Tag Archive: story elements

Story Twinkies: Do You Need One?

Story TwinkieSorry for our brief absence. Did you miss us? Heather and I needed some down time. We logged an insane number of blogging hours during April and our work, writing, health and family lives were starting to suffer. The vacation did its job brilliantly. We’re excited to get back to work and have some fantastic new adventures in store for our readers, including our first blog hop. But more about that in a few weeks. For now, let’s get to the post…

I’m willing to bet most of the writers reading this have no idea what a story Twinkie is. This is a slang term used in the video game industry. It’s named in honor of a super sweet, spongy cream-filled American snack cake. For gamers the term stands for the unexpected surprises and treats a good game designer will throw into the story to keep the player on the hook.  They include them in places where the game gets tough to encourage the player onwards. And they add them after a big boss battle to make the player feel like all their hard work was worth the effort.

Heather and I both have had jobs in the games biz; she’s still in it working for LongStory, while I have long since moved on. However, the wisdom of the Twinkie lingers. This is a super smart story tool and many of the best writers of novels, movies and games use it.

A Twinkie is small:
The best Twinkies are almost inconsequential touches, yet they pack an emotional jolt. A good way to visualize this device is as a split second in time that is totally memorable. Consider the movie HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. Remember when Hermione, Ron and Harry are arguing with Draco Malfoy over the death sentence of Buckbeak. The trio of heroes start to walk away and yet at the last second Hermione spins back around and slugs Draco in the face. That is a serous Twinkie moment. It’s a blow so justified that it makes everyone shout “YES!” with enthusiasm. It will not change the outcome of Buckbeak’s fate, but it still gives us some hope that our plucky heroine is not giving up. It also serves as a foreshadowing that Hermione will be the one to take drastic action and save the day.

Use a Twinkie to channel emotions:
Twinkies often show up at a huge victory moment. You will see it when the crowd carries the star player off the field and delivers them into the arms of the talent scout everyone thought wasn’t there to see the big win. Used this way, a Twinkie will intensify the feel good moment. The extra sweet punch of the Twinkie moment is often the last nudge needed to make the reader or viewer cry.

Twinkies can foreshadow:
After a character has a major set back, a Twinkie can give them hope for the future. It can also work as an ah-ha moment by giving the character a clue. A perfect example is a character finally getting a long-awaited smile, right after coming to grips with the idea that they will never get the girl or guy to notice them.

Timing is critical with a Twinkie:
Horror movies love Twinkies; they are almost always included in a moment of tension release or comic relief. When everyone in the story has convinced themselves a serial killer hides in the shed, out pops the beloved family pet. Hopefully some of you had a chance to watch SHAWN OF THE DEAD; Heather’s example pick for last month’s Masterplot X meets Y (Genre Mashups). If you did you may already have realized that every time Shawn stumbles into his ex-girlfriend, that’s a Twinkie.

A Twinkie is always positive:
From the protagonist’s prospective, the Twinkie is good, possibly great! From the standpoint of the antagonist, the Twinkie is not good, or could be down right nasty. However, it’s never a major disaster from anyone’s perceptive. If Hermione’s punch got her expelled it would be too significant of an event to quality as a Twinkie. Twinkies are, by nature, fluff! You should be able to pull them out and have the story read almost exactly the same way.

Do you have a favorite story Twinkie? Or have you ever included a Twinkie in your own work?  Please share in the comments because I love a good Twinkie.

I also want to take this moment to thank everyone who dropped by to read and comment on our Masterplots Theater posts. It was a labor of love and we hope everyone enjoyed the theme. We still have a few more Masterplots up our sleeves, but we plan to spring them on you when you least expect it.

Next, we have a huge shout-out to Sarah at The Old Shelter and Diane at Squirrels in the Doohickey. Both these amazing ladies just nominated us for blogging awards. We love these two blogs. Please drop by and pay them a visit. You will find some 1920’s historical fun at Sarah’s blog and some side splitting giggles at Diane’s blog. Blog awards are something Heather and I really enjoy. It gives us a chance to get some much valued real-time feedback and to share in the joy of being part of the blogging community. Thank you so much ladies!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/story-twinkies/

M is for Midpoint

BLAST_MIf you’re a plotter like Heather and I are, you should know about the importance of the midpoint event. It’s one of those important story structure tentpoles Heather will be telling you all about in her O is for Outlining post. The midpoint is when critical new information is introduced to the story and it will lead the character(s) to make the most important decision of the story, the big fight or flight moment. This is a punch in the guts scene and it usually (but not always) is a reversal that negatively impacts the protagonist in a major way. After the midpoint moment, the story always move off in a different direction.

3 Tips for The Midpoint

The midpoint event happens in the middle of the story. However, it’s unwise to stress the exact percentage point. If your midpoint event falls at the 42% mark don’t start adding unnecessary information to adjust the timing. Think of the midpoint event as a massive change in the direction of the protagonist’s situation, and not just as the perfect chronological center of your manuscript.

Mastering the midpoint is not for wimps. This is a great time to make your beloved protagonist suffer. This event should set up not only the climax of your story, but become the tipping point for the big emotional growth the protagonist will undergo as part of their character arc. Some writers consider the first half of a novel the discovery and reaction phase, when the characters are asking questions and figuring out the problems. After the midpoint shift the novel moves into an action and attack phase, when the characters are formulating plans and taking steps to accomplish their revised end goal. A story without a true midpoint event might be maintaining the same story trajectory. Even if there is an escalation of conflict, without a midpoint event there is a strong likelihood the characters are not changing! A properly crafted midpoint changes the character’s (and often the reader’s) perspective profoundly.

Planning helps you get this right. I think one of the big downsides to being a pantser is the risk of middle mush, when the center of the novel becomes a dead zone. It’s much easier to plot for a midpoint event, than it is to correct for a missing midpoint in a finished novel. If you’re a tried and true pantster, don’t despair, you may have created a crisis at the midpoint without realizing it. Using Heather’s editing post as a guide, start by creating the beat sheet for your story. Hopefully, you are almost there and if you just roll up your sleeves and do a bit of rewriting you’ll have a midpoint in no time.

2 Examples of Great Midpoints

A great midpoint is often packed with conflict! To some degree picking out the most critical elements can bit subjective, especially when the story uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to confuse the timeline. I’m picking films this time and my first pick is BACK TO THE FUTURE. Marty watches as his elder brother fades from a family photograph. With this midpoint event, Marty realizes his actions have disturbed the past. Unless he can reverse his mistakes and make his parents fall in love again, his life and that of his siblings will cease to exist.

My second pick is EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Edward is tricked into breaking into a friend’s home and caught by the police. The other teens refuse to own up to their part in the deception. Edward makes the decision to protect Kim at all costs and refuses to turn them in. Overnight Edward goes from media darling to hated monster.

1 Link for More Help

Midpoint is easiest to study in volume. When you can see about 100 films with the midpoints careful documented for you, it will help you see the patterns. My link today is from The Script Lab: Five Plotpoint Breakdowns Find some films you like and put their list to the test.  Do you agree or disagree?

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Heroes

I is for Internal Conflict

J is for Juxtaposition

K is for Kittens!

Coming up:

N is for Narrative

O is for Outlines

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/m-is-for-midpoint/

6 Tips for Re-imagining a Classic Story

6 Tips for Re-imagining a Classic Story

This weekend we reviewed three books based on revisited fairy tales. You can read more about that here. In case you didn’t realize it, this is a huge trend in books, movies and TV shows. Some of the hottest projects around are adaptations from characters and stories combed from the pages of literary classics: Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and Frozen to name a few.

The best part of revamping a classic work is you don’t need to be the first. Each of these stories has enough world building and characters to allow for countless adaptations. Here are six things to think about if you want to carve out a fresh and in many cases darker version of an old classic storyline.

  1. Make sure you’re starting with a public domain story.  If you’re adapting a fairy tale you’re probably safe, but take the time to make sure. Here’s a list of the Grimm stories to help get you started. Familiarize yourself with your story, and try to read a few different versions. You may not know the story as well as you thought you did.
  2. Block out the key story elements. Once you have those down consider how you want to recreate the story. Pull out all the key story tropes you can. I understand that some stories are entrenched in the public’s psyche, but chances are it’s by losing some of these expected plot aspects that will create a fresh sounding story. For example, since we’re talking about dark themes this week, dump the happy-ever-after ending. The good news is lots of classic stories started out dark and have been prettied up for modern readers.Alice_in_wonderland_poster_2_1_original1
  3. Swap out something big. Changing the time frame is a great way to adapt an old story in a meaningful way. The most common setting change is to make the story modern day, but what about setting it in the future? Or even going into space? I read a lot of classics and my writer mind can’t help playing the “what if” game. Recently I’ve started to wonder what a version of The Count of Monte Cristo set in a post apocalyptic world might look like. Perhaps Edmond escapes from a too sterile and starkly white cell into a world that’s dark and devastated.
  4. If you don’t want to alter story perfection, dial up the intensity. Tim Burton is a master at this, his Alice in Wonderland is just over the top. Tap into the core values of the story: love, hate, jealousy, and seek out ways to push the boundaries to the limit. You can also look for an unexplained detail in the original story and add an origin story to explain it. This worked for Ella Enchanted. I never could understand why Cinderella obeyed her Step-mother, so a curse of obeying makes perfect sense.
  5. Strike out on some new story ground. With just one or two of the original story characters you can pursue a Sleepy Hollowtotally new end goal. Or pick up your story where the other story stopped. This plan worked for the TV show Sleepy Hollow. I love how they incorporated historical tidbits and clues, and seamlessly wove real and fictional landscapes together.
  6. Change the point of view. I’m sure a few years ago no one saw Wicked coming. The least likely, and sometimes least likeable characters in a classic story are often the ones that need to tell their stories the most. It’s fascinating to hear what the other players in the story have to say about the hero.

Re-envisioning a classic story can be tons of fun, and best of all it can work for any age audience, and for any genre. NaNoWriMo is right around the corner, if you’re still at a loss for an idea, why not give a classic story adaptation a shot?

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/6-tips-for-re-imagining-fairy-tales/

Releasing Your Inner Poe, Part Two.

Edgar_Allan_Poe_cropWelcome to part two of Releasing Your Inner Poe. If you missed part one you can find it here. With fall rapidly approaching I’m hard at work on a few projects with dark gothic themes, but more on that in a future post. Since I’m struggling with the task of establishing the right balance of elements, the perfect plot, the right characters and some eerie world building, I’m researching, studying and sharing what I’m learning about gothic fiction in these blog posts. You can also find more of my tips on horror fiction plotting here.

Although gothic is a subgenre of horror and the two share many elements, gothic is a poorly understood form. Hopeful these tips will help sort out some of the facts from the misconceptions.

  • Gothic often doesn’t follow the standard fiction rules and most lovers of the genre tend to think that’s just fine. Don’t expect a traditional story arc, or even a clearly established hook. The ending might feel unexpected with a resolution that came out of nowhere. These are messy and complicated stories, full of small insignificant clues that the reader was supposed to read over. Good gothic should leave behind some questions, a level of confusion or a feeling that the author tricked the reader. The story should stick in your head and make the reader want to go back and see if they can catch the tricks. That’s part of the genre’s charm.
  • There is often a lack of protagonist transformation in gothic. Distressed and bedraggled protagonists sometimes stay distressed and bedraggled right to the bitter end. Or the protagonist might be saved by outside forces or dumb luck, rather than by their own ingenuity.
  • The antagonist is often favored over the hero in terms of page count and plot development. Gothic villains are usually the most memorable characters. If you don’t believe me please feel free to name the protagonist in Frankenstein.

See below when you’ve given up.*

  • In gothic, the reader should expect unreliable narrators, negative character arcs and/or protagonists that are unlikable, or unrelatable. I’ll be addressing the differences between these types of narrators in my next gothic post.The Crow
  • Gothic does not require a historical setting. There are many great gothic plots set in a more modern or even futuristic world. Some media examples are the TV show Twin Peaks, or in movies like The Crow and Blade Runner.
  • The genre has its own tropes and stereotypes, like the antagonist who develops a sense of self-loathing and/or grows a conscience and regrets their earlier misdeeds. Also the disgruntled servant, the helpless orphan, and the dark brooding love interest are recurring tropes in gothic fiction.
  • A love interest is not required. Sure a bit of romance never hurts and lost, damaged, or unrequited love is a favorite theme, but so is injustice or triumphing over inhumanity. Morality, or lack of morality, is often the central emotional theme, but it’s masquerading as a straight forward love plot.
  • There are some formulaic aspects in gothic, such as the idea of achieving a balance between good and evil. Gothic likes polarity, but the battle is not necessarily in a physical sense, it can be all internal, or an ideological struggle. It’s a wide open field limited only by a writer’s imagination to restructure and reinterpret the central theme of polarity.
  • Spirituality, and supernatural and other worldly elements are not required for great gothic. Science and technology can mimic the same human vs. the other dynamic of a supernatural presence. The classic example is The Matrix, a film positively dripping in gothic flavor.

 

I read many of the gothic classics as a child and reread them again as an adult. I know for some readers the prose style is difficult to manage, and the early works can be heavy with moral judgement and religious overtones.  However, it’s well worth the effort and anyone who wants to craft some gothic fiction should give the classic works a try.

For more posts by Robin click here.

*This really was a trick question, since Frankenstein has no classic protagonist. Did I mention gothic likes to break rules? The story is framed by a narrator and his name is Captain Robert Walton.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/gothic-writing-tips/

Could Your Book Make the 10% Mark?

 

Love it or hate it, the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited just made it easier for avid readers to sample a huge number of books while paying a fraction of the total cover price. The new program will give subscribers access to over 600,000 titles, many of them Indies, but also some big name authors. This is an all you can read buffet program, with no unit cap, a marked change from the Prime lending program. All this access will cost readers $9.99 a month in the US.

Some writers are thrilled; you can already find them using the URL in their marketing campaigns, others not so much.

The thing I noted about this new program is authors only get paid if the reader gets past the 10% mark of the book. That’s right, downloading the book is no longer the defining act; it’s reading that counts toward achieving a royalty payment. This is another big change from the Prime program where the loan of a book always resulted in a small author payment, usually about $2.00 in US dollars per each loan. This means how a novel opens and if it manages to hold the reader’s interest just got even more important.

Novel beginnings aren’t a new topic for this blog, from prologues to opening sentences the Sisters have a lot to say about literary first impressions. And we’re not shy about the books we don’t like or why in our reviews.

However, this time I’m doing something different.

I decided to give a group of authors I’ve never read before a test drive. I wanted to see how many of the books I picked at random would stand a chance of getting me over the 10% threshold for their share of the money pie. I’ve selected some Indies, and some traditionally published books from a few different genres. After reading the first 9% or so, I tried to honestly evaluate why I would or would not want to read beyond that point. I selected only books that appealed to me from their descriptions. I did not read the samples, or any reviews before selecting these books. I had no preconceived notions about this group of authors; and I gave each one of them a fair chance at converting me into a fan or critic. I’m not revealing the names of the books because I have no desire to cause these authors problems just because I wouldn’t finish their books.

Here are the five books I would gladly put down before the 10% mark and why I feel the author failed me as a reader. Please note, I read more than these five books, however I’m focusing on these as the best examples.

Book 1: I was so excited by the blurb on this adventure book, and I couldn’t wait to read it. However the book starts with a 53 word sentence so convoluted I needed to read it twice. It followed that with a second sentence of 41 words. The two massive run-ons created the first paragraph and managed to insult women, as well as the English language. I am not a short sentence snob. I do read a lot of classics, so I know (and love) long sentences. However, 53 words is a tad long even for me. To make sure this wasn’t a fluke I kept reading, although I found the protagonist’s disrespect for the women characters distasteful. I couldn’t stop myself from counting the longer ones as I read. In the back of my mind I kept wondering if I would find a sentence that broke 60 words. Sadly I did, a 65 word mess showed up. When I read back-to-back overly long sentences I start feeling like I’m reading a text book. I can’t enjoy myself when I need to reread for clarity after every few lines.

Book 2: The concept on this mystery blew me away, and I went into it with high hopes. It started with “Once upon a time” and I wanted to stop reading right there! I made myself press on for the sake of literary science, but honestly even if the author meant this as quirky and ironic, the line left me cold. I love it when a writer knocks me down with a great original first sentence, however it’s not usually a deal breaker for me if they don’t. After this unpromising first line, the book’s prologue consisted of a rather long info dump. For newer writers, an info dump is when books use pages and pages of exposition to fill the reader in on backstory details before a single bit of action takes place. It’s a bit like trying to cram an elephant into a shoe box; the pages are densely packed with facts the reader has no context for or any reason to care about. Without regrets I moved on.

Book 3: This time I picked something from the historical fiction group. This book was set in an era and location I love to read about. Unfortunately the author started using modern terms almost immediately. The writer coupled this stylistic decision, with some faulty historical research (wrong century), and this bad fact played a small but consistent role in the main plot. I write historical fiction too, so I know it’s easy to make a mistake. However, I do expect most writers to keep it together and try to stay in the target historical era. At least for the first few chapters. For me the best part of any historical novel is it immerses me in another time and place, if I’m constantly being jerked out of the fantasy by the writer’s modernism’s or research mistakes, I move on.

Book 4: Of all the books I picked up for this post I wanted to love this one the most. The idea of this book, a paranormal thriller, seemed interesting and original, something that’s not easy to do in paranormal. However, it opened with one of the big cliché opening no-nos. It started with a battle, the protagonist is cornered, things look bleak and it fizzled. The protagonist wakes up. That’s right, it’s all a dream folks. Ugh! This is more common than it should be, there are tons of advice posts out there warning people to avoid a fake opening hook, so why oh why are we still having this problem? Of the five this is the one I might still finish, that is if I can forgive the overused, unoriginal opening that promised something it didn’t deliver: action!

Book 5: I picked up a contemporary romance for this last one. I don’t tend to read romance, but I’m trying to read more of them. The story felt predictable, a Romeo and Juliet vibe, but the couple seemed okay, ordinary but likeable. I read to the 10% mark mostly waiting for something more to happen. In the end what really got to me was that about 75% of the sentences started with the pronoun I. Of course in first person point of view you do see a lot of these, but I found myself bored by the lack of sentence variation. I don’t expect every book to read like a literary masterwork, but this one is too predictable and simplistic for my taste.

And there you have it, five book openings that couldn’t hold my attention as a reader.
How about you? Would you read past 10% or would you move on knowing another 599,999 books awaited you?

 

Read more posts by Robin here.

 

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Pro the Prologue or Against?

P

Thirty years ago we wouldn’t be debating the viability of prologues. Readers assumed writers would build their world and characters a little before diving into the thick of the story’s plot. Now including a prologue can  trigger an instantaneous pass from agents, editors and readers alike. So how did we end up in this mess, an era where millions of writers are being cut off from a structural device that thrived for thousands of years? Good question with an easy answer: we did it to ourselves. We writers created a surplus of bad prologues for decades and gave the poor prologue it’s terrible reputation.

You may ask why the fuss? It’s just another way to open a story. It’s harmless? Well, back in the old days that was true. For Dickens and countless others, the prologue was a perfect way for writers to establish the setting and overall tone of the novel. They might foreshadow a tragic ending for the story, or showcase backstory events that took place outside the purview of the protagonist. Prologues were sometimes written in a unique style, say poetry or prose, or told by a narrator who talked directly to the reader. They didn’t bother readers, they were road maps to a new world, and they enhanced the reader’s enjoyment.

However, in too many case what prologues have become is not a credit to writers. They are information dumps, long lists of dates and dry facts tied together with just enough narrative to yield a coherent bundle. They contain complicated backstories, with layers of historical events, going back to the dawn of time. They fixate on providing the reader with gimmicky hooks, bits of flash and color to suck a reader in, yet have little or nothing to do with the main story. I can’t blame readers for wanting to fast forward through such unsightly beginnings, can you? In short, prologues died because writers forgot how to use them as tools to work with a story, and not against it.

Since we can’t change the past, or the minds of all the countless prologue haters in the world, writers must adapt. 

So what can you do instead of a prologue?

  1. Write a prequel. You don’t need to lose the story you worked so hard to create, but you might need to re-purpose it. Think short stories, flash fiction or giveaways you can use as a marketing tool. This only works if you have something self-contained already, or that you can modify to become it’s own story. However, make sure it’s good enough to stand alone. Pass it by some beta readers, ones who have and have not read your full story first.

  2. Redraft the relevant points into a new chapter one. Be careful with this one; it’s easy to go wrong. Make sure you have enough elements from the main storyline and characters to tie this new chapter together with the rest of the book. I used this trick in my manuscript; I opened the story from another main character’s perspective and it worked perfectly. Am I sorry to lose my prologue? Sure I am, but if you can’t fight them, join them.

  3. Cut the prologue out. Start by having some beta readers read your current chapter one without the prologue. Who knows, maybe you never needed that old thing. If so, lucky you. If not, and your reader’s notes come back with questions, figure out which critical pieces of information you need to fill the holes and weave those facts back in. It’s amazing but making the decision to cut the prologue can be liberating; leaving it in might be holding you back from creating a tighter manuscript.

  4. Keep the prologue and hope for the best. If you opt for this one, keep it short! Some books, like mysteries, make great use of the prologue; they give the reader a short jolt of impact as we look down on a murder or criminal doing his/her evil thing.  However, wage the prologue battle with caution, you may be taking on more resistance then you expected.

So is the prologue dead? No, but it lives on only in special circumstances and through gifted writers. Some stories work best with a prologue, and a number of writers still have the clout to demand their right to use one.

Where do you fall? Are you in favor of the prologue?

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/2694/

Screenwriter Tip for Novelists – Pitch Before You Write

If you’ve read my first post, you’ll know I’m a screenwriter who took 2013 off from a career penning cartoons to write a novel. Now it’s 2014 and I’m back in the TV biz writing on a super fun animation show. Not that I’m shelving the novel, no way! I’ll still work on it in between the many stages of writing scripts. However, this television gig is reminding me of all the useful (and sometimes nerve-wracking) things screenwriters go through before they get to that final draft, and I’m going to share that info with you in a little blog series called Screenwriter Tips for Novelists. First tip? Pitch before you write!

So what is a pitch? A pitch is a paragraph or two that tells the whole story from beginning to end, touching on just the important beats: protagonist’s problem and goal, rising action, midpoint, crisis and finale. (Check out this post for a refresher on story elements.) You can either let someone read a pitch and give feedback, or pitch it verbally and gauge your audience’s reaction in real time.

Often novelists don’t even think of how to pitch their novel until they start querying agents or publishers. Why would they? You can’t sell a novel until it’s written! But freelance screenwriters have to pitch before they write even one episode. That’s how we get the job. We must prove to the story editors, producers and broadcasters that we’ve thought up a great story worthy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will take to create the episode. If not, they won’t agree to produce it and you don’t get the job to write it.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. But producers and broadcasters don’t want to invest in a crummy story. Neither do agents or publishers.

So think of pitching as a way to save time, money and heartache. You want your novel to be published, right? Pitching could mean the difference between a pile of rejections and a publishing contract. Here’s how to do it…

4 Tips To Pitch Like A Screenwriter

  1. Create lots of story pitches! This way you’ll force yourself to pick the absolute best one, and have more ideas waiting in the wings for later.
  2. Pitch out loud to friends and strangers. Watch for their honest reaction. They may say they love it, but did you see their eyes glaze over? Better to learn now that your idea isn’t so great before you spend years writing it.
  3. When your pitch doesn’t pass muster, edit it or write another. Then repeat step 2 until the reaction is, “Oh my gosh, I so want to read that!”
  4. Don’t take it personally. Seriously, if there’s any wisdom us screenwriters can impart, it’s this. Not every idea is gold.

Whether you’re coming up with a brand new novel idea, developing a story, or editing a manuscript, pitching will help hone your story and make it better. I know it’s tough and daunting and scary, because feedback can be harsh, but fear not – next post will help with that.

Next Up from Heather… How to handle feedback.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/screenwriter-tip-for-novelists-pitch-before-you-write/

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.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/whats-a-b-story-and-why-that-love-triangle-doesnt-cut-it/

Story Edit Using The “Save The Cat” Basic Beats

Whatever your writing process, whether you outline or dive straight into prose, there’s one step we all must do – story edit. There are innumerable things to edit in a manuscript, but let’s start with the bones of the story. After all, adding metaphors and sensory descriptions won’t matter if the story is weak.

So bring out that handy Basic Beats chart. Fill it in. Even if you used this to outline your novel, things probably changed when you were writing, so update it.

Just filling in The Basic Beats will reveal missing or flimsy story elements. Bam! You’re already editing!

Once you have all the elements, start asking questions. The first one I usually ask is: “Did this story change the protagonist’s life?” Start to answer by comparing the Opening and the Final Moment…

B6 Chart_Fotor1)   Is the protagonist we meet in the Opening different from the protagonist we see in the Final Moment? i.e. Alcoholic -> Sober. Needy -> Independent. If yes, great! If no…

2)   Is the Catalyst something that will change the protagonist’s life, and in turn change the protagonist? If not, you need a stronger Catalyst. What must happen to bust the protagonist out of her old way of being and into a new way? If the Catalyst is strong but you still don’t have a character change, the problem could be the Set Up…

3)   Have you set up a protagonist that needs to change? If the protagonist starts out perfect, she has nowhere to grow. Every first-rate protagonist has something personal to overcome. Figure out her flaw/issue and you’ll discover how she needs to change. Which leads to Theme…

4)   Do you have a Theme that the protagonist needs to learn in order to identify her flaw/issue and win in the end? If no, take a look at the Dark Night of the Soul… If yes, did they learn it? Why not? The problem might be the B-Story…

5)   Dark Night of the Soul… Why did the protagonist hit rock bottom? What personal flaws prevented her from succeeding in this story? What does she need to learn about herself to get out of this mess? Whatever it is, that’s the Theme.

6)   The B-Story character is the ally who metaphorically slaps the protagonist upside the head and points out how she’s screwing up. If your protagonist doesn’t change, maybe she just needs someone to help her realize she needs to change. Characters can’t change if they’re not forced to face their faults. And if they don’t change themselves, they can’t change their lives, resulting in an unrewarding story.

So using The Basic Beats chart to story edit allows you to easily see how everything connects. More examples… If your Finale falls a little flat, inspect your Set Up and ask yourself if you gave the hero enough problems, and if you addressed those problems in the Finale. If you don’t have a Mid Point, look to the All Is Lost moment and figure out what the opposite of that would be. If you’re missing the Debate element, check out the Set Up for conflicts that would make the protagonist pause before Breaking Into 2.

In conclusion: check the chart, cross-examine every element, and make your story stronger! That’s how to use the Basic Beats to story edit.

Next Up from Heather… Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats. Because the old adage is true: actions speak louder than words.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/story-edit-using-the-save-the-cat-basic-beats/

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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