You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Plot Mechanics’ category.

There’s a million tricks on mechanics, dramatic devices, and cast development, but the most important for good writing is also the simplest. You have to be honest. I’m not saying you have to write the truth, because part of being honest is realizing truth is like opinions and everybody has them. But you have to be willing to write the elephant sitting in the room.

Whatever it is you, or your characters by projection aren’t talking about, chances are that’s actually your golden ticket to producing a work that is both fascinating and original. That also means it’s hard work.

Maybe it comes out fast on the page, but the real work happens in your own ability to discern your biases, and be willing to look deeper into your characters, at their challenges, but also backward through time to what caused their behaviors and your own as their author.

Yes, you do get to a point where you learn how to seamlessly merge total fiction and mechanical polish with the rough, beating heart of honesty, but if you’re ever stuck with an outline that is suddenly looking very flat and cookie cutter on the page, consider the one thing that would make you break out in a cold sweat to come face to face with, or blush at to hear whispered about yourself at a party? Make it real, then make it relate to something you want to write about.

Maybe this is what bothers your characters, and maybe it isn’t, but if you can come up with half a dozen of these little phrases, you’ll be writing stories that ring true and have that quality unnamed for a long time to come.


I just read Plot to Punctuation’s Top 9 Character Tips for 2009 for additional tips for character development not just in the scope of avoiding stereotypes. These are great tips by Jason Black.

As a follow-up Elements of a Novel writes:
“All stories are about people, even when they’re about rabbits. And the stories that move us most, the ones that stick inside years later, are those inhabited by characters we can connect with and admire. And no characters resonate more than those who in the course of a story learned how to transcend their own flaws and weaknesses to do something great—this is known as a Character Arc…”

I’m sure there are many other good resources on this topic and I’ll add them here as I find them. I’m discovering Twitter to be an incredibly invaluable resource for all sorts of amazing links.

Some of my new favorite blogs are: A wonderful resource from Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who regularly posts great links on just about anything new writers might encounter. Her comics are great and her icon makes me smile. Hey, what can I say. She’s doing a ton to help the writing community. I don’t think people get enough credit considering how much time it takes to blog, write, etc.

Teresa Gomes runs quotes for writers, with plenty of inspiration. One of the great advantages to writing is that you have the thoughts of your predecessors already written down. I say, use it. Amazing people referenced daily.

Screenwriter John August keeps an insightful blog up on screenwriting, and it’s great to read multidisciplinary material. Screenwriting is very structured as a necessity of production. Thinking like a screenwriter can help with plays, novels, story boarding, and outlines to cut down on development time from inspiration to draft.

Nathan Bransford keeps a blog as a writer and literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. He’s written Jacob Wonderbar and The Cosmic Space Kapow and offers interactive contests with perspectives on the entries. This is a great learning tool.

Cheryl Klein is listed as a Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books and an editor at Scholastic. I find her posts really helpful and thought-provoking. She’s already helped my writing style since I’ve been reading her posts and I’m sure has influenced large swaths of re-writes in the right direction for many people. I highly suggest her to anyone interested in creating relevant manuscripts. Be warned she posts query letters.

I’m one of those people who respects being given the tools for self improvement, and then going off and working on it with minimal harassment on my part. Agents like Janet Reid create a persona I think to warn of their standards, but even this is done with best intentions in mind for the author. If you read her blog, she gives useful information and her honest thoughts on what makes for successful writing.

Character development is not about description, it’s a plot arc. If nothing else, that’s the easiest take-away I know. Remember that whatever your character situation. But if you’re looking for more definite ideas, try these:

Signs your character is taking shortcuts instead of involving:

1. Description: With a third of the current description deleted, could your target audience still guess all the missing details you have prescribed? If this is the case, fine, let them. Save trees or it’s time to write a more complicated character.

2. Dialog: Is your dialog easily mistaken as originating from a popular brand or icon? If you are going to use Paris Hilton or Mr. T in your story, then let it be a parody or a satire about getting to know the actual Paris Hilton or Mr. T. At this point, Mr. T isn’t a description he’s a known stereotype. Regardless of moral judgments assigned to stereotypes, more importantly they’re just such overpowering associations. Millions of dollars have been spent saturating the social consciousness with these icons as a done package. You will be bleaching all the subtle tones of the rest of your story if you squash them with predictable pop figures in disguise.

3. Interaction: Do others wait patiently to hear what your character has to say? Nine times out of ten, you are creating a token power structure rather than a believable and realistic (read: respectful) relationship world for that character. Monologues can be very powerful if they reveal wit and tension in the character talking, but the reverse is what’s known as table dusting. The problem occurs when you give a character so little real interactivity in the story that he or she is relegated to half-time intermission cheer leading or sideline gossip. The metaphor goes, while two maids dust the tables at the opening of a scene they set up the tension of the main characters through random or forced exposition. It’s great to have a character slip an interesting fact in about another while in character, but to have the character’s soul laid bare in a one sentence monologue is more like an autopsy. More importantly, there’s very little you can set up in a glazed over summary that won’t be a stereotype. At that point, you’ve either got a flat character, or even more work disproving the stereotype than if you’d just avoided the table dusting to begin with. Now if you want to set a Red Herring, cheers to you!

4. Self Identity: Does your character fixate on an aspect of self-hood that does not actually tie into the plot arc or character arc within the frame of the story? I don’t make every personal conversation I have about my particular status in a variety of different groups. I do discuss it some, but the key is relevance. Every word spoken in your story has to serve a purpose. Yes, really. Whether it’s painting the backdrop of social tension in the home, or building the culturally acceptable level of intimacy your characters share for believability as the relationships progress, unless the problem with your character is his failure due to frequent non-sequiturs in professional conversation, don’t dirty bomb your story with details that in all honesty represent a part of yourself that you really want to write a story about anyway. Don’t be lazy. If you have a story to tell, tell it. If this is not your story, go tell the other. Make it powerful, not token.

5. B-Sides: If you took away some defining characteristic of your character, would this hypothetical person still have other definable and unique characteristics that a reader could identify? In classic story structure the hero typically starts his or her quest going after the perceived self, and succeeds when the real goal is revealed. If you’re not writing a story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, your character is going to suddenly begin to look like the body snatchers got to work when the page got turned. Your readers will then begin to see the inner workings of your plot, and will be suddenly distracted from your message. Bravery is great, but there had better be a fear of losing under that bravery, or your character has no thread of a quest to overcome and entertain us for the length of a story.

6. Image System: Is your character totally out of touch with a plot that will uncover their many complex affiliations? Is the character doing something initially that brings deeper meaning later when we realize why?

To put the whole question of stereotyping another way, is it better to be subtle and purposefully open-ended and risk being seen as ashamed of writing certain groups inclusively into your fictional reality, or is it best to stake a claim in the ground and use a story as a platform for bringing up a social group or hot topic? There are no right answers, but there are risks with each path to writing characterization.

Ask yourself, are you writing for a specific readership in mind, or is there a risk that others outside this group will want to enjoy your works? – and more importantly, do you want there to be a risk of readers from different perspectives all self-identifying with your story?

Certainly there is arrogance to universality, as if any human being could write such a classic story that everyone might want in on the action. But the flip side – driving the pendulum to the opposite camp – is basically participating in the same power strategy for dominant cultural assumptions as before. This is every bit as forgetful by some new group to claim all of human nature for themselves as the old group was to claim all that is holy in their own time. Soon there will be a new group that was just as marginalized to the same effect, so the King of the Hill strategy does not stand up to history and in fact explains how a lot of the richer meaning in past myth has been lost due to the dominant assumptions that seemed self-evident at the time.

In other words, instead of might makes right for social credit given to appealing character types, how about simply removing the blatant assumptions that your character is of course a member of whatever group? Leave it open, messy, complicated, and relevant. That means avoiding what you believe to be the given truths about your own culture as well. Your writing will improve the smaller you make your blind spot.

The Reader Makes Their Own Decisions

Don’t be so negative, I hear you say. Loosen up! Everybody makes cartoon cultures these days! Really, I’m not being that staunch. I can introduce you to staunch. But I am being critical, since the whole point of identifying new group and cultures is the art of being critical and socially discerning, no moral judgment implied either way. Your audience is going to add whatever personal experiences they have to bring. But I also feel that opening a path for them to do so is actually the more optimistic approach to writing diverse characterization. I also believe when presuming the true meaning of any social commonality, as a writer there is a real responsibility to be thoughtful and go beyond often oversimplified and therefore insulting assumptions for why life is hard or amusing, or worth living as perceived by different cultures, and really dig into what those characterizations really are. Make that commitment and world building happens more naturally.

Some Beginner Ground Rules for Avoiding Stereotypes:

1. Discipline yourself to avoid presumptions about how groups of characteristics go together.

2. Attempt to avoid all instantly identifiable characteristics of groups and cultures to which you do not understand more intimately. Start by avoiding them all-together. Realize how much you paint your protagonists and villains into tiny uninteresting corners. Explore what is less obvious about a group. Build compassion and connection with the reader, and surprise them.

3. Remember the surviving stories from other cultures never let a stereotype stand in for personal character identity. They were oral traditions embellished and given relevance on a tell-by-tell basis. What we have left are the bones of the animal, not the intended presentation. Those bones are your guide to a sturdy story mechanics. Resonating with early mythology says more about the similarities to human nature than the culture from which they came. The universal experiences that remain are still there for you to fill in those more subtle details. The fact that any recognizable form remains at all through the years is actually a sign of good storytelling. It shows past authors introduced a socially mobile meme into existence that can help build (and sometimes rebuild) new and evolving understanding of what it means to be human and perhaps fulfilled in a complicated world. This is possibly the original point of all shabby and misunderstood stereotypes long decayed past their use. Find the hose not the burning pile. Likely something’s under that great mess.

4. Remember the most powerfully motivating stories about social causes do not paint those causes as exclusive to any single stereotype or group. Do not attempt to subdue one misfortune or injustice in your story by marginalizing the opposite. Re: history, this never works and it isn’t a great model to support in literary fantasies, unless as a cautionary tale. Even then, mind the clue-by-fours. Be subtle and let the audience make their own connections to personally held stereotypes of iconic characterizations – that way the story comes home to them.

Myth Making in Modern Story-Telling

Legends are universal by design and frequently are more commercially successful because of it. This also explains a lot of the cyclical return to stories of mythology during downturns. Good myths remain socially evolving. There is truth to the appearance that dominant culture controls the wisdom of human past only if we let these preconceptions go unchallenged. Reclamation is the winning factor, not more of the same polarization shifted to a different side. Most myths today as we see them show only the recent paint job by the highest bidder. The human insights remain veiled until you peel down to the inner human experiences that other cultures have realized and implanted in story.

Is all this planning really necessary? Some people say no and write whole books at a sitting. As a disclaimer though, these people generally have quite a few early practice rounds that were works in progress before they got the hang of belting out sonatas. I certainly think there are no guarantees that planning produces a perfect story, especially on the first shot. I think it depends on the writer, but to have read this far, you might be someone who has found some interesting solutions to story problems you’ve run into without this level of structuring your characterizations. Really, I find it makes it easier to change your mind in the initial planning doodles. A doodle takes a day. A book edit takes functionally forever.

Is This Really Even Humanly Possible?

It sounds like a lot of effort, but the end payoff is worth it. The writer can be more honest with the reader up front about where the story is coming from by trying to leave the end text as stereotype-neutral as possible. Some personal bias always slips in because writers are human, and to strive for perfection is great, but to assume you have created it is frankly insulting to your audience. Attempting to focus on themes that are universal can build a powerful advantage and trust. Focusing on story rather than trying to use story as a vehicle for this or that often very simplistic and not very integrated message generates far more opportunity for social commentary that is relevant and powerful. By paying attention to the limitations of personal social experience, and trying to stay out of the picture, the writer makes a choice to let the story stand on its own merit. As a social commentary it then forces the reader to define and become aware of that defining process – much more powerful to show change – how it happens internally and emotionally, not table dust about it.

Good writers eventually choose to build their own mythology, and in doing so lose a little of the arrogance in presuming to fence in any group or character with exclusive stereotypical assumptions. This is why it works to begin by shedding as much of that personal baggage as possible. Not allowing yourself to define your character in predictable terms will result in better character creation.

The Caveat

First write what you’re going to write – don’t let fear of criticism dissuade you if you have good characterization and you’re tacking a really hot social topic, and frankly, you like what you’ve got. Done well, those are exactly the sorts of much-needed stories that make writing socially relevant. Also, a good scene is a good scene, and there’s no one I know who hasn’t done a scene and stolen it later as a shortcut to completion on an unrelated project.

Just remember a certain amount of self-questioning shouldn’t automatically be viewed as counterproductive for a writer who wants to approach really hot-button aspects of social identity. Stripping your own biases out of the story should be seen as mindful attempt to counteract the writer’s own social limitations in personal experience. I’m always warmed reading people who have a genuine interest in tackling tough cultural and social questions. But I am cautious of the way it’s done because it’s far more frequent that a writer mistakes a stereotype for a culture totally by mistake than for a writer to just write a good, complicated, interesting character who happens to be considered a member of one group or another by the reader. In fact the more readers who want to identify your character with themselves or in the case of the villain, their real-life opponents, the better you’ve done your job.

10 Traits of a Good Writing

1. Relevance. Stories that are timeless today were all relevant back then.
There’s an intriguing glimpse at the hopes and fears of the past which highlight our own.
2. Dialogue. The ability to communicate effectively and minimally.
3. Character. Character like good dialog is the creation of an insider world with the tools of subtext, linking each scene to the next for payoffs and paybacks to keep the readership or audience paying attention to the clues along the way.
4. Story. Story is the reflecting basic human archetypes, no matter how we may scramble them up like a rubik’s cube.
5. Clarity. The ability to write actions and activity which externalize characterization is essential for stage.
6. Metaphor. Externalization of action creates easier visualization for readers as well as audiences, often in the form of a unique symbolism that lives on after the work is finished.
7. Complexity. Modern and ancient readers never went for Dick and Jane. We misunderstand and oversimplify rich and forgotten subtexts from cultures we’ve moved too far away from to recognize in earlier works. B-plots have always been around, and were used correctly to balance the more difficult material encountered in the main message.
8. Structure. You can be the brightest literary genius of all time, but if you don’t understand how to frame your work, your reel will never play through at a scale your readers or audience can watch. It will always be stuck in your head until you discipline your work not to exceed the limits of human endurance.
9. Brevity.
10. Stealth. Never let them see it coming. Use externalization to create vivid visualization for unique metaphors your story can call your own. A unique metaphor means the connection is not overused and will be less likely to give your surprises away.

10 Traits of a Good Writer

1. Persistence. For those tapped to write, there is no choice in the matter. Persistence is the art of refinement.
2. Insight. Writing isn’t about gaining attention, it’s about giving insight – rare and hard won experiences you don’t want to tell.
3. Daring. Throughout history the best loved minds were mostly beheaded. This isn’t a warning, it’s a call.
4. Discipline. Writing is the art of starting. It doesn’t happen without planning – an outline, a beat sheet, and coffee.
5. Forgiveness. Single note emotions prejudice the story. Layered onto the deepest, darkest emotions, a little levity must fall.
6. Wonder. Perspective refreshes an old view. The untried angle is found through wonder.
7. Memory. A good memory creates a reality in writing that outdoes the detail we take in through normal experience. Writing has a resolution much like high definition.
8. Ethics. If a writer lies, the stories go stale, and if writers tell the truth, they live by it as well, producing the greatest stories.
9. Hope. Whether it’s a rejection pile or the character rising for act four, hope really does float us all.
10. Desire. If a writer has nothing else in the whole world, let it be desire because that sparks all. We are after all, only human.

Become a Manuscript Whisperer

You’ve seen those strange shows. Reality tv aimed at getting your pet/horse/strange Japanese youtube character to follow some unspoken direction. Creating a cohesive whole – otherwise known as story design – is a lot like getting some animal to animate in convincingly human terms.

‘Writing’ is ‘what I did on my summer vacation/personal fantasy on the train’ – but ‘Story Design’ is laying the bricks of a very rugged and methodical oven. It’s so unlike initial creative instincts to ‘just write’ – because it’s practically antimatter by comparison. It’s supposed to invisibly hold everything together, creating a speed and direction that seems like magic to the outside observer.

Writer’s Myth # 1:

Writers come up with a what-if and that becomes the premise of the story, right?

You’d think, but not from what I’ve seen. New writers get zapped with what-ifs meant to drive the dialog, but they usually end up being the arc of a specific scene, which will echo by and then be recorded. The larger story design has yet to materialize.

Which brings us to the tools of Manuscript Whispering…

Manuscript Whispering Step 1: The Notebook that Never Was

Keep the smallest moleskin possible on your body at all times. You are diabetic, and that notebook is the antidote. Be subtle if you need to, make it an address book, etc. but you need that notebook more than your laptop, keys or the litany of other usual suspects in distracting devices.

When some what-if story idea appears, one you really feel strongly would be a good story, write it down. You’ll know when it’s the right kind of thought bubble. It will demand your pen immediately. But before you set your pen down afterwards, write down whatever the characters would do or say in that situation in order to…

A. PHYSICALLY and EMOTIONALLY *GET* to that scene…
B. REACT after it happens… (and with who?)

You will naturally come to the end of the scene using these before/after prompts, and what’s more, you’re creating cohesive, self-contained units of story building blocks that don’t depend on you knowing the end of the entire story arc to constructively develop on their own.

Other uses for your Whisperings:

a. character names
b. ironically juxtaposed character profiles
c. titles and unusual little symbolisms
b. your theme/pitch/unique gimmick.

This is your primordial goo of evolving ideas. No one should see it but you. Moleskins come with convenient elastic straps for this purpose. You’ll be surprised how many people feel better once their loved ones have their votes reneged.

Manuscript Whispering Step 2: The Gimmick that’s Not

Give up on the idea that you would never use a ‘gimmick’ and understand your ideas will need to be looked at with a critical marketing perspective. Something unique or starkly differentiating your story from all the others like it – that is a gimmick. That’s all it is. You can have a pure art. Finding a playful way to make it worth reading to someone other than you is unavoidable. Also, it’s easier to agree with yourself on that gimmick from the beginning. Back-peddling on this is a bear.

Writer’s Myth #2

Pitch-writing is hard and takes a certain extroversion writers don’t have.

I will challenge you to a duel on this one. Writers are excellent communicators. Most writers who find they can’t pitch will discover the problem is with their ‘gimmick’ or uniquely differentiating idea. It’s not there. Ideas which are cliche are going to sound lame because they are. A little secret? Your gimmick is your story arc. They’re like mirror twins. Don’t look!

Manuscript Whispering Step 3: The Character in the Negative

A lot of a writer’s time is spent on defining what a character IS. This isn’t bad. But what if you read the blocks of story dialog you’ve collected over, say, a six month period, realize what kinds of characteristics are being projected in these discrete expressions of your growing story DNA, and then reversed them?

Balance in a story is what conflict is made – and resolved – from. If you have a lot of blocks that are red (heated dialog) – what is their common subject? If not a subject, a motivation. Once you’ve defined the similarities, next come up with characters to defy the ones you’ve already created on these common themes. If you already have too many characters, as many detail-oriented writers tend to create, begin to consciously ‘shadow’ the negative characteristic in another character. Likewise, a villain can only be so ‘bad’ before he or she is totally inaccessible, and therefore unrealistic, un-scary, and even worse, un-problematic. People cause us problems because we care about them. Dabbing similar shades of kindness and cruelty from your villains to your catalyst gatekeeper-types and vice-versa will give you the bridge conversations to ultimately net your story blocks together.

Even with the extraordinary adventures of every-day life, I’ve slowly built up an armory of these personal blocks. Writing software brags about them, but to DIY makes you a writer and gives you a chance to come up with the illusive, so-called “unique” idea that every writer is after.

You’ll dog-ear and number those blocks – it even helps to keep different color pens to separate them, or quickly color-code the mood or character of your off-hand writing in your notes. And in a about a week of on-the-side typing, you’ll have something you’ll actually like. It will stand on its own legs and look finished, even without the sheen of buffing and editing that will finally send it out of the plant.

Now does it sell? That’s a post for another weekend. But if you’re tired of manuscripts taking forever, and shouting the story out as a one-block continual narrative doesn’t work, try a little whispering.

I read one of the best defenses of writing for social causes this morning. The old adage swords are swift but quills sharper and easier to work with when you’re eating the morning toast comes to mind. At several pages it’s a real bit of actual writing, and is a deliciously thoughtful memoir by none other than author Neil Gaiman. He gets into the gritty of why edgy writing can ultimately help speak out about the realities people face, and in allowing possibly derogatory writing to exist, we generate the potential for a society which must face and react to it.

Gaiman argues (in a rather valiant effort) that by taking charge of our own preconceptions during the reactionary process of absorbing shocking art, we are ultimately growing into our own social responsibility. We’re allowing ourselves to become accountable as a society for much more powerful human experiences we may not have ever been presented with before. These things challenge us into understanding and forming an opinion on them. They make us think and decide and draw lines and ultimately solve the problems they highlight, and that’s a very good thing. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

It’s an excellent explanation for why writers must be at the forefront of shocking ideas – it becomes the responsibility of the writer to explore and make the reader aware of that which is hidden, shied away from, and instinctively rejected due to the limits of social propriety. I’m not saying embraced, but acknowledged, and accounted for in that human realities are not always (read: mostly never) what’s on the cover of the storybooks. The pat interpretive simplicities we are raised on give us the flat terrain of early childhood to enable us to grow into adults and that’s the point – growing into adults who can feel practiced enough on the bunny slopes of ethics to finally go after a few black diamonds in our broadening horizons. They offer space to place new steps of change.

Reach out for those diamonds, kids, for they shine the longest and are worth more than all the riches of any writing that came before.

In a meeting this weekend to go over some scene construction, the discussion came around to how do you best transition a scene while keeping the present behavior of the character active and interesting? This is pretty fundamental, but often lost, and easy to add.

The key is often what’s known as a closed transition, or in the case of an introduction to a new character, a closed entrance.

In step one, you just have to define their point of reference in the scene – ie. what is their state? You can think of it almost as “what color are they wearing?” or “what emotion?” What’s their chord?

Indiana Jones has his hat and his stoic sense of watchfulness – he was always on to something, doing something and caught in the middle. In class he was already at the chalk board / interacting with students. In an action scene he was planting his whip on some tropical tree branch / yelling directions.

Multitasking has to be kept simple, but if used well it does three big things to enhance the experience of the introduction. The first is simple: It sets the character within a scene instead of awkwardly out of the ether. It closes the entrance like a camouflaged army unit strafing in an unrecognized pattern across the field. As the audience or reader, you’re never quite sure when you began to notice the character from the meaningful visual explanation of the backdrop, and that leads to a very realistic scene that doesn’t seem as contrived as it might otherwise.

The second enhancement of the closed entrance provides the needed connection with the image system. If you haven’t read or downloaded, or been to the McKee Story Seminar yet, then you really should. But if you have, you will be familiar with the metaphorical connection good films have to their mythologies – an often poetically unique substructure of meaningful metaphors that tie in external imagery to the internal motivational and emotional states of the characters.

The image system is an invisible, common bond between each character, who will react differently enough each in turn to the same symbols such that the audience is treated to a double layer of camouflage through the entrances and exits of the characters, and the meanings behind their actions. This is also the layer at which sub-plots arise, as mini-narratives that human beings will intrinsically find more narratively cohesive and will work to piece together on the sidelines as they maintain their interest to the main plot arc of the story.

Say you have a character who’s fundamental role in a manuscript will be the secret-keeper or handler of the insert-artifact-here. Having them come through a door that leads to a smoky back room in a casino, having just stuffed a large wad of bills into his or her purse or wallet is a closed entrance. Instantly the audience has a reason presented to them to be intrigued by the character. There’s never a sense that the character is waiting for their cue – they’re in action, moving props, body and expression. Readers need this entertainment, too, and what’s more it’s a lot easier to include actions and thinking in a novel, so they must be narrowed down all the more to make sure only the meaningful stuff is there to count. The rest can be swept away.

Probably the most important reason to write closed entrances though, is that as a writer you will need to know as you are writing what each of your characters represents. Each closed entrance is a checkpoint for the mechanics of how a character relates to the image system as well as how their state has changed relative to the rest of the scene.

Including a healthy dose of active dialogue and taught closed entrances and exits also leaves the energy of the scene all intact for the next scene change. Similar to come in late and leave early, the closed entry automatically creates just such an event, however minor, to incite a reason for your characters to relay the plot information you’ve intended.

On that note, it’s time for bed… yawn.

The NY Times did a piece on writing that is very on target for writers at the edge of becoming good self-editors. Well, if there is such a thing as a good self-editor. I can’t tell. I can only assume you’re doing something worthwhile when you go above and beyond the usual spell check. (Yes, you really have to. It’s your part of the job.)

Cheers to Bloglily for taking up the craft of writing on the train. Yes, you CAN teach yourself quite a bit shoved up between a seminary student and a juggling child actor on the way home each night.

Absolute Write has some useful looking content. Enough to keep you busy while I’m off not answering my phone calls.

As for continuing the course, there is an upswing to it. The more you read and criticize your own work, the more ideas you will eventually have for improvement that you will like better. I had another delicious idea last night. Almost had my face planted on the keyboard before I gave up and went to bed. Sometimes you write through the normal routine just to stumble upon the useful bits. It’s like cleaning out an old attic. Who knew that was up there?!

Actually… back to work. I’ve said my piece. There’s seriously enough good links in here to keep you procrastinating for eons, but at least it will be about the thing you’re not doing right now – and should be.

While the sociological construct of writing character interactions may be grounded in motivational polarization, the source of those polar opposite expectations typically has to come from each character’s diverse situation. It may sound like a physics equation more than a writing philosophy, but I’m taking all this for granted at this point, and just speaking to hear myself or on the benefit of some stray passer-by. Dara Marks however, has written a full article about the subject of turning a character’s flaw into the fulcrum of each sub-plot. “The fatal flaw is a struggle within a character to maintain a survival system long after it has outlived its usefulness.” Don’t we all know people who exhibit some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder? Where does it come from? Every action. Every movement. Give your characters a reason, and the scene just might write itself…

Coincidentally, Marks is doing a seminar Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc on May 24-25 in LA. No NYC dates, apparently. Plane phobic?

Film Workshops Online is offering a free seminar Saturday, May 3 from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm on how to get a fresh start on new subject matter.

For some of us the problem is never shortage of ideas, but shortage of time. Most of us, even. I have a feeling large numbers of us are lunchers. However if you ever do find yourself stuck with a story you want to do, and a mechanical quandary you don’t know how to answer, this might just be the kick you need.

I thought this might be an apt topic considering the recent news of Harry Potter authoress J.K. Rowling, who’s suit against a fanfic writer attempting to publish an alphabetized list of her imaginary characters has many wondering why a study of the mythos surrounding a series that itself heavily borrows from myth would be considered infringement, or problematic to the author.

Ah, the meed-ja, as the British say. While I’ve sniffled in the past at the inability to quote full (short) works I’ve wanted to analyze and comment on, I must say that I’ve also found myself fully capable to express what I wanted to say without the crutch of the source materials.

Here’s the rub, and this goes for fan fic of all shapes and sizes: The BEST fiction, be it allusory to other work (most works typically are) or completely unusual (often in the way an in image system with a completely new metaphorical association has been crafted) all typically bring some sort of author-specific insight to the table.

In reading the Harry Potter “Secrets” paperbacks in the line at any chain bookstore, you will find, even after the incredibly insightful high points, that most of the content is a bit on the fluff. You might say this is because the author deftly uses the hot trend of the current pop subject matter to blend the reader into a more serious academic pursuit of deconstruction, but were that true, there would be no grounds upon which to have your trousers sued forth from your bottom.

One thing I protect dearly is the age old tradition of parody. I don’t mean meanness, for which it is sadly so often mistaken, but true parody in the sense of making light of the truly disastrous in an attempt to disarm our panic and lift our dread just enough to slip in a fresh, breezy injection of perspective that brings us all just a little further off the dirt floor of modern plasticine, and out just a little closer to the garden.

If you’ve ever read Rowling’s other self-written lexicons, they’re short little pamphlets anyone who comes in contact with children should at least be familiar with. But they’re also cute, and funny, with a hint of other information about her dizzying, operatic array of characters.

There have been rumors for ages about how she’s left her children alone and unattended while she went off to write, that she’s such a horrible writer from book one that it was made a children’s story, that she’s got a carrot for a nose and two lumps of cole for eye sockets and melts in the Summer until little children go and build her up again in the Winter time. Apparently the kids aren’t dead, none of the older ones look particularly starved or traumatized, except of course by the act of paparazzi stalking after them, and somehow the machine that is Harry Potter, whether you like it or absolutely despise it, has changed the whole map of modern English literature pretty much on the level that Charles Dickens did in his day.

It’s true, the first, from what I can tell in a flip-through, is simple simon. But that’s not the point, say her target fan base. Some of her later work, be it due to more relaxation on her editor’s part, or a more developed style gained through necessity, is quite moving, strangely at odds in some ways with the earlier books, but undeniably decent writing and well on par at the adult level. It’s not surprising young adult fans who have grown accustomed to her increasingly mature content to match their own developmental needs would then form a sort of cultural icon in her name.

In the face of that knowledge, a librarian who wants to make a book sorting a website’s worth of user-contributed fan-fic comments is possibly missing the point about what “Harry Potter” actually is — at least as much as an author who cares that a lexicon being published might actually even ding her titanium-plated hull.

But of course, she does make a good point. There’s only one author who can do the best job of writing a lexicon of all her imaginative inventions. It’s more a sign of the desperation and obsessive nature of fan writers that someone astute and determined enough to research and compile an entire lexicon of source research would, after all this time, never have it occur to them to use the million and one inspirational source works cited from ancient mythology to go off and write their own version entirely.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. I do it all the time, and I’ve helped other authors let go of the bottle in joint ventures to separate their genuinely good, original source work from the sloppy rough patches where they’ve glommed on to pop lit cliché instead of really finishing what they’ve started.

I know from the gate that I will likely be despised for ratting the old chains of “originality” and “artistic integrity” at first, but I also secretly know when they’re finally plotting their own original stories, because they’ve stopped waving them about to show everybody before they’re finished.

Real work is terrifyingly personal. It should be. And we should all be allowed to write that way because that’s the difference between slaving over a content carping website versus a billion dollar franchise, one imaginary character at a time.