What Makes A Good Plot Twist

You know at the end of the last Indiana Jones film. Just as the film is headed up towards the climax and you’re about to see where the whole movie is been going and then suddenly aliens appear?

For me, this is the very best example of a poorly executed plot twist.

See I love Indiana Jones. I was all about the beating up Nazis, running away from large boulders and the like. It was awesome.

Then the final fifteen to ten minutes of the Crystal Skull happened and I was left thinking, uh… okay…

Plot twists. I love them. That super fun game of toying with your audience and making them think one thing when at the very last second your surprise them with something completely different? Love it.

Plot twists are really useful components to a memorable story.

In saying this, they can be difficult to implement.

So what is the difference between a genuinely awesome ‘WOW-I-Did-Not-See-That-Coming!’ and ‘Okay… Indiana Jones and Aliens? What the Heck?’

There are probably a million components. But there is one I think carries the most weight.

There is one component that I think really carves into people’s hearts and adds a real point of difference.

This is connectivity.

How connected is your plot twist to the concept of the story? What is the relationship? Identifying the relationship between the plot twist and what has unfolded before.

Often I see plot twists as making a bed. You don’t just put the blanket over the top you tuck it in. There’s a tuck in to the story. By this I mean that the thing that you’ve done to surprise your readers isn’t completely out of the blue. That there is a pattern to look back at. Threads between what happened in the end that surprised people, that connect back and make it seem IMPOSSIBLE that we didn’t see it before. It is then about showing little knots of this thread through your story through events that can be interpreted as one thing (what you WANT readers to see) and can also be interpreted as another (when readers REALLY see what happened)

It’s about connectivity.

Anyway, plot twists are a total favorite of mine. Also! Sorry I was noticeably absent from posting last week! I recently got engaged and my mind was in a million places and not one of these writing related! AliensIndianaJones

When It Is Less About The Content, Than It Is About The Order

So I’m working on this idea and I am totally stuck.

You know those times you approach a storyline and you just have like… no idea what you’re going to do at all?

This is not one of those times for me.

Instead of general ‘I-Don’t-Know-itus’ it is ANOTHER sort of difficulty I face.

I know what I want to do, just not the order I want to do it.

This is where I’m at. I’ve got all the ingredients, as in, I know components of the story that I want to see happen, the issue is that I am unsure in which order they need to come to create best impact.

Have you ever been here?

It’s like baking. You know those recipes you read and they have like SPECIFIC instructions which must be carried out in the order that you add the ingredients? If you don’t add what-ever-it-is to the Blah-blah-blah at that point then the batter will be too chalkey, too stiff, etc…?

Where I am at is exactly like that. I’ve got the things that go into the batter, but to make it taste good you have to organize it into the perfect sequence of events.

When I am in this situation I generally follow the following process:

1) Decide what is REALLY important?

By this I mean, decide what totally does need to be included in the story and whether it fits. With the story I am working on now (Dare) I was willing to write a whole nother book in the series (making it 4 books rather than 3) because I wanted to include a situation where at ‘Hero School’ they had a class on ‘Death of Significant Family Member’, because this happens to a lot of super heroes. Was that Idea worth writing a whole new book? Probably not.

2) If It’s NOT important scale it down.

So instead of writing a full book about Romulus going to super hero school, I decided there’s be a passing conversation about how at Super School there IS a class on this subject. If the idea isn’t super important, scale it back.

3) What would create the best emotional impact?

I look at the ideas I have an sequence them to ensure that I achieve the ideal emotional reaction I wanted. I look holistically at what I want readers to feel and regardless of what I want I order the story accordingly.

If you have any tips on how to sequence stories in the best possible way totally let me know because I’d super appreciate it. Anyway, I figured now was a good time to remind you that sometimes it’s not about HAVING the ideas, it’s about IMPLEMENTING them

The Gift of Experience

I had this total realization this weekend.

As authors, at the end of the day we are basically formulating an experience for people. We design this cast of characters, a variety of settings and them a jumble of things that occur that make an audience feel a specific way.

We are providing them with an experience when they read what we have written.

This weekend sort of made me see how much of a privilege that actually is.

So my mother and I went to Sydney for the weekend to visit my Aunt.

My Aunt is eighty-six I think, my dad’s half sister and a nun of the order of the Sacred Heart in Kensington NSW.

Anyway so we had to get to the air port at like… 4am (NZ time) and wait three hours before a three hour flight, arriving at 9ish (AUS time). I was exhausted. Regardless, my Aunty really, really wanted to take my mother and I to the Blue Mountains.

We left at about 11, and drove all the way out of Sydney to the Blue Mountains, it took like… two hours because we stopped at all kinds of places and made detours to see houses that my Aunt and her friend (also a nun) had stayed in.

Anyway it was super hot and the drive was long and we finally arrived at Echo Point (I think that’s the name) which is basically this amazing overlook to this expanse.

NZ isn’t really that big… so for me it was just so amazing to see something so HUGE that went on and on. My Aunt pointed out various places and explained how here she didn’t have to ‘say formal prayers,’ because she just felt God there.

She also explained how my half uncle (her brother) had passed away in the Blue Mountains, a blue baby who died at eight as a result of there being little they could do for him at that time.

It was actually so beautiful and as long as the trip was it was super worth it.

Then there was this immense drive home with traffic and we eventually got back to the convent at about 6pm (AUS time)

I was exhausted.

But something really struck me on the way home as we were trapped in the Australian gridlock and that was this idea of gifting experiences to people.

‘I really wanted you to have this experience.’ My Aunt told my mother and I.

HAVE this experience. How awesome is that? We can gift people experiences. Things they will remember their whole lives? I just think that is so breathtaking and so so relevant to us as writers with our audiences.

We take something special to us, and we can show or communicate it to someone else because we want them to have it to.

Isn’t that at the end of the day what we writers do?convent7

The Importance of Foreshadowing in Writing: What Could Go Wrong Diving in Caves?

There is nothing like being ‘in on’ a joke.

You know, when you feel that ‘I am a part of something,’ feeling when you are part of a joke between a person or group of people.

Foreshadowing in writing is important because it is like inviting your readers to be ‘in on’ something.

Foreshadowing is a literary device that we use to hint at what may be coming a few chapters ahead. If used effectively it can be a really great way to make your readers feel a part of the ‘stronger narrative’ of the story you are writing. They have this ‘idea’ this looming inkling of where you’re going, whether it is towards a GOOD outcome or a BAD.

A really excellent example of this, which has sort of made it’s way into my every day slang is from the movie Sanctum.

Whenever I talk about something which is fairly inevitable, I will often conclude the statement by saying, ‘What could go wrong diving in caves?’

I don’t know if you’ve seen Sanctum, but it’s basically this horrifying movie about a group of people trapped inside underwater caves. About five minutes into the film – you know, before all the awful things that happen when the characters get trapped and have to escape via a tunnel named ‘the Meat Grinder’ – one of the characters says something stupid.

‘What could go wrong diving in caves!?’

Uh let’s ask that question. What could go wrong diving in caves? Everything. Everything can go wrong diving in caves. But it’s this foreshadowed moment when your spine tingles with the promise of the carnage you are about to witness.

The same can be said for writing your stories. Implore yourself to flicker shadows of the good and bad conclusions of the narrative through your story. Give your readers that tingle of what is to come.

In saying this, there are different ways of USING foreshadowing techniques. Here’s my little chart. Hopefully you find it useful!

Often your intended purpose will be reflected on how obvious you make the ‘foreshadow’ or ‘Red Herring.’

Foreshadowing

It Is Not The End Yet.

Sometimes things happen when you least expect them to.

Sometimes we get so lost in the middle of things and concepts that we don’t understand that it is not over and we just have to keep going and get a better, fuller scope and things will make sense.

So in New Zealand at the moment there is a level of hysteria associated with a chocolate milk made by Lewis Road Creamery. The excitement is in the most part driven by the fact that the chocolate milk is made chocolate by the use of Whitakers Chocolate.

For those who do not live in New Zealand, Whitakers Chocolate kicks the ass of every Swiss/Belgian/Whatever chocolate ever. No kidding.

Anyway so you actually can’t buy a bottle anywhere. No kidding. When fresh stock is delivered to a super market someone will post it on social media and generally it is sold out in minutes if not seconds. The place that makes it is super snobby too and will only sell it the same day it’s made so only selected retailers have it.

I tried to find it once or twice with my boyfriend but failed.

It’s funny how we often stop in the middle of something. We don’t realize that we’re not seeing the full picture of our story.

I have been working on this ‘key relationship’ dynamic in my book. It is the final book and this is THE core relationship so it has to be perfect, and I was super struggling and finally I realized the reason I was struggling was because I was stopping too soon. I wasn’t looking wide enough at the full scope and explore the future a little more.

Likewise I was having a total ‘Life Freak Out’ last night and my boyfriend stopped me mid freak out and told me that I needed to calm down because I wasn’t at the end yet.

I thought that was super interesting because sometimes we struggle with concepts or storylines in a way that’s unnatural because they are unnatural. Because it’s not the end yet.

If you just keep going it will make sense.

Anyway so today I was at the physiotherapist and before hand I thought I’d stop in to get something to eat. While there I spotted a girl holding the all too familiar brown bottle with the golden lid that I’d seen on social networking and the news and promotional material.

‘Where did she get it!?’ I wondered internally, looking around not so subtly.

Then I saw it. Near the bottom of the drinks cabinet, two rows of the coveted so hard to find chocolate milk.

It is not over yet.

Naming Your Characters

I was reading book reviews today and found this comment.

TruthIt made me laugh like… super hard.

When teaching a lot of the time I have students who absolutely stress over their characters’ names. As in. They cannot possibly go forward in planning or actual writing because they can’t think of a name for their characters.

As a result of this I am pretty good at naming character related advice.

TIPS FOR COMING UP WITH CHARACTER NAMES

When trying to find a name generally you know what letter you’re looking for. That sounds weird I know but a name starting with ‘E’ (Earl, Eustace, Evan) will give a different vibe to a name starting with ‘J’ (James, Jake, Jesse) Figure out that ‘Letter Vibe,’ and go from there.

If the letter thing doesn’t work, try baby name websites. I use http://www.babynames.com it has this super handy option which allows you to search a ‘meaning’ or even a ‘origin’ of a name. You need an Irish character who is strong? Liam. Bingo.

Ensure that you name characters according to the TYPE of fiction.

TIPS TO AVOID CHARACTER NAME CRIMES

As mentioned above, don’t give your characters cringe worthy names such as ‘Angel.’ I am super sorry if 1) your name is Angel or 2) you know a person named Angel who is perfectly lovely but just don’t.

Your character needs a name which conveys the personality they have. Not a stripper name. Again sorry about the afore mentioned points 1 and 2.

Avoid using the same letter for every single one of your characters’ names. I have made this mistake before. It is confusing.

Avoid weird spelling of what would be simple names. Otherwise when you get published people will CONSTANTLY PRONOUNCE IT WRONG! Take this from experience. Write it how it is said.

Avoid long winded, weird fantastical names with ‘AE’ substituted for what would usually be like a ‘i’ ‘e’ or ‘a’. It’s weird and people will forget your character’s names. (See Super Official Graph Below)

And IF you have to give them weirdo names, make sure that your minor cast have more traditional names, (I am talking, non important characters here… not major ones) That way it makes it easier to see the wood from the trees.

CharactersNames

Throw It In The Bin

Last week someone was talking to me about my ‘creative process.’

So in normal person talk I am pretty sure that’s the ‘How Do You Make Up The Stuff That You Make Up?’

They wanted to know how I:

- Got a concept

- Planned the concept

- Expanded it into actual material

- Edited the material

It was weird because I’d never quite thought that through before. Generally it’s something I just kind of do and as much as I totally keep a blog I don’t think too hard about stuff that I guess just happens out of natural intuition.

Anyway so I had to think about it because I had to give this person an answer.

What surprised me the most was my thoughts on editing, because I am pretty ruthless.

Once, I heard that the most inspiring thing that a writer can keep in mind is this:

Write better.

As a result, not only is it the two words written in the front of every single notebook I have it is also the initials that I pen when editing any work. W.B in the margins.

No jokes, if you look through some of my drafts, pages and pages and pages are crossed out in highlighter with those two letters hidden to one side.

I mean if it’s not good, then don’t keep it.

As a result, editing for me isn’t a gray area, it’s a yes or no. Is this working? Yes or no. If Yes, it stays, if No, do something else.

I am a huge fan of keeping stuff because you never know what you may go back to and recycle but then there are times where things just suck.

I wrote a song this week that sucked. Really sucked.

Played it to my boyfriend, and he told me it sucked. That’s how much it sucked.

Anyway. Top stop myself from doing this thing that is super dangerous, ‘settling’ I selected the file.

Then I deleted it.

Sometimes you have to throw it in the bin.

Doing Something Is Better Than Nothing

When I was younger I never understood that whole ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ thing.

I’m not sure if it was because I just didn’t think hard enough about it or I was stupid but for some reason I thought it was some Captain Planet Environmentalist saying.

Like, it’s better to release birds because there will be two of them in the bush (as a result of breeding, so like, the bird you had would find another bird and they’d have baby birds…?) so it’s better to just… free the birds rather than keep them all to yourself where they won’t make little birds in the wild.

I was colossally wrong about the meaning of this phrase.

There are a million reasons why you can’t do that thing you need to do. I’ve been thinking about it in relation to some of my students recently, but also to myself as I’ve been doing a bunch of songwriting.

The fact of the matter is this. It is better to just do something than do nothing.

‘I just don’t know where to start.’

‘But I don’t know what to do next.’

‘I don’t know what to name my characters.’

‘I have writer’s block.’

Insert another stupid excuse which really doesn’t matter.

Someone really smart once told me that it’s better to get something down than nothing. In other words, a bird in the hand (in the context of this analogy, a Falcon used for hunting) is way better than two that are free, out of your control in the bush.

Sometimes we allow things to immobilize us. But as creative, we are like sharks. If you’re not moving, you’re dead. You always have to be chipping away regardless of how difficult it is, how bad you think it is, whether or not you are happy with the character’s names.

The truth is that things can always be changed, but going back and revising something is better than having nothing at all.

I reminded myself of this last night when I sat down to work on a song I was writing for submission for church. (I try to write music for church, by the way.)

‘But I suck at recording. And I can only record piano tracks at work and I’m not happy with the verses, and I suck at singing, so they won’t like it because they won’t see past how crappy my singing/playing is.’

Then I was like. Okay I can either wake up tomorrow and be exactly where I am now, or I can edge closer to the end game. So I picked up my tiny acoustic guitar with the broken neck that I actually can’t play very well because heck I play piano not guitar and sung my song. But today I am one step closer to the end game.

To be honest, I was sort of stoked with the results. https://soundcloud.com/gideonpress/changeless-acoustic

shark

When Writing’s Not Hard Work

The are times that writing can feel like pulling teeth.

Hard, painful, a total struggle.

Then there are other times that it just happens.

I’m totally experiencing the latter right now.

The thing is that neither sign of brilliance.

Some of the best stuff I’ve written has been a battle to get down on paper. In saying this you often hear stories about how some author’s have characters who just wander into view perfectly formed and the plot just unfolds in literary perfection.

The thing is that whether you experience the ease of a story just exploding in your head or you have to wrestle it into submission to fully understand it, you have to remember that at the end of the day it will be worth while.

The other thing is you have to appreciate that often you will feel both of these extremes at some point during the same story.

When I first started the super hero book I am working on at the moment (Dare, which is super awesome by the way) it was a mission.

‘I don’t know the character well enough,’ I said, because I was used to knowing my cast so completely (in the other series I write) that I don’t even blink when the characters do or say something.

Now, about half way in, it is practically pouring from my fingertips.

Writing is a mix bag. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy and often there is no rational reason why.

Two things.

If you are finding it hard, don’t stop.

I say this to my students all the time. Often writers block is in your head. There have been times I have thought, ‘Holy Moly, this is the worst writing I’ve ever done.’ then I read back over it and it’s completely fine. If it’s hard, keep going, and work it out.

Most things can be made easier by perseverance, and sitting down, and thinking it through. You are the author after all, no matter what the challenge, you can write your way out of it.

If you are on a roll, don’t lose focus.

Sometimes I’ve written stuff and I’ve been convinced that it’s the most brilliant work to be put to paper and then I look back and it’s so bad I’m embarrassed. When you’re on a roll, it’s easy to get the wobbles.

The wobbles are those speedbumps that happen when you don’t have the chance to think things through because you’re so super enthusiastic.

Take your time, slow down, and think it all through do you don’t have to come back and do a major rewrite.

Writing involves a LOT of highs and lows. Sometimes you can find yourself up to your ears in a project that’s as hard as washing a cat.

Other times it’s like that scene in Jurassic Park where they dig up that perfect dinosaur skeleton.

I’m totally in Jurassic Park Zone but talk to me next week and I may be in a completely different place.JP