Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Brief Update and a Writing Prompt

Hello, all! Sorry I've been MIA lately. I know, you're probably tired of hearing that, but since moving to Los Angeles life has gotten very strange for me and it's been a little hard to keep up with the blog. It's on my list of goals for the new year, so lets all cross our fingers and I'll try to work my butt off to make it happen.

Part of the reason I haven't posted since the new year started was that I took a trip home to visit family and friends since I wasn't able to make it back for the holidays, and then I had to catch up on work while I was gone. I'm currently doing 4 jobs, so trying to do those and write has been keeping me slammed. However, this blog is important to me and I fully intend to keep doings posts as often as possible. I'm still doing monthly guest posts on Writing to be Read as well, and have one being posted tomorrow, I believe. It's about the One and Only Rule of Writing. I'll add a link when it's finally up.

This week's writing prompt relates to my own writing project I'm working on -- a screenplay. I'm doing a horror comedy, and I thought I'd do a prompt about mixing genres to get the creative juices flowing for everyone. So here we go:

The Writing Prompt - Crossing the Divide

Most stories cross genres in some form, but I don't think writers usually intend to cross genres in such dramatic ways. For this prompt, we're going to do it deliberately.

To start, what is your favorite genre to write in? Choose the genre you'd pick if it was the only genre you could write in for the rest of your life. Do you know it in and out?

Now, what are a few rules of your genre? I know writing rules are subjective based on each specific piece of writing, but think about the rules of the genre you chose that you like. What are they? What tropes or common elements do you love about that genre?

Now, choose the opposite of that genre. What is it? What are some of the rules and tropes of this genre? What are some of the common character types and story elements?

Here's the fun part -- throw the two genres together. Pick a location, and a character, and see how you can make these two genres work together. What kind of conflict is there? What kind of secondary characters?

Which of the writing rules/guidelines/elements that you thought of still apply now that you've crossed genres? Which don't?

Where are the two genres completely different? Is there any way you can make these elements blend together?

For my current script, I'm doing horror and comedy. Naturally, these two are on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum, but they actually complement each other pretty well. Comedy can provide the perfect respite for an audience from the tense structure of horror. It also works well to create a false lull for an audience right before a big scare.

How do your two genres potentially complement each other? Is there a way you can work them together to serve each other?

The key of this prompt is to force yo to think about genre constraints, and then to push them to create something new. So don't be afraid to think outside the box and to break a few "rules."

Until next time, happy writing!


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Monday, December 26, 2016

5 Types of Villains



As I mentioned in “The 5 Types of Heroes” on Writing to be Read, this week on Author the World we’re going to talk about villains. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the five main types of villains found in stories. Similarly to heroes, most villains (or antagonists) can be boiled down to certain types based on their motivation. Below are the five main types I most commonly see in films and novels.

The Sadist
The Sadist is an antagonist that enjoys causing pain to others. They’re driven by this desire to inflict pain, and they actively seek out ways to do so. A great example of this is Joffrey, or in more recent seasons Ramsay, from Game of Thrones. Both of them seek out ways to inflict emotional and physical pain on the people around them. Another common trait of this group of antagonists is that they are prone to angry outbursts, and they are brilliant manipulators because they are great at reading people’s weaknesses—that’s how they know what will inflict the most torment. While this type of antagonist or villain can appear in different forms, if they were asked why the do what they do, they would answer that they do it because they enjoy seeing people suffer.

The Chaos Maker
The Chaos Maker is exactly like they sound—someone that desires to make chaos. They are motivated by this desire and will seek out ways to do so, even going so far as changing plans or teams mid-story. One of my favorite examples of this kind of antagonist is, of course, the Joker in The Dark Knight. Everything the Joker did was in order to create trouble and chaos. He wasn’t after money or fame, and he didn’t really stick to one side other than choosing the side that led to the most destruction and chaos. If asked why they do what they do, the Chaos Maker would definitely be the one that “just wants to watch the world burn.”

The False Hero
The False Hero is a villain that thinks they are doing evil things for the benefit of the greater good. One example of this is the robots in I, Robot. The super computer Viki has decided that humans are going to destroy themselves so they begin to murder and take over the world in order to protect humanity as a whole. Another example of this is Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Kingsman.: The Secret Service. Jackson’s character wants to cull the human race in order to save the planet and humanity as a whole.

Both of these are examples of the False Hero because they think they’re doing something noble and righteous while committing huge atrocities. The main traits of the False Hero are that he or she is idealistic, thinks they are morally superior than everyone else, and they don’t care who is harmed in pursuit of their ultimate goal. With this kind of villain nothing is unthinkable as long as it helps bring them one step closer to their goal because they truly believe they are doing what is right.

The Mission Man
The Mission Man shares some traits with the False Hero because they both are driven by a mission and willing to do anything, and betray anyone, in order to achieve it. The Mission Man is different, however, because their mission can be anything and doesn’t have the same self-righteousness to it. The mission can be vengeance, riches, power, death, etc. Whatever the villain wants to achieve they will go after over everything else, and will not stop until they get it or they die.

An example of this could be most of the villains in any of the Die Hard movies. They all have some goal of money, power, revenge, etc., and they are hell bent on achieving it. The hero in these sorts of films becomes the target for the villain’s focus because the hero gets in their way, and the quickest way to achieve their goal is to eliminate the hero. Ultimately, if this type of villain was asked why they did what they did, it would be a simple answer: They wanted something specific (money, power, revenge, love, etc.), and it was their mission to get it.

The Mindless Monster
The final type of villain is the Mindless Monster. This type of monster is mainly found in horror movies involving animal and supernatural monster antagonists, but it can also include other types of antagonists as well depending on their motivation. Mindless Monsters may have some cognitive abilities, but they are generally driven by basic animalistic instincts. The Mindless Monster includes any creatures or characters that are driven to be the antagonist simply by what they are. Almost all zombies fall into this category, and some slasher film killers could be classified as this because they’re driven by the desire to kill, not necessarily out of a sadistic urge like The Sadist, or for a specific reason like the Mission Man, but because it’s just what they are.

An easy way to distinguish this is to think of it like a rabid dog versus a normal dog that’s prone to violence. A rabid dog is slightly out of its mind and will attack without thought or purpose, it’s just spurred by a mindless violence from the rabies. On the other hand, a violent dog will attack with deliberate malicious intent to hurt or defend itself if it is perceived as threatened in any way. One has thought and “logic” behind the action, while the other is driven by a basic impulse that it can’t explain or plan out. If the antagonist in your story is driven by some clear motivation, then they aren’t a Mindless Monster. However, if the antagonist is driven by a basic primal instinct to just kill, attack, or survive, and doesn’t actually plan things out with a purpose beyond that, then it falls into the Mindless Monster.

For an example, if you look at shark in Jaws. It does have some mind to it in that it plans its attacks, but because of the way the story is told we don’t really get justification for the attacks beyond the shark is just driven by violence to kill and attack over and over. The shark isn’t protecting territory, it isn’t defending itself, it just wants to kill and kill and kill. So it falls into the Mindless Monster.
To compare this, look at the wolves in Liam Neeson’s movie The Grey. In that movie the wolves initially seem like Mindless Monsters, but then you discover that they are actually defending a place they consider their territory that Liam’s character has invaded. Their behavior has a singular purpose, and it is goal oriented so they would actually be considered a Mission Man antagonist even though they are animals.

Ultimately, if your antagonist is driven by a mindless urge to do something because of something like hunger or instinct without a clear, thought-out motivation to why they are doing it, then they are most likely a Mindless Monster villain.

Final Notes
The key to picking a villain that goes with your hero is to really think about what their individual motivations are. Your villain’s motivations should be in direct conflict with your hero’s. The hero may or may not want to get in the villain’s way intentionally, but the villain’s actions give the hero no choice but to get involved because their motivations are so conflicting. If in doubt about what type of villain or hero you’re writing, ultimately it all comes down to that one element—motivation. Why are your characters doing what they’re doing? What is it that they want? If you can answer those questions, you can figure out who they are.

Until next time, happy writing!



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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Guest Post - The Five Types of Heroes

This month on Writing to be Read I did a guest post on the five types of heroes most often found in stories.

Later this week on Author the World, I will be doing a companion piece about the various types of villains.

I will also be doing a secondary piece next week with a focus on horror movie villains, as I've been studying them for research for my horror script.

Until next time, happy writing!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Writing Prompt - Big City Oddity



Your character is new to a big city. New can be relative—she/he could have been there a few months, a few days, or maybe a year, whatever feels new for your character—but the important thing is that she/he still doesn’t quite feel like they’re home, and they’re still making new discoveries about this big city they’ve moved to.

The scene starts with your character upset about something. Upset can be angry or sad, frantic or ecstatic, or any extreme emotion. All that matters is that the character is feeling an extreme emotion. They’re feeling unbalanced for one reason or another.

So what is your character feeling? What has them off balance? What do they need to fix their situation? What do they think they need? You don’t have to get into what caused the feeling just yet, but explore the feeling itself. Explore the mental state of your character for a moment.

Now where is your character? Go from internal to external. They’re in a big city someplace, but again, “big” can be relative. The important thing is that it feels big to your character, and it’s someplace they haven’t settled into yet.

Are they somewhere they’ve been before? Or is this someplace new? Did they get turned around in their emotional state? Are they on the move or sitting/standing still? Are they alone or with someone else?

Your character is about to find something new. Something they’ve never come across before in the city. Something that reminds them home. This thing they find can be a sudden park in the middle of the buildings, or a restaurant with their favorite dish, or a person who looks like grandma.

The little bit of home can be anything, anyone, anywhere, the important thing is that it’s something unusual for the city in some way. That it stands out in contrast somehow. It’s an oddity that the character has never seen in the city before, and the character is drawn to it because it reminds them of home. It can be a good memory of home, or a bad.

How does seeing this oddity change your character’s feelings? How do they react?  Do they interact with the oddity? Do they avoid it? Maybe give a glimpse of home if it reminds your character of a specific moment or event from home.

The oddity is going to inspire your character to act. It’s going to inspire them to make a big decision. So what is? Follow the decision, and see where it drives your character. A character in action will inevitably lead to conflict, so follow the action, follow the character, and you’ll find your story.

Until next time, happy writing!


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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

5 Ways to Outline a Story Part 2


In part one of 5 Ways to Outline a Story Part One we talked about abbreviated outlines and detailed outlines and how I use them. In this post, we’re going to talk about chapter bullet/three act outlines, multiple outlines, and some famous outlines. I use each of these methods at times depending on the story, and will try to break down how I use them and for what type of story I think they’re useful.

Chapters or Three Acts
Another way to break down an outline is to break it down by chapters or acts within the story. In a script and even novels, there are often three acts. The acts are general defined as this: Act 1: the setup of the story and conflict; Act 2: the progress phase where the protagonist defeats obstacles and makes progress either closing in on the bad guy or the main goal; and Act 3: the resolution phase where the final confrontation against the bad guy or attempt on the goal is made and the plotlines and character arcs are resolved.

An outline broken up into either chapters or acts will usually be more detailed than the abbreviated outline, but not necessarily as long as the detailed outline. The main goal of this type of outline is to focus on the arcs of each section. When I do this type of outline I use bullet points still, but I will write a bit more because my focus is on the character, plot, and emotional arc of each scene. Using the mystery example again:

  • Chapter 1
    • Abby hasn’t heard from her brother in days so she goes to check on him, annoyed and believing he’s drinking again and he’ll have to return to rehab.
    • Abby arrives at his apartment, he doesn’t answer so she uses her key.
    • Abby discovers his apartment a mess, open liquor bottles, and signs that there was a struggle.
    • Indecisive about whether her brother is in trouble or just drinking again, Abby calls her other brother for help and tries not to panic.
As you can see, this type of outline covers the series of actions in the chapter, as well as the emotional reaction from the protagonist. We see Abby go from one expectation (annoyance at her brother drinking again), to a completely new possibility (he’s genuinely in danger). We also see the steps of the plot developing, Abby checking on her brother, discovering him gone, deciding to seek help.

You can write as much or as little as you’d like in this type of outline, but the point of it is to show the overall arc of movement and development in each chapter so that it flows more smoothly. In general, I find this type of outline is helpful when I’m writing a story that needs a lot of setup or that has a lot of the middle section of back and forth between the good and bad guy because this outline helps you see how much space each part of the story is going to use up.

In general, the Act 1 and Act 3 should each take up about ¼ of the story, while the Act 2 should be about ½ of the story, so seeing the bullet points of action broken down into each act lets you see how they measure up as far as story time. By doing this kind of outlining up front, you can rework some details as needed so the story is more balanced the moment you write it instead of having to revise a tone after you’ve written the first draft.

Multiples
Multiple outlines is a method I using specifically when I’m writing a genre like horror, romance, or a story with a lot of characters and plot elements. Basically, multiple outlines can be useful when you have a lot of story to tell or a lot of arcs to keep track of, and you want to make sure each element has a specific arc of development. In genres like horror, the horror elements themselves will have an arc of development as the horror grows more intense, so I do a specific outline that is just the development of the horror elements in the story. That sort of outline may look like this using the film Paranormal Activity:

  • Paranormal Activity Outline:
    • Couple is going to film haunting because they think weird things are happening, but no real proof.
    • Door moves on tape while sleeping, lights flicker, shadows.
    • Micah taunts the spirit and it grows more violent - whole house shakes, loud violent screech that wakes them up.
    • Katie in trance-like state staring creepily at Micah as he sleeps, then wanders outside. No memory of it the next day.
    • Ouija board experiment – it catches fire while they’re gone.
    • Etc.
The purpose of this type of outline when I write horror is to show how the specific horror elements grow progressively stronger and more dangerous as the story continues. The horror arc is what creates the fear and suspense in the audience, so making sure it builds properly can make sure you get the reaction you want from the audience. You can also do this sort of outline for mystery to show how the mystery elements develop, or even in romance to show how the relationship develops.

On top of this type of outline, you’d want to do an outline for the plot, and potentially an outline for the character. These three outlines together work well for when there are different elements that have to come together to make the story really work. The plot outline would be different than the horror because it would show the purpose of each element, as well as explain the protagonist’s actions that do not necessarily count as an element of horror.

Returning to Paranormal Activity, a partial plot outline would include details such as the steps Micah and Katie took to contact the demonologist for help, or the fights that happen between Katie and Micah. For character outlines you’d include Katie’s slowly changing personality, Micah’s growing insecurity in the face of his inability to stop the demon, and the changing dynamics between the two of them.

By combing the horror outline, the plot outline, and the character outline, you can blend all three elements together to create a cohesive story. This allows you to make sure each part develops as it should individually without having to try to plot it all out as it’s mixed in with all the other details. 

Clearly this type of outline isn’t necessary for every type of story, but whenever I’m doing a story that has other elements besides plot that have to be just right (such as horror or a romantic relationship), then I use this format because it helps me make sure those elements develop properly and gradually. If they don’t, then the audience won’t believe the romance or be scared by the horror.

Established Forms
As I’m sure you all know, there are many established outline formats that already exist. Two of my favorites to revisit now and then are Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet Outline from his screenwriting book Save the Cat, and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey can be used for almost any type of story you’re writing, but it is primarily used for writing fantasy novels. Snyder’s Beat Sheet is primarily used for genre movies, but there are variations of it that can be used for novels as well. Instead of trying to explain these two types here, see the links above for a breakdown. 

In general, I use Snyder’s Beat Sheet when I want to do more than an abbreviated outline but don’t want to do the full detailed outline. It’s a variation of the three act outline, or the chapter outline, and it can be useful to make sure you’re hitting key emotional/developmental moments in your story.

For the Hero’s Journey, I generally use it for fantasy or science fiction as mentioned above. Any story that involves a big voyage or journey, or my character going on some kind of quest, is one that gets the Hero’s Journey treatment. The Hero’s Journey tends to be useful because it shows the general turning points for the character throughout the story, starting with the point that gets the hero to embark on the journey in the first place. This format relies heavily on archetypes, but when writing a fantasy story that can be incredibly useful.

Final Notes
Overall, I’m a firm believer that everyone should try a few different types of outlining, and then customize the one they like best so it works the easiest for them. Once you do outline, remember to check in on your outline as you’re writing. I find that usually after my first act some parts of my outline will have changed and I need to revise. About halfway through I’ll have to revise a bit more, and then once I’m done I’ll need to do one final set of tweaks. It helps to revise the outline again even when I’m done because then when I’m editing the novel or script as a whole I can reference back to the final outline if needed and know it’s correct.

Even if you hate outlining, trying to the abbreviated outline at a minimum can really help you keep your story on track and save you some of the trouble of revising later. I know it worked for me when I was constantly having to rewrite huge portions of my story. The biggest benefit that I’ve found is that I write faster when I outline because I have a clear picture of where my story is heading. Ultimately, everyone will have a difference method that will work for them, so try a few and see what works.

Until next time, happy writing!


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