Thursday, July 30, 2009

Be Sure to LOCK It!

Okay, anyone who has gone through Language Arts 101 or written their fair share of stories, both long and short, knows what a plot is. First of all, you need a main character. This person has a problem to solve, you see. (That's where the objective or goal comes in.) Then, of course, he/she meets with some resistance that makes it hard to get to that goal. (Enter: the antagonist -- person, place, or thing.) So, they do battle of some sort. (Yep, you got it. That's the conflict.) Finally, in the end the problem is solved, or not. (We call that one resolution.) Simple, right?

Well, maybe. The problem is when we write we might forget to resolve some of the issues, especially when it's a novel-length work. It's all those loose ends we talk about. Or we might write ourselves into a corner and can't figure out how to get out of there. I always hate that one because then I have to go back and revise what's happened before, i.e., backtrack the character's steps to a point where things were fine with the story. It's kind of like the recovery/restore feature on your computer. You know, the one where it asks you if you would like to restore by going back to the point when your computer wasn't so screwed up? That kind of situation. And then again, the problem might be because you've forgotten some tiny details about what your character has done, and as a result the resolution is confusing or it just plain doesn't work! (Here is where I say TAKE NOTES. Always keep a notebook and jot down details of what you've written that day, hour, or whatever chunk of time it is. Don't trust yourself to remember it later. WRITE IT DOWN!) I like to write a short summary of each chapter. And if I have a summary of events, which I often make out ahead of a writing project, I will go back and jot down any changes I've made as I get into the writing. (And there will always be changes. Trust me.)

All the above is called the LOCK system, according to James Bell, author of Plot and Structure. L is for Lead character. O is for objective. C is for Confrontation. And K is for Knockout. This is a novel (no pun intended) approach to naming the elements of a plot. Bell suggests that you always keep the LOCK system in mind as you progress through your story. You might keep a chart of sorts to describe and detail what your character has experienced and accomplished. After all, there may be mini-LOCKs within a novel or more than one character who is accomplishing things. Of course, as Bell mentions, solid plots have one main objective that the main character deals with throughout the story. This should be made obvious to the reader. In other words, what is the character trying to accomplish here? If the reader is aware of that, and of course, how the character does accomplish it, and if it's done well, then you've done your job.

So, bottom line: Use LOCK, take notes, and of course, revise, revise, revise! Until it's perfect :-)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Close Are You? Degrees in Writing

When you write, do you think about how each phrase, line, or choice of words will affect your readers? Do you achieve a balance of emotion, action, and those quiet moments of reflection? It's finding the right mix, knowing when to pull your readers in with intensity of emotion, and when you need to back away and give them a breather that will achieve great writing.

For instance, if you write a paragraph about how a character reacts to a situation: (1)Anna opened the door to find the room dark and silent. (2) She crossed to the other side and stopped by the bed. (3)Something deep inside caused her to shiver and she puzzled over what it might be.(4)Anna reached out hesitantly with her hand, her fingers barely touching the covers. (5)Please don't lose your courage now, she told herself.

Okay, so you can probably see that sentences 1 and 2 are purely describing her actions and therefore have little intensity. Then, with sentence 3 you find some emotional insite thrown in to pull the reader closer. Sentence 4 backing away a bit; sentence 5 pulling in, up close, with her internal thought.

Of course, just as this balanced mix works within a paragraph, it is important to use the proper degree of intensity according to where you are in your story. Think of your major scenes as fence posts. These are intense. Then in between there are your smaller, transition scenes. These should be less intense. And, as you near the climax, you should be turning up the intensity level big time, lots of emotion and action.

Take a look at any novel and see if you recognize the varying degrees of intensity. And then check out James Scott Bell's book, Plot and Structure for more advice on this topic and more. Your use of degrees in writing can make the difference.