Tag Archives: Star Wars

K.M. Weiland & the Three Most Common Story-structure Pitfalls

K.M. WeilandWhy do some stories rivet us from the opening line, while others fall flat after the first few chapters?

If you ask K.M. Weiland, it has a lot  to do with the story’s structure.

K.M. is an award-winning blogger and author of Amazon bestsellers, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story. 

I discovered K.M. after reading her Civil War short story, “One More Ride in the Rain,” set in the waning days of the Civil War about four Confederate cavalrymen taking refuge in a widow’s shack. I’ve since bought her book on story structure, finding it an easy read and valuable resource for understanding and avoiding the pitfalls of story structure.

I asked K.M. what prompted her to tackle this kind of self-help book for authors: “It revolutionized my own writing process. It excites me too much not to share it,” she says.

I’m looking forward to her next book from Writer’s Digest Books, Jane Eyre: The Classic Annotated for Readers and Writers, the first in a series with annotations geared specifically toward writers.

Below, she opens up about story structure, including three of the most common pitfalls, and an example of story structure done right.

     Structuring Your NovelQ. How important is story structure to a novel?

Proper structure is vital in creating powerful and memorable fiction. Story structure is instinctual to most people. It’s embedded deep in the human psyche. It’s certainly not an arbitrary set of guidelines, and it’s also not something exclusive to our era. We find the classic three-act structure across centuries and continents.

That being so, we have to ask ourselves, Why? The answer, of course, is that structure creates stories that not only balance the rise and fall of action, but also time the important turning points, so that they have the best chance of impacting and resonating with readers.

What writer doesn’t want to do that? A conscious understanding of structure allows us to understanding the theory behind story, which then allows us to discover why certain stories work and others don’t—and how to make sure our stories land in the former group.

Q.    Q. What are key pitfalls of story structure—and what can writers do to avoid/correct those pitfalls?

a.      Starting too late/too early.

Beginnings are always going to be one of the toughest areas in fiction, simply because there is so much we have to get right in them. One of the most important things we have to get right is the timing. Beginnings need to begin as close to the action as possible in order to cut any potentially boring or extraneous info. But they also have to begin early enough to give readers time to get to know the characters before the action really heats up.

 

b.      Mistaking the inciting event for the key event, or vice versa.

Most writers are familiar with the “inciting event” as being the moment that kicks off the story. But we don’t hear as much about the “key event,” and this can end up creating a lot of confusion. The inciting event starts the story’s action (e.g., war is declared), but the key event is what involves the protagonist in that action (e.g., he joins the Army). Up until the key event, he could conceivably continue his daily life, unaffected, without ever having to enter the melee of the story.

 c.       Skipping the Midpoint.

Writers often struggle with the “sagging middle” of their stories. More often than not, this is the result of an MIA or weak Midpoint. The Midpoint, which (surprise!) occurs smack in the middle of story is a dramatic event—sometimes even more dramatic than the First Major Plot Point at the 25% mark. The Midpoint marks an end to the characters’ reaction phase in the first half of the book and spurs him to start taking control and taking action against the antagonistic force. As long as your Midpoint is present and accounted for, you’re not likely to struggle with a saggy Second Act.

   

Q. Q. What is the most memorable story you’ve ever encountered that really got structure right?

If you enjoy a book or movie, you can pretty much bet it was properly structured. In fact, it’s difficult to find any improperly structured stories that have made it as far as Hollywood or traditional publishing. Movies are particularly great for studying structure, since we can almost always time the plot points down to the minute. Star_Wars_Logo.svg

One of my favorite examples is George Lucas’s original Star Wars

1.      First Act: In which characters, settings and stakes are introduced to the reader (e.g., in Star Wars: A New Hope, viewers meet the droids, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Luke, and Obi-Wan and learn what is at stake for the characters on a personal level and the galaxy as a whole).

2.      First Major Plot Point: In which the First Act ends with a definitive event that forces the character to react (the murders of Luke’s aunt and uncle lead Luke to his decision to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan)

3.      First Half of the Second Act: In which the character reacts to his new plight and tries to regain his bearings (Obi-Wan hires a ship to Alderaan, and Luke starts learning about the Force).

4.      Second Major Plot Point or Midpoint: In which another definitive event occurs, this time forcing the character out of his period of reactions and into action (the Death Star captures the Millennium Falcon).

5.      Second Half of the Second Act: In which the characters begin to come into their own power and take definitive action against the antagonistic force (Obi-Wan goes off on his own to shut down the tractor beam, while Luke, Han, and Chewie decide to rescue Princess Leia).

6.      Third Major Plot Point: In which the character’s actions seemingly lead him to a place of defeat (Obi-Wan dies and the Empire places a tracking beacon aboard the escaping Falcon).

7.      Third Act: In which the character must rally for a final assault against the antagonistic force (Luke and the Rebels use R2-D2’s schematics of the Death Star to plan a last-ditch assault).

8.      Climax: In which the conflict between protagonist and antagonistic force reaches a deciding moment (Luke blows up the Death Star).

9.      Resolution: In which the loose ends are tied up, and the characters react to the events of the climax (Princess Leia passes out medals).

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K.M. Weiland enjoys hearing from other writers. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and G+. Her author website is: http://www.kmweiland.com/.


 

 

My DragonCon Wrap-up: A Genre Writer’s Dream

I am finally taking a breath after the long Labor Day weekend and work week to share some thoughts from this year’s DragonCon.  For the second year, I braved the crowds of avatars, wookies, Klingons and Death Eaters at one of the country’s largest sci-fi conventions to hear from some of the best genre writers in young adult and fantasy. Here’s just a few of the folks who made an impression this year.
Carrie Fisher
“I was never that great of an actor.”
 

Carrie Fisher and the six Leias.

Carrie shared – with self-deprecating wit – what it was really like playing the iconic Princess Leia (“it was cool being the only girl”), being engaged to Dan Akroyd and her at-times strained working relationship with director George Lucas, who she later collaborated with as a co-writer on “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.”
In her bestselling memoir and one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, Fisher said, “George Lucas ruined my life.” Her disgust with her Star Wars costumes (including having to wrap her breasts) are well documented, with her least-favorite being the infamous metal bikini in Return of the Jedi. “When I laid down, the metal bikini stayed up, so BobaFett could see all the way to Florida.”
Fisher played off the energy of the standing-room only crowd of fans, who heard her talk candidly about her struggle with bipolar disorder. Many fans thanked her for her openness, sharing that they, too, struggled with the condition.
Sherrilyn Kenyon
“I can’t write when it’s quiet – absolute silence makes me insane.”
So says the Dark-Hunter series author, speaking on a New York Times bestselling author tell all panel, fresh from signing a movie and TV series deal earlier this summer (look out, True Blood fans). The prolific author has made the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list 16 times in the last three years. She told fans during the  panel that she writes about 100 pages a day.
Kenyon says things were always chaotic growing up as a middle child with eight brothers. That’s not changed now that she has three active sons. She told fans how her 16-year-old son has decided to start writing, telling her, “Mom, writing is hard.” Her one guilty pleasure? Helping her boys find ways to kill off their Dungeon and Dragon characters.
She says making the the New York Times Bestseller List doesn’t change your life overnight. She had to work all types of jobs on her way to literary fame and found herself homeless with an infant even after writing six bestsellers.
In chatting with the author as she signed my copy of her newest book, Retribution, I asked her about the cable TV deal for her Dark-Hunter Series. No news yet on the lucky network that will take on the book series; however, fans can rest easy knowing that Kenyon will have a say on the adaptation since she will be a producer.
 
Charlaine Harris
“The most important message is tolerance.”
That’s what the author hopes readers get when they read her SookieStackhouse novels, which are the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood series.  She deliberately writes about characters with different sexual orientations for this reason.
During the True Blood Q and A she said how glad she is that fellow southerner Alan Ball got the job directing True Blood.  “It’s like they took my book and gave it steroids,” she says of the HBO adaptation.
Later, during the New York Times Bestselling author panel, Harris opened up about her addiction to Facebook(“it’s a terrible use of a writer’s time”) and her daily routine as a writer, saying she writes every day and doesn’t clean her house anymore but still does her family’s laundry.  Her guilty pleasure? Watching Project Runway.
She takes her writing deadlines seriously (“getting paid is a huge inspiration to me”) and recalls being late once – after her mother died.
You can access the full video of DragonCon’s first True Blood panel here.
Michael Stackpole
“Think bigger than one story.”

Aaron Alston and Michael Stackpole.

That was Stackpole’s advice to writers during one of the more popular sessions in his hourly Writer Workshop delivered over 14 hours with fellow New York Times bestselling author Aaron Allston. (Stackpole has said in a recent blog post that he and Aaron are returning in 2012 – this is GREAT news to writers who want to further their craft).
The session I attended, “Writing Careers in the Post-paper Era,” gave attendees an update on the growing E-book market for novelists, noting that the battle between traditional and digital publishers is not about sales, but about “control and access to audiences.” Stackpole urged people to write in packages that are friendly to consumers – instead of a 120,000-word novel, think in terms of three smaller 50,000-word novels. Instead of focusing on a single story, think about developing “a property” where you can tell more than one story in that world. “Series sell.  They breed loyalty – we always come back to them,” he says.  I will write more about Stackpole’s presentation in a future blog post.
Aaron Allston
“Die adjective, die!”
Allston – not unlike Ernest Hemingway – sees little value in adjectives or adverbs for serious writers, calling them “insulating layers,” that do anything but give the reader a sense of the experience being described. The phrase used to describe this practice is “purple prose.” He urges writers on their first editing pass to “look at every adjective and adverb and strike most of them out.”
Allston shared other advice during his workshop session — from the role of pacing to balancing exposition with dialogue to tell a story memorably. He advises writers to match the length of description to what their character sees.
He also says that you can fill in descriptive passages later after the first draft is crafted.  “Backfill motivation, description and foreshadowing. Vastly limit adjectives and adverbs. Participles are not good. Use active verbs. Keep it simple. Keep it short. I am for transparency – don’t be too stylized.”

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Harry Potter Film Legacy – Great Storytelling that Made Reading Books ‘Cool’

Photo credit: Warner Brothers.
I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II a week after its record-setting opening weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The opening scene begins with Harry, Ron, and Hermione continuing their quest to find and destroy the Dark Lord’s three remaining Horcruxes, the magical items responsible for his immortality. The movie’s satisfying conclusion has the beloved main characters, now married with children of their own, sending off their offspring to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
 
It was the most anticipated film of 2011, according to a Fandango moviegoer survey, and smashed box office records, earning $168 million in North America alone. By far the best of all the Harry Potter films, Deathly Hollows II is getting early Oscar buzz and deservedly so.

But, for this muggle, the legacy won’t be the films so much as the inventive storytelling and rich color that was brought to life on the page by J.K. Rowling in her fantasy seven-book series.

I’m not alone in that view. I recently chatted with Lawson Cox, president of the Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, who weathered the long lines to attend a midnight showing of the movie with his two teenage daughters.

For him, the mania brought back memories of the original Star Wars movie that exploded onto the scene in 1977 followed by a series of hit sequels.
 

“When The Empire Strikes Back was released, people camped out for tickets and waited in line for hours to see the movies. But I never saw anything like that surrounding a book release until Harry Potter — especially the last book in the series,” recalls Cox, whose family attended a local Barnes and Noble book release party back in 2007.
 

“It was an even more enthusiastic crowd than the final movie. There were literally hundreds of people, mostly teens and younger, willing to wait in line for hours and fork over their own money…for a book! In today’s multimedia-focused culture, that is simply unheard of,” Cox enthuses, adding, “Harry Potter introduced a whole new generation to the excitement of reading, and proved that books are certainly not dead.”

When I think of the lasting legacy of the Harry Potter books, I don’t have to look any further than my children, who are avid fans of the book series (we are reading them together, one by one).
Here’s what one young person had to say about the book series’ impact: “To me, Harry Potter is a defining piece of culture for my generation’s childhood and teenage years. Many of us who read these books as kids and then went on to read them ourselves. Some of our first real novels were the Harry Potter books. Just like ourselves, the stories matured and grew with their audience,” writes Alex Corbett, a Canadian 12th grader on a Canadian online newspaper site, This Week.  
 
Rowling has done what another British-born author, C.S. Lewis, did with The Chronicles of Narnia — capture the imaginations of a generation of readers, young and old. Last October, the best-selling author told Oprah that she was open to writing subsequent Potter novels, though she quickly followed up by saying, “I feel I’m done, but you never know.”
Personally, I don’t think she could do any better, except perhaps to write a prequel that more fully shapes the stories of the boy wizard’s parents and their colorful contemporaries, including the complicated character, Severus Snape, played brilliantly by English actor Alan Rickman. Such a treatment would also give fans the chance to delve into the influences that drove the young Tom Riddle into becoming the villainous Dark Lord.
 
I, for one, hope there’s more to come.