Plot It:  Plotter vs. Pantster

Should I or shouldn’t I?  Plot, I mean.  Here’s the question every writer struggles with.

Should I plot this sucker?  Or should I follow where the idea leads me?

Should I just launch into writing and see where it takes me?

Or should I plot out every scene and sequel, checking all the boxes?

Continue reading “Think like a Pro: Why Plot?”

Resurrection:  the return from the dead.

Although famous authors have played with the idea of resurrection, our protagonists don’t have to turn into zombies.  Neither do our antagonists.

Resurrection is not new life.  It is the reanimation of the old life, the former problem, the continuing central conflict of the entire story.

Stage 11 of the Archetypal Story Pattern is a dual resurrection.

Before we go into exposition, let’s look at three famous resurrection scenes from the world of film.

“What I tell you three times is true.” ~ “The Hunting of the Snark”, Lewis Carroll

Kill Bill

In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the bride is buried alive.  Grave-deep, encased in a pine wood coffin.  Her enemies believe she is “dead and buried” with no hope of resurrection.

Yet she wakes, assesses her situation, and implements a plan.  She punches through the soft pine then kicks and crawls out of the grave.  Her resurrection shocks an old man.

More shocks await the audience.

Her enemies have turned on each other.  The Black Mamba (Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver) killed the loyal brother Budd, and soon she is destroyed by the Bride (Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo) in a battle that was voted in 2005 as “Best Fight” at the MTV Movie Awards.

We are shocked when the Bride snatches out Elle’s remaining eye—just as Pai Mei snatched out her first one.

3 Lessons from Kill Bill

Lesson 1:  the Resurrection must shock.

Lesson 2:  the Resurrection, whether for the protagonist or the antagonist, must be parallel to another event in the story.  It should not be deliberately foreshadowed;  however, it should mirror the event.  In the audience’s afterthought, the parallelism will become a logical foreshadowing.

Lesson 3:  the Resurrection must present poetic justice.  Elle Driver killed Pai Mei, whom she hated because he snatched out her eye.  Beatrix Kiddo kills Elle Driver, not only in defense but also because Elle killed Pai Mei, whom Beatrix “loved”.

Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter’s Deathly Hallows part 2 gives us a resurrection of the protagonist after J.K. Rowling played throughout the entire series with the resurrection of the antagonistic force.

Because of the philosopher’s stone, Harry does not die.  In his Reward, he is re-united with Dumbledore and discovers victory is not only possible but nigh.  In the Resurrection stage, he returns to his body.  Voldemort is celebrating.  Hagrid is grieving.  Yet we the audience see the beginning tatters of the Death-Eaters’ collapse, as Draco Malfoy’s mother actually lies to Voldemort.

Her lie tells us that Voldemort is not omniscient.  Those who are not omniscient are also not omnipotent.

The mano y mano battle between Harry and Voldemort is intercut with scenes of Hermione and Ron tackling Nagini, the horcrux-holding python.  Hermione and Ron can seemingly do nothing against Nagini.  Harry seems equally matched to Voldemort, neither able to get an advantage over the other.

Enter Neville Longbottom.
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Neville kills Nagini

Two events are juxtaposed.  Neville’s unexpected defeat of the snake precedes Harry’s expected defeat of Voldemort.  Neville is the surprise in this parallel resurrection scene.  Nagini’s death receives our audience’s exultant shout while we merely celebrate Voldemort’s disintegration.  We glory in Harry’s power overwhelming Voldemort, but we are not punching the air in celebration.

3 Lessons from Deathly Hallows

Lesson 1A:  If the protagonist’s battle with the chief antagonist will contain no shock, then another character playing an unexpected role should step forward.

Lesson 2A:  The parallelism of the resurrection scene can be with other characters besides the protagonist or antagonist.

Lesson 3A:  The poetic justice occurs with Voldemort’s defeat and death.  The best part of this scene is his horrified look at the Elder Wand.  Now, at his end, he realizes it does not answer to him as he expected it would.  His richly-deserved death almost seems anti-climatic:  deserved yet subdued, pitiful while we feel no pity, almost beautiful in his dissolution.

Return of the King

Golem’s re-appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s culminating resurrection scene for The Return of the King is a necessary surprise.  The surprise occurs because Frodo and Sam left Golem behind.  Golem’s participation in this scene is a necessity because the Ring has finally corrupted Frodo’s intention.

Like Rowling’s Voldemort, Golem is a “dead” creature throughout the series.  He lived off the dead goblins who fell into the abysses of the Mines of Moria.  His old Hobbity self warred constantly with his evil self until the Hobbity self died completely, letting only the evil self alive.

His disappearance seemingly “removed” him from the immediate storyline.  Then he re-appears to fight Frodo in the lava-filled doom of Mount Mordor (just as Bilbo had his own mental battle with Golem in The Hobbit = parallelism!).

Because Golem once possessed his precious, he understands how to find a wearer of the Ring.  No one else in the series has understood this.  Yet, for the audience, it is still a shock when he leaps upon the invisible Frodo.  They fight, a staggering stumble of pummels and buffets on the edge of the rocky spit over the lava river.  The second shock occurs when Golem bites off Frodo’s finger to get the Ring.  He dances to his death.

And with the Ring’s destruction, Sauron’s entity is destroyed.  The trapped Eye of Sauron’s essence frenziedly tries to tear itself away from the destroyed Ring but cannot.

3 Lessons from RotK

Lesson 1B: Golem’s surprising return, his shocking ability to “see” Frodo as well as biting off his finger (mutilation to the hand is somehow more horrible than other grievous bodily harm).

Lesson 2B: Frodo and Bilbo had parallel battles, physical and mental, against Golem.  Bilbo outwits Golem;  Golem “defeats” Frodo.

Lesson 3B:  Golem dances as he falls to his death.  And with the Ring’s destruction, Frodo is returned to his “pure” self;  his innocent intent is resurrected.  Sauron bonded his essence to the Ring.  He believed in the Ring’s indestructibility.  With its destruction, he discovered he break the bond.

Four Compass Points of the Resurrection

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an old compass rose

The Resurrection requires from us writers four important points as we begin wrapping up our story.

Aim North = 1.

The protagonists face their own mortality, whether it is a brief brush or an imminent danger or an actual death.

How the protagonists confront death is the salient point.  Facing death reveals the extreme importance of the protagonists’ desire to achieve the ultimate goal that set them on this journey.

The goal may have changed.  The original desire has not.  The Dear may have changed—and should have.  The desire that fuels the old and new Dear will not have changed.

Contrast the Bride with Frodo. 

She is fully conscious;  he is under the influence of the Ring.  She is driven;  he becomes aimless.  She visits poetic justice twice upon Elle Driver:  the eye snatch and her presumed death from the viper she used to kill Budd.  Frodo receives no ironical justice:  Golem defeats him then falls to his death.  Frodo is ring-less and ring-finger-less.

Our protagonists’ honor and nobility shine through when they face their mortality and still plunge into the last battle.  Death may occur.  They willingly face it.  Why?  Their desired goal is more important than their own self.

Drive Southward to the Doom = 2

The antagonists face their own mortality.

To kill an antagonist who does not realize he is being killed creates a sense of futility.

And the antagonists’ response to impending death is diametrically opposed to the protagonists’ response.  The antagonists fear death.  Voldemort hid parts of his soul in the horcruxes then hid his horcruxes in a bid to live on and on and on.  Unlike the Energizer bunny, however, his life is more in danger because of his piecemeal soul.

Obsession and Fear

Golem’s obsession with his precious Ring is so powerful that he is blind to his own danger and death.  He “died” years and years before.  His obsession with the Ring gave him purpose.  Its loss restored him to the upper world.  The new ringbearer almost—almost!  What a pitiful word!—resurrected his humanity.  Only in Golem’s last blink does he recognize death is on him.  Then we see a brief glimpse of his terror.  In the next blink he disintegrates.

The death and destruction of Sauron’s Eye, however, gives us the essential realization of impending death.  The Eye’s frenzy becomes more powerful than Golem’s blink.

Head to the Expected East = 3

The Resurrection is both destruction and re-creation.

The antagonist is destroyed.  The antagonistic force is defeated.  The evil is stuffed into a coffin.

Writers who want a sequel need to take lessons from Tolkien and Rowling:  each book must have its own antagonist to be defeated while the series’ antagonist must be completely defeated in the final book of the series.

No hiding additional horcruxes.  Give the story up.

Love your protagonists too much to let them live happily ever after?  Start a new series.  Years on, with a completely different antagonist.

Re-creation is as important as destruction

Harry is his own self and more.  He breaks the Elder Wand and tosses it into an abyssal canyon (the film.  In the book, he restores it to Dumbledore’s tomb, still a severed connection).  Harry refuses to wield the great power gifted to him.  He refuses to allow power to corrupt him.  (Thank you, Lord Acton.)

Frodo’s own self is restored—yet wearing the Ring has also broken him.  He must leave with the last elves.

The Bride is now free to seek her daughter, restoring the connection and creating a future with her daughter.  Her battle with Bill is not titanic although it is matchless.  It allows the Elixir which is the last Stage of the Archetypal Story Pattern.

Skew West = 4

As noted in the lessons, the Resurrection must shock the audience.

Not with gore.  Not with a new twist.  A new twist only continues the story longer.

The shock must be something the audience didn’t anticipate yet in hindsight truly appreciates.  No foreshadowing for the shock.  We have to build the elements in such a way that we logically accept their occurrence even as we emotionally celebrate them.

This shock is particularly hard to write since the early-on Stage 2 set up our anticipation of the final battle.

Neville’s chopping off of Nagini’s head is the shock.  Voldemort ripped Neville’s “soul” away when he killed his parents.  Neville has had to rebuild his “soul”.  How fitting that Neville kills the last holder of Voldemort’s piecemeal soul. 

As for the audience, well, we anticipated Voldemort’s defeat.

Careful with Shocks

Knowing the antagonist will be defeated is not where the shock will occur.  Unless our audience is reading one of the so-called “edgy” new series in which the protagonist is killed.

(Killing the protagonist is not edgy, BTW;  it infuriates the audience.  It’s a cheap way to be edgy.  We writers are better than that.  Find another way.  Keep the audience reading to your next series.)

Quentin Tarantino gives us an unexpected relish with the eye-snatch.

Golem’s reappearance surprises.  The SHOCK occurs when he takes both ring and ring finger from Frodo.

And then we nod, at Neville, at the Bride, at Frodo.  Yes, that is symbolic parity.

Wrapping Up

Remember the 3 Lessons and the 4 Compass Points when constructing the ultimate battle scene of destruction and resurrection.  The expected and the unexpected will satisfy the audience.

Not only will they keep reading to the end of the book;  they will also buy the next and the next and the next.

“No man can enter the same river twice, for the second time it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” ~ Heraclitus

All-Out Hatred:  the Ordeal

75% of our writing energies have built to the Ordeal.  ¾ of the book is behind us.  Are we ready?

Wrapping up the last blog, I said the Ordeal is all-out hatred: Click here to read.

It has to be hatred.  This Ordeal is the supreme battle.

And the outcome of that battle?  The encounter with chief antagonist must drive our protagonists to sacrifice everything to defeat her/him. 

If unsuccessful, our protagonists will be imprisoned by the antagonist;  escape isn’t possible. 

If successful, remnants of the antagonistic evil remain to twine python-like until Stages 10 and 11.

Protagonists

To this point, our protagonists have struggled through tests—with mixed successes and failures—designed to change and to prepare for the Ordeal (July 20 Blog).

Now, here at the Ordeal, they do not dare fail.  Failure means dire consequences.

The Ordeal is not a proving ground;  it is the battlefield.

Strategies, skills, and allies are all essential for this battle.

However, this is not the ultimate battle;  that comes at Stage 11:  Resurrection.

Persuasion

Anne Elliott has struggled to retain her dream against her obedience to family, her private desire against public criticism.  The daughter of nobility, she fell in love with an untitled sea captain unacceptable to her family and her mentor.  Anne’s introverted personality prevented her from publicly declaring her dream.

In the Ordeal, Anne finally and publicly demands her desire.  She tells her brother-in-law. She exhorts him to ensure that Capt. Wentworth comes to her family’s party.  Her urgency is an open declaration of her love brought into the very circle that rejected him.

In the 1995 film, after her declaration to her brother-in-law, Anne encounters Frederick Wentworth on the street.  Her brother-in-law continues on while Anne and Frederick cleave to each other.  After the kiss we have been rooting for, they stroll through the streets.  They are so engrossed in each other that they don’t even see the arrival of a circus.  The celebratory and exotic circus they care about is the connection of their hearts.

13th Warrior

The Ordeal in this film occurs deep in the lair of the Wendol, the cannibalistic cave-dwellers.  While Ibn and the remaining warriors hold off the Wendol warriors, Buliwye goes to defeat the “Mother of the Wendol”.

Buliwye is conditioned to protect women, from queen to the lowliest servant.  Early in the film, at the Call to Adventure, when Ibn first meets the Northmen, we see Buliwye’s conditioning.  The dim lighting makes the details difficult to see but invest the effort.

The old king is dead;  a new king must be found.  The challenger sits beside Buliwye at the funeral feast.  He wants to attack, hoping to catch his rival by surprise.  He plans to strike as the servant girl offers a tray of food.  Yet Buliwye anticipates his rival’s plan.  When the girl offers the tray, he backs her up with a gesture—getting her out of the way before the battle begins.

At the Ordeal, Buliwye faces the Wendol Mother: a queen with a harem of warriors,  someone who considers human sacrifice as holy worship and who is a cannibalistic predator:  “They eat the dead.”

She is his ultimate enemy.

The unexpected opponent for a hulking Northman
  • He anticipates an old woman;  she is young.
  • He wields a sword;  she has only a claw.
  • He knows women are weaker than he is;  she levels their battle with poison.
  • He expects a woman untrained in battle;  she fights with speed and skill.

She is everything he doesn’t expect—and she cuts him with the envenomed claw because he never expected “her”.

The Antagonists

Wars are not won if the protagonist doesn’t have all-out hatred for the antagonistic force.

Anne Eliot has to hate her family’s hidebound snobbery and illogical relationships to cast off her belief in their “rightness”.  We have seen her change coming.  

  • her older sister’s entitled privilege,
  • her younger sister’s absolute selfishness,
  • and both evils in equal parts in her father. 

Lady Russell her mentor is now also proven in error, by Mrs. Smith’s gossip based on fact, not speculation.  Anne’s inner guide led her to Frederick;  now she understands that her love for Frederick was a leading “away” and not “astray”.

Because he didn’t expect the Wendol Mother, Buliwye didn’t “hate” her enough.  His mortality comes rushing toward him.  He separates her head from her body, defeating her.  But she has already killed him, slow poison with no antidote.

And the Wendol leader still remains.

The Antagonists and their Ordeal

In the Ordeal, good writers consider their protagonists’ hatred of the antagonists.

Great writers consider their antagonists’ hatred of the protagonists.

The antagonist has three shining moments in the story:

  1. When the dear is destroyed, propelling the protagonist into the journey (Stage 2).
  2. This Ordeal
  3. The Resurrection (Stage 11)
Deathly Hallows

The Resurrection is the culminating battle:  Harry and Voldemort, finally mano y mano.  Yet we are in the Ordeal.  The protagonist wants success—he might even achieve it, temporarily.  However, the antagonistic force remains strong until Stage 11;  the Ordeal is Stage 8.

Antagonists despise everything the protagonists stand for.  Their hatred, however, becomes a weakness.

Voldemort in the Deathly Hallows Ordeal gloats over his success in enticing Harry into the Forbidden Forest.

  1. He has won!  Harry cannot escape him.
  2. And the poor deluded fool willingly sacrificed himself for weak wizards and half-bloods.
  3. This deluded fool will die.

But . . .

  1. Harry could never escape Voldemort;  they were connected from the beginning although Voldemort didn’t know it.
  • Harry has realized the connection between them.
  • That connection has to cease, or Voldemort will continue to live.

2. Sacrifice for others is not a weakness, but a strength.

  • Friendship is common caring and loyalty.
  • Voldemort does not inspire friendship.  His followers stay because they hate the opposing side or they delight in evil.  Neither reason inspires loyalty that endures hardship.

3. Harry will not die;  he has the philosopher’s stone.

  • Voldemort’s unknown horcrux will die, weakening him in unexpected ways.
The Deathly Hallows’ Ordeal
is a series of juxtapositions
between Harry and Voldemort.

The Inmost Cave of the Ordeal is more than the location, the Forbidden Forest.  The darkest fear of all is Death, for the audience as well as for this antagonist.  Voldemort, who fears death more than anything else, believes he has conquered it.  The darkest evil is revenge.  Harry counters Voldemort’s revenge against all perceived slights with compassion and loyalty and sacrifice, the ultimate loving gift.

The Ordeal leaves Voldemort thinking he has won and Harry knowing that he has.  The encounter with Dumbledore merely confirms what Harry has discovered and what Voldemort will never understand.

All-out hatred never withstands love.

Wrapping Up

We strengthen our story’s Ordeals by considering both protagonist and antagonist.

We can choose to have our protagonist succeed or fail.

With Persuasion, success leads to greater success.

In 13th Warrior, we anticipate a heroic death even as we screw up tension for the final battle.

Deathly Hallows shows us failure that is success and success that is failure.

Coming up is Stage 9, a Reward.

Without a Reward, few audience members are willing to continue with our stories.  And face it, we writers need a reward as well.

Join us on the 20th!

 

 

Writing Story: Tests

Tests.  Trials.  Tribulations.

In School

Tests determine what we know and don’t know and how well we are surviving a course.

90% level:  we’re great. 

75%:  hanging in there. 

60%:  barely getting by. 

35%:  Are we even trying?

Some students naturally excel, and don’t those of us who are struggling envy them?  Some students are distracted or unprepared.  Others seem blithe and carefree to hide their angst.

public domain image
How do we judge our work? Our life’s progress? Anything long-term when we see no immediate results? It’s not as easy as a scantron test.
In Life

Our tests in life are more intangible than 50 questions covering Rationalism.  Are we working well enough, creatively enough to earn that pay raise or promotion?  Have we met the clients’ expectations?  Did we play a hand in the healing?

We face trials with family and friendships, with finances and life spaces.  We face trials in the daily grind and the major passages of life.  And we face tribulations that scare us and scar us, that drive us to our knees and measure the mettle of our backbone.

Read that last sentence again.

We face tribulations that scare us

and scar us,

that drive us to our knees

and measure the mettle

of our backbone.

  • This sentence is the directive for our writing.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat.  “We’re all mad here.”

~ Lewis Carroll

Examinations

In the 12 stages of the Archetypal Story Pattern (ASP), we must remember that each stage is not a single scene with its seque to the next stage.

The Tests Stage is the clearest example of this.

The very name of the stage clues us in that we are dealing with a plural.  In the Tests, we “measure the mettle” of our protagonists as they encounter allies and enemies (the focus of our next blogs).

The greatest Tests in the ASP will not occur in this stage.  The Ordeal (Stage 8) is intended to be the moment of greatest difficulty for the protagonists.  Two remaining stages present the last, crucial challenges (10 and 11).

What, then, is the purpose of these Tests?  Training?  More sacrifices?  Or something even greater?

Initiation and Transformation

Tests, Allies, and Enemies falls as the 6th ASP Stage, 3rd of the Initiation and Transformation segment.

The Destruction of the Dear at the Call to Adventure propels the protagonist into the journey.  However, change does not occur at that point.

Change only occurs when people accept that they must adapt to a difference.  The protagonists enter the difference when they meet the mentor.

The Threshold Crossing causes the first adaptation by preventing an easy return to the Ordinary World.  From that stage onward, protagonists are on a journey they actively pursue and will not retreat from.

Thresholds are Tests

crossing the threshold means encountering such tests
Chinese temple fu dog, a terrifying guardian

What are the tests?  How do the protagonists overcome them?  Why are they placed in the protagonists’ way?

Each test has three parts.

  • The Threshold into the Test
  • The Encounter with the Threshold Guardian
  • Acknowledgement of the Lesson(s) of the Test

The Threshold is the Testing Gate, not a mere event to be overcome.  Each threshold should build suspense.

Now, I’m going to say something obvious.  Each testing gate has a path to it and from it.  Don’t skip over that.  We often skim the obvious and move on, not realizing its importance.  Our protagonists should not bounce from event to event.  Create a lead-up with its blindness or stress, the event, and a leaving with its new sight or relief.

The Lessons of the Test

Coming after the defeat of the guardian and before the next test’s gate appears is the protagonists’ acknowledgement of the test’s lesson.

When our protagonists reel from one event to the next, we remove the audience’s emotional connection to them.

The protagonist can refuse to acknowledge any lesson—which is itself a test to be overcome.

Without acknowledgement of a lesson, the protagonist remains static.  Protagonists should be dynamic—unless you are writing post-modern absurdism.

We can have our protagonists acknowledge that the path requires too much sacrifice and try to abandon the journey.  However, the journey should and will pull them back.  They can question and re-think approaches to their journey.

Look at what they have sacrificed, at their accumulating scars.  Is the journey worth it?  Is an easier path available?  Will the easier path lead to an equivalent or greater treasure at the end?

Yes.  No.  No.  These MUST be the answer to those three questions.

Our protagonists may not achieve their short-term goals without connections with allies and enemies, both secret and obvious.

How Many Tests?

Each lesson leads to knowledge necessary to overcome the Ordeal.

And this is the reason that writing is a recursive process.

We may set up all the tests that we think are necessary only to reach the Ordeal and realize additional knowledge is necessary.  Will that knowledge come from the mentor—to be followed or not—or from the tests with their lessons?

Or we may reach the Ordeal and realize some of our tests are superfluous.

Add or cut, as necessary.

Every scene in a story must have a purpose.  Every test must have a purpose.  Like puzzle pieces, tests should foreshadow the Ordeal.

One of the first great tests for the fellowship
A threshold that foreshadows: Moria in Tolkien’s first book of his great trilogy

In Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, the great battle against the orcs and goblins in the Mines of Moria foreshadows the huge battle of the Pelennor Fields at the foundations of Minas Tirith near the end of The Return of the King.

The lessons Aren learns from the Hob about taking pieces of power from the various magical creatures helps her to understand how to defeat the corrupt mage at the end of Patricia Briggs’ The Hob’s Bargain.

Understanding that love is more enduring and powerful than station or wealth helps Darcy decide to cleave to Elizabeth, no matter his feelings about her family in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Tests link the several stages of the ASP.  They can hark back to the Call2Adventure, the Refusal of the Call, and Crossing the 1st Threshold.  They are part of the run-up to the all-powerful Ordeal, yet they also touch fingers to the Road Back and the Resurrection of the Evil.

Coming Up

10 types of Allies and Enemies fill the arenas of the Tests.

Catwoman is Batman's greatest test
Love Interest Catwoman toying with Batman

Kick back in August as we explore all 10 of the Allies.  It will be September 10 for the Enemies.

  • Threshold Guardian
  • Ally
  • Foil
  • w/ a special word on the Love Interest
  • Herald
  • Blocking Figure
  • Idol
  • Trickster
  • Shapeshifter
  • Villain
  • Shadow