The Try-Fail Cycle: What makes an ending epic.

One of my favorite podcasts, Writing Excuses, introduced me to the idea of the Try-Fail Cycle a while ago, and as someone whose WIP revolves around someone’s competency, it hit pretty close to home.

Summed up, the Try-Fail Cycle is the progression of attempts a character makes toward their goal before achieving it in the end. It’s those failures that keep us rooting for the character and what makes that final win so epic.

This cycle applies to both character and plot development, and when they intersect, it’s this incredible hodge-podge of feels and goosebumps.

Let’s look at last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy as an example. Each of our heroes fails individually as well as a team prior to them coming together to kick total ass in the end. The way the film is plotted, we see that each character has their own issue to overcome because we see them fail as a result. If it weren’t for those fails, the epic ending would feel more like a plot device (looking at you, 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot).

But beyond how useful this concept is in developing our works in progress, I think it also relates to the writing process in general.

We try to write a book >> That first draft isn’t great.

We revise, send to beta readers >> Need to rework some things.

Have a new version of the MS post-beta >> Still need to flesh out and polish.

The glory of the Try-Fail Cycle is that the protagonist usually finds their win in the end. So don’t let your massive revision to-do list intimidate you. It’s just power for the course.

Happy writing!


For more information on the Try-Fail Cycle, check out Writing Excuses, Season 10, Episode 29: Why Should My Characters Fail Spectacularly?. Available on iTunes or their website, www.writingexcuses.com.

The Never-Ending Cycle of Revision

So I spent this past weekend working hard on the third round of revisions for my WIP when I realized that I really, truly am a workaholic. Not that this comes as a surprise, but as I finished the edits on chapter 9 (of 26), I found that I’m genuinely excited for the next draft, and the draft after that and the draft after that.

Each draft presents an opportunity to clarify the story and bring depth to characters, which means that each time I read through a new version, I’m that much closer to having the product I want readers to [hopefully] enjoy.

Now every writer’s revision process differs. I wish I could revise as I go on the computer, but I’m weird and feel oddly attached to the words on the screen. So I print out the whole draft and ruthlessly rip into it, type in my edits, then do the whole process all over again.

(I have this irrational fear that there’s a tenth circle of hell for everyone involved in print publishing where trees punish us for turning their friends and families into paper, so every time I print out my MS or the magazine at work, I suffer this unsettling guilt…)

The process is a bit long and drawn out as I mark-up the entire manuscript each time. It’s not that I don’t like to concentrate on smaller pieces, it’s more so I just enjoy getting a feel for the pacing of the different character and plot arcs and how they connect. I participate in a critique group that looks at 10-20 pages at a time and their input is invaluable when it comes to improving the writing and avoiding certain issues. But as a novelist, I feel like I need to ensure the overall product is cohesive. To me, that means printing out the entire draft, sitting on my couch and reading through it from beginning to end, notating where things don’t work, what’s redundant and what needs revision.

Like I said, this is just my process and you have to find what works for you. Just remember that revision is an integral part of the writing process. Yes, it’s tedious and often frustrating, but when you do finally reach that final draft, you’ll be so glad you did!

Happy Writing & Revising!

Literary Tropes: The Love Triangle

Alright folks, it’s time for some real talk about a literary (and tv/movie) trope that seems to get people hyped up, which often results in some not-so-nice comments toward the creators of said works.

Now, I’m the last one to say that your comments are unfounded because you are definitely 100% entitled to your opinion – ’tis the way of the free world and all. BUT I don’t think it’s fair to be quite so mean in the delivery of said opinion – I’m just sayin’.

Granted this post is more rant than anything, but hopefully it provides a little more insight into why writers use this trope and why it’s useful.

WHY LOVE TRIANGLE’S ARE USED:

1. To show character development.

I think Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock explained it best in episode 4.20 “The Moms” when he said, “They both give me different things. One connects me to the man I was. The other inspires…”

For those of you who don’t watch 30 Rock, in the later part of season 4, Jack is confronted with two love interests: his high school sweetheart, Nancy, and a younger, spitfire reporter, Avery. This love triangle comes at a point in Jack’s career where he can either sit back and lazily fall in line with his new parent company or he can continue to fight for innovation. I [speculate] the 30 Rock writers included this love triangle to draw parallels between Jack’s professional and personal decisions. When Jack does end up challenging Kabletown (the new parent company) to innovate and expand, he also ends up making the decision to choose Avery over Nancy.

2. It can provide plot depth & potential twists.

Okay, so this is where we start jumping into opinions. Personally, I have no real issues with a love triangle, provided it’s done well. I have a small obsession with Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, so I’m surprised this is my first reference to these books . . .

In this series, the protagonist Alanna trades places with her twin brother, so she can become a knight. Throughout her adventures, Alanna combats a plethora of issues and evils, but one of her personal hurdles is choosing between three [I guess that makes it a love quadrangle?] handsome and noble[ish] men. As the plot thickens and stakes are raised, we readers get to watch characters overcome personal opinions and frustrations to achieve larger goals. Each love interest provides a greater understanding of Alanna’s world but also challenges Alanna’s perceptions (and the perceptions of her other suitors).

WHY THEY GO HORRIBLY WRONG:

So I have my own list of love triangles that I really just didn’t enjoy reading/watching, but instead of going down that road, here’s WHY I find myself getting annoyed with this trope. Hint: It has nothing to do with the trope itself.

1. Characters aren’t fully developed.

If you’re going to write a love triangle, there NEEDS to be a reason for these characters to throw themselves into it. No sane person would put his or herself in the ridiculous position of falling in love with two different people, so why should your characters? You need to provide a reason why your MC would gravitate toward his/her separate love interests.

2. The love triangle is the main plot.

I have a hard time accepting this specific trope as an actual plot. It’s just very shallow and doesn’t really speak to real character growth. My recommendation: use it as a subplot to help move the main plot along, but please don’t make your story all about “oh deary me, which handsome prince will I choose?”. Just don’t. Please.

3. Your female character has no agency.

Quite a few blogs have been touching on the subject of female characters and their ability to affect plot, and there’s a reason for this: IT’S IMPORTANT! Seriously, if your female protagonist has no say in her story, there’s really no point in her even being there. If you have a female protagonist as the center of a love triangle, the subplot of her decision needs to be based on her decision, not how macho her suitors are.

Well that’s my rant on love triangles.

Happy writing & reading, everybody!

3 Tips To Making Your Romance Subplot Stand Out

Apart from the actual genre, romance remains to be one of the top subplots in fiction. Readers love to route for couples, plus romance lends itself toward numerous opportunities for tension. But before you go creating a love interest for your MC, I have a couple recommendations . . .

SIDE NOTE: Before you read on, note that I write YA Fantasy and most of what I read is YA, Fantasy or Sci-Fi. The comments below are geared toward these genres though most of it also applies to fiction in general.

1. Know your main character.

This may seem obvious, but so often writers create a love interest that would be perfect in any match, not specific to their MC. When creating the love interest, that character should undeniably be meant to end up with the MC.

Let’s look at Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew for example. Do you know anyone else who could possibly be a match for Katherina other than rambunctious Petruchio? Or who else could survive Petruchio’s antics other than tenacious Kate? Shakespeare creates a match for Kate that not only tames her but also fills the loneliness she hadn’t realized she had.

If you haven’t read/watched Taming of the Shrew, do so! For a filmed version, I recommend the taped stage version by the Broadway Theatre Archive staring Fredi Olster, Marc Singer and Stephen St. Paul. You can find it on Amazon.

2. Don’t make your love interest perfect.

This is just piggy-backing off #1. First off, a too-perfect LI makes for a boring story. Second, even if it manages to not be boring, a perfect LI can make your audience stop caring about the MC.

For this one, I’m turning to the Disney Classic, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs. Does anyone actually remember the Prince is this movie? I have too many bones to pick with Disney’s rendition of the original Grimm fairytale to fit into this one paragraph, so I’m just gonna stick with the topic at hand.

Apart from the dwarves and the Evil Queen, there is little to no real characterization for Snow or Prince Charming. Snow’s love interest is literally just meant to look handsome and kiss her in the end. DON’T DO THIS! THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY!

  1. Remember that love is a journey.

Even though we’re writing fiction, I think it’s important that we remember that as writers, we’re supposed to make our characters jump off the page and become as real as possible for our readers.

Because you can’t write an article of literary romance without mentioning Pride and Prejudice . . .

The reason none of us ever forget the romance between Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy is because the characters had to overcome personal and social hurdles to find their love for one another.

Just like in real life, nothing worth having is easy. So when writing your romance subplot, make your characters work for it. Whether it’s “love at first sight” or a “friendship that grows into something more”, making your characters go through hell to get what they want will make their romance that much more memorable.

Happy Writing!

Why you should outline. Even if you’re a discovery writer.

So NaNoWriMo begins in less than a week and millions of writers are gearing up for the 50k word challenge.

Everyone has his or her unique way of prepping for National Novel Writing Month. For the intense planners like myself, we’ve already developed outlines, character profiles and have a stack of sticky notes allocated to our NaNo projects. Meanwhile, pantsers are clutching their pens [or keyboards], anxious for the green light on November 1st.

But this post isn’t about NaNo Prep. This post is about outlines.

As a planner, my outline is my road map through my book. I know where I’m going and what stops I need to make, allowing me to be a non-linear writer (which has helped me overcome many a road block).

But I haven’t always been that way. For my first novel and a half, I was definitely a discovery writer. But now that I’m revising and rewriting all my discovery work, I’m wishing I had outlined from the start.

Because an outline is more than just a road map.

An outline can help you detect plot holes, recognize pacing issues and help you further develop your story arch(s). I’ve had numerous conversations with other writers on how doing an outline (even after completing a draft) has improved their novel and helped work out some issues they had been dealing with during revision.

One writer [THANKS, JAMIE!] was awesome enough to share an outline format with me that has truly transformed the way I look at the structure of my novels: The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

Seriously though, Snyder’s outline format from his book, Save the Cat, changed my life. It separates your novel [or screenplay] into four parts: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b and Act 3. Below is what his model looks like:

ACT ONE:
Opening Image (What we first see in the story, setting the mood and tone.)
Theme States
Set-Up (Introduction of world and characters)
Catalyst (Also considered “The Inciting Event”)
Debate (Does the protagonist want to take on this new problem?)

ACT TWO – A:
Break Into Two (Protagonist decides to move forward.)
B Story (Sub Plot)
Fun and Games (Solving problems before problems get REALLY serious.)
Midpoint (That moment where you say to yourself, “Well crap just got real.)

ACT TWO – B:
Bad Guy Closes In (The stakes are raised.)
All is Lost (The Protagonist’s low point.)
Dark Night of the Soul (Protagonist does some soul searching to find the solution.)

ACT THREE:
Break Into Three (Protagonist figures out the solution.)
Finale (The Climax)
Final Image (Resolution or “Wrap Up”)

The above is a very simplified version of this beautiful outline, but it really has done wonders for me.

You don’t have to use this particular model to outline your WIP, but I do recommend taking an afternoon to deconstruct your story. Taking that time to find plot holes prior to submission is kind of invaluable.

Happy Writing, Everyone!

References:
Snyder, B. (2005). Save the cat!: The last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need. Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions.