Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Plotting Style

Photo: The Boston Globe by J. Wilder Bill

Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Kurkjian brainstorms story structure and plotting.

In his non-fiction book, Master Thieves, Kurkjian begins with the suspect who has the most emotional connection to the crime scene and ends with the suspect who has the clearest motive. In between is a diverse cast of outrageous criminals who have complicated relationships with one another. He interviewed witnesses, investigators, and suspects for hundreds of hours. Then, compared their testimonies.

The evidence is layered with several theories that build on one-another. He holds back information, until he’s established his case to support a fresh theory. He concludes with documented proof.

What is your criteria in deciding the order you reveal the facts and introduction of characters?

With newspaper articles, the structure is almost always the same, and is built like an inverted triangle. The key element of the article is at the top of the story – and it is written as directly/powerfully as possible. These stories usually are written after months of reporting so there is a lot of material to wade through to figure out “what it all means,” “what do I have here,” and how do I convey this material so the most important element is at the top and potential lasting impact of the information is conveyed.

Pulitzer winner structure.

Remember in the movie SPOTLIGHT there was an internal debate on the team as to whether the original story that would be written would focus on one priest – Fr. John Geoghan – whom the Boston Archdiocese had moved from parish to parish despite a litany of complaints about his molesting boys at each past assignment or focus on that there were dozens of such priests within the Archdiocese who had such allegations against them. 

Strongest facts shape the lead and set up future stories.

In the end, the editor of The Globe decided the initial story would focus on Geoghan and that decision was primarily based on the fact that the Spotlight reporters had information on Geoghan which was more unassailably true than the conclusion that similar forgiving actions appeared to have been taken on other priests. Newspaper articles need to be accurate, especially investigative ones, and the fact that Geoghan was not a solitary figure within the Archdiocese, that there were so many other priests who had abused kids who had been treated with such forgiveness by the church, would be revealed with future coverage.

Research is critical.

Investigative articles like this are meant to shock the reader, to capture their attention. Often though the material is complicated and perhaps suggestive of an abuse rather than convincing. The necessity is to present the reporting as accurately as possible – with on-the-record interviewing; documentation; and data collection. Data rebuts or clouds the revelation must also be included as well as an honest effort to convey “the other side,” that is the explanation of the individual, agency or institution whose performance is being questioned by the article.

Theme trumps motivation.

When it comes to motivation I pretty much subscribe to the explanation that Sidney Pollack gave to George Clooney who asked in the movie Michael Clayton why a colleague may have committed suicide: “Because people are fucking inscrutable, that’s why.” I can divine a host of reasons as to why a person might make an act that I would be writing about – greed, ambition, hatred, fear and even loyalty. But most often my readers aren’t interested in motivation – as an investigative reporter, my assignment is to come up with stories that they would not have otherwise known about had it not been for my reporting.

Facts boost story transitions.

The stories that I most often deal with are complicated matters, replete with data, anecdotal information, quotes and summary paragraphs which often serve as transitions. That’s a lot to pack in, and I like to organize the material before I actually sit down to write. The outline is what I call the spin of my story.

Sentence structure.

Being complicated, I try to write as directly as possible, and the more complicated the material, the shorter my sentences. I am wary of making the material tedious to weigh through so I arrange my paragraphs in such a way that every succeeding paragraph is going to address a question that might naturally flow out of the previous paragraph.

Establish the lead and summary.

Once I have finished stacking the material in as seamless a fashion as I can, I usually know what my lead will be, what my summary paragraph will be – at The Globe we use to call it the “who-ha” graph which basically translates into why the reader should be spending his valuable time in reading it, taken together what do the facts of the article say about the administration of justice or effectiveness of a particular agency that we are writing about.

Isolate shocking facts.

The outline will also isolate the major abuses that my reporting has found, and present them in a clear, hopefully powerful way, and include quantifiable data that shows the reader that the reporting is solid/accurate and substantive. 

Do you develop a story by plotting the arc of a hero’s journey before you investigate, or does the information you learn develop the pattern of the plot?

I spend an inordinate amount of time during and after completing my reporting in analyzing what I have found. That material – the proof that supports/proves – the lead is presented in summary form in the top third of the story. In addition, the top third contains the summary graph that presents how the abuse happened but also the underlying causes for it and what that abuse says about the overall integrity/effectiveness of the institution in question.

Show the how, why, and what in first third of story.

At the Globe, this paragraph is called “the who-ha” graph and is meant to convey the overall significance of what the article has revealed. Investigative reporters are in the end social scientists who have discovered something new and aberrant that has been taking place in our community and that this aberration is having a negative effect on the people within the community.

Selecting a hook.

During my career as an investigative reporter, I liked working on issues/articles that affected the largest number of people. Such stories usually involved me with public health, education, safety, transportation and the health of the local economy. These agencies that provide these essential services – schools, police and fire, economic development, public works, public hospitals, and courts – are paid for by the taxpayers’ dollars and it is an essential for newspapers and media organizations to be evaluating how effective they are doing their jobs. If the police are making fewer arrested for domestic abuse; if minorities are being stopped and frisked for minor traffic offenses; if the survival rate of cardiac patients is less (or more) at our local hospital; of some neighborhood streets get quicker snow plow services than others because politically-connected people live in the favored neighborhoods – then all of those possibilities deserve attention or at least awareness.

Standards for a journalist.

Reporters are trained in the essentials of journalism – fairness and thoroughness – in every course that they take. Such standards are maintained at every newspaper, regardless of their size, in the country and readers should be aware that such standards underlie every article that they read, and know that they can depend on the product of that reporting.

An example of objective and complete reporting.

Such an approach worked for me when I confronted a priest who several men had alleged had sexually abused them years before. This was during the height of The Globe’s coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and was shown vividly – with one major inaccuracy – in the movie SPOTLIGHT. 

Stephen Kurkjian continues brainstorming at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Pulitzer Quality Writing & at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Presenting Complex Relationships.

Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Presenting Complex Relationships

Stephen Kurkjian at a book signing

Photo: Compliments of Stephen Kurkjian

Author Stephen Kurkjian is known for his life-changing stories as an investigative journalist for The Boston Globe. He is a hero who grinds out the truth of a story to benefit the public. His tenacity in uncovering the facts is shown by his receiving numerous awards, and his winning the Pulitzer Prize three times puts Stephen Kurkjian within the most talented league of authentic storytellers.

Kurkjian reached such heights by developing a powerful writing style. He authored a nonfiction book, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, which creates such complex controversies regarding the theories behind the unsolved mystery, it is being made into a movie. 

I had the pleasure of getting to know Kurkjian while he investigated the art theft. I am thrilled to share his award-winning writing techniques over a series of articles where he brainstormed the elements of style. 

Presenting Complex Relationships

Stephen covers every angle with an emphasis on revealing the perceptions of the people he interviews, which read as fully developed characters. He introduces each prospective criminal with his back story. He uses the lifetime of struggles and desires to pave an explanation of how each could have been involved with the art heist. Stephen’s colorful descriptions made me care about the suspects. 

How do you develop a character a reader can relate while exposing their darkest sides?

The characters whom I write about have not been created by me as I write solely in non-fiction. What I try to convey about them is their uniqueness, what sets them apart from their criminal associates. For the most part, it is because they were smarter and/or more violent than their associates, and I try to capture/convey that as honestly as possible.

How to approach an interviewee. 

I like to let such associates describe/define themselves so as much as possible I seek interviews with the bad guys whom I am writing about. I am persistent in seeking their cooperation but never offensively so. (You have to remember these men usually have a tendency towards violence!) My first approach is to their lawyers so the target knows right from the start that I am trying co interview them, and why. I also let them know why I am seeking their cooperation – how they fit into the story. These men don’t like to be surprised, nor upset.

Establishing elements of back story.

It is important in writing about them in newspaper articles to try not to magnify their roles or mock them. I will include some of what may seem like their excesses – the frequency of their dropping F-bombs in their answers; their suspicious natures or narrowness of views – but I also try to get to what drives them to use violence, real or faked, as a tool in their everyday operation.

Support the allegation.

How to assure myself of that? Every case is different, but I always depend on documentation to prove my allegation – and not opinion or an unidentified source. Second, I make every attempt to confront the person whom I am writing about with the substance of the allegation before I publish it. That means giving the person a copy of the document on which I am basing my article, or providing them with the data on which I am basing my conclusions about their performance.

Level of proof.

After deciding on what story I am going to pursue, my basic rule of thumb of whether I have proven the allegation is “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” To be indicted on a criminal charge, it must be shown that the offense took place “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s not good enough for me because I believe that I am going to be taking away something even more valuable than a person’s liberty/freedom by a negative story, I am going to target his reputation. There is an old country expression that I was brought up on, lose your arm before you lose your name. So before I publish an allegation, I want to make absolutely sure that it is correct.

Getting the interviewee to open up.

In the end it is almost like asking the individual to confess his crime, or at least provide an explanation for why they did such an offensive act. The approach I take in such cases is to confront the individual in person and tell him or her that such criminality or corruption will continue to go on unless those who are caught in its grips speak up and explain why they did it.

What to report.

My job as an investigative reporter begins by answering two fundamental questions about a piece of information that has been presented to me as news (we call it a “tip”): 

1.) Is it true? And, can I prove it is true so I can document it. 

Once, I pass through those two gates, the next question that I must answer for myself and my readers is: 

2.) Even if it is true, is it worth the time and hard work that it is going to take to publish it in the paper? 

Choosing a hook.

As a rule of thumb, I prefer to spend my time reporting on issues that involve the greatest amount of people – so tips involving the public health, education, public safety and transportation gain my most interest. To write about a public works commissioner who had a lavish vacation home built for him free of charged by a developer whom he had favored with multi-million dollar contracts is going to draw headlines, of course, but is it a more important story than showing public transit in our community discriminates against poorer, black neighborhoods with slower service and more unreliable buses and drivers? Those questions must be asked by reporters and editors all the time.

Baiting the hook.

Since I am a news reporter I try to find the motivation that would explain why an individual might have committed a particular act. As you know, the reporter’s job is to answer these fundamental questions of an event – 

1.) Who did it? 

2.) What happened?

3.) Where did it take place and when? 

4.) How did it happen? and,

5.) Why did it happen? — the most important and difficult question to answer.

For more thoughts on factual writing, please see, Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Plotting Style & at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Pulitzer Quality Writing.

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The Goals for a Blockbuster Beginning

Playful couple

Relationships can be described as existing where two people deal with each other. Keeping the connection is difficult, particularly when a writer sets up challenges for the characters to overcome. Whether the genre you write is romance or the relationship is the subplot, there is a method to the madness of two souls finding love. Here, I share tips on how to plan the beginnings of a plot for a blockbuster relationship arc.

Hero with a Main Goal

A relationship begins with the hero having a main goal, which very likely is unrelated to his love life. In the initial stage of his relationship arc, have his words and dialogue refer to his desire to reach his goal. If the love interest mentions her concerns, have his reply address her issue, but circle back to relating to his needs. The hero will actually have more than one goal, but one will be emphasized, while the others will steer him astray. The hero’s main goal can be a moral goal, a personal goal, a career goal, or a relationship goal. 

Hero Expresses his Needs

In the first fourth of the story, show the hero expressing his needs through words, actions, and feelings. Create scenarios where the hero’s response revolves around his desire to reach his goal. 

We can see in Murder on the Orient Express where Inspector Hercule Poirot has a career goal to reach his destination city before a deadline. He has a relationship goal with the intention of not getting involved with anyone who would prevent him from reaching his goal, thus he is cordial, yet detached, from the other passengers. Initially, we are led to believe, as does the hero, that his main goal is his career goal. We are guided to conclude that his relationship goal to remain detached results from his career being his priority. But, Agatha Christie intends to test her hero by placing challenges in his path, requiring self-reflection by the character as to what his purpose is in having his career goal be his driving motivation.

What we discover is that Poirot has depth, more than he anticipates. When asked by the red-herring antagonist, Edward Ratchett, for protection because he fears he will be murdered, the inspector refuses. To protect a man believed to be a criminal goes against the inspector’s moral goal to restore justice, and it goes against his personal goal to arrive without complications to his desired town. Both of these override his desire to accomplish the duties of his career goal. 

Poirot’s action is to decline the money offered for the job of protecting the villain. He feels to do otherwise would thwart his efforts to bring about justice, which is what he tells the antagonist. 

Antagonist with Opposing Goal

However, the thirteen train passengers share an opposing goal. Creating an antagonist who has a goal directly preventing the hero from accomplishing his tasks to reach his goal intensifies the tension. The passengers intend to murder the alleged criminal and they desire for their actions in reaching their goal to occur without suffering through the court system. 

Agatha Christie squarely places their motivation in contrast to the hero’s by having each side believe or feel they are justified. Note how she further raises the stakes by showing the alleged criminal was found innocent in a court of law, however, the question remains as to whether justice was restored. 

The passengers act by evading questions and flat out lying. A moral goal develops a conflict with Poirot being placed in a position to determine whether a crime is ever justified, and whether at times lying can serve a higher purpose than the truth. The passengers ensure Poirot is asleep in his bed and they execute the murder. They feel justified in getting away with murder. 

Hero Moves Closer to His Goal

At the end of the first fourth of the story, present a weakness in the hero that draws him farther away from his goal. In the beginning of the plot, Poirot seemingly moves toward his career goal by having pleasant conversations with the others and enjoying his travels. He believes he will arrive to his destination without trouble, and he handles the hiccup of almost being drawn into drama in a way that allows him to deserve peace and quiet. 

But alas, when the murder takes place, as much as Poirot wants to leave the crime solving to the authorities, his weakness is in his moral goal to accomplish justice, and he can’t let it rest. Therefore, as much as Poirot states how important it is for him to reach his career goal in the first fourth of the story, his weakness keeps it out of reach.

Complicate the Relationships Between the Goals

Agatha Christie masterfully creates a villain who is a victim, and victims who are villains. The mystery becomes, which side is right, and which deserves to be punished. This reverts back to Poirot’s duty to be unbiased, yet as so often in her stories, he finds himself in a position where he judges the villains, first Ratchett individually, and then each of the passengers, one by one. This is all due to her creating complicated relationships between the goals, which triggers the actions of the characters. 

The Hero’s Weakness is Key

As much as the hero longs for one thing, his weakness prevents him from having it. Weaknesses come in many shapes and sizes. The type suffered by the hero establishes the relationship arc because it plays a strong role in the challenges. Now let’s consider the diverse roster of heroes in the Avengers, and label a few of their Achilles’ heels. 

Weaknesses Thwart the Goals

Relationship Goal: The Black Widow can’t accomplish her relationship goal to be with The Hulk because he is has the physical limitation of transitioning into a monster.  

Moral Goal: The Hulk can’t even consider a romance because he can’t cope with his anger. The Black Widow has no choice but to give him time to work through his weakness, because she is too weak to break out of her emotional barrier and help him heal. 

Personal Goal: Poor Loki is insecure about whether his adoptive family loves him, or if he would have been better off with his own kind. He’s so wrapped up in proving he deserves love, he isn’t even in the ballpark of finding it. 

Career Goal: Thor finds his one true love, but his duty to protect and save the humans and his subjects is far more important than his finding personal happiness. His superpowers place obligations on him to bring about the better good for those who can’t, which makes his strength his weakness in his relationships.

Obstacles by Antagonist

Aside from the personal demons holding the hero back from reaching his goals, the antagonist creates obstacle after obstacle after obstacle — that’s three, by the way. With each challenge, the hero is provided an opportunity to take one step closer to his goal. He can utilize his time wisely by improving his skills so that overcoming the challenge is viable, yet, he is weak, and his weakness is his greatest obstacle.

Going back to our Avenger analogy, we can see how the Iron Man is prevented from having a personal goal for peace of mind by his antagonist. He dedicates his career goal to inventing weapons that will protect the good guys, only to have those he set out to protect despise him for creating the situations that destroyed the individuals they loved. 

Therefore, his strength of inventiveness and generosity provide a weakness in his being unable to foresee the negative effects of his inventions. Although he views himself as giving his gifts to others as a moral goal, he fails to realize how far removed he is from giving what the people want, as opposed to what he decides they need. It is only through the antagonist that he comes to understand he is not as mighty as he thought, but alas, the bad guys make it personal. 

Make the Obstacle Personal

The challenges the hero faces prevents him from reaching his goal — enter Iron Man’s relationship goal. The antagonist take out their revenge on his love interest. What makes this a heinous crime is the innocence of Pepper. She is a victim merely because of the man she loves. Her life is in danger and all she wants is to settle down and have peace.

The Strength Creates the Weakness

The Iron Man’s arc expands through his relationship goal being his strongest motivator. He wants to enjoy the peace Pepper persuades him to believe exists. Every time he moves toward a stable relationship, an antagonist demands his full attention, which throws him off that path. 

Notice his weakness is a fear of commitment, which puts the steep curve on his relationship arc. He is too scared to invest himself into one lady, because to do so is what makes her a target. His loving another, and reaching for a relationship goal to be loved, creates his weakness and prevents him from reaching his other three goals.

Overview

To create a blockbuster beginning, plot your story four times, one for each of the motivations given to your hero: moral goal, career goal, personal goal, relationship goal. Establish an arc for each one. Have each of the goals create a conflict in his ability to reach another of his goals. By building a solid foundation for the first fourth of your plot, you establish the complexities and complications necessary for explosive, off the charts, tension.

What’s Your Favorite Type of Romance?

Every story has a romantic element. The ebb and flow of the arc of a relationship includes scenes where the heroine and the hero share a moment of intimacy, acknowledge their connection, and share the love. 

The type of romance you love reveals the issues you are facing in your life. The issues in your life tend to crop up in your plot. Do you long for a knight to rescue you at sunset? Are you debating over whether you deserve love? Is there a particular kind of man you keep finding in your life? Which type of romance is your favorite?  

Complicated Relationships

Romance adores those indiscretions that no relationship could withstand in real life. A novel is fiction, after all, and it is a playground for intertwining a variety of relationships. The gossipy tidbits we love to uncover provide scandalous scenarios for storytelling. If the actions of either the man or woman would be an embarrassment, then it belongs in a scandalous plot, but not without the lead couple pulling themselves out of the chaos for a happily ever home-life.

The Boys Out West

A romantic man possesses the courage and skills for survival. He has mastered his abilities to take the materials available and outwit nature. Once he meets the heroine, he views her as being important enough to belong in his clan. He doesn’t have to debate over when to apply his savvy wits. He knows he’s specially gifted at enduring hardships, and he accepts his duty to share his gifts with others by saving their lives, too. Feeling safe and protected reminds the heroine she is valued, and those are romantic feelings. 

The Double Trick Back

Romance fills the pages with sensuous fabrics, melodic voices and manicured landscapes, and yet, these hyped up images of indulgence set the tone for the villain of the novel to fall for the heroine. No matter how bad his deeds are, if the atmosphere is right, and the girl understands the impact of his sordid background, the two can overlook his hurtful mood swings and rude words. For the girl to find love with a mean man, the story must establish why he grew into the unappealing person, and it must allow his motive to be justified. The story wraps up with the villain recognizing his flaws and the heroine offering him forgiveness. 

A Sensitive Man

A romantic setting cannot unfold without the hero getting in touch with his feelings. He shares his affections with the girl either through his tender actions or his caring words. He doesn’t have to be a gentle man, just a guy who can’t resist the warm and fuzzy feeling in his gut when he’s near the woman.

Bad Boys

Ladies have an innate ability to nurture an injured soul. Those bad boys aren’t really thoughtless and stern. It’s just a shell and the perfect match for him is the only heroine with a magical key to unlock his heart. The allure of rogue heroes is in the lady playing a feminine role of the rescuer. She wears the armor and she is the savior willing to invest in his happiness. 

Rich Hero to the Rescue

Contemporary novels adore the super rich man because in modern times, wealth gives him power. Add to the mix a girl with simple tastes, and you have tension. The man’s typical methods for winning over the heart of a desirable woman falls on deaf ears when she values integrity, honesty, and kindness instead. The free pleasures in life create romantic settings. A walk through the woods picking wildflowers, a treasure hunt for seashells at sunset, or snuggling under blankets in her backyard, all guide the heart to falling in love. 

Type A Heroines

Women are stepping up to the plate when it comes to asserting themselves and living out their dreams. The days of passively watching the world swirl by are over, and the independence embraced by women create nifty conflicts in novels where the man didn’t get the memo about strong ladies having the will to get their way. These alpha girls aren’t just argumentative for the sake of creating tension. They have a goal to protect the hero, claim their own rights, and enjoy being in love.

Happily Ever After

A romance calls for everyone getting something she needs and a few things she wants in the end. The man wants to be in a relationship with her. The girl desires the life-changes the hero creates. Both consider the other to be a worthy partner, and attractive advocate. They belong together and for that reason, they will find happiness and peace in every hardship they will face throughout the rest of their lives. After all, there does need to be some truth in fiction.

The core of novel-writing revolves around the type of hero you portray in the story. The hero’s qualities play a role in developing the heroine’s character arc. For every action the man makes, the girl will respond, and her reaction must always create tension. 

Therefore, if the hero is rude, she will not mimic his tone. Hers will be in contrast to how he carries himself. If you create a strong-willed female, make sure to give the hero scenes where he can exhibit his emotional side. This touched-by-an-angel attitude can be presented through his work, where he cares for the sick or heals animals, or through his relationships with weak sub-characters, like an aging grandmother or an irresponsible little sister.

Knowing what you favor gives you the means to create a likable hero. You want to enjoy his company, and have fun when he’s in the scenes. The underlying feelings you have about a certain type of personality will surface in the tone of your dialogue and narrative. Pick your favorite type of romance, and share a description of the hero.

Writer’s Tips for Heroes with a Heart

image of vintage typewriter taken at the Boston Globe

Photo: The Boston Globe by J. Wilder Bill

Gestures for Impassioned Storytelling

Body Language when described well, can tell the entire story. Gestures reveal what the character is thinking, which oftentimes, you can add depth to his role by having them express the opposite of what he is saying. A way to develop trust with the reader is to allow him to know the secret thoughts of the hero. By giving the reader more information than the sub-characters, he gains the pleasure of solving portions of the story puzzles and anticipating what is about to be revealed. 

First, I will share the nuances of how our eyes respond to the feelings we are having, and which personality types of heroes react in each way.  

Eyes cannot lie, even when the hero’s lips deny.

The muscles around the eyes are difficult to control. The pupils respond with a mind of their own. When the hero feels a strong emotion, whether it is elation or danger, his pupils will grow larger, allowing more light to enter his eyes. Essentially, he is becoming alert and aware so that he can assess the situation. When the hero withdraws emotionally, he doesn’t want to share he feelings and his pupils decrease in size. This includes when the hero is telling a lie. 

An extended gaze can have several meanings. A confident hero might gaze at the heroine while smiling coyly with a goal to draw her attention toward him and let her know he is attracted to her. The hero and heroine could gaze longingly into each other’s eyes once they fall in love. Then again, if the aggressive hero is angry with the heroine, he might gaze with his jaw tensed and his lips pursed to express his distaste at the moment. 

Believe it or not, looking away from the heroine while she is speaking means the hero is processing what she is saying and doesn’t want distractions. He wouldn’t gaze over her shoulder unless he felt comfortable around her. When a person outright stares at someone speaking, it shows he is tense and feels threatened. As a primitive mannerism, he feels the need to watch her closely in case she is dangerous. 

Consider the eye contact of a dog. The dog looks away when an alpha dog gets in its face or authoritative owner reprimands it. A sensitive hero looks away and down when he is feeling tender and while talking to himself. Another reason he might avert his eyes is when the heroine is in an embarrassing situation. A manipulative hero, like a bully, will try to keep eye contact with the heroine as a method to intimidate her. She would then let her eyes wander out of social protocol or as a method to remain unbiased about what he is telling her. 

Also, if the heroine becomes angry, the hero might look down to show humility or submissiveness. Typically, people carry over their childhood teachings of showing respect to an authority figure when being scolded by keeping their eyes down. When the hero tells a lie, his eyes are likely to lock onto the heroine’s. He will be putting forth excessive effort to connect with her. It is more likely the hero is telling the truth where he averts his eyes or avoids full contact.

The hero’s glance gives away his unspoken desires. Glancing at an exit means an impatient hero is ready to escape. A respectful hero won’t be able to resist glancing at the heroine when building up the courage to speak to her. Oftentimes, the pursuer gazes for a few seconds, looks away, and then gives a wide-eyed glance. There might be a scenario where he’s forbidden to associate with her, yet when she enters the room, his eyes slip over to her. 

If his eyebrows are raised when he gives her a sideways glance, he is definitely interested, but if his eyebrows are lowered, he disapproves of her behavior. Alternatively, a sensitive or caring hero could glance at the heroine when he senses she is sad or her feelings are hurt.

Where the astute hero rolls his eyes or gives a sidewise glance with a tilted head, he is letting the heroine know he is onto her ruse. He is showing he doesn’t believe what she is saying.  

Domineering heroes and also the good-natured leaders, ignore protocol when it comes to gazing or looking away. They tend to plant their eyes wherever it suits them. Submissive or accommodating heroes bow their heads to show respect or when near an authoritarian heroine. From a distance, they might stay behind a display rack, with a stare, but out of sight.

If the domineering or authoritative hero doesn’t receive the full gaze of the heroine, he will take it as a threat or lose interest based on his sensing she feels superior and won’t respect him. The rich or famous hero doesn’t notice where he looks while those from a lower status follow the social customs of looking away to be submissive. Also, someone of a lower or subservient status will gaze at the authoritative heroine’s face while she’s speaking.

While the intentions of a hero are revealed by where his eyes focus, the way he flexes the muscles around his eyes reveal his deepest feelings. Please check out my other articles entitled Heroes with a Heart where I’ll give additional writer’s tips on showing the feelings and thoughts of your hero.

 

Tips on How Couples Stay Together

image of J. Wilder Bill with her spouse in Italy

Photo: Decades ago in Sorrento, Italy

Longevity in a marriage can seem daunting. The divorce rate is declining, yet the possibility of separating can linger in the air. An argument can set off a chain of emotions causing you to feel alone.

This alienation can cause you to want to escape the abandonment. A daily routine can leave you bored, which can shift into a combative way of communicating. Your spouse might seem uninspired by any loving attempts to recapture a friendly atmosphere. A defensive response might block the connection your spouse yearns to receive. 

Even when a couple shares a life of blessings, not every day is monumental. We compare ourselves with the sensationalized portrayals of daily living fed to us by the media, and convince ourselves our relationships are lacking. 

The difference between a couple that stays together and one that separates is — the couple who stays together chooses to stay together. 

The complicated part is that staying together means work. It requires self-reflection by both. The conflicts of divorced couples compared to the disputes within a marriage have core similarities. Although no spouse is encouraged to remain in jeopardy, sticking through the thin parts fulfills the romantic promise made when the relationship first blossomed. 

The term commitment has lost its glory and sends a jolt of fear up spines. It is associated with being denied the ability to leave a horrible situation. If you decide to suffer the unpleasantries, know that you are utilizing the power to create a change in your relationship. You have the option to reevaluate your position.

By changing your interpretation, you shift the tone in your voice. Altering the way you respond instills a change in the way your spouse perceives himself. Where he might have considered you to be the obstacle to his happiness, now he can view you as the one who can comfort him through his struggles. 

Couples who last do not necessarily resolve all of their issues. The point of arguing isn’t who is right, or how often one wins. They concede to disagree. This acceptance of differences can be silent.

Marriage is rarely fifty-fifty. There are times when no matter how right you are, you must put forth ninety-percent of the effort to let it go. 

I used to envy couples’ relationships who were considerate and respectful toward one another. They didn’t bicker over dinner or talk down to one another. They were content and cordial and calm. Years passed, and the relationships I idolized ended in divorce. 

Communication is not the matrimonial deal-breaker. Proper communication can place a strain on a relationship. Saying what is on your mind, even though it might encourage a round of disagreements, places a value to both opinions. A relationship where you are comfortable letting each other know where you stand is the result of having strong ties. The committed attitude by both sides makes each secure in saying what he thinks. 

How exactly does a person establish a bond strong enough to survive the differences in opinions? Neighbors will help another when it comes to noncommittal actions as large as rebuilding after a natural disaster all the way down to the small act of holding a door open. But, when faced with a loved one who takes his bad mood out on you, your primitive impulses might resist helping him get over whatever is on his mind. 

Once you get to know another by understanding his hardships and how they relate to the day he is having, you develop compassion for him. By embracing your spouse’s previous experiences, by visiting his hometown, and spending time with his family, you deepen your understanding of why he perceives life the way he does. You don’t have to agree with his viewpoints. By connecting the dots of where he’s coming from, you stop taking his moodiness personally. 

Opening ourselves to another is boosted through touch. The physical form of intimacy seals business deals with handshakes. A sick person is strengthened by a nurse resting her hand on his forearm. A friend going through difficulties feels empowered by a hug.

To intensify a relationship, it is best to touch, no matter how briefly, at least once a day. A pat on the arm while your spouse is driving might draw him out of worrying about a doomsday he fears will evolve. Through physical contact, our senses assure us we can trust someone who is willing to get close. 

Spending time together bonds a couple. It doesn’t have to be long hours every day. The intimacy can be short or periodic, but the time we invest in loved ones should include a relaxed mind. Some couples relax during a vacation. Others relax while watching television. There is no best way. The emphasis in the togetherness is for each to have an opportunity to share his thoughts and establish nonphysical touching. 

Nonphysical touching occurs when two share a laugh, when they share an adventure, and when they tell each other secrets. The point is to establish joint memories. Later, when you return to your busy lifestyle, you will recall the emotional sharing you experienced.

The memory doesn’t have to be a life-changing event. The fact you associate the other with something you enjoyed or survived or embraced solidifies your bond. Even listening to your spouse tell about an experience where he had success or happiness creates a modified memory where you are a part of those good times. 

You have the power to determine the outcome of your relationship. If you choose to stay, then you will stay. It is that simple. 

The complex element is the ability to stay, which for far longer periods of time than you might prefer, includes improving yourself. Self-sacrifice and longstanding efforts might seem unfair, but having longevity in a relationship fills you with gratification. No obstacle can eliminate the confidence you gain from knowing you succeeded. 

The Momentum to Manifest

image of waterfall in Maui, Hawaii

Photo: The Big Island, Hawaii by J. Wilder Bill

Significant experiences in our lives prompt us to reach outside ourselves for strength and comfort. Sometimes, despite our best efforts to maintain a positive outlook, to focus on what we would like to have come about instead of on the worst outcome. Our prayers might seem unanswered, unless empowered by momentum.

A critical day in my life was when my mother decided it was time to remove the training wheels from my white Schwinn. She was surprisingly agile with the tools she carried out to the driveway. Despite my protests, she had me teetering on my bicycle at the top of our hill on top of a hill, with her arthritic hand holding the back of my seat covered in pink roses. She ran alongside me a few feet, and the momentum of my free falling down the hills held the power for me to keep my balance. 

On first attempt, my feeble mother let go and I glided into the cove independently. When my father got home from work, I showed him how well I could circle the manhole cover in the center of the cove. He suggested I go around the edge of the cove where it was easier to keep my momentum constant without having to cut the wheel. I gained speed until a stick got caught in the spokes. I hit the curb and the handlebar left a colorful bruise at my third eye.

They key in my achievement was the momentum. Despite my reluctance to reach the goal of riding without training wheels, the momentum ensured I would succeed. Only when the acceleration or forward movement was blocked did I crash. Once I learned to ride a bike, I was able to explore distant pastures and abandoned cottages. It broadened my awareness of what was around me. 

This building up of energy is how we elevate our skills and how we create change in our lives. You have the ability to change your situation by applying a greater amount of energy toward the outcome you prefer to have materialize. 

Attracting a desirable experience begins with your words. The words first appear inside your head. A repeated thought digs a rivulet in your subconscious, which paves how you respond. A critical aspect of taking control of your destiny is to discipline your thoughts. Notice what the narrative in your mind is sharing with you. When you allow the words inside your head to influence your perceptions. Until you notice where your inner dialogue originates, you have the potential of being manipulated as if your thoughts were someone else. 

The narrative in our minds doesn’t always say what we think, or even what is best for us to hear. Our minds tend to repeat what has been spoken nearby regardless of whether it is in our best interest. The thoughts could have originated from a violent movie, from an overheard conversation between strangers, or from others who don’t understand everything about our circumstances. When left unchecked, the lectures we give ourselves can merely repeat the ideas from those whose opinions we don’t trust.

A proven method for creating momentum is through prayer. Receiving an answer to a prayer relies heavily on the level of intensity. The more concentration and focus you put on any task, the more precise you are.

There are many tasks each of us performs on a regular basis. When you multitask, you are more likely to make mistakes. The outcome of your efforts is less likely to be the way you visualized. 

Each of our thoughts forms a barrier around our physical bodies. You program the space around you and those programs bring about your experiences. Despite the intensity of your wishes, it is possible for your prayers and efforts to bring about your preferred life circumstance seems to fall on deaf ears. 

A blessing of living in this time is in our ability to achieve what we want quickly. Prosperity exists in many forms and, where it doesn’t exist, we have the resources due to man’s creativity and intelligence to thrive with what we have. When we have a block in our thoughts or we hold back on applying our devoted attention to manifesting our desires, we tend to blame the higher sources, or perhaps kick ourselves for being unworthy. 

Never devalue yourself and your likelihood to achieve your best interests. As a descendant of the Supreme Being, you have a value. Each of us was born on Earth as a result of our placing a value on being here. There was a time where you managed to concentrate your efforts into bringing about your existence in this life. Know that this is a very special time for living, and the fact you are here, sharing with the rest of us, is your badge of recognition. With the infinite possibilities of what you can accomplish during your life, you get to choose enjoying the good, or romanticizing the bad. Keep in mind that many of us get a boost in spirit from a bout of bad luck. You might relish those moments you can indulge in pampering yourself until the veil of self pity lifts. 

Meanwhile, once you are ready to release the depth of your emotions, you have the natural talent to put deliberate concentration into manifesting the most desirable outcome you can visualize. The images take shape in the space around you and remain connected to your vision until developing enough momentum to draw into your path identical outcomes. This is where your thoughts attract certain situations and people into your life. When you are unaware of the power you have but you are perceptive enough to see similarities between conversations you have and experiences that follow, you might refer to the synchronicities as coincidences. 

The coincidence is in opening your heart to realize the link between what is on your mind, and what appears in your path. This awareness of how connected you are to the events that come about is a monumental step in developing the ability to take control of your life. 

Your job is to identify the source of where the thoughts behind the words you speak began. Notice how often you are repeating what someone else’s opinion, and evaluate whether it fits with your authentic feelings. Resist the habit of hearing unreliable voices in your head. Select the advice you give to yourself. Once you have a sense of safety, you should replay those thoughts. The power behind your words builds each time you apply concentration to the meanings, and it builds the momentum for you to create change.