Latest: Lotus

How Evil Can You Get?

In Story Robert McKee talks about “the negation of the negation” (NotN). It’s not mathematical, the multiplication of two negatives leading to a positive. It is the end of the line in the emotional or moral value of the internal story.

Take the normal “worst case” scenario, and find the thing that’s so much worse it’s unthinkable.

In “living dead” stories, that’s often the fate worse than death: damnation, or living death.

McKee talks about four stages, from The Big Win through Not So Much to Real Bad and finally, the NotN. For instance, in a love story you can have true love, indifference, active dislike/hate, and the worst thing in a normal romance, hate masquerading as love.

Scifi adventure: success might be beating the aliens. The other end of the spectrum might be seeing your whole race enslaved by the aliens, in a manner which prevents mass suicide. Nope. You’re slaves, maybe even eternally because they gave you live-forever-juice.

For many stories, the NotN is going to be, if not unique, at east customized.

The lighter the story the less devastating the NotN. For instance, in my book A Long, Hard Look

  1. Success: Phil solves the case and gets the girl.
  2. The likely case is he doesn’t solve the case, but at least he gets the girl.
  3. Worst case, you’d think, is he doesn’t solve the case, doesn’t get the girl.
  4. What happens is he stands in a room full of his girl’s family and is helpless to prevent one from killing another, and in the end, his girl leaves because he reminds her of his failure and her family’s brokenness.

Not only does the case get solved too late to prevent another death, the girl despises him and runs away.

Figure out what your readers will assume equals “success” and if you choose a happy ending, deliver that and more.

Know, or define, what they’ll expect as the “less than success” the hero is worried will be his fate.

Know what your readers expect as a worst case scenario. That’s failure.

Make your protagonist suffer that failure, then give him a way out.

Then, come up with something so unimaginable your readers never saw it coming, couldn’t foresee it, won’t believe their eyes.

And aim it straight at your hero.


Three Applauses

I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.

Obviously, there’s applause at the end.

And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.

Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.

Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.

Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.

Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.

Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.

As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.


Rafe Keyn and the Temporal Lisle

All that free space in my brain erupted today.

After spending the morning listing all 64 scenes for A Still, Small Voice (14% written!) I sat down this afternoon and slashed the fat grease pencils all over 8 or 9 pages of legal paper and outlined (fanfare!)

Rafe Keyn
and the
Temporal Lisle

I can barely contain myself.


In Praise of Robert McKee’s “Story”

In the past few years I have started, but not finished:

  1. A coming of age story with a strong musical element
  2. The first mystery in a new series with a rather artistic protagonist
  3. The first mystery in a new series with a female protagonist
  4. A Jeeves & Wooster/P. G. Wodehouse-inspired light comedy with a mysterious twist.

They are unfinished, not because they aren’t good, but because I didn’t know how to make the last 1/3 (or 1/2 or 2/3) as good as what was already written.

Not because I don’t know how to use words. Never been a problem. I was reading at college level when I started Kindergarten back in the Jurassic Era.

What I didn’t know was, once you start building a bridge of story from over here and it spans half the chasm, how do you keep it from collapsing into the ravine until you can make it land over there?

In other words, what is the structure of a story?

Continue reading “In Praise of Robert McKee’s “Story””


Bringing Some Reality to Your Writing

Science tries to deal with what’s real, to identify and label and if possible rule out the imaginary, illogical, impossible.

Sometimes science bothers people with little facts like gravity being the weakest force in the known universe. The only thing that keeps us from flying off into space as the earth turns (moving 1,000mph at the equator but slower near the poles) is that the earth is so huge that the tiny pull of gravity is amplified enough to keep us pinned.

Earth spinning: at the equator, a spot moves 24,000 miles in 24 hours. Simple math: 1,000mpg.

About 8 feet from the geographic pole, you could draw a circle 24 feet around. Stand (float) in one spot, and make the 24-foot trip in the same 24 hours.

That spot is moving 1 foot per hour. The bit at the equator is going 5,280,000 times as fast (1,000mph = 5,280,000 feet per hour.)

structure
Continue reading “Bringing Some Reality to Your Writing”


“Found Around the Web” Fiction Writing

Angela AckermanToday’s resource is from The Creative Penn Blog by Joanna Penn. She recently posted an article by Angela Ackerman.

Angela discusses creating character personality traits to make your story richer. Her resource books help writers create layered, compelling characters that readers relate to and care for. Read more at The Creative Penn Blog.