Write a story from the scene up

Technical writers start with a goal, outline the process, and research specifics.

It’s tempting to think writing stories would work the same way (in teleocentric terms): start at the beginning and (while your hero encounters issues and fails, then finally succeeds) focus on stressed businessmanthe end game – a triumphant climax and a conclusion.

But when you’re just starting with an idea and a character or two, it’s more common to imagine isolated scenarios – like dreams.

  • Is your hero open-minded? Why, sure! When she met someone with an opposing opinion… and scene.
  • Is your hero broken? Oh, yes.  Why, when he… and scene.
  • Is your hero strong? Not really.  Why, when she… and scene.

After these daydreams, the writer has a related, but disparate group of scenes. Not a story.

If this resembles the way you write, consider this strategy.

You can anchor scenes to a plot (create an outline) and let that inform what to focus on next, or you can let the most compelling scenes (the ones with the most conflict) drag you to a climax. Pen an ending, and call it a story.

I’ve used both techniques.

  • The outline helped me find where the scene fit into the story and identify new scenes to write.
  • The most compelling scenes helped direct me to a climax I would never have imagined from the beginning. The story developed around the scene with the addition of an introduction and conclusion… but it was flat.  Then I penned a climax so pivotal, I had to scramble back and recreate everything.

With a foundation and solid characters, it was much easier to progress and eventually finish.


Theresa and Tom Selleck

girls-470679_640Lost a close friend, last Christmas. One night, cuddled deep in her family’s sofa, I spun tales of our misadventures.

Theresa and Tom Selleck

Colin Joudrie was the 8th grade’s answer to swagger on a stick. When he returned from Christmas break stoked about his Hawaiian vacation, everyone heard about it.

Theresa and I shared a glance across the stuffy classroom. Destination: Hawaii.

I forged library passes so we could research during lunch. Our Science teacher, Mr. Summersgill, was a soft touch for the treasured passes, but what challenge is there in begging, right?

So we settled down to hard work, cracked the World Book, and tuned in to ‘Hawaii.’

Captain Cook. Check.

Pearl Harbor. Check.

Archipelago. That’d be good for an easy ‘A’ on the Social Studies term paper. High-five.

Well, and Magnum PI, duh. Tom Selleck was sure to give us a ride in his red Ferrari.

I scoured our local rag, The Calgary Herald, and found tickets to Hawaii, $549 inclusive. That means hotel, too.


I’d been babysitting for two years and had almost $368 in the world. At $2/hr, I figured I could swing a ticket in a couple of months, with some hustle.

Theresa turned up in the morning, long face. Time for a pow-wow.

We met between classes.

“Mom won’t let me go.”

Infuriating.  Theresa’s mom had some kind of idea we, who could forge our own library passes and cinch Social Studies in a noon-hour, we, who could spell ‘archipelego’ we, who could spell ‘Hawaii,’ were too young to travel internationally and hit the beach on our own.

It was about the money. I’d been around longer than Theresa (six months, seriously!) and knew more of the world. It was always about the money.

Trapped on acreages between the town of Cochrane and the city of Calgary, we had two choices.

Cochrane was a write-off.  Nobody in Cochrane (except McKay’s ice cream) had money. Even if they had, we weren’t allowed off the school property to earn it.

That left Calgary.

Too far to bike, except for a lone business on the edge of town: the Crowchild Motor Inn.

An inn hires maids.

Theresa added, “and they get tips.”

Done deal.  We would get jobs cleaning rooms at the Crowchild Motor Inn. The owners had no idea the gold mine they sat on.

Guests were dying for the right combination of speed and suds.

Theresa could scrub a bathroom in 10 minutes. I could run a vacuum and make a bed in the time it took my mom to open the garage door and climb the stairs.

Those rooms would sparkle so bright, we’d drown in tips. We’d tour Hawaii in our own Ferrari. We could feel the island breeze in our hair.

The next day, long face again. “Mom won’t let me go.”

Some blah-blah that translated to us being good enough for slave labor scrubbing toilets at home, but not for paid employment at the swank Crowchild Motor Inn.

“But that nukes Hawaii,” I wailed. What fun was Hawaii alone?  “I already wrote the Magnum PI producer and got us tickets to a taping.”

“Really?” Theresa was now as upset as I was.

My skill at telling lies is exceeded only by my inability to conceal them. I admitted there were no tickets.

Theresa forgave me for baiting her about the taping almost as soon as we hatched a new plan. We’d write a multi-million dollar computer game. Heck, we were halfway there; we’d coaxed a digital clown to stick out his tongue and buzz a raspberry. Next stop, Silicon Valley.

Years later, we danced ’til dawn with our university pal, Rob Ferrari; a good guy but no Tom Selleck.

Are Asperger’s the best writers?

Thank you University of Iowa for sponsoring a free online class in fiction writing. Over 8100 global participants – the discussions are rich and varied.

Mother Helping Toddler WalkMy takeaway, this week.

One difference between a newsletter (to people who like you) and a novel (for people who don’t know you) is that a newsletter writer is the story, while the novelist must get out of the way of the story.

If a newsletter is a toy, a novel is more like a child; you can impose structure and supply building blocks but you, yourself must fade into the background. Do you know what I mean?

My favorite stories read as if written by someone with Asperger’s: brilliant and focused; neither invested nor judgmental.

Professional detachment at its best enables readers to believe they discovered the writer’s world and that every word is what they’d write, if they’d stumbled on the scene.

Write for your soul. Edit for your audience.

Overheard in a writer’s group: writers, like all artists, walk the line between ego and empathy.

Mother and Daughter Reading TogetherWrite as a leader

Write what you know.  Create your setting and write about conflict or disillusionment or triumph. On your first draft, don’t ask what to discard and how to convey – lead.

Write as a writer

Write each story as if it was only the first of many. Trying to cram all you want to say into a single place is like a conversation with someone who needs a filter: you can hardly find the point for all the ideas.

Edit for relevance

From an empty cup perspective, gather feedback. Find criticism in reviews of other stories (if you’re lucky, in reviews of your own), and refuse to take it personally. Your soul is the sum of all your experiences – each story is limited to those very few experiences, or that one,  relevant to your audience.

Edit for resonance

A story needs only enough words to convey. An ideal waiter silently serves and replenishes (water, rolls, condiments) without becoming part of the meal. Discover what, if anything, resonates with your audience and edit, edit, edit to suit.


Most authors draft several versions of a story before calling it complete, negotiating a compromise between the artist’s vision and audience’s head space.

What you refuse to sacrifice will make a good diary entry.


Define your own success.  Some writers are satisfied to create selfies in print form. That’s valid.

Others prefer to reach an audience, to join the timeless conversation represented by every book ever written, and that requires a different approach. If readership and/or sales are your benchmark, acknowledge that and make it happen. Grab your reader and add your voice to those of the world.

Mistaking your inner voice for your writing voice

Is it an evil thing, to find value in a friend’s mistake?

Woman with typewriter.


I’ve been struggling to develop a unique writing  voice. Ideally, the narrative should seem so transparent that the reader forgets the medium and uploads the story directly to the pages of their mind, as if living it themselves. While reviewing a friend’s story, I found inspiration.

My friend was so coy. She’d say, “here look at this old thing” and toss you a concept, then dog you like a hound until you’d read it through and shared every scrap of meat on the bone with her. Turning the pages, I felt her at my shoulder, laughing at her own jokes and drunk with cleverness.  How irritating. I wanted to protest, “this is my experience, butt out!” That’s when I tripped over the answer.

She’d written in her inner voice. In her mind, this is how she spoke to close friends, to her kids, to her self.  Because we’re told the written voice should be unique to you, it stands to reason that it should parallel your inner voice, doesn’t it? What greater compliment could you give your readers than to talk to them as you would to your self?

How egotistical. How narcissistic.

My take New Born Lambaway is that there’s a courteous voice you must find, as a writer.  One that, though true to yourself, is tailored to your audience.  A voice that leads them gently, allows them to find their own meaning and respects their ability to interpret and take from your story what they will.

Of course, now I have to puzzle out how to do that. But reading what I wrote a year ago (that terrible story was mine!) I have new perspective with which I’ll hope to develop a gentler voice.



Wreak havoc in just 15 minutes a day

Few of us have more than 15 minutes a day to write. But a good story, especially when you’re Future Rock Starstarting out, is rarely about “churning out 100 words every morning.” Random, undirected words rarely make the final cut and even with a plan, it’s hard to stream a story in less than an (undisturbed) hour.

However, short bursts can be as valuable to your story as long, uninterrupted stretches (oh, dream of heaven) of writing time, if you’re prepared.

List the chores you want to knock out in those 15 stolen minutes during your morning commute or while your gas tank fills. Or on the boneheaded days when words clog between the seat and keyboard.

Whether you’re busy living life or stuck for inspiration, don’t just put words on paper – accomplish something. Wreak a little havoc in your written world and reward yourself, if only with a virtual pat on the back. Remember, you enjoy writing.

This list describes some of my favorite chores; hope it helps. Please reply to this post and share some of your own.


Deep in the grip of my first story, I sketched something completely unrelated and beat myself up over losing focus. But the snippets I wrote “on the side” became priceless inspiration, helping me back into the swing of writing when I just wasn’t feeling it. Respect your daydreams.

  • Leave yourself a voicemail message, or use an app like iTalk. Talk it out with yourself. Verbal writing triggers different thought processes.
  • Keep a scribbler, bedside. Don’t lose the train of thought and the cadence.
  • Are your notes just a rehash of the same, stuck scene? No problem. Different approaches to the same topic can revitalize a stale viewpoint.

Tackle and Conquer

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Every story thrives on the uncomfortable or pivotal or mundane scenes we all wish would write themselves. Break the scene into snippets and tackle each one during a short block of time.

Use your rare, unbroken time to knit the snippets together.


You’re in a hoarder-intervention frame of mind.

A good cut session should enable you to remove words that don’t fit and thoughts that stall the action, and to insert bon mots that maintain and enhance your story.

  • Try not to lose the cadence, voice, and tone of your piece. A lyrical piece can quickly become a goose-stepping paragon of efficiency or verbose, alliterative mess.
  • Be mindful of your mood - make surgical incisions, not hamburger.

Before an editorial  session, “save as” a new revision and turn on tracking. You don’t have to view it – just let Word invisibly track your steps. Later, when you’re looking for something to let the audience down after your climax, you can repurpose that two-page slow dance you removed from the (much faster-paced) start of the story

Inject conflict

If your character is facilitated at every turn, add a Minotaur in the labyrinth – or have the easiest step suddenly become impossible. For instance, the “send” key collapses the communication system. Find opportunities for characters and circumstances to oppose the hero.

Find a clear sailing piece of your story, maybe an inner soliloquy that lasts more than two paragraphs, and break it up – foster conflict.


Methodically identify every event in your story.

When you read through your story as a list of “beats“, it’s easier to see what’s likely to happen next (or whether you need a twist) and sketch out what will precede or follow.

This technique helped me find my final scene. The “crisis” I’d planned didn’t hit hard enough and when I read through the beat diagram, I found issued I’d implied earlier in the book suggested a different thread that nailed the climax.

Proof continuity

Is your senior engineer “buff surfer” and “grasshopper-like” in the same scene? Did the hamster in his head spin the wheel so fast the cogs were smokin’ while he was simultaneously, “stuck”?

Track down inconsistencies – be brutal. Identify research projects (would a surfer be caught dead living in Washington, DC?) and keep your story on track.


Clear roadblocks before you hit them during a daydream  session.

  • Do you suspect there will be cops? Nail down the police policy on handcuffing so you’re ready to toss your hero into a hot cruiser.
  • Does your hero commute by plane? Cruise youtube to find preflight procedures and flight simulations for the Beech Baron 50 she favors.
  • Lay out your hero’s neighborhood and even the floor plan using Google Earth and current MKS listings. Maybe there’s not a sidewalk in sight – or maybe there’s a spooky community hall you hadn’t thought to tap.
  • Stuck shopping with a friend? Search out that signature hat or cane, the vintage watch your character wears.

Control freaks need outlines

An outline may seem essential but when does a map become a crutch?

crutchAre you a control freak? I am: I crave structure. When I decided to write a story and Google failed to find me a generic outline, I sought help.

  • A teacher explained that a story has a beginning, middle, and an end.
  • A movie maven explained my story needed a beginning, change, climax, denouement (wha-at?), and conclusion.

These were descriptions – where was the structure?

I cobbled together an outline from books about writing but it failed to write my story; an outline practically writes a technical report so its failure to write a story came as a surprise. Frustrated, I spent an afternoon writing a random scene – just to put something on paper.

I began by writing the middle of the story.

It worked: only critical characters emerged. The seeker and her comic relief, the love interest. The villain was implied: somebody was dead and a bad guy dunnit. As I developed the bad guy, he brought baggage and suddenly I had a dynamic cast, each with a purpose and the nuggets of a backstory. I could imagine where the scene might go (conclusion) and background needed to explain the significance (introduction).

My outline (below) placed the scene within a larger story. New scenes became imperative, not for the sake of word count but because I had to show the bad guy was evil and show why the seeker was attractive. I set them on a collision course and encouraged conflict (that was a hurdle: I shy from conflict) using this outline:

1. Identify the hero and the  status quo.

2. Introduce a change/challenge.

    • how does the hero change/adapt/resist
    • what happens to her/his friends

3. Introduce adversity/conflict.

    • betrayal
    • fear/sense of failure

4. Plan, work, stretch.

    • discover abilities & capacities
    • make new friends or watch friends grow to accommodate the adventure
    • develop a plan and  execute

5. First plan fails.

  • epic event so devastating the good guys rethink tactics, strategy, and the goal.
  • The failure that wasn’t an option became reality.

6. Look inward and fight yourself.

  • The main character grows and transcends a fatal flaw. This is not a happy occasion. The audience’s ability to connect and to empathize pivot on how your character handles it. Not to get all Musashi, but spend time on this scene.

7. Devise a second plan that requires sacrifice and fundamental change.

  • What is more important: acquiring the cool toy or succeeding without it?  Curing cancer or accepting that bad things happen?
  • What is success worth? Does the hero greenlight a cost s/he wasn’t  previously willing to pay?

8. Execute the second plan. Climax. Triumph – success at cost.

This success eclipses the first failure.  Make it real; if you squirm out, the audience will leave.

9. Tie up the loose ends. Curtain.

Themes and tropes

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in LibraryWhat do you think of themes and tropes? As someone who spent the better part of her childhood distancing herself from assumptions and judgments, to me they smacked of prejudice. In college, I successfully ignored them; meanings and implications arose in my prof’s head, elevating my third-rate term paper to an A on the unlikely merit of too few words.

Now that I’m trying, my writing has suffered. Clumsy, thumb-fingered attempts to inject good trumps evil and smart uncles keep a close eye on naïve nieces wink back from the page at me in tacky neon; forcing meaning into my story has killed the leavening, reducing 3-D adventures into a cautionary fable told by a well-meaning Aunt.

So I’ve rifled through my manuscript snagging pithy comments and hard-won paragraphs and shooting the delete key, clearing implications and leaving the readers to infer meaning for themselves.

Until today. I’ve been struggling (as with an 840lb bear, not a jar of pickles). My story is stalled and all I get when I pump the gas is an ominous series of clicks. But this morning dawned to reveal a trope that applied to my main character as well as the first guy you see in the story, whom I only created for colorful background.

They’re both the struggling kids of outrageously successful, notorious parents. Subtle tweaking will reveal parallels. I can’t wait to tackle the story again - let’s see if it works!

Maybe I need to draw and integrate characters into the story before I look for patterns. Is seek and destroy a legitimate way (for a newbie) to write?

Who do you think you are?

Do bullies call you verbose?two young girls laughing behind another girls back

The media you choose (the ‘net, Facebook, blogs, TV/movies, a game you’d rather be playing right now) contributes to a unique combination of words at your beck and call.

  • Occupational terms you use daily, whether tech jargon or 30 variations of “burger and fries.”
  • “What’s it to ya, eh?” Walmart vernacular.
  • “Street cred” vanity phrases we use to look excellent. Learned (at best) in the street or (at worst) on a diet of gritty TV dramas.
  • Period and foreign nuances we see around us or purposely study.

Writers are often more aware of the vast array of words available; but does our vocabulary set us free or box us into certain memes and themes?

Linguistic determinism has been largely debunked but it seems intuitive, for instance, that an42-15593017 Inuit hunter with thirty words for snow, an ancient Roman officer with 30 words for win, and a French tween with thirty words for love would each find certain lines of thought easier, if only because the words describing certain themes are familiar and abundant.

Does our ability to manipulate words like a winning team handles the ball enable us to transcend language or does our ability to embrace and lose ourselves in them make our stories more palatable?

Food for thought.

You Can Write in 2014

candleThey say never to explain how to using the words we can’t. But here goes:

We can’t learn to write by reading any more than we can learn to decorate by flipping through a magazine, to cook by reading recipes, or to have a happy life by reading Dear Prudie.

Real success demands real work. This year, I plan to muscle through and share my progress. Good luck in your endeavors, too.

Let’s hope we reap the results we wish in 2014.

TMI: Too Revealing?

Half shy

Last night, my husband made a great point about too much information (TMI). He said, “don’t tell the reader everything about your character.  Half the fun is the mystery, the struggle to guess and the fun discovering and gradually appreciating the characters in your adventure.”

This takes “show, don’t tell” one step further with “reveal, don’t show.”

Hide a little; intrigue the audience.  What do you think the character’s secret might be? How do the other characters’ backgrounds and experiences affect their guesses? And is there a right answer?

The Devil We Know

If we prefer the devil we know, do we prefer a villain with depth?

I’m about to add scenes that develop the villain; I’ll alternate the new scenes with the current, hero’s plot. But does it make sense to break up the story? Hand of horror raising from glowing pupmkin lantern.Why add ambiguity and irritation by interrupting the main storyline? Will the new scenes be extraneous; will I write them only to rip them out?

The decision to circle back to create new scenes was not easy; I hope they’ll lend authenticity and conviction to the villain, bringing dimension to the hero’s challenge and underscoring the impossibility of stopping this runaway train.

It’s not like the idea is new; there’s ample precedence for alternating theme a with theme b. Hero movies such as Robin Hood, Superman, Batman, X-men, and Iron Man flip back and forth between hero and villain until anticipating the clash is nearly as thrilling as the conflagration itself.

But many stories don’t weave between hero and villain. To mention a couple of recent favorites, Philippa Gregory doesn’t; in The Other Boleyn Girl, Henry VIII is far more myth than man. The same could be said of Lauren Weisberger’s villain in The Devil Wears Prada. Examining old favorites, in the Belgariad saga David Eddings never introduces an enemy until 5 minutes before he’s obliterated. The same is true of Piers Anthony’s quests – the story unfolds building a team and discovering their strengths and weaknesses. The villain is little more than a shadow.

How does revealing the villain affect the coherence and impact of the story?

Show and Tell: Is Compelling Writing a Matter of Style?

Writing workshops say, “Show, don’t Tell.” But John Grisham “tells” a great deal of The Broker and the delivery comes across as bright, brisk and punchy.


But in six years there had been too much sleep. Now his body was well rested. His mind was working overtime.

He slowly got up from the bed where he’d been lying for an hour, unable to close his eyes, and walked to the small table where he picked up the cell phone…

– John Grisham, The Broker

“Tell” can be very powerful. But I’m no John Grisham (wish!) and I’m considering whether to change the following version, which is heavy on tell…

The cardinal’s trill outside her window overwhelmed Dayton’s concentration; between that and the sun’s glare on my screen… Rising, she turned. In a few strides she reached the windows and rested her forehead against the glass. Calm. After a short rest, she pushed back from the window and shut the blinds with an abrupt clatter, careful not to catch the silk cuff of her blouse. The noise didn’t travel far; the third floor of the Naval Research Lab’s flagship building was as big and open as a high school gymnasium. Sound tangled and died in the warren of haze-gray cubes that defined hundreds of anonymous workspaces. Gliding tall on athletic legs back to hers, Dayton smoothed her skirt in place, lighted on the edge of her seat, and focused again on the screen.

Absorbed in her work, Dayton translated another variable, her fingers snapping again through the codex she’d pried from Peregrine’s hands (just this morning?).  Elated, she plugged the values into variables, closer with each calculation to certifying the  report and completing the Petrel project’s three-year odyssey. At least, that was the plan. Who’d believe the values call our remote-controlled weather glider a data-siphoning bomber – a goofy novelty from a bad Bond flick?

Absently twisting her hair into a knot, Dayton groped for a pen beneath a stack of farewell cards and secured the messy bun. On a dollar-store calculator, she double-checked her team’s world-renowned engineers.

– Kim Shupenia, Proof of Concept

…to something showier.

Dayton didn’t hear the cardinal trill outside her office window. She was losing a game of keep-away that might end her friends’ fledging careers.

They took it!

Abandoning her calculations, Dayton imagined kicking off her shoes. Grabbing a pen from beneath a stack of farewell cards, she managed not to climb up onto her desk. Instead, she rolled her hair and stabbed a messy bun, thinking how easy it’d be to take a few quick steps and clear at least two of the fuzzy-walled gray office cubes.  She’d  intercept the manual that arced through the air just shy of the vaulted ceiling. Watching it fly, years of self-discipline warred with her earliest instincts. Grow up.

Nao gleefully leapt and snagged it, landing flat-backed on the photocopier; light as a butterfly, in flagrant violation of the warranty. Dayton cringed; interns, she seethed. She pivoted just as Nao, banding the pages in a tidy scroll,  winged it back across the vacant room to Shing, the missile almost invisible against Naval standard, haze-gray walls.

Laugh, Dayton counseled herself, they think it’s a game. With a smile, she protested, “did you want a job here at the Naval Research Lab or on a football field?” her tone stopped Nao and Shing just shy of pandemonium. Nao shot Shing a look; now she’ll guard it like a hawk! Shing grimaced back, we were supposed to lay eyes on the codex, not steal it.

Gesturing to Shing, Dayton dropped lightly to the floor. Handing her the document, he grinned, “It’s after 5 on Friday, Dayton. We’re the last ones in the office. Paperwork doesn’t matter – Congress rubber-stamps the Petrel project first thing Monday.” Nao’s voice echoed in the gymnasium-sized office as she approached, her tiny stride eating the distance much more slowly.  “Shing’s right; relax. Production will catch any anomalies.” Dayton shook her head. “A last-minute sanity check shouldn’t turn up weapons-grade heat sinks. And titanium-reinforced struts? Access panels hinged out like bay doors?”

Nao laid a hand lightly on her supervisor’s shoulder. “What are you saying, Dayton? We’ve worked three years to develop a goofy novelty from a bad Bond flick?”

 – Kim Shupenia, Proof of Concept



Can we stay relevant without drawing blood?

mosquitoA good story resonates with the ephemeral everyone. As a writer, your goal is to connect; but once you tap that cosmic pulse, how dangerous is it to be the mosquito?

Particularly if you’re not intimately involved with the (politically, socially, geographically, or religiously tense) topic du jour, from somebody’s perspective you’re bound to get it wrong (or undeservedly right).

  • Is there a context or convention that allows you to write about a topic you’ve researched from afar?
  • Puppy immunity for well-meaning newbies?
  • Must you be a minority in order to write about that minority?
  • Is “story” a socially accepted lie?

In “How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide,” we’re admonished not to be the jerk who writes a condescending “hey, man, you get us.  You’re okay!”  But I haven’t seen an etiquette guide for sensitively acknowledging, much less addressing the elephant (or as we say in Canada, the moose) in the room: writers write about places they’ve never been (understandable if they don’t exist, but we can’t all write Sci-Fi).

Today’s online backlash is public and permanent.  Is the naive-but-empathetic writer food for crows? To paraphrase, was Leonard Cohen right - must the [writer] die?

[Ed. Note: The song found at the links above may offend – due warning.]


Gold star for you: now ‘kill your darlings.’

daisy5Steven James wrote a terrific essay about writing flaws; what resonated with me was the caution, when writing fiction, not to use literary devices.


I love me some alliteration but in a key sentence, Steven stopped me short:

“Believe it or not, you don’t want readers to admire your writing: You want them to be so engaged in the story itself that they don’t notice the way you use words to shape it.”

His advice is a compelling version of the old writing adage,  “kill your darlings.”  Is he right?  If so, the latest version of my story is in for a serious overhaul.

Don’t hate on Mondays: cue your inner hero

Coffee and Cookie Beneath Large Cork NoteboardCreative minds need the hum-drum dum-de-dum daily grind to recharge our batteries, affording us only the time to sift pay dirt rather than wallowing in muck.

My best stuff is written jogging at noon or in nooks & crannies between meetings; is yours? Without catastrophe (the well pump is broken again, I have 50 documents to reformat in a week, the kitchen is a dump) I’d psyche myself out. Writing the few words I can squeeze in during a stop light, or in the twilight moments before sleep, or dictating to my phone on my way into work, I can review the lot and weed through the worst before that first cup of Saturday morning coffee. Imagine all the crap I haven’t had time to write because I was busy making a living! So here’s to the Monday slog that gives us a chance to slyly don a power suit beneath the Clark Kent disguise.

“Resolution” or “Recovery”?

Maybe “Recovery” is a better name for the final phase of a story than “Resolution.”Businessman Wearing Cape

I wrote,

If the post-climax is just a few beats that tie up loose ends, the story’s a bust. It should be people dragging their tattered carcasses back from an explosion that shook them to their foundations and struggling to make new sense of their lives.

…and I believe that; but except for Independence Day, I can’t think of a single story where it’s true; even in Rocky, everybody but the hero claimed their winnings or shook off their losses and left to go hit a bar.

What do you think, should the climax affect everyone, or just the hero?


What does an advanced beat diagram look like?

Significant events in a story are known as “beats.” Identifying your story’s beats is like building a table of contents.

IOffice Worker with Mountain of Paperworkn our commercial-writing exercise, the beats might be:

  1. Margie scrubs the floor.
  2. Hank introduces a new mop.
  3. Margie introduces Hank and his mop to the floor; while he mops, she pours him a cold beer.
  4. Margie happily hugs Hank, who happily guzzles beer, admiring the shiny clean floor.

I understand that a good story has a main plot and subplots, each with a unique table of contents. That would mean a good story needs, say, three separate tables of contents; but how to merge them into a single table without creating crazy spaghetti that’ll drive you nuts? Suggestions?