Thinking versus Feeling

I’m a big fan of the Myers-Briggs personality test. Part of this is because I’m the type of person who likes to categorize people I meet. Are they an only child? A youngest child? Did they go to school X? Did they grow up in that part of town?

Yesterday, after reading this post  about writing a character’s feelings, I realized that the comments Lynne received resonated with ones I had received as well. That’s when I remembered my Myers-Briggs rating. On the Thinking/Feeling scale, I am a strong T (thinker). For those of you unfamiliar with the T/F scale, it means the following:

“Those who prefer thinking tend to decide things from a more detached standpoint, measuring the decision by what seems reasonable, logical, causal, consistent and matching a given set of rules. Those who prefer feeling tend to come to decisions by associating or empathizing with the situation, looking at it ‘from the inside’ and weighing the situation to achieve, on balance, the greatest harmony, consensus and fit, considering the needs of the people involved.” (Wikipedia)

The moment I re-read this, I realized this is the biggest problem in my writing. My characters are constantly thinking. They are opinionated about everything, but they don’t express enough feelings. For example, if my character heard about another character’s dead dog, she might say:

Bob’s story reminded me of the time I lost Winkie when I was twelve. It was a Tuesday.

This is thinking. Feeling, on the other hand, would be this:

The moment Bob finished his story, a lump grew in my throat. I hadn’t thought about Winkie since I’d cried myself to sleep when I was twelve.

There are times when your character needs to think, but there are also times when they need to feel. Knowing which is which is part of the challenge.

My advice is this: if you haven’t taken Myers-Briggs, take it. Once you have your rating, read the definitions and use them to identify your strengths and weaknesses as a person. You will probably find these same strengths and weaknesses in your writing.

Act Three, According to Snyder

According to Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, the third act of a story should have the following:

  1. Break Into Three: At the end of Act Two, everything went wrong for the main character. In this section, everything needs to turn. The main character needs to have that “ah-ha” moment where he (or another character) discovers the way to reach the goal. Once he has figured it out, he needs to act on it.
  2. Finale: The main character has met his goal. This is where you wrap up all of the plot lines. Does the boy get the girl? Do they live happily ever after? If you put “the six things that need fixing” in the setup, this is where you show them fixed.
  3. Final Scene: This beat probably makes more sense on screen, but the idea is that you give one final image of the main character. In Snyder’s opinion, this should be the opposite of the opening image.

This brings us to the end of the posts on the 15 story beats, according to Blake Snyder. Keep in mind that this is only one chapter out of his book Save the Cat. The book has a ton of other great tips, such as Save the Cat, Pope in the Pool… BUY IT! And that, my friends, brings us to the end of this infomercial.

In my next post, I’ll discuss scene writing.

Act Two, Part Two…According to Snyder

According to Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, the second part of Act Two should contain the following sections or “beats”:

1. Bad Guys Close In – This is when everything goes wrong for the main character. The antagonist “closes in” on getting his own goal which means the main character sees that his hope from the beginning of Act Two was false. This one was a real eye-opener for me. I knew that things were supposed to go wrong for the main character (leading up to the Black Moment) but I’d honestly never considered that it should all happen at once. But now that I have implemented this, it makes a lot of sense. One other thing I learned (which has nothing to do with Snyder) is what I will call The Bad Guy Waterfall. This means that, if you have 3 plot lines, you need to make them turn in the correct order. Take this as an example:

Bob goes to his car to find it has no gas. Bob calls the store and finds out they close in 5 minutes. Bob needs milk.

All three of these things are problems for Bob, but when written in the above order, they don’t create an “All is Lost” feeling. Let’s try to switch them using the waterfall method:

Bob needs milk. Bob calls the store and finds out they close in 5 minutes. Bob goes to his car to find it has no gas.

Now, we have the feeling that all is lost for Bob. Keep this in mind when you write your Bad Guys Close In chapters. They will only lead to #2 if done in the right order.

2. All is Lost – This is the moment when the main character thinks it’s over. He can’t see any possible way to reach his goal. Others often refer to this as “The Black Moment”.

3. Dark Night of the Soul – I’d never heard of this one before (or I’d heard of it but it was included as part of #2). To Snyder, this is an extra final insight into the main character’s despair. Snyder likes to use a technique he calls “the whiff of death” here.

These three sections bring an end to Act Two. In my next post, I will discuss Act Three. I will also remind you to BUY THIS BOOK. Am I annoying you yet? No? I will try harder.

Act Two, Part One…According to Snyder

Following yesterday’s post about Act One, this post is about the elements that go in Act Two. Since Act Two makes up over half of your story, I am going to divide this one in two and talk about the first part of Act Two. According to Snyder, this should include:

  1. The B Story: This is where you introduce the secondary plot to your story or what Snyder calls “The B Story”. In many stories, this is the love interest. According to Snyder, the B story serves as a breather from the A story.
  2. Fun & Games: This is something I had never heard of before reading Snyder’s book. According to Snyder, this is the part of the story where things are going well for the main character. This section is the mirror image of the one at the end of Act Two (called All is Lost). So if your character is going to lose all his money at the end of Act Two, he should have it and like it here. Otherwise, the downfall has no effect.
  3. Midpoint: Not only is this the middle of your story, it is also the end of all things good. In order for the next part (where everything starts to go wrong) to matter to the reader, everything must be established by this point. If your main character is going to mess up a relationship, we need to believe it is important to him by here. If he is going to fail to achieve a certain goal, we need to believe he wants it and can get it by here.

Again, this is my interpretation of Snyder’s advice from Save the Cat, but you really need to BUY THE BOOK to get the full picture. (No, I don’t get royalties for his sales!) In tomorrow’s post, I will discuss the second part of Act Two. Otherwise know as mwoo-ha-ha… (Okay, maybe not.)

Act One, According to Snyder

One of the best things about Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, is the Let’s Beat it Out section. In this chapter, he describes the 15 sections or “beats” of a screenplay. These are:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Theme Stated
  3. The Setup
  4. The Catalyst
  5. The Debate
  6. Break into Two
  7. The B Story
  8. Fun & Games
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad Guys Close In
  11. All is Lost
  12. Dark Night of the Soul
  13. Break into Three
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

I don’t write screenplays, but I think his points can be applied to a story of any kind. In this post, I want to talk about what Snyder considers the first Act of a screenplay (beats #1-#6 from above).  According to Snyder, your first Act should have the following:

  1. Opening Image: This is the “before” view of the main character and it should be the opposite of the final view. In novel, I think this would be your opening scene or first 250 words.
  2. Theme Stated: This is the theme of your book. For example, “Appearances can be deceiving”. Snyder suggests you state this in the first few pages.
  3. The Setup: This occurs at the same time as #1 and #2. It is where we meet the main character. Who is he? What problems does he need to fix? This is also where we need to “Save the Cat” (ie, give the reader something to make him likable or worth rooting for).
  4. The Catalyst: This is the action that propels the main character into the conflict. For example, someone is murdered, cheated on or physically assaulted.
  5. The Debate: This is the part where the main character considers whether or not he is going to enter the conflict. So if someone is murdered, this would be the point where he decides if he cares or if it’s his responsibility to solve the mystery.
  6. Break Into Two: At the end of this section, the main character must decide to enter the conflict. He can’t be pushed or forced in any way. When he does so, the first Act breaks and the second one begins.

This is really just a high level view of his points about Act One but I’d highly recommend you BUY HIS BOOK! It’s worth its weight in chocolate. Milk chocolate

Save the Cat

A fellow writer recommended that I read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I was surprised at first since this is a book about screenwriting. Now that I’ve read it, I understand. Snyder’s book is full of tips on creating great stories. While some are specific to movies, most can be applied to books. For example, his first tip is in the title itself: Save the Cat. What does this mean to a novelist? It means that in your first chapter, your main character needs to do something to make readers like him. This may be something like stopping to save a cat while in pursuit of the bad guys. It may be showing that he loves his kids even if he seems like an angry jerk. Snyder’s point is that it only take a small reference to make readers care about your character and once they care, you’re golden.

If you haven’t read it already, I’d highly recommend the book.

Cliffhangers versus Loose Ends

In his book Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell says there are three possible endings to a book:

  1. The hero gets what he wants
  2. The hero does not get what he wants
  3. The hero gets what he wants but with consequences
  4. I will add another one to his list which is this:

  5. We have no idea if the hero gets what he wants

Last night, I finished a book by an author I love. As much as I enjoyed the book, I really didn’t like the ending. I thought this was because it was a bit of a cliffhanger, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was not. A cliffhanger is a #3: the hero gets what he wants with a twist. For example:

Bob wants nothing more than to find out who killed his brother. Insert long middle story…yada yada yada… Bob realizes it was Jane. He turns her into the police, but when he gets home,  we see his brother hiding in the closet.

 This is a cliffhanger. Bob gets what he wants with a twist. We don’t know what happens to Bob after this point. Maybe there is a sequel, maybe there is not. But the book I read last night did not have a cliffhanger ending. What it had were loose ends. For example:

Bob wants nothing more than to find out who killed his brother. Insert long middle story…yada yada yada… Bob finds out that the killer has moved to Florida. 

The difference here is that Bob does not find out who killed his brother. Because this was Bob’s goal for the novel, this is considered an unfinished plot or a “loose end”.  I don’t know about you, but these kinds of endings annoy me. I don’t need my stories tied up with a bow on top, but I do need an ending. Otherwise, I feel like I just wasted my time.

First Plot Points

I wanted to write a post about what Larry Brooks calls the First Plot Point (aka, The First Doorway according to James Scott Bell) but I don’ t think I can do it as well as Larry did in this post. This is an absolute MUST READ.

First Drafts

The other day, my daughter’s teacher told me she was concerned my daughter may be a little bit of a perfectionist. I laughed and said the apple fell an inch from the tree. I am a perfectionist. I know this. I wrote the first sentence of this post seventeen times. Okay, not really. It was sixteen.

When it comes to writing, I typically plan first (plot cards, cork boards, outlines, character sheets…the whole nine yards) and then I write each chapter until it’s perfect. This means it takes a long time to get a first draft, but it also means there isn’t a lot of revising to do at the end. Who am I kidding? As a perfectionist, revision doesn’t end until…well, never.

Then I read James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure. He suggests several methods for whipping through a first draft. While they all sound like great ideas, I thought they weren’t for me. After all, I had tried this in the past. I wrote each chapter in expostion only, with the thought that I would go back and add the structure and dialogue later. What I got was something like this:

Mary goes to school. It’s raining and she forgot her umbrella so she’s wet. She meets Mark. He asks her why she is wet. She explains. He offers to drive her home after school. She accepts. When they get to her house, she asks him in for coffee. She thinks she may have finally met Mr. Right. He declines because he needs to get home to his wife.

 I’m yawning already. Why? I’m a dialoguer (apparently, I’m also a make-up-your-own-word-er). I love writing dialogue. It’s the detail and exposition that takes the most effort for me. So writing a whole book without any dialogue is absolutely painful. Realizing this, I decided to turn around JSB’s idea and write a first draft of my latest WIP using dialogue only. What happened? Not only do I love it, I’ve been writing 4000+ words a day.

So what’s the lesson here? Always remember your umbrella. No really. Find the style of writing you love and use that for your first draft. Maybe you’ll be like me and end up with an entire book of dialogue. Maybe you’ll end up with an entire book of exposition. Maybe you’ll end up with an entire book of inner monologue. It doesn’t matter. You’ll still end up with a first draft and that, my friend, is the first step to creating a finished manuscript.