Archive for August 2020

Creating a Story Arc #OpenBook Blog Hop   Leave a comment

Source: Creating a Story Arc #OpenBook Blog Hop

Posted August 17, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Story Arc. Can you see the future?   Leave a comment

Richard Dee’s Blog Post

Posted August 17, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Don’t Bore the Explorer   7 comments

What is story arc to you?

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Discovery Versus Plotting

As a discovery writer, I could probably joke that it is meaningless. I start writing a story and I add events, dialogue and setting until I get to the end. And, actually a lot of my source material for Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch and Mirklin Wood) and What If Wasn’t (Red Kryptonite Curve and subsequent books) is of that sort of meandering material. Even some of my drafts for Transformation Project (See new release Winter’s Reckoning here) start out just feeling along, looking for what excites my characters to grab the plot and run with it.

No, discovery writers don’t outline — much — but truthfully, I do usually have a plan for where I’m going and I’ll get to it — eventually.

Story arc refers to the structure and shape of a story. Wow, that sounds boring already. I don’t really “do” plots. I’m all about the characters. But, yeah, I’m answering the topic, so ….

What is Story Arc?

The arc consists of the events in your story — the sequences of occurrences — the plot’s peaks, plateaus and valleys that set the pace. Still kind of boring.

“A good arc is vital if you want to engage your readers from start to finish, and deliver a satisfying conclusion.”

I don’t know who wrote that, but I’m thinking they weren’t a discovery writer. I also think whoever wrote that sentence is a bore at dinner parties.

Narrative or story arc describes a story’s full progression. According to several articles I’ve read, every story has a relatively calm beginning, a middle where tension, character conflict, and narrative momentum builds to a peak, and then an end where the conflict is resolved.

Excuse me. I need to yawn.

You already know this classic example of the story arc:

  • Boy meets girl, boy fails girl, boy gets girl again.

Writers vary that simple trope by adding complexity to the basic arc.

  • Boy meets girl, boy fails girl, boy ends up on an island with girl, boy saves girl’s life, boy gets girl again, boy falls into a volcano, and girl saves boy’s life. Happily ever after here we come.

That sounds a lot like plot and it really is related. Plot is comprised of the individual events that make up your story. The story arc is the sequence of those events. But I don’t “do” plot. My stories are character-driven. Or are they?

A Discovery Approach to Plotting

When I let my characters tell me their stories, they don’t always give me the stories in sequential order. Which is handy for me because I can, usually, get away with ordering the story however I want. I often don’t bother with that until the editing starts. I’m a discovery writer. I want to unwrap all my presents before arranging them in my house.

Yes, I know outline writers whose heads are exploding as they read this article.

Go With Your Strengths

Part of the reason I can do this is that my characters dictate the story to me and I let them run with the plot, knowing I’ll have to do a continuity cleanup later. If you’re prepared for it, it’s really not as bad as it sounds and, frankly, I don’t know another way to do it. If I try to boss my characters around, they’re likely to stop talking to me. Their character arc(s) drive the story arc. Whatever inner demons they have are going to cause them to make decisions that will drive the story arc. It’s a symbiotic relationship. While my characters struggle to reach their goals and often fail, the story arc is created. The way my characters meet challenges spawned by the story arc also bend the character arcs.

According to the 19th-century German novelist, Gustav Freytag, story arcs are pyramidal, comprised of five dramatic stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. That would be useful if I wrote stories in the same way people build houses — but I don’t.

Exposition – In the Beginning (Maybe)

Take exposition, for example, It’s the defacto introduction to the book — setting the table — introducing the characters, scattering the seeds of conflict, imparting a bit of background knowledge so the reader isn’t totally confused by what happens along the way.

In The Willow Branch, I introduced readers to Prince Maryn and the Kingdom of Celdrya … and then killed him, so everything readers knew about Prince Maryn sort of didn’t matter (actually it does, because his death is a historic pivotal event that effects life a century later), but it was a much stronger beginning than my original one of Padraig riding down out of the mountains, which tells you a great deal about Padraig and the kingdom, but absolutely nothing really happens in that scene. It’s like watching an episode of 30-Something.

In Transformation Project, I started Life As We Knew It (Book 1) with Shane’s gun in his mouth and his finger just outside the trigger guard. Clearly, I don’t know how to start a story. I’m not alone. P.G. Wodehouse gallops right past the exposition. If it’s good enough for him….

I tried to write exposition for the story, but the truth was, the starting point for Transformation Project needed to be the central tension of Shane’s character. He’s suicidal because he suffers from PTSD. Only when things are banging and blowing up can he care about living and so, every time the plot slows down, Shane’s got to fly too close to a flame. Otherwise, that gun is going to go back into his mouth and, well, he’s still capable of pulling the trigger … as readers might find out when they read Winter’s Reckoning. Somebody might be dead at the end of the book. Would I kill Shane? I’m not telling.

Rising Action/Triggering Event

Some people call it the “inciting incident”. I do make use of that. Before Shane can pull the gun’s trigger, something causes him to get distracted from killing himself. Romeo sees Juliet. Prim is selected during the Reaping. Some circumstance triggers a roll of the plot dice and causes a series of escalating events that set the rest of the story into motion.

In Red Kryptonite Curve, Peter’s triggering event is when he meets Cheyenne. Up to that point, he was a free agent. The character could have gone in any direction (and probably not been worth writing about) until he met the girl and then his other issues came into play.

This is the point in the story where character development takes place and relationships between characters deepen. Tension rises and conflict escalates.

Probably THE classic example of this is in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Everything that occurs after Hercule Poirot steps foot onto the train — up until the murder of R — constitutes the story’s rising action. It strengthens the suspense on the train and reveals the suspects relationships and motives to the reader. How my characters respond to the changing situations during a period of rising action speaks volumes about them.


According to more than one article I’ve read on the subject, a good climax will build upon everything earlier — the story lines, motives, character arcs — and package it all together. It’s the moment of truth for the protagonist (the peak of the character arc) and the event to which the plot’s built up (the peak of the arc). When the outer and inner journeys come together and click, you know you’ve got the beginnings of a winning climax.

On the flip side, a bad climax is the easiest way for a reader to feel cheated and chuck your book at the wall. I don’t recommend you do that with your e-reader. They’re frightfully fragile and a lot more expensive than a paperback book. So the climax is one of the most important parts of your story arc. While it’s the beginning that sells this novel, it’s the climax that sells the next novel.  

Discovery writers don’t always follow rules. I’m writing series with an ensemble cast. Sometimes there’s more than one climax and I also throw in a cliffhanger at the end. Not always, though. In Winter’s Reckoning, there’s resolution after a mid-point climax, but I also start a new event right at the end of the book. It’s not a cliffhanger per se, but it should make the readers want to come back for Book 7 (tentatively entitled “A Death in Jericho” which will focus on the familiar characters, but with a murder mystery woven in). Okay, I wanted to write a murder mystery, but I struggle to create characters to fill such a plot-driven book. My solution was to find already existing characters with a dead body. Yeah, I know, I’m breaking the rules again.

Falling Action

You’ve just blown up the dam and fixed all your characters’ problems. Good for you. I write series with ensemble casts, so it is possible I’ve done the same — in one thread — but you can bet there’s a cliffhanger fomenting in at least one thread. Why? Because if I resolved everything, I’d probably not get a lot of reads for the later books.

Yes, I know cliffhangers supposedly cause readers to pull their hair out. That’s not been my experience in analyzing KENP reads. They typically read the entire series and nobody has complained about the cliffhangers yet. I’ve got one guy who is mad at me for making military guys act like military guys and a woman who thinks I defamed God by having non-Christians act like non-Christians. Nobody’s mentioned the cliffhangers as a problem yet.. Enough said about that squirrel.

What goes up must come down. This bridge between the climax and resolution is where you show the reader the fruits of the protagonist’s toils. It’s how they get from the thrills and chills to happily ever after.

Often, my books have several climaxes and a cliffhanger at the end, which means the next book might start with a climax in the first few pages. A Threatening Fragility ends with a cliffhanging climax as Shane is thrown off a bridge with a rope around his neck. That required Day’s End to begin with a climax showing how Shane survived that event. It’s then followed by a period of movement that is no less productive to the plot than the climax, but isn’t as all-consuming. There is at least one other climax later in the book.

If I were writing stand-alones with a traditional climax in the middle or toward the end, I would have couples start pairing off and I would tie up dangling ends. Yes, I know how to do it, I just don’t think it’s always the best way to go. Sometimes it is. In Red Kryptonite Curve, which has a more traditional climax, it’s in the falling action where Peter meets Rick, who will save his life, if he’ll let him in the next book.


Well, in stories not written by me, you’ve made it to the denouement. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy are engaged. Bilbo returns to Bag End. Huck Finn settles down with Aunt Sally to be “sivilized.” Ishmael is rescued from the sea. Readers breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The book is wrapping up. In an old-fashioned detective novel, the investigator would gather everyone in a room and reveal whodunnit. All questions would be resolved, all ends wrapped up. The reader would then close the book with peace of mind.


Does Freytag’s Pyramid work with every story?

History is dotted with novels that bucked the trend. On the Road possesses virtually no narrative arc while To Kill a Mockingbird arguably possesses two arcs (one each for Tom Robinson and Boo Radley). The Trial builds up to a complete anti-climax in the place of a climax; meanwhile, Catcher in the Rye casually drops a sentence in the denouement about Holden going to a mental institution before the book ends, abruptly.

Writing is about exploration and discovery and there’s plenty of room within the art to try something different. Disrupting reader expectations can be risky, but isn’t always a bad thing. A strong story arc gives a story shape, but subplots can provide a measure of variety to a story. There’s no reason not to experiment. It’s not like a tattoo. You’re not stuck with it forever. You can always delete attempts at variety.

Discovery Writer Discovers Plotting

I don’t much care about the story arc until I’ve finished the first draft. The draft is the time for my characters to do whatever they want to do. I know the general destination of my characters, but I let them decide how to get there. When I come back to the story, I read it as if I’ve never seen it before and I’m a beta reader trying to make the story better. When I read it yet again, I start to make notes. I know where I want the story to end up. Does the whole of the novel aim in that direction? Why did I send Cai to a culvert in Wichita and then to a concentration camp in Hutchinson? To make him a better person. To help him to understand his brother a bit better. To make him appreciate his wife more. To make his faith real to him. To bring in characters who will be key to resolving a future conflict. They didn’t live in Emmaus and I had to find a way to get them there. Did the events I described in A Threatening Fragility and Day’s End do for Cai what I wanted to accomplish? I had to do some rewriting to make it happen, but how I depicted Cai in Gathering In could not have been possible if he’d not gone through those earlier events.

Someone gave an apt metaphor for understanding the story arc. Think of plot as the disconnected bones of a skeleton. You could arrange them in a myriad of ways, but there’s really only one right way to arrange them. The story arc is the spine of the story. It provides the framework for the plot and prevents it from being a formless blob. Amoebic formations don’t make good stories. Experimenting with the story arc or letting your characters dictate their own actions can be a delightful experience in experimentation … so long as your whole picture aims in a direction that the story needs to go.

Posted August 17, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Creative Balance   Leave a comment

Are adverbs really the devil? If they sneak in occasionally, does it mean the writer is lazy?

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Stephen King says,

“The road to bad writing is paved with adverbs.”

Soon, all good writers have to a avoid adverbs like they’re some sort of flesh-eating microbe. We just know that we’re failing — ourselves, our readers, our editors — if we use adverbs.

Sure, Stephen King has written a lot of best-selling books that give people the willies late at night. Do those books contain adverbs? Maybe a few. I’m thinking it’s pretty hard to completely eliminate one of the four building blocks of grammar and still write that many novels, but even if King is not a hypocrite, he’s still not the boss of me. I don’t buy that all writers must write like Stephen King. If only for variety’s sake, Stephen King should write like Stephen King and you should “do you”. I should “do me”. Other writers ….

You get the point.

Adverbs are overused in bad writing

Most adverbs modifying verbs are unnecessary. Consider this —

  • The radio was blaring loudly.
  • The radio blared loudly.
  • The radio blared.

Just reading those three sentences tells us all we need to know. We don’t really need “loudly” to understand that a blaring radio is loud. It’s “blaring” after all, and the connotation of “blaring” includes loud. This is an example of a poorly-used adverb.

For subscribers to the “show, don’t tell” school of writing, writers who use a lot of adverbs evidence weak writing skills. Adverbs carry strong descriptions, preventing writers from expressing themselves clearly. Use an adverb like “angrily” and you don’t need to describe what actions a character engaged in that showed they were angry. The reader is just given the information that the character is angry.

“Joe angrily mopped the floor” tells the reader Joe was angry, but “Joe slopped soapy water over the floor, slamming his mop into the corners while muttering under his breath” shows the reader Joe’s rage. It’s more work, but it engages the reader in a more visceral experience.

I don’t hate on adverbs and I agree we should do the extra work to show rather than tell.

Not All That Bad

That doesn’t mean adverbs are literally the devil and we writers — particularly novelists — need to avoid them at all costs.

Adverbs are often redundant. “This is very heavy” is a great example of an adverb that is unnecessary because it’s modifying a adjective that doesn’t need to be modified. Heavy is, well, heavy. However, there are times when redundancy is a useful tool for a novelist or someone trying to make a sincere apology.

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • I’m so incredibly sorry.”

Depending on what the character has done, a simple apology won’t be enough. Red Kryptonite Curve ends with Ben telling Peter they can no longer be friends because his drunk driving hurt someone. Do you think Peter can go to Ben in “Dancing the Centerline” and say “I’m sorry” and all will be forgiven? He’s only going to have seconds before Ben walks away from him. “I’m so incredibly sorry” might give him a moment’s pause and Ben might listen to the next sentence or two if he emphasizes that he’s not just a little sorry for not listening to his friend in the previous book.

“I paid for the ticket. I’m attending the concert.” Okay. That conveys the meaning, but consider this —

“I paid for the ticket. I’m definitely going to the concert.” Technically “definitely” is an adverb, redundant, and unnecessary, but think about the meaning it conveys. It actually strengthens the feeling the character is expressing.

Most often, adverbs weaken the verb it is conjoined with, but not always. Sometimes, an adverb carries an emphasis that conveys a stronger sense of meaning. If you take “eliminate adverbs” as axiomatic dogma, you will miss the exception that might prove useful.

Gray Amid Black-and-White Rules

A rule that says “don’t ever” is black-and-white and traps us in corners we might not want to be in. Writing has no rules, unless you are a writer with a weakness you want to correct.

In truth, “don’t use adverbs” is a mutation of some excellent writing advice “be precise in your wording.”

  • The watermelon is very big.
  • The watermelon is enormous.

The second example is clearly more precise than the first. “Very big” is sloppy writing and doesn’t really give the writer the information he or she needs to know — that the watermelon is too big to lift. Both words are adverbs. One has a powerful place in the sentence while the other is filler.

At the risk of derailing this article into a discussion of passive versus active voice, the sentence would be better in active voice.

  • The enormous watermelon threatened to tip the wheelbarrow.

Although you could write the sentence without “enormous”, the adverb strengthens the image the sentence conveys. It doesn’t leave the reader wondering if the watermelon is just poorly placed. You know the watermelon’s size is the problem.

Adverbs can be important to the sentences we write, so long as we give them a role rather than use them as filler.

Adverbs are one of the four main parts of speech, together with nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They each perform a special purpose. We construct sentences using these basic building materials. When we omit all adverbs from our writing, we struggle to give important information about not verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.

Adverbs are often thought to end with “ly”, but any word or phrase modifying a verb, adjective or adverb is an adverb:

  • Rick smashed the zombie’s skull until his arm burned and flecks of rotted brain covered the sidewalk.
  • After surviving the exodus from New York, Joline would never trust another soldier.
  • Gregor stumbled back, avoiding Ilya’s grasp.
  • Janice faced forward because riding backwards made her motion-sick.

Almost no one objects to those adverbs because they convey necessary meaning in the sentence. Even “ly’ adverbs, used judiciously, can be powerful. Consider:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

That’s from the opening of a novel that is considered one of the best setting paragraphs ever written and look at all the “ly” words. They convey incredible meaning to the point where I don’t think the paragraph would have the same impact if they were eliminated.

Adverbs mean everything if you’re writing to a specific word count. As a novelist, Stephen King can describe events in detail. Short stories often need adverbs to stay under a word count, as do magazine articles. Journalists use all words judiciously because they have a tight word count (typically 350 words) and they use adverbs when it carries important information. If you wish to convey a clear meaning and place your sentence in a particular context, adverbs are a useful tool.

Dialogue with Adverbs?

Consider the difference between these two sentences:

  • You missed the train.
  • Clearly, you missed the train.

By reading the first sentence, we know that somebody missed their train. The narrator could be anyone – a ticket officer, a friend, a random passenger.

The second sentence shows a degree of criticism. The adverb clearly, when used in this context, can show some level of scolding or disapproval because the person missed the train. If the writer wishes to convey such a meaning then the adverb is preferred.

  • Diana is an emotional person
  • Diana is an overly emotional person.

Most human beings are emotional, so the first sentence really conveys irrelevant information. Who knows if Diana’s emotions are a good or bad quality. We can’t determine the narrator’s opinion on her emotional state.

In the second sentence, the narrator clearly believes Diana is emotional to an excessive degree. It makes all the different in the narrative.

Break the Rules When You’re Ready

I’m an overly educated writer (who just used an — gasp — adverb). Do you think I didn’t run across hundreds of rules while getting a Master’s degree in Journalism? Of course, I did.

Some people, especially editors, treat writing like there’s a checklist of dos and donts that must be followed. There are rules that are useful and then there are rules that render us weak writers writing weak books.

Of course, we should know the rules and make use of them to improve our writing. Of course, we should take advice from bestselling writers like Stephen King. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have a checklist of my known weaknesses that I use to improve my self-edits. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. I also keep a list of items to bring with me on business trips, so I don’t have to waste a lot of time going “Do I have everything I need?” Checklists are useful tools.

The trouble comes when an established writer’s experience (or the experiences of many established writers) becomes dogma. You need to “do you.” Establish your own style rather than copying King’s. Hemingway wrote in a specific style that I admire, but I don’t write like him — unless my POV character is that sort of person. See, how that works?

Writing is an art and art has “suggestions”, not rules. Whether it’s Stephen King who has sold millions of books or me who has sold somewhat less (currently), our “rules” are just advice and, yes, some advice is worth following. Correct spelling, for example, is highly useful for conveying meaning to readers. Using active voice rather than passive voice will almost always create a better story. Don’t overuse adverbs is equally good advance. Don’t use adverbs at all is a bridge too far. Rules are sign posts, common elements we find in great stories, but there are also amazing stories that break some of the rules, rejecting conventions when it makes sense.

Be aware of the rules and the risks inherent in breaking them, but remember, you’re an artist. Trust your intuition and don’t be intimidated by the clipboard Nazis with the checklists who think stories should all be alike. Consider what they have to say because they may be catching problems you don’t, but don’t take their advice as gospel. Enjoy your creative freedom while remembering that rules can be parachutes that will save your life.

See, balance! As important in writing as in trapeze acts and checkbooks.

Books On Sale   Leave a comment

Transformation Project Series is on sale for the launch of Winter’s Reckoning. The apocalypse continues as Shane confronts his past face-to-face.

Known   Leave a comment

Photo-Realism in Writing   10 comments

Do you draw your main characters so that a forensic sketch artist could put them on the cover, or do they belong to the reader?

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Now this is a question I never really thought about before.

I can certainly imagine my characters in my mind’s eye and if I could draw, I might be able to sketch some of them. I’m not a very good sketch artist myself. I like landscapes. Faces are hard for me.

I do describe what some characters look like. Shane is dark – curly hair and tanned skin, indicative of his father’s Indian ancestry — but he has green eyes from his mother. His face is angular with high cheekbones, a generous mouth with full lips, large eyes, and a strong nose and jaw. I actually borrowed his look from a kid I saw in a coffee shop when I was drafting Life As We Knew It. You know he’s 6’1″ and fit. I give readers plenty of details to envision him and I’m pretty sure a sketch artist could sketch him fairly accurately.

Ryanna in Daermad Cycle is physically modeled after my daughter, so if someone wanted to do a sketch of her, I’d give them a photo, although I also think a sketch artist could reasonably depict her based on the details given in The Willow Branch.

A Lighter Touch

Other characters may not be so easily defined. You know Rob Delaney (Shane’s father) is tall, broad-shouldered, has graying sandy hair and blue eyes. The Indian blood doesn’t show in his coloring, but it does show in his facial features, somewhat obscured by a reddish beard. You don’t know a lot of other details. I left it up to the reader to fill in the blanks.

I write series and I don’t often go back to describe people more than once. If a POV character meets a character for the first time, I might share their impression of them, but — as I said recently — I don’t really like repetition in novels. I can guess Aes Sedai will wear the fringed shawl. I don’t need to know that in every stinking scene of the book. I described Jill Delaney in Life As We Knew It and it’s not until Winter’s Reckoning that I note a change in her — she’s lost weight and her red hair is growing out gray and brown at the roots — both in keeping with the apocalypse.

I think readers prefer to have a general impression of most characters so that they can choose to envision them however they want. There are times when looks matter. For example, part of Shane’s problem with feeling comfortable in his family stems from how much his looks differ from those of his siblings. He knows he physically resembles his uncle who committed suicide. That affects him. It’s part of the tension that he must resolve within himself. But I don’t need to go into so much detail that the reader feels obligated to envision the young man I saw in that coffee shop.

Engage the Reader’s Imagination

There are times when details matter and there are times when it’s best to work in broad strokes. One of the reasons I avoid face shots on my covers is that I like to give readers a chance to use their imaginations. I don’t utilize a one-technique-fits-all-characters strategy. My hope would be that if I hired an artist to sketch a character, I’d be okay if the details weren’t entirely accurate because I’ve left enough room for the imagination of the reader.

Posted August 3, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Amazing Grace   Leave a comment

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