Saturday, 28 January 2012

Character Arc and Plot Structure

Since I seem to have caught a tinkering bug concerning my VOICE post, I am going to get this little insight into writing off my chest first. What I would like to talk about today is patterning a character’s, usually the MC’s, emotional journey after the plot structure of your novel creating a two-fold outline, combining action and character arc peaks.

Have you ever struggled with how to account for the emotional journey of your MC against the backdrop of your action sequences?

Plot structure -
At times I am clear on my character arc and clear on main events in my story line, but I need to take an extra step to assure that my peak moments carry the right emotional triggers next to the twists in the story line. Peaks in the plot usually accelerate the narrative or change the direction of your story. While serving as triggers for action, they can also jump start character change in your MC. 

Following the displayed plot structure model, I use the opening sequence/introduction for setting the scene and displaying the basic character traits of my MC. For example I could go with Lynn, a shy, harmony-loving, emphatic twelve-year old. In order to outline Lynn’s shy and harmony-loving personality traits in the introduction, I would indirectly involve her in a conflict situation in which she acts more as an observer –e.g.: a school yard bullying scene.  Her empathy would be shown in her care of the victim after the attack, but at the same time, her flaw would become obvious. She is a coward and not standing up for what is right.
The inciting moment in turn triggers an emotional response which sends her on her journey towards bravery and self-respect. Lynn who has avoided the wrath of the bullies so far, suddenly finds herself the target and out of fear is forced to do something against her will. Fear as an emotion combined with her deep empathy could easily swing into anger and self-disgust which often serve as emotional triggers for change. Consequent peak moment in the building section of the novel would then confront Lynn with different emotional experiences forming her new character.

During the building phase changes of scenery often serve as a great way to tell backstory and allow new impressions and triggers to push the story and character arc forward. Taking Lynn out of her school environment, for example, will put the bullying into perspective against a bigger scale – the real world.  At the same time, the broader perspective gained through looking beyond the class room will expand Lynn’s horizon in terms of self-awareness. I imagine it would be a great experience for Lynn to volunteer at a retirement home. The life experiences of the residents would act as a further catalyst for her change. Adapting to a new environment would give Lynn the emotional maturity and self-awareness to redefine herself in the school environment. In another peak moment, it would give Lynn the opportunity to recognise that her role in school is her choice cemented in how she reacts to the bullying. 

The climax is reserved for Lynn’s breakthrough moment: She overcomes the bullying problem and at the same time validates her new personality traits. Lynn confronts the bullies and stands up for her friends, maybe even getting the miscreants to repent. The emotional trigger here could be relief and a feeling of accomplishment. 

The resolution/conclusion would then describe her new reality and show case her gained emotional maturity. If you wanted to add an extra twist to the climax, you could also let Lynn’s character swing into an unexpected direction where self-assurance bleeds into arrogance at the triumph over her bullies. Lynn emerges as the leader of a new bullying band.

That is where the creative licence of an author takes centre stage. The important thing I learned, however, is that I can match each peak moment in my plot structure with an emotional trigger propelling forward my character arc while at the same time accelerating my narrative through the action.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

What Writing Means To Me

Writing means that I can see this world or a new world from different perspectives. I can look beyond my own horizon, experience impossible situations and explore unique ways of life. Writing allows me to tap into the emotions and reactions of characters with outlooks and ideals different from my own. It’s a rush and an escape.

What does writing mean to you? Brian Klems' WD Challenge for Today.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Snowman Character Study

It finally snowed today! When I saw the pillowy white flakes slowly turn the view outside my window into a winter wonderland, I knew that I had to get out there. After weeks of spring temperatures, white is finally pearling along the bare branches of the trees and coating the dirty streets. Grabbing all the materials I could, I set out to built myself a snowman or two with character...
Back from my excursion I proudly introduce you to Periwinkle Stein and his equally sophisticated sister, Dorothea. Recently returned from their scientific expedition to the North Pole, they are now surveying the snow quantities in my little courtyard. Dorothea certainly looked ready to deliver a full report, well-structured and in her diligent hand writing I would expect. Matching her optimistic outlook, she seemed confident that they would have a handle on the situation by tomorrow. Equally in his element, Periwinkle arrogantly assured me that not a minute change in the consistency and cropping of the snow flakes would pass him by. Knowing his dedication to detail, I don't doubt it.

But their expertise in snow aside, those two certainly are two interesting characters...

Monday, 16 January 2012

A Jewel from a Pack Rat's Treasure Trove

One of the first things any writer will tell you is to never throw away any piece you have ever written. It might prove inspirational or otherwise useful at a later point in time. It's also the perfect excuse not to get rid of precious pieces of writing which didn't make the editing cut ;)

Quick Intro: The croigreach, a triad of three prophecied warriors, - Calynorne is one of them - just arrived in Anat and discovered that the slaves have banded to form an underground resistance against slavery. Their home base is an intricate cavesystem spanning the town of Anat and the adajacent forest. In this scene, Fenella - shrine priestess of the resistance - leads up to the story of the resistance's birth.

Outtake Celtic Forest - Book 2:

“Gaoth an Iar, the Rune of the Western Wind“, Fenella finally intoned quietly, carefully settling a pendant into the palm of her hand, “It is the final rune that binds the seven clans of Anat together.” At the hint of confusion in the croigreachs’ eyes, a small smile tucked at the corner of the priestess’ lips. Slowly, she drew back the sleeve to reveal one of her wrists. The same italic rune as the one engraved on the pendant spanned her pulse point in a black green shimmer. “Seven runes mark the members of the resistance, each announcing the unique talent an individual carries.  These symbols of Old rose from the depth of legend together with our ancestors’ fighting spirit, gifted to us on the day when we faced the first challenge of our new people: the loss of Mhanaidh, the priestess who blew into Anat with the Western Winds and saved us all. The runes are our centre points, an heirloom of the first families to enter a new life. Intermixed, the blood of the seven Western clans of Géobhan Ridge flows in our veins yet the seven clans have risen again uniting each of us under the guidance of a rune gifted to us by Mhanaidh, but I am getting ahead of myself. I shall introduce myself first.”
    Lifting her grey gaze to the three strangers opposite her, a proud smile stretched her lips. “I am Fenella, priestess of the shrine of Gaoth an Iar. I, solely, stand apart from the seven clans, bearing the responsibility of fulfilling the teachings that were left to us by the priestess that saved us all: Mhanaidh of Celtic Forest.” Reverence rung in the elder woman’s alto as her fingers softly stroked the curves of the pendant in her palm. Tilting her head to the right, she studied the fabled croigreachs. “I am responsible for watching the western winds and listening to the messages they carry to us. For days they have been whispering of your coming, telling me that I had to prepare for your arrival.” Calynorne felt confusion well at the admission, but Fenella quickly dismissed that titbit of information.
Her grey eyes grew distant. “But as I said, let us start at the beginning: In the time of our great-grandfathers, when our people listlessly waited for death in the barren slums of Anat. We did neither distinguish between winter nor spring nor summer, then. Endless days bled into the next, cold or heat slowly absolving the few lucky ones among us from the hell that was life on this plain. Life was an endless succession of sacrifices, one day bringing little more than the next. But then, one day, upon the wings of a cool western breeze, a silver cloaked stranger blew into the heated streets of the slums. The air stirred with a different kind of energy. Hope…
I love the background story this scene reveals. Alas, there is such a thing as too much information in a sequence which causes the story to slow down. Well, my writer's heart is still bleeding everytime I have to cut out a fascinating new insight I gained on the world I created. Tough luck, I guess.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Writer’s Anatomy: My Brain and Story Crafting

Have you ever had a moment when you felt like you were working on two tasks at once? Operating on two different levels to accomplish separate tasks? A moment where the two halves of your brain work parallel yet in perfect synchronicity?

Those moments are actually some of my most productive in terms of story crafting. When I’m not writing, my creative cells are busily at work rounding out characters, moulding worlds, testing dialogues and running scenarios. It’s as if a separate tape is running parallel to the train of thoughts plugged into the real world, a perpetual news reel passing my mind’s eye with occasional inspirational memos when reality bleeds into my creative thinking. I could be riding the train, find myself in the middle of a discussion on sustainable energy use or be jotting down my grocery list, yet at the same time I’m involved in questioning the motives of my main character or contemplating a hole in the fabric of my story. Writers tend to have a two-track mind when they are crafting. One part of our brain is charged with mastering life, while the other part is forever tuned into story town. Normally, my fantastic adventures become background noise, only gaining focus in moments when my fingers are flying over a keyboard or gripping a biro over a piece of paper.

When I’m crafting a new story, I go looking for moments of clarity, instances where the elements of my plot and character actions just fall into place. Sometimes story crafting is like solving a rubic cube. You try out different avenues and possibilities, scramble the variables and wait for them to align in a row of homogenously coloured tiles. Actually, colour-coding or tagging your plotlines can be very helpful in keeping track of the greater picture you want to draw. I usually tag a plot line by assigning it to the character that leads the action in the narrative thread. For example, I usually have the MC threat and the villain threat. That doesn’t necessarily mean that both threads will end up on the page, but it will give me insight into the motives of my characters and keep me on track in building the suspense. As a personal quirk of mine, I also like to employ a backstory thread where I include poetry, narratives and excerpts at the beginning of chapters to foreshadow the action or give backstory too lengthy to be introduced by dialogue.

Plot structure -
Finally, I layer and mould my plotlines against the basic plot structure: Introduction – inciting plot point – build up – climax – resolution. Since I usually tinker with my story line and characters throughout the day and hit breakthroughs at any point in time whether I am in the middle of browsing bookshelves or at work, I always have a notebook handy. First sketches of scenes, plotlines, settings, language quirks and characters are usually jotted down in a stream of consciousness. I then come back to these notes in structuring sessions. There I go over the ideas and impressions I collected and group them into more concrete strands. When I have a grasp on the corner stones and characters involved in a scene, I sit down and start to write, developing the narrative voice in the course of the first few paragraphs. I usually do not go back and edit scenes until I have finished the manuscript. Sometimes the writing flow takes you in a direction that your original crafting did not premeditate, but which actually fits the plot line better than the initial idea. For me, the first editing run is an opportunity to fill in the gaps in story and character action which opened up in the course of writing

Since my stories usually takes shape parallel to my personal life, experiences in the “real world” tend to spark insights into how characters tick, what makes them special, what situations they are confronted with and how they react. Yet it is unlikely that a character’s journey reflects my personal journey during the crafting stages. I hope this little insight into my mind gives you an idea of how many writer’s tick while expanding upon a new story idea.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Stars, Monks and Grown Men in Bee Suits

Crab Nebula - NASA
How does that fit together? Well, I had a whirlwind weekend in terms of entertainment. Fulfilling another of my New Year’s Resolutions – this year, I am on a roll, it seems – I visited a show at our local planetarium and loved it! Seeing 5000 stars projected on a dark dome makes you feel like you could just reach up and touch them. Over lit cities, you can usually just spy between 1000 and 2000 of the brighter stars, but the farther away you get from man-made light sources the more you actually discover of the universe. The greatest experience I ever had stargazing was on Fraser Island in Australia. We were lying on blankets on the beach, the sea was rushing in our ears and a halo of stars twinkled above our heads. The feeling was magical! It felt as if the universe was just flowing by our fingertips. 

China Daily
Floating back from the outer reaches of our galaxy, I became a witness of impossible feats by Shaolin Monks. Beyond their amazing flexibility, discipline and technique, I saw a ten-year-old walk a staircase of knives with two bails of water on his shoulders, without pain. Through sheer concentration a hard qi gong master threw a sowing needle through a pane of glass to pop a balloon. The needle had to be thrown with all his might at a perfect 90° angle. It was amazing! The secret of the Shaolin monks: Inner peace transformed into physical strength. Even today their knowledge is passed down in an oral fashion from master to shamin (pupil). The life of a monk of the Songshan monastery follows the rules of austerity and discipline. From two hours before dawn until the sun breaks the horizon the monks meditate, followed by climbing the 800 steps carved into the Songshan only to return back to the foot of the mountain on all fours with their head facing down. They are allowed two meals a day, the last taken at midday and sleep without any heating in all seasons. Ten hours a day, they hone their kung fu and meditation skills before the cycle starts anew the next morning. An intriguing and amazing way of life, far removed from western ideas of success and achievement.  

Humbled by the awe-inspiring show of talent by the monks my weekend ended on a humorous note, as I watched two grown men in bee suits buzzing around the stage of our town hall. The Blues Brothers – The West End show was in town. For two hours Jake and Elwood Blues delivered a blues and soul review where body gags, sarcasm and comic relief added to the eclectic mix of songs. It was a blast!

What about your weekend adventures?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Catching a Bird of Paradise

My motto for Day 4 of my “Be Inspired” Resolution: Exotic Flowers Spark Exotic Thoughts! My Plan:   Go to a florist, purchase an exotic cut flower and then come up with as many associations as I can. Normally, I would make a beeline for lilies and more specifically orchids, but I eliminated them from the ranks today. I wanted to find something new. Stumbling into the green oasis that is our local flower shop was already a great change of atmosphere compared to the damp, grey streets of winter outside. Taking a deep breath of the fragrant air, I relished the sudden explosion of colour and rich scents. Conscientious as an explorer of exotic lands, I set about making my selection. Big or small? Delicate or bold? Rich in colour or intriguing in shape? Hovering like a hummingbird between the exotic blooms, I finally managed to catch myself a “Bird of Paradise” - also known as Strelitzia reginae among people with a green thumb. 

Photocredit to

The first thought that came to mind was that the flower actually looked like sun-flare dragon hatching from a shimmering green egg. Furthermore, I could also see the birth of a phoenix: freshly hatched on the left to spreading it wings and taking flight on the right. Or it could be the wind-blown sails of a great ship upon a sapphire-coloured sea on a quest to the land where sun and water meet. My fantasy was certainly sparked and I noted down ideas for a good 20 minutes. 

The one that I liked best casts my bird of paradise as the tribal symbol for a tribe of warriors known for their deathly beauty and exotic fighting style. Their weapons are sharp as the edges of the plant, their poisons bold and lethal like the colours of the bloom. The tribe worships the sun and strike with the last blue blade slicing night from day and day from night.

I admit, I tend to be a fancy thinker.

What do you see?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Trying my hand at poetry!

Ever wondered how you could take your storytelling to the next level? Or give a measure of authenticity to the world you created?

A great way to make a reader believe even more in your world is by employing or quoting from different text types. When you are writing a novel or short story in a contemporary or historical setting, you can quote other authors’ works in order to give your world a feeling of authenticity and to help your reader buy more into the scene you want to set. A good example is the YA fantasy novel Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier. She foreshadows each chapter with a quoted text passage, a poem or a self-authored entry from a log-book assigned to a character with an authentic voice in her novel. The same principle, consequently, also holds true for new worlds in a fantasy setting. Of course, then, producing authentic literary material is up to you. Historical records giving a quick introduction to a country’s history, chants telling tribal histories over a campfire or sermons used during rituals can go a long way in intriguing your reader. 

I always wanted to try my hand at poetry. My goal? To let an original poem tell the ancient lore of the world I created or hint at main plot points with a few cleverly rhymed lines. 

Well, today, I made my first attempt. I started simple with a clerihew rhyme scheme and left syllable counts to Shakespeare for now. My trusty helpmate for today’s project was an online rhyming dictionary – Here is one of my better poems from today’s effort.

Theme: The Chameleon
Beware of the Chameleon,
That holds no colours of its own.
The charming creature
Harbouring talents of a lethal nature,
walks hidden among you,
cloaked in its enemy’s hue.
Any comments?

Monday, 2 January 2012

Be Inspired!

What goal did you set for 2012?

New Year’s Resolutions: It’s a tradition. One, that at times, makes you feel like you have to commit to a grand or tedious scheme aimed at self-improvement. But those kinds of resolutions usually go up in smoke as soon as your hangover kicks in! Experts actually say that in order for your resolutions to stick, you have to give them a 30-day trial run. Also, you should choose a goal that is dear to you personally or which sends you on an adventure to discover the world around you. In that spirit – and for once taking the advice to heart -, one of my resolutions for 2012 is to “Be inspired!”. I feel like I have been sitting around too much, waiting for things to happen instead of going out there and seeking new experiences for myself. Well, it’s a new year and there’s 30 days left in January. My goal: To find something that inspires me every day! And in order to keep myself from quitting, I will post my findings on twitter each day. Anyone interested in joining me?

I can’t wait to discover what I will find, but I can tell you what I unearthed today.

My Spark of Inspiration # 1:   A picture trip down memory lane!

At the start of a new year, I normally reminiscence about the things I have seen and learned in the last year. In 2011, I actually got to travel a lot. Great Britain, Greece, Portugal and Germany were on my list of destinations. Thanks to fantastic weather, my trusty camera and the best travel buddies, I collected a host of great memories, impressions and anecdotes. The places that inspired me the most were the Monk Republic of Athos and the Meteora Monasteries in Greece, Sintra in Portugal and the baroque city of Dresden.

Check out some of my finds!

Don’t these views just reek of atmosphere and inspiration?

I could nearly hear the religious chants echoing from the majestic stone formations of Meteora. What a great setting those ancient monasteries would be for a thriller or a historical novel, especially if you add the mysterious monk republic on Mount Athos to the mix. Sintra, on the other hand, had the romantic charm of a medieval, fairy tale town tying in wonderfully with the surreal gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira. I will never forget the underground tower there, which incidentally already houses two characters of mine. I am certain that all these impression will eventually find their way into one or the other of the worlds I will dream up in the future. For now, they are filling the pages of my travel journals and are eternalized in the pictures I and my sisters took.

I hope that at the end of this new year I will have an archive of things, impressions and experiences which strike my creative vein and inspire me. For today, my trip down 2011 memory lane led me right into the decadent world of Geltown’s maverick, the big villain in my new writing project. What will tomorrow bring? What inspired you today?