Saturday, December 30, 2006

Top Ten Plotting Problems

boredom.jpgThis was created by Alicia Rasely, an award winning romance writer, that's applicable to any genre. She has lots of tips, a writing newsletter, books, booklets and workshops at her website.

copyright 1998 by Alicia Rasley

10. Backstory Blunders: The past is prologue, for sure, but you can tell too much too soon, if everything about the characters' past is explained right upfront in Chapter One. (Click here for more discussion of this topic.)

9. Boring Beginnings: If you have to rely on your readers' patience while you get the story set up, you're likely to lose most of them. Start where the protagonist's problem starts, or just before that, and feed in the backstory later. This is the MTV era-- people don't like to wait. Be especially wary of books that start with the protagonist on a journey, thinking about what awaits her at the destination. Editors frequently mention that as an example of a boring opening. It helps to decide what your major story questions are and make sure those are posed in the first few chapters-- at least one should be posed in Chapter One.

8. Limping to a Conclusion: You don't want the reader to think you ended the book just because you ran out of paper. Make the ending a conclusive one, reinforcing the themes of the book and the progress of the protagonist. (Click here for more discussion of this topic.)

7. Sagging Middle: The middle has to do more than just fill up the space between beginning and end. It should be a time of "rising conflict" where the protagonist is tested up to (and perhaps beyond) the limits of his ability-- a time to develop the internal and external conflicts and show how they influence the protagonist's actions. It should set up the great crisis/climax/resolution that will bring the novel to a close. So when you're starting the middle, think of how the protagonist can be challenged. What external plot events can make his internal conflict impossible to ignore any longer? How can that internal conflict impede his/her progress towards the goal? If there's an antagonist, how does the antagonist's reaction affect the protagonist's progress?

6. Tumors and Parasites -- The cast of thousands: Secondary characters are distinguished from major characters-- the protagonist(s) and the antagonist usually-- by their lack of a story journey. That is, they exist to make things happen in the plot, but their own conflicts and issues shouldn't be part of the story. (If they're that interesting, let them star in the sequel.) Every person with a story journey (described progress towards a significant change in their life) dilutes the impact of the major characters' journey. In some books (family sagas, for example), this can work. But in most protagonist-centered popular fiction, tracking the secondary characters' lives and loves is going to waste time and confuse the reader. Watch out for long passages in a secondary character's viewpoint which dwell on his problems and not on the protagonist. And keep count of how many subplots you've got-- make sure each one supports the main plot in some way.

5. Plodding Pacing: Pacing is primarily a function of how many cause-effect related events happen in the book. But that doesn't mean that effective pacing depends on shoving a lot of events into the story. Selection is key. What events are essential? What supporting events are needed to set up those essential events (aka "turning points")? Are all the events of the plot related causally-- that is, does the discovery of the letter in chapter 2 set up the release of the imprisoned protagonist in Chapter 4, and eventually the capture of the villain in the climax? Make sure every scene has at least one event that affects the main plot-- that way the readers can't skip without missing something important.

4. What a Coincidence!: Coincidence is fun in real life. But it's death to good fiction. Fiction is about cause and effect, and there's no cause and effect when the central elements of your plot happen by coincidence. It's often hard, however, to identify coincidence in your own story, so be ruthless. Look at the chain of events. Which would be unlikely to happen unless you the author made it happen? How likely is it that in a city of 7 million, your judge protagonist would just happen to get the embezzling case of the man she thinks was responsible for the hit-and-run killing of her mother? Not very. To fix coincidence without losing the event, make it happen because of character decision and action, and watch your characters grow into strength and purpose. That judge doesn't just happen to get the case; she seeks it, determined to avenge her mother's death. Now that's a lot more fun than coincidence, because the conflict is now not just an accident, but the result of this character's need for vengeance over justice.

3. Conflicts about Conflict: Conflict is the fuel that powers the plot and forces the characters into action. Without it you might have a nice slice of life portrait, or a great character sketch... but you don't really have a story. Problem is, conflict is volatile, and many of us avoid it in our plotting as we avoid it in our lives. But just as children need discipline to grow, characters need adversity to change. And fiction is, at base, about change. Popular fiction is usually about change in the protagonist. No one changes without a good reason to change-- that's where conflict comes in. Quite simply, you have an authorial duty to provide conflict for your characters so that they will learn to change-- and that means determining how they need to change. Linking conflict to character change will revitalize your story, and avoid the problems of serial conflict (where what looks like the book conflict wraps up in Chapter 3, to be replaced by another conflict) and incoherent conflict (where the conflict has nothing to do with who this character is or what she needs).

2. Structural Weaknesses: Many a good story is sunk by a weak structure: a hidden protagonist (the readers can't tell early whose story this is), meandering setups, mispresented conflict, rushed climaxes, incoherence between the protagonist and the plot (the main character doesn't have much to do with the main plot, or this person would never do what the plot requires him to do). Much of this derives from a misunderstanding of the purpose of structure. It's not a prison, chaining you to a "formula", it's a map to help you and your readers explore the issues you're developing with this story. Learning structure can teach you when to modify it and when to branch out on your own. The key to structure, in my opinion, is understanding the concept of the story questions-- the question or problem your opening poses, and the events which combine to create the answer. (Click here for more discussion of this topic.)

1. Whose Story Is This, Anyway? The Plight of the Protagonist: The biggest single plot problem I see in my judging, editing, and critiquing is actually a character problem: the passive or undermotivated protagonist-- that is, a protagonist who is not truly involved in causing the plot to unfold. Beware of the victim-protagonist (bad things happen to him, and he suffers a lot), the passive protagonist (he witnesses the plot events, but he doesn't participate), the bumbling protagonist (he acts, but stupidly, without learning from his mistakes). The central character doesn't have to be likeable (though it helps) or (god forbid) without faults, but he does have to be motivated enough to act and encounter obstacles and change in response to plot events. Ideally, the protagonist should be involved in nearly every event, and his decisions and actions should drive the plot. You might make a list of all the major plot events, and beside each note the protagonist's contribution. Is each action or decision or choice motivated? (The motivation doesn't have to be laudable, but should derive from who he is and what he wants.) Does each action have some effect on the plot? And finally, does each action-event dynamic contribute to an ultimate change in the protagonist?

Here's a final thought that might help you plot: One primary purpose of the plot is to force the protagonist to change, usually by recognizing and overcoming some internal conflict. Know your character, and you'll figure out your plot. Conversely, know your plot, and you'll find the character who needs that sequence of events for internal growth.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Year-long mystery

Note: This project only went on for 10 weeks before a computer ate all my daughter's notes and we lost enthusiasm for it. But you're welcome to read through as far as we got to see if the book might interest you. It was a new and interesting experience for me to plot out a book before writing it :-)

I just picked up an intriguing book called The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray (author of 7 Matt Murdock mysteries though I'm not familiar with the series) and Jack Remick.

It's 52 weekends to a finished mystery novel. They write their own mystery along with the reader.

Kat thought it sounded like fun so, as we're doing it, I thought I'd post summaries of what the authors suggest you do each weekend on Fridays so you can join in if you'd like. Obviously their book has more thorough explanations and lots more encouragement. But we'll see how well it works!

If you'd like to try, mysteries don't need to be contemporary! I like historical mysteries, though that might involve some research. ;-) But authors have successfully combined fantasy or science fiction with mystery, like Laurel K. Hamilton's vampire series and Isaac Asimov's Robot series, just to name two.

To get going, they suggest creating a story profile. Obviously at this stage you won't know much! But write down ideas that pop into your head. They aren't etched in stone. You can always change them. You can always leave blanks to fill in later as the story sails along:

Fill in (as you can):
  • Working title
  • Type of tale
  • Setting
  • Time
  • Main characters
    • killer
    • victim
    • sleuth
  • Notes on the murder
    • weapon
    • wounds
    • time of death
    • motive
    • other
  • Body discovered by
  • Witnesses
  • Suspects
  • Scapegoats
  • Other

The creation schedule is broken into 4 parts:
  1. Planning
  2. First draft which is written "fast and loose" -- like NaNoWriMo :-)
  3. Second draft -- where the gaps are filled in and the bumps smoothed out
  4. Final draft -- where it's polished

And the weekly breakdown of tasks is:
  • Weekends 1-4: Character work
    • Killer
    • Victim
    • Sleuth
    • Catalyst
  • Weekends 5-9: Plotting
    • Back story
    • Key Scenes
    • Plot Picture-Diagram
    • Subplots
    • The working synopsis
  • Weekends 10-13: Scene building
    • Crime scene
    • Dialogue
    • Action
    • Setting
  • Weekends 14-25: First Draft
    • Writing Act One
    • Writing Act Two
    • Writing Act Three
  • Weekends 26-38: Second Draft
    • Weekends 26-29: Rewriting Act One
    • Weekends 30-35: Rewriting Act Two
    • Weekends 36-38: Rewriting Act Three
  • Weekends 39-52: Final Draft

(By the way there's also The Weekend Novelist for writing a novel.

And that's it until next Friday!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I will cut back on my killing ...

resolutions.jpgYour favorite villain has made New Year's Resolutions. Will he put more effort into his evil plans? Will he turn around and try to start anew?

Make a list. :-)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Feels like ...

touch.jpgSince poetry came up on the list, here's a poetry prompt. (I should be sending out poetry prompts more than just during Poetry Month!)

This is something simple and yet digs into the strength of poetry: holding things up to unique ways of seeing (and tasting and feeling). Use the template to describe an abstract in terms of the senses.

The Feeling Poem
Line one: Name an abstract
Line two: “Smells like. . .”
Line three: “Tastes like. . .”
Line four: “Sounds like. . .”
Line five: “Feels like. . . .”
Line six: “Feels like. . .”
Line seven: “Feels like. . .”
Line eight: Name the abstract
(The original suggestion at The Magic Writing Tram was to write about an emotion but it will work just as well with any abstract idea.)

If you need some inspiration, there are examples done by kids at the link below.

Feel free to come up with your own abstract but if you wish to spend time on the poem rather than the idea, here's a handful of topics that go along with this time of the year.
If you need more there are lists of virtues and emotions from previous writing prompts.

From The Magic Writing Tram.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

All the plots in the world

comedy_tragedy.jpgOnly one plot exists: conflict. “Foster-Harris describes this in terms of what the main character feels: ‘I have an inner conflict of emotions, feelings.... What, in any case, can I do to resolve the inner problems?’” Which sums it up nicely but isn't very helpful! So here are three ways people have come up with to categorize plot (with explanations and examples for the last and longest set.)

7 Plots
7 basic plots as remembered by IPL volunteer librarian Jessamyn West and a similar list from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and perhaps the inspiration for the school list:
  1. [wo]man vs. man
  2. [wo]man vs. nature
  3. [wo]man vs. self
  4. [wo]man vs. god/religion
  5. [wo]man vs. machines/technology
  6. [wo]man vs. the supernatural
  7. [wo]man vs. the environment
  1. Man vs. Man
  2. Man vs. Nature
  3. Man vs. Himself
  4. Man vs. God
  5. Man vs. Society
  6. Man caught in the Middle
  7. Man & Woman

7 (Other) Plots
From The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker
  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

20 Plots
From 20 Master Plots: And how to build them by Ronald B. Tobias
  1. QUEST - the plot involves the Protagonist's search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible (but must be quantifiable, so think of this as a noun; i.e., immortality).

  2. ADVENTURE - this plot involves the Protagonist going in search of their fortune, and since fortune is never found at home, the Protagonist goes to search for it somewhere over the rainbow.

  3. PURSUIT - this plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one person chasing another.

  4. RESCUE - this plot involves the Protagonist searching for someone or something, usually consisting of three main characters

  5. ESCAPE - plot involves a Protagonist confined against their will who wants to escape (does not include some one trying to escape their personal demons).

  6. REVENGE - retaliation by Protagonist or Antagonist against the other for real or imagined injury.

  7. THE RIDDLE - plot involves the Protagonist's search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous.

  8. RIVALRY - plot involves Protagonist competing for same object or goal as another person (their rival).

  9. UNDERDOG - plot involves a Protagonist competing for an object or goal that is at a great disadvantage and is faced with overwhelming odds.

  10. TEMPTATION - plot involves a Protagonist that for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong or immoral.

  11. METAMORPHOSIS - this plot involves the physical characteristics of the Protagonist actually changing from one form to another (reflecting their inner psychological identity).

  12. TRANSFORMATION - plot involves the process of change in the Protagonist as they journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.

  13. MATURATION - plot involves the Protagonist facing a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with it, emerging into a state of adulthood (going from innocence to experience).

  14. LOVE - plot involves the Protagonist overcoming the obstacles to love that keeps them from consummating (engaging in) true love.

  15. FORBIDDEN LOVE - plot involves Protagonist(s) overcoming obstacles created by social mores and taboos to consummate their relationship (and sometimes finding it at too high a price to live with).

  16. SACRIFICE - plot involves the Protagonist taking action(s) that is motivated by a higher purpose (concept) such as love, honor, charity or for the sake of humanity.

  17. DISCOVERY - plot that is the most character-centered of all, involves the Protagonist having to overcome an upheavel(s) in their life, and thereby discovering something important (and buried) within them a better understanding of life (i.e., better appreciation of their life, a clearer purpose in their life, etc.)

  18. WRETCHED EXCESS - plot involves a Protagonist who, either by choice or by accident, pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences (generally deals with the psychological decline of the character).

  19. ASCENSION - rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise (success) of Protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.

  20. DESCENSION - riches-to-rags plot deals with the fall (destruction) of Protagonist due to dominating character trait that eventually destroys their success.

36 Plots
The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti (trans. Lucille Ray)

Polti claims to be trying to reconstruct the 36 plots that Goethe alleges someone named [Carlo] Gozzi came up with. (In the following list, the words in parentheses are the IPL annotations to try to explain some of the less helpful titles.):
  1. Supplication (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
    (The dynamic elements technically necessary are: a Persecutor; a Suppliant; and a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful)

    1. Fugitives Imploring the Powerful for Help Against Their Enemies
    2. Assistance Implored for the Performance of a Pious Duty Which Has Been Forbidden
    3. Appeals for a Refuge in Which to Die

    1. Hospitality Besought by the Shipwrecked
    2. Charity Entreated by Those Cast Off by Their Own People, Whom They Have Disgraced
    3. Expiation: The Seeking of Pardon, Healing or Deliverance
    4. The Surrender of a Corpse, or of a Relic, Solicited

    1. Supplication of the Powerful for Those Dear to the Suppliant
    2. Supplication to a Relative in Behalf of Another Relative
    3. Supplication to a Mother's Lover, in Her Behalf

  2. Deliverance
    (Elements: an Unfortunate, a Threatener, a Rescuer)

    1. Appearance of a Rescuer to the Condemned

    1. A Parent Replaced Upon a Throne by His Children
    2. Rescue by Friends, or by Strangers Grateful for Benefits Or Hospitality

  3. Crime Pursued By Vengeance
    (Elements: an Avenger and a Criminal)

    1. The Avenging of a Slain Parent or Ancestor
    2. The Avenging of a Slain Child or Descendant
    3. Vengeance for a Child Dishonored
    4. The Avenging of a Slain Wife or Husband
    5. Vengeance for the Dishonor, or Attempted Dishonoring, of a Wife
    6. Vengeance for a Mistress Slain
    7. Vengeance for a Slain or Injured Friend
    8. Vengeance for a Sister Seduced

    1. Vengeance for Intentional Injury or Spoliation
    2. Vengeance for Having Been Despoiled During Absence
    3. Revenge for an Attempted Slaying
    4. Revenge for a False Accusation
    5. Vengeance for Violation
    6. Vengeance for Having Been Robbed of One's Own
    7. Revenge Upon a Whole Sex for a Deception by One

    1. Professional Pursuit of Criminals

  4. Vengeance Taken For Kindred Upon Kindred
    (Elements: Avenging Kinsman; Guilty Kinsman; Remembrance of the Victim, a Relative of Both)

    1. A Father's Death Avenged Upon a Mother
    2. A Mother's Death Avenged Upon a Father

    1. A Brother's Death Avenged Upon a Son

    1. A Father's Death Avenged Upon a Husband

    1. A Husband's Death Avenged Upon a Father

  5. Pursuit
    (Elements: Punishment and Fugitive)

    1. Fugitives from Justice Pursued for Brigandage, Political Offenses, Etc.

    1. Pursued for a Fault of Love

    1. A Hero Struggling Against a Power

    1. A Pseudo-Madman Struggling Against an Iago-Like Alienist

  6. Disaster
    (Elements: a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger)

    1. Defeat Suffered
    2. A Fatherland Destroyed
    3. The Fall of Humanity
    4. A Natural Catastrophe

    1. A Monarch Overthrown

    1. Ingratitude Suffered
    2. The Suffering of Unjust Punishment or Enmity
    3. An Outrage Suffered

    1. Abandonment by a Lover or a Husband
    2. Children Lost by Their Parents

  7. Falling Prey To Cruelty Or Misfortune
    (Elements: an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune)

    1. The Innocent Made the Victim of Ambitious Intrigue

    1. The Innocent Despoiled by Those Who Should Protect

    1. The Powerful Dispossessed and Wretched
    2. A Favorite or an Intimate Finds Himself Forgotten

    1. The Unfortunate Robbed of Their Only Hope

  8. Revolt
    (Elements: Tyrant and Conspirator)

    1. A Conspiracy Chiefly of One Individual
    2. A Conspiracy of Several

    1. Revolt of One Individual, Who Influences and Involves Others
    2. A Revolt of Many

  9. Daring Enterprise
    (Elements: a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary)

    1. Preparations For War

    1. War
    2. A Combat

    1. Carrying Off a Desired Person or Object
    2. Recapture of a Desired Object

    1. Adventurous Expeditions
    2. Adventure Undertaken for the Purpose of Obtaining a Beloved Woman

  10. Abduction
    (Elements: the Abductor; the Abducted; the Guardian)

    1. Abduction of an Unwilling Woman

    1. Abduction of a Consenting Woman

    1. Recapture of the Woman Without the Slaying of the Abductor
    2. The Same Case, with the Slaying of the Ravisher

    1. Rescue of a Captive Friend
    2. Of a Child
    3. Of a Soul in Captivity to Error

  11. The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
    (Elements: Interrogator, Seeker and Problem)

    1. Search for a Person Who Must Be Found on Pain of Death

    1. A Riddle To Be Solved on Pain of Death
    2. The Same Case, in Which the Riddle is Proposed by the Coveted Woman

    1. Temptations Offered With the Object of Discovering His Name
    2. Temptations Offered With the Object of Ascertaining the Sex
    3. Tests for the Purpose of Ascertaining the Mental Condition

  12. Obtaining
    (Elements: a Solicitor and an Adversary Who is Refusing, or an Arbitrator and Opposing Parties)

    1. Efforts to Obtain an Object by Ruse or Force

    1. Endeavor by Means of Persuasive Eloquence Alone

    1. Eloquence With an Arbitrator

  13. Enmity Of Kinsmen
    (Elements: a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hatred or Reciprocally Hating Kinsman)

    1. Hatred of Brothers -- One Brother Hated by Several
    2. Reciprocal Hatred
    3. Hatred Between Relatives for Reasons of Self-Interest

    1. Hatred of Father and Son -- Of the Son for the Father
    2. Mutual Hatred
    3. Hatred of Daughter for Father

    1. Hatred of Grandfather for Grandson

    1. Hatred of Father-in-law for Son-in-law

    1. Hatred of Mother-in-law for Daughter-in-law

    1. Infanticide

  14. Rivalry Of Kinsmen
    (Elements: the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object)

    1. Malicious Rivalry of a Brother
    2. Malicious Rivalry of Two Brothers
    3. Rivalry of Two Brothers, With Adultery on the Part of One
    4. Rivalry of Sisters

    1. Rivalry of Father and Son, for an Unmarried Woman
    2. Rivalry of Father and Son, for a Married Woman
    3. Case Similar to the Two Foregoing, But in Which the Object is Already the Wife of the Father
    4. Rivalry of Mother and Daughter

    1. Rivalry of Cousins

    1. Rivalry of Friends

  15. Murderous Adultery
    (Elements: Two Adulterers; a Betrayed Husband or Wife)

    1. The Slaying of a Husband by, or for, a Paramour
    2. The Slaying of a Trusting Lover

    1. Slaying of a Wife for a Paramour, and in Self-Interest

  16. Madness
    (Elements: Madman and Victim)

    1. Kinsmen Slain in Madness
    2. Lover Slain in Madness
    3. Slaying or Injuring of a Person not Hated

    1. Disgrace Brought Upon Oneself Through Madness

    1. Loss of Loved Ones Brought About by Madness

    1. Madness Brought on by Fear of Hereditary Insanity

  17. Fatal Imprudence
    (Elements: The Imprudent; the Victim or the Object Lost)

    1. Imprudence the Cause of One's Own Misfortune
    2. Imprudence the Cause of One's Own Dishonor

    1. Curiosity the Cause of One's Own Misfortune
    2. Loss of the Possession of a Loved One, Through Curiosity

    1. Curiosity the Cause of Death or Misfortune to Others
    2. Imprudence the Cause of a Relative's Death
    3. Imprudence the Cause of a Lover's Death
    4. Credulity the Cause of Kinsmen's Deaths

  18. Involuntary Crimes Of Love
    (Elements: the Lover, the Beloved; the Revealer)

    1. Discovery that One Has Married One's Mother
    2. Discovery that One Has Had a Sister as Mistress

    1. Discovery that One Has Married One's Sister
    2. The Same Case, in Which the Crime Has Been Villainously Planned by a Third Person
    3. Being Upon the Point of Taking a Sister, Unknowingly, as Mistress

    1. Being Upon the Point of Violating, Unknowingly, a Daughter

    1. Being Upon the Point of Committing an Adultery Unknowingly
    2. Adultery Committed Unknowingly

  19. Slaying Of a Kinsman Unrecognized
    (Elements: the Slayer, the Unrecognized Victim)

    1. Being Upon the Point of Slaying a Daughter Unknowingly, by Command of a Divinity or an Oracle
    2. Through Political Necessity
    3. Through a Rivalry in Love
    4. Through Hatred of the Lover of the Unrecognized Daughter

    1. Being Upon the Point of Killing a Son Unknowingly
    2. The Same Case, Strengthened by Machiavellian Instigations

    1. Being Upon the Point of Slaying a Brother Unknowingly

    1. Slaying of a Mother Unrecognized

    1. A Father Slain Unknowingly, Through Machiavellian Advice

    1. A Grandfather Slain Unknowingly, in Vengeance and Through Instigation

    1. Involuntary Killing of a Loved Woman
    2. Being Upon the Point of Killing a Lover Unrecognized
    3. Failure to Rescue an Unrecognized Son

  20. Self-Sacrificing For an Ideal
    (Elements: the Hero; the Ideal; the 'Creditor' or the Person or Thing Sacrificed)

    1. Sacrifice of Life for the Sake of One's Word
    2. Life Sacrifice for the Success of One's People
    3. Life Sacrificed in Filial Piety
    4. Life Sacrificed for the Sake of One's Faith

    1. Both Love and Life Sacrificed for One's Faith, or a Cause
    2. Love Sacrificed to the Interests of State

    1. Sacrifice of Well-Being to Duty

    1. The Ideal of 'Honor' Sacrificed to the Ideal of 'Faith'

  21. Self-Sacrifice For Kindred
    (Elements: the Hero; the Kinsman; the 'Creditor' or the Person or Thing Sacrificed)

    1. Life Sacrificed for that of a Relative or a Loved One
    2. Life Sacrificed for the Happiness of a Relative or a Loved One

    1. Ambition Sacrificed for the Happiness of a Parent
    2. Ambition Sacrificed for the Life of a Parent

    1. Love Sacrificed for the Sake of a Parent's Life
    2. For the Happiness of One's Child
    3. The Same Sacrifice as 2, But Caused by Unjust Laws

    1. Life and Honor Sacrificed for the Life of a Parent or Loved One
    2. Modesty Sacrificed for the Life of a Relative or a Loved One

  22. All Sacrificed For a Passion
    (Elements: the Lover, the Object of the Fatal Passion; the Person or Thing Sacrificed)

    1. Religious Vows of Chastity Broken for a Passion
    2. Respect for a Priest Destroyed
    3. A Future Ruined by Passion
    4. Power Ruined by Passion
    5. Ruin of Mind, Health, and Life
    6. Ruin of Fortunes, Lives, and Honors

    1. Temptations Destroying the Sense of Duty, of Piety, etc.

    1. Destruction of Honor, Fortune, and Life by Erotic Vice
    2. The Same Effect Produced by Any Other Vice

  23. Necessity Of Sacrificing Love Ones
    (Elements: the Hero; the Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice)

    1. Necessity for Sacrificing a Daughter in the Public Interest
    2. Duty of Sacrificing Her in Fulfillment of a Vow to God
    3. Duty of Sacrificing Benefactors or Loved Ones to One's Faith

    1. Duty of Sacrificing One's Child, Unknown to Others, Under the Pressure of Necessity
    2. Duty of Sacrificing, Under the Same Circumstances, One's Father or Husband
    3. Duty of Sacrificing a Son-in-law for the Public Good
    4. Duty of Contending with a Brother-in-Law for the Public Good
    5. Duty of Contending with a Friend

  24. Rivalry Of Superior and Inferior
    (Elements: the Superior Rival; the Inferior Rival; the Object)

    1. Masculine Rivalries; of a Mortal and an Immortal
    2. Of a Magician and an Ordinary Man
    3. Of Conqueror and Conquered
    4. Of a King and a Noble
    5. Of a Powerful Person and an Upstart
    6. Of Rich and Poor
    7. Of an Honored Man and a Suspected One
    8. Rivalry of Two Who are Almost Equal
    9. Of the Two Successive Husbands of a Divorcee

    1. Feminine Rivalries; Of a Sorceress and an Ordinary Woman
    2. Of Victor and Prisoner
    3. Of Queen and Subject
    4. Of Lady and Servant
    5. Rivalry Between Memory or an Ideal (That of a Superior Woman) and a Vassal of Her Own

    1. Double Rivalry (A loves B, who loves C, who loves D)

  25. Adultery
    (Elements: a Deceived Husband or Wife; Two Adulterers)

    1. A Mistress Betrayed, For a Young Woman
    2. For a Young Wife

    1. A Wife Betrayed, For a Slave Who Does Not Love in Return
    2. For Debauchery
    3. For a Married Woman
    4. With the Intention of Bigamy
    5. For a Young Girl, who Does Not Love in Return
    6. A Wife Envied by a Young Girl Who is in Love With Her Husband
    7. By a Courtesan

    1. An Antagonistic Husband Sacrificed for a Congenial Lover
    2. A Husband, Believed to be Lost, Forgotten for a Rival
    3. A Commonplace Husband Sacrificed for a Sympathetic Lover
    4. A Good Husband Betrayed for an Inferior Rival
    5. For a Grotesque Rival
    6. For a Commonplace Rival, By a Perverse Wife
    7. For a Rival Less Handsome, But Useful

    1. Vengeance of a Deceived Husband
    2. Jealousy Sacrificed for the Sake of a Cause
    3. Husband Persecuted by a Rejected Rival

  26. Crimes Of Love
    (Elements: The Lover, the Beloved)

    1. A Mother in Love with Her Son
    2. A Daughter in Love with her Father
    3. Violation of a Daughter by a Father

    1. A Woman Enamored of Her Stepson
    2. A Woman and Her Stepson Enamored of Each Other
    3. A Woman Being the Mistress, at the Same Time, of a Father and Son, Both of Whom Accept the Situation

    1. A Man Becomes the Lover of his Sister-in-Law
    2. A Brother and Sister in Love with Each Other

    1. A Man Enamored of Another Man, Who Yields

    1. A Woman Enamored of a Beast

  27. Discovery Of The Dishonor Of a Loved One
    (Elements: the Discoverer; the Guilty One)

    1. Discovery of a Mother's Shame
    2. Discovery of a Father's Shame
    3. Discovery of a Daughter's Dishonor

    1. Discovery of Dishonor in the Family of One's Fiancee
    2. Discovery than One's Wife Has Been Violated Before Marriage, Or Since the Marriage
    3. That She Has Previously Committed a Fault
    4. Discovery that One's Wife Has Formerly Been a Prostitute
    5. Discovery that One's Mistress, Formerly a Prostitute, Has Returned to Her Old Life
    6. Discovery that One's Lover is a Scoundrel, or that One's Mistress is a Woman of Bad Character
    7. The Same Discovery Concerning One's Wife

    1. Duty of Punishing a Son Who is a Traitor to Country
    2. Duty of Punishing a Son Condemned Under a Law Which the Father Has Made
    3. Duty of Punishing One's Mother to Avenge One's Father

  28. Obstacles To Love
    (Elements: Two Lovers, an Obstacle)

    1. Marriage Prevented by Inequality of Rank
    2. Inequality of Fortune an Impediment to Marriage

    1. Marriage Prevented by Enemies and Contingent Obstacles

    1. Marriage Forbidden on Account of the Young Woman's Previous Betrothal to Another

    1. A Free Union Impeded by the Opposition of Relatives

    1. By the Incompatibility of Temper of the Lovers

  29. An Enemy Loved
    (Elements: The Beloved Enemy; the Lover; the Hater)

    1. The Loved One Hated by Kinsmen of the Lover
    2. The Lover Pursued by the Brothers of His Beloved
    3. The Lover Hated by the Family of His Beloved
    4. The Beloved is an Enemy of the Party of the Woman Who Loves Him

    1. The Beloved is the Slayer of a Kinsman of the Woman Who Loves Him

  30. Ambition
    (Elements: an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary)

    1. Ambition Watched and Guarded Against by a Kinsman, or By a Person Under Obligation

    1. Rebellious Ambition

    1. Ambition and Covetousness Heaping Crime Upon Crime

  31. Conflict With a God
    (Elements: a Mortal, an Immortal)

    1. Struggle Against a Deity
    2. Strife with the Believers in a God

    1. Controversy with a Deity
    2. Punishment for Contempt of a God
    3. Punishment for Pride Before a God

  32. Mistaken Jealousy
    (Elements: the Jealous One; the Object of Whose Possession He is Jealous; the Supposed Accomplice; the Cause or the Author of the Mistake)

    1. The Mistake Originates in the Suspicious Mind of the Jealous One
    2. Mistaken Jealousy Aroused by Fatal Chance
    3. Mistaken Jealousy of a Love Which is Purely Platonic
    4. Baseless Jealousy Aroused by Malicious Rumors

    1. Jealousy Suggested by a Traitor Who is Moved by Hatred, or Self-Interest

    1. Reciprocal Jealousy Suggested to Husband and Wife by a Rival

  33. Erroneous Judgment
    (Elements: The Mistaken One; the Victim of the Mistake; the Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty Person)

    1. False Suspicion Where Faith is Necessary
    2. False Suspicion of a Mistress
    3. False Suspicion Aroused by a Misunderstood Attitude of a Loved One

    1. False Suspicions Drawn Upon Oneself to Save a Friend
    2. They Fall Upon the Innocent
    3. The Same Case as 2, but in Which the Innocent had a Guilty Intention, or Believes Himself Guilty
    4. A Witness to the Crime, in the Interest of a Loved One, Lets Accusation Fall Upon the Innocent

    1. The Accusation is Allowed to Fall Upon an Enemy
    2. The Error is Provoked by an Enemy

    1. False Suspicion Thrown by the Real Culprit Upon One of His Enemies
    2. Thrown by the Real Culprit Upon the Second Victim Against Whom He Has Plotted From the Beginning

  34. Remorse
    (Elements: the Culprit; the Victim or the Sin; the Interrogator)

    1. Remorse for an Unknown Crime
    2. Remorse for a Parricide
    3. Remorse for an Assassination

    1. Remorse for a Fault of Love
    2. Remorse for an Adultery

  35. Recovery Of a Lost One
    (The Seeker; the One Found)

    1. A Child Stolen

    1. Unjust Imprisonment

    1. A Child Searches to Discover His Father

  36. Loss Of Loved Ones
    (A Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner)

    1. Witnessing the Slaying of Kinsmen While Powerless to Prevent It
    2. Helping to Bring Misfortune Upon One's People Through Professional Secrecy

    1. Divining the Death of a Loved One

    1. Learning of the Death of a Kinsman or Ally, and Lapsing into Despair
Compiled from:
The "Basic" Plots in Literature
TSA Writing Tips - Twenty Basic Plots
The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Deck the halls with boughs of garlic

Write a sentence about vampires for each of the following words. Feel free to change the tenses or word forms. To make it even more challenging, give the sense that it's cold or even Christmas.
  • androidbough-of-garlic.jpg
  • bristly
  • castle
  • diddle
  • empire
  • ferret
  • grovel
  • hollow
  • immortal
  • jaded
  • knock
  • low tech
  • master
  • notorious
  • owl
  • patience
  • quirky
  • rakish
  • secret garden
  • torment
  • ugly
  • violinist
  • whimper
  • explorer
  • yanked
  • zest

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A winter's tale

penguinscarf.jpgCome up with titles for the following genre's using the words winter or Christmas. (Or let the season otherwise inspire you :-)
  • Adventure/Action
  • Animal
  • Autobiography
  • Biography
  • Children’s
  • Detective fiction
  • Fantasy
  • General
  • Historical
  • Horror
  • Humor
  • Mystery
  • Non-fiction
  • Poetry
  • Reference
  • Romance
  • Science fiction
  • Suspense
  • Western

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Here there be dragons

A wealth of pages on creating dragons.

Dragon_of_Winter.jpgDragon and Dragon Name Generators

Seventh Sanctum's Dragon generators
There are a wealth of generators at Seventh Sanctum for fantasy, science fiction and gaming.

Dragon Breed Generator - Creates names for Dragon breeds, both in a semi-real world style, or in a general fantasy style.

  • Hungarian Greattoothed Highflyer
  • Daywind Terror
  • Majestic Giantwing
  • Mottled Greattoothed Trampler
  • Sapphire Daymaw
Dragon Character Generator - Creates very detailed dragons for use as characters in stories or games.

Example: Woodstopper - She is a young dragon. She has silver scales and ridges on her back. Her breath is a cloud of gas that puts most beings to sleep. She is very cunning. She lives in a deep and mysterious forest. Her hoard is small.

Dragon Description Generator - Creates highly detailed dragon descriptions for writing, games, and art.

Example: "This dragon has a thick, short body with a thick tail and neck. Its scales are green. On the end of its tail is a bladelike extension. This dragon has short, thick limbs with three splayed digits on each foot that end in very short claws. It has small, wide-set wings running from its shoulders to its lower back. This dragon has a small mouth and has a pronounced underbite. It has giant slitted nostrils. This dragon has slitted eyes that are red. It has small holes for ears. A bony plate projects from the back of its skull, protecting its upper neck Flaps of skin allow it to completely close its nostrils."

The Dragon Stone name generator
Get 5 dragon names at a time in various styles.

Human language:
  • Astra Goldenlair
  • Ebonyguardian Quick-Night
  • Draco Timewyrm
  • Sapphirecloud
  • Astralfly
Mix of dragon and human:
  • Fyre Worhamumin
  • Glala Draig
  • Ignatius Isnou
  • Binachul Lightning-Night
  • Detu Silence
Anne McCaffrey Pern style:
  • Hyoth
  • Papith
  • Imath
  • Xebrasoth
  • Drhoth
(There's also a Pern style name generator at Dragon Name Generator that can display up to 50 names at a time.)

Terry Pratchett Swamp style:
  • Goodcherry Lightning V of Brindisi
  • Gaynose Elspeth of Ankh
  • Petallight Marquis Prosper the Seventh
  • Sundawn Tallulah
  • Baronet Marchlight Gayreeds of Genua
Dragon Name Generator
Type in your name and turn it into a dragon name. Mine is: Jarkore the Great Dragon (Green Dragon)

(There are quite a few quirky name generators at Rum and Monkey like "The fluffy kitten name generator" and "Reveal your ridden [sic] Harry-Pottery Patronus" and "The Damned Hippie Name Generator". (Note some of them are beyond PG-13.)

Dragon Name Resource
A thorough discussion of techniques for naming dragons. Some examples: Naming after yourself (scramble the letters of your name), important dates and places, after a friend, a book character, strange words, personality traits, another language.

Dragon Names

The Dragon's Chart from The Serene Dragon
An extensive list of names of dragons and story titles and characters in dragon stories.

Dragon Names
List of famous dragon names, plus dragons in literature, TV, film, video games, etc. Also a selective list of links to more dragon names.

Dragonorama's Famous Dragons, Serpents and Wyrms
Some that aren't listed at the above site. (Links to the rest of the alphabet are at the bottom of the page.)

Dragon Names
Names that mean dragon, serpent, snake, famous dragons. (There are also names by nationality and if you pull down the pull down menu there are dozens and dozens of special category names, eg, ghost, element, fire, color .. there are two pages of them.

The Real Dragon Magic Names
An article on dragon-magic names rather than dragon magic-names but some very cool sounding words that could be used for dragon names (or, of course, dragon magic!) As well as a draconic dictionary for making up your own. Here's a sampling:
  • Abumagi (Scales of Energy)
  • Arctaos Ro (Everlasting Charm)
  • Chaun Duil (Expel from Lair)
  • Denthanus Ro (Everlasting Terror)
  • Fal Indelstan (Unstoppable Energy)
  • Gul Kaden (Freezing Cloud)
  • Ingis Facorol (Deadly Spray)
  • Madeec Tomosha (Blind the Mind)
  • Sart Aurthon (Small Enough)
  • Zaunduil (Shifting Sanctum)

Thursday, December 14, 2006






Note: If Cat Town Theater disappears, try the Cat Town mirror site.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fill in the blanks

p07blank.gifThis will take about 2 minutes to load if you have dial up so click here to get it started loading in a new window.

This is the 11 page comic I did for the Imagination Tribe story book project. I've removed all the spoken words. You can fill in the word bubbles with your own words.

Sorry, the comic pages were stored at Blogsome where the blog was originally hosted for the first 4 (?) years. Apparently Blogsome shutdown in 2011 -- which I hadn't even realized until this post popped up on the "Poplular posts" list. Unfortunately, I can't find the original pages to re-upload here :-(

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Word jar

wordjar.gifCut words from the headlines in magazines and newspapers. Put them in a jar large enough to hold hundreds of them. When you're stuck trying to think of a story idea or where to go next in a story, randomly pull out three slips. Use those three words in the next sentence you write.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Flight writing prompts

These are from my last year's NaNoWriMo to use as writing prompts:

"I will rip his eyeballs out and impale them on a spit and roast them until they burst. I will rip his nose off and season it with fire pepper and feed it to Tagira. I will rip his lips off and ...," dark haired Ristiki chanted into the warm summer wind rushing into her as the massive orange tiger beneath her bounded over ragged rocks and scrubby scrouse bushes.

Rane whirled his two swords in black and white deadly circles. As he had designed the blades and the technique to do, the swords sliced through the demon horde attacking him. Pieces of lesser demons littered the ground, and black demon blood rained down on the green grass. It hissed and ate away at every living thing it touched.

The snake was as thick around as the man standing before it. If it were stretched to its full length rather than curled about itself, it would be as long as the room. It raised its head up to peer down with brown golden flecked eyes at the man. When the snake could see the fear in the man's eyes it was satisfied and its shimmery gold and brown and black form writhed and contracted. Soon, out of the amorphous mass a woman took shape, unselfconsciously naked. Perfectly formed, her hair was streaks of gold, brown and black, her skin was golden with the slightest hint of brown and black patterning, and her eyes were brown with gold flecks.

Hengorth rolled the stem of the crystal glass of wine between his long elegant fingers while the woman watched, a sensuous smile on her face. The horny nails should have marred his fingers' elegance but on him they seemed right. His black clothing draped perfectly over his tall, lean frame and the color complemented his gold toned skin. His smooth, thick black hair was gathered back and clipped at the nape of his neck with a gold clasp. There was something unnaturally elegant about him. But then, of course, he wasn't a man so perhaps that he looked human at all was more remarkable.

"Vir Drenn," said a feminine voice just behind him as the noise of the crowd died down. "I never thought I would see you here."

With a slow anguished unfolding, she transformed into a violet, teal and magenta bird, with clawed wings and talons half as long as Rane was tall. She was fast and in his dazed state, sliced Rane across the chest to taunt him into transforming.

Gor strode slowly and deliberately across the room to Rane. His hand shot out, his fingers closing around his son's throat, lowering Rane to his knees. "Where are the humans, Rane?" Gor asked in a quiet, reasonable voice.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


basilisk.jpgI was looking for a list of episode titles from Basilisk (a Japanese animated show), which, being relatively new, I could only find Japanese titles for. Google "translated" them for me and came up with the following which make for some mind stretching writing prompts. Use one to begin a scene or try to work in as many as you can.
  • Phase thought offset (the person who is loved the dying obtaining)
  • Fetal movement two place
  • Misfortune cruel
  • enclosure night traveling
  • Ninja six ceremony
  • Descending/disembarking tear love
  • Human skin hell
  • Blood smoke cruelty
  • stopping long rain
  • Stone gravel non announcement
  • Recollection film slide
  • Kocho boisterous dance
  • Scattering flower strait
  • Wave jail gate
  • Bosom pale picture
  • runoff
  • Non discernment dawn
  • shooting heat waves
  • Fantasy bubble shadow
  • Afterlife encounter
  • God ancestor/founder
  • Benevolence flow
  • Super woman
  • Ogre

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Nacreousclouds.jpgYou see this shooting across the sky at twilight. (Click to open a larger view in a new window.)

Some questions to think about if you need a jump start:

What is it?
What has caused it?
What will happen?

Or who is it?
Where are they going and why?
Are they chasing something or being chased?
Are they off to the rescue or off to some big event?

(The original is at Nacreous Clouds - Southern Norway, along with other cool nacreous cloud pictures.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Latté break

gingerbread_latte.jpgWell, I wanted to do some clever wrap up to NaNoWriMo, but I feel the pressure of all the things I put off during the month ;-) So here's some more tips on getting unstuck:

Experiment -- Try to write in different places, at different times, and with different writing instruments.

Freewrite -- Choose one sentence in a paragraph and write a paragraph about it. Then choose one sentence from that paragraph and do it again.

Cluster -- Choose key words and ideas; then write associated ideas and words in clusters around them. This process often forms new ideas.

Be flexible -- Be willing to throw out sections of text that are causing problems or just don't work.

Follow a routine -- Follow a routine to get into the writing mood. Try activities like wearing comfortable clothing, using a certain pen, or listening to a particular CD or type of music.

Move -- Physically move around, stretch, or walk.

Take a break -- Get a snack or drink, talk to someone, or just relax for five minutes before starting to write again.

Concentrate -- Focus on a different section or aspect of your paper. This sometimes leads to new insights in problem areas, while allowing you to get work done on another section.

Re-read -- Read a print draft of the paper and jot down ideas while reading.

Relax! -- The more you worry, the harder it gets to think clearly.

These are from Overcoming Writer's Block.