Descending the Mountain

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In our last post we talked about underdogs and how their tales of ascending to greatness can help ours. That leaves a big question that the writer has to answer if they ever want to tell another story about that character. What happens once they’ve reached the top?

You have to somehow put you character in danger again. They have to descend the mountain. How violently they descend is up to you, the writer. Here are a few examples of how Hollywood pulled theyir leading roles back down to earth.

First method: All hell breaks loose

In that last post one of the examples I used was Luke Skywalker. I explained how he uses the force and his inborn capacity for hope to overcome the forces of evil in the end of Return of the Jedi. Star wars is a great place to explain the first method, but since there’s no Episode VII yet, (Come on J.J. Abrams, don’t let us down.) we will start right at the end of Episode IV a New Hope.

Luke just blew up the Death Star and Han sends Vader hurtling through space. Then all of our favorite heroes are anointed with shiny new medals. I think it’s pretty safe to say that they are riding high on the mountain top. Where could you possibly go from here?

Enter Episode V. Luke, Han, Leia, and all of the other Rebel forces are holed up in this tiny base on the icy planet, Hoth. The Empire has completely regrouped and is on the offensive, Darth Vader Included. A small probe droid finds the rebels and before they know it, a large empire force that far outnumbers the rebels is on Hoth and ready to attack. Yep all hell just broke loose. Luke & co. are falling down the mountain fast.

Second Method: The Foundation Crumbles

For the second method let’s take a peek at Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. At the end of Batman Begins, Batman thwarts the evil plans of Scarecrow, Ra’s Al Ghul and his League of Shadows. He saves Gotham and establishes himself as the go to guy for putting the hurtin’ on baddies and crooks. He is on top of the mountain.

In the dark knight, Batman starts off doing what he does best, beating up baddies. He catches the scarecrow again and even goes all the way to China to drag a corrupt business man back to Gotham. Bad guys don’t stand a chance and they know it.

Suddenly a crazy character appears before a group of Gotham’s most prevalent mob bosses and offers to kill Batman for a high price. He calls himself the Joker.

The Joker continues to on a warpath killing prominent figures in Gotham and is always one step ahead of the Batman. When Batman feels in need of council, he asks his butler the good old Alfred pennyworth. Alfred replies with one of my favorite quotes and one that displays method number 2 better than any other. “You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.”

By just doing what he does best, Batman has made his job ten times harder. Everything he stands for has to be evaluated. The foundation that he has built Batman on is crumbling beneath him.

Third Method: The Game is Upped

For this example let’s travel all the way back to 1985 to the land of Rocky IV.  In the beginning of the film, Rocky is the reigning champ. He spent the last three movies beating the best boxers that movies had to offer. He is rich, famous, and has retired from the ring. He is sitting firmly on the mountain top and ready to cruise the rest of his life.

His friend Apollo Creed, who Rocky beat in the first film and the second, is gearing up for a match against a new comer called Drago from the Soviet Union. When the two fight, Creed is completely overmatched by the gigantic Drago. Creed is pounded into submission and Drago kills Creed in the ring. Rocky, just hoping to see his friend win a fight, witnesses the whole thing. The worst part, Drago stares at Rocky after he kills Creed challenging him silently. Boxers don’t kill each other in the ring and this boxer seemed to do it on purpose. The game has been upped. Rocky declares that he will not only fight Drago but he will do it his home, the Soviet Union.

As you can see there are different methods that you can use to bring your character back after they have reached the top of the mountain. Do some mountain climbing. Look back to some of your favorite sequels. Odds are they yanked their characters off of the mountain pretty quick. Do they use one of the methods listed here or is there a whole new method not listed? Leave your finds in the comments below. Happy Mountianeering!

 

Chasing Cinderella Stories

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Ah Madness is in the air. March Madness that is. Can you smell it? Go on take a whiff. It’s that wonderful time of year when Americans delve into the details of college basketball programs that they hadn’t even heard of a week prior. They do this all for the sole purpose of creating the perfect bracket. That way they can brag to their office buddies about their superior sports knowledge or possibly win some money if they decide to put some skin in the game.

All of this aside, the real fun in March Madness are the Cinderella stories. Just like the famous Slave/Stepsister who married a prince with a little help from a fairy godmother, a Cinderella story is about an underdog that defies all odds. In terms of college basketball this is happens when a lower ranked, smaller school defeats a high ranked, well known basketball program.

One perfect example of a Cinderella story in last year’s March Madness tournament was about the all too perfectly named Wichita State Shockers. The Shockers were given the 9th seed entering the tournament. If you follow NCAA basketball you know that 9th is about middle of the road. The seeds ranged from 1 to 16.

In the first round, the shockers were matched up against the 8th seeded Pittsburgh Panthers. If you just look at the seeds this looks like a pretty even match up and it was. The only issue was that Pitt is almost always in the tournament the Shockers weren’t. Nobody thought the Shockers would win but, somehow they did. Most people chalked it up to luck. Upsets happen in the first round all of the time. No one paid Wichita too much mind. After all, they had to play the 1st seed Gonzaga in the next round.

Gonzaga was like Wichita State a few years earlier. They had a relatively small enrollment and a no name basketball program until they won just enough games and entered the tournament. Once they were in, they made noise by beating teams that common knowledge said they shouldn’t have. Now they were a mainstay in ‘The Big Dance’.

However, this year wasn’t Gonzaga’s, it was Wichita State’s. The Shockers “Shocked” Gonzaga 76-70. The Shockers were now in the sweet sixteen and looking ahead to the 13th Seed La Salle. La Salle was another Cinderella in the making, but they didn’t have the tools to beat the Shockers. Wichita moved in to the Elite Eight where they faced the 2nd seed, Ohio State.

Much like Pitt, Ohio State was no stranger to the tournament and their school has the largest enrollment in the country so having fans who don’t live far from where ever they are playing or who don’t mind to travel wasn’t a problem for them.

Despite the advantages Ohio State seemed to have going for them, the Shockers proved too much for them to handle. Wichita State was in the Final Four.

Their opponent was the 1st seed from the Mid-West, Louisville (Wichita State was in the West). The game was close, but the Shockers finally fell 72-68. The Louisville Cardinals went on the win the NCAA championship.

Even though The Shockers didn’t win it all, they showed just how formidable they could be and made the public pay attention to their games.

The underdog factor is one of the things that make a great story. If you visit your local library, take a look at the business section. You’d be hard pressed to find a book about a huge company that bought out a smaller one or how that same company ran a mom and pop shop out of town.

What you find are tons and tons of books about entrepreneurs and how they beat the odds. Sure some of these books might be about companies that are now huge corporations but they’re not talking about their earnings last year. They’re talking about how they got started. They’re talking about how difficult it was to get their million dollar idea off of the ground.

As readers we love these stories. We want to know that the protagonist is facing impossible odds and that their back is against the wall. We fear for them.

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is nothing more than a simple farm boy when we first meet him. The only thing he has is Hope. Hope that he might one day go to the academy and do something interesting with his life. In the span of a day, he meets two droids and an old Jedi Knight. Suddenly he is at odds with the Galactic Empire and one of the most terrifying forces in the universe, Darth Vader. You can’t be more of an underdog then that!

However, Luke is given something by the old knight. A Light Saber, but more importantly a key to understanding the mystic energy known as the force. Throughout the movies Luke, along with his friends fight the forces of evil. No matter how many wins they have, they always seem to be at a disadvantage when matched up against the Empire.

It’s not until the very end of the third film when Luke finally defeats the Empire. He doesn’t do it by killing everyone. He does it using the one trait he had all along, Hope. He reaches in and finds the part of Darth Vader that is still human and convinces him that he can change his evil ways. In one last act of redemption Vader casts the evil emperor, his boss, down a pit before he is able to kill Luke.

The sense that the heroes of Star Wars are always on the losing end of the bet is one of the things that have made and kept Star Wars so popular over the years. As writers we have to become best friends with the underdogs. Their stories make it a lot easier on us.

Oh and in case you were wondering, The Wichita State Shockers have gone undefeated this season and have entered the NCAA tournament as a 1st seed. They are now the established powerhouse.  What will they do with that power? We’ll have to wait and see…

Transmorphing from Novel Noob to Bookworm

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Today I’m going to show you how to transmorph into a bookworm.  Yes, I just made that word up, and you can use it, but only once. In our last blog post I explained the importance of breaking up with tv to improve the quality of your writing. In this post I will explain the importance of how taking Ms. Book out on a few dates can improve your writing. Come on, you know you always wanted a smart gal anyway.

If you’re bothering to read my blog, you are one of four things. You are a writer who is just starting out aka: A Novel Noob, Someone who wants to write but hasn’t put the pen to paper yet. Aka: Soon to be a Novel Noob (What are you waiting for? Just start writing. You’ll pick it up along the way), You could be my mom (hey somebody has to get me hits), or lastly you could be someone who just thinks I’m very entertaining to read. Okay so maybe it’s just three types.

Odds are if you fall into the category of the first two, you at least kind of like to read books. If you do hate to read books why are you bothering to write the things you so despise?

However, there are plenty of people out there who write and don’t read much if at all. It baffles me. I’ll admit that I wasn’t always a bookworm especially as a young teenager, but I always liked stories. Now that I hope to one day make my living as a writer, I know that reading books ie: studing my craft, can only help my cause.

Believe it or not, when you read something it sinks into some unconscious part of you. The next time you write you unknowingly regurgitate some of that into your project. People in the writing world call this “Being influenced.”

Some beginning writers don’t read for fear of being influenced and their work suffers greatly for it. You need to be influenced by other authors and you need to experiment with different projects to really find what works best for you. The only way to do this is to follow what they taught you in the first grade Read and Write. You can skip the Arithmetic part.

Graphic Novels are books too. If you’re into comics then read them too. Some writers like to stick their nose up at them, but not I. If you shun books just because they have pictures, you are closing off a whole world of wonderful stories. Plus those pictures are just another way to tell a story. A lot of talented Comic writers purposefully leave certain things for the artist to fill in. This helps tell a complete story. There’s a reason Batman, Superman, the X-men, and Spiderman have been around so long. They’ve had some darn good stories over the years.

So how many books should you read? That’s really up to you. Some writers read as much as 50 -100 books a year. Last year, I read twenty. That was a good goal for me because I am a slow reader. This year I hope to hit 30 and I’m off to a great start. If you’re a quick reader your number might be high like those first ones or if you’re a slower reader and have a full time job, kids, and a pet lama you might only be able to squeeze in five for the year, that’s great. Just make sure you are reading and whatever that number is, try to improve upon it next year.

One quick tip that really helped me increase my numbers was to listen to audiobooks. I have a 35 minute commute to my day job and by popping in a disk on the way to and from work; I can get through a book so much quicker. I can sometimes get through two audiobooks before I finish a print one. So instead of reading 10 to 15 books a year I’m hitting 20 or 30!

So there you have it. Print books, audiobooks, and graphic novels. Anyway you decide to do it and any number you choose as your goal, stick to it. Be influenced and watch your writing get that much stronger you bookworm, you.

Breaking Up with TV

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This week marks a pretty significant event in the Christian calendar. This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent for all of my fellow Catholics and, well, Christians in general. Without getting into the reasoning behind it and boring my non-Christian readers, I’ll just say this much. For the next forty days until Easter all Christians are supposed to give up something they enjoy as a sort of penance.

A lot of people give up alcohol, soft drinks, or sweets. Some people go the “I’m just going to be nicer to people” route. I consider this cheating, but whatever; to each his own I suppose. In case you’re wondering, I’m giving up meat. Yep I’m going full vegetarian. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am one set of carnassial short of being a full blown carnivore. So giving up meat for forty days is quite a challenge for me.

However, by giving up meat, I have found many vegetarian dishes that I really enjoy. Not to mention I like to tell myself that somewhere down the line, maybe just maybe some chicken, cow, pig, or fish was speared because of me. Although I know enough to know that that probably isn’t true.

So why am I boring you with my religious hoopla? It’s put me in the mind set of sacrifice. Come on little Novel Noob . Come up to the podium so we my all drink your blood. Okay, okay I’m kidding go sit back down.

When I say sacrifice I mean giving things up and there’s one thing that even the most casual Novel Noob should consider giving up. That thing is TV.

No matter how many biographies, interviews or stories I read about successful people they all seem to have one thing in common. When asked the question, “How do you find the time to do all of that?” They always seem to answer, “I don’t watch TV.”

I can hear you screaming “How Dare You!” at me now, but consider it for a moment. To call yourself a Novel Noob you have to actually be writing a novel. How long has it been since you last tickled the keys of your trusty computer? Days?… Weeks!? ….MONTHES!!?

TV’s treating you bad, man. She’s taking you away from what you love. She’s alienating you. She’s controlling you! You have to cut the cord… or pull the plug, rather. You don’t want to electrocute yourself.

If this sounds way to hash of a change for you, you don’t have to go completely cold turkey. I know that with today’s society it’s hard not to watch at least little TV. We’ve all had that one kid in our neighborhood growing up who didn’t own a TV. Yeah he was a real weirdo. I’m not asking you to do that to your kids, if you have them, or to yourself. However, you don’t need to watch Frasier reruns at 2 in the afternoon either, unless you REALLY like Frasier.

Try picking out a few of your favorite things to watch and try to watch only those shows. If you’re a sports nut like me, maybe you chose to watch your favorite team or teams when the season comes around.

Another Idea is to hit up your local library and rent some seasons of some of the shows you like instead of watching them on TV. At my library TV shows are free to rent and you can keep them for 21 days, same as books. The big upside to this is that you have some you actually like to watch available to you when you need to get away from your writing. Instead of watching those Frasier reruns that you really don’t care about, you could be catching up on a show you really do like.

Another Idea is to use them as a reward. “If I write 1000 words today, I’ll watch one episode.” This way you ensure you get your writing in and your novel finished.

You never know, you may find that you feel liberated without having to answer to that bossy TV every time slight boredom peeks it’s goofy looking head around the corner. Just like I found out that eating like a leaf eater isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

The main takeaway here is to help you realize that you can’t finish anything if you’re too busy dealing with distractions like TV. So do the best you can to put them out of your mind. It’s hard to call yourself a writer if you aren’t actually writing and YOU ARE A WRITER, otherwise you wouldn’t bother reading this blog.

 

Scaring the Crap Out of Your Characters

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Seinfeld’s Crazy Joe Davola once said, “Fear is our most primal emotion.” Fear is also a tool that any Novel Noob can employ to add depth to their characters.

Do you remember the first time you saw Raiders of the Lost Ark? Let me refresh your memory. It opens in the jungle. This man and a small team enter a forbidden tomb. Along the way, there are more than a few booby traps but our friend outsmarts them all. He also outsmarts his team when they betray him. Then he narrowly escapes that huge rolling bolder. After that, he outruns the local tribesmen and their poison darts, not to mention his arch enemy and jumps into a biplane waiting for him in the river. How cool is that!

But then something happens that changes this character forever. Waiting for him in the cockpit is a snake. He has a mini freakout sesh as he declares “I hate snakes.”

In that moment Indy stopped being just a badass with a James Bond complex and became human. Okay he still kinda has a James Bond complex, but we love him none the less.

Indy is still a badass for sure as you find out throughout the rest of the movies and it’s sequels. (Yes even the Crystal Skull.) However, we have a way to connect with him now. Anyone who watched “Raiders” and happened to have Ophidiophobia(fear of snakes) now had a way to really connect with the character. “Hey that guy is afraid of snakes just like me, but that doesn’t keep him from crawling around in thousand year old dungeons where snakes most likely hang out all in the name of preserving artifacts.”

For the rest of us, we can acknowledge having a strong fear like Ophidiophobia and how that could affect our lives. We relate to Indy through fear itself. That makes the character much more endearing to us.

The first time we see Indy jump into the plane. It’s almost like comic relief. “How could this tough guy who just narrowly escaped death about twenty times in the last five minutes really be afraid of snakes?” we unconsciously ask ourselves.

However, this is totally different when Indy is about to be thrown into that pit toward the end of the movie. That lightning flashes and we get a split second look at the bottom of the pit. It’s covered in snakes. By now we fully understand Indy’s fear and we feel for him as he is tossed into the pit.

As a writer, how could we want anything more than to have our audience “Feel for” our characters? Having the audience “feeling for” a character we created is one of the best things that can happen to us. Even better, having our audience look up to them just like those people who may be deathly afraid of snakes looked up to Indiana Jones.

So use fear on your characters. Make them human. Make them vulnerable. Most of all, make them relatable. Your audience will thank you.