Friday, March 31, 2006

Screenwriting Tips

Here is a cool and simple article on writing screenplays.  A good
read for
even non-screenwriters. Enjoy :)

Screenwriting Tips from a Screenplay Contest Judge
by Gordy Hoffman

After cracking hundreds of screenplays sent into the BlueCat Screenplay
Competition, the same problems in the execution of the story and script
continue to
emerge. Here is a general overview of these persistent issues.

Do you realize what you're saying??

In the theatre, they read plays aloud over and over in the process of
development, and one of the reasons they do this is to hear the
dialogue. When
I hear dialogue in my head, it might sound very good, but then when I
hear a
person actually speak it, I often have an impulse to jump in front of a
And over and over and over and over, when I read screenplay entries to
I am immediately dismayed when the characters start speaking. Excellent
everything else, awful dialogue. And I often wonder if the writer has
heard the lines they have written for their characters out loud. Either
read the
whole thing aloud to yourself, or even better, get a group of your
friends to
read it. You do not need professional actors to evaluate dialogue. Just
excited to help. Videotape it. I have videotaped readings, and then sat
and worked out an entire rewrite off the tape, addressing every single
that bothered me. Which leads me to another thing.


It's hard to pass a screenplay on to industry contacts if an unfunny
joke is
sitting in the middle of page two. It’s highly difficult if there’s
twelve by
page five. You might have a payoff in your third act that would break
heart, but if your jokes are poor, the heart of your audience will be
probably resentful, and your work will be recycled. Please try your
humor out. If
your beats aren’t funny to some people, rewrite. Trust a truly
hilarious bit is
coming. Think of the patience you need to muster through this writing
as courage, because it is.
If you find you are not funny, write a script that is not funny. Many,
great scripts are not funny, as we all know.


Do you think the development people in Los Angeles, basically the
people in the film industry, will not be annoyed and continue to read
script when you have misspelled three words in the first five pages?
Perhaps. How
do you feel when you're reading something and you find misspelled
words? How
does your attitude shift towards the author? Exactly. If you don't
think many
scripts have this problem, start a screenwriting competition.


Try to limit your scene description. When a person opens your script,
many INCHES of action slug are they looking at on page one? Is there
anyway you
can convey what you want us to SEE with less words? I always go back
and CUT
CUT CUT to prevent my screenplay from fatiguing my reader with excess
words as
they try to listen for my story. Do we need to know what necklace
someone is
wearing? We all understand making motion pictures is collaborative. I
strive to
let the art department and the costumer and the prop master and so on
JOB by not making their decisions in the screenplay, because I have
passion for it and don’t do it well. They will make their own
choices, and most
likely better ones, so why bother? Always use fewer words to say the

It's not show and tell, it's show not tell.

I constantly find myself being told something by the screenplay the
viewer of
the film will not be aware of. Screenplays are not literature. They are
assembled to describe what motion pictures will play out on the screen.
Telling us a character is a jealous person is passive and dull. Showing
a character
in an act of jealousy is more effective and essentially cinematic. Let
words and actions of your characters carry your story. This is not
easy. You
want the actor or director to understand what you want and what you
mean. Allow
the description of physical actions and the recording of spoken words
the narrative to the filmmakers. The script will read faster and offers
reader a richer opportunity to imagine and discover.

The Joy of Making Things Up.

I really cherish the idea, that as a writer, I can make things up. If I
the guy to say something, all I have to do is type it. But I have to
against creating characters and interactions amongst characters derived
movies I have watched and television I have seen. I often find myself
writing a
scene only to realize I'm not drawing from my imagination or my own
experience or my observations of people, I'm drawing from the millions
of hours of
observing actors play human beings on television and in movie theaters.
because I’m writing a “MOVIE,” it is even more difficult, because
I’m fighting
against a subconscious or unconscious observation that this is "how
people act
in movies." Stop yourself and ask, would this happen on planet Earth?
Do I
know how people from Miami really speak? What would a person actually
say if they
had a gun in their face? Can you possibly imagine what could happen?
This is
your opportunity to be truly imaginative. Answer your own expectations
original work. A mature writer develops a strong capacity to recognize
and reject
the false.


Forced exposition. This is when a brother tells a sister on page two
that he
will be attending a school which dad wouldn't pay for because he bought
a farm
that the whole family will be moving to tomorrow because he found that
city was a really bad place to live in after mom was really scared
because of
that mugging thing that happened after they came back from the sister's
graduation from high school. When characters engage in an unbelievable
about matters in which they would be familiar with, or when they
something completely out of nowhere simply to inform the audience of
key facts
crucial to their understanding of the movie, you have a problem. This
exposition will not be seen as genuine human behavior and will detach
your audience
from the emotional current of your story. Exposition is necessary and
difficult to execute. Be careful how you offer information crucial to
your story at
the start of your screenplay. This is a common problem in early drafts.
Exposition needs to be seamless and graceful.


You know what? Go get a script and copy what you think it looks like
you'll be fine. Trust me. Spec scripts are sitting on desks all over
Hollywood and
their format is not consistent at all. Getting crazy about format sells
screenwriting software. I use two tab settings and copied stuff from a
book and not
one person in the film industry has ever said a thing to me in ten
years. But
if your script looks like a book, or a poem, or a magazine article,
screenplay format is wrong. Just make it look a little like a movie
script, and if
it kicks ass, guess what.

So do you.

Gordy Hoffman

Article URL:Â

About the Author
Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film
for LOVE LIZA, Gordy Hoffman has written and directed three digital
shorts for
Fox Searchlight. He made his feature directorial debut with his script,
OF SNOW, which world premiered at the 2005 Locarno International Film
Festival. He is also the founder of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.
Dedicated to
develop and celebrate the undiscovered screenwriter, BlueCat provides
screenplay analysis on every script entered. In addition, Gordy offers
screenwriters personalized feedback on their scripts through his
consultation service,

Copyright © 2006 BlueCat Screenplay Competition
The information on this page may not be reproduced, republished or
on another webpage or website without the permission of the author.Â

[This message contained attachments]

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Call for Submissions

Cornrows, Double-Dutch, & Black Girl Blues:
Words and Images of Black Girlhood in America
Photos by Delphine Fawundu-Buford
Edited by Ibi Aanu Zoboi

From sitting in between Mama's legs holding a jar of grease while she plaits your hair to confronting that new girl at the playground because she was talking about you behind your back, Cornrows, Double-Dutch, & Black Girl Blues will spark the tender memories of girlhood shared by black women across the country. No Shirley Temples and pink laden tea parties here; just sassy attitude, big bold smiles, beautiful brown skin, all rhythm, and sometimes blues. The words will evoke the preciousness and fragility of a black girl, while reminding you of the resilience and determination of a proud, budding black woman. The images will make you wonder at the magic of a black girl's rhythm, the precision of the intricate lines, twists, and turns of her cornrows, and her swift agility as she skips to each beat of the telephone wire jump rope hitting against the concrete sidewalk. The collection will move you to tears as you realize the challenges that black girls in America face, from poverty and violence to negative stereotypes and lack of role models.

Cornrows, Double-Dutch, & Black Girl Blues will feature the beauty, the innocence, and the charm of African American girls. The interviews, essays, stories, and poems will be reflections of women looking back on their girlhood days, girls capturing their own essence, and elders advising their daughters on the importance, the dignity, and the spirit of a black woman in the making.

The editor seeks submissions that speak to the experience of the black girl aged 7 through 12 in America. Currently, this is a closed invitation to women who either work closely with young black girls or writers who can contribute an intriguing memoir. Once we have secured a publisher, an open call will be sent out to young girls across the country to submit short poems.

Topics should include, but are not limited to:

• Playground Culture: rope games ("Jack Be Nimble", "All In Together"), hand games (Uno, Dos, y Trece mispronounced), hopscotch, confrontations, and fights (one-on-one or the ever so taboo "jump").
• Sunday Best : frilly party dresses, Easter bonnets, and patent leather Mary Janes and fold over socks with the laces at the fringes (you just knew you were too cute!).
• Bows, Clips, & Bobos: girlhood hairstyles and accessories (colorful plastic barrettes, bows that were burnt at the ends so they don't fray, and bobos or bubbles that you pulled out from their bands to use them as marbles), hair grease brands (did DAX really get your hair to grow to your shoulders?), wooden brushes (it sure hurt your knuckles when you got hit with it for touching your hair before it was done), and the array of combs with the gunk between the teeth from all that grease.
• Brown Sugar and Hot Spice : sweet sayings and harsh words from mothers, grandmothers, and teachers.
• Honey, I Love: first crushes and famous heartthrobs (Smokey Robinson, young Michael Jackson, New Edition).
• I Am My Sista: images and characters of black girls in the media (Penny, a very young Janet Jackson on "Good Times", Dee from "What's Happening", Rudy from "The Cosby Show").
• Sister to a Sista: best friends, betrayals, bullies, & backstabbing.
• Blossoming: the onset of puberty, fascination with budding breasts, first period, and discovering sexuality.
• Daddy's Little Girl: memories of daddy, the absence of a father and/or a grandfather, or the presence of uncles, stepfathers, or mommy's boyfriend.
• Grandma's Hands: memories of and the relationship with Grandma.
• Mama Says: girlhood memories of and the relationship with Mama.

Length: Essays should be no more than 1,000 words. Poems should be no more than 1 page.

Content: We would like pieces that give snapshots into one of the topics above. Essays should be first person, non-fiction narratives. We want to hear your story. Poems should address one of the topics above. We want to avoid essays or poems that address black girlhood in general. Pieces that pinpoint a specific aspect of black girlhood are preferred.

Format: Essays and poems should be typewritten and double-spaced on white paper in 12-point size. Include all contact information (name, address, telephone number, e-mail address) on a separate sheet of paper with a bio, age, and where you spent most of your girlhood (city and state). Name should appear on the top right hand corner of the first page of your submission.

Please e-mail submissions to:

Deadline: Submissions must be received by April 15, 2006.

Response & Payment: All accepted entries will be notified by June 1, 2006. Payment will be determined once we have secured a publisher. You will be notified when that happens.

About the Photographer:

Delphine Fawundu-Buford has over ten years of experience as a photographer. She has been featured in the photography anthologies Black: A Celebration of a Culture and Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers from 1840 - Present by Deborah Willis. Her most notable photograph graced the cover of the companion book to the Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibition Committed to The Image: Contemporary Black Photographers. She has also contributed to magazines such as Vibe , The Source, Essence and Honey. Her works were also featured in the critically acclaimed exhibitions Only Skin Deep at the International Center of Photography and Open: Artist Working in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Of Sierra Leone and Guinea, West African parentage, she was born and raised in Brooklyn where she resides with her husband and three sons.

About the Editor:

Ibi Aanu Zoboi is a writer and storyteller born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and raised in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, her short story, Old Flesh Song, is published in the groundbreaking sequel, Dark Matter: Reading the Bones , a collection of African American speculative fiction. She has received an award from the Women Writers of Haitian Descent for her story At the Shores of Dawn, and was a "Tricky Talker of the Year", an annual tall-tale contest held by the Afrikan Folk Heritage Circle, the New York chapter of the National Association of Black Storytellers. She has been a mentor and workshop provider for girls in Harlem and Brooklyn for the past five years and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, visual artist Joseph Zoboi, and her two daughters.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Date this chart was completed:
Character's Full Name:
Reason or meaning of name:
Nickname: Reason for nickname:
Astrological Sign:


Age: How old does s/he appear?
Eye Color: Glasses or contacts:
Weight: Height:
Type of body/build:
Skin tone: Skin type:
Shape of face: Distinguishing Marks:
Predominant feature:
Hair color:
Distinguishable hair feature (bald,
receding hairline, etc.):
Type of hair (coarse, fine, thick, etc?)
Character's typical hairstyle:
Looks like:
Is s/he healthy?
If not, why not:
Physical disabilities:


Character's favorite color:
Character's least favorite color:
Favorite Music:
Least favorite Music:
Mode of transportation:
Daredevil or cautious?
Same when alone?

Smokes: What?
When and how much?
Drinks: What?
When and how much?
How does character spend a rainy day?


Type of childhood:
First memory:
Most important childhood event that still affects him/her:


Relationship with her:
Relationship with him:
How many? Birth order:
Relationship with each:
Children of siblings:
Extended family?
Close? Why or why not?


Character's greatest fear:
What is the worst thing that could happen to him/her?
What single event would most throw character's life in complete turmoil?
Character is most at ease when:
Most ill at ease when:
Depressive or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?
How s/he feels about self:
Past failure s/he would be embarrassed to have people know about:
If granted one wish, what would it be?


Greatest source of strength in character's personality (whether s/he sees it as
such or not):
Greatest source of weakness in character's personality (whether s/he sees it as
such or not:
Character's soft spot:
Is this soft spot obvious to others?
If not, how does character hide it?
Biggest vulnerability:


Optimist or pessimist: Why?
Introvert or extrovert: Why?
Drives and motivations:
Extremely skilled at:
Extremely unskilled at:
Good characteristics:
Character flaws:
Biggest regret:
Minor regrets:
Biggest accomplishment:
Minor accomplishments:
Character's darkest secret:
Does anyone else know?
If yes, did character tell them?
If no, how did they find out?


One word CHARACTER would use to describe self:
One paragraph description of how CHARACTER would describe self:
What does CHARACTER consider best physical characteristic?
What does CHARACTER consider worst physical characteristic?
Are these realistic assessments?
If not, why not?
How CHARACTER thinks others perceive him/her:
What four things would CHARACTER most like to change about self? (#1 most
important, #2 second most important, etc.)
If change #1 was made, would character be as happy as s/he thinks?
If not, why not?


Is character divorced?
Has character ever cheated on signficant other?
How does character relate to others?
How is s/he perceived by...
How does character view hero/heroine?
First impression: Why?
What happens to change this perception?
What do family/friends like most about character?
What do family/friends like least about character?


Immediate goals:
Long range goals:
How does character plan to accomplish these goals?
How will other characters be affected?


How character reacts in a crisis:
How character faces problems:
Kinds of problems character usually runs into:
How character reacts to NEW problems:
How character reacts to change:


Favorite clothing: Why?
Least favorite clothing: Why?
Other accessories:
Where does character live?
Where does character want to live?
Spending habits (frugal, spendthrift, etc): Why?
What does s/he do too much of?
Too little of?
Most prized possession: Why?
Play musical instrument? Which?
How did s/he learn?


Person character secretly admires:
Person character was most influenced by:
Most important person in character's life before story starts:
How does character spend the week before the story starts?


· Page Information

o Margins -- 1.5 inches all the way around

o Font -- Courier, Courier New, or other clean monospace serif font from 10-12 pt. (I use 12 pt. Dark Courier.)

o Line spacing -- Double-space

o Paragraph indent -- first line, 5 pt.

o Header -- right justified, contains the following information:

Last name/ TITLE/ page#

A header does not belong on the cover page. Start headers on page one of the actual manuscript.

· Cover page -- depends on whether you're agented or not.

o Unagented:

§ Contact information -- Name and address, phone number and e-mail address in the top left corner of the page, single spaced, left-justified
§ Title -- centered, just above the middle of the page
§ by -- centered and one double-spaced line beneath the title
§ Name or pen name -- centered and one double-spaced line beneath the word by
§ Word count -- centered and rounded to the nearest thousand, one double-spaced line beneath your name or pen name

o Agented:

§ Title -- centered, just above the middle of the page
§ by -- centered and one double-spaced line beneath the title
§ Name or pen name -- centered and one double-spaced line beneath the word by
§ Word count -- centered and rounded to the nearest thousand, one double-spaced line beneath your name or pen name
§ Agent's contact information -- Name, business name, mailing address, phone number (e-mail address if you have the agent's okay first), left justified, single spaced, bottom of the page

· First page

o Header -- should be in the upper right-hand corner of the page, and page number should be 1.

o Chapter header -- can be anywhere from one to six double-spaced lines down from the top of the page, and can be centered or left justified. You can title your chapters, or just write Chapter One or Chapter 1.

o Body text -- drop down two double-spaced lines to begin your story.

o Scene breaks -- drop down two double-spaced lines, insert and center the # character, drop down two more double-spaced lines, and begin your new scene.

o Subsequent chapters -- start each chapter on a fresh page. Keep chapter formatting and titling consistent with your first chapter.
Short work
· Page Information

o Margins -- 1.5 inches all the way around

o Font -- Courier, Courier New, or other clean monospace serif font from 10-12 pt. (I use 12 pt. Dark Courier.)

o Line spacing -- Double-space

o Paragraph indent -- first line, 5 pt.

o Header -- right justified, contains the following information:

Last name/ TITLE/ page#

A header does not belong on the title page. Start headers on page two of the actual manuscript. First labeled page number should be 2.

· Cover page

o Do not use a cover page with short work, either fiction or non-fiction

· First page

o Contact information -- Name and address, phone number and e-mail address in the top left corner of the page, single spaced, left-justified

o Word count -- top line, right justified (you'll have to do this with a table if you're working with a word processor), either exact count, or rounded to the nearest ten

o Title -- drop down four double-spaced lines, centered

o by -- centered and one double-spaced line beneath the title

o Name or pen name -- centered and one double-spaced line beneath the word by

o Body of the story or article -- drop down two lines and begin.

o Scene or section breaks -- drop down two double-spaced lines, insert and center the # character, drop down two more double-spaced lines, and begin your new scene.

· Second and subsequent pages

o Header -- should be in the upper right-hand corner of the page, and page number should be 2.

o Body text -- begins on the first line, doublespaced throughout.

Outlining through Character

Effectively Outlining Your Plot
by Lee Masterson

Have you ever had an idea for a novel, and then just sat down and began writing without knowing exactly where the story was going?

It happens to everyone at some point, but most people begin to realize that the events in your plotline get confused, or forgotten in the the thrill of writing an exciting scene. There are those who continue to write on, regardless, fixing any discrepancies as they work, or (worse!) those who do not check that events are properly tied in place to bring their stories to a satisfying conclusion.

And then there are those writers who believe that creating a plot-outline is tantamount to "destroying the natural creative process". The belief is simple; by writing it out in rough form, you've already told the story, so the creative side of you will not want to write it again.

Whichever type of writer you are, creating a simple, inelegant outline to follow s not the same thing as already writing the story, and it could save you an enormous amount of time and rewriting later.

The purpose of an outline in this case is to be certain that your storyline is not straying too far from the original idea. It is also a useful tool if you need to determine if your idea is big enough to be developed into a novel-length work, and not left as a short story or novella.

Your outline should be a simple reminder that, no matter how many events or characters or situations arise, your main theme will never get lost in the jumble of scenes.

Of course, this brings us to the problem to what was discussed above. There are writers who have a tendency to over-plot, thus really killing any spontaneity as far as the writing process goes. The biggest difficulty here is forcing your characters to go through motions that may not fit into their personality make-up simply to fit into your pre-existing, overly planned plotline.

So how do you strike a fair balance between aimless writing and over-plotting?

There are several ways to accomplish this.

Synopsis First

This is the technique I use most frequently when writing novel-length pieces of work. I find that, by writing a basic synopsis for the completed novel before it is begun, I have an understanding of where the story will end before I even start. It also helps to organize where each character should be, and what he or she needs to do to get certain points across.

Basically, a good synopsis will encompass the major plot points of a novel, without going into any detail about the setting, characters or dialogue, but still showing what happens to propel the story forward. A plot outline is even less detailed than a synopsis.

This method does not strangle the creative process. Even though you know what is going to happen at the end, you still have all the freedom in the world to create the individual scenes that will get your characters through to that climax.

In an outline, a note to yourself which reads "Hero catches bad guy" could actually take several pages of action to tell. Don't be tempted to leave a note for yourself which reads: "Hero sticks foot out and trips bad guy, who falls into the room and drops his gun, the rolls over and..."

You would have already written the creativity out of it - almost.

A basic outline also gives you the benefit of letting you see at a glance whether or not that "extra" scene will fit into the grand scheme of things, or whether it will only bog down your story. This saves a lot of time later down the track in the editing stage.

Chapter-by-Chapter Guide

Writing a simple one- or two-sentence outline for each chapter will help to maintain a focus for where each chapter must end up. This method is particularly useful if you are the type of writer who meanders through events, allowing the characters to take you in any direction they wish to go, or if you never quite seem to know when a chapter should end.

Separate each chapter into distinct parts of your story, and be sure you don't allow a chapter to end until you've reached the resolution you originally set out to achieve.

This method also ends the tendency to end a chapter way too soon. There's absolutely nothing worse than reading a 200 page book which has more than 50 short chapters, where only a few of which ever reach any kind of culmination.

This method is not a simple as the first two. Creating a marvellously complex character structure, and then knowing that your Hero needs to live through specific experiences to end up the changed person he or she becomes in the end is a great way to keep events organized within your story.

The problem with this method, is that a less-experienced writer may be lured by the temptation to add "just one more" conflict for the protagonist to overcome. And then another. And another.

This convolutes a plotline, weakens a character and confuses a reader.

By knowing in advance how your events must unfold in order to reach the climax, you will drastically increase your chances of completing a first draft of a novel. You still maintain the element of surprise in that you would not have written the "nuts and bolts" of the scene, even though you had the benefit of knowing what the overall outcome will be.

Writing a Novel Synopsis

Who needs a synopsis?
Anyone beginning a novel, contemplating one, or who has just completed one.
When is the best time to write the synopsis--before or after the book is written?
Either time can work. You can write your synopsis first, before you even begin to write the book. This will help you with your plotting and the synopsis can be a guide for you while you write. It is much easier, by the way, to write a synopsis before you write the book. You don't get bogged down in all the details, mainly because you aren't aware of all the details yet. Of course, what often happens is that once the book is finished, you need to go back and change your synopsis. The book will probably take on a life of its own and there is no reason you have to follow your initial synopsis to the "T. But you might find the rewrite much easier when you have an initial synopsis to work with.
There is another reason to write a synopsis before you write the book. Once you already have an agent and you are discussing future projects, you can present your ideas in this one-page synopsis format for your agent to look at and give her opinion on.
What is a synopsis?
1) It's a narrative summary of your book--with feeling.
2) It's written in present tense.
3) It's written in third person.
4) It's written in the same style of writing your book is written in. If your book is "chatty," then your synopsis is, too. If your book is serious, literary, filled with dialect, or any other style, so must your synopsis be.
5) The synopsis introduces your main characters and their main conflicts, all woven together in the narrative. (It does not list your characters.)
6) Weaving, by the way, is important. One paragraph should flow logically to the next. If you are switching ideas, you need to make sure you build in a transition to connect your paragraphs.
7) You do not have to include every character or every scene, plot point, or subplot in your synopsis. But your synopsis should give a clear idea as to what your book is about, what characters we will care about (or dislike), what is at stake for your heroes, what they stand to lose, and how it all turns out.
8) Yes, you must put the conclusion to your novel in your synopsis. No cliffhangers or teasers. Agents and editors want to know that you know how to successfully conclude your story. (Often agents don't read the synopsis until after they've read the entire ms--but not always.)

Synopsis Format

In the upper left hand corner you should have the following info:Synopsis of "Title here"Genre:.................Word count:By__________ Single space your synopsis.
(Synopses longer than one page should be double-spaced.) Its paragraphs are usually indented, with no spaces between paragraphs. You do not use a cover page or any fancy headings or fonts.

Synopsis Checklist:

Does the opening paragraph have a hook to keep the reader reading?
Are your main characters' conflicts clearly defined?
Are your characters sympathetic?
Can the reader relate to them and worry about them?
Have you avoided all grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes?
Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book?Did you resolve all important conflicts?
Did you use present tense?


How to Avoid the Top Ten Mistakes in Writing Synopses:

Synopses are a necessary evil. If you’re unpublished, editors want to see one to ensure your story ends appropriately, and if you’re published, the synopsis may be all the editor sees. So, the synopsis becomes a vital selling tool. But it is important beyond that as well. Once the editor falls in love with your story, she will use the synopsis to sell your story at the buying meeting, to write the back cover blurb, and to give the cover artist some idea of what your story is about. So, it’s important to make your synopsis shine as much as your manuscript.
How can you do this on your own? Well, after judging numerous contests, critiquing new writers’ works, and researching synopses for my book, I have found a number of problems common to most beginning writers. Here’s how to spot and correct the ten most common ones (from least to most common):

10. The format is incorrect.

Luckily, I don’t see this as often anymore, but I still see it often enough that it needs to be mentioned. And it’s actually several problems lumped into one. First, some people still use the incorrect manuscript format. I won’t go into the details of correct format here since most of you should have it down pat, but in case you don’t, check out my format article.
Second, some fail to make the synopsis the correct length, meaning it doesn’t meet the length requested by the agent/editor/contest. To fix this, do your homework. Most editors, agents, and contests have detailed guidelines that explain how long your synopsis should be. Get a copy of those guidelines (or call and ask), then give them the length they ask for. I know of a few agents who won’t even look at your submission if you send them a ten page synopsis when they’ve requested no more than four. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot this way.
Third, some writers write the synopsis as if it were a term paper outline, telling us in boring, line by line detail everything that happens in each chapter. In a good synopsis, the writer tells the story as if he were relating it to a friend across the dining room table. Don’t explain every scene—just hit the high points and make it sound as interesting as your story.

9. The synopsis concentrates on the first three chapters of the novel.

This problem occurs when the writer finishes chapter three and decides it’s time to write a synopsis and send it off to a contest or editor to get some feedback. Since the novel isn’t finished, the writer elaborates on the completed portion of the story to the detriment of the rest, so that 75% or more of the synopsis covers what happens in the first three chapters. To fix this, do some hard thinking about your story and flesh it out fully before you send it out into the world.

8. The tone is inconsistent.

I’ve seen some synopses with widely varying moods that do nothing but confuse the reader. For example, the writer might start off describing a horrible, angst-filled character background, then segue into a humorous romp. It leaves the reader baffled, wondering what kind of story it really is. So, make sure your tone is consistent throughout the synopsis—and that it matches the tone of your novel.

7. The writer speaks directly to the reader.

Here, the writer inserts comments in the synopsis that address the reader directly to ensure the reader "gets it." For example, she might write, "The conflict is..." or "At this point in the story..." Resist this urge. Talking directly to the reader jerks him out of the flow of the story.
Or, the writer might tell the reader how to feel by promising the story is heartrending, humorous, exciting, etc. If you tell the reader how to feel, you run the risk of putting his back up. Quite literally, the reader will be the judge of whether your story makes him feel the way you intended.

6. The synopsis ignores market considerations.

In this problem, the writer forgets to show how the story fits within the targeted genre (e.g., she leaves out the development of the relationship in a romance or forgets to show all the clues in a mystery, etc.). There are certain expectations for each genre and you need to ensure these expectations are met in your synopsis or you run the risk of it being rejected.
For example, in a romance, you must show the development of the relationship. I can hear some of you saying, "Duh!" but believe me, many people leave it out. They get so caught up in the external plot that they forget to show how the romance develops. This may include such important steps such as the lovers’ meeting and attraction, their first kiss, the time they first make love, the moment they realize and/or declare their love, and their final commitment to each other. Make sure you show when these pivotal points happen in the synopsis.

5. The synopsis lacks emotion.

Often, writers will show the development of the plot, point by point, but forget to explain how the characters feel, react and change as a result of each plot shift. Since most people read novels for the characters, they want to know how the characters think and feel about what’s going on in the story. So, if something devastating happens to the heroine, show us how that changes her reactions to her goal, to the other characters, or to whatever else is important to her and the story.

4. There is too much detail.

Sometimes the writer gets so caught up in the minutia of his intricate plot, fascinating research, historical period, or speculative world that the synopsis is stuffed with irrelevant details and characters. In the synopsis, we don’t really need to know how a spinning wheel works or what a minor character looks like...unless it is a key element necessary to understanding the plot or the major character(s). Save the details for the story itself—and include them there only if they’re relevant. Don’t use your novel as an excuse to show off your meticulous research unless you really want to bore your readers.
A related problem is listing all of your twenty plus characters by name. In a ten page synopsis, that’s a lot of names to remember. Just mention the names of the key protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). Don’t mention secondary characters by name unless they show up several times in the synopsis. Instead, refer to them by function or relationship: the cab driver, the housekeeper, Sarah’s daughter, Joel’s boss, etc.

3. The synopsis leaves questions unanswered.

This is when the writer leaves out key character motivations or forgets to tie up loose ends of plot and character development. It also includes the unpardonable sin of telling the editor she has to read the whole story to find out how it ends. Do this only if you want an immediate rejection.
Though it’s difficult to figure out what to put in and what to leave out of the synopsis, make sure you at least show us the resolution of the main characters’ goals and conflicts, and the resolution of the plot at the end. If you’re unsure if anything is missing, give the synopsis to someone who knows nothing about your story and ask her to tell you if she has any unanswered questions after she reads it.

2. The characters aren’t interesting or sympathetic.

Here again, the writer has concentrated so much on the plot that the characters haven’t come alive. To fix this, use Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict method and make sure you explain what your major characters want, why they want it, and what’s keeping them from getting it. Then at the end, show how they have grown as a result of the story. That will help make your reader care about what happens to them.

1. The synopsis lacks transitions.

Even when everything else is done correctly and all the plot and character elements are included in the synopsis, writers often tell their stories with a series of unconnected declarative sentences: She did this. He did that. They left. It makes for disjointed reading and interrupts the smooth flow of the story.
This is the problem I see most often. Writers who use transitions with ease and skill in their manuscripts somehow still fail to use them in their synopses. The objective is to make your synopsis flow as easily as your manuscript, to make the story so interesting that the reader will continue reading without a hitch from beginning to end. So, connect those ideas from one sentence or one paragraph to the next to show how each plot point and character change are related to one another and affect what comes next. Even if you have to use such phrases as "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..." or "What Harold didn’t realize was...", it’s worth it to make your story read smoothly.
Take the example above: She did this. He did that . They left. How would you make it flow? Perhaps you could say: When she did this, he grew angry and did that. Furious at each other, they left and went their separate ways. In other words, if you use character reaction, feelings, and motivations to connect your sentences, your synopsis will not only flow smoothly, but your characters will come alive.

For more information on synopses, look for Pam's book, Writing the Fiction Synopsis, A Step by Step Approach.

(Copyright Ó 2000 by Pam McCutcheon)

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Mar 12, 2006 2:29 PM
Subject: Seeking short films --African American Short Films Flag spam/abuse. [More Info]

Details: Location: National

African American Short Films, a nationally televised showcase of short
films starring, produced, written and/or directed by African-American filmmakers, is accepting submissions for it's 2006/07 seasons. "African American Short Films" airs quarterly, in syndication on network affiliates, in over 100 cities nationwide.

Short films such as, “Knock, Knock…Who’s there?”, “All Our Sons”, “Date”, “The Life”, “Jeremiah Strong”, “Wardrobe Malfunction”, “Corporate Negro”, “Hope”, “The Wedding Dress”, “Out-of-Body Experience”, “Hope’s War”, “From The Top Of The Key”, “Within The Wall”, “Peep Game” and over 70 other short films have enjoyed national television exposure. Be a part of the excitement!

Submissions are accepted on an on-going basis. Accepted films receive compensation.

Short films should be between 2-25 minutes in length.
Viewing copies must be submitted on VHS, Mini DV or DVD in NTSC format.
Short films may originate on any format or medium (i.e.; Mini DV,
Digibeta, Beta SP, 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, etc.,...) Please note the running time and format shot on.

Submissions should be sent to:
Badami Productions
419 North Larchmont Blvd., P.O. Box #322
Los Angeles, CA 90004
ATTN: "African American Short Films"

Please include your contact information and tell us where you heard about us.
Viewing copies will not be returned.

For questions or additional information email: or go to

Saturday, March 25, 2006

JUST FOR FUN: Characters Will/Will Not

1. Characters will divulge story plot and descriptions at a
comfortable pace, in a place where obtainable writing (or
recording) material is available (cars are off-limits), and will
adhere to strict times of quiet during the author's need for
sustenance, "real" work, and sleep.

2. Characters will not wake the author at 3 AM to reveal some
important tidbit of information, and then allow the idea to
evaporate before proper writing materials are located (See Rule

3. Characters will not change their name once a moniker is placed
upon them. This goes for eye and hair color, age, race, height,
body type, gender, clothing style, home village, job, etc.

4. Characters who manage to change their name or personal
description will do so early in the story, without several more
changes, and not close to the end of the project.

5. Characters will not swap places in the story. Antagonists will
remain as such. Ditto for Protagonists.

6. Characters will not balk at who (or what) is offered them when
suitable mates or sidekicks are created.

7. Characters will absolutely, positively NOT visit the author's
"real" place of work during business hours.

8. Characters will not take a vacation when the author finally
has time to write.

9. Characters will willingly accept their demise as the story
dictates. They will agree to leave the scene when called to do
so, and will not return to haunt the author or beg for a
miraculous "comeback."

10. Characters will not slip into other works-in-progress.
Cross-book/genre relationships are not permitted.

11. Characters brought into a story for the sole purpose of
delivering a message, or nodding their head in reply to a
question, will not be named. Take it or leave it.

12. Characters who are walk-ons (and who end up with a name),
will not displace already developed characters, nor take up
precious time or page space by divulging their life story. Under
no circumstances will they fall in love with the main character!

13. Characters will describe settings with enough detail to get
the scene rolling. The history of the land, or one's love life
exploits is not a one scene monologue.

14. Characters will never, ever utter the words: "Well, as you
know ..."

15. Characters will not offer information critical to the story
once the end is written and the story proofed, packaged, and sent

16. Characters who divulge the ending before the middle is
written will hang around long enough for the author to discover
how the heck they got that far!

17. Characters will not show up unexpectedly in the middle of a
hot writing session, only to start a whole new story (see Rule
10), but will wait patiently until the author has time to jot
down notes and get around to it. (See Rule 8.)

18. Characters will not divulge scenes and information pertaining
to the next six sequels and three "prequels" while the author is
in the middle of writing the first "stand alone" novel. (See Rule

19. Characters will limit their sequels to five books. Anything
beyond that may cause the author fall into a rut and produce
solely for the sake of money and fame.

20. Characters will not sulk when a manuscript is rejected, but
will get right back into the stream of things and offer a
brilliant rewrite!


Suzanne Mead lives in upstate NY and works as a musician and
gardener, and will admit to having an office job on the side.
She and her husband live in the country with an odd assortment of
characters who have yet to learn how to follow the rules.

Copyright (c) 2004 by Suzanne Mead


The Glossarist

Links to a huge selection of glossaries on a vast range of topics.


The Horror Of It All
Want to write horror? A lot of folks do. The mainstream publishing
industry may have momentarily turned its collective back on the
genre, but the small press scene is thriving, not to mention the
burgeoning number of horror ‘zines on the Net. Unfortunately, a great
many stories published in these markets are uninspired (to put it
kindly) and just plain bad (to put it honestly). Want your work to
stand out from the rest of the lycanthropic pack? Want to start
selling to larger and more prestigious markets? Want your horror
stories to be so good that people breathlessly race through your
prose, barely able to whisper an exhausted, "Goddamn, that was
something," when they’ve finished reading?
It ain’t easy. But I’ve got three tips to offer that will increase
your chances of joining the dark pantheon of horror writers who kick
major ass.
1. Beware of clichés.
Read widely, both inside and outside of the horror genre, so you can
recognize plots that have been done to (living) death. Then you’ll
know better than to write a story which ends, "And it was all a
dream" or "And then he realized as his lover sank her fangs into his
neck that she... was... a... VAMPIRE!"
When I was in my teens, I wrote a horror story with the embarrassing
title of "Scary Christmas." In it, a young punk torments and kills an
elderly man whose ghost comes seeking Yuletide revenge. At least I
had the good sense never to send this piece of crap out. Revenge
stories are one of the biggest clichés in horror fiction, and beside
that, there’s no tension in them. Readers know exactly how they’re
going to turn out every time.
Still, you can make clichés work for you. In my story, "Blackwater
Dreams," published in Bruce Coville’s Book of Nightmares 2, I tried
my hand at another ghostly revenge story. Only this time I took the
cliché and gave it a twist. The main character, a young boy who
blames himself for the drowning death of a friend, is visited in his
dreams by his friend’s ghost. He fears the spirit has come seeking
revenge, but the friend isn’t angry -- he’s lonely. At the end of the
story, my protagonist has to make a terrible choice: leave his friend
to his loneliness, or join him in his watery afterlife.
In my story "Alacrity’s Spectatorium," I twisted another cliché
around. I took the notion that vampires don’t cast reflections and
created a dark mirror which displays only the reflections of
vampires. What price would vampires pay for a glimpse of themselves
in such a unique mirror? More, what would such a glimpse mean to them?
Instead of ending with a cliché, why not begin with one? Start with
"It was all a dream" and build your story from there. Why not begin
with a man discovering his lover’s a vampire and see what happens
after that? Or flip the cliché around. What if a vampire discovered
his lover wasn’t another nosferatu but was instead (shudder) a human?
And try to avoid the most overworked plot in horror fiction, which
author Gary A. Braunbeck (Time Was, Things Left Behind) describes as
a story in which the main character exists only to get "slurped by
the glop." Stories in which characters are merely props to be eaten,
drained, eviscerated, sliced, diced and turned into julienne fries by
your monstrous "glop," whether it’s a vampire, werewolf or the
ubiquitous serial killer. These stories aren’t just boring; they’re
insulting to readers who deserve better.
Probably the best way to avoid clichés is to adhere to one of the
hoariest: write what you know. Draw on your own experience for your
story ideas, write about the things that excite and disturb you, the
people, places and events that form the unique fabric of your
existence, which make your life different than any other that’s ever
been lived before. If you do this, you can’t help but be original.
2. There’s a difference between disturbing readers and simply
grossing them out.
Too many beginners think that writing horror is all about detailed
descriptions of disembowelments and gushing bodily fluids. They
mistake the use of such elements for artistic audacity and
cutting-edge (pun intended) writing. The truth is, though, that such
writers are the literary equivalent of the kid who jams his finger up
his nose and pulls forth a big old nasty booger so he can wave it in
his friends’ faces.
Good horror -- like all fiction that truly matters -- is about
affecting readers emotionally. True, revulsion is an emotional
reaction, but it’s a simplistic one with a limited effect on readers.
They finish your story about a penis-munching condom, think, Man,
that’s sick, and immediately forget all about it. You’ve failed to
touch them save on the most shallow of levels.
I’m not saying you should avoid writing about the dark and
disturbing. That’s what horror’s all about, from the quiet subtlety
of a half-glimpsed shadow on an otherwise sunny day to the
in-your-face nastiness of blood dripping from the glinting metal of a
straight razor. But if you are, as Stephen King puts it, going to go
for the gross-out, it has to arise naturally from the story itself,
to be so integral to the tale you’re telling that it can’t be removed
without making the story suffer.
In Gary A. Braunbeck’s novella, "Some Touch of Pity" (also an
excellent example of a writer taking a cliché -- the werewolf story
-- and putting an original spin on it), there’s a flashback detailing
a character’s rape. Not just the physical aspect of it, but what the
character experiences emotionally as the rape occurs. The scene is
absolutely brutal, but it’s also completely necessary to the story.
If the scene were toned down, or worse, removed, the story would be
far less emotionally wrenching.
In my story, "Keeping It Together," forthcoming in the SFF-Net
anthology Between the Darkness and the Fire, I write about a gay man
living a heterosexual lifestyle in a home and with a family that he
has created from his own desperate desire to be what he perceives as
"normal." But it’s an illusion which can’t be sustained, and as the
story progresses, the house, his wife and young daughter all begin to
decay around him. In one scene he has sex with his wife out of a
sense of husbandly duty, and since she is well along in her
dissolution by this point, their lovemaking . . . damages her. I
created this scene not merely to make readers go "Ooooh, yuck!" but
to further dramatize the impact of such deep-seated denial on both my
main character and those around him.
Remember that extreme elements, like anything else in fiction, are
only tools to help you tell your stories in the best way you can. But
like any powerful tool, they should be used sparingly, cautiously and
always with good reason.
3. Give us characters we care about.
Let me say right up front that this bit of advice doesn’t mean that
we have to like your characters. It means your characters should be
so well developed and interesting that we want to read your story to
find out what happens to them. There are characters -- Ahab, Sherlock
Holmes, Hannibal Lector -- who aren’t always likable (and are
sometimes downright despicable) but who are so unique, so fully
realized, that they can’t fail to fascinate. Compelling characters is
what memorable fiction is all about, whether you’re writing for the
New Yorker or Cemetery Dance.
In my story, "Seeker," which appeared in the White Wolf anthology,
Dark Tyrants, I write about a disillusioned crusader who has lost his
faith in God and has gone searching for a nest of vampires in order
to prove to himself that there is some sort of spiritual aspect to
existence, even if that aspect is evil. The plot runs on two tracks.
First is a narrative of the crusader penetrating the forest where the
vampires live, being attacked by them, and finally dealing with their
leader (who I made not merely a vampire but one who has merged with
the Wood itself). The second track details, through various
flashbacks, the events that caused the crusader to lose his faith and
make him so desperate to find a sign -- any sign -- that there’s
Something More to life.
If I did my job right, readers will be interested not only in the
action in the story, but also in the crusader himself, so that when
the story reaches its climax and the character’s quest is fulfilled
in a way he -- and hopefully readers -- never imagined (no, he
doesn’t become a vampire himself; remember what I said earlier about
avoiding clichés? I try to practice what I preach), there’s not only
an emotional pay-off, but hopefully readers will leave the story
thinking a little bit about their own spirituality.
There’s a lot more to writing good horror, but if you take the three
morsels of advice I’ve given you to heart, you’ll create stories
which will not only rise above the generic tales of flesh-munching
zombies and blood-lusting serial killers that are out there, you’ll
create fiction worth reading -- and worth remembering.

Tim Waggoner wrote his first story at the age of five, when he
created a comic book version of King Kong vs. Godzilla on a
stenographer’s pad. It took him a few more years until he began
selling professionally, however. Overall, he’s published over fifty
stories of fantasy and horror, as well as hundreds of nonfiction
articles. In addition to writing fiction, Tim’s worked as an editor
and newspaper reporter. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair
Community College in Dayton, Ohio. His wonderful wife Cindy is a
psychologist (a useful profession for the spouse of a writer). They
have two bright and beautiful daughters, Devon and Leigh. Tim hopes
to continue writing and teaching until he keels over dead, after
which he wants to be stuffed and mounted in front of his computer
Visit Tim's website for even more tips on writing at

Copyright © 2000 by Tim Waggoner. This article may not be reproduced
in part or in whole, with the exception of a hyperlink to this page,
without the express permission of the author.
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[This message contained attachments]


Message: 2
Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2005 09:27:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: Gevell
Subject: RSW: Plotting Without Fears


Plot structure isn't a prescription; it's a map. You choose where
you want to go, and how to get there too. But this time, you'll
avoid the blind alleys and dead-ends that derail so many good ideas.
Your conflicts and story events will be driven by who these
characters are and what they believe and need. Your story will be
fueled by the clarity of coherence and the wisdom of theme.

Here are some questions to help you map out your story journey:
The Situation
1. In one sentence, summarize your story situation. Example: After
twenty years at war, a king battles the elements, the gods, and
himself to get home, only to find that his kingdom is overrun with
usurpers and his wife doesn't recognize him. (The Odyssey)

2. Next, write a one-sentence thematic summary, that is, the moral or
message your story goes to prove. (You might not be able to do this
right off-- consider what your protagonist learns because of the
story events.)

Example: A warrior must learn to resist temptation and pick his
battles before he can find his way home again. (The Odyssey)

The Protagonist
3. Whose story is this, and why? (This determines the protagonist--
there might be two in a romance.) What journey does he or she make
during the course of the book?

Example: This is Odysseus's story: he is the one who must go home
again and restore his kingdom and his family. He is the one who must
change and grow before he can overcome the god's curse that has kept
him lost for 10 years. His journey is first towards the realization
that he must change, then he must use his new skills to win back his
kingdom and his wife.

The Questions
4. Now write down all your major story questions-- the questions the
story will answer. You might find you have an external one, an
internal one, and a romantic one.


External: Will Odysseus overcome Poseidon's curse and finally make it
home and restore his kingdom?

Internal: Will Odysseus learn to resist the temptations that have
heretofore distracted him from his homeward quest?

Romantic: Can Odysseus and Penelope restore their love after a
separation of twenty years?

5. Read over your answers above and see if you can come up with a few
basic issues that your story deals with.

Example: Odyssey: home, family restoration, deception/hidden
identity, fate, responsibility

Other common issues: forgiveness, honor, divided loyalties,
family, loss of self/identity, self-discovery, past trauma,
friendship, ambition, freedom, parental abandonment, parental
overprotectiveness, competition, religion, politics, self-deception,
death, birth, betrayal, trust, vengeance, shattered illusions, war

Free-write on your story issues-- how do they shape the story?
Does the story help resolve these issues?
Example: Odysseus must battle his divinely ordained fate while
accepting personal responsibility in order to get home, but once
there he must assume a false identity to retake his kingdom from
usurpers, but his task of restoring his family is complicated by his
deception. (See how the protagonist's journey is developing!)

The Goals and Conflicts
6. Start describing the protagonist: Why is he/she the protagonist
of this story? What special skills, abilities, or history put him/her
at the center of the action? What problems come along with those
character strengths? As the book opens, what is his/her goal? What
motivates him/her to this goal? What internal and external obstacles
are in the way of this goal? What does he/she need to learn or do in
order to overcome these obstacles?
Example: The defiant Odysseus offended Poseidon, so he is the only
Greek warrior who didn't make it home from the war. His great
strength is his seeking, clever mind and his willingness to break the
rules (he invented the Trojan horse). The obverse of these strengths
is his rebelliousness and inability to resist temptation.

His goal is to get home; he has lost his life and can regain it
only by rejoining his family. Poseidon continually interfere His
goal is to get home; he has lost his life and can regain it only by
rejoining his family. Poseidon continually interferes, and Odysseus
doesn't help his own cause by giving into temptation to trick a
Cyclops, seduce a nymph, or satisfy his curiosity.

The End
7. Sketch the end of the book. What must have changed? How can the
story questions be answered? How must the protagonist have changed?
What should he/she learn from the events of the book? Knowing the
outline of the end of the book will give you a destination, an
endpoint, to aim at.

Example: Odysseus needs to make it home. This probably can't be done
without Poseidon allowing it one way or another, which means O has to
somehow resolve his conflict with the gods. Since Ithaca is in chaos
after his long absence, Odysseus will need to find the strength to
deal with his disappointment that he is not, indeed, quite home yet.
He must defeat the usurpers but not with sheer might, because there
are too many of them. He needs allies, and can use his patented
wiliness and playacting as tactics to increase his odds. In the end,
he needs to reconcile with Penelope and their son Telemachus, perhaps
by using them in his quest to regain the kingdom. He needs to prove
to them somehow that he is trustworthy enough to be restored to the
family. He needs to show that he has learned to resist impulse and
temptation, and that he now values his family and home.

8. Keeping in mind the protagonist's conflicts, and what he/she has
to learn, brainstorm a few situations that are sure to force a
"learning experience". What kind of event is most likely to cause
trouble for this protagonist? In what situation is the protagonist
most likely to try and fail because of the internal problem? Can you
outline a series of events showing rising conflict and higher stakes?
What will be a good "crisis/dark moment" that forces the protagonist
to finally overcome the internal conflict in order to triumph? What
climactic event can show how much the protagonist has learned since
the beginning of the story? How does the resolution show tangibly the
theme of the book?

Example: Odysseus can't resist temptation. He's a curious, seeking
fellow, and one who truly enjoys pleasure. So the plot should
provide him with lots of opportunities to give into temptation, and
lots of punishment for doing so, until he finally learns his lesson.
The penalties perhaps should get more and more dramatic. There should
be one later episode that shows him resisting temptation and
remaining focused on his goal of getting home.
The dark moment will be when he finally gets home and finds to his
despair that it is overrun with usurpers, and that his wife and son
don't even recognize him. He must resist the temptation to charge in
guns blazing. The climax should show the results of his learning that
lesson-- He can now carefully plan out an attack on the usurpers,
while he couldn't have in the beginning, because he is now stronger
and more controlled, not so driven by his impulses. Penelope's final
test for him demonstrates that he is choosing to forsake his
wandering ways and be a devoted husband and father.

Finally! The Plot!
9. Sketch out an outline of the events that demonstrate the
protagonist's external and internal problems, show the rising
conflict and increasing stakes, and come to crisis, climax, and
resolution. Think EVENT-- actual discrete happenings where the
protagonist interacts, makes decisions, confronts an obstacle,
investigates, enlists an ally, makes an enemy, gives into temptation,
searches for something missing, breaks the rules... some action that
manifests the protagonist's personality and purpose. Don't forget
that each event will have consequences that will bring on the next

Here's a typical map of story events:


Initiating event. Protagonist acts: Trouble starts. On his voyage
home from the Trojan War, Odysseus tricks a Cyclops and blinds him.
He gives into the temptation to show off and shouts his name so the
Cyclops will know who bested him.

**turning point** Something unexpected happens. External conflict
established. : The Cyclops turns out to be the son of the God of the
Sea, and the vengeful Poseidon curses Odysseus to an endless voyage.

Conflict engaged: Protagonist deals with it. Aeolus, Lord of the
Winds, gives Odysseus a bag containing the winds, so that no ill
winds will mar his voyage home. His greedy sailors, however, perhaps
spurred by Poseidon, open the bag, and the fleet is forced into the
harbor of a cruel race who eat most of the sailors.


**turning point** Internal conflict manifests and affects action:
Odysseus escapes with one ship and takes refuge on the island of
Circe, who turns his men into pigs. Hermes tells him how to avoid
that fate, and Odysseus rescues his men. But Circe is so beautiful
that he decides to stay there and enjoy her favors for a year.

Protagonist acts again based on internal conflict: When he leaves,
Circe tells him that the seer Tiresias, in the Kingdom of the Dead,
can reveal the future to him. Odysseus gives into his curiosity and
diverts his voyage again.In Hades, Odysseus sees his beloved mother,
who died while he was at war. She tells him that she died of grief,
and that his father is wasting away without him, but that his wife
Penelope waits faithfully for him though she is plagued with suitors.
(This sets up the subplot of usurpers in his kingdom.)

Protagonist starts to grow: As he leaves Hades, Odysseus remembers
Circe's warning and plugs the ears of his sailors so they won't be
seduced by the songs of the Sirens. He has himself tied to the mast,
so that he can listen to their songs without being enticed by them to
his death. (Note: he hasn't grown enough to resist temptation

**turning point* Consequence of internal conflict/action: To get
back on course after the diversion to Hades, Odysseus must steer his
ship between Scylla and Charbydis, the most dangerous place in the
seven seas. Many of his sailors are lost in the process.

**point of no return* Another failure due to internal conflict:
After that ordeal, Odysseus succumbs to his sailors' pleas to rest on
an island that Tiresius had warned him to avoid. While he sleeps,
the sailors kill the sacred cattle of Apollo, who calls upon Zeus to
punish him. All the sailors are killed and the ship destroyed in a
storm. Odysseus now has two of the most powerful gods as enemies,
and he cannot go back to his previous course. The action has to
RISE, remember-- the stakes get higher in order to force him finally
to acknowledge, confront, and resolve his internal problem.

Protagonist regroups: O finds refuge on the island of Calypso. He
spends five years as the nymph's love slave, until his prayers
finally provoke the goddess Athena into action. She gets Zeus to
help Odysseus escape his captivity.

Subplot develops: Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, Penelope is trying to
ward off usurpers to the kingdom, and Athena sends O's son Telemachus
on a voyage to learn more of his father's fate.

Antagonist reacts: Poseidon smashes O's frail raft with another storm.

Internal conflict returns: Athena helps O swim to an island where he
meets a beautiful princess who wants to marry him.

**turning point* Internal conflict confronted: The princess promises
him wealth, sex, happiness. O is tempted, but recalls his mission to
return home and refuses. His "new self"-- the one who can resist
temptation-- emerges.

External conflict resolves partly: Now that he has resisted
temptation and impressed the gods, O has a swift voyage home.


Crisis-- "New self" tested: O gets home only to find his kingdom is
overrun with usurpers. He cannot be sure of any allies, including his
wife Penelope.

Dark moment: He despairs, wants to nuke the palace with the suitors
inside. But he resists that temptation and makes a plan to infiltrate
the palace in disguise.

**turning point** "New self" engages: He builds his allies, enlisting
his son, newly returned from his character-building voyage.

Climax: Protagonist acts on decision that emerged from the dark
moment. When the usurpers scorn him in his guise of an elderly man,
he resists the urge towards violence until he can put his plan into
place. He tests Penelope and finds her loyal, and proves himself to
be king in an archery contest. Then, in a climax worthy of
Schwarzenegger, he and his little army slaughter the usurpers.

Resolution: Penelope is happy to have him home, but isn't quite
ready to trust him again as a husband. She tests him and, though he's
tempted towards obstinacy, he does the sensible thing and re-commits
to the marriage. The resolution should reinforce the theme or
central issue in some way, and show the growth of the protagonist.
In this case, the broken family is symbolically and literally rebuilt
because of Odysseus's new strength of purpose.


Are the story questions all asked in the beginning and answered by the end?

Is every scene built around an event that changes the course of the story?

Does every event show something about the protagonist?

Do you have recognizable turning points where the protagonist's
world/life changes?

Is the internal conflict established early?

Is there a progression to higher stakes, which forces the
protagonist finally to overcome the internal conflict?

Is the theme proved?

c. 1998 by Alicia Rasley

Character Motivation


Copyright 2000 by Alicia Rasley

Why do you need character motivation?
To give them a reason to DO SOMETHING!
Why must it consistent with this character, if not obviously plausible?
Because we cannot believe in characters if we do not
believe in what they do and why they do it. Characters in action is
what makes plot, and motivation creates action AND individualizes

Six Distinctions in Motivating Characters


Ask "Why does this character commit this action?" and write down all
your answers. Are they author reasons (because it'll help the book)
or character reasons (because it'll help the character)?
EXAMPLE: Why does this character go to Nevada?
Author answers:
Because she needs to learn that she can trust the hero.
Translates to: Because -I- need her to learn that...
Because she needs to be in Nevada at Christmastime so she can run
into Emily. Translates to: Because -I- need her to be in Nevada...
Because she needs to do something dramatic.
Translates to: Because -I- need an action scene right here before the
reader nods off entirely.
Character answers:
Because she is curious about the hero's past, and he mentioned once
he had friends in Reno.
Because she wants a quickie divorce, and Nevada is the place to get it.
Because she wants to escape from the sheriff, and Nevada is outside
his jurisdiction.
While it's good to know your motivation for including the action,
that's not sufficient. The reader has to believe that this character
has her own reason for taking this action.


2. Distinguish between PRO-ACTIVE and REACTIVE:
Pro-active: Motivating movement TOWARDS something. Success is a
pro-active motivation because it draws the character forward towards
Reactive: Motivating movement AWAY from something. Guilt is a
reactive motivation because it propels the person away from itself.
This affects the trajectory of the plot.
With a pro-active motivation, you will probably want to divert the
protagonist with a new motivation or intense conflict– you don't want
a straight line between wanting and getting!
With a reactive motivation, you might have a boomerang trajectory–
whatever she's running from, you force her to face near the end of
the book (perhaps in the crisis).
Most motivations have both a negative and a positive aspect. For
example, the obverse of revenge is justice-- related, but likely to
cause much different actions.
Guilt can motivate positive behavior, such as apologizing and making
amends; the obverse, suppression or denial of guilt, will motivate
negative behavior such as self-deception and victim-blaming. (And an
excess of guilt can cause a sense of failure and inadequacy.)
A protagonist might move during the course of the book from the
negative aspect to the positive one, demonstrating growth and
maturity-- or, conversely, from a positive (justice) to a negative
aspect, to show the corrosive effect of rage, for example.


3. Distinguish between EXTERNAL and INTERNAL:
External motivations tend to be more or less universal. Internal
motivations are what will individualize your character. Most of us
want success; the question is why? Your internal motivation for
wanting success (to win the love of your father) might be different
from mine (to get revenge against those who scorned me). Look to
gradually revealing the internal motivation through the events of the
plot... the character, by the way, is seldom fully conscious of an
internal motivation.
Some Categories of Motivation
Bold-face is obverse aspect (stuff in parens = goals, effects, or
other association)
Survival/safety; Fear of the world (food, water, escape from danger)
Physical comfort; gluttony (shelter, warmth, good food, health)
Pleasure; hedonism (sex, great food, culture, games)
Dominance; tyranny (power, social standing, competition, respect)
Acquisitiveness; greed (wealth, materialism, collecting, excellence)
Curiosity; voyeurism (learning, searching, investigating)
Mastery; perfectionism (excellence, conquest, discipline, achievement)
Reproduction; profligacy (children, creativity, family-building)

Autonomy; isolation (self-sufficiency, freedom, non-confinement)
Affiliation; conformity (security, cooperation, loyalty, clan)
Love; lust/ownership (connection, passion, sex, mirroring,
approval, giving)
Revenge; justice (righting wrongs, recognition of grievance, vengeance)
Guilt; denial of guilt (responsibility, shame, punishment,
redemption, forgiveness)
Identity; self-centeredness (self-esteem, self-knowledge, self-protection)
Surcease; conflict avoidance (peace, escape from anxiety, death)
Spirituality; fetishism (religion, transcendence, transformation)
Growth; decay, aging (learning, maturation, wisdom)
Ambition; insecurity/anxiety (fear of failure, inferiority, stress)
Vindication; rationalization (success, proving self, apology)

The primary external motivation: Self-preservation
The primary internal motivation: Self-protection

4. Distinguish between BACKSTORY and STORY:
Backstory is everything that happened before the story begins.
Story is the actual action of the book.
Motivation (especially internal motivation) often comes out of
backstory... but the story itself plays out the intermixing of
motivation and conflict.
So: Be wary of motivation confined mostly to the internal or to
backstory. Give the character something immediate to inspire action
today. There should be a present-day event to inspire the
manifestation of the internal or past motivation-- for example,
Heroine inherits the house where her mother committed suicide and
decides to start a new life by renovating it. The external
motivation is that "starting a new life"; the internal motivation
might be to exorcise her mother's ghost or to deal with the trauma of
the suicide. The internal motivation comes out of the backstory, but
the external motivation is in the here-and-now of the story.
And motivation, especially that created in the past, doesn't have to
remain static. It can change (and should change) because of the
events of the plot.
Consider the protagonist's journey through the book. What will she
learn or experience or become not by intention, but because of the
story events? If she must learn, "No man is an island," then she
might be moving at least part of the way from autonomy to
affiliation. This will involve a shift from the original motivation.
Make sure there's sufficient provocation for this shift, and thus
for her development.
Look here also for the book's theme-- what message does the journey create?
The journey takes place not in the backstory... but in the story.


5. Distinguish between GOAL and MOTIVATION.
The goal is like the flower... the motivation is the roots.
The goal is the outward manifestation of the motivation.
It is concrete, measurable, and specific.
You don't know when you've fulfilled the motivation: "I want success"
isn't measurable– what's success?
But you know when you've achieved a goal:
"I want to be on the New York Times bestseller list–" That's
measurable. You'll know when you reach it.
Just keep in mind that while the goal is the external manifestation
of the motivation, the connection is not always a straight or clear
one. You can have a goal that is destructive and against your true
motivation– "looking for love in all the wrong places" is an example.
Or you can have a laudatory goal for a selfish or twisted motivation–
"I want to be first in my class to show my father up!"
Motivation is the past.
Goal is the future.
Conflict is the present.
6. Distinguish between MOTIVATION and ACTION:
Remember that motivation exists to inspire the character to make
choices and take actions. If you've been told your protagonist is
"too passive", it's likely what's lacking is motivation that leads to
action. Evaluate whether most of the events "just happen" to her, or
whether she causes them (intentionally or not) because of the
external or internal motivation.
Every action, however small, should be motivated. If the motivation
is obvious, then you might not have to show it (we assume that she's
running from that tiger for survival).
But if the motivation isn't clear, go back and make sure you've put
one in there. You can always invent some new event that will
increase the pressure on the character if you need her to act in an
uncharacteristic or dangerous way.
For example, if this is a very very honest woman, and you need her to
break into a man's office and steal his files, then you have to
consider what on earth would be important enough to cause her to
violate her own morality... and give her that motivation. Maybe the
man is blackmailing her beloved grandmother, or has threatened to
destroy documents proving that she is innocent of murder. Just make
sure it all fits-- reinventing motivation means, very often,
reinventing the plot.
Compare the external (obvious) motivation to the goal and/or actions.
If they don't match, an internal motivation is probably in force.
What hidden desire or fear or value is influencing actions?
An alternative reason for motivation/action mismatch: You're trying
to make an original character act in stereotypical ways.
And keep this in mind:
Heroism and villainy are in the ACTION, not the MOTIVATION. Heroes
DO heroic things, they don't just intend to do them. And villains do
bad things even if they have the best of intentions.
List all the actions of your character, stripped of motivation. Do
they add up to mostly positive? Is there at least one true act of
heroism (extraordinary courage, discipline, effort, sacrifice,
compassion)? If not, you just don't have a hero (or heroine), even
if the motivation was to save the world and all the whales too.
Sacrifice of the original motivation is the greatest heroic act.
Give the character a good reason, though, such as a more worthy
What if the motivation and action and character don't all fit?
Change the action to fit the motivation.
Change the motivation to fit the action.
Change the character to make the motivation or action more fitting.
Add a deeper motivation... and remember to reveal it at some point!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

ARTICLE: Self- Publishing Without Dollars
By J. Lowet

It's a strange situation, that so many writers
struggle to make a living, or even a first sale, yet
at the same time, so many businesses make money *from*
writers, especially epublishers. It feels like we're
trapped, either get picked-up by a big, traditional
publisher, or pay large amounts of money to an
epublisher. That's what I used to think. But, by a
combination of hours spent online, poverty and the
mother of invention, I've managed to produce, convert,
obtain a cover for, host and legally sell my ebook,
without spending a single cent.

This article is for people such as myself, with a
lot more time than money. If you are prepared to do
the work required, it's possible to do all that an
epublisher can do. Even if you aren't publishing an
ebook, this article still contains the very best links
I found for writers, after years on the Internet with
a budget of zero.

Creating the Source
The first step is, obviously, to write the book. A
good idea is to write a "source file" and save it as
plain text, showing italics between underscores like
_this_ and bold *between asterisks*. A plain text file
can't contain a virus (though couldn't be deleted by
one), plus it's not tied to any particular piece of
software; any word processor can open a text file.

Next you need to make a second version, in a word
processor, saved as Rich Text Format or a Word .doc
file. This file will be fully formatted and ready to
convert to a version that can be read in an ebook

If you already have a program such as Microsoft Word
or similar and are comfortable with it, then this
could be used. If not, it's possible to create a fully
formatted book, for not one single cent.

A completely free word processor called Jarte has a
homepage at:

Click the download on the left. It has a slightly
unusual interface and not enough features to so the
whole job, but it _does_ have the Holy Grail of
freeware word processors, a spellchecker. If you don't
already have something that can do this job, it's
worth downloading Jarte just to spellcheck the source
file for free.

A second freeware word processor is called Atlantis
Nova, and doesn't have a spell checker in the free
version, but does have all the features needed to take
your newly spellchecked text file, and turn it into a
fully formatted Rich Text Format or .doc file. It can
be downloaded here:

Again, click the download link on the left. Make sure
you download the completely free Atlantis Nova and not
Atlantis Ocean Mind, as the latter is shareware.

It's well beyond the scope of this article to explain
how to format your book. The best article, which I
referred to myself, is by Moira Allen, and you can
read it here:

The Cover

You can't judge a book by its cover, though most
people do. It would be possible to try and sell work
with just a text description, but people really want
to at least see a cover, so it feels like they're
paying for a book, not a file.

If you have a lot of time, some artistic talent and
are prepared to learn a fairly complex piece of
software, then there is something for free that
includes such advanced features (such as layers)
usually found only in expensive art programs. It's
called Pixia and is little known in the west as it was
originally developed in Japan, where it has quite a
following as it's used to create Anime illustrations
(though it can just as easily make a cover).

There are English tutorials and a download page at
its homepage.

The download option is, again, on the left.

What if you don't have time to learn this program?
Well, it's still possible to make an acceptable cover
in a simple program like Microsoft Paint. First of
all, go and take a picture that could be used to
represent whatever your book is about. Only you can
know this. Say, for example, you've written a novel
and it contains a character facing a difficult
dilemma. It's called _Hard Choices_ and you're name is
Sally Seller. Perhaps you could take a picture of some
broken, old-fashioned scales, or go out into the
street and snap a close up of a ONE WAY sign, or
perhaps find a picture of a path which diverges into
two directions. Get creative. TIP: leave space, like a
blank wall or some plain sky, for the title.

Now scan and open it in Paint. Some versions of paint
only open bitmaps. If this is the case, download a
program called Slowview from

The download link is, er, OK you know. Slowview can
do many interesting things but, very simply, in the
FILE menu, it can open almost any type of graphic, and
then save it in almost any format: free and simple
image conversion.

OK, so now you have the photo open in Paint. Look at
the double row of buttons on the left. See the one
that has a capital A. Click this and the cursor turns
into a crosshair. Drag the crosshairs to draw a box
over where the title will go. When the mouse-button is
released, a box will come up for you to select the
font, it's size, and the color is chosen from all the
colored boxes at the bottom. Now write the title and
click anywhere outside the box to finish.

Figure one: an example cover created with Microsoft

You can see the problem: the text appears over a
white box that obscures the pictures beneath, rather
than being "floating" text. There are three ways
around this, One, put the title over somewhere white
on the photograph. Two, accept the white box, if it
looks good. Three, use Pixia. Just because Pixia is
complex doesn't mean that you have to know all it's
features to use it.

If you want to try this, then open the picture in
Pixia. From the very top menu choose "Paint" and then
"Text" from the dropdown menu. This will bring up the
text dialogue. Write the title, choose a font and
color. The colors are selected differently in this
program. There's a multicolored circle on the right
with crosshairs on it. Use the mouse to pull the
crosshairs over the desired colour. The current color
is shown in the box beneath the circle, slightly to
the right. It will change when the crosshairs are
dragged around the circle.

Then click "OK" in the text dialogue box. The text
dialogue will disappear and the highlighted title will
appear over the picture. This is the title in a black
box and looks nothing like the finished text will.
It's displayed like this to make it easier to resize.
Use the mouse to drag the highlighted text to its
correct position, and drag the corners of the
highlighted box to change the size. When you're happy,
right-click the highlighted title and choose "paste"
from the shortcut menu. There you are: floating text.
Do the same with your name and then save the image as
a jpeg. Disregard the warning about saving in external
formats; this only applies if you're working with
advanced features.

TIP: when you choose the size of the text, if you
choose it larger than required and then size it down
it will stay sharp. If you choose very small text and
drag it wider, it will be fuzzy.

Figure two: an example cover created with Pixia.

Converting the File

There are various options to make the file into
something that can be read in an ebook reader. First
of all, check the file's size. If it's less than half
a kilobyte (500K) it's easy. TIP: if it's just over
500k and was saved as a Word document (.doc), try
saving it in Rich Text Format. It should be a little

Go to this address

and sign up. Then log in with your email address and
password. In the next page, click the blue title which
says "Convert into pdf". In the next screen, use the
browse button to locate the file, and in the box below
that (which will be saying "result.pdf") write the
book's title. Then click "Process Document".

Go check your mail, and find a fully converted pdf
file, which can be read in Acrobat reader. Check that
the formatting hasn't changed on conversion, for
example, that each new chapter still starts on a fresh
page and so on. If anything is different, reload the
unconverted document into Altantis Nova, make some
changes and convert the file again. There is no limit
to how many times you can use this free service. TIP:
in Atlantis, press the weird looking formatting
button, which is a little like a reverse letter P near
the top of the screen. Now the formatting marks,
usually hidden, are displayed. Each space is shown as
a dot, each line break is a weird looking reverse P
and so on. Seeing the hidden formatting marks makes it
easier to judge how much space is needed where.

If the file's too big for this method, there are
still options. You might split it into two books.
Alternatively try here

or why not the relatively new software, advertising
free and receiving rave reviews, CutePDF

These are the options to create a pdf file to be read
in Adobe's reader, but there are other ways to read an

If you have Microsoft Word 2000 then you can download
Microsoft Read here.

This file, when installed, adds a little button to
the interface of Word. When clicked, a wizard will
take your document and turn it into a .lit file,
making it an ebook, with cover, which can be read in
the free Microsoft Reader, with clear type technology.

The last option, if you can write web sites, is to
make an executable version. You'll have to take the
source file and chop it up into separate files,
1.html, 2.html, and so on. Format the whole thing in
html, linking file one to file two, file two to file
three etc. This essentially turns the book into a

Now go to for a free ebook
compiler. On the navigation bar on the left, click
"sbookbuilder 10". The download link will appear at
the top of the main section of the screen. It's a
zipped file. Once you have it, open it, follow stage
one, stage two etc. You'll end up with an executable
file that, when clicked, will open the book in a
separate, standalone reader. TIP: when you sell books,
compile each one separately and use the customer's
name or email address as the password. Not only are
they less likely to forget it, but the password can't
be changed and so they're less likely to forward it to
people who didn't pay. Think about it, would you want
a stolen book all over the Internet which has your
name or email address as the password!


So, where to sell it from? Many people have free
web-sites, places like Geocities of Tripod, and they
all require users to upgrade to a paid account for any
kind of commercial activity.

What many people don't know is that there _are_ free
web-space providers that allow commercial activity on
unpaid accounts. Yes, they're advertising heavy, but
they're free. Choose from the thirty six listed in the
Google directory here:

I personally chose Bravenet, the pop-ups are
annoying, but ftp access to 100MB for free is a pretty
good deal.


One last stage. How do you accept the money? With
PayPal of course. Simply sign up if you haven't
already done so, then there are two options, one good,
one bad.

The bad way is to get some code from PayPal, paste in
onto your webpage so a button is displayed on the
book's blurb page, which people click, pay, and are
automatically redirected to a download page. You can
just lie back and do nothing.

The problem is that it's not secure. Anyone can view
the source of your webpage and find the download page
without paying. Here's a better way:

Log into PayPal. Click "Go to my account".

In the next page, click the tab at the top, which
says "Merchant Tools".

Next page, click the "Buy Now Buttons" underneath the
"Web Site Payments" title.

Next page, fill in the form. Where it says "Item
Name", put the title of your book. Leave the "Item ID"
option blank. Enter the amount. Don't worry about the
other options. Click, "Create Button Now."

In the following screen, there are two different
pieces of code offered. Copy the one that says "Link
for emails" and save it as a plain text file in

Now, on your web-site, where book cover and blurb are
displayed, you can set up a form for interested
parties to enter their email address, which the web
host will forward to you. If you can't make a form,
then publish your email address with the instruction
for interested parties to send a blank email or an
email with the title of the book as the subject. Bear
in mind if you do the latter and publish your email
address, then there will be an increase in spam. You
might consider setting up a separate email account,
exclusively to sell the book from.

When a potential customer contacts you, reply,
thanking them for their interest, and paste the PayPal
code at the bottom of the message. When this email is
received, the code will have become a link. This link
connects to a secure payment page at PayPal, already
displaying the correct title and price of your book.
If the payment is given here, PayPal will send a
confirmation of this to your email. Once this is
received, then either send the book as an attachment,
or create a special download page which exists for a
limited period.

That's it! Not quite as slick as expensive
epublishers, but, there is your fully formatted,
converted book, with a cover, legally hosted, created
with legal software and available for purchase, and it
didn't cost a single cent.

Now go and market the book, and one of two things
will happen. Either no one wants it and you can feel
relieved for not having given $500 to an epublisher,
or people will be falling over themselves for it and
you can give up the day job.

Or perhaps it will be somewhere in-between?


J. Lowet is a full-time writer, based in various
changing locations, specialising in
human-potential/spirituality. When not writing, he
also likes acrylic painting, travel, being aloofly
eccentric and avoiding anything remotely approaching