Archive | June, 2016

Write-it Wednesday #5 — Good Bad/Best Bad

29 Jun

Our heroes tend to get so much love that our bad guys can get overlooked. I’m trusting you all know that, and have done some character work on your antagonist(s). Let’s take it one step further.

One flaw that seems to plague villains these days is their “evil plans.” Many villain’s actions are dictated entirely or primarily by whatever will make them a hindrance to the hero. And on the one hand, yes, that’s critical. That’s what they’re there for: to create tension, present challenges, and raise the stakes.

At least, that’s what they’re their for structurally. This whole antagonist bit, that’s what the villain does for you, the writer.

But why are they doing what they do within the story?

Don’t get me wrong, you can have a great, beloved, interesting, dynamic villain with a shit plan:



Loki is something like 90% character, 10% effectiveness of plan. And he’s also the best MCU villain by a long shot.

But a good plan can go a long way in making your villain more interesting, and more of a threat.

(I had originally pulled this gif as a gag, but it’s actually a solid example). My personal favorite villains are ones like this:


He is connected to Mr. Incredible via backstory, and does harbor significant hatred toward him, but Syndrome’s plan isn’t only a vendetta against Bob Parr. It’s way bigger than that. He’s on a deeply personal quest in which he feels justified, and it’s only by happenstance (to the characters, carefully crafted narrative to the writers) that it’s Mr. Incredible and not one of the other surviving Supers who steps up to oppose him. On a craft level, these characters were carefully designed to mirror each other and all the things a hero/villain pair are supposed to do, but their antagonism feels more organic than someone waking up and deciding to be a super villain.

Full disclosure, I often dislike Vendetta/Revenge plots, because on the whole, I feel like they facilitate cheap villains who are only there to serve the story. Malekith in Thor: The Dark World comes to mind. To me it feels like, whatever the in-story explanations, he only woke up and the realms were only converging because they heard it was time for the sequel. While Alexander Pierce might not be your favorite villain, Hydra as a whole at least feels like they were always there, this was always their plan, and thank goodness Cap woke up in time to stop them.

We all have different preferences when it comes to antagonists, and different types of antagonists have different uses. Baron Zemo was a pretty by-the-books Vendetta Villain, but he sort of didn’t matter because he was more a linch pin than an antagonist. The tension, stakes, and opposition are provided by Tony and Steve. (For a more in-depth analysis, check out MovieBob’s review of Civil War).

Anyway, every story has its own structural, narrative, and emotional needs, and every writer has their own taste in villains. What we all need, though, it to understand how this is playing out in our work.

So, your assignment for this week is to catch your villain monologuing. This can be a voice test where they explain their evil plan, an actual scene where they confront the hero, bullet points listing all of the villain’s actions, when, and why, or really anything else. Determine if and how your hero and villain foil/oppose/balance each other. Figure out, and this is my favorite, how your villain’s plan/actions/motives would play out if your hero never showed up.

(Hey, this’ll work if you want to skip right to the prompt, right? If you’re not a fan of my monologuing, jump to the quotey part for the weekly prompt.)

As always, if you’d like to apply this thinking to an existing piece of media, go for it.

And post your results in the comments, or in a new post!!!!!




Write-it Wednesday #4 — Outnine

22 Jun

And no, that’s not a typo.

What exactly is an “outnine”? It’s an outline . . . in nine sentences.

The exercise comes from my new favorite writing book Story Physics by Larry Brooks (see the Bookshelf), specifically page 140. (The punny title however, is mine).

You’re going to tell me your story in nine sentences, and between them it should cover the entire arc of your story.

It looks something like this:

  1. HOOK — Why, of all the books on the shelf, is the reader going to pick yours? What premise, place, time, character, narrative decision, etc will grab the reader and keep them invested as the ball gets rolling?
  2.  SET UP — Introduce the world, characters, stakes, plot elements etc that will be the fuel on your literary bonfire
  3. FIRST PLOT POINT/ACT BREAK — Light said bonfire — your set-up has reached a tipping point, and things can’t stay the same anymore. Your hero decided to take the journey that will fix it.
  4. RESPONSE — The hero reacts to the new world their quest has brought them too; both hero and reader take some time reacting to and understanding the new surroundings, enjoying the magic school, dystopian death match, or conspiracy theory that was promised on the back cover.
  5. MIDPOINT— Before the new world can get old, something big happens, something new that raises the stakes and inspires the hero to take action and face the problem head on.
  6. ATTACK — The hero deals with internal and external conflicts as they fight their way to their goals. They understand how they need to change, and how to use the information they’ve been collecting along the way, but they won’t be able to complete their quest because one key piece of information is missing.
  7. SECOND PLOT POINT/ACT BREAK — Huzzah! The final piece to the puzzle! The hero now has all the information necessary  to complete their quest and save the day! (NO NEW INFO BEYOND THIS POINT)
  8. FINALE — The hero must summon the growth and courage they’ve gained on their journey, using skills practiced, information collected, allies made, and lessons learned during the Response and Attack phases of the journey
  9. ENDING/RESOLUTION — The hero returns to their original world a better person, with the problems they maybe maybe didn’t even realized they had solved.

Now, I  don’t know how much sense that makes if you a) haven’t read the book, or b) aren’t very familiar with plot structure. And even if you are familiar with one story structure model or another, this one might be new. Except it isn’t.

Outnine in Save the Cat! terms:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Set-up
  3. Break into Act II
  4. Promise of the Premise
  5. Midpoint
  6. Bad Guys Close In
  7. Break into Act III
  8. Finale
  9. Final Image

It works out perfectly, because these structures are essentially the same. Because story structures are all the same, because structurally, most good and relatively modern stories are the same on a structural level. And that’s great for you! Because now you have a roadmap to follow, a canvas to paint on, a Lord Business LEGO world to Master Build the hell out of, etc.

As always, if  you aren’t working on a big project, or even if you are, consider breaking a popular book or movie down this way. That would be a great think to add as a post or comment!


I’m Board

20 Jun

Sorry! Back again, this time with a more personal post (which is totally acceptable and encouraged, by the way).

This . . .


. . .as I’m sure you can tell, is a board. I love storyboards. I first learned about the concept when I read Save the Cat! for the first time (in the sixth grade: Yikes! what a nerd). I wouldn’t start the project I’m working on now for another few years, but I’ve been enjoying the possibilities of storyboarding for–let me count– holy shit that’s like 11 years now! That’s a lot of boards.

But the reason I’m posting this board is because I think I just understood how a Board is supposed to work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve understood the concept of index cards on a cord board since I was twelve. But I’m pretty sure this board I slapped up this afternoon is the first one that worked. As in, is a complete, solid foundation. Displays the barest of bones of my proposed story. I really do think to took me this long to “get it.”

And you know what that means? This is just became Board 1/??


(Oh, by the way, I think a decent part of the reason I finally understand The Board is thanks to Story Physics by Larry Brooks. Check out the previous post/the Recommended Reading section of the Bookshelf for more info on Story Physics and Save the Cat!)


Now on the Bookshelf . . .

20 Jun

Some of you might remember me going on a few little rants about the book Story Physics by Larry Brooks.


I picked it up at B&N on a spite-filled whim and ended up loving it. After a grad app/finals/graduation/laziness/summer delay, I finally finished it. And it was fantastic cover to cover. It seemed like every chapter had something new and nuanced to recommend as far as my novel goes. I’d consider it a must-read for everyone planning, writing, or planning on writing a novel (or screenplay, etc, but this book is (refreshingly I think) aimed mainly at novel writers). Whatever stage of the process you’re at, this book will probably help you improve and make you life a little easier.

Which is why, as promised, I’ve added a new category to the bookshelf!

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.31.09 PM

It’s called “Recommended Resources,” and it’s for all your media about making media. Submit your favorite books, blogs, websites, videos, etc about writing!


On a (suspicious cough) other note . . . school has been out for two months and not one of you have read a book, watched a TV show, or seen a movie you think your fellow writers might like?


(Yes I still find this funny, and yes, I will continue to use it)

The Eternal Quest for Skin Tone Words

16 Jun

. . . is still ongoing (but this might help you out).

I just came a cross this super cool Tumblr blog called Humanae.

It belongs to an artist who matches people’s skin tones to Pantone colors (the standard system for printed colors), like so:


It’s supposed to highlight the subtle difference between similar skin tones, and give an idea of just how many skin tones are out there.

Give the blog a scroll; there are hundreds of portraits.

While the colors are only named by their Pantone numbers, seeing all of these shades in their most simplified forms might get the old simile engine going and help you describe your characters accurately.

And it’s just generally cool.

Write-it Wednesday #3 –Baby Got Backstory

15 Jun

Also known as Deleted Scene

Also known as Snape, Snape, Severus Snape (you know you sang it)

What happens in your stories is super important, but what happens outside them matters too. The world of your story proper can be so massive and complex that just getting that down is task enough, but as the author, it’s your job to know more than your readers maybe ever will. (Plus, then when you’re famous you can make waves by dropping little tidbits on twitter #JKRowlingIsQueen)

Some of you are really good about this . . . maybe even too good. If I remember correctly, a few of you are working on world-building exercises that have taken over your story, at least for now. And that’s great!

This prompt is for the rest of us.

Backstory and world-building make your project richer and more complex, and even if all that work barely features in your story proper, its effects will have a big impact. As always, look no further than Harry Potter.

So . . . your challenge this week is to write a scene that isn’t in your project, and isn’t supposed to be. It can be events that happened before, after, or parallel to your main plot. It can be backstory, mythology, aftermath, or a “deleted scene” that’s just not important enough to make the final cut.

Alternatively, write a deleted scene for your favorite book or movie. (Steve, Natasha, and Sam robbing Fort Meade anyone?)

Write-it Wednesday #2 – Bucky’s Backpack

9 Jun

So we all remember that time right before Civil War came out when Sebastian Stan tried to destroy us by telling the world that the backpack Bucky was so desperate to keep safe contains artifacts and memories that he’s pieced together in case he’s ever forced to forget them again.


Anyway, now it’s your turn!

You challenge for the week is to pick one or more characters–yours or someone else– and design them their own Bucky’s Backpack.

Try to vary the types of items– your characters Pack could include photos, articles, clothes, songs, or anything else.

Consider the container too; it doesn’t need to be an actual backpack. Bucky had to be inconspicuous and always ready to move.

Somebody like Steve Rogers might have a dramatic shadowbox filled with items from the forties. (Well, technically he has an entire exhibit at the Smithsonian). But Steve is sentimental, dramatic, and always longing for the way things were.

Natasha on the other hand tries to hide any emotional ties she might have. She’s also always on the move, but unlike Bucky, she has no interest in remembering her past, so whatever she has is probably small and no older than her transition into S.H.I.E.L.D. i.e. the arrow necklace. Her memories might even be tattoos or scars.

Anyway, you assignment is to become a sentimental hoarder on behalf of your favorite characters.  Enjoy.