Story Structure: Part Two

This time we’re going to look at all the terminology I introduced last week in action. I’m going to put the plot of Mulan into my structure outline to demonstrate how each part works.

Enjoy!

Normal World:

Status Quo – We see Mulan running late. Which is a usual thing for her, we gather. She’s going to meet the Match Maker so she can get a good marriage and serve her family like girls should. Naturally, because Mulan is not like other girls, this goes disastrously. She doesn’t get a match. She doesn’t make her family proud. She doesn’t bring honour to them. This reinforces her Lie (this is very important and I will explain this in a later post) that she is not good enough and will never bring honour to her family and is all round just a massive failure who can’t get anything right.

Inciting Incident – The Huns have crossed the Great Wall of China. This causes the Inciting Incident as one man from each family is called upon to serve the Emperor. In Mulan’s family there is only one man: her father. He was a War Hero and is greatly respected, but he was injured in the last war. He has no choice but to accept the honour of serving the Emperor. He has no son to take his place. Mulan intervenes, and gets berated for once again dishonouring her father.

Turning Point into Act One (decision) – Mulan decides that there are more important things than honour, and her father is blinded by honouring the family and is risking getting himself killed. So we get one of the best montages in Disney history (in my opinion) where Mulan takes her father’s armour, sword, and scroll and rides off to join the army in her father’s place.

First Doorway of No Return – Once she is in the camp, there is no turning back without being a deserter, which would surely result in her death, just the same as if anyone found out that she was a woman.

Act One – Running:

In Act One, the protagonist is not entirely sure what they are up against so they use this act to gauge what they are doing and why, who are they fighting against etc. They are essentially running. They have no real plan and they are nowhere near prepared to fight the main antagonist yet. In this act, they are preparing to become a Warrior.

Run For Your Life – Mulan has to learn how to be a man as well as a soldier, and fast. Luckily she isn’t alone when it comes to the learning to be a soldier thing as the rest of them are just as unprepared as her. Cue my favourite song in Mulan – Make a man out of you. By the end of the song, they are all quite prepared to go off battle. And Mushu makes sure that is where they are headed.

Turning Point into Act Two – This is a little tricky to pin point but this has to be where Mulan learns about the main antagonist and what they are facing. So, this point is twofold. First, Mushu creates a fake letter saying Shang’s troops are needed at the front. So, off they head. Then (this is the second part) as fate would have it, it turns out they really are needed. They come across a village which has been burned to cinders. And just beyond it, a battlefield full of their own dead soldiers. Shang’s father has been killed, leaving him as the next in charge. And with the rest of the army dead, they are left as the only ones who can stop the Huns. This knowledge is what propels Mulan into Act Two where she will become a Warrior (in a rather literal sense).

Act Two – Warrior:

In Act One, the protagonist gains a bit of information which shows them what they are up against so they can prepare a plan to fight the main antagonist.

Making a plan – Their plan is to catch up to the Huns and stop them by any means possible. Not much of plan, but alright Shang. Once they get to the pass, the Huns reveal themselves. They have overwhelming numbers but they each hold fast as they were trained. Then Mulan comes up with her crazy plan to create an avalanche to wipe out the Huns.

High Point – And it works! Sure Mulan gets hit by Shan Yu, but the avalanche happens, none of her side are killed, and the Huns are buried under the snow. Victory!

False Victory – But… Mulan is hurt. They discover she is a woman. Shang spares her life for saving theirs, but she is shamed and left there in the snow to contemplate how she is still the same failure as before.

Darkest Moment – In terms of the character arc as well as plot, the darkest moment is the confirmation of how she is an eternal failure and will forever bring shame to her family. She decides it’s time to go home and face the fact that she must accept her duty as a woman and get her act together.

Turning Point into Act Three – Suddenly, the Huns are ‘popping out of the snow like daisies’ as Mushu says. This realisation that the Huns are not dead propels her to continue to the Imperial City. She was just thinking about going home, admitting her wrong-doing, and was moping about how much of a failure she was. Anyone else would have said, they have the army down there. I owe them nothing. What could I possibly do that they can’t? But not Mulan. No, Mulan is transitioning into a Hero in this moment. She picks herself up, dusts herself off, and says she has to at least warn them that the Huns are on their way straight to them.

Act Three – Hero

There’s not much to go into this act. The journey has led to this one moment. It is do or die. There is no turning back now

Second Doorway of No Return – This comes immediately after the Turning Point into Act Three. Mulan has decided she must continue on to the Imperial City to warn people of the presence of the Huns. There is no going back, she has made her decision. But no one will listen to her. Everyone looks at her differently now she is a woman. Shang feels betrayed. But she tells her three companions to keep an eye out, hoping that they would listen to her too.

Climax/Big Boss Battle – But, what do you know, no one heeds her warning. Not properly anyways. The Huns pop out of the dragon, take the Emperor hostage and bar the doors. The remainder of the army are desperately trying to break down the doors, but our Mulan thinks outside of the box. She tells them she has a plan, and they follow her. After all, she is the one who managed to save all their lives back at the pass. They manage to get to the Emperor, distract Shan Yu, and get the Emperor to safety. Mulan reveals herself as the soldier who destroyed most of his army, and so the two of them face off. This is essential. It HAS to be the protagonist who goes up against the main antagonist. It couldn’t be Shang. It couldn’t be the Emperor. It couldn’t be anyone but Mulan. Otherwise, it is not their story. Sure, you can have sidekicks – like Mulan has Mushu and Cri-Kee. But it is Mulan’s plan that is put into action, and it is Mulan who defeats Shan Yu.

Cool Down Moment – I’ve added this one in myself. I wasn’t sure what to call it, so just went with this. You can’t just end with the Big Boss Battle. You have to tie everything up nicely. For Mulan, this comes with the Emperor giving her his medallion and the sword of Shan Yu, which we see her take home to her father. This story is all about honour, and that is all Mulan has ever wanted. To do something that will finally bring honour to her family, especially her father, and make them proud. We see this goal has been accomplished at the end when her father tells her the greatest honour is having her for a daughter. *cries* Then Shang shows up and he is beautifully awkward, a nice change to all the charming princes. And there is a hint that they will end up together. Beautiful.

New Status Quo – This goes hand in hand with the above moment, but I felt it worth pointing out that after the events of the story there needs to be a new status quo. For Mulan, this is her new status as a war hero, just like her father, and her no longer feeling the need to adhere to societal stereotypes where she can only bring honour through marriage. She is allowed to be herself, and is even celebrated for it.

So, that is my little outline for story structure, updated from my Four Part Story Structure post. I hope it all makes sense. Please feel free to drop me a comment if you’re unsure on anything, or just to give your thoughts on it!

The Wound—Because Damaged People Make the BEST Stories

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Many emerging writers come to me when they find they are struggling with their WIP. I always begin with the same question, “What is your story about?” Often, I get this response, “Well, my story isn’t plot-driven. It is a character-driven story.”

Translation?

I have no plot…and please stop asking me because it makes me want to drink heavily.

There really is no such thing as a purely character-driven story. Character and plot are like two keyed cogs. One drives the other. The plot pushes the protagonist to grow and as the character grows, this in turn drives the plot.

For instance, in The Lord of the Rings the plot problem (Toss evil ring in a volcano before power-hungry necromancer takes over Middle Earth) is what forces the Hobbits to leave The Shire. Ah, but once they leave, how they respond to escalating threats determines plot.

For instance, they…

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Story Structure: Part One

So, a while back I wrote a post called Four Part Story Structure. Today, I am going to expand on that with the knowledge I have gained in the past few months.

First off, I am going to explain some terminology that I will use in the structure outline. These are the essential parts of story structure, and we must first understand exactly what these are in order to understand how each one contributes to the story structure overall.

Let’s get straight to it then.

 

Inciting Incident:

This is the moment that changes the protagonist’s life. The ball is set in motion and everything the protagonist knew changes. HOWEVER, this is not the moment where action is taken. This is simply the point at which the main antagonist’s goal first comes into contact with the protagonist’s – and this marks conflict.

 

Doorways of No Return/Turning Points:

Hmm how to describe these… The ‘Doorways of No Return’ are something I learned from James Scott Bell in his book Write Your Novel from the Middle. I liked the idea of the door slamming on the protagonist, with no possibility of returning – they must simply forge on. HOWEVER, this is not exactly the same as Turning Points.

Why did I put them together then? I hear you cry. Well, because two of the Turning Points are the exact same moments as the two Doorways of No Return (though they are not the exact same thing – let me explain).

The First Doorway is the Turning Point into Act One. I wanted to put these together to show how they interact. The Turning Point is the protagonist’s decision to take up the metaphorical sword (or literal depending on your genre) and take action. They don’t yet know what exactly they are up against, but they are taking action none the less. This CHOICE marks the First Doorway. Once this choice has been made, there’s no turning back. The door is firmly closed and the only way is forward. Without the choice, the door remains open. Do you see? I hope this makes sense…

The next Turning Point is into Act Two. This is not a Doorway. Instead, this Turning Point simply marks the place where the protagonist gains new insight into what they are up against. Some little nugget of knowledge is bestowed upon them and now they are coming up with a plan. A real God-honest plan that just may well work.

Our third and final Turning Point is also the Second Doorway of No Return. This comes after the High Point and the Darkest Moment (both of which will be discussed below), and it marks the Turning Point into Act Three – the moment our Warrior turns into a Hero. This is the moment when most people would have packed up and gone home, but not our protagonist. No, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, learn something new about themselves, and carry on straight into the Big Boss Battle. So the Turning Point is the choice to keep going, and then the Doorway comes into play, slamming on them forever with no way back. Makes sense?

 

High Point:

Ok, the High Point is an interesting one. It ties in really nicely with the Darkest Moment. The High Point is when the protagonist is putting their nice little plan into action… And it’s working! And everything seems to be going their way. Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The end is in sight!

Until it’s not. Cue the Darkest Moment.

 

Darkest Moment/Black Moment:

Spoiler alert! The High Point is a false victory. Everything is going peachy… and then something terrible happens and everything not peachy anymore. This is the Darkest Moment. The biggest setback that could ever have happened just happened. The setback to end all setbacks. Everything they just achieved turned to ash before their eyes. This is not a good moment for the protagonist. In fact, it’s their worse moment.

This is when the Turning Point into Act Three kicks in. Once they’ve mourned their greatest setback, and reflected upon themselves and why this setback happened, they get right back up and carry on. They’ve come too far for anything else.

 

Climax/Big Boss Battle:

Now it is do or die. And most likely the protagonist with feel like this is most certainly the case – whether this is a literal death or metaphorical (for example the death of everything they once knew – I’ll explain about this in another post I promise).

The Big Boss Battle is when it comes down to the main antagonist and the protagonist, battling it out. Only one can come out unscathed (well…*). If it’s the protagonist, then we have a happy ending. If it’s the antagonist, we have a tragedy. Either is a viable option. Sometimes you can go half and half, with a bittersweet ending.

*Well… no one is coming out truly unscathed. The story itself makes sure of that. What I mean here is that one must be defeated, leaving the other the victor. In a romance, perhaps unscathed is the right word. But for fantasy, usually the character arc is brutal and the protagonist will be changed, and sometimes not for good. This is where the bittersweet ending can come into it. Maybe the protagonist wins, but it comes at a dire cost. Often that will be the case. But not necessarily.

 

I hope this has all made sense. If not, please feel free to drop me a question and I will try to answer to the best of my ability!

Next time I will put this all together to show how each moment plays out. This time I will use Mulan as the example.

 

Agonising over Antagonists: Part Four

This time we will be looking at forming our antagonist.

It is important that we get to know our antagonists very well as they will be the main source of conflict in our stories.

We must go through pretty much the same process as creating our protagonist – and creating your antagonist may even be a better place to start off since they are the central cause of everything that goes wrong for the protagonist. (This does not necessarily include every scene problem, just the major problems.)

I’ve already outlined the different types of antagonists we can have, and the different levels of antagonists too. If a character, especially an antagonist, is going to be a recurring character, then we need to know them pretty well.

It would probably be a good start to ask yourself some of these questions.

What kind of an antagonist are they?

What are their goals?

Out of these goals, what do they want most?

What motivates them, and drives them to want this goal?

What events in their past have made them the way they are now?

 

Of course, creating a character profile or questionnaire may help you to delve deeper into their past and get into their mind-set. We must remember that in each character’s world, they are the protagonist. This most definitely applies to the antagonists – and most likely our protagonist will be painted as their antagonist in their world.

This is a really useful way to get into an antagonist’s head. Not only looking at their goals, but the people who oppose those goals. What reason do they have to oppose the antagonist? (You could look at that question from both an outside view and from the antagonist’s own view.) What does the antagonist think of those who do oppose their goals? How do they react to not getting what they want, or people opposing what they want?

 

Our antagonist is not going to come out of nowhere with no past, with no backstory. Of course, it is not necessary in a story to tell the reader absolutely everything about the world and its inhabitants, but this information will allow you to shape fully formed people, whose actions happen for a reason. Yes, this even applies to villains – for example, if they are crazy, there must be a reason. Perhaps an event in their past drove them out of their mind, drove them to do what they are doing now? Perhaps you will decide there is no reason – they just are the way they are. But, at least in my opinion, it may help to make them more real and life-like if they were to have a reason for the way they act.

 

Once we know our antagonist a bit better, and we know exactly what it is they want, then it is easier to pinpoint where the antagonist intersects the protagonist’s life – this is the Inciting Incident. Now this can be literally or figuratively.

For example, in the Hunger Games our antagonist is the system itself, but our proxy is President Snow as he represents the system. The Inciting Incident is when Prim’s name is called. When Katniss volunteers in her place, she steps through the ‘Doorway of No Return’. Now she doesn’t meet President Snow here. But the system opposes her goals. Her goal? Make it through the Reaping with no one she knows and cares about being thrust into the arena. The system, however, has other ideas when her sister’s name is called. Now, I know a system can’t literally think – this is a game of chance. There’s no telling whose name will be pulled. But Katniss did everything to make sure Prim’s name did not come up. And yet it did.

This is the perfect point for the Inciting Incident, and the antagonist is clear. Without the system, there would be no games. Without the games, there would be no reaping. Without the reaping, there would be no need for her to volunteer because her sister’s name would never have been called. So, without the system, there is no Inciting Incident, and so there is no conflict, and so there is no story.

Therefore you can see how the antagonist – the system – figuratively intersects with Katniss’s life. The proxy, President Snow, does not literally walk in and try to take Prim. But, by understanding our antagonists we can find the right point to pit them against our protagonist for the first time – and this will also help in finding a good place to start your story.

 

This is going to be last in my mini-series on antagonists, and I hope it has been interesting and maybe even have been useful for some of you.

I want to say, before I end my posts on antagonists, that although I have set out some rules here, most rules are made to be broken. BUT we must first understand the rules, to then understand the affect our deviation will have. Many an author has broken the rules I have outlined, especially regarding antagonists in a series. But you must weigh up the risks that go with breaking such rules. For example, if you do choose to have one antagonist throughout your trilogy, you must understand that each book may not have a conclusive and satisfying end on its own. Yes, this makes for a good cliff-hanger, and will propel people to read on to find out what will happen next. But this may also deter people from continuing to read it. Also, should it happen that you never write that next book, your readers will forever be left hanging, not knowing what will happen next, and never getting a conclusive ending. But those are the risks you must weigh up yourself.

Remember, though, that a defeat does not have to completely ‘destroy’ the antagonist, so it is feasible that they could come back. Take Harry Potter as an example. It is quite clear that in each book (and film) we are, in some way, fighting Voldemort.  And, though he is ‘defeated’ in each book, each ‘defeat’ does not destroy him to the point where he will not come back. So this series is a really good example of that rule being broken.

 

Next time I will be looking into what I have touched on in this post: getting to know our characters. I will delve deeper into how to form our characters, and will outline the ways in which I get under the skin of my own characters. I will look at Points of View, and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. I will look at the ‘Lie they tell themselves’ as promised. And plenty more to go with it all. I hope you will enjoy our little trip inside our characters’ psyches!

 

I would love to hear from you, so please do comment any thoughts you may have on my mini-series on antagonists.

Agonising over Antagonists: Part Three

In a series you need more than one BBT. As each book concludes, your hero needs to defeat bigger and bigger BBTs.

In Zelda you have several different dungeons, and as you go on through the game the BBTs become more and more difficult to defeat.

This is how it should be in your books too.

If you have a trilogy then there should be three BBTs, each more troublesome than the last. And the stakes need to grow too. The hero needs more to lose than ever by the time they reach the end of the third book.

Each book needs a conclusive end, which is why each book needs its own BBT and its own Big Boss Battle. Just like each dungeon in Zelda has its own Boss. If the hero can just walk out and take his prize then it’s boring. Give them something to lose, and give them a BBT who can make that happen, and give them absolutely no out – they have gone through the ‘Door of No Return’, now it is do or die.

Within the game as a whole you can see the examples of this idea about the series of books.

Scene Antagonists

So to begin with we have the little monsters that roam the land, getting in our way along our journey – our Scene Antagonists. They are an inconvenience and, if they strike at the right time, they can bring a whole lot of harm to our hero. (Again, anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’, even friends of our hero.) But they aren’t the main thing we’re worrying about.

There will also be bigger antagonists – the more dangerous monsters – included in the Scene Antagonists category, both roaming the land and milling about the dungeons. Again these are linked to BBT (either delegates of the BBT of the book, or the bigger BBT of the series). These guys cause a lot more harm than the little monsters, but are again not the main worry here.

Emissaries (Book BBTs)

Now here is where it is different to the dungeons. Our dungeon bosses are the Emissaries here, the ones who can do us more harm than the littler everyday monsters, and even the bigger ones, found in the kingdom and in the dungeons too.

These guys can pose as BBTs to throw our hero off course. These guys are the BBTs in each book as the series go on and the hero must face each of them in a Big Boss Battle, and they can do some serious damage too, and even set back the hero should they lose. But again they aren’t the main problem.

Central BBT

Our main BBT in Zelda is Yuga/Ganon, the guy causing all the problems. Now our main BBT has to be introduced in the FIRST BOOK. (Don’t worry, I found this difficult too – my series was going to go on and on, never defeating the antagonist until the end. But we can’t do that!)

He/she cannot just come out of left field. Maybe they aren’t introduced as an antagonist (though it is probably better that they are – but introducing them as just a regular character, but secretly pulling all the strings backstage would add a bit of mystery…) but they have to be brought to the fore AT THE START. And they cannot be the BBT in each book, and the hero will only face off against them in the final Big Boss Battle.

If the hero does face them before the end, THEY MUST LOSE. The story has to show them learning what they need to, and piecing everything together, so that they CAN defeat the BBT in the final battle.

Remember: without our antagonist there is no conflict, and with no conflict there is no book. In Zelda we are introduced to Yuga at the beginning, at the Inciting Incident, and the whole way through we know that we are fighting him at the Big Boss Battle at the end. (Ideally, this would be true of your book too). All the dungeons along the way present smaller BBTs, but we are essentially still fighting him since he is the one who has deployed the Bosses. This must also be true in your story.

 

So to sum that up: In a series…

  • Each scene must have an antagonist. Anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’ for a while. These antagonists cause the small scale conflict, for example, opposing the smaller decisions the hero makes, or maybe it is a representative of the BBT sent to get in the way.
  • Each book must have its own BBT. These can be the representatives of the main BBT. The hero doesn’t realize that they were just a representative until the next book when there is a bigger BBT (again, another representative, until the final book where we the meet the main BBT in the Big Boss Battle to end all Big Boss Battles).
  • There must be an overall BBT of the series, who causes the Inciting Incident, who changes the hero’s world, and is responsible for everything. So, in a trilogy, we are introduced to the BBT in Book One, though maybe we don’t know they are the main BBT. Up to you. But we need to see them at the start (and the whole way through, at least a little, they can’t just disappear for the next two books worth – we must at least hear of them a bit), and the hero needs to face them in the Big Boss Battle to end all Big Boss Battles at the end of the series.

I hope that all makes sense.

Of course, as in all things, there can be exceptions. Perhaps you do have the same BBT for each book. Perhaps he is not defeated in one (making it a tragedy), and then is defeated in the next. Or maybe he is defeated in each one. Being defeated does not necessarily mean the BBT has to be destroyed. But he has to be defeated. He cannot reach his goal. His plans must be thwarted. I think you get the idea.

 

Some explanation on the inciting incident for anyone unfamiliar with the term. Should you want to look more at structure, where I explain this amongst other things, I have done a post on the Four Part Story Structure.

Back to the Inciting Incident. This is the moment that the hero’s life changes – and the BBT (the main one) has to be responsible for this. In Zelda this is when Yuga kidnaps a girl called Seres after turning her into a painting. Link tries to stop him but at the moment he is not strong enough to defeat Yuga. This must also be true in your book – your hero must grow and change, as Link does, to become the ‘true’ hero they need to be to defeat the BBT. If they were to face the BBT at the start, as Link does, then they will fail, as Link does.

Now at this point the BBT has been introduced. We don’t know exactly what he is doing, or what he wants, but we know who it is and we know that whatever they want is bad and conflicts with our hero’s views/goals. But, this is not the moment the hero picks up their sword and goes running off after the BBT. (I mean, technically, Link kind of does, but when he does face the BBT again, he does so too soon and fails. Again.) There must be a conscious choice to take up the metaphorical (or literal depending on your story) sword and go after the BBT. This takes them through the ‘Doorway of No Return’, and they cannot go back to the way things were – and they made the conscious choice to allow that (though circumstances may force their hand). But the Big Boss Battle will not be until the end. If it is any sooner, the hero must fail. (And maybe this does have to happen for the Black Moment… But this is not the Big Boss Battle.)

 

So, that’s it for today. Next time we will be looking at getting to know our antagonists, and how important it is to know them just as well as our protagonists.

 

I would love to hear from you, so please comment with any thoughts you have. I would appreciate your feedback.

Agonising over Antagonists: Part Two

So, to pick up where we left off last time, I just wanted to say that the list of antagonists I had is certainly not an extensive, all-inclusive one. I outlined some of the more common antagonists we would find in stories, and could use in our own. There are plenty of others, but I won’t be listing them today.

As promised, I will instead be looking at the different levels of antagonists.

Now, you may be wondering what I mean by the ‘different levels’. Well, we won’t always have just one antagonist in our story. In fact, it is fairly common to have several antagonists throughout the course of our story. I have narrowed these down to three levels.

The Three Levels of Antagonists

Levels of Antagonists

BBT

First up we have the Main Antagonist. Here we will call them the BBT. This is something I picked up from Kristen Lamb, who’s blog I follow. This means Big Boss Troublemaker. These guys will be the centre of the main conflict of your story, and the force your protagonist is fighting against. Without the BBT, we have no conflict, and so we have no story. Often they will initiate the Inciting Incident, and will definitely be the one we are fighting in the Big Boss Battle at the end.

Referring back to my previous post, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a person.

In Lord of the Rings, for example, the BBT is Sauron.

Emissaries

The next level are the Emissaries of the BBT. These guys are directly linked to the BBT, and are sent by the BBT to cause some serious damage to our protagonist, and generally just oppose the protagonist’s goals. In this case, they would tend to be people. I don’t know how a volcano for example would send emissaries. What would those emissaries be? But anyways…

In a series, these guys can masquerade as the BBT, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Lord of the Rings, the trilogy as a whole, an example of the ‘emissary as the BBT’ idea is Saruman.

Scene Antagonists

The final level are the Scene Antagonists. These guys may or may not be linked to the BBT. They don’t necessarily have to be. They can be any character at all. Anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’, as I like to call it, for a scene or two.

An example of this in Lord of the Rings is where Pippin and Merry would constantly do stupid things that would impede the progress of Frodo in his quest, and set him back from getting to his goal.

Therefore, the Scene Antagonists don’t necessarily have to ‘have it out’ for the protagonist. They could have their best interests at heart, and try to stop the protagonist from doing something they perceive as ‘stupid’ or ‘irrational’. Or, like Pippin and Merry, generally mean well, but mess up and halt progress all the same.

phantom hourglass link

So, I’m going to look at this from a slightly different angle. I’ve been playing Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds recently and it got me thinking about a way to explain these different kinds of antagonists we find in stories.

By looking at an example of a dungeon in the game we can display the different levels of antagonists we can come across in a book (and in this case, we will be looking at a stand-alone book).

The example I am going to use is the Thieves’ Hideout. In this dungeon we must make our way through to rescue a girl who has information we need to save one of the Seven Sages (background info for those who have not played this game – the Seven Sages are used by the BBT Yuga to bring back a baddy called Ganon who he merges with so both are essentially the BBT – Yuga/Ganon I will call him).

So here we find the different levels of antagonist. This can be used to explain a stand-alone book, as well as the first in a series (we’ll come back to explaining a series more fully in a later post).

So first we have all the little monsters that will get in our way around the dungeon. Each poses a threat but are easy enough to vanquish. They could also be the obstacles around the dungeon, for example arrow traps and unexpected moving ledges. These are the first type of antagonist – simply put the people and things that will get in our hero’s way along the journey – the Scene Antagonists.

Anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’ – all that is required is that their interests are in direct conflict with that of the hero. Therefore even friends and allies can wear the ‘antagonist hat’ from time to time. An example of this in Zelda is the girl we are trying to rescue, as she is completely useless and can accidentally fall off places and generally just get in your way when you’re trying to save her. Pfft.

The Scene Antagonists could also be minions (not the yellow kind) of the Emissaries and the BBT.

So next there are, you guessed it, Emissaries. These are the people closer to the BBT and deployed by the Big Guy to do harm to our hero. In Zelda, in the dungeon, these are the bigger monsters who come to take away the girl we’re rescuing. They will cause more harm to our hero than the smaller antagonists, and not just anyone can be these antagonists. They have to be directly linked to the BBT.

As the antagonists get bigger, the stakes are higher (in the book and the game). In the game, if you lose to these antagonists, they will take the girl away and you have to go back to the VERY BEGINNING and find the girl and rescue her again. This represents the damage that an Emissary could do to your protagonist, perhaps even inciting the Black Moment.

Then we have the BBT. In Zelda, in the dungeon (remember we are isolating this to just the dungeon, so Yuga/Ganon is not present here), this is our Boss. This is the biggest monster you have to defeat in the dungeon. And now the stakes are at their highest. You’re so close to the end, you can see the door that leads out of here. But it’s locked shut until you win the Big Boss Battle. It’s all or nothing. If you get defeated here (and run out of fairies to revive you), you have to go ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE BEGINNING. Which is annoying and soul destroying – as it will be for your hero if they lose (they don’t always have to win, though it does make for a nicer ending if they do).

 

Next time I will look at how this template differs from that of a series, and why it MUST be different, even if only slightly.

I would love to hear from you, so please feel free to comment with your thoughts.

P.S. In case you were wondering, yes I did struggle with that dungeon. Yes, it was soul-destroying every time that girl got caught and I had to start to start again. And yes, the Boss was one of the most difficult ones in the game, and I hated having to start over EVERY TIME! But I did it, and I completed the game, so it’s all good.

Agonising over Antagonists: Part One

Antagonists are the core of any story. They are the ones who set the inciting incident into motion. They are the ones providing resistance and conflict in the protagonist’s life. It is essential to understand our antagonist to understand our story, because it will fundamentally be the antagonist’s and our protagonist’s goals opposing that will create the major conflict of the story.

Today I’m going to go over some basic types of antagonists to start this little mini-series off.

Not all antagonists are made equal. We have several different varieties of antagonist, kind of like a box of chocolates.

Villains

Let’s start off with an obvious one: the villain. Villains are pretty standard as antagonists go.

Now, many think that the antagonist and the villain are one and the same. At times, this can be true. It’s kind of like hot tubs. All Jacuzzis are hot tubs, but not all hot tubs are Jacuzzis. This is the same with villains: All villains are antagonists, but not all antagonists are villains.

So what differentiates them from other antagonists?

Let’s look at some definitions first.

Villains: ‘evil’ character intent on hurting others.

Antagonists: a character (but not always) who opposes the actions of the protagonist.

From these definitions alone we can see that what separates them is ‘intention’, or in other words ‘motivation’.  We can see that while the villain has the goal to cause harm, the antagonist’s goal is to oppose the protagonist. So, whilst the villain can have both goals as an antagonist, not all antagonists will have the goal to harm.

Most important of all is that (usually) they will be blind to their own villainy.

Anti-Villains

These guys are like villains in that they are ‘evil’ and cause harm to our protagonists, but they have one big difference. They don’t see that they are causing harm, in fact they think rather the opposite. They believe they are doing a service to others, and actually, deep down, seem to set out with good intentions. However, their way of getting to the ‘doing good’ bit is evil and they cause harm none the less. Even their personality may not come across as ‘evil’ at times – they are not so much an evil person rather the things they do to achieve their goals are evil.

As an antagonist, they will oppose the protagonist at almost every turn, with their goal in direct conflict with the hero, believing the hero to be the antagonist in their own story, after all they are the ones with heroic goals (in their minds).

The Envious Antagonist

These guys are not evil like their villainous counterparts. They are pretty ordinary people. And, as their name suggests, their opposition to our protagonists comes from envy. This is an ordinary emotion that most (if not all) of us will have experienced at one point or another. This envy will drive them to treat others, mainly the protagonist, in a bad way simply out of spite.

These antagonists will often seem to have it all: popularity, beauty, wealth, everything. But deep down they are hiding their own personal insecurities behind it all.

The Ethical Antagonists

These antagonists are also not evil, and are driven once again by emotions. This time, though, it is their morality. Now that may seem quite good. And it is. To a point. Hey, these guys could even masquerade as heroes!

Which is why they are so concerning.

They aren’t evil, in fact they are very good. But they are good to a fault, taking it to the extreme, putting themselves on a self-appointed mission to save everyone. This could include or be in spite of our protagonists – ergo putting them in the frame as an antagonist. And as soon as their goals come into conflict with the protagonist’s? We have a problem.

It is important to note that these antagonists provide the perfect opportunity to explore moral grey areas, since their moral code will adhere to that of society, but also mustn’t match up with our protagonist’s moral code somewhere along the line. And out of nowhere comes conflict. Moral conflict. Beautiful.

 

Most importantly, each of these antagonists MUST believe they are the protagonist of their own story. This is not just reserved for the Anti-Villain. Each one of them has their own goals, which they believe in fully. So when our protagonist comes skipping along, and gets in their way, our protagonist becomes the antagonist in their story. So, this conflict works both ways, though it will be told from the protagonist’s standpoint.

 

Antagonists don’t always have to be people either. There are three other types of antagonist.

Person vs. Self

In this example, the protagonist must face something internal, for example alcoholism or drug addiction, coping with betrayal, even (taking it back to the ethical antagonist) being good to a fault and always helping others to the detriment of themselves.

Often we will find that this internal conflict will be represented externally by a person. But the main conflict is against themselves. This also relates to the ‘lie they tell themselves’ (I’ll make a post on this at a later point to elaborate).

It is also common to find a bit of this in most stories, though it won’t be the central antagonistic force. The protagonist will often have to overcome some internal battle with their fatal flaw in order to be able to defeat their antagonist at the end.

Person vs. Nature

This is a different kind of antagonistic force, often one that cannot be defeated but simply has to be endured. For example, the protagonist gets stuck in a snow storm and fights to survive, or escaping a sudden volcano eruption, or a tsunami. Natural disasters tend to be the theme here. There is no personification of this antagonist.

Person vs. Society

This tends to be the protagonist having a problem with the status quo. The Hunger Games is a good example of this because Katniss is against the idea of society putting all these kids into an arena to fight to the death – and so, over the course of the series, rebels against this system.

Everyone is in the character’s way in this example, yet ‘everyone’ is not the problem. ‘Everyone’ just goes along with the way things are, after all what can they do? But our protagonist is the one who fights against that, finding issue with the system. But often they are not exactly fighting against a person, per se, but the society and how things are done.

Often the antagonistic force will be represented by a person. In The Hunger Games this is President Snow.

 

That’s enough for one day I think.

Next time I will be looking at the different levels of antagonist, and how these differing levels can play out in our stories.

As a side note, if you want to know more about the ‘lie the character tells themselves’, or as it is also put ‘the lie that the character believes’, I would suggest taking a look at K. M. Weiland’s post on it at the following link: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/character-arcs-2/

Four Part Story Structure

So, this is my first post on writing craft and I thought I would go for the jugular: structure.

A lot of the problems that can occur when writing a story come from structure. This is why it is essential to know the fundamental elements that go into a story. The fundamental elements are pretty much non-negotiable, especially for beginners. Yes, the rules can be broken. But we must first understand the rules in order to understand why we are breaking them, and what purpose that would serve the story.

I have created an outline, using the Hunger Games as an example, to demonstrate these fundamental elements in action. I have used the Four Part Story Structure outline which is very common in writing craft. In plays (and films) we usually have three acts, but in fiction there are now commonly four acts. This is because the ‘set up’ or ‘status quo’ part is included in larger effect. However, in YA (Young Adult) fiction the set-up is usually a lot less pages than other genres as usually we get straight into the action with the Inciting Incident.

I have used this idea as set out by Steve Windsor in his book Nine Day Novel – Outlining. I then added the idea of what James Scott Bell calls a ‘doorway of no return’ in his book Write Your Novel from the Middle as I liked this idea of forcing the characters through a doorway which would then be shut on them, forcing them forward to deal with the problem, with no way back to the ‘status quo’. I also added the ‘mirror moment’ he demonstrates at the middle of the novel. And voila – you have an outline.

The Hunger Games, in my opinion, has quite a simple-but-effective story-line, therefore making it easier to dissect. So, a warning to anyone who has not read the Hunger Games book, or seen the film: there will be spoilers! But if you haven’t seen, or read, it by now: are you living under a rock? (Jokes.)

Some terminology first.

Inciting Incident – the moment the protagonist’s (main character – our hero) life changes. This moment is when the ball is set in motion and everything the protagonist once knew changes.

As an example, in romance this would be when the girl meets the guy (or vice versa).

As a generic example, take Disney’s Mulan. The inciting incident here is when her father is called upon to go to war. Now, you might think, isn’t it when she decides to take his place in the army? Short answer: no. The inciting incident brings about the choice. The choice itself is the first ‘doorway of no return’. Now that I’m getting to thinking about this, I might do another example using Mulan too…

Anyways, the point is, the inciting incident brings about change. The protagonist then has a choice as to whether they take up the challenge or not. This choice comes after the inciting incident.

 

  1. Set Up/Status Quo
  • – Opening scenes – Prim is worried about the reaping and that she’ll be chosen and Katniss is comforting her.
  • – Killer hook – the reaping – we now want to know what it is and once we do we want to know who will be chosen.
  • – Inciting Incident – Prim’s name is called.
  • – First doorway – choice to accept the challenge – no going back – Katniss volunteers as tribute to save her sister: she is now a tribute, she cannot escape that (conscious decision to volunteer)
  • – Hero’s world changes – she is now leaving for the Hunger Games

 

  1. Reaction
  • – Run for your life – trying to survive in the games
  • – Figure out what you’re up against – figuring out who the competition is, who to avoid, who she can ally with, and how best to survive.

 

  1. Resolve
  • – Turn and fight back – when she and Rue have joined forces and decide to ruin the competition’s food supply
  • – Lose – Rue is killed
  • – Hero’s world changes again (Black moment – they lost and now they feel like they’ll never get back up again) – she can’t process that Rue died.

 

  1. Climax
  • – Hero accepts reality (mirror moment – reflects on themselves, what has changed, what needs to change, and what they need to do) – she realises (once it is announced that two people from the same district can win together) that she has to find Peeta – realises that what is important is getting out of the games alive not wallowing in grief
  • – Second doorway – the setback that makes the resolution possible – Katniss and Peeta have made it and are the last ones left, but are then told that the new rule has been revoked and now one must die so there can be a winner.
  • – Final battle scene – Big Boss Battle – this is the final fight, she defies them and chooses to threaten that both will win or both will die – use of the poisonous berries.
  • – New equilibrium – they are out of the games and crowned victors, but she is now viewed as a threat to the system by President Snow and has to now deal with a life where she will constantly be watched as both a celebrity and a threat.

 

So that’s my take on the Four Part Story Structure. Remember, it’s important to know and understand the rules before we break them. But it is always better to follow them as this kind of structure is what readers are used to, so it is what they will expect.

If you want to take a look at the books I referred to, both are available on Amazon. Naturally, they will both explain their thoughts far better than I, and both go more in depth too.

Steve Windsor, Nine Day Novel – Outlining

James Scott Bell, Write Your Novel from the Middle

Welcome to my little corner of the internet!

Hello there, passing stranger. Please, do come in and make yourself at home. Welcome to my blog: Me, my books, and I.

So, for a while now I have wanted to start a blog. To be perfectly honest, I did start a couple, then abandoned them. I never knew what to write about. Then it hit me. Writing. I should write about writing craft.

Am I an expert on writing craft? Certainly not. But I am learning. And I do feel that what I have learned so far has helped to make me a better writer. So, I wanted to share the things I have learned so that it might help other writers in the way it helped me. Some of these things may seem pretty basic, and obvious, to begin with – and to be honest, they did to me too – but these basic building blocks are so fundamental to a story that we have to fully understand them and appreciate the nuances that go into the craft that is writing.

This blog, therefore, will be primarily for those just starting off, or who feel they need a bit more clarification when it comes to writing craft, though I absolutely welcome the old hats at this game to my little corner of the internet (please help us newbies). There are so many elements and it can be incredibly tricky to strike the right balance of incorporating them all into your story. But fear not! Once I know how to do that myself, I will tell you… Just wait, it could be any day now.

A lot of what I now know, obviously, comes from others. I will indicate what books and blogs have helped me in certain areas, and combine all the ideas and thoughts of different writers and put forth my take on it all. And I will try to piece together the big picture of this craft we call writing.

Ok, I’m going to get real for a moment. Brace yourselves.

Before I started to take all this seriously and read more on writing craft, I was one of those people (we have all been this person at one point or another, I think – don’t lie to me!) who thinks that having a good grasp on English as my native language would be enough to be a writer. I was wrong. So wrong. There are so many components that go into good story-telling, just being able to write relatively well does not cut it. Even if you are able to produce the most beautiful prose known to man, that will not be enough to produce a great story. But that’s ok, because there are plenty of blogs and craft books out there to help us! From what I’ve read, good prose is not as important as a good story – after all, it’s the story that will make the reader the stay.

I hope that at least a few people will find this blog useful. If there are any questions on anything, or even any topics or specific areas that anyone would like me to go over in one of my posts, then don’t hesitate to ask – and I will do my best to give my take on it.