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John Truby - The Anatomy of a Story

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-  Let's begin the process simply, with a one-line definition of a story: A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why. Notice we have three distinct elements: the teller, the listener, and the story that is told. 

-  Stories are verbal games the author plays with the audience (they keep no score — the studios, networks, and publishing houses do that).

-  Good storytelling doesn't just tell audiences what happened in a life. It gives them the experience of that life. It is the essential life, just the crucial thoughts and events, but it is conveyed with such freshness and newness that it feels part of the audience's essential life too.

-  Audiences love both the feeling part (reliving the life) and the thinking part (figuring out the puzzle) of a story. Every good story has both. 

-  KEY POINT: All stories are a form of communication that expresses the dramatic code. The dramatic code, embedded deep in the human psyche, is an artistic description of how a person can grow or evolve. 

-  In the dramatic code, change is fueled by desire. The "story world" doesn't boil down to "I think, therefore I am" but rather "I want, therefore I am." Desire in all of its facets is what makes the world go around. It is what propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he'll do to get it, and what costs he'll have to pay along the way.

-  Once a character has a desire, the story "walks" on two "legs": acting and learning. A character pursuing a desire takes actions to get what he wants, and he learns new information about better ways to get it. Whenever he learns new information, he makes a decision and changes his course of action.

-  So the ultimate goal of the dramatic code, and of the storyteller, is to present a change in a character or to illustrate why that change did not occur.

-  The dramatic code expresses the idea that human beings can become a better version of themselves, psychologically and morally. And that's why people love it.

-  KEY POINT: Stories don't show the audience the "real world"; they show the story world. The story world isn't a copy of life as it is. It's life as human beings imagine it could be. It is human life condensed and heightened so that the audience can gain a better understanding of how life itself works.

-  Just as the human body is made up of the nervous system, the circulatory system, the skeleton, and so on, a story is made of subsystems like the characters, the plot, the revelations sequence, the story world, the moral argument, the symbol web, the scene weave, and symphonic dialogue
-  Nature uses a few basic patterns (and a number of variations) to connect elements in a sequence, including linear, meandering, spiral, branching, and explosive.

Storytellers use these same patterns, individually and in combination, to connect story events over time. The linear and explosive patterns are at the opposite extremes. The linear pattern has one thing happening after another on a straight-line path. Explosion has everything happening simultaneously. The meandering, spiral, and branching patterns are combinations of the linear and the explosive. 

-  The premise is your story stated in one sentence. It is the simplest combination of character and plot and typically consists of some event that starts the action, some sense of the main character, and some sense of the outcome of the story.

Some examples:

The Godfather: The youngest son of a Mafia family takes revenge on the men who shot his father and becomes the new Godfather.

Star Wars: When a princess falls into mortal danger, a young man uses his skills as a fighter to save her and defeat the evil forces of a galactic empire.

-  KEY POINT: What you choose to write about is far more important than any decision you make about how to write it. 

-  One last reason you must have a good premise is that it's the one decision on which every other decision you make during the writing process is based.

-  If you fail at the premise, nothing else will help. If a building's foundation is flawed, no amount of work on the floors above will make the building stable. 

-  The first technique for finding the gold in an idea is time. Take a lot of it at the beginning of the writing process. I'm not talking about hours or even days. I'm talking about weeks.

-  In the weeks you take to explore your premise, use these steps to come up with a premise line you can turn into a great story. Step 1: Write Something That May Change Your Life

-  To explore yourself, to have a chance to write something that may change your life, you have to get some data on who you are. And you have to get it outside of you, in front of you, so you can study it from a distance. Two exercises can help you do this. First, write down your wish list, a list of everything you would like to see up on the screen, in a book, or at the theater. It's what you are passionately interested in, and it's what entertains you. You might jot down characters you have imagined, cool plot twists, or great lines of dialogue that have popped into your head. You might list themes that you care about or certain genres that always attract you. Write them all down on as many sheets of paper as you need. This is your own personal wish list, so don't reject anything. Banish thoughts like "That would cost too much money." And don't organize while you write. Let one idea trigger another. The second exercise is to write a premise list. This is a list of every premise you've ever thought of. That might be live, twenty, fifty, or more. Again, take as many sheets of paper as you need. The key requirement of the exercise is that you express each premise in one sentence. This forces you to be very clear about each idea. And it allows you to see all your premises together in one place.

-  Once you have completed both your wish list and your premise list, lay them out before you and study them. Look for core elements that repeat themselves on both lists.

-  Go back to it often.

-  Step 2: Look for What's Possible

-  KEY POINT: Explore your options. The intent here is to brainstorm the many different paths the idea can take and then to choose the best one. One technique for exploring possibilities is to see if anything is promised by the idea. Some ideas generate certain expectations, things that must happen to satisfy the audience if this idea were to play out in a full story. These "promises" can lead you to the best option for developing the idea. A more valuable technique for seeing what's possible in the idea is to ask yourself, "What if. . . ?" The "what if" question leads to two places: your story idea and your own mind. It helps you define what is allowed in the story world and what is not. It also helps you explore your mind as it plays in this make-believe landscape. The more often you ask "What if. . . ?" the more fully you can inhabit this landscape, flesh out its details, and make it compelling for an audience.

-  The trick is to learn how to spot inherent problems right at the premise line. Of course, even the best writers can't spot all the problems this soon in the process. But as you master the key techniques of character, plot, theme, story world, symbol, and dialogue, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well you can dig out the difficulties in any idea

-  Your overall story strategy, stated in one line, is the designing principle of your story. The designing principle helps you extend the premise into deep structure. KEY POINT: The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole. It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It is what makes the story original.

-  Designing principle = story process + original execution

-  KEY POINT: Find the designing principle, and stick to it. Be diligent in discovering this principle, and never take your eye off it during the long writing process.

-  Once you have a lock on the designing principle of your story, it's time to focus on your hero. KEY POINT: Always tell a story about your best character.

-  The way you determine the best character embedded in the idea is to ask yourself this crucial question: Who do I love? You can find the answer by asking yourself a few more questions: Do I want to see him act? Do I love the way he thinks? Do I care about the challenges he has to overcome?

-  To figure out the central conflict, ask yourself "Who fights whom over what?"and answer the question in one succinct line. The answer to that is what your story is really about, because all conflict in the story will essentially boil down to this one issue. 

-  Every good, organic story has a single cause-and-effect pathway: A leads to B, which leads to C, and so on all the way to Z. This is the spine of the story, and if you don't have a spine or you have too many spines, your story will fall apart 

-  KEY POINT: If you are developing a premise with many main characters, each story line must have a single cause-and-effect path. And all the story lines should come together to form a larger, all-encompassing spine.

-  After the designing principle, the most important thing to glean from your premise line is the fundamental character change of your hero. This is what gives the audience the deepest satisfaction no matter what form the story takes, even when the character change is negative (as in The Godfather).

-  WxA=C where W stands for weaknesses, both psychological and moral; A represents the struggle to accomplish the basic action in the middle of the story; and C stands for the changed person.

-  KEY POINT: The basic action should be the one action best able to force the character to deal with his weaknesses and change.

-  The key to doing this is to start with the basic action and then go to the opposites of that action. This will tell yon who your hero is at the beginning of the story (his weaknesses) and who he is at the end (how he has changed). The steps work like this: 1. Write your simple premise line. (Be open to modifying this premise line once you discover the character change.) 2. Determine the basic action of your hero over the course of the story. 3. Come up with the opposites of A (the basic action) for both W (the hero's weaknesses, psychological and moral) and C (changed person).

-   KEY POINT: Write down a number of possible options for the hero's weaknesses and change.

-  The central theme of a story is often crystallized by a moral choice the hero must make, typically near the end of the story. Theme is your view of the proper way to act in the world. It is your moral vision, and it is one of the main reasons you are writing your story.

-  KEY POINT: To be a true choice, your hero must either select one of two positive outcomes or, on rare occasions, avoid one of two negative outcomes (as in Sophie's Choice).

-  One of the biggest mistakes writers make is to fall into the trap of either-or thinking: either I write what I care about, or I write what will sell. This is a false distinction, born of the old romantic notion of writing in a garret and suffering for your art.

-  When you've done all your premise work, ask yourself one final question: Is this single story line unique enough to interest a lot of people besides me?

Exercise 1

 (все упражнения вынесены в конец конспекта и там расставлены рядком)

Chapter 3

-  When we talk about the structure of a story, we talk about how a story develops over time.

-  A story has a minimum of seven steps in its growth from beginning to end:        

1. Weakness and need
2. Desire

3. Opponent

4. Plan

5. Battle

6. Self-revelation

7. New equilibrium

-  1. WEAKNESS AND NEED From the very beginning of the story, your hero has one or more great weaknesses that are holding him back. Something is missing within him that is so profound, it is ruining his life (I'm going to assume that the main character is male, simply because it's easier for me to write that way). The need is what the hero must fulfill within himself in order to have a better life. 

-  KEY POINT: Your hero should not be aware of his need at the beginning of the story. If he is already cognizant of what he needs, the story is over. The hero should become aware of his need at the self-revelation, near the end of the story, only after having gone through a great deal of pain (in a drama) or struggle (in a comedy). KEY POINT: Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need. In average stories, the hero has only a psychological need. A psychological need involves overcoming a serious flaw that is hurting nobody but the hero. In better stories, the hero has a moral need in addition to a psychological need. The hero must overcome a moral flaw and learn how to act properly toward other people

-  The other reason you want to give your hero a moral need is that it prevents him from being perfect or being a victim. Both of these are the kiss of death in storytelling.

-  All good stories begin with a kick: the hero is already in trouble. The problem is the crisis the hero finds himself in from page one. He is very aware of the crisis but doesn't know how to solve it. The problem is not one of the seven steps, but it's an aspect of weakness and need, and it is valuable. Crisis defines a character very quickly. It should be an outside manifestation of the hero's weakness. 

-  KEY POINT: Keep the problem simple and specific.

-  Remember the simple rule of thumb: to have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person at the beginning of the story.

-  To give your character a moral as well as a psychological need and to make it the right one for your character, 1. Begin with the psychological weakness. 2. Figure out what kind of immoral action might naturally come out of that. Identify the deep-seated moral weakness and need that are the source of this action.

-  A second technique for creating a good moral need is to push a strength so far that it becomes a weakness. The technique works like this: 1. Identify a virtue in your character. Then make him so passionate about it that it becomes oppressive. 2. Come up with a value the character believes in. Then find the negative version of that value.

-  2. DESIRE.   A story doesn't become interesting to the audience until the desire comes into play. Think of the desire as the story track that the audience "rides along." Everyone gets on the "train" with the hero, and they all go after the goal together. Desire is the driving force in the story, the line from which everything else hangs.

-  Need has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character. A hero with a need is always paralyzed in some way at the beginning of the story by his weakness. Desire is a goal outside the character.

-  Need lets the audience see how the hero must change to have a better life. It is the key to the whole story, but it remains hidden, under the surface. Desire gives the audience something to want along with the hero, something they can all be moving toward through the various twists and turns—and even digressions—of the story. Desire is on the surface and is what the audience thinks the story is about

-  KEY POINT: Your hero's true desire is what he wants in this story, not what he wants in life.

-  3. OPPONENT. A true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire but is competing with the hero for the same goal. 

-  If you give your hero and opponent two separate goals, each one can get what he wants without coming into direct conflict. And then you have no story at all.

-  The trick to creating an opponent who wants the same goal as the hero is to find the deepest level of conflict between them. Ask yourself "What is the most important thing they are fighting about?" That must be the focus of your story. KEY POINT: To find the right opponent, start with your hero's specific goal; whoever wants to keep him from getting it is an opponent.

-  4. PLAN plan is organically linked to both desire and the opponent. The plan should always be specifically focused toward defeating the opponent and reaching the goal. 

-  5. BATTLE Throughout the middle of the story, the hero and opponent engage in a punch-counterpunch confrontation as each tries to win the goal. The conflict heats up. The battle is the final conflict between hero and opponent and determines which of the two characters wins the goal

-  6. SELF-REVELATION. This crucible of battle causes the hero to have a major revelation about who he really is. Much of the quality of your story is based on the quality of this self-revelation. For a good self-revelation, you must first be aware that this step, like need, comes in two forms, psychological and moral. In a psychological self-revelation, the hero strips away the facade he has lived behind and sees himself honestly for the first time. This stripping away of the facade is not passive or easy. Rather, it is the most active, the most difficult, and the most courageous act the hero performs in the entire story.

-  If you have given your hero a moral need, his self-revelation should be moral as well. The hero doesn't just see himself in a new light; he has an insight about the proper way to act toward others. In effect, the hero realizes that he has been wrong, that he has hurt others, and that he must change. He then proves he has changed by taking new moral action.

-  7. NEW EQUILIBRIUM At the new equilibrium, everything returns to normal, and all desire is gone. Except there is now one major difference. The hero has moved to a higher or lower level as a result of going through his crucible. A fundamental and permanent change has occurred in the hero.

-  Write down some story events, describing each in a single sentence. 

-  Put the story events in some rough order, from beginning to end. Recognize that this will probably not be your final order. What's important is to get a look at how the story might develop from beginning to

-  KEY POINT: Start by determining the self-revelation, at the end of the story; then go back to the beginning and figure out your hero's need and desire. It's one of the best techniques in fiction writing because it guaran-tees that your hero and your story are always heading toward the true end-point of the structural journey, which is the self-revelation.

-  Be specific about what your hero learns. And be flexible and ready to change what you have written as you figure out the other six steps and as you continue through the entire writing process. Figuring out the seven steps, as well as many of the other parts of your story, is much like doing a crossword puzzle.

-  After figuring out the self-revelation, go back to the beginning of the story. Try to give your hero both a psychological and a moral weakness and need. Remember the key difference. A psychological weakness or need affects just the hero. A moral weakness or need affects others.

-  Problem What is the problem, or crisis, your hero faces at the beginning of the story? Try to make it an outgrowth of your hero's weakness. ■ Desire Be very specific when giving your hero a desire. Make sure your hero's goal is one that will lead him to the end of the story and force him to take a number of actions to accomplish it.

-  Create an opponent who wants the same goal as the hero and who is exceptionally good at attacking your hero's greatest weakness.

-  Create a plan that requires the hero to take a number of actions but also to adjust when the initial plan doesn't work.

-  Come up with the battle and the new equilibrium. The battle should involve the hero and the main opponent, and it should decide once and for all who wins the goal.


Exercise 2

Chapter 4.  CHARACTER

-  1. We'll begin not by focusing on your main character but by looking at all your characters together as part of an interconnected web. We'll distinguish them by comparing each to the others according to story function and archetype. 2. Next we'll individualize each character based on theme and opposition. 3. Then we'll concentrate on the hero, "building" him step-by-step so that we end up with a multilayered, complex person that the audience cares about. 4. We'll create the opponent in detail, since this is the most important character after your hero and, in many ways, is the key to defining your hero. 5. We'll end by working through the character techniques for building conflict over the course of the story.

-  The single biggest mistake writers make when creating characters is that they think of the hero and all other characters as separate individuals. Their hero is alone, in a vacuum, unconnected to others. The result is not only a weak hero but also cardboard opponents and minor characters who are even weaker.

-  To create great characters, think of all your characters as part of a web in which each helps define the others. To put it another way, a character is often defined by who he is not. KEY POINT: The most important step in creating your hero, as well as all other characters, is to connect and compare each to the others.

-  Each time you compare a character to your hero, you force yourself to distinguish the hero in new ways. You also start to see the secondary characters as complete human beings, as complex and as valuable as your hero. All characters connect and define each other in four major ways: by story function, archetype, theme, and opposition.

-  Every character must serve the purpose of the story, which is found in the story's designing principle. 

-  The ally is the hero's helper. The ally also serves as a sounding board, allowing the audience to hear the values and feelings of the lead character. Usually, the ally's goal is the same as the hero's, but occasionally, the ally has a goal of his own.

-  The opponent is the character who most wants to keep the hero from achieving his desire. The opponent should not merely be a block to the hero. That is mechanical.

-  The fake-ally opponent is a character who appears to be the hero's friend bur is actually an opponent. Having this character is one of the main ways you add power to the opposition and twists to the plot.

-  Fake-Opponent Ally This character appears to be fighting the hero but is actually the hero's friend. The fake-opponent ally is not as common in storytelling as the fake-ally opponent, because he is not as useful to the writer.

-  The subplot character has a very precise function in a story, and again it involves the comparative method. The subplot is used to contrast how the hero and a second character deal with the same problem in slightly different ways. Through comparison, the subplot character highlights traits and dilemmas of the main character.

-  KEY POINT: The subplot character is usually not the ally.

-  The buddy strategy allows you essentially to cut the hero into two parts, showing two different approaches to life and two sets of talents. These two characters are "married" into a team in such a way that the audience can see their differences but also see how these differences actually help them work well together, so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

-  Structurally, the buddy is both the first opponent and the first ally of the hero. He is not the second hero. Keep in mind that this first opposition between the two buddies is almost never serious or tragic. It usually takes the form of good-natured bickering.

-  To write a successful multihero story, you must put each main character through all seven steps—weakness and need, desire, opponent, plan, battle, self-revelation, and new equilibrium. Otherwise the character is not a main character; the audience has not seen him move through the minimal stages of development.

-  The first question you must ask yourself when creating any character is "Does this character serve an important function in the overall story?" If he doesn't—if he only provides texture or color—you should consider cutting him entirely. 

-  An archetype resonates deeply with an audience and creates very strong feelings in response. But it is a blunt tool in the writer's repertoire. Unless you give the archetype detail, it can become a stereotype. KEY POINT: Always make the archetype specific and individual to your unique character.

-  Archetypes (сильные и слабые стороны опускаем)

-  King or Father

-  Queen or Mother

-  Wise Old Man, Wise Old Woman, Mentor, or Teacher

-  Magician or Shaman

-  Trickster The trickster is a lower form of the magician archetype and is extremely popular in modern storytelling.

-  Artist or Clown

-  Lover

-  Rebel

-  Once you have set your essential characters in opposition within the character web, the next step in the process is to make these character functions and archetypes into real individuals.

-  Theme is your view of the proper way to act in the world, expressed through your characters as they take action in the plot. Theme is not subject matter, such as "racism" or "freedom." Theme is your moral vision, your view of how to live well or badly, and it's unique for each story you write. KEY POINT: You begin individuating your characters by finding the moral problem at the heart of the premise. You then play out the various possibilities of the moral problem in the body of the story.

1. Begin by writing down what you think is the central moral problem of your story. If you worked through the techniques of the premise, you already know this.

2. Compare your hero and all other characters on these parameters:

■ weaknesses

■ need—both psychological and moral

■ desire

■ values

■ power, status, and ability

■ how each faces the central moral problem in the story

3. When making these comparisons, start with the most important relationship in any story, that between the hero and the main opponent. In many ways, this opponent is the key to creating the story, because not only is he the most effective way of defining the hero, but he also shows you the secrets to creating a great character web. 4. After comparing the hero to the main opponent, compare the hero to the other opponents and then to the allies. Finally, compare the opponents and allies to one another. Remember that each character should show us a different approach to the hero's central moral problem (variations on a theme).

-  The first step in building your hero is to make sure he meets the requirements that any hero in any story must meet. These requirements all have to do with the main character's function: he is driving the entire story. 1. Make your lead character constantly fascinating. Any character who is going to drive the story has to grab and hold the audience's attention at all times. One of the best ways to grab and hold the audience's attention is to make the character mysterious. Show the audience that the character is hiding something. 

-  2. Make the audience identify with the character, but not too much. Audiences identify with a character based on two elements: his desire and the moral problem he faces—in short, desire and need, the first two of the all-important seven structure steps.

-  3. Make the audience empathize with your hero, not sympathize. 

-  KEY POINT: What's really important is that audiences understand the character but not necessarily like everything he does.

-  To empathize with someone means to care about and understand him. That's why the trick to keeping the audience's interest in a character, even when the character is not likable or is taking immoral actions, is to show the audience the hero's motive.

-  KEY POINT: Always show why your hero acts as he does.

-  4. Give your hero a moral as well as a psychological need. Remember the difference: a psychological need only affects the hero; a moral need has to do with learning to act properly toward others. 

-  Creating Your Hero, Step 2: Character Change. Character change, also known as character arc, character development, or range of change, refers to the development of a character over the course of the story. It may be the most difficult but also the most important step in the entire writing process.

-  Here are some of the most important ways of looking at the self:

-  A single unit of personality, governed internally with an iron hand. This self is cleanly separated from others but is searching for its "destiny." This is what the self was born to do, based on its deepest capabilities. This sense of self is common in myth stories, which typically have a warrior hero.

-  A single unit comprised of many often conflicting needs and desires. The self has a strong urge to connect with others and sometimes even subsume another. This concept of self is found in a vast array of stories, especially in the work of modern dramatists like Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, O'Neill, and Williams.

-   A series of roles that the person plays, depending on what society demands at the time. Twain may be the most famous proponent of this view.

-  A loose collection of images, so unstable, porous, malleable, weak, and lacking in integrity that it can shift its shape to something entirely different. Kafka, Borges, and Faulkner are the major writers who express this loose sense of self. In popular fiction, we see this self in horror stories, especially ones about vampires, cat people, and wolf men.

-  KEY POINT: Character change doesn't happen at the end of the story; it happens at the beginning. More precisely, it is made possible at the beginning by how you set it up. KEY POINT: Don't think of your main character as a fixed, complete person whom you then tell a story about. You must think of your hero as a range of change, a range of possibilities, from the very beginning. You have to determine the range of change of the hero at the start of the writing process, or change will be impossible for the hero at the end of the story. I cannot overstate the importance of this technique. If you master the range of change, you will win the "game" of storytelling. If not, you will rewrite and rewrite and still never get it right.

-  A simple rule of thumb in fiction is this: the smaller the range, the less interesting the story; the bigger the range, the more interesting but the riskier the story, because characters don't change much in the limited time they appear in most stories.

-  Character change is the moment when the hero finally becomes who he will ultimately be. In other words, the main character doesn't suddenly flip to being someone else (except in rare instances). The main character completes a process, which has been occurring throughout the story, of becoming who he is in a deeper and more focused way. 

-  KEY POINT: True character change involves a challenging and changing of basic beliefs, leading to new moral action by the hero.

-  1. Child to Adult Also known as the coming-of-age story, this change has nothing to do with a child physically becoming an adult, of course.

-  2. Adult to Leader In this change, a character goes from being concerned only with finding the right path for himself to realizing that he must help others find the right path as well.

-  3. Cynic to Participant 

-  4. Leader to Tyrant

-  5. Leader to Visionary In this change, a character goes from helping a few others find the right path to seeing how an entire society should change and live in the future.

-  6. Metamorphosis In horror, fantasy, fairy tale, and certain intense psychological dramas, the character may undergo metamorphosis, or extreme character change.

-  KEY POINT: Always begin at the end of the change, with the self revelation; then go back and determine the starting point of the change, which is the hero's need and desire; then figure out the steps of development in between. This is one of the most valuable techniques in all of fiction writing. 

-  Remember, the self-revelation is made possible at the beginning of the story. This means that a good self-revelation has two parts: the revelation itself and the setup. The moment of revelation should have these qualities:

■ It should be sudden, so that it has maximum dramatic force for the hero and the audience.

■ It should create a burst of emotion for the audience as they share the realization with the hero.

■ It should be new information for the hero: he must see, for the first time, that he has been living a lie about himself and that he has hurt others.

■ It should trigger the hero to take new moral action immediately, proving that the revelation is real and has profoundly changed him. The setup to the revelation should have these qualities: ■ The hero must be a thinking person, someone who is capable of seeing the truth and knowing right action.

■ The hero must be hiding something from himself.

■ This lie or delusion must be hurting the hero in a very real way.

-  An advanced technique for showing character change in a story is a unique kind of self-revelation, what I call the "double reversal." In this technique, you give the opponent, as well as the hero, a self-revelation. Each learns from the other, and the audience receives two insights about how to act and live in the world instead of one. 

-  To create a double reversal, take these steps. 1. Give both the hero and the main opponent a weakness and a need (the weaknesses and needs of the hero and the opponent do not have to be the same or even similar). 2. Make the opponent human. That means that he must 3. During or just after the battle, give the opponent as well as the hero a self-revelation. 4. Connect the two self-revelations. The hero should learn something from the opponent, and the opponent should learn something from the hero. 5. Your moral vision is the best of what both characters learn.

-  The third step in creating a strong hero is to create the desire line. Chapter 3 described this step as the spine of the story. Keep in mind three rules for a strong desire line: 1. You want only one desire line that builds steadily in importance and intensity. If you have more than one desire line, the story will fall apart. It will literally go in two or three directions at once, leaving it with no narrative drive and leaving the audience confused.

-  2. The desire should be specific—and the more specific, the better. To make sure your desire line is specific enough, ask yourself if there is a specific moment in the story when the audience knows whether your hero has accomplished his goal or not.

-  3. The desire should be accomplished—if at all—near the end of the story. If the hero reaches the goal in the middle of the story, you must either end the story right there or create a new desire line, in which case you have stuck two stories together.  

-  Creating Your Hero, Step 4: The Opponent I'm not exaggerating when I say that the trick to defining your hero and figuring out your story is to figure out your opponent. Of all the connections in the character web, the most important is the relationship between hero and main opponent. That's why, as a writer, you should love this character, because he will help you in countless ways. Structurally the opponent always holds the key, because your hero learns through his opponent.

-  1. Make the opponent necessary. 2. Make him human. 3. Give him values that oppose the values of the hero. 4. Give the opponent a strong but flawed moral argument. 5. Give him certain similarities to the hero. 6. Keep him in the same place as the hero. 

-  I like to think of Lecter as Yoda from hell.

-  KEY POINT: A simplistic opposition between two characters kills any chance at depth, complexity, or the reality of human life in your story. For that, you need a web of oppositions.


Four-Corner Opposition. 

-  In this technique, you create a hero and a main opponent plus at least two secondary opponents.

-  There are five rules to keep in mind to make best use of the key features of four-corner opposition. 1. Each opponent should use a different way of attacking the hero's great weakness.

-  2. Try to place each character in conflict, not only with the hero but also with every other character.

-  3. Put the values of all four characters in conflict. Great storytelling isn't just conflict between characters. It's conflict between characters and their values.

-  KEY POINT: Be as detailed as possible when listing the values of each character. Don't just come up with a single value for each character. Think of a cluster of values that each can believe in. The values in each cluster are unique but also related to one another. KEY POINT: Look for the positive and negative versions of the same value.

-  4. Push the characters to the corners.

-  5. Extend the four-corner pattern to every level of the story.

Exercise 3

Chapter 5. Moral Argument

-  The designing principle is what makes all the actions of the story organic. The trick to using the designing principle to figure out your theme line is to focus on the actions in the story strictly for their moral effects. In other words, how do the characters' actions hurt other people, and how, if at all, do the characters make things right?

-  The traveling metaphor, or journey, is a perfect foundation for a moral line because you can embed an entire moral sequence into the line.

-  A single grand symbol can also suggest a theme line or central moral element

-  Connecting two symbols gives you the same benefit as the journey: the symbols represent two poles in a moral sequence.

-  Now you must express the theme line dramatically. That requires that you split it into a set of oppositions. You then attach these thematic oppositions to the hero and his opponents as they fight. There are three main techniques you can use to break your theme line into dramatic oppositions: giving the hero a moral decision, making each character a variation on the theme, and placing the characters' values in conflict.

-  KEY POINT: Since the endpoint of the hero's moral line is his final choice, you want to begin figuring out the moral oppositions using that choice. 

-  Characters as Variations on a Theme

-  Here is the sequence for making this technique work: 1. Look again at the final moral decision and your work on the premise line so you are clear about the central moral problem your hero must deal with in the story. 2. Make sure each of the major characters deals with the same moral problem, but in a different way. 3. Start by comparing the hero and the main opponent, since these characters personify the primary moral opposition you detail in the story. Then compare the hero to the other opponents. 4. Over the course of the story, each of the major characters should make a moral argument in dialogue justifying what they do to reach the goal. 

-  Using your character web, now place the values of each of the major characters in conflict as these people compete for the same goal. 1. Identify a set of values for your hero and each of the other major characters. Remember, values are deep-seated beliefs about what makes a good life. 2. Try to give a cluster of values to each character. Make each set of values as different from the others as possible. 4. As your hero and his opponents fight over the goal, make sure their values come into direct conflict.

-  collapsing into a complicated mess. KEY POINT: Your moral argument will always be simplistic if you use a two-part opposition, like good versus evil. Only a web of moral oppositions (four-corner opposition is one such web) can give the audience a sense of the moral complexity of real life.

-  Moral Argument: Basic Strategy

■ Values

The hero starts with a set of beliefs and values.

■ Moral Weakness

He is hurting others in some way at the beginning of the story. He is not evil but rather is acting from weakness or is unaware of the proper way to act toward others. ■ Moral Need Based on his moral weakness, the hero must learn how to act properly toward 
others in order to grow and live a better life.

■ First Immoral Action

The hero almost immediately acts in some way that hurts others. This is evidence to the audience of the hero's basic moral flaw.

■ Desire

The hero comes up with a goal toward which all else is sacrificed. This goal leads him into direct conflict with an opponent who has a differing set of values but the same goal.

■ Drive

The hero and the opponent take a series of actions to reach the goal.

■ Immoral Actions

During the early and middle parts of the story, the hero is usually losing to the opponent. He becomes desperate. As a result, he starts taking immoral actions to win. Criticism: Other characters criticize the hero for the means he is taking. Justification: The hero tries to justify his actions. He may see the deeper truth and right of the situation by the end of the story, but not now.

■ Attack by Ally

The hero's closest friend makes a strong case that the hero's methods are wrong.

■ Obsessive Drive

Galvanized by new revelations about how to win, the hero becomes obsessed with reaching the goal and will do almost anything to succeed.

■ Immoral Actions The hero's immoral actions intensify. Criticism: Attacks by other characters grow as well. Justification: The hero vehemently defends his actions. As the story proceeds, the differing values and ways of living in the world represented by the hero and the opponent become clear through action and dialogue. There are four places at the end of a story where the theme explodes in the mind of the audience: the battle, self-revelation, moral decision, and a structure step we haven't discussed yet, the thematic revelation.

■ Battle

The final conflict that decides the goal. Regardless of who wins, the audience learns which values and ideas are superior.

■ Final Action Against Opponent

The hero may make one last action—moral or immoral—against the opponent just before or during the battle.

■ Moral Self-Revelation

The crucible of the battle produces a self-revelation in the hero. The hero realizes that he has been wrong about himself and wrong toward others and realizes how to act properly toward others. Because the audience identifies with this character, the self-revelation drives the theme home with great power.

■ Moral Decision

The hero chooses between two courses of action, thus proving his moral self-revelation.

■ Thematic Revelation

In great storytelling, the theme achieves its greatest impact on the audience at the thematic revelation. The thematic revelation is not limited to the hero. Instead, it is an insight the audience has about how people in general should act and live in the world. This insight breaks the bounds of these particular characters and affects the audience where they live.

-  The basic strategy of moral argument has a number of variants, depending on the story form, the particular story, and the individual writer. 

-  1. Good Versus Bad

In this lowest variation of moral argument, the hero remains good and the opponent bad throughout.

-  2. Tragedy

Tragedy takes the basic strategy of moral argument and twists it at the end-points. You give the hero a fatal character flaw at the beginning and a self-revelation that comes too late near the end. The key to this strategy is heightening the sense of the hero's might-have-been and lost potential while also showing that the hero's actions are his responsibility

-  3. Pathos

Pathos is a moral argument that reduces the tragic hero to an everyman and appeals to the audience by showing the beauty of endurance, lost causes, and the doomed man. The main character doesn't get a self-revelation too late. He isn't capable of one.

-  4. Satire and Irony

Satire and irony are not the same, but they commonly go together. Satire is the comedy of beliefs, especially those on which an entire society is based. Irony is a form of story logic in which a character gets the opposite of what he wants and takes action to get.  

-  5. Black Comedy

Black comedy is the comedy of the logic—or more exactly, the illogic—of a system. This advanced and difficult form of storytelling is designed to show that destruction is the result not so much of individual choice (like tragedy) but of individuals caught in a system that is innately destructive.

-  The most common place to use dialogue to express moral argument is when an ally criticizes the hero for taking an immoral action while trying to win the goal.


Exercise 4


Chapter 6. STORY WORLD

-  To sum up this part of the writing process: you start with a simple story line (the seven steps) and a set of characters. You then create the exterior forms and spaces that express these story elements, and these forms and spaces have the desired effect in the hearts and minds of your audience.

-  Just as premise, characters, and theme take their shape from the designing principle, so does the story world.

-  The designing principle typically describes linear story movement, like a single main character who develops. The story world is everything surrounding the characters all at once. In other words, it represents simultaneous elements and actions. To connect them, you take the rough sequence of the story line, found in the designing principle, and expand it three-dimensionally to make the story world.

-  Once you have the designing principle and a one-line description of the story world, you must find a single arena that marks the physical boundaries of that world. The arena is the basic space of drama. It is a single, unified place surrounded by some kind of wall. Everything inside the arena is part of the story. Everything outside the arena is not.

-  Many writers, especially novelists and screenwriters, mistakenly believe that since you can go anywhere, you should. This is a serious mistake, be-cause if you break the single arena of your story, the drama will literally dissipate. Having too many arenas results in fragmented, inorganic stories.

-  There are four major ways of creating the single arena without destroying the variety of place and action necessary for a good story.

-  1. Create a large umbrella and then crosscut and condense. In this approach, you describe the largest scope of the story somewhere near the beginning. In effect, you start with the big world and the wall that divides it from everything else. Then you focus on the smaller worlds within the arena as the story progresses.

-  2. Send the hero on a journey through generally the same area, but one that develops along a single line.

-  3. Send the hero on a circular journey through generally the same area. This approach works in much the same way as the second one, except that the hero returns home at the end.

-  4. Make the hero a fish out of water. Start the hero in one arena. Spend enough time there to show whatever talents he has that are unique to that world. Then jump the character to a second world—without traveling—and show how the talents the hero used in the first world, while seeming to be out of place, work equally well in the second.

-  Just as you define the character web by dramatizing the oppositions among the characters, so do you define the story world within your single arena by dramatizing the visual oppositions. You do that by going back to the oppositions among the characters and the values they hold.

-  You detail the visual oppositions and the story world itself by combining three major elements: the land (natural settings), the people (man-made spaces), and technology (tools). A fourth element, time, is the way your unique world develops over the course of the story, which we'll discuss later.

-  Never select the natural settings for your story by happenstance. 

-  Notice that the best way to express the inherent meaning of this natural setting is through the story structure:

■ Take time in the beginning to set up the normal society and the characters' place within it. (need)

■ Send the characters to an island. (desire)

■ Create a new society based on different rules and values. (desire)

■ Make the relationship between the characters very different from what it was in the original society. (plan)

■ Through conflict, show what works and what doesn't. (opponent)

■ Show characters experimenting with something new when things don't work. (revelation or self-revelation)

-  A miniature is a society shrunk down. Miniatures are chaos theory applied to storytelling; they show the audience levels of order. 

-  A miniature has three main uses in a story: 1. It lets the audience see the world of the story as a whole. 2. It allows the author to express various aspects, or facets, of a character. 3. It shows the exercise of power, often of tyranny.

-  The passageway to another world is one of the most popular of all story techniques.

-  The first step to building your story world is identifying the key visual oppositions based on characters and values. The second step is looking at the endpoints of your hero's development. 

-  A character is enslaved primarily because of his psychological and moral weaknesses. A world is enslaving (or freeing) based on the relationship of the three major elements—land (natural settings), people (man-made spaces), and technology (tools)—and how they affect your hero. The unique way you combine these elements defines the nature of the story world.

-  KEY POINT: In most stories you write, the world is a physical expression of who your hero is and how he develops.

-  The world should embody, highlight, or accentuate your hero's weakness or draw it out in its worst form.

-  Time is the fourth major element—along with natural settings, man-made spaces, and tools—that you use to construct your story world.

-  The idea is that the writer of historical fiction is depicting a different world, based on its own set of values and moral codes. Therefore, we should not judge those people by our standards. The fallacy of the past comes from the misguided notion that a writer of historical fiction is first and foremost writing history. As a storyteller, you are always writing fiction. 

-  The fallacy here is that stories set in the future are about the future. They are not. 

-  Some of the top techniques of natural time are seasons, holidays, the single day, and the time endpoint.

-  Seasons. In this technique, you place the story, or a moment of the story, within a particular season. Each season, like each natural setting, conveys certain meanings to the audience about the hero or the world.

- Holidays and Rituals Holidays, and the rituals that mark them, give you another technique for expressing meaning, pacing the story, and showing its development. A ritual is a philosophy that has been translated into a set of actions that are repeated at specific intervals. So any ritual you use is already a dramatic event, with strong visual elements, that you can insert in your drama. 

-  The Single Day The single day is another increment of time that has very specific effects when used in a story. The first effect is to create simultaneous story movement while maintaining narrative drive.

-  A variation on the single-day technique is the perfect day. The perfect day is a time version of the Utopian moment and as such is almost always used to structure a section of the story, rather than the story itself.

-  Time Endpoint A time endpoint, also known as a ticking clock, is a technique in which you tell the audience up front that the action must be completed by a specific time.

-  Now that you've explored some techniques for making your story world develop over time, you have to connect the world with the hero's development at every step of the story. 

These are the structure steps that tend to have their own unique sub-world ("apparent defeat or temporary freedom" and "visit to death" are not among the seven key structure steps):

■ Weakness and need

■ Desire

■ Opponent

■ Apparent defeat or temporary freedom

■ Visit to death

■ Battle

■ Freedom or slavery

-  Borrowing from other storytellers is a technique that you can use if you use it playfully. Keep the references light. People who get them will enjoy them. Those who don't will still appreciate the story's added texture.


Exercise 5

Chapter 7. SYMBOL WEB

-  Symbol is a technique of the small. It is the word or object that stands for something else—person, place, action, or thing—and is repeated many times over the course of the story. 

-  KEY POINT: Always create a web of symbols in which each symbol helps define the others.

-  After defining the symbol line, the next step to detailing the symbol web is to focus on character. Character and symbol are two subsystems in the story body. But they are not separate. 

-  After story symbol and character symbol, the next step in creating a symbol web is to encapsulate entire moral arguments in symbol.

-  making a place magical has the same effect as applying a symbol.

-  If you place your story in something as large and complex as a society or an institution, a symbol is almost required if you want to reach an audience.

-  Symbolic objects almost never exist alone in a story because alone they have almost no ability to refer to something else. A web of objects, related by some kind of guiding principle, can form a deep, complex pattern of meaning, usually in support of the theme. When creating a web of symbolic objects, begin by going back to the designing principle of the story. This is the glue that turns a collection of individual objects into a cluster. Each object then not only refers to another object but also referto and connects with the other symbolic objects in the story.

-  The horror genre is about the fear of the inhuman entering the human community. It is about crossing the boundaries of a civilized life—between living and dead, rational and irrational, moral and immoral—with destruction the inevitable result. Because horror asks the most fundamental question—what is human and what is inhuman?

-  You can use the audience's knowledge of the form and the symbol web to reverse it. In this technique, you use all the symbols in the web but twist them so that their meaning is very different from what the audience expects.


Writing Exercise 6


Chapter 8. PLOT

-  Plot is the under-the-surface weaving of various lines of action or sets ol events so that the story builds steadily from the beginning through the middle to the end.

-  Plot is any description of a sequence of events: this happened, then this happened, and then this happened. But a simple sequence of events is not a good plot. It has no purpose, no designing principle that tells you which events to tell and in which order. A good plot is always organic, and this means many things:

■ An organic plot shows the actions that lead to the hero's character change or explain why that change is impossible,

■ Each of the events is causally connected. Each event is essential, each action is proportionate in its length and pacing

-  As Edgar Allan Poe said, in a good plot, "no part can be displaced without ruin to the whole."

Plot types

-  The Journey Plot.

The first major strategy of plot came from the myth storytellers, and its main technique was the journey. In this plot form, the hero goes on a journey where he encounters a number of opponents in succession. He defeats each one and returns home. 

-  The Three Unities Plot

The second major strategy for creating an organic plot was provided by ancient Greek dramatists like Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Their central technique was what Aristotle referred to as the unities of time, place, and action. 

-  The Reveals Plot
In this technique, the hero generally stays in one place, though it is not nearly so narrow an area as unity of place requires. For example, the story may take place in a town or a city. The key technique of the reveals plot is that the hero is familiar with his opponents, but a great deal about them is hidden from the hero and the audience. In addition, these opponents are very skilled at scheming to get what they want. This combination produces a plot that is filled with revelations, or surprises, for the hero and the audience.

-  Antiplot

-  Multistrand Plot
In this strategy, each story, or weekly episode, is comprised of three to live major plot strands. 

-  When looking at the framing step of the plot, ask yourself these ques-tions, and be very specific in your answers:

■ What will my hero learn at the end?

■ What does he know at the beginning? No character is a completely blank slate at the start of the story. He believes certain things.

■ What is he wrong about at the beginning? Your hero cannot learn something at the end of the story unless he is wrong about something at the beginning.

-  KEY POINT: The story world should be an expression of your hero. It shows your hero's weaknesses, needs, desires, and obstacles. KEY POINT: If your hero begins the story enslaved in some way, the story world will also be enslaving and should highlight or exacerbate your hero's great weakness.

-  Openings

Ghost, story world, weakness, need, and problem constitute the all-important opening of your story. There are three kinds of structural openings in storytelling in which these elements are established. Community Start The main character lives in a paradise world where the land, people, and technology are in perfect harmony. As a result, the hero has no ghost. He is happy, with only the most minor problem, if any, but is also vulnerable to attack. This attack will come soon, either from without or within.

-  Running Start This classic opening, designed to catch the reader in the first few pages, is actually made up of a number of structural elements. The hero has a strong ghost. He lives in a world of slavery, has a number of serious weaknesses, has both a psychological and a moral need, and faces one or more problems. Most good stories use this opening. 

-  Slow Start

The slow start is not one in which the writer simply fails to include all the structure steps of the running start. Rather, the slow start involves stories with a purposeless hero. Purposeless people do of course exist. But stories about them are extremely sluggish. Because the hero's self-revelation is to learn his true desire (and thereby gain a purpose), the first three-quarters of the story have no goal, and the story has no narrative drive. Very few stories are able to overcome this huge structural flaw

-  Inciting Event

This is an event from the outside that causes the hero to come up with a goal and take action. The inciting event is a small step, except for one thing: it connects need and desire.

-  KEY POINT: To find the best inciting event for your story, keep in mind the catchphrase "from the frying pan into the fire." The best inciting event is one that makes your hero think he has just overcome the crisis he has faced since the beginning of the story. In fact, due to the inciting event, the hero has just gotten into the worst trouble of his life

-  One of the ways you build a story is by increasing the importance of the desire as the story progresses. If you start the desire at too high a level, it 
can't build, and the plot will feel flat and repetitious. Start the desire low so you have somewhere to go.

-  Here are the levels of some classic desire lines, from lowest to highest: 6. Ally or Allies. Once the hero has a desire line, he will usually gain one or more allies to help him overcome the opponent and reach the goal. KEY POINT: Consider giving the ally a desire line of his own. You have relatively little time to define this character. The quickest way to make the audience think they are seeing a complete person is to give that character a goal.

-  a subplot is used to compare how the hero and another character approach generally the same situation. Remember two key rules about subplot: 1. The subplot must affect the hero's main plot, or it shouldn't be present at all. If the subplot doesn't serve the main plot, you have two simultaneous stories that may be clinically interesting to the audience, but they make the main plot seem too long.

-  If you are going to use a subplot, you only have enough time to work through the seven key steps.

-  There are four techniques that can help you make the opposition in your story as dangerous as possible: 1. Create a hierarchy of opponents with a number of alliances. All of the opponents are related to one another; they are all working together to defeat the hero. 2. Hide the hierarchy from the hero and the audience, and hide each opponent's true agenda (true desire). 3. Reveal all this information in pieces and at an increasing pace over the course of the story. This means you'll have more reveals near the end of the story. As we shall see, how you reveal information to hero and audience is what makes or breaks your plot. 4. Consider having your hero go up against an obvious opponent early in the story. As the conflict intensifies, have the hero discover attacks from a stronger hidden opposition or attacks from that part of t he opponent that has been hidden away.

-  First Revelation and Decision: Changed Desire and Motive

At this point in the story, the hero gets a revelation—or reveal—which is a surprising piece of new information. This information forces him to make a decision and move in a new direction. It also causes him to adjust his desire and his motive. Motive is why the hero wants the goal. All four of these events—revelation, decision, changed desire, and changed motive—should occur at the same time.

-  The information should be important, or it won't pop the story. And each reveal should build on the one before it.

-  The more revelations you have, the richer and more complex the plot. Every time your hero or audience gains new information, that's a revelation. KEY POINT: The revelation should be important enough to cause your hero to make a decision and change his course of action.

-  The plan is the set of guidelines and strategies the hero will use to overcome his opponent and reach the goal. KEY POINT: Beware of having your hero simply play out the plan. This gives you a predictable plot and a superficial hero. In good stories, the hero's initial plan almost always fails. 

-  KEY POINT: The more intricate the opponent's plan, and the better you hide it, the better your plot will be.

-  The drive is the series of actions the hero performs to defeat the opponent and win. Comprising what is usually the biggest section of the plot, these actions begin with the hero's plan (Step 10) and continue all the way to his apparent defeat (Step 14)

-  The attack by the ally provides the story with the second level of conflict (hero versus opposition is the first). The ally's attack increases the pressure on the hero and forces him to begin questioning his values and way of acting.

-  During the drive, the hero is losing to the opponent. About two-thirds to three-quarters of the way into the story, the hero suffers an apparent defeat. He believes he has lost the goal and his opponent has won.

-  KEY POINT: You want only one apparent defeat. Although the hero can and should have many setbacks, he should have only one moment that clearly seems to be the end. 

-  Second Revelation and Decision: Obsessive Drive, Changed Desire and Motive  - Just after the apparent defeat, the hero almost always has another major revelation. If he doesn't, the apparent defeat is real, and the story is over. So at this point, the hero gets a new piece of information that shows him that victory is still possible.

-  The audience revelation is the moment when the audience—but not the hero—learns an important piece of new information. Often this is when the audience learns the true identity of the fake-ally opponent and the fact that the character they thought was the hero's friend is really an enemy.

-  17. Third Revelation and Decision

This revelation is another step in the hero's learning what he needs to know to beat the opponent.

-  In more modern stories, the visit to death is psychological. The hero has a sudden realization of his own mortality; life is finite, and it could end very soon

-  The gate, gauntlet, and visit to death is the most movable of the twenty-two steps and is often found in other parts of the plot.

-  The battle is the final conflict. It determines who, if anyone, wins the goal.

-  The battle is the funnel point of the story. Everything converges here. It brings together all the characters and the various lines of action. It occurs in the smallest space possible, which heightens the sense of conflict and unbearable pressure. The battle is where the hero usually (but not always) fulfills his need and gains his desire. This is also where he is most like his main opponent.

-  A great self-revelation should be sudden, for better dramatic effect; shattering for the hero, whether the self-revelation is positive or negative; and new—it must be something the hero did not know about himself until that moment.

-  The key to the revelations sequence is to see if the sequence builds properly. Ideally, each reveal should be stronger than the one that came before it. 

-  The most powerful of all reveals is known as a reversal. This is a reveal in which the audience's understanding of everything in the story is turned on its head.

-  The storyteller is one of the most misused of all techniques, because most writers don't know the implications of the storyteller or its true value

-  1. Realize that your storyteller is probably your true main character.

-  2. Introduce the storyteller in a dramatic situation.

-  3. Find a good trigger to cause him to tell the story.

-  4. The storyteller should not be all-knowing at the beginning.

-   the storyteller should have a great weakness that will be solved by telling the story, and thinking back and telling the story should be a struggle for him. 

-  5. Try to find a unique structure for telling the tale instead of simple chronology. A unique way of telling the story justifies a storyteller and says: this story is so unique that only a special storyteller could do it justice.

-  6. The storyteller should try different versions of how he tells the story as he struggles to find and express the truth.

-  7. Do not end the storytelling frame at the end of the story, but rather about three-quarters of the way in.

-  8. The act of telling the story should lead the storyteller to a self-revelation.

-  9. Consider having the storyteller explore how the act of telling the story can be immoral or destructive, to himself or to others.

-  10. The act of telling the story should cause a final dramatic event.

-  11. Don't promote the fallacy that a character's death allows the full and true story to be told.

-  12.  The deeper theme should be concerned with the truth and beauty of creativity, not heroic action.

-  13. Be wary of too many storytellers.

-  Each genre takes the universal steps of story structure, the seven and twenty-two steps, and executes them in a different way. You can tell a great story without using any genre at all.


Writing Exercise 7


Chapter 9. Scene weave

-  A scene is generally one action in one time and place. It is the basic unit of what actually happens in the story, right now, as the audience experiences it. The scene weave is the sequence of these units.

-  The scene weave, also known as the scene list, scene outline, or scene breakdown, is the final step before writing your full story or script. It is a list of every scene you believe will be in the final story, along with a tag for any scene in which a structure step occurs.

-  KEY POINT: Be prepared to change your scene weave when you start writing individual scenes.

-  Once you have the complete scene weave before you, see if you need to make the following changes:

-  Reorder scenes. First, focus on getting the overall sequence of the story right.

-  Combine scenes. Writers often create a new scene for no other reason than to get in a good line of dialogue. Whenever possible, combine scenes so that each one is packed, but make sure each scene accomplishes essentially one action.

-  Cut or add scenes. 

-  KEY POINT: Order the scenes by structure, not chronology.

-  KEY POINT: Pay special attention to the juxtaposition of scenes

-  A good rule of thumb is this: find the line and keep the line. There are some scenes—such as subplot scenes— that only set up the narrative drive. Go ahead and put them in. But you can never get away from the narrative line tor too long without your story collapsing.

-  Perhaps the most common technique of juxtaposition in scene weave is the crosscut. In the crosscut, you jump back and forth between two or more lines of action. 

-  KEY POINT: In a multistrand weave, the quality of the overall story comes primarily from the juxtaposition of the plotlines. You compare what a number of people in a minisociety are facing at the same time. The audience gets to see in compressed form how lead characters use different solutions when trying to solve generally the same problem. KEY POINT: With three to five plots, you can't cover the twenty-two steps for any one line, but each must cover the seven major structure steps. Anything less than the seven steps means that that line isn't a complete story, and the audience will find it unnecessary and annoying. KEY POINT: With multiple main characters and so many lines, you give shape to the overall story and maintain narrative drive by making the hero of one line the opponent of another. This keeps the story from exploding ever outward with, for example, five heroes, five opponents, myriad minor characters, and so on.


Writing Exercise 8


A scene is a ministory. This means that a good scene has six of the seven structure steps: the exception is self-revelation, which is reserved for the hero near the end of the story.

To construct any scene, you must always achieve two objectives: ■ Determine how it fits into and furthers the overall development of the hero. ■ Make it a good ministory. These two requirements determine everything, and the are of the hero's overall development always comes first. KEY POINT: Think of a scene as an upside-down triangle. The beginning of the scene should frame what the whole scene is about. The scene should then funnel down to a single point, with the most important word or line of dialogue stated last

-  Ask yourself the following questions: 1. Position on the character arc: Where does this scene fit within the hero's development (also known as the character arc), and how does it further that development? 2. Problems: What problems must be solved in the scene, or what must be accomplished? 3. Strategy: What strategy can be used to solve the problems? 4. Desire: Which character's desire will drive the scene? (This character may be the hero or some other character.) What does he want? This desire provides the spine of the scene. 5. Endpoint. How does that character's desire resolve? By knowing your endpoint in advance, you can focus the entire scene toward that point. The endpoint of the desire also coincides with the point of the inverted triangle, where the most important word or line of the scene is positioned. This combination of the endpoint of the desire with the key word or line creates a knockout punch that also kicks the audience to the next scene. 6. Opponent: Figure out who opposes the desire and what the two (or more) characters fight about. 7. Plan: The character with the desire comes up with a plan to reach the goal. There are two kinds of plans that a character can use within a scene: direct and indirect. In a direct plan, the character with the goal states directly what he wants. In an indirect plan, he pretends to want one thing while actually wanting something else. The opposing character will have one of two responses: he will recognize the deception and play along, or he will be fooled and end up giving the first character exactly what he really wants. A simple rule of thumb can help you decide which sort of plan the character should use. A direct plan increases conflict and drives characters apart. An indirect plan decreases conflict initially and brings characters together, but it can cause greater conflict later on when the deception becomes clear.

-  8. Conflict: Make the conflict build to a breaking point or a solution. 9. Twist or reveal: Occasionally, the characters or the audience (or both) are surprised by what happens in the scene. Or one character tells another off. This is a kind of self-revelation moment in a scene, but it is not final and may even be wrong.

-  KEY POINT: Dialogue is not real talk; it is highly selective language that sounds like it could be real. KEY POINT: Good dialogue is always more intelligent; wittier, more metaphorical, and better argued than in real life.

-  Track 1: Story Dialogue—Melody Story dialogue, like melody in music, is the story expressed through talk. It is talk about what the characters are doing. We tend to think of dialogue as being opposed to action: "Actions speak louder than words," we say. But talk is a form of action. We use story dialogue when characters talk about the main action line. And dialogue can even carry the story, at least for short periods of time.

-  Track 2: Moral Dialogue—Harmony Moral dialogue is talk about right and wrong action, and about values, or what makes a valuable life. Its equivalent in music is harmony, in that it provides depth, texture, and scope to the melody line. In other words, moral dialogue is not about story events. It's about the characters' attitudes toward those events.

-  Track 3: KeyWords, Phrases, Taglines, and Sounds-Repetition, Variation, and Leitmotif Key words, phrases, taglines, and sounds are the third track of dialogue. These are words with the potential to carry special meaning, symbolically or thematically, the way a symphony uses certain instruments, such as the triangle, here and there for emphasis.

-  The opening sentence of the story takes the principles of the opening scene and compresses them into one line. The first line is the broadest statement of the story and frames what the story will be about. At the same time, it must have dramatic power, some kind of punch. Let's look at three classic opening sentences. I have included a number of lines that follow the opening sentence so you can see how the sentence fits the author's overall strategy for the scene and the story.

-  A monologue is a ministory within the mind of the character. It is another form of miniature, a summation of who the character is, his central struggle, and the process he is going through over the course of the story. You can use it to show the audience a character's mind in depth and detail. Or you can use it to show the intensity of the pain the character is suffering. To write a good monologue, you must first and foremost tell a complete story, which means, as always, hitting the seven structure steps and ending with the key word or key line last.

-  To write a great closing scene, you must realize that it is the point of the upside-down triangle of the full story and that the scene itself is an upside-down triangle, with the key word or line—of the scene and the entire story—coming last.


Exercise 9

-  #Since a great story is always a living thing, its ending is no more final and certain than any other part of the story.

-  You have to go back to where we started, to the essential characteristic of a story as a structure in time. It is an organic unit that develops over time, and it must keep on developing even after the audience stops watching it. Since a story is always a whole, and the organic end is found in the beginning, a great story always ends by signaling to the audience to go back to the beginning and experience it again.

-  Let me end with one final reveal: you are the never-ending story. If you want to tell the great story, the never-ending story, you must, like your hero, face your own seven steps. And you must do it every time you write a new story. 



Creating Your Premise—Writing Exercise 1

■ Premise

Write down your premise in one sentence. Ask yourself if this premise line has the makings of a story that could change your life.

■ Wish List and Premise List

Write down your wish list and your premise list. Study them together to identify the core elements of what you care about and enjoy.

■ Possibilities

Look for what is possible in the premise. Write down options.

■ Story Challenges and Problems

Describe as many of the story challenges and problems that are unique to your idea as you can think of.

■ Designing Principle

Come up with the designing principle of your story idea. Remember that this principle describes some deeper process or form in which the story will play out in a unique way. ■ Best Character Determine the best character in the idea. Make that character the hero of your premise.

■ Conflict

Ask yourself "Who is my hero fighting, and what is he fighting about?"

■ Basic Action

Find the single cause-and-effect pathway by identifying a basic action that your hero will take in the story.

■ Character Change

Figure out the possible character change for your hero, starting with the basic action (A) and then going to the opposites of the basic action to determine his weaknesses (W) at the beginning and his change (C) at the end.

■ Moral Choice

List a moral choice your hero may have to make near the end of the story. Make sure it's a difficult but plausible choice.

■ Audience Appeal

Ask yourself if your premise is likely to appeal to a wider audience. If not, go back to the drawing board.


How to Use the Seven Steps — Writing Exercise 2

■ Story Events

Write down some story events, describing each in a single sentence. The seven steps are not imposed from the outside; they are embedded in the story idea itself. That's why the first thing you need to do to figure out the seven steps is to list some of the events that might be in your story. Usually, when you get an idea for a story, certain events immediately pop into your mind. "This could happen, and this could happen, and this could happen." Story events are usually actions taken by your hero or opponent. These initial thoughts about story events are extremely valuable, even if none of them ends up in the final story. Write down each event in one sentence. The point here is not to be detailed but to get down the basic idea of what happens in each event. You should write down a minimum of five story events, but ten to fifteen would be even better. The more events you list, the easier it is to see the story and find the seven steps.

■ Order of Events

Put the story events in some rough order, from beginning to end. Recognize that this will probably not be your final order. What's important is to get a look at how the story might develop from beginning to end.

■ Seven Steps

Study the story events, and identify the seven structure steps. KEY POINT: Start by determining the self-revelation, at the end of the story; then go back to the beginning and figure out your hero's need and desire. This technique of starting at the end and going hack to the beginning is one we will use again and again as we figure out character, plot, and theme. It's one of the best techniques in fiction writing because it guaran-tees that your hero and your story are always heading toward the true end-point of the structural journey, which is the self-revelation. ■ Psychological and Moral Self-Revelation When figuring out the self-revelation, try to give your hero both a psychological and a moral revelation. Be specific about what your hero learns. And be flexible and ready to change what you have written as you figure out the other six steps and as you continue through the entire writing process. Figuring out the seven steps, as well as many of the other parts of your story, is much like doing a crossword puzzle. Some parts will come easily, others only with great difficulty. Use the parts that come easily to figure out the tough parts, and be willing to go back and change what you first wrote when later material gives you a new take on your story.

■ Psychological and Moral Weakness and Need  

After figuring out the self-revelation, go back to the beginning of the story. Try to give your hero both a psychological and a moral weakness and need. Remember the key difference. A psychological weakness or need affects just the hero. A moral weakness or need affects others. Come up with not one but many weaknesses for your hero. These should be serious flaws, so deep and dangerous that they are ruining your hero's life or have the real possibility of doing so.

■ Problem

What is the problem, or crisis, your hero faces at the beginning of the story? Try to make it an outgrowth of your hero's weakness.

■ Desire

Be very specific when giving your hero a desire. Make sure your hero's goal is one that will lead him to the end of the story and force him to take a number of actions to accomplish it.

■ Opponent

Create an opponent who wants the same goal as the hero and who is exceptionally good at attacking your hero's greatest weakness. You could create hundreds of opponents for your hero. The question is, who's the best one? Start by going back to that crucial question: What is the deepest conflict the hero and opponent are fighting about? You want your main opponent to be just as obsessed with winning the goal as the hero. You want to give your opponent a special ability to attack your hero's greatest weakness, and to do so incessantly while he tries to win the goal.

■ Plan

Create a plan that requires the hero to take a number of actions but also to adjust when the initial plan doesn't work. The plan generally shapes the rest of the story. So it must involve many steps. Otherwise you will have a very short story. The plan must also be unique and complex enough that the hero will have to adjust when it fails.

■ Battle

Come up with the battle and the new equilibrium. The battle should involve the hero and the main opponent, and it should decide once and for all who wins the goal. Decide whether it will be a battle of action and violence or a battle of words. Whatever kind of battle you choose, make sure it is an intense experience that puts your hero to the ultimate test.


Creating Your Characters — Writing Exercise 3

■ Character Web by Story Function and Archetype

Create your character web. Start by listing all of your characters, and describe what function they play in the story (for example, hero, main opponent, ally, fake-ally opponent, subplot character). Write down next to each character the archetype, if any, that applies.

■ Central Moral Problem

List the central moral problem of the story.

■ Comparing the Characters

List and compare the following structure elements for all your characters. 1. Weaknesses 2. Need, both psychological and moral 3. Desire 4. Values 5. Power, status, and ability 6. How each faces the central moral problem

Begin the comparison between your hero and main opponent.

■ Variation on the Moral Problem

Make sure each character takes a different approach to the hero's central moral problem.

■ Requirements of a Hero

Now concentrate on fleshing out your hero. Begin by making sure you have incorporated the four requirements of any great hero: 1. Make your lead character constantly fascinating. 2. Make the audience identify with the character, but not too much. 3. Make the audience empathize with your hero, not sympathize. 4. Give your hero a moral as well as a psychological need.

■ Hero's Character Change

Determine your hero's character change. Write down the self-revelation first, and then go back to the need. Make sure the self-revelation actually solves the need. In other words, whatever lies or crutches the hero is living with in the beginning must be faced at the self-revelation and overcome.

■ Changed Beliefs

Write down the beliefs your hero challenges and changes over the course of your story.

■ Hero's Desire

Clarify your hero's desire line. Is it a single, specific goal that extends throughout the story? When does the audience know whether the hero has accomplished the goal or not?

■ Opponents

Detail your opponents. First describe how your main opponent and each of your lesser opponents attack the great weakness of your hero in a different way.

■ Opponents' Values

List a few values for each opponent. How is each opponent a kind of double for the hero?
-  Give each some level of power, status, and ability, and describe what similarities each shares with the hero. State in one line the moral problem of each character and how each character justifies the actions he takes to reach his goal.

■ Minor Character Variation on the Hero's Weakness and Moral Problem

In what ways are any of the minor characters variations on the hero's unique weakness and moral problem?

■ Four-Corner Opposition

Map out the four-corner opposition for your story. Put your hero and main opponent on the top line with at least two secondary opponents underneath. Label each character with his or her archetype, but only if it is appropriate. Many characters are not archetypes. Don't force it. Push the four major characters to the corners. That is, make sure each is as different from the other three as possible


Outlining the Moral Argument — Writing Exercise 4

■ Designing Principle

Start by turning the designing principle of your story into a theme line. The theme line is your view about right and wrong action, in this story, stated in one sentence. As you look again at the designing principle, focus on its key actions and their moral effects.

■ Theme Line

Techniques Look for any techniques, like symbols, that can condense your moral statement to one line or can encapsulate the unique structure you will give to your story. Moral Choice Write down the key choice the hero must make near the end of the story.

■ Moral Problem

After reviewing your work on premise, state in one line the central moral problem your hero will confront throughout the story.

■ Characters as Variations on a Theme

Starting with the hero and the main opponent, describe how each major character approaches the central moral problem of the story in a different way.

■ Values in Conflict

List the key values of each of the major characters, and explain how those values will come into conflict as each character tries to reach the goal. moral argument Detail the moral argument you will make through the structure of the story, using the following sequence.

■ Hero's Beliefs and Values

Restate your hero's essential beliefs and values.

■ Moral Weakness

What is your hero's main weakness when it comes to acting toward others?

■ Moral Need

What must your hero learn by the end of the story about the right way to act and live in the world?

■ First Immoral Action

Describe the first action your hero takes that hurts someone else in the story. Make sure it is an outgrowth of your hero's great moral weakness.

■ Desire

Restate your hero's specific goal.

■ Drive

List the actions your hero will take to win that goal.

■ Immoral Actions

In what way, if any, are these actions immoral? Criticism: For any immoral action, describe the criticism, if any, that the hero receives. Justification: How does the hero justify each immoral action? Attack by Ally Explain in detail the main moral attack that the ally makes against the hero. Again, write down how the hero justifies himself.

■ Obsessive Drive

Describe when and how your hero becomes obsessed with winning. Put another way, is there a moment when your hero decides to do almost anything to win?

■ Immoral Actions

While obsessed with winning, what immoral steps does your hero take? Criticism: Describe the criticism, if any, that the hero faces for these actions. Justification: Explain how the hero justifies his methods.

■ Battle

During the final battle, how do you express which values, the hero's or the opponent's, are superior in this fight?

■ Final Action Against Opponent

Does your hero take a final action against the opponent, whether moral or immoral, before or during the battle?

■ Moral Self-Revelation

What, if anything, does your hero learn morally at the end of the story? Be sure that this insight is about how to act properly toward others.

■ Moral Decision

Does the hero make a decision between two courses of action near the end of the story?

■ Thematic Revelation

Can you think of a story event in which you express your vision of how human beings should act in some other way than through the self-revelation of your hero?


Creating the Story World — Writing Exercise 5

■ Story World in One Line

Use the designing principle of your story to come up with a one-line description of the story world.

■ Overall Arena

Define the overall arena and how you will maintain a single arena throughout the story. Remember that there are four main ways to do this: 1. Create a large umbrella and then crosscut and condense. 2. Send the hero on a journey through generally the same area, but one that develops along a single line. 3. Send the hero on a circular journey through generally the same area. 4. Make the hero a fish out of water.

■ Value Oppositions and Visual Oppositions

Return to the character web of your story, and identify the value oppositions between your characters. Assign visual oppositions that complement or express these value oppositions.

■ Land, People, and Technology

Explain the unique combination of land, people, and technology that will make up the world of your story. For example, your story may take place in a lush wilderness inhabited only by small nomadic groups using the simplest of tools. Or it may play out in a modern city where nature has virtually disappeared and technology is highly advanced.

■ System

If your hero lives and works in a system (or systems), explain the rules and hierarchy of power, along with your hero's place in that hierarchy. If a larger system is enslaving your hero, explain why he is unable to see his own enslavement.

■ Natural Settings

Consider if any of the major natural settings-ocean, outer space, forest, jungle, desert, ice, island, mountain, plain, or river—are useful to your story world as a whole. Make sure you don't use any of them in a predictable or implausible way.

■ Weather

In what way might weather help you detail your story world? Focus on dramatic moments in the story — such as revelations and conflicts—when using special weather conditions. Again, avoid cliches.

■ Man-made Spaces

How do the various man-made spaces in which your characters live and work help you express the story structure?

■ Miniatures

Decide if you want to use a miniature. If you do, what is it and what precisely does it represent?

■ Becoming Big or Small

Is it appropriate for a character to become big or small over the course of the story? How does it reveal the character or theme of your story?

■ Passageways

If a character moves from one subworld to a very different subworld, come up with a unique passageway.

■ Technology

Describe the crucial technology in your story, even if it involves only the most mundane and everyday tools.

■ Hero's Change or World Change

Look again at the overall change in your hero. Decide whether the world will change along with the hero or not and how. ■ Seasons Is one or more of the seasons important to the story? If so, try to come up with a unique way to connect the seasons to the dramatic line. ■ Holiday or Ritual If the philosophy of a holiday or ritual is central to your story, decide in what way you agree or disagree with that philosophy. Then connect the holiday or ritual at the appropriate story points. ■ Visual Seven Steps Detail the visual subworlds that you will attach to the main structure steps in your story. Look especially at these structure steps: 1. weakness or need 2. desire 3. opponent 4. apparent defeat or temporary freedom 5. visit to death 6. battle 7. freedom or slavery Figure out how to connect the major natural settings and man-made spaces to the subworlds you use. Concentrate on the following three subworlds: 1. Weakness subworld: If your hero starts the story enslaved, explain how the initial subworld is an expression or accentuation of the hero's great weakness. 2. Opponent subworld: Describe how the opponent's world expresses his power and ability to attack the hero's great weakness. 3. Battle subworld: Try to come up with a place of battle that is the most confined space of the entire story. 


Creating Symbols — Writing Exercise 6

■ Story Symbol

Is there a single symbol that expresses the premise, key story twists, central theme, or overall structure of your story? Look again at your premise, your theme, and your one-line description of the story world. Then write a one-line description of the main symbols in your story.

■ Symbolic Characters

Determine the symbols for your hero and other characters. Work through the following steps: 1. Look at the entire character web before creating a symbol for a single character. 2. Begin with the opposition between hero and main opponent. 3. Come up with a single aspect of the character or a single emotion you want the character to evoke in the audience. 4. Consider applying a symbol opposition within the character. 5. Repeat the symbol, in association with the character, many times over the course of the story. 6. Each time you repeat the symbol, vary the detail in some way.

■ Character Type

Consider connecting one or more of your characters to a character type, especially to gods, animals and machines. Symbolic Character Change Is there a symbol you can connect to the character change of your hero? If so, look at the scenes where you express the hero's weakness and need at the beginning of the story and his self-revelation at the end.

■ Symbolic Theme

Look for a symbol that can encapsulate the main theme of your story. For a symbol to express the theme, it must stand for a series of actions with moral effects. A more advanced thematic symbol is one that stands for two series of moral actions that are in conflict.

■ Symbolic World

Determine what symbols you wish to attach to the various elements of the story world, including the natural settings, man-made spaces, technology, and time.

■ Symbolic Actions

Are there one or more specific actions that merit symbolic treatment? Figure out a symbol you can attach to each such action to make it stand out.

■ Symbolic Objects

Create a web of symbolic objects by first reviewing the designing principle of your story. Make sure that each symbolic object you create fits with this designing principle. Then choose the objects you want to give extra meaning.

■ Symbol Development

Chart how each symbol you use changes over the course of the story.


Creating Your Plot — Writing Exercise 7

■ Designing Principle and Plot

Review the designing principle and the theme of your story. Be certain that your plot tracks these lines.

■ Symbol for Plot

If you are using a story symbol, make sure that your plot is an expression of it.

■ Storyteller

Figure out if you want to use a storyteller, and if so, what kind. Keep in mind the structural techniques that allow you to get the most out of the storyteller.

■ Twenty-two Steps

Describe the twenty-two steps of your story in detail. Be sure to start with Step 1, the plot frame, so that all the other steps fall naturally into place.

■ Reveals Sequence

Focus on the reveals sequence. List the reveals separately from the other steps. Look for the following elements to make the reveals as dramatic as possible: 1. Make sure the sequence is logical. 2. Try to make each reveal more intense than the one before. 3. Check that each reveal causes your hero to change his original desire in some way. 4. Make the reveals come at a faster pace as you move toward the end of the story.


Scene Weave — Writing Exercise 8

■ Scene List

List every scene in your story. Try to describe the scene in one sentence.

■ Twenty-two-Step Tags

Tag any scene that includes one of the twenty-two structure steps. If your story has more than one plotline or subsection, label each scene with the appropriate plotline.

■ Ordering Scenes

Study the order of scenes. Make sure the scene sequence builds by structure, not chronology. 1. See if you can cut scenes. 2. Look for opportunities to combine two scenes into one. 3. Add a scene wherever there are gaps in the story`s development.


Writing Scenes — Writing Exercise 9

■ Character Change

Before writing any scene, state your hero's character change in one line.

■ Scene Construction

Construct each scene by asking yourself these questions: 1. Where is the scene positioned on your hero's character arc, and how does the scene take him to the next step on his line of development? 2. What problems must you solve, and what must you accomplish in this scene? 3. What strategy will you use to do so? 4. Whose desire will drive the scene? Remember, this is not necessarily the hero of the story. 5. What is the endpoint of the character's goal in this scene? 6. Who will oppose this character's goal? 7. What plan — direct or indirect — will the character use to accomplish his goal in the scene? 8. Will the scene end at the height of conflict, or will there be some sort of solution? 9. Will there be a twist, surprise, or reveal in the scene? 10. Will one character end the scene by commenting about who another character is, deep down?

■ Scenes Without Dialogue

First, try writing the scenes without dialogue. Let the characters' actions tell the story. This gives you the "clay" you can shape and refine in each successive draft.

■ Writing Dialogue
-  1. Story Dialogue: Rewrite each scene using only story dialogue (Track 1). Remember, this is dialogue about what the characters are doing in the plot. 2. Moral Dialogue: Rewrite each scene, this time adding moral dialogue (Track 2). This is argument about whether those actions are right or wrong or comments about what the characters believe in (their values). 3. Key Words: Rewrite each scene again, highlighting key words, phrases, tagline, and sounds (Track 3). These are objects, images, values, or ideas that are central to the theme of your story. Think of this process for writing the three tracks of dialogue in the same way that you might draw someone's portrait. First you would sketch the overall shape of the face (story dialogue). Then you would add the major shadings that give depth to the face (moral dialogue). Then you would add the most minute lines and details that make that face a unique individual (key words).

■ Unique Voices Make sure that each character speaks in a unique way.











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