How To Bring My Creative Writing Workshops To You

Recently, with the release of the Novel Writing Bootcamp videos from Inkitt and my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, I am finally getting the opportunity to do more writing workshops. I did one at San Diego Comic Con this year on story and scene structure (video coming soon) and I am starting to get invites from schools as well. Nothing is definite yet but I wanted to at least mention it’s available.

Workshops can be structured to suit your needs from the timeframe of the workshop to the content as well as the age of participants. Generally, I would like sample writing from participants in advance so that I can offer some practical feedback that will be directly useful and make the workshop more immediately effective in producing results, and when possible I try and get participants an ebook or print copy of How To Write A Novel as well.

Pricing will vary. At the very least I would want travel and expenses covered, including a reasonable per diem for meals, but whether I charge an appearance fee and how much depend upon circumstances and length of engagement. Obviously the time needed to prepare materials and lessons as well as travel and teach the workshop itself take me away from other income producing opportunities and while I wish I could just do them free, I’m not so successful that I am financially independent, so that is not an option at the moment. At the same time, I am not looking to get rich on these either. My primary goal is help people realize the possibilities for real success in their creative endeavors and help them further along the ladder to achieve it.

So if you or anyone you know of might be interested, please reach out to me via my Facebook page or the Contact link here at the website and let’s talk.

To check out a teaser video of my teaching or see examples of my panels, you can go here or search the blog or YouTube and easily find several. I look forward to hearing from you!

WriteTip: Using The Five Senses

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 3:

Many of us are guilty of falling into the habit of using one or two senses and ignoring the rest. For most of us, sight is the dominant sense—the sense through which we first encounter and examine the world. So how things appear will dominate most narratives naturally, closely followed by sound. But we have five senses, and all have the power to bring useful imagery into your storytelling.

Good description employs all five senses—sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing—and employs at least one every two pages, sometimes more. A few well-placed details can totally embody a character or place and make them come alive for the reader. And nothing takes us deep inside the character’s mind and experience like sensory details. All good settings are rich with detail, so you should have plenty to choose from. From the appearance and smells of a restaurant or grocery store or market to the touch and sounds of the outdoors to the taste of food, there are numerous opportunities to add color and vividness to your prose using these kinds of details.

Here are some suggestions for aspects of each sense to consider:

Sight—Color is usually one of the first things that comes to mind, but studies actually show that spatial dimensions tend to be picked up first by the brain. How large is the area? How high is the ceiling? After dimension, the source of light tends to be noticed next. What is lighting the scene, and what is its source—artificial or natural? Is it bright or white or mixed hues? Then, color impressions form. The dominant color tends to take on significance. Next comes texture, like shadows or rough and smooth surfaces, etc. Finally, there’s contrast. Superimposition of colors and other aspects affects how much objects, people, and places draw our attention.

Sound—Sound can be described by the loudness or complexity—simple or multiple sources—tonality (soft or hard, harsh or gentle, etc.), and the location of its source and distance from the hearer. Also, is the sound unknown or familiar?

Smell—While smells can be often overlooked by both writers and in real life, smell can reveal a lot. Is the odor pleasant or unpleasant? What emotions does it evoke—fear like smoke from a fire, or is it the steady everyday scent of vehicles, animals, or insects in the environment that almost goes unnoticed because it is so common?

Touch—How do things feel—rough or smooth, hot or cold, sharp or dull, etc.?

Taste—Does the character notice sweet or bitter, salty or acidic, pleasant or unpleasant, etc.?

If you’re like me, these kinds of details may not come naturally. So, I recommend two key resources that have really helped me up my game on writing sensory content. The Emotion Thesaurus by Pugliosi and Ackerman and Setting by Jack W. Bingham. These two resources are so invaluable, I often keep them with me on trips and beside me as I write and refer to them often, because writing such visceral descriptions is not first nature to me, and it can be very easy to fall into personal clichés and patterns that repeat the same details and descriptions over and over, which quickly becomes repetitive and glaring to readers. The authors also discuss body language and internal sensations, which can be described to show, not tell, the emotions of characters, the atmosphere of rooms, etc. Additionally, author David Farland describes this as the Kentic, Audio, Visual Cycle and offers useful tips on his website at https://mystorydoctor.com/the-kav-cycle-part-1/.

Sensory experiences and emotions evidence themselves in three ways: internal sensations, external sensations, and body language, and all three are important ways to describe them and help readers experience them too. For example:

Butterflies danced in her stomach as she entered the audition, and she fought to control her face as she took in the other dancers. There were famous faces she’d seen in numerous Broadway shows and performances. What was she doing here? She swallowed and licked her lips, which had suddenly grown parched. Her arm was twitching. She had to make it stop, but it wasn’t listening to her internal commands, so she shoved it tight against her side in an attempt to control it.

I don’t have to tell you she is nervous and intimidated. The descriptions do the work. This is what you are aiming for. If you are unsure about a particular smell or taste or even sound, Googling can provide impressions others have had of familiar things that can be adapted for your prose. I also recommend practicing by going to a mall or price club or anywhere else and sitting down to take notes of all the things your senses notice as they occur to you. This will give you practice not only at writing visceral (i.e., instinctive and emotional) details but also in noting how they naturally affect you and might also affect your characters.

You’ve probably deduced by now that description is the art of picking the right details at the right time. Stories are about movement, so be wary of stories where your characters reflect and remember a lot. Instead, action and discovery go hand in hand. As your characters go and do things, they discover sensory cues that provoke memories, emotions, and reactions and inspire further action. People move through life on two levels simultaneously: physical and emotional. Physical movement follows plot and events that unfold A, B, and C, while emotional movement follows character. The physical tends to move with the emotional. So meshing plot and character is the key, and good description is key to your ability to do that well. As Monica Wood writes in Description: “A story’s pace is controlled by the physical and emotional goings-on in the story, and those goings-on are controlled by description.”

Another element where description is especially important is context. Establishing the scope of a story can be vital to making it work, giving characters a scope in which to love and hate each other, to conquer or fall to adversity, discover or lose themselves. Context uses metaphors and symbols to reinforce emerging themes and organize the movement of a story into beginning, middle, and end. Wood writes: “The breadth of the story should dictate the breadth of the context.” Contextual details, small or large, reveal character and can serve to contrast with the story itself, adding power. The order in which details are noted can tell us much about a character’s values and priorities as well as how they view themselves in relation to those around them. Are they rich or poor? Powerful or weak? Confident or insecure? These details can reveal so much about them.

So, how do you choose which details to use and when? Well, that depends upon what you need the readers to know to understand and connect with the story at any given moment. Let’s look at an example from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker book A Song of Shadows:

The woman stank of cats and cookies, of piss and mothballs, but Cambion, whose sensory abilities had long been ruined by his disease, and who had grown used to the reek of his own decay, barely noticed it.

How do you not remember that? Ask yourself what you most notice about particular people, places, and things. What do you remember? What stands out about them? What did you notice first? What sticks with you most when you have been away from them awhile and remember? These are the beginnings of finding the most definitive choices to use in describing them because they hint at what stands out when you encounter those people, places, and things. Let’s look at another example from Brazilian author Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands:

Delicate, pale, with that pallor of romantic poets and gigolos, black hair slicked down with brilliantine and lots of perfume, a smile that was a combination of melancholy and allure, evoking a world of dreams, elegant in bearing and attire, with large, pleading eyes, the Prince would have to be described by very high-flown words: “marmoreal,” “wan,” “meditative,” “pulchritudinous,” “brow of alabaster and eyes of onyx.”

So much said with just a few words but very colorful, visceral, and intriguing because every word count. This is what good description is all about.

For what it’s worth…

Rumination On The Responsibility of Freedom Of Speech

One of our most cherished values, codified in our U.S. Constitution under the Bill of Rights, is freedom of speech. It’s covered in the First Amendment, under the same clause that establishes Freedom of Religion, and reads as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Freedom of Speech is much bandied about and also established in other important rights documents, such as article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). For Americans, particularly creatives, it is our most sacred value, one evoked frequently—whenever one’s words might be criticized or objected to—and held close to the heart.

But one of the things people often forget about freedoms is that having a right doesn’t preclude one from the obligation to exercise said right responsibly. And more and more as we see politicians saying outrageous and untruthful things and mass shootings, hate group marches, etc. we are reminded that freedom of speech can have heavy consequences.

During the tragic shootings in El Paso last week, the Mayor of El Paso said something that really irritated me. In a press conference, and later interviews, he claimed that only an outsider could have done “something like this.” No El Paso native would do such a thing. Well, I lived in El Paso, and during that time I dealt with my ex-wife’s mental health crisis, so I was around the mental health and legal system a lot. I saw a lot. And I can tell you: that’s a dangerous promise. It’s creating false expectations that the Mayor may come to regret. I hope not. I hope El Paso and no other place has to face this again, but realistically, there will be other mass shootings. Even if laws are changed. And to claim that locals are not capable of violence or even mental illness on that scale (most mass murderers who have survived long enough to be examined thoroughly have been determined by experts to have antisocial personality disorder in various forms—a mental illness as defined by the American Psychiatric Association and other qualified bodies) is irresponsible and unwise. Sure, it makes him and his public feel better but it also promises something that may not turn out to be true and can certainly never be guaranteed. I certainly found El Paso to be a welcoming place. It s the only city I ever lived in where I, as a while male, was a minority. And I loved it for that. But racism existed there just like anywhere else. From the guy who once complained to me about “the browns taking all the jobs” seconds before I introduced him to my Latina wife (now ex) to people I heard complaining about illegals around me at restaurants, malls, etc., the reality is that not everyone embraces that diversity and this is Texas, a state with some of the most lenient of firearm laws in the U.S. So those people also celebrate their ability to conceal carry or own arsenals while at the same time objecting to browns. It is a recipe for problems, if not disaster, and with politicians using fiery rhetoric to rile up people with such worries, the Mayor would be wise not to appear to guarantee something he simply can’t.

I say all this not to pick on El Paso or its Mayor. I love that city despite the personal crisis I endured there. But I give it as an example of the importance of responsible use of freedom of speech. As with the flaming political rhetoric regularly employed by our current president (quite irresponsibly in many cases) and other politicians (in particular a young freshman senator from New York comes to mind), these kinds of exercise of free speech can have heavy consequences. They can incite people to action and not all of those actions in response will be positive or appropriate. Some may even be deadly. I think it is always important to weigh what we say, how we say it, when we say it, where, and about whom with thought to such consequences.

Even worse was Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson claiming white supremacy in America is a “hoax.” Ridiculous. And we’ve seen plenty of evidence of it from KKK and Neo-Nazi rallies in the past few years to the Michigan cop under investigation for materials found last week in his home. It is an utterly irresponsible thing to say, especially for a journalist with an audience of millions. It seems Fox has rightly sent Carlson on vacation. They oughta make it permanent, but I rather doubt they will.

Let me give you another example. The Twitter mobs. If anyone knows consequences it is the Twitter mob instigators. They employ tactics designed specifically to take advantage of consequences. Call someone a bigot or homophone or etc. and you will evoke a reaction: angry criticism of the target at the very least and sometimes even bigger consequences. People have been fired, had book publications cancelled, etc. It is one of the easiest things in the world to throw out these accusations and be confident they will undermine the credibility of your target. The problem is: they don’t even have to be true and often are not. More often they are exaggerated exploitations of someone’s unclear wording or statements taken out of context. The Twitter mob accusers know this and they don’t care. A friend of mine once asked one such person who had attacked me if they really believed I was all the things they accused me of being. The response was telling: “Who cares. He’s not one of us so anything goes.” For those of us watching the destructiveness that results, this should be unacceptable. Irresponsible exercise of Freedom of Speech at its core. Reprehensible even. An action solely designed to discredit and silence an opponent so the accuser can gain credibility at their expense. Ironically, the accuser can be lying and misrepresenting, but who cares about that?

I think all of us should. Don’t you? You certainly would if you were ever the target as some of these very online bullies have found out when they found their own mobs later turning on them.

When politicians go down to visit sites and report exaggerated claims about the awful conditions or situations they observed to manipulate public opinion and forward their agenda, how is that serving the public? How is that doing their jobs well any more than Twitter mobs slandering good people into silence and harm? Neither one serves to make society better if you ask me. Because the exercise of Freedom of Speech carries with it inherently a moral obligation to use it responsibly. And there’s the rub. All too many don’t fulfill this moral obligation. Argue what you will about different people having different moral standards, etc. The reality is that while we live in a world of grays—one all too many of us wish was more black and white, especially the morally outraged Twitter mobster—there remains a black and whiteness to basic rights and wrongs. Misrepresenting the truth to manipulate others is wrong. So is misrepresenting someone’s words to make them look bad or get them punished. If you poll people—and many have—the majority of the public agrees with this. But until the public starts fighting back against these kinds of abuses of Freedom of Speech, nothing will change. And that means the consequences for all of us will continue: divisiveness, anger, uncertainty about facts and what is fake or real, etc. Until we demand responsible Freedom of Speech from others and practice it ourselves religiously (so to speak), the gray haze of the world in which we live that so often makes people frustrated and unsettled will continue to hang over us.

And that’s why Freedom of Speech is so important. Not just because it gives us th right to say what we want but because it carries with it the consequences of doing so and those consequences should be considered before one opens one mouth. Until they are, Freedom of Speech may be our most cherished principle and right, but it will also be one of our most abused and dangerous ones. (Not that I’d give it up in a million years.)

At least that’s how I see it. For what it’s worth…

INFINITE STARS: DARK FRONTIERS Official TOC

Here’s the final Table of Contents for INFINITE STARS: DARK FRONTIERS, coming Nov. 6 from Titan Books.

WriteTip: What Is A Premise and What Makes It Good?

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 1:

The Premise

In his bestselling book How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey describes a premise as “the E = mc2 of novel writing.” The premise, he contends, “is the reason you are writing what you are writing … the core, the heart, the center, the soul of your expression.” He defines it as “a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in a story.” Agent Donald Maass defines a premise as
any single image, moment, feeling or belief that has enough power and personal meaning for the author to set her story on fire, propel it like a rocket for hundreds of pages, or perhaps serve as a finish line: an ending so necessary that every step of the journey burns to be taken.

While you might say to yourself: What’s the big deal? A premise is an idea—a premise is so much more than that. Ideas are common. Original ideas are almost nonexistent these days. Everything’s been done. So, what makes your premise special is not the basic simple idea but the unique spin and angle you bring to it. A premise is as much in the execution and unique approach to a concept as it is the idea itself.

Again, in How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey compares a novel to an argument and writes: “The premise of an argument is a statement of the conclusion that will be reached through the argument. Each part of the argument must contribute to the premise if the argument is a good one … the premise of a work of fiction is not provable or arguable in the real world … not a universal truth. In a novel, the premise is true only for the particular situation of that novel. But nonetheless it is proven by all that leads to it. Your novel’s premise is the conclusion everything in your story leads to.”

In his bestseller Writing the Breakout Novel, mega-agent Donald Maass writes of a premise: “Not just any idea, though, but one with soil rich enough to grow a highly memorable novel; one that will both feed the author’s imagination, and, finally, nourish millions of readers.” An idea is not enough. It must be backed up by all the details of character, setting, conflict, and theme. It’s an idea with something unique and special to say, something we haven’t seen, told in a way we haven’t encountered that pops off the page. Maass calls it “a breakout premise,” implying that truly hit, breakout novels start with something special at their core. I’m sure we’d all love to write a hit novel that breaks out. So, what is it that makes “something special”?

First, a premise should describe an experience that is unusual, one not encountered by everyone, at least not firsthand. The experience also takes place in a vivid, wholly realized world that is compelling in its details and stands apart as unique yet real and fascinating on multiple levels.
Second, a premise should involve a character or characters who are larger-than-life, who talk, think, and act in ways not everyone does or can. These types of characters have a boldness, drive, and determination to pursue journeys we only dream about and take risks and actions we only wish we had the courage to take ourselves. In the process they undergo growth and changes we admire greatly, that inspire us, embolden us, and leave us breathless with admiration.

To create such a premise takes effort. It may not arrive fully formed right off the bat. Some great premises are discovered in the course of writing and discovering a story, but all successful writers learn to identify them and cling to them with all their might when they do. The best premises have the power to illuminate and confront, challenging our most deeply held beliefs, our hopes, our fears, our faith, even our very wills and nature. They engage readers’ imaginations and emotions and raise questions, hopes, fears, and more that have them yearning to turn the pages, cheer for the heroes, boo the villains, and reach the inevitable climactic confrontation that sets everything right again and resolves the mystery and uncertainty it evoked when it began.

Such a premise is so much more than just boy meets girl and falls in love or boy sets out to save the world. There’s something unique and special about the boy and the girl, what draws them together, where and how they come together, and why they are willing to fight for their love. The boy is someone special who believes he might actually save the world, after all. No ordinary Joe would dare undertake such a noble quest. It takes a certain level of courage, even determination, a refusal to surrender to insecurity and incredible odds, and an undeterred drive to keep going no matter what. I don’t know about you, but while I have met such people, I have found them to be few and far between. And those few-and-far-between people are the heart of good, successful stories. So, your premise requires one. Character is story. Story is character. Story flows from character. There really is no chicken or the egg question here about who came first. Who always leads into What.

So, to write your novel, you first need a really good idea with premise potential. You may not devise all the pieces before you write, but you must write looking for them to fall into place, and you will certainly need a solid concept to get you started. How you come up with it is something I cannot teach. It really is between you and your muse. Singer-songwriter John Denver used to say the ideas for his songs came from the aether—just floating out there waiting to be discovered, and he was the lucky soul who connected at the right moment to find them and give them life. In some ways, this is the way stories tend to work as well. Your ideas will come from your life, people you know, places you’ve been or want to go, things you’ve done or want to do, etc., and then your imagination should take over and start working on the rest. There is a certain magic to storytelling that can be neither easily described nor taught. That’s where the talent comes in. But it will take more than talent to write your novel. It will also take determination and a drive to push through the struggles and keep going no matter what. And so, the more passionate you are about your premise, the more likely you are to succeed. If nothing else, pick a premise that fires you up, not just the first seemingly viable one that comes in your head. Find the one that hooks you and won’t let you go. That’s where your great novel will surely come from.

Let’s look at some examples Frey gives of premises from famous novels:

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (the story of the Corleone Mafia family over generations): family loyalty leads to a life of crime.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (the story of an old Cuban fisherman who struggles against a marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the Cuban coast): courage leads to redemption.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (the story of a miserable, cheap, bitter man who is visited by ghosts of past, present, and future and learns the meaning of Christmas): forced self-examination leads to generosity.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (the story of patients oppressed at a mental hospital): even the most determined and ruthless psychiatric establishment can’t crush the human spirit.

In effect, a premise is like an argument. A story can have only one premise, because you cannot prove two arguments well at once. Your story’s conclusion will have a cause-and-effect relationship with what came before. In most cases, the argument within the premise is about a dilemma the characters confront. If you start first with characters and think about your premise, you may come up with it as you consider the characters’ flaws and the obstacles they face, as well as their goals and needs. Frey writes: “There is no formula for finding a premise. You simply start with a character or situation, give the character a dilemma, and then meditate on how it might go.” By opening your imagination and letting it run, usually the possibilities are endless, and your premise will come to light in the process. Frey quotes Egri as saying: “Every good premise should contain an element of character which through conflict leads to a conclusion.” So in essence, what are your three Cs (Character, Conflict, Conclusion)? Identify them and you have your premise.

Since the story of characters changing because of dramatic conflict makes good fiction, your premise will define such a situation. Old high school friends meet after 20 years and fall in love despite her terminal illness. The coach of a small-town basketball team with a history of losses recruits the first black player to help lead the team to a championship. A tough technophobic cop must team with an android partner to solve his partner’s murder. Can you see the three Cs at work in all these examples?

A good premise will give your novel focus and power that carries readers through to the end. It will hold their attention. Keep them turning pages. Make them long to know what happens next. And it may well do the same for you as you write. In fact, it should, even for the dedicated outliners. Everything in good fiction propels and leads you to the conclusion of the story, which is also a decisive conclusion or answer to the argument of the premise. Anything else should be cut and dropped. So a well-conceived premise is inherent to a well-written novel and key to your success. You must know where you are going to successfully complete any journey. The premise is the target on the map of your storytelling journey. Start without it at your own peril.

The concept, idea, or premise is a start. Craft and work will do the rest.

My Life From A to Z

• A-Available/Single? Yes.
• B-Best Friend? My dog, Amelie, and her brother Louie. I can’t imagine happiness without their unconditional love and enthusiasm.
• C-Cake or Pie? I’ll have to go with Elvis and say cake.
• D-Drink Of Choice? Sparkling Ice Black Cherry (after giving up Coke Zero Cherry)
• E-Essential Item You Use Everyday? My iPad.
• F-Favorite Color? Blue.
• G-Gummy Bears Or Worms? Bears. I like to cuddle as I eat.
• H-Hometown? Salina, KS
• I-Indulgence? Candy Corn or Red Licorice.
• J-January Or February? February. It’s my birthday month so no contest.
• K-Kids & Their Names? Louie, Amelie, Lacy (pets)
• L-Life Is Incomplete Without? Laughter.
• M-Marriage Date? I don’t honestly remember. It only lasted four years and I’ve been out of 10.
• N-Number Of Siblings? 3
• O-Oranges Or Apples? Apple, if we’re talking pies or juice. Orange if we’re talking fluorescents.
• P-Phobias/Fears? Small space, heights.
• Q-Favorite Quote? “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Marcus Aurelius , Meditations
• R-Reason to Smile? My babies
• S-Season? Spring
• T-Tag Three or Four People? I don’t know four people.
• U-Unknown Fact About Me?
• V-Vegetable you don’t like? Squash and several others
• W-Worst Habit? Sweating the small stuff
• X-X-rays You’ve Had? Too many and too personal.
• Y-Your Favorite Food? Piranha (Brazilian steak cut)
• Z-Zodiac Sign? Aquarius

On events in El Paso

I lived in El Paso for a while and part of it a mile from the site of the mass shooting yesterday. As of this moment, I still have not heard the status of a number of old friends, but seeing the area I frequented, even walked to from home and where I walked my dogs, on the news in these terrible circumstances was quite emotional for me today. I am deeply concerned and my heart and thoughts go out to all those affected—which is two entire cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez—at this terrible time. And I pray that you will somehow find peace and hope on the other side of this nightmare. I also continue to believe we need a change in this country to curb gun violence and I hope after El Paso, Dayton, the Wine Festival, even a shooting here in K.C.’s Crossroads the other day, that it can finally be approached with the seriousness it deserves.

God Bless and keep us all until then.

Panel: The Future As I See It (San Diego Comic Con 50, 2019)

This is the panel I moderated on Friday of Comic Con 50 in San Diego with authors discussing how they write and envision the future in their works.

Panelists:
Gini Koch – National bestselling Author, Alien series
Timothy Zahn – Number 1 New York Times bestselling Author, Star Wars Thrawn, Quadrail series, Cobra series
Steven L. Sears – Screenwriter/Author, Xena, The A-Team, Riptide
Jonathan Maberry – New York Times bestselling Author, Joe Ledger series, Rot and Ruin series, VWars
Javier Grillo-Marxuach – Screenwriter/Author/Comic Writer, Middleman, Lost, Blood & Treasure
Seanan McGuire-New York Times bestselling author/Comic Writer, Newsflesh, October Daye, Spidergirl, The X-Men

Flooding at home

Today, after all night rains, I took my dogs down to see if the dog park was passable. We couldn’t even make it around the park for flooding and downtown was a complete mess. Here’s a few photos.

Downtown across the river from home

Write Tip: 5 Basic Plot Elements All Novels Must Have

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 3:

In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass identifies five basic plot elements that all plots must have. They are:

A sympathetic character
Conflict
Complication
Climax
Resolution

So, every good plot starts with character, specifically a character we can care about. Then that character encounters obstacles that create conflict. This can be another person or group of people, some natural or other issue, etc. Then the conflict is complicated by various other obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of the character resolving it. This leads to a climax wherein the character must confront the opponent—person, animal, or thing—head on and see who will win. This leads to a resolution. These five elements make up any solid, well-developed plot.
We’ve already talked about how the plot is a series of questions asked and answered, so now let’s look at a key question we must always ask to make our plots stronger: What’s the worst that can happen?

You start with conflict and then consider what the complications might be. In doing so, there may be a temptation to like the character too much and not want to make things too hard on him or her. But that is the death of good drama. Instead, you need to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and consider the more dire possibilities. This is what makes good drama. Maass writes: “What makes a breakout novel memorable are conflicts that are deep, credible, complex, and universal enough so a great number of readers can relate.” So, don’t go off the deepest end necessarily, choosing something so dire and outrageous that it seems too hard to believe. You want to complicate and create disasters and dangers, not create incredulity in readers.

What you do want to do is push your problem far beyond what readers might imagine. Maass suggests: “Push your characters into situations that you yourself would never go near in your own life.” Remember that the characters should speak and act in ways we only wish we had the courage to do. This is what inspires us to admire and follow them. So they will be capable of facing situations we wouldn’t dare take on ourselves. The key is to push things to utter extremes while still managing to make them feel familiar to readers. Not outlandish, then, but familiar. In other words, possible.

When we create conflict that is credible, relatable, and familiar, we create stories with tension on every page. These are the kinds of stories that keep readers turning pages and coming back time and again to the same authors for more. John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, Jonathan Maberry, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Heather Graham, J.K. Rowling, Rachel Caine—these are examples of authors who have mastered this technique. If you want your plots to become breakout, hit stories, you must create tension on every page. Make us desperate to know what happens next. Create urgency in the questions the plot asks. This will drive the story forward, increasing the stakes and tension with each scene and page, until readers may feel they or the characters can’t possibly take anymore, but they do every time. And we are dying to know how they manage it and can possibly survive, so we stay up all night reading to find out. We’ve all read and loved books like that, right? Imagine what it would be like to write one.

One technique that aids this kind of tension is nonlinear narrative. Grisham is a master of this: constantly holding information back from his readers to surprise them with later. Nonlinear narrative is storytelling that increases tension by telling the story in a nonchronological fashion, using flashbacks and other such techniques. Basically, you start telling the story in the center of the action at the most dramatic place and then go back and fill in the backstory and details as necessary through the course of the novel.

For what it’s worth…

My San Diego Comic Con 2019 In Pictures

Here are photos from July 17-21, 2019 when I attended the 50th annual San Diego Comic Con:

Write Tip: Developing A Novel’s Theme

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 1:

“If a powerful problem is a novel’s spine,” Donald Maass writes in The Breakout Novel, “then a powerful theme is its animating spirit … It starts with you having something to say.” Theme is one of those topics that makes many people’s eyes glaze over. They think of the theme papers they hated writing in school, perhaps. Or find it abstract and hard to conceive. But theme can and should form the unifying narrative structure of your well-written novel. What is theme? Theme is what a story, at its heart, at its moral core, is really trying to say, what it’s about. It’s why you are telling the story. It is what you have to say. Theme, in essence, is not the argument, but the moral derived from it. It is the lesson(s) and life truth(s) embedded and demonstrated through your story.

In Theme and Strategy, Ronald B. Tobias defines theme as “the central concern around which a story is structured.” He writes, “Theme is your inertial guidance system. It directs your decisions about which path to take, which choice is right for the story and which isn’t.” In essence, theme is what unifies the whole and informs it beyond just a story about a guy or girl who did so-and-so into something memorable with lasting impact that speaks to the human condition. Choosing the right theme will help you unify your story. It isn’t something you should just wing or make up as you go, but something you should think about early on, even as you plan your story, and keep in your mind with every scene you write.
Maass suggests three facts to keep in mind:

All stories are moral.
Readers tend to seek out stories that are in line with their beliefs.
Fiction is most compelling when it pulls readers into points of view that are compelling, detailed, and different.

Readers crave insight on the world around them. They want to be pushed to expand their minds and see things differently, through different eyes. Readers become most engaged when the characters’ beliefs capture their attention and make them think. Whether you know it or not, you have something to say, and having the courage to say it through your story and characters will imbue your novel with power that makes it memorable and lasting. Deep down, all writers believe they have something that must be said, some insight on the human condition the world cannot do without, and these demonstrate their own morality and views of right and wrong in the universe. Ask yourself what that is, and let your story speak to that. Have it in mind as you write. This will create a unified story with resonance far beyond just entertainment. As Maass writes, “stories without fire cannot fire readers.”

Because readers are moral people, they inherently look for the moral compass that drives characters in fiction. Whether they agree with it or not is not the primary concern—understanding it is. Powerful beliefs and messages imparted through characters are far more effective than writers preaching or teaching directly, because characters who have beliefs that drive them will take concrete actions that reflect those beliefs. The consequences of these actions then speak powerfully about life, people, and more in ways that direct lessons can never accomplish. The key is embedding these morals and beliefs in the characters’ actions. When characters live what they believe, readers will accept the validity of those beliefs and be impacted by the results.

Tobias suggests several major patterns, which can be summarized as follows:

Plot as Theme—Much of popular fiction is driven by this theme, in which plot is paramount over any other concerns. Escapism is the goal here, and as such, while the novels may not carry long-lasting moral messages, they earn big points with readers and generate bestseller after bestseller. They are not striving for great literature but rather great entertainment, and this has made them hugely successful. Agatha Christie, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Dan Brown, John Grisham, and many more create works that fall readily into this category.

Emotional Effect as Theme—Terror, Suspense, Romance, Comedy—in this case the emotional effect of the story is the driving theme. Works by authors such as Stephen King, Peter Straub, Gini Koch, Christopher Moore, John Grisham, Heather Graham, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, and more deal with this theme.

Style as Theme—This theme encompasses a small minority of movies and books because the theme is the artistic style and approach rather than other concerns. The art films and literary novels by auteurs such as John Hawkes, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Margaret Atwood, and more have this focus.

Character as Theme—Character studies, like style-themed art, also lend themselves to literary concerns. The focus here is the characters, their growth, and how the world and events of the story affect them. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, and films like Raging Bull, The Great Santini, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather embody this approach.

Idea as Theme—Of all the patterns, this one is most successful at creating memorable events and characters that jump off the page. Idea-themed works affect us profoundly, change the world, change lives, start wars, or at the least, make us think because the whole point of ideas is to make us ponder them, ask questions, discuss, and draw new conclusions. These are often the books whose themes are erased during conversion to movies, leaving us to complain that “the book was better.” Idea as theme is less cinematic, less exciting, but its power cannot be denied. Examples include Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, The Graduate, and Shane.

Moral Statement as Theme—The most dangerous of theme categories, this one is most likely to become preachy and heavy handed and turn readers off, so it must be used with great care and attempted only by skillful hands. If the characters are sincere and the plot gripping and storytelling is your focus, though, you can pull this off. According to Tobias, Fatal Attraction and Wall Street are two examples of films that fall in this category. In both cases, the moral results from the story rather than the other way around.

Human Dignity as Theme—These are the stories where the fight to hold on to dignity in spite of circumstances is the focus. Stories like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, On the Waterfront, Gladiator, and even Roots employ this type of theme.

Social Comment as Theme—Criticizing or shining a light on our culture can be accomplished with great power using fiction. The trick here is finding the right story. Great examples are The China Syndrome and The Grapes of Wrath. The key is to let the characters’ convictions argue for you.

Human Nature as Theme—“What is Man?” is a question that has been explored for centuries and still captures readers’ interest. Stories that fit here include Deliverance, Lord of the Flies, and Robinson Crusoe. (Note: Stories can combine more than one theme. More on that later.)

Human Relations as Theme—Terms of Endearment, Ordinary People, Love Story, many a Nicholas Sparks book like The Notebook or The Wedding, and more all explore this theme where the relation of humans in community, small or large, is the focus.

Coming of Age as Theme—This one I know a lot about as it has been the theme of six of my novels and several short stories to date. The exploration of finding one’s self and confidently staking one’s place or recognizing one’s role and purpose in the universe is a theme found in Star Wars, Rocky, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and many, many more.

Once you know your theme or themes, you must then decide several things:
1. Who are the characters who can best embody this theme?
2. What plot is best suited for the theme?
3. What kind of setting will best fit the characters and actions necessary to portray the theme?
4. What voice and style is best suited to the theme?

All together, structurally, Theme works with Plot and Character as shown in this diagram.
Your theme informs all these decisions, which is why knowing the theme first is so important. As the diagram demonstrates, theme is at the center of the core elements of your story’s structure. Additionally, many stories explore more than one theme. If the themes are compatible, this is a very powerful and easy thing to do.

As moral people, readers will turn to fiction for affirmation of their values or the values that underpin the world as they see it. They seek deeper understanding, answers to questions, and more in great stories, driven by the desire to know that what they believe is right. Maass suggests it matters less whether the moral is widely accepted than that it is developed in depth. “The key is your antagonist,” he writes. “If we believe in him, we will believe what he believes.”

We buy into Star Wars because Luke Skywalker believes so passionately in his cause—the Force, the right of the Rebels over the Empire, good versus evil, and what is just. The same can be said of Rocky and many other films, even The Godfather, wherein the protagonist is a criminal corrupted by his world and relationships over the course of the film. The viewer’s agreement with the decisions being made is less important than the conviction of the character. It is in the character’s anger, weeping, fear, and determination that we are inspired to believe, that readers feel it is imperative to know their stories. This is how knowing your theme and developing every scene from that perspective can transform a simple, ordinary story into a life-changing, memorable classic.

So, whether you are a planner or a pantser, outliner or discovery writer, thinking about theme and allowing it to inform your writing will make the difference between your novel being plain or something special, blending in or standing out from the pack. Theme is that vital, that key. And so, as you move forward to plan your premise and the structure that will best bring it to life, theme is an important component of your process which must be considered and carefully weighed.

For what it’s worth…See you next Wednesday.

The Philosophy of This Blog

When I started this blog, my goal was to help and entertain people with interesting experiences and posts based on my experience and knowledge. I also made a commitment to post twice weekly, and soon my blog was getting several thousands hits a month, at its height reaching into the 10s of thousands. Then I ran into some trouble and burned out, so I took a break. But I have missed it and missed my subscribers and the interaction. So I decided the time was ripe to give it another try. But before I do, there’s something I need to address.

I have zero tolerance for anyone who reads a post, asks the poster for clarification of meaning, then, upon receiving it, refuses to accept it. That is tantamount to calling someone a liar. And frankly, unless you can read minds, you are not in a position to deny the veracity of their explanation. I have even less than zero tolerance for people who never ask the author to clarify, choosing instead to read things into stories and then hold authors accountable for them when the authors insist that interpretation or meaning was never intended. It is the source of a lot of online bullying and attacks against authors and creators, and it is ridiculous.

One of the amazing things about art is how it can touch individuals differently. You put a piece out there and it takes on a life of its own drawing out meanings and emotions you never expected from people. But those reactions are based on their personal experiences, their culture, their references, etc. so blaming an author for them is ridiculous. The assumption that the author is some sort of bigot or -phobe or -ist of some sort is arrogant and self-serving and more about the reader and his or her inclination to take easy offense and be overly sensitive than it ever is about the authors being blamed or attacked. This makes it very difficult for some authors and leads to slander and ongoing acrimony that can last years. Having been through this two or three times, I speak from experience.

I wish people would accept and realize that what they bring to art has as much to do with how they experience it as any subliminal thing they might suppose the author brought, and nine times out of ten, is way more responsible than author intent for their own reactions. And the others who then jump on the bandwagon at that author’s expense to elevate themselves and act like high moral authorities are even worse. Generally, all of them together are people who have never done anything but talk about what they believe. Rarely have they put it into genuine, meaningful action.

For example, I so believed in the cause of bringing arts education opportunities to the disadvantaged that I founded a nonprofit and lead teams of artists overseas for eight years to the developing world to teach workshops. It required me to take weeks at a time off from work and to raise thousands of dollars in funding. The reward was not monetary but spiritual: I learned as much from them as they did from me and made some friendships to last a lifetime. But I also stayed in cinderblock homes with no heat in winter the hottest of heat with no air conditioning, I suffered diarrhea and other consequences from unusual dietary changes and other circumstances, even dealt with lack of proper sanitary facilities. And I did it without complaint because I knew I was making a difference. To this day, I have students who have gone on to great success in the arts in Mexico, Ghana, and Brazil and do me proud, and I maintain lifelong friendships with dozens of them. Most of the online trolls perpetrating these attacks wouldn’t dream of such sacrifices nor have the willpower to found a nonprofit and actually make it happen, and it’s too bad, because if they did they’d learn there are a lot of people in the world they claim to support who don’t see the world the way they do about things either. Many of my students who are Facebook friends are aghast when They see me treated as I have been and accused of various biases that seem the opposite of their experience of me. That’s because they know the real me, not the manufactured one of my accusers.

So I am putting it out there clearly for all to see: if you have questions about the meaning of something I post, the onus is on you to click the contact link and ask me for clarification. If you can’t be bothered, neither will I. I won’t take responsibility for explaining myself, and I won’t entertain or interact with those who try and twist my words to use them against me because they perceive me to be “not one of them.” I just have better things to do with my time. I enjoy and value relationships with people of all backgrounds, cultures, races, religions or lack thereof, etc. and I appreciate the perspective it provides. This blog will continue to celebrate that. I am moderating comments but I will only disallow trolling. Everything else is fair game. No one has to agree with me or others it it must be done respectfully. Anyone who tries to engage in oneupmanship, insults, or trolling of any kind—including that described earlier in this post—will have their comments deleted and ignored.

My blog. My rules.

And I hope that helps make this a place people enjoy coming to. Not a place they and I dread. Because I’m still all about extending it forward and helping people so we can succeed and grow together, not wasting my time with those who want to cut people down or tear them apart.

To me that’s what life’s all about.

 

Write Tip: How To Structure A Scene

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 3:

The scene is the basic building block of dramatic structure for any story. If written correctly, each scene leads to another scene and another. According to Jack M. Bickham, in his book Scene & Structure, all well-written scenes use the following pattern:

Statement of goal

Introduction and development of conflict

Failure of character to reach his goal or a tactical complication/disaster which creates a new goal

Notice how these parallels the three-act dramatic structure of the entire story. It is not an accident. Scenes have three acts just as the entire story will. Scenes are not static. At their heart lies conflict. One character or group has a goal and others have other goals, and these meets and create obstacles to be overcome. Hence, conflict. Most scenes start with the point-of-view (POV) character walking into a place with a clear goal in mind. (As discussed in Chapter 4 the point-of-view character is the character from whose vantage point a particular scene is told.) Success of the scene dramatically depends upon your ability to interpose obstacles between your hero/heroine and the obtainment of this goal. Sometimes the goal carries over from the previous scene. Sometimes it is the overall goal in the story. Other times, it is a sub-goal required as part of the many steps to reaching the overall story goal. In any case, usually the goal is stated early on either through internal monologue or dialogue of the character.

For example, Luke Skywalker enters the workshop and cleans the droids per Uncle Owen’s instructions (goal). In the process, he finds something jammed in a slot on R2-D2 and tries to free it, unleashing the video of Leia pleading for help. When the message is unclear, he asks R2 to play the whole message and R2 refuses by first pretending not to know what he is referring to, then saying that the restraining bolt is preventing it in order to get the bolt taken off (obstacles). The disaster comes as R2-D2 escapes, forcing Luke to chase him down.

To work well and increase dramatic tension, all scenes must end badly. Whatever the goal going in, whatever the action taken, the result must be a failure of some sort. It can be an actual failure, a twisty complication, or additional unexpected tasks, but it constitutes a delay to success regardless.

But there is another key element at play as well. When the character’s goal is stated, the reader asks a question.

Goal: To get the golden key to the temple where I can retrieve the sacred scroll.
Reader Question: Will (character) get the key?

Whatever the question, the resolution (or answer) must be a negative. Sometimes a character does the get the key, but other objects are required to find the temple or open the door, and the character must go seek them before getting the scroll. The answer to the question, the disaster, the end of the well-written scene, always creates further complication on the character’s journey through that story.

There are several key points to keep in mind when determining goal, conflict, and resolution:

1. The goal of each scene must clearly relate to the larger story question; the question evoked in readers by the stated goal of the character for the major story arc.
2. The conflict must be about the goal.
3. The conflict must be external, not within one’s self. Either with an object, animal, or person or more than one.
4. Point of view should be maintained from goal to resolution in the same scene. It is best not to break it up into different points of view to avoid confusion and loss of tension.
5. Disaster always works by pushing the character away from his or her goal.
6. Readers will tolerate much if you keep making things worse and worse in every scene. This is how you build tension and suspense and create a compelling read.
7. Since the end of each scene dictates what will happen after, scenes cannot be written in isolation from the overall arc, goals, conflict, etc. of the story itself if they are to work well.

Plots are made up of a series of interconnected scenes that create a larger story. Since a plot is the storyline arc of the overall book, and the book is a story that is like an argument with a premise, a plot consists of a series of questions asked and answered. What you ask when, and how soon you answer it, affects the tension and pacing of the overall story. Some questions get asked and answered in the same scene or chapter. Some carry over multiple scenes and chapters. Some may carry over to another book. Some carry from chapter 1 to the final chapter. The questions have various levels of stakes to them. More intense, important questions tend to take longer to answer. One great way to figure out if your story makes sense and has good pacing is to go through and identify all the questions asked and answered and when and where they are asked and answered. If you are missing any answers or questions, you have a problem that needs fixing.

Since some stories have several plots—usually an overarching main plot and subplots—and not all scenes relate to each plot, but all relate to the main arc in some way or affect it. All plots and subplots have three acts just like the overall story, so sometimes identifying which plot and subplot(s) relate to each scene is key to making them work and determining in what order the scenes need to occur to best tell the story. To be clear, a subplot is a lesser plot that is less important than the main driving plot and sometimes focuses around a specific character, location, or aspect of that larger plot and points readers back to it.

It is also important to know which characters are in a scene. Too many characters can make a scene confusing. And too few can make it ineffective. Most importantly, the person with the most to lose is usually the best POV character for that particular scene, so keep in mind whether you have multiple POV characters or not. That will determine your character use in each scene. Remember also that individual characters can have conflicting goals, and that can further complicate scenes by creating competing tensions or conflicts that add layers and depth to the scene and further obstacles to the resolution as well.

In Medias Res

The last point I’ll make is the number one rule of good dramatic writing I learned in film school: Get into a scene as late as possible in its action, and end the scene as soon as you can after that. The literary term for entering a scene when the action has already begun is in medias res.

Scenes are more dramatic when they start within tense moments of action or conflict, so skip all the slow buildup and setup like greetings and small talk, how the characters got there, etc. which would slow things down, and instead get right into it. Telephone scenes, scenes sitting around a table, on couches, or in a car, etc. have a casual, slow feel that does not lend itself well to drama, so these use sparingly. The pacing and power of your story will go up in spades, and your readers will thank you for it.

Here’s another example, one of my favorites: the opening scene from the film Lethal Weapon 2.

The film opens with Riggs yelling and pounding his palms on a dashboard as horns honk and traffic roars. Then he and Murtaugh are arguing about speed and strategy. They are in a car chase. We don’t yet know who they are chasing or why, but we are immediately thrust into the center of tense, fast-paced action, and the details will come. We soon learn there are two car chases with two teams of cops, and as they fight traffic and near misses with other vehicles and race to keep up with the fleeing criminals—Murtaugh driving his wife’s station wagon, which hardly seems up to the task—the bad guys start shooting and taking more and more chances. The goal is to catch the bad guys. The conflict comes from disagreements between cops and from all the obstacles.

When the bad guys ditch them in airport traffic, Riggs jumps out and continues the chase on foot until Murtaugh untangles the station wagon and catches up. Riggs then insists on driving, and he pushes the car even more to its limits, practically destroying it in the process. So now they are fighting each other as well (more conflict). Then the other chase ends at an intersection, where cars collide and a helicopter comes in to rescue the bad guys with automatic gunfire leading to a shootout with cops (Failure 1). Riggs and Murtaugh, meanwhile, continue their chase until their baddie flips his car over a black-and-white cop car that blocks its path and crashes into a building. By the time Riggs and Murtaugh get to the car, the bad guy is gone (Failure 2), but they find Krugerrands, the currency of South Africa, and so their quest begins.

This is a great example of getting in as late as possible and out as soon as possible (in medias res) while still including all three core building blocks of a great scene.

To download a free copy of How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, click here.

Write Tip: Four Act Structure

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 2:

The four-act structure is a more recent rethinking of three-act structure. Proponents claim it is much better and more effective because it more naturally follows the flow of dramatic story. I certainly agree that for motion pictures this is probably the case, but I am not sure about novels. Regardless, the rule in writing is to use what works for you, so I present it here as an option that might be more helpful to some of you than the three-act structure.


Fundamentally, the difference between the three-act and four-act structures is that act two is now two acts, with each ending in a plot point or establishing point. Act one ends with an establishing point where the hero has a life-changing event that spurs him or her to action, essentially enabling circumstances that lead the hero to launch into the quest or journey that makes up the rest of the story and results inevitably in a confrontation with the antagonist in act one. In act one, there is no midpoint but instead an establishing point that generally consists of a hero-ally confrontation in which the hero is forced to give up his or her flaw. Act two becomes about establishing a relationship with the ally while the hero tries to hold onto his or her flaw and still complete the quest. The establishing point here reveals that the flaw is an obstacle which must be overcome to achieve success.

After that establishing point, instead of a second half, we enter act three, which ends with an establishing point where the flaw is finally resolved, and the hero enters the ring against the opponent in preparation for act four’s final confrontation. Act three thus consists of the hero demonstrating the growth of overcoming the flaw or at least conquering and controlling it as he or she prepares with the ally to take on the antagonist. Act four is the climbing into the ring where the hero faces his or her opponent to see who will triumph.

In theory, using four acts makes writing the longer middle easier for writers by breaking it into two logical halves. It also puts more emphasis on a hero-ally confrontation where the flaw is confronted and overcoming begins. This can be a physical or emotional confrontation, but it is a key turning point that functions much like the midpoint in the three-act structure. This often serves to strengthen the relationship between the hero and his or her key ally.

A great example of this four-act structure can be found in the film Rocky, which is considered one of the best-structured films of all time. In act one, Rocky is on the mean streets of Philly and considers himself a loser, but is a nice, bright guy who won’t even stoop to breaking legs for work with loan sharks or other things. Then he gets the chance to fight for heavyweight champion of the world, his establishing point or life-changing event.

In act two, Rocky tries to react to this challenge but is dragged down by his lack of self-confidence. Allies come in the form of his wife, Adrian, and manager, Mickey, who push him to believe in himself, but he can’t do it until he finally confronts the memory of his father telling him he was too ugly and stupid to be anything but a boxer, so he’d better be good. Once he articulates and faces this, he regains a sense of purpose and confidence in an establishing point wherein he determines to prove his father wrong.

Act three is then the training surge when Rocky prepares for the fight with Apollo Creed and begins to think of himself as capable and strong and smart, not a loser, mentally changing and transforming into being ready for the fight.

Act four is the final fight against Creed.

As you can see here, the four-act structure depends more on character development for its turning points than the three-act structure does and really defines and clarifies the characters in a different way, which may be helpful to some of you in structuring your story and thinking it through before writing.

To download a free copy of How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, click here.

Write Tip: Three Act Structure

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 2:

A sketch that will inform your outline, the three-act structure nonetheless identifies the core dramatic points of a story. Some of you may be discovery writers like me, preferring to let the story unfold organically. But at some point, you will be required to outline as a professional writer. And when faced with a tight deadline, the more organized you are, the more efficient you can be. The first thing you need to do is understand the dramatic structure that underpins your story. So we are going to talk about a very simple, basic way to identify key points that can help you write more quickly and efficiently to meet a deadline.


While outlines are multiple pages of detail, the structural diagram will be no more than a brief paragraph or a few sentences describing each required point accompanied perhaps by a paradigm sketch. The paradigm shown is based on Screenplay by Syd Field, a classic writing teaching book employed by many film schools, but in Western literature, the principles also apply to any dramatic story, including those told in prose. The outline is for three acts. In a screenplay, those are act one, which is 30 pages, or a quarter of the text; act two, which is 60 pages, or half; and act three, which is 30 pages, or a fourth. Your page numbers will vary, but the fractions for each portion should wind up roughly the same.

The key turning points between acts are called plot point 1 and plot point 2. These are events which force the protagonist, and sometimes the antagonist too, to turn in new directions and take new action in pursuit of resolving the conflict. Plot point 1, at the end of act one, will require agency, or action, from the protagonist in pursuit of finding the solution and determining what must be done. Plot point 1 propels the protagonist into act two, which is an ascending action involving discovery and a journey to find the solution and achieve the goal without yet knowing all that is required. In the course of act two, the questions will be answered until you reach plot point 2. Plot point 2, at the end of act two, will occur when the protagonist discovers what must be done and where, and with whom, to resolve the conflict and achieve the goal. And thus, it propels him or her into act two, which is the climactic, descending action to reach that point.

When I write any story, I always start with some idea of what my plot points will be and how it will end, to give me a sense of focus and direction as I write, even when allowing it to unfold organically. Now, just as the overall story has three acts, so will each plot and subplot, and each act. As such, each has a mini turning point called the midpoint or pinch that twists the action a bit and propels us into the second half. In the first act, this is called the inciting incident. This inciting incident often provokes a change in the protagonist’s routine—something new they experience that could either challenge or encourage them. In The Silence of the Lambs (1991), FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) meets with Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). The confrontation of both parties is nerve-wracking. But it intrigues us and sucks in Clarice and leads to the rest of the story. Other examples are Indiana losing the golden idol to Belloq at the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which then sets up a rivalry that drives the later journey as Indiana Jones seeks to get the Ark before Belloq. Morpheus choosing Anderson in The Matrix sets up all that follows after. In The Sixth Sense, without the opening confrontation and gunshot, nothing else that follows could occur.

In act two, you have a pinch point for each half, and in act three, you have the climactic confrontation before the denouement. These may not be as dramatic as the inciting incident of act one, but they nonetheless inspire the protagonist or antagonist to take further action and move forward on the journey. Whereas the plot points are both major dramatic developments, the inciting incident, midpoint, and pinches can be more internal than external but of significance to the characters’ hearts and minds such that they cause them to change course and move in a new direction or with renewed vigor toward the goal. These are like lesser plot points, in a way, but nonetheless significant points in the framework of the overall dramatic arc that drives your story.

Let’s talk examples. In Star Wars: A New Hope, the inciting incident starts with Darth Vader’s ship attacking Princess Leia’s rebel ship and forcing her to load the Death Star plans into R2-D2, the droid, and send him to escape. He lands on the planet with his companion, C-3PO, and they wind up in the hands of the hero, Luke Skywalker. When Luke discovers a message from a princess that reports danger and points him to a mysterious figure named Obi-Wan Kenobi, he sets off to find out what it means, and that leads him to Old Ben Kenobi, whose shared surname is an obvious clue. Kenobi rescues Luke from Sand People at the midpoint of act one and takes him back to his own home. There, they view the message and Kenobi gives Luke a lightsaber and tells him about the murder of his father, a story Luke never knew. The Empire and a Rebellion, which until now have been mostly rumors far away, have entered Luke’s life, and when Kenobi takes him home, they find that the Jawas who sold Luke’s family the droids have been murdered and torched. Fearing the worst, they race to Luke’s home and find Luke’s aunt and uncle have been murdered and their homestead torched. Plot point 1 is when Kenobi tells Luke they must go rescue the princess together and find a way to deliver the plans hidden in R2-D2.

Act two starts with their trip to Mos Eisley spaceport where they must find passage, and they end up recruiting Han Solo, evading Stormtroopers searching for the droids, and head off for Alderaan. Then, we see Luke in training for the inevitable confrontation, while Vader and Tarkin attempt to extract information from Leia, and ultimately destroy Alderaan. Luke, Han, and Kenobi’s discovery of this is our pinch point for act one. That determines they must rescue Leia themselves and deliver the plans. Then they are caught in a tractor beam and pulled aboard the Death Star. The midpoint comes during the attempted rescue in the Detention Block when they are trapped. The pinch point for act two is when Kenobi confronts Vader to help his friends escape with the droids to the rebellion. Plot point 2 is after they fight their way clear and escape to the rebel base, where the plans reveal the Death Star’s flaw. The Rebels unveiling their attack plan propels us into act three. Act three is the Rebel attack and the Imperial counterattack, and the climax comes as Luke faces off against Vader in the trench run and ultimately destroys the Death Star with surprise help from Han.

So, now that we have seen how this plays out in a story we are all familiar with, it’s time to identify this structure for your story. Keep in mind that this is only a blueprint. Plans can change. As the story evolves, if required, your plot points, as well as pinches and midpoints, and even your climax, may change. The point of this is not to set anything in stone but to have goals to guide your work. It will help direct you as you write and set up each character and point required to reach each marker. If that ultimately requires the markers to change, it’s okay because these are tools to help you achieve a whole.

Here are the things you’ll need to know to develop this paradigm outline.
Who is your protagonist?
Who is your antagonist?
What are their goals?
What are the obstacles each faces in reaching that goal?
What growth must each undergo to make success possible?
And finally, what do you think the final confrontation needs to be?

Answering these questions is just a temporary means to an end. The answers may change, but the idea is to think through key elements of your story to allow you to write with blinders off and have some goal points along the way to work toward. That will allow you to write faster and spend less time wondering what the heck you should do next. As you actually write, these goal points may need to change, and that is okay.

To download a free copy of How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, click here.

Tomorrow: Part 2-4 Act Structure
Friday: Part 3-How To Structure Scenes

For these and other WriteTips, click here.

Write Tip: Character Narrative As A Plot Device

Our tip for today regards using character narrative as a plot device. Now, to begin, let me define character narrative. In the present case I am defining it as the narrative embraced by a character or person as the lens through which they view the world. We see this all the time in politics. The Democrats have a narrative. So do the Republicans. And we hear accusations all the time, not all false, of media bias wherein reporters report angles on stories that match their narrative and leave out the rest. All characters have narratives too, and it is often the differences in narratives that cause conflicts between characters. That being the case, why shouldn’t writers consciously employ narrative as a plot device?

I think they should.

We often talk of the villains being the hero of their own story. This is narrative. The same is true of every character and where those narratives, or worldviews, clash, is where we find them coming into conflict with one another. So understanding your characters’ narratives and where they come from and how they differ can be a very useful device for helping you shape your stories. And the degree to which you get into the details of it will determine how useful it is.

Good stories have nuance and nuance is depth, so the more you know, the deeper you can go and the richer the results will be. With some minor characters, you may never know their narrative. With supporting characters, you will examine it only on the surface a bit. But with your major characters, the deeper you dig in, the better they will be and the better your story will be for the effort.

So how do you build a character’s narrative? It is similar to how you write a character history or bio. The easiest way is to develop a series of key questions to ask and answer about each character and build from there. The base questions will be the same initially for every character but as you go deeper, unique questions will arise that are unique to specific characters and demand answers. You answer one, another may crop up, rinse and repeat. But the result will be a deeper look inside your characters’ beliefs, motives, personalities, and more. And what you discover in the process will be useful for all kinds of things.

You can use what you glean to help shape your character’s personality, actions, and reactions, even their internal monologue. And the more information you glean, the more specific you are, the more interesting the results will be as you discover key differences between your characters and yourself you never suspected. Building the results into your story will add a lot of layers and depth and nuance that just adds to the experience for readers and makes the characters pop off the page and come more alive like real, unique individuals, not stereotypes or archetypes. There will be nothing run of the mill about characters examined so deeply.

So consider adding examine your characters’ narratives as a possible tool to add to your writer’s toolbox. It’s also a useful tool for interpersonal relationships, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post which poses a whole different set of potential conflicts, so we’ll leave that be for now. Regardless, I hope it’s a Write Tip that pushes you to think about your stories and characters with a new perspective. For my narrative, that would be very satisfying. For what it’s worth…

5 Days Of Comic Con

I took a break from blogging regularly for a few years now, but with the publication of my latest book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals Of Fiction earlier this year, I have been wanting to revive my blog. In particular, the weekly Write Tips feature that was so popular.

So to celebrate San Diego Comic Con’s 50th, which I will be attending and participating in as a panelist, I thought what better time than now to relaunch Write Tips. So each day the rest of this week, I will feature a new Write Tip, and then every Wednesday that follows, will present another one. It is my hope these will stimulate and assist you in your writing process. I know they are things that help me.

As a bonus, Wednesday through Friday, I will be giving away free downloads of How To Write  Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction in each post.  So happy 50th to San Diego Comic Con, the original Comic Con that started it all, and happy writing to all of you.

Here’s the posting schedule for this week:

Tuesday- Character Narrative as a Plot Device

Wednesday – Three Act Structure

Thursday – Four Act Structure

Friday – How To Structure A Scene

Just look for the Write Tips logo starting tomorrow. For what it’s worth…

My San Diego Comic Con 50 Schedule

I have three panels and a signing this year as follows. My books will thereafter be available at Mysterious Galaxy, Booth 1119.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Green Book—A Message For Our Times

I just had the opportunity to watch the movie GREEN BOOK for the third time as I shared it with my parents (their first), and what continues to resonate with me is how much this film speaks into the divisiveness of modern American culture. We live in an age where people all too often regard people who disagree with them as enemies rather than friends, as people to avoid rather than to friend, as evil rather than ill-informed even, and the result has been a lot of hostility and anger with accusations of bullying from cyber attacks, accusations of this-phobia, that -ism and so on such that people feel they can’t exercise their right to free speech or even to be themselves freely anymore. And it’s a sad state of affairs.

GREEN BOOK is about the relationship between two men who come to discover how much they have in common and how the expectations and biases they imposed on each other at the start of the relationship are barriers that hindered, not helped their interactions. Tony Lip is a blue collar Italian-American bouncer who struggles to get by and feed his wife and kids, just survive in a dog eats dog world. As an Italian and lower class, less educated man, he is often looked down on by other whites, especially those of means. And he has learned to do what it takes to stand up for himself and get by. Doctor Don Shirley is an African American pianist who lives an elite life surrounded by the wealthy. His apartment is above Carnegie Hall, for example, and he finds himself distanced from his own people because he can’t relate to their daily lives and they can’t relate to his.

When Shirley decides to launch a tour of the Deep South, his record company puts out a call for a driver, and Lip—having been temporarily laid off when his club shut down for remodeling—responds. He’s rough, curses a lot, and even looks down on blacks similarly to how other whites look down on him. But he needs the work and Shirley needs a protector, so they wind up together. Of course, they clash. Ironically, Lip can’t understand Shirley’s lack of affinity for popular music and food often enjoyed by other African Americans, while Shirley tries to help Lip modify his own attitude and presentation to fit in better with the white upper crust they will encounter on their trip. Both resist, but through dialogue and continued determination, each starts to see wisdom and logic in how the other thinks. But only because they push through the discomfort and listen to each other.

By the end of the film, Shirley stands up for himself much as Lip has done for him, and he even learns to enjoy the popular music and food common to African American culture. Lip changes his attitude toward people of color and also begins learning how to communicate in more sophisticated, thoughtful, and polite ways as well as confront conflict with words not violence. The result is they forge a genuine friendship and respect for each other, despite their differences and each change a bit to be better men. Now, this movie is based on a real story, which makes it that much more moving to me because the possibility exists for all of us. All of us can come together with people who don’t see the world the way we do and don’t agree with us on important topics and, by listening and actually hearing and being open to what each other are saying, come to deeper understandings about the world and ourselves that can change us for the better. It’s a message of hope for those of us struggling in modern society, and much needed reminder, if you ask me, of times when disagreement was not automatic enmity and could be respected instead of scorned.

GREEN BOOK is nuances and subtle in its message, however. It does not slam you in the face with it. None of this is stated overtly. Instead it flows out of the story naturally and subtly over its course and the results are quite moving and powerful. In fact, each time I see it, I find something to think about that I’d missed the prior viewings. And to me, at least, that is the sign of a great film. We need more films that speak to this because our society is becoming more divided, not less, more hostile, not less, and more angry and resentful, not less. We compromise less than ever and so do lawmakers, with the result that we all pay a heavy price not just mentally but financially and physically as laws and decisions sorely needed fall by the wayside and nothing changes.

I have had several friendships similar to that of Tony Lip and Don Shirley, and they are among my most cherished relationships because those people are friends I can count on to hold me accountable and make me think through and question myself when I need it most. It’s so easy to shut one’s self off in a box and avoid conflict—surrounding one’s self instead with like minded friendlies—but the danger of that is when you are operating on half information and assumption, you may never correct your course and may carry on with false understandings that can do real harm. Instead, the Tony Lips to my Don Shirley are the very antidote needed to make sure this doesn’t happen to me, and I hope I am the same to them, because I think these kinds of relationships leave us better people for the results. And I don’t know about you but one of my goals in life is to constantly strive to be a better me.

For what it’s worth…

PRESS RELEASE: Schmidt Sells Film Rights To Novel Shortcut

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

National bestselling author and Hugo-nominated editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt has sold film rights to his hard science fiction thriller novel SHORTCUT to Roserock Films. Based on a story and characters by Hunt Lowry and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, SHORTCUT is the story of a math genius whose formula for speeding up space travel between planets in our solar system leads to the abduction of a loved one. Racing against time, he must not only perfect his formula but locate and launch a rescue to get her back and simultaneously convince NASA and the powers that be to support it.

Schmidt is the author of The Saga of Davi Rhii Trilogy, the John Simon thrillers, and official tie-ins in franchises including Fox’s Predator and The X-Files amongst others. He’s edited 13 anthologies and hundreds of novels, including being first editor on Andy Weir’s International phenomenon The Martian. His past credits also include television programs for NBC, A&E, and The History Channel.

Roserock Films partners Hunt Lowry and Patty Reed are attached to produce and will be developing the project. Lowry’s credits include A Time To Kill, A Walk To Remember, Donnie Darko, White Oleander, Striking Distance, and Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, amongst others. With Reed he’s produced Grind, Pure Country Pure Heart and they are in development on The Testament from John Grisham’s novel, amongst others.

Schmidt is currently shopping the novel to publishers. His screenplays The Art Teacher and Out Of Nowhere are also making the rounds. For information on Schmidt, contact Jay-Bry Productions at 818-275-4311 or make contact via his website www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

INFINITE STARS: DARK FRONTIERS Cover Reveal

Titan released the cover of my next anthology, releasing November 5th I hardcover, at the Barnes and Noble blog today. The follow up to my bestselling Infinite Stars, this is another collection of the best space opera and military science fiction, a big, thick book titled Infinite Stars: Dark Frontiers.

Again, it features 27 stories, 15 of them brand new, including authors writing in some of their most famous and bestselling universes alongside some of the genres most award-winning and classic tales. A complete list of contributors follows. Names marked with an asterisk have contributed new stories exclusive to this anthology.

*David Weber
*Jack Campbell
*Becky Chambers
Robert Heinlein
George R.R. Martin
*Susan R. Matthews
*Orson Scott Card
E.E. “Doc” Smith
*Tanya Huff
*Curtis C. Chen
Seanan McGuire
*Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
*Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
James Blish
Gardner Dozois
*David Farland
*Mike Shepherd
C.L. Moore
Neal Asher
*Weston Ochse
*Brenda Cooper
Alan Dean Foster
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
*Kevin J. Anderson
David Weber
Arthur C. Clarke
*C.J. Cherryh

This series is designed to be a must have for space opera and military science fiction fans or anyone looking for a good survey of the sub genres as well as libraries and educators wishing to teach on the topic. I was able to get a few stories I hadn’t managed for the prior volume, including the only known short piece from E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen series. Considering he is regarded as the grandfather of the space opera sub genre, I am immensely pleased to finally include him. There’s another new Ender tale from Card, as well as a new Wayfarers from Becky Chambers, the newest star to space opera, alongside a number of other key writers (and franchises) not previously represented.

As you can see, Julia Lloyd’s cover is quite stunning as well.

Shortcut Finished

The novel Shortcut is finished in first draft and we are negotiating the film rights contract now. This could take a while I am told by knowledgeable industry friends. In the meantime, I will be working on a new screenplay from an old idea called The Art Teacher so I will fill you all in when I can. Meanwhile, have a Happy 2019. I hope 2018 was a good one for you all!

New Project Commencing

I am currently launching a new novel in association with Hunt Lowry, a film producer who produced A Time To Kill, Donnie Darko, and is currently developing Grisham’s next movie adaptation, The Testament. It will be all consuming so I will likely not have much head space for the blog for a few months. But stay tuned. Will post some updates from time to time on my Facebook and Twitter.

Novel Writing Boot Camp Starring Me

Some of you know that in late 2017 and early 2o18, in association with Inkitt, a new young publisher that is still finding its way, I wrote and hosted a series of novel writing videos which were short versions of material I later wrote in How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, my first nonfiction book which was published by Inkitt this Fall. Well, the videos—there are 10 of them—are now live and you can watch them for free. They are slickly produced and I am proud of them. They also tease material I develop more fully in How To Write A Novel, so you can check that out too here.

Here is the link to Inkitt’s Novel Writing Boot Camp.

Hold On To The Light: Escaping Toxic People

One of the biggest struggles of modern life for maintaining mental wellness is escaping toxic people. We’ve all seen them: people who choose to elevate themselves by cutting others down. These types are particularly prominent on social media. Some of them even post as part of this campaign. Their sympathy for themselves never extends to others. Instead, they choose to target others for various reasons:  mostly because someone disagrees with them or represents some group they object to. Their comments and attacks can be cruel and are mostly unwarranted and rarely based on truth. It can be very hard to ignore these people, and impossible to avoid them. But what you can control is engagement.

When I first encountered them, I thought I had to defend myself. But over time I’ve come to realize that defense is unnecessary. For one thing, mounting any defense lends credence to their slander. If you ignore it, it will go away faster and your silence tends to discredit it in most people’s eyes. Defending yourself, on the other hand, not only risks further slanderous attacks and expends negative energy that can be stressful but it gives ammo to these people to say what they said was true or why else would you bother defending yourself?

Toxic People are really cowards. They are insecure and wounded and feel they can appear strong by putting themselves above others. Borrowing from an old sermon, these people are like rotting meat looking for a place to stink. There’s something rotten inside and they just can’t wait to find a place to let it stink. But just because you can smell it, doesn’t mean you have to savor the smell. And you certainly don’t have to stink yourself. Whether motivated by hatred, jealousy, or some other combination thereof, Toxic People are a road hazard of modern life. But they are also speed bumps as opposed to barriers. If you let their words pass unchallenged and just continue focusing on putting out positive energy and contributions into the world, they will fade away. Yes, a few may believe what they say and continue attempting to perpetuate it, but these people ultimately appear small for attacking someone who rises above the fray and contributes positively to the community. The toxic person has nothing to offer but poison and negativity, but you are offering goodness and opportunities to learn or experience joy. In the end, people value the latter far more, and your time, stress level, and positive outlook will benefit greatly by ignoring the Toxic People and doing your thing.

If you’re like me and worked hard to get where you are, and did so by trying to help people and create opportunities alongside you, then you especially shouldn’t waste time giving them the satisfaction of responding. People can say what they want, but you can choose to not let it define you. Words are words, but actions are truth. After all, we’ve all been victims of bullies or gossipers from very early ages typically, and most of those people fade away with time and disappear into the nothingness from which they came. So too will the toxic people if you don’t empower them with engagement. Let them ramble. Let them poison. Be the antidote by being positive and a source of light. No one can extinguish your light if you hold onto it and nurture and cherish it, after all. And I’d rather be light in the world than dark any day, wouldn’t you?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a Hugo-nominated bestselling author and editor of 13 anthologies and hundreds of novels including The Martian by Andy Weir and books by Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Angie Fox, and more. His anthologies have been published by St. Martin’s Press, Baen Books, Titan Books and IDW and include official entries in The X-Files and Predator as well as Decipher’s Wars. His original anthologies include Infinite Stars, Galactic Games, and Mission: Tomorrow amongst others. His short stories and novels include Simon Says and The Saga of Davi Rhii trilogy.

Fall 2017 Book Tour Dates: INFINITE STARS, MONSTER HUNTER, PREDATOR, JOE LEDGER

For those wanting to connect, here are my confirmed tour dates so far for Fall 2017. Still trying to fill in open weekends in November with dates in either Arkansas, Nebraska, or Iowa. John Morris (aka Alexi), hope to see you there.

Oct. 5-8, 2017 New York Comic Con, Javits Center, New York City, NY, Guest, Book Launches: Predator: If It Bleeds (Titan) and Infinite Stars (Titan)

Oct. 18, 2017 Signing: Barnes and Noble, 11323 W 95th St, Overland Park, Kansas, 7-9 p.m.

Oct. 21, 2017 Signing: Barnes and Noble, 960 S. Colorado Blvd, Glenda, CO, 2-5 p.m. with Peter J. Wacks, David Boop, Julie Frost, and Holly Roberds

Oct. 28, 2017 Signing: Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 NW Expy Ste 135, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 3-5 p.m.

Oct. 29, 2017 Signing: Barnes and Noble, 5231 East 41st Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1-4 p.m.

Nov. 1, 2017, Signing: Barnes and Noble, Columbia Mall,2208 Bernadette Dr, Columbia, Missouri, 6-8 p.m.

Nov. 3, 2017  Signing: Barnes and Noble, 6130 SW 17th St, Topeka, KS, 7-9 p.m.

Nov. 3-4, 2017 Writing Workshop: Science Fiction Worldbuilding, Johnson Country Library-Central Resource Branch, Overland Park, KS Critique and Lecture sessions plus signing (see link for details)

Nov. 5, 2017 Signing: Books-A-Million, Central Mall, Ninth Street, Salina, KS, 1-3:30 p.m.

Nov. 11, 2017, Signing: Maker Faire, Barnes and Noble, Oak Park Mall, 11323 W 95th St, Overland Park, Kansas, 12-4 p.m.

Nov. 12, 2017, Signing: Books-a-million, Legends Outlets, 1859 Village W Pkwy f101, Kansas City, KS 66111 1-4 p.m.

Nov. 25, 2017 Signing: Barnes and Noble, 6510 N. Illinois St., Fairview Heights, IL, 1-4 p.m.

Dec.2, 2017 Book Signing: Barnes and Noble, 6300 S. Main Street Suite N101, Aurora, CO, 2-5 p.m. with Peter J. Wacks, Holly Roberds, and David Boop

Dec. 2, 2017 Book Signing: Storybook Brewing, 3121 A North El Paso Street, Colorado Springs, CO, 6:30-9 p.m. with Peter J. Wacks, David Boop, Holly Roberds

Dec. 3, 2017 Signing: Barnes and Noble, 4045 S College Ave, Fort Collins, Colorado, 7-9 p.m. with Peter J. Wacks, David Boop, and Holly Roberds

ARCHON 41- TOASTMASTER Schedule

I have the honor of serving as Toastmaster for ARCHON in Collinsville, IL this year. It is a con I have attended on and off for years and enjoy. I really look forward to it. Here’s my schedule for the weekend. In between, find me at Bookseller’s Row, Table 16, outside the Dealer’s Room.

YOUR SCHEDULE:

Star Wars – Is It What We Hoped It Would Be?

Friday 12:00 – 12:50, Salon 6 (Gateway Center)

With Episode VIII only months away, how do we feel about what we’ve gotten so far?  Have Episode VII and Rogue One lived up to our dreams – and did they make up for Episodes I-III?

David VonAllmen (M), Jimmy D. Gillentine, Mr Paul Hahn, Bryan Thomas Schmidt

The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be

Friday 16:00 – 16:50, St. Clair A & B (DoubleTree – Collinsville)

How has our vision of the future changed as our culture has modernized and shed stereotypes and archaic norms?

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Ms Joy Ward, Michael Benjamin (M)

Opening Ceremonies

Friday 18:00 – 19:00, Center Hall B (Gateway Center)

Book Launch Party: The Exodus–Saga Of Davi Rhii by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Friday 19:00 – 19:50, St. Clair A & B (DoubleTree – Collinsville)

Come discover the trilogy Barnes and Noble named a Year’s Best and Jonathan Maberry, Mike Resnick and others said captures the feel of classic space opera like Star Wars! Buy signed books or 3 and enjoy pizza, soda, and snacks. Giveaways too!

Bryan Thomas Schmidt (M)

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream: Horror Beyond the Stars

Friday 21:00 – 21:50, Salon 6 (Gateway Center)

Some of the scariest stories take place is space.  Some of our favorites are Alien, Event Horizon, Pandorum, and Riddick.  Come discuss the best and worst of horror in space (Jason X, anyone?).

Suzanne Cappelletti (M), Jim Yelton , Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Wyatt Weed

Editing: A Diamond in the Rough

Saturday 11:00 – 11:50, Marquette A (Gateway Center)

What does it take to turn a project from trash to treasure?  An open discussion on the editing process.

Claire Ashgrove, Lettie Prell (M), Mr Michales Joy, Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Author Reading with Archon 41 Toastmaster Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Saturday 14:00 – 14:50, Salon 4 (Gateway Center) Reading: from The X-Files SECRET AGENDAS– “Border Time”

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Tips For Writing About Things You Know Nothing About

Saturday 17:00 – 17:50, Marquette A (Gateway Center)

Okay, we can’t know everything about everything. Listen to our experts reveal what they have done to become knowledgeable on a subject or at least what they did to make it seem like they were.

Marella Sands (M), Ms Joy Ward, Rachel Neumeier, Mr Mark Tiedemann , Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Problems and Questions from Young Writers

Saturday 18:00 – 18:50, Cahokian (Gateway Center)

Our pros share their wisdom with those who will eventually replace them.  Que sera sera.

Deborah Millitello, Christine Amsden (M) , Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Lloyd Kropp, Glen Cook, Claire Ashgrove

Editing: Behind the Scenes

Sunday 13:00 – 13:50, Marquette A (Gateway Center)

A chance for new authors to understand what happens to stories after they’re submitted.

Benjamin C. Kinney (M), Mr. Brian Katcher, Mr. Adrian Matthews, Rich Horton, Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Volunteer Pizza Party with the Pros!

Sunday 13:00 – 15:00, Madison C & D (DoubleTree – Collinsville)

Please join us as we thank our Archon 41 Volunteers!

Publishing Short Stories: Where and How

Sunday 14:00 – 14:50, Marquette A (Gateway Center)

Our experts share different avenues and platforms on which to publish your short fiction.

Deborah Millitello, Bryan Thomas Schmidt (M) (bryan@bryanthomasschmidt.net) , Ethan Nahté , Shawntelle Madison, Guy Anthony De Marco

Closing Ceremonies

Sunday 15:00 – 16:00, Lasalle (Gateway Center)

ConQuest 48 Schedule – Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Amelie

This weekend is my annual trek to Kansas City for our local science fiction convention, ConQuest at the Downtown K.C. Sheraton. Guest of Honor is Robert J. Sawyer and Toastmaster Jonathan Maberry, and I will be spending time when not on panels at a dealer room table selling their books. So here’s where to find me outside the dealer room which is open as follows:

Fri 12-6
Sat 10-6
Sun 10-4

Special Guest: Amelie will be accompanying me much of the time.

MAY 26 • FRIDAY

  5:00pm –  5:50pm L Tales of the Weird West

Fremont (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

A discussion of speculative stories set in the Old West.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Speakers: Rob Chilson, Christopher McKitterick

  6:00pm –  6:50pm M Opening Ceremonies

Chicago (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

Moderators: Margene S. Bahm
Speakers: Earline Beebe, Jonathan Maberry, Rachael Mayo, Robert J. Sawyer, Zac Zacarola

  9:00pm –  1:00am E Little Green Men–Attack! Kansas City

N/A (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

A launch party with editors Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Robin Wayne Bailey and authors like Selina Rosen and more.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt

MAY 27 • SATURDAY

 12:00pm –  12:50pm L Editors Are Not The Enemy

Empire B (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

Authors and editors discuss the invaluable relationship of working together.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Speakers: Claire Ashgrove, Rich Horton, Jonathan Maberry, Robert J. Sawyer

  2:00pm –  2:50pm L Humor In Science Fiction and Fantasy

Fremont (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

A discussion of humorous tropes and stories down through SF history. Who are the key writers? What should you be reading? and more.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Speakers: Robin Wayne Bailey, Selina Rosen

  4:00pm –  4:50pm U Little Green Men: Then And Now

Empire B (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

A discussion of the alien encounter trope through SF history in various media from literature to film and beyond.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Speakers: Robin Wayne Bailey, James Gunn, Robert J. Sawyer, Ken Keller

  6:00pm –  6:50pm L Editing 101 For Writers

Benton (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

Popular annual workshop for writers on self-editing tips run by two successful editors.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Speakers: Claire Ashgrove

MAY 28 • SUNDAY

 11:00am –  11:50am O One On One With Jonathan Maberry

Empire B (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

Come chat with Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Jonathan Maberry about Maberry’s life and work.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Speakers: Jonathan Maberry

  1:00pm –  1:50pm L The Science Of Science Fiction

Empire B (2345 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108)

 

A discussion of science in science fiction: what are the key elements? Important writers and works? Etc.
Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Speakers: Kij Johnson, Robert J. Sawyer, H.G. Stratmann