Ep. 126: Second Person Point of View

In episode 126, I talk with my friend and fellow Story Grid editor Anne Hawley about second person point of view in the context of David Austin's short story "All American." We discuss why you might want to experiment with this point of view, even if it's not right for your story.

 Episode 126: Second Person Point of View at www.writership.com

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

Second Person Point of View

The important thing to understand about any point of view choice is that it's not just a grammatical construct, and that's not a useful way to make your point of view choice. Think about it this way: When you choose a point of view character or narrator, you answer the question, who should tell this story? When you choose the specific point of view, you're answering the question, how should the character or narrator tell the story? 

If you think of point of view like a camera's view finder, you're on the right track, but goes deeper because certain choices when combined with other writing tools, allow the reader to slip into the character's skin or view the scene from far away in time and space.

Many new writers are discouraged from using second person. It has its disadvantages, like any point of view choice, and is tricky to pull off. But when executed well and in the right circumstances, it produces a beautiful effect. So why might you choose to use this much maligned point of view?

Advantages

●      Immediacy. Even when the story is about something that happened in the distant past, the reader is so close to the character, and the events and setting can feel like reliving rather retelling. When it works, it allows the reader true immersion in the story experience to the extent that they might dissolve into the character.

●      Sensory Details. A rich sensory experience can be created with any choice, but the immersion effect transforms something like a black and white film to technicolor.

●      Persuasion. This POV has a hypnotic quality that works subliminally and is especially powerful when the character is trying to convince themselves or someone else of some Truth. 

●     Direct Attention. Even as the POV has a hypnotic feel, you can guide the reader's focus more directly. Instead of seeing only the landscape of the setting, the reader is drawn where the narator sends them.

●      Intense. Again, you can create an intense experience with any POV, but the immersion experience kicks this up a notch or two.

Disadvantages

That's what you can gain, but what might you lose?

●      Alienation. Some readers don't like the directness of this POV. 

●      Rigid Narrative Distance. Second person lacks the flexibility of other POVs to gain more narrative distance

●      Reader’s Resistance. Most readers would rather observe unsavory characters from a distance and not slip into their skin. 

●      Core Emotion. More generally, readers experience the story's Core emotion with a protective frame. Dissolving that frame can make them feel uncomfortable. 

●     Instructions.This POV can feel like the directions in a how-to book.

How can you evaluate your choice?
 

“Point of View in Fiction: The Development of a Critical Concept” by Norman Friedman

Norman Friedman described different variables involved in point of view, and we've added a final question. We'll apply it to our submission from the podcast. (Listen to the episode for a more in-depth discussion of the questions.)

●     Who is telling the story or talking to the reader? In "All American" the character-narrator is telling the story to you.

●      From what position or angle regarding the story? The character narrator is in the middle of the story, and wants the reader to be there too.

●      From what vantage point in time and space relative to the events of the story (near, far, shifting)? Sometime time in the future, though it's not clear from the first half of the story when exactly.

●      Through which channels of information do we learn about mental states, setting, situation, character? We receive information through the author’s words and the character-narrator's words, actions, thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. We have almost total access within the confines of the character-narrator's direction.

●      What is the balance of telling and showing? The balance weighs in favor of showing, and everything the character-narrator tells us is woven into sensory experience. 

●      Why is the character-narrator telling the story? The character seems to be seeking buy-in or absolution. It’s as if he’s trying to convince the reader that they would do what he had done in these circumstances.

 

Editorial Mission—What Would You Do? 

Rewrite a scene from your work in progress in second person point of view. This is a challenging POV to write in, so do the best you can. View it as an experiment. Read what you write and answer Friedman’s questions.

●      Who is telling the story or talking to the reader?

●      From what position or angle regarding the story (above, periphery, in front, center, shifting)?

●      From what vantage point in time and space relative to the events of the story (near, far, shifting)?

●      Through which channels of information do we learn about mental states, setting, situation, character?

●      What is the balance of telling vs. showing in the story?

●      Why is the narrator telling the story?

What do you notice about the POV you’ve chosen by comparison? 

 

Wise Words on Point of View

Second-person narration is rare. On one hand, like first-person narration, it has an intimate feeling. On the other hand, while the intimacy of first-person narration is that of storytelling, the intimacy of second-person narration is that of telepathy: the book is... directly telling you what you think or feel ...

You’ll usually find second person narrative keeping close company with Present Tense Narrative, to reinforce the impression that this isn’t just happening to you, but it’s happening to you right now.

If you look hard enough, you will discover indications that the second-person narrator is not supposed to be You, the Reader. [This causes You the Reader to wonder] why the author ... would dare try to make you identify that intimately with a second-person narrator who is, um, not you.
— tvtropes.org
 

The Submission


 

About My Guest Editor

You may remember my friend Anne Hawley from episodes 106, 108, and 114.

After a career in public service during which she wrote fiction to stay sane, Anne Hawley has turned her talents to writing professionally.

As a founding member of the Super Hardcore Editing Group and a graduate of Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid Workshop, she writes and edits from her small house in Portland, Oregon. When she leaves the house it’s usually on her Dutch bike, Eleanor.

Her new novel, Restraint, is a sweeping historical love story about a gifted and sexually repressed artist in Regency London. Under the dangerous gaze of high society, he must deny his attraction to the young nobleman who has hired him to paint his portrait, or else risk his livelihood and his reputation by giving in to his secret desires. It's Pride and Prejudice meets Brokeback Mountain in a bittersweet story of two men who fall in love in a time and place where homosexuality is still a capital offense. Find out more here.

 

Mentioned on the Show

Norman Friedman wrote about literary theory and criticism last century, and though he's not mentioned often these days, his work is a treasure trove of smart thinking on story structure and execution. His articles aren't easy reads, but if you are willing to spend some time with them, you'll deepen your understanding of the writing craft. The questions for this episode are from "Point of View in Fiction: The Development of a Critical Concept," originally published in PMLA, a journal of hte Modern Language Association of America. You can find the article online here

In this post, Emma Darwin discusses how to move point of view, and if you scroll halfway down the page, you'll find a section on the three ways that second person point of view can be used. 

The balance of showing and telling are relevant to analyzing the point of view of your story. If you need help telling these two modes of storytelling apart or need to understand when to use to use them, this post, also from Emma Darwin, will help you on your way.

This post from Chuffed Buff Books contains great examples of second person point of view. 

 

7 Day Scene Intensive

Scenes aren’t the whole story when it comes to writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, but mastering scenes is the most efficient way to become a better storyteller because you internalize macro story structure within the smallest complete unit of story. The 7 Day Scene Intensive is designed to help you master scenes with information, practice, and a quick feedback loop of supportive, specific feedback, similar to what we offer on the podcast.

The 7 Day Scene Intensive is online May 27–June 2, 2018, so there's no travel involved. Because we offer individualized feedback each day for seven days, we're limiting the intensive to two participants. If your story isn't where you want it to be, this might be just what you need. You can find the details here.

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In April we're reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Join now so you'll be in the group for this month's book announcement. For more information, visit our Patreon page.

 

The Sell More Books Show Summit

Jim Kukral of the Author Marketing Club and the Sell More Books Show is doing another big conference. This time in Chicago in May of 2018. It's called the Sell More Books Show Summit and you can learn more and get a ticket here.

Join 175 other writers and publishing friends for this interactive, two-day conference and networking event in Chicago! Eat, drink and learn together, and be on your way to building a stronger and more profitable career as an author.

Only 175 seats are available. Click here to grab your ticket.


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Ep. 125: Putting Your Writing First

In this episode, I talk with award-winning poet and creative coach Mark McGuinness from the 21st Century Creative podcast about why it’s important to put your writing first—both for you personally and for your creative career. We also discuss how you can do this in a life full of demands and distractions. This week's editorial mission asks you to write something you might not expect. 

 Putting Your Writing First by the  Writership Podcast .

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

This week's submission contains some adult language.

 

About Our Guest

Mark McGuinness is an award-winning poet who has been coaching professionals since 1996. You can find his poems in leading poetry journals and at MarkMcGuinness.com.

Mark is also the author of Productivity for Creative PeopleMotivation for Creative People, and Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success, and co-author of Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential, published by 99U. He is the host of the 21st Century Creative, a podcast that "helps you succeed as a creative professional amid the demands, distractions, and opportunities of the 21st century, which you can find on iTunes and at 21stcenturycreative.fm

 

Wise Words on Prioritizing Your Writing

Since the age of fifteen poetry has been my ruling passion and I have never intentionally undertaken any task or formed any relationship that seemed inconsistent with poetic principles.
— Robert Graves

 

Mentioned on the Show

Find out more about Mark McGuinness

Mark is the host of the 21st Century Creative, a podcast with thougtful and in-depth discussions that helps you thrive as a creative professional.  

Please take a look at Mark's translation of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde: Book I, 1–56." You can find more of Mark's poetry here.

We focused on Productivity for Creative People in this episode, but I highly recommend any of Mark's books, including Motivation for Creative People and Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Successas well as those he co-authored with the great folks at 99UManage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.

 

Writing Practice

In the context of the editorial mission, I mentioned writing practice. I've written about this before, but not in a while. I'll draft a post on it soon, but in the meantime, you can go to the source: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

 

7 Day Scene Intensive

Scenes aren’t the whole story when it comes to writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, but mastering scenes is the most efficient way to become a better storyteller because you internalize macro story structure within the smallest complete unit of story. The 7 Day Scene Intensive is designed to help you master scenes with information, practice, and a quick feedback loop of supportive, specific feedback, similar to what we offer on the podcast.

The 7 Day Scene Intensive is online February 4–10, 2018, so there's no travel involved. Because we offer individualized feedback each day for seven days, we're limiting the intensive to eight participants. If your story isn't where you want it to be, this might be just what you need. You can find the details here.

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

The Sell More Books Show Summit

Jim Kukral of the Author Marketing Club and the Sell More Books Show is doing another big conference. This time in Chicago in May of 2018. It's called the Sell More Books Show Summit and you can learn more and get a ticket here.

Join 175 other writers and publishing friends for this interactive, two-day conference and networking event in Chicago! Eat, drink and learn together, and be on your way to building a stronger and more profitable career as an author.

Only 175 seats are available and early bird pricing will run out soon. Click here to grab your ticket.

 

Editorial Mission—Do Some Useless Writing

Mark crafted a brilliant editorial mission for us this week.

Make time this week to do some useless writing: writing that you can’t justify, that nobody is paying you for, that nobody is asking for, that maybe feels like a bit of an indulgence, or a little bit risky or silly. And so, you’ve been putting it off, and you haven’t done it, or you thought, well maybe one day, I’ll do that.

Just give an hour to it this week and see what happens.

I will bet, at the very least, you’ll be glad you did it, you will enjoy it, it will give you a spring in the step the rest of the week.

And who knows, it could turn into something quite extraordinary that you would never really expect. Something so interesting could come from such inauspicious beginnings.

But don’t even think about that now because you can’t go in with any expectation. Just go in with the intention of pleasing yourself and writing something that will have no practical application whatsoever.
— Mark McGuinness
 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In December we read The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe. Join now so you'll be in the group for this month's book announcement. For more information, visit our Patreon page.


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Ep. 124: Your Character’s Internal Journey

In this episode, Certified Story Grid editors Leslie Watts and Rebecca Monterusso critique “The Flight,” a science fiction short story by Scott Adam Gordon. They discuss the internal journey or change that characters experience as a result of external events in a story and then uncover which internal genres could be present in “The Flight.” This week’s editorial mission offers questions to help you identify and craft the internal change at work in your stories.

 Your Character's Internal Journey by the  Writership Podcast .

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

This week's submission contains some adult language.

 

About Our Guest Host

Clark is taking a well-earned rest so this week we're joined by Rebecca Monterusso.

Rebecca is a certified Story Grid editor, analytical creative, and renaissance soul. She has been to seven different countries and has held jobs in multiple industries, all of which has helped her become an effective communicator and passionate learner.

Her overall goal is to help writers learn to tell their stories better because she believes stories are the only way to really change the world. You can find her online at RebeccaMonterusso.com.

 

Wise Words on Story

Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.
— Terry Pratchett

 

Mentioned on the Show

 

Our guest narrator

This week’s submission is narrated by C. Steven Manley, the author of the Paragons Trilogy, the Brace Cordova Space Opera series, and host of the Story Shots Podcast. You can find out more about him at cstevenmanley.net.

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In December we read The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe. Join now so you'll be in the group for this month's book announcement. For more information, visit our Patreon page.

 

The Sell More Books Show Summit

Jim Kukral of the Author Marketing Club and the Sell More Books Show is doing another big conference. This time in Chicago in May of 2018. It's called the Sell More Books Show Summit and you can learn more and get a ticket here.

Join 175 other writers and publishing friends for this interactive, two-day conference and networking event in Chicago! Eat, drink and learn together, and be on your way to building a stronger and more profitable career as an author.

Only 175 seats are available and early bird pricing will run out soon. Click here to grab your ticket.

 

Editorial Mission—Check Your Protagonist’s Inner Journey

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who is the protagonist? 
     
  2. Assess three factors:

    A. What is his/her character, and how do we respond to it? (Morality/character)

    B. What is his/her fortune, and do we fear it will get worse or hope it gets better? (Status/fortune)

    C. What is his/her thought, and do we feel s/he is sufficiently aware of the facts of the situation and consequences of his/her behavior to be held responsible? (Worldview/thought)
     
  3. Which of the three factors (character, fortune, or thought) undergoes a change from beginning to end? If more than one, which is the main one, and how do the others relate?
     
  4. How does it end?
     
  5. Can the [internal] plot be stated in a cause and effect relationship?

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Editing Advice for Our Author

Dear Scott,

Thank you so much for your submission. Despite the tragic circumstances, we enjoyed it a lot, and appreciate what you were able to accomplish in such a short piece. That’s something I want to highlight because doing those things well with lots of words is challenging, but to do so in barely more than 1,500 shows great skill.

The character’s voice in particularly strong. (I appreciate his need for precision!) We do feel as if we know him. Your choices of first person point of view and present tense really pay off in this way. This is really well done.

In terms of the Five Commandments of Storytelling, I think you’ve hit everything. His point of decision could have been made a little clearer, but keeping it vague may have been a deliberate choice. It tripped me up for a moment, but didn’t interfere with my overall enjoyment of the story.

Since we get the whole story in a small package, it presented the perfect opportunity to explore your character’s internal journey. And there’s a lot happening under the surface here.

The internal journey or internal genre or character arc are different terms to describe the change a character experiences inside as the result of external plot events. Internal genres deal with the human need for self-respect and –esteem, self-actualization, or self-transcendence as described by Maslow’s Hierarchy.

To determine the internal genre for “The Flight,” we used the questions of literary critic Norman Friedman (excerpted below) from his article “Forms of the Plot.” Literary criticism isn’t always useful for the writing craft, but Friedman is aces in my book. His work is the main source of McKee’s and Shawn’s internal genre classifications.

There are three main factors that come into play when assessing internal genres, and that’s where we get the labels. They are plots of fortune, thought, or character. They can be a bit squishy, as you may have heard me say, because all three factors are present to a greater or lesser extent in every story. The internal genre and sub-genre are determined by which factor is the strongest, how the external plot ends (positive or negative), and how the factors relate to each other.

Further complicating this “squishiness” is that we human readers have our own internal genres operating. What I mean is that everyone has their own internal reaction to what’s happening in the world, our work, and within our relationships. We tend to relate to stories from that internal genre. As an editor, I have to be mindful that I don’t project my personal internal questions and worldview on my clients’ stories.

Don't be concerned if you believe one or more of the examples below fit in a different sub-genre. Simply be clear on your reasons based on the questions below if you want to use one of them as a model for a story.

As writers, it’s important to know that once we share a story, it doesn’t belong to us anymore. Readers will experience it through their own perceptive filters, and may get something very different from it than you intend. That’s okay—it doesn’t mean you weren’t clear. (A reader will have a different reaction when the internal genre isn’t clear.) This is the beauty of specificity leading to universality. When you meet reader expectations for your genre, you’re communicating in the language of human need, and people receive what they need from it. Isn’t that wonderful?

Plots of Fortune

Plots of fortune sound as if they relate to external story events, but this is an exploration of our personal definitions of success, how they change or not, and how we metabolize outward success or failure. With respect to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’re within the realm of self-respect and self-esteem, how you see yourself and how you believe others see you. The concern in these stories is the protagonist’s honor, status, and reputation. Within the Story Grid universe, we call this internal genre Status. The core value shift, that is the change that happens within the character over the course of the story, is on the spectrum of success and failure. Sub-genres include the following:

  • Pathetic: A naïve character who is not strong in character, tries to rise, but fails (negative ending). Examples: Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Little Miss Sunshine.
     
  • Tragic: A character strives to improve his circumstances, but makes a mistake that dooms him to failure (negative ending). Examples: An American Tragedy and Oedipus Rex.
     
  • Sentimental: A weak protagonist succeeds against the odds (positive ending, similar to Tragic, but makes a better choice). Examples: Rocky and Anna Christie.
  • Admiration: A principled protagonist rises without compromise (positive/ironic ending). Examples: Gladiator and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
     

Plots of Thought

Plots of thought consider how we see, think, and feel about the world and people. It is concerned with states of mind, attitudes, beliefs, conceptions, and knowledge. The human need implicated within Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization, in other words how we assess meaning. In Story Grid parlance, we talk about the Worldview internal genre. The core value shift is on the spectrum from naïveté to worldliness, ignorance to wisdom, or disillusionment to belief. Sub-genres include the following:

  • Disillusionment: A protagonist deprived of their ideals ends up feeling dejected or nihilistic (negative ending). Examples: The Great Gatsby and the internal genre within The Silence of the Lambs (external/global genre is thriller).
     
  • Revelation: The protagonist comes to understand their circumstances and make a wiser choice (generally) (ironic ending). Example: “Beware of the Dog” by Roald Dahl.
     
  • Education: A protagonist comes to find meaning in the world or their life (positive or ironic ending). Example: Tender Mercies and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
     
  • Worldview Maturation: A protagonist moves from naïveté to worldliness in their understanding of life (positive ending). To Kill a Mockingbird and Saturday Night Fever.
     

Plots of Character

Deal with a character’s will, and within the Story Grid universe, we call this genre Morality. It deals with the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-transcendence, a level that was added on toward the end of his work and life. Self-Transcendence deals with reaching one’s potential for the good of others (whereas self-actualization is about meeting one’s full potential). These stories are concerned with our motives, purposes, goals, habits, behavior, and will. The core value shift, of the story is said to be selfishness to altruism. Sub-genres include the following:

  • Punitive: A good protagonist turns bad and is punished (negative ending). Examples: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Wall Street.
     
  • Testing: A protagonist falls several times and then gives up on their ideals (negative or ironic ending). Example: Cool Hand Luke.
     
  • Redemption: A protagonist is responsible for their disaster, but later improves—bad guy reforms (positive ending). Examples: The Verdict and A Christmas Carol.

With many stories, the internal genre is clear, but not always. And when you have an idea for a story, you may not know what you want the character’s inner journey to be. Friedman offered some excellent questions to help us navigate these deep inner waters.
 

Application of Friedman's Questions

I’ll answer Friedman’s questions from my reading of “The Flight.”

  1. Who is the protagonist? 
    He’s a husband and father, the breadwinner for his family and a corporate employee (interesting that we don’t have a name for him).
     
  2. Assess the three factors:

    A. What is his character, and how do we respond to it? 
    The protagonist considers his family as he makes his decision not to fly, and his family is the last thing he thinks of as the glass breaks. We certainly don’t have a sense that he is a person of bad character—merely that his is human. The closest is a testing plot, but there is no sense of someone getting their just deserts.

    B. What is his fortune, and do we fear it will get worse or hope it gets better? 
    The protagonist experiences bad fortune: Our short-term anxiety and long-term fears for him are realized, though not in the way we would have imagined. Ironically, he might have done better on the train to the airport. We don't know that for sure, but his choice affected his situation and how he viewed it.

    C. What is his thought, and do we feel he is sufficiently aware of the facts of the situation and consequences of his behavior to be held responsible? 
    It’s not clear that it’s the wing that causes gravity to fail (I’m not sure it needs to be because this doesn't feel like the primary change). It appears that the protagonist makes his decision based on fear when he skips the train, rather than rational thought (even though it seems he thinks about this more than most people). Either way, we need to look at how the three factors interact.
     
  3. Which of the three factors (character, fortune, or thought) undergoes a change from beginning to end? If more than one, which is the main one, and how do the others relate. 
    The protagonist’s circumstances change so drastically, and this is what alters his worldview to the extent that it changes. His worldview is, in essence, flipped upside down, but again, I see his fortune driving this potential worldview shift, rather than the other way around. If morality is involved, it’s very minor. This would be a very different story, and we would be left with a sense that justice had been done.
     
  4. How does the external story end? 
    Negative: The protagonist isn’t safe.
     
  5. Can the [internal] plot be stated in a cause and effect relationship? 
    I think this is a Status Pathetic, rather than Tragic, story. The difference is whether you think the protagonist’s misfortune is related in part to a mistake. He made a choice to avoid flying, but his choice didn't set up the circumstances. The tragic protagonist is more active, and we feel a sense of relief, like justice has been done, rather than pity. 

    So we might say, the protagonist did his best to avoid what he believed to be dangerous circumstances, but fate intervened, and he was placed in life-threatening circumstances anyway. 

Thanks again for sharing your story with us! 

All the best,

Leslie 


 

Our Short Story

(There are no line edits this week because we focused on the internal genre. The author's prose is clean, clear, and enjoyable with UK spellings and conventions.

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Ep. 123: Leslie's Approach to Editing and Why You Need to Tell Your Story

In this episode, Certified Story Grid editor Leslie Watts and Writership’s first officer, Liz Green, discuss the way things have changed around the podcast and answer some burning questions about the Story Grid, Leslie’s approach to editing, and why you need to tell your story.

 Leslie's Approach to Editing and Why You Need to Tell Your Story by Leslie Watts at Writership.com.

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

 

About Our Guest Host

 Liz from greengooseghostwriting.com

Liz Green is Writership's first officer, lurking below decks and keeping us shipshape. She's also the writer behind Green Goose Ghostwriting, where online entrepreneurs get help to write books that build their businesses.

 

Mentioned on the Show

 

The Sell More Books Show Summit

Sell More Books Show Summit.png

Jim Kukral of the Author Marketing Club and the Sell More Books Show is doing another big conference, this time in Chicago in May of 2018. It's called the Sell More Books Show Summit and you can learn more and get a ticket here.

Join 175 other writers and publishing friends for this interactive, two-day conference and networking event in Chicago! Eat, drink and learn together, and be on your way to building a stronger and more profitable career as an author.

Only 175 seats are available and early bird pricing will run out soon. Click here to grab your ticket.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

Our next meeting is December 21, 2017 and we're tackling crime stories. For more information, visit our Patreon page.

 

Send Leslie Your Questions

Click here to email Leslie your questions.

 

Questions from the episode

Here are some of the questions we cover in this episode:

  • Why don't you do podcast episodes like you used to any more?

  • How did you discover the Story Grid? How did you get into it?

  • Where do the Story Grid principles come from? Is this just something Shawn Coyne invented?

  • People have been writing amazing stories for centuries without the Story Grid, so why do we need it?

  • This methodology is all well and good for plotters, but what about pantsers?

  • Why do you like this better than how you used to edit?

  • Is this just a fad? Will you go back to editing the "normal" way soon?

  • What's the deal with obligatory scenes and conventions?

  • Do writers have to do the Story Grid spreadsheet to get benefit from the methodology? It seems more complicated than it needs to be.

  • Is the Story Grid a cult?

 

Editorial Mission—Take Your Question or Problem to the Source

This week, I want you to think of a question or problem you have about writing or revision and go to your favorite source for writing advice. It could be this podcast, the Story Grid, The Creative Penn, Writing Excuses, The Write Practice, or another place. Look around on the site to see if you can find the answer to your problem or question. Google the name and your question and search beyond the first page of results. If you still don’t find what you’re looking for, reach out to the owner of the site and ask your question. Even if they can’t answer your question, they may be able to point you in the right direction. 

The point of this exercise is to recognize when we have a problem, often we’re not the first to have experienced it, and chances are someone knows how to solve it. It’s good practice to be thorough in your search and to get in touch if you can’t find what you’re after. 

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Ep. 122: Does Your Scene Contain Conflict?

In this episode, fiction editors Leslie Watts and Courtney Harrell critique the first chapter of Seeker, a science fiction novella within the Chaos Nova universe by Smith & Kaos. They discuss conflict within stories and scenes. UPDATE: Smith & Kaos revised their opening scene after hearing our feedback. You can see the changes they made after the original submission. 

 Does Your Scene Contain Conflict? by Leslie Watts at Writership.com.

Antagonistic forces and obstacles are necessary elements of stories because change within a character comes as the result of dealing with conflict. It is the vehicle through which they change over the course of the entire story, but also incrementally, scene by scene.

Conflicts delay the resolution of every unit of story (scene, sequence, act, story). If the character achieves a goal for the unit of story without effort or worry, then tension drops and narrative drive wanes. Even if your story overall has great conflict, you’ll tell a better story if each scene contains robust conflict as well.

This week’s editorial mission shows you how to analyze your scenes for conflict so you can make things as tough as possible for your characters.

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

 

About Our Guest Host

Courtney Harrell is a Certified Story Grid Editor and writes middle grade fiction with diverse characters, including LGBTQ and gender fluid characters under the pen name Foenix Ryder. You can find Courtney online at FoenixStorytelling.com.

 

 

Wise Words on Conflict in Scenes

How does a scene provide interest?
It pits your focal character against opposition. In so doing, it raises a question to intrigue your reader: Will this character win or won’t he?
— Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer

 

Mentioned on the Show

Our submission is narrated by Brian Schwimmer, Quarter Master supporter of the podcast and all around great guy. To use his words, “Brian is concisely excited for the opportunity to help out the Writership Team.”

He is an audiobook narrator and is registered on ACX if you are interested in working with him on your project. Also, because one shameless plug is never enough, you can check out his proof reading skills and get your hands on some super steamy paranormal romance by heading to jennifermancini.com.

 

Extra resources

Killjoys is the science fiction bounty hunter story that Courtney mentions during the episode.

Here is the Super Mario Bros. video we mention:

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In December we're tackling crime stories. For more information, visit our Patreon page.

 

Editorial Mission—Check Your Scenes for Conflict

Review a scene from a book or movie in your genre that is similar to a scene you want to work on. For example, if you need help with the opening scene, climax, or turning point, look for the same in your model. 

  • What is the POV character’s goal in the scene? Not sure? Look for the inciting incident (the event that throws the character or her world out of balance), and consider what the character wants immediately after that happens.
     
  • What is (are) the force(s) of antagonism in the scene? Who or what stands in the character’s way? What does that force of antagonism want? 
     
  • Which levels of conflict are present? Think about inner, interpersonal, and extra-personal conflict.
     
  • How is conflict introduced? Does it rely on dialogue or action?
     
  • How does the conflict manifest? Is it through a fight, disagreement, bickering, obstruction, personality clash, power differential, or the environment?

Use what you’ve learned to review your scenes and revise as appropriate.

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Dear Smith & Kaos,

Thank you so much for sharing your story’s opening with us. We’ve never had a submission from a gaming story universe, and this was particularly fun. Your prose is clear and enjoyable, which is great for a story that takes place in a world we’re unfamiliar with. Jewel is a great character, and I feel the compelled to follow her on the adventure.

From the synopsis, we can tell that Jewel will face plenty of conflict, and our main suggestion for this scene is to hit her with conflict right away. As written, Jewel turns in a prisoner and gets paid for her services as a bounty hunter. There is a change in the scene (Jewel goes from not yet being paid to being paid), but she doesn't face any worsening obstacles or progressive complications in the process. 

If we look at the elements of the scene or the Five Commandments of Storytelling, we don’t find evidence of conflict. These are different ways of saying the same thing, but I want to include them for the listeners because any one of these is a clue that conflict is missing or not quite strong enough. 

I didn’t see a true inciting incident for the scene because nothing knocks Jewel or her would out of balance. She has a desire (to get paid), but this arose before this scene started, and nothing that happens here puts payment in jeopardy. 

Jewel doesn’t face a dilemma because the scene turns with the handoff, which comes at the end and doesn’t push her to a crisis where she must make a decision.

Another way to say this is that there isn’t a problem to resolve. If the setup is will she get paid, the resolution or payoff is yes, but no gap arises between her desire or expectation and the goal.

We considered whether this scene was meant to be part of the scene that continues, but the next chapter appears to be a complete scene on its own.

When a scene lacks conflict (especially an opening scene), it can make it difficult for the reader to become attached to the character. Even when a character desires something we wouldn’t necessarily want, we understand the experience of wanting something badly, and that helps us care about her and want to find out whether she’s successful.

Conflict leads us to stakes: Understanding what the goal means to her, that is what the consequences are if she fails, is another way we begin to care about her success right away.

So, for example, if the handoff had gone badly, what would that mean to Jewel? Did this job represent a significant investment of time, energy, or money? Is she on the brink of bankruptcy? Did she need to prove herself to someone? 

Again, in the synopsis of the entire story, we can see that Jewel faces conflict on three levels (inner, intrapersonal, and extra-personal), so it’s not that this is a problem throughout your story. It came to me that the opening is reminiscent of an establishing shot in a movie opening, where we get a view of different aspects of the setting (think Alien when everyone is waking up, the opening credits are rolling, but nothing is happening yet). This works great in film because they add music and images to occupy us as we acclimate to the world. But it doesn't work as well in written stories. 

Here's a simple process to help create conflict in any scene: 

  • The POV character must want something, that is, she should have a goal. The desire/goal arises out of the inciting incident for the unit of story. In other words, the inciting incident for the unit of story occurs and throws the character out of stasis. The desire (to get back to stasis or manage the new reality) comes up for the character.
     
  • Goals can be of achievement (the character wants to make, do, or become something) or resistance (the character wants to stop or resist something). Another way to classify goals is to think of them as possession of something, relief from something, or revenge for something.
  • A goal should be specific, concrete, and immediate. (If you’ve ever taken a goals workshop, you may have heard of SMART goals: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound. This works pretty well for your characters too.)
     
  • A goal is a decision to act. Contrast a goal with something the character is interested in. There’s an old business fable about a chicken and pig who discuss opening a restaurant called Ham-n-Eggs. The pig declines the opportunity on the basis that, while the chicken is merely interested, the pig would be committed.
     
  • The decision to act should be clear enough that you can imagine the character performing an act that would bring it about. 
     
  • Next, add the opposing force. Someone or something has a goal that is mutually exclusive. Think irresistible force meets immovable object. Conflict can come in different forms fighting, disagreements, bickering, obstruction, personality clash, power differential, environment.
     
  • Conflict can (1) be contrary to the goal, (2) contradict the goal, or (3) go to the end of the line, what we call the negation of the negation. If the goal is for the character to find food right away, the contrary would be that she has to wait for a couple of hours, the contradiction could be that there is no food on the premises, the negation of the negation could be something like being offered food that robs her body of nutrients (in other words, something like poison disguised as healthy food).
     
  • You want the level and type of conflict to be appropriate for the scene. Intensity increases as you move toward the climax, for example. The opening scene doesn't need to have a lot of intensity (you wouldn’t start with the negation of the negation), but it’s useful if you can find a way for the conflict in the scene to mirror or be a milder version of a bigger conflict that comes later.

Although this is a long discussion, please understand that this is a minor problem that would warrant only a minor adjustment in a story that, based on the synopsis, is working quite well. 

Thanks again for your submission and for trusting us with your words.

All the best, 

Leslie

 

Our Sci-Fi Story

There are no line edits this week as we focused on conflict instead.

UPDATE: Smith & Kaos revised their opening scene based on our discussion. To see the changes they made, keep reading after the original submission.

Revisions

After hearing our discussion, Smith and Kaos added details to ratchet up the conflict in their opening scene. You can see their additions in green. 

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Ep. 121: Structure for Character-Driven or Literary Stories

In this episode, fiction editors Leslie Watts and Rachelle Ramirez critique “How I Stumbled into the Golden Cage,” a short story by Jose Arroyo. They discuss genre and how stories that emphasize the protagonist’s inner journey still need structure. 

Writers of literary stories can use the steps in the Kubler-Ross grief process to plan and revise the structure of their stories and may find it’s a better fit than other systems suited to more active stories. Even if you’ve written a thriller or an action story, you can use the Kubler-Ross steps to follow your protagonist’s inner journey alongside whatever structure you use for the external events of the story.

One challenge writers face with character-driven stories is how to demonstrate the inner shifts the character experiences without over-relying on thoughts and telling. Leslie and Rachelle talk about ways to dramatize internal events to evoke certain emotions in your reader. 

This week’s editorial mission encourages you to use the Kubler-Ross steps to check your protagonist’s internal journey and be sure the important events are present and adequately dramatized.

 Structure for Character-Driven or Literary Stories by Leslie Watts at Writership.com.

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

This week's submission contains some adult language.

 

About Our Guest Host

Clark is taking a well-deserved break from the podcast, so today we're joined by Rachelle Ramirez, a Certified Story Grid Editor.

Rachelle has edited award winning fiction and assisted memoir writers in dramatizing their stories for the page. She is the author of the forthcoming novel White Grrrl, Black Sheep, and is currently working on a Story Grid Guide to Memoirs of a Geisha

You can find out more about Rachelle here.

 

Wise Words on The Character-driven stories

Since serious literature is less prone to “big” events than commercial fiction is, it is actually more in need of a well-constructed plot than anything Jackie Collins ever dreamed of. In literary fiction the plot must be far more layered, intricate, and finely woven in order to illuminate subtler and more nuanced themes. Character-driven novels rely a lot less on sinking ships, falling meteors, and tidal waves, and a lot more on a missed gesture, a quick nod, a moment’s hesitation—which in the hands of a great writer can feel more earth shattering than a nine-point earthquake. But make no mistake: literary fiction still revolves around an escalating series of challenges that the protagonist must brave, because no matter how keenly honed the protagonist, he still has to want something real bad.
— Lisa Cron, Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence

 

Mentioned on the Show

This week’s submission is narrated by C. Steven Manley, the author of the Paragons Trilogy, the Brace Cordova Space Opera series, and host of the Story Shots Podcast. You can find out more about him here.

We’re experimenting with this feature, so please let us know what you think!

 

Synopsis for this week's submission

Pepe is laid off from his job as an air conditioning installer, and though he chooses to see it as an opportunity to pursue his writing, he struggles, but when his unemployment benefits are cut off, he must decide whether to give up his dream of being a writer or take a job that offers him no fulfillment to support himself and his children.

 

Extra resources

Hooked by Les Edgerton has great advice for dramatizing story openings.

Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron provides information and advice for crafting fiction that meets your reader’s expectations.

 
 

 

Kübler Ross's stages of grief

 Discussion of Kubler Ross's Stages of Grief on the  Writership Podcast .

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join the Writership Quarter Masters Book Club! Each month I'll choose a book from your suggestions. We'll read it and, together in a (virtual) book club meeting, analyze it the way I would for a Story Grid Diagnostic.

In December we're tackling crime stories. For more information, visit our Patreon page.

 

Editorial Mission—Showing Internal Change with External Actions

Look at the internal change that your protagonist goes through, and test it against the Kubler-Ross stages of grief or (change metabolism). 

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargain
  • Depression
  • Deliberation
  • Choice
  • Integration (Or not)

If anything is missing or is revealed, ask yourself how you dramatize this externally.

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Hi José,

Thank you so much for your submission! This is such a great setup for a story, one that so many writers can relate to. You balance the humor and the seriousness of the situation well. Pepe faces a difficult decision, yet you handle it in a light-hearted way that makes it feel more approachable than a dramatic story might.

Rachelle noted the lovely balance of specificity in details and characterization and how they set up the character arc and global story. The “butthuggers” made us chuckle and helped us see Pepe clearly and get to know him. 

When we looked at the story and considered the elements and your synopsis, it sounded like a Status story to us. Pepe is a somewhat disadvantaged protagonist who wants to improve his lot in life, and the story explores the price he has to pay in order to do so. This is not the only story you could tell with this premise, but because it’s the one suggested by the synopsis, we explored this. 

The Status story is an internal content genre, which means it focuses on the change the main character experiences within as a response to the external events. When the inner journey is the main focus, it can help to look at the story a little differently. You could use the hero’s journey, but to shake things up, we looked at the Kübler-Ross model for processing grief as modified for story structure.

Let me give you a little context for this because it would not be unreasonable to assume that story structure and how humans process grief are unrelated. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a psychiatrist who introduced the idea that people go through phases when processing grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. She identified several phases, though she later concluded they don’t necessarily unfold in a linear way. Kübler-Ross later recognized that any form of personal loss causes a similar progression, and other academics have applied the same process to change in most areas of life. 

Stories are about change and how people process or metabolize it. So considering the phases of a person’s internal response to change is a great way to think about your character’s response to the inciting incident, which, for better or worse, throws the character’s life or world out of balance. 

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargain
  • Depression
  • Deliberation
  • Choice
  • Integration (or not, depending on how the story is resolved)

To make the story as powerful as it can be, it’s best for these events to take place onstage, rather than hearing about them in summary after the fact. 

These steps provide a great framework for the story, but we are talking about the character’s internal reaction to external events. With certain point of view choices, we have access to the character’s thoughts and feelings, but the better approach is to find ways to dramatize externally what’s happening to the character inside. Rachelle and I thought of some ways these events couls be dramatized and written within scenes that take place onstage. These are just ideas based on what we read, and you probably have even better ones. 

  1. Shock: Dramatize the moment with Pepe is laid off. His boss might feel guilty or nervous about being the one to tell him, but inside (in a subtle or obvious way), Pepe sees it as his big chance.  
     
  2. Denial: Pepe is struggling to write and gets the phone call from Manny. Instead of telling us Manny’s backstory, consider showing with dialogue in which Manny offers his best advice. 
     
  3. Anger: Pepe receives the notice that his unemployment benefits have been cut off. Showing him receive the call or a letter and seeing what he does and says could be powerful.   
     
  4. Bargaining: This could be the conversation that Pepe has with Manny at King Taco.
     
  5. Depression: You could show this by having Pepe take the job, in his mind temporarily, and having him realize that he’s not good at trouble-shooting, but only installing. 
     
  6. Deliberation: Show Pepe mulling over his choices by looking through the desk of his predecessor and choosing not to “move in” officially. Or consider showing him receiving word that his kids have a greater need even than the unemployment checks could cover. 
     
  7. Choice: Show that moment when Pepe chooses the job over his writing. Maybe he’s about to read at an event with Manny, and he receives an emergency call where he has to leave if he wants to keep the job. 
     
  8. Integration: You could show Pepe moving his things into the desk that he had previously declined to occupy.

Again, these are just ideas to play with. You have so many great elements in the story now, and you could make it stronger by dramatizing the events that demonstrate his internal journey.

One other item to look out for is smoothing paragraph-level transitions between what’s happening in the scene onstage and what Pepe is thinking about or remembering. I’m particularly thinking about Manny’s phone call and what we learn about Manny. This might change if you rewrite the scene, but I wanted to mention it as something to make the scene stronger.

Thanks again for sharing your story world with us and for trusting us with your words!

All the best,

Leslie 

Our Literary Story

(There are no line edits this week as we focused on overall structure instead.)

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Ep. 120: Crisis Questions

In this episode, fellow Story Grid editor Valerie Francis and I analyze a scene from Lock and Key, the first book in The Essence Riven Trilogy by Emily Bowie. We talk about the crisis question in a scene, a moment when a question arises for the POV character.

To keep the story moving, your scenes should turn. To be more specific, they should turn so that it becomes more or less likely that the protagonist will get what she wants and needs. When this turn happens, and the character faces a point of no return within the scene, she must figure out how to respond. This week’s editorial mission will help you identify or add these questions and make them stronger to support your story.

 Crisis Questions by Leslie Watts at Writership.com.

 

Listen to the Writership Podcast

This week's submission contains some violence.

 

About Our Guest Host

Clark is taking a well-deserved break from the podcast, so today we're joined by Valerie Francis, author of fiction for women and children and Certified Story Grid Editor. You can find out more about Valerie here.

 

 

Wise Words on The Crisis Question

The dilemma confronts the protagonist who, when face-to-face with the most powerful forces of antagonism in his life must make a decision to take one action or another in a last effort to achieve his Object of Desire.
— Robert McKee

 

Mentioned on the Show

During the episode, Valerie and I talked about Rubicon moments. This is a reference to Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon, an event that precipitated the Roman Civil War. When his term as governor over Gaul and Illyricum ended, the Roman Senate ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome. The Senate was clear that he should not bring his army across the Rubicon river, the northern boundary of Italy. Caesar decided to disregard the order. He is credited with saying alea iacta est (the die is cast) as his army marched through the shallow river. Today you will sometimes hear the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" to mean passing a point of no return.

I also mentioned that the Rubicon moments are more painful than what happens before or after, and that is discussed in this article. Is this just a tangent? I don’t think so. Our understanding of human nature and psychology can inform the decisions our characters make whether they are under extreme stress or not. Characterization is best done by demonstrating the characters choices. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join now and you'll get access to a recording of October's meeting, in which we read stories from The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 and analyzed them the way Leslie does for a Story Grid Diagnostic. You’ll also be able to join us for our next (online) meeting this Thursday November 16. Find out more at Patreon.

 

Editorial Mission—Crisis Questions

The crisis question is a dilemma the POV character faces that arises from the turning point. To raise the stakes, this should be a best bad choice or a choice between irreconcilable goods. In other words, it’s not an easy choice and the character sacrifices something when she makes it. To a certain extent, you’ll want the decision to be irreversible as well—or more specifically, the decisions should become progressively more irreversible as you approach the big moments in the story. If she could reverse the decision in the next scene that diminishes the stakes. We care about the character for lots of reasons, but a big part of that is what she risks when she makes a choice in these moments. 

To determine whether you have a strong crisis question in your scene, review and see if it changes from the beginning to the end. If you can’t identify how the scene changes, check out the show notes for episode 119 on scene value shifts. If the scene does change, look for the moment when it turns. Does the POV character face a dilemma after coming to a point of no return? Does the dilemma create a best bad choice or choice between irreconcilable goods? If not, consider how can you revise the scene to bring it to that point. Is the decision too reversible? If so, how can you make it harder to call a do-over soon after making the decision has been made?

If you get stuck on this editorial mission, please leave a comment or write to me.

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Hi Emily,

Thank you so much for sharing your submission! You have a great premise that promises lots of conflict and a character who isn’t going to go along quietly, which will pull the reader right into the heart of the story. 

In terms of next steps for the scene in front of us, I recommend focusing on the turning point and crisis question of the scene. But what do I mean by that? How did I reach this conclusion? And what are some options available to you to make the scene more powerful? To answer these questions, I’ll walk you through the scene analysis. This is revised somewhat from the discussion in the episode because, as is sometimes the case, mulling things over yields greater clarity. This is one way to review a scene when you know that it could be made stronger, but you’re not sure how to identify a potential problem and what to do about it. 

 

What’s literally happening?

First, we look at what’s happening in the scene on the surface. Cyrene snuck out of the castle at night, realizes how this could hurt her family, and wants to get back without being noticed. She is attacked by three druyds, who seem to be after the key Gideon gave her, and a fourth druyd (presumably Cade) fights them off so she can escape. 

 

What’s the essential action?

Second, we ask, what’s the essential action. With this inquiry, we want to understand the POV character’s motivation and what they actually do to achieve it. This had us a little stumped because our initial conclusion about the essential action (that Cyrene is coming to terms with her situation or deciding what to do about it) doesn’t relate to how the scene turns (or how things change for Cyrene from the beginning to the end of the scene). 

 

What Life value has changed for one of the characters?

Third, we look at the life value that has changed from the beginning to the end. This can be for any of the characters in the scene, and you narrow it down to the most important in the next question. Both Cyrene and Cade go from being uninjured to injured, and that is something you’d want to notice, but on reflection, it looks like the important life value change (based on what we have in front of us) is that Cyrene goes from being safe and uncompromised to a precarious position with potential dishonor (for having been outside the castle alone at night). 

 

Life value related to the main or global genre?

Cyrene is our POV character and protagonist, so it makes sense to focus on the change she experiences because it will most likely represent the scene change that brings her closer to or further from her story goal. 

Inciting Incident:
This is the event in the scene that knocks the POV character out of balance and represents a change to the status quo. My best guess is when she says this: “The gravity of the situation crashed with such ferocity ...” Until that moment, she’s wrestling with her thoughts, but not nothing has changed from when she came down the steps to the beach. When she recognizes the danger, she’s placed herself and her family in by being out at night, the desire to get back inside without being caught arises.

Progressive Complication:
Progressive complications are the increasing difficulties the character faces in achieving her goal in the scene. Cyrene wants to get back inside without being caught, but three men come out of nowhere. Then they close in around her. She tries to run, but her cloak gets in the way and she slips on the rock and passes out. 

Turning Point:
This is the point of no return when the scene turn happens, and the POV character faces a question. When Cyrene wakes up, the men have her. 

Crisis Question:
This is the question the POV character faces that arises from the turning point. To raise the stakes, this should be a best bad choice or a choice between irreconcilable goods. In other words, it’s not an easy choice and the character sacrifices something when she makes it. To a certain extent, you’ll want the decision to be irreversible as well—or more specifically, the decisions should become progressively more irreversible as you approach the big moments in the story. If she could reverse the decision in the next scene that diminishes the stakes. We care about the character for lots of reasons, but a big part of that is what she risks when she makes a choice in these moments.

Cyrene doesn’t have an opportunity to face a best bad choice because Cade attacks the others and tells her to run. In the episode, we talked about how the question to run or not isn’t a best bad choice, but rather, the obvious choice—at least based on what we see before us (You may have revealed other facts in the scenes that lead up to this one that would change this conclusion). How could you make this a stronger dilemma? If Cyrene had a strong emotional attachment to Cade and feared for his safety, that would be different, or if she absolutely couldn’t appear back in the castle without her sandals, that would also be different (but again, doesn't feel as strong). 

If the story circumstances won’t allow her to be attached to Cade, she could consider giving up the key. You’ve established that this is precious to her, so it’s not that big a stretch that she would resist parting with it. It appears that the druyds who attack her want it, so it’s possible she could believe that the key might buy her freedom and allow her to get back to the castle. You could dial up these possibilities and have her wrestle with this decision, and it seems this dilemma would impact the overall story.

Climax:
This is the decision the character makes based on the crisis question and the action she takes in furtherance of the decision. If you were to take the route I suggest above or something similar, Cyrene could decide not to give up the key, that it’s too precious to her—but she might. Either way, she wouldn’t need to actually give up the key because Cade could still come to her rescue as part of the resolution of the scene.

Resolution:
This is what unfolds after the decision and the character’s taking action on it. It can be causal, meaning that the character’s action precipitates action on the part of others (for example, the attacking druyds might knock her out and leave her on the beach) or it can be simply what other characters do anyway (Cade jumps in to save her). The final part of the resolution is that Cyrene runs when Cade tells her to and makes it back to the castle. A guard sees her, and she notices the blood on her feet and head then passes out. More consequences could flow from this, when she wakes up and based on what the guard does, but that is quite possibly exposition or an inciting incident for the next scene. 

A different but somewhat related point to consider concerns Cyrene’s change of heart about whether she should be rebelling (either the small rebellion of being outside the castle at night or the bigger issue of whether she should marry Prince Vodnik). The change seems to come as the result of her thinking and coming to her senses. It’s hard to be certain without knowing more, but I wonder if this change of heart (or coming to her senses or becoming resigned to her fate) could be more powerful if something in the environment or outside herself reminds her that her circumstances are probably a test. 

I’ve included some copyediting suggestions within the submission, but you’ll want to save those until you’ve made any desired changes to the structure of the chapter.

Thanks again for sharing your submission and trusting us with your words! 

All the best,

Leslie

Line Edits for Our Short Story

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Ep. 119: Scene Value Shifts

In this episode, fellow Story Grid certified editor Jay Peters and I critique the beginning of “What Lives Beneath,” a short story by A.V. Herzberg. The author kindly shared a synopsis of the entire story, which allowed us to talk about how the global genre could be Obsession Love Story or Horror. Figuring out your global or main genre is important for lots of reasons, but it’s important to understand that genres implicate story values (in other words, the external change that happens from the beginning to the end of the story).

Jay and I talked about what the story values would be and then analyzed the scene in the submission, including how the scene changes from beginning to end. Then we talked about ways to strengthen the scene by bringing the scene value shift into closer alignment with that of the overall story.

This week’s editorial mission challenges you to compare the value shifts in your scene to see how they relate to your global story.

 Scene Value Shifts by Leslie Watts at Writership.com.

 

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About Our Guest Host

Clark is taking a well-deserved break from the podcast, so today we're joined by Jay Peters, a certified Story Grid editor based in Seattle, WA. You can find out more about Jay on his personal site, and you can follow his NaNoWriMo blog series here.

 

Wise Words on Story Events

A Story Event is a meaningful change in the life of the central character. And that change must be expressed as a polar value—life/death, lie/truth, cold/hot, strength/weakness, courage/cowardice, loyalty/betrayal, wisdom/stupidity, known/unknown etc.



All that Story Event implies is that something has to happen.



The scene begins someplace positive and ends negative, or begins negative and ends positive or begins positive and ends doubly positive or begins negative and ends doubly negative … It has to turn. Things have to be different at the end of the event than they were when it began.
— Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid

 

Mentioned on the Show

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join now and you'll get access to a recording of October's meeting, in which we read stories from The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 and analyzed them the way Leslie does for a Story Grid Diagnostic. You’ll also be able to join us for our next (online) meeting on November 16. Find out more at Patreon.

 

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Editorial Mission—Scene Value Shifts

To discover if the value shift in a scene is aligned with the value shift in your story, first consider what your genre is and the value change that occurs from the beginning to the end. (Not sure about the value? Access the genre-value-need table from episode 118).

Then read your scene closely to identify how the circumstances or characters change from the beginning to the end. Does the value change in the scene impact the main story value?

If it’s not connected at all, then consider whether you need the scene for some other reason? (Could the scene be shoe leather, meaning that it doesn’t really affect the protagonist’s pursuit of his or her goal?) If you do need the scene, revise it so that it turns on a value that is related to the main story value.

If you get stuck, leave a comment or write to me.

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Dear A. V.,

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us! This is a great setup with elements to make a powerful story. We love that you found inspiration in the Slavic mythology. Stories from different times and places create interest and evoke curiosity, which makes the reader more open to the controlling idea of a story. It’s a great way to innovate by telling a familiar story (a love story or horror story) that is also different (a unique setting). 

We looked at the synopsis and the elements of the story and concluded that you could easily choose Horror or Obsession Love Story as the global or main genre for your story. If we were working with you as a client, we would talk to your intention for the story so that we could eliminate some of the guesswork. We would ask about which aspect of the story is most fascinating to you, because it’s important to focus on one global genre, even if you include other subplots. 

One of the reasons deciding on the global genre is so important is that it determines the life value that describes the main change in the story from the beginning to the end. Let’s break that down a bit further. Stories are about how humans deal with change. If nothing changes in a story, then it’s not very interesting, and we put the book down or stop watching the movie. Genres relate to the nature of the change that occurs (internally or externally) as well as a particular human need that you can track according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. (Compare this to sales categories, sometimes called genres, which refer to where your book would reside on the shelf in a book store.) To tell whether a story works, one of the things we do is track changes in the main story value across the entire story, and within the acts, sequences, and scenes. You have a short story, so you won’t have major sequences, but we would still look at what changes within the scenes and how it affects the main story value.

In an Obsession Love Story, Desire is the psychological driver, but we’re still on the value scale from Love to Hate. That means that within the love triangle you’ve crafted, each character would start somewhere on the full range of value that includes love and hate and end somewhere else on the range. The Great Gatsby is an example of an Obsession Love Story (and I’m pretty sure the Basic Instinct is as well). 

If you focused on the Horror story, you would be in the sub-genre dealing with the Supernatural (the force of antagonism comes from the spirit realm). The range of value in a Horror story is Life to Unconsciousness to Death to a Fate Worse than Death. So Mir, the apparent protagonist in the story, would start out with Life, but might move to Death or a Fate Worse than Death by the end of the story. 

To analyze a scene, we ask four preliminary questions: 

1. What are the characters literally doing in the scene? (We answer this question just like it sounds. We want to get at what’s happening on the surface.)

Mir is chopping wood and his friend Lubov comes by, but there is considerable tension between them. 

2. What is the essential action of what the characters are doing in the scene? We answer this question by looking at the subtext. What’s going on beneath the surface (an appropriate question in more ways than one for your story)? This takes into account what the characters are trying to accomplish in the scene. 

Mir is giving Lubov the cold shoulder. 

3. What are the life values that change in the scene? Here you can include any value that changes from the beginning of the scene to the end. 

  • Mir is tense without realizing it then becomes tense and being aware of it. 
  • Lubov goes from being a source of irritation to leaving. 
  • If Mir isn't aware of the death of the couple in the beginning, he is by the end of the conversation, in which case, the value could shift from ignorance to knowledge.

4. Which life value shift applies to or impacts the global story?

Mir is the POV character in this scene, so we would focus on the life value shift from his perspective. When we looked at this, we couldn’t identify a specific value that might apply to one of the potential Global Genres. Now it’s possible that we’re missing some subtext, and it doesn’t have to be on the nose (for example, if the value is Life to Unconsciousness to Death to a Fate Worse than Death, no one has to die or be knocked unconscious to have the value relate to the Global Genre, but as we discussed in the episode, the scene should represent a change that makes it more likely (or not) that Mir is going to die or face a fate worse than death. We talked about how confronting Lubov would encourage him to spring his trap for Mir, so that is an example of something that could bring him closer to death. 

Then we look at the Five Commandments of Storytelling:

1. Inciting Incident: This is the event that knocks the POV character’s life or world out of balance within the scene and causes the POV character to want and pursue something:  Lubov shows up and interrupts Mir while he’s chopping wood.

2. Progressive Complication/Turning Point: After the inciting incident and a desire or goal arises within the POV character, he or she should face obstacles of increasing difficulty that brings the character to a turning point or point of no return when they must make a decision. The Progressive Complication represents the obstacle that arises just before the turning point. In your scene, the final progressive complication is when Lubov asks Mir if he’s bothered by the deaths of Juri and his woman. The turning point comes immediately afterward when Mir finally reacts and says that he is bothered and he knows that Juri’s death is not Lubov’s main concern. (We’re close to a confrontation here.)

3. Crisis Question: This is the dilemma that arises as a result of the turning point. The dilemma is a best bad choice (the lesser of two evils) or a choice between irreconcilable goods (positive options, but mutually exclusive, and so there is a sacrifice of one for the other). The synopsis says that Mir is struggling with his growing suspicion of Lubov, but I’m not sure this is clear in the story. Mir appears to be struggling with something, but we don’t know what. I wouldn’t recommend telling this in an “on the nose” way, but the content of the dilemma for this scene (even if it’s not about confronting Lubov) should be apparent from what’s happening. (In other words, you wouldn’t need to have Mir thinking something like this: I wonder if I should confront him. If I do, it could cause X. If I don’t it could cause Y. Rather, consider how you might show what his dilemma is through subtext. What would someone who was trying to decide about his suspicion do?)

4. Climax: This is the character’s active choice, that is, their decision and what they do as a result. Here, we’re not clear what his crisis is, so we can’t be sure what he decides as a result. 

5. Resolution: Whatever Mir’s crisis, the scene is resolved when Lubov walks away.

To make the scene stronger, consider how the scene changes from beginning to end in a way that affects the main story value. Then look at how Mir’s crisis can be made more evident without directly telling the reader. You have a lot of great things working in the scene already, and a sentence or two to reveal his dilemma should make it even better. Finally, we suggest making Mir’s choice clear through his actions. 

Note from Jay: This short story has a lot of potential, particularly with the interconnections between Mir, Lubov and Iska. My biggest recommendation for you is to develop their relationships further — whether it’s in the form of an obsession love story triangle or to do more to bring out the horror aspect of Iska’s spirit. Doing this with value shifts in every scene will really make your story thrilling for the reader.

Thank you again for your submission and for trusting us with your words!

All the best,

Leslie

Line Edits for Our Short Story

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Ep. 118: Why You Must Choose a Genre

In this episode, fiction editor Leslie Watts and author C. Steven Manley critique “The Highwayman,” a fantasy short story by Jacob Oakley. They discuss genre and why it’s important to choose one primary one. The same characters, setting, and circumstances can give rise to a wide range of stories. When you nail down your primary or global genre, you’ll gain valuable information about the story you want to tell that will help you plan, draft, and revise your story.

 Why You Must Choose a Genre by Leslie Watts at Writership.com.

 

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This week's submission contains some violence.

 

About Our Guest Host

Clark is taking a well-deserved break from the podcast, so today we're joined by C. Steven Manley, author of the Paragons Trilogy, the Brace Cordova Space Opera series, and host of the Story Shots Podcast.

Find out more about him here.

 

Wise Words on Writing Rules

A rule says, “You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works … and has through all remembered time.” The difference is crucial. Your work needn’t be modeled after the “well-made” play; rather it must be well made within the principles that shape our art. Anxious, inexperienced, writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.

Story is about the eternal, universal forms, not formulas.
— Robert McKee

 

Mentioned on the Show

 

The Writership Index

Listeners have asked for an index of the podcast episodes and the topics discussed, so we've put together a Google spreadsheet containing details of each episode, its airdate, author name, story title, genre, story type, published location, author website, and topics discussed. Get access to the spreadsheet here.

 

The Highwayman poem

Today's submission is inspired by the poem "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. You can read it here.

 

Join the Writership Book Club!

Join now and you'll get access to a recording of October's meeting, in which we read stories from The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 and analyzed them the way Leslie does for a Story Grid Diagnostic. You’ll also be able to join us for our next (online) meeting on November 16. Find out more at Patreon.

 

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Enter your email address below and we'll send you a spreadsheet comparing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to the Twelve Main Genres and Global Story Values. Save it to your computer, print it out, and use it when considering genre in your story.

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Editorial Mission—Identify Your Genre

For now, forget what you know about the genre for your current work in progress. 

Think back to when you first thought of the idea for this story. What was the spark of inspiration? What drew your attention to this particular story, character, situation? What do you find fascinating about it? What do you want to say about the world?

On the subject of entertainment I want to say that stories are entertaining, but they also present prescriptive or cautionary tales about the world. When we read stories, we get to test out scenarios—the original virtual reality—without risking anything in real life (except a few hours of lost sleep). Stories evoke emotions that we want to feel or process: we’re often drawn to stories that explore what we need and want, and what we’re afraid of. If this is true of reading, imagine what you get to work out when you write a story! So yes, we read and write stories to entertain, but we also do so to make sense of the world and where we fit in it.

If you’re not sure or can’t remember why you want to write this story, try free writing. Set a timer for ten minutes and write (without stopping or editing) about your story and what compels you to write it. 

Think about the values in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiological, security, love, respect and esteem, self-actualization, self-transcendence). Which one closest resembles your why or inspiration for the story? What are the genres connected with that need? 

Now, check your answer by reading or watching one or more of masterworks in the genre to get a feel for it. I have a couple of suggestions in the show notes, but I can’t include them all. If you need a suggestion or two to get you started, or if you’re not sure what to do with your masterwork, leave a comment or write to me, and I’ll do my best to help you work it out. 

There are so many obstacles that stand between you and your goal of writing and publishing a great story. Nailing down the genre will help clear whole categories and be your map on the journey. Keep it handy ...

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Dear Jacob,

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! It’s such a great idea to adapt a poem for a short story—especially this one. “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes is a perennial classic.

When we were looking at your story, we decided to take a step back and look at genre. Genre is the first line of inquiry when I come to a story because on the continuum of story structure from macro to micro, genre is as macro as you can get, and it’s important to nail this down. 

The poem from which you’ve drawn inspiration contains the seed for lots of possibilities: You could take the same basic characters, setting, and circumstances to tell a love story, action story, crime story, or society story (and others as well). While we have the elements of different types of story in the adaptation, I’m not clear on which one is primary. It really depends on the story you want to tell, the one that pulls at your heartstrings. 

Nailing down the genre you want to write as soon as possible is important, even if you end up changing your mind or you want to add subplots (though perhaps not so much in a short story simply because it takes words/space to add complexity). When you combine your favorite genres, it’s still useful to have a clear one that is the framework for your story. Having one main genre gives you focus and tells the reader what they can expect. 

If you’re going on a trip, you want to know your destination. To me, the genre is like settling on the continent you want to visit. By knowing your primary genre, you’ll be able identify the following items: 

  • obligatory scenes and conventions (You could call these tropes or the reader’s “content” expectations.)
     
  • story values (What kind of change happens from the beginning to the end?) 
     
  • core emotion (What’s the primary emotion you want the reader to feel?) 
     
  • objects of desire (What does the main character want and need?)
     
  • controlling idea or theme (Think of this as a simple expression of the main idea that includes the change in the core value, the cause of the change, and how the story ends.) 

It’s really useful to know these things when you’re planning, drafting, and revising your story. 

Sometimes when I talk about obligatory scenes and conventions, people feel as if I’m taking away their creative freedom. I’ve been thinking about different ways to reframe it. My friend and fellow editor Anne Hawley and I were talking about obligatory scenes and conventions, and she said writers can leave them out, but not if they want to be included within the tradition of a particular genre. That really resonated with me. I said, another way to put it is to be in the conversation taking place within a genre. In this way, it’s like being on the same channel of communication as the other people who are talking about the same things. Because that’s what we mean by genre and why the genre gives you all of those clues above.

You can choose to be on a different channel, but then you may not be heard in that context or conversation. In part, your choice depends on your goals for your writing—and no judgment if you don’t want to be in on the conversation or if you want to go start another channel. But these are things to consider with intention in relation to our art. 

And when you need inspiration or want to find a way to innovate within the genre, you have a treasure trove of reference materials within your chosen genre. Want to write a crime story, look to P.D. James or Ian Rankin. Want to write an action-labyrinth story? Look at Die Hard. (Movies have to follow the principles of story too, so don’t be afraid to use them as models. You have to modify your takeaways to account for the medium, but you can learn a lot by watching movies, as well as reading stories, in your genre.)

Where does fantasy (or science fiction, steampunk ...) fit into genre? Chuck talked about this in one or two episodes of the Story Shots Podcast, and I have a post on that, but basically what you’re talking about with fantasy or science fiction is where the story falls on the scale of reality: from this could happen or could have happened (contemporary, realistic fiction, historical fiction, etc.) to really could not happened in the world as it currently exists (science fiction, fantasy, steampunk). But you can have a fantasy action or society story, and a science fiction love story or crime story. 

There are conventions and tropes for fantasy and science fiction, space opera, etc., but these are different from the obligatory scenes and conventions for genre. Think of science fiction and fantasy as a reality aspect with a particular style or setting—and most definitely sales categories (where the book would sit on the shelf in the book store). 

The important thing, as Chuck mentioned, is to make it clear from the beginning of a story where you fall on the continuum from reality to fantasy so the reader isn’t surprised when they reach the fantastical parts.

Other things to consider whether you’re adapting from a poem, historical event, or an idea you conjured up in your own mind: 

  • Whose story is it? Who is the protagonist? What does that character want/need?
     
  • What is the force of antagonism? Who embodies this force?
     
  • Specific to adaptation: What elements of the original do you keep (i.e., what aspects lend themselves to the new form)? What do you need to dispense with? (Here is a great interview about the adaptation of Macbeth for audio by A.J. Hartley and David Hewson [narrated by Alan Cumming].)

There are a few minor notes and comments in the submission, but mainly we focused on genre. This is a lot to think about, but I’d be happy to talk it through with you if you’re game. Thanks again for sharing your story and trusting us with your world! It was fun to explore the events of the poem through your story. 

All the best,

Leslie

Line Edits for Our Fantasy Story

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