So You Think You Can Write-Part 6.1: Protagonists

 

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How do you write a compelling main character who can take the reader on a ride and compel them to be on their side or cry over their tragedies? What does it mean when a character is well rounded? Does a character have to be good in order to be a protagonist?

If the current lineup of superhero movies gives any indication, it’s that there’s more than one way to be a compelling protagonist. Heroes like Supergirl and Wonder Woman have straightforward morals and convictions. Heroes like Jessica Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, on the other hand, are not so clean-cut. However, what they have in common is that they all work towards a clearly defined goal and have unique, distinct personalities.

It’s really easy to try and write a novel based on your experiences and there is a way that you can do that, but don’t turn novel writing into gratuitous wish-fulfillment or a revenge fantasy. Don’t just limit yourself to making your character look different from you, either. See what you can do to make your protagonist act in a different way from you. One way to do this is to give them a personality type that’s different from yours. If you’re an introvert, make them an extrovert, for example. Check out the Myers-Briggs Personality Types and, for additional fun, sort your characters into Hogwarts houses! This will help you create a character with their own personality.

Also, make sure that your protagonist has a goal. Your main character needs to change in some way. The best stories revolve around how a character changes due to choices and/or circumstances. What does your character want out of life? How will she get what she wants? What prevents her from achieving her goal? Make this desire or goal specific!

If you want to write a female character, don’t be afraid of making your woman feminine as well as strong. In fact, I’m gonna quote Tumblr here

Screw writing “strong” women.  Write interesting women.  Write well-rounded women.  Write complicated women.  Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner.  Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband.  Write a woman who doesn’t need a man.  Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks.  THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN.  Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people.  So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong.  Write characters who are people.

The only bad female character, if you ask me , is one who’s flat.  One who isn’t realistic.  One who has no agency of her own, who only exists to define other characters (usually men).  Write each woman you write as if she has her own life story, her own motivations, her own fears and strengths, and even if she’s only in the story for one page, she will be a real person, and THAT is what we need.  Not a phalanx of women who can karate-chop your head off, but REAL women, who are people, with all the complexity and strong and not-strong that goes with it.

We need strong, female characters to inspire us and young girls. However, don’t make their strength their only defining characteristic. Give your main character some flaws to overcome.

That’s how you write a great protagonist.

 

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 6: Characters

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All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players

-William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Although I’ve been talking a lot about plot and story structure, the best movies, books, and TV shows are centered around characters.

We wouldn’t remember most of the stories that stand the test of time without characters. Heck, some stories can’t exist without their central character. What would Dracula be without the titular vampire? What would The Great Gatsby be like without Gatsby himself? Or The Picture of Dorian Gray?

If you’re more of a plot-centric person, you have to learn that a story can only go so far on plot alone. Police procedurals all seem the same from a distance, but the reason there are so many different kinds is that they all have a unique cast of characters. Blue Bloods is centered around three generations of one family who all work as police officers or lawyers, so it’s a family drama on top of being a cop show. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a police procedural that’s more comedic and lighthearted.

So here are a few general things to keep in mind when creating your cast of characters.

  1. Think about your genre. Whenever I read young adult or contemporary romance/women’s fiction, the cast of characters is usually pretty small. Just the main character, the love interest, a couple of supporting characters, and the antagonist. Mystery novels and thrillers usually have one central character carrying the whole story. Fantasy and sci-fi, on the other hand, can allow for loads and loads of characters.
  2. Play with contrast. One way to create a good dynamic cast is to contrast your protagonist with his allies. Think of how different Luke is from Han Solo and Princess Leia or the way that Daredevil interacted with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Having characters with different personalities makes a story more interesting.
  3. Give supporting characters their own things to do. Not everything needs to revolve around your protagonist. One way to add some fun is to allow some room for your secondary characters to play. It doesn’t mean deviating from the story. It just means giving a few people in your supporting cast their own goals. A simple version of this is in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas, but the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion all tag along with her because they think that the Wizard will give them what they want most.

I will go more into detail about different types of characters starting tomorrow, so stay tuned!

 

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 5: Scenes

If you want your outline to be as specific as possible, break every chapter down scene by scene. Anne Lammott, author of Bird by Bird, describes her writing as a series of “short assignments,” using a one-inch picture frame as an example. “All I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame.” In another chapter, she compared writing the first draft to watching a Polaroid develop. I think both of these analogies work when applied to writing scenes.

A scene in a movie or TV series is usually pretty short or at least about as long as your average TED talk (15-20 minutes) at most. In a novel, scenes can be long or short, but they have to have a certain structure and purpose. I keep using movies as examples because movies have a solid structure.

One of my favorite books that helps me when I’m writing is John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. It’s a book that is targeted to screenwriters, but it helps novelists as well. It integrates plot and character together, showing how all the elements in a good story (whether in a novel or a book) work together.

In this book, Truby describes how to structure a scene:

“The beginning of the scene should frame what the whole scene is about. The scene should then funnel down to a single point, with the most important word or line of dialogue stated last.”

Truby’s book illustrates this by using the picture of an inverted triangle.

The widest part of the triangle represents the beginning of the scene, which starts out very broad. You can imagine this being an establishing shot in a movie. The narrowest part of the triangle is the end of a scene, which puts a great emphasis on an important word or line.

How does this particular scene structure work? Check out this example from Lessons from the Screenplay’s analysis of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Keep in mind that Gillian Flynn wrote the original book and then the screenplay for the movie adaptation. Never let it be said that we can’t learn anything from the movies.

When you outline or write out your scene, just ask yourself: “What is this whole scene about?” This will be the beginning of the scene. You can also ask “Where is this scene going to lead? What is the character supposed to choose or learn from in this scene?” This all factors into the beginning.

Then write out the scene. Push your character into a corner, to the point where he or she has to make a choice. The consequences of this choice will lead into the next scene. Ultimately, scenes are a matter of choices and consequences, cause and effect. Once you keep that in mind, your scenes will start to be more cohesive, even if you’re just writing the first draft.

Seven Quick Takes: Vlogs About Outlining

I love following vlogs about writing on YouTube. The writing community is just so amazing and supportive. So for today, check out these vlogs that talk about outlining. If you like what you see, subscribe to their channels.

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I mentioned Jenna Moreci before, but she’s seriously one of my favorites. Her vlogs are very honest, encouraging, and easy to understand. Jenna has two vlogs on outlining so far, so I’ll share the first video here:

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Katytastic’s 27 Chapter outline is another favorite of mine because it allows for a long story. It also allows for a consistent chapter length, which is good when writing a first draft. Not to mention all the plot points are basically spelled out. If you’re blocked as to what you think should happen, this outline will help you keep track of where you are in the story and guide you to whatever happens next for your character.

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Shaelin is an author of 8 novels and in the process of getting her Bachelor in Fine Arts. This video really speaks to pantsers because she says that she struggles with giving her plot structure. This particular plot structure is inspired by the “Save the Cat Beat Sheet,” but Shaelin explains those plot points with detail, in a way that’s easy to understand.

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Kristen Martin is someone who identifies as somewhere between a plotter and a pantser, or a “plotser,” as she calls it. If you want an outline that allows you to know the major events and keep things organize, but allows room to expand things, check out this video.

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You might know Brandon Sanderson if you’re a fan of the Mistborn series. He’s one of the most well-renowned fantasy and sci-fi writers. He has tons of videos on YouTube where he teaches writing to a class. Watching one of them is just as good as paying for a writing class. This is one of the many videos he has on outlining and story structure.

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Vivian Reis is a sci-fi writer who believes in plotting out a story. She’s self-published, so if you plan on publishing your novel yourself, check out her channel. This is one of the videos she has on outlining.

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Kim Chance is about to publish her first book, but she’s been vlogging about writing for a while. I love her channel because she’s very friendly and relatable. In this video, Kim explains different types of outlines. Here’s hoping you find the outline that works best for you!

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 4.4: Dan Wells’ Seven-Point Plot

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Dan Wells is a famous horror and sci-fi author as well as one of the hosts of the podcast Writing Excuses. He also has a series of videos about story structure on YouTube.

Since Dan Wells is known for his horror novels, let’s analyze a horror movie tonight! One of my favorite horror movies is Wes Craven’s Scream, one of the best self-aware horror movies from 1996.

  • Ice Monster Prologue: This is an optional plot point. This gives the reader a “sneak preview” of what kind of world the story takes place in. The opening of the movie shows Drew Barrymore’s character, Casey, on the phone with a stranger as she makes popcorn. They talk about horror movies, which, at the time, was a unique, self-aware concept. Then the killer challenges Casey to a trivia game while holding her boyfriend hostage and attacks her. The scene where Casey gets killed and gutted is horrific, even by today’s standards.
  • Hook: Sidney, the true protagonist of the series, is established as an ordinary high school girl whose dad will be leaving town for the weekend. She has a boyfriend named Billy who wants to have sex with her. However, since this is a horror movie, Sidney is a virgin and won’t have sex. In a subversion of usual horror virgins, however, Sidney has a legit reason for not wanting to have sex, which is explained later in the movie.
    • Character Arc: Dan Wells also says that there are things that need to be interspersed throughout the story, such as subplots and character arcs. This is when we find out that Sidney’s mother was apparently sleeping around on her dad and that Sidney found her mother’s bloody corpse.
    • Subplot 1: Sidney’s circle of friends gets introduces. Aside from her boyfriend, we also meet her best friend, Tatum, her brother, Deputy Dewey, Randy, the movie geek, and Stu, Tatum’s boyfriend.
  • Plot Turn 1: Something happens that upsets the stauts quo. Sidney gets a call from the killer while waiting to hang out with Tatum. What really makes this personal for Sidney is that the killer claims to be the one who killed her mother.
  • Pinch 1: Sidney goes to the police station to file a report on Billy and encounters Gail Weathers, a tabloid journalist who is advocating for the innocence of Cotton Weary, the man accused of murdering Sidney’s mother. Over at Tatum’s house, Sidney contemplates whether or not Billy is the one who tried to kill her.
  • Try/Fail Cycle: A type of plot point that combines character arc with action. In Scream, Billy gets released from police custody. Gail connects the recent deaths to the death of Sidney’s mother. Sidney overhears two girls gossiping about her in the girls’ bathroom and then gets attacked by Ghostface. School lets out early, but a city-wide curfew gets established.
    • Subplot 2: The school principal gets murdered by Ghostface after disciplining two students pulling pranks. Sidney and Tatum have a talk about whether Cotton is truly innocent and whether the rumors about Sidney’s mother were true. Stu and Randy speculate on who the killer could be at the local movie rental store.
  • Midpoint: This is when the character decides to take action. This happens at Stu’s house. Billy arrives in hopes of talking with Sidney. The two of them go upstairs, one thing leads to another and…well, you know.
    • Subplot 3: In the midst of the party action, Gail places a camera to watch the party from her van, Tatum gets killed by Ghostface, and Randy relays the rules to surviving a horror movie. One of them is that you can never have sex, which implies that Sidney is in huge trouble for sleeping with Billy.
  • Pinch 2: The jaws of defeat appear and things go very, very wrong. The partygoers flee to see the principal gutted and hung on the football field. Ghostface attacks Billy and chases after Sidney. Ghostface kills Gail Weather’s cameraman and stabs Deputy Dewey in the process. Then Sidney confronts Randy and Stu, who plead innocence. Horrified, she hides in the house. This is when the real killer gets revealed.
    • Character Arc 2: The killer reveals his motives behind killing Sidney’s mother. The killer also plans to pin the blame on Sidney’s father.
  • Plot Turn 2: Taking advantage of a moment of distraction, Sidney gets her and her father to safety and hides, taking the Ghostface mask and voice disguiser with her. She turns the tables on the killer and starts fighting for her life.
  • Resolution: Billy gets shot in the chest and is supposedly dead. However, Randy points out that in horror movies, the killer comes back to life for one last scare. But before Billy gets his second win, Sidney shoots him in the face.

I hope this outline helps you in creating your story.

 

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 4.3: Michael Hauge’s 6 Stages

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Michael Hauge is a story and script consultant who works in Hollywood. He has his own coaching services to help those who want to break into the industry. For this particular outline, I’m going to be sharing examples from Big Hero 6.

Stage 1:

  • Setup: This establishes a character who has little to no desire to change, even though he’s flawed in some shape or form. Hiro is skilled at making robots, but he wastes his time getting money from illegal robot fights.
  • Opportunity: Hiro’s brother, Tadashi, gives him a tour of his college

Stage 2:

  • New Situation:  Through meeting Tadashi’s friends, Hiro gets a glimpse of what he could do if he went to college with them.
  • Change in Plans: Hiro starts working on a robot that he can present at the tech expo, which will give him the opportunity to go to college with his brother and his friends.

Stage 3:

  • Progress: Hiro makes his presentation at the tech expo. However, just as he gets accepted into Tadashi’s school, the expo building is suddenly on fire. Tadashi goes into rescue his professor and dies in the explosion.
  • Turning Point: The action of the movie begins when Hiro accidentally activates Baymax. He also finds a microbot that is still active, in spite of the fact that his machines were supposedly destroyed in the fire. He realizes that a guy in a mask must’ve stolen his microbots and caused the explosion. Hiro turns Baymax into a combat nurse robot.

Stage 4:

  • Complications and Higher Stakes: This particular plot point allows for multiple scenes. In Big Hero 6, Tadashi searches for the man in the mask. Things get complicated when Tadashi’s friends distract from the mission. However, Hiro gets the idea to turn Tadashi’s friends into a superhero team and search for the man in the mask.
  • Major Setback: Tadashi finds out that the man in the mask is really Tadashi’s professor Callaghan, who refuses to take responsibility for Tadashi’s death. Hiro orders Baymax to kill Callaghan, but things go wrong.

Stage 5:

  • The Final Push: This is when the protagonist uses everything he’s learned to solve the problem once and for all. Thanks to Baymax, Hiro finds a sense of closure over Tadashi’s death. He also learns why Callaghan caused the fire and sole the microbots: to get revenge on Krei for the loss of his daughter.
  • Climax:  The final battle occurs when the Big Hero 6 confront Callaghan as he attempts to get revenge on Krei at a public event. A portal to a different dimension opens and Hiro and Baymax rescue Abigail, but Baymax sacrifices himself to get Hiro and Abigail out of the dimension.

Stage 6:

  • Aftermath: Upon discovering that the chip was in Baymax’s rocket-launched hand, he rebuilds Baymax and continues on his heroic adventures with Tadashi’s friends.

This outline works great when you have a character who has to undergo a change in order to become a better person. If you’re someone who likes a character-driven story, this outline might work out for you.

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 4.2 Outlining with “Save The Cat”

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The Save the Cat outline comes from a screenwriting book of the same name by Blake Snyder. This outline is more detailed than a mere three-act structure and has room for subplots and more lighthearted moments.  In honor of Mean Girls Day, I will use Mean Girls with this particular outline. Happy October 3rd!

Act 1

  • Opening Image: This is a thematic image that establishes the main character’s “status quo.”  Mean Girls begins with Cady taking pictures with her parents and explaining to the audience that up until she was 16, she was homeschooled while living in Africa with her zoologist parents. Then, to quote the trailer, “it was goodbye Africa and hello, high school.”
  • Theme Stated: The theme of the movie gets presented when Cady learns about her new high school from Cool Loser Janis and “too gay to function” Damian. The theme of Mean Girls is that high school has its own set of social norms and cliques. Two scenes in particular explain the theme: When the Plastics get introduced and when Janice explains all the cafeteria cliques at lunch.
  • Set Up: The “setup” establishes the world that the movie takes place in and introduces all the major characters and motivations. In Mean Girls, Cady becomes friends with the Plastics and gets invited to sit with them for a week. She also gets a crush on Aaron Samuels, the guy who sits in front of her in math class, and gets discouraged from joining the Mathletes from both the Plastics and from Damian.
  • Catalyst: This is the plot point that gets the story moving forward. When Regina kisses Aaron in front of Cady, Cady goes to Janis and Damian. The three of them formulate a plan to humiliate Regina.
  • Debate: In some stories, this would be when the main character might refuse the call to adventure. The initial attempts at sabotage don’t work out and Cady and her friends are at a loss as to what to do. Janis tells Cady to crack Gretchen Weiners.

Act 2

  • Choice Made: When the main character chooses to accept the call to adventure or makes a choice that changes the dynamics of the story. Cady sends a candy cane grams to herself and claims that it came from Regina, but Gretchen doesn’t get any. Gretchen starts spilling secrets about Regina and everything finally comes to a boil when she gets pushed aside for Cady during the Winter Talent Show performance. Cue famous “We should totally just stab Cesar!” speech!
  • B-Story: This is where subplots start playing out. The major subplot in Mean Girls is Cady’s pursuit of Aaron Samuels. She pretends to be bad at math in order to get him to tutor her. Part of this includes getting Aaron to catch Regina cheating on him. Finally, when she kisses Aaron, she tells him about Regina cheating on him with Shane Oman.
  • Fun and Games: All the fun stuff relating to the premise of the story occurs. The protagonist is on his way towards his goal, but things are kept lighthearted. Cady gives Regina Kalteen bars to get her to gain weight. All the while, Cady starts turning into a Plastic. Then the nominees for Spring Fling Queen are announced. Regina is not surprised that she is nominated, but balks at the fact that Cady, Gretchen, Karen, and Janis were nominated. Cady herself is surprised that she is nominated for Spring Fling Queen because she and Damian just nominated Janis as a joke.
  • Midpoint: Things start getting serious as the stakes go up. The midpoint begins when Regina gets kicked out of the Plastics table for wearing sweatpants on a Monday and gets humiliated at lunch. All of a sudden, Cady becomes the new Queen Bee. She invites Aaron and her friends to a party she throws the weekend her parents go out of town. The party turns out to be a “false victory” for Cady because she vomits on Aaron, who tells her that she’s turning into a clone of Regina, and loses her friendship with Janis and Damian.
  • Bad Guys Close In: As the tension of the story builds to a high point, things only get worse. Regina finds out about how Cady has been sabotaging her and gives the burn book to the principal. She puts a page about herself in the book and implies that Cady, Gretchen, and Karen are behind it since they’re not in the book. On top of that, she makes copies of the burn book and scatters the pages throughout the school, causing chaos.
  • All is Lost: This is when the main character thinks he’s down for the count. All the junior girls in North Shore High break out into a giant catfight. Principal Duvall and Ms. Norbury gather all the girls in the gymnasium for trust exercises, getting all the girls to apologize to each other. However, Janis takes advantage of the situation to reveal all the sabotages she and Cady planned. Janis gets praised for taking down Regina while Cady becomes a social pariah after people think she pushed Regina in front of a bus and on top of that, to quote Anya Jenkins from Buffy, she’s flunking math.

Act 3

  • The Plan: To put things in baseball terms, this is the main character’s last chance at bat, standing at the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded and two men out. It’s the protagonist’s last chance to set things right. When the police investigate Ms. Norbury for allegedly selling drugs, Cady takes responsibility for what she wrote in the burn book. She brings flowers to Regina and goes back to being smart in math again. She also joins up with the mathletes to get extra credit.
  • Finale: Cady’s epiphany comes to her during the Mathletes State Championship, when she faces off against an ugly girl from the opposing team for the final round. After realizing that being mean to her opponent wouldn’t help her win the competition, she manages to solve the problem in front of her and win the Championship for the dance. Cady ends up going to the Spring Fling dance and gets crowned Spring Fling Queen. Then she apologizes for what she’s done and gives compliments to her classmates.
  • Final Images: The final image of a story should be the opposite of the opening image, with the character in a new status in life. Mean Girls ends with Cady finally fitting in with her classmates and getting the guy of her dreams. Janis gets the head of the Mathletes as her new boyfriend. Regina joins up with the lacrosse team, Karen becomes a weather girl, and Gretchen joins up with the cool Asian clique.

This outline is great for action movies, romantic comedies, and ensemble pieces. I highly recommend watching Mean Girls and analyzing the story for yourself.

P.S. If you’re wondering who that adorable gravity-defying kitten is, this is Beatrice, a cute kitten owned by my best friend Lucia Marcella. Although Beatrice and her twin sister Charlotte have been recently adopted, they are already part of Lucia’s growing menagerie, as you can see here. Be sure to follow Lucia and her adorable cats (and other animals) on Instagram:

So You Think You Can Write-Part 4.1: Outlining with the Three Act Structure

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Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser or like me, who’s somewhere in between, having an outline is essential.

Pantsers usually get intimidated by the idea of having an outline and it’s a common misconception that outlines restrict creativity. I see outlines as a way of giving your story some structure. To quote Pirates of the Carribean, outlines are more like guidelines than a cut and dry formula. Just like a GPS map or a compass will help keep your story organized and guide you towards making your story the best that it can be, even if you’re just writing the first draft.

There are many ways to create an outline. Today will focus on the “Three Act Structure,” where you have a vague idea of the beginning, middle, and end. If you’re a pantser, a basic three-act-structure outline is probably the best one to use. I’m going to use movies as examples for every outline because movies are easy to break down and they’re great examples of structured storytelling.

Basic Three Act Structure (using Avengers)

  • Act 1
    • Opening Scene: How does your story begin? Avengers begins with Coulson, Maria Hill, and Nick Fury overlooking research on the Tesseract. Dr. Erik Selvig and Hawkeye are introduced.
    • Inciting Incident: What happens that changes the status quo? Loki comes into the research facility through a portal opened by the Tesseract and uses his staff to turn some people over to his side. Nick Fury distracts Loki as the portal collapses. He, Maria, and Coulson manage to escape, but the facility collapses in a sinkhole and Loki has taken Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig. The cold open ends with Coulson asking Nick Fury “What do we do?” The answer is given in the title shot.
    • Establishing Moments: Who are the important players? The rest of “Act 1” in Avengers is spent introducing the heroes who are central to the story. Black Widow, Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man have their own “character establishing moment.” In a book, a character can react to the inciting incident and try to figure out what to do about it. This is where you need to make sure that all your important characters are introduced and established.
    • The “turnabout” or “first escalation”: Act 1 ends when Loki causes a distraction in Stuttgart. The Avengers capture Loki but get sidetracked by Thor. After the best example of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, Thor decides to join up with the Avengers to keep an eye on his adopted brother.
  • Act 2
    • Choice: Act 2 of Avengers centers on everyone figuring out what to do with Loki in order to stop whatever he has planned with the Tesseract. Iron Man and Hulk do research on the Tesseract and Loki’s staff. Black Widow interrogates Loki.
    • Escalation: As the main action plays out, there are things bubbling under the surface. In Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk all wonder what “Phase Two” was and investigate Nick Fury’s plan, even as they try to figure out what Loki is up to. Tension builds up amongst the Avengers and certain personalities clash.
    • Midpoint Reversal: This is when things go wrong in a huge way. In Avengers, all the tension boils into arguments. Hawkeye blindsides the Hellicarrier. Loki kills Coulson and escapes. The Hulk and Thor go missing.
    • Disaster: At this point, anything that can go wrong does. Things get chaotic and messy and it’s up to the heroes to try and keep the damage to a minimum. In Avengers, this is when the Battle of New York begins.
  •  Act 3
    • The Plan:  The characters decide what to do in order to take down the bad guy once and for all. I’ll just let you watch how it plays out in Avengers for yourself.
    • ExecutionHow does the plan play out? The action needs to escalate and the focus is narrowed to whatever the character chooses to do in order to make sure the plan works. This is shown through the various scenes in the Battle of New York: Captain America rescuing people on the streets, Thor, Hawkeye and Iron Man battling the aliens, Hulk smashing, and Black Widow trying to figure out a way to close the portal. Everything basically leads up to…
    • The Climax: This is the final battle or confrontation against the antagonist. In Avengers, the World Council sends a nuclear bomb into the city. Thankfully, Tony decides to throw the nuke into the portal as it closes, destroying all the aliens in space in the process.
    • Wrap Up: If your book is stand-alone, this is where you tie up loose ends. If you’re writing a series, this is where you can start teasing the next book. You can either end the book on a cliffhanger or end the book with some things unresolved or with “the adventure continuing,” making the reader want more. In Avengers, Loki washes up, defeated in Tony Stark’s penthouse. The demigod gets taken back into Asgard and the Avengers all go their separate ways. However, there’s still the promise that someday, they’ll come back when they are needed, even as they all ride off into the sunset.

     

If you’re not exactly sure what order everything is going to happen, put your scenes down on index cards and play around with them to see which order makes the most sense to you. Remember, use the structure of the outline as a guide and feel free to make changes to your outline if your story starts changing.

Tomorrow, I will examine a different type of outline that can be used for more than just action movies.

Why God is the Perfect Author

 

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“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”- Saint John Paul II, Letter to Artists

Not many people know how much work goes into creating a wonderful story. Whether we are writing a novel or making a movie or a painting or a play, we are creating new worlds. This process, known as “worldbuilding,” involves a lot of research and  creativity. Whenever I work on a story I’m writing, I am basically reliving the creation from Genesis.

I realize that not everyone who reads this believes in God, but it’s hard to argue that this beautiful universe that we live in came to be by mere chance. All the stars, galaxies, and planets we see when we look at pictures of space aren’t just floating balls of gas and rock. To me, they are works of art. The vastness of space reminds us that there is more to life than just our petty squabbles and the problems in our world.

Zoom down to our tiny planet and think about what this world could’ve been. I heard it said somewhere that if our planet was placed just the tiniest bit closer or the tiniest bit further from the sun, it would be uninhabitable. We are given this beautiful world with huge oceans and all sorts of different environments and climates. Variety is the spice of life.

Which begs the first question: Why do natural disasters happen?

It’s part of the worldbuilding. Earthquakes led to creating the continents. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires all clear out parts of nature, but new things grow from the destruction. Climate change is definitely a factor, but we’ve been doing a lot of damage to the ozone layer since the Industrial Revolution. There is nothing new under the sun.

God doesn’t plan for these disasters to happen. He just allows them to be a “plot twist” in our lives. Some people look at the devastation and question how God could exist. The answer is found in His best creation: our fellow human beings.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Rita, I have seen more good people than bad get the spotlight on the news. Disasters have a way of either bringing out the best in us or the worst in us. The good news is that God created humans with the power to choose how we feel.

Which leads to Inevitable Question #2: Why do bad people exist? Why do terrorists keep attacking? Why do we constantly hear about people acting in such atrocious ways? If God created each and every person on this planet, why are there so many bad people?

Once again, it goes back to choices. God gives everyone the power to choose and choices and the consequences of these choices shape the stories of our lives. One great example can be seen in the Marvel Netflix series Daredevil. Both Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk were people who grew up in New York City and had difficult circumstances in their childhoods. However, one chose to retaliate by doing something evil (even if it meant protecting the ones he loves) and the other was put into the care of good people (even if he did have a jerk for a mentor). Wilson Fisk’s choices led to him becoming the head of the largest crime organization in the city. Matt Murdock chose to become a lawyer to defend the helpless and later chose to be a vigilante when the law wasn’t enough to take down the bad guys.

People are raised in circumstances that shape who they become. Each person has the capacity to change and rise above whatever hardships they experienced, but some choose to stay where they are. The key here is what we choose.

It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around the idea that believing in God leads to having a life with better choices and more freedom, but that’s how a good story goes. Remember how in Star Wars when Luke chooses to trust in the Force instead of the computer that was targeting the exhaust port in the Death Star? Star Wars isn’t a perfect parallel for a faith-filled life, but I do like how being a Jedi relies on having faith and being detached from consuming emotions.

What exactly is the point of this ramble? To quote the Doctor, “we are all stories in the end.” I know this post might sound crazy, but I just want to show you that this universe, this world, and each and every single person gives evidence that there is a Creator. So much work goes into creating a story. So much work gets put into creating a world and all the characters and conflicts in a work of fiction. The world that we live in is no different.

Vocations: Destiny or Free Will?

crossroads

As someone who grew up reading fairy tales and watching anime, I began to notice something in the way that people see vocations.

Many of my married friends believe in the idea of pre-determined “soul mate” love and how God planned for them to marry a specific person. The story of their love life is essentially like the chorus from Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”: “You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess. It’s a love story, baby. Just say ‘Yes.'”

People who discern religious life, on the other hand, have vocation stories that resemble the typical anime “destiny plot.” In a typical adventure anime, the main character goes on a long journey or goes to school while trying to figure out what their purpose in life is. Either way, the protagonist finds their destiny and the story focuses on them working towards becoming a priest or a nun, with the perfect gang of friends who accompany them on this journey.

I’m speaking in generalizations, of course. I know that every vocation story is different. But in the years I spent going to vocation-related events, it seems like people see marriage and religious life as a pre-determined destiny and all they have to do is “discern” which one is right for them. In reality, marriage and religious life are not as cut and dry as that.

Yes, God creates each and every person with a unique personality and skills, but he also gave us this strange thing called free will. We have the ability to choose what to do with our gifts, for better or for worse. Our lives are more like those video games where the choices you make effect the way that the game ends. (Just think of Mass Effect or Infamous.) It doesn’t mean that we can just do whatever we want. The power to choose comes with the responsibility of making sure we choose to do God’s will. In an ideal life, we work with God to help us to choose the right thing. Eventually, our choices help reveal what God wants us to do with our lives.

The best example of this can be seen in the movie Moana. Although Moana was chosen by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti, her journey was not an easy one and at one point, she gave the heart of Te Fiti to the ocean, wanting to return home after Te Ka nearly killed her. The spirit of her grandmother was supportive of Moana’s decision to turn back, but at the same time, Moana was hesitant. She had to choose to take the heart back herself and not just because the ocean or her grandmother told her. She did that by remembering who she was, where she came from, and reflecting on how far she has come.

So how does free will play a role in discerning marriage or religious life?

When it comes to marriage, I have a bit of a bias. For one thing, I don’t believe in soul mates. Now before you clutch your pearls and start citing the examples of Tobias and Sarah as well as Mary and Joseph, know that I wrote a Bible study on Tobit and I have a great devotion to the Holy Family. Tobias was worried about having to marry Sarah. He was free to choose to fulfill the promise he made to his father. Thankfully, Raphael guided Tobias to understanding how they would save Sarah from the demon that killed her previous husbands. If Sarah and Tobias’s marriage was predetermined, God would’ve found a way to have Tobias marry Sarah first and also expel the demon from her house at the same time.

In a similar way, Mary and Joseph still had to choose to say “Yes” to what God was asking of them. And their life was anything but a fairy tale, with Mary having to deal with at least three months of pregnancy alone (even while she was helping her cousin Elizabeth) and Joseph almost choosing to divorce Mary when he heard about her having a child.

God creates each and every person with a unique set of personality traits and skills and in our lives, we find people who we’re compatible with and some that we don’t get along with. But everyone we meet teaches us a lesson. Every relationship we have is a unique experience because we fall in love in different ways, depending on the person. It’s not going to be an instant-love-at-first-sight kind of thing that we see in romantic comedies and fairy tales. We choose who we love and then, once we marry, we can choose to stay with them in good times and in bad.

On the flip side of things, I know people who are still waiting for their lives to start, who have an idea on what God is calling them to do, but still have to choose the path they need to take in order to get there. The good news about these people is that they’re not just waiting around waiting for an answer to come on a silver platter. These people might have to pave their own paths or consider options beyond the norm. Regardless of where they head, God will always be with them.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t have a hand in our lives, but when it comes to our vocations, we can’t make the idea of finding our calling the end all-be all. We are called to ask God to be the compass of our hearts and then we choose the paths we walk down. There is no grand destiny where we save the world from an apocalypse. Most of us are called to live our holiness in ordinary lives. But is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.

tl;dr: Our path towards our vocation, whatever we are called to be, is not a straight line. It’s a path we forge with God guiding us through each and every choice we make.