Tag Archive: Hunger Games

6 Ways to End a Book in a Series

6 Ways To end a book in a seriesIt’s not surprising that many writers want to create a book series. A series will often sell more books, and they can be faster and easier to write. Writing a series is such a big deal it’s not uncommon to hear aspiring novelists, many of them still working on the first draft of their first book, already talking about books two, three and beyond. There are many resources for plotting a series, but few on how to transition between series books smoothly.

Here are six ways to end a book in a series.

  • Make it a forgone conclusion:

    Weave clues about the follow-up books from the opening chapters of the first book and never stop. Even if a reader had no background knowledge of the Harry Potter universe, they would still realize there are more books to come. One clue the books end at the natural transition point of summer vacation, and all the characters mention returning for the next term. Although we don’t know what adventures Harry will face in the next book, we know he has many years of schooling to have these adventures in.

  • Harry Potter setLeave the boss villain in play:

    This is something else the Harry Potter books use as a clue. Voldemort and his minions are still alive. When Sherlock Holmes defeats a plan of Moriarty’s, or James Bond defeats one of Specter’s agents, the source of the conflict, the evil mastermind, or the agency that controls the criminal element, often remains alive. The hero has won the battle, but not the war. It’s only a matter of time before these forces are ready to launch a fresh attack.

  • Catching_fireCliffhanger it:

    I love a good chapter cliffhanger, but in series books, not as much of a fan. However, the cliffhanger ending is super popular. There are two prevailing methods of doing a series cliffhanger. The first is to maintain a single story arc that bridges over many volumes. Lord of the Rings is a perfect example. For this method the author will try to select an exciting part of the story and stop. The second way is to resolve the main plot of the book, but throw in a last-minute ending twist. This critical new plot development leaves the characters in fresh conflict and often still in peril. Catching Fire has a fantastic cliffhanger, and it creates the perfect transition into the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

  • Narnia SetShut the door, but open a window:

    This method gives the reader a full experience: there is a completed story arc, and it includes a satisfying conclusion. However, there is also a lurking loose end, something that doesn’t promise of another book, but leaves a lingering possibility of one. My favorite example of this is The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Although the Professor seems sure no one can return to Narnia by way of the wardrobe, he seems equally sure (with good reason) that there are other methods still available. After all, once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia.

  • Include the first chapter of the next book:

    This works great when book one is fully resolved, but there will be a subplot or secondary character from book one that will spark the action of book two. It’s an increasingly common method, and can be highly effective, especially if the next book has a strong hook in the opening pages. To use this method, the author sometimes conceals the first chapter of the next book as the last chapter or as the epilogue in the current book. Other times the chapter is clearly marked with the name and future release date of the next book. Both methods work, but using the first chapter of the next book method means the next book needs to be completely done. If not, there is a risk the first chapter will need changes.

  • Don’t transition, create a standalone with close ties:

    This method is popular with mystery writers. Agatha Christie favored it and created several highly popular series by making sure readers could jump around within each series and not feel confused. It’s also very popular with Sci-fi writers who build huge universes. This method works best for stories that feature strong external plotlines.

Many of the most popular authors, both traditional and indie, founded their success on the strength of a series. A successful series takes on a life of its own, and often spawns its own fan community. The stakes are high, so finding the right method for closing each of your series books might take some extra effort, but it’s well worth it.

I think everyone has read a series book with an unforgettable ending. Please share your favorites in the comments below.

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3 Tips for Using Color Theory In Your Writing

Some like it hot, but I like it RED.

In September I bought a red house. I know what you’re thinking, who does that? Someone with a secret barn obsession? Turns out lots of people love red houses and Pinterest is full of people lamenting their lack of red house. Why? Because red triggers emotions. It’s a color that invokes power, vitality and well … life. It is the color of blood after all. No, I’m not being ghoulish in homage to Halloween, it’s a fact. Red makes people feel something powerful. It’s the color of excitement and danger. It’s also the color of love and sex. As colors go, red is pretty hard to beat for evoking a strong response.

Advertising executives have known about psychological properties of color for decades. When creating company logos and ad campaigns they always chose colors that help trigger consumer’s buy-it button. For example, blue signifies a company is trustworthy, while green shows they’re natural and/or earth friendly.

You can do the same thing with your fiction writing. Here are 3 tips for adding more color to your pages.

1. Learn the basics of color theory.

You don’t need to go all Mad Men and memorize the meaning of every color, 2013-01-20-Color_Emotion_Guide22just get the basics down. Finding a good chart to keep near your writing space will help. Lucky for all of us there are a number of good articles and infographics on different aspects of color theory, like this one analyzing company logos by color from the Huffington Post.

Some paint companies will also have charts available to download. Home decorators know that wall and furniture colors help control mood swings and can increase a person’s creativity and work level. You can also hit home improvement stores for some paint sample cards. They really come in handy for keeping a key color in mind.

2. Give all your lead characters a personal color palette.

It might be hard to decide your character’s perfect colors. So take this test: Without thinking too much, imagine your protagonist reaches into his or her closet and takes out a favorite jacket. What color is it? The character that just reached for a brown leather bomber is nothing like the character that reached for the same jacket in lime green.

You may want to check out the color thesaurus from Bored Panda. This is a great reference tool for determining the names of colors in some key color groups. Here’s the panel for red, my favorite of course.This-Color-Thesaurus-Chart-Lets-You-Easily-Name-Any-Color-Imaginable8__605

You can also think about the traits you want your lead characters to embody. If you want them perceived as stable and confident pick blues as their main color. If you want the reader to perceive them as artistic but friendly, choose shades of orange. If your villain is always in black (like almost every other villain in the world) you might want to rethink that. Color done right can be intimidating and it exudes a high level of confidence.

You will need to remember that every color has a positive and a negative aspect. Yellow is sunny and happy, but it’s also the color of betrayal and cowardice. Green is peaceful, but also the sign of greed and envy. Also remember all color theory is culturally influenced – white signifies purity in some countries but not others. You will need to know the cultural rules of your target audience before choosing your character palettes.

3. Include colors in your plotting and settings.

With a pop of unexpected color you can surprise your readers, or make them understand something big in the story is about to happen. If you create a setting that follows your protagonist’s main color palette you keep them stable and happy. But by using clashing or contrasting colors you will take your characters out of their comfort zone.

Heather is the authority on all things Hunger Games, but for me the Capitol is always about color!

Hungergames_00498

The edge of Effie’s dress against the backdrop of neutrals.

When Effie arrives into the story she brings a blast of color. Her hair and bright clothing is shocking in the coal dust-covered drab world of District 12. Everything about the Capitol’s wealth, extravagance, pageantry, and excessive vanity is all wrapped up in brash and garish color. While the soldiers and tributes are often in neutral tones of white, black and tan. This helps to create more physiological distance between the groups in power and those serving them.

Using color to trigger emotions is a great tool for every storyteller to know and it’s a trick most film makers already understand and use with great effect. Think about the girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List as a classic example. Learn by studying how other writers and artists use color to change the mood, or by experimenting with your own work in progress.

Use color wisely and watch how it changes the intensity of your scenes, shakes up the status quo and revs up your own creative juices.

 

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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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Is TV the New Novel?

bookLast week I read the New York Times Bookends column “Are the New ‘Golden Age’ TV Shows the New Novels?” and got riled up about Adam Kirsch’s opinion, which basically boils down to “how dare TV shows think they are as great as novels!” Well, I feel the need to counter with “how dare you dismiss TV as inferior!” Here we go…

Since I am a screenwriter and aspiring novelist, I’ve examined the similarities and differences between and the strengths and weaknesses of these two storytelling mediums, and have concluded that there should be no pissing match. One is not better than the other, and I’m going to explain why.

But first, in case you haven’t heard, serialized television is the trend everyone is calling “The Golden Age of TV.” In the olden days (you know, the 20th century), most television shows were episodic, which means that each episode is a self-contained story and the characters are the same throughout the season. You could miss an episode and it wouldn’t matter, because the world and characters of the show never changed. Whereas serialized television weaves many plots throughout many episodes and the characters change greatly over the course of the season. Miss one episode and you’ll miss important plot and character developments, much like skipping a chapter in a novel.

So you can see how the comparison between serialized TV shows and novels is natural. For a more in-depth explanation, check out this article.

In the Times piece, Kirsch is full of disdain for television, yet the only example he uses to illustrate how TV is inferior is his opinion that television’s “evil” characters are always “melodramatic” (i.e. mobsters, meth dealers or terrorists) and that this has nothing to do with how we “encounter evil in real life.” First, so what? What’s wrong with that? Do all evil characters have to be covert? Second, he’s clearly never watched Mad Men or The Walking Dead or numerous other shows that display people being evil without them being overtly bad.

After that weak attempt at dismantling TV’s legitimacy, Kirsch concludes with: “Spectacle and melodrama remain at the heart of TV, as they do with all arts that must reach a large audience in order to be economically viable. But it is voice, tone, the sense of the author’s mind at work, that are the essence of literature, and they exist in language, not in images.” I don’t know how Kirsch doesn’t gag on his own snobbery. This conclusion is laughably subjective. Voice, tone and the “author’s mind” are not limited to novels. These qualities are present in ALL forms of storytelling, from television to stage plays to stand-up comedy. Every writer, no matter what medium they choose, has a voice. Just because Kirsch can’t recognize it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

So what are the similarities/differences and strengths/weaknesses of television shows versus novels?

The similarities are numerous: complex plots, long character arcs, multiple story lines, various genres, etc. Basically, most stories told in novel form can be told on television, albeit using different tools. It’s these tools that are the significant difference between the two mediums. Television must get the story across with dialogue and visuals only, whereas novels can use inner monologues. Well, to be fair, television can use voice over to get inside a character’s head, but that’s generally frowned upon. Perhaps because it’s a bit of a cop-out. One of the great challenges of screenwriting is to tell the story through the characters’ actions, without having the characters explain it.

BookCover-HungerGamesBut when that inner monologue is crucial, the story is best told via a novel. A prime example of this is THE HUNGER GAMES. In book one of the trilogy, Katniss doesn’t trust anyone and therefore does not voice her fears and concerns, let alone her strategy to win the Games. The reader knows this information because the first person narration of the novel allows us to get inside Katniss’s head. In the film*, no voice over was used and that inner monologue was lost. So for those who didn’t read the book and only saw the movie, the severe mind f*ck that is the Hunger Games doesn’t resonate.

I realized this when talking to a friend about the film. He hadn’t read the book and didn’t understand why we had to watch the tributes train. He thought they should have just thrown them in the Games immediately. Of course, that section is a little dull when you’re not privy to the turmoil inside Katniss, who is hiding that turmoil from everyone around, which means the movie audience can’t see it either.

The second movie, CATCHING FIRE, didn’t have this problem because Katniss now has a couple allies whom she trusts with the odd opinion. At the very least, she’s not hiding how she feels as much.

So the novel’s ability to get inside a character’s head is one advantage it has over television. However, this tool isn’t necessary in all stories. Often character emotions can be displayed through action.

What about TV? What can it do that novels cannot? Television’s strength is the same as its weakness – visuals. Telling a story visually can sometimes feel limited, but when a writer knows how to use visuals effectively, they can pack a powerful punch. A two-second shot can deliver as much information as a whole page in a book. Of course, enjoying this is a matter of taste – some like the slow build, some like the dropped bomb. But is there ever a time when, regardless of taste, visuals work best?

orphan-black-posterI present to you ORPHAN BLACK. This is a television show about clones. It’s awesome, and it wouldn’t be nearly as awesome as a novel. It is so much fun to see the clones interact, and when a new clone shows up, the audience knows immediately because they see it. In a book, the writer would have to use words to spell it out – “this woman who just showed up looks exactly like Sarah!” That’s not nearly as powerful as a visual. This is the ultimate “show don’t tell” and television does it best.

There are other differences between storytelling in books and on television, but in my opinion, the tools above are the only ones that help or hinder the storytelling. Everything else is a matter of taste. Some people enjoy reading. Some people enjoy watching television. Lots of people enjoy both. Each medium can be equally brilliant or equally crappy. The story is what matters, not the delivery method.

In conclusion, television is not the new novel; it’s an excellent form of storytelling in its own right. So to the literary critiques of the world who are as offended as Adam Kirsch by the comparison of television to novels, chill out – television is not replacing the novel. But please, show some respect for other writers. It’s no small feat to entertain millions of people each week. Screenwriting, just like writing a novel, takes talent and dedication. Both are art forms that require years, even decades, to hone. One is not superior to the other.

 

*Yes THE HUNGER GAMES was made into a film not a television show, but film uses the same visual tools as television. I used this example because the book and movie are so well-known.

 

Next Up from Heather… Does your story have real stakes? Take my Stakes Test to find out.

For More Blog Posts from Heather, click here!

 

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The Controlling Idea – Not Your English Teacher’s Theme

My last post about Theme turned out to be a little contentious. Not everyone agreed with the definition, which isn’t surprising considering we were all taught in English class that theme is a) usually distilled down to one word, like “salvation” or “death”, and b) open to interpretation. This approach to theme works in a classroom setting where the point is to explore a work of fiction, but it’s not very helpful when trying to write.

Perhaps I should follow McKee’s lead and call this writing-centric theme something else:

Theme has become a rather vague term in the writer’s vocabulary. … I prefer the phrase Controlling Idea, for like theme, it names a story’s root or central idea, but it also implies function.” STORY by Robert McKee, pg. 115

So, to avoid further confusion and controversy, let’s refer to Theme as The Controlling Idea. To review, this Controlling Idea consists of a value at stake (like love, justice or freedom) and a cause that changes that value from negative to positive (or positive to negative) by the end of the story.

CONTROLLING IDEA = VALUE changed by CAUSE

For example: Justice (VALUE) triumphs (the change) because the hero is smarter than the villain (CAUSE).

As stated in McKee’s quote above, the Controlling Idea implies function – it doesn’t just exist as the end meaning of a story, rather it works to build the story towards the end meaning. And if you know how the Controlling Idea does that, you can write a stronger story.

Using The Controlling Idea To Strengthen Your Story

1 – Define the Conflict. Just like every hero needs a villain, every Controlling Idea needs a Counter Idea. So if the Controlling Idea is Justice triumphs because the hero is smarter than the criminal, then the Counter Idea is Injustice reigns because the criminal is smarter than the hero.

2 – Create Dramatic Tension by making the Controlling Idea and the Counter Idea fight! In great stories, these opposite values battle for supremacy – in one scene Justice looks like it will prevail, and in the next scene Injustice seems poised for victory, and back and forth. Make the Controlling and Counter Ideas so well matched that it is unclear which will win until the very end. A fantastic example of this is the BBC series “Sherlock” – we expect Sherlock Holmes to solve the case and justice to triumph, but the show is so well written and the villains so brilliant that we really do doubt right up to the final moment whether Sherlock will succeed.

3 – Cut Meaningless Scenes. All scenes must argue for or against the Controlling Idea, otherwise the story loses dramatic tension. Take The Hunger Games series, for example. Every scene presents freedom from the Capitol as attainable or unattainable. Each time something goes right for Katniss we think, “Katniss and the citizens of Panem will get their freedom!” and then something goes wrong and we think, “Oh no, the Capitol is going to rule them forever.” The Controlling Idea doesn’t have to be obvious and in your face, but it must always be there, informing everything the characters do and everything that happens to them. If it’s not, cut the scene.

And that’s how to use a writer’s theme (aka Controlling Idea) to write a dramatic tale full of conflict, tension and meaning.

Next Up from Heather… How to stay motivated without deadlines or money.

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Does Your Novel Have a Theme with a Capital “T”?

Pig hunting for truffles_FotorTheme is like a truffle – it has to be there, just under the surface, but one must snort through much mud to unearth it. A most unpleasant process I’ve been stuck in for the last few months. So why do I keep at it? Won’t the theme of my book just magically appear once it’s written? Won’t a reviewer or professor or reader interpret the theme for me? Why do writers need to know the theme of their novel?

Simple answer: to make the book the best it can be.

Because if you’re not shooting for that, why are you reading a blog about writing craft? Right? Okay. Let’s get to work…

First, some definitions…

a)    Theme is what the story is about.

b)   Theme is the moral of the story.

c)    Theme is the lesson learned.

d)   Theme is the story’s ultimate meaning.

e)    Theme is a cat in a shark costume riding a rumba.

Which answer is correct? Though you may be tempted to pick “e” (I know I want to), you’d be wrong. However, a, b, c and d are all decent definitions of theme.

And that’s why theme is so hard: our notions of it are vague. People say, “My novel is about unconditional love!” Or death, or forgiveness, or second chances. All broad ideas claiming to be theme. But a theme must be more than that to writers, because vague notions do not help us write powerful, meaningful or impactful stories. We need to get more specific, and it doesn’t get any more specific than what some refer to as “The Screenwriter’s Bible”…

McKee's STORY coverSTORY by Robert McKee is a beast of a book, all 455 picture-less pages of it. It’s very detailed, but that’s exactly what we need to figure out an ambiguous notion like theme. McKee writes, “A true theme is not a word, but a sentence… describing how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end.”

Yep, CHANGE. If you’ve been following my blog, I talk about this a lot, especially in How To Story Edit Using The Basic Beats where I mention change every other sentence. If you’re still not sure why change is so important, read this post where I compare a novel to a hamburger. Seriously, it makes sense. Read it. I’ll wait.

So a complete theme needs change. And that change happens to something humans/readers/heroes inherently value, like love, life, justice, truth, hope, equality, etc. And that value is changed because something caused it to change. Like this…

THEME = VALUE changed by CAUSE

This is what I call “Theme” with a capital “T”. McKee calls it “The Controlling Idea.” Others say “Thematic Statement.” Some label it “Central Theme” because they have many themes but know that one theme must rise above the rest and unify the whole story.

How To Find Your Theme

1) Figure out the VALUE. The value is, broadly, what’s at stake. In love stories, the value is obviously “love.” In crime novels, the value is usually “justice.” Often people equate value with theme. They say, “My novel is about justice!” but that’s not a complete Theme. They only have part of the equation.

2) Determine how that value will CHANGE. Most stories begin negative (injustice) and end positive (justice is served). If the novel is a tragedy, it will start positive and end negative.

3) Find the CAUSE. Why does justice prevail? This is the hard part. Hint: the answer lies within the protagonist. After all, the protagonist drives the story. I’ll give you two examples:

i)     Justice triumphs because the protagonist is more violent than the criminals.

ii)    Justice triumphs because the protagonist is smarter than the criminals.

Both Themes are from two different crime stories, and they’re exactly the same except for one word – the CAUSE. The first applies to the movie “Dirty Harry”, the second to Sherlock Holmes.

To break it down… Justice is the VALUE, triumph is the CHANGE from negative to positive, and violent/smarts is the CAUSE.

Get it? I certainly didn’t at first. It took me months of snorting through muddy plots and unearthing lumps of crap to finally find the Theme of my novel. In fact, I just nailed it a few hours before writing this post! But now that I’ve got it, I realize I led you all astray in my last post where I said that the theme of The Hunger Games was “rebellion”. Of course, now you and I both know that’s not a Theme, it’s a vague notion!

So, what’s the Theme of The Hunger Games trilogy? I’d sum it up like this:

“Freedom is gained because Katniss rebels against tyranny.”

The value is freedom, because ultimately that is what Katniss and the people of Panem strive for and value. The cause is rebellion, because without that nothing would change. And the change is positive, because they go from being complete slaves in their districts to… well, I won’t spoil the ending, and it wasn’t all hunky-dory, but things changed for the better.

The central Theme is the moral, the lesson and the ultimate meaning of the story. It ties everything together, and I’ll explain how next post.

Next Up from Heather… How a Theme helps you write.

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What’s a B-Story? And Why That Love Triangle Doesn’t Cut It

Before I explain what a B-Story is and why it’s crucial, here’s a list of what it is not:

  • Comic relief that is inconsequential to the main story.
  • A side plot that has nothing to do with your hero.
  • A tacked-on love story to appease those who say YA needs a love triangle.

These are not B-Stories; they are filler. And a novel is long enough without pointless filler! The B-Story must count! It must mean something! It must affect the hero! Why? Because the B-Story is the novel’s THEME.

That’s right, Theme, also known as “the meaning of the journey” or “what your hero needs to learn.” For more information about Theme read this, but for now let’s stick to what it has to do with the B-Story…

This line from Blake Synder’s book SAVE THE CAT! STRIKES BACK says it best:

The A Story is the hero’s tangible goal, what he wants. The B Story is the hero’s spiritual goal, what he needs.

As always, it’s best to demonstrate what this means by using an example, like THE HUNGER GAMES. I know, I know, I always refer to Suzanne Collin’s novel, but that’s because it’s just so damn brilliant. Even better, it has a B-Story love triangle that’s an actual plot and not lame filler. So let’s refresh the story elements of The Hunger Games

Theme: Freedom through rebellion.

A-Story (Katniss’s tangible goal): Win the Hunger Games.

B-Story (Katniss’s spiritual goal): Show the Capitol they don’t own her.

So that’s the purpose of the B-Story? Now who are the characters involved? Usually B-Story characters are love interests or friends or mentors, people who help the hero and give the hero the insight he/she needs to win in the end. In The Hunger Games, the B-Story is Katniss’s relationship with Peeta.

(I considered that the B-Story could be Haymitch since he is literally Katniss’s mentor, but it’s Peeta for the reasons listed below…)

Peeta isn’t the B-Story just because he’s the love interest (along with Gale), but because he does 5 Crucial Things That the B-Story Character Must Do:

1)   He brings up the Theme. Remember that scene the night before the Games start where Katniss and Peeta talk on the roof? On page 142 Peeta says, “I keep wishing I could think of a way to… to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” and Katniss just replies, “That’s how the Games work.” Peeta already knows what Katniss needs to learn, but Katniss hasn’t got it yet. She even says as much when he asks, “Don’t you see?” and she replies, “A little. Only… no offense, but who cares, Peeta?” Katniss isn’t yet the rebel Peeta and all of Panem need her to be.

2)   He talks about Theme with the hero. Throughout the story, Peeta talks about not letting the Capitol control him and being his own person, especially when he and Katniss reunite in the cave.

3)   He nurtures the hero. The B-Story character is always there for the hero, nurturing, helping, supporting, etc. In Peeta’s case, he literally makes it his mission to protect Katniss and keep her alive in the Hunger Games.

4)   He teaches the hero the lesson/theme. Through his actions and opinions, Peeta influences Katniss not to play by the Capitol’s rules and be a pawn in the Games.

5)   He helps the hero win in the end. Peeta is there in the Finale, fighting by Katniss’s side and participating in the suicide trick. B-Story characters need not be physically present in the Final Battle, but they must have helped the hero get there.

So that is the difference between a true B-Plot Love Story and a lame, tacked-on love story – the love interest helps the hero learn the THEME. If the love story is just a pleasant distraction, kissing scenes in between fight scenes, it’s not a B-Story.

Of course, as I already said, the B-Story doesn’t have to be a love story. The B-Story character can be a mentor or a friend too. The only rule is this person must be the hero’s ally and help the hero learn the lesson/theme.

In conclusion, the purpose of the B-Story is to show that the true reason for the journey is not the tangible goal (win the Hunger Games), but the spiritual lesson that can only be found through the B-Story (the real win is not being a Capitol pawn).

Next Up from Heather… What is in a novel scene that is not in a screenplay scene? I’ll tell you next week as I adjust my Sticky Note Outline to accommodate it. ** Update: my Sticky Note Outline is still being revised, but I did figure out the Theme of my novel – FINALLY! So instead of blogging about scenes, I will blog about Theme.

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Basic Story Beats of The Hunger Games (based on the “Save The Cat” beat sheet)

BookCover-HungerGamesI picked HUNGER GAMES as the first novel to break down into the Basic Story Beats because I knew it had all the elements in chronological order. After all, I’d read the novel thrice and was familiar with the story. Though I was shocked to find that the Debate didn’t actually happen on the page, but rather in my mind. The Set Up was so well written that I was essentially in Katniss’s head, weighing the options for her in that split-second before she yells, “I volunteer as tribute!” Amazing.

Without further ado, The Hunger Games’ Basic Story Beats:

 

Element Pages Beats
Opening 1 Introduces Katniss as a caring sibling on high alert when she wakes up to find her sister Prim not in her bed. But on pg. 6 the part of Katniss that will change over the course of the series is revealed: she used to speak out against the Capitol but has since learned it’s best to say nothing. She stays silent to protect her sister.
Set-Up 1-20 Very quickly we learn about Katniss’s family (sister Prim, mom, dead dad), home (District 12), work (hunting), and friends (Gabe). Slowly, the awful tradition of the Hunger Games is revealed. All the other main characters are also introduced: The Baker, The Mayor, Madge, Effie Trinket, Haymitch.Things to be Fixed: 1) Katniss never smiles except in the woods with Gabe. 2) Katniss is not the forgiving type. 3) Even though she hunts illegally, Katniss struggles to support her family. 4) Katniss is trapped in a hopeless, dead-end life of poverty in District 12.
Theme 9 Rebellion. Gale suggests they could escape District 12 and make it on their own in the woods. Katniss won’t even entertain the idea.
Catalyst 20 At the reaping, Katniss’s sister Prim’s name is picked.
Debate none I thought there was a moment before Katniss volunteers as tribute where she wonders what’s worse – Prim dying in the Games, or Prim dying of starvation in District 12 because Katniss died in the Games and can no longer look after her. But this Debate happened in my head, probably because the Set Up is so well done that I felt Katniss’s options without her having to weigh them in the moment.
Break Into 2 21 Katniss volunteers as tribute and goes to the Hunger Games instead of Prim.
B Story 25 Peeta. Katniss wrestles with how she owes Peeta her life but she’ll have to kill him in the Hunger Games.
Fun + Games 41 Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol to train for the Hunger Games.
Mid Point 148 False Victory: Surprisingly, Katniss gets the highest score in training and enters the Games with a real shot of winning. B Story: Peeta confesses he’s in love with Katniss. But is it real or just a strategy for the Games? Stakes Raised: Training is over and the Hunger Games begin. Worse, because of her high score, she’s the Careers’ #1 target.
Bad Guy Closes In 149- Tributes die, the Gamekeepers attack, the Career tributes kill. Katniss is dehydrated, burned and stung. She teams up with Rue to wipe out the Career’s supplies, but loses her hearing and Rue in the process. The Gamekeepers change the rules so that two tributes can win if they’re from the same district, so Katniss finds Peeta and risks her life to save him from dying.
All’s Lost 299 False Defeat: Katniss and Peeta are trapped and starving to death.
DKofSoul 300 Katniss knows she has to create some romance, be desirable, to get food from game sponsors.
B Story 302 Katniss follows Peeta’s lead, playing up their romance for the audience by sharing stories and feelings. It pays off and Haymitch sends them the gift of food.
Break Into 3 327 Katniss and Peeta head back to the lake for the final battle.
Finale 329 Katniss and Peeta battle all the dead tributes (who were turned into monstrous mutts). Cato is mauled almost to death, and Katniss mercifully finishes him off. But in every good finale, there is a surprise twist, and here it is: the Gamekeepers change the rules back at the last second, saying only ONE tribute can win. Peeta wants it to be Katniss, after all the Games need a victor. But Katniss realizes that means the Gamekeepers won’t let them both die, so they take out the poisonous berries to eat together… forcing the Gamekeepers to yell, “Stop!” They both win!
Final Moment  374 Katniss returns to District 12 a rebel in the Capitol government’s eyes. She fears she’s put her loved ones in danger after all.

 

So Katniss has changed by the end of the story: from a girl who accepts her lot in life and does not challenge Capitol rule, to a girl who strives to find solutions and challenges the Capitol’s rules.

The other thing to note at the end is that Katniss’s problems in the Set Up are resolved by the end, even though this is a series and the story will continue. For there to be closure (and not an annoyingly abrupt cliffhanger ending) those main problems have to be solved:

1)   Katniss never smiled except in the woods with Gabe… but she smiled with Rue and Peeta in the Games.

2)   Katniss is not the forgiving type… but at the end she shows mercy towards her arch enemy Cato.

3)   Even though she hunts illegally, Katniss struggles to support her family… but now that she’s won the Hunger Games they will never go hungry again.

4)   Katniss is trapped in a hopeless, dead-end life of poverty in District 12… but now she won’t live in poverty, and there’s the hint that she won’t live a dead-end life either, that she’ll be part of a rebellion that changes her whole world.

Can you see how your favourite novels have these story elements? Or how your own novel does? What if it doesn’t?

Next up from Heather… how to use The Basic Beats to story edit.

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Outlining – Method 1: Basic Story Beats

Just as there are many ways to write a novel, there are many ways to outline a novel. You can use all the methods, one of the methods, or none of the methods. The choice is yours! Go nuts with the freedom! Myself, I use all of the outlining methods I will explain in the next few posts. I treat them like stepping stones, each step preparing me to write that novel. Kind of like psyching myself up to jump off a cliff! I start by hopping into the shallow end of a pool, then I cannonball into the deep end, then I dive off the diving board, and finally, when I’ve gotten the basics down, I head to the lake, find a wicked high cliff, and jump!

But even if you prefer to write on the wild side and just jump, the following outline method is handy during editing to figure out what might be missing from your story or how to make your story stronger.

Save-The-CatNow without further ado, the first outline method: the Basic Story Beats!

The Basic Story Beats are from a screenwriting book called “Save The Cat” by Blake Snyder. I’ve read a lot of books about writing and they all talk about 3-Act structure, blah, blah, blah, but this book is the best because it doesn’t just list what beats are needed, it explains why those beats are important. I’m just going to summarize the beats below, but if you want more details, check out Snyder’s books.

But wait! What’s a beat? It’s a plot point that moves the story forward. For example, “Anna skips school with her crush” is a beat; “Anna daydreams about her crush” is not a beat. The first is an action, something that happens. The second is not.

So here we go…

Opening Image… shows where the protagonist is at the beginning of the story. This is important to set up because the protagonist must change by the end of the story.

Theme…  is what your book is about. Usually spoken to the protagonist, often without the protagonist realizing that what is said will be key to her surviving the story.

Set-Up… establishes the protagonist’s world (family, school, work) and introduces supporting characters. This is also where the protagonist’s personal problems are revealed, the stuff she’ll need to fix by the end of the story in order for that vital character change to take place.

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 Gabe in her district. Life would remain the same. The catalyst is a moment so big that it changes the protagonist’s life.

Debate… is when the protagonist decides how to proceed. Should she go on this journey? Should she refuse the journey? Of course, she has to go for there to be a story, but doubt adds tension and makes the protagonist more human, which strengthens the story.

Break Into Two… Act Two, that is. This is where the protagonist makes the choice to leave her familiar world behind and go on the journey to achieve a goal. The key to this beat is that the protagonist must choose this course of action, not be forced or tricked into it.

B Story… character is introduced. Often this is the love interest, but can also be a sidekick or a mentor. Basically, the protagonist needs an ally. This ally guides the protagonist through to the end and is often instrumental in helping the protagonist learn the Theme, i.e. what she needs to do to survive and win the story.

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.

Midpoint… 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. (The Midpoint can also be a False Defeat, but that’ll take a whole other blog post to explain.)

Bad Guys Close In… Both internal problems (inside the protagonist’s team or within the protagonist herself) and external problems (bad guys) tighten their grip and get closer and closer to thwarting the protagonist’s goal.

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.

Dark Night of the Soul… is where the protagonist has lost 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. The protagonist has to be beaten and know it in order to have a revelation that saves her, which leads to…

Break Into Three… 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.

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).

Final Image… is the opposite of the Opening Image, proving a change has occurred. After all, what’s the point of the story if it doesn’t change the protagonist’s life?

So those are the Basic Story Beats. As you can see, this is not a step-by-step beat sheet of all your novel’s plot points, nor is it a scene-by-scene outline. Those are the next steps. These beats are just the main elements of a story.

*For more detailed explanations of these story elements, read the whole “Save The Cat” series, or check out my blog posts about Theme and B-Story.

Next Up from Heather… Have doubts about whether bestsellers such as THE HUNGER GAMES, SHINE, and I HUNT KILLERS have all the Basic Story Beats? Let’s find out!

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