Friday, May 13, 2022

Writing Humor: let’s look at observational humor! #Writingtip #amwriting #writing #Comedy

In writing the humorous mystery series, The Accidental Detective, I explored different types of humor in writing. My previous posts addressed physical comedy, quirky characters, and wordplay, including puns. Today let’s explore my favorite: observational humor, such as comments about the oddity of life.

This kind of humor is the hardest – or maybe the easiest. It really depends on whether you make these kinds of wry observations yourself. If so, you merely need to let your inner snark out. I don’t really think of myself as a funny person, because I don’t tell jokes or funny stories. I’m not the “life of the party.” The idea of stand-up comedy terrifies me.

And yet, both my agent and my editor said they laughed a lot when reading Something Shady at Sunshine Haven. It’s not that I use a lot of jokes and slapstick, but rather that Kate makes witty observations about life, the way I do. I tend to keep those thoughts in my mind, or else drop a quiet comment in a group chat. Then, chances are one person will catch my eye with the amused look that says, “I saw what you did there.” Everyone else will keep on talking.

But in a book, the reader is right there in the character’s head, at least if you’re in first person POV or close third person viewpoint. That gives your audience a better chance to catch those subtle humorous comments.

Here are a few examples from Something Shady. They probably work better in context, but hopefully you can see why my editor flagged them as places that made her chuckle. Then keep reading for some examples written in third person POV.

I put my free hand on her arm. “I understand. We’ll find the truth.”

Heather nodded and opened the door. I felt her watching as I limped down the hall. I must look more like one of her patients than like a source of answers.

Stop it. It’s not all about you.

Most of the people in this building had it worse than I did. Unfortunately, I didn’t take comfort in knowing other people were suffering too.

Still, I could help Heather, and the patients, by uncovering the truth. If Heather’s suspicious were right, I might even save a life or two, if only to give them a few more months of dying slowly.

What a heroic job I had.

 ***

I lifted the mug and simply inhaled the scent for a minute. The whole ‘breathe in and out’ part of meditation was more interesting with a delicious smell.

  ***

I described the strange phone call from Henry Wilson.

Heather frowned. “I can’t believe Henry would do that. It’s totally inappropriate for any board member to call you like that. He could get in a lot of trouble. He could get us in a lot of trouble. And Henry is one of the good ones. There are board members I . . . have mixed feelings about, but Henry isn’t one of them.”

“Maybe I’ll go see him in person tomorrow,” I said. “If he’s hiding something, a direct assault might push him to do something stupid and reveal himself.”

“When you say it that way, it sounds dangerous.”

I shrugged. “I’ve interviewed warlords. I think I can handle one . . . what is he, in his regular life?”

“He owns a chain of local grocery stores.”

Sure, war criminal, drug lord, grocer. All dangerous people one should avoid.

  ***

“Honestly, I wouldn’t gossip!” June lowered her voice. “Please don’t get me in trouble. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt anyone here, honestly.”

I didn’t entirely trust anyone who felt the need to use “honestly” that often, but if she had mentioned my meeting to someone, she was too frightened to admit it. Maybe I should have tried a gentler approach. After all, she was a young American office worker, not a suspected terrorist or military commander.

Did I know any gentler approaches? None came to mind.

Something Shady at Sunshine Haven: War correspondent Kate Tessler has followed the most dangerous news stories around the world. But can she survive going home?

Find the book: Tule Publishing        Amazon Kindle           Amazon Kindle UK
B&N Nook     Apple Books   Kobo   Google Play
GoodReads     BookBub

Get a free Accidental Detective short story and bonus material when you sign up for my newsletter.

What about writing in third person? 

My brother and I are writing a romantic comedy series featuring teen “Felony Melanie” before the events of the movie Sweet Home Alabama. In Felony Melanie in Pageant Pandemonium, Melanie wants to qualify for the Miss Alabama Princess Pageant, because the prize could be her ticket out of Pigeon Creek. These first brief excerpts are the morning of the qualifying pageant, after Melanie has had a late and eventful night:

Melanie had to rally. She forced herself out of bed with one big heave. Stumbled to the bathroom. Her teeth felt fuzzy as peach skin. Her eyes were red-veined marbles in sooty sockets, and her tangled hair could be hiding any number of bird’s nests. She stuck out her tongue at her reflection. Some beauty queen. No doubt about it, the bill from yesterday had come due.

[Later]

Melanie took a deep breath to clear her head and set to work on her makeup. She added one more application of eye drops that promised to reduce redness. She blotted her eyes with tissues, gently pulled down her bottom lashes, and ran white eyeliner along the inner rim. That was supposed to make eyes look “radiant.” She was hoping for “awake and sober.”

 And during the pageant:

Melanie shifted into her pageant voice – a hint of southern lilt but proper grammar and precise diction. “I’m Melanie Smooter, sixteen years old, from Pigeon Creek, Alabama.”

As if y’all didn’t already know that. The next part was harder. She had to say something about herself – and she couldn’t fudge it since everybody knew her. She and Lurlynn had worked for hours on this, giggling the whole time, but in the end even Melanie’s mama approved it.

“I’m always a girl on the go, working my hardest to leave my mark on my community.”

A few chuckles came from the audience.

What? Her statement was the honest to God truth.

“I love fashion, football –” and one football player in particular – “and I aim to make my hometown proud one day.”

By getting the heck out of there and showing what a Pigeon Creek girl could do in the real world.

As you can see, even in third person, staying close to the character’s point of view lets you add their humorous way of seeing the world to your story.

Visit the Amazon series page for Felony Melanie: Sweet Home Alabama romantic comedy novels. Sign up for our Rom-Com newsletter and get Felony Melanie Destroys the Moonshiner’s Cabin. These first two chapters from the novel Felony Melanie in Pageant Pandemonium stand alone as a short story

Advanced Plotting now free via Kindle Unlimited!

“The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!”

“Advanced Plotting is helping me to stop and ask the right questions, to dig deeper.”

“The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript.”

You Can Write for Children: Write Great Stories, Articles, Books for Kids and Teenagers, is available in Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

“If you have thought of writing a book for children, this book will take you from the “idea” stage all the way through to the “finished” stage.”

“This is a terrific resource book for anyone who has considered writing for children. Each chapter has a tip section as well as specific resources, concrete examples, and easy to understand explanation of terms and topics. Excellent book!”

Friday, April 29, 2022

Writing Humor: Wordplay, jokes and puns #Writingtip #amwriting #writing #Comedy

In writing the humorous mystery series The Accidental Detective, I explored different types of humor writing. My previous posts addressed physical comedy and quirky characters. Today let’s explore wordplay, including puns, with one example from Something Shady at Sunshine Haven and another from Felony Melanie in the Big Smashup.

Wordplay is simply the manipulation of language with the intent to amuse. Types include Double Entendres ("I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” (Mae West), Tongue Twisters, Malapropisms (the mistaken use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, to humorous effect, as in “A rolling stone gathers no moths.”) and Puns. While some of these forms of humor may be disparaged, they were good enough for Shakespeare.

 A pun is a joke that depends on a play on words. It typically involves a word that has several meanings or sounds like a different word. Some people love puns and some people hate them, but even those who love puns agree that the best ones get the audience to groan. Some books, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are filled with puns. Cozy mysteries often have a pun in the title, as in Becky Clark’s Police Navidad and Punning with Scissors. Children often enjoy puns, so you’ll find books such as Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko Series that are packed full of them.


For most of us, a few puns go a long way, but they can add a chuckle to any story. Here’s an example from Something Shady at Sunshine Haven. Kate has had to admit to her father that she’s investigating suspicious deaths at the nursing home where Kate’s mother now lives. He wants to help and thinks the other senior men in his coffee group would also help.

“If I . . . if we can reduce the list of people to investigate, we can focus on the most likely culprits,” I said. “That does mean more internet research but also talking to people or maybe following them.”

“I can help with that. In fact, all the fellows could help. They’d like to, I’m sure.”

Uh-oh, what had I started? “Dad, it has to be confidential.”

“We don’t have to tell them everything. We can ask them to follow specific people, find out certain things. They won’t ask why if we say it’s a secret. The men in my coffee group may be old retired guys, but we have a lot of life experience. And a lot of free time.”

Having a whole group of helpers might save time and effort, or it might turn the investigation into a Keystone Cops comedy. “I don’t want to put anyone in danger.”

“I’ll make sure they understand, but we’ve survived this long. Most of them will think it’s fun, being private detectives for a while.”

I pictured a bunch of seniors in trench coats and fedoras. “Sherlock Holmes had his Baker Street Irregulars, the ragtag kids who gathered information for him. I get an old guys brigade?”

“We could call ourselves the Coffee Shop Irregulars.” He chuckled. “Although at our age, we spend a lot of time trying to be ‘regular’!”

Men. No matter how old they got, they still loved a poop joke.

Something Shady at Sunshine Haven: War correspondent Kate Tessler has followed the most dangerous news stories around the world. But can she survive going home? Get a free Accidental Detective short story and bonus material when you sign up for my newsletter. Find the book:

Tule Publishing           Amazon Kindle           Amazon Kindle UK

B&N Nook     Apple Books   Kobo   Google Play    GoodReads     BookBub


The Teenage Adventures of Felony Melanie series is based on characters from the movie Sweet Home Alabama. People in the South enjoy a lot of humorous sayings, which means that my cowriter and I can draw on those sayings or make up our own.

Here’s an excerpt from Felony Melanie in the Big Smashup, where the girls are annoyed that sexism is keeping Melanie from participating in the junior demolition derby: 

Melanie glared back toward the cabin [at the junkyard]. The porch was empty, so either the boys had gone inside with Mr. Hopkins, or he’d taken them in another direction to find the parts they needed. “Grumpy old fart,” she muttered. “I’ll show them a thing or two.”

“Don’t let it bother you,” Dorothea said. “As my grandpa would say, old man Hopkins is a turd in a punch bowl.”

“My mama likes to say folks like him have the personality of a dishrag,” Lurlynn said.

Melanie started to smile. “He’s as windy as a sack full of farts.”

“He’s so country he thinks a seven-­course meal is a possum and a six-pack,” Dorothea added.

Pretty soon, the girls were shrieking with laughter. Melanie hoped Jake heard it all the way to wherever he’d gone.

Visit the Amazon series page for Felony Melanie: Sweet Home Alabama romantic comedy novels. Sign up for our Rom-Com newsletter and get Felony Melanie Destroys the Moonshiner’s Cabin. These first two chapters from the novel Felony Melanie in Pageant Pandemonium stand alone as a short story

For most forms of writing, it’s probably best not to get carried away with puns. Still, puns and other wordplay can pump up the giggles in a humorous novel and add fun to any kind of writing. Once you start to tune into this kind of language play, opportunities may jump out at you. You can find more extensive articles on writing puns and other wordplay, such as this one from Masterclass.

Advanced Plotting now free via Kindle Unlimited!

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You Can Write for Children: Write Great Stories, Articles, Books for Kids and Teenagers, is available in Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

“If you have thought of writing a book for children, this book will take you from the “idea” stage all the way through to the “finished” stage.”

“This is a terrific resource book for anyone who has considered writing for children. Each chapter has a tip section as well as specific resources, concrete examples, and easy to understand explanation of terms and topics. Excellent book!”

Friday, April 22, 2022

Workshop alert! Revision Workout and Creating Exciting School Visits - in person or on Zoom on May 14, with two-part manuscript critique option #writing #amwriting #editing

Nonwriters seem to believe that authors just sit down to work, write a wonderful book, and when it’s published, everybody buys it. Maybe that has happened. In a fairytale. But first drafts usually need lots of revision. And once your book does get published you need to tell people about it, which for children’s authors means school visits.

Luckily, for those of us who do write, mentors like Suzanne Morgan Williams are happy to share their insights and give us tools to make the process less painful. Suzanne will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico on May 14 to teach two in-person or Zoom workshops, called Revision Workout and So You’re Not a Juggler-Creating Exciting School Visits.

Suzanne Morgan Williams wants you to know that revising your work doesn’t mean that your first draft failed. Suanne likens writing to the building process. “Your first draft is akin to gathering the materials and preparing the land so you can build. Revision is when you do the actual building.” In her workshops, Suzanne gives authors an assortment of revision tools. Everyone is different, but everyone should leave the workshop with at least one tool that resonates with them.

Once your book is available to readers, it’s like a building that needs to be inhabited. Invite readers in with school visits. Kids learn about your book(s) and the visits supplement your income. Suzanne says, “A successful school visit engages your audience in a way they won’t forget. You want to make them laugh, cry, and leave wanting to read more.” Teachers love school visits, especially if you ask them in advance what they’re teaching, so you can tie into their curriculum. However, they often don’t have money to pay authors. Suzanne sometimes receives grants that pay her to talk to kids. She’ll discuss how others might do the same.

Sign up for one or both of Suzanne’s workshops (in-person or online) here. You can also learn more about the extra two-part manuscript critique she’s offering with the revision workshop.

Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the middle grade novel Bull Rider and eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on several state award lists and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Western Heritage and Cowboy Museum. Her nonfiction titles include Piñatas and Smiling Skeletons, The Inuit, and China’s Daughters

Suzanne has presented and taught writing workshops at dozens of schools, professional conferences, and literary events across the US and Canada. She is on the Nevada Arts Council Artist Roster of teaching artists and was Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Member of the Year, 2012. She is a founder of the Nevada SCBWI Mentorship program, and along with revising her own work, she has mentored near twenty novelists through their own revision processes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Writing Humor using quirky characters #Writingtip #amwriting #writing #Comedy

This week’s post is on adding humor through quirky characters. This is a great way to pump up the humor in your story. In general, if we think of a character type – grandmother, cheerleader, private investigator, or whatever – a certain image will easily come to mind. That image tends to be based on societal stereotypes.

For example, someone who needs a “grandmother” character might picture a plump woman with white hair who bakes cookies. But not all grandmothers have white hair! Creating a more distinct character might mean going beyond that initial thought. Perhaps this grandmother dyes her hair with blue and purple streaks, is the town mayor, and takes her grandson to the bowling alley for nachos. A more specific character is actually more believable than a generic character – and a lot more fun.

You should always try to go beyond the easy cliché. When writing humor, push it even farther. Create characters who have interesting quirks, unusual hobbies, or strange passions. They don’t have to be over the top, if that’s not your humor style. Simply make each character as fresh and real as the people you know in life. Let’s look at two examples.

In my humorous mystery Something Shady at Sunshine Haven, war correspondent Kate moves back to Arizona to recover from an injury. Kate’s mother is now in an Alzheimer’s unit at a nursing home. That’s not funny. I don’t want to make her mother’s memory problems the butt of jokes. Still, the relationship between Kate and her mother can have touches of humor.

In the following excerpt, Kate visits her mother for the first time since Mom’s Alzheimer’s was diagnosed.

Mom’s room was the third on the left, small but cheerful, with a single bed, dresser, desk, and chair. She looked like herself, although her face twisted in confusion when I entered.

Dad said, “Look who’s here to see you, Mother. Our daughter Kate has come home.”

Mom reached out with both hands. “Kitty!”

I hadn’t gone by that nickname in decades, but it was better than being forgotten.

“You look tired,” she said. “And you’ve cut your hair.”

I was tired, but I’d worn my hair short for over a decade. Was she remembering me from some previous era? If she thought I was still twenty, then “tired” was a delicate understatement for how I’d changed.

She brushed hair off my forehead. “You should grow your hair out again. It looks so nice long, when you bother to style it.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Maybe she hadn’t changed much after all.

While there is humor in the scene, it’s also a poignant moment between Kate and her mother, and I’ll bet a lot of people will identify with having a parent who sometimes makes unwelcome personal comments.

Something Shady at Sunshine Haven: War correspondent Kate Tessler has followed the most dangerous news stories around the world. But can she survive going home?

Get a free Accidental Detective short story and bonus material when you sign up for my newsletter.

Find the book:    Tule Publishing

Amazon Kindle           Amazon Kindle UK

B&N Nook     Apple Books   Kobo   Google Play

GoodReads     BookBub

In the Felony Melanie: Sweet Home Alabama romantic comedy novels, the quirky side characters are more extreme. In Felony Melanie in the Big Smashup, Melanie wants to join the demolition derby with the boys. She gets help from an older woman who use to drive.

“Now that you’re warmed up, let’s see you backwards,” Miz Kitchens said.

“Backwards?” Melanie squeaked.

Miz Kitchens leaned down with her arm across the window frame. “You don’t think you can do the Derby going forward, do you? You have to protect the engine. That’s why the cars mostly run around backward, at least the ones that last.” She shook her head. “Pretty as a pumpkin but half as smart.”

Melanie’s face heated. “I can drive backward.”

“Then do it.” Miz Kitchens straightened and slapped the top of the car. “Come on, tail up and stinger out!”

Melanie bit down on her lower lip, squinted at the rearview mirror, and tried to back the car down the row.

Scrape.

Oops. Good thing all the cars were already damaged. She pulled forward a couple of feet and tried again.

Whoa! Now she was too far in the other direction. She’d barely passed the parallel parking part of her driver’s exam. Her eyes said she should do one thing, but the car didn’t seem to agree.

Miz Kitchens stomped over to her, waving her arms. “No, no, no! You want to putter around in backward circles while they ram you? You’ve got to drive with confidence. Don’t rely on your mirrors – you won’t have them in the derby anyway.”

Melanie twisted around to look out the back window. That gave her more warning when she was going off course. She managed to get down the road. Now she just had to turn –

Whoops. She’d meant to go the other way. Oh well, no one would know what she intended. At least she made it around the row of cars without hitting anything.

No, no, brake! Where was the brake? Her foot got caught under it. She yanked it out, slammed it down, and jerked to a stop. Okay, lesson learned. She had to know where the gas and brake were without looking at them. She touched her foot from one to the other a few times to get the feel for how far apart they were.

Miz Kitchens threw her arms in the air. “This ain’t no tea party! You have to be tougher than any fellow out there. Girls in demolition derby are as scarce as deviled eggs after a church picnic. You fail out there, and they’ll say no girl can do it.”

Visit the Amazon series page for Felony Melanie: Sweet Home Alabama romantic comedy novels. Sign up for our Rom-Com newsletter and get Felony Melanie Destroys the Moonshiner’s Cabin. These first two chapters from the novel Felony Melanie in Pageant Pandemonium stand alone as a short story

Advanced Plotting now free via Kindle Unlimited!

“The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!”

“Advanced Plotting is helping me to stop and ask the right questions, to dig deeper.”

“The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript.”

You Can Write for Children: Write Great Stories, Articles, Books for Kids and Teenagers, is available in Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

“If you have thought of writing a book for children, this book will take you from the “idea” stage all the way through to the “finished” stage.”

“This is a terrific resource book for anyone who has considered writing for children. Each chapter has a tip section as well as specific resources, concrete examples, and easy to understand explanation of terms and topics. Excellent book!”

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Writing Humor: Types of humor and a look at physical comedy #Writingtip #amwriting #writing #Comedy

In writing the humorous mystery series The Accidental Detective, I explored different types of humor in writing. Over the next few weeks, I’ll delve into each type and give examples. First, here are the types I’ll address. (Different sources will give a different number and types of humor.)

  • Physical comedy, such as slapstick
  • Quirky characters
  • Wordplay, including puns
  • Observational humor, such as comments about the oddity of life

Today, let’s look at physical comedy. This works well in movies and TV shows, where you can see pratfalls, clowning around, people making funny faces, and so forth. It was especially important in silent movies that depended on visuals rather than words. It is more of a challenge in books, where the action must be described in words. Still, some authors use a lot of physical humor – Jana DeLeon is an example. Her humorous mysteries are full of comical explosions, people flying through the air, and messes.

I generally prefer to use a light touch with the physical comedy in my books. Still, these moments can add humor as well as advance the plot. In Something Shady at Sunshine Haven, former war correspondent Kate is back in Arizona recovering from an injury. She uses a cane to support her damaged left leg. An old acquaintance who runs the nursing home where Kate’s mother lives asks Kate to quietly investigate whether something is wrong in the home.

In the following excerpt, Kate has been interviewing an elderly man in a wheelchair when one of her suspects, a cranky employee named Norman Mendelson tries to interfere.

Mendelson joined us, his hands on his hips. “Miss Tessler, I see you’re here again. I hope you aren’t bothering the residents with your questions.”

“I prefer Ms. Tessler, and I was having a lovely chat with a very interesting man.”

Tommy beamed at Mendelson. “Not many people want to listen to my war stories, but this young lady has been humoring me.”

I spotted Mrs. Gregorian and her family. If Mrs. Gregorian was one of the overmedicated patients, that opened up a new line of questioning.

I turned to Tommy. “It was lovely talking to you. I hope we’ll meet again when I’m here visiting my mother. I need to speak to some other new friends now.”

Mendelson scowled and shuffled his feet, but he could hardly keep me from talking to people in the public room.

I grinned. “Have a great day.”

I felt his gaze on me as I turned to cross the room.

Between the residents and visiting family members, the spacious room was a swirl of activity. I waited for a woman using a walker to cross in front of me. My leg ached, so I shifted more of my weight onto my good leg and the cane. A man to my right half turned, gesturing wildly with his arms while he told a story. I flinched back to avoid being hit.

Something slammed into my left leg. I grunted in pain as my leg collapsed. My cane swung upward, goosing the gesturing man and tangling in his legs.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the floor in a heap.

This is a minor moment, but several early readers noted that they laughed when the man got goosed. The scene also moves the story forward, as Kate now wonders if Mendelson tried to stop her from interviewing other people. In addition, it reveals Kate’s character as she has to deal with being the center of attention in a way that makes her uncomfortable.

Small moments of physical comedy can add humor and make a scene more visual too. Here's an example from Felony Melanie in PageantPandemonium: A Sweet Home Alabama romantic comedy novel:

Melanie perched on a stump half hidden among the bushes and weeds. Jake and the gang would be along soon. It was finally starting to cool down a bit, though the humidity still thickened the air. Today had been what her daddy referred to as a “three T-shirt day.”

Something rustled in the bushes behind her. She twisted to peer through the heavy growth. The cherry bombs had made her jumpy. Sure, the woods could hold dangerous critters, but this was most likely only a bird or rabbit. But you had to watch out for wild dogs, and wild pigs were huge and nasty, with tusks like Bowie knives. She sniffed the air for the smell of wild hog, all wet fur and decaying mud and piss, stinking to high heaven. None of that, thank goodness. But was that … body spray?

A new sound rumbled through the dusk. “Eldon, are you hunnnnngry?”

Melanie leapt to her feet. Clinton popped out of a bush a few feet away.

She groaned. Not this again! She spun away from him.

Skinny Eldon stalked her from the other side, grinning. “I’m starving.”

Melanie backed up, but her legs bumped the stump. “No. No, no, no.”

“I could use a Melanie sandwich,” Clinton said.

She darted for the road.

Clinton and Eldon jumped forward and squashed her between them. Clinton’s flowing mullet tickled her cheek as his broad chest smothered her.

Melanie wriggled. “Did y’all forget to shower after the game?” 

So when it comes to physical humor, I usually like a light touch, but it is one of many techniques that can work to make writing funny. In some genres, such as children’s books and romantic comedy, physical humor can be extreme, even over the top. 

As a bonus, a little physical humor might make your book seem more cinematic. Who knows, you could attract the attention of Hollywood!

Something Shady at Sunshine Haven: War correspondent Kate Tessler has followed the most dangerous news stories around the world. But can she survive going home?

In the humorous Accidental Detective series, a witty journalist solves mysteries in Arizona and tackles the challenges of turning fifty.

Find the book:

Tule Publishing
Amazon Kindle
B&N Nook
Apple Books
Kobo
Google Play
Amazon Kindle UK
GoodReads
BookBub

Get a free Accidental Detective short story and bonus material when you sign up for my newsletter. This collection includes a ten-page mystery short story set in the world of “The Accidental Detective” series, information about the series, and the first chapter of book 1. After that are three fun, short stories originally written for children. You’ll also get Lions and Love at the Cat Café, a free 30-page sweet romance set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café, and “22 recipes from the cat café.”

Advanced Plotting now free via Kindle Unlimited!

“The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!”

“Advanced Plotting is helping me to stop and ask the right questions, to dig deeper.”

“The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript.”

You Can Write for Children: Write Great Stories, Articles, Books for Kids and Teenagers, is available in Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

“If you have thought of writing a book for children, this book will take you from the “idea” stage all the way through to the “finished” stage.”

“This is a terrific resource book for anyone who has considered writing for children. Each chapter has a tip section as well as specific resources, concrete examples, and easy to understand explanation of terms and topics. Excellent book!”

 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Try MockupShots and get your book cover added to hundreds of images #AmWriting #WritersLife #writing

I recently signed up with MockupShots – it's like BookBrush, but instead of an annual or monthly fee, it's a one-time purchase. You can upload your book cover and it will put it into a couple hundred images, such as people holding the book or the book on a table or desk (as you see from these sample pages with one of my books). 

Obviously not all images will be right for each book, but you should find several – likely dozens – that are suitable.  It's a good way to do "photo shoots" of your books without having to actually set up a photo shoot. You can also do video mockups and cover reveal images, and you can edit the images via the site.

This month only, it's only $77 for *lifetime* use (normally almost $200). I love lifetime deals, because that one time fee usually pays for itself in a matter of months. 

Learn more or grab it here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Are you #amwriting or #amediting? Give yourself or the writers in your life a #blackfriday gift to follow up #NaNoWriMo - #writing books for #KidLit and other plotters

Take your novel to the next level.

You’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work.

This book can help.

Advanced Plotting is helping me to be more focused, to stop and ask the right questions, to dig deeper.”

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer. Read the book straight through, study the index to find help with your current problem, or dip in and out randomly — however you use this book, you’ll find fascinating insights and detailed tips to help you build a stronger plot and become a better writer.

“This really is helping me a lot. It's written beautifully and to-the-point. The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript. The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!”

The Plot Outline Exercise is designed to help you work with a completed manuscript to identify and fix plot weaknesses. It can also help flesh out an outline. Additional articles address specific plot challenges, such as getting off to a fast start, propping up a sagging middle, building to a climax, and improving your pacing. A dozen guest authors share advice from their own years of experience.

“I just read and dissected your well-written book: Advanced Plotting. It's now highlighted in bright orange and littered with many of those little 3M sticky labels. GOOD JOB. There are too many just-for-beginners books out there. Yours was a delight.”

Buy Advanced Plotting in print or as an e-book at Amazon, free in KU.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 15 novels for adults and 100 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. See all of Chris’s links

Chris is also the author of You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers

“A must for your writing library!”

Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or something else. 

In this book, you will learn:

  • How to explore the wide variety of age ranges, genres, and styles in writing stories, articles and books for young people.
  • How to find ideas.
  • How to develop an idea into a story, article, or book.
  • The basics of character development, plot, setting, and theme – and some advanced elements.
  • How to use point of view, dialogue, and thoughts.
  • How to edit your work and get critiques.
  • Where to learn more on various subjects.

Whether you’re just starting out or have some experience, this book will make you a better writer – and encourage you to have fun!

“A definite winner in the how-to-write book library.”

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Chris Eboch's novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the StairsSee all of Chris’s links.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Plot Like a Screenwriter with Douglas J. Eboch #scriptchat #scriptwriting #amwriting

If you've been following this blog for long, you've probably “met” my brother, scriptwriter Douglas J. Eboch. I love talking about writing with him and following his screenwriting blog,
Let's Schmooze. Novelists can learn a lot from movie writers. Here's an excerpt from the essay Doug wrote for my book Advanced Plotting. This works with our exploration of building your novel.

Plotting Like a Screenwriter
by Douglas J. Eboch

Solid plotting is critical to screenwriters. Movies are expected to deliver stories with the complexity and depth of a novel but in much less time. The average screenplay is 110 pages with lots of white on the page. That means we have to be very efficient. As a result, Hollywood has developed a “three act structure” concept of plotting.

But before I get into the three act structure, I want to discuss the foundation of narrative. This may seem a little basic at first, but there is a method to my madness. I want to show that the three act approach is not some Hollywood formula but grows out of the fundamental nature of storytelling.

So let me start by addressing the question: What is a story?

A story needs three things. First, we need a character. The character need not be human, but he or she must behave in recognizably human fashion — Mickey Mouse, for example. If you don’t have a character you may be writing a travel guide, op-ed essay, or a scientific treatise but you are not writing a story.

Next, the character must be facing some kind of dilemma. I don’t really care to hear about someone whose life is just fine. I mean, that’s great for them, but how does it affect me? Whatever it is that causes us to respond to made-up stories has something to do with watching how people deal with problems.

Finally, a story needs a resolution. I’m watching/listening/reading to find out how this character deals with their problem. I’m not going to be satisfied until I see how it all comes out.

If you have those three things, you have a story — even a thirty-second narrative commercial has them. A young man (character) is not getting good gas mileage (dilemma) so he tries a different type of gasoline and his mileage improves (resolution).

But simply having a character, dilemma, and resolution doesn’t necessarily make the story dramatic. If you have a guy sitting in his living room whose dilemma is that he’s hungry and he goes into the kitchen to make a sandwich you have a story…but not a very dramatic one.

There are two things that affect how dramatic your story is: stakes and obstacles. The more that’s at stake for the character and the greater the obstacles standing in the way of successfully resolving the dilemma, the more dramatic your story becomes. Of course “dramatic” isn’t quite the same as “good” but we’ll get to that.

Those five things — character, dilemma, resolution, stakes and obstacles — are the basis of three-act structure. In act one we introduce a character with a dilemma and show what’s at stake. In act two the character tries to resolve their dilemma but faces increasing obstacles. And in act three we get some kind of resolution (not necessarily successful, but final.)

Now let’s look at the components of three act structure. Probably the most important is the Dramatic Question. If you understand nothing else but the Dramatic Question and the Moment of Failure (which I’ll get to in a bit) you’ll probably end up with a fairly well structured story.

What the Dramatic Question Is

The Dramatic Question is the structural spine of your story. On some level all Dramatic Questions can be boiled down to “Will the character solve their dilemma?” Of course that’s not very helpful to the writer trying to crack a particular story. You need to ask that question with the specifics of your character and dilemma.

So in Star Wars (written by George Lucas) the question is “Will Luke Skywalker defeat Darth Vadar?” In E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (written by Melissa Mathison) it’s “Can Elliot save E.T.?” In Little Miss Sunshine (written by Michael Arndt) it’s “Will Olive win the beauty pageant?”

Those sound simple, right? Simpler is better when it comes to the Dramatic Question. But it’s not always easy to be simple. You have to know who your character is and what their dilemma is before you can craft a nice simple Dramatic Question. But then if you haven’t figured out your character and their dilemma, you’re not really ready to start writing yet anyway!

I also think it’s good to phrase the Dramatic Question as a yes or no question. So it’s not “Who will Susan marry?” it’s “Will Susan marry Bill?” Keeping it yes/no helps you tightly focus your narrative.

What the Dramatic Question Is Not

The Dramatic Question is not the theme of your movie. It’s not the hook. It’s not necessarily the character arc (sometimes it is, but not usually.) It doesn’t define whether your story is sophisticated or facile.

Do not think the Dramatic Question determines the quality of your story. It’s simply the spine on which you’re going to build your story. What you hang on that spine is going to determine how good your script is. Just because a person doesn’t collapse under the weight of their own body doesn’t mean they’re beautiful, intelligent, interesting, or emotionally complex. However, if your spine isn’t solid, none of the other stuff is going to work properly either.

How to use the Dramatic Question in your story

The Dramatic Question is an unspoken agreement with the audience. It tells them what the scope and shape of the story is going to be. They need to know what the question is fairly early in the proceedings or you will lose them. If too much time passes before they understand the Dramatic Question they’re liable to walk out of the theater or turn the DVD off or put down your script. They’ll say something like, “I couldn’t figure out what the movie was about.”

The moment when the Dramatic Question becomes clear is called the Catalyst. The Catalyst is where the audience understands who the main character is and what their basic dilemma is. They may not understand the entire dimension of the problem, but they have an idea what the story arc will be about.

So in E.T. the catalyst is when Elliot sees E.T. for the first time. We don’t yet know that his mission will ultimately be to get E.T. home or even that first he’ll have to hide E.T. And we don’t know that E.T. will start dying from the Earth environment. But we know that this kid who nobody takes seriously just found a little lost alien — and that some scary men are looking for it. We have a character with a dilemma.

Similarly, when the audience knows the outcome of the Dramatic Question, your story is over. The audience will stick with you for a few minutes of wrap up, but if you go on too long after resolving the dramatic question, they’re going to get restless. They’ll say things like, “it was anti-climactic” or “it had too many endings.”

Once E.T. takes off in his space ship, the movie ends. Credits roll. The story is over. Compare that to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (screenplay by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson). The Dramatic Question is “Can Frodo destroy the ring?” He does, but then the movie continues for another forty minutes or so. Kind of got tedious didn’t it? The story was over. We wanted to go home.

The structural beat where you answer the Dramatic Question is called the Resolution.

Apparent Failure/Success

There’s one other critical structural concept you need to understand. That is the moment of apparent failure (or success). Whatever the Resolution to your Dramatic Question is, there needs to be a moment where the opposite appears to be inevitable. If your character succeeds at the end, you need a moment where it appears the character must fail. And if your character fails at the end, you need a moment where they appear about to succeed.

This moment should come late in the story as the tension is building toward the climax. We need it so the audience can’t predict how the movie’s going to unfold. We may know that in a big Hollywood movie the hero will beat the bad guy and get the girl, but we shouldn’t be able to figure out how they’ll accomplish that. In screenwriting, we call this moment of apparent failure/success the Act Two Break.


Breaking Your Story into Three Acts

Now let’s discuss how you apply the three act structure to your story. It might be useful if I first point out that there are no actual act breaks in a movie. A movie is a continuous experience. In a play there often are act breaks — the curtain comes down, the lights come up and the audience goes out to the lobby for a drink. In TV there are act breaks that are filled by commercials. But in feature films there are no actual breaks in the narrative.

Instead, when we say “act break,” we’re talking about a literary concept. We use act breaks to discuss critical turning points in the story. Since this is a literary concept it can be subjective. You and I might disagree on the act breaks in a given story. There’s no way to tell who’s right and who’s wrong. As a writer you identify the act breaks in the way that is most useful to you in telling your story.

So, we have our Dramatic Question that is introduced in the Catalyst and answered in the Resolution. Typically, the Catalyst comes around page ten of your screenplay. The Resolution should probably come in the last six to eight pages. That leaves a lot of pages in between. We could use some structural landmarks to help us out.

As I said earlier, the first act is the section of your story where you introduce your character, their dilemma, and what’s at stake. This typically takes up the first fourth of your screenplay. Sometime around page twenty-five or thirty there will be an act break — The First Act Break. This is the point at which your character embarks on the journey of the movie, sometimes known as the “point of no return.”

The second act takes up roughly the middle half of your screenplay. This is where the character tries to solve their problem but faces escalating obstacles and, ideally, escalating stakes. It ends at the Second Act Break, which I’ve already mentioned is the point of apparent success or failure.

The third act, then, takes up roughly the last quarter of your screenplay. It provides the climactic resolution to your story.

So now let’s look at the major signposts of the three act structure in order, adding a few other beats to help keep things moving:

Status Quo

Generally you want to spend a little time showing the character in their status quo before introducing the catalyst of the story. We need to get to know who the character is so we can understand how the story changes them.

For example, in E.T. we see Elliot at home. His parents are divorced and his father has moved out. His older brother and his friends are playing a game. Elliot wants to play, but they won’t let him. And when he claims something strange is out in the shed, nobody takes him seriously. He’s longing to fit in but ignored.

It’s usually best if you show the most interesting part of your character’s status quo, not the most boring. We meet Indiana Jones escaping traps, traitorous assistants and angry tribesmen — not doing his laundry! This is why it’s usually not a good idea to open your movie with your character waking up in the morning — that’s seldom the most interesting part of someone’s day.

The Catalyst

The Catalyst is the point at which the main character and their dilemma are made clear to the audience. It’s when the Dramatic Question gets asked. So in Little Miss Sunshine the catalyst is when we learn that Olive has gotten into the pageant, but it’s in Los Angeles in a couple days. Now interestingly, the main character of this movie is the father, Richard. He’s the one whose decisions are driving the action. But the Dramatic Question centers on Olive: Will she win the pageant? In this case Richard’s goal is to help his daughter be a winner.

In Star Wars, the catalyst is when Luke Skywalker sees R2D2 project the hologram of Princess Leia and decides he wants to help her. The audience knows that Leia is being held by Darth Vadar and that Vadar is looking for R2D2. The Dramatic Question becomes, “Will Luke beat Darth Vadar?” Note that Luke doesn’t even know about Vadar yet and that the audience doesn’t know the Death Star will eventually come to threaten the rebel base. We don’t need all these details, we simply need to understand what the core of the story is going to be about. We know Luke has a dilemma even if he doesn’t!

Act One Break

The Act One Break is the point at which the character actually embarks on the journey of the story. It’s sometimes known as the “point of no return.” I think that’s a good way to look at it — from here on out the character has no choice but to see this through to the end. If the character can walk away from the story without losing anything there isn’t much tension. At the Act One Break you have to trap them in the story.

The Act One Break in Little Miss Sunshine is when the family sets out on their road trip to California. In Star Wars the Act One Break is when Luke goes with Obi Wan to Mos Eisley to find a pilot to take them into space. The Act One Break in E.T. is when Elliot first feels E.T.’s feelings when E.T. is scared by an umbrella. At that point E.T. and Elliot are linked. If Elliot doesn’t help the little alien, there are going to be serious consequences for him.

In all these cases, if the character walks away from the story after this point they will fail in their goal and suffer for it. They are locked in.

Midpoint

As you might expect, the Midpoint is a beat that occurs in the middle of the movie, which also makes it the middle of Act Two. The concept of the Midpoint is fairly straightforward, though its use and purpose can vary a lot. I know several successful screenwriters who don’t give any thought to the midpoint and I’ve seen movies that don’t have a traditional midpoint. It doesn’t really seem to be a required beat. But it can be a valuable milestone to help us keep things moving. If used well, it can be the tent pole that supports Act Two.

Traditionally the Midpoint mirrors the Resolution and is opposite to the Act Two Break. If your character is going to succeed at their goal in the Resolution, then the Midpoint should be a moment of success and the Act Two Break will be a moment of failure. If the character will fail in the Resolution, then the Midpoint will be a moment of failure and the Act Two Break a moment of success. In this way we’ll have a story that has dramatic peaks and valleys.

So in Star Wars, the midpoint is Luke rescuing Princess Leia from the prison cell. It’s a moment of success in a movie where ultimately Luke will succeed in defeating Darth Vadar.

In Little Miss Sunshine Olive actually fails to win the pageant at the resolution. Though the movie has a “happy” ending emotionally, in terms of the Dramatic Question Richard is ultimately unsuccessful. The Act Two Break is when the family finally arrives at the pageant and Richard manages to get registered in the nick of time — a moment of success. The Midpoint, then, is when Grandpa dies, a big setback that mirrors the resolution.

The Midpoint often twists the story in a new direction or adds a new element. It’s also a good place to raise the stakes. In E.T. the Midpoint is when E.T. figures out his plan to “phone home,” but it’s also the point when they first realize E.T. and Eliot are getting sick. So we both add a new element — the plan — and increase the consequences of failure.

The Act Two Break

The Act Two Break is one of the most critical beats of your story. It’s often referred to as the “lowest moment,” though I don’t like that because I think it’s misleading. Seldom do I see a successful story where things start getting better right after the Act Two Break. I think “moment of greatest failure” is a better description. It’s also sometimes called the “all is lost” moment, which is pretty good. The point is that this is when it looks like your character is doomed to fail. The Act Two Break in E.T. is E.T. apparently dying and the breaking of the psychic link with Elliot.

That assumes, of course, that ultimately your character will succeed. Some stories, like Little Miss Sunshine, end with the character failing in their goal, and in this case you have to reverse the Act Two Break. It becomes the moment of greatest success. Gangster movies often work this way — the gangster seizes control of the gang at the end of Act Two and looks like he’ll be unstoppable. But by the end he’ll be lying dead in the street, riddled with bullets.

Why is this so important? Because the ending won’t be satisfying unless it’s hard to achieve. And you don’t want your movie to feel completely predictable. This is the point where the audience needs to think, “Boy, I know the hero must be going to beat the bad guy and get the girl (this is a movie, after all), but I sure don’t know how he’s going to do it. It seems hopeless.”

Hope and fear come into play here. What is the audience rooting for? Do they want the character to succeed or fail? (Both are possibilities depending on your premise.) This is the moment where you make them think the opposite might actually happen. Or in a tragedy you make them think they might get the ending they want, only to snatch it away from them. Romeo and Juliet hatch a plan to run away together… maybe it will all work out after all….

The Act Two Break in Star Wars is when our heroes escape the Death Star in the Millennium Falcon… but we learn that Darth Vadar has put a tracking device on their ship. It’s their biggest failure because they’re going to lead the bad guys right to the rebel base.

The Epiphany

When the character has really hit rock bottom (or the height of their success), that’s when the Epiphany comes. This is the twist that shows us how the character is going to succeed (or fail) after all. In Star Wars the Epiphany is the briefing scene when the general explains the weakness in the Death Star. Luke now knows how he can beat Darth Vader. Most often the character themselves has the realization, but sometimes the character has already figured it out and it’s the audience who’s let in on the secret.

It’s important here that you avoid the Deus Ex Machina ending. This is an ending where some outside force saves the day for the character. The term comes from Aristotle and means literally “God in the Machine,” referring to those ancient plays where an actor playing Zeus would be lowered in a basket to sort everything out for the characters. A more modern equivalent would be the cavalry to the rescue in a western. Endings where the character succeeds by pure luck also fall into this category.

To avoid this, the Epiphany must be set up. Whatever realization the character has must be planted, usually around the midpoint. We know Princess Leia has put something into R2D2. Luke has rescued Leia and brought her and the ’droid back to the rebels. When it is revealed that the robot contains the Death Star plans and that these reveal a weakness, it feels organic because the elements have been planted and Luke was critical to bringing them together. But the audience was kept in the dark just enough so that they didn’t know how this twist would come about.

In Little Miss Sunshine, the epiphany is when Richard realizes he loves Olive more than he cares about winning. He wants to stop her from competing in the pageant for fear she’ll be humiliated. He hasn’t quite figured out how he’s going to succeed (Olive does compete) but he’s had the key realization he needs for the Resolution.

In E.T., the epiphany is when Elliot realizes E.T. isn’t actually dead and they’ve succeeded in contacting his people after all. This may seem a bit convenient, but notice that Elliot is far from done here. He now has to get E.T. out of the heavily guarded house and to the landing site. He knows how to succeed, but he still has to do it.

The Resolution

The Resolution is the climax of the movie. It should be big and exciting and emotional. It is also the moment when the Dramatic Question is answered either positively or negatively. Thus, it is what we’ve been waiting for since the Catalyst.

In addition to making this a big moment, it is crucial that you make it a final moment. The Dramatic Question must be answered definitively. If our hero can just go out and try again, then we don’t feel like the question is resolved. The Resolution must be the last chance for success or failure. If Luke can’t destroy the Death Star, then the rebellion will be crushed. It’s not just another battle; it’s the climactic battle.

The resolution is usually pretty obvious. Luke destroys the Death Star. E.T. gets to the spaceship. In Little Miss Sunshine, Richard gets up onstage with Olive and dances with her in support, and in defiance of the pageant people who want Olive off the stage. Olive may lose the pageant, answering the Dramatic Question in the negative, but the previously dysfunctional family has come together.

These are the structural stages Hollywood screenwriters use to build well-plotted scripts. Of course, a well-structured script isn’t the same as a good script. You still have to write the actual characters and scenes. But if you have a strong plot, then you have a solid foundation that will allow you to tell a truly great story.

Douglas J. Eboch wrote the original script for the movie Sweet Home Alabama. He teaches at Art Center College of Design and lectures internationally. He writes a blog about screenwriting where he shares techniques like the ones in this article. Check out his other projects, including his Sweet Home Alabama prequel novels and his novel Totally Rad Wormhole here.

Get more essay like this one in Advanced Plotting, along with a detailed explanation of the Plot Outline Exercise, a powerful tool to identify and fix plot weaknesses in your manuscripts. 

Buy Advanced Plottingfor $9.99 in paperback or as a $4.99 e-book on Amazon - free in Kindle Unlimited.