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Monday, September 13, 2021

How Stakes Set up Expectations



Stakes are what is at risk in the story. In the past, I've talked about how I like to think of stakes as potential consequences--what could happen if a certain condition is (or is not) met. For stakes to be most effective, they usually need to be specific and often on the page. They should follow a cause-and-effect trajectory.

All well-thought stakes should be able to fit into "If . . . then . . ." statements. Even if they aren't actually written that way on the page (though they can be).

Monday, September 6, 2021

Pinch Point 1: Key Features


I've been thinking more in depth about Pinch Point 1 lately, and have been wanting to expand the basic concept on my blog. The term "pinch point" originates from 7 Point Story Structure. A pinch point relates to the antagonistic force, and it's what you might imagine: It's the equivalent of the protagonist getting pinched by the antagonist. It might be a small pinch or it might be one that leaves a nasty bruise. Whatever the case, it reveals to the audience that the antagonist is a legit force and foe.

Most stories will actually have multiple pinch points, but in 7 Point Story Structure (and its variations), there are two pinch points that are critical: Pinch Point 1 and Pinch Point 2. These are simply beats that show the audience the power of the antagonist. Pinch Point 1 comes about halfway through the first half of the middle--or perhaps better said, about 37% into the story. Pinch Point 2 comes about halfway through the second half of the middle--or perhaps better said, about 63% into the story. But of course, the percentages are just guidelines.

I like and appreciate the concept of pinch points because it puts emphasis on the antagonist. In contrast, some story structures don't acknowledge the existence of pinch points, making it easier for the writer to overlook necessary antagonistic beats. But regardless of what story structure you prefer, every story should have the critical two pinch points--Pinch Point 1 and Pinch Point 2--even if you are "blind" to them.

Let's talk about Pinch Point 1 in more depth. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Variations on Story Structure: A List


You can find a lot of information on story structure in the writing community, but when it comes to discussing variations on structure . . . that gets harder to find. I've been talking a lot about story structure on here, particularly over the last two years. And every so often I feel like I need to "cleanse" myself of all the rules, percentages, and beats, and remind everyone that writing doesn't need to be an exact science. Not every successful story fits story structure perfectly.

With that said, like all writing "rules," once you understand structure, it's easier to "break" it successfully. The rules are really more like guidelines. 

Story structure exists to help us understand and write great stories. It's not necessarily there to use as a rubric to decide whether a story is good or bad. Sure, it can be used as a sort of checklist to help us evaluate our own stories, or to help us dissect other stories, but it's not necessarily a rubric to determine what "grade" the story gets. If a story is successful, we can use structure to help us understand why that might be so. But if a story is successful, we don't use structure to give it a "bad grade" just because it didn't fulfill everything in the exact, "right" way. If it's successful, it's successful. I don't think anyone is saying Wonder Woman is unsuccessful just because it had some variation. 

If everyone followed the "perfect" story structure, exactly, all the time, things could potentially become annoying--especially in the wrong hands. 

So lately I've been on the lookout for popular and/or successful stories that have structural variations. Remember that most successful stories do have mostly the same pieces--they just might be rearranged a different way (a.k.a. a variation). I'm sharing some of what I've found today. This won't be comprehensive, as there are probably more variations than I could fit in a blog post, but it will teach you about some of them, and maybe give you some ideas on how to use them. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Flat Characters vs. Round Characters (Definitions, Differences, Purposes, and Examples)


Lately, I've been talking a lot about flat-arc (also known as "steadfast") characters, but these are not to be confused with flat characters. A flat character is a simple, two-dimensional character. In contrast, a round character is a complex, three-dimensional character. 

"Flat" and "round" are not technically, strictly tied to character arc--though there are some common combinations. For example, a flat character is more likely to be a flat-arc character. Today, let's define each character type in depth and explain how and when to use which. At the end, I'll relate it to character arcs. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Steadfast, Flat-arc Protagonist in Story: The End


Hello everyone! Today we are finishing our breakdown of story structure, according to the positive steadfast, flat-arc protagonist--protagonists who don't change drastically in their worldviews (and instead usually inspire change in others). 

Here are the previous posts in the series:

Debunking 6 Myths about Steadfast, Flat-arc Characters

Principles of the Steadfast, Flat-arc Protagonist

3 Categories of Steadfast, Flat-arc Characters

The Steadfast, Flat-arc Protagonist in Story: The Beginning

The Steadfast, Flat-arc Protagonist in Story: The Middle 


Just as a recap, there are three categories of positive steadfast protagonists.

1. One that experiences little to no doubt, such as James Barrie in Finding Neverland. (Because they experience no doubt, there isn't much of an internal journey plotline, so another type of plotline will be emphasized in its place--likely the world/society or the Influence Character plotline.)

2. One that doubts applying the truth (his or her accurate worldview) in one of these ways:

- Doesn't know how to actually do what he needs to do (i.e. We all believe no one should go hungry, but how do we actually solve world hunger?), such as Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke.

- Doubts his capabilities. Does he have what it takes to claim victory? Can he survive the costs? This is where Peter Parker is at in the beginning of Spider-man 2.

- Doubts her role or worthiness. Should she be the person taking this journey? This is what happens in Moana

3. One that entertains doubt concerning the truth, the accurate worldview. Could the opposing worldview (the lie, the misbelief, the anti-theme) be the right one? Diana does this in Wonder Woman.


And just to have everything together on the same page for reference, here are the stories we have been dissecting as examples:

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Steadfast, Flat-Arc Protagonist in Story: The Middle


Last week I began breaking down story structure according to positive steadfast, flat-arc protagonists--protagonists who don't much change their primary worldview (this is sometimes referred to as the "truth," which is essentially the story's theme). Here we continue that journey into the middle. 

I hope this is helpful to anyone who has struggled with the flat-arc characters. 

Just as a recap, there are three categories of positive steadfast protagonists.

1. One that experiences little to no doubt, such as James Barrie in Finding Neverland. (Because they experience no doubt, there isn't much of an internal journey plotline, so another type of plotline will be emphasized in its place--likely the world/society or the Influence Character plotline.)

2. One that doubts applying the truth (his or her accurate worldview) in one of these ways:

- Doesn't know how to actually do what he needs to do (i.e. We all believe no one should go hungry, but how do we actually solve world hunger?), such as Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke.

- Doubts his capabilities. Does he have what it takes to claim victory? Can he survive the costs? This is where Peter Parker is at in the beginning of Spider-man 2.

- Doubts her role or worthiness. Should she be the person taking this journey? This is what happens in Moana

3. One that entertains doubt concerning the truth, the accurate worldview. Could the opposing worldview (the lie, the misbelief, the anti-theme) be the right one? Diana does this in Wonder Woman.

These are not all exclusive. For example, a protagonist may doubt her worthiness and begin doubting her accurate worldview (the truth). A protagonist may also be one way for the primary theme, but a different way for a secondary theme. For example, in Finding Neverland, James Barrie never doubts the primary theme (that playfulness empowers us by getting us to believe in something more), but he does express doubt in the secondary theme (that sincere friendship is more important than reputation). 

Again, here are our breakdowns of the stories we're dissecting as examples.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Steadfast, Flat-Arc Protagonist in Story: The Beginning


A couple of times, I've been asked to explain how positive steadfast, flat-arc protagonists actually work in story structure (or "beat sheets," if you prefer that term). Luckily, as I mentioned in a previous post, the flat-arc protagonist story has pretty much all the same pieces as the change-arc protagonist story--many of them are just reversed. 

This means, that frankly, a lot of the same moments happen, if a little differently.

Writing a steadfast protagonist is like being left-handed in a right-handed world. Same world. Different experience.

Since this can (like a lot of writing concepts) be a little difficult to "see," I'm gonna go ahead and guide you through a positive steadfast protagonist story. 

Well, three in fact.

And even if you never intend to write a flat-arc story, this may still be helpful to some degree, as most stories will feature a flat-arc character, even if they are not the protagonist. (However, I wouldn't recommend getting hung up on trying to make a side flat-arc character hit all the same points as a protagonist one would.)

One of the most obvious differences in structure is that the positive, steadfast, flat-arc protagonist starts on an accurate worldview--sometimes referred to as the "truth." This is almost always, more or less, the primary theme of the story. By the end of the story, this worldview will be proven true, so the protagonist ultimately doesn't flip in his or her beliefs, making him or her "steadfast." (In contrast, a positive change character will start with an inaccurate worldview--the "lie" or "misbelief" or "flaw"--this is basically the "anti-theme"--the opposing argument to the "truth." The positive change character will change to the "truth," the accurate worldview, the true thematic statement at the end.)

However, many stories have more than one theme. Many stories have secondary themes.

Because of this, it's possible for the positive steadfast character to be steadfast in the primary theme, but be a change character in the secondary theme. A steadfast protagonist may or may not be steadfast for every theme. But by definition, they must be steadfast for the primary theme (obviously).

This is why you may see writers argue over whether a particular character has a change or flat arc, and why the same character may get categorized differently--it depends entirely on what thematic thread the person is pulling.

For example, in The Lion King, Simba is ultimately a steadfast protagonist in the primary theme--he believes in the Circle of Life at the beginning, and even though he temporarily loses sight of that, he ultimately holds true to it at the end. However, he's a change character in the secondary theme of responsibility--he starts out believing in irresponsibility but flips into embracing responsibility at the end. Because of this, different people may get in arguments about how he arcs.

Someday I will write a post specifically on secondary themes and secondary arcs. For now, I do want to illustrate how secondary themes and arcs play out for steadfast protagonists, as I feel they can be particularly important in understanding them (Simba's structure being just one example). 

Monday, July 12, 2021

The 8 Types of Conflict (with Examples, Possible Resolutions, and Stakes)


Every story needs a character in a setting engaged in conflict. But sometimes writers get hyper-focused on one or two types of conflict, and never explore or include the other types. This can make a story feel flat or repetitive (similar to what I touched on in my plotlines post). Sometimes the writer senses that there is something wrong, so tries to add more to the story, but they end up either adding more to the same conflict, or simply adding the same type of conflict. Like always, I'm never going to say you can't ever do this, but just that it's almost always more satisfying if you put in a variety. Variety gives a story more depth and breadth--and also keeps things interesting.

Conflict is key in moving plot, character arc, and theme forward--in other words, the whole story forward. No conflict = no story. If there is no struggle, the character never grows. If there is no opposing argument, the theme never carries its weight. If there is no antagonistic force, no climax is earned. 

Early on in my writing journey, I was only introduced to five types of conflict. And indeed you can find arguments about what does and does not count as a conflict type (and some types can overlap). But today I've put together a comprehensive list of the most prevalent categories--and I think just about any conflict will fit within one of them. I'll also share a few things about each along the way. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

How to Actually Use a Story Structure



In the writing community, there are three story structures (in addition to basic story structure) that tend to get the most attention: 7 Point Story Structure, The Hero's Journey, and Save the Cat! These structures (and similar ones) are also sometimes called "beat sheets." (And worth keeping in mind is that, in the writing world, some terms can be ambiguous, as both "structure" and "beats" are used in other situations as well.) 

These are essentially approaches that help you see, understand, and match the (arguably natural) progression of a good story. Some writers, especially beginning writers, dislike story structures because they can appear formulaic--sucking out the mysticism, magic, and creativity of writing. While no one has to use a story structure, of course, if you share these sentiments, I think eventually you'll find over time, that these structures actually do the opposite. And they lead us to ask bigger questions about the human experience: Why do these structures feel so right to us as human beings? Is it because they ring true to our own journeys, to reality?

But rather than talk about the psychological and archetypal significance of structure 😉, let's first talk about how to actually use a story structure. Because I think some writers struggle with that.

Story time:

Years ago, I was preparing to brainstorm and outline a future book I wanted to write. And I thought, Hey, why not do this properly and go to story structure right away? It will save me such a headache!

But funny enough, I was having a difficult time figuring out how to actually brainstorm and plot out my story with a story structure.

So I took to the web.

And some books.

Searching and scanning and looking. . . .

And you know what I found?

There wasn't a single professional writer that actually came up with a story using story structure!

Even those that claimed to--that said they were going to show how do it--actually did something different: They simply plugged in stuff they'd already brainstormed. 🤦‍♀️

I admit at first, I was a little disappointed.

I'm not going to say you can't come up with a story using story structure right away, but I know almost no one who does it. And some of the (unpublished) attempts I've run into, often do feel a bit stilted, somehow lacking heart.