Thursday, May 31, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Cards

Dear Storyteller,

Congratulations! You have charted your protagonist’s change throughout the worlds of your story. You now have a clear sense of the internal transformation that your plot will force your hero to make.

What's more, you've completed one of the most critical steps in crafting the story line for your novel: Mapping out the arc of your protagonist’s internal change, from the Opening Image of your novel to the Final Image.

But you still have work ahead--the work of copying the story beats of your Blake Snyder beat sheet on 3x5 index cards. The format will look a little different on the cards than it does on your beat sheet; they will contain more information. Some of the items you'll include on your index cards are:

The story beat (Opening Image, All Is Lost)

-  Location of the scene where the given beat takes place.   (Interior or Exterior)

-  What's actually happening in the scene.

-  The high and/or low point for your protagonist, and other major characters. (Represented by a +/-)

-  The conflict that's taking place in the scene (protagonist versus antagonist, protagonist versus herself) (Represented by a less than and greater than sign)

Look at the example in the picture below to see what your index cards should look like.

The benefit of creating scene cards for each of your story beats is that you can actually “see” the timeline of events in your novel. You can actually visualize your story. Writing out the beats on index cards helped me visualize my story through every stage of its development. What a huge benefit! 

When I laid out the beats in their correct order according to the beats in the beat sheet for my young adult novel From Bad Girl To Worse, they showed me where my story logic was working, and where it was about to careen off the tracks.

I laid out my scene cards according to which acts they happened in.

What? Acts? What is an “act”?

An act is where scenes and scene sequences happen. Plays, movies, and yes, even novels typically have a three-act structure. The breakdown is simple: Act One, Act Two and Act Three.

Each of the story beats you outlined on your Blake Snyder beat sheet will happen in one of these three acts. You may recall the “Break Into Two” and “Break Into Three” beats on your sheet. These are known as “act breaks”. In these particular beats, something significant happens that forces the protagonist to take decisive, intentional action and rush headlong into the next act.

Here’s the basic beat breakdown according to what act the beat happens in:

Act One

-       Opening Image

-       Theme Stated

-       Set-Up

-       Catalyst

-       Debate

Act break – Break Into Two

Act Two

-       Fun and Games

-       Magical Midpoint

-       Bad Guys Close In

-       All Is Lost

-       Dark Night Of The Soul

Act break – Break Into Three

Act Three

-       Finale

-       Final Image

Take a look at the picture below to see how I’ve laid out my index cards. 
Some of the beats actually represent scene sequences, where more than one thing happens during that beat. You'll want to write out a separate index card for each individual sub-event that happens, building the sequence.

Take a look at this picture below to see an example.

After you write out the individual events for the beat sequence, just place the cards under the main scene card for the given beat.

The great thing about using scene cards is that you can build the structure of your novel, helping you build the story it will ultimately tell.

Hopefully you can see the great benefit of writing out your story beats or index cards and arranging them in the correct order in your story line. This exercise should help you catch any story flaws, gaps or things that just don’t make any earthly sense.

In my next letter to you, we will take your story beats and break them down even further, and get to the very core of what motivates your protagonist to change over the course of the entire novel.

Onward to success,

L. R. Farren

P. S. – Many writers place their scene cards on a bulletin board with pushpins or thumbtacks. In Hollywood, and anywhere else writers are crafting great stories, they call it simply, “The Board”.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Worlds Part 2

Dear friend,

In the first part of this letter, we saw how the protagonist, Sandra Porter in the novel From Bad Girl To Worse goes from being alone to having fun with her group of newfound friends.  

The protagonist in your story must also experience a drastic life change seemingly for the better, just as Sandra has.

All too soon, the protagonist finds out all of these great things come at a cost. And she has no choice but to pay an outrageous price for all the fun she had in the Fun And Games beat sequence. The Bad Guys Close In and All Is Lost beats make her pay dearly for her folly. 

Then, things get even worse.

By the time the All Is Lost beat drops, the protagonist is a lot worse off than when she started in the Thesis world. She’s bankrupt, kidnapped or in jail—or maybe all three. And there seems to be no way out of her precarious predicament.

Her only saving grace is that in the Antithesis world, the protagonist learns some valuable worldly lessons. Lessons she'll need to apply in order to finish the story with all of her vital organs intact, and her dignity in one piece.

In my young adult novel From Bad Girl To Worse, Sandra holds on for dear life as she takes one wild ride after another on the journey through her Antithesis world. She makes new friends and joins a criminal gang against her better judgment. She smashes windows in an abandoned warehouse and vandalizes a brand new model home in an upscale subdivision. She develops a love-hate relationship with her quirky best friend. She kisses her new boyfriend.

Then, the stakes are raised. Sandra takes part in a brutal murder of her teacher. She witnesses her worst fear becoming a cruel reality. Her teacher ends up getting killed, despite the fact that she didn’t want it to happen. And the leader of her misfit gang forces her into a vow of silence about the crime.

Talk about a topsy-turvy version of the Thesis world she left behind just a short time ago. At this point, she’d gladly give anything to go back to her stasis=death existence and never leave it again. Sadly, Sandra wants the one thing that nobody ever gets—the chance to return to the way things were.

But this is a good thing for her. Why? Because struggling with drastic change is the one critical thing that will force her to confront her longstanding misbelief, and overcome it once and for all. She'll become a better person as a result.

Just as in real life, the protagonist can never go backward in a story—emotionally or otherwise. She can only go forward.

When it seems that things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Sandra is faced with a difficult decision, arguably the most difficult decision of her entire life. Should she go to the police and turn her friends—and herself—in? Or should she do what her maniacal leader says and keep her mouth shut?

While she struggles with this decision, she loses her best friend to a tragic death. Now that’s two bodies that have turned up in Sandra’s life. She wakes up and smells the spilled blood. She realizes what she must do. She needs to make things right. Sandra has no choice but to go to the police. 

Justice demands to be served, and in short order. The guilt she feels is tearing her apart inside. She needs to clear her conscience, even if it means spending the rest of her life in prison.

This is where Sandra enters the Synthesis world. She doesn’t want to be alone, yet she finds out the hard way that the gang of criminals she’d been hanging out with really weren’t her friends at all. They never were.

Facing the ugly truths of what she’d done, and what she must do, are the things that will save her emotionally.

Sandra spent the last few weeks doing things others persuaded or coerced her to do. And doing those things just about destroyed her. But, she still has some dignity left. She knows that the next decision she makes will either make her, or break her completely.

By the Break Into Three beat of the Synthesis world, Sandra makes the brave decision to go to police and tell them everything. With apprehension, she walks in and tells them she has information about a murder. Detectives detain and interrogate her, then confine her to a nasty jail cell.

In the Final Image beat, despite how bad things appear on the surface, something wonderful happens inside of Sandra. She has an epiphany. She recognizes that she did something right even though her longstanding misbelief led her to believe she couldn’t do anything right.

Sandra smiles, savoring the fact that she did the right thing by confessing. She helped secure justice for two people who died needlessly. In light of her courageous act, she was able to tell her father, in her heart of course, that he had her all wrong. She could do something right. In fact, she could do something great.

Though Sandra is physically imprisoned, she enjoys freedom of heart and mind that she’s never known before. In her Synthesis world, she’s happier than she’s ever been.

I realize that this was a long, drawn out example of how the Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis worlds work in a story. But I felt it was important to show you in detail how they ultimately force your heroine to make her necessary internal transformation.

The bottom line is, your protagonist must change.  And your reader must experience that change, as if she were going through it herself. The only way the reader can do that is by seeing clearly the evolution of change taking place in your protagonist’s life.

Incorporating the worlds of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis into your story will turn it 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. – It’s not the world around the protagonist that changes throughout the story. It’s the protagonist who changes, seeing the world she lives in differently with new eyes. That’s what really matters. 

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Worlds Part 1

Dear Storyteller,

With your story well plotted out and the evolution of your protagonist’s internal change firmly rooted in place, you're well on your way to writing the first draft of your novel.

Well…maybe not quite yet.

There's something important you need to understand about story. In every great story—and even in some of the not-so-great stories—there are worlds at play. Three worlds to be exact. No, I’m not talking about science fiction or fantasy.

These three worlds exist no matter which genre you write in. The worlds in play are:

-    Thesis
-    Antithesis
-    Synthesis

These worlds correspond to the three acts of your Blake Snyder beat sheet. Act One is the Thesis world. Act Two is the Antithesis world. Act Three is the Synthesis world.

The Thesis world of Act One is the “before” stage of your protagonist’s life. This is where you see the hero in a state of crisis. Or he’s battling indecision. Or maybe he’s just plain bored. In this world, the protagonist reveals the broken things that need fixing in his life.

The hero is poor, divorced, estranged or otherwise lonely. And it appears at first glance that this is where the hero will stay if something significant doesn’t happen—and soon. The hero is in stasis. Nothing's happening to take him out of his state.

But this is bad. Why? Because stasis=death. If the hero keeps going the way he’s going, he’ll die.

In the beginning of my young adult novel From Bad Girl To Worse, my protagonist, Sandra Porter, is in stasis. She lives with her catatonic mother and her emotionally disconnected aunt. Sandra shares a house with two adults—yet she lives alone. The solitude is killing her.

She knows she needs to get out of this world—but how?

This is where the Thesis and the Antithesis worlds collide. Something happens that rock’s the heroine’s world. It makes her think that there just might be something more to life that she’s been missing out on. A significant event forces the protagonist to make a major decision, which requires a major move. And she must choose to make it.

The major event in play is known as the Catalyst on the Blake Snyder beat sheet. A Debate (the next beat on the BS2) follows, leaving the heroine wondering whether or not to make the move.

Once she debates--either with herself or others--and chooses to make the move spurred on by the events of the Catalyst, she plunges headlong into the Antithesis world. This world is an upside down, topsy-turvy funhouse mirror version of the world she once knew. The stasis world she left behind.

In this world, known as the Fun And Games beat sequence, the protagonist gets to spread her wings. She has fun. She finds out that there's more to life than she'd been experiencing. At the Magical Midpoint, something big happens that convinces her that she’s already achieved her greatest goal—without even breaking a sweat.

When my protagonist, Sandra Porter, enters her Antithesis world, she makes a new set of friends. She participates in a twisted initiation into the gang by throwing bricks through windows in an abandoned factory. She vandalizes a house with the gang. She grows closer to her crazy best friend. She falls for the guy who confesses his feelings for her, the guy she likes too.

Sandra thinks she’s getting everything she wants in life. Things couldn’t be any better. She’s having a great time. What she doesn’t realize is that these fun things come at a cost. But how much?

At the midpoint of your story, your protagonist must find herself in a similar situation. 
In my next letter to you, I will show you just how great a debt Sandra, and your protagonist, will owe.

I remain,

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

P. S. – The Thesis and the Antithesis worlds must be familiar to the protagonist, yet drastically different all at the same time. It’s not the protagonist’s surroundings that bear significance in the story. It’s how the protagonist views her surroundings that mean everything. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Inside - Part 2

Dear Storyteller,

Continuing on from part 1 of this letter, we will now make things bad for your protagonist. Really bad.

The Magical Midpoint beat is where the protagonist experiences something that makes her want to go all in, either positively or negatively. She goes all in emotionally and mentally in response to the monumental external event she's experiencing

In my young adult novel From Bad Girl To Worse, Sandra Porter and her love interest, Mack kiss each other for the first time. They go all in together, body, heart and soul. After this significant moment, Sandra decides in her heart to do whatever it takes to keep Mack’s love. She would even kill for him if she had to. At this point, Sandra undergoes a huge internal change—for the worse.

But she’s not done yet.

The All Is Lost beat is where the protagonist winds up so much worse than she was when her journey began. At this point, your heroine should be bankrupt, deported, wounded, abandoned, lost or trapped. Or better yet, all of these things at the same time. She must have no way out of her precarious predicament. But you must make it even worse. You must make sure she can’t escape the despair, the dread and the hopelessness she feels inside when she ponders her tragic situation.

Your protagonist must beat herself up emotionally, scolding herself for what a total fool she’d been. If she’d only given into her misbelief, she wouldn’t be in the miserable pit she’s in. At least when she was in the stasis=death world of the Opening Image, she was safe. She was miserable then, but at least she wasn’t totally destroyed. 

That's how she feels anyway.

My protagonist, Sandra has just taken part in a brutal murder of her teacher
in the All Is Lost beat. She didn’t want him to die. She didn’t want his blood on her hands. But because she did nothing to stop the murder from happening, he dropped dead right in front of her.

Sandra recognizes that she'll have to live the rest of her life knowing she was responsible for the killing of another human being. In this scene, her heart implodes with regret and remorse. Talk about internal change.

In the Final Image beat, your protagonist should emerge from her proverbial cocoon and spread her wings as a glorious new creature. She must be drastically different in every way than she was in the Opening Image. She ought to be different not just on the outside, but on the inside as well.

You, as the writer, must make sure that your heroine uses what she learned in all of the experiences you put her through. The lessons learned will help her make her drastic internal change. You must introduce her to a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing the world she lives in. 

It’s important to show her, and your reader, that her world didn’t change. She did.

By this final beat, your protagonist must confront and overcome her longstanding misbelief and make peace with who she’s become. It doesn’t matter whether or not she achieves her greatest goal. What matters is that your protagonist changes internally into a stronger person.

Who your protagonist is on the inside must be different.

In the Final Image beat, my heroine, Sandra, is standing in a jail cell. She definitely looks different than she did in the Opening Image--and not in a good way. She's wearing ugly prison clothes. And she's behind bars. On the surface, things look pretty bad. She’s being held in connection with the murder she took part in.

But something glorious happens to her on the inside.

Sandra overcomes the longstanding misbelief that she can’t do anything right. She acknowledges that she is doing the right thing by turning herself and her friends in to the police. When she commits that courageous act, something truly great happens.

She learns that by doing the right thing, she does, indeed, do something right. As a result, she gains a sense of self-respect that she never had before.

The best part is…Sandra discovers that she doesn’t need anyone to give her a sense of self-worth. She finds the inner strength to love herself all on her own. She doesn’t have to prove to anyone that she's special or lovable. She proves it to herself. For the first time in her teenage life, Sandra Porter is free. She's free from self-condemnation.

The Final Image of Sandra at the end of the story is a drastically different snapshot of her than the Opening Image of her at the beginning of the story.

I can’t stress this truth enough: Your story must clearly show your protagonist changing from something ruinous to something great. Your reader must be able to see each step of your heroine’s internal change—and understand why each phase of her change takes place.

Otherwise, your reader will stop reading your novel and find another novel where she can see the protagonist changing. And your former reader will enjoy making the vicarious change along with the protagonist that is not yours, in a novel that is not yours. Get the picture?

But you won’t let that happen, will you? You will make sure your novel contains the story that readers will love. You will make sure your reader finishes your novel experiencing the same magnificent internal transformation that your heroine does. And you will like it. Your reader definitely will.

Analyze the four critical story beats that we discussed in your own Blake Snyder beat sheet. Are they showing your protagonist changing internally? If so, then what is she changing from, exactly? What is she changing to, exactly?

In a future letter, we will break down each of your story beats even further, and craft them all in such a way that your protagonist will have no choice but to change. And your reader will have no choice but to keep reading.

Wishing you the greatest success,

L. R. Farren

Author of From Bad Girl To Worse
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. – A brief representation of your protagonist’s internal change should be present in your high-concept pitch—and your novel’s logline.

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Inside - Part 1

Dear Storyteller,

Way to go! You’ve identified the fifteen story beats for your novel. Your story is looking a lot like…well, a story. You’ve done a fantastic job.

Now it’s time to make sure your beat sheet is tracking the most important element--your protagonist’s internal change.

Using the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet can make crafting your novel deceptively easy. After all, it provides a template for you to plug the major events of your story in to key points where significant story-related things are supposed to happen according to the BS2 formula.

But don’t fall into the dangerous trap of thinking this is a story-by-numbers method of plotting your novel’s storyline. The BS2 was never intended to be a method to construct a plot full of exciting yet irrelevant things that happen, and don’t add up to anything.

When Blake Snyder created this method of storytelling, he had the internal change of the hero in mind from the Opening Image to the Final Image. One of his most famous sayings was, “All stories are about transformation.” Of course, he was referring to the internal transformation of the hero.

Your story should ultimately be about the internal transformation of your protagonist.

That being said, there are some key beats we need to take a close look at. Why? Because these key beats are the points in your story where you--and the reader--should see your heroine change internally, turn by turn.

We need to pay close attention to the Opening Image, Theme Stated, Magical Midpoint, All Is Lost, and the Final Image beats.

The Opening Image beat is where we first meet your protagonist. Here is where she lives in the life “before” with her “six things that need fixing”. In her life of the Opening Image, life is not good. Either disaster strikes at every turn, or one day simply blurs into the next. The heroine isn’t living, she’s only existing. She’s in stasis. 

And Stasis=Death.

If something doesn’t happen soon, your protagonist will fade away. She desperately needs a change—an internal change. Here’s an example.

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, Sandra Porter in the Opening Image is one miserable young lady. Her aunt refuses to speak to her, and her mother is mentally incapable of speaking—or even looking at her.

Sandra shares a house with two other people, yet she exists in the blackness of solitude. Something needs to change in a big way for poor Sandra.

The next key beat, the Theme Stated is where the protagonist first hears the “theme”, or the point of the story. This is a critical beat because it's where the seed of change is planted in your hero’s mind and heart. For example, someone could say to your protagonist, “You can’t bury the past, no matter how hard you try”. These words make him evaluate his current situation, wondering how he might be able to change it.

The events you put into the plot must tie into this point and, by the end of the story persuade him to make the internal change he needs in order to become a better person.

Remember: The first step you took in crafting your novel was stating the point you wanted your story to make. This point will drive the whole narrative. In the beginning of From Bad Girl To Worse, Sandra hears her friend, Lexie say to her other new friend, Mack, “He who lies down with dogs shall wake up with fleas”. 

Immediately after hearing these words, Sandra begins to question her choice of friends. And guess what? These words will cause her to continue questioning whether she should stay with her newfound friends, or run as far away from them as she can. 

Stay with me. In my next letter to you, you will see how to make things get worse for your protagonist before they get better. But don’t worry. This progression will force your protagonist to grow, and to become a different person who sees her world with new eyes.

I remain,

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

P. S. – Your protagonist must change internally, even if a little bit, in every beat. And your reader must recognize each change, in the moment, on the page, as it happens.

P. P. S. - The sole purpose of each beat of the plot is to force the protagonist to take action by confronting and defeating her longstanding misbelief, so she can pursue her greatest goal unhindered.  

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Beats

Dear Storyteller,

You have your basic story line.  But you really don’t have a clear picture of where each event fits in your story. It may look like just a bunch of things that happen without any rhyme or reason.

This is where applying story structure comes into play.

Here’s the part where I introduce the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.  If you have been familiarizing yourself (and you should be) with the Save The Cat! story crafting method, you will know what the beat sheet is. But for the sake of those of you who may not know what this excellent writing method is, I'll introduce it to you.

The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, otherwise known as the BS2, is literally a sheet where you list the important events of your story in a logical format.

Mr. Snyder had devised a logical format by identifying fifteen major story points, or beats, that every great story has. Bear in mind that he focused primarily on movies, but the Save The Cat! principles apply quite well to written narrative as well. Once you learn this method backward and forward, you'll have the ability to spot the pattern of beats in some of your favorite movies—and books.

The fifteen beats are:

1.    Opening Image
2.    Theme Stated
3.    Set-Up
4.    Catalyst
5.    Debate
6.    Break Into Two
7.    B-Story
8.    Fun And Games
9.    Midpoint (otherwise known as the Magical Midpoint)
10.  Bad Guys Close In
11.  All Is Lost
12.  Dark Night Of The Soul
13.  Break Into Three
14.  Finale
15.  Final Image

If you’ve never seen these beats before, they can be a little confusing at first. They were for me. Don’t worry. They don’t take long to learn.

I would highly recommend getting copies of the Save The Cat! and Save The Cat! Strikes Back books and reading them over and over again until you can quote each of these books word for word. Memorize the beats until you can list them in the correct order from memory.

To show you a real world example of how to use the BS2, I'll give you a short synopsis of what the story beats look like for my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse.

1. Opening Image - Sandra Porter gets frustrated with her catatonic mother and her cold-hearted aunt. She leaves her house, excited about seeing her new friends, Lexie and Mack.

2. Theme Stated - While Sandra hangs out with her friends, she hears Lexie tell Mack, "He who lies down with dogs shall lie down with fleas." Sandra questions whether her newfound friends are really dogs. Her gut tells her to run away from them. Desperate for human connection, she ignores her gut. But Lexie's seemingly prophetic words stick with her.

3. Set-Up - Sandra hates her home life. She likes her newfound friends, but there's something about them that seems just a little "off". She questions whether or not they are dogs, and if she should stay friends with them. Then the rest of the misfit gang, Stan and Del, show up. Sandra immediately feels a dangerous vibe from them.

4. Catalyst - Stan, the leader of the gang, invites Sandra to hang out with them after school. Sandra doesn't like Stan. Even though she wants friends, she considers turning his invitation down. But if she does, will she lose Lexie and Mack as friends? Sandra doesn't give Stan an answer right away.

5. Debate - Sandra struggles within herself during history class. Should she hang out with the gang? Should she refuse to hang out with them, and risk being alone forever? After class, Sandra tries to avoid Lexie because she knows Lexie will ask her again. And Sandra knows that she won't be able to say "no" to her new friend. Lexie asks sweetly. Sandra's heart melts.

6. Break Into Two - Sandra accepts Lexie's invitation to hang out with her and the gang. Knowing that Mack will be there also makes the thought of hanging out with them a little easier.

7. B-Story - The friendship between Sandra and Lexie deepens. Sandra also entertains the prospect of becoming Mack's girlfriend. A relationship triangle begins to form between the three of them.

8. Fun And Games - Here's where Sandra becomes a "bad girl". She smashes windows, steals money from a teacher's suit jacket, and vandalizes a house. Being bad is so much fun. The gang members encourage her bad behavior. As much as Sandra doesn't like Stan, she's flattered by his acceptance of her. The relationship between Sandra and Mack deepens as they have an intimate conversation during a time when they're alone, just her and him. But the stakes are raised when the gang plots to break into a teacher's house and steal his gold coins, and kill the teacher if he tries to stop them. Sandra is abhorred by the idea. She runs out of their hangout, vowing to run away from them like her gut told her to. Lexie and Mack chase after her.

9. Magical Midpoint - Lexie stops Sandra. Sandra tells Lexie how unbelievably crazy the whole idea is. Lexie tells Sandra that she'd better get with Stan's program. She walks away. Mack comes to Sandra and confesses his feelings for her. Sandra falls for Mack. They engage in a passionate kiss. She decides to stay with the gang so she can stay with her new love. Lexie walks in on Sandra and Mack after they break away from their kiss, but she knows they've done something. Lexie burns inside with jealousy and storms off. Sandra and Mack walk back into the hangout, hand-in-hand, in a "coming out" gesture for the gang to see. They're now "a thing".

10. Bad Guys Close In - The gang hangs out in a park across from the teacher's house plotting the robbery. Stan chooses the day and time to commit the robbery. On the day of the robbery, Sandra considers telling her teacher, Mr. Mugford, that his life might be in danger because she and her newfound crazy friends plan to break in to his house and kill him if he tries to stop them from stealing his gold coins. But because she's now "in love" with Mack, and she wants to keep Lexie as a friend, she chooses to not tell her teacher anything. Later that night, Sandra and the gang go through with committing the break-in and the robbery. During the robbery, the teacher tries to stop them. A fierce fight breaks out when Stan and Mack try to subdue Mr. Mugford. When Mr. Mugford turns and runs away from Stan, he's stopped by Sandra at his bedroom door. Shocked, Mr. Mugford gawks at Sandra for a moment. Stan plunges the knife deep into Mr. Mugford's back. He falls to the ground and doesn't move. Sandra experiences her worst fear: Mr. Mugford is dead. She didn't want him to die. She laments over not telling him about the robbery plot. But Mr. Mugford stirs. He crawls away from Stan. Sandra holds out hope that he will live. And get away.

11. All Is Lost - Stan straddles Mr. Mugford and struggles to pull the knife out of Mr. Mugford's back, but it's stuck. After Mack holds Mr. Mugford down with his foot, Stan pulls the knife out and slits his throat. Mr. Mugford collapses on the floor. He's really dead this time.

12. Dark Night Of The Soul - The gang flees the house and regroups at their hangout. The gang begins to fall apart as each member processes what happened. Stan forces the others into a vow of silence. None of them can talk about the murder. They each go their separate ways, leaving Sandra alone. Early the next morning, Sandra agonizes over talking to someone about what happened. She calls Lexie, but Lexie doesn't answer. She goes to school, hoping to talk to Lexie, or Mack. She sees Stan and Del, who ignore her. A few minutes later, Mack approaches her, but only to tell her that they shouldn't see each other for a while. He leaves. She hopes Lexie comes to school, but Lexie doesn't show up. During homeroom period, the principal announces to the entire school that Mr. Mugford is dead. Sandra leaves school and runs to Lexie's house. Sandra finds out that Lexie committed suicide. Sandra realizes things have gone too far. Over the next weekend, she struggles with going to police about the murder or keeping her mouth shut. 

13. Break Into Three - Monday morning, Sandra resolves to go to the police. Before she leaves the house, she hugs and kisses her mother good-bye. Her mother snaps out of her catatonic state for a moment and looks at Sandra. Sandra's heart swells with joy. It's the first time in over a year that her mother has even looked at her.

14. Finale - Sandra marches into the police station and tells the desk sergeant that she information about Mr. Mugford's murder. The desk sergeant doesn't believe her at first, but Sandra convinces him that she's telling the truth. Three detectives roughly escort Sandra to an interrogation room. The lead detective instructs her to write a full confession. She complies, and writes out everything that happened. 

15. Final Image - Sandra, wearing prison clothes, is marched into a jail cell and put behind bars. She grabs the bars and thinks about everything that's happened. Instead of crying, she smiles. Even though she grieves over Lexie's and Mr. Mugford's needless deaths, she makes peace with herself because she did something right for the first time in a long time. She did the right thing by confessing everything to police. Despite what her father told her, she is a strong young woman. And she also realizes that she doesn't need others to tell her she's special. She knows it down deep in her heart. And that's worth everything to her.

By reviewing my example, you can see how this awesome story structure tool will help you plot out your novel in a clear, concise and logical format. Don’t worry about being too formulaic or rigid. Many great storytellers use this method in one way or another to craft their stories.

I can tell you that the BS2 has helped me in so many ways during my own story creation process. I’m not sure how I would have completed my first novel without it.

I believe the benefits of the BS2 shone like gold when my editor gave me glowing notes about how well structured and paced the story was. I say this not to brag. (Okay, I’m bragging just a little.) But I really say this to say…

If I can do it, so can you.

The most important thing to keep in mind when structuring your story using the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is that it will help you chart your protagonist’s internal change. Make deadly sure that you are thinking about your protagonist's internal transformation throughout every beat you create. Otherwise, you'll still end up with just a bunch of random things that happen, strung together in a meaningless narrative that nobody wants to read.

Clearly showing your reader how your hero changes from the wretched person he was in the beginning to the new creation he emerges as in the end will make your story a novel that readers will love.

This is what you want, isn’t it?

In the next letter, I will cover in even greater detail how you can make sure your BS2 is mapping out your protagonist's internal change.

Kindest regards,

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

P. S. – The Blake Snyder beat sheet is just one of the many story crafting tools that Disney/PIXAR uses to make some the most beloved animated films in the world.

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Cat

Dear Storyteller,

Here’s where the fun begins…

In this letter, we're going to cover a few things that will greatly help you map out where your story is going. In the last letter, you made a list of events that will take place in your novel. We called this list your “basic story flow” list.

While you were compiling your list, perhaps you began to wonder about some of the events on it. You asked the question, “Where exactly does this event fit in the story?”

It’s critical that you know where each and every event fits in your story’s timeline. If you don’t, you may wind up with a confusing narrative where a bunch of seemingly random things happen, but don’t add up to anything.

They don’t make a point.

And if there’s one thing you should know about your readers, it’s this…

That's why we're going to dive into the world of story structure. So your story not only makes a point, but it makes the precise point you defined for it when you started crafting your novel.

To ensure your story makes a point, we need to do something brave.

We need to “Save The Cat!”

What? Save the cat? What on earth does saving cats have to do with writing? What are you talking about?

Don’t worry. I’m not talking about literally saving a cat, or any other animal for that matter. I’m talking about saving your story, saving it from an aimless plot that leads your reader down a path of confusion--and ultimately frustration.

How will using a method with such a crazy sounding name save your story?

By employing an easy-to-understand, time tested story structure outline. Let me explain.

Not so very long ago, Blake Snyder, a screenwriter, found a way to demystify story structure while crafting his own screenplays. Through countless hours of research, he identified key events that happen at certain points in every great movie. He gave these key points names and definitions that the average layperson could understand, making screenwriting more accessible to the general public.

Suddenly, the know-how of screenwriting was available to anyone who wanted to write a screenplay.

The great thing about the Save The Cat! method of story crafting is that novelists and other fiction writers can use this method to map out storylines for novels, novellas and short stories.

In case you were wondering, yes, I used the Save The Cat! method to build the story structure of my very own young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse. I even used it to build the story structure of all the character backstories for the novel.

Surely, you get at least some idea of how useful the Save The Cat! method is. Would you like to use it for your story? I thought you might. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

For this exercise, you will need a copy of Blake Snyder’s beat sheet. You can download it here. This is where you'll sketch out the events listed in your basic story flow list. This is also where you'll begin to make sense of all the great scenes you conjured up. The Blake Snyder beat sheet, otherwise known as the BS2, will help you determine which scenes need to be in the story, and which ones need to go bye-bye.

If you want to see what a completed beat sheet looks like, take a look at my beat sheet for From Bad Girl To Worse. (The original title of the story was The Murder of Mr. Mugford).

Following the example of my sheet, enter the title of your novel if you already have it, the story genre and the date. If you don't already have a title, I'll show you how to create a compelling title for your story in a future letter.

For the sake of time, I will not go into the details of each of the fifteen beats on the sheet. I strongly recommend that you study Blake Snyder’s book Save The Cat!  Studying this book from cover to cover will give you a thorough understanding of all the beats we discuss.  You’ll know what the “Theme Stated” beat is, as well as the “All Is Lost” beat, and how these beats can turn your story into a novel readers love.

You'll need to know the Save The Cat! beats inside and out, because from this letter forward, I'll be referring to these beats—a lot.

For a quick and dirty rundown of the beats, take a look at this PDF. It makes for a handy reference.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to study and know the Save The Cat! method. In my personal experience, mastering this process of crafting a story helped me in ways I can’t even describe. If I'd not known how to implement these valuable principles in writing From Bad Girl To Worse, it would have been a whole lot harder for me to write the story.

The Save The Cat! story paradigm, along with the instructions in my letters to you will help you write a novel that readers can't put down until they finish it.

In my next letter to you, we will examine the Cat! beats in more detail.


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

P. S. – The term “save the cat” comes from an old story device used in many movies where in the beginning, or the Opening Image, the hero does something selfless, or even heroic, like saving a cat stranded in a tree. The purpose of this device was to immediately get the audience to like the hero.

P. P. S. - Think of your favorite story. Chances are excellent that the protagonist did something to make you immediately like her. And she probably did that thing toward the beginning of the story. Pretty neat, huh?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The List

Dear friend,

Kudos to you for deftly creating a desperate inner struggle between your hero’s greatest goal and his longstanding misbelief. Using the knowledge you gained from this exercise, you also created inner struggles for your other major characters

Now it time to think about the basic story line for your novel. To do this, you need to understand in great detail the correct definition of story.

Here again is Lisa Cron’s definition of the word “story”:

A story is how what happens affects someone in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal, and how he or she changes internally as a result.

Let’s separate the important parts of this definition.

“What happens” refers to the events of the story that construct your plot. In effect, “what happens” is the plot.

“Someone” refers to your protagonist, hero or heroine.

“Pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal” refers to the story question. Another way to think of it is to ask the question, “Will the protagonist achieve her deceptively difficult goal?”

“How he or she changes internally as a result” refers to the process of your protagonist’s transformation of heart and mind throughout the story. First, she is blind to her longstanding misbelief. After a while, she questions it. Then, she struggles with it. When she can't stand her misbelief any longer, she confronts it. Finally, she overcomes the misbelief that's been wrecking her life for so long.

The longstanding misbelief no longer has a hold on your protagonist. She's free to achieve her greatest goal as a result of defeating her misbelief.

The internal change your protagonist experiences is what readers come to your story for. They want to experience that internal change with her.

Your reader wants to be the hero.
Your reader wants to be the heroine.
Your reader wants to know how his or her internal change feels.

Your reader wants to change with the protagonist.

Now, what you need to figure out is the internal change your heroine will undergo. And how, exactly she will make that necessary change. Or, should I say, how the story’s events, otherwise known as the plot, will force her to change.

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, I reviewed my notes on all of the important things about my young heroine, Sandra Porter. I reviewed things like her greatest goal, her longstanding misbelief, and who she was on the day before the story began.

I used this information to construct a punch list of how I envisioned the story’s events playing out. Why did I do this? Because I wanted to have a good idea of which plot points would force poor little Sandra to change inside, turn by turn.

I called this list the basic story flow list. It started with…

  • Sandra looks at her sad home life before she heads out the door for school.
  • Sandra bumps into her aunt--the aunt who doesn’t even talk to her--purposely just to get her to say something. Anything. Sandra’s heart breaks when her aunt still refuses to respond.
  • Before Sandra leaves the house, she grabs a picture off of her bedroom dresser. In the picture, she and her mother are embracing each other. They are smiling. She places the picture beside her catatonic mother, hoping that her mother will look at it, snap out of her psychotic trance, and return to normal.
  • Sandra arrives at school and meets up with her friend, Lexie.

This basic story flow list goes on and on from the first event in the story to the last. Here’s the final event in the list.

  • Sandra takes hold of the jail cell door bars with both hands. She smiles because she feels like she’s achieved something far greater than having a true friend, even though she’s alone once again, as she was in the beginning of the story. Sandra has found her sense of self-respect.

As you review your basic story flow list, you should be able to get a handle on what your story might look like once you review the important things (goal, misbelief, snapshot of “before”). These important things should help you build a logical story flow. Once you complete your list, you'll be ready to move onto the next phase--identifying how the events in your list will become your novel’s plot points.

In my next letter to you, I'll show you how to structure your story in a format that readers love. And it’s the same structure that all the major blockbuster movies are built upon.

Onward to success,

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

P. S. – The whole purpose of your novel’s plot is to force your protagonist to confront and overcome her longstanding misbelief, and gain the strength and courage to pursue her greatest goal unhindered by fear.

Your Story's Harmony Of Theme, Tone And Mood

In the world of story craft, you might have heard someone ask the question, "What's your story's theme?" And for a long ...