What’s Happening in 2017

Hello everyone.

The blog is on hiatus right now.

For the past two years I’ve used this blog to talk about…

  • Story Structure
  • Creativity
  • Novel Writing
  • Health/Inspiration/Motivation

Now it’s time for me to bring all that research to bear on my own novel. Book 1 of my fantasy series, Turtle Island, is still in the works.

I’ve been working with a professional developmental editor for the past 8 months. My novel is coming along, and in the meantime I’m getting a crash course in writing from someone who does what I want to do – someone who deals in words for a living. Most importantly, I’m getting direct feedback on my writing. Which is scary, and painful, and exactly what I need.

I still plan to have the novel published on Amazon in 2017. But because this is my first time going through the process, it’s hard for me to judge exactly what month I’ll be able to publish.

My blog hasn’t slowed to a halt because I don’t care about writing anymore; it’s just that, I’m trying to stop talking about writing and do the damn thing.

When I do re-start the blog, I’m actually considering doing it in the form of a podcast. In my podcast I plan to break down famous novels, especially fantasy trilogies and series like…The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. The podcast will be the result of some intense reading and studying I’ve done in preparation for my own fantasy trilogy. Because how better to learn than by taking notes from the greats?

 

But the podcast is not right now. Right now I’m in radio silence mode. Working my day job, day dreaming about writing during my day job, and coming home every evening to write.

So that’s where I’m at. When I’m back here next, I’ll be carrying a basket of good news.

 

How to Develop Your Ideas: The Million-Dollar-Skill: Tuesday, August 4th

In yesterday’s post, I busted a common writing myth.

I said that, “Writing is the easy part of the Writing Process. The true currency of the writing ecosystem is not the hard work of writing itself, like many believe, the million-dollar-skill is IDEA DEVELOPMENT.”

Unfortunately there is no easy way to turn your idea into a fully formed story. There is no failproof process. Scientists know surprisingly little about the “magic” of the brain. For all of our advancements, nobody knows exactly how the mind or consciousness works, which means we’re still pretty clueless about how ideas come to be.

BUT, fortunately for you and me, many bold and badass creative human beings have paved the road to success. We can pick and choose from their tactics. We can learn lessons instantly that it took them years of trail and error to determine. We can borrow their methods, and we can certainly borrow inspiration from the ones who came before us.

A true artist is a sort of magician. They take a concept, like a seed, and transform it into a finished product. It’s that process that we want to study and emulate.

So here is a list of methods and tricks that I’ve come across in my research. These are things I’ve tried myself to implement, and have had some bit of success with:

  • Composition Notebooks – Screenwriters, Novelists, and writers of all type talk about this method. They keep a specific notebook or a specific journal that is dedicated to a single project. Whenever they have an idea related to that project, they jot it down. Keeping all of the notes in one place helps to build momentum. Some writers will fill entire an entire notebook of ideas and ramblings, before attempting to shape those ideas into a workable outline.
  • Notecards – A lot of times we just need a cue, a stimulus, or some sort of outside prodding, in order to get the ideas flowing. Good ideas are often born out of associating two seemingly unrelated things. Many authors talk about using this process: take a bunch of notecards, on each notecard write a single word or phrase, it could be a person, a place, a thing, an event, an object, anything… The idea is to keep the cards simple. Once you have a whole lot of them, you can mix them all up and start experimenting. Let your mind run wild with the random associations that the note cards bring to mind.
  • Follow Author Neil Gaiman’s Advice – including some fantastic prompt questions to get your worker bees humming.
  • Dream Journals – Many authors write in the morning, when the world of dream is still fresh. Once the “real day” begins, and you start dealing with bills, chores, errands, work, the creative mind tends to get buried under these responsibilities. Dreams are truly the stuff of stories: they are Scary, Crazy, Sensational, Sexy, Colorful, Unusual, Unbound by the Laws of Physics, or the Usual Restraints of the Ego. The more you recrod your dreams, the more you’ll begin to remember them. It’s not uncommon for even the most serious, respectable of authors to credit their success to a random, run of the mill dream.
  • Ray Bradbury’s ListsI wrote a post about this method not too long ago. It’s a great way to get the idea muscle working.
  • Become an Idea Machine – James Altucher has built a career around the practice of being healthy and coming up with ideas. If you are looking for inspiration, I HIGHLY recomend the daily podcast by James and his wife Claudia, “Ask Altucher“, or reading James’ blogposts. Here is one of his most popular posts – all about how you can become an idea machine.
  • Study Story Structure – The Art of Story is truly fascinating. There are so many good books and authors out there. Here are a few that have inspired me. These kind of books are SO important, because they give aspiring authors a framework to work within. They really teach you how to transform your little baby ideas into full-fledged, gripping, masterful stories. Check out…
  1. Super Structure by James Scott Bell
  2. Story by Robert McKee
  3. Story Structure by William Bernhardt.

So there you go. Hopefully these are some helpful resources for how to come up with ideas, and how to turn those ideas into real life stories. I really, really hope they are as useful for you as they were for me.

In my opinion, this aspect of the writing process (IDEA DEVELOPMENT), is much more difficult, much more magical, and much more fascinating than the actual “sitting down and writing” part of the process.

If you know of any other good tips, please let me know, I’m always on the hunt.

Blockbuster Aisles: Wednesday, July 15th

Genre is simple. It’s a convention that lets readers know what to expect before they start reading a book. (Or watching a movie. Or playing a video game. You name it.)

Whenever I think of “Genre”, I remember being a kid, walking up and down the Blockbuster aisles looking for VHS tapes to rent. As soon as I walked in the store, I’d head straight to the Action / Adventure aisle. I didn’t screw around with horror or drama or comedy. I wanted to see Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, or Sean Connery on the cover, usually with a car explosion in the background.

Thank god for the convention of genre. Otherwise I would’ve had to roam the entire Blockbuster store before I found what I was looking for, and even then I might not be happy with what I found. Genres are time-savers. Like any set of rules, genres are begging to be broken. But overall they are helpful.

I think that the convention of “Genre” speaks to an even higher global truth – a human truth – which is that, “the key to happiness is managing expectations.”

The rule made sense to me as the manager of a company, it makes sense to me as a husband, and it makes sense when I look at the book industry.

If a customer is upset, it’s because they had an expectation that went unfulfilled. Either 1) the expectation was incorrect in the first place, or 2) the product did not align with the expectation.

In researching “genre”, I recently stumbled across this idea from Robert McKee, author os “Story: Structure, Substance, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting”, that I really liked. McKee laid out 5 main categories that genre can be broken into. These categories involve the certain types of expectations that a reader brings into a work:

  1. How long the story will last.
  2. How far we’ll need to suspend our disbelief.
  3. What is the style, and the particular experience of the story
  4. How the story will be structured
  5. What the general content of the story will be

Right now my interest is in the fantasy genre. So now that I have this nice framework from McKee to work with, I’ll be researching more in depth how the fantasy genre answers these questions for readers.

Near-Death-Experience Envy: Thursday, July 9th

Harry Potter lives in a cupboard under the stairs and his family hates him. That sucks! I don’t want to be Harry Potter.

It’d be cool to be Ironman except for the part where evil super villains are always trying to rip your arms off.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Walter White turn into a badass drug lord in “Breaking Bad.” Was it just me or did you really want to cook some meth afterwards? Honestly, I probably won’t cook any meth this week. It’s too risky and my schedule’s pretty full.

What’s fascinating to me the more I learn about story structure is: how all the core elements of story are the things we spend our real lives avoiding.

Stories are built on trouble, conflict, and danger. We’d rather watch an infomercial about stepladders than a story with no conflict. We’d never watch a story about somebody taking a safe flight from Boise to Buffalo, but as soon as you sprinkle in some skydiving, explosions, or some hijacking… we’re interested.

It’s funny to think that the path to becoming a hero is free for everyone. There’s no secret recipe. It’s just a scary undertaking. Way too risky for most of us. Who wants to face their deepest fears, have all their loved ones reject them, or wake up hungover in the shrubbery behind the Wal-Mart loading zone to realize they’ve finally hit rock bottom?

No thanks.

But sometimes I do catch myself wishing that I had a shittier childhood. Or that I could have a near death experience.

I heard a podcast this morning with a guy who got smashed in a head-car collision at 70 miles/per hour by a drunk driver. He was clinically pronounced dead for 6 minutes before the medics saved him. He spent three weeks in a coma, and came out of that coma with a profound gratefulness for life. What’s more, he awoke with a steel-hard resolution for how he wanted to help people, how he wanted to improve the world, and how he wanted to contribute, give back, show his appreciation for his blessed gift of life by returning that gift to others.

It’s a beautiful story. And all I can do is be jealous.

Luckily we have stories to teach us those lessons, and to inspire us, without having to actually cook the meth or fight the crime lords ourselves.  But is it enough to just read those stories? Is that enough to become a hero myself? Can I really learn those lessons second-hand? …That’s the question.

5 Quirks of the Fantasy Genre: Monday, June 22nd

I want to write a fantasy series this year, so I’m trying to do some respectful research on the topic… What do fantasy readers like? What do they expect? What are they tired of?

Here are a few notes I’ve been picking up on the fantasy genre.

1) Point Of View: The third person omniscient narrator was popular in the old days but has since fallen out of fashion. Much more popular is the third person limited, where the author jumps around to different characters, but stays close to each character, looking over their shoulders and only letting the readers know what the characters themselves know.

I must be a part of this trend, because I personally don’t like when authors jump out of the 3rd person limited and into the 3rd person omniscient.

I think it’s because, the omniscient narrator reminds me that the author is present, and that the author already knows everything. The third person omniscient narrator reminds me that there’s a writer behind the story. I’d rather not be reminded that I’m watching a movie – I just want to be swept up in the action as if I’m there.

2) Grey Characters are the most interesting. The battle between good and evil is not as white and black as it used to be in the old days. It’s important to get inside the heads of all the characters and realize their motivations. There are no heroes and no villains – only humans who want success, love, and prosperity –  humans who are insecure, afraid, and irreparably damaged just like you and me.

3) Portal Fantasy is apparently out of fashion? I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems to be a hot topic between readers and authors.

A portal fantasy is when the main character travels in between worlds. The classic example is Alice in Wonderland. Other examples include Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, and The Magicians.

A non-portal fantasy is when the story begins and ends in a fantasy world. Lord of the Rings is an easy example – there’s no modern day kids popping in and out of the Shire. Middle Earth is its own reality.

But portal fantasies are what I’ve always loved! Surely those types of stories can never be exhausted? There are pros and cons to both, sure. Maybe portal fantasies aren’t in fashion, but they’ve sure sold off the shelves in the past.

4) Introduce a Reader to a Fantasy World Slowly. Don’t throw in too much newness too quickly. Don’t scare the reader away. Give them something normal and introduce the magic gradually as you go along.

I appreciate this about the Golden Compass series. Pullman does a good job of letting you slowly into the fantasy world. Actually I think all successful fantasy authors have figured this out. A fantasy world is queer, unusual, brimming with foreign words and concepts. If you push too much of it too quickly, the reader might shy away. Give them time to get used to their new universe and they’ll slowly start to buy into it.

Harry Potter doesn’t begin with Harry flying crazily on his broom, casting Patronus spells against the Dementors. It starts with a regular boy in a regular enough house. We are slowly introduced to the crazy over time.

5) Avoid Info Dumps. I hear this a lot in regards to fantasy. The underlying problem is that fantasy authors are world-builders, and as such, they have a lot of information to relay to the reader. It goes without saying that “info-dumps” are bad in any genre, but in the fantasy world it’s a particularly sticky trap. Talented writers figure out how to relay that information slowly, over time, through the mouths of their characters, and in the midst of the action.

***

That’s all for now. A part two will be coming shortly. Whenever I start researching, I’m just reminded of how much I don’t know. But it’s fun to learn. The fantasy genre, for all these reasons, is intriguing to me. I loved it as a kid and I want to offer my own stories to the catalog.

Summary of “Super Structure” by James Scott Bell: Friday, May 22nd

This is my summary of a short, helpful book by James Scott Bell:

 Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story

I wrote this outline for myself, so that I can refer to it later without having to re-read the book. 

The book is free through Kindle Unlimited. I chose to read this one from Bell because it was published in 2015. I like my writing advice to be as current and relevant as possible.

The best part about this book is that, every step of the way, Bell gives great examples from classic stories like Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Wizard of Oz, The Fugitive, Lethal Weapon, and The Hunger Games.

Act I

  • Disturbance – the opening hook, the shocking scene, the striking of the match, that draws us into the story.
  • Care Package – a relationship that the protagonist has with someone else, in which he shows his true concern, something that humanizes the protagonist and garners sympathy from the reader.
  • Argument against Transformation – a way to emphasize theme and set up a character transformation. Example is Dorothy, at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz, dreaming to run away, to go someplace far away from home. At the end, when she learns there is no place like home, her character has been tied up in a satisfying arc.
  • Trouble Brewing – somehow we get a glimpse of the great trouble that is brewing in the near future. We don’t see the full scope of it, just a hint for now that builds suspense.
  • Doorway of No Return #1 – there can be no going back to the world as it used to be. The stakes have been raised to “Life or Death.” Either physical, psychological, or professional death is now on the line.

Act II

  • Kick in the Shins – the first challenge on the protagonist’s way to the main conflict. Often a “deepening” of the emotional stakes. Or it could be an action scene in a thriller. Either way it sets the stage for conflict that is building and will continue to build.
  • The Mirror Moment – This is one of the key beats for Bell. It’s one of the ideas that make his theory unique. He says you can open up to the middle of a good novel and find it, or you can go straight to the middle of a good movie and find it. The Mirror Moment is when the main character has to look at himself. They have a moment of introspection and probably dismay. They think, Who am I? What have I done? I can’t win this battle – I’m going to die. Bell theorizes that “The Mirror Moment” is a good way to plot your story, or to write “from the middle out,” because of the sheer thematic significance of this moment in any character arc or story.
  • Pet the Dog – this is an often used beat that can happen once or twice or multiple times throughout a story. It’s when the main character does something good-natured, usually to their own disadvantage. These events deepen the emotional connection to the protagonist and assist their hero character arc on it’s way from selfishness to selflessness.
  • Doorway of No Return #2 – Act II will go on forever (tension keeps rising and rising) until there is a crucial moment that catapults us into the climax. Close to the end of the story, something happens that really sets the life or death stakes. In Doorway of No Return #1, many things are still unknown, to the reader and the protagonist himself. Now after Doorway #2, the inevitable conclusion is becoming clear.

Act III

  • Mounting Forces – the opposition gathers it’s wits. The antagonist powers seem to gain momentum. Things are not looking good for the good guys.
  • Lights Out – all seems lost. There is no way that the hero can work his way out of this mess. Or it could represent a terrible dilemma where the hero has no good choice. Either way, the reader ideally sees no “good” outcome at this point.
  • Q Factor – named after the character “Q” in the James Bond movies. It’s the extra edge that the protagonist finds at the last second, the last bit of courage or resiliency drawn up from the past. In a James Bond movie it’s the special gadget that he was given back in Act I that now comes into play. Often, the Q factor is an emotional element that comes into play when the hero needs it most, a “remembering”, or a “resolve”, or some reservoir of purpose that the hero pulls from.
  • Final Battle – without the final battle there is no story. Everything leads to this point. It provides the release from the tension that up till now has only been building. Without the final battle, there is no resolution, and therefore no story.
  • Transformation – the final note that you want the reader to walk away with. We need affirmation that the main character has changed, that some sort of transformation has taken place. Bell says, “a story isn’t over until the character changes.”

Story Animals: Thursday, May 21st

The 3-act story structure (Beginning, Middle, End) is programmed into our DNA. It’s sprinkled into our brains like sugar and salt, right before the stork delivers us to our mothers. We are story animals.

Life’s Act 1 is childhood, the protagonist’s introduction into a new world. Act 2 is adulthood; this is usually the longest act, where most of the work and adversity takes place. Act 3, old age, is a sort of winding down. When we’re old, we can look back at our childhood and realize that the events of Act 2 transformed us into something new. We start to feel the release of tension and responsibility. We have scars and memories that attest to story well-lived.

Morning, Afternoon and Evening represent the 3 Act structure of the individual day. Every morning a new story is born. And every night a story is put to rest. Act 2, the bulk of the day, is when the “work” happens. In the morning, your day is capable of taking 1,000,000 forms; the future holds limitless possibilities. And by the close of that same evening, 999,999 of those possibilities have been weened out, and only one remains.

This is another reason why it’s helpful to think of your life as a story. Imagine that an author is sitting at his desk right now, trying to decide what YOU are going to do next.

Maybe you think that your life only has one trajectory. The place, the job, the relationships – it’s all written in stone. But the author writing your story, he knows that your future has exciting possibilities. Some of those possibilities are sad, some are boring, some beautiful, and some are more magical than the main character could ever possibly imagine – like little Dorothy in Kansas, playing fetch with her dog, right before the tornado hits.

Lessons from Book 1 of “The Golden Compass”: Wednesday, May 20th

Here are my takeaways from reading the “Golden Compass” the first book in the “Dark Materials” trilogy by Phillip Pullman. It was a hell of a fun read, but you can bet I took plenty of notes and did my best to learn from it along the way.

1) Easing the Reader into a weird Fantasy World:

Lyra – the main character – lives in a fantasy world that is very much like our own world, but with subtle differences. The most striking difference that we learn about, right from the get-go, is that every human in this world is paired with a “Daemon.” A daemon is a sort of spirit animal which represents the inner character of the person. This one little shock is interesting and easy to deal with. The story begins in Oxford, England at a large and prestigious university. Other than the daemons, the world is at first no different from our own.

Before the book is over, we’ll meet talking bears and witches, and we’ll travel to other universes in the sky. But we don’t get hit with all that craziness right of the bat, we get gently eased into it.

2) The Hook:

The book starts off brilliantly. Lyra is sneaking around in the ancient, storied rooms of the university when suddenly she is forced to hide in a closet, and ends up witnessing a “secret” assassination attempt.

The first chapter is pretty long and it’s super exciting. The second chapter is boring, and full of backstory about Lyra’s life, about the university, and blah blah blah. But now the author has me hooked, I’m invested in the story because of the exciting first chapter, and I’m willing to suffer through some necessary explanations until the excitement of the story resumes.

3) The Hero’s Journey:

I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell and his ideas about “The Hero’s Journey.” I was immediately interested in Lyra, the protagonist of this book, to see how she would undergo the transformations of a hero. Here are just a few ways that I recognized and appreciated Lyra becoming a hero.

A) Lyra gets pulled out of her comfortable world and into a foreign one. This is par for the course for heroes of any kind. According to Cambell, there are a couple of ways that a hero can undertake a journey. They can either get pulled into it by outside forces, or they can undertake a journey of their own accord. In the case of the Golden Compass, both forces were at play. There were forces that pulled Lyra into her new journey, but it was also her strong will and personality that propelled her into those situations.

B) When heroes enter into a new world (think Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts or Katniss training for the Hunger Games with Haymitch), they almost always need a mentor. Lyra has a few major mentors along the way. The main one is Farder Coram, an elder gypsy man who takes her under his wing, encourages her development, and passes his knowledge along to her.

C) At some point along the hero’s journey, the mentors go away, or die, and the hero suddenly has no help. Now the real test begins. Can they be a hero on their own accord. Will they buckle or stand up to the immense pressure? Lyra reaches a point at the end of the novel when she has to go it alone. Check out this quote from the book:

“Little by little, as the storm of fear subsided, she came to a sense of herself again. She was Lyra, cold and frightened by all means, but herself. ‘I wish…’ she said, and stopped. There was nothing that could be gained by wishing for it. A final deep shaky breath, and she was ready to go on.”

D) All heroes move along a scale, beginning at “selfishness” and ending with “selflessness.” Lyra is no exception. In the beginning, her intentions are purely whimsical and selfish. She wants to adventure, to see “the north”, and to have a fun experience. By the end of the novel, Lyra is sacrificing her own well-being for the sake of humanity. Here is a passage from the end of the novel where Pullman highlights Lyra’s shift to a universal consciousness:

“The enormousness of the task silenced them. Lyra looked up at the blazing sky. She was aware of how small they were, she and her daemon, in comparison with the majesty and vastness of the universe; and of how little they knew, in comparison with the profound mysteries above them.”

To sum it all up – Lyra is a hero through and through. I can’t wait to read the next two books in the trilogy and see where her hero’s journey takes her.

4) Sometimes the Narrator Says Just a Little Too Much

I like the 3rd person narrator, but I think sometimes they overstep their bounds. As an example of what I mean, check out this passage from early on in the novel:

“She [Lyra] was eager to hear a great deal more about it in the months to come, and eventually she would know more about Dust than anyone in the world; but in the meantime, there was all the life of Jordan still being lived around her.”

I don’t know why, but passages like these tend to annoy me. I think because, I am reminded that there is an author who is writing the story. It’s like the director steps in front of the camera for a second. The veil is lifted. I was entranced in the story, but now I’m thinking about how the author knows everything and he’s just stringing me along.

When the third person narrator makes statements like this, it distracts from the story. And as a reader, I want to be immersed in the story. I want to be in the room with Lyra. I want to be in the middle of the battle scene. I don’t want to think about Phillip Pullman and the fact that he’s got this whole thing mapped out.

****

That’s all, for now anyways. More on the Golden Compass Series coming up, as soon as I read the other two sequels. (Although right now I’m preoccupied with reading  the self-published blockbuster, “The Martian” by Andy Weir…

My Favorite Story Formula: Tuesday, May 19th

William Bernhardt is a writer who writes about the writing process. He told me something about story that I can’t stop thinking about. He gave me a “Story Formula” that I think is really sexy and powerful and, best of all, easy to understand.

Just for the hell of it, I’m going to name this particular story formula the “Avalanche Method.”

In this post I am going to give an overview of the Avalanche Method. And I’ll give some examples from famous movies and TV shows. My hope is that, whenever I apply this formula to a new story in the future, or whenever I talk about this story formula in a blogpost, I can link back to this post for reference.

So here we go:

!!!!!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!! I’m going to give away the endings to Breaking Bad, Braveheart, The Matrix, and Harry Potter. (Which is the greater crime – having never finished Harry Potter, or having never seen Mel Gibson shirtless in Braveheart?)

1) A good story begins with an Inciting Incident, which throws the protagonist into a completely different frame of reference. It’s an exciting event that catapults us from normal boring life and into a story. The inciting incident is where you want your story to begin. Usually it’s a shocking and strange event. Everyday life is boring: an inciting incident is not boring.

Examples of Inciting Incident: In the TV show “Breaking Bad”, the inciting incident is when Walter White first cooks meth with Jesse. In the movie “Braveheart”, the inciting incident is when William Wallace’s girlfriend is killed by the English soldiers. In the movie “The Matrix”, the inciting incident is when Neo swallows the red pill. In the Harry Potter series, the inciting incident is when Voldemort kills Harry’s parents and leaves a scar on little baby Harry’s forehead.

2) Fast forward now to the END of a story, or, The Climax. Everyone knows that the climax is the big action scene at the end. But in the Avalanche Method of storytelling, we understand that the climax is directly linked to the inciting incident. In other words, once the inciting incident happens, the climax can’t help but happen.

Of course there many ways a story could end, and it’s the writer’s job to decide which version of the climax is most satisfying (Voldemort could have killed Harry Potter and taken over the world, for example). BUT, in any case, the climax represents the necessary release of tension – or catharsis, as Aristotle would say – that was originally created by the inciting incident.

The Inciting Incident is the snowflake that starts the Avalanche. The climax is when the massive wall of snow and debris and destruction finally comes to rest.

Examples of Climax: In, “Breaking Bad”, the climax is when Walter White finally dies after a brilliant shootout in the meth lab and Jesse zooms away in his car. Ever since that first day that Walter White cooked meth, we knew that this day was inevitable. He was either going to take over the world or die trying. Now finally we are relieved and the show is over. In “Braveheart”, the climax is William Wallace being tortured and killed. From the moment his wife was murdered, we knew that he was going to free Scotland or die trying, there was no other way. In “The Matrix” – the first movie at least – the Climax is when Neo outmatches the agents and realizes his true potiential. The story ends here. In order to create sequels, the writers will have to come up with new powers and forces for NEO to battle, powers that are even stronger than the agents were. In “Harry Potter”, the climax is when Harry finally defeats Voldemort. This last battle is so damn satisfying because we KNEW it was coming, ever since Voldemort left that scar on Harry’s head, this battle had to happen. Once it’s over, the tension is released, we can rest easy, and there’s no reason to write an 8th book.

3) So what happens inbetween the Inciting Incident and the Climax? The avalanche rolls down the mountain, growing and growing as it goes. The stakes get higher. The action gets more intense. The destruction doubles and then quadruples. This is the bulk of the story, the fun part, the ups and the downs, but really it’s all just building up to the climax that we need and know is coming.

***

So there you have it. That’s the Avalanche Method of writing stories. It’s helpful for me because it’s easy to understand. It’s logical. It’s a place to begin.

A million good stories have been built up from this foundation. And there’s still room for a million more.

Brainstorm: Friday, May 15th

Why screw around? Here are 7 Quickfire thoughts about Writing and Story:

  • Aristotle is the godfather of story structure. Writers argue about whether story is driven by plot or character or conflict or (_______) – but nobody argues about the 3 act structure. Aristotle said that each of the 3 acts has a base emotion attached to it. They are 1) Pity, 2) Fear, and 3) Catharsis. The audience feels pity for a protagonist at the beginning of a story, as everything is going wrong. In the middle of the story, as the tension rises, the audience feels fear for the protagonist. In the end, when the conflict is resolved, the audience feels relief, release, catharsis.
  • Humans are “story animals”. We use stories to make sense of the world. We band together around our myths, religions, family histories.  It’s the thing that distinguishes us from other animals. Not Language, Not Wisdom, Not Walking Upright on Two Legs.
  • Adversity is an intrinsic part of the human story. Our bodies need resistance. Our minds need to stretch in order to grow. Without resistance there is no growth. Without evil there is no good. A story with no conflict is a shiny ford truck with no engine.
  • During a good hero’s journey, trials and revelations are what transform the consciousness of the hero. Heroes are always self interested at first, but they progress along a spectrum of selflessness, until they are willing to give anything for the cause they know is pure.
  • A student in a lecture hall once asked Haruki Murakami, “What did you mean when you wrote that ‘his stomach was a volcano?’ Did you mean that the character was hungry? Or that he was nervous?” Murakami responded, “It was not a metaphor. I meant just what I said, that ‘his stomach was a volcano.'”
  • The best way to be a writer or any kind of artist is to write like myself.  When I act like the socially accepted version of myself, I’m only capable of making copies, never any original art. When I act like a copy, all I’m doing is taking up valuable space in the universe. When I act like myself, I water the garden of the collective mind.
  • I allow myself to dream. Dreaming is good. But I try not to forget this crucial step: right when the dream is over, I try and ask myself, “OK so, what’s one thing I can do RIGHT NOW (within the next 10 minutes) that will push me closer to that dream? There’s a canyon that stretches out between my current life and my dream life. Whenever I take those little actions, I nail another plank on the bridge that’ll one day carry me across.