This past Thursday, members of Tooele Writers met to share and discuss what some learned from a recent LDS Storymaker’s conference.
Tiffany Shumway discussed how to outline novels using the information she learned in a workshop based on ‘Save the Cat!’ by Blake Snyder. In this system, books are organized into fifteen sections or ‘beats,’ as follows:
- The Opening Image—this is where the tone and genre are set, and it’s the starting place for the protagonist. Generally, this should be a normal setting to begin with.
- Theme Stated—a question is asked that has to be answered at the end. What is the question or dilemma in your story? The theme supports the main character’s arc.
- Set Up—This is where all the pieces come into play, including a clear protagonist and antagonist and an idea of what’s wrong that needs to be fixed.
- Catalyst—the wake-up call, in which something changes and moves the protagonist toward action.
- The Debate—the protagonist experiences some self-doubt and wonders which way to go.
- Break into Two—The journey begins here. The old world is left behind with a strong definite change. Authors should go into this section boldly.
- The B Story—This is where a secondary story, often a romance, is introduced. New relationships are made which can seem like the opposites of old relationships.
- Fun and Games—not so much fun for protagonists, but readers love the fun and games section in which the conflict escalates and setbacks occur.
- Midpoint—the protagonist experiences a false victory or a false failure. The stakes have been raised, and characters need to decide whether to fight or flee. A question to consider: what happens to characters to make them think everything is awesome or awful?
- Bad Guys Close In—The character is in trouble in this section. The bad guys have regrouped, or the hero team is falling apart, or both, and opposition increases.
- All Is Lost—this is a one-page, dramatic beat. The character is at an all time low, and something has to die here. They experience a false defeat or false victory (opposite of what happened in beat 9). What happens to make the characters think they cannot get what they want after all?
- Dark Night of the Soul—this section is kind of the opposite of the Debate section listed earlier. The protagonist has to do some soul-searching to find a solution and decides to either give up or keep moving. Sometimes this section relies on wise words from another character.
- Break Into Three—The character gets moving again and makes a last ditch effort to get what he/she wants.
- Finale—A transformation has occurred. The character has a new attitude and some lessons learned, based on the experiences in the book so far. Both the main story and the B story are wrapped up here.
- The Final Image—This is the opposite of what happened in the opening image. Authors will show the end of the journey and how the characters have changed in this section.
Also, authors should brainstorm a title, a tagline and a pitch before they even begin to outline.
Next Cindy Whitney discussed her class from Lisa Mangum on voice and said Mangum was very clear that voice and style are not the same thing.
Voice is more about what you have to say than how you say it, but it’s also a way to portray your personality as a writer. It has to do with quality of writing and personal attitude. Mangum offered the acronym SING to help understand how to create a clear and distinct writing voice.
S=be SELECTIVE. Carefully choose the words you use, including varying the length of sentences. Also be selective about pacing, settings, dialogue, action, narration and characters, etc.
I=be INTENSE. The point here is to evoke strong emotions. Think about how you feel when you’re writing and try to stay true to that, and the emotions will come out with clarity and strength in the manuscript.
N=be NOTORIOUS. Find out what your characters are known for and how they want to be perceived. Also pick three adjectives to describe your writing (for example, snarky, fun and flirty) and aim to make all your writing like that. Laura Bastian pointed out that this could be a branding technique.
G=be GENUINE. Authors should be brave enough to say something. When you have something to say and you find the right words and the right stye your voice will ring true every time.
Finally, voice is a very personal thing.
Cindy also shared her notes on six mistakes authors make from a class she took from Kathy Gordon, managing editor at Covenant Communications. Here they are:
1. Too much irrelevant detail or backstory
2. Too many words—cut the story by 50%.
3. Too many adjectives or adverbs
4. Not enough strong verbs
5. Marshmallow dialogue—too soft and squishy
6. Get rid of outlandish names
Laura Bastian quickly covered her notes from the class she took from Brandon Sanderson on developing characters. Here's a quick list of some of the things that were covered:
- According to Sanderson, characters tell the story. Three things help determine the way your character will move through the story: how proactive they are, how competent they are, and how sympathetic they are. If you change these things, you can change your character’s personality in a believable way.
- Show protagonists suffering to help readers develop empathy and stay in the story.
- Give the characters flaws…not just simple handicaps, but something irritating.
- Showing that other characters like a particular character makes that character more likeable in the reader’s eyes.
- Removing friends from the protagonist shows anguish.
- When you’re writing villains, up their competency and down their likeability.
At the end of the meeting, members discussed gesture crutches from a class taught by Jordan McCollom. While gestures and body language are necessary in writing, some things are overused. If you’re going to use a gesture, don’t use the first thing that pops into your head. Be creative and come up with a different gesture that can show the same emotion. Nods, head shakes, anything with eyes and eyebrows are overused. Use something unexpected.
Also, don’t use gestures too much to replace taglines. Some of this is okay. Just not all the time.
Tiffany Shumway has already posted links to several good 15-beat pages on the Facebook group for Tooele Writers, and Cindy Whitney posted one as well. Here they are: