Tag Archives: Hero’s Journey

FREE Sale Ends TODAY!!!

Until midnight, you have the chance to pick up the first part of my Post-Apocalypse/Sci-Fi series Meet Me at the Falls for FREE! Yes, you can join the THOUSANDS of people who already downloaded the book today and catch up for less than the cup of coffee you’ll drink while reading it. It may even taste better (especially if it’s Charbucks).

After two years of writing, it’s been incredibly rewarding to see people going nuts downloading the book.So far the response has been incredible–with over a thousand downloads so far and we’ve climbed the ranks to become #1 in several categories and today, the second day of our FREE SALE, we are at the Top 300 spot in the Kindle Store.

We owe all of our success to YOU. As much as it is a personal journey for us, we’re writing this story for you, our loyal fans who have seen us through many adventures. Today, we invite you along for the ride totally FREE.

If you like the book, please let us know in the Amazon reviews section, and tell your friends and family about it. We’re self-published and have to do everything ourselves–especially marketing. The best way for us to share these great stories is actually through you…through word of mouth…Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Amazon, Goodreads or whatever you use. We truly appreciate any help and support, which again is why we’re making the book FREE for you today.

We spent an entire year of writing and editing Part 3, because we wanted it to really shine and be worth the wait. Part one is FREE today, so anyone can discover The Falls.

THANK YOU… Seriously and sincerely :’)

FREE SALE ends TONIGHT, so hurry on over to Amazon and download your copy today!

Part Two and Part Three are out now, and we wanted to make those just 99 cents as well!

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The Best Lecture on Story Structure Ever

Probably the best lecture I’ve ever seen on story, Kurt Vonnegut lays out the arc of the Hero’s Journey in it’s most elegant form (see video for the joke). In truth, Vonnegut is a hilarious man who knows the craft so well he’s able to entertain and enlighten the audience by poking fun at how obvious stories are. Good story structure doesn’t need much explanation. Stories are simple.

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A wise man once told me that a story is never complex. No matter how deep and complex something may seem, 99 times out of 100 it’s just a series of simple points you’ve experienced since the start of the tale. The art of the craft is making those points tie together in such a way that your story seems complex. And it is, in a way, but not by making each story beat circuitous.

All the rules I’ve ever heard from Vonnegut are pure and simple. Take his eight tips on how to write a good short story:

  1. Use a time of a total stranger in such a way that he/she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character they can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character, or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading character is, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense! Readers should have as such complete understand of what is going on, where and why, that they should be able to complete the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
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Every Line, a Roller Coaster

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Shrunk and White published a little book that is regarded as the ultimate guide for mastery over the written word. The Elements of Style. Authors around the globe swear by it, and while some of the techniques don’t mesh perfectly with the way modern literature is going, I swear by it too. Certain rules about grammar and construction are more fundamental than passing styles or what is considered “fresh.” Every writer should pick up a copy and study its pages well.

Among the most important is how to structure your sentence.

Basically, put the “new” part of the sentence at the end for greatest impact.* I’ve found this to be true of the sentence as much as even the paragraph itself–and on to the page, chapter and entirety of the book. It goes both ways, too, even stretching down to lines of dialogue. Cross media, cross genre, it’s a universal rule that’s rarely better when broken.

Let’s look at some examples:

When Ellen Ripley confronts the Queen Xenomorph in “Aliens”, she boldly steps in front of her and says,

“You, bitch! Get away from her!” … wait that’s not right. See how when we reverse it, it just loses it’s power? “Bitch” is the MEAT of that line. Save it to the last possible moment for most impact.

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“Get away from her, you BITCH!”

Those writers knew what they were doing. It’s bold and commanding. But, it doesn’t always have to be some exclamation. It works even in description.

“Fifteen years past, when they had ridden forth to win a throne, the Lord of Storm’s End had been clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscled like a maiden’s fantasy. Six and a half feet tall, he towered over lesser men, and when he donned the armor and the great antlered helmet of his house, he became a veritable giant.” –George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones.

Maiden’s fantasy” defines the rest of the sentence. Everything builds to that point and puts the line in context. The next sentence does this as well with “veritable giant,” And the two even work together. We get a sense of The Lord of Storm’s End. He’s a veritable giant out of a maiden’s fantasy. Those are the parts that really stick.

This especially works for the mundane.

“Horses were always her favorite of all the animals.”

works much better as…

“Out of all the animals, her favorite was always the horse.”

Careful ordering of words creates a roller-coaster-like experience when reading. Remove what’s being said and focus on the cadence of the sentence. You want the reader to be thinking: “What is this? What are they getting at? I think I might know. Oh, It’s coming. We’re getting closer. Wow, there’s the punch! … Okay, what’s next?”

It doesn’t have to be the subject of the sentence, but it should be the word or words that sell the idea; the part that’s really defining. The part that’s new. Different. The Oomph!

By putting this part last, it gives each line a sense of satisfaction. They’ve accomplished a TINY journey by reading it and want to know more.

Story theory dictates that the plot will rise to a climax, then drop down slightly, rising to an even higher climax at the end, until it fades off to the FADE OUT or last page. The Hero’s Journey.

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I would argue that should we zoom into any one section of that line, we would see lots smaller rises and falls. Each Act would have a climax then fall down again just before the end. So would each scene. And further each section of the scene. Each line delivery. It makes the story dynamic. The ending never drops as far as it started, keeping the plot moving along, but it definitely drops. That last bit of impact changes something and propels the story forward.

*If this really isn’t working in your text, Shrunk and White point out that “the other prominent position in the sentence is the beginning. Any element in the sentence other than the subject becomes emphatic when placed first:

Deceit or treachery she could never forgive.

Yet, even there, the sentence builds to what about deceit and treachery she could never _____.

The most powerful tool a storyteller has in their arsenal is withholding information.

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Writing Process (5 of 9)

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Critique

…continued from Part 4: Rough Draft

I finished the rough draft! I didn’t think my story would end the way it did, and that’s a very good thing. I’ve surprised myself, even if I knew roughly how it should end. So I’m done right? Not nearly. The journey is far from over. Now that I have something to work with, I must look at it objectively. I compile my massive amounts of notes and address them. I try to get everything into Scrivener and flesh out any parts that are underdeveloped. Then, once I’m satisfied, I’ll look at my general outline. This gives me a chance to really get a bird’s-eye view and switch on the story structure part of my brain.

For structure stuff, I loosely follow the guidelines laid out in the “Hero’s Journey” and even more so in “Dramatica” — but I really just make sure that it makes sense. If there aren’t gaping holes, sections missing or double-beats, I move on. Story theory and story structure are really just tools to analyze what I already have. In an extreme void of creativity they can prove useful to find a solution, but I would never start with an outlined structure in mind. How could I? I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story any more than the characters would, living it out in real-time. They will inform me of what happens next, what they want and try to do and what happens as a result of it. Story structure would get in the way, and at best it would work but come off contrived and formulaic.

Now if there ARE gaping holes or if I’m just feeling like something is missing, I might turn to the old Hero’s Journey outline and see what it might offer. There’s volumes of books and seminars on the subject.

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However, I took two years of story theory at CalArts that focused on the Hero’s Journey and I ended up learning more about constructing story from one year of Dramatica. I would urge anyone interested to check out their site, or take a trip on over to my professor Jim Hull’s blog, Narrative First (formerly Story Fanatic). Jim is an animator and story artist over at DreamWorks and really knows his stuff inside and out. He lays out the basics of the subject in his books.

Dramatica is more than a story book, however. It offers an interactive tool where one can plug in aspects of a story and it in return plugs plot holes, solidifies character interactions and helps complete your story in such a way that it will resonate with your audience long after they’ve put down your book. Worth taking a look, for kicks if nothing else. I honestly don’t use it the way it was intended, but knowing the story theory behind it has helped me out tremendously.

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Once I’m satisfied with the working outline, I’ll scrutinize the details of the story a bit deeper and get more into research. More notes, adjusting things and rearranging. Some parts remain largely unaltered, while others are expanded or improved upon based on the research I find or connections I hadn’t yet seen in the story. The second pass is perfect for making sure those through-lines, themes and foreshadowing are well-placed.

But as I said, the journey is far from over. Here is where the really hard part begins. One has to make hard decisions and really start to craft the story. A lot of the time, my rough draft doesn’t even read like a story. It’s awful, some of it still in bullet point form or a very rudimentary sentence describing the sentiment or action. Hopefully, I’ve gotten down the core of the story and answered the questions: What happens to the characters? What choices do they make? How does it all unfold? What does it mean to them? How does it affect them? Etc…

After writing out an entire novel by hand, I’ll often forget what it’s like to be a reader. Since my book really isn’t at the stage where I can read it like a reader, I find it somewhat therapeutic and informative to pick up some old favorites and re-read them just to remind myself what a book feels like. If something strikes me, I’ll make a note reminding myself to try and apply it to my own work. There is no one way to tell a story and no right or wrong way to write. Ultimately it comes down to taste. I love both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, though they’re vastly different in style. The same could be said about any number of authors. Finding what resonates with you will help unleash your own unique style as it challenges what you innately find appealing or not.

I’d really encourage writers to go with their gut. Use trial and error and pick apart your favorite stories and films as opposed to studying structure and writing. That being said, there are some other books on story structure I would recommend to at least throw into your head (but only after you’ve already written your story). I would NOT recommend the popular book “Story” by Robert McKee. It’s purely critical and offers nothing to the would-be writer — and on that note, take anything these books say with a grain of salt:

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Writersjourneysmall

Continued in Part 6: That Dreaded Second Draft

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