Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tests, Allies and Enemies

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Good day, All,

We’re working toward telling our novel’s storyline by way of The Hero’s Journey, a formula for storytelling that has survived the millennia. In our case, we’re following Luke of Star Wars fame. We’ve followed him through his Ordinary World, watched as he receives his Call to Adventure and shook our heads when he made excuses to Refuse the Call. After that, he Met his Mentor then Crossed the Threshold to his new adventure.

The next section, Tests, Allies and Enemies, is one of the most intricate to develop and one of the most critical to your story. It can also be the longest. Here is where you flesh out your character and where he transforms to the true hero he needs to become. It shows your reader his true inner strength. However, it must be done in a way that keeps your reader connected with him. If your hero shows personality traits your readers dislike, they close the book. Here we also give the reader the exciting part of the story, those things that test your hero. This part of your novel also introduces more of those people, creatures and situations that assist your hero in completing his quest.

Okay, here are a few tips for writing this part of your story. First, consider the Rule of Threes. (“Huh?” You say.) As in so many things in life, threes work well with readers. By this I mean the story will do well to have the hero face three major tests, find three important allies and encounter three premier enemies. The Rule of Threes need not be followed, but it is a great concept if you’re new to storytelling. I don’t know why, but threes do seem to work.

Another hint is to have your hero encounter a simple test or two early on so he can grow into his new, more dramatic self in realistic fashion. You don’t want someone with a fear of heights to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel in chapter two. He has yet to build the necessary courage and knowledge. Instead, maybe he climbs a tree and freezes half way to the top. He falls and survives, thus learning a valuable lesson he needs to go over the falls. That’s the sort of thing I mean for your readers will not believe he goes over on purpose without first accumulating a bit of knowledge. Your reader also needs to know who your hero will react to various situations. If he fell over Niagara Falls right away, he’s going down screaming like a little girl, yet maybe only a yelp escapes him as he falls out of the tree. By the time he goes over Niagara, he’s able to hold his tongue and only moan a bit. Smaller tests help him to learn how to grow into the larger, more sinister tests.

A third tip, and a classic tip, is to use the seedy bar or nightclub as the setting. Of course, you can use any setting, but like the Rule of Threes, this seems to work. In my second book, “Pretty Boy and the Bugler” I used a saloon and it worked out quite well.

My fourth and final tip is to consider having the hero falter as he faces his initial tests. Again, this isn’t necessary but can lead to more excitement. If he does waver, how might he overcome? Ah, it’s good to have allies!

Okay, let’s take our regular look at Luke as he meets his Tests, Allies and Enemies.

Review the third tip above and you’ll see a seedy bar is a good place to begin. Well, remember the famous bar scene in Star Wars, A New Hope? What happened there? Luke confronted enemies, (the storm troopers, the creature who wanted to fight him), was tested, (he didn’t step down from the fight even though he would’ve lost), and he met two major allies, (Han and Chewbacca).

So, there you have it, Tests, Allies and Enemies. It was an interesting scene, wasn’t it? In fact, it was so interesting, it’s now classic of its own right. That is how important Tests, Allies and Enemies can be.

Keep in mind there may be more, many more, of these people and events in your story. For example, does Luke meet other allies? Sure he does. How about Yoda and the guy in charge of the cloud mining operation, (I don’t remember his name.). Does he meet other enemies? You betcha! He even meets someone who presents himself as an ally, (the cloud city guy), turns out to be an enemy, (he turns the band over to the Darth Vader), and an ally again. This guy even ends up a Rebellion general! Whew… what a roller coaster ride he is! By the way, this type of character is called a Shape-Shifter – something we’ll get into later.

Don’t think of this part of your story as done with a single scene for there should be many to build the excitement for your readers. Does Luke face other tests? How about the fight with Vader? He had a million tests as the story progresses. Does he meet other allies? Yoda is a perfect example. And talk about learning and growing! Yoda makes the guy hump around the planet with the Jedi on his back! It goes on and on.

So there you have it, Tests, Allies and Enemies. Make ‘em real, make ‘em scary and make a lot of ‘em.

Until we get together again, good writing.


Author of: Born to be Brothers

Monday, July 20, 2009

Crossing the Threshold

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Good day, Writers,

We’re learning how to write a novel by way of The Hero’s Journey, a classic “formula” for storytelling. We are using the original Stars Wars as our model and have seen Luke’s Ordinary World, watched him receive his Call to Adventure, saw him Refuse the Call and then he met, Obi Wan, his Mentor. Now Luke must face Crossing the Threshold.

Crossing the Threshold is an exciting time in your novel for it is here your hero leaves the world he has known and begins his epic quest. In the case of Star Wars, when does Luke cross his threshold? It’s when he returns after meeting with Obi Wan and finds his Aunt and Uncle killed by Federation troopers. In this scene, his very way of life is no more and choices must be made. He decides to become a Jedi. Why does he do that? Because it must happen to move the story foward.

Let’s evaluate this scene, shall we? Three things have happened here. The character is placed in a position where he must make some sort of decision, his only real option is to answer the earlier Call to Adventure and, finally, he made the correct choice by becoming a Jedi.

Looking at each of these stages of Crossing the Threshold, we find Luke’s entire life is gone and is given no choice but to decide something. Did he have other options? Sure. He could have simply gone to a friend’s home and taken a nap. He could have committed suicide. He could have become a hermit and spent his life fighting off sand people. There was any number of decisions available to him. However, had he not taken the choice he did, what would have happened to the story?

Next, Luke had to have not only a reason, but the reason, to take this very specific route. (Ah, motivation!) Why didn’t he take that nap? Why did Luke decide upon the Jedi route? Basically, the authors insured he had no other option. They forced this decision by developing the character to desire military training, having him meet Obi Wan and so on. The author’s made sure the right decision was the logical step to take.

Finally, Luke saw no other option than to make the very specific decision to become a Jedi.

So, how do we apply this to your novel?

You follow the same outline. You should put your hero in a position where he must make a decision. How do you do that? By destroying, metaphorically speaking, his Ordinary World. In A New Hope, that literally happens. It is not required you be quite so destructive, but in some way, your hero must face this traumatic crossroads. If he never faces this juncture, why would he ever leave on his journey?

Your hero must have motivation to take the route you wish him to take. In The New Hope Luke decides he must punish those responsible. Imagine if, instead of becoming a Jedi, Luke becomes an alcoholic. You can see how without the correct motivation, the story falls apart. So, too, your hero must receive the motivation to take the very specific action you want him to take.

Finally, your hero must take the correct action or, again, the story fails. What if your hero’s family is killed by a murderer and the hero decides to kill his aunts and uncles in retaliation? This decision makes no sense. His motivations must logically presage his actions.

He must face the problem, have the correct motivations for the particular action you wish him to take, and he must formally take the proper action. Without these three aspects, properly presented, you’ve cheated your readers and probably doomed your novel.

There you have it, Crossing the Threshold.

Until my next post, good writing.


Author of Born to be Brother

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Almost done!

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Well, my manuscript is coming right along! It's going out this week to my test market for feedback. After that, two more edits then it's on to that eerie world of publishing. Tell all your friends you know the author of "Born to be Brothers."