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.

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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.

The Battle between Plot and Character

I need a question answered: Why is it that writers classify themselves as either character-driven or plot-driven?

Over the years, I’ve asked myself whether my writing falls into either of these two categories, but I have never actually come to a resolution.

You see I have a habit of looking at my fictional characters in a realistic way. As human beings, we are constantly growing and evolving, so shouldn’t our characters do the same thing? In order to grow, we have to face challenges, be it personal or professional. Since joining the military, I’ve deployed and subsequently, had to deal with the recovery process from said deployment (Post-Traumatic Stress is a real thing and it’s awful and extremely inconvenient). Having dealt with these challenges has given me a unique look into character development and how people (and characters) respond to the challenges that define them.

When I begin developing my stories, I start with two versions of the main character – a beginning version and the version I want them to be at the end of the book.

Using the 2011 Thor movie as an example, Thor starts off as an arrogant, headstrong warrior who is quick to violence over diplomacy. Throughout the film, he evolves into a selfless, noble man who learns to fight for the right reasons.

Now, I love Thor as much as the next girl, but he was never going to evolve into the Marvel character we know and love without some major plot points. So after I’ve decided who the MC is and will be, I look at the world they live in, what my antagonist wants are, and begin plotting.

Taking another look at Thor, the [very simplified] plot is Odin needs a viable successor for his throne. Now, what Marvel could have done was just have Thor and Loki battle it out in Asgard, but we would have never gotten that beautiful character development.

Lucky for us, Marvel decided to send Thor to earth and give him a love interest to bring out his humanity, which in return made him evolve into a proper successor for Odin.

Basically what I’m saying is, your characters’ growth should synchronize with your story’s plot points. Every page, every scene, every chapter should support both plot and character. Don’t sacrifice your character development for plot because characters are the reason people keep reading. Instead, maneuver your plot to support where you want to go with your character.

Happy writing, everyone!

– Bree