Tag Archive: writing

Using the Forbidden Love Masterplot

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

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

Classic Forbidden Love Plot Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future Research:

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

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

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/

Masterplots Theater: C is for Chosen One

C Masterplots Theater-2It’s week two of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and time for our next installment of Masterplots Theater.

Episodes thus far include:
A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love

If you like focusing on a strong central character, creating clear-cut moral conflicts and enjoy getting down and dirty with fight scenes, this could be your plot. The Chosen One might be the most popular masterplot we will cover all month. It’s widely used in Sic-Fi and Fantasy, but shows up in every genre. It’s adaptability means it works for any age range reader. That flexibility also means there are a lot of Chosen One stories already out there. You will need to work extra hard to make yours stand out.

Chosen One Plot Notes:

The Chosen One character is always the hero of the tale, however a story can have more than one chosen character.

The Chosen One has little to no say in their destiny. They are appointed the task by external forces. This might happen at birth with a divine sign, such as the alignment of stars that announces the arrival of The Chosen One. Or this character might start out exceptionally ordinary, until the day their special fate is revealed. This often happens in conjunction with a coming-of-age birthday.

There can be a magical item that defines the hero, something powerful and significant that only responds to the touch of the true Chosen One.

This main character can be any age or gender, and is often named or called The Chosen One by the other characters. There is also a tendency for authors to title these books The Chosen One. According to my last Amazon search there were some 84,000 books with “Chosen One” in the title.

This character can be physically striking, with a high level of sexual attraction. Love triangles abound in this masterplot. But the Chosen One often has no clue how attractive or gifted they are. Insecurity is sometimes the only character flaw in this hero.

Typically, it’s not fun to be The Chosen One. They need to make sacrifices and their character arc is critical. This masterplot packs in the internal conflict as the Chosen One learns how to put their own needs aside for the greater good.

The midpoint of this plot almost always contains a major moment. It’s either a “turn back” moment when the hero wants to give up and pass the job to another. Or the “give in” moment, when the hero decides to stop avoiding danger and fight.

The Chosen One story always has high stakes, with black and white, good vs evil morality. The Chosen One and they alone must save the world from a powerful dark force. If they fail, so shall humanity.

Often the external conflict carries the action in this masterplot. And there can be a lot of action. With high stakes comes epic battles.

Example to Study:

There are so many examples for this plot, but I’ve selected The NarniaLion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.

Here’s why:

  • MAGICAL ITEM:  The wardrobe in this story is the portal to Narnia, yet it has failed to open for decades. It takes the touch of The Chosen Ones to activate the magic. Of the four children, it is Lucy who opens the doorway. It is also Lucy that first champions the cause of saving Narnia.

  • COMING FORETOLD:  Mr. Beaver has the task of telling the children about their destiny. He recited the old rhyme and does his best to convince them of their mission. This is when we find out all four children are The Chosen Ones. They all must complete the mission to save Narnia. However, Beaver meets with little success; The Chosen Ones haven’t reached the “give in” moment.

  • HIGH STAKES: Jadis, White Witch of Narnia, has held the land in perpetual winter for centuries. Under her rule, fear of being turned to stone keeps everyone but the darkest and most vile creatures enslaved. The coming of The Chosen Ones triggers the arrival of Aslan, High King of Narnia. These two events create the turning point in the story’s stakes. The mood shifts as everyone starts to anticipate the epic battle of good vs. evil.

  • GIVE IN MOMENT:  Before the battle can start, Peter tells Susan to take the others and go home! While Susan is ready to retreat, Edmund and Lucy are not. This is the moment each of them stops avoiding and accepts they must work together and embrace being The Chosen Ones to fight.

  • BONUS: This story gets points for having four Chosen Ones. Each of these characters brings a different layer to the story. Also because the children start out ordinary, every reader can cast themselves into the shoes of one of these characters.

Future Research:

There are so many examples of this plot in books and movies, I would need thousands of words to cover just the high points. ENDER’S GAME, THE DARK IS RISING, DUNE! Instead of creating a huge list I’ll leave this link to the TV Tropes entry and you can explore books and movies with The Chosen One masterplot on your own. And do come back tomorrow for another installment of Masterplots Theater, D is for Dystopia.

Please share your thoughts on Chosen One stories in the comments below.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/masterplots-theater-c-is-for-chosen-one/

Guest Post: Writing Sci-Fi

SciFi PostToday we bring back one of our favorite guest bloggers, Cindy McCraw Dircks. We first met Cindy about three years ago and it has been a pleasure to watch her journey from first draft to newly agented writer. It’s extra special for Robin since she was an early beta reader on the very project that landed Cindy her agent. She also has the distinction of being the writer with the most interesting resume we have ever read. (See below)

Please welcome Cindy.

I love sci-fi. As a daughter of diehard Trekkies from Mississippi, I’ve always held Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk on par with Elvis. The only thing I love as much as sci-fi (and Elvis) is the act of writing and reading all kinds of books. Recently I signed with an agent to champion my first novel, and that first novel (no surprise here!) involves aliens from another galaxy. Still, writing a sci-fi book was scary for me. I mean, where to begin when there are so many things in the universe to write about?

So, based on my experience, here are some select tips for writing sci-fi:

1. Define Your Setting: Tatooine Or Closer To Home?
First off, kudos to those who can create their own world from scratch. No greater feat known to man! But personally speaking (and despite my secret wish to be a Jedi) I’d rather not create my own world. My favorite movies from my childhood, teenhood and young-adulthood were: ET, STARMAN, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and STAR TREK 4 (You know—the one where Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, et al, time travel back to 1984 Earth to save our planet by saving whales?). Just last night while watching TV and riding the exercise bike in the basement, l swelled with pride when Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith saved humans from total annihilation in INDEPENDENCE DAY.
I recall these particular sci-fi movies because they brought space to me. To modern day Earth. These movies created situations in which regular everyday people are forced to deal with the extraordinary. So, earth-bound space movie faves in mind, I set about writing Wayne and Emmy Learn to Breathe, in which an agoraphobic Mississippi-boy who won’t leave home falls for a rebellious girl from another galaxy.

2. Love Movies As Much As I Obviously Do? Then Act Like You’re Writing One!
A well-established agent once explained this to me during her Writers Digest Webinar. Easy visualization is key especially in sci-fi and thrillers. Sci-fi books, albeit all books, are more rich with detail than even the best sci-fi movie could ever be. But a 120 page script has the same story arc as an 800 page epic, just obviously more compact.

3. If On Earth—Where On Earth?
I’m from Hattiesburg, MS, and to my knowledge, no one has ever written about an alien hanging out there before. Sure, there are fewer buildings to blow up than there are in NYC. Or at least way fewer big ones. In my story a teen alien girl steals her parent’s pod and crash lands on a Mississippi pine-tree farm. Since she breathes only carbon dioxide, and she’s surrounded by fresh air, she’s instantly in big trouble.

4. Decide Your Brand Of Sci-fi, Hard or Soft?
I personally veer towards hard sci-fi, meaning I like technical accuracy as much as possible. I think what helps make sci-fi accessible is embedding it in reality. That takes research. I based everything that happens in my book on fact or scientifically accepted theory, thus hard sci-fi. I read articles by Stephen Hawking regarding wormholes. I read papers written on Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world-wide-web. I researched Michio Kaku (American futurist and theoretical physicist), who made interstellar travel seem so possible and even read up on Newton’s laws of relativity so that I knew what high school lessons could tie into what was happening to my main character. And go ahead. Ask me anything about sources of carbon dioxide! I know them all…

5. What Does Your Alien Look Like? And Why?
Anatomy! Folks always want to know what makes an alien different. What makes them tick. Why do their eyelids open and close that way? For my story to work, my alien, Emmy, needed to blend in and look human. I put almost all of Emmy’s differences on the inside, and absolutely everything different about her factors into my plot. Emmy crash-lands near the farm of my protagonist, Wayne, who thinks she’s pretty hot–even though Emmy’s an alien. One day when this book gets made into a movie (dare to dream), the studio will save butt-loads on make up.

6. Okay! Done With Your Completed Sci-Fi Masterpiece? Now Find Those Professionals Who Will Totally Love It, Too!
I attended many beneficial and informative conferences once I completed my first draft of my first book (NY & NJ SCBWI, Writers Digest, Women Who Write, etc.) and met a cast of seasoned professionals who never held back on describing their slush piles–from too few of one genre to too much of another. I familiarized myself with agents and editors on Twitter, scanned Publisher’s Marketplace on a daily basis, and checked out more publishing blogs than you could shake a tribble at. Eventually, all this field work paid off for me. Thus, it couldn’t be more important to find, research and target those who are specifically looking for your work.

Although popular genres tend to run in cycles, aliens never go out of style. At least not yet. Humans have been interested in space and science in one form or another for centuries. Life on other planets remains an immediate possibility, and resonates with readers who press Star Trek-style-handhelds to their ears like they’re begging to be beamed up! I cherish the thought that we’re not alone, and agree wholeheartedly with this quote from Carl Sagan’s CONTACT:
The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

The truth is out there, but until we find that truth, let’s fictionalize it!



CindyCindy McCraw Dircks began her publishing and media career as a “go-for” at Playboy Enterprises and peaked as a production coordinator at Sesame Workshop. She took a hiatus to raise three fantastic children, who are now her biggest story critics. Cindy was selected to participate in the #publishyoself program with the Children’s Media Association and was featured in their collaborative Middle Grade ebook released in April 2015. Now, she’s repped by Sarah Crowe at Harvey Klinger and is focused on her fourth YA novel (a modern day retelling of a total classic), and looking to meet that perfect editor one day. Connect with Cindy on Twitter at @mcdircks, on Goodreads, Linkedin or her website: www.cindymccrawdircks.com.



Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/tips-for-writing-sci-fi/

Writing a Flashforward

I’m fascinated by story structure, particularly by stories that are not perfectly linear. I love reading parallel plotlines, stream of consciousness narratives and stories with reverse chronology. I’ve experimented with all of these forms. And that means I’ve written a flashforward.Flashforward

A flashforward is a scene that takes place outside of the current timeline of the narrative. It’s the opposite of the more popular flashback technique. The flashforward is not the same thing as foreshadowing. Forshadowing is usually subtle and often missed by the causal reader. A flashforward puts it all out there, telling the reader that the current timeline of events (if left unaltered) will inevitably lead to the precise future events the scene describes. This scene is often so shocking the reader must learn how current events drove the characters toward this controversial moment.

The TV show How to Get Away with Murder makes fantastic use of this device as a teaser. Once you watch the opening scene it’s almost impossible to stop watching. You must understand how the characters arrived there. Murder mystery writers have been using the flashforward as a teaser/hook for decades, and it’s the most common use for this technique. Not everyone enjoys reading this method, and some writers feel it cheats the reader, destroys tension by giving too much away. The other popular flashforward is the “where are they now” story ending. Many people don’t consider this type of scene a true flashforward because it’s chronologically appropriate, but it’s such a common scene that I wanted to mention it. Ending with a flashforward in the last chapter can help tie up loose ends. Or it can show how the characters went on to live long and happy lives. Romance novels use this type of flashforward all the time.

Here are 3 other ways to use a flashforward in your stories:

1. To build plot intricacy: Whenever the action moves forward or backward in time, it creates story complexity. While flashbacks can be bypassed by the reader as extraneous backstory, flashforward scenes seldom are because they often include important clues to the coming climax. The skillful use of flashforwards will build up layers of meaning and gives insight into cause and effect. Weaving events from different timelines and/or featuring future characters into one central story narrative helps expand on the nature of these relationships over time. We get to see how they characters grew and changed as a result of their current experiences. LostPosterThe TV show Lost included countless flashforwards, they were tantalizing clues and even red herrings to the show’s final outcome.

2. For comic relief: One of my favorite books is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Addams. This book makes use of a narrative falshforward. While often including events in and out of chronological order, this book still manages to make connections between even tiny events in strange and thought-provoking ways. sherlock_holmesThis type of flashforward also shows up in the movie adaptation of Sherlock Holmes featuring Robert Doweny Jr. as Holmes. In this film Holmes is often running best and worse case scenarios of his future actions through his head as he puzzles out the clues and decides what actions will produce the results he desires. The events happen rather quickly and seem laughable until Holmes activates his plan and everything falls into place like clockwork.

3. As the incentive for character change: Charles Dickens used the flashforward with his ghost of Christmas future in A Christmas Carol. By seeing his own death and the lack of regard paid to his demise, Scrooge is motivated into action. His character changes in a way that seems impossible when the story opens. Scrooge will now do anything, even make sacrifices in his current timeline to create a disruption in his destiny. The knowledge of future events, revealed by means of a well-placed flashforward can create some fantastic stories.

A few other examples can be found in: Stephen King’s The Dead Zone and in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to name a few. For more examples check out TV Tropes or Goodreads for a list of books featuring multiple timelines, which often include the use of flashforwards.

Do you have a favorite book that uses the flashforward? If so please share in the comments.

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

12 Tips to avoid Overwriting

Overwriting imageOverwriting is a common problem for new writers. Even experienced writers can fall victim to the issue. It’s something, as a reader, that drives me nuts. It’s also something I’m guilty of needing friendly reminders about in my own early drafts.

Overwriting is defined as: a tendency to write too much, or too ornately.

A classic sign of overwriting is passages that read heavy, or require rereading to understand. It’s not something you want in your writing because those extra words obstruct the meaning, and lead to readers giving up or skimming. Overwriting can also read as stale or forced, like the writer is trying too hard.

Here are things I consider when I’m editing for overwriting:

  1. Start Right: The beginning of a book is often the most overwritten part. Many writers draft the first chapter several times, and infodumps and too much backstory creep in during that process. Either these extra bits need to go or they can be reworked into other chapters as needed.

  2. Trust the Reader: Readers are smart and they can remember what they read. Cutting out repetitions and leaving some aspects of the story to their imaginations is something all great writers do.

  3. Dump the Drama Queens: When every emotional nuance of a character’s inner journey ends up on the page they can sound like melodramatic crazy people. Most real people have emotional filters, and so should characters.

  4. Pull the Purple Prose: A well-placed new word is fun, even a touch of flowery language (if the character and the scene call for it) might work, but no one enjoys reading thesaurus vomit.

  5. Watch the Jargon: When an unusual word is the only one that works, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s clear from the context, or it’s defined in simple language.

  6. Curb the Metaphors: Prose should enhance the plot, not detract from it. Writers don’t need an overload of symbolism, alliteration and other prose devices to tell important stories. Emotions, characters and plot are just as important as prose.  Well-placed metaphors are also more memorable.

  7. Show, Don’t Tell: Common items need no explanations. If the character took his handgun out of a drawer and set it on his bedside table, we know the bedside table is next to the bed. Duh! (Yes, I have seen this happen.) I’ve also seen dining room tables put in dining rooms, and jeans made of fully described blue denim.

  8. Use It or Lose It: I used a gun in the above example because of Anton Chekhov’s law: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, it must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there. The only exception to Chekhov’s rule is when you intended to mislead, for example to create a red herring. I slightly disagree with Chekhov, I think the gun can be there for setting, but shouldn’t get any major description unless it’s going to come into play.

  9. Keep the Dialogue Meaningful: If two characters shouted for five lines of dialogue, neither character needs to say “I’m upset.” Their actions tell us they’re upset. Much overwriting comes from unnecessary on-the-nose dialogue. This is also true of overly obvious dialogue tags.

  10. Don’t Accessorize the Ordinary: Extra adjectives often expose weak sentences. Save word embellishments for the places where they can add value to the story instead of clutter.

  11. Intrusive Narration:  A narrator should work with the character dialogue and action, not replace or override it. This is often problematic when the author is breaking the fourth wall.

  12. Remember the Reader: Think about the audience and genre and write with the ideal reader in mind. Some genres are more accepting of overwriting than others, but it still pays to keep the story tight.

To get rid of overwriting, cull ruthlessly. Never give the reader the opportunity to skim, or to wonder if they just read the same line written in a slightly different way. Overwritten stories are a clear symptom of a writer who can’t kill their darlings.

Do you ever overwrite? If so, please share your strategies in the comments.


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

Foreshadowing: Tips to Create Mood & Tone

Foreshadowing Post ImageIt’s easier to have discussions about foreshadowing techniques when almost everyone knows the story. Since The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) was a runaway YA crossover bestseller and a major motion picture, I’m using it for my examples. Fingers crossed I’m not spoiling this story for too many people.

Foreshadowing is a technique used to hint at events that will take place later in the novel. The most overused method of foreshadowing usually involves the weather. Storm clouds gathering and birds fleeing the treetops are foreshadowing tropes for impending doom. Sunny skies and flowers blooming are used to foreshadow a change for the better.

As a narrative element, it works best for me when used indirectly. I want the plot pieces to fall into place, but I want it to happen slowly. However, other writers, including Green, like to use both direct and indirect in the same story. Going back to the weather example, indirect foreshadowing is having tree branches tapping on the protagonist’s window during a storm.  Making the lights flicker is a more direct method of foreshadowing that something bad is about to happen. A writer can sprinkle several methods of foreshadowing into the same story, and in the case of TFIOS, Green does just that. He builds and layers the foreshadowing from his very first words.

Foreshadowing is often used to:The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

  • Establish a mood

  • Reinforce themes

  • Build anticipation

  • Expand characterization

  • Aid in the suspension of disbelief

  • Prepare the reader for plot twists and/or dramatic finish

Establishes the mood:
Many authors, including Green, use titles to help foreshadow the story’s mood. In this case, the title is fairly obscure and comes from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Cassius uses the line: “The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” By twisting the original quote Green is saying fate will play a hand in driving this story. From this title no one would expect a carefree romp.

Green also uses another popular mood enhancing technique and opens with a passage. The one in TFIOS comes from the book inside the book, An Imperial Affliction, which Hazel fixates on and shares with Augustus.

As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean:
“Conjoiner rejoinder prisoner concealer revelator.
Look at it, rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Water,” the Dutchman said. “Well, and time.”

– PETER VAN HOUTEN, An Imperial Affliction

Water acts as a major metaphor throughout TFIOS and this passage works as indirect mood foreshadowing in a number of ways, first because Augustus, Hazel’s love interest, is also named Waters. In this quote, water is the destroyer. It washes everything away everything in its path. In the story, Augustus washes away Hazel’s walls, reservations and apathy. Later, water collecting in Hazel’s lungs causes her a medical relapse and distracts her (and the reader’s) focus from the clues about Augustus’ heath concerns.

Funky BonesReinforces themes:
Cancer is deadly, and Hazel, Augustus and many of the secondary characters are battling it. Death is directly foreshadowed a lot! It’s a critical factor in Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, which ends mid-sentence. Hazel tells us this is no doubt because the lead character, Anna, dies and therefore can’t finish the story.

Death is indirectly foreshadowed with the bone sculpture in the park where Hazel and Augustus picnic. It’s by the bones that Augustus tells Hazel about the trip to Amsterdam he has arranged for them. This foreshadowing hints that the trip will result in a negative event and the death of something. In this case the death is two-fold: first, it destroys Hazel’s idolization of Peter Van Houten, the author of her favorite book; second, the bones foreshadow the return of Augustus’ bone cancer and his resulting death.

Builds anticipation:
Augustus has a final wish to use, and this is a huge foreshadowing red flag that his cancer has returned. Hazel understands the trip to Amsterdam is an extravagant wish, and she comments: ‘You had to be pretty sick for the Genies to hook you up with a Wish.’ This creates anticipation about the trip, and about the reasons behind Augustus (or possible Hazel) warranting this last wish trip. Since, we have no way of knowing the outcome of the trip, we start to anticipate the overwhelming effect meeting her author hero will have on Hazel.

During the flight to Amsterdam, Augustus’ inflight movie starts a few seconds before Hazel’s. This is another case of indirect foreshadowing, it’s a very subtle clue that Augustus is hiding something from Hazel. This, and that Augustus is always hanging up the phone before Hazel, are indications he will ultimately leave her behind, i.e. die before she does. I honestly believe even if we don’t pick up on this foreshadowing consciously, we do subconsciously, and that creates anticipation about the relationship ending badly.

Expands characterization:
Augustus is depicted as a person who wants to put others first. We see this with his friend, Isaac, and later with Hazel. It’s also in the way he plays video games, always sacrificing his own game life to save the other players or characters in the game. With this direct characterization foreshadowing in place, it comes as no surprise when we later learn he has taken himself off chemotherapy to take Hazel to Amsterdam.

Augustus shares the story of his last girlfriend’s final days and how he stuck by her side even though he was not in love with her any more. This is indirect foreshadowing for Hazel’s own journey with Augustus. She does a role reversal with him and becomes the stronger, more capable person in the relationship. She uses his foreshadowed example and becomes the perfect girlfriend during his final days.

Aids in the suspension of disbelief:
For the most part, suspension of disbelief foreshadowing is used to make magic systems, or other supernatural elements seem like they belong, that these extraordinary forces could be real in this world. This type of foreshadowing is used a lot in fantasy, magical realism and paranormal novels, and it helps keep the reader believing in the logic of events, even when these events could be perceived as totally illogical.

This type of foreshadowing didn’t really crop up in TFIOS. However, Green could have used this method of foreshadowing to make Van Houten’s behavior in the last third of the book more believable. When Van Houten shows up in America to see Hazel, I don’t buy it. There is no sign in this character’s earlier behavior, or in the foreshadowing to lead me to understand why he arrives back in the story. I feel like he’s just there for plot convenience, and his appearance is not sustained by any of the character’s earlier actions.

On a roller coasterPrepares the reader for the end:
There are clues scattered throughout the book that Augustus is not doing as well as he wants Hazel and the reader to believe, but it’s indirect foreshadowing. What we are told directly is Augustus is strong and athletic. He’s on a roller coaster that only goes up!

We also hear his form of bone cancer is often beaten, however, not always!

When Hazel first meets Augustus she says: “Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest.” This is very direct foreshadowing, but since it happens early in the book, I’m sure it gets missed by lots of readers.

Green has indicated that he “…always saw Gus as fragile and frail, even at the beginning of the book, when he (for example) misuses big words and is clearly not quite the guy he’s trying to play.” These instances are more foreshadowing that Augustus is not the survivor Hazel first takes him for.

At the end of the book there are more signs Augustus is not well. For example, Hazel leans into Augustus’ good side and he breathes out with a yelp of pain. While at the hotel, the elevator doors trip him up. He winces in pain and loses his grip on the door. Hazel wonders about these situations. Why would strong capable Augustus struggle? But in the end she always accepts his answers, assuming as some readers might assume, he is “just out of shape.”

There are several other indirect foreshadowing clues about Augustus’ ill health, like when Van Houten remarks: “perhaps the cancer has established a beachhead in his brain.’

There is also the fight Hazel overhears between Augustus and his mother before leaving for Amsterdam. Augustus yells out: “Because it is my life, mom. It belongs to me.” At this point in the story we don’t know what event has angered his parents, it could be his relationship with Hazel. In some respects Hazel treats it this way, and feels awkward about what she overheard. We learn later Augustus fought with his parents about taking himself off chemo to go on the trip to Amsterdam with Hazel.

Christmas TreeWhen Augustus finally confides in Hazel about his condition, he directly foreshadows his own death. He says during his cancer scan, he “lit up like a Christmas tree…” This tells us it’s over, he is going to die. We know, Hazel knows it.

Hopefully, this gives some clear examples of how many different types of foreshadowing are used together to convey the ending of the story, even from the first words. And all without explicitly telling the plot of the story in any way.  I’ve read enough reviews of The Fault in Our Stars to know many people did not pick up on the clues that Augustus would predecease Hazel. Yet, all the clues are there in the foreshadowing. There are actually many more instances of foreshadowing in TFIOS, but I feel this collection illustrates my points.

Did anyone else pick up on these foreshadowing clues? Or was Augustus’ death a major surprise?

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

Chipping Away at Writer’s Block

Writer's BlockI spend a lot of time around writers, and we all share one commonality, we occasionally get stuck. However, why we run face first into the brick wall of writer’s block often differs. I believe there are three main types of writer’s block, they are: Courage Collapse, Story Cave In and Content Vacuum. And I believe you need to know which kind of writer’s block you have if you want to find a cure.

Courage Collapse:
Every writer has bad days. There are negative critiques and bad feedback. These experiences can trigger some self-confidence issues. I’m routinely blindsided by my aggressive internal editor. It gives me an unhealthy relationship with the delete key.

To ease this kind of block try these tips:

  • Walk away from the computer for a few hours.

  • Pamper yourself, take a hot bath, enjoy a glass of wine with friends.

  • Get some fresh air and exercise, maybe take a walk in the woods.

  • Find your writing cheerleaders and load up on positive comments.

  • Laugh so hard you hold your sides and cry!

  • Do anything that helps put you in a great mood. Dealing with your inner demons is easier when you’re in a happy, relaxed emotional state.

I think this one is the hardest type of writer block to cure. Be kind to yourself, but never give in to that little voice.

Story Cave In:
Every writer has had a story start to fall apart. The characters are too much alike and seem dull. There are too many subplots. All the sentences start sounding alike. All of a sudden it hits, you have a block and no flipping clue what comes next in the story.

For a derailed story leaving you blocked, try these tips:

  • Reread old outlines and project notes.

  •  Talk with a friend about the story to try to rekindle the old passion.

  • Back track to the place the story took a left turn and reassess.

  • Decide if you want to go back to the first idea, or if you want to replot your story to include the new material.

  • Switch to a different project for a while. This is my go-to solution, and one of the reasons I always have at least two projects going at once.

  • Freewrite or do some story prompts.

  • Sleep on it. If you go to sleep thinking about your story just before falling asleep, your brain will often supply a solution, or some inspiration.

Content Vacuum:
There will be a day in every writer’s life when it seems like all the ideas are gone. If you can’t start anything new, it’s likely a form of exhaustion block. Watching a blank screen flicker at you for hours on end is not going to help. You must recharge your brain bank to cure this block.

To refuel your creativity try these tips:

  • Read everything you can get your hands on. Read outside your comfort zone.

  • Reread favorites and think about how they could be retold from another perspective.

  • Listen to music, go to concerts, take up an instrument.

  • Watch a movies, TV and go see plays.

  • Visit museums, take trips, enroll in a class.

  • Do things with your hands: cooking, sewing or drawing.

  • Play with your kids, join a board game group, or just play with toys at a store.

Content Vacuum is disheartening, but it’s also normal. Writing is a long and involved evolution, it takes massive amounts of brain power. Hitting a wall once in a while is all part of the process.

When the words are not flowing every writer feels like garbage. Instead of chucking your story and your laptop into the nearest trash bin, consider trying some of these ideas.

What about you? Do you have a great tip for banishing writer’s block?


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/chipping-away-at-writers-block/

What Gymnastics Taught Me About Writing

It’s Archive Revive Day! I’m swamped with gymnastics coach training this month, so this re-post is appropriate…

Gymnastics bars

Originally posted on Feb. 10, 2014. Updated Oct. 5, 2015

I had two childhood dreams – be a novelist and be a gymnast. I was a strange juxtaposition of sedentary nerd kid lying on the couch reading for hours, and spastic athletic kid jumping around the backyard practicing cartwheels and roundoffs and walking the wooden fence like it was a beam. In my 30s, I finally pursued my crazy dreams and discovered that though these disciplines seem like opposites, both require certain characteristics that, unfortunately, I didn’t yet possess.

#1: Patience.

Yeah, that's me, circa 2013.

Yeah, that’s me in 2013. Not the best form (toes together, Heather!), but I was learning.

I don’t think anyone in my life would describe me as a patient person. When I want something done, I do it as soon as possible. So when I set out to write a novel in a year, I was bitterly disappointed that a year later I still had no novel. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was writing lots, but I had more to learn than I thought, which meant the novel was taking much longer than expected. In fact, it was such a mess I couldn’t even predict when it would be done! The horror!

Similarly, when I started gymnastics, I thought I’d be able to compete at an entry level in a couple years, but I spent the first year just getting strong enough to execute even the most basic skills. I was frustrated with what I perceived as a lack of progress. Why was I taking so long to get good? Thing is, it wasn’t just me. Everyone else in the class was progressing at the same glacial rate because gymnastics is hard. Just like writing a novel is hard. To be a writer/gymnast, I needed patience to stick with it through years of suckage. Though that might seem obvious, it wasn’t to me, because I lacked something else…

#2: Humility.

I am lucky to be gifted with brains and coordination. School was easy. Sports came naturally. When I decided to become a writer I did so with confidence, because I’d been told my whole life that I had a talent for writing. When I took up gymnastics I expected to be good at it because back in the day I’d been recruited to the high school team even though I had no gymnastics training. But despite my natural talents, I wasn’t immediately awesome at either. Thankfully I recognized that, since the first step to becoming good at anything is to acknowledge you’re not yet great. Then you need the patience to practice and get better. I was working on that. But I was still missing something…

#3: Mental Strength.

Me in 2015. Getting a bit better, and enjoying bouncing outside!

Me in 2015. Getting a bit better, and enjoying bouncing outside!

Facing a blank page and facing a vault inspire the same emotion – fear. The first time my coach told me to run at the vault, launch off the beat board, catch myself on my spindly little arms, and flip over… well, I was terrified. I kept picturing my arms giving way and my face smashing into the vault. But there comes a point where you just have to go for it, trust the training exercises, and leap. As I ran at that vault, I decided to do the same with my writing. Instead of procrastinating all morning and well into the afternoon to avoid “falling on my face” and writing crap, I forced myself to leap at that blank page first thing. And yes, I did fall a few times, in writing and on the vault, but I got back up, faced down the fear, and did it again.

Fast forward a couple years later, and I feel like I’ve got a handle on humility and am getting better at mental strength, but I still struggle with patience. I wish I had a best selling novel published right now. I wish I could do a flawless trampoline routine tonight. I get to the gym and watch some 12-year-old do an amazing routine and feel crummy I can’t even do half that until the coach puts it in perspective – that kid has been training 20 hours a week for 7 years. Being great at something takes time. And patience. A whole lot of patience.

For more blog posts from Heather, click here!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/what-gymnastics-taught-me-about-writing/

The Back-up Antagonist

We recently had a guest join us to talk about creating characters with good character. If you haven’t read that post, I strongly suggest you do, since creating likable characters is always a hot topic with writers. However, it turns out I’m a contrarian. I’m crazy about unlikable characters that run from those skirting the edges of being jerks, to the ones that cross the line into the realm of the truly hated! I’m also one of those writers who’s nuts about secondary characters in general, the ones that were never meant for story center stage, but often find a way to steal a chunk of the spotlight anyway.  So put these two traits together and give me an unlikable secondary character and I’m in heaven.

I’ve been thinking about this composite character for over a year now, ever since I started writing a book featuring a bunch of teen criminals, and it turns out that when secondary characters are pompous, shady and egotistical, they serve a number of important story functions. These characters fall into some predictable patterns, too many to count, but here are four of my personal favorites.

Pirates and Mercenaries: When characters don’t care about being liked, they can say and do all the things the hero can’t. Since they tend to look out for number one, they don’t share the value of sugar-coating the truth for the sake of others. This character never lets the reader forget the stakes. They become the voice of the devil’s advocate. They up the tension and sometimes offer comic relief with the forces of their self-serving agenda and natural pessimism. Jayne from Firefly is the perfect example of this character, being unabashedly rude and the first one to speak up when a plan sounds stupid, or just lacking in financial gain.Firefly Jayne

Tough Love Mentors: Sure, everyone thinks they want a mentor who is kind, supportive and praising, but not all mentors are cut out to be that way. Mentors are who they are often because of wisdom gained through a lifetime of hard work and often harder knocks, and that can change a person. Tough love mentors are bitter, and callous, unwilling to trust. They hide behind a wall of ice, or in some cases, alcohol. Hamish from The Hunger Games is the perfect example. After watching countless tributes under his sponsorship die, he has given up caring about himself or others. That is until he finally believes he might have a shot at bringing a tribute home alive.

Hunger Games photo

The Absentee Antagonist’s Understudies: It’s easy to forget that in the Harry Potter series many of the unlikable characters are story stand-ins for the missing in action Lord V. The Dursleys, Crabbe, Fudge, Umbridge, even little Mrs. Norris are only there to provide obstacles, and in the end most of them never cause Harry any lasting harm. I like Argus Filch, he is a character who just oozes animosity and frankly looks like he smells bad, but underneath it all he is just venerable and scared of his own secrets getting out.Harry Potter

Kindness Killers: From high atop their sturdy soapbox, and speaking in a voice too high for mere mortals to hear, this character rains down upon a story with moral fortitude and impressive list of righteous conventions. This character strives to create change for what they think are all the right reasons, but they’ve gone terribly wrong. I think my favorite literary example is Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, but who can forget Marianne Bryant in Easy A. She is just the right nasty blend of know-it-all faith and insufficient grace. Easy A crop

I love a large cast in stories. Give me groups of heroes or packs of story-helping characters, and if a few of them are quirky, creepy, and downright morally busted, all the better! If you don’t already have one of these powerhouse characters in your story, you might be missing out on something big. If you have a favorite unlikable character, please share them in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-the-back-up-antagonist/

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