The Goals for a Blockbuster Beginning

Ponce de Leon battle stele

Photo: Battle by Ponce de Leon by J. Wilder Bill

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?

image of statue of couple taken at the Drake Hotel in Chicago

Photo: The Drake Hotel, Chicago by J. Wilder Bill

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 schedule for my upcoming webinar course entitled Heroes with a Heart on Savvy Authors where I’ll give additional writer’s tips on showing the feelings and thoughts of your hero.

 

Cas Peace on Medieval Storytelling

image of St. Andrews ruins in Scotland

Photo: Cathedral of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland by J. Wilder Bill

King’s Envoy is the first novel in the fantasy series, Artesans of Albia, by Cas Peace. An Albian Baron in the fourth dimension sets out to destroy the Artesan craft but first he must gain the power to cross through each realm. Peace shares how to craft a fantasy set in medieval times. 

Are your realms based on the Buddhist concept of multiple worlds, where each is unable to see one another, yet at times, they notice one another’s presence?

My five realms does owe something to Eastern beliefs, if only in a small way. I was intrigued by the possibilities that might arise when completely separate and self-contained worlds, all of which evolved their own distinct beliefs, cultures and customs, could be visited at will by denizens of the other realms. Add the proviso that only an elite core would have this ability and you create a volatile and infinitely variable set of possibilities.

If you met either of your main female characters in person, what qualities would you want to change in them?

I love this question! Each of my characters have their faults, such flaws are what make us human. One is a healer. She is trained, talented and extremely capable, the kind of person you’d want by your side in a medical emergency. Yet take her out of her comfort zone and she becomes shy and insecure. Her confidence only extends as far as her knowledge of herbs, ailments and treatments. As the series progresses she does gain personal confidence, but only when among people she knows.

My other female lead possesses all the confidence the healer lacks. She knows her strengths and weaknesses and isn’t afraid to test herself against whatever life throws at her. She takes her successes humbly, while her failures do not break her. Her worst quality is that in times of stress she resorts to bad language.

In the opening chapter, Taran’s poor judgment places the wrath of an ambitious kingdom on his clan. What does this reveal about the character?

This was a method of showing Taran’s naivety and innocence. He’s had so many failures that he’s willing to try anything. Based purely on some notes left by his father, he sets off to a foreign realm, with the aim of challenging a man to a duel. Its dreadful outcome leaves him morally wounded as well as physically. It reveals the flaws in Taran’s training as well as his nature, and leaves him embarrassed and vulnerable. Yet although he is broken and frightened, he doesn’t shirk his responsibility. Here lies Taran’s strength, and what enables him to move forward and become the person others know he can be.  

Your heroine released her individuality and abides by the codes and orders of her superiors. Did you model her on a medieval knight? 

The fantasy genre doesn’t have enough women who compete with men, and become superior to them, without compromising their femininity. My heroine’s wounded past, and the events that befall her, mold her character and cause her to react in certain ways. When coupled with her deep sense of loyalty and duty, and driven by the tremendous power she commands, they create a dangerous entity, one who possesses the capability to destroy as much as to heal. The question is – will the many traumas she suffers during the course of her mission overcome her love and loyalty, turning them to hatred and destruction?

Which did you consider to be most important, authenticity of the medieval period or the elements of fantasy?

Fantastical elements become stranger and more wonderful when placed in a mundane setting. Small details, provided they’re not overdone, help bring a character vividly to life. Immersing myself deeply into my story and my characters, so deeply that I see what they see, smell what they smell, and hear their voices, is the only way I can write.

Did you develop character through the joy of developing a bond with horses and in showing how they are necessary for survival?

My intention in incorporating such intimate details was to allow the reader to become immersed in the setting. Horses were an essential and vital part of medieval life. I harbor a deep love of horses; I am a qualified horse-riding instructor and spent my early adulthood working and teaching in a school of equitation. I purchased a small Welsh cob named Lively – and trained him to pull a carriage. I competed in cross-country driving events, carriage-dressage, and was among the first allowed access to the M25, England’s most notorious motorway.

The point of view shifts between characters throughout King’s Envoy. Was it imperative for the reader to know more than the protagonist in order to increase tension?

Because the plot spans two different realms and involves more than one faction, it would be impossible to convey sufficient information through a single character. Events occur that would be meaningless and would confuse rather than enlighten were it not for a change of POV. There are also several sub-plots bubbling under the storyline – these all necessitate the use of more than one point of view. The story sticks with one character until the plot demands a switch. Intimately learning the motivations, aspirations and emotions of several characters enhances a reader’s experience.

At what point should a writer plan to create a series?

When the writer knows that those characters have more to give. Readers like to follow a fictional character’s ‘career’ just as much as that of a celebrity or a family member. Look at Conan Doyle’s’ Sherlock Holmes, or a more modern analogy, Peter James’ Roy Grace, or, to stick with fantasy, Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant. We all like familiarity and reading about our favorite characters is like catching up with old friends.

Thank You, for the opportunity to reveal these facts about King’s Envoy. I’d also like to say how much fun I had answering your challenging and insightful questions. The process made me think about my book from a slightly different angle, and often gave me pause for thought. I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on the novel!

Thank you for your interest, all the best, Cas Peace.

Your knowledge on how to create a believable fantasy set in medieval times is deeply appreciated. For additional questions, you can find Peace at www.caspeace.com.

Joyce Sweeney Rocks the Clock

image of a Goddess sculpture on Capitol Hill

Photo: Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. by J. Wilder Bill

Artwork: Clio by Carlo Franzoni, Clock by Simon Willard

Authoress, Joyce Sweeney, lives the hero’s journey with her writing. She flourishes as an author by winning the first Delacorte Press Prize for Outstanding First Young Adult Novel, the Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards, and the Nevada Young Readers Award. She has a book named a Top Ten Sports Pick by Booklist, four times her books are named Best Books for Young Adults, and four additional times are Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.

Within the writing industry, she is appreciated for co-creating with Jamie Morris, the four act Plot Clock. Like so many great dramatists, her life mimics her art.

At the initial stage of Joyce’s life as a writer, she fulfills the elements of the Plot Clock’s Act I, by dissecting horrific scenarios through young adult novels. She forces teens to embark outside their nests due to dire circumstances that even grown-ups could hardly handle. The pressure to outsmart life’s enemies is coupled with dysfunctional families and self-inflicted obstacles; yet, Sweeney plots her characters’ paths without judgment as to whether the high drama they confront could have been avoided.

J. Wilder:

Joyce sets forth nurturing overtones in her narrative, along with realism in her characters and their conflicts. Do you create dramatic intensity by writing narrative with an unbiased opinion about the characters or by steering the readers to see the world your way?

Joyce:

I think in every work of fiction, every character is an aspect of the author. So even with the antagonists, and this is where the hard work comes, I have to have some sympathy, some understanding and some guilty association with what they feel. Without that, you aren’t building a true world, you are just grinding your own axe. But then layered on top of that, is the point of view. The main character can have much different feelings from me the author, and should. And we can both be wrong! In Players, I have sympathy for Noah, Corey has sympathy for Noah but a different character, Luke, is the one who is right about him.

J. Wilder:

A signature of a Joyce Sweeney novel is the significance of strong friendships. Are functional relationships as crucial for character development as those dysfunctional families authors consistently embellish?

Joyce:

Absolutely. You have to have the dysfunction or you have no conflict, no story. If you’re in a place in the main character’s life where no one is challenging or testing them, you are in the wrong place. But I am a very social creature myself and very aware of relationships and how much help I get on a daily basis from those around me. So my characters always have those support systems as well.

J. Wilder:

During Act II of her writing accomplishments, Joyce develops her skills like a warrior preparing for the final battle through the exercise of teaching others her trade secrets. In what ways did your writing transition as a result of you mentoring others?

Joyce:

I started teaching classes around 1990 and I think one can easily see a jump forward in quality in my own writing around that time…between Tiger Orchard and Shadow. My earliest books are good too, Center Line for instance, because I was in graduate school studying craft. In the middle, you forget, you lapse, you make mistakes. As soon as I was reviewing the principles of craft to my students, I was reviewing them for myself and my work got much tighter.

J. Wilder:

At the end of Act II of her dynamic career, Joyce is dealt a low in life, symbolized by the death of her dearest companions. Her artistic expression of those unlocked emotions most of us avoid digesting shifted her craft to an authentic poetic form. In what way does poetry develop writers’ descriptive signatures of emotions and settings?

Joyce:

For me, there was a period that covered a double blow in life. My mother’s Alzheimer’s and subsequent death followed very fast by my friendship with Irene, which ended in her suicide. During this entire dark period, I didn’t have the energy required to process my feelings into fictional stories or put on any kind of dramatic mask. I could just cry out my feelings first person and raw and real. That’s poetry. Poets are courageous beings. They come onstage with no makeup or props. Now that I’m feeling better I see I went back to the safe haven of fiction.

J. Wilder:

In synch with Act III, Joyce brings stories into three-dimensional time and space by directing and producing theatrical works in South Florida. This physical form of storytelling leads to her climatic endeavor to release a multigenerational fantasy saga set in Atlantis. What elements of character development are crucial for creating the complexities of relationships over several generations? 

Joyce:

Well, this is brand new territory for me. Until this Atlantis book came to me, I wasn’t even a fan of generational sagas or long timelines…one reason I loved YA is that it covers one character very intensely through a short timeline. But since I’m still in the middle of this process, I don’t honestly know why I suddenly wanted a bigger cast and a bigger canvas. You link it to theater…I’m not sure. Could be. Theater is a very collaborative art compared to writing, so it may be that my ‘camera angle’ has widened.  Stay tuned!

 

Joyce Sweeney breaks down readership barriers by understanding the reader’s perspective in relating to his world at each stage of life. Regardless of the genre, Joyce Sweeney consistently presents protagonists searching for a way to accomplish seemingly unachievable goals, thus serving readers as a nurturing life coach. Joyce Sweeney can be reached via www.SweeneyWritingCoach.com.

Clarify the Scenes

image of Harry Potter coffee cup

Photo: Harry’s Vanishing Teacup by J. Wilder Bill

A stimulating plot consists of twists and turns, ups and downs, highs and lows – all accomplished by variety in the types of scenes.  Intentionally distinguish the purpose of each scene to avoid repetition in the pacing of your storyline.  The following are a selection of scenes you can incorporate in the foundation of a well-crafted storyline.

Opening Scene:  There will be one opening scene and it serves a critical purpose.  Introduce the protagonist to the reader and establish the mood of the story.  Inner thoughts or immediate action aid with revealing the mindset of the character.  Make clear the underlying question of the overall story.

Conflict Scenes:  It is no secret that conflicts are critical to a story.  Conflicts results in attentive readership.  After developing the protagonist with the opening scene, reveal what is at stake.  Introduce a critical event.  Conflict surfaces when two characters desire a different outcome.   Emotions are peaked and character flaws exposed; however, make the reactions fit the personality types of the characters.  Don’t force the characters to respond in a way that will justify having a conflict.  Allow the conflict to develop over time and subtly by mentioning the resistance or negative thought prior to the conflict scene.  The conflict can be internal and unjustified.  The only requirement is for a struggle to warrant more than one possible result.

Setup Scenes:  Provide background information during setup scenes to orient the reader within the setting.  Use the past to establish the intentions of the protagonist and evoke empathy regarding his current circumstances.  Setup scenes link together the elements of the plot and give depth to the characters.  Insights about the characters’ past provide their motivation to take action, thereby propelling the plot forward.  Include family and economic background of the characters to spark readers to care.

Confirmation Scenes:  Following each setup scenes, the movements and thoughts of the characters confirm the background information by revealing the results of the past.  If you mentioned that your protagonist’s mother died in a car wreck, take time to describe her reaction to a traffic jam due to a jack-knifed 18-wheeler.  Make sure you confirm previously provided information about the characters at a point in the plot that will provide the most impact.  For instance, don’t talk about the car wreck after she takes a shower and before she gets in the car.

Time Warp Scenes:  Pacing the plot invites the protagonist to think of his past or even wonder about his future.  Time warp scenes supply critical information the reader must know before understanding what is to follow.  Make the time change obvious, whether it goes into the past or into the future.  Keep the reader oriented as to the place and when the situation occurred.  To justify the lull in action, only shift to a different time when the past or future is more intense than the current situation.  Do not remain in the time warp for a long.  Remember that shifting to the future thrusts the reader out of the story.  Consider beginning the story at the point of the flashback, thus making it a current event.

Obstacle Scenes:  Instill complexity in your plot by preventing the characters from attaining their desires during several obstacle scenes wherein a physical force prevents him from moving forward.  Emotional impact rises when outside forces prevent the character from reaching her intended outcome.  Give the protagonist a morsel of his desire and then replace his advantages with difficulties without losing momentum in the storyline.  Obstacle scenes intensify the plot with suspense.  Allow the protagonist to believe she is reaching her goals and then reveal that she is on the wrong path.  The more setbacks, the more heightened the resolution becomes.  Make sure the obstacles are unique for your circumstances.

Pivotal Scene:  Allowing the protagonist to overcome the obstacles, show his suffering from mistakes, and resolve any misunderstandings in his relationships, then slap him with a sense of having no solution to an even greater problem.  Only one pivotal scene will be in each novel.  This bleakest moment provides greater impact than the obstacle scenes.  Sensationalize the impact with an uncontrollable force the protagonist is unequipped to handle.  It could be making the wrong decision or having a fallback to prior destructive behavior.  The solution of the pivotal scene invokes disharmony and additional suffering.  Follow the pivotal scene with several more obstacle scenes and then one final, blow-out conclusion scene.

Climax Scene:  The plot guides the reader to one climax – the moment the obstacles are resolved and the desires are fulfilled.  The peak of the plot is the most significant moment in the protagonist’s life of the novel.  Her mental state rises above the outstanding issues and inner conflicts.  A love scene can climax as a man vows to remain with a woman even if they never resolve their differences.  The end of a chase or resolution to a question other ways to reach a climax.

Conclusion Scene:  At the end of your story answer open-ended questions and fill in the blanks.  Ease the reader out of the story instead of providing a jarring halt to the events.  Provide a sense of contentment like a flavorful desert to clear the pallet.

It takes a flavoring of the different type of scenes to satisfy the reader’s senses.  Keeping track of what types of scenes you have guarantees your plot will be balanced.  Clarity of mind sparks the imagination.  An easy way to keep up with the types of scenes you have created is by underlining the text in a color you have selected for each scene type.  The colors provide a visual as to whether you have provided the right amounts of each element to your storyline.

Rounded: Weekly Photo Challenge

A Humdinger Ending

image of tribute to authors who stayed at Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans

Photo: Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans by J. Wilder Bill

Endings can make or break an entire story. We’ve all heard about the protagonist’s motivation dictating his actions. His motivation shapes the plot and determines the big finale of the story. Whether you’re a plotter with an outline, or a panster with a completed first draft, once you’ve decided on the resolution, revise with a mind to bolster the ending. Set up the elements before you reach the final chapter.

  1. Say It Like You Mean It

Gossip, gossip, gossip. We’ve all been victims. We’ve done our share of spreading seedy details about others, too. It catapults a person’s reputation from dreary housewife into conniving diva. The neighbor who wears high heels with a pajama top to walk down the driveway and pick up the morning paper becomes headline news.

Embellishing the facts is delicious. Tension sky-rockets every time a character expresses a strong opinion about the antagonist.

“He’d kill a kitten in a playground.”

“That woman cheated on her husband and then took his entire savings while he was away in the war.”

  1. Spread the Dirty Laundry

Readers love to hate and they love to find a reason to hate. A great excuse to disapprove of a person comes from casting judgment on him.

Exposing the dark secrets of the antagonist’s past does wonders for turning readers against him. Character traits we, as a society, can’t forgive include, harming our neighbors, abusing pets and children, and showing a lack of respect toward the environment. The antagonist loses supporters when he only thinks of himself. The reader yearns to find fault where the antagonist deserves his up-commence.

The anatomist beats his dog.

He refuses to share his cookies with his mother.

He chews out a cashier at the grocery store.

  1. Sock It to Me

As long as the scenes prove the protagonist has a right to defeat the antagonist, the ending can be outlandish. Develop the story so that the protagonist must win in order to overcome personal obstacles, protect others, and survive another day.

Give plenty of examples where the protagonist gets kicked around. All the while, the protagonist takes the higher road. Her only wish is for a better life where she receives her well-deserved recognition.

The protagonist spends sixteen hours a day for two years training for the Olympics.

She blows out her ankle and knee replacement surgery.

Her mother’s dying wish is to see her baby win.

  1. It Can’t Get Any Worse

Let your characters be pessimistic about the odds the protagonist will reach her goal. We want the gory details to be stated loudly and clearly.

Having several characters see how bleak matters are for the protagonist gives credibility to their predictions. If it’s only the protagonist’s mom who says she has no chance, the reader will dismiss the comment. Once three or four people in the story have the same sense of foreboding, the negative viewpoints become a hardcore fact.

“No one’s ever made it through the Death Valley pass on foot.”

“You’d have to get a perfect score on the C.I.A. exam to make up for your terrible performance.”

“He’s never dated anyone from the office.”

  1. Put All the Eggs in One Basket

As the story progresses, slam every door in the protagonist’s face. Let him reach a point where there is only one shot for him to reach his goal. If he doesn’t come through with this one thing, there is absolutely no way he will win.

Lay out the foundation by letting the protagonist think of every possible mishap. He trains. He studies. He abstains from what he loves. Then, when all the bases are covered, remove his one opportunity.

The protagonist must use a special cupcake recipe to pull the hero out from amnesia. She finds the recipe. She saves money to buy the equipment and rare ingredients. She practices. In the final hour, she arrives at the train station with the cupcakes on a silver platter as the hero boards to leave forever. A dog attacks the protagonist and eats the cupcakes.

  1. The Golden Chalice

Lucky charms, precious heirlooms, and customized tools give the protagonist a boost over his rivals. Whether you call them superstitions or magical charms, the protagonist relies on one relic. Without it, he fails.

Place his hope to accomplish his goal on his crutch. Harry and his magic wand. Indiana Jones and his leather whip. Jack Sparrow and his compass. The Prince of Persia and the dagger.

In the final moment, remove the golden chalice. Destroy it. Give it to the antagonist. It doesn’t have to be fantastical. Losing that particular item raises the stakes.

The protagonist must have his mother’s pendant for his dream girl to recognize him after an accident disfigures his face. The antagonist melts the pendant and the protagonist has nothing.

  1. Giving It Up for Your Love

Throughout the story, give the protagonist something she can’t live without. One craving, object or activity must fuel her life. The world can collapse, but as long as she has this one thing, she rallies and keeps her wits.

It could be her alone time in the woods, her incredible job, her diamond comb or a violin she’s played ever since she learned to walk. At the critical hour, the protagonist voluntarily gives up the one thing that keeps her sane.

She quits her job to care for her crippled husband. She sells the only valuable possession she has, a comb she inherited from her grandmother, to purchase a present for her husband.

She’d rather have her fingers cut off and never play the piano again in exchange for staying with her one true love.

The protagonist is a race car driver. Her car is reliable and serves as her savings account. In the end, she crashes her car into the river to prevent the hero from falling to his death.

  1. Captain Underdog Rules the Day

A great strategy is for the antagonist and the protagonist to have equal chances of winning throughout the story. At the climax, shift the skill levels of the characters. Give that nasty antagonist a huge advantage. Let his strengths outweigh the capabilities of the protagonist.

With the new circumstances, the protagonist must think faster, find a unique resource, and change gears. He must devise a new solution.

Both women vying for the same man are beautiful. The antagonist gets promoted and wins the lottery. The protagonist rallies through her sincerity and amazing cooking to aid the hero in overcoming his fear of heights.

  1. Change a Leopard’s Spots

Readers love figuring out the ending before the characters do. They stick with the same genre because there is comfort in predictability.

We aren’t here to coddle our readers. Instead, shake their books off.

Set the stage for the typical outcome and take time playing it out. Build the story so that the protagonist craves for the likely ending. Then, deny, deny, deny. Don’t give the reader what he wants.

Three times, show the protagonist lose against the antagonist in chess. Establish that if the protagonist makes the Klondike Crush move, she’ll win every time. Let her botch the first step but then recover. She sees how to make the move, but the antagonist pulls out a gun and holds it to her grandmother’s head before the final play.

  1. It’s a Matter of Perception

At her last breath, the protagonist needs to change the way she perceives life. She demonstrates her new take on life by having a different reaction to a repeated situation.

Throughout the story, show the protagonist responding the same way to similar experiences as the story unfolds. Again and again, the protagonist has the same extreme opinion. Finally, once the dust is stirred, the protagonist doesn’t respond in her typical fashion. She feels the opposite from how she did at the beginning of the story but with an equally strong conviction.

In the beginning, the protagonist loves a nice smoke. She inhales the fumes deeply. At every opportunity, the protagonist lights up. She gets angry when people tell her it’s unhealthy. In the final scene, someone ridicules her for taking a light. She throws the smoke away and gives him a hug.

Think of the big finale as the main element of the plot. Focus your motivation and storyline on the final scene. The setup of the resolution escalates your protagonist’s problems. Elevating the purpose of the ending gives the protagonist a humdinger resolution!