I'm a big fan of turning points. Well, not in real life, because in real life, turning points are messy things. Turning points are the chaos leading us inevitably into the storm.
My father died when I was thirteen. It was life altering before I was old enough to understand the implications and repercussions of such an event. From that point forward, my life was broken into before and after.
Before my father died:
Turning points are messy things because of the effects they have on our character's lives, as they had in my life, as they have in your life. Turning points are story events that cause the story to turn in a new direction.
The new direction in fiction is typically caused by a choice the character makes (or doesn't make) or a dilemma they face, such as if my mother had chosen to keep living on the "good" side of town by getting married rather than going back to college.
These turning points should lead your character into something new and significantly different. If the choice your character faces is whether to eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant or Taco Bell, that's probably not a turning point, but if the trip to the Chinese restaurant leads our character into China Town where she is faced with a life-changing choice--find the treasure your boss stole or your best friend dies--that's a turning point.
The crossroads in this fake story is the character's before and after, and like those traumatic before and afters in your own life, the character's life will never be the same.
For instance, the protagonist who was just going to dinner with a friend is there to discuss a job offer because she can't work for a dishonest so-and-so any longer, but after her friend is kidnapped, she has to stay with the employer to find the treasure and save her BFF. So the dinner in China Town becomes one of the character's turning points.
In real life, turning points are traumatic, but isn't that exactly what we want for our characters? If the character is not faced with significant turning points and equally disastrous choices, then we may not have a turning point that will keep the reader reading.
In the opening of this post, I said turning points were the chaos leading us into the storm, but the storm is where our character will grow. Give them that opportunity by giving them a worthy turning point.
Quick intro to say I'm posting this for previous students, current students, and any writers who may check out this part of my website for writerly content. The video mentions a file toward the end, however, in respect for the presenter, I'm not sharing that publicly...only with my current creative writing students. Sorry, Charlie. :)
Video post w/ transcript
. Good afternoon writers. I am recording live from the Rocky Mountain fiction writers conference in Denver, Colorado, I'll be here until Sunday afternoon. And I just wanted to touch base with you guys like you know I'm not going to be on much, but I'll try and add some value in the course announcements with things that I'm learning from the conference. So today I got to be just an attendee. Tomorrow I have two presentations, an agent appointment, and my publisher is here so I'll be able to have conversations with her. But today gets to be just attendee day. And one of the workshops that I really wanted to go to is by Marie Force it's about book series, she fluctuates between series I think she said she has a total of six different series happening at one time. One of them's like 21 books into the entire series, and I know several of you guys have either mentioned the fact that you are in the middle of a series or you're hoping to write series. And so I went in there to figure out how she manages that so you'll see my notes. They are very much bullet point notes as she is talking and they're very organized because she presented the information in an organized way.
That's one benefit for you guys for me being here and then the other one is just to talk a little bit about what you do it conference. Conferences about learning craft learning workshop, learning, the business of writing meeting editors and agents and publicists and the people who can assist you in your writing career. And then there's a huge, huge chunk of networking which isn't always easy writers tend to be very introverted and so the idea of getting out there and networking is very stressful. I will say book signing is a lot like trying to go to a networking event where you don't know anybody. So I have a friend of mine coming she's from my MA program at Regis. I had my MA program at Regis and the MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University. So I have two masters in creative writing, and my MA was here in Denver so she's coming I haven't seen her in several years. We'll catch up see what each other's doing learn a little bit about where we are industry wise where we are academically. And I also have somebody that I know is going to be there for my book signing that we can kind of riff off of each other so it doesn't feel so awkward because book signings can be awkward it's sort of a big long row of authors that are presenting that will be doing book signings tonight so it gives me a chance to catch up with her and do the book signing and network, all at the same time. Tomorrow I'm presenting so I won't probably have a lot of notes about the conference, but I'll try to check in at least once with you guys so that you get some benefits from having a professor who's at a conference. I hope you're doing well. I will check with you.
An anti-hero by any other name would still kick ass and go home bloody
I had a great question about villains as heroes that I wanted to share for those of you working in the dark arts section of the card catalog (i.e. dark YA, speculative fiction, horror, etc).
Writers often struggle with creating a nonconventional hero. I first became interested in this when a 74 y.o. librarian I worked with at the public library told me about her favorite TV show "hero" who was a serial killer. The show was Dexter, based on a novel by Jeff Lindsay entitled Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004). I was fascinated by the concept that readers could love and root for a serial killer. Essentially a villain with an unhealthy dose of rationalization. I wanted to know HOW the writer was able to make a serial killer sympathetic for (mostly) law-abiding readers/viewers.
If you struggle with a nonconventional hero, anti-hero, or Byronic Hero, read on...
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: First and foremost, this is one person's opinion. Publishing is an interesting industry in that there is no ONE right answer. Some is up to genre, some to publisher, some is up to current trends, and some to reader expectations.
Some traits of a tragic hero (aka villain as protagonist aka anti-hero aka Byronic hero aka dark hero):
They're more full-bodied rather than perfectly imperfect (no one really likes the villain with no redeeming qualities...it's too trite). Giving characters imperfections/weaknesses/tragic backstories makes them more rounded, interesting, and relatable.
As definition, an anti-hero is a central character in a story who lacks conventional heroic attributes.
The great thing about Wick is that he's a badass assassin for the mob who got out of the business when he married, but when his wife dies [tragic backstory] and someone kills his dead wife's dog [motivation], Wick comes back with a vengeance, kicking ass and killing pretty much everybody involved.
Wick is in no way a conventional hero. He's a criminal, he's violent, he's ruthless, and yet he has a certain code of conduct. He has loyalty to friends (many of whom do not reciprocate his loyalty). But Wick does have weaknesses. I mean, he can kill with impunity, so his weakness isn't physical (even when he's majorly injured, he still wins), and yet his trust in friendship and loyalty causes many complications. Remember complications? They are the cornerstone of conflict, and conflict is story. If Wick had no weakness, the story would be over in 20 minutes:
Sad death of dog. Kill everyone. The end.
But instead, the writers give him complications and weaknesses that they exploit to make his life more difficult and the story more fulfilling. Readers want the complications. In addition, the weaknesses humanize a character that the average reader may find unrelatable (i.e. a serial killer or mob hitman).
So, to summarize, two possible reasons for giving the villain a weakness are 1) to humanize him and 2) to complicate the story.
If a villain can explode a planet without complication (think Darth Vader in the first Star Wars), where's the conflict? But Vader has many weaknesses hidden behind a horrific mask, and some seriously tragic backstory. For that matter, think Snape from the Harry Potter series (that scene makes me cry every damn time, and for more than half of the series, I hated Snape).
Here's a YouTube video from Troped! that talks more about anti-heroes:
But wait, there's more...
As long as we're discussing nonconventional heroes, let's talk about the Byronic Hero with info from the fabulous site TV Tropes (honestly, you should check them out, but be forewarned, it's a pretty deep rabbit hole):
Byronic heroes are charismatic characters with strong passions and ideals, but who are nonetheless deeply flawed individuals who may act in ways which are socially reprehensible because he's definitely contrary to his mainstream society" ("Byronic Hero" par. 1).
As a general rule, they're highly conflicted heroes (think the comic hero in Grosse Pointe Blank) who ponders and wrestles "with his struggles and beliefs" ("Byronic Hero" par. 1). They often have a tragic back story (sound familiar?). In literature, think Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (the monster or the creator) or The Count of Monte Cristo.
As the earlier video demonstrates, the anti-hero is quite popular in movies, books, and comic books at the moment. Why that's true is open for debate, but I think that the anti-hero exists when we, as a culture, begin to feel that we're getting the shaft (economically, culturally, familial, etc.). We need the anti-hero who doesn't want to or have to obey society's rules/laws. He makes his own rules, and whether you call him villain, anti-hero, or Byronic Hero, he's fascinating, and readers want more of him (or her... think the heroine from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
If you're inclined to read and write dark stories, here's where you can find out more about the dark/anti/Byronic hero.
National Novel Writing Month is when deranged writers commit to writing 50,000 words in November or die trying. Okay, maybe not the die trying part, but the crazy stuff is fairly accurate. I mean, what kind of loon signs up to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days? Oh, that's right. Me. And thousands like me.
I wrote Untouchable for Nano in November 2011. It was published in 2015. In October-November-December of 2015, I wrote a book each month. The October book--Unforgettable--is being released in December. The November book--Unstoppable--is set for April, 2017, and the December book--An Untouchable Christmas--is scheduled for November 14th of this year. In fact, most of my books were written using the Nanowrimo techniques. For me, that boils down to writing 12,500 words per week.
Although I didn't "win" Nanowrimo the first time I tried, I did eventually, and the skills I learned writing fast changed my writing life. To win Nano, start with believing that writing a book in one month is possible. Many have done it before. Here's a list of published novels written during Nanowrimo. And here's a list of fast writers.
So if you're one of the few, the proud, and the crazy, here are 8 guidelines for Nanowrimo:
1) Say yes to the dress: Oh, wait, wrong show. Say yes to the crazy. Make a commitment. Spread the news. Make it so you can't backdown.
2) Say no to your favorite vices:
3) Don't change your process: If you have an establishing writing pattern or ritual, now is not the time to change it. If you don't have a writing process, here's the chance to start a new one. Thirty days is long enough to start a new habit.
4) Before you start, plot your key points. Here's a quick refresher on the 3 Act Structure. Even if you're not a plotter, it's wise to know your inciting incident, first turning point, midpoint, second turning point, and climax. You'll thank me in December.
5) Writing sprints will help you write quickly. I sprint with two other writers, either in person or online. We set the timer and write. I put on a headset and play fast-paced music while I write. At the end of the 30 minutes, we compare our output. I write it down in my calendar. Working with other writers holds me accountable. As an added bonus, the competitive aspect helps me write faster.
6) Write 1000 words before 10 AM. Truthfully, this one comes from a member of my sprint group, and I must admit, I don't do this, because I'm not a morning person, but if you are a morning person, you've done more than half your word count for the day before lunch.
7) Keep the writing fresh: Know your next scene so you don't get stuck. AND Stop writing mid-scene and mid sentence. Knowing what happens next will make it easier to get started your next writing session.
8) Don't go it alone. Being around other writers helps build creativity. Whether your writing friends are just down the street or online, keep each other accountable for writing (and for staying off social media).
Good luck! Post comments below if you're planning to join Nanowrimo this November.
Always on the lookout for new sources. Here's one from Beth Rhodes on the psychology of characterization.
Read more about it
Syd Field ... Screenplay
Victoria Lynn Schmidt ... Book in a Month
Next month in writer's group, we're talking about plotting. And coincidentally as these things sometimes happen, my friend Beth stumbled across this video. Plotting 101.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone (Southwark) surprise an NYU class.
Guest author Beth Rhodes
At our April Meeting of the 21st Century Writers, we had the honor of guest speaker Beth Rhodes. Beth is one of my writing friends who joins me multiple times a week for writing sprints, which have honestly changed my life and my writing productivity. Her stories are full of life, family, and love. You can find her reading just about any genre of romance, but her favorites are fast-paced suspense, where life is on the line and love is the only saving grace. She wants a book that makes her heart pound and her pulse race.
Here is her outline about writing dialogue:
A. You can do a Google search and find everything. These are not “MY” rules; I merely subscribe to them.
B. Your work is amazing! Never forget that. My work is amazing! And that’s why I’ll be using a few examples from my books. Learn to talk about your writing, use it in workshops, be confident and proud.
1.Dialogue in fiction must contain CONFLICT:
2.Dialogue has purpose:
4.Read your Dialogue out loud
Below is Beth's movie clip with a good example of well-written dialogue.
In a recent online forum, the plotters and the pantsers were at it again. Plotters insisting that you must, absolutely must have an outline. The pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants) insisted that an outline destroys the creative process. The plotter rant (several paragraphs in a social media post with indignant followups) went something like this. No pantser will ever finish a novel. Only someone who can dedicate themselves to creating an extensive outline (over a significant amount of time, because writing should be hard) will EVER succeed in fiction.
When questioned--and come on, of course he was challenged, because all-or-never statements are designed to attract dissent--the writer said his guru (I honestly had never heard of the guy who changed this writer's life), who was super famous and had such-and-such credentials, was absolutely right. Long paragraphs filled with his rules much like a religion.
And I get it. When a new idea changes our lives, we're all in. Sign me up for the Kool-Aid baby!
First, I gotta say...
I fall in the middle. I'm somewhere between a plotter and a pantser. I write using the three act structure and Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, but I don't have an outline that fleshes out every action/reaction/chapter/scene. For me, the joy of writing is the unknown, When my subconscious makes a connection that is an obvious "duh," that moment is creative gold. For me (and that's the key), the writing process is a balance between reaching the plot points and finding the surprises. I fall in love with my characters and then build a plot around them. Again, that's all me. The Writer's Journey changed the way I think about writing, especially in the early stages of a project, but, big BUTT (Like "baby got back" butt), I don't expect everyone to drink the Kool-Aid. Vogler isn't for everyone.
FYI, Stephen King is a pantser and James Patterson is a plotter. Neither writer is wrong.
Who is your guru
Writers and other creatives are inherently insecure. When we find a process that works, we think, that's it. That's the only way. And then we seek out people with credentials to validate our position. And then we tout our new guru's "rules" as law and claim them as the only way to success. Because it worked for our guru, it must be right.
I get it. I'm working on my second masters degree, this time an MFA in Creative Writing. I'm learning more than I can possibly encompass in my writing, but the truth is, I didn't start the program because I love academics (although, truly, I enjoy school). No. I joined because I wanted validation. After years of studying the craft of writing, I still needed those initials after my name to validate my knowledge. It's no different than spouting the rules and laws of your favorite writing guru. In the end, that's not truth. An MFA doesn't make me a writer. Neither does following someone else's path.
Writing isn't a mathematical equation. Thank God, because I suck at math. We need to believe in a path to success, a corporate ladder to climb and steps that lead to ultimate writing nirvana (best selling land). But no matter how "perfect" your process, how it worked for Author X, there is no simple mathematical equation for creative success.
Reading and studying are always beneficial, they inform our writing and make us better at our craft, but no one has the perfect cure for creativity. Even your guru.
Friends, we are on our own
Friends, we are on our own, and that's a wonderful place!
In the gospel according to me (and I'm as faulty as any other writer), the path to success isn't in someone else's "seven secrets to writing success," but rather, the path to success is embracing who you are and accepting that not everyone is on the same path. We're driving different cars and hauling different baggage. We cannot follow the same path to the same results, because we're starting with different equipment and in different locations.
Several times a week, I meet up with friends from my publishing house. We all follow different paths (plotter, pantser, and middle of the road), but we're all creating works of fiction for publication. As in, someone pays us to write. None of us are wholly right or wholly wrong. We can only be "right" and truthful as it relates to our personal writing process. The danger of a guru is that we're following someone else's path and not trusting our internal compass.
Part of that is the learning process. We need to learn about the writing craft and the industry and the process, but after filling our head with more ideas than can possibly take root in our brains, it's time to decide. What is our process? It may be similar to our mentor, our favorite teacher, or our guru, but it may be a radical departure. And that's cool.
Embracing someone else's rules means we're not confident in our own abilities yet. That's okay. We'll get there. The plotter who insisted his way was the only way should be commended for his passion, but his insistence in it being "the only way" is tragic.
Chart your own path. You might make mistakes, but that's where you learn the most.
Have a wonderful writing week, my friends, and embrace who you are as a writer and a creative. If you're so inclined, let me know your process in the comments. It helps to define it for yourself.
And enjoy this 1 minute video: "That's it. That's the reason." How we feel when someone validates our opinion.
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
Wired for Story
Genre by any other name
He for She
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.