An Unhealthy Choice: Setting Up the First Act

MehBoomHero’s Journey is the classic stock-plot framework; it works and you can build upon it in infinite ways. From a three-act perspective, this sets up our narrative and story, but it often all hinges on a single decision – an unhealthy one at that.

This is the moment where many viewers/readers will say, “Why didn’t they just do THIS?” The easy answer is “because then we wouldn’t have a story,” but the trick is to make the audience feel enough for the character to go along with it and propel the story forward…not always an easy task.

This setup also plays strongly into the ending; if the journey and character growth promised at the start isn’t clear, any ending – no matter how many explosions and cool character deaths take place – will fall short and leave the audience feeling unfulfilled by the experience. A solid story needs to provide what was promised, even if it’s not exactly in the way the audience imagined it.

Listen to Pixar’s Michael Arndt, screenwriter for Toy Story 3, explain first-act methodology (it’s cooler than it sounds) with examples from The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and the original Toy Story.

Got all that? Now, get back to writing!

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Show Us Your Writing Space!

Workstation2014FebSmallWhere we write can influence what and how well we write. Do you have a special place set up or just go anywhere and begin?

I admit I can write wherever, but I’m most comfortable at my custom-created dual-monitor workstation with twin goose-neck lamps and dual cupholders (yes, cupholders). Decor includes scythes over the windows, reaper statuettes down the wall in the corner, and an evil-!#$%ing closet (obviously). My trusty actual-wood chair keeps me attentive and on task.

Show us your writing space or desk!
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5 Lies They Tell You About Writing (And Why They All Aren’t)

Just saw an article on the Huffington Post by C.A. Belmond entitled “5 Lies They Tell You About Writing,” and how they are “half-truths: at worst, they are straightjackets for budding authors.” It’s an interesting read, but I think a few of the explanations are a bit displaced.

1. Write What You Know.

The oldest advice for would-be authors. Of course, it wouldn’t be interesting fiction if the ONLY thing you wrote was only what you had personally experienced. What’s being suggested here isn’t the overall plot but rather the details. Writers have the unique privilege of stepping into everyone’s shoes, but deep down there will always be the author’s reaction (even if it wasn’t the first one). What a character likes or doesn’t, believes or doesn’t, or even does or doesn’t always comes down to the personal choice of the author. When it feels disingenuous and phony, this is the reason. Go with your gut.

2. Descriptions are passé. Brand names are cool.

In my own current YA horror series, “The Spooky Chronicles,” my main character has a tendency to hang on the first detail that comes to mind and “brands” the character with that detail until he finds out more: the Veiled Woman, the Asian-looking Lady, the Butler Guy. Even though it’s from a child’s point of view, it’s something we all do, even as a adults. As he learns more about the people (along with the reader), his description changes, adding to the initial detail until he discovers a proper name for them. I will agree, however, that if the reference here is merely about swapping the word Motorola or iPhone for the description mobile phone, it’s feels a bit lazy unless there’s a specific reason why that particular brand is important. Besides, it more fun to write “My dad’s favorite beer, the one with the patriot on the label” then just say Sam Adams.

3. Fiction is a lie.

Of course it is, but as the story goes, “I want to know how it ends.” If the story was actually was true, it’d be a documentary, right? I agree with Belmond on this, however, being the most pretentious of the five; it kind of goes without saying, so even saying is sounds pretty pompous as an excuse for anything.

4. Literary fiction equals literature (and is therefore superior to genre fiction).

For the initiated, literary fiction or “serious fiction” is said to focus “more upon style, psychological depth, and character… in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature).” This is the second biggest fib in this list (mostly agreeing with the author for the second time), but it does create a good point. A well-rounded story should take all of this into consideration; there’s no rule to trade one for the other or that says both don’t work. Heavy drama benefits more from character depth than an action thriller, but they are different kinds of stories with different things that readers look for.

5. “Hey, writers are entertainers. I’m not trying to be Tolstoy.”

Of course, they aren’t. How many of them even know who Tolstoy is?

If It’s Written Too Quickly, It Can’t Be Good, Right?

To those coming down on people who can turn out the written word very quickly, don’t be too quick to judge or be jealous. Writers on television shows often crank out between six and twenty-four episodes a year (some are even watchable!) from script to screen; why is it so hard to imagine that any writer couldn’t do the same? Here’s where we’re going with this (from my post on a thread over at Dark Media City).

Besides the thirteen-plus years I’ve spent honing a narrative voice writing reviews as a film critic, the series I myself am working on right now was born of a tabletop role-playing game that created the seed of a larger idea. It was far-fetched overall, but having a large yet fuzzy canvas to start with, it was simpler to weed out what made no sense and distill a huge mural into a firm, focused Polaroid of an idea that lent itself to creating plot. With the main character and his world years in the making and an over-arcing story in place, writing the first book felt more freeing than like actual work: the initial draft poured out of me in a week. When I went to work on the second one, it took four days. Keep in mind that these are 7k-10k stories more the length and feel of a television show than a feature-length film.

What I think I’m trying to say is (after that ramble) that the actual writing didn’t take so long as the time it took to prepare to do it. As I continue now writing and tweaking plot outlines to help keep facts straight and ensure a comfortable flow, I can’t wait to write the next one because I LOVE having that feeling. My only other hope is to find an audience for it that appreciates my creation as much as I have creating it, but fulfillment in its realization (after all this time) is already mine.