Tag Archives: Novelists

A Great Story Depends on Great Timing

Clock faceIn a previous article I discussed the importance of syncing your hero’s outer journey to his inner journey – to his character arc. Today I want to say a bit more about the nature of that syncing.

It’s important to emphasise that your hero should not act beyond his state of moral and practical wisdom – his performance at the level of the outer journey has to reflect his knowledge at the level of the inner journey.

But why, then, if the hero keeps learning from the outer journey’s knocks, if the hero keeps improving, does he keep failing to attain the goal, until the end of the story?

The answer is to be found in the precise nature of the syncing, which is to say that the lesson learnt is always one step behind the evolving challenges posed by the outer journey. Hence, the knowledge the hero brings to a new confrontation is less than required to gain the goal and defeat the antagonist at that moment.

It is only towards the end of the journey that the hero is able to integrate the wisdom gained from the series of hard knocks, dig deep inside and produce a superlative response which defeats the antagonist and gains the goal.

In my best selling novel, Scarab, for example, the protagonist, Jack Wheeler, fails to outwit the villain and protect the woman he loves until he realises that he must sacrifice what he wants (to win Emma’s love) in order to gain what he needs (to save Emma’s life). It is a realisation that takes most of the story to achieve.

Summary

The lessons learnt by the hero lag behind the evolving challenges of the outer journey and the wisdom needed to defeat the villain and gain the goal until the end of the story.

Why the Outer and Inner Stories Must Cross

Powerlines

Crossing Lines:

In his book, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder offers us this piece of invaluable advice: “Keep in mind the only reason for storytelling and why [story] A [outer] and [story] B [inner] must cross throughout: It’s to show the true reason for the journey is not getting the tangible goal, but learning the spiritual lesson that can only be found through the B Story!”

This is what the tale is really about: learning the spiritual lesson that allows the hero to overcome the obstacles life and the antagonist throw his way.

At the inciting incident, the hero is given a wake-up call. A ripple runs through his ordinary world. His first response is usually incorrect. In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise is told he is to go to the war-front to film the allied invasion. His response is to try and blackmail the General in order to force him to reverse his decision. Not a good call.

The first turning point represents the true start of the story. It also sets the outer goal. Tom Cruise is killed, but gets covered by the blue blood of the Alpha Mimic, which causes him to return to relive the day. His response upon finding himself back at square one, however, is to try and talk the Master Sergeant into letting him call his superiors. Lesson still not learnt.

By the midpoint, Cruise finally realises why he keeps returning to the same event, over and over again. He has to team up with the Angel of Verdun and defeat the Mimics by killing their leader, the Omega. Our reluctant protagonist has gone from unwilling participant to motivated Hero. Here, the outer and inner journeys fuse into a single and clear purpose—a plan to save the world from the invading Mimics—even if it means sacrificing oneself to do it. Over and over again.

By the second and final turning point, his recurring efforts are in danger of stalling—a blood transfusion will rob him of his ability to return and relive the day, just as it did the Angel of Verdun’s. And while he is at first reluctant to sacrifice her to this possible permanent-death scenario, he realises that he has no choice but to risk it, if he is to have any hope of defeating the Mimics. This represents a step up in spiritual growth and is a perfect illustration of the two journeys intersecting once more.

The inciting incident, the first turning point, the midpoint, and the second turning point, then, present the writer with perfect opportunities for interweaving the inner and outer journeys of the story. They weld the Hero’s transformational arc to his pursuit of the outer goal.

Summary

The inner journey, or the B Story is the spiritual transformational arc the hero undertakes in order to acquire the true goal.

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Image: Daniel Oines
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Story Checklist

Building

Story Checklist:

In Writing Screenplays that Sell, Michael Hauge offers us advise from a structural perspective that echoes that of other screenwriting gurus such as Field, Volgner, McKee, to name but three. Much of this advise can be of benefit to novelists such as myself, seeking to tighten and make supple, the overall shape of their stories. This post provides a checklist, taken from Hauge’s book, which should prove useful to screenwriters and novelists alike.

Story Structure

Structure is nothing other than a series of events that form a relationship to one another relative to their position in the story. Correct structure emerges when the right thing occurs at the right time to solicit maximum emotion and a sense of verisimilitude from the reader or audience.

A well structured story has three acts, or sections, or to state this more simply, it has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning establishes the setting, situation, the characters and their motivation, and the chief goal of the protagonist.

The middle part of the story, also known as the complication, provides, expands and complicates the obstacles to achieving that goal.

The end section resolves the question as to whether or not the goal can be achieved, most typically, through mounting tension and pace manifested through crisis, climax and resolution.

Having established that your story needs to have a properly structured beginning, middle and end, ask and answer the following questions:

Do your scenes do one or more of the following?

1. Contribute to or impede the protagonist’s pursuit of the goal?
2. Accelerate the pace of the story?
3. Build conflict?
4. Contribute to the overall rhythm of the story—fast scenes ought to be followed or preceded by slower ones and tense ones with lighter/humorous ones?
5. Create reader/audience anticipation?
6. Surprise the reader/audience?
7. Foreshadow important events?
8. Create curiosity?
9. Contribute to character development?
10. Put or prepare to put the protagonist in jeopardy?

If the answer to these questions is mostly “yes”, then the chances are that you’re on your way to writing a successful story—at least, from a structural perspective.

Summary

Structure defines the relationship of one scene or event to another. Proper structure allows for such a relationship to heighten the story’s suspense, verisimilitude, and impact.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.