Moving and Shaking

How to move the story along? How to create tension and pace?

It’s a simple answer, but not easy to do.

It’s in the structure, and how you place your scenes – and what you put in them, and why and where the action happens.

The simple process is to start the story with a defined structure.

Now, a word of warning is required here: We are a group of people, all with our own ideas, our own ways of doing things, and some very strong opinions – but on this we all agree. A structure is required before the story goes beyond the log-line (can be called by other names, but a one or two sentence blurb that says what ‘it’ is).

Now, this multiple-personality group has decided to let you in on the secret.

The structure, and how to do it. Yes, we’ve mentioned it before, but you need to know.

Once you have the title, the idea has morphed into a fresh and dazzling concept, and a character has slipped into life to play a particular role – then it’s time to ‘create’ the path, the journey, the story of life for that log-line. Because nothing is nothing ’til it comes up as something.

What we have learned to do (yes, all of us) is to place a word or two, even a short sentence, at the most crucial places in the structure. What are these things? The main plot points. So, whether it’s an incline for Aristotle, or a Chain of Events, or a Beat Sheet, or an Outline, or a Story Board, or a Snow-Flake (no idea what that is) or any of the other methodologies for structuring a story, this is what we do.

At the opening of the story (let’s call it Opening, shall we), write a word of sentence that says where we (the story people) are, and what we (the writer) want the reader to see.

Logline: 3 boys find a recipe for a lozenge/lolly – supposed to make them smart – but they stole the only copy from the guy who paid $1m for it (it’s now lost – and they made amendments to the original due to lack of ingredients) – and he not only wants it back, he wants payback for the camel snot they left him covered in.
Okay, this could do with some extra work, but it’s a start.

1) Where to Open: three kids, summer, helping out with the camels at Goolwa Beach.
See: Boys help unload the camels from the trucks ready for the tourists first trip along the beach. The boys help out, always together at this time of year, rush through their tasks so they can go and do some good stuff – like fart competitions or scaring the girls, or . . .

2) Plot Point 1: MC (main character) decides to make the recipe to see what happens.

3) Mid Point: Twit (baddy) offers truce if they return the recipe. But it’s gone! The smarts have worn off – limited in scope! And now they don’t remember it! Or the extra/replacement ingredients! Can’t comply with the request – make it up? Would he know? Yes.

4) Plot Point 2: the girls they tease sneak in to see the boys. They found the recipe [all torn up, pieces missing], got some help to make it up, made some lollies – not as many as the boys, but . . . enough to maybe get them out of trouble and fix the baddy. Maybe.

5) The End: playing up to the girls in bikinis as they all help the touros with the camels. Dad gives them a bonus – tickets to the movies [from the cook] with free SLIME! Yuk! (This can be called denouement.)


That’s five pieces to start with. Only five. Not much to ask. Can you see the way it’s going to go? Is it cliche? Yes, to both. But it will serve as a guide. Remember that. A guide, because that’s all these methodologies are: a way to see through the cliche, the banal, the boring and to find the fresh and new and bright story that everyone will want to read.

Moving on.

After you fill out those five points, what comes next. Well you could do a sentence for each scene that leads from each of the above to the next … or this:

a) Act 1: put in all the bits between the Open and the PP1 (Plot Point 1) because that is all of Act 1, as follows:

Theme: Smart guys don’t have to work hard for the money (or maybe something more appropriate to the genre – like …. don’t have an answer yet!). See, can even write notes to self.
Set-up: “How are we going to earn extra money for the hols stuff? Girls?”
“What’ve girls got to do with it?”
Tips from tourists almost non-existent this year – not enough visitors – Dad won’t give them extra ‘cos times are tough and the farm is struggling since [find a good reason for this].
Catalyst: The stupid twit who belted the camel with the metal case, then kicked boy 2 on the side of his head. Bruised, painful. The case got dragged to the ground as the twit falls off. No one helps him. The cook walks away, shaking his head, pocketing the cheque. Boy 1 pulls the camel around into the best position and tickles his nostril – the sneeze – the snot: big, heavy, slimy, snot. “Try to flick that off, Slick.” Swaggers away with the camel. The case falls open. Boy 3 puts it back together, but the envelope is under his shoe and after the twit is gone and he moves off, Boy 1 notices it and they pick it up – about to run after the twit. Who stops him and why?
Debate: What’s in the env? Not money, a recipe. Candy-man (boy 2) reads through it, chuckles. A lolly, a recipe for a lolly – and a receipt for $1m paid for the exclusive rights to production. Should they try to make it? be the first to try it? Says it makes you smart – but Candy-man is already smart enough. Try it on the girls! Yes, great idea – if it stinks or . . . Better them than us. And if it’s okay, if nothing bad happens, then we get the rest of it!


Does that sound interesting? Does it tell you the flow of story in the first act? Sure, there are things that need fixing, things that need to be worked on, things that need to be researched, but it’s all there, ready to go.

What does this have to do with tension and pace? Knowing where you’re going will tell you – the story will dictate – which pieces to write at what location and why; you’ll see where you need to do short, sharp scenes and sentences; you’ll see where to slow it down to give a good understanding of how to breathe the scenes, get to know the story and characters.

Now for Act 2 (part 1 – which is from the end of PP1 to the MP (MidPoint)):

b) Act 2(1): put in all the bits between the PP1 to the MP.
B Story: Dad argues with twit about incident. Shows twit the signed paper of [what is it you sign when it’s risky and you know it, but you do it anyway?]
Fun n Games: Next morning, sick. Toilet stops galore, furps and barts worse than the camels – people laugh at them, poo-poo poses, etc. And then their brains wake up – and wake up big-time.
[these are the big ticket scenes to play with – and you only have to look at Kung Fu Panda or Harry Potter (the first one) to see how much you can put in there – just remember, this is the stage where the MC is learning stuff, so what you put here is what gets used in Act 2(part2).]
Run rings around twit. Drop envelope (deliberately) on the beach; recipe not inside – try on innocence. People believe the boys, not the twit.
Pinch Point 1: The papers served on Dad.
[what’s a Pinch Point? Basically, it’s meet the baddy.]


Are you getting the picture? Want to try it out on your own story? Using your own methodology? You can – and should – do that, but always remember the main points, what goes in them, and why. These are the ways to pace a story, to create interest and tension and flow and intrigue. It’s fun. Enjoy it.

Then come back to the reasons you’re doing it in the first place. Story. I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of planning, but this is only the first step, not the whole story, and if you can see your way to do these things before you start writing, it’s so much easier to see where things can improve; it’s easier to see where you can create more power and movement; it’s easier to drop an idea before you put sweat and tears into it. And the next step will be, no – not easier, but more defined, clarified, purposeful. The story part. All those methodologies are all spouting the same things, but written in different ways – because we’re not all the same! Find the way that works for you and save yourself a lot of heartache when you get to a certain point and panic because you don’t know where the path goes.


You can do Act 2(part 2) and Act 3 on your own, but remember, everything you set up in Act 1 gets paid off in Act 3, so if you Act 1 is 10,000 words, then so is the Act 3.


the End – for the moment.

 

 

 

 

Titles

Do you start with the Title to the story? Or something else, and the title is a temporary collection of words strung together to give you something to hold it in place? Following is a few ways different people start their story, and how they place the Headline (Title to the rest of us).

One way: (see Snyder: Save the Cat) search for the title that best reflects what you’re going to do with the story; set the genre, the audience, the style. Have a title before you go further.

Two way: use something like a short sentence if you don’t have a title. Something that does all of the above: sets the genre, calls to the expected audience, hints at the story. Later, the words can be refined (or redefined) to better suit the expectations.

Three way: Use a ‘stay’ word or number to indicate it’s not ready for a title yet. Yes, some people use numbers. Consider the movie ’47’ – but it only has relevance because of what’s gone before, doesn’t it? So be careful with these things, or the title may put off even the writer. Using a stop-gap like this can take away from the inspiration to continue with the work, so unless you’re very confident it works for you please try to put at least some words to indicate what’s going to happen in the story. Something like the ‘big’ event of the story, or the main character’s name, or something that jogs the juices to want to continue the story.

Four way: workshop the idea until the title pops up and won’t go away. This is a good one, but only if you have people who are willing to do their part as well. It needs to be ‘no strings attached’ and ‘no holds barred’ until a quorum is reached (and even then, author/writer has last say). That will most likely be the title that says: what it is, who it’s for, and what it’s about. An example of this one: Title = Pick, Lick, Roll, Flick (thanks, Cage). It says it’s a story for young people, specifically for young males, that the content is going to be a bit disgusting, and most likely contemporary. (It hasn’t been used yet, but is still on the burner!)

Five way: Look at all the titles in the area this story will belong. Find a title that says the closest to what it is, etc., and make a title similar, but not too similar, different, but not too different.


So, that’s five ways to find a title for a story. What do you do?

 

Going on a Journey

There’s the itinerary, the maps laid out over the table, the schedules for planes and trains and other forms of transport. Don’t forget the costs associated with getting over this border, through this country, visa’s for here and there and every little scratchy line on that map.

When you go travelling, you prepare. You get the maps to see where it is you want to go, you get your tickets and pay for them, the passport and visas for each place, lodgings and food considerations. You are an apprentice to the path.

You prepare. But the map is not the journey. If you saw the same places you wanted to travel to on television, would it be enough? Could you say you’d been there through that lens?

No. Because that is not the journey. Planning where and how and what and who and why is not the objective. The objective is to be there, to smell it, feel it, be in the middle of it.

That’s why a story needs that mud map. And it’s just as flexible as the plan you make for any journey. You could get to one point and find out that the border’s closed – what to do? Just stop and wait until it opens? I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t.

The plan is not the journey. Things can change – the mind and body must be flexible enough, must be capable of seeing the opportunities as they arise, must see them as potential, or better, or stronger, or different.

Story is the same. Why start the journey if there’s no idea what to foreshadow? If you don’t know who’s going to be there at the end? If there’s no known flaw to fix or message to see/learn? Why carve a path to nowhere to only end up leaping off the edge into the abyss of unknowing?

When you do the story mud-map, it’s not the journey. It’s not the first step on the journey. It’s not even a full plan, is it? Because as soon as the door is open, the train has left the station, the plane is in the air – where’s the level of control over ‘stuff’ that happens? When you have a mud-map and can see the general direction, and that’s how you start the first steps on the path, it can help when the path slides out from under your feet, when the power of a moment is easily recognised as ‘the way it should be’ rather than the ‘same old, same old’ response to the situation.

Having a mud-map helps the storyteller avoid the things that’ve already been done, the cliche, the boring and repetitious. The mud map may have some of those things in the beginning, but writing them out can sometimes make them much more visible, and therefore, give the writer the opportunity to ask “How can this be MORE?”

Do you have an itinerary for your story? A map? A clear direction with possible side-shoots?

Or are you stuck in the mind-set of ‘It will come’ because that’s the way ‘art’ is supposed to be? Or are you going to be the one who finishes a story and realises it’s not just good, it’s really good. It’s something to be proud of. It has movement and passion and connection.

I want to be that person, the one who knows I’ve written the story to the best of its potential. I want to complete my apprenticeship with a solid understanding of my craft.


 

One

Writers’ sit alone at their work space (wherever and whatever that is for them) and do what needs to be done. They get an idea, play with it until it becomes an exciting concept, add a main character to Do things. The exciting bit comes when that MC is put into the spiraling world of a story. The writing of that story is hard and flexible and hard and changeable and hard and exhilarating. But let’s say it gets finished.

What then? All the polishing and proofreading the writer’s (individual) done doesn’t mean the work is the best it can be, even if they followed all the ‘rules’ (of their own making, using the history of other writers’ works and advice). What it means is that it’s now time to find a ‘reader’ – preferably someone who can do a critique.

Now, this is a grey area. Very grey. What is the difference between proofread and critique? What do all the different editors do? We can only say how we do it, what works for us (‘we’ being one person of five who occasionally get together over the e-links to do this stuff).

It would be good if the end of the product (story) followed something like this:

Critique, using all the elements of creating the story (you know, the planning stuff) to untangle bits and pieces, to strengthen bits, to make the story the best it can be in terms of how it relates to and is understood by a reader. Things to look at include the five most important things:

  • Exposition (we don’t want a lot of this <10% first pages because this is the set up stage, then <5%). Exposition is the ‘tell’ that doesn’t show.
  • Action – remember, character in action is what moves the story forward.
  • Description – through the senses of the POV character. If there’s no POV character in whatever it is that’s being described, why is it necessary?
  • Dialogue – internal and external (yes, those italicized thought words are dialogue); does it move the story forward without ‘tell’? Is it clear who is speaking even without a name tagged to the dialogue? Subtext coming through? Too many, or not enough, body language elements?
  • Internalisation – is not internal chit-chat. It is being clear about who the POV character is and living the story through that character only. See, feel (use all the senses) what’s happening through the internal of the POV character.

Each sentence should be one of the above (remember the Simple things?).

Move onto the ‘flow’ of the story. Are the ‘bits’ in the right places for the best progression of action and pace? Does each of the sentences, para’s, and chapters contribute to the story? To each arc? To the overall intrigue of the unfolding story? When you read it out loud, does it ‘catch’ anywhere, slow you down, not feel right? Take note of these and look carefully at those places.

All the Elements: little picture elements (words, sentences, paragraphs; remove repetition, passivity, etc.), middle picture elements, (scene, chapter, movement/segue, etc.), big picture elements (arcs: story, plot, sub-plot, character, etc.). Look at your beat sheet, story board, Chain of Events outline to see if the story always moves forward, if it is truly a ‘character in action’ we see when we read the words.

Truly, there’s a lot more to critique than the above few pieces, but it’s a start. And it takes time. And a tough skin. Try to find people who critique the work, not the person who wrote it. Speak about your characters as real people, and maybe they will too. And the most important thing? Do for them what you want to get back for your own work.


Next, because the work is as good as you can make it, in terms of structure and flow, comes the proofread. What this means is a line-by-line effort to see mistakes in spealling, grammar (see!), word choice, length of sentences, etc. Line-by-line – don’t read it like a story. What makes this easier is to start at the back and read ‘up’ to the beginning. And using something (A bookmark?) that is long enough to cover all the words under the line you’re reading – it helps avoid the distraction of the words above and below the one you’re reading now.

From a nutshell perspective, that’s all it is. It takes time, coffee (and bikkies) and is not the final step. And some people call this the copy editing stage, where they look at similar things – but check out how different these things are to different editors!

And you will do this every time a change is made anywhere within the mss. Yes, you will. A professional writer will do this after any changes at all.


Editing. There’s lots of different sub-titles for editors. Structural, developmental, stylistic, substantive – look here for a more detailed rub on the low-down – but that’s enough. For the purposes of what a writer can do on their own is what I’ll call editing  for the purpose of this post.

The best and safest and easiest way to do that is to put the ‘finished’ article/story/book away for a while and let it slip out of your mind. Do another project that’s big enough to move it out.

Some people have a work process that’s a bit like a wheel of fortune. Each zone within the wheel is a different project; some are small, some are not. This is where you pull the next one out and leave the number one, completed, and ready to roll piece in its zone to have a nap. A long enough nap for the writer to forget it (sort of).

When it comes back to the work table, it’s much easier to see the things that need work. The Development of arcs – story, character, plot, etc. – should be much more clear this time. Structure will show the weaknesses in pace and segue – and if you have a beat sheet or chain of events outline, this is when you go back to them for a look-see.

Write up the blurb and tagline, then work on the synopsis.

If any part of this stage is hard, something is wrong. It should be easy because it’s a piece that’s almost complete, so if there’s anything that holds you back, it’s time to do another critique using all the elements used to create a story.


And that’s what we do. Again and again and again, because a writer is only a writer when they write, and they keep saying to themselves: ‘You’re only as good as your next book.’


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mark of Story Infinity

It’s that symbol, goes ’round and ’round and ’round and never meets an end. That’s story. Now, don’t get cranky and start saying stuff like ‘waffle’ or ‘twaddle’ or worse. Look at the last few posts on craft skills (CofE, Simple, etc.) and the overall structure of story, then look at cave paintings and see if you can find the same things. The elements are there, aren’t they?

Look at this: A sentence has a link in meaning to the next (and the prior, if it’s not the first); a para has a link in meaning to the next (and the previous, etc.); a scene has a link in meaning … and on and on. [And the end of one story can be a beginning of another, i.e. link to a new story/path.]

The chain of events of story we use today are the same as the pictures in the caves. The movement and meaning created by one picture followed by another with changes to denote the how, why, when, and so on. In essence, only the era and presentation have changed.

That’s story. It’s still going on, ’round and ’round and ’round. We’ve still got things to learn and things to do and things to teach and things to say – whether they have value to the reader is up to the writer!

That’s where the front of story matters. Those pictures in caves? Was it the hunter who always went first to the scenes with spears and tactics? Was it the group of women who squatted down by the scrawls that were maps to good water and food and safe camp-sites? The meaning was easy for them to grasp because of the context of the first picture.

In a story, the first section, the setup, is what paints the picture (and the front cover, of course) to attract the appropriate reader. It does, doesn’t it? If it attracts the wrong reader, how far in to the story do you think they’d go?

Not far at all. If they’ve been misled by the cover and the set-up and the guts isn’t what was represented by the initial insertion/view, you can be absolutely certain that reader will tell all their friends and enemies and even people they don’t know that this author is [yep, hot and steaming and fresh] and the author will suffer the consequences of not ‘playing by the rules’ of story.

Cave-dwellers had to do it – it was their survival tactic. You have to do it, or your words, your story, are as good as dead. And your career as a writer.

So, story is an infinite thread of meaning woven into the tapestry of existence. The pattern indicates who should be there for that piece/moment. Don’t forget it. Aim for the right reader by being deliberate with the entrance and say, quite clearly, who it’s for.


 

A Timely Reminder of The Simple Things About Story

Timely 20160625_112130

Sentences, Paragraphs, Scenes, Chapters

Following are some notes for a simple view of how it works for story:

Sentences

are a simple structure. They contain a subject, a verb and an object. Someone does something to someone/thing. That’s basic sentence structure. Any more than that requires books and learning to get a grip on the complexities (some of us are still learning (moi!), especially about what order things go in to make good, logical sense to a reader [clarity]).

Read the words aloud to get the most defined understanding of how it fits/works. Does it sound the way it was meant to sound? Produce the right effect on the ears that hear those sounds?

Para/sentence structure should not be all the same. How have we built our sentence? Is it repetitive? Does it build? Length – variation; what type of rhythm/flow is required? Is the content and structure interwoven?

Rhythm is connected to length. Smooth flow, waxing eloquent; sharp, sudden (the long sounds, the short sounds).

Grammar helps pace/rhythm and is used to show the sense of movement of sections/paras.

Active v passive – do active; remember that drama is character in ACTION.

Cause and effect (separate them out) – ensure effect comes after cause. Don’t have someone leap up in the air before they hear the shot/creak/yell, etc.

Relevance is how ‘it’ contributes to sentence/para.

Redundancies – get rid of repetitiveness, unless they serve a specific purpose.

Feed movement, not stagnation (we want to progress), something always happening; movement of characters through the story.

Use a power position (begin/end of para/sentence).

Words:

Should be in character; different people use different words (an artist would use more colour words, a musician, a deaf person, a blind person – choose carefully, and be consistent).

Precise, specific (where it suits the character) – see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it. Any other senses? Use them.

Use strong nouns and verbs to say what they’re supposed to say; to create a mind-picture – Walked = strutted, marched, staggered; building = factory, hospital, school). Be specific.

Get rid of words you don’t need (then, that – find your overused words and banish them).

Remove nothing/filler words (ie really, nice, next, then, pretty, good, bad).

Try to remove adverbs (‘ly’ words) – these are ‘tell’ words.

Remove redundancies (it’s worth saying this in as many different forms as possible).

Tags: use said, asked, replied (don’t distract the reader with the guffy tags).

Use fewer adjectives (and make sure the ones you use work); must contribute to noun.

Remove clichés (clichés are culturally connected, so for fantasy, create your own).

Check facial expressions and don’t go overboard – action does not equal only scowls, raised eyebrows, frowns, etc.

Check for overworked gestures (max 3 gestures per page – includes facial expression). ‘Character in Action’ does not mean only gestures and/or face movements.

Use precise, specific words – use all the senses to create the reality (instinct, hunch, sight, sound, taste, smell, touch/feel).

Paragraphs – Ensure We Leave No Sentence Behind

There’s an adage: ‘The purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence. The purpose of the second sentence is to get them to read the third sentence. And so on.’

So people focus on the first sentence, and/or the second, and their interest wanes after that. If any sentence in the structure isn’t doing a specific job to keep the flow moving in a specific direction, it doesn’t matter whether it’s there or not because no one will read it.

Every sentence matters. Always.

A single sentence that doesn’t move readers forward (with intent), axe it. It’s not meant to be there.

Good Paragraphs Are a Chain of Thought

Every sentence in a paragraph refers back to the one before it.

The first paragraph is the setup/introduction and sometimes the hook. It introduces the idea you want to put across. A new paragraph refers back to the last sentence of the paragraph before.

How do you know when to end a paragraph?

One paragraph makes one single point.

That might mean only one sentence is needed to make the point. Sometimes, it might need a few sentences. This is the introduction of complexity (complex sentences, rhythm, pace, structured movement, etc.).

Then move on. This para needs to relate back to the point that came before, move in a specific direction to make its own point (in the power position), and get to the end.

One para = one point.

Chapters

A chapter can be one scene, it can be two, it can be several. The writer makes a choice about what a chapter is, if they have them. As long as each chapter holds to the principle of:

Each sentence has one subject (ie POV);

Each paragraph has one point (ie purpose);

Each scene (you know this one) has one (action) Event (in one place/setting, one moment in time) from one POV (character) [ie character in action] where something changes;

Each chapter has one ‘story’ – what this means is that a chapter has a setup, a response/attack, and a resolution (which may be a setup into the next chapter);

Each story has … see notes on Structure: one Main Character (heroic), one seriously bad Antagonist (the reverse image of the heroic MC), and one Goal (which is blocked by … obstacles).

 

And that’s my understanding of what they are: Sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters, stories.


 

 

The E-Publishing Side

On the cusp of publishing your story/novel/opus? E-publish or self-publish or …?

The questions that come after completion of the major work seem overwhelming, but consider this: it’s the best distraction for a long enough period of time that you can completely push the work out of your head and focus exclusively on something that is so much more and so radically different from the creative side that your mind will clear.

When you finish the process of looking at the ‘how and where’ of publishing your words and you re-read your mss – how much easier do you think it’ll be to see the tiny little flaws you couldn’t see before? I’ll tell you – soooooo much easier. And it’s all because you took your focus elsewhere. Here. To the publishing questions. So, think of it as a good thing, of value to you, the writer.

Publishing 101:

For e-books – and this is probably the best start unless you want to submit to a ‘big five’ publisher:

Format the document in the best way possible. Read how the e-saler wants it, learn it well and do it. Smashwords has a whole document on the best way to format your story and you need to follow the instructions. Why? Because if you stuff it up and the formatting is wobbly, wrong, or has only one word on each line/page etc. do you think a reader will go beyond their first look? I wouldn’t, and nor would you. So, do the formatting properly.

Amazon is a little trickier, but if you find somewhere to convert your document to e-pub (for free or otherwise), then use this site to check how it looks before you put it up (not for commercial use; single-use non-commercial only – commercial users can buy it). If you think you know how to format – think again! Things get chewed up because you used a particular software program, something’s hidden in the background (like bookmarks), something’s funny about the non-true-type font you used for your heading or centering, or …

Do the formatting before you even think about submitting to the e-salers. Do it now. The first few times may take some effort, but after the first few (dozen, or so, by my recollection) you can (maybe) trust yourself to do the quick skim before submitting (and if you do this, what have you lost? Those first 3 days, that’s what).

The reason you want to do this part so carefully, with so many finicky checks and balances?

The first three days. That’s how long you have to get the ‘new’ skimmers. These are the people who look for new stuff that comes online. If you have a good title and a great cover and get people looking inside, these are the three days that count. As soon as you press publish, the countdown starts. Three days to stay in the flash of light of e-saling. A good cover with a good title that shows the genre, audience and what that story is about on the inside can get you 80-800 looks a day (your writing will determine whether there’s a sale or not) – a non-cover with a rubbish title will get you precisely none/nil/zip.

And there you have the intro to e-publishing your story. The info’s out there, you just have to understand that it’s there for a reason, and it makes sense to make the most of the effort you’ve put into that story/novel/opus, doesn’t it?


K. Jaeger 2017.

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