that mysteries and thrillers are not the same, and though each can have elements of the other, it’s helpful to understand the difference. So today’s episode won’t simply be a study of one masterplot, but rather a comparison of two.
Thriller vs Mystery Plot Notes:
The first main difference between thrillers and mysteries is something I’ve dubbed crime timing: In a mystery, the main crime has already been committed (or happens right at the beginning of the story). In a thriller, the crime (at least the main one) hasn’t yet been committed and isn’t scheduled to take place until the climax of the story, and that creates the impending feeling of doom and intense suspense that comes with the Thriller masterplot.
The second crucial difference is the hero’s goal: in a mystery, the hero (and reader) aims to figure out who committed the crime; in a thriller, the hero strives to stop the villain from committing the crime. And if the hero doesn’t yet know who the villain is, he will at least have an idea of who it could be.
In a thriller, the pacing is fast. Stuff happens in an almost relentless seesaw of suspense and scares that yank the audience’s emotions back and forth and keeps them on the edge of their seats. However, mysteries are more of a controlled slow build as the clues pile up.
The level of danger also differs. In a mystery the hero is not in imminent danger, though the danger increases as the hero gets closer to discovering the identity of the criminal. But in a thriller, the hero is in danger from the beginning.
POV is also quite distinct between these two masterplots. In mysteries, the audience/reader is only privy to what the hero knows. This makes for a lot of close 3rd person POVs in mystery novels. In thrillers, the audience/reader often knows more than the hero. This makes omniscient 3rd person or multiple POVs (including the criminal’s) the perspective of choice for thrillers.
As you may have guessed, different POVs affect plotting significantly. In thrillers, the audience often knows more than the hero and is waiting on pins and needles for bad things to happen to the less-informed hero. Knowing something is going to happen but not when is the key to suspense, which is the thriller’s calling card. Whereas in a mystery, the audience will not know more than the detective and is uncovering the clues as the hero does. That’s not to say that mysteries can’t be suspenseful, but that suspense won’t ramp up until the hero and reader have amassed enough clues to get an idea of what dangers could befall them.
Example to Study:
I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga is appropriately classified a mystery-thriller, because it’s a little bit of both genres. I used to think it was more thriller, because it’s fast-paced and a difficult book to put down. However, now I would argue it’s more mystery than thriller, and here is why…
· CRIME TIMING: Mystery. Before the first line of the book, a murder has been committed and the main character, Jazz, is watching the police inspect the scene. More murders will happen before the story is over, but there isn’t an imminent big crime that the killer is working towards, at least not to the hero’s knowledge.
· HERO’S GOAL: Mystery. Jazz aims to find out who this new serial killer is before the town starts suspecting him, the son of an incarcerated murderer.
· PACING: Ooo, this is a tough one. Though this book starts off with mystery pacing, it enters thriller pace in the last half. But if I read my own paragraph on pacing, I guess that still means this is a mystery that simply ramps up as the hero gets closer to unmasking the murderer.
· DANGER: Mystery for sure. Jazz is in no personal danger at the beginning of this story. He doesn’t even fit the victim profile! Not until his investigation brings him close to identifying the killer is his life on the line.
· POV: Mystery & Thriller. Like a mystery, Jazz’s POV is close 3rd person and we don’t know anything he doesn’t… until we encounter the killer’s POV. Though the killer doesn’t identify himself (leaving that tidbit for the end mystery solve), having insight into the killer’s mind brings this novel into the thriller realm because we learn what nefarious things the killer is up to and that creates suspense and concern around the fate of the other characters in the book.
When trying to think of examples, I realize I’m most familiar with Mystery-Thriller Hybrids. You can apply the Plot Notes yourself to the following films, because they all lie more on one side than the other, to see how the masterplots fuse together: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE DEPARTED, and SEVEN.
For a more pure look at the Thriller masterplot, Alfred Hitchcock is your man. He’s famous for illuminating how suspense means that the audience knows more than the hero. Start with the film THE 39 STEPS.
Also helpful to note is that other masterplots, especially Pursuit and Horror, fit into the Thriller genre too.
Thank you for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed T is for Thriller and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, U is for Unrequited Love.
Now for a show of hands: Have you ever struggled to decide whether you were writing a mystery or a thriller?
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Welcome back to Masterplots Theater! When people hear “Rite of Passage plot” they often think it’s another term for “coming-of-age story.” While youthful tales involving loss of innocence and puberty most definitely fit the Rite of Passage mold, not all ROP stories are about teenagers. Allow me to explain…
Rite of Passage Plot Notes:
The defining element of the Rite of Passage masterplot is a life problem. It can be adolescence, mid-life, death of a loved one, addiction, or divorce. See? Puberty isn’t the only awkward, painful stage we humans go through.
The main conflict in this masterplot is internal conflict because the root of the hero’s problem is not a villain or other outside force, though the hero will spend much of the story denying this and blaming the world for their problem.
The hero will inevitably pursue the wrong solution to the problem, which is generally a diversion from confronting it head on, but for those of us who have lived through any of life’s painful stages, we know avoidance is never the answer.
Avoiding pain, recoiling from the hot flame, is natural, even logical — yet only the counterintuitive move of embracing pain will help.
Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies, pg 111.
Rite of Passage stories are ultimately about surviving bad times and getting one’s life on track. The only solution to the hero’s problem is acceptance of a hard truth that the hero has been fighting (for example, he finally admits he’s an addict, or he accepts that his brother’s death isn’t his fault). With that acceptance comes the knowledge that he must change, not the world around him, in order to get through this painful time in his life.
Example to Study:
10, an old movie from 1979, is an excellent example of the Rite of Passage masterplot.
· LIFE PROBLEM: Hero turns 40 and begins a classic mid-life crisis.
· WRONG SOLUTION: Pursue a young, beautiful, newly married woman, aka a “perfect 10”.
· INTERNAL CONFLICT: Is he good enough? Is he a failure? Is this all there is to life?
· ACCEPTANCE: Hero accepts that he is middle-aged and stops trying to act like he’s twentysomething, and finds happiness in his life.
Films: LOST IN TRANSLATION, THE BREAK-UP, THE FIRST WIVES CLUB, KRAMER VS KRAMER, ORDINARY PEOPLE, 28 DAYS, TRAINSPOTTING, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, RISKY BUSINESS, SIXTEEN CANDLES, AMERICAN PIE, DAZED AND CONFUSED, and many more. Movies love this masterplot.
Books: PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL by Jo Knowles, IF YOU FIND ME by Emily Murdoch, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky, LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel.
Thank you for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed R is for Rite of Passage and invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater.
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And please share your favorite Rite of Passage stories in the comments below.
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