Category Archive: *Writing Craft

Guest Post: How to Use Scapple

Hannah Givens is always a favorite guest blogger at WriteOnSisters, and we’re thrilled she’s back. If you haven’t already done so, follow her wonderful book blog, power packed with great ideas for reading diverse books and authors. And now, take it away Hannah…

I love sticky notes, and I’ve used them to organize my thoughts for years, but that method has some problems: notes fly off the paper, or you have to rewrite the same things several times as you move your notes around. Plus there’s the space issue. Where can you stick enough notes to outline an entire novel, and how can you back that up reliably? Scapple to the rescue!

The Scrivener writing program from Literature and Latte has achieved a certain level of recognition in the writing community, but L&L’s other program, Scapple, has flown under the radar. I can’t imagine why, because it’s equally well-designed and may be even more useful depending on how you like to work. It’s something like mind-mapping software, but with more flexibility — L&L calls it a “freeform text editor” and that seems the most accurate description. You type, and then you can copy/paste or format your text however you like, but you can also stick each piece of text anywhere on your infinitely-large page and connect them with lines or arrows any way you want.

Scapple is really fantastic, but possibly also daunting if you’re not sure how to use it. So today I’ll be sharing three ways I use the program for writing: mind-maps, character sheets, and outlines. (Disclaimer: I’m not sponsored in any way, nor is anyone at WriteOnSisters, we just happen to adore the program!)

1) Mind-mapping:

Again, Scapple isn’t exactly mind-map software, but for me that’s an advantage. I don’t have to force my mind to be mapped according to someone else’s system. I don’t have to know what I’m doing right away, decide which idea is “central,” or anything like that. I can just start and figure it out as I go along. The main way I use Scapple is actually to create character charts, and it’s a huge step up from either mind-mapping or family tree software… I need a chart that can show relationships, but not just familial ones, and also show the passage of time to some extent.

Here’s a sample:


Note how I can have a mindmap with two connected centers, plus a list on the side, and then some special charts underneath (I use the system outlined in My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter). Some of the character relationships are romantic, some are parental, some are adversarial or professional, and a few don’t show up until halfway through the book, but I don’t need a way to track all that because I know who’s who. I just needed a way to combine “list of characters” with “immediately-visible connections.” That helps me craft a plot that makes sense, without forgetting anything obvious. Scapple is great for exploded-view lists like this.

2) Character sheets:

Many writers enjoy using standardized character sheets or questionnaires, both to keep track of their characters and to learn about their personalities. I often feel like these methods take some life out of my characters, though, so I needed a more organic way of keeping notes on personalities and character arcs.

Here’s a sample for one of my protagonists:

Note the ability to drag-and-drop images! I also love being able to mix and match “forms” that I can fill out or reimagine as needed, so I can combine plot notes with character notes. There are shortened versions of three “systems” in the sheet above, plus an unordered list of relevant information about the character and another list of relationships sorted by type. The next character sheet sits directly to the right in the same document and so on, because I like to see everything at once, but obviously you can set that up however you want!

3) Plotting and Outlining

I love all my character charts and sheets, but outlining is where Scapple really shines. It can handle complexity, and your own uncertainty about which ideas go where. Plus, I tend to change my visual outline structure depending on the project, and Scapple is totally flexible for that.

Here’s a half-done outline for an urban-fantasy project, in which I’m trying to work out several arcs in tandem:

There are four columns there, although muddled a bit: the left-hand column in the box(es) is a blank list of scenes, the guide to where my outline should be. (Again, I’m using Schechter’s system, but all this business of putting it into Scapple is my own design.) Then I have two columns tracing two characters’ arcs on each side, and the yellow notes down the center mark what the villain’s doing at the same time. The red ones are obvious questions to answer.

You can probably see at a glance that this would be incredibly difficult with sticky notes, because I’ve got several types of note and I need to keep track of how they relate to each other before I ever know which comes first in the final product — I’ve done outlines like this in Word before, but the linearity was a problem and things took much longer/were more stressful than they needed to be. (Also note the picture on the side there. I made some notes longhand, and rather than retype them, I just took a picture and slapped it in to refer back to as I go.)

Here’s a simpler project:

With this one I already know how it goes, and it’s a more linear space-travel story, so I’m basically outlining as I go along to have a clear reference for where I am in the plot. If I run into problems I can outline ahead to fix them, or I can go through and colorcode existing notes to highlight problems or check rhythm. It’s a completely different story with very different needs, but Scapple can do both without any fuss at all.

And worry not, you can back up your work in several formats. Plus, if you’re also using Scrivener you can drag notes straight into that. For me, though, I just adore being able to get my thoughts directly onto the page. I don’t have to force them to make sense, and I don’t have to remember how they relate, I can just draw them in however seems reasonable at the time. Then, unlike any kind of paper notes, I can immediately start working with what I scribbled down. Move it around, highlight it, draw lines, make a chart, anything I want.

If you’ve struggled to use pre-structured methods, been inspired by worksheets but haven’t found the exact right thing, or just desperately wanted electronic sticky notes in your life, Scapple may be for you. Either way, I hope this post gave you some organizational inspiration!

 

Hannah Givens is a lifelong book lover, student of literary history, and writer of numerous term papers. She blogs about genres of all kinds at Hannah Reads Books, and is currently working on her first novel. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter, talking about books and much more.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/research/guest-post-how-to-use-scapple/

Writing Gender-Inclusive Romance

For more than a year I’ve been writing and story editing a dating adventure game called LongStory. At the start of the game, players select their avatar and gender, choosing whether they want to be referred to as “she”, “he” or “they”. We don’t write different dialogue or storylines for different player genders. LongStory is written to be gender-inclusive.

What does that mean? Well, gender-inclusive or gender-neutral means using language that avoids bias towards a particular gender. This might seem daunting considering this is a dating game that includes romantic storylines, but it’s not if you follow these three tips…

#1 – Recognize Stereotypes

Unless you were raised by gender-free aliens, you’ve been conditioned to see people differently based on their gender, especially when it comes to romance. Heck, society conditions us not only to see people differently but to act differently based on our assigned gender. It’s important to recognize these expectations for what they are: stereotypes, not facts. Stereotypes such as “girls are more emotional” and “boys don’t talk about their feelings they act on them” abound. While some boys may not be comfortable talking about their feelings, some boys are. And vice versa; not all girls want to engage in lengthy heart-to-hearts.

#2 – Identify Your Biases

Here’s a test for you: write a romantic scene between two characters (boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-boy, agender-bigender, etc), then switch up the characters’ genders. Does the scene still make sense? If you don’t think it does, ask yourself why and identify the lines you’ve written that you think are more one gender than another. Are the lines stereotypical? If so, can you make them more well-rounded or original? If the lines in question don’t evoke specific stereotypes, what is it about these lines that makes you connect them to a certain gender? Figure that out and you’ll have identified your own biases. Now challenge those biases. Instead of concluding “a boy would never say that,” consider the type of person, regardless of gender, who would say that. Write for character, not gender.

#3 – Find Commonalities

We humans tend to focus a lot on our differences, but if you’re writing gender-inclusive romance, you need to zero in on all the things we have in common. This doesn’t mean making character dialogue bland and generic, it means developing characters based on their personalities not their gender. Do not fall back on stereotypes. Stereotypes are simple shorthand and the opposite of well-rounded characters.

Now, you may be thinking this is all well and good, but Heather, why would I ever need to write a character whose gender is unknown? To that, I first say — why not? That’s an interesting character! The second thing I would say is that with the increasing popularity of narrative games, more writers are finding work writing dialogue and storylines for players who could be any gender! Bottom line, being able to write gender-inclusive stories has become a valuable skill. And I’m proof…

A couple months ago I interviewed for a job as Lead Writer on a video game in a genre I love but in which I don’t have any actual paid writing experience — a virtual reality sci-fi adventure for adults (I usually write comedy and/or romance for kids and teens). The game sounded awesome and I wanted the job so bad, though I worried I didn’t have the right experience to get it. However, the producers want a game where players not only pick their gender but also the gender of their in-game spouse, and the fact that I had written and story edited a gender-inclusive game was a big plus in their eyes, so I got the job! Yay!

Do you consider gender inclusivity when you write? Have you ever written a gender-neutral character? If so, or if you have any questions, let me know in the Comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-gender-inclusive-romance/

Using the Forbidden Love Masterplot

Last year we ran a whole series of posts called Masterplots Theater from A to Z. Because we had some plots that started with the same letters, we had to cut several fantastic masterplots. ‘Forbidden Love’ was one of our unhappy victims as Heather wrote about the Fool Triumphant Masterplot instead. We did cover several other love-related plots in the series, Buddy Love, Happily-Ever- After Love, Unrequited Love, Love Story, but today Forbidden Love gets its own special post.

Do you like to write romance? The all-consuming kind, where the relationship quickly blossoms only to falter and struggle under the heavy burden of insurmountable external tension? A romance that leaves the reader in constant doubt, never knowing if the lovers will find a happy ending? If you said yes, Forbidden Love might be the perfect masterplot for your next story.

Classic Forbidden Love Plot Notes:

This is a character driven plot. The narrative is inside the heads and hearts of the main characters most of, if not all of, the time. This masterplot is often told by alternating two first person POVs. However, it can work in close 3rd person POV too.

The lovers share a nearly instantaneous attraction. The characters know they have met their soulmate, someone unlike anyone they have met before. This love cannot be denied! The power of this love is too strong for the characters to fight.

Within moments of meeting (either before or after) the lovers are confronted with the knowledge the relationship is taboo in their society. Common taboo themes are: adultery, class differences, economic factors, geographic boundaries, religious restrictions, race-related tensions, family feuds, May-December romances and same-sex relationships.

This masterplot often features a closed society. One of the lovers typically comes from a group that maintains a long-standing ideology of Us vs Them. This plot also works using two closed societies that overlap in an uneasy truce, a truce the lovers will fracture with devastating consequences.

A third major character (or group of characters) usually represents the antagonistic force, but not always in the traditional sense. This character works as the mouthpiece for the rules, all the reasons the lovers shouldn’t be together. It is often a friend or authority figure in the lover’s family.

Because of the social issues, the lovers are parted and reunited several times during the course of the story. The lovers take dangerous chances to be together, and they look for allies to help them hide the relationship. The lovers are always in fear of discovery, and the cycle of separation and reuniting give this masterplot high emotional tension.

One of the lovers is usually the dominant personality, the one that wants to disregard the risks. The other character is often more concerned with repercussions. This leads to tension within the relationship.

This masterplot always has one of two endings: the lovers find a way to stay together, often by fleeing their homeland, or the story ends in tragedy as the lovers are separated.

This masterplot is a fantastic subplot, and was used very successfully in the film BLADE RUNNER where it gave a bittersweet edge to the story’s ending.

Future Research:

There are many sources for this masterplot, most notable is ROMEO AND JULIET. Elements are also found in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/forbidden-love-masterplot/

How to Straighten Your Story’s Spine

Sometimes I write a story where lots of exciting stuff happens, my protagonist is proactive and has a goal, and I’m hitting all the right beats (if you don’t know what those are, check out this post on the 15 Story Beats), yet the story still feels flat. What’s wrong? What am I missing?

The truth of the matter is often I’m not missing anything. I spend a lot of time developing my stories and I know all the story parts that I need to make a story sing, but effectively implementing those parts into a manuscript is a whole other challenge. In a manuscript, those parts can get out of whack or lost or muddy. So how do you fix it?

By doing something we screenwriters often call “tracking the story’s spine.” A story’s spine is the character arc woven into the plot; the two should always go together just like your vertebrae and your spinal cord. Tracking a story’s spine means making sure the protagonist’s transformation (arc) is addressed in EVERY SCENE of the journey (plot). Because after all, as I’ve said before (specifically in this post about character journeys), every story is about change.

So let’s get started…

To track a story’s spine, you need to know these 3 Basic Story Parts:

  1. What’s the Character Change?

  2. What’s the Inner Conflict?

  3. What’s the Big Story Question?

Part 1: In order to have a character arc, the protagonist needs to change. They have to start out one way (flawed and not the best person they could be) and end up another (flaw overcome and better because of the journey – that is if the story follows a positive arc; negative arcs are the opposite). For example, in my WIP the heroine starts out doing bad things like using people to try to get ahead. By the end of the story she needs to change into someone who doesn’t do bad things to succeed.

Part 2: Because of their character flaw, the protagonist will have an Inner Conflict. For a detailed explanation of what that is, read this post. In general, Inner Conflict is a desire for two things the hero wants (one of which is their outer Goal), but the catch is the hero can’t have both. So the whole story the protagonist must constantly choose between these two wants. Back to my WIP example, the heroine wants to be a better person (stop doing bad things like using people) but also wants a better life (her Goal is to escape the cycle of poverty by getting a college scholarship), yet she believes she needs to do bad things to achieve that. So yeah, she’s conflicted.

Part 3: The Big Story Question is the will/won’t issue based on the Inner Conflict. Basically, in my story the question is: Will the heroine get a better life? The writer must make the protagonist face that question in every scene, and alternate between scenes that make us and the protagonist think they WILL succeed, followed by scenes that make us think they WON’T. And this question always pivots on the protagonist’s Inner Conflict.

Not lining up the story’s spine is an easy blunder for writers to make, mainly because though we may KNOW the character’s arc, we don’t SHOW it in the plot. Note that I said “show” it, not “tell” it. You can’t solve this problem with internal monologue alone. The character transformation (arc) must manifest itself through actions (plot).

In conclusion, to straighten your story’s spine, check each scene for these 3 things and make adjustments accordingly:

#1 – Change. How does this scene influence your character’s arc? It can be a step forward or a step back, as long as something changes.

#2 – Inner Conflict. Which “want” is your hero leaning towards in this scene? Make sure to alternate this from scene to scene. After all, a hero who favours one desire over the other isn’t very conflicted.

#3 – Big Story Question. Does this scene ask the big, overall question? If not, your story has probably veered off course. Either cut the scene or revise it to make it relevant.

You can test your own manuscript, or a book you’re reading. I bet a million smiley face emojis that books that aren’t very engaging don’t have straight spines! Let me know in the comments what you find out. 🙂 Now I’m off to straighten my story’s spine…

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/how-to-straighten-your-storys-spine/

4 Core Components of an Awesome Sidekick Character

I’ve always loved sidekicks, Chewbacca, Samwise Gamgee, Ron and Hermione.

Sidekick characters can enhance the story tension, help flesh out the protagonist, and move the plot forward in a number of significant ways. Several of the masterplots that Heather and I wrote about last year include a sidekick character as a possible component. Sidekicks are often included to give the main character a partner, someone to talk to, which helps limit the need for internal dialogue, but they can be so much more. In the hands of a skillful writer, sidekicks are even capable of stealing the spotlight from the main character.

There are four core aspects I like to think about when writing a sidekick character:

1. Emotional Growth

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Sharing common traits and interests is one way to create character bonds, but they can also be created by friendly conflict. A great protagonist is a complicated character, and their friendship with the sidekick character should reflect that. I want these characters to challenge each other emotionally and change because of these interactions. If the protagonist is reluctant about the quest, make the sidekick a true believer and let them push the future hero into action. If the protagonist is rash and ruled by emotions, pair them with a cool and logical sidekick, someone who can teach the protagonist how to think before acting. When there is emotional contrast between these two characters, I find the relationship exciting to watch. Of course, these characters can be alike in a few ways (perhaps they share the same honor code), but I like it best when this pair knows how to disagree.

2. Sidekick Motivations

Sherlock

No two people, no matter how close, share precisely the same motivations. Everyone wants, needs or secretly desires something different. Although the sidekick and main character will travel the same path, I like to make their reasons for wanting to reach their end goals different. For one character, completing the quest might mean fame and riches. For the other, the quest might be a spiritual journey. I often associate the best sidekicks with the push and pull created by them clashing with the hero. Contrasting motivations provide great conflict and help build story tension; it also give the characters an opportunity to compromise.

3. Sidekicks Need a Moment to Shine

Guardians of the Galaxy

The sidekick’s moment to hold the spotlight is often brief, but critical to the story. These defining plot points take just about every shape, but some of the best sidekick moments often involve self-sacrifice. Many sidekick characters will give their own life to save the hero’s. The sidekick’s big moment can also work in reverse; the hero only finds their courage because the must save the sidekick. The reality of storycraft is the hero must live to fight another day, but the sidekick is expendable. That means this story device can get overused and feel too predictable, but it can also be the most touching part in the story and a true transitional moment for the other character.

4. Contrast is Key

The Iron Giant

Protagonists come in every form, and so can sidekicks. The visual contrast between these two characters might be small, or it might be huge, as in the case of pairing non-human with humans. I think contrasting outer forms and inner strengths helps the reader keep the two characters clearly defined, and makes it possible (and even likely) that each character will have unique skills to bring into the story. I love it when the sidekick can do something the hero can’t. One of the biggest complaints I have about sidekicks is when they feel like a pale reflection of the hero. I want the sidekick to have value that extends beyond just being the protagonist’s buddy. If the sidekick doesn’t serve a single plot function, there is a strong likelihood they shouldn’t be in the story in the first place. Clearly separating these two characters into unique beings is a critical step to making the sidekick character shine.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing elevates the quintessential hero like the perfect sidekick. Find the right mix and you might create a powerful pairing, one the world will never forget. There are a million different ways to create a sidekick character. I’ve already written about some of the most popular sidekick archetypes, like the cheerleader, the class clown and the skeptic. You can read that post here. However, even that post is just a small sampling of possible sidekick characters. They can be young and old, strong and weak. They can be pillars of righteousness, or shady criminal types, and I’m crazy about them all.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about sidekick characters. Did they make stories better? Please share in the comments.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/4-%ef%bb%bfsidekick-tips/

15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track

Regardless of whether you’re a plotter or pantser, you might come to a place mid-month where your story feels like it’s gone off the rails. A lot of people will tell you to plow through! Just keep writing! It’ll work itself out! But I think better advice is to check in with your basic story beats. It doesn’t matter if you plan them ahead of time or figure them out partway through writing. The important thing to know is that these beats are an extremely useful tool to avoid writer’s block, mushy middle syndrome and general NaNoWriMo fatigue.

nanowrimo-15-beats

Originally posted on Nov. 3, 2014. Revived on Oct. 23, 2016.

*Note: Basic Beats based on Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” method.

1 – Opening… shows where the protagonist is at the beginning before they’ve gone on a journey that will change them to the person we see in the Final scene. For example, if your hero starts off loveless, she will find love in the end.

  • Do you even have a change? If not, that’s probably why your story has stalled. Think about how this story will change the hero and your writing will find its direction.

(For more, check out “3 Steps to Creating Character Change”)

2 – Theme… is the heart of your book as opposed to the plot. Not knowing the theme or having too many themes is a common reason stories get muddled and bogged down. Figuring out the theme will give your novel a purposeful direction, so ask:

  • Why are you writing this story? Deep down, what is the one thing you’re trying to say with this novel?

  • What is the value at stake in this story? Why does it matter?

(For more, check out “Theme With a Capital T” and “The Controlling Idea – Not Your English Teacher’s Theme”)

3 – Set-Up… establishes the protagonist’s world, introduces supporting characters, reveals protagonist’s personal problems and the stuff she’ll need to fix by the end in order for that vital character change to take place.

  • Did you set up the character’s goal clearly? No clear goal is a common reason stories ramble.

  • Did you set up the stakes? There needs to be consequences if the hero fails. Stakes drive stories!

(For more on stakes read “6 Questions to Ask to Make Sure Your Story has Real Stakes”)

4 – Catalyst… is also called The Inciting Incident. This event disrupts the character’s world and starts the story. Without it, there’s no story. For example, in “The Hunger Games” the catalyst is when Katniss’s sister’s name is selected for the games. If another kid’s name had been selected, there wouldn’t be a story – Katniss would just keep on hunting and hanging out with Gale in her district. Life would remain the same.

  • Does the catalyst change your protagonist’s life? If not, figure out what will. Stories need to be life-changing!

5 – The Debate… is when the protagonist decides how to proceed after the Catalyst. This shouldn’t be an easy decision. To go on the journey, or not to go on the journey? Of course, she has to go for there to be a story, but doubt adds tension and stakes, which help move the story forward.

  • Did your character debate going on her journey? What could have been holding her back and how can that add layers of tension to your novel?

6 – Break Into Act II… This is where the protagonist leaves her familiar world behind and goes on the journey to achieve a goal. The key to this beat is that the protagonist must choose, not be forced or tricked into action.

  • Is your character pro-active? Passive characters are common culprits in stories that drag.

7 – B-Story… Often this is the love interest, but can also be a sidekick or a mentor. This ally guides the protagonist and is often instrumental in helping him learn the Theme, i.e. what he needs to do to survive and win the story.

  • Does your B-story character challenge your hero? Maybe they can spice things up with conflict and humor!

(For more check out “What’s a B-Story? And Why that Lame Love Triangle Doesn’t Cut It”)

8 – Act II part 1: Fun & Games… is the promise of the premise. If your novel was a movie, the F&G section would be featured in the trailer. For instance, in a romantic comedy, this is where the two love interests clash.

  • Do you have enough conflict? Sometimes a story meanders simply because it lacks conflict. Repeat after me: make your characters suffer!

9 – Midpoint… right smack in the middle of Act II, this is usually a False Victory where the protagonist thinks she’s achieved her goal but she hasn’t. It’s here that the stakes are raised and the bad guys start to close in on the protagonist.

  • Do you have a Midpoint, a turning point that is like a tent pole holding up the middle of your story? If you’re meandering through the mushy middle, probably not. For help, read “Mapping the Mushy Middle

10 – Act II part 2: Bad Guys Close In… Both internal problems (hero’s issues) and external problems (bad guys) tighten their grip and get closer and closer to thwarting the protagonist’s goal.

  • Quite simply, are things getting progressively worse for your hero? Don’t just pile on new problems; make sure the problems escalate.

11 – Crisis / All Is Lost… is usually a False Defeat. If at the Midpoint the protagonist thought that she’d achieved her goal, this is where she thinks she’s utterly and completely failed.

  • What is your All Is Lost moment? It’s easier to keep your story on track if you know the big disaster you’re writing towards.

12 – Dark Night of the Soul… is the emotional fallout of the crisis wherein the protagonist loses all hope. The worst thing about this beat is that she knows it’s her fault. The hero that resonates is not innocent and blameless and perfect; she has flaws just like we do. And despite her best intentions, she had a hand in her own defeat.

  • Has your hero failed? Does she think it’s her fault? How can you make this the lowest moment of her life?

13 – Break Into Act III… Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute action or advice from the B-story ally, the protagonist digs deep to find a solution.

  • How does your hero move past her defeat? Having even a rough idea of this crucial moment will help focus your story.

14 – Act III Finale… From what she’s gone through and what she’s learned (i.e. Theme), the protagonist forges a third way and conquers her problems (both internal and external).

  • How does your hero win in the end? Again, you don’t have to have all the details, but knowing the basic ending (i.e. hero finds love, hero captures bad guy, hero leaves home for college) is invaluable for getting you through to The End.

15 – Final Scene (aka THE END)… is the opposite of the Opening scene and proves a change has occurred. There’s no point to a story if it doesn’t change the hero’s life.

  • What is your final image? What does your hero look like after this journey is over? How have they changed?

So if you’re ever struggling with your story, check in with these beats and make sure you’ve got the answers. Of course, the answers may change as you are writing, and that is totally fine. I keep a version of this beat sheet with me at all times. I look at it whenever I get off-track and revise it when necessary. Of course, during NaNoWriMo you don’t have time to revise what you’ve already written, but it’s still helpful to note what you will change and write the rest of the novel as if you’ve already done so.

Now good luck with NaNoWriMo, everyone!

 

For more on basic beats, outlining and story structure, check out the recommended posts:

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/story-questions-keep-nanowrimo-novel-track/

The Princess Bride Gender-Swapped!

Confession: I saw The Princess Bride for the first time last weekend. I know, I know, my childhood was lacking. There was only one movie theatre with one tiny screen in my town, and my parents said we were too poor to see movies in a theatre. So yeah. Fast forward 29 years later, and I have Netflix which has The Princess Bride. Now all is right with the world.

So what’d I think?

First, I need to establish something else about my childhood that may seem totally unrelated but isn’t… Picture me at about age 7, smaller-than-average with brown pigtails and an overbite, dressed in a frilly dress and white patent Mary Jane shoes. I’m sitting in a church basement with a dozen other kids. We’re in Sunday School. The teacher is telling us about Jesus and the 12 disciples. I raise my hand. When the teacher nods my way, I ask, “Why were all the disciples men?” My teacher answers, “Just because they were.” I’m not satisfied with this answer, yet sadly I’m used to it. This is not the first time I’d asked why men got to do all the things and make all the decisions and women didn’t. I did not yet know the words “sexism” or “patriarchy”, I just knew that men ran the world, and young me thought that this was not fair.

Old me still thinks it’s not fair.

So while watching The Princess Bride, even though I was enjoying the funny banter and swashbuckling fight scenes, I couldn’t help but think, “Why are all the characters dudes?!” Except for Buttercup and two women who have single scene bit parts (Miracle Max’s wife Valerie, and the Ancient Booer – a part so minor she doesn’t even have a name), the other FIFTEEN speaking roles in this film belong to men. And it could so easily NOT have been that way! So easy I’m going to do it right now…

princess-bride-gender-swap

From the very first time the character appeared on screen, I wanted Inigo Montoya to be a girl. So much so that in my mind, I renamed him Indigo! And that’s the only change needed. Indigo is exactly the same as Inigo, except a girl. And I’ll tell you why…

#1 – Equality in Revenge! Why is it that revenge plots starring men usually revolve around a family member who was killed and the hero plots to kill the murderer to avenge that death, yet revenge plots starring women are usually about avenging a sexual assault? Don’t get me wrong, that’s one helluva reason to seek revenge! But it’s been used so much it’s cliche. Why can’t women pick up a sword and avenge wrongs against their family? It’s not inconceivable!

#2 – Sword-fighting. I just want to see more women sword-fight on screen. I’ve read books with women who sword fight, but can’t think of a movie. Chime in in the comments if you know of one!

#3 – Drunkenness. Yep, this is a vice that is generally reserved for the boys – male characters drown their sorrows in drink, while women eat ice cream. And when female characters do drink, they’re portrayed as being pathetic and having a very serious problem; whereas male characters often just shake off their blues, get sober and kick ass. Time for Indigo to demonstrate how women can shake it off too!

Next gender-swap: Westley! In fact, I’m pretty sure Westley is supposed to be a girl disguised as a boy. How else do you explain that moustache? Also…

#1 – Girl pirates rock! ‘Nuff said.

#2 – Girls can do the saving. There have been a couple movies where girls save other people, but nothing compared to all the movies where men save everybody. Now, if one was to write this movie with Westley as a girl, people would probably call her a Mary Sue. Wikipedia defines a Mary Sue as: “an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities” and “a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.” Yet when a male character fits this bill, the reaction from audiences is usually, “Yeah, sure, I buy that.” After all, it’s fun to watch Westley be amazing, right? Well, to me, Westley being amazing as a girl is even better!

#3 – The world needs more LGBT romances without making it an issue. There doesn’t need to be an explanation for why two women love each other, just like there’s not really a reason why Westley and Buttercup love each other. They just do.

Even with those two male characters changed into female characters, the cast of The Princess Bride doesn’t come close to being equally gender split, but it’s a start. Though interestingly, just by changing two heroes into heroines, most people would probably think it was an equal split! For more about our society’s warped perception of male-to-female character ratios, read this enlightening article from Writer Unboxed: The Problem With Female Protagonists.

What do you think of the overall dudeness of The Princess Bride? Would you like to see a remake with women playing any of the traditionally male roles? What characters would you like to gender-swap and why?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-princess-bride-gender-swapped/

The Princess Bride: A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

the-princess-bride_-a-frame-narrative-worth-studyingGrab your black mask, strap on a sword and beware of Iocane powder. Westley, Buttercup and the rest of the Brute Squad are romancing the blogosphere with THE PRINCESS BRIDE Linkup Party. This weekend blogs everywhere will be sharing their favorite bits and bobs about the movie and the book. You’re invited to take part in festivities by adding your related blog post link below.

Or you can just sit back and enjoy the party by following the links and reading along with us.

Either way, you are sure to discover something new about THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

This story is all about Love! Yes, I said Love, with a capital L! Yet it’s not a traditional romance. It follows few of the typical kissing book tropes. And I think there may lie the source of its overwhelming popularity.

I expect most people reading this post know this story by heart, but to sum up:
Buttercup is a lovely young woman who falls in love with Westley, a farm boy who works for her parents. When Westley leaves to seek his fortune, Buttercup receives notification of his death. In her despair, she agrees to marry the ruthless Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley lives. What results is a tale of their repeated efforts to reunite, defeat obstacles and find their happily ever after.

But that is the inner story, THE PRINCESS BRIDE (movie and book) are frame tales. They represent one of the best modern examples of using the frame narrative a writer can study.

A frame story (also known as a nested narrative) is a technique of putting a story within a story. The outer frame creates the introductory or main narrative. At least in part, the outer frame also sets the stage and binds together with the inner narrative to create a single message. If you really have no clue what a frame story is, you might want to start here with our post, Tips for Crafting a Frame Story.

I’ve decided to focus mostly on the outer frame and on what I feel is the main message of the story: generational love, the love of family.

Because it’s a more compact version of the story, I’ll be using examples from the movie. However, it should be noted that the same message is presented in the book. And because the book version gives more attention to the outer frame, it plays an even larger role.

The first indication that generational love is the message of the story is the selection of the protagonist. While the father is the protagonist in the book, the grandson plays this role in the movie. Yes, I expect this to shock most people, but let’s look at the evidence.

The grandson is the only character to experience any form of meaningful character change. While Westley and Buttercup love each other from their first scenes, the boy views his grandfather as his antagonist. He hates that his grandfather has all the power in the relationship. He can force their togetherness with the support of the boy’s mother.

the-pinchThe grandfather confirms the grandson’s perceptions of their combative relationship by pinching the boy’s cheeks and devaluing the boy’s TV watching. When he wants to read to him, the grandson dismisses the plan by saying he will try to stay awake and also by showing his displeasure over the selection of a “kissing” book.

The boy might love his grandfather, but they have no common ground and there is no respect, or appreciation of the older man’s attentions.

Through hearing the inner story the boy is exposed to two contrasting versions of family love: 1) the intense love, portrayed by Inigo Montoya, and 2) the lack of love, represented by Prince Humperdinck.

Inigo expresses his family love in his need to avenge the death of his father. His revenge quest replaces his natural grieving process and gives him a way to memorializing his father. His character gathers strength and determination from this childhood loss. He is willing to forgo his own life goals for the sake of finding justice for the father he loved so dearly.

Humperdinck, whose father is still alive but addled, shows no interested in the man. The old king is a figurehead, someone Humperdinck brings out for events and tucks away out of sight the rest of the time. Humperdinck is unmoved by Buttercup’s love for Westley, or for her affections for his father. The Prince is mostly a loner, and he uses fear, not love, as the only method of enforcing his rule.

When Inigo kills Count Rugen, aka the six fingered man, Humperdinck is left completely alone. The Prince has lost his only friend Count Rugen and also his political tools, Buttercup and Vizzini. Inigo is hurt, but he still has the support and love of his tight-knit family of friends. His side is the victor in every way. Love in all its forms – family, friendship and romantic – has triumphed over adversity in the inner story.

In the outer story the boy has internalized the story and made a change. He relishes the time he just spent with his grandfather and invites the man back the following day to reread the book with him. There is a clear indication the boy now sees the value of his grandfather and their relationship is headed in the right direction.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE is written for the child; it’s all about convincing the child in the outer frame to change his perceptions. The inner story is the device used to achieve that end result. In both the book and the film, the story is about creating common ground for the generations to converge and to remember the value of family.

Come back on Sunday, September 25 when Heather will be talking about gender-swapping characters in The Princess Bride!

Let me know if you agree with my interpretation in the comments.

You can also follow in real-time by using the #PrincessBrideParty hashtag on Twitter.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-princess-bride-frame-narrative/

3 Tricks for Character Names

3-character-naming-tricksFor a long time I hated naming my characters. No sooner did I settle on a name and I would realize another book (or three) used the same name. The main reason I got myself into this renaming mess was because I followed some widely accepted writing advice, I used charts of popular baby names for the years my characters were born in.

Big mistake!

Why?

Because every other writer is using those same darn charts!

Lately, I’ve also realized that the reason some character names resonate with me is not because they are popular names, it’s because they are unusual names. The kind of names I don’t hear everyday.

Finding unusual names that fit a character perfectly is never easy, but these three tricks have helped me uncover some fantastic names. Names that work with my story and not against it, and I think they can help other writers.

#1 – Use Juxtaposition:

There are times when using names that clash works best. Juxtaposition can reinforce underlying story themes and create subliminal messages without being too obvious. I don’t know for sure what these famous authors had in mind as they named these characters, but it seems like juxtaposition was a factor.

Take the names Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. The use of homophones in the name Sherlock Holmes invokes a feeling of security. It’s encoded with a slew of comforting messages, who wouldn’t want (and place their trust in) a surely locked home? Whereas the name Moriarty is too reminiscent of the word mortality and produces a feeling of unease and danger. It’s also notable that many of the first names in the Sherlock Holmes books are generic names for the Victorian era (John, Mary, Irene) elevating the exceptional siblings with their unique names of Mycroft and Sherlock away from the crowd.

It looks like juxtaposition was also intended with the names Katie Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler from GONE WITH THE WIND. O’Hara is likely derived from the surname of an ancient Irish ruling family. While a Butler is a male servant. This juxtaposition echoes the relationship dynamic of the two characters perfectly. Scarlett perceived herself as better of the Rhett, and in many ways viewed him in terms of what he could do to serve her needs.

#2 – Themes Work Great for Collections of Names:

I just finished a project where I used all themed names and I loved it. There is no better example of a major author using themed names than THE HUNGER GAMES. This book used two main themes, nature and Roman history. Most people realize Katniss is the name of a water flower that looks like an arrowhead. But there is also Gale Hawthorne (a hawthorn is another flowering plant) and these best friends have sisters named Primrose and Posy. Katniss and the other rebels battle President Snow. This is also a good use of juxtaposition because snow is a natural enemy of most flowers. Both major and minor character have names taken from organic sources, like Rue (a medicinal herb), Clove (aromatic flower bud used as a cooking spice), and Crane (a long-legged water bird).

The second grouping is the names with Roman history overtones. Examples of these names include: Seneca, Cinna, Cato, Plutarch and Caesar. These names and the bread based names of Peeta and Panem, reinforce the idea that the Hunger Games are modeled on the Roman era Bread and Circuses, a program of using large-scale entertainment to keep the masses docile.

Another bonus of using the theme method is it gives the impression that all the names go together and that helps improves the world building. It clearly worked that way for THE HUNGER GAMES, so it should work for the rest of us.

#3 – Witty Names:

I used to think only certain kinds of books could use witty character names, but I was wrong. Everyone loves an inside book joke. And witty names don’t have to be funny, they can be names with two meanings, or with a hidden meaning.

One of the masters at this form was Ian Fleming. His James Bond books overflow with witty character names like: Tiffany Case, Plenty O’Toole and Auric Goldfinger. In case you didn’t know auric is another word for gold. This doubling of the word helps denote just how much this character loved the shiny stuff. Fleming also created the lively moniker of Caractacus Potts (a crackpot inventor) for his children’s book CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. However, many of the movie’s witty names owe their life to another character naming giant, the author Roald Dahl. Dahl wrote the screenplay for CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG with Ken Hughes and those two writers gave us a sugar heiress named Truly Scrumptious and an overly explosive prone dictator named Barron Bomburst. I’m sure Fleming would have approved.

It’s fun running a Google search on a character’s name and having it turn up a root meaning worthy of a giggle. Who can forget Dahl’s Veruca Salt from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY? However, few readers might know her first name was adapted from a form of wart. And warty she was. The same book also gave us Arthur Slugworth (a slimy spy), and Mike Teavee (a kid who lived for watching TV).

These three tricks have drastically changed how I name my characters. I will never use a baby name list again. I hope one of these ideas will also help you find some great new character names. Please share your tips for naming characters in the comments.

If you’re one of our blog subscribers, you may have noticed that you’re not getting post updates from us. We have a programming malfunction with our subscriber service, but we’re working hard to fix the problem. You may have also missed Heather’s last post on the Hero’s Emotional Midpoint.

A Princess Bride Linkup Party_

And you may have also missed the announcement for our upcoming Princess Bride Blog Linkup Party. We hope you (and your blog) will join us for a weekend of Princess Bride themed blog-hopping fun.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/character-naming-tricks/

The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint

This week I’m honing the middle of my WIP, so it’s time to dust off the Archives and refresh my knowledge on a story’s midpoint…

Emotional MidPoint

Originally posted on Aug. 4, 2014. Updated and reposted on Sept. 5, 2016.

Awhile ago I wrote about Mapping the Mushy Middle of a story. This is a plot-centric approach to figuring out one’s story. However, story is a two-sided coin made up of plot and character. For every plot point there’s a corresponding character arc moment. So I blogged 3 Steps to Creating Character Change where I discuss the hero’s flaw as it presents itself in Act I, causes trouble for the hero in Act II, and is eventually overcome in Act III.

Yet even after figuring all that out, I still have trouble wrapping up my stories with a satisfying character transformation. In a story’s finale, not only is the plot resolved and the character flaw overcome, the hero must be changed. And I’ve found that overcoming a flaw isn’t always enough to change the hero.

BookCover-NovelFromMiddleWhat to do?! In times like this, I seek out books on writing craft. Many of these simply reword stuff I already know and aren’t very helpful, but I managed to find one that took a different but blissfully simple spin on Character Transformation:

WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE by James Scott Bell.

It’s short and sweet, just 85 pages, and the premise is that once you know the Mirror Moment at the Midpoint, it will clarify what your story is about so you can figure out where the hero begins and how he changes by the end. I recommend reading the whole book (it’s only $3 for the e-book version), but I’ve summarized the gist of it here in 3 steps:

1) Figure out the hero’s death stakes.

No matter how strong the physical death stakes are (i.e. a murderer is literally trying to kill the hero), I think every story also needs psychological death stakes or emotional consequences. It’s easy to spot psychological death stakes in romance – if the lead doesn’t win the heart of his soul mate, he will be lonely and miserable for the rest of his life! His heart will metaphorically die! I find coming up with psychological stakes more difficult in thrillers (the physical death stakes are so high and exciting they can easily take over the whole story), but the ending will resonate much more if the hero has psychological stakes too. 

2) Create the hero’s Mirror Moment.

Bell explains two ways characters may reflect on their situation, one for plot-driven stories and one for character-driven stories. MIRROR 1: Hero looks in the mirror and considers the incredible odds against him (plot). MIRROR 2: Hero looks in mirror and muses on the person he is now and/or could become (character). (Note: Literal mirror not necessary.) But because I think all stories need plot and character, I say do both! After all, when considering the odds against, the best heroes would naturally lump their own shortcomings in with those odds.

This Mirror Moment complements the action that takes place at the Midpoint that I talked about in my Mushy Middle post. Basically, the Midpoint (be it a False Victory or a False Defeat) is powerless without your hero’s reaction to it.

3) Transform the hero.

The Mirror Moment hones in on who the hero thinks she is, and the Transformation is who she must become to win the Final Battle. Generally, these things are opposites.

After reading this book, I realize one of my problems is that I create heroes who are already prepared to win the Final Battle. Figuring out the psychological stakes and creating a Mirror Moment forces me to start with a hero who can’t possibly win and needs to change to do so.

What about you? Would a Midpoint Mirror Moment help you figure out your character’s journey? Deepen your story? Finish your book? I hope it helps me with mine!

 

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WOS ANNOUNCEMENT: We’re hosting a Princess Bride Blog Linkup Party the weekend of Sept. 24-25. This is your chance to share your thoughts and opinions on this classic tale. Plus, Robin is a HUGE fan and thought it would be fun to connect with other bloggers who love the book/movie. For all the details, click here.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-heros-emotional-midpoint/

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