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  1. Selling stories is not much different than selling anything else. As a writer turned acquisitions editor and now literary agent, I learned that the hard way. It’s not enough to write a great story; to sell that story you have to be able to milk its selling points and eliminate the obstacles to selling it. WHAT ARE YOUR SELLING POINTS? Here are some of the selling points that might/should apply to your story. USP USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition. That is, what makes your story unique. As in these X Meets Y loglines: Castaway on Mars = USP for Andy Weir’s The Martian Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine meets Columbo = USP for Nita Prose’s The Maid RED meets Assisted Living = USP for Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club What sets your story apart from the others of its ilk? What are your comparable titles? How can you articulate your USP in your pitch? What’s your X Meets Y? How soon in your story do you make the USP clear in your story? These are questions to which you should have good answers if you want your work to break out in today’s tough marketplace. CHARACTER Who is the hero of your story? What is their superpower? Why will readers relate to this character? In The Maid, the neurodivergent clean-obsessive heroine Molly Gray is the story’s biggest selling point. She sees what others fail to see—and everyone around her underestimates her, just like her hero Columbo. We fall in love with Molly right away—and happily follow her through her trials and tribulations until The End. SETTING In the best stories, the setting is a critically important character. There are a million stories set in New York City, for example, but in the best stories we see a different NYC: Tom Wolfe’s NYC in The Bonfire of the Vanities, Candace Bushnell’s NYC in Sex and the City, Katy Hays’ NYC in The Cloisters. How do you make your setting your own? In The Martian, Andy Weir shows us Mars up close and personal—and it’s riveting. PLOT High-concept plots sell: Big Shark terrorizes small town (Jaws). Serial killer who only kills other serial killers (Darkly Dreaming Dexter). A white father and a black father set out to avenge the murder of their married gay sons, from whom they were estranged (Razorblade Tears). Give me a high-concept plot we haven’t seen before, and I’m one happy agent. Because that’s a selling point few editors, publishers, reviewers, readers can resist. Is your plot a selling point? VOICE Voice is half the battle. Give us a voice we haven’t heard before—Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, Esch Baitiste in Salvage the Bones, Ava in Swamplandia!—and we’ll follow that voice anywhere. Think of Remarkably Bright Creatures, in which Shelby Van Pelt stunningly pulls off writing from the point of view of an octopus named Marcellus. If people tell you that you have a strong voice, you’re on your way—just make sure you have a plot to go with it. BIO If your personal or professional life informs your story in a meaningful way, that can be a selling point. Maybe you’re a retired homicide detective writing a police procedural, or a high school teacher writing a contemporary YA novel, or an immigrant writing a family saga about an immigrant family. If your life feeds and fuels your work, that could be a selling point. WHAT ARE YOUR SALES OBSTACLES? As an agent, I have a front-row seat to rejection. Here are the most common complaints editors make when passing on a project: “We’ve seen this a million times before.” Drugs, sex trafficking, alcoholic cops, opening with your heroine waking up, office meetings, dreams, yadda yadda yadda. Anything we’ve seen a million times before is an obstacle to selling your work. Find a way to make it new. “I just didn’t fall in love with the protagonist.” Unlikable protagonists are harder to sell than likable protagonists. If your hero isn’t likable, at least make him admirable in some way. Give readers a reason to read about him. Also: Your protagonist needs to be pro-active. Your heroine should drive the action from beginning to end. We need to see her overcome the challenges and obstacles she faces to become a stronger, smarter, wiser version of herself. Give her a compelling character arc. “The pacing is off.” Pacing is one of the biggest reasons good writers fail to sell their work. Often pacing problems come down to: The beginning is too slow. The middle is too muddled. The ending is too rushed/cliff-hanging/ambiguous. Check your pacing for the above—and pick it up! “I don’t know how to sell this.” If your story does not fall neatly into a genre or sub-genre, agents, editors, publishers will not know how to sell it and readers will not know where to find it. No one will know what to do with it. Unless you’re the next Gregory Maguire or the next Diana Gabaldon, who created their own genres. But odds are what you’ve done is a mishmash of genres, not a new genre. And it’s hard to sell a mishmash. The aforementioned complaints are, in effect, obstacles to the sale. Ask yourself if any apply to your work—and eliminate them before you try to shop it. SELL, SELL, SELL When I talk to clients about their work, I talk in terms of selling points and sales obstacles. (This very post was inspired by two recent conversations with writers about their stories.) Once you’ve identified the selling points in your story, you can capitalize on them. The same goes for the obstacles to selling your story: Identify them, and then eliminate them. Armed with strong selling points and unburdened by obstacles, you’ll be ready to query agents and editors—and be this much closer to a publishing deal.
  2. First of all, let's look at what a pitch should never be. This is a modified example from a past pitch conference. Despite the fact that this writer received our pitch models in advance, the following is what they produced for the first day of the conference. The title and author's name are withheld for privacy reasons. As follows: Sixteen-year-old Warren’s grandfather was his world: Chicago firefighter, Marine, master builder, musician, upstanding Polish-American man. Now Warren’s a stranger in his own house. His mother, a doctor, is guilty and distant; his father, a fire chief, means well but fails. His siblings seemed to get all his grandfather’s gifts: discipline, heroism, talent, craft. Warren tries his best to mimic their feats – swimming, piano-playing, building, firefighting – battling in spirit to take his grandfather back. He tries, and he fails. He resents and fears his awesome big brother, who guards the family heritage like a hero of yore; he envies and resents his kid brother’s grandstanding and musical gifts. Warren’s part of the family and not, home but not home, with no one and nothing but his grandfather’s picture – his one guiding light – to call his own. In the end, shame and pride drive him to dream of revenge: unable to belong in his grandfather’s world, unwilling to accept the world that he’s left, will Warren set this house on fire? Before you compare the above example to the examples below, you'll note that this pitch contains an ample amount of set-up. We learn about the kid and his life circumstances. Okay, great, and a wrap statement in the second paragraph. But what is missing? Consider, we know zero about the plot. There is no hint of it, not a sign. The writer leads us to believe the kid will lead towards a revenge of some kind, but what kind? He apparently has no journey to undertake, no challenge to overcome, no complicating obstacle as far as we can see. What must Warren do? What will Warren do? Who knows? And it's the failure to answer these questions that cuts the heart out of this pitch. The professional hearing it, or reading it, will immediately see there is no plot evident. Not exactly a good idea. We recommend instead the following as effective models for a novel pitch session. Keep the core body of the pitch to 150-200 words. Note too that your pitch is a diagnostic tool that helps professionals determine the strong and weak points of your novel, thus enabling productive discussion on matters of premise, character, and plot development. Take special note of inciting incident, protagonist intro, setting, stakes, plot points, and cliff-hangers. SURVIVING THE FOREST by Adiva Geffen Historical Women's Fiction (PROTAGONIST INTRO AND SETTING) Shurka is a happy young woman who lives a fairy tale life with her beloved husband and their two young children, in a pretty house in a village in Poland. She believes that nothing can hurt them. Or so she thinks. Then, World War II breaks out (INCITING INCIDENT) and the happy family quickly understands that their happiness has come to a brutal end. The family is forced to flee and find shelter in a neighboring ghetto (STAKES AND FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT) where they discover the Gestapo is taking Jews away on trucks every night, never to be seen again. Backs against the wall, the family makes the brave and very difficult choice to flee into the depths of a dark forest (EXTENSION OF FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT). There, surrounded by animals, they know this is their only chance to escape the real beasts. They have no idea what will await them, but they know that doing nothing is not an option if they wish to survive. (CLIFF-HANGER: WILL THEY SURVIVE? WHAT PRICE MUST BE PAID?) ______ GIRL IN CABIN 13 by A. J. Rivers Detective Murder Mystery (PROTAGONIST INTRO AND SETTING) FBI agent Emma Griffin is sent undercover to the small sleepy town of Feathered Nest to uncover the truth behind the strings of disappearances that has left the town terrified (STAKES AND INCITING INCIDENT). To Emma there is nothing that can lay buried forever. Even though her own childhood has been plagued by deaths and disappearances. Her mother’s death, her father’s disappearance, and her boyfriend’s disappearance--the only cases that she hasn’t solved. Her obsession with finding out the truth behind her past was what led her to join the FBI. Now, she must face what may be her biggest case. In Cabin 13 there lies an uneasy feeling. The feeling of her movements being watched. When a knock on her door revealed a body on her porch and her name written on a piece of paper in the dead man’s hand. Suddenly her worlds collide. (FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT) With the past still haunting her, Emma must fight past her own demons to stop the body count from rising. The woods have secrets. And this idyllic town has dark and murderous ones. Either she reveals them or risk them claiming her too. (CLIFF-HANGER AND ADDITIONAL STAKES - WILL SHE SAVE THE "FARM" AND LIVE TO TELL THE STORY?) _____ Now, go and write the pitch for your novel following a thorough analysis of the above examples, and please, take your time. Once done, put it aside for a few days then read it again and ask yourself this question: WILL THIS MAKE SOMEONE WANT TO BUY MY BOOK? _________________________________________________
  3. Very Important Questions to Ask Yourself So you're searching high and low for a decent and experienced freelancer to read your novel ms and provide it with the healing touch it needs. You most likely will require thorough developmental editing, not to mention narrative or sample line edits at a minimum. Okay. So where to go? There are Google pages full of poor editorial services out there and just about anyone can claim to be a novel editor. Therefore, how to winnow forth the quality expertise you must have? Below are a few questions to ask yourself before engaging any editorial service: Do you get to review the credentials of the precise person who will be working on your ms? Do the credentials include any real-time experience working in tandem with New York publishing or mid-sized publishers or quality independent presses at least? Is there a demonstrable track record of commercial or literary publication of any kind associated with past clients of this particular person or service? Is the proposed editor of your ms an actual writer of fiction, narrative nonfiction, or novels with a track record of any kind? (self-publishing not included) Do the accolades or testimonials about the business or editor appear to include a lot of buzz phrasing rather than pointers to actual contracts? Be careful out there!
  4. Although the mantra “show, don’t tell” have been spoken thousands of times in creative writing classes and workshops, the injunction is essentially meaningless. For one thing, it sets up a false opposition, an either-or, as if there is an opposition between showing and telling. But all writing is telling, achieving one overall result because, when a dramatic scene or exchange of dialogue exists, the showing conveys information. That is, it tells. It would be impossible not to. What “show, don’t tell” is really trying to say is, “don’t tell with flat, dull prose.” Bad imaginative writing happens when telling provides information without an iota of showing. But showing doesn’t have to be dramatic scenes or dialogue exchange. The telling must be alive, animated, not merely related. Unlike, say, reportorial journalism that tells us what happened, imaginative fiction makes us experience what happened. Good writers have found a number of alternatives for accomplishing that animation. Techniques of animating include: visual details, lively verbs, personal voice, rhythms, attitude toward the telling—e.g., between the lines messages. The central point is a liveliness behind and beneath the informational content of the words. The language should convey a complexity embedded in and inseparable from the words. Here’s an example of showing while telling in a paragraph from a Lauren Groff story titled “The Wind”: They were so far out in the country, the bus came for them first, and the ride to town was long. At last it showed itself, yellow as sunrise at the end of the road. Its slowness as it pulled up was agonizing. My mother’s heart began to beat fast. She let her brothers get on before her and told them to sit in the front seats. Mrs. Palmer, the driver, was a stout lady who played the organ at church, and whose voice when she shouted at the naughty boys in the back was high like soprano singing. She looked at my mother as she shut the bus door, then said in her singsong voice, You got yourself a shiner there, Michelle. The opening sentence is told information, facts about the location of the children’s home—far from town in the country. But the next sentence does not just report that the yellow schoolbus arrived. Instead, it can be seen “yellow as sunrise.” Next, it doesn’t just pull up slowly. It’s emotionally agonizing, and by implication to the narrator’s mother with the anxiety of a beating heart. Stout Mrs. Palmer as church organist reveals something about the community this family lives. Her voice is auditory for the reader. The final sentence is actual showing, integrating action and dialogue. This paragraph from Tessa Hadley’s story “Because the Night” is even more visual, just about every told sentence a variation of showing: Kristen wore the gauzy, flowery, frilly Ossie Clark her mother had been married in, pulled up above her Brownie belt so she didn’t trip on it; Tom would be in his soldier suit, red jacket unbuttoned, his pistol in its holster slung low on his hip. Their gym daps gave them extra silence and speed. Kneeling among the baked-dry leaves on the stone floor of the greenhouse with the well, they made plans. If the weather had been fine, the glass panes would hold in their pocket of heat long into the evening, pungent with the green smell of tomato stalks, even though no tomatoes ever grew in there anymore—only fleshy, tall weeds that spurted up wherever the rain leaked in, then died and parched to ghosts in the dry spells. The greenhouses were built of brick to about waist height; an aisle ran between raised beds of dry earth and shelves of empty flowerpots. The first two sentences describe what the children are wearing, the third telling about their sport shoes. The next describes their placement on the greenhouse floor. What follows integrates showing of the greenhouse with details of its history, action verbs like “spurted,” “leaked,” “deaded,” and “parched.” Only the final sentence is pure telling. Clearly, the Groff and Hadley paragraphs don’t merely relate information in a series of dry factual sententence. They bring the information to life by animating it through visual details, evocation of emotional responses, sensory allusions, vivid verbs, and the rhythms of the writing.
  5. That said, I agree with Joe that this video might do more harm than good when it comes to giving writers advice. It sounds like Hank is (as we've been hammering on so hard here) a pantser. From the way he described his process, it sounds like he sort of wanders through the story and sees where his interest (and the characters) take him. [MORE BELOW]
  6. Story Openings Story openings now have several goals to accomplish. The first is to engage the reader immediately and create a desire to engage with what will happen. That goal has become more crucial in recent years when readers have so many more choices to fill their time, and not just fictions on a page. Magazine editors abet this pressure because they are bombarded with submissions. Editors don’t have the time or patience to indulge a leisurely writer. More and more decisions as to what stories they will read through are based on the appeal of the opening. Many editors admit that if the first page doesn’t grab them, the story submission will be rejected immediately, the rest unread. People opening a book or a magazine often judge as quickly. A second task of the opening is introducing the dramatic issues of the story, in most cases the frisson of conflict or uncertainty that will become the basis of the plot.. A third task of an opening is to quickly establish the “world” of the story—its place, its space, its time span, its linguistic tone. Here are some examples from real stories. Let’s assume they’ve passed the first text of creating a reader need to learn more about the situation described in just a few sentences, Here is the opening of Nadine Gordimer’s story “Blinder”: “Rose lives in the backyard. She has lived there from the time when she washed the napkins of the children in the house, who are now university students.” Even a reader who was unaware that Gordimer was writing about South Africa during the years of apartheid would recognize that Rose is a servant relegated to a backyard who works for a family affluent enough to afford tuition for their children. At one point Rose had to clean the diapers, nappies, of those children. Those sentences suggest these opposite circumstances will have an essential role in the story and that something will finally cause a clash. Alice Munro also refers to university students in the opening of her story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”: “Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university. It was a big, bay-windowed house that seemed to Grant both luxurious and disorderly, with rugs cooked on the floors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish.” The conditions introduced here are more complex that those of the Gordimer story, much more than just the contrast of poverty and financial security. In fact, the details result in more questions than answers. Why is this upscale home so sloppy? Who is Grant, the one who regards it as luxurious and disorderly? In this case, the details provide a set of unknowns. John Updike opens “Personal Archeology” with this long sentence: “In his increasing isolation--elderly golfing buddies dead or dying, his old business contacts fraying, no office to go to, his wife always off at her bridge or committees, his children as busy and preoccupied as he himself had been in middle age--Craig Martin took an interest in the traces left by prior owners of his land.” Although this litany reveals a great deal about Craig Martin’s present condition, it also tells much about his life before this moment in his old age, his career and lifestyle. What he no longer has informs his immediate need to fill his time. As little as the reader knows about what happens next with Rose and Grant and Fiona, it’s clear that Craig’s story will be about his confrontation with the emptiness of his now life. His new interest implies that he will discover something significant about the land that may relate to his personal need. The opening of practically any successful story of recent years can be analyzed similarly. In essence, it captures the reader with a why.
  7. My first three pages introduce the protagonist, a side character, a minion of the antagonist, and grounds in setting and place. You get the main plot and sympathy for the MC and SC, plus an intro to the emotional side plot. 1. Amalia and Clara drove to Sunday church service together that morning as they had for a year now. Amalia in a black linen dress with a lovely interlocking pattern of embroidered white flowers at the cuffs and bodice. Clara wore a gray sweater dress and a black crepe shrug. They both had on dark sunglasses, and not because they wanted to hide from anyone. The Nevada sun punished even the godly. They didn’t speak, parking and then walking to the front doors as the hilltop filled with cars for the 9 a.m. service. Fellow church members, God’s disciples in modern times. The community of Piles, Nevada lost Signor Tau Lasso a year ago on May 13. The tragedy had brought Tau’s daughter, Amalia, more into Clara’s life, and not just for the usual reason of mourning a father and mentor beloved by so many. The Word in Life Worship Center sat on a hill against a bright blue spring sky. Most buildings in Piles, Nevada were on a mound of dirt because the town was built over excavation sites and the residual of mine leavings. God’s house crested the largest pile, capped with a clay-colored composite roof gracefully sloping over the main sanctuary. A wooden cross perched jauntily to the side. That morning, a bit of cheap pink fabric had caught in the wind and wound itself about the crossbar, the loose material flapping gently in the wind. Clara paused, looking up askance. That should’ve been their first clue that something strange was in the wind. They walked on to the steady pounding of their grief. Clara recalled Tau’s funerial procession, but them so far behind that even though the coffin was buried a year ago they still hadn’t caught up with the reality. Grief had no prescribed span; it stayed with you until something else took its place, maybe not even then. Their grief was still fresh as the year before. This had been Clara’s first real experience with death. It was even worse in their case because Tau’s story had no true conclusion, not for Amalia. Not for Clara. They couldn’t finish his story in their minds, so how could anyone else? Little did they know, that was exactly what everyone else had done. The front doors opened, exhaling a floral scent so strong, Clara thought the cherry blossom air fresheners in the church bathrooms must’ve exploded. That should’ve been their second clue that the tone for this day was not what they were expecting. The church greeter was sweat-sheened toadie Kenny Susich. At first Clara wondered how even he could smell of roses. But no. Pink roses and peonies clustered on draped tables in the foyer. Amalia sneezed into her black hanky. Kenny’s broad face shifted into a concerned expression as he evaluated their somber attire. "You needn’t go into mourning yet, Clara. Your time will come. You may soon have one." His large globs of flesh constituting two breasts and a stomach pressed against the yellow fabric of his church branded T-shirt. He foisted a pink rose on her with a wink and a lecherous grin. "Have one?" At first Clara thought he meant the rose, which she tried to pass on to Amalia. She wisely refused any gift from Kenny Susich. Clara had acted automatically, not thinking about it first as she should have done. "Have one of what?" His arm pits sweat stained, wispy blond hair featherlight into a horn just over his forehead. Kenny’s light eyes were smaller still when he smiled, his grin displaying every tooth. Clara could count them if she wanted; she didn’t want. He laughed. She didn’t. Kenny struck a pensive pose: chin on his right knuckles, arm propped up as if taking a school photo though he was standing in the doorway, blocking everyone. "Don’t you know what today is?" It was the one-year anniversary of Tau Lasso’s death, Clara knew that for sure. She looked at her friend. Amalia didn’t seem to be in the mood to unpuzzle a conversation with Kenny Susich. She propelled them both forward. "What did I just miss?" Clara asked her friend. Amalia: "Mother’s Day, Clara. Of the two of us, apparently Kenny thinks only you can birth a child." She gave her friend a wary eye. “Better watch out for that one. He’s chosen you.” Children: the church’s entry hall was filled with them, galloping free in the only other place they could get away with it besides their own homes. Mothers and daughters. Mothers and sons. Mothers and their mothers. Mothers and graduates. Not only was it Mother’s Day weekend, but it was also the graduation celebration for all the high school seniors in the church. Children were hanging from the balustrades and the teens weren’t behaving any better. "But Did Kenny Susich just insinuate that you’re old enough to be in menopause?" Clara ground her teeth. In addition to having a jaw like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, she also felt any perceived insult or injustice against one her friends. She wound a long gangly arm through Amalia’s. Also like a T-Rex, Clara had small hands and feet that would’ve been lovely if not so incongruous with the rest of her body. Amalia waved it off, not even bothering to be insulted or argue the point. She was only 45 and Clara had just turned 30. "I’m surprised a goober like Kenny Susich even knows what menopause is." Clara dropped the pink rose he’d given her, hoping it would be trod over. But then she regretted it: that rose, all these roses, had cost the church money. Today wasn’t a day she wanted to celebrate, the anniversary of the death of Tau, father figure to Clara, beloved father to Amalia, but that didn’t mean she should spurn an investment of church funds. Soon she would find the invoice and see just how much that investment had been. It probably wasn’t possible that others’ joy sucked life from you, but Clara felt it then, the certainty everyone else was living and she and Amalia were stuck in the past, their days diminishing before their eyes.
  8. Point of view issues keep more otherwise sellable authors from selling their work than nearly any other problem. That’s why as an agent, author, and writing teacher, I always caution my clients, fellow writers, and students to play it safe when it comes to POV. And yet every once in a while I come across a story whose author threw caution to the wind so splendidly I am tempted to play around with point of view myself. If you find yourself so inclined, read on. FIRST, THE RULES As Picasso reminded us, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Here are the POV rules you need to observe long enough to master them before you break them: 1) No omniscient POV. (It’s considered old-fashioned these days, at least here in the U.S.) 2) When writing first-person, stick to one POV per book. 3) When writing third-person: a) Stick to third-person close; b) Use only one POV per scene; c) Use no more than five POVs per book; and d) The protagonist’s POV should predominate. A caveat: The following explores how a few bestselling authors far more skilled than I—and probably you, too—took POV risks that worked big-time. So if this your first rodeo, you’re better off writing by the aforementioned rules. But sooner or later, regardless of your skill level, you’re going to want to break the rules. When you do, remember these examples of stories where the novelists’ POV gambles paid off. FIRST-PERSON PLURAL POV In two of my favorite novels of all time, the authors use first-person plural POV (we/us). In The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler writes the story from the book club’s point of view. The book club members meet every month to discuss a Jane Austen novel, with unpredictable consequences for them all. (This 2004 novel is a must for all Austen fans; the film adaptation’s is fun, too, if not particularly faithful.) Here’s the opening: Each of us has a private Austen. Jocelyn’s Austen wrote wonderful novels about love and courtship, but never married. The book club was Jocelyn’s idea, and she handpicked the members…. We suspected a hidden agenda, but who would put Jane Austen to an evil purpose? Irresistible, and we the readers fall in love with the literary, gossipy voice. The same is true for Unlikely Animals, Annie Hartnett’s second novel, published just last month. A sort of “Our Town meets Alice Hoffman with a touch of John Irving,” this wonderful novel is written from the point of view of the dead people in the cemetery of the small New Hampshire town where the story is set. Which may sound morbid, but is not, as you can see from the opening lines: Maple Street Cemetery Everton, NH 43.3623° N, 72.1662° W Years later, when people in Everton would tell this story, they would say it was Clive Starling who called the reporter, the way that man loved attention. But we remember the way it happened…. Again, irresistible. We want to hear the real story, as told by the dearly departed, who know this town—past and present—better than anyone. SECOND-PERSON POV This POV (you/you) is rare, at least from my point of view. Only one immediately came to mind—Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney. This 1984 novel grabs readers from the very beginning, promising a ride as wild as the Eighties: You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this hour of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. And we’re off on the journey with McInerney, because we’re not that kind of guy either….and yet. OMNISCIENT POV Omniscient point of view is “Author as God.” Think 19th century novels, and fairy tales: Once upon a time there was a girl…. “Author as God” has fallen out of fashion in the 21st century, most notably in the United States. You still see it sometimes, especially in science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and literary fiction. No one does it better than Alice Hoffman, who writes modern-day fairy tales, a kind of “Yankee magic realism,” a literary legacy she has attributed to Nathaniel Hawthorne. You can see why in the opening to Practical Magic, the 1995 novel I reread whenever I’m feeling blue: For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town. If a damp spring arrived, if cows in the pasture gave milk that was runny with blood, if a colt died of colic or a baby was born with a red birthmark stamped onto his cheek, everyone believed that fate must have been twisted, at least a little, by those women over on Magnolia Street. Hoffman has us at “the Owens women.” The scope and timelessness of the novel are part of its attraction, and the omniscient POV helps her establish both. MULTIPLE FIRST-PERSON POV Conventional wisdom has it that if you’re writing first-person point of view, you should stay with that one POV for the entire novel, if only so readers know whose head they’re in the whole time. Mixing it with third-person is tricky enough, but using more than one first-person point of view can be very confusing for readers if it’s not done with finesse. But when Gillian Flynn used his-and-her first-person points of view in her blockbuster thriller Gone Girl, writers took note—and we’ve been flooded with multiple first-person novels ever since. As an agent, I see a lot of them, and mostly it doesn’t work. Gillian Flynn made it work, by making the voices of the husband and wife characters very different—and by first introducing the wife’s POV through diary entries. The diary entries not only help the reader remember who’s who, but in Flynn’s capable hands, they also serve as a clever plot device. Speaking of devices, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a master class in these tools. This book club favorite, technically told from the first-person point of view of an eighth grader named Bee, opens with Bee’s report card, just one of the dozens of devices Semple uses over the course of the story that become, in effect, other POVs. (For more, see the full list in my book on story openings, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings. MULTIPLE THIRD-PERSON CLOSE POV Nobody breaks the rules as beautifully as George R. R. Martin. When to my chagrin one of my clients changed points of view half a dozen times in the opening of her novel and cited A Game of Thrones as her model, I went right to my copy of the epic fantasy. And yes, in the first fifty pages alone, Martin changes points of view at least five times (the conservative limit for an entire book). But it’s neither choppy nor confusing—it’s brilliant. Martin keeps the reader reading, through the skilled use of compelling action, likable POV characters, and clear links from one chapter to the next. I was so thrilled by his masterful handling of POV that I sat down and wrote a detailed analysis of his opening for my client (which you’ll also find in The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings). So it can be done, and done effectively, but most easily if you’re George R. R. Martin. I’m just saying. GO FOR IT For the record, I still say it’s risky to break the POV rules, especially if you’re writing your debut. But ultimately, all writing is risky. And the more we write, the more challenges we like to present ourselves. Point of view may be one of the challenges you take on in your next work. I have the terrible feeling it may be in mine. But as we’ve seen, other writers have met that challenge with grace and grit.
  9. As you explore the nooks and literary crannies here, you'll find considerable words devoted to warning you away from foolish and terrible advice. But what about professional, tested, and proven advice? Below are ten bullet points for aspiring authors designed to help them overcome any confusion or misdirection when it comes to starting the novel. However, before you investigate, make certain you've already prepared by reading this sensible prologue. Note: the list below makes a base assumption that the writer is a relative novice and currently searching for direction and focus--the same stage we've all endured. For those in the second stage, or higher, the list might well begin further down. Nonetheless, we cannot stress enough how important it is to fully understand your genre. Eat and breathe it. Know the currents in the market, what makes for a "high concept" story in this context. You'll never be published otherwise. KEY CONCEPTS: genre, high concept, Publisher's Marketplace, self-editing, readers, core development strategies, craft and research, story premise, SATG Novel, novel hook, first draft outline, inciting incident, plot point. Choose Your Genre Historical, thriller, women's fiction, mystery cozy, etc. Focus on one that will consume you, one you have passion for. Passionless choice never bodes well (can you guess why?). If on the fence, consider what kind of author do you wish to be known as five years from now? A thriller author? Horror author? Mystery?... Makes a difference, no? So be specific and take a slot (no "slot" shaming). You are attempting to break into a crowded and tough marketplace with a breakout novel. As of this point, you have no real idea how difficult it will really be in a country as big as America. Best to begin wisely. WARNING: failing to locate yourself firmly in one genre will only result in failure. And believe us when we tell you that agents and publishers will be merciless in their demand that you understand and obey the rules of that genre. From the heart, but smart. One last thing--you cannot invent your own genre. Don't try. Don't even ask. For the love of all that is holy! Mercilessly Immerse Read the classics in your genre combined with the latest and hottest. Look up "best book" lists, read reviews on Amazon, dive into review journals dedicated to your genre, and obtain a membership at Publisher's Marketplace. It's never too early to familiarize yourself with who is publishing what in your genre. At PM it's all there. And no, we don't get a kickback. As a bonus, you get to review expertly written hook lines for new novels bought by publishers, thereby also getting a chance to note the type of high concept stories in the works. Invaluable! Truly. Via obsessive immersing, you'll also get an idea which authors and novels might compare favorably with you and your own work. Strongly consider analyzing story progression, character introduction, and scene development in three to five of the best in your genre. Take notes. Compare what you've learned to what you read here at NWOE. Avoid Writer Groups Do not join a local or online writer group, however socially alluring it may be, and regardless of what its apostles tell you. Don't fall for it. We know, it feels like the right thing because so many recommend it, but it's the wrong thing by a mile. You *might* consider it a year or two from now once you've developed enough novel writing savvy to actually know the difference between an amateur group that *might* be somewhat productive and one that could be potentially ruinous or time wasting at a minimum. Review carefully our notes on this crucial and controversial subject. Begin the Reader Hunt Following on above, attempt to engage upwards of five good readers, if humanly possible. It will take time to ID the right ones, so begin the hunt early. Take note, they will not be in a group. They will not meet to discuss your work. If possible, best they do not interact or know each other. This condition will disallow the inevitable evolution of group politics, groupthink, imagined slights, false flattery, etc. Yes, it can happen. Regardless, can your picks be reasonably trusted to provide generally intelligent reaction to your narrative? You might have to jettison a few. Be prepared. Additionally, serving as a reader for them will provide you with a form of editorial experience that might prove invaluable. IMPORTANT: utilize "beta readers" for narrative purposes only (prose style, clarity, imagery, dynamic motion, dialogue quality--that sort of thing), NEVER for novel development, i.e., premise, plot, character roles, important setting details, etc. Engaging in the latter imperiling act will only threaten your progress with those insidious major flaws inherent in 98% of writer groups. Study Self-editing Technique Do it carefully, it's an art form, even if you're not onto your second draft yet. No reason to delay. It takes experimentation and practice. Relying exclusively on your readers or future freelance editors is a mistake. Ultimately, you are responsible for the final product. Faith should not be necessary. Also, keep in mind, the more refined your fiction narrative waxes, the more productive the future editorial professionals engaged to review your work can be, i.e., if you've already ascended to level 8, they can bump you to level 10. Now, what about that contract? Craft Until Your Head Hurts While researching your genre, immerse simultaneously into your core novel development strategy. Don't rush it or fret over it. You will inevitably revise. Meanwhile, utilize NWOE as a staging platform for the illuminating pursuit of obligatory craft technique. This is NOT an option. Devour every single article or essay on development, drama, plotting, prose, and viewpoints. Set aside a space for experimentation. Practice writing scenes, dialogue, complex descriptions for starters. Additionally, consume only the best books on novel writing. You will ALWAYS be an apprentice to your craft. Let Truman Capote be an inspiration. Conceive Primary Premise Given that you've chosen your genre and you're well on your way to possessing a true literary skill set (it's not easy, so don't be impatient), and given you've taken careful note of the quality of new novels coming to life at Publisher's Marketplace (have you?), you may now begin to formulate your own novel premise, the "high concept" story that will form the development, writing, and marketing basis of your genre novel from title to last sentence. Uncertain on how to go about it? One way to initiate a bit of productive pondering is to visit the High Concept page first, followed by the Loglines and Core Wounds page. Read carefully. Note the three "hook line" examples. Consider WHAT WILL BE YOUR CORE CONFLICT, AND WHAT WILL BE THE CORE WOUND? (all caps for emphasis). Play with it. Write down options. Choose wisely. Seek discreet professional advice if necessary. Begin the Planning Process Engage in a careful examination of the Six Act Two-Goal Novel. With your embryonic story concept nearing the birth canal, use the SATG Novel outline to assist with beginning to conceive smaller parts of the bigger picture. At each separate stage, from Act to Act, take a deep breath and sketch ideas, circumstances, characters into your electronic notebook. Be free and easy with the process. Jot down everything that comes to mind. Keep in mind it's all in dynamic flux. It can change. Just as importantly, attempt to finalize insofar as possible your novel's major setting. Extremely important. Organize your thoughts, questions, commentary, and scenarios as needed. Have fun with it. Imagination is truly your best friend (even if you don't like the original Willy Wonka). Sketch a Draft Outline No need to engage in overmuch detail. Make certain your story premise is commercially viable and your chosen setting is simmering. Have on hand sketches of your major and secondary characters. Use the SATG to locate and ruminate over your major plot points. Sketch your inciting incident and first major plot point. Go from there to your first major reversal, pinch point, etc., all the way to climax. Keep in mind this is all a draft, yes, however it should reflect your efforts to date at fleshing out your genre story. Consider also, not just your basic plot but those special points, twists, and turns demanded by your chosen genre, e.g., if writing a cozy mystery you best get that body on the first page (or pretty close). Refer to steps 1 and 2 above. Draft Your Hook Scenes Don't think of the novel in units of chapter. Think of it as units of scene, each scene dedicated to a particular task, and each driving the plot forward (a must) in one way or another. I use the term "hook scenes" to refer to that combination of opening scenes that will lead us through the initial set-up to the inciting incident and from there to the first major plot point that begins the next Act of the novel--30 to 50 pages into the novel, roughly. There are always exceptions. Download the Algonkian Study Guide for necessary additional references and a breakdown of hook scenes up to and beyond the first major plot point in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (a favorite for the application of classic dramatic technique in the novel). _______________ [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  10. The reputation of a significant novel can survive a weak and even a bad ending. For example, Judy Berman writing “Fantastic Novels with Disappointing Endings” in Flavorwire cited a number of fictional favorites with that problem, including The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, The Secret History by Donna Tartt (“After the book’s big mystery is revealed and manipulative ringleader Henry murders his blackmailer, good-ol’-boy Bunny, the group’s dissolution and plunge into utter lunacy takes a bit too long while the characters’ outsized, artsy personalities nearly verge on self-parody”), Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (“Plenty of great novels end with a protagonist causing her own death, whether on purpose or by accident, but Yates makes the couple’s predicament so bleak and inescapable that we can guess the outcome halfway through the novel—and the lack of subtlety or surprise makes the ending feel preachy”), and Room by Emma Donoghue. I can add some of my own examples, as I suppose any reader could. The fact that many novels, such as the works above, satisfy readers suggests that a novel’s ending is not absolutely crucial. I recall the statement by a group of European contest judges admitting that they gave first prize to a novel with a poor ending because they believed so much else about it was so strong. It’s clear that readers can spend a number of hours so happy with what they read for several hundred pages that they are willing to forgive a lapse in the final ten or twenty. A short story, on the other hand, relies on just the right ending to succeed. Its totality takes only ten or twenty pages, with the narrative tension building on each one demanding that the conclusion offer an ideal resolution of that tension. Otherwise, it’s been a failure for reader and writer. With that need, a story is like a poem, both forms accumulating to a point where the final words—paragraph or lines—bear the full aesthetic burden. Over the twenty years I edited a literary quarterly I remember the dozens of times I was engaged with a well-written story submission, only to be upset by a failed ending. I really wanted that story to deliver on its potential. So often story didn’t. The short story is a very demanding form that leaves no room for error.
  11. Everyone always talks about how hard it is to write. And it is hard. There’s the terror of the blank page, the three steps forward, two steps back torture of plotting, the trial and error of character development—not to mention the tyranny of the impossible deadline. And it never really gets easier, as we tend to challenge ourselves more with every project. For me, the worst part is the first draft, which is always somewhat of a slog. I love it and dread it at the same time. It’s like running a marathon when you’ve forgotten how to run. But you haven’t really, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Bird by bird. When I remember this, the writing is not quite so hard. And I am reminded that writing is not all angst and adverbs. Sometimes it’s actually—dare I say it—fun. There are undeniable pleasures, however fleeting or abstruse or just plain unfathomable to Other People (non-writers) they may be. Keeping them in mind can help us enjoy the writing process more, even on those days when we struggle to make our word count. The next time you sit down to write, notice—and applaud!—when you: Find just the right word. There is no better feeling than nailing the right word. And why shouldn’t it feel good: There are more than a million words in the English language, around 170,000 in current use. Most adult native speakers have a vocabulary of 20,000 to 35,000 words. So finding that one-in-a-million perfect word is reason to celebrate. Find just the right turn of phrase. This is related to the above—only it’s more complicated. This is one of the glories of prose, the one that’s closest to the glories of poetry. Okay, so it’s not poetry, but when you come up with a witty bit of alliteration or a new twist on an old cliché or line that drums a sweet rhythm, congratulate yourself. That’s creativity in motion. Solve an intricate plot puzzle. I write mysteries, which are by definition puzzles. Piecing together a new puzzle every time is part problem, part play. But as Hemingway pointed out, “there is a mystery in all great writing.” No matter what the genre, figuring out the mystery in the story we’re telling is gratifying on every level. Make yourself cry. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” When we bring ourselves to tears while writing a particularly moving scene, we have connected with at least one reader. And in so doing we’ve increased our odds on connecting with other readers as well. After all, there’s nothing like a good cry. Make yourself laugh. When I was an acquisitions editor, I acquired and developed a lot of humor books. Humor is a tough category, because it’s so subjective. But I figured if the writing made me laugh, it would make some other people laugh, too. Enough to warrant publishing the book—and I was usually right. In fiction, the best—and easiest—way to make the most readers laugh is not through one-liners, but through character-driven humor. Write characters that make you laugh, and readers will laugh with you. Bonus: You’ll benefit from all those endorphins released when you laugh, the feel-good hormones that can fuel your storytelling. Learn something new. When I get stuck, I do research. I google arcane topics, I conduct interviews with experts, I visit possible settings for scenes. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours tracking down wild orchids in Vermont, archaeological digs in the Middle East, luxe destination weddings all over the world. And that was just for THE WEDDING PLOT (which debuts next week). Fall in love with a new character. As an agent I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to sell stories with compelling characters. (One of the most common complaints I hear from editors is, “I just didn’t fall in love with the protagonist.) Bringing characters to life on the page is one of writing’s greatest satisfactions. In THE WEDDING PLOT, I wrote a scene with a character I’d not planned to be a part of the story, Bodhi St. George just came to me and I wrote him. I loved him, and that love prompted me to rework the story to accommodate his character. He was fun to write—and apparently fun to read. When my wise and wonderful editor Pete Wolverton read the story, he told me that I’d created this great character, a character readers would fall in love with, so we needed more of him in the book, so as not to disappoint them. I went back and wove Bodhi throughout more of the story, which was also fun. Work something you love into your story. Write what you know, that’s the old adage. But I tell my writing students: Write what you know, write what you love, write what you’d love to know. One of the great joys of writing is when you’re able to write about the things you love. That’s why there’s nature, Shakespeare, and dogs in all of my novels. And the scenes where these elements appear are always my favorite ones to write. Work someone you love into your story. Most of my characters are composites, built of the physical and psychological traits, virtues and vices, and qualities and quirks of many people, real and imagined. But that changed with THE WEDDING PLOT. I had just begun writing the first draft when my father died unexpectedly, and I was too distraught to do much of anything, much less write. But I had a deadline to meet. I ended up writing my dad into the book. This gave me something to do, a means by which I could honor The Colonel. It was as if he were right there on my shoulder, helping me write his story. I like to think that even now, somewhere he’s smiling. Surprise yourself. Right after Frost advised, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” he went on to advise, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Everyone loves surprises—especially those we create for ourselves. Be open to the unplanned, the unexpected, even the unwanted. And when you surprise yourself, go for it. Lose yourself. There are those magical, mystical moments when we find ourselves in the zone, so deeply engaged in the writing of our stories that we lose all track of time. We skip meals, we forget our friends and family, we even tune out texts and emails and phone calls. This is simply writer’s heaven. Get the job done. Sometimes the only contentment comes with meeting your word count goal. Soldier on, and then mark that day’s work as DONE. Whether you use checkmarks or gold stars or retail therapy rewards (which I prefer), acknowledge your achievement. Decorate the house. Joyce Carol Oates compares revising the first draft to decorating a house. You’ve got the first draft down on paper, you’ve built the house, but it’s not finished until you’ve decorated it. I love decorating, and I love revising. That’s when the real fun begins…. That’s Entertainment! Ultimately writing a novel means entertaining yourself. If we can’t entertain ourselves, why bother? Granted, it’s a hard-won entertainment—it’s a lot easier to binge Netflix or play video games or read someone else’s book—but nothing beats the pleasure of having written, and holding that book in your hand a year or two year later. I’m just saying.
  12. We are a people in search of a hero, always. And readers are a people in search of a heroine, always. One of the biggest problems I see in manuscripts—confirmed by editors when they pass on projects—is the protagonist. Your protagonist should be compelling and courageous. Heroes are, by definition, heroic. Your heroine should push herself to be braver than she thinks she can be, braver than readers think she can be, braver than you think she can be. There are all kinds of courage. Here are some thoughts on heroes, heroines, and the nature of heroism from authors who’ve given us some of the most memorable protagonists…. _______________________________________________________ “Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.” ―Peter S. Beagle “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” —Mark Twain “Over time, it’s occurred to me that my protagonists all originate in some aspect of myself that I find myself questioning or feeling uncomfortable about.” —Julia Glass “Bravery never goes out of fashion.” —William Makepeace Thackeray “You have to go out of your way as a suspense novelist to find situations where the protagonists are somewhat helpless and in real danger. —Nelson DeMille “I wanted to be my own heroine.” —Jesmyn Ward “Without heroes, we are all plain people, and don’t know how far we can go.” —Bernard Malamud “Alpha heroes, even uberalpha heroes, still win readers’ hearts. I like a masterful hero myself, but I also enjoy the idea that sometimes the heroine can be in charge.” —Emma Holly “Self-trust is the essence of heroism.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson “Characters stretching their legs in some calm haven generally don’t make for interesting protagonists.” —Darin Strauss “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” —Anais Nin “I’m not at all interested in the brave who fight against the odds and win. I am interested in those who accept their lot, as that is what many people in the world are doing. They do their best in ghastly conditions.” —Kazuo Ishiguro “I’ve found in the past that the more closely I identify with the heroine, the less completely she emerges as a person. So from the first novel, I’ve been learning techniques to distance myself from the characters so that they are not me and I don’t try to protect them in ways that aren’t good for the story.” —Beth Gutcheon “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” —C. S. Lewis “I’m not nearly as outrageously brave as many of my rascals that I write. But I think the rascal spirit must reside in me somewhere.” —Christopher Moore “[A] hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” —Joseph Campbell “My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded; some failed; most had mixed results … but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.” ―George R.R. Martin “My childhood was spent embracing one literary heroine after another. I identified passionately with each one and would slavishly imitate them.” ―Sophie Kinsella “See, heroes never die. John Wayne isn’t dead, Elvis isn’t dead. Otherwise you don’t have a hero. You can’t kill a hero. That’s why I never let him get older.” ―Mickey Spillane “There is perhaps no more rewarding romance heroine than she who is not expected to find love. The archetype comes in many disguises—the wallflower, the spinster, the governess, the single mom—but always with one sad claim: Love is not in her cards.” —Sarah MacLean “The life of the hero of the tale is, at the outset, overshadowed by bitter and hopeless struggles; one doubts that the little swineherd will ever be able to vanquish the awful Dragon with the twelve heads. And yet … truth and courage prevail, and the youngest and most neglected son of the family, of the nation, of mankind, chops off all twelve heads of the Dragon, to the delight of our anxious hearts. This exultant victory, towards which the hero of the tale always strives, is the hope and trust of the peasantry and of all oppressed peoples. This hope helps them bear the burden of their destiny.” ―Gyula Illyés “My favorite literary heroine is Jo March. It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a hot temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.” —J.K. Rowling “Heroine: a woman of heroic spirit; the principal female person who figures in a remarkable action.” —Mindy McGinnis “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” —G.K. Chesterton
  13. You will discover below a series of scholarly, researchable, frank and indispensable guides to conceiving and writing the commercial genre novel, as well as the plot-driven literary novel - all derived from our sister site, Novel Writing on Edge. However, the nature of the developmental peels and prods as presented makes an initial big assumption, namely, that you are honestly desirous of true publication either by a classic publisher or traditional literary press, and therefore, willing to birth the most dynamic and can't-put-it-down novel you possibly can. Further, you are also naturally desirous of great sets, mind-altering theme, unforgettable characters, and cinematic scenes, among other things. Does that go without saying? Perhaps, but you must know, it won't be easy. First of all, the method-based assertions and information we've gathered and elevated before your eyes below will shiver many of you like a 6.5 on the literary Richter scale because it will contradict some or much of what you've been told about novel writing elsewhere - at writer conferences, for example, by your writer's group, or by various content-marketing websites operated by amateurs (75%+) playing to their demographic. Second of all, we don't cut corners or hold back to simplify matters for off-track or rank beginners who might be driven away (starting right about now) by the realization of just how much needs to be learned and applied. And though more of you might be driven away immediately following the forthcoming assertion, it is nonetheless true: there are no "SEVEN EASY STEPS" or other shortcut gimmicks that will catapult you into becoming the author of an authentically fine novel. Anyone who believes otherwise is sadly ignorant. Nonetheless, if you are astute and mature enough to know there are many things about novel writing you don't know, but must learn, you've come to the right place. And yes, there is a whole mass of matter to absorb. We make no apologies. Our mission is to take you from A to Z. You should consider all that follows to be a kind of master primer, i.e., whatever is necessary to sufficiently comprehend the novel writing universe. We divide the exploration into three sections, each with their own rubrics. Just know, it makes no sense to begin writing a novel you plan on selling to publishers or even smaller presses without first having a relatively good idea whether they'll want to buy it in the first place. This concept is radical to many beginners, but it shouldn't be. And the concept that you can't balance an artistic approach with pragmatic story considerations is not only indefensible but contradictory. The first category approaches the reality of novel writing vs. the myths and the source of those myths. For many of you, it will create emotional responses up and down the spectrum from humor to melancholy and back, depending of course on your mood and experience thus far with the aforementioned universe. Regardless, the overall point is to make a valiant attempt to filter out the many falsehoods and misperceptions with extreme prejudice in order to begin the journey of novel writing with a clear head and a view towards realistic expectation. The second two categories are relatively self-explanatory. Just know, it makes no sense to begin writing a novel you plan on selling to publishers or even smaller presses without first having a relatively good idea whether they'll want to buy it in the first place. This concept is radical to many beginners, but it shouldn't be. And the concept that you can't balance an artistic approach with pragmatic story considerations is not only indefensible but contradictory. Btw, you might wonder if it's advisable to pass on any of the articles below, but it isn't. Everything we've included is considered vital. Even if you believe you have a certain element pretty well covered, don't believe you know it all. Most likely, you don't. Also, the potential exists that you've read or received advice that is counter productive. The advice featured here, however, is based on decades of experience in the business (e.g., hundreds of sessions at the New York Pitch Conference and many more hundreds in writer workshops across the U.S.), as well as lessons learned from great novel authors, playwrights, and screenplay writers - more about this model-and-context methodology found here (feel free to leave comments on any of the items that follow). Before we begin, a favorite quote from one of America's greatest authors, Truman Capote: As certain young people practice the piano or the violin four and five hours a day, so I played with my papers and pens... My literary tasks kept me fully occupied; my apprenticeship at the altar of technique, craft; the devilish intricacies of paragraphing, punctuation, dialogue placement. Not to mention the grand overall design, the great demanding arc of middle-beginning-end. One had to learn so much, and from so many sources. NOVEL WRITING TRIP WIRES, CHECKLISTS, EGO, AND VITAL FIRST STEPS The Author Dawn - Rise and Blink (tell us why) https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/the-author-dawn-rise-and-blink.html Ten Carefully Chosen First Steps For Starting the Novel (immerse, prep, reflect) https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/best-10-steps-for-starting-novel-all.html The Epiphany Light You Must Enter (major vision adjustment) https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/aspiring-authors-must-cross-epiphany.html Top Ten Worst Pieces of Writing Advice (and it gets worse) https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2015/04/top-ten-worst-pieces-of-writing-advice.html Top Worst "Worst Writer Advice" - Outrageous and Mind Boggling https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/top-worst-worst-writer-advice-advice.html Avoid Bad Writing by Name Authors! https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2008/10/new-writers-must-be-careful-of.html Bullet Point Reasons Why Editors Reject https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2017/02/timeless-and-valuable-editors-rejection.html Writer Groups - More Harm Than Good? https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/problems-with-writer-groups-where-to.html Seven Critical Novel Rejection Sins https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/seven-narrative-rejection-sins-bad.html Novel-Into-Film Checklist https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2019/07/check-points-to-turn-novel-into-film.html Important: Coverage Checklist for Aspiring Authors https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/important-coverage-checklist-for.html Top Seven Reasons Passionate Writers Fail https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2015/05/top-seven-reasons-why-aspiring-authors.html Writer Ego and the Imaginary Bob (Could this be you?) https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/writer-ego-and-imaginary-bob.html DEVELOPMENT REALITY - MAJOR POINTS OF PLOT AND MUCH MORE We endeavor to list the points below in the order they should be read, however, it isn't a perfect arrangement due to overlapping. Ideally, the high-concept premise must come first in any case. What is Your High-Concept Premise? https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/12/high-concept-sufficiently-unique-what.html The Need For Human Drama in the Novel https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/theme-plot-strong-character.html Loglines and Core Wounds as Development Tool https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/hook-lines-with-core-wounds.html The Novel's "Agon" - Vital Core Conflict https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/the-novels-agon-primary-conflict.html A Statement of Theme From the Dark Classics https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/cuckoos-rhinoceri-and-miss-l-i-admit.html Can You Choose a Great Title? Will You? https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/choosing-great-title-before-publication.html Setting is 60% - Maximizing Opportunities For Verve https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/great-settings-maximize-opportunity.html A Clever Dose of Antagonistic Force https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/antagonists-in-novel-most-important.html The Six Act Two-Goal Novel (premise, reversals, complications, major points) https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/the-six-act-two-goal-novel.html Classics Deliver the Key to Exposition https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/learning-exposition-from-classics.html Sympathy Factors in the Hook (protagonist or major character) https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/protagonist-sympathy-factors-in-hook.html Deep and Fresh Traits for Secondary Characters https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/deep-and-fresh-traits-for-majors.html ADVANCED NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE, SCENES, AND PROSE STYLE Dialogue - Never a Gratuitous or Boring Word https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/dialogue-never-gratuitous-word-or.html Writing Novel Scenes - Drama, Sex, and Sass https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/12/scenes-to-z-glue-drama-sex-sass.html Storyboard Considerations for Producing Effective Scenes https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2013/02/algonkian-writer-conferences-michael.html Four Levels of Third Person Point of View https://novelwritingonedge.com/2020/08/four-levels-of-third-person-pov.html Experiments in High Impact Narrative https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/12/experiments-in-high-impact-narrative.html A Great Damp Loaf of Description https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/12/a-great-damp-loaf-of-description.html Prose Narrative Enhancement https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/09/the-prose-description-questionnaire.html Brilliant Fiction Narrative in Four Stages https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/11/writing-brilliant-fiction-narrative-in.html Narrative Enhancement Via Nabokov https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/09/narrative-enhancement-via-nabokov.html "To Be" or Not? Too Much "Was" Will Hurt Your MS https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/boot-was-for-more-verve.html The Sublime Inner Voice of Godwin https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2020/10/interior-monologue-by-gail-godwin.html ________________________________
  14. The following are major pre-event assignments, readings, and guides (not including Part IV - Algonkian Novel Development Program) for Algonkian events, many of which are found on our NWOE sister site. Downloading, forwarding, or copying these assignments without the prior approval of Algonkian Writer Conferences is not permitted, however, routine utilization of the content in its extant form is permitted. Parts I, II, and II Pre-Event (includes eBook) Execution of the Pitch Model Assignment Recap and Dramatic Act Structure The Necessity of Publisher's Marketplace Prep for Agent Query Process NOTE: this is an information forum, not a response forum. Utilize the appropriate forums for posting necessary responses. _____________________________________ PART I Pre-event as follows. Part I of four parts. First, a seven short assignments forum that will persuade you to consider several crucial and foundational aspects of your commercial novel project. Consider them as a primer. Complete at your convenience and post the responses. Your responses to these assignments will be reviewed by faculty with an aim towards achieving a better understanding of your project and its current stage of development. NOTE: We recommend writing down the answers in a separate file and then copying them into the forum to prevent any possible loss of data. ____________ PART II The second instance of pre-event necessity as follows. Read carefully and complete in the proper order as noted. You might become a bit astonished from time to time but push through. It all makes perfect sense. Now comes the kindle eBook, or if you prefer, the same booklet found here as a PDF. In either case, you must faithfully absorb everything beginning with the first chapter, “Writer Ego and the Imaginary Bob,” and continue through “Settings are 60%.” This is vital to your potential success. It places emphasis on all the crucial core elements of novel development and editing that *will* be discussed in formal sessions. If you arrive at an Algonkian event not knowing the difference between a plot point and a pinch point, you will be swimming upstream from the first day and thereby seriously disadvantage yourself. Avoiding the study of proper technique won’t get novels published much less developed in a manner both artful and professional. Okay, much to do! Is it ever enough? No, but don’t recoil or hesitate if portions of the e-Book fail to comport with what you’ve been told elsewhere (writer groups, conferences, chat boards, etc.) because the odds are extremely high that what you’ve been told is wrong, if not potentially ruinous. Keep in mind, we all stand on the shoulders of those magnificent and capable authors who’ve preceded us. And remember too, there are no great writers, only great rewriters. ____________ PART III Quite often, after scoring well in a pitch session, the faculty person will ask us, “But can they write?” Premise and plot prod the necessary attention, but so many writers don’t cross the line because their actual prose narrative is not as competitive as it should be. Fact. In response to this circumstance we’ve created an online forum that serves two purposes. First, to demonstrate the best methods and techniques that should rightfully be considered when it comes to the creation of competitive narrative regardless of genre. Second, to act as a place where editors and agents will see the quality of your work up close. Use one of the two links above to get started asap. Simply open the topic linked above, read the guidelines and all the examples linked to Novel Writing on Edge, then edit your own opening hook accordingly. Once done, post at least 500 words by replying to the topic post. If you cannot include first pages at this time another good sample will suffice. Btw, you should already have an Author Connect member login if you’ve opened and utilized the Part I assignment (Seven Assignments). If you have not, please do so at the first opportunity. ___________ Execution of the Pitch Model Like so many other things, this is crucial to your success. Before you can sell a viable commercial novel to a publishing house, you must work towards the goal of writing a viable commercial novel while simultaneously learning how to artfully pitch it. You will have a minute to deliver the actual pitch, and if you think this is not enough time, think again. It is more than enough. The idea is to communicate clearly and hook your listener. Your pitch must include a SCENE SET (as necessary), a focus on your PROTAGONIST (tell it through their point of view), sufficient PLOT TENSION deriving from a PLOT POINT (an event/circumstance/action that significantly changes the course of the story), and finally, a wrap with a CLIFFHANGER. So what's a cliffhanger? Regardless of the genre, literary or thriller or SF, the cliffhanger begs the ultimate question, and it’s always the same in one way or another: WILL BECKY SAVE THE FARM AND LIVE TO TELL THE STORY? Once done, you want the conference editor or agent to ask for more. Please review the following guidance at Novel Writing on Edge where you’ll find two pitch models and further elaboration. You will be using this model at the Algonkian event: https://www.novelwritingonedge.com/2013/11/algonkian-writers-conference-first-prep.html _____________ Assignment Recap and Dramatic Act Structure By this time, you should have in your possession three main assignment mails, namely, Part I (Seven Assignments), Part II (Development eBook), and Part III (Prose Narrative Enhancement). These assignments serve two purposes: to enable you to conceive and write a more perfect novel, one that might actually sell; and secondly, to instill within you with a language and knowledge base that will make meetings with publishing and tv/film professionals far more productive. Now, the following statement should sound familiar. If a member of the faculty asks you to define your first major plot point, inciting incident, or last major reversal before climax, you must comprehend the nature of these plot elements (for starters!), and deliver the response in a manner that demonstrates you are a professional. Amateurs *always* stick out, and they say “um” a lot, thereby failing to live up to our motto: From the heart, but smart. Besides displaying a high concept premise, the faculty also expect your genre or upmarket tale to be creatively developed using a certain approach and structure—one also utilized by screenplay writers—namely, the dramatic act structure. Whether the novel is a single, coherent plot line, or a parallel plot line with two major protagonists, the overall story progression manifests a readily identifiable endoskeleton, so to speak, i.e., an array of familiar points and notes along a story arc from beginning to end. There is more than one version of this, but they all achieve pretty much the same results: the Three Act, Nine Act, and the Six Act Two-Goal. A very good example can be found here. The above is included with your assignments and its importance cannot be over stressed. One of THE biggest reasons novels by unpublished writers fail is because the author is not sufficiently adept at plotting. A novel with a great start but a “saggy middle” always results from an inadequate understanding of how plot must work in order to satisfy the needs and expectations of readers, agents, and editors. Quite often, writers will bring stories and pitches to the NY event that are nothing other than circumstances, sets, and characters mixed into a quasi-amorphous stew, whirlpooled into forced fusion like fragments of a television season. A sign this is the case can almost always be found in the pitch itself. Acquisition editors, experienced agents, and other professionals usually don’t expect to get much traction out of the usual writer conference, but our events always surprise them. We mean to keep it that way. Our reps are on the line, and the better you look, the better we look. The more subs requested, the more contracts cut, the more willing our faculty are likely to return. No question. We also love the publicity and energy generated when the contracts flow. Btw, if the information above doesn’t square with what you’ve been told up until now, then choose the wise path of change. Rewrite as necessary. _________________ The Necessity of Publisher's Marketplace You are well advised to join Publisher’s Marketplace. Why? Because it lists recent sales by agents to publishers broken down by genre and provides a neat story-hook line (log line) for each sale that serves as a potential model for you. PM shows precisely what type of work is now being published in your chosen genre, thereby providing a comparison for your own work, and as a bonus, you learn the identities of productive “in the loop” agents (good to know regardless of circumstances). All in all, if commercial publication is your goal, PM is invaluable. The search feature is efficient and fairly straightforward. Membership is around $20 per month, but well worth it. The type of knowledge PM provides will give you a distinct edge over the competition. _________________ Prep for Querying Agents Though addressing the query-agent stage of your long, hard slog to becoming a published author might seem premature at this point, questions concerning this process nevertheless always arise at Algonkian events. Rather than await the next round of probes on this matter, we’ve decided to link you to the article below. It succinctly covers the critical prep steps you must take prior to sending anything like a query to a commercial agent (if and when it comes to that). Also, it effectively overrides the usual incomplete and/or foolish advice on this matter which currently infects the Internet like an electronic pox. With these answers already in hand, further questions at the conference, in theory, should be more informed, and therefore, the answers more productive. ____________________________________
  15. These bullets of advice for writers in all genres were taken from a review of the SFF author Brandon Sanderson on the video forum and they're worth repeating here for emphasis: The concept of "borrowing" or getting story ideas, entire structure, or themes from other books or films can't hurt and might actually lead to publication; but I maintain you step carefully. The concept may already be overdone, a stale trope. His advised method of transposing the "structure" of one type of genre novel onto another can be productive--reminiscent of Italian writers in the old days transposing Japanese samurai scripts into spaghetti westerns. Another good example is the transposing of BATTLE ROYALE into THE HUNGER GAMES (different genre? debatable). Helpful to note plot points and/or scenes that successful stories have in common. Concept of "interviewing" your character to learn about them, is a very good one. Ask them questions, get in their heads, role play. Asking what character wants and needs, and how they're different. Careful with choice of primary protagonist viewpoint. The story needs to be personal to the viewpoint character. Partitioning a novel into three basic part: PROMISE, PROGRESS, PAYOFF. Yes, very basic, but helpful for new writers. Finally, his idea for "mind priming" before you hit the paper is a good one, e.g., you consider the ways in which you can make an important scene very visual and thrilling, and you roll it around in your head like a lozenge under the tongue. You savor it and play with it.
  16. MODULE IV READINGS AND ASSIGNMENTS Personality Types and The Counter Trait The Protagonist Transformational Arc Basics of Character Animation Sympathetic Character Factors in The Hook _________________________________________________________________________________ Personality Types and The Importance of Counter Trait When it comes to sketching any or all of your major and minor characters in the novel, you might benefit from considering the basic personality types first. Let's look at a few of these (how many of you have met these people in the workplace?): The Ultra-Feminine (sexual, fussy, a princess) The Perpetual Victim (you gotta feel for her) The Feminist (she can do it better than he can, banner raiser) The Adventurer/Risk Taker (Ayn Rand meets Tarzan) The Stoic (rock faced, nearly unmovable, hiding something?) The Superstitious (the stars are not right, omens abound, ghosts knocking on door) The Classic Bad Boss (we all know this type) The Wise Leader (minus the bad traits of the classic bad boss) The Brown Noser (yes-man to boss, tyrant to underlings) The Temperamental Wiz (artist, creator, technical wiz, writer, etc.) The Martyr (sets themselves up to suffer, and basks in it) The Benevolent Monk (spiritual mentor, quick with bromides, herbalist on prozac) The Comic Relief (oaf, stumbler, comedian, etc.) The Eccentric (wide variety of quirky forms, e.g., Howard Hughes, Angelina Jolie) The Extrovert (show off, lively, outgoing, perhaps flamboyant) The Introvert or Loner (usually has a secret project underway, drinks alone) The Fearful (nervous perhaps, full of trepidation, doom) The Negative or Pessimist (looks for the dark cloud first) The Positive or Optimist (will only say something good, avoids critical evaluation) The Manipulator (they've been scheming all along, surprise!) The Passive-Aggressive (snippy, uncooperative, sabotaging) The Perfectionist (must be a loner or a leader to get along) The Mr. Personality (classic backslapping "Hail Fellow Well Met") The Ms. Personality (same as above sans backslapping, cheerleader in HS) The Problem Solver (give them a puzzle and step back) The Narcissist (oozing their agenda and desire like boiling hot syrup) It's a relatively simple matter to use the categories above (and invent some of your own) to begin to sketch your characters, play with ideas, but first, you must consider the context, and before you do that, you must understand your story. Now, assuming the latter, let's pretend you are sketching a major sidekick character of some sort, and for their role in the story you wish them to be "The Eccentric" type above. Fine. Now you have a stereotype to work with. But wait! Let's throw a curve at the reader if possible, since that is always a great idea. You never want to be too predictable. Consider, HOW can you make your eccentric different? Well the first thing to do is bestow a peculiar eccentricity upon them, one we haven't heard of before. Chelsea of Bridgehaven cannot eat her rice cereal in the morning until she listens to it pop with her old ear trumpet. Whatever. You get the idea. Next, WHAT IF you mixed the ECCENTRIC with another personality type, for example, the EXTROVERT. Now you have an eccentric extrovert. What would that be like? Chelsea of Bridgehaven, with much ado, invites her unlucky relatives staying overnight to listen to the pop-pop of rice cereal with her new gold-rimmed, black ebony ear trumpet. Well, you get the idea. Mixing stereotypes may help you to reform the stereotype into something a bit different. They may help you invent a counter trait. What do we mean by counter trait? A trait or behavior of the character which seems, at the time, a bit out of character. The behavior or quirk surprises the reader. For example, the STOIC, after three gin and tonics, becomes an EXTROVERT show-off, or perhaps the known NEGATIVE personality interrupts a conversation wherein the participants are castrating male-female relationships to behave more like a POSITIVE or optimist, noting the beautiful and positive aspects of a good relationship. This leads in a backdoor way to the pairing of conflicting emotions. What do we mean by this? In other words, let's say your major character possesses an ideal or overriding goal in their life, but something happens to create doubt. For much of her life, Judy Overstein has wanted to be an attorney, and while eating lunch in D.C. one day, happens to hear a table full of seasoned lawyers talking about how much they hate their lives. The classic seed of doubt is planted. She returns to her law school studies, fighting back the sudden doubt that now creeps into her spine. Before, she was confidently optimistic, but now that emotion and viewpoint competes with doubt and the viewpoints of others. What will she do? What is your character's pair of conflicting emotions? Nothing like a good dose of internal conflict to keep us guessing. _________________________________________________________ The Transformational Arc of Protagonist While you're plotting your story you need to keep in mind the transformation of the protagonist, the phased development of their emotions and knowledge and values that takes place as the story evolves. But before you start mapping out your arc, realize that you cannot do so outside the context of your evolving plot line(s) and story elements. In other words, your plot line and protagonist transformational arc interweave as the dramatic tension rises and the complications, reversals, and stakes become defined. Let's look at the flow below to see a UNIT OF TRANSFORMATIONAL CONFLICT (UTC) that takes place repeatedly during the evolution of the plot line: PROTAGONIST STRUGGLES FOR PRIMARY GOAL => OBSTACLE PLACED => PRE-CONFLICT EMOTIONAL STATE => CONFLICT OCCURS => POST-CONFLICT EMOTIONAL STATE (MIGHT LATER RESULT EPIPHANY OR CHANGE IN PERCEPTION OR ATTITUDE ALTERATION) How your protagonist responds to obstacles and conflict reveals their character, and if, with every UTC above, you reveal a little more change in the protagonist, a little more agony or resolve or confusion, then you are hard at work composing your transformational arc down to the last brush stroke. Indeed, you won't have the arc fully detailed until the story is done, but you can map the basics in a general way. Nevertheless, bottom line, it's your protagonist's response to conflict and dilemma and upcoming crisis that creates empathy with your readership. Keep in mind these five A's as your protagonist reacts to the UTCs of the plot line: Awareness: Your character's consciousness that change or reinvention of oneself is necessary to respond to the conflict. Acceptance: Your character's emotional ability to let go of the old and move on to the new. Approach: Your character's creative exploration of strategic decisions; leading to and ending with their ultimate decision to act one way or another. Assemble: Planning and implementation of plan required to carry out their ultimate decision to act one way or another. Action: Acting one way or another in response to conflict. _________________________________________________________ Basics of Animation, and Sherwood Characters or story first? First of all, how can one possibly write an effective beginning unless one knows the tale? The story must be understood in its parts before the writer pens the opening narrative. Of course. And the characters must complement and fulfill. Various opinions exist regarding author control over the impulsiveness of character. Some say characters should be saddled to carry the story forward, the final destination dependent on the characters themselves, i.e., throw the character dice and the story must follow. The effective author, however, fleshes characters with strength of story and nature while assuming the role of chessmaster, major and minor characters moving according to a greater scheme or plan, checking and mating one another as the story progresses, fitting seamlessly into the flow. In the context of the novel, the animation of character occurs in two basic ways. It is either synergistically provoked, or story/conflict provoked--the latter by far making the strongest impression on the reader, for true depth of character is revealed only when the characters, narrator, antagonist or protagonist react to the major and minor complications, i.e., the conflict and/or difficult circumstance introduced by the story itself. In the The Great Gatsby, for example, Gatsby reacted to the manslaughter of Myrtle Wilson by accepting blame to protect Daisy, meeting his death because of it, while his nemesis, Tom Buchanan, reacted with cowardice and falseness. By their actions shall you know them! Synergistically-provoked characterization refers to that complex synergy of manner, voice, appearance, attitude, reaction, anecdote, and whatever other elements the author applies to the character. Sherwood Anderson was a master at quick and lively character animations of this kind, not only choosing unique characters but also involving them in anecdotes, social relationships, and other character reactions which aided greatly in portraying the character. Using these methods, Anderson was effectively able to render a character memorable despite the lack of powerful complication. For example, from Winesburg, Ohio we have Joe, portrayed by Anderson using the following methods: Backstory and description of what makes Joe special: he has lived with his mother, location of the house, father's occupation, a physical description, then an illustration of Joe's physical problem: "... one who walks upon his fellow men, inspiring fear because a fit may come upon him suddenly and blow him away into a strange uncanny physical state in which his eyes roll and his legs and arms jerk." Additionally, Joe would be "seized" with ideas, a need to change things for the better. This engages reader sympathy and concern. Physical aspects: Hands: "running a thin, nervous hand through his hair. Eyes: wide, rolling "with a strange absorbed light ..." Gait: rapid Smile: peculiar, glistening gold teeth; Manner: would excitedly pounce on people with his ideas and plans. Body: small, slight Short anecdote: Men are standing about discussing a local horse race when Joe bursts in on the scene and commences ranting on the subject of the local creek water. He finishes, turns around and goes about his business as if nothing had happened. Short Anecdote: Anderson moves back in time to recall an incident in which Joe had cornered George (the main character) and ranted and thrashed about the newspaper and how he could improve it if given the chance. Social Relationships: These balance out his eccentricity, make him well rounded for the reader's approval. Joe wanted to be a baseball coach, and the town approved. A baseball game is described, the excitable Joe urging his players on. Character revealed based on the reaction of others: Joe also has a love affair and must go to meet his girlfriend's relatives. The author notes their mean nature and the reader fears for Joe. Suspense is inherent at anticipation of the meeting; however, the relatives laugh, mesmerized by Joe's antics. Because Joe is a minor grotesque of sorts, in that he is eccentric and odd, his portrayal easier, more memorable. Like Anderson, if you choose a character that maximizes the methods you use to portray them, you're ahead of the game, however, learning the methods utilized here is what matters. They can be applied again and again, towards fleshing any character, regardless of inherent oddity, or lack thereof. _________________________________________________________ Sympathetic Character Factors in The Hook If you've won a Pulitzer you might consider disregarding the advice in this section, but it's not advisable. Look at the percentage of novels on the shelf right now that concentrate on creating a character the reader will become concerned with without hesitation. Quite a few, yes? A novel hook with an interesting, unique, and sympathetic character will make agents sit up and take notice. This is vital to avoiding a rejection slip. Examples of what we're talking about as follows. The name of the character in question follows the title and author. All of the factors listed appear in the first 10 to 15 pages. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon Christopher John Francis Boone A first-person narrative from an autistic 15-year-old protagonist: "My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057." He finds a dead dog with a garden fork sticking out of it and describes the scene in a detached, emotionless manner, until: "I had been hugging the dog for four minutes when I heard screaming." So this autistic child has a heroic capacity for caring and sympathy. He tells us he likes dogs because they are faithful and "they do not tell lies because they cannot talk." This gives us a sense that the character is moral--which becomes all the more poignant and sympathetic when he is unjustly accused by police of killing the dog. He decides to write a murder mystery about the incident. When his teacher Siobhan suggests that a murder mystery about a human might be more compelling, the boy protests that some dogs are cleverer and more interesting than some people. Steve, for example, who comes to the school on Thursdays, needs help to eat his food and could not even fetch a stick ... Thus the protagonist is revealed as a keen and objective observer of the world around him, and in hilarious fashion. Summary Talented and unique - Possesses a handicap - Shows compassion towards others - Possesses a moral sense - Undertakes a challenging task that requires brains and bravery ____________________________ The First Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom Eddie Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. The protagonist is old and infirm, yet polite and optimistic. As a kid, he fought to protect his older brother. Scrappy, brave, and protective. He likes kids, and they like him. He gives them candy and makes animal figures for them from pipe cleaners. These children are not the offspring of relatives or friends. They are kids that know him from the amusement park where he works. It is hard not to be sympathetic toward someone who likes kids and is kind to them. He is generous. He gives his last two $20 bills to a dishwasher so the man can buy something for his wife. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him as he tries to save a girl from a falling cart. Summary Possesses a handicap - Protects the weak/shows courage - Generosity and compassion towards others - Brave and self-sacrificing ____________________________ The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd Lily Owen Anecdote: When Lily was four, she witnessed a fight between her mother and her father and intervened when she saw a gun in her mother's hand. In the scuffle of the fight, the gun went off; Lily was blamed for her mother's death. Anecdote: Lily awakens her father to see the spectacle of swarming bees in her room. When they arrive in her room the bees have vanished and her father, a mean and uncaring man, threatens to severely punish her if she ever again awakens him to anything less than finding the house in flames. Physical descriptions: Lily's hair is black, like her mother's, but is cowlicky and she looks unkempt because she's never had a woman in her life who could guide her in how to take proper care of herself. She's a fourteen-year old white girl, has almost no chin, but does have Sophia Loren eyes, even though this attribute isn't enough to get her noticed by even the loser-guys. She wears ill-fitting clothes she makes for herself in home ec. class at school because her father won't let her buy any new clothes. Personal Attributes: She's clever, imaginative and bright. The swarm of bees fascinates, rather than frightens her. One of her teachers tells her that she's very intelligent and she shouldn't settle for any career short of being a professor or writer. This sets her to reevaluating possibilities in her life because, prior to this, her highest aspiration had been to attend beauty school and become a hairdresser. Summary Brave and self-sacrificing - Victim of an antagonistic personality - Pitiable due to struggle to compensate for abusive antagonist - Possesses special gifts ____________________________ The Life of Pi by Yann Martel Piscine Molitor Patel General Background: He was raised in Pondicherry, India, the small, formerly French-occupied section of India, at a zoo where his father was founder, owner, director, head of a staff of fifty-three, and which Piscine viewed as "paradise on earth." He was educated at the University of Toronto where he double-majored in religious studies and zoology. General Concern: The first two lines in the book, bring instant concern for him: "My suffering left me sad and gloomy," and goes on to say, "Academic study and the steady, mindful practice of religion slowly brought me back to life." Attitude toward Life: He has suffered a great deal in life, and reports and he has learned to adjust to the pain of being alive by accepting both the folly of success and the slight one feels when success slips from reach. He concludes that the reason death always hovers nearby is because of its love for life and we get the sense he loves life. He appreciates the abundance of resources he has access to and we're to assume this is a love cultivated through great deprivation. Personal Attributes: He's a hard-working, determined person who is very bright, very observant, and infinitely patient. He was the only one in his family who learned how to swim, but he was determined to learn because of his great respect for the man who wanted to teach him and who was responsible for his name, which he shares with a famous Paris swimming pool. He excelled in school and while gathering data for his degree in zoology, he concentrated on observing the sloth in its natural habitat because, "... its demeanour—calm, quiet and introspective—did something to soothe my shattered self." Summary Victim of "suffering" - He's a fighter - Introspective/observant/wise - Unique personality ____________________________ Bel Canto by Ann Patchett Roxane Coss Special Attributes: Roxane is a gifted opera diva. She possesses a voice of crystalline clarity so richly textured everyone who hears her sing can instantly appreciate the wonder and beauty of her vocal talent. It matters little the background of the listener. They may have come to her performance with a well-trained ear or they may have no more understanding of music than can be gathered from a life spent slogging through the mud of a harsh jungle environment; they may have been listening to music all their long-lived lives, or they may be young children staying up past their bedtimes; they may be women, men or adolescents—no matter, gratitude for having heard her is universal among those who have had the privilege of hearing her perform. Reactions of Others: Men desire her. All of the men in attendance at the concert long to be included in the kiss given her in the dark by her accompanist. One of the most powerful businessmen in Japan has flown half-way around the world to be in her presence even as he dislikes traveling, dislikes celebrating his birthday and the occasion is his birthday, and dislikes being with large groups of people he doesn't know, which is the current venue. Over the five years that he's been aware of her talent, he has sought out her performances around the world. She obviously has a magnetic pull on people. Her accompanist willingly places himself as a shield between her and the invading guerrillas. Not until he is poked with guns does he relinquish his protective covering of her body. Physical Attributes: On the floor, her hair spread out around her in such a wondrous array, each terrorist makes a point of walking past her just to look at her beautiful hair. Her perfume is delicate yet intoxicating, again noticeable by the guerrilla soldiers even on this night when the air is pungent with the near-presence of death. Personal Attributes: She is generous with her talent and offers to sing in the dark before the assembled audience becomes aware of the horror of the circumstance they're in. As she lies on the floor, she removes the hairpins from her hair and places them on her stomach in case others can use them as weapons, giving us a sense that she is also a bit brave, another sympathetic character trait. Summary Unique talent/accomplished - Magnetic presence - Cherished by Others - Generous - Courageous ____________________________ Third Degree by Patterson and Gross San Francisco Homicide Lieutenant Lindsay Boxer The protagonist is a successful woman in a traditionally male occupation (homicide detective), and she has earned the respect of her male colleagues. She owns a dog and talks to it as if it were a roommate. She uses her body to shield the dog from harm in a dangerous situation. She is brave; she goes into a burning building to save strangers. She risks her life to save a young child. Summary Successful - Gutsy - Loves Dogs - Risks Life to Save Others ___________________________________________________________ ASSIGNMENT: As with your antagonist, sketch your protagonist using all the categories above. Define them carefully, use anecdotes to illustrate their personality (make certain to have read WINESBURG OHIO before you do this). Pay special attention to the backstory. What is it? Where do they come from? What has their life been like before the story began? Also, note their "pairing of conflicting emotions" if appropriate. Not a bad idea, these conflicting emotions. Note at least five things in your first 10 to 15 pages that will make your protagonist (or a major character/narrator) sympathetic, interesting, and unique; and also note the context, i.e., what is happening in the scene(s) to make all this apparent. Show, don't tell. Note the "counter trait" for at least two of your major characters in your novel, and do so involving short anecdotes of 100 words or less. Note one UTC for your protagonist. Sketch it out based on the UTC flow, in 100 words or less. Referencing your story elements noted in Modules I and III, define the general nature of your protagonist character arc from beginning to end. Use the Six Act Two-Goal structure as an outline for separating your arc into segments. Your protagonist should endure at least seven general, though distinct, phases of emotional/intellectual change as the story goes forward. ___________________________________________________________
  17. What makes for good drama is a constant. To begin, we combine Siegal's "nine act structure - two goal" screenplay (very much like the Syd Field three act except that the "reversal" from Field's structure joins "Act 5" in Siegal's version) with the Field classic three act. The Two-Goal Structure, Siegal maintains, creates more dynamic plot tension due to the insertion of PLOT REVERSAL later in the story. We concur. NOTE: "Plot Point" is defined here as a major occurrence that emphatically changes the course of the story. In the genre novel as a whole, we see three to five major plot points depending on various factors: a first PP that begins the rising action, second PP defined by the first major reversal, a third PP defined by a possible second major reversal, a climax PP, and a theoretical PP residing in the denouement, i.e., we think the story is going to resolve a certain way after climax, but a surprise happens that resolves it in a way not expected. Algonkian Writer Conferences developed the Six Act Two-Goal novel planning outline for all writers of novel-length dramatic fiction, regardless of genre, as well as narrative non-fiction. The point is to utilize a tightly plotted act structure, similar to that used by screenplay writers, to effectively brainstorm and produce competitive, suspenseful plots for the genre novel (fantasy, SF, YA/MG, mystery, thriller, crime, historical, women's fiction, etc.). Upmarket or literary fiction utilizing strong plot lines also benefit (see examples below). We do not dismiss other forms of novel outlining out of hand, simply recommend this one as being a strong and tested framework not only for breaking into mainstream publishing, but for later translating the novel into a film as efficiently as possible. In the opening of a story ignited directly or indirectly by the antagonist, the protagonist(s) are focused to embark on their primary task, challenge, journey, or struggle (first major plot point), and thus follows a "first major goal" to win that struggle, thereby initiating the second act of the story (Syd Field model); however, by the middle of the second act or later, the protagonist(s) realize they have pursued the wrong goal. A second goal is now needed. The protagonist(s) are therefore forced to alter their course and struggle to accomplish a new and presumably more productive means-to-an-end. To put it simply, storming the walls didn't work and now the Trojan Horse solution is needed. Finding the wizard wasn't sufficient, now the little band of heroes must steal the Wicked Witch's broom. Acquiring a reasonably priced rest home for her mentally unstable father failed, now the impoverished daughter must prepare a room in her basement. Attempting to flee got his knees pulped by a sledge hammer, now the captive author must connive a more subtle and deceptive means of escape. The fusion of the Siegal and Field models we outline below thus becomes a tighter six act model for the novel or narrative nonfiction. However, before you begin using the SATG, take note that your most important elements to sketch and produce from the onset are your: High Concept Story Protagonist Hook and Core Wound Defined (+ General "P" Definition ) Antagonist The Novel "Agon" Rich and Potent Setting BTW, keep in mind that you construct your novel in units of scene, and every scene drives the plot line(s) forward. NOTE: we use examples of novels, stories and films below that will likely be familiar to the widest range of readers. These include ANTIGONE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE HUNGER GAMES, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, GLADIATOR, THE GREAT GATSBY, WAR OF THE WORLDS, CATCHER IN THE RYE, CITIZEN KANE, HARRY POTTER, DA VINCI CODE, THE MALTESE FALCON, THE SUN ALSO RISES, COLD MOUNTAIN, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and MISERY. But make no mistake, the rules governing the art of fiction, or good storytelling, remain steady regardless of genre, and have pretty much been fixed since Apollonius of Rhodes wrote about the Argonauts. And if you happen to be one of those writers who believes that writing a novel "your way" or simply "from the heart" or "only with my character's direction" means avoiding or denying the critical elements of commercial fiction and good storytelling found below, it‘s best to move on quickly from this page and seek the Elysium of your desire. All best wishes to you. ACT ZERO Backstory to Set Up the Tale You must carefully forge your backstory before you begin. Understand the issues below. This does not directly appear in the story except by use of flashback and via other methods to DELIVER EXPOSITION: Writers set up the disaster that is coming in the story. Forces need to already be in motion in order to create conflict for the characters. Usually the emphasis for the backstory will be on the antagonist, but even protagonists carry baggage into the story. Years and years of planning might have gone into the collision course. ACT ONE (Page 1 - 30+) Issues of The Hook: Protagonist Intro - Antagonist First? - Inciting Incident - Extreme Importance of Setting - Establishment of Characters - The MacGuffin - In Media Res - Crucial Sympathy Factors - Something Bad Happens - Exposition - Theme? What needs to be done from the start? Why is the hook of Act I critical to this novel and to being taken seriously as a writer? The author showcases their BEST PROSE AND NARRATIVE SKILLS. Opening scenes clearly use show-don't-tell effects to render the protagonist and major characters as necessary. Scenes themselves have clear beginnings, middles, and ends. Point of view is rendered masterfully on both a distant and close level. Narrative and story progression don't feel overly derivative, but rather fresh and suspenseful, definitely engaging. And btw, Algonkian Writer Conferences recommend you consider utilizing the SCENE STORYBOARD GUIDE at this point to sketch important scenes ahead of time (crucial). Act I foreshadows the primary external conflict or complication (related to the protagonist goal in ACT II) to come. SYMPATHY FACTORS in the first 20 pages, or fewer, are critical for connecting the reader with your protagonist. We must see the character playing out their role in active scenes. We learn about them, their strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and flaws, and we learn these things by virtue of their actions, various internal concerns and conflict, and in the way other characters react to them in real time (vital--set up SECONDARY CHARACTERS whose role, at least in part, it is to reveal the traits and inclinations of the protagonist). Conflict begins on one or two of three levels (primary story conflict, inner conflict(s), and interpersonal conflict). THREE LEVELS OF CONFLICT. Setting is established (and it must be one that works TO CREATE VERVE AND OPPORTUNITIES). IN MEDIA RES may be employed here ("beginning in the middle"), ie, beginning where it most benefits the story, at a point of action, turmoil, or during a lively or curious event, etc. Something bad, irritating or tension-causing usually happens (Chief Bromden gets electro-shocked in the CUCKOO'S NEST or Jake debates his impotency with his ex-girlfriend in THE SUN ALSO RISES) or has just happened (murder victim found in the mayor's plum tree). An INCITING INCIDENT may take place that sets in motion events leading to the FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT (see Act II below). In the movie, GLADIATOR, Commodus murders his Emperor father (Inciting Incident) which inevitably leads to the Emperor's general, Maximus, realizing the murder. He defies Commodus and faces execution (Plot Point) as a result. In King's MISERY, the author protagonist gets in a car accident and is rendered helpless (Inciting Incident). Kathy Bates finds him and imprisons him in her house (Plot Point). In ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, McMurphy is sent to the asylum as a result of a fight (Inciting Incident) and later bets the inmates that he can shake up the Big Nurse and not get sent to the shock shop (Plot Point). The author cleverly PARCELS IN EXPOSITION in a variety of ways, via narrative, dialogue, characters, flashbacks, etc. NOTE that all major exposition must be delivered before or during the scene wherein the FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT takes place. All information necessary to understand the story going forward must be known. Pardon the cliche, but exposition horse before the plot point cart at all times. In THE SUN ALSO RISES, Jake delivers the final round of exposition about his love, Brett Ashley, to his rival, Robert Cohn, just as Robert is making it known he wants Brett for himself. Jake reveals Brett's background and future plans (Exposition), and Robert indicates his plans for pursuing her (Plot Point). THE MACGUFFIN, if any, might well be introduced or foreshadowed as an object (or even goal) which catalyzes the plot line, or at least assists creates a source of mystery or tension (THE MALTESE FALCON or the mysterious head scar on HARRY POTTER). Something called THEME might well get a foothold here. Does the author have a message or a bigger point she or he wishes to portray in the plot, or by means of the character struggles, their conflicts and arcs, or perhaps by means of the setting itself? All the above? And theme doesn't have to be the exclusive province of literary or upmarket literature. Regardless, here are some great examples of theme from the dark classics. Please read and consider writing a "theme statement" for your own novel. It can't help but inform your work and make it richer and more relevant to the reader. The ANTAGONIST AND HIS OR HER MINIONS (if any), are introduced to a meaningful degree, along with more characters as necessary, or sidekicks of the protagonist. Note to Writer: don't create a minor or major character who doesn't somehow play a role in the development of the plot(s) and/or the protagonist arc. And they must create a presence on the stage of the page, either by virtue of their personality, position, attitude of the moment, or all of the above. You must consider and weigh and sketch each character carefully. Imagine they are all in a film. Will they seem gratuitous or vital to you? Sufficiently energetic or too quiet? The PRIMARY ANTAGONIST might remain a mystery (Lord Voldemort in HARRY POTTER), or be introduced first (the Big Nurse in CUCKOO'S NEST or the Opus Dei albino in DA VINCI CODE or the Wicked Witch in WIZARD OF OZ) to produce dramatic concern once protagonist accepts the goal. NOTE: The above is a very important dramatic effect. If you understand to a meaningful degree the power of the antagonist, whoever she or he may be, then instinctive concern for the protagonist enters the reader's mind as soon as she or he accepts the goal in ACT TWO (see below). ACT TWO (Page 10+ - 50+) More Hook: Write the Story Statement - Establishment of Major Goal - Primary External Conflict or Complication Begins - First Major Plot Point and Plot Line - Protagonist Psychology - Rising Action What's the mission? The goal? What must be done? Created? Accomplished? Defeated? Defy the dictator of the city and bury brother's body (ANTIGONE)? Place a bet that will shake up the asylum (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST)? Do whatever it takes to recover lost love (THE GREAT GATSBY)? Save the farm and live to tell the story (COLD MOUNTAIN)? Find the wizard and a way home to Kansas (WIZARD OF OZ)? Note that all of these are books with strong antagonists who drive or catalyze the plot line going forward. Note to Writer: If you can't write a simple story statement like above (which builds into your hook/log line) then you don't have a work of commercial fiction. Keep in mind that the PLOT LINE is an elaboration of the statement, of the primary complication. Also, look over the brief summaries of films and novels in the SAMPLE LOG LINES PDF. These contain the simple statement, but more elaborated into a short hook. Necessary Preparation Steps for the Author: (members utilize the AAS technique guides) Write the story statement. Make it clear. Brainstorm necessary complications, reversals, and conflicts on all levels. Write a short synopsis to reveal the major elements and clarify. Sketch the plot line(s) with notes on the proper settings. Write the hook/log line and listen to how it sounds. The FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT therefore takes place that establishes your protagonist‘s overall goal. In other words, the course of the action or plot changes, often drastically, and usually with a change of setting. Success seems possible. The RISING ACTION of the story truly begins with the launch of the primary external conflict or complication. A means to achieve the goal is decided. The work begins, the war begins, the feet hit the bricks, the plan to reunite the lovers is initiated. The graph has begun to rise and it won't stop until after the CLIMAX. In other words, the protagonist commits to the goal(s). But why? What is the motivation? What are the internal and external issues involved? She or he may go willingly into the situation because the alternative is worse, or to help an apparent victim. She or he may undertake the task not realizing the true dangers or complications ahead, out of ignorance. Another character might trick or push the protagonist into situation. ACT THREE (Page 50+ - 250+) Plot Line Evolution: Minor Reversals - Complications - Thee Levels of Conflict - Major Reversal Time - Plot Points - The Martians are Winning The dramatic pursuit of the goal evolves. The FIRST GOAL (the means to the end) within the master goal (the final desired result) is pursued (see STORY STATEMENT above), but this will eventually lead your protagonist to a firewall or dead end, or what is known as the MAJOR REVERSAL in the parlance of our times (Dorothy gets to Oz, but no Kansas until the broomstick is fetched). Members should utilize the AAS craft and technique guide modules. NOTE: This act pulls out all the stops to create tension, angst, conflict, and issues for the protagonist and appropriate characters to resolve: MINOR REVERSALS TAKE PLACE: protagonist(s) struggle, perhaps score small victories of one sort or another, but these are almost always reversed. For example, McMurphy organizes the inmates and theatrically pretends to watch the World Series in defiance of the Big Nurse, but she makes her will known later and punishes him (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST). The Wicked witch makes Dorothy and company take a poppy snooze right on the verge of OZ, and later, the Guard at OZ tells them no one gets in, no way, no how! MINOR COMPLICATIONS TAKE PLACE: in other words, things happen that have a notable negative physical or emotional impact on the protagonist or those he/she cares about. These are not as strong as minor reversals, but action must be taken to overcome them. McMurphy takes the inmates out for a boat ride, but conflict at the dock with the boat captain and a need to make a quick escape takes place (ONE FLEW OVER). Meanwhile, Scarecrow hassles with crows, Tin Man is rusted, Lion overcompensates for cowardice, and Witch throws fireball. And know that "minor complications" can be fairly serious. In WAR OF THE WORLDS the major character had to bludgeon an insane curate to prevent him from giving away their hiding place to the Martians. You get the picture. But how many of them? Good question. Assignment: open up and read three of the best novels in your genre that you can find. Analyze the scenes and pick out the reversals and complications. Make a list. Report back. Whether upmarket or genre, MINOR COMPLICATIONS combine with MINOR REVERSALS to continually spike the narrative and story. It can't be easy for the protagonist and/or her companions. If too easy, you inevitably build to classic mid-novel sag. Tension runs out, wheels spin, and an inexperienced writer pads the middle with lumps of dull narrative and quiet situation. Ugh. "Best Wishes" rejection letter on the way. Off to a minor eBook publisher who will publish you if you have more than 100 Facebook members. Note: as a bonus, complications and reversals also assist greatly in maintaining all three levels of conflict (see above). Also, prior to climax, we may have a smart and strong reversal or complication which serves to introduce a twist or an unexpected event in the story (sometimes called a MIDPOINT CLIMAX).o Pinch Points Reveal and Reinforce the Antagonist Aims Pinch Points: an example or reminder of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force that is not filtered by the hero's experience. We see it for ourselves in a direct way as a scene that provides a glimpse into the villain's mind. The antagonist reaffirms his or her goal to delay, injure, stop, crush, or kill the protagonist. The intent is manifest and the concern for the protagonist is elevated. There should be two and situated near the 3/8 mark and the 3/5 mark in the manuscript. In ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST a pinch point takes place at the 3/5 mark when the Big Nurse informs the assembled hospital staff just what kind of cruel fate is in store for McMurphy. Crisis Point or MAJOR REVERSAL = Second Major Plot Point We've already noted what happened to Dorothy. In Stephen King's MISERY, after the captive author protagonist has his knees sledge-hammered by Kathy Bates (God, that hurt!) to prevent him from trying to escape again, he knows he's been using the wrong means to pursue the master goal (ie, to escape). He must now reboot and choose another path, a second goal to achieve the master goal (escape). To accomplish, the author conceives a new plan of theatrical cooperation with his captor, the new goal within the master goal being to trick her into passivity and lure her into a trap whereupon he can knock her senseless. In general, at this point, backstory issues, mysterious strangers, twists and turns and events all point out that your protagonist is on the wrong track, and the antagonist graph is rising. The Martians are conquering Earth and the Big Nurse is slowly tightening a noose around McMurphy's neck. Once more, success seems possible. INTERNAL CONFLICT IS ON THE INCREASE ALSO. Of course, and so is interpersonal conflict. All three levels of conflict are rising! But back to the protagonist for a moment ... Why should she or he turn back now? Why doesn't he/she? What's at stake? Is there a DILEMMA? What makes your protagonist realize the unavoidable importance of her/his original goal? What gives it new meaning? Does someone die? Do the stakes raise? Does reputation suffer or threaten to diminish? We must have a answer. This is true drama. Storytelling at its finest. ACT FOUR (Page 200+ - 375+) Second Major Plot Point - New Rising Action and Suspense - Conflict Levels - Climax - Victory at a Cost Opens with the SECOND MAJOR PLOT POINT as protagonist pursues the new and truly productive goal (the author of MISERY decides to write the novel Kathy wants in order to enact his new scheme to escape). The characters get that final clue, the missing piece to the puzzle, which allows them to make the necessary changes to successfully complete the plot line. Success seems more possible than ever despite MINOR REVERSALS OR COMPLICATIONS which may continue to take place. The final clue or missing piece to the puzzle is found. Possible surprise or twist takes place (the traitor is revealed--or this is reserved for CLIMAX or DENOUEMENT) All three conflict levels continue to build, however, some interpersonal conflicts may be resolved by this point. This builds to CLIMAX, and the protagonist will usually win out over the antagonist, but victory or success must come at a price (such as the death of a favorite character: the sheriff in MISERY is killed by Kathy just before climax). Climax should be the most intense plot point in the story, but the intensity and nature of that intensity depends on the needs of the genre and the nature of the story. While the climax is the moment when the decisive event occurs, plot development is a process that occurs throughout your novel (see above). As we've noted, the reader must see how main character behaves at the start of the novel, and understand how her/his nature is challenged by the main goal. In HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Huck thinks about going against morality of the day and writing Miss Watson where the Phelps family is holding Jim. Instead, he follows his conscience and he and Tom free Jim, and Tom is shot in the leg in the attempt (victory at a cost). You can also have a double climax. For example, in HARRY POTTER, when the heroes find and escape with a magical hoarcrux, that's a climax, but a climax is when Harry finally defeats the chief antagonist, Lord Voldemort. After the climax, you must show the reader the outcome, and how it is good or bad for the main character. Important! ACT FIVE (Page 300+ - 400+) Denouement - Loose Ends Wrapped - Theme Wrap - Conclusions - Resolutions - A Final Surprise? Denouement wherein all loose ends resolved, a final surprise perhaps, hint of the sequel perhaps, but readers on their way with the emotions the writer wants them to feel (Fitzgerald actually saved final exposition regarding Gatsby for the denouement following Gatsby's death). Internal Resolution and With Theme or No What does the protagonist and possibly other characters learn as a result of climax? How does this manifest itself going forward? How are things different? How are they changed, especially the protagonist? In CATCHER IN THE RYE, Holden leaves it ambiguous as to whether he's "better" or not, and many would say there is no "better" anyway; he just has to grow up, painfully and with a lot of depression thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, we look to the last line of the novel for another take on the conclusion: "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody." Perhaps then, the conclusion to Holden's initial conflict (the tension between wanting to connect but hating everyone) is that he did in fact connect – in one way or another – with everyone he met. The new question isn't whether or not one should connect, but whether or not the pain of inevitable loss is worth the initial gain. From SPARKNOTES, we have a slice of theme from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: The most important theme of this novel is the book's exploration of the moral nature of human beings--that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem's transition from a perspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people are good because they have never seen evil, to a more adult perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the book's important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and, as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his discovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite Tom's conviction, Jem's faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and he retreats into a state of disillusionment. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. _______________ ________________________________ [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  18. Algonkian Writers Conference Programs and Events - Ongoing Queue: Manuscripts to Market Editorial Service - $1500+ (Novels - Most Genres) - Ongoing Admissions: Novel Development and Editorial Program, $299 - Online Courses ___________ - September 19 - 22, 2024 : Write to Pitch 2024, LIVE IN NEW YORK, $895 - (Map/Directions) - September 25 - 29 2024 : Algonkian Workshop Retreat in VA, $1195 - (Map/Directions) - November 6 - 10, 2024 : Monterey Writer Retreat, $1095 - (Map/Directions) - December TBA, 2024 : Write to Pitch 2024, LIVE IN NEW YORK, $895 - (Map/Directions) - February TBA, 2025 : St. Augustine Author-Mentor, $1289 - (Map/Directions) All the above events begin before you arrive and continue after you depart with pre-event and post-event novel editorial, writing, and development forums. Additionally, all events include the Algonkian Novel Development eBook, originally created solely for the New York Write to Pitch Conference. ALGONKIAN WRITER EVENTS AND PROGRAMS They Begin Before You Arrive and Continue Upon Departure - All Genres. What does the above mean? Prior to the start of any given event, writers receive critical, publisher-reviewed assignments, readings, and must-do checklists, many of which are found in the Algonkian novel writing forums at AA Connect. Additionally, at the conclusion of events, and for manuscript polish purposes, writers are provided with a supplemental novel editorial program that includes additional faculty consultation. We know that if you are beginning a novel or working on one in-progress, or if you have a completed ms and require a strong reality check, you must receive professional, highly focused reaction not only to your prose and narrative, but to your story premise (most important), plot points, antagonist, secondary characters, conflict lines, theme, and all else. Our ultimate goal, therefore, is to increase your odds of becoming a published author by showing you how to inhabit that upper percentile of writers who will have their work taken seriously by professionals in the business. - Michael Neff, Director
  19. Develop, Write, or Rewrite Your Breakout Novel Step-by-Step Courses Followed by Editorial Consult and Agent Query Process - $299.00 This novel writing and editorial program conducted online here at AAC was brainstormed by the faculty of Algonkian Writer Conferences and later tested by NYC publishing professionals for practical and time-sensitive utilization by genre writers (SF/F, YA, Mystery, Thriller, Historical, etc.) as well as upmarket literary writers. It is designed specifically for those who are currently in the process of writing or rewriting the novel. The goal is to get you as close to the brass ring as possible, to make your novel as commercially competitive as it needs to be on all levels while avoiding critical missteps, bad advice, and exorbitant prices. And it does not matter what stage your novel is currently in, or where you are in your writing life. The program steps and methodology, as well as the faculty, enable you to learn and grow as a writer together with your novel, and at your own pace. Your work is thoroughly reviewed by our professionals. Together you set publication goals, engage in necessary manuscript edits, and at the appropriate time, initiate the agent discovery process as well as the writing of the query letter. Faculty consists of New York Pitch Conference workshop leaders, and the courses are found here on Algonkian Author Connect. A login password will be provided upon successful application and registration. ANWP APPLICATION ___________________
  20. When it comes to plotting, the conventional wisdom is to play the “What If?” game. As in: What if this were to happen, or this, or this? But that only works when you can come up with those What If? scenarios. When your “What If?” well has run dry, try one of these plot hacks: Movie Night This is a fun one. Watch three films based on bestselling novels in your genre. While you watch, write down what happens in every scene. That is, the beats of the story. As in Jaws: Young people having fun on the beach; young woman runs into the ocean; young woman is caught and dragged to her death screaming, etc. Do this three times for three movies, and you should soon be swimming in plot ideas…. Card Game Let your fingers do the plotting…. Get yourself a deck of tarot cards or storytelling cards. (There are many decks, apart from the classic Rider-Waite Tarot. Note: I have many decks; my new faves are the Hero’s Journey Dream Oracle, the Wise Dog Tarot, and the Literary Witches Oracle. Pull a card and ask yourself how you could weave that element into your plot. Ask yourself what plot ideas come to mind when you pull the Death card, the Star card, the Quest card, etc. Play cards—and plot away! The Worst Possible Thing Playwright George Abbott used this formula for the three-act structure: “In the first act, get your hero up a tree; in the second act, throw stones at him, and in the third act, get him down safely.” The rocks should get bigger as the story progresses. The way to bigger rocks? Ask yourself after every story beat: What’s the worst that could happen? And make that happen. Go silly, go dramatic, go over-the-top with your worst possible things. There’s plot gold in there. Hallmark Bingo Believe it or not, the tropes for Hallmark movies are so entrenched by now that viewers get together and play Hallmark Bingo. They download one of the many Hallmark Bingo cards available on the internet, and as they watch a movie they look out for certain elements to appear that are marked on their cards. As in: Christmas party, baked goods, handsome veterinarian, etc. What are the tropes in your genre? Make up own your bingo card with those tropes. Now, how can you reinvent those tropes, and breathe fresh life into them? That’s plotting…. Plot On! With these story tools, plotting is just a hack away. Have fun with it, and happy plotting!
  21. Writing and editing a first novel of any kind is a long, hard slog even when armed with the right information and guidance. But if you're immersed in an atmosphere of foolish and erroneous advice, as most struggling novel writers are, the task becomes impossible. - Michael Neff __________________________ It's like acid rain. It never ceases to scar, harm the environment, and ruin vacations. We're talking about bad writer advice, of course (btw, see our first article on this subject). While perusing several collections of "Worst Writer Advice" found sprouting like toxic tulips after a simple Google search (most of it authored by insufferable rank amateurs working for the ad-driven content industry, and who wisely appear between ages 12 and 17), I found the various fallacies and idiocies about novel writing contained therein to be worth pointing out. Much of it was reminiscent of childish Twitter rumor, and therefore, potentially harmful to aborning novelists. Should one even bother though to set this straight? It makes you feel a little like the baffled ex-astronaut prodded into revealing Earth really is a globe when addressing a convention of flat earth fanatics, i.e., "I can't believe I'm even talking about this." And btw, I also visited the kingdom of Reedsy, one of the more popular writer advice hangouts. I was investigating their article on writing for NaNoWriMo, aka National Writing Month, but I found the surge of cheerleading blather concerning this competition to be a grand welcome mat for bad advice scuffery. No surprise there (not *everything* was bad advice, though most points required far more elaboration, and enough dark neoplasms did exist to cripple a writer's ability to succeed, e.g., "Follow whatever crazy character shows up and leads you down the rabbit hole, and let yourself be surprised!”). Yes, yes, leave the plot behind, just follow that crazy down the hole, and once you've reached the bottom, sitting with your crazy on a toilet in a squalid gas station bathroom just south of Pismo Beach, look up and squint to see that small crack of light high above you. Overall, I felt as if I were being lectured by children who had just discovered how to type, and it made me think... Could I now toss aside decades of experience and acquired knowledge regarding the topic of novel writing, and quite simply, like them, sally forth and tap out a new "epic novel" in a month? We are awash in wunderkind. Where do they come from? What do they want? Not long ago, a Reedsy-like writer in a Zoom workshop enthusiastically erupted, "The best thing about writer groups is that no one is necessarily right. Writers are free to approach novel writing in any number of ways, even if they have to INVENT IT AS THEY GO." I informed her that was actually the worst thing about writer groups (btw, was the inverse "necessarily wrong" also true?), and the "invent it as they go" was itself an invention of ignorant narcissism on the "go" only to rejection. Next, I asked her if she knew the definition of a plot point, whereupon she evaporated into electronic memory. I never saw her again, but apparently, "no right way to write a novel" was an important standard for her, one she clung to tenaciously. And btw, she's not alone. Such "writers" don't wish their "creativity" to be "controlled" or "diluted" with rules meant for "some." In all fairness, it's likely she'd absorbed such foolish and ruinous maxims after ingesting the literary advice equivalent of cyanide, the kind one inevitably discovers puddling around the web (see Google search above). Where else?... Oh right, I forgot. She could have learned it from her writer group? Where is the nearest cliff? Maybe this act of investigatory literary journalism will rescue your dream from ruination, or not. As one of the wise sages we'll review points out, "don't listen to experts if it makes you feel bad.. just follow your instincts." Again, I repeat, where is the nearest cliff? Regardless, more favorites below, from mind boggling to laughable. WE will not provide them with free publicity by naming or linking to them. As follows: "Some people, however, will say that no book will ever succeed without an outline. This is terrible writing advice. If you don't want to use an outline and want to go straight to writing then go ahead - don't allow anyone to tell you otherwise." (Some people? In two decades I've never heard anyone make this sweeping statement; however, I do belong to the non-pantsing school. I adamantly advocate for productive planning and/or outlining in advance, especially for aspiring genre-specific authors relatively new to the field. WE article on this issue here.) Some people are fortunate and they don’t have a lot of time commitments on their hands. These writers might get their book written, edited, and on their way to publishing in just a few weeks. This in no way means it’s not good! It just means they were able to spend a lot of consecutive time on it. (Some writer people known to this writer person are able to conceive, write, edit, and publish their novel in a few weeks... Tell me who. Show me the novel. This reminds me of the ancient Jack Kerouac novel-typing-in-one-sitting stunt, but not quite as extreme. Nevertheless, preposterous no matter how you look at it.) Join a writing group either in person or virtually and give them extracts of your work. (We've debunked that solution here.) Write in your own voice, with your natural grammar. Let copyeditors and proofreaders worry about your grammar later. (Your "natural grammar"? As both a line and developmental editor, this green light to ignore reasonable grammar can result in eye popping hybrids. Consistent and obvious bad grammar is a red flag to professionals. There are irritating nuances to grammar, yes, but advising writers to ignore grammar rules in general is wrong.) Most of the writing and publishing industry is shockingly elitist, and most of what they teach is bad advice that doesn’t work. (The portion of the industry that might present itself to some as elitist is not that portion of the industry currently engaged in freelance editorial work, i.e., unless the editor in question happens to be a former publishing house editor or literary agent. In that case, they are feverishly searching for jobs and will not be inclined to act snotty. The broad brush allegation that "most of what they teach is bad advice" is plain ridiculous, if for no other reason than the allegation is too sweeping. Most? Really? No examples given here. No names. Who provides unproductive advice and who does not varies widely.) (FYI, the statement above, and below, was made by an instructional-and-self-publication website) Nothing about reading books about writing—or subscribing to blogs about writing—is going to help you do that... But I have yet to find a book about writing that’s a better use of your time than actually writing. (I'm still bandaging my jaw. Well said, I must say. The writer has yet "to find a book about writing" that's any good? Waste of time? For example, "Screenwriter's Problem Solver" by Syd Field teaches nothing worthwhile? "Art of Fiction" by John Gardner? And so forth? We addressed this issue quite well on WE. It's hard to believe this issue has to be debated. I've only ever heard one person say this in twenty years, and that was an MFA prof attempting to sell his program to a writer workshop. And I'll maintain that if you cannot communicate writing advice using the written word, then you cannot communicate it verbally either. ) Read as much writing as you can in your genre (the kind of books you want to write)?... I actually tell people not to do this... Instead, read only the minimum amount necessary to know what the general consensus is in that field. (Huh? This fellow actually finds harm in immersing in one's chosen genre? Read the minimum amount? What does that mean? How does he define? We never find out. It's just overall ridiculous.) Do you find it hard to believe that a portion of the above isn't just an invention? I'd prefer it that way actually. Far more disturbing to see fellow writers (or alleged writers) passing this pap around as if valid. God bless Novel Writing on Edge. ________________________________ [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  22. My very first manuscript was horribly cliché and pretty much plotless. In fact, it didn’t even have an ending to it. I never bothered writing one. It was clear to me that by 80,000 words there was no point in wasting my time on devising a resolution because there was never even a climax. It literally turned into one very lengthy exercise in getting to know my main characters—because I hadn’t bothered doing that before I started to write my novel. And this was okay at the time. I was brand new to creative writing and I just wanted to test my hand at being a writer since I’d never done anything like it before, unless you count the horrible required writing assignments in English 101, which I don’t. My point is that in order to get out of those cliched beginning manuscripts and onto something really high concept and novel—pun intended—then we have to become more creative as writers. So, with that being said, I have just one top pick for the week that centers on this very concept of creating something new in your writing. #1: Novelty and the Novel Literary agent Donald Maass keenly points out the need for authors to write stories that have more unique and novel settings, characters and plots. I would recommend that you pay extra special attention to the bulleted list of questions he has come up with for you to ask yourself about your story. These are gold and well worth your time pondering over them if you need to get yourself out of a cliched writing rut, or if you need inspiration to breathe new life back into your story. Happy week and happy writing to you all. Until next time, Kara
  23. The novel writing, development, editing, and pitch forums are for utilization by New York Write to Pitch and all other Algonkian alums, as well as AAC members and guests. This is the primary focal point for polishing, rewriting, or beginning a new genre or literary plot-driven manuscript. Novel Development Forums, Programs, and Events Novel Writing and Editing - Concept to Query Platitudes, entitled amateurism, popular delusions, and erroneous information are all conspicuously absent from this collection of detailed novel writing guides and maxims. The goal is to provide you, the aspiring novel author, with the skills and knowledge it takes to realistically compete in the commercial book market of the 21st century. Best to begin the journey with Labors, Sins, and Six Acts which includes an overview and linkage to the best of AAC and Novel Writing on Edge. This forum grouping also contains the critical "Bad Novel Writing Advice" designed to assist writers in avoiding counterproductive contamination; "Art and Life in Novel Writing" (insightful reviews of books on novel writing, among other things) that provides a balance of important advice from varying perspectives; the 16-Part "Algonkian Novel Writing Program" for editing or writing the genre novel in "six act" stages, as well as the Algonkian Writer Conferences forum, FAQ, and all other things related to Algonkian. __________ ACC Writer Info Forums and Video Critiques Reviews, Commentary, and Plenty of Controversy Entertaining literary book analysis in Audrey's Corner with an aim towards helping aspiring novel writers; Writing With Quiet Hands, a new novel writing advice column by legendary agent, Paula Munier; Unicorn Mech Suit, a diverse collection of SFF interviews and insights; plus Cara's Cabinet collection of ravels and unravels, combed feed, and worthwhile nuggets of information culled from AAC essays and articles. And don't neglect our most popular forum of all wherein our resident geniuses dissect and discuss novel writing videos from a number of sources--unquestionably worth a rant or two. Just ask Stephen King who hates plotting! __________ Narrative Critique Forum New York Write to Pitch and Algonkian Perspectives A forum for New York Write to Pitch alums to post samples of their scenes and prose narrative for detailed critique based on AAC guidelines. Emphasis on choice of set, narrative cinema, quality of dialogue, metaphor, static and dynamic imagery, interior monologue, general clarity, tone, suspense devices, and routine line editing issues as well.
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