Thursday, November 12, 2015

Story Line/Plot Line

The basic idea of a story line is that it sets out a story's core issue of human need, speaks to that issues advancing toward fulfillment, and speaks of what that fulfillment creates. For example, a simple story line for Romeo and Juliet would be that...

Romeo and Juliet begins by introducing a young man and woman who are in love with the idea of love. When they fall in love, to be together these young characters must act in spite of the escalating mutual hatred of their families. By being willing to die to prove their love, they act out the power of great -- if tragic -- love.

Beginning, middle, end.

The plot line of Romeo and Juliet could be described as follows...

A young man falls in love with a girl who belongs to a clan his family has been feuding with for generations. They both must resort to increasing acts of defiance to be together in spite of the hatred of their families. In the end, each chooses death rather than to be apart from their beloved, acting out that great love cannot be denied.

Beginning, middle, end.

I came onto the idea of story line/plot line while teaching an on-line class. The structure of the class was that I would meet 3-4 people as a group in a chat-type environment, then the following week I would meet with people individually.

During a private session, I described to each writer a story line for his story. I then asked each writer to repeat back that simple story line. Each repeated back to me a plot line, even though the description of a story line was still on the screen.

I then asked each writer to send me the first page of their novels.

Not one of them wrote anything that suggested in the slightest the beginning of a story. It was all plot details and descriptions of things.

That was a great AHA! moment for me. This is the most common failure in weak writing, no clear sense of purpose or drama from the beginning of a story.

To understand the connection between story line/plot line is to see into the foundation of a story, to see whether every element is advancing the story in a purposeful way. If you understand story line/plot line, you can tell a story with multiple time lines or multiple narrators.

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Heroes & Friends Available on Amazon

Heroes & Friends Available on Amazon

Denali Reese is a young man who flees his comfortable home in the most advanced outpost on a newly colonized planet to seek adventure. A life of study has not prepared him for what it will take to become a hero in contests held in the outback. Denali quickly becomes enmeshed in deadly schemes and his only chance for survival is a little help from new friends. If they can get to him in time.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Writing From the Inside Out, by Bill Johnson

Well told stories are created with scenes that heighten a story’s impact. One method of writing potent scenes is to start with an understanding of the moment of greatest impact, that revelation, line of dialogue, or action at the heart of a scene that defines a character, that defines a story through some action. When I work with writers, I ask them to find that moment and write about it in the clearest, most direct way. Then write what supports that moment, sets it up, that allows time for an audience to fully take it in. I call this writing from the inside out.

When writers start with what is external -- what a character looks like, a description of action or environment -- they risk starting or ending a scene at a moment of no or low tension. When every scene starts with this type of introduction or ending, it creates a sense of the writer needing time to get to the point, then time to leave it behind. While that’s fine when writing a first draft, it creates a problem when those scenes aren’t revised. Even one extra exchange of dialogue in every scene, or two extra action lines, adds up to pages that dull the overall effect of a story.

To discover the heart of a scene, start with an understanding of the dramatic moment of change for the scene’s main character. That moment will often be rooted in what is dramatically true for a character being challenged or affirmed. Work back to what heightens the effect of that moment, what line of dialogue or action. Use that understanding to heighten a scene’s visual effect. This is writing from the inside out. In this way what is most true, most dramatic, most deeply felt, most visually unique in a scene will not be buried under the ordinary details of what I call stage building. Like a building scaffold, stage building has its place, but it often serves no dramatic purpose in a finished script.

Another way to find get inside the inner life of a character is to ask, what moral dilemma does a character face as a story starts? And how can the opening action of a story heighten the impact of that dilemma? Make it visible to a story’s audience? A character confronting a dilemma also faces making a choice, and by their action, they dramatically define themselves. A character with a comfortable inner world is difficult to convey (with the exception of characters who are comfortable in an uncomfortable world, a choice that still dramatically defines them). Such characters can come across as passive, simply reacting to events, instead of actively trying to shape the outcome of a scene.

When characters pass through a scene without some shift in feeling or of understanding, the risk is that the story’s audience will also pass through that scene without some shift in feeling or understanding of the scene’s dramatic purpose.

One way for a storyteller to fully experience the heart of a scene is a process I call dreaming. Let yourself relax and imagine a scene through the POV of a main character. Let yourself feel the emotions of the scene, internalize them, let the heart of the scene beat in your chest. Then use the words that most visually embody that feeling, that act it out. You can do the same for the other characters in a scene. Let yourself inside a character to feel the truth a character embodies. Consider what action would most confound a character, what moral dilemma would compel them to speak or act out.

I often dream scenes when I’m hired to do a rewrite. I use the process to build on the plot and characters already in place.

Another way to get to the heart of a character is to speak to them. Ask them what event would compel them to act, to speak out. Then use that information to strike at your characters.

Whatever method a writer uses to get inside a story’s characters to learn what drives them can help give scenes a quality of having different dimensions.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Teachable Moment

I was recently faced with mailing a 16 page newsletter first class in an envelope versus doing the same with a 12 page newsletter. I knew something needed to be done to meet the post office guideline that first class mail in an envelope be 1/4" deep or less.

So, I took the 25 stamped envelopes out to my car, put them under the front wheel, and drove over them.

If you can't stand the sight of spilled ink, stop reading now. Move to Canada. Save yourself.

Anyway, about 21 of the envelopes did get some version of being flattened. Four were ripped apart and had tire tracks on them. I knew I couldn't pin this on the post office since I hadn't mailed them yet, so I had to admit semi-defeat.

Thinking about it, I realized what I could have done was broke into a zoo late at night and hired an elephant to stand on the letters. I'm still trying to figure out what zoo elephants charge for working after midnight. I've seen several figures. It's worse than trying to figure out non-profit bulk mail rates.

Anyway, I think that would be safer than asking a bear to do it, but I guess that depends on what the bear would charge, too.

Just to put this in context, when I was a little kid I decided to bake a cake. It said put two eggs in the bowl. It didn't say take two eggs out of their shells and put them in the bowl. Turned out to be a very crunchy cake. I didn't have a driver's license so I couldn't use a car to drive over the eggs. Anyway, my parents kept a close on me when I was in the car, after the day I decided to open the door and get out about a block from home. I hadn't learned to tuck and roll when exiting a moving vehicle, so I had some bumps and scrapes for my effort to speed up the process of getting home. In my defense, in those days they didn't have a warning label on the door about exiting the vehicle while it was moving.

In my defense of my creative genius, a friend with a Volkswagon bug broke down late at night; the throttle cable broke. I rigged a piece of string to the throttle on the carburetor and ran the string over the top of the bug to the driver's side window. He pulled on the string and managed to drive home.

There might have been a better way to do this, but the elephants at the zoo weren't taking my calls that night.

The string trick doesn't work with women and sex, but I could have been doing it wrong.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Use of a Double in Storytelling

I recently re-watched Fringe, a television series. In one episode, I noticed a very striking technique being used. In the episode, one character feels out of place. The plot of the episode is that he's helping hunt down a character doing evil in the cause of -- fitting in. When the main character questions the character and finds out more about his motives, everything the murderous character says about doing whatever it takes to fit in, the dialogue has a subtext and a level of deeper emotions because the viewer is aware of the main character's issues.

One aspect of powerful storytelling is making what a main character feels accessible to an audience. Struggling writers are often so immersed in introducing a character, getting across their background, their history, their surroundings, creating a picture of their relationships, everything really except what an audience often craves from a story, something that suggests an author can help readers/viewers go on a journey to a state of deeper, potent feeling.

When novels become hugely successful while being denigrated by literary stylists, they have often created that deeper journey people crave from stories.

On a side note, I helped an author with a memoir that had a vivid and compelling action line...but I could barely get her to convey her feelings toward those closest to her, and to her own deeper feelings about tragic events in her life. On a first read, her deeper feelings were an almost complete void.

A literary agent passed on her memoir (that someone had, when the main events of the memoir happened, offered her $50,000 for the movie rights, but that was long ago).

It happened that another story person read her memoir and helped her to write about those deeper feelings from the first paragraph of the memoir, and the literary agent who had passed on the book agreed to represent it.

If you're not writing a sequel to a well-written movie about dinosaurs, you need to get to that deeper place and take your readers with you.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Smashwords.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Authors Road Interview Daniel Handler (and Lemony Snicket)

Daniel Handler

(and Lemony Snicket)

Novelist and story writer for both children and adults

When Salli says this is the interview that kept her laughing most, you can count on the fact that you’re in for a good time watching this clever chat with our 47th writer.

And, not only that, this is a 2-fer: one interview with two remarkable writers (although it should be said that Lemony Snicket only shows up for brief, whimsical moments during this film).

Handler is a writer. A prolific writer. And in this interview he explains why: he never learned how to do anything else besides write books, stories, movies, poems and musicals. Writing and telling stories is the thing he loves to do most, and in this animated and spirited interview you’ll see him share some of his insights, as well as tell a few zappers that Lemony Snicket would likely share if Lemony Snicket had been there.

Handler was first published after our daughters were in high school, so we didn’t get to read his stories to them at bedtime. But that’s not true for our granddaughter, and we’ve loved sharing his wonderfully twisted tales with her. The Dark is one of her favorite books, and she never seems to get enough hearing us read it to her.

This was a rare interview, and one that was difficult to arrange given Handler’s kinetic schedule and many demands. His latest novel, We Are Pirates, had been released only a few days before we caught up with him at his home in San Francisco. So, as you watch this interview keep in mind, he’s a busy and very creative mind. He’s active in politics, the arts, and the community. He sings, plays accordion, hosts literary events and so much more. Daniel Handler is an example of the Renaissance artist with interests as wide and rich as the human mind can stretch.

We’re honored he took the time to meet and talk with us, and pleased we can share his story with you.

George & Salli
The Authors Road

Thanks for . . .

. . . joining us . . .

. . . on the road!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Nancy Pearl Interviewed on Authors Road

A bit of whimsey from . . .

Nancy Pearl: Librarian, Author, Book Activist

“So many lives I wish I could have led, . . . that’s why I read, so I can lead those lives. ”

The Authors Road has now completed nearly 50 interviews with writers and experts, and what they all share is a love of reading and the magic of the written word. But this, our 44th interview, is with someone who adds one more passion to the list of reading and writing, and that is her gift for putting people together with the right books at the right time. Perhaps that’s why she is best known as The Librarian, having been chosen as "Fiction Reviewer of the Year" in 1998 and “Librarian of the Year” in 2011 by the Library Journal.

Pearl’s life has orbited around the book in too many ways to count here. She’s worked in bookstores, served as the executive director for the Washington Center for the Book, pioneered the idea of an international program for citywide reading (One City, One Book), taught library sciences, written best-sellers on recommended reading, and appears regularly on public radio discussing books.

Pearl also gave a TEDxTalk called 'Reading with Purpose' during which she introduces readers to her "rule of 50" where she gives permission not to finish a book they aren't enjoying (except in a few cases), and her "pie chart book review." As she says, "Reading should be a pleasure, it should be joy." And she has spent her life connecting readers and writers to find that end.

And if all these achievements aren't enough, in 2003 a company made an action figure based on her, The Librarian. And yes, when you push the button on the back of the five- inch tall figure, her arm raises and a finger crosses her lips reminding us to keep quiet. At the end of this interview, Nancy demonstrates this skill with all the aplomb a true librarian must have.

Read more about Nancy or watch her interview at AuthorsRoad