Thursday, June 21, 2018

What Is Your Protagonist's Point Of View?

You have a great idea for a story. You have your story's point. You have a fully formed protagonist in your head; she is a living, breathing human being. Now you're ready to write your opening sentence

Whoa. Slow down there, Hemingway.

Have you asked yourself one important question? What question is that?

What is your protagonist's point of view?

I'm not talking about whether you're going to tell your story in first or third person limited point of view. I'm talking about how your protagonist views herself--and her world.

One monumental fact you need to know about your heroine is that she has a unique and subjective point of view. Everyone does. Your heroine, like everyone else, will interpret everything she encounters through the lens of her point of view. 

For example, your protagonist is hanging out with a friend, and a certain song starts playing on the radio.  The friend raves about how much she loves it. It was the song that played when she kissed her husband for the first time. That particular song evokes pleasant memories in the mind of the friend.

But the protagonist covers her ears and runs out of the room crying. The friend sits there bewildered, wondering what she did to upset her friend so badly.

What the friend doesn't know is that the very same song played the day the protagonist's father walked out on her family.  Whenever the protagonist hears the song in question, it causes unbearable heartache. 

That's the protagonist's subjective point of view hard at work.

So, what's your protagonist's point of view? How do you determine this important element?

Your protagonist's point of view, or any other major character's point of view, comes primarily from one thing. It comes from her specific longstanding misbelief. This misbelief will have significant influence on your protagonist. It continually shapes the heroine's point of view throughout her entire life.

Let's say, for example, that your protagonist's sister promised your protagonist a trip to the zoo, but for a long time, didn't make good on it.  Finally, the sister agrees to actually take her to the zoo. 

On the day they are supposed to go, your protagonist approaches her sister with jubilation about the trip.  But the sister refuses to take her.  Crushed, your protagonist bawls right in front of her sister. The sister goes on to say that she would never take such a snotty little brat as her anywhere--not even to a rock fight, much less the zoo.

With tears in her eyes and a shattered heart, your protagonist retreats to her bedroom and flings herself on the bed. She builds a wall around herself, to shut everyone out. She reasons that people will only hurt her--especially those she loves. Her sister certainly did.

The protagonist develops the subjective point of view that people never keep their promises. All her life, she approaches relationships with an inherent distrust toward others. 

You can probably see how much damage her distorted point of view will cause the protagonist. That's the point.

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, my protagonist, Sandra Porter holds the subjective point of view that she just can't do anything right. How did she develop this subjective and destructive point of view?

First, when Sandra was fourteen years old, she burned cookies in her Home Economics class. Her teacher scolded her, saying that she will never have a happy home or a good husband because she couldn't bake.

Then, when Sandra was sixteen years old, she cooked something that her drunk father didn't like. He flew into a rage and threatened to beat her.  Sandra kicked him out of the house. Her mother went crazy with grief when her father left.

Sandra blamed herself for destroying her own family. Her misbelief evolved into the subjective point of view that she couldn't do anything right--especially maintain relationships.

In order for you to pinpoint exactly what your protagonist's point of view will be, you need to craft a compelling longstanding misbelief. It will also help to craft three more misbelief deepening scenes, that continue to shape her subjective point of view to the point where she can't see anything clearly. She sees everything through the lens of her distorted misbelief.

Determining a compelling point of view for your protagonist is a key element in crafting a story that will captivate your readers. They will lose themselves in your riveting tale as they experience all of the emotional ups and downs that your heroine experiences

Happy Writing,

L. R. Farren

P. S. - Everyone has a subjective point of view based upon their own longstanding misbelief, and their specific experiences have taught them. This includes you.



 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How To Write A Female Protagonist When You're A Male


Since writing my debut young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, starring a teenage female protagonist, I've been asked a most interesting question by several male and female family members and friends.

How were you, being a 46 year old male, able to write a 17 year old female lead character? 

Every time I get asked that question, I have to take a moment to think. Yeah, how did I write a teenage female protagonist? The whole concept took me aback. I had to stop and think hard about how I actually created an authentic 17 year old protagonist with inner issues that ultimately caused her downfall by the end of the story. 

How did I get notes like these below from my female editor? 

"You pull the readers right into the story! They will want to reach onto the page to try to keep Sandra from making the mistakes she’s making—even as she thinks some of her decisions are the wrong ones! You’ve done a wonderful job of catching a young girl’s point of view, and the technique used—first person past tense with present tense internalization—is creative and realistic. Very well done!!"

"What a compelling novel!  You have a great deal of talent for storytelling—so much of the description is dramatic and affecting! The characters were vividly drawn. I could see those teens walking down the street. Nice job!!"

And how did I get reviews like these from female readers?

"When I read a book that grabs a hold of me like From Bad Girl To Worse I have a period of time I don't want to let the story go. My thoughts are this is a story that small group's and youth leaders and parents could use to open the door to discuss how decisions and the friends they choose can destroy their lives and many others."

"Captivating book from the 1st page to the last!! This is an amazing relevant book for teens to adults of all ages! The storyline is very insightful to the pressures so many teens face today. It is a suspense filled book that makes it want you to read it all without stopping."

How did I, L. R. Farren, a 46 year old male author, write a 17 year old protagonist who seemed so real that readers saw her as a living, breathing teenage girl?

I attribute part of being able to successfully pulling this off to my years of experience in children's and youth church ministry. I did a lot of teaching and mentoring of boys and girls of all ages. Along the way, I made observations on how boys and girls handled life and its many problems in different ways.

But the main reason I believe I was able to successfully create a teenage female protagonist was because of the countless hours I'd spent studying human behavior and relationships. I'd spent years reading books on relationships among adults, teenagers and parents with teenagers. 

One thing that helped me immensely was learning what the basic needs of men, boys, women and girls are. Here's a quick punchlist.

Basic Needs Of Men 

1. Honor / Respect
2. Sexual Fulfillment
3. Recreational Kinship
4. Domestic Support

Basic Needs Of Women

1. Emotional Security
2. Affection
3. Open Communication
4. Leadership

These needs are essentially the same as those of teenage boys and girls, although the sexual fulfillment need for boys is tricky to navigate--especially when writing young adult fiction.

The key to writing a female character, or any character, is revealing how she reacts internally via her innermost thoughts to everything that happens in the story, in the moment, on the page as she struggles with what to do. The reader should struggle mentally and emotionally with the female protagonist. The reader should feel everything the protagonist feels.

Once I understood womens' and girls' basic needs, it was easier to envision how a teenage girl would approach social situations and relationships differently from teenage boys. But this was not nearly enough.

I had to dig deeper.

I studied something monumental that I never knew was a reality about relationships. I read a book series called "The Five Love Languages" for adults, teenagers and children. Studying these relational languages opened a whole new dimension of how I viewed people--especially women and girls. 

For the sake of time, I won't go into the details about these love languages. But I strongly recommend that you study them in detail for yourself. 

Even after discovering all of this wonderful information about relationships by studying The Five Love Languages, I felt that I needed to dig even deeper. And from that deeper digging, I found a set of books that forever changed my writing career. I call these books the "For Only" series. Here's the complete list:

1. For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
2. For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn
3. For Women Only In The Workplace by Shaunti Feldhahn
4. For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice
5. For Young Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice
6. For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice

The valuable information contained in these books changed my life, let alone my writing career. After reading all of these books intensely over and over again, I was able to assemble the character building toolbox I needed to create any type of character, not just teenage female characters. 

I believe the countless hours I invested in studying the "For Only" series earned me the editor's comments I shared with you earlier in this post. And let me assure you, my editor is tough. She does not give such positive feedback easily. It was a great honor to receive such comments from a respected editor on my debut novel. 

If you, as a male, or a female for that matter, are serious about creating authentic characters, regardless of age or gender, I would strongly recommend reading the complete list of books you see below. Read them over and over again until you can quote them from memory.

Complete List of Books

1. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
2. The Five Love Languages Singles Edition
3. The Five Love Languages Of Children
4. The Five Love Languages Of Teenagers
5. For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
6. For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn
7. For Women Only In The Workplace by Shaunti Feldhahn
8. For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice
9. For Young Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice
10. For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice

I also invite you to read my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, to see exactly how I pulled off writing a genuine teenage female protagonist. 

Happy character building,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 

P. S. - According to For Parents Only, there is not a whole lot of difference in emotional development between teenage boys and girls. They both experience emotional ups and downs in similar ways.

 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What's Your Hero's Simplest Emotional Journey?

Recently, I'd read a post on Save The Cat that revealed screenwriter Billy Ray's secret to bringing out the primal element in a film--something the audience could relate to. His method for digging down to the core element of his stories was quite simple.

During a writer's workshop, he wrote on a 3" x 5" index card the following question:

What is your hero's simplest emotional journey?

On the back side of that 3" x 5" index card, he wrote the answer to that question as it pertained to the story he was sharing with the group.

Billy Ray is one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, with blockbuster films such as The Hunger Games and Breach under his belt. And he was gracious enough to divulge one of his key secrets to telling great stories in a writer's workshop. I wished I'd been there, just to glean his storytelling wisdom.

This was a truly incredible piece of advice he shared that day. Game-changing, actually, as it relates to storytelling. 

This nugget of wisdom was so valuable to me that I decided to put it in my storytelling toolbox. Then, I took this concept of the hero's simplest emotional journey a step or two further. I implemented it into my method for defining the point of every story I write. 

It came to me like a glorious vision. This monumental question, coupled with defining the point of my story would surely give me divine insight into determining what my protagonist's inner struggle would be. Every time. It would help me uncover what her greatest goal and her longstanding misbelief would be, and how they would battle each other along the protagonist's third rail of the story.

This monumental question can also help you define your story's point, and determine your hero's inner struggle that will captivate readers from the first word of your novel to the last.

You can also ask this question no matter where you are in your story creation process. In fact, you can even ask this question after your story is finished. There's never a wrong time to ask...

What is my hero's simplest emotional journey?

Here's how I answered the question for the heroine, Sandra Porter in my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse.

"Sandra Porter's simplest emotional journey throughout the whole story is to establish intimate human connection with at least one person, regardless of what it might cost her. She wants at least one true friend. Yet, she struggles with her perceived inability to establish relationships with anyone--even her own family." 

See the index card example here.


I wished I'd already known to ask this question about my protagonist's emotional journey while I was in the early stages of story development for From Bad Girl To Worse. How much easier would the writing and editing--and even the plotting--have been?

You can be sure I'll be asking this question every time I craft a novel, novella or short story from this day forward. This question will come immediately after the first question I always ask when I begin crafting a story:

What is the point that I want my story to make?

Your tale will have the enchanting power to keep your readers reading if you determine as early as possible what your protagonist's simplest emotional journey is. Let your answer be the true North of your writing compass. Let it guide like a brilliant beacon you through every step of your novel writing process. 

Let the answer help you figure out your "Big What If" and your high concept pitch. Let it help you craft your Blake Snyder beat sheet and your Story Genius scene worksheets

Just make sure that your hero's simplest emotional journey is primal enough for anyone to relate to. Make easy enough for even a caveman to understand. That way, any reader can follow along with your hero from the first chapter to the last. 

Finally, craft your hero's emotional journey so that it forces her to undergo a profound internal transformation from someone who's ordinary to someone who's great. If you do, you'll have readers you don't even know recommending your book to everyone they do know.

Happy journeying,

L. R. Farren

P. S. - Your hero's emotional journey is synonymous with her internal change. They are one in the same. That's what make the emotional journey so powerful for your hero--and your reader.


Friday, June 15, 2018

How To Write Great Scenes In Your Story

Way to go! You have your scenes listed in the basic story flow for your novel, and you have laid them out on your Blake Snyder beat sheet. The real story you want to tell is becoming clearer every day.

What I'm about to share with you is an added storytelling bonus. You can use this information however you choose. I personally recommend you put this tool you're about to get for free in your story crafting toolbox and use it whenever you evaluate the scenes or beats of your novel.

This tool is a scene checking utility. Actually, it's a list of four questions, that you should ask yourself every time you analyze each scene, or scene sequence. At a minimum, you should use it to analyze the five key story beats of your novel, which are...

- Opening Image
- Catalyst
- Magical Midpoint
- All Is Lost
- Final Image

Here are the four questions:
1. What does my protagonist go into the scene believing?
2. Why does she believe it?
3. What is my protagonist's goal in the scene?
4. What does my protagonist expect will happen in this scene?

You can use these questions to evaluate every scene you write, looking for...
- Your heroine's belief or expectation in the scene
- Why she believes what she believes
- What her expectation is upon entering the scene
- Your heroine's goal throughout the whole scene
- What your heroine actually thinks will happen in the scene

The main thing you want to look for in every one of your scenes is some kind of conflict between your protagonist and external/internal forces. You want to make sure that the conflict is there--and the reader knows it.


If there is no conflict in a scene, the story stops dead in its tracks.

The other thing you want to look for in every scene you write is whether or not the conflict in a scene is forcing your protagonist to struggle with her longstanding misbelief at some level. Conflict in a scene means nothing if it doesn't somehow persuade your protagonist to undergo an internal transformation.

Every scene should ultimately change your heroine's heart and mind. Every scene should lead her to finally confront, overcome and defeat her longstanding misbelief, and help her achieve her greatest goal.

To take it a step further, answering the four diagnostic scene questions before you write your scenes will dramatically increase your protagonist's chances of internal change taking place.

Here are my examples of how I answered the questions before writing my protagonist, Sandra Porter's misbelief inciting incident scene for my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse. This is the scene where she developed her longstanding misbelief, so I had to make sure I got it right. Otherwise, my whole story might go off the rails. 

1. What does Sandra go into the scene believing?
    Sandra enters the scene believing that it will be just another evening of dealing with her drunk father. She hopes that he will just come home, retreat to his recliner and drink until he passes out. It's more peaceful in the house when her father is out cold. 

2. Why does she believe it?
    Sandra believes this will be just another day of enduring "drunk dad" because she endures his verbal insults and grunts every day. Why should this day be any different?

3. What is Sandra's goal in this scene?
    Sandra's goal in this scene is just to get through the evening with most of her heart intact. She hopes he'll already be drunk when he walks into the house. He seems to be quieter on those nights.

4. What does Sandra expect will happen in this scene?
     Sandra expects for her drunk dad to be lucid enough to verbally abuse her during dinner. She expects nothing but more heartache from him.

Brave little Sandra has no idea that on this particular evening, she will find the courage to put her abuse to an abrupt end. But it will also be an event that will send her into a downward spiral over the next two years.

One main goal in asking these scene questions is to make sure that your protagonist's expectations are not being met, whether for better or worse. Creating situations where your protagonist expects one thing to happen, but something else entirely happens is an important element in writing compelling scenes.  

And your heroine must have her expectations dashed to pieces in every scene. It keeps her on her toes, and keeps your reader reading. But make sure the underlying purpose of not meeting her expectations is to aggravate her inner struggle between her story-specific goal and her story-specific misbelief. It also should reinforce the point of the story. Otherwise, who cares if your protagonist's expectations aren't being met.

Remember this handy little rule of thumb:

No conflict, no scene. No scene, no story.

As long as your heroine's expectations aren't being met in every scene, your story will have just the right pacing and momentum to constantly stimulate your reader's interest. Your reader will stay up way past her bedtime to see how your novel ends. 

Happy storytelling,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. - These diagnostic scene questions work best when you use them to dig into your protagonist's backstory.

The Magic Of Cause And Effect In Your Story

You got this. You're doing a terrific job of structuring your novel. Keep up the great work. You'll be glad you stayed the course when you finish it.

Okay, so you have your story line plotted out and you're ready to start writing.  

Well...almost.

There is one critical thing your story line should have before you write your opening sentence. This thing will magically transform your tale into a novel that readers love. What is it, you ask?

Cause and effect.

Your story must follow a clear cause and effect trajectory that makes sense to both you, and the reader.

You may remember from your school days, when you sat in science class, how you learned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is an important principle of physics. As Albert Einstein once quipped, "Nothing moves until something happens."

When you review your Blake Snyder beat sheet and scene worksheets, and lay out your beat cards on your board, you should see plenty of things happening. If you don't, you're going to have a long, boring novel--a novel readers won't love.

Assuming you do have events where your protagonist takes action, either preemptively or in response to said events, you need to examine them closely for one important thing.  Yep, you guessed it.

Do your events have a clear cut flow of cause and effect?

To say it another way, do the scenes or beats in your story follow some sort of logical progression that captivates your reader? The Blake Snyder beat sheet, your beat cards and your scene worksheets should help you ensure that each one of your scenes has a legitimate story reason to be there. Meaning, every one of your scenes should have a profound impact on your protagonist's internal transformation.

Do the events in each scene take place because the events in the scene that preceded it cause them to happen? Does the action in a given scene happen because the outcome of the scene before it forces it to happen?

Throughout every beat or scene you analyze, say the following words to yourself, over and over again:

If, then, therefore

If one things happens, then it will cause the next thing to happen. If, then, therefore. Action, reaction, decision.

Think of it this way, when you review the scenes in your story, you want to be able to say, "This event happened, and as a result, the next event happened, which inevitably caused the third event to happen. And so on, and so on."

You don't want to simply say, "Well...this one thing happened, and then another unrelated thing happened. And then something totally random happened after that." If this is how you're describing your narrative to others, your events may not be following a logical cause and effect progression.

Recite these words over and over again: If, then, therefore.  Action, reaction, decision. Get these words indelibly stuck in your head. Recite them every time you look at your beat sheet, beat cards or scene worksheet.

If, then, therefore. Action, reaction, decision. 
Learn it. Know it. Live it.

This rhythm works like magic when you map and chart your novel's cause and effect course. Every time. It will help you move your story in the right direction.

Understand that just like everything else in the universe, story has some irrefutable laws of physics. Let's call them "the laws of story physics". These laws of story physics must be observed and obeyed. Ignore them at your own peril. Otherwise, your novel will make absolutely no sense. Your story won't really be a story. It will only be a series of events that happen, but have no point. Read this letter for more information on this subject. 

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, my heroine, Sandra Porter sparked a reaction for every action she took. As a result, she was constantly faced with making hard decisions over whether or not to keep her friends. Her story-specific cause and effect trajectory landed her in jail, but also made her the happiest young woman on earth--all at the same time.

The most important thing to know about the cause and effect progression of your story is that it must be anchored to something even more important. Your cause and effect trajectory must be anchored to your protagonist's third rail

Remember, your protagonist's third rail is the story-specific struggle between her greatest goal and her longstanding misbelief. Every revolution of your story's cause and effect wheel must turn because your heroine's internal struggle is working like an engine, making it turn.

Every step along your story-specific cause and effect path must have significance in regards to what your protagonist wants, and the longstanding misbelief that keeps her from easily getting what she wants. In fact, it must intensify her inner struggle, and force her to change internally. It must force her to confront, defeat and overcome her misbelief, and give her freedom from it, once and for all.

If you craft a compelling cause and effect trajectory that makes your protagonist undergo a marvelous internal transformation, your will have magically transformed your narrative into a novel readers love.

Success is yours,


L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. - From the opening sentence, your novel's cause and effect progression must be evident to the reader. It's what pulls her into the story. 
  

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Writing The Middle Of Your Story

Wow! Your novel is really coming together. You have a first draft of your first chapter. You also have a first draft of your last chapter. You have an excellent idea of how your story begins and ends. 

You are so much further ahead than many would-be writers.

But there is another place where you need to write a first draft chapter. Where is it? Right in the middle, of course. You need to write the chapter that captures the events of… 


Ah, the magical midpoint. This is where your protagonist thinks she’s gotten everything she’s ever wanted. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Life couldn’t be better—or so she foolishly believes.

This is the part where your heroine goes “all in”. She kisses her “true love” for the first time. She gets the money she needs to “set her up for life”. She’s found the “killer” responsible for murdering her friend--or so she thinks.

At this point in your story, toward the middle of your novel, the protagonist has it pretty good. Very good actually, thank you very much. She’s at a high place in the story—possibly the highest she’ll get.

This is also the place in your story where things go wrong for your protagonist in the wrongest way possible. She “bets the ranch” and loses it. She snubs her “true love”, and he walks out on her. She’s falsely accused of killing her best friend right after she gives them a hot lead.

In this type of magical midpoint, your heroine seems to be at an all-time low.

Why is nailing the magical midpoint of your novel so critical?

In a well crafted film, novel, novella, or even short story, the magical midpoint always marks a significant event in the protagonist’s life. The significant event can be for better or for worse. But it’s there, forcing the heroine to make a major decision and take some sort of swift and drastic action. 

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, my heroine Sandra Porter kisses her "true love" Mack after he confesses his "love" for her. Then, they have a "coming out" where they hold hands in front of all of their friends, letting them know that they are "a thing". At this point, Sandra believes in her heart she's gotten the one thing she wants most: She has a boyfriend, someone who will take care of her. She's ready to commit murder for this boy if she has to.

It is important for you to know that the midpoint event doesn’t have to be externally devastating, like an earthquake or house fire. It doesn’t have to be externally fortuitous, like winning the billion dollar lottery or getting that big break as the star of a major motion picture.

What the significant event must be is internally devastating or fortuitous to your protagonist. The external event could be as ordinary as the protagonist severing a toxic relationship. But if she loved her toxic friend dearly, it might as well be a 10.0 earthquake she’s caught up in. And the heroine must lay all her cards out on the table and confess her deep love for her not-so-best friend.

Or the external event may be as mundane as the protagonist finding an unopened piece of mail that fell behind a bedroom dresser. But after she opens it, she finds out that it was the last letter that her older brother wrote to her before he died unexpectedly. And in the letter, he apologized for letting her get in trouble for stealing money from their mother—money he actually stole. Then, in light of such distressing news, she must decide to make amends with her estranged mother.

In both of these scenarios, the meaning behind each of the events is what carries the significance, not the events themselves. How they affect the protagonist internally is what matters, and what the reader cares about.

In many novels, the middle of the story seems to drag and sag. As a result, the story the novel is trying to tell inevitably wanders without true direction through a random plot, and ceases to be a story.

When you read one and two star reviews of these types of novels, readers might describe some of them as, “Weak middle”, or “The story drifts off into nowhere around the middle”, or “The middle of the novel drags on and on with no point”.

Without a magical midpoint, where something monumental happens and the protagonist takes a risky action in response, the novel will likely drag, sag and drift into nowhere.

But you won’t let this happen in your novel because you’re about the write the first draft of the middle chapter, or chapters, of your story. And the events your chapters chronicle will be huge for your protagonist internally, making her struggle even harder in the fierce battle between her longstanding misbelief and the desire for her greatest goal.

The magical midpoint, if you get it right, will turn your story into a novel readers will love.

Happy writing,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. – In the old days of film making, screenwriters, producers and directors called the magical midpoint “sex at sixty”. Why? Because at sixty minutes, exactly at the midpoint of a one hundred twenty minute movie, the hero and the heroine would kiss, or fall in love for the first time. Next time you watch a movie, look for the “sex at sixty” moment, right in the middle of the movie.


What Is Your Protagonist's Point Of View?

You have a great idea for a story. You have your story's point . Y ou ha ve a fully formed protagonist in your head; she i s a livin...