The Art of Illusion

You’ll hear me talk A LOT about how much more powerful it is to elude to something than to tell it straight out. To me, it’s almost as important as “Show, Don’t Tell” and quite honestly it’s probably technically covered in that statement. However, it seems some people just don’t quite get it. So let’s expound.

“The closer you look, the less you’ll see” is the theme of a fun little movie called Now You See Me. Most magicians use this trick. Why? Because it works. Magic is all about the art of illusion, and how do people refer to the best books and movies?

“It was magical.”

So let’s take the magician’s theme and apply it to ourselves, writers. There are several different things that demand a “far away” look when we’re writing. I’ll break them down for you and explain what I mean by “far away look”.

#1 – Character descriptions.

You know you’ve read an over expository character description before. “She had hair like… and eyes like… her teeth were… and her ears… don’t forget her hands… did I mention the exact clothes she was wearing?…” And suddenly we feel trapped inside a box. That’s not AT ALL how we pictured her (whoever she is).

When I write, I tend to give one or two traits of my character and leave the rest up to imagination. I’ve found I like this from other authors, which is why I try to follow their lead in my own writing. For example: my character Rosie Callahan, I only told the reader 2 things about her physical appearance. She’s 5’2″ and she has curly hair. I left the rest up to them.

I think you’ll find that if you stick to the important things about the character, like how they react to others and what kind of speech patterns they use, people will fill in the physical description without much help.

#2 – Back Story

I’m not saying don’t tell people what happened in the past, I’m saying expose it slowly. Have the character say something or do something that ELUDES to their backstory. They had a convict dad?

“I won’t be like him.”

Simple as that. And, yes, I’ve used that one. Another one I’ve used: The girl has a history of people leaving her without a word.

“Just… don’t leave without saying goodbye. Okay?”

Think through what your characters are doing. They deserve the thought it takes to weave their backstory in and out through their actions and words.

TIP: you have a backstory too, but you don’t tell everyone you meet. Everything that happened in the past is your backstory, and it reflects itself in what you do and say now, but not in an expository way. It is what it is, and nothing more. You don’t make a big deal about it. So why do your characters whine on and on about their past?

#3 – Relationships

This REALLY goes along with “Show, Don’t Tell”. The best advice I ever received on this subject was “loving someone means never having to say I love you.” SHOW that your characters love each other, or hate each other, or have known each other for a long time by what they do and say.

This all goes back to illusion. With vague answers and short flashes into the backstory, you’re giving the illusion of a full life behind the character, which in turn brings them to life. Why go into all that exposition when you can achieve the same thing by a simple flick of the wrist?

Remember, the closer you look, the less you’ll see.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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A Place of Their Own

How important is setting to your story? Let’s take a look at some very famous tales, in which the setting is vital.

“…so Little Red Riding Hood set out through the woods to take provisions to her grandmother. Along the way, she came across a wolf…” (“Little Red Riding Rood”, my paraphrase)

Think about it. What if Little Red Riding Hood had come across a wolf in a town? The outcome of this story would have been very different. If the Big Bad Wolf had ambled into town to speak with Little Red, don’t you think the townspeople would have backed her up and taken the wolf down? They have to have some weaponry somewhere in Little Red’s town, right? I think so.

“…A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

A LOT of people know this intro. Star Wars, right? And what would Star Wars be without Outer Space? A lot more boring, let me tell you.

So, why do we need good settings? Why are they so important?

Setting targets genres

This may seem a little bit confusing, but trust me, it isn’t. Oftentimes, genre is determined by where you decide to set your story. Post-apocalyptic, Science-Fiction, Historical, etc. They all have to do with your setting.

Choose your setting wisely, and let the readers in that genre KNOW you chose well. Make it fit.

Setting sets the mood

Some settings, like the “post-apocalyptic-but-still-eerily-familiar” world in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, give a quirky, strange feel to the story. You can use a setting to enhance your characters, lending a mood of change. Settings are diverse, nearly unlimited, and they are as important to your story and mood as your characters and plot.

How do I know where to set my story?

Usually, your setting should be the one that feels right. An epic swordfight in the middle of New York City is highly improbable, unless your New York has backslidden and now has no way to make modern weapons. (Or if your character is Henry from ABC’s Forever, but that is highly unlikely)

So, take a long look at your characters and ask yourself where they would fit. Where they would seem natural. Look at their talents and fears and throw them into a world where their story makes sense.

One last tip

Your characters deserve the perfect setting. And I believe you’ll know if your setting is “off”. If you find yourself in a story that you love, but it seems like something is wrong, look at your setting. Maybe it should change.

Be creative with your setting. Underwater fist fight (James Bond). A giant, villainous home base under the Polar Icecap (G.I. Joe). Someone came up with these, and people loved them. You can come up with something just as good, probably better! Let your creativity roam. Expand your horizons. Think outside the box.

Are your characters in Boston? Did you know there are underground tunnels beneath that city?

Are they in space? How about some wacky, new-fangled spaceship?

Settings are as vast as your imagination. So go out there and write some crazy awesome stories!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

Let’s Talk Plot…

Plot. The heart of story. The lifeblood of any good book. Or movie. Plot is vitally important to the forward propulsion of the known universe. Without plot, the entire entertainment world would cease to exist. Books, movies, songs…

You get the point. Plot is important. Very important. But, what makes up plot?

I’m so glad you asked!

Plot can technically be broken down into 2 parts: Rising action and falling action. However, I never did like to fit into the cookie-cutter writing mold, so my favorite way to explain it contains several key points in the story. 5 to be exact.

Inciting incident. Turning Point. Point of no return. Crisis. Showdown. (Bonus 6th: Wrap-up.)

So, what I plan on doing today is to walk you through a successful plot piece by piece. Don’t worry, I’ll explain how each piece of the puzzle fits.

Inciting Incident:

First, let me tell you what this literally means. Incite = to encourage or stir up. Incident = an event or occurrence.

So, the Inciting Incident is literally an event that stirs things up. It’s the part of the story (generally very, very close to the beginning) where everything is tipped off balance. It is what makes the character(s) have to go on that quest. The event that changes everything.

The inciting incident in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is introduced in the first pages. “My dear Mr. Bennett, have you heard the Netherfield Hall is let at last?” (It’s paragraph 3, people. That woman knew how to throw you in at the exact moment everything changes.)

This is most definitely the inciting incident because it is the moment we know something different happened in their life. Before this sentence, they were just minding their own business, going about their own life. After this sentence, Mrs. Bennett spends the entire book talking about Netherfield and Mr. Bingley. (Anyone who doesn’t know what happens at the end of this book is not a true book nerd.)

In the hilarious and widely popular movie The Princess Bride, the inciting incident is a little farther in, but not much. Did you guess it? Yep, the inciting incident is when Buttercup hears that Westley has been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. (Eek! Not the Dread Pirate Roberts! No, he can’t die! Is this a tragedy? But, I digress…)

Turning Point

 This is usually my favorite part (I will say this a lot, don’t pay attention. My favorite part changes from hour to hour) of the story. This is when everything turns upside down. The unthinkable happens! Suddenly, there is no choice but to set out on the journey that will propel us to the end of the story. Something has to be done.

A good example of an epic turning point can be found in the movie National Treasure. The turning point comes the instant Ian declares he is going to “borrow” the Declaration of Independence and then proceeds to accidentally blow up the Charlotte.

Turning point? I think yes. That is the very moment that Ben Gates knows he has to do something. He can’t let Ian steal the Declaration! It propels him to begin his epic journey/continue his treasure hunt. It ups the stakes. That, my friends, is what a turning point does.

Point of No Return

Sounds pretty ominous, right? It is.

The Point of No Return comes usually about halfway through the story. This is literally what it says it is. A point where something happens that won’t allow the character to go back to where he/she was before. It makes them change and forces them to finish what they’ve started, even if they don’t want to. They no longer have a choice.

In my novel, Rose-Colored Glasses, the point of no return is when someone starts to meticulously target the main character (Rosie Callahan). The second main character/love interest knows that he can’t back out. He has to help her. He no longer has an option to leave or to let it go.

Same thing with one of my favorite movies, Next. The instant the government and the villains pull the love of his life into their twisted schemes is the instant that Cris Johnson decides he can’t NOT help the government. His point of no return is that he refuses to endanger the woman he loves.

Crisis

Pretty self-explanatory. Crisis. A point when all is lost.

This is usually achieved when everything has gone wrong. The plan has backfired, the bad guys are hot on the main character’s trail, and the love interest usually hates him. The world seems upside down and you’re actually afraid this character might not come out of this.

Then, right as that first tear builds in your left eye, something else terrible happens. Something that you never expected. Yet another aspect of the story goes completely berserk! Someone dies, or is kidnapped. The main character has an emotional break. SOMETHING! And you just want to scream at the page. Or the screen.

This is a crisis.

Showdown

Showdown is what people usually call a climax. The final battle.

This is when Thor faces Loki in Thor. It’s when Emma and Mr. Knightley finally communicate in Jane Austen’s Emma. Any time someone is finally getting somewhere, through words or fisticuffs, and it’s the most intense part of the book or movie, it is definitely the showdown. This is where everything will be resolved. Where someone determines whether this story is a tragedy, or if it has a happy ending.

Showdown demands an element of suspense. It demands intensity. And it should always be rewarding to your readers/watchers.

Bonus 6th: Wrap-up

Where we resolve all our storylines and write “they lived happily ever after”. The wrap-up is essential for a good read. If you don’t wrap it up, people will feel like you ripped them off. Let them know what happens, and they’ll thank you.

The only exception to the rule? When you’re writing a series or sequel, it’s okay to let a few storylines hang open, so that you can use them later on. Still, wrap up as much as you can and your fans will thank you later.

And this is PLOT.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

A Compelling Story

Have you ever read a book you literally CANNOT put down? How about a movie during which you refuse to budge from your seat, because you don’t want to miss something? Have you ever noticed how it seems to take so little to make a fan out of you? Books and movies like this generate tons of fans because of one very specific thing.

They have a compelling story.

If you’re a writer, you know that everything I’m about to say in this paragraph is true. You’ve read “that” book, and you’ve seen “that” movie. You know the ones I’m talking about. You think to yourself “I can never write something as good as that! Listen to that dialogue! Look at those descriptions! Nope. I’ll never be that good.”

I have good news and more good news for you. The very fact that you want to write something that good means you care. And if you care, maybe a reader will too. The second piece of good news is that you CAN write a compelling story. All you need are a few simple tools.

TOOL #1 – Strong Plotline

What is a strong plotline, you ask? Let me explain a thing.

Plot (or “plotline”) is simply your story itself. It is “Once upon a time…”, “The End”, and everything in between. It is “Fade In”, “Roll credits”, and everything in between that, too. Plot is story, and if you don’t have a strong plot, you’re in deep trouble.

A strong plot consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Beginning consists of your set up and inciting incident (more on this later). Middle consists of everything that moves your hero/heroine toward the climax. Middle is a freight train pushing your hero/heroine farther than they ever wanted to go and bringing them situations they should not reasonably recover from. End is your darkest point, through the climax, and into the wrap-up. I have found that the easiest way to divide these is as follows: 1/4 beginning, 2/4 middle, 3/4 end.

(NOTE: If you are writing a novel, it’s easiest to go by word count. Say you’re writing a 60,000 word novel. That makes it a 15,000 word beginning, 30,000 word middle, and another 15,000 words for the end. Screenplays go by pages. A typical Screenplay is approximately 120 pages. Therefore… 30 page beginning, 60 page middle, 30 page end. Got it? Good!)

TOOL #2 – Strong Characters

Let’s face it. If you don’t have a character that people love (or love to hate), then you’re already dead in the water. People read books because they care what happens to the people. Yes, plot is important, but without strong characters your story won’t go anywhere.

For me, strong characters are flawed characters. Also known as relatable characters.

For the sake of sanity, let’s take some notes from those crazy, wacky Tumblr groups known as FANDOMS!!! (*gasp*! NOOOO! NOT THE CRAZY PEOPLE!)

Yes, the crazy people. Think about it. Why are they crazy? Because they love those characters (or that one character) and they have to tell the world about it. They love them so much that they write their own stories to move the character forward. They literally put that character in their own life. And those villains? Oh, yeah, they have split followings. People either want to marry them or want to kill them.

So, what makes these crazy people fall in love with the characters?

They’re flawed. They have issues, and quirks, and they don’t get along with everyone, and people can relate to that.

(More of character development and how to write flawed characters is coming in the following weeks)

TOOL #3 – Passion

Honestly, this is the third and greatest essential tool you need. Without passion for your story, you’ll never finish it. You’ll start and let it die. So be sure you are passionate before you begin.

How do you know if you’re passionate about it?

Do you think about this story day and night? Does everything you see, experience, or read correlate back to it? Do you see your characters in fashion photos and your setting in travel guides?

If you answered yes to any of these, you are passionate about your story. Don’t give it up. Keep moving, keep writing, keep dreaming. The world needs more dreamers, and the world needs your book.

You are the only one who can write your book, your way. Don’t let it go.

Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.