Write about somebody who likes to work in silence.
Set your story in the lowest rated restaurant in town.
Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 09:58:11 EDT
Subject: EXERCISE: Plot #13: Maturation: 20 Master Plots [with mere hours to go before the midnight parade of the zombies...] Based on the book "20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them)" by Ronald B. Tobias. ISBN 0-89879-595-8. Master Plot #13: Maturation [the loss of illusions...] (p. 160) "The maturation plot--the plot about growing up--is one of those strongly optimistic plots. There are lessons to learn, and those lessons may be difficult, but in the end the character becomes (or will become) a better person for it." (p. 161) "The protagonist of the maturation plot is usually a sympathetic young person whose goals are either confused or not yet quite formed. He floats on the sea of life without a rudder. He often vacillates, unsure of the proper path to take, the proper decision to make. These inabilities are usually the result of a lack of experience in life--naivete..." "This coming-of-age story is often called the _Bildungsroman_, which is German for 'education novel.' The focus of these stories is the protagonist's moral and psychological growth. Start your story where the protagonist has reached the point in her life at which she can be tested as an adult. She may be ready for the test, or she may be forced into it by circumstances." Phase the First: Before (p. 162) "...begin with the protagonist as he is before events start to change his life. We need to see who this character is, how he thinks and acts, so we can make a decision about his moral and psychological state before he undergoes change. Your character may exhibit a lot of negative (childlike) traits. Perhaps he is irresponsible (but fun-loving), duplicitous, selfish, naive--all the character traits that are typical of people who haven't accepted the responsibilities of adulthood or who haven't accepted the moral and social code that the rest of us abide by (more or less)..." When suddenly... (p. 163) "Which brings us to the test. The catalytic event. ... suddenly something comes along and smacks her square in the face...." death of a parent, divorce, loss of home.... "...The event must be powerful enough to get the attention of the protagonist and literally shake up her belief systems...." "You will prove your skills as a writer by making us feel the apocalyptic force of the event on the child's psyche..." Phase Two: I Don't Wanna The first reaction usually is denial, either literal or figurative. Don't shortcut this. There's anger, resistance, etc.--work your character through them. (p. 165) "It may be, in fact, that your protagonist is actually trying to do the right thing, but doesn't know what the right thing is. That means trial and error. Finding out what works and what doesn't work. That is the process of growing up, the journey from innocence to experience." Phase Three: Finally (p. 165) "Finally your protagonist develops a new system of beliefs and gets to the point where it can be tested. In the third dramatic phase, your protagonist will finally accept (or reject) the change. Since we've already noticed that most works of this type end on a positive note, your protagonist will accept the role of adult in a meaningful rather than a token way." Be careful with this plot. Don't lecture or moralize, let the reader find the meaning buried in the prosaic...and see the world fresh again. Checklist: 1. Is your protagonist on the cusp of adulthood, with goals that are confused or not yet clear? 2. Does your story clearly show the readers who the character is and how s/he feels and thinks before the event occurs that begins the process of change? 3. Does your story contrast the protagonist's naive life (childhood) to the reality of an unprotected life (adulthood)? 4. Does your story focus on showing the protagonist's moral and psychological growth? 5. Does the "precipitating event" clearly challenge the beliefs and understanding of the world that you have shown? 6. "Does your character reject or accept change? Perhaps both? Does she resist the lesson? How does she act?" 7. Does your story show your protagonist undergoing the process of change? Is the change realistically gradual and difficult? 8. Is your young protagonist convincing? Does she display adult values and perceptions before she has developed them? 9. Does your story try to convert someone to "instant adulthood"? Or does it use small lessons and major upheavals to reflect the long process of growing up? 10. Does your story accurately show the psychological price that this lesson demands, and how your protagonist copes with that cost? That's our technical background lesson from Tobias... Since we're still in the time of the halloweenies, let's consider whether growing up (maturation) could be the basis of a horror...aha! Suppose, just for example, that we have our normal, fun-loving bunch of teenagers (young people, pick your age group)...hotrodding, dancing on the beach, headed for the prom...or just hanging out at the mall? And then comes...the bubbling goo from outer space? the phone call from the doctor (and just what was the diagnosis?) or the maniac from central New Jersey?...design your precipitating incident, anyway. Spend a while mixing, brewing, stirring the soxes off the emotional twists and turns of the kids... And rock our little worlds with the maturity that the kids step up to. Did Jose really skip the homecoming dance just to sit with Fernando, watching the sun rise one last time before...or does Emily decide that she doesn't care if the baby does have cloven hoofs and those buds on its skull, it's her baby and it's going to get a college education if it wants one...what about the wonderful way that Alfred admits to the police that while he did lure the graduating class into the swamp, he was simply not aware that the great vampire bat migration was going on.... In short, it seems to me that facing down a little natural (or unnatural, take your pick) horror often is the catalyst for maturation. Take that kid with the cotton candy, add a boll weevil gleefully eating its way towards his heart, and if he's plucky, bold, and true...you may end up with an adult who knows that dental hygiene helps avoid cavities. (and if you think you've seen this plot before a few times--you're right! but there are still a few tales for you to wring out of this one...so start twisting!) How about...a number from one to six? 1. "Mature man needs to be needed, and maturity needs guidance as well as encouragement from what has been produced and must be taken care of." Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society (1950), 7. 2. "We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice--that is, until we have stopped saying 'It got lost,' and say 'I lost it.'" Sydney J. Harris, On the Contrary (1962), 7. 3. "The latter part of a wise man's life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former." Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects (1711). 4. "To live with fear and not be afraid is the final test of maturity." Edward Weeks, "A Quarter Century: Its Retreats," Look, July 18, 1961. 5. "The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength in you that survives all hurt." Max Lerner, "Faubus and Little Rock," The Unfinished Country (1959), 4. 6. "One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them." Virginia Woolf, "Hours in a Library," Times Literary Supplement, "Nov. 30, 1916. [Quotes taken from The International Thesaurus of Quotations, by Rhoda Thomas Tripp, ISBN 0-06-091382-7] How about making a list of five different qualities which you admire (honesty? okay...) Then consider how someone who has not yet achieved that level of maturity may act. Focus down to the one that your character is going to be tested on (or challenged)... Then pick the catalytic event. If you like, here's a list (pick your number!): 1. Death (of a friend, a relative, etc.) 2. Illness 3. Pregnancy 4. Reaction by others to revealed "secret" (you did what?) 5. Being "invited" to join in a crime 6. Having a parent (or other influential adult) leave Refine that general event. Lay out the reactions to it. (and if you want, mix in the horror...up the ante on that catalyst! I think almost every item on the list has been used as the basis for horror--just push them a bit beyond the everyday, and you find fear and loathing grinning through the muck...) Then lay out the story. Introduce us to the young person(s). Have their life interrupted by...change. Show us the actions and reactions, the attempts to escape, to hide, to avoid...and then show us the growth into maturity, into someone who acts with knowledge of the price of their actions... (wow! what a tale you've got to tell! write!) tink
Date: Sun, 5 Oct 1997 12:45:17 EDT Subject: EXERCISE: Fear and Trembling... Well, well, well...we are in the midst of our halloweenies contest, and you still don't have an idea? (you could always do a piece about a writer facing a deadline without an idea, and the agonies of that position, but perhaps that is a bit too recursive for you? a bit too far into the hall of mirrors, reflecting each other each other each other...:) Let's try an experiment. First, pick a number from one to six. 1. Fear is sharp-sighted, and can see things under ground, and much more in the skies. Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605-15), 1.3.6, tr. Peter Motteux and John Ozell. 2. Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. Bertrand Russell, "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish," Unpopular Essays (1950). 3. Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of great fear. Bertrand Russell, "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish," Unpopular Essays (1950). 4. Present fears / Are less than horrible imaginings. Shakespeare, Macbeth (1605-06), 1.3.137. 5. Horror causes men to clench their fists, and in horror men join together. Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939), 9.3, tr. Lewis Galantiere. 6. Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops. H. L. Mencken, Minority Report (1956), 364. So there you have a little bit of a quote about fear...and maybe you could pick again? One to twelve this time...some of the flavors of horror and fear, as given by the Microsoft Bookshelf thesaurus: 1. fear, healthy fear, dread, awe, respect 2. abject fear, cowardice 3. fright, stage fright 4. wind up, funk, blue funk 5. terror, mortal terror, panic terror 6. state of terror, intimidation, trepidation, alarm, false alarm 7. shock, flutter, flap, tailspin, agitation 8. fit, fit of terror, scare, stampede, panic, panic attack, spasm 9. flight, sauve qui peut 10. the creeps, horror, horripilation, hair on end, cold sweat, blood turning to water 11. consternation, dismay, hopelessness 12. defense mechanism, fight or flight, repression, escapism, avoidance [The Original Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (Americanized Version) is licensed from Longman Group UK Limited. Copyright c 1994 by Longman Group UK Limited. All rights reserved.] You probably got several words there. Pick one of them, and think about that particular shiver in the back of the neck, that specific clench in the abdomen, that lovely pasty shade of fear...make yourself remember when you felt that horrified. What exactly had happened? What did your mouth feel like? How about the back of your hand? Your toes? [horripilation, incidentally, is "bristling of ... body hair, as from fear or cold; goose bumps" from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright c 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.] Now, imagine that your quote was on a little brass plate (or maybe nicely framed, waiting to catch your eye? how about embodied somehow in another character? perhaps simply floating in the shared knowledge and understanding of our reality, waiting to be reinvented?) So there you are, facing your horror (or running from it?) and the words, or at least the sense (or nonsense?), of your quote slaps you hard in the cowardice and stiffens your spine... (pssst? Make a list of five ways that your quote and your fears go together--and conflict...) Now, put it all together. Imagine a character out there, with fear. What kind of activity are they engaged in? How many other people are helping or hindering them (don't forget your antagonist!) Put them into that scene, and make us believe it, make us live it. Then how does the horror creep in? Or does it leap from a shadowed alley, drop out of the blue blue sky, or merely slink along on soundless paws, silently pursuing the victim with flickers on the edge of sight? As the horror grows in power, how does the character struggle? Do we try to tell people, only to find that they don't believe that the kindly old parish priest doesn't seem to have a shadow? Do we look around in fright, then start to run, and run, and run...? (maybe two or three scenes here, with the protagonist investing more and more in fighting the horror, and the horror growing stronger, more pervasive?) Finally, with the life, liberty, honor, and sanity of the protagonist at stake (or at least whatever stakes you want to put up...not in, just ante up)--does the protagonist face their fear? Or does the horror remove its face, revealing a truly gruesome gaping hole? What is the climax, the point toward which your horror story builds? [you put the right foot in, you shake it all around, then drop it in the pot... you put the left foot in, and stir up the piranha, then let them strip it to the bone... that's how you do the horror stew?]
Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 09:43:11 EDT
Subject: EXERCISE: Plot #12: Transformation: 20 Master Plots Based on the book "20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them)" by Ronald B. Tobias. ISBN 0-89879-595-8. Master Plot #12: Transformation (p. 153) "The plot of transformation deals with the process of change in the protagonist as she journeys through one of the many stages of life. The plot isolates a portion of the protagonist's life that represents the period of change, moving from one significant character state to another." Some "standard" points of change: becoming adult; war and combat; search for identity; divorce and other family shifts; facing violence; deaths; and learning something new (remember Pygmalion?). But the large-scale change is only one kind. Consider small events that may build and shake lives... Structure: Phase one - an incident that starts a change in the protagonist's life. Be sure the reader knows who the protagonist is before the change! Now let the ripples of the incident begin to stretch out..."There are lessons to be learned, judgments to be made, insights to be seen." Phase two - show us the full effects of the transforming incident. What hidden parts of the main character are stirred up in the wake of the storm? Phase three - show us (often via another incident) the results of the transformation. What does the protagonist (and the reader) learn? "It's common for a protagonist to learn lessons other than what he expected to learn. The real lessons are often the hidden or unexpected ones. Expectations are baffled; illusions are destroyed. Reality overtakes fantasy." Checklist: 1. Does your plot of transformation deal with the process of change as the protagonist journeys through one of the many stages of life? 2. Does the plot isolate a portion of the protagonist's life that represents the period of change, moving from one significant character state to another? 3. Does the story concentrate on the nature of change and how it affects the protagonist from start to end of the experience? 4. Does the first dramatic phase relate the transforming incident that propels the protagonist into a crisis, starting the process of change? 5. Does the second dramatic phase depict the effects of the transformation? Does it concentrate on the self-examination and character of the protagonist? 6. Does the third dramatic phase contain a clarifying incident representing the final stage of the transformation? Does the character understand the true nature of the experience and how it has affected him? Does true growth and understanding occur? 7. What is the price of the wisdom gained? a certain sadness? Thus spake Tobias (along with some paraphrasing). Transformation, change...what could be more appropriate for our little Halloweenies contest? (Don't know what I'm talking about? Take a look at http://web.mit.edu/mbarker/www/hall97/hall.html !) Let's pick a number! From one to six, or thereabouts? 1. amphisbaena -- serpent having a head at each end (Greece) 2. dybbuk -- dead person's evil spirit that invades a living person (Jewish folklore) 3. ghoul -- evil being that feeds on corpses 4. lamia -- monster with the head and breast of a woman and body of a serpent that lured children to suck their blood 5. phoenix -- immortal bird that cremates itself every 500 years, then emerges reborn from the ashes (Greece) 6. windigo -- evil spirit, cannibal demon (Native American folklore) [taken from the section on Mythological and Folkloric Beings in Random House Word Menu, ISBN 0-679-40030-3] Now, back up and consider your character(s). How old are they? What change or shift in their life are they facing? For example, someone who is just starting high school has a little different viewpoint from someone who is about to graduate from college and face the world of work, or from the young couple about to have their first baby, or the slightly older parent thinking about their child leaving home, or... And don't forget, if you don't want to go with the big shifts, a little dabble do you! So think about the change they were facing... Then mix in that delightful creature you picked up in the first part. Offhand, I'd recommend making a couple of lists. First, a list of points about the change--what's good, what's bad, what are we going to learn from it? Second, a list of points about the monster in our midst--what's good, what's bad, what are we going to do about it? Now, look at the linkages between the lists. Can defeating the monster be turned into a sort of metaphor for the change we are dealing with? What if we don't defeat the monster, but learn from it something about ourselves? Could defeating the monster be an "anti-metaphor," contrasted to the change which we cannot defeat? What if we are transformed into the monster? Or what if there is no monster, just poor sad humanity, hiding behind the cloak of the monster? Let's see. How about something borrowed, and perhaps blue? Pick a number, one to six, and let's see what you got: 1. a yellow highlighter 2. a red papiermache pepper 3. a 5 pound bag of sugar 4. a spoonful of hot fudge 5. a two year old comic book from a dentist's waiting room 6. a clipboard There you go. Now you have a prop, a little bit of physical setting which you are going to cleverly weave into the story. And don't forget, if you mention hot fudge in the first scene, someone should have a sundae before we get done... Put it all together, it spells... Well, that's up to you! Write! tink
1. Your favorite childhood vacation. 2. The last words of your novel are, “As night became day, he started to understand the truth.” Now, go...