Tag Archive: endings

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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A Pre-Writing Checklist

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…

Savvy Plotter-4 Story Elements-Pre-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.

Logline Banner

#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/

3 Things That Make A Story Worth Writing

Failed Writing Projects

Failed Writing Projects

I’ve had many false starts on my writing journey – stories that started strong and got lost in the middle, stories that fell flat and forgettable at the end, stories that had a debilitatingly weak character arc. I found ways to address all those problems, but in the process still wasted a lot of time. Since my theme for 2015 is “Be More Productive!” I’m aiming to avoid these false starts and less-than-stellar stories. So I took a good hard look at what makes a story worthy of being written and decided it comes down to these three things…

1. The Hook

Why would anyone read this? No, seriously, think about it. The notion that just because a writer is compelled to write something means a reader will be compelled to read it is, frankly, flawed. Humans can and do mistake self-interest for a good story. Ever hear someone pitch their unremarkable life like it’ll be the next bestseller? Yeah, that. It’s easy to spot when you’re the audience, but harder when you’re the writer. After all, this novel is your baby! But do your best to get out of your own head and image you’re a stranger browsing books. Would you select your book out of the hundreds on the shelf or thousands in Amazon’s catalogue? Why?

That “why” is the hook, and it comes down to a question. Every genre has its own base question to answer:

GENRE QUESTION
Coming-of-age Will the protagonist grow up and overcome their flaws?
Romance Will the hero find love?
Mystery Who committed the crime?
Horror Who will survive and how will they beat the monster?
Crime Will the hero defeat the bad guys and bring them to justice?

Now the trick is to put an original spin on the base question. But note that the question must be there first. If you’re not sure why someone would read your book, ask what the reader would want to find out from the story. That’s the hook. People are drawn to stories that have a compelling question to answer.

2. The Theme

Otherwise known as, “What the #%*$ is the point of this story?!” Notice I did not ask, “What is this story about?” I asked, “What is the point?” Basically, if you don’t have a point to make, why are you telling this story? It can be as universal as, “Love flourishes when you let go of insecurity.” Or as tragic as, “Crime pays when cops are corrupt.”

Having a point to prove doesn’t mean being preachy, it just means you the writer have something insightful to share about human nature. This is the heart of every good story and is often called “The Theme.”

For more on theme, check out these posts on finding your theme and using theme (aka the controlling idea) to strengthen your story.

3. The End

I’ve waxed poetic about endings before, but Act III truly makes or breaks a story. I’ve blogged about how to make endings right and how to make them unforgettable, but when it comes down to it, the most important thing an ending does is answer the hook question and prove the point of the theme. Bam! It’s a beautiful thing! But if you don’t have that ending, well, you might spend months or years writing and trying to find it and never quite succeeding. And that is a horrible thing!

HOOK + THEME + END 

What do these three things look like when you put them together? To break it down, let’s examine the elements of The Hunger Games:

  1. HOOK: Will Katniss win the deadly Hunger Games?

  2. THEME: Freedom from the Capitol is attainable when someone stands up to them.

  3. END: Katniss not only wins the Hunger Games, she shows everyone in Panem that it’s possible to beat the Capitol when she outsmarts them into letting both her and Peeta win The Games, which gives the whole country the confidence to stand up to their dictator and start a revolution!

Now that is a story worth writing!

When I look back at my failed writing projects, they were all missing one or more of these elements. I won’t make that mistake again. So from this moment on, I vow to have The Hook, The Theme and The End in place before I even start outlining. Onward and upwards in 2015!

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/3-things-that-make-a-story-worth-writing/

Writing Unforgettable Endings

DeadEndSignThe thing about writing a novel or film is that it all comes down to the ending. A great ending is what makes a story memorable. All of the books on my bookshelf have unforgettable endings. The books that don’t make the cut may have had fascinating premises, entertaining characters, and intriguing plot twists, but the endings didn’t resonate. It’s like those books lead me to a dead end. I got there, shrugged and went, “Oh, that’s it?” I want a story that ends somewhere remarkable!

So how do you write that? I’ve been pondering this for some time, and believe it or not, I think it comes down to these two things: Character Change and Surprise.

Character Change

I’ve blogged about the importance of character change in numerous posts, but it bears repeating. A story must change the hero and his life, and the hero changes because he is affected by the events of the story. And if the hero is affected, most likely the reader will be affected deep down inside, and that makes the story unforgettable.

Think about your high school memories. What do you remember? I remember the first time I heard Led Zeppelin – that changed my musical taste forever. I remember my first breakup – lost my childhood best friend in that one. I remember my second boyfriend letting me drive his car before I had my license – but I don’t remember that boy’s name. Why? Because he didn’t affect me (we only dated a few weeks), but learning to drive, that changed my life.

No one can remember every single thing that happens, but if your novel’s ending affects readers, has an impact on their hearts and/or minds, they’ll remember. So if you want your ending to be unforgettable, put your hero (and reader) through a life-altering change.

(For more on Character Change check out these posts: Why Character Change Makes a Story Worth Reading and Character Change Can’t Come Out of Nowhere!)

Surprise

Stories with an end twist are always memorable, but you don’t have to go all Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects to have a great ending. The key is to build suspense around your hero’s quest in the form of a “will he or won’t he” question. Will he or won’t he win the heart of the girl? Will he or won’t he betray the mob boss? Will he or won’t he solve the case before the murderer strikes again? Then get him into such a pickle that the reader has no idea how the story will resolve. At that point, anything you come up with will be a surprise!

And if you also have a mind-blowing twist, awesome!

You may think this advice sounds pretty basic, and it is, but the majority of novels I read lack these two things, so I thought it was worth mentioning. Sometimes when writing all the complicated plot stuff, we forget the basics. So take this as your reminder. Put your story to the test. By the end, does your character change in a big way that affects his or her life? And did you build up the suspense enough so that the ending surprises the reader? If this story wasn’t your baby, would the ending imprint itself on your brain? Or would you forget it in a few months?

It’s really hard to write unforgettable endings, even when you know this stuff and you’re trying to get it right. I’ve spent years writing countless stories with less-than-stellar resolutions, and I’m just now getting the hang of it. I’ve learned it helps to figure out the ending before I start writing – not every detail, just how the hero will change and what the surprise resolve will be. Armed with these two things, hopefully I’ll never again write a story with a lackluster ending!

What do you think makes an ending unforgettable? Let me know in the Comments!

For more on writing endings, check out 3 Steps to Make an Ending Right – i.e. don’t pull a fast one on the reader by plucking an ending out of thin air!

Next Up from Heather… How writing script treatments can help your story.

Click here for more posts from Heather.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-unforgettable-endings/

Reading for Writers 101: Is Your Story Ending ‘Right’?

BookCover-MockingjayI read the first book of The Hunger Games series when it came out six years ago. Then I read the next one when it was released. Before the third and final book of the series arrived, I pre-ordered the box set.

And put it on my shelf. For years.

It’s not that I didn’t want to read it. I did. It’s just that the books literally take me away from the world for hours. I never seemed to have a whole day free to read Mockingjay. And, who am I kidding, maybe I was just scared for it to be over. Why? Because endings are hard. What if I was let down?

I stress about endings in my own writing. Is the ending impactful enough to touch readers’ hearts? Is the ending surprising enough to blow readers’ minds? Is it satisfying enough to live up to readers’ expectations? Is the ending right?

Right. This is the hardest requirement to determine. When plotting a story, there seem to be so many ways it could end, but there’s only one right way and it all comes down to the hero.

So did the Hunger Games let me down or did the ending feel right? Here’s what I think… [Warning: spoilers coming.]

First, the world Suzanne Collins set up is brutal and realistic. Humans have proven throughout history to be capable of atrocious cruelty towards their fellow man, and the past makes it clear that everything is not solved even if “the good guys” win the war. So I had no expectations of a perfectly happy ending. Second, the heroine Collins’ created is a prickly personality driven by a need to do what she thinks is right not what is nice or expected. Because of that, Katniss constantly defies authority. She never intends to become a rebel, but she’s naturally rebellious.

Throughout the series, Katniss battles with what is right, who to trust, and when to rebel. This all comes to a head in the final pages of Mockingjay when she kills the person we don’t expect. But it had to be done. It was the only way to free Panem from The Hunger Games. And only Katniss could do it.

As for how the love triangle wrapped up, this was inevitable. I admit I was a member of Team Gale for the first two books, but in Mockingjay it becomes obvious that Gale isn’t the right partner for a PTSD suffering Katniss. Only Peeta understands. Their end reunion isn’t particularly romantic, but it’s true to Katniss’s personality – she’s never been spontaneous or lovey-dovey, so it makes sense that a relationship would take time to grow with Peeta and not be instantly awesome.

So yes, the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy felt right. Resolving it differently wouldn’t make sense for the hero. Katniss was never going to lead Panem – she didn’t want to be a leader or be responsible for people. Katniss was never going to end up with Gale – living through The Hunger Games had changed her too much from the girl she was in the woods.

Yet if the ending was right, why did some people dislike it? Well, “like” is subjective. People enjoy different kinds of stories, and one story won’t please every reader. The only thing authors can do is ensure the ending is earned and true to character.

3 Key Steps to Make an Ending Right

  1. Set up that the hero has the skills to win the battle all along so that when they win, it feels earned. For example, if Katniss had always been a crappy shot with a bow and arrow but in the final moments made a perfect shot to kill the president, that ending would be unearned. A hero can develop this winning skill over the course of the story, but it cannot come out of nowhere to save the day.
  2. Respect the hero. Don’t make her do something because you need the story to turn out a certain way. Think of her as a real person and ask what would she really do? Or if you really need her to do that thing that doesn’t jive with her personality, go back to page one and redevelop her into the hero you need her to be for the story’s end.
  3. Obey cause and effect. Characters can change and surprise readers, but the authors have to lay the groundwork. I was surprised when Katniss shot Coin instead of Snow (effect), but it works because Coin reinstated The Hunger Games (cause). That was why Katniss did it – she had proof that Panem would be no better under Coin than Snow and therefore Coin was the real threat who had to be stopped.

Even if you apply these three steps, endings are hard. You’ll never please everyone! And you shouldn’t try. But as long as you’re true to your characters, the ending won’t be wrong.

 

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Next Up from Heather… I discover the Mirror Moment that will help me write my hero’s character arc.

For more posts from Heather, click here.

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