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.





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.


Three Dimensions of Thee

Characters need 3 dimensions. How do you get to understand what the differences in dimensions are?

Some is simple: The first dimension is what you see. Clothes, affectations, all the guff people use to mask the real person in the safe, inner world behind the facade. The second dimension is the stuff that is either used as an excuse for the 1D, or a reason for them. But these backstory elements of 2D may or may not create the responses seen in the outer persona, the 1D side. There’s an element of choice. People choose which way to present themselves, and the lessons learned from the history/backstory can explain some of it, but not all. Now, the third dimension – that’s their real world. The core of the person. 3D elements pop out when there’s no time to consider which mask to use, which persona to present. This is the actions and decisions that are spontaneous and unscripted. It’s what happens when there’s nothing to block the ‘real’ from reacting to the (usually sudden) incident.

It really does sound simple, doesn’t it? Now you try it.

Paint the picture of your character. Height, weight, hair colour (how often do they change it? – shows a psychological issue), teeth, the way they smile at the opposite sex (or same sex, or couples, etc.; depends, doesn’t it?), taste in shoes, styling of clothes and hair, the way they ‘dress to impress’ – or not, the choices they make in food they eat in front of others as opposed to what they eat when alone, the choices they make for transport or fitness, the ‘face’ they make up to go to work. There’s also friends and acquaintances, hobbies and tasks, things they volunteer for (or sneer at others for). First dimension also includes things like the way they want the world to see them, so the hat that’s twisted at a jaunty angle? 1D. What does the character want that to be seen as? Is it seen that way, or is the dandruff-covered cardy something that shows us something completely different, maybe opposite of the intention. Is the character trying too hard to be something; can everyone else see this, but they can’t?

That was all 1D (the short version). What we see.

The why we see it? That’s 2D. The bad childhood where the char was beaten up by father, mother, brother; by bullies at school. A general childhood of being a victim, which they now swear in the adult life – it won’t happen again because they present themselves as tough with a swagger and leather and chains and a cocky attitude. You know these things, don’t you? The underlying story of why a character does things this way and not that way come from somewhere. Use any pop psychology book and you can see some of the why’s and wherefores.  It’s not all though. There’s other stuff in here: the things they learned from bad relationships; how to get affection/attention regardless of the pain it causes others; how to sneer without the face moving; how to get their own back for the little things they do that annoy your char (revenge issues/response to resentment issues). These are inner elements that come from the things they use as excuses for their outer representation. Just remember, being beaten up as a kid does not always end up with the victim becoming a perpetrator of the same tactics as an adult. The same circumstances can create completely different, and yet realistic, characters.

So now you see the 2D. The excuses or reasons for why people present themselves in the 1D.

The inner person? Somewhat more difficult, and that’s why most character portrayals in story are not fully developed. The third dimension, usually missing, is the inner person, the core. 3D is the world view they’ve developed over the span of their life, so a younger person will be less rigid (usually, depends on 2D) and less cynical than an older, world-weary person. The person who steps in front of moving traffic in an effort to save the life of a child/dog/elder isn’t going to have time to think about it. The mother who lifts a car to get her children out from under the wreck. The ex-soldier who drops to the ground at the first sound of something like gun-fire. The man who cheats on his wife and tells all his dalliances how horrible she is to elicit sympathy – he’s the inner core shit, and he won’t stop because that attention is his drug and he has to have it.

The 3D. It’s the actions, behaviours, and decisions made that are often only visible when made on the spur of the moment in a hot situation.

Now you know what may be missing from your 3D character, so go right ahead and find these elements. Learn these inner core things about your character.

And then use them to show change and growth through the four stages of the structure of story.

Luck has nothing to do with it – just hard work and an understanding of …

Copyright Karel Jaeger/Cage Dunn 2017


And Then Along Came …

The Character and his journey. That’s what story is about, isn’t it? A character in conflict who struggles to find resolution. The journey implies an arc, something that aligns with the concept and theme and context of the setting and background and turmoils. Because a character has an arc, the story has an arc, and the lesson learned is something aligned with one or two or three bits of ‘the six things’ (which we’ll discuss later).

The story shows us how the character begins his life in this story. We see the first dimension things like how he looks, dresses, what language he uses when he speaks and thinks, the things he likes to surround himself with – all 1D elements of this character.

Then we see the second dimension things: the reasons or excuses for some of the 1D characterisations. Sounds simple, but understanding why a person does something, applying backstory to try to understand a 1D practice, is harder than it first appears. A person can be in a given situation and react in a particular manner – a practiced manner or an instinctive manner (instinct =3D, later). 2D can be the reason they do something a particular way, but the character chooses – it is choice that matters. One person may respond with a response that is reasonable based on the backstory, and the next person may react in a completely different manner. They have chosen to respond to the life-incidents that form 2D characterisation in different ways (but it better conform to the known psychological patterns [unless an alien learning how we operate, of course] and human needs).

And third dimension? This is the core of a person. Their inner beliefs and innate responses to situations. A scream when the snake runs over the path barely one step in front of them versus the other who freezes in the same circumstance. 3D is not the same for all. But it is the core of that person. This is the part of character that needs to be demonstrated as part of the character arc. In Part 1, the 3D is the weaker response, the unlearned innate or instinctive reaction. Part 2 shows the learning process and how hard it is; Part 3 shows the beginning of the fight back (and the losses and scars incurred in the process); Part 4 shows the changes at the core of the character. 3D is different in Part 4, and it should be obvious, through the whole of the story, that this is the true journey. The change.

However, that change may be limited. If a person does the whole gamut, gets to the end, does the heroic thing, and then falls back into ‘life as it was’ – is this the wrong journey? No. People are varied in how they learn and grow. Sometimes the lesson sticks, sometimes not.

Life is like a character arc. Change is hard. We may work up to making the change for the moment it’s required, and then, and then, and then we go back to what’s expected of us, or what we’re comfortable with, or ….

Character arc is the person in the story learning, being burned, relearning, struggling, and coming through for something or someone. Or not. The underlying theme is discovered through the journey he takes through the context of his story.

Remember the auto-responses: fight, flight, freeze. Show the change in character by the use of these auto (core) responses. Does learning or training change one or more? Does the fight to retain or regain something cause a change in how these auto-responses are managed?

Story is: a character in conflict who struggles to find resolution. Characterisation is where the story shows the struggle (internal and external – and the crossover).

Good luck with that!

Originally posted on SpecFicChic (by Me). Copyright Cage Dunn 2017.



Tools to Write By: Hand, machine, or . . .

The tools of the trade for a writer. Pen, pencil, paper, time, a wandering mind? Or maybe a bright screen, keyboard, silence (or music), space, a mind focussed on something? Or part pen and pencil on paper, and part keyboard tapping and desk cleared of the junk of anyone else.

Or is this all a pile of scat?

It is true that people like to do things their own way and sometimes that works for them, but do they learn their own way through seeing what others have done, by imitating or borrowing techniques? I’m sure some do. But are they learning what it is they need to know? Is it a shadow-boxing game where if it looks okay it must be okay, or is there more to it?

More. It must be more. Why? Because the fact of putting pen to paper may be a personal task, it may be an artistic pursuit (especially if it’s a personal thing), but if the writer wants a reader, then the writer must consider what it is the reader expects from the story. It must be better than all the others out there. And it has to grab attention from the first glance.

The genre, for example, can be elicited by the title and the cover. If it’s a romance, what do you think the reader expects to find on the cover and beyond? Or a detective story? Or sci-fi? What do you think would happen if the title was Times Gone and the picture on the cover was a star exploding? And what would you think if the title was the same but the picture was the innards of a clock?

Do the same expectations follow for the rest of the innards of a novel? Does the reader expect to meet someone they can identify with, travel this journey with (vicariously, within the skin); someone they can feel for, cry for, laugh with, fight with/for? Does the reader want to travel a path that brings goosebumps to their skin, that takes them somewhere they haven’t been, probably won’t ever go to/see; somewhere interesting and compelling and intriguing and relevant to the underlying story of the character they are in? Do they want to reach an end that gives them enough of the resolution to enable them to put it down with a sigh, or a heightened understanding, or …

All that stuff means there is a defined way to put a story together because if it doesn’t open with the reader finding someone they connect with, it gets closed. If the reader connects with the person/character, but the journey is boring or repetitious or ‘not right’ for the purpose, the book gets closed. If there’s something in there that doesn’t gel with the presentation of what it is, it gets closed.

So, in order to write the story to meet the right reader, put it out there in the right way.

Give it a title that says what the story is about and what genre it is; give it a cover that says it more strongly, and indicates which reader should go further; give it the inside that starts with the right character, in the right place, take the path that leads to the full measure of depth and fear and elation, give it the journey of a lifetime that can be felt through all the senses a human is capable of, and wrap it up as if it was the only story you were ever going to write.

The Title, Cover, and Story that follow the mud maps of the journey from ‘Once ….’ to ‘…. The End’ and covers a certain amount of territory and time to impart wisdom or fun down the track that beguiles and bewitches and besots the reader.

Not much to ask, is it? But it does tell you that the tools don’t matter. The craft does.

It doesn’t matter how many people know the right way to do something, it always takes a spark of something to take a story from “That was a good story” to “Wow; that was Great!”

Consider this: Anyone can paint – just pick up a crayon and put something on paper; someone will like it, somewhere. Anyone can sing – open your mouth and sing along with your favourite songs; someone will like it, even if it’s just you.  Anyone can dance –  just move and groove and jiggle those bits; same deal. But if you want to be a better artist than Picasso (or as good as) or sing like one of the three tenors, or dance like … Consider this: how did they get to be the top of their field? By just jumping in and figuring it out as they went?

No, and nor should a writer consider that is the way to go. Learn everything you can, practice all the time, read your own work aloud so you can hear it differently. Do the same for the people you write with.

Be the best you can be because you don’t know if it will be the only chance you get.