16. August 2015 · 2 comments · Categories: writing · Tags:

It has been a couple of months since I posted. Very busy months. But nothing compares to what I and eight friends did yesterday.

For the third year in a row (and the second year for me), a bunch of us from the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group got together and wrote a book in a day.

Quick background (from their website):  The Write-a-Book-in-a-Day is a wonderful, fun, team building and writing experience, open to people of all ages with all levels of writing, computer and graphic skills. In the past all teams have written successful books (to most of the entrants’ utter amazement) and the majority say they will have another go this year. Try forming a team at your school, writing group, office or book club.

You register a team of 5-10 people in the Open, Corporate, Secondary School (Middle or Upper School) or Primary School category and get friends, relatives and others to sponsor you by donating to your State’s hospital for children.

Your team will be emailed a random setting, two human characters, a non-human character, an issue and five random words at 8.00am local time. Your story must be written around these and be delivered or emailed to The Kids’ Cancer Project by 8.00pm the same day. You can download a booklet beforehand advising how teams have succeeded in the past, and how to use your computer to best advantage. Your book is presented to your State’s Children’s Hospital library. Entry fee is $60, to be judged you must pay or fundraise a minimum of $240.

  • Primary School Teams (1-6) must write at least 2000 words(av: 200 per person)
  • Middle Secondary School Teams (7-10) must write at least 4000 words(av: 400 per person)
  • Upper Secondary School Teams (11-12) must write at least 4000 words(av: 400 per person)
  • Open and Corporate Teams must write at least 8000 words(av: 800 words per person)

In States where Primary Schools include Yr 7, Teams with a majority in Yr 7 are Middle School Teams.

A team that includes one or more Yr 11 or Yr 12 students is an Upper School Team

A panel appointed by The Kids’ Cancer Project will judge the completed work. You must complete your book in 12 hours, achieve the minimum word count, and base your story on the characters, issue and setting we send you.

In case you’re curious, the two human characters were a Monk and a computer nerd. The non-human was a ferret. The setting was a skatepark and the “issue” was a jail break. We ended up with somewhere around 12,300 words and some fantastic illustrations.

Sponsor us and help raise money for an excellent cause (you’ve got until 31 August)

In addition to any sponsorship money, 50% of the proceeds from sale of the book for the first year goes to the Kid’s Cancer Project, so when it’s out there, please buy a copy of “Rider & the Hummingbird”.

Photo by Kristin

Photo by Kristin

31. May 2015 · 6 comments · Categories: writing · Tags:

There’s a method of structuring stories — typically used for screenplays — that I’ve come to adopt for both screenplays and novels.

I’ve even built a Scrivener Template for it. Right Click here, save to a folder of your choice (one that you will remember) and when you open the new file in Scrivener, find it and open it. If you click on the link above you’ll ge a page full of xml that you probably won’t be able to use for anything.

When you start a new project, click on “Options” on the bottom left of the Project Templates screen and “Import Templates…”. Navigate to the location where you’ve saved the MiniMovie Template and open it there.

Edit: I’ve had some kind of brain fart and can’t recall how, exactly, to save a file as a template and then upload it to a server for your use. Instead, that link is for the actual project file used to create the profile. Once saved in a location of your choice, “Open an Existing File…” (bottom of the screen)

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.27.21 pm

So…

The Mini Movie method breaks a story into eight roughly equal sections. I talked a bit about it in this post.

minimovie2

There are still three acts, the primary and secondary plot points, turns and character arcs still exist. All it really does is break the story into bitier-sized pieces.

I mentioned in that earlier post that this is like a blueprint for a story, but that’s not a great analogy. It’s a good one, but not a great one. If you can write a couple of hundred words for each mini-movie section you’ll be able to find your way through our story. But it’s not written in stone. I find that my initial plan for Act 3 bears very little resemblance to the actual Act 3 that gets published. But with something to aim for, the story will flow better.

A little more detail (a lot of this is take from the template I linked above):

MM1: The first half of Act 1 – set up the main characters, introduce their basic weakness and set them up in the world that is their status quo. The “first dimension” character traits, the hook and a general sense of who the protagonist is happens here.

End this section with a “call to action” – an event that involves the protagonist, but one that they don’t respond to. In fact, it’s good at this point if your hero is decidedly un-heroic and rejects the call.

This is what I call the inciting incident. It’s the event that happens in the protagonists story that directly leads to the first plot point – the event that will come later – that pushes the protagonist out of their comfortable world.

MM2: The second part of Act 1 has the protagonist/hero reluctant to respond to the “call to action” presented to him (literally, figuratively or metaphorically) at the end of mini-movie 1 (henceforth shortened as MM1, MM2, etc.). All the usual excuses of reluctance can be used, or just one. Whatever it takes for the protagonist to firmly shut down any idea of her taking part.

Then we end MM2 with something forcing the hero to be a hero, reluctant or not. Something locks them in. This is the First Plot Point of your story.

Some excellent examples:

  • The terrorists take the plane in “Air Force One”,
  • Woody jumps out of the window to save Buzz,
  • Samuel points out the bad cop to Book in “Witness”, forcing Book to acknowledge the killer is someone he knows.

MM3: We’re now into the “story”. The hero needs to satisfy the viewer’s questions at this point (seriously). Ever watch a movie and yell at the screen “Why don’t you just look behind the door!” Look behind the door. Do all the obvious things up front and get them out of the way.

Obviously these “things” done by your hero will fail, but that’s the point. Put them on the list of things to do so your hero can crossed them off.

If your hero isn’t a cop and he or she is investigating a murder, the first thing the audience will think/yell is “why haven’t you gone to the police?”
The answer can be as easy as the hero saying he doesn’t trust the police (with a good reason) or you can have the hero go to the police and be shot down.

Whatever, get the rote responses out of the way here.

I like to end MM3 with a reminder of how dastardly the opposition is. At least the reader should see this, to keep the stakes high. If the hero also shows this, it needs to be organic to the story.

MM4: Now for a more grandiose plan. MM3 got rid of the expected, have the hero do the unexpected.

And meet with a failure large enough to set everything on its ass – show the antagonist is stronger than both the hero and the reader expected.

End MM4 (and the first half of Act 2) with what is variously called “The Turn”, the “This Changes Everything Moment” – the midpoint. It’s a curtain reveal, letting the hero know the story he thought he was in is actually something completely different.

Some excellent midpoints:

  • If we take the final Harry Potter movies as a single movie (since it came from a single book), the midpoint is the end of the first movie – Voldemort acquires Dumbledore’s wand. Changes every damned thing.
  • In Limitless Eddie calls the names in his drug supplier’s little black book and “three of the names were dead and the rest were sick”. The magic pills have a nasty side-effect.
  • In True Lies (it’s not Arnie’s story here, it’s his wife’s), Helen Tasker morphs from scorned wife to agent, running a fake op to satisfy Harry’s perverse curiosity/pride/whatever.

MM5: From a character point of view, your hero accepts the change and realises that it’s necessary for them to change to get to the finish line.

From a story point of view they now attack, knowing, essentially, what the objectives really are (the shift in focus happening at the end of MM4) and look out anyone who gets in their way.

I like to end MM5 with a reminder to the reader the lengths the hero will go to achieve their objectives. Think of it as a polar opposites to the scene ending MM3.

MM6: Mini Movie 6 is the end of Act 2. A lot happens both story and character-wise at this point in your story. MM6 needs to lead to a massive backfire in plans that almost destroy’s the hero. For the backfire to be massive, the plan must be audacious.

Sometimes this is presented as a false ending. It seems like things are wrapping up then WHAM (not the George Michaels band) the rug gets pulled out from under the hero and she’s back on her ass.

Nearing the end of MM6, is the “all is lost moment”, the flat on your ass, antagonist stronger than ever. This is the end of Act 2. Poltergeist has one of the best “end of Act 2″s out there.

Then while flat on your ass, death (or worse) inevitable, you …

MM7: Open Act 3 with that last clue. The piece of the puzzle that lets the hero know what is needed to finish the story — to win. The hero is now in martyr mode. He knows what needs to be done and is willing to die trying. (Doesn’t have to die, especially if you have a sequel in mind.)

The character development is near completion. The battle is enormous. A “Two men enter, one leaves” kinda battle.

The hero prevails at the end of MM7, of course, but there’s always a twist.

MM8: And now is the dénouement. There’s one wild swing back to fear (“Oh, no, he’s not dead after all!”). Think of the ending of Scream and how well they parodied that.

RANDY: This is moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back to life, for one last scare.
Billy starts to rise.
SIDNEY PRESCOTT (shoots Billy): Not in my movie.

If there are romantic overtones, this is the HEA (Happy Ever After) and maybe a tease for the sequel.

Happy Writing!

14. May 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: writing · Tags:

I admire John Truby. He’s a sreenwriter, director and teaches screenwriting. He’s consulted on over (it says) 1,000 scripts.

But when he starts bad mouthing the standard three-act structure just to sell his own classes, I take exception.

He’s written a piece at Raindance.org that says, essentially, that adhering to the three-act structure will kill your writing. Actually, the title of his article/post/advertisement is

WHY 3 ACT WILL KILL YOUR WRITING

Doesn’t mince words, does he?

At the bottom of the piece there’s the obligatory “John Truby has brought his acclaimed “Anatomy Of Story Class” to Raindance London since 1995.”

And if you want to take the enlightened view of story anatomy it will set you back £393.60

The thing is, Truby’s twenty-two building blocks map extremely well to the three act structure.

how-and-why-truby-blocksHe writes as if a writer following the three act structure only has two pivot points. That they have one-dimensional characters. That such a writer, limiting themselves to a three-act structure, exhibits no imagination and less willpower. Why go with a mere three acts when John Truby can show you twenty-two actual building blocks?

So we’re 100% clear, here, I think his building blocks are excellent. I don’t want any of you readers to think I’m slamming them.

What I’m slamming is the disingenuous method he uses to sell his £393.60 course.

I talk (actually, I write) about structure at a high level here. I cover the setup, the inciting incident, first and second plot points a couple of pinch points, the midpoint, the “all is lost” prior to the second plot point and the resolution. I also talk about the way the character’s motivation changes from that of an “orphan” to someone you is reacting to the events around them, on to the hero on the attack and finally to the martyr stage.

And I’m a rank amateur.

If you look closely at Truby’s building blocks, you won’t find much new. IT’ll be presented in a new way, and maybe different words are used, but it’s still a three act structure.

Hell, I even suggest you buy one of his books. He has many good points.

But saying that the three-act structure will kill your writing isn’t one of them.

Oh yeah. Monkey nuts.

 

April 15th marks the arrival of my tenth book, “Killing Time”.

The first was “Matt’s War”, initially released in September of 2010 (and revised thoroughly since then). That’s ten books in five years.

Two a year at a pretty steady pace.

And I’d write ten more in the next five years except for one small thing.

I’ve figured out the writing part, but I haven’t figure out the selling part. The writing part is easy. And I told myself that once I had a decent back catalogue (ten books qualifies as a decent-sized back catalogue), I’d put my slowly decaying mind to the marketing and selling bit of the business.

The “traditional” method used to sell the “non-traditionally published” books involves blog tours, free give-aways and excessive, it seems, social media floods.

I think there’s a better way. There has to be a better way.

“Killing Time” will be my last book in 2015. I’ll be spending the remainder of the year working on the sales part.

If you want to give a writer a hand, pop by AmazoniTunesKobo or B&N and preorder Killing Time. It would be much appreciated.

The genesis of a story idea is an ethereal thing, sometimes. A couple or three separate ideas lodge in the brain and over time they combine and a completely different “thing” is formed. A thing that would make a good tale, one that others would enjoy hearing.

The “over time” ingredient, however, can be months, or longer.

In 2013 I saw this Tweet:

I immediately thought this would be a good idea for a story, but an idea is not a story. I didn’t have the arc. I didn’t know the protagonist or antagonists (yet). Location, time, how the time travel would be presented all fuzzy.

The premise, that unsolved murders are the result of time travellers coming back to clean up messes, was good. That’s essentially the premise of the Terminator movies.

But to craft that premise over three acts, with a good character arc and a nice twist at the end, that took me a little while.

Over a year, in fact.

Initially Act 1 was easy. Act 2 floundered. Act 3 was impossible. Turns out I was looking at the story the wrong way. I was focussing on the time travel aspect of the story and not the reason for the time travel.

Then last November a virtual lightning bolt hit me on the top of my bald head and I knew how to end it. Once you know that, the rest falls into place. And after that, it wrote quickly. Probably because I’d spent over a year bouncing various permutations of the story around my mostly hollow skull.

It’s available for preorder now, and will be released on April 15, 21 months after the initial spark.

So, if you read Killing Time and enjoy it, thanks Roman Godzich. He provided the spark.

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