Monday, December 28, 2009

Story Structure Part X: The Road Back

tornado-car_1480982i This is the tenth in a series of posts talking about the story structure known as “The Hero’s Journey.” I’m borrowing heavily from“The Writer’s Journey: A Mythical Structure for Writers 3rd Edition” by Christopher Vogler. This is my interpretation of it, and I’ve tried to highlight some pitfalls I see writers falling into. Click here to review other installments of Story Structure.


The Road Back

Act III. This is where the magic happens. This is the part of the story you wanted to write  since you held the first glimmer of the concept in your head. Everything is heading downhill with a breeze at your back at this point…until you hit the rapids heading for the waterfall. The stakes are huge. Everything your Hero has ever known is at risk. A great winner-take-all conflict is looming. I can throw in more clichés but you get the idea.

Your Hero is now exiting the Special World he has been in since the beginning of Act II. He’s heading back to the Ordinary World, but this isn’t the same world he left—he isn’t the same person anymore. The problem is…you can never go home. We all know that. And worse than that—your Hero hasn’t resolved anything in Act II. The Villain is pissed off, and follows the Hero back to the Ordinary World, putting that world in jeopardy. The Road Back is hard, and if your Hero fails, he’ll never go home again. He may have even met some would-be Heroes stuck in the Limbo, unable to overcome their fears and forever lost in the Special World. Maybe he can help those lost souls home too.

uOttawa vs Queen's.  Gee Gee's win 13-12 Our benchwarming Quarterback now has a bug up his butt. In Act II he discovered that his nice, safe, comfortable world no longer exists. To return back home, he must keep moving forward. In some ways he’s become the Villain. He abandoned his team on the field, he abandoned his family at the hospital, and of course he tells his girlfriend he never wants to see her again. His Road Back is hard. He’ll never be the Benchwarming Quarterback again. He’ll never have that special relationship with his girlfriend again. He may never be able to speak with his father again. But…what now? Who is he? All he knows is that he has to win this game. It’s become more than a game—it’s a life and death struggle, with his father’s life held in the balance.

He returns towards the end of the 3rd Quarter, and his team is still losing. As he enters the field, he sees his team’s starting QB struggle, limping around the field, the other team crushing him to the ground again and again. It’s fourth and long, and they have to punt. Our Hero dons his helmet and runs on the field. In the confusion, a man runs off, keeping their side at 11. When the ball is hiked, he steps in front of the punter, takes the ball, and runs like a flamethrower is aimed at his back. The opposing team is confused as he runs the ball down the field, leaping would-be tacklers, spinning and driving, bowling over one last man and making a first down by inches. Coach is screaming, the starting QB is ranting, but our Hero refuses to leave the field. It’s his game now. Still down by three scores, it will take everything he has to lead his team to victory. He will win this game, or he will die trying. Time is running out.

The Road Back Goals

  • Return to the Ordinary World. Stick to your Hero’s original Goals. Why did he enter the Special World in the first place? What did he learn there? How has his life changed?
  • Your Hero has few Allies left. Everyone else wants to go home, too. He must rally them for one last battle.
  • Raise the Stakes. Your Ordinary World is no longer a safe place. Your Hero is now the Villain’s #1 Most Wanted.
  • The pace should be excruciatingly fast at this point.
  • Starting casting doubt on whether the Hero will actually succeed. The final outcome should always be in question, and in fact doubtful.
  • This is why movies like The Wizard of Oz and Circle of Iron are such great examples of The Hero’s Journey. The HJ isn’t about finding out what’s “out there,” it’s about finding out what’s inside of you, about finding out who you are and what matters to you the most.

Non Goals

  • Do you really thing this is a good place for backstory? Any new information at this point is more of the nature of a “reveal” than world-building. “Oh, BTW, the girl you like is actually your half-sister”.  D’ohh!
  • Pretty much anything goes at this point, as long as it raises the conflict. Special and Ordinary Worlds intermingle. Clashes erupt.
  • No big world-changing revelations—yet. Trying hard doesn’t cut it. Using your skills doesn’t cut it. A transformation is coming,  Strip your Hero down to his most raw, naked self, because his trial by fire is about to begin.
  • The point is not for your Hero to win. It’s to learn something precious. What is the lesson? Also, remember what makes a true Hero. It’s not success. It’s sacrifice. What is he willing to sacrifice? And more importantly, what is he not willing to sacrifice? What is the absolutely most important thing in his life?

For me, this is always the most exciting and interesting part of the story to write. I can’t wait to write the next page, to find out myself how my Hero will act in the end. I learn more about my Hero in the last ten pages of the book than in the previous 300. You’ll find out what that “most important thing” is, more than a thousand pages of backstory will tell you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Iapetus999’s Top 9 Writer’s Blogs for 2009

top 9 of 2009I am proud to present my picks for Best Writing Blogs of 2009. These are nine of my favorite blogs. I chose them for content, interactivity, and because I just like them and the people who maintain them. Congratulations!

  1. Edittorrent
    —Always has interesting writing tips and discussion.
  2. The Literary Lab
    —A bunch of great bloggers collaborating on advice for writers.
  3. Jordan McCollum
    —Excellent writing analysis and web site reviews.
  4. Victoria Mixon
    —Outstanding essays on writing. Wish they were still free.
  5. Between Fact and Fiction (Natalie Whipple)
    —Great writing advice and inspiration.
  6. The Babbling Flow of a Fledgling Scribbler (Sara McClung)
    —Fun site with lots of information
  7. Miss Snark’s First Victim (Authoress)
    —Very interactive site focusing on helping unpublished writers.
  8. Elana Johnson
    —Another great writer’s site focusing on publication.
  9. Not Enough Words (Merrilee Faber)
    —If you need some tough writer love, this is the place.

Honorable Mentions (no particular order).
These are wonderful blogs you should subscribe to!

If your blog isn’t mentioned, it’s either that I forgot or it got lost in the shuffle of my 250+ blog subscriptions (or you haven’t posted in the last 30 days…get blogging!). This is only a tiny, tiny portion of the blogs I enjoy. Please let me know if I’ve mis-linked anything!

Other Lovely non-writing Blogs you should check out:

Looking forward to a great blogging 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 Year End Review

2009 Year End Review

sad lolcat Well, it’s been a very long year for me and my family. One could say that this year was just one disaster after another. Maybe not as bad as 2006 when a tree fell on our house nearly killing us in our sleep, but this year, we never seemed to catch a break.

Let’s see, where do I begin? Oh yeah, it all started when I lost my job in March. Here’s my “self assessment” I wrote in Sept. 2008 which was essentially the “writing on the wall”:

Well, today is self-assessment day.

It's been pretty depressing. I don't think I've done very well since I came here. I really like the place and all the benefits. I like being in the forefront of technology. But let's face it: I've changed. I'm not the guy I was 20 yrs ago out of college, full of energy and ideas. I'm tired and unfocused most of the time.

I have trouble learning new things. I have trouble adapting. I have trouble working things to completion. My manager seems to talk to me every so often about how disappointed he is with my progress. He's very nice but pedantic about it.I took a look at the part of the self assessment that states "list 3 strengths." I couldn't think of one.

So you see, I kinda saw it coming months in advance. Honestly, my heart wasn’t in software anymore. So I cashed in a lot of assets, managed a decent severance, and off I went into my new “career”.

Things got worse from there. On the night of July 4, my wife slipped down some stairs and fractured her leg. Fortunately, insurance covered most of the $60K surgery/hospital stay expenses. Of course this was right on the heels of my own hospital stay for some still unknown stomach ailment. Then for the Pièce de résistance, in November, my wife hit some road debris and rolled the car, totaling it.

On top of this, it seemed like every thing we owned died and needed repair or replacement this year. Ready for this list? In no particular order:

  • Central Air Conditioner – Needed new fan unit
  • Central Heater—Needed new core
  • Truck
    • A/C died
    • 2 major front-end repairs (a seal and a hub)
    • Brakes
  • Computers:
    • My Netbook died—needed to RTM twice
    • Kids desktop HDD died
    • Wife’s laptop fan died
  • Outside freezer died
  • Dishwasher died
  • My car’s stereo is dying (haven’t fixed yet)

And just this weekend, just to show that 2009 isn’t done trying to kill us:

  • Small under-bar fridge died (waiting for huge ice block inside to melt
  • My watch band broke

Not to mention the fact that my heel tendonitis has bothered me all year, preventing my from running like I’d like to, and that I’ve gained at least 15lbs this year (which doesn’t help my tendonitis). I think I ran 2 races this year (including my first triathlon). Every time I build my mileage back, the tendonitis returns. I don’t know right now if I’ll ever be able to run more than ~15 miles/week. I need around 25 to get “in shape.”

So. Has anything good happened this year? The kids are doing well. My wife’s foot is recovering. We have a new car and new appliances. No deaths in the immediate family. My sister had a baby. We found some expensive jewelry that had been missing for 7 years. And I think I’m off to a decent start on my writing career.

how to write a lot

2009 Writing Review

I spent most of the year working on Dawn’s Rise. It had already gone through a round of revisions, but I wanted to make it publishable. I spent almost six months on this revision. I learned a ton about writing, but the revision didn’t really go anywhere because I was focused more on the details than the big picture. I eventually realized that the whole book needed a rewrite because the entire story structure didn’t work. After spending so much time on it, I put it aside, knowing I had at least another six months of revisions ahead of me.

Meanwhile, I had started working on another WIP I call The Immortals. I wanted to challenge myself to write a Fantasy-type novel, and to give myself something else to work on to take a break from Dawn’s Rise. I wrote out about 80K words on it, but like DR, it kind of petered out because it didn’t have a good story structure. It also is a huge story with a complicated world that would take me months to plot and plan to get to a point where I can proceed again. At 80K, I’m maybe 1/2 way into the story, so already my word count is huge.

In September, I came up with the idea for something I call The Lover’s Journey. When I took the concept and applied it to a woman, I came up with the germ of the idea that became Steam Palace. It’s a complete draft that I am now editing. It’s only 80K words complete, which makes revision much simpler. I think it will top out at 90K when I’m done but for now it’s my main focus.

I’ve also created a few series on my blog about writing. It’s helped me gain insight on my own writing and been well-received by the writing community.

2009 By The Numbers:

So I had a lot of crises, but I still managed to crank out a lot of writing this year. I know my writing has improved 100%, but I still have a ways to go before I’m publishable. I’ll outline some 2010 goals in a future post.

Here’s to hoping that 2010 turns out a lot better than 2009.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Official Kissing Day Blogfest!

Official Kissing Day Blogfest!

1steampunk girlSee the details and full blogroll of the Official Kissing Day Blogfest.

Here is the end of a scene from Steam Palace, my current WIP. Prudencia has run away from the Harvest Ball after insulting both the Duke and her best friend Lily. She finds herself in an airship hangar, where Thomas Putnam is stuck on a task he should have completed hours ago. He lost the use of his left leg which is why he is struggling. He saved Prudencia from a pack of wolves earlier in the book. Told from Thomas’ POV:

"What, pray tell, are you working on at this late hour?"

Thomas showed her. "A simple task really, but it requires three hands and two strong legs, of which I am missing one each. I have been stumped for needless hours on its execution."

"I'll help you." She hopped over to the open cowl of the control surface. "Show me what to do."

"Miss Stratton, these parts are extremely dirty, and I'm afraid you may ruin your exquisite dress."

"Do you like my dress?"

"You are most stunning, I admit. Far better that our last meeting."

The girl swayed seductively before him, a mischievous smile on her red lips. "Lend me your gloves and jacket, and direct me, and we will accomplish this dreaded task presently. No need for both of us to raise the Duke's ire."

Thomas hesitated, but noted her glare brooked no argument. He pulled off his jacket and gloves, and she donned the ill-fitting gear over her dress. "Are you sure? The gear is fairly heavy."

"My dear Captain. My father impressed in me the need to balance both mind and body. I assure you I am in top physical condition, and able to handle a simple gear." The matter was settled.

Thomas grabbed his tools and maneuvered himself into position. Prudencia hoisted the gear, grunting and straining, and placed it upon its cog. Thomas tightened the bolts while she held it in place, his face below hers looking up past her bosom. At his signal, Prudencia released the gear and it fell into place, and Thomas closed and latched the cowling. "Yes, yes, finally!"

Prudencia's face had turned red with effort, and her breath drew quick. He turned to her to slap her hand as he would a colleague, but as he drew his hand back she launched herself in his arms again, possibly mistaking his reach for a hug.

She clung to him for a few moments, suffering some emotion he knew not what, yet he had no inclination to break the hold. She looked up at him, her eyes wide and dilated, her lips parted. He felt his mouth drawn to hers, when a foreign-tinged voice interrupted them.

"Ah, das schwein!"

Please no critiques…this is strictly first-draft material. Would they have kissed if they weren’t interrupted? Well, this is Victorian-era attitudes, so probably not. The point is that they wanted to… :)

Since this may be my last blog this week, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Holidays!

Story Structure Part IX: The Reward

image This is the ninth in a series of posts talking about the story structure known as “The Hero’s Journey.” I’m borrowing heavily from “The Writer’s Journey: A Mythical Structure for Writers 3rd Edition” by Christopher Vogler. This is my interpretation of it, and I’ve tried to highlight some pitfalls I see writers falling into. Click here to review other installments of Story Structure.


Note About “Avatar

If you want a great example of the Mythical Hero’s Journey, look no further than Avatar. It contains all the elements of The Hero’s Journey. A hero starts out with a problem: he’s crippled and wants to be made whole (Ordinary World). He has an opportunity to become something called an “Avatar” which is a replica of the native Na’vi which he can use to infiltrate their world (The Call). He scoffs at what the scientists are trying to do with the Na’vi (Refusal) but the Head Scientist (Mentor) convinces him to participate. On a scientific mission he is separated from the other avatars and must survive a night in the strange world (Crossing the Threshold).

I’ll let you work out the rest. SEE THE MOVIE! NOW!! In 3D if you can afford it.

The Reward

This is probably biggest misnomer of the bunch. Also known as “Seizing the Sword,” The Reward is the final portion of Act II. After facing a number of Tests and engaging the Enemy, the Hero comes away with new knowledge and determination. He’s seen the true face of the Enemy, faced Death, and now must turn back home. The basic concept is that the Hero has fought his way to the Dragon’s Lair and stolen the Crystal Chalice. It’s a small victory, but the Hero leaves with the knowledge that he has faced the Enemy and lived. He also know that the Dragon has awakened, and will be coming after him with everything it has. I call it a “misnomer” because it sounds like something positive and hopeful but many times it’s a dark realization that the battle isn’t over and that greater challenges lie ahead. “Seizing the Sword” is a better name, because it reflects the Hero’s determination to see the conflict out to the bitter end, for better or worse.

hospitalman Now on to our Benchwarming Quarterback. His parents are in the hospital after a wreck. His girlfriend is unfaithful. The coach hates him. The other players hate him. His father is on life-support. WTF? “There’s nothing we can do but wait,” says his mother. “And pray.” He goes to see his father, tubes sticking everywhere, machines chirping and purring. Everything he’s done in his life flashes before him. All his failures, all his disappointments, all his betrayals of his father’s love. He faces the cold hard truth about his life.
(I smudged the image’s face to protect the innocent).

“I want to be the son you wanted,” he tells his father. “I want to prove to you I’m worthy, that I can be a man. If this is your last moment on Earth, I want to do something for you, to show how much I love you.” He rises, and walks to the waiting room. “Come on, we’re going,” he snaps at the girlfriend. “We have a game to win.” He has Seized the Sword. He is determined for once in his life to be the man his father wants him to be. His mother begs him to stay, but he must do this. It’s as if his father’s life rides on the outcome of this game. His Reward is the strength to do what he must, the self-determination to carry on despite the incredible odds, and the knowledge that he himself is willing to face death to accomplish his goals. We see him turning into the Hero before our eyes, but his task is daunting, and his goals seem further away than ever.

The Reward Goals

  • The boy becomes a man. The Hero takes responsibility for his life. He is ready to take on the world.
  • The Hero has conquered the Special World. He’s now a master of the domain. He has gone where no man has gone before.
  • The Hero knows what he must do to prevail in the end. He’s made his choice and will see it through.
  • The Enemy is awakened and pissed off. There is no more room to compromise or walk away. The Hero is in it to win it.


  • Remember, this is not the final transformation. There is still one more crucial lesson to be learned, one final test to pass.
  • The Enemy has been hurt, but not defeated. The Reward is also the knowledge that the Enemy will regroup stronger than ever.
  • The Reward is a Pyrrhic victory more often than not. And short lived.
  • The Reward is not the achievement of the Hero’s original goal. Nothing is resolved at this point.

What is The Reward in Avatar? There are actually two Rewards. Bonus for anyone who knows both (or are there more?) Try not to spoil anything ;)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The GS Virus - #FridayFlash Fiction


The GS Virus

jvirol00190-0232 I’m sure you’ve read many stories about the families affected by the GS Virus. I’m not going to get into the causes or assign blame. Here’s our story, and I hope it helps other families deal with this affliction. It’s really not the end of the world.

It started a few days after receiving our annual flu vaccination. She noticed it first, an unusual swelling of her breasts and a cracking of her voice. Then I started having symptoms: excessive hair growth and a strengthening of my muscles. I didn’t mind the muscles so much—I’d been working out a lot lately. I felt stronger and faster than ever before.

Over the next few days the symptoms increased, just as news reports started relaying the impossible. Her hair started falling out, she grew weaker, and our almost non-existent sex life completely died. Like many couples, we had grown apart over the years, and sex was but an afterthought. Our children became frightened of the changes, since Mommy and Daddy didn’t look the same anymore. We had been wanting to spend more time with them, but our careers had consumed us, me in my fashion marketing gig and she spending half the year on the road as a sportscaster. Now with this affliction taking over, could we ever be a family again?

The thing that disturbed me the most at this point wasn’t the physical changes. It was the mood swings. I felt angry, hostile. I never really was the assertive type but suddenly I wanted to be in control, whereas she became clingy, frightened, needing constant comfort and attention. I just wanted to deal with things and fix them, not just talk about it. For instance, I looked at my job in a whole new light. Why wasn’t I being promoted? Was my pay adequate? She suddenly wanted to spend time with the kids, read romance books and watch chick flicks, and knit for some reason. I got into sports for like the first time ever. I even watched Pro Wrestling with their choreographed violence and sexual overtures. It rocked! This wasn’t me. This wasn’t her either. We had known each other for ten years, and suddenly everything started to change.

Then came the “final stage” of the infection. We’d heard about it and dreaded it. We sent the kids off to my sister’s. She hadn’t contracted the disease, and the kids had received the safe nasal inoculation. For days, we lay in bed while the virus ravaged our bodies. We followed the advice: drink plenty of fruit juice and protein bars. The pain ranged from intolerable itching to convulsive spasms somewhat akin to childbirth. We had to change the sheets about ten times from all the shedding. Yuck. That last night we held each other in the throes of agony, trying to remember that all this would pass, and we could resume our lives—albeit altered.

We woke to a new day. We looked at each other, naked in bed. I have to admit, I’ve never looked at a woman that way before. I felt things I never had before, experienced desires I’d never imagined. We appeared little like our old selves. GS also has the side affect of de-aging you, taking ten years off, so I studied her as if it was the first time had we ever met. I ran my hand down her soft flank, over her breasts, across her lips. She sighed, looking up at me with her dark eyes, button nose, and rich red lips. I fell in love with those delicate features from that first moment. I had never felt this way about my spouse before.

We made love like it was our first time, exploring each other, learning about our new bodies, figuring out how it all worked. Don’t get creeped out, our brains had been changed as well, and it felt completely natural by this point. I know for most couples this was the hardest thing, something you either accept or don’t, but once we got the hang of it, it was incredible. I admit I feel jealous of her, since she quickly found the knack of multiple orgasms. Everything worked as advertised.

Unfortunately, nothing fit. Our clothes, I mean. I can’t imagine all you single people out there, what a nightmare. So it was sweatpants and sweatshirts until we could go to the massive swap-outs that sprang up everywhere.

The kids—well, they were a little more than freaked out. We didn’t look like their mother and father anymore. We had prepared them as best we could. She promised she would still take them to baseball and hockey games, and I would be there for them when they’re hurt or need to talk, but we knew it would be hard. She kissed and hugged them a lot, and I patted them on the back. The secret is really just to love them, but no one is ever unaffected by this. I know they miss us they way we used to be. It took a while but they’ve come around.

So now, a year later, I look back on it, and I see it all worked out for the best. I got not one but two promotions, she decided to quit her job to stay home and take care of the kids, and our sex life—it’s better than ever! We just know exactly what the other wants and needs. It’s like we wiped the slate clean and started over from scratch. I just want to say I love my husband—I mean my wife (still getting used to that even after a year)—very much, and I really hope things stay this way. In a way, I’m grateful that we caught the GenderSwitch Virus, because it’s brought our family together more than I ever thought possible. But sometimes, I still miss my vagina. Though I really do like the ability to pee standing up!

Next time: “Pregnancy After GS”—he-now-she can do it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Story Structure Part VIII: The Ordeal

ordeal This is the eighth in a series of posts talking about the story structure known as “The Hero’s Journey.” I’m borrowing heavily from “The Writer’s Journey: A Mythical Structure for Writers 3rd Edition” by Christopher Vogler. This is my interpretation of it, and I’ve tried to highlight some pitfalls I see writers falling into. Click here to review other installments of Story Structure.


The Ordeal

This is it. This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Finally, our Hero confronts the Enemy. He’s been trained, he’s gathered his Allies, but is it enough? No, it isn’t. Nothing that’s come before can prepare him for this moment. He’s deep in the Enemy’s lair, and must rely on his own wits and judgment to make it through. Now this isn’t the final confrontation, but it’s the first major exchange with the Enemy. The Villain is cunning and smart. He knows the lay of the land. He has some objectives too—to turn the Hero to his side, to corrupt the Hero, to see if he can win an easy victory. It becomes clear that the Enemy represents everything the Hero hates, especially about himself. His own fears, his own weaknesses. The Enemy is in his head almost, exploiting every weakness of the Hero and turning him into a gibbering mass of goo.

This is the scene you wanted to write since you came up with idea for the story. Luke vs. Darth Vader.  Dorothy vs the Wicked Witch. The hospital scene where Adrian tells Rocky to “Win.” This is the final test before your Hero is allowed to start the long road home. This is when the train jumps the rails, the troops retreat, the police close in, the wife is in bed with someone else, and everything the Hero ever knew about himself is put into question. He’s no longer the innocent traveler to this Special World, he’s a fully involved participant, and his goals seem further away than ever.  He’s seen the face of the Enemy and it’s bad. Who talked him into this misadventure anyways?

Let’s go back to our Benchwarming-now-playing Quarterback. It’s halftime. Wait—what? The Ordeal isn’t on the field? WTF? Yes. Because he’s confronting his true Enemies—the Head Coach and the starting Quarterback. The starter is feeling better. The Head Coach wants him back in. But wait—there’s more. Our QB gets a phone call. His parents have been in a bad wreck on the way to the game, he needs to leave right away, which Coach says means he’s off the team. Forever. Everything seems to be falling apart. In addition, he finds out the Starting QB is the father of his girlfriend’s baby. Everything seems to be conspiring to destroy him. This is his last chance to prove himself, to become a winner, but now it looks like everything’s been cut short. He leaves the game humiliated, having to bum a ride from this unfaithful girlfriend to the hospital (which is conveniently a minute away). The opposing players mock him on the way off the field.

man-woman-brain-1 Now the Ordeal turns to this awkward car ride. The girlfriend is distraught and apologetic, almost unable to drive. She never meant it to happen, it wasn’t consensual, she doesn’t know what to do. His mind is consumed with fear about his parents, disappointment that he can’t finish the game, and bitterness that this woman and the Starter hurt him. Our Hero’s story seems to be over before it even started. He’ll never amount to anything. He’s consumed with self-doubt and self-loathing. The world is collapsing around him. Everything he’s ever feared about himself seems to be coming true. He can’t play football. He can’t be loved. And Death lurks right around the corner. Depressing, isn’t it? Why the heck did I write this book??

The Ordeal Goals

  • The Hero must face Death. In the example above, it’s the possible death of his parents coupled with the death of his football career.
  • The Hero takes on the Enemy. And loses. Badly. This is far harder than anything your Hero has faced up until now.
  • Your Hero’s worst fears must be realized. From now through the end of Act III, your Hero is in a crucible of fire. He’ll be tested beyond everything that ever happened before.
  • Allies drop like flies. Enemies grow strong and multiply. This is a hard time for everyone.
  • Make it clear what the ultimate stakes are: Life and Death. Everything and everyone the Hero cares about must be placed in jeopardy.
  • Keep Raising the Stakes, and keep the Hero focused on his Goals, even if he’s ready to give up. Something good is right around the corner.

Non Goals

  • Your Hero does not defeat the Enemy. He may wound the Enemy, he certainly antagonizes him, and sometimes steals something important from him. We’ll talk about this in the next installment.
  • Don’t commit your Hero to the fight. He may come away from this Ordeal battered and bruised and ready to go home. This was far more than he bargained for, and he may want more. Too bad, he’ll learn soon enough that all roads home lie through the Enemy.
  • Don’t give your Hero any easy ways out.  Every choice is bad. Every option leads to conflict. But definitely give him choices. He’s still in charge of his destiny. He is still driven by Inner and Outer Goals.

This is definitely a rough time for the Hero.  By the end of the Ordeal, he’ll have everything he needs to prevail in the end. He just may not know it yet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Sucks - #FridayFlash

Christmas Sucks

tile fireplace christmas Every Christmas, it would happen. We’d place our presents under the tree, we’d settle down for our long winter nap, and come morning—it was all gone. The presents. The tree. The cookies and milk. All gone. Like the Grinch stuffed them up the chimney to his lair high in the mountains. The police were baffled, our neighbors clueless, and my family distraught.

This year, I was determined. I sat at the ready, cradling my shiny new Remington 870 Express on my lap. My wife snored on the couch as the wall clock ticked inexorably towards midnight. My eyes drooped but I choked down another Red Bull, willing myself to stay awake.

I heard a jingling from outside. This was it—go time! I called to Martha, “911! 911!” I rushed through the door, waving my weapon before me. An old lady walking her dog screamed and ran, the jingling coming from the dog’s Christmas collar.

“False alarm,” I called back to the house. “Martha? Hello?”

No response. I sprinted back in, my shoes slipping on the ice, the gun almost wrenched from my grasp. The room was empty. No tree. No presents. NO WIFE.

In the chimney, I saw movement. My wife’s foot! I dove for it, dropping the gun, banging my elbows on the mantle. My hands closed on the appendage which rose up the chimney. I felt my body lifted, sucked up the chimney like a dust up a vacuum. I felt weightless, surrounding by complete blackness, only the feel of my wife’s foot grounding me to reality.

We were falling. I pulled Martha close to me as we tumbled through the air. A landscape lit up, full of shiny red and green objects. We impacted, wrapping paper and toys and Christmas trees softening our blow. We swam back up through the detritus and broke the surface.

“I tried to stop it!” she cried, her eyes wide, glancing at the sea of Christmas paraphernalia that stretched as far as the eye can see.

Cascades of trees and presents tumbled from the sky. “We need to find somewhere safe.”

We pulled ourselves on top of the mess. I spotted something in the far distance, some kind of mound. “This way. Be careful.”

Time lost meaning in this place of lost toys. We subsided on fruit cake and cheese platters, specialty cocktails and piles of cookies. It might have been days or hours, but we finally reached the mound, a towering fortress composed of candy and Legos.

We found no entrance, but I had armed myself with a pack full of battery-powered tools. We went to work on the walls of the fortress. Some interminable time later, we broke through.

We crawled through the structure which oozed of chocolate and tinsel. Red ropes blocked our path but I sliced through with my reciprocating saw. Voices carried to us. Our winding path opened up into some kind of large chamber, where old men in red and white uniforms huddled around large-screen computer monitors, conversing on headphones. A large wall screen displayed a countdown: 59 minutes, 23 seconds and counting—to what I had no clue.

“Isn’t that your father,” gasped Martha, grasping my wrist.

santa factory Impossible. My father passed away years ago. “Come on, follow me.”

We hid behind a column while I threw sugar plums at the man. He pulled off his headset and looked around. We hid. He rose to investigate the source of the fruit. I grabbed him, holding my hand over his mouth. He struggled, but we dragged him down the hallway.

“Were we followed?” My wife shook her head. I let go of the man and faced him. “What the hell is going on here?”

“Bob?” he said quietly, raising his hand towards my face. I knocked it away.

“I don’t know who you are, but I want to know exactly what this place is, right now!”

The man downcast his eyes. “We’re—reversing Christmas. I’m so sorry, Bob. You’ve been a test subject for a number of years. Christmas, it’s—it’s lost its spirit, its purpose. We were inspired by Dr. Seuss, so we’ve been taking it away.”

“What??” I felt like slapping this man. “Are you really my father?”

He nodded. He didn’t look like my father, not like the shriveled old man I remember with tubes stuck everywhere. “Dad?”

“I’m so sorry, Bob, but these orders come from up above. The Big Guy. This year, Christmas is cancelled. Forever.”

My wife spoke. “The children. What about the children? Say this isn’t so.”

My father shook his head.

“Where the hell are we,” I demanded.

“I guess you could call this the North Pole. We use space-time portals to open the chimneys. We direct robotic angels to snatch the goods. You’ll be better off without those presents. It’s His Will.”

“Over my dead body,” I cried. “Martha, wait here, don’t let him leave. I’ll be back.”

I remembered certain packages along the way. Long, thin, heavy packages. Guns. Thank God people still gifted guns. I returned with an armful, and raced into the chamber, riddling the ceiling with bullets.

“Listen to me,” I screamed, the assorted men rising from their seats. “There will be no more stealing of Christmas. I want all of you to sit back on your consoles, and return every present, or I waste this entire building.” For emphasis I aimed a shotgun and blew apart a monitor.

Those men got busy in a hurry. As the clock ticked down, my outside camera showed the huge sea of Christmas debris sagging, sucked away back to their sources. Just as the clock hit zero, bolts of electricity filled the air, accumulating right in front of me. A Voice spoke from the dazzling light.

“Who dares reverse my orders,” thundered a Voice in a divine chorus of angels.

I squinted at the retina-shriveling light. “It is I! You have no right to steal Christmas!”

“And who the hell do you think you are?”

Something dawned on me. “I’m frickin’ Santa Claus! Now get the hell out of my workshop, we have work to do!”

The electricity collapsed into a point and disappeared. My wife slid her hand into mine.

“Well, Mrs. Claus, you ready to make Christmas happen,” I asked her.

“Just as long as we’re back in time to open presents.”

“Okay, you! Work the Nintendos! You, on the crappy sweaters.”

Yes, Christmas would never suck again, now that I was in charge.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guest Post on The Literary Lab!


Today I have a guest post up on The Literary Lab! Go check it out!

Thanks to  Lady Glamis  for inviting me ;)

This is a reprint of a previous post from this blog.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Story Structure Part VII: Approach to the Inmost Cave

CaveThis is the seventh in a series of posts talking about the story structure known as “The Hero’s Journey.” I’m borrowing heavily from “The Writer’s Journey: A Mythical Structure for Writers 3rd Edition” by Christopher Vogler. This is my interpretation of it, and I’ve tried to highlight some pitfalls I see writers falling into. Click here to review other installments of Story Structure.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

This is perhaps the most nebulous and hard-to-understand step of the Hero’s Journey. At this point, your Hero has gathered Allies, engaged with some dark forces, and has met with his Mentor. He’s ready to take on the main antagonist But first, he must endure an arduous process on his way to the main Crisis of the story.

What is this “Inmost Cave?” It’s the enemy’s lair. It’s the embodiment of the Hero’s fears. It’s a place where few tread, and fewer return from. It’s the furthermost point away from where the Hero started his journey. The Death Star. The Emerald City. The Bedroom. The Courtroom. Jail. The Dragon’s Lair. This the place where every decision has life-or-death consequences, where the stakes are at their highest. But before this Ordeal, our Hero must get there. He must prepare himself for battle, arm himself with information, learn the final lessons, remove all doubt, and commit himself to the Journey.

Let’s look at our benchwarming-but-now-playing Quarterback. He’s on the field. He’s made a few plays. He’s starting to feel out this Special World. He throws a touchdown. Success! Maybe he can prevail in this world, maybe he does have what it takes. But the Enemy is huddling, changing their strategy. The stakes are going to be raised. There’s about to be an Ordeal near the end of Act II. He will be tested. What can we do as an author to Raise the Stakes? We’ve got the girl on the sideline. He’s now sitting on the bench while the other team has the ball. She approaches him…she’s late—it’s not his. His mind is now distracted, hurt. Still no word from his parents…what’s up with that?

muddy-431x300 They get back on the field. He throws incomplete passes and they punt. Coach is yelling and screaming. He’s going to have to clear his mind, find a way through all these distractions. And guess what? The other team knows about his girl trouble, and they start taunting him. Even the old coach on the sideline is getting agitated with him, trying to set him straight. His early success is falling by the wayside, he’s going to have to reach down deep, because with 2 minutes left in the half, he had little time to prove himself before the head coach puts someone else in. His friend the receiver is ambushed by an illegal crack-back block and is now out of the game, taken away in an ambulance, perhaps crippled for life. Now it’s time for our Quarterback to rise to the occasion and start kicking ass. And I have no idea how that picture relates but I just liked it. :)

Approach to the Inmost Cave Goals

  • Fully engulf the Hero in the Special World. In fact, you may even create an inner Special World inside the outer Special World…the world of the Enemy’s Hideout…which has it’s own special rules.
  • Start testing your Allies and Enemies. See how firm their commitment is. Some of them may change sides. Some of them bow out. Others prove themselves.
  • This can be a large portion of your story, so keep the pace up and keep raising the stakes. Throw obstacles in front of the Hero. Make him earn every success…which become more and more infrequent.
  • Your Hero Must Act. No more sitting around, philosophizing about the pompetus of direct conflict. Move, move, move!

Non Goals

  • Still avoid direct confrontation with the Enemy. Think about this as a Chess Game…everyone is still moving pieces around and waiting to strike. Some pieces are lost, but some become powerful. Direct conflict is almost inevitable at this point.
  • No more Mr. Nice Author. Why does Bad Stuff happen to Good Characters? Because that’s what makes literature interesting. Your character starts failing in bigger and better ways than ever before. But he’s also trying harder than ever before.
  • This should be the dying gasp of whatever Refusal your character still has. Kill your Hero’s doubts, because the Ordeal of Act II will destroy any Heroes that are not fully committed. If he’s not fully committed…give him some “motivation.”

Is your Hero armed and ready for his first major conflict? Are the Stakes high enough to convince him to take on the dreaded Enemy?

Friday, December 4, 2009

LOL—Friday Flash Fiction


LnlyGrl275: Hey, u there? Just got on. dad thinks I'm sleeping smile_wink
BigGuy800: hey. how was ur day?
LnlyGrl275: bad. hate school, hate life, world sucks
: that good, huh?
: yeah. it's like I can't wait til now so we can chat. u make my whole day. smile_regular
BigGuy800: tx. me too smile_regular
LnlyGrl275: wish u wern't 2000 miles away. ur my only friend
BigGuy800: I'm here for you. Wish I could be there too
LnlyGrl275: gd I hate boys. not u. u know what I mean.
BigGuy800: So theres someone ur crushing on o_O
LnlyGrl275: LOL yeah.
LnlyGrl275: but its like he doesn't see me. Just cause I'm not on cheer or dance. smile_sad
BigGuy800: Is that a requirement for likeability?
LnlyGrl275: duh! I'm in the band smile_tongue no one likes band geeks
BigGuy800: hey-ur not a geek! I think ur kewl. And a sharp dresser
LnlyGrl275: LOL. rite. we didn't go school shopping this year cause of my dad's layoff
BigGuy800: ouch.
LnlyGrl275: so I'm in last years crap. barely fits.
BigGuy800: times are tough
LnlyGrl275: did u get that job u wanted?
BigGuy800: no smile_confused gonna try again tomorrow. sux
LnlyGrl275: gd I wish mom....sorry...just been thinking a lot about her...
BigGuy800: ?
LnlyGrl275: don't mean to get teary-face...messes the keyboard
BigGuy800: smile_regular go on.
LnlyGrl275: I miss her so much. My dad...he's like...he just shouts and screams about everything now...and he's here ALL THE TIME!
BigGuy800: yeah...BTDT
LnlyGrl275: dads are so lame. sometimes I wish mine would disappear. we say like 3 words to each other all week.
BigGuy800: he's prolly going thru his own shit, yknow. he's doing his best
LnlyGrl275: riiight...u haven't met him.  I think he's lost it.  I just wish sometimes...
BigGuy800: ?
LnlyGrl275: sorry...crying again. I know I shouldn't. I wish u were near so bad. I'm so lonely and its like im dying. my moms gone, my sisters married, and my dads a freak.
BigGuy800: {{{{LnlyGrl275}}}}hug_dudehug_girl u'l be okay. it takes time u know.
LnlyGrl275: I just want all this crap to stop!!! smile_baringteeth
BigGuy800: Me too.
LnlyGrl275: sorry sorry. taking breath. getting control. talk to me. tell me something
BigGuy800: k. I saw ur new FB pic. it's very cute
LnlyGrl275: OMG it's awful! LOL why did I ever put it up there? Is that really a human nose?
BigGuy800:'s adorable
LnlyGrl275: ur just saying that but thanks. *sniff* I wish u had more pix up
BigGuy800: smile_regular me 2 but I dont really take any
LnlyGrl275: bleh. u better or I'll come down there and take them myslef smile_wink
BigGuy800: smile_regular i'll try. say, how'd that test go?
LnlyGrl275: uhh....what test?
BigGuy800: the test? thing?
LnlyGrl275: I never told u about any test.
BigGuy800: the test u had
LnlyGrl275: wait. I never told u about any tests. I just looked at my history. Who is this??
BigGuy800: I was just confused. Nevermind.
LnlyGrl275: no! Are u in my class? Do I know u? WTF????
BigGuy800: I'm not! I mixed u up with someone else
LnlyGrl275: u tell me who u really are or i'll never speak to you again. I don't need this shit!!
BigGuy800: i can't
LnlyGrl275: what????
BigGuy800: i'm someone who cares about u. alot.
LnlyGrl275: nonononononononono. this is not happening to me
BigGuy800: i'm sorry
LnlyGrl275: OMG
LnlyGrl275: dad?
BigGuy800: that day when I first texted u...I was gonna tell u dinner was ready...I forgot I was on this new account...and we got talking
LnlyGrl275: i'm gonna hurl. omg omg omg
BigGuy800: i need someone to talk to too
LnlyGrl275: I like told u all my secrets! TO MY DAD!! I thought u were a boy! I kinda even--barf--if I blow ur cleaning it!
BigGuy800: I promise I will never share anything u told me. I couldn't stop myself. please, everything u said about ur mom...I want to be there for u. I know Ive been crazy. I know I've done terrible shit. just give me a chance. In a year u'll be gone like your sister. I just wanted a chance to get to know u once again, to talk like we used to.
LnlyGrl275: ugh. please
BigGuy800:  we can get thru this. I love u so much, Molly. I hate everything that's happening, but I don't know how to fix it.
LnlyGrl275: so u thought stalking ur own kid wud help?
BigGuy800: I'm sorry I deceived u. I couldn't stop myself. i really like talking to u like this. The person uv been chatting with...that's the real me, underneath the whole "dad" thing.
LnlyGrl275: i gotta go. I don't ever want to talk to you again.
BigGuy800: please don't go. I never meant to hurt you. I'm really lonely too and I need someone to talk to.
LnlyGrl275: oh gd. someone wake me up. or shoot me.
BigGuy800: I know it won't be the same, but maybe we can still try? smile_embaressed
LnlyGrl275: what am I doing?? I'm Miss Pathetic 2009. fine..but I have some conditions.
BigGuy800: k
LnlyGrl275: first of all--I set my own bedtime from now on. I stay up as late as I want
BigGuy800: done
LnlyGrl275: secondly--u never ever breathe a word of this or I'm no longer ur daughter
BigGuy800: done. my lips are sealed
LnlyGrl275: third--I get the car whenever i want--with no curfew
BigGuy800: sigh. As long as u promise to be careful
LnlyGrl275: done.
BigGuy800: we good?
LnlyGrl275: i'm thinking about it. this is way creepy
BigGuy800: but in a good way?
LnlyGrl275: no.
BigGuy800: if I was still "BigGuy800" what would u say to him right now?
LnlyGrl275: I'd say, "Hey dude, guess what? I just found out my dad's a bigger loser than I thought! He's been pretending he's some guy who's into me. WTF?? Get a life!"
BigGuy800: and he'd say, "OMG, that is way out of line. I don't believe it. What ru gonna do?"
LnlyGrl275: LOL. and I'd say "Well I'm not gonna talk to him for like ever again. Creepo. But I got a car out of it"
BigGuy800: smile_teeth and I'd say "WTG! That's showing him."
LnlyGrl275: sigh. I do miss talking to you. {{Dad}}
BigGuy800: I miss you too {{Molly Doll}}
LnlyGrl275:DON'T CALL ME THAT!! smile_angry
LnlyGrl275: So..."BigGuy800"...I wanna tell u about this guy at school...can u handle that? ur not gonna freak out and shoot him (or me?)
BigGuy800: What happens in AOL stays in AOL. Lay it on me.