New series: Writing Tips

My writing tips

Last Saturday I wrote a small snippet of a story and by using it as a template, I want to highlight important storytelling elements. This will be an ongoing series. 
The Lowest Point

My wife and I enjoy watching Jane the Virgin (on Netflix. We are behind so please no spoilers!!) There is a brief story arc in which Jane’s father, international telenovela star Rogelio, is kidnapped by a stalker. Throughout the episode, he is planning his escape. He is getting friendly with his captor, being on good behavior and then the moment comes and he is about to escape. He is right at the door and he is caught. 

While reflecting on this scene I thought, “I know why he didn’t escape. He hasn’t reached his lowest point yet.”

The lowest point is part of a character’s story arc. They have an obstacle, someone or something is standing in their way. Often, plans do not work out right the first time (just like real life!), and they enter their lowest point. 

Try this exercise. Raise your hand as high as you can. I know it’s silly but no one is watching so go ahead, as high and you can. Now, raise it higher. You were probably able to raise your hand even higher the second time despite, supposedly, raising it as high as you could the first time.

For a character’s story arc, this can be inversed. What is the character’s lowest point? Now go lower. 

It’s mean, as a writer to do that to someone, even fictional, but the lowest point contrasts with the success, making the victory even better. 

In my short narrative, I tried to demonstrate the lowest point. In an instant everything was taken from him, especially the woman he loved. And he was hopeless to save his people. He was in his lowest point. But a question creeps into the mind, now how does he escape?

The deeper the hole, the more the reader wants to see the hero succeed. How do they get out? As one sees the characters succeed it gives hope to real life events. 

Happy writing!

The Dark Lord Arnoch

The man stood looking forward, with determination across his dirty face. The supermoon eriely illuminated the silhouette of the dark castle across the valley in front of him. He clasped the sword at his side. The trusty weapon had gotten him through the hardest of times and would surely help him now. 

As the man stood, observing and pondering, his companion, a woman, stood beside him.

“The Dark Warlock Arnoch must be defeated,” she reaffirmed. “No matter the cost.”

The man nodded in agreement without a word. 

The woman clasped the sword at her side and said, “let us go.”

They ran down the steep slope, the looming castle always watching them. Secrecy was key, but the dark structure seemed to already know they were coming.

Then, they heard a howl!

Both warriors removed their blades as a pack of wolves encircled them. The wolves barred their fangs, growling with a deep madness in their eyes. The Warlock had bewitched them with unholy strength.

The wolves pounced. Fang was met with sword. The warriors heavy armor took many serious bites, but for every bite, two wolves were slain.

While the man stabbed his sword deep into an attacking wolf, another wolf jumped, going for his open neck.

The woman saw it coming before it happened and her sword, flying through the air, met the wolf’s own throat before its fangs pierced the man.

The wolf fell to the ground, its lively body now a shell. The sword was sticking up and she recovered it. That was the last of the wolves.

“Thank you,” said the man.

“It was nothing,” replied the woman, sheathing her sword.

“You have saved me in more ways than one,” and he embraced her.

She smiled and hugged him back.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you,” she replied.

Their lips met, briefly, but passionately. Then, the reality of their situation returned to mind, and they proceeded with caution through enemy territory.

At once, they approached the gates. They were huge, iron spokes, emanating from the ground. The man went for the gate, but the woman’s hand stopped him.

“There’s always more than meets the eye with these warlocks,” she said. She bent down, grabbed a fist full of dirt and threw it lightly at the gate. Sparks burst from where the dirt touched the gate. 

The man recoiled. “Good call.”

“I do pretty well for myself,” and she smiled.

The gates suddenly flew open.

At the steps of the castle a cloaked figure opened his arms and shouted, “welcome! Welcome to my home!” As he descended the steps, the two warriors recognized him, the Dark Warlock Arnoch.

“Did you think you could mess with my traps and not be noticed. Sure, you avoided incineration but, now I know you’re here.”

“We should leave,” the man said quietly but fiercely to companion.

“No!” She whispered back. “He must be stopped! For my people –our people!” She said. 

The man looked at her. He loved her determination and he felt, deeply, that with her at his side, together, they could do anything. That feeling surged through his body and he stood boldly within the gate facing the Dark Warlock Arnoch.

“Sup,” he said, giving a short nod. “Nice place you got here. A little dark and dreary but it’s nice.”

The Warlock replied, “as a young child my eyes were sown shut and I didn’t see the sun or the world for over a decade. When I escaped my bondage, I removed the stitches and found that my eyes had fully developed while in the dark. Now I cannot bear the light.”

“That sucks man,” he said, trying to show empathy. “Well, listen, it’s been real but you’re a Dark Warlock, terrorizing my wife’s people. We’re not cool with that so we’re going to kill you.”

And with that the warriors charged. The Warlock opened his cloak and bats flew out. As the two warriors fought bats, two trolls emerged from the dungeon of the castle. 

The warriors were no strangers to battle, especially of the supernatural kind. They fought gracefully against trolls ten times their size. 

The man, using his handy sword, sliced off the trolls kneecap. It fell to the ground and, without hesitation, he climbed atop and drove the blade deep into the trolls brain.

The woman was fighting against the other troll. The troll lunged at her, and using the momentum, knocked it to the ground. She went for the kill when a dagger appeared in her chest.

The man saw the lone blade pierce his love. She fell to the ground, dead. He looked across the carnage and saw the Warlock waving his hand. He had magically controlled the small dagger, biding his time with bats and trolls.

The undefeated troll arose and in one fell swoop, knocked out the warrior.

The man saw the world through blurry eyes and a screaming headache. He was in a dungeon, a cold stone prison cell, stripped of his armor and his sword. He lay naked on the barren floor. 

Before him stood the Dark Lord Arnoch adorned in his finest cloaks.

“Enjoying the guest room?” He asked.

“Five stars easily,” the man replied. “Is there a free continental breakfast?”

“‘Fraid not.”

“Four stars then.”

“However,”Arnoch switched subjects.”For your entertainment I have this.”

A liquid substance stretched in front of him, lining all the walls of the dungeon. Then, there appeared an image of the Warlock’s army. Humans and trolls and other monsters stood in military formation.

“You will see your people fall, alone and unable to do anything.” And with finality, the Dark Warlock Arnoch turned away and locked the cell door.

As the war began, he saw his wife’s people fall before the forces of evil, as sword and axe and arrow killed them. The man curled up on the floor. Without her, his love, he felt hopeless. He wept softly as he recalled how she had died, he couldn’t protect her and now he couldn’t save her people- his people.

There was no escape. 

“Sigo en la lucha”: I’m still in the fight

Like all idioms and sayings, it doesn’t translate perfectly. “Sigo en la lucha,” means, “I’m still in the fight.” (Not to be confused with “Sigo en la ducha,” which would be, “I’m still in the shower”).

When I lived in Argentina. I’d ask, “how are you?” to which many replied, “I’m still in the fight.”

Writing is tough. Sure it’s not football tough, or, construction job tough, or social worker tough. Writing has its own difficulties and challenges. It fatigues my mind and makes me restless. The emotional strength needed to handle criticism, or just friendly advise, is monumental. And finding the time… I don’t time to talk about that!

As writers, let’s “stay in the fight.” One day we will reach our goal. And honestly, even if we don’t, we write because we love to and that’s reward enough. 

Beats in a Book

I have my book completely written, but it’s just the first draft. While trying to edit my writing, I feel so scattered and disjointed. I can’t seem to clear my mind and organize my thoughts and my draft.

The remedy for me has been segments, that is, organizing my writing into smaller pieces. By doing so, it’s easier to manage many smaller pieces rather than one huge piece. If you’ve ever eaten food in your life, you know what I’m talking about. 

Segments can include chapters, books, and acts, but what I’m talking about are the unseen divisions, those being the organizational segments that the reader doesn’t notice as blatantly as something like, “Chapter 12.”

I read an article about these a few years back and I’ve adapted it to myself. There are: beats, segments, sequences, chapters, acts and the book.

A beat is the smallest unit. A beat denotes a sentence or a small paragraph. For example, if two characters are conversing, each reply would be it’s own beat.

From there a segment is the next biggest. A segment is a group of beats (obviously) that convey an idea. In my writing a description of the room or a scene is a segment, then the characters talk in said room and that’s another segment.

A bunch of segments make up a sequence. Building from our previous examples a sequence would be all the segments put together. The following segments, description of the room, the conversation in the room, the fight that took place in that room and then how the bad guy got away, all make up a sequence. 

Now this is where it gets tricky. A sequence could be a chapter. But you could also string several sequences together to form a chapter. The determining factor would be that the sequences build from each other and generate a gratifying chapter ending.

Some books point out the acts and others don’t. Regardless, they are present. Most stories have the classic three act structure. It’s stood the test of time, it portrays a story well and why should a new writer try to reinvent the wheel? (So to speak).

Act one sets the stage, introducing the characters, the setting and before the end, tells us what the main conflict of the story will be. It’s in act one where the reader will determine what kind of story this will be, the genre, and whether they want to invest the time or not. 

Act two is where the drama and the conflict play out, as protagonist and antagonist fight (sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally). Our main character reaches their lowest point and curtain close.

Act three the protagonist finds what he/she needs to keep going and to overcome obstacles. The conflict is so wound up, to tight it could explode at any moment and it all culminates at the climax.  After which, the tension releases and there is a nice conclusion to the journey we have shared with the characters. 

With all this combined, we have a book. From there, there could be more books, trilogies, series and “expanded universes.”

In conclusion, writing a story, organizing a story, is all about purpose. One should ask introspectively, “In writing this beat, this chapter or book, what am I aiming towards? What does it all lead to?” Some of those answers could be character development, plot development or world explanation. It builds and grows and little by little a wonderful story is born. The story is greater than the sum of the parts, but would be nothing without each tiny beat.

The Writer’s Life: Perception vs. Reality

You know those scenes in movies where the character(s) are determined to work? They get into it, all happy with awesome music playing in the background. They wipe their brow off all tired, comical scenes ensue and within the three minute song the goal is done?

This happens with writing portrayals too. The writer sits at a computer, the ideas flowing and the sentences are running across the page. The writer looks pensively out a window, probably with their fingers at their temples, gazing through their glasses. 

How about the writer who has all the cool accessories? They have a cool notebook and pencil, or a laptop with cool stickers on the front and probably a cool bag to boot. They are well put together and look smart. 

The reality is that writing isn’t easy, despite the words rolling off the page and having a cool notebook.

There is so much more to it!

What isn’t shown is the editing and the daily struggle, the endurance to keep rewriting. 

Honestly, that is the bulk of being a writer, revising what you already wrote. It’s tedious, the opposite of cool, but the reward of achieving a fine narrative… worth it!

Why I Write

A writer is a world trapped in a person. -Victor Hugo

If you, the reader, are anything like me, you have a story to tell. Stor-ies to tell. I have ideas, plots, characters, conversations and little exchanges. I have from entire trilogies planned in my head to barely one scene from a story.
I have trouble expressing myself, figuring out how to put what I feel and think into words that others can understand. 

Here’s to not giving up until I do! Happy weekend WordPress!

Expanded Universe and Cartoons

Maybe it’s just me but cartoons are getting more complicated. It seems that cartoons now have an overarching plot, and an expanded universe with history and character back story.

I was thinking of the plot structure in such cartoons as Adventure Time and Steven Universe. They start off small, simple characters, simple stories and often filled with goofy antics. As the episodes progress, the world becomes bigger, deeper and scarier. We learn about the past, about deception and death. We learn more about those we called family, and how they are not so one-sided. 

I think this kind of “unfolding” story is popular because the progression of the story mirrors growing up. That is, as we grow up, the world becomes more complicated. Gone are the days of simple yes or no, good guys, bad guys and the world becomes more intricate, indiscernible, and often, darker.

These sort of stories are a type of “rites of passage,” which I like a lot. Trouble is that everything is so dark. I feel like stories have to be dark to be liked. Regardless, I like how these kinds of stories start of small and expand and develope. I’m excited to see how they evolve over the years. 

Maybe one of my own stories will leave a mark. 🙂