Using Memories to Shape Our Characters

characters writing authors chalkboard-620316_960_720Most of us know that memory can be a slippery, elusive thing. Ask any small group to describe the same incident and each one will recall it differently.

Many of you may be familiar with a common game played during training sessions in the workplace. The first person in the circle is given a scenario and told to whisper it word for word to the person next to them. Each person then passes it on to the next. The last one repeats it aloud. When it is compared to the original it inevitably differs, often in many ways, in spite of the instruction to repeat it word for word. Continue reading “Using Memories to Shape Our Characters”

Do You Write With a Formula?

writing formula The idea of formulas in writing always makes my nose wrinkle. Because to me, formula means repetition…and repetition in writing could very well lead to boredom. Have you ever had that? Followed an author you’ve loved for years only to find that by their tenth or fifteenth book you can finish it for them, because you already know how they roll and what they’re going to do with their characters?

That always frustrates me, and as a writer I have tried my very best not to fall into this trap. That’s partly why I write in a variety of genres. I never want to be thought of as the author who regurgitates the same old stuff.

But the truth is…there are formulas in writing and whether we like that fact or not, we must accept it, because the right formula can make for a brilliant book, just like the wrong formula can make for pages of drivel.

So, what is the right formula? Continue reading “Do You Write With a Formula?”

Plot-Driven vs. Character-Driven Stories

plot-driven explosionI would guess that most readers don’t really want to analyze the stories they read; they just want to sink into them and enjoy them. I don’t know anyone who deliberately chooses a book based on whether it’s a plot-based story or a character-based story. So what’s the difference and why does it matter? Continue reading “Plot-Driven vs. Character-Driven Stories”

You Don’t Need a Tragic Flaw, Just the Wrong Woman

LipstickAny time you are having trouble structuring your story’s plot and look for advice… God help you.  It’s a heaving sea of templates and graphs and step-ins and theories and jargon, and many run to book length. Some, like “Hero’s Journey” verge on being religions.

I would suggest that you look for the simplest, most powerful skeleton key you can find.  And I’ll be a little more directive; I think it might be this video by Michael Arndt, who wrote Toy Story 3 for Pixar.  Yes, it’s about screenwriting. Yes, it deals only with the first act… but the principles are valid in any story, and once your first act is nailed down, you’re on your way.   See it here:

An even simpler, and very time-tested, principle that cuts you to the chase is the concept of “tragic flaw”. Remember that from reading Hamlet and Macbeth and Sophocles?  Anybody will tell you that your hero or protagonist or MC or whatever you want to call them doesn’t absolutely have to have a “tragic flaw”.  But it sure does make it easier.

As Arndt says, faced with trouble, he can take the moral high road or the low road of his own weakness…and if he takes the high road you don’t have a story. Another term for “taking the low road” is “tragic flaw”.

But there is another way to set that mechanism up without there being anything wrong with your main guy.  You don’t need a flawed main man—just hook him up with a woman who’s no good for him and let her do him wrong. My best-reviewed and most popular novel is “Sweet Spot”, featuring baseball star turned Mazatlan political journalist Mundo Carrasco.  He’s a character that both men and woman alike find pleasant: he’s a main thing that’s made that book sell.  But there is nothing really wrong with him. What he has, to generate conflict and dip him in the soup, is an obsession with a woman. And she is a femme most definitely fatale, no question in your mind that he should get the hell away from her. But what’s a guy going to do when he’s being led by the leading portion of his anatomy? He’s infatuated. That’s a real key to the appeal of that book: chicks dig the idea of a guy who’s so gone on a woman that he’ll follow her right down the tubes. Continue reading “You Don’t Need a Tragic Flaw, Just the Wrong Woman”