I'm a big fan of writing exercises and warm-ups. I never just jump in and start working on my story. I do backstory exercises, plot brainstorms, I type up notes, anything to get my brain working and thinking about that particular story. I usually keep doing exercises until I have an AHA moment (discovering something new), which launches me back into my story.
Each week I will post an exercise I've been recently using.
I'm currently working on a novel series. This is new territory for me. I accidentally wrote one novel. Now it looks like I'm going to accidentally write 6 more. Whoops!
In order to do this, I've stepped back to look at the big picture. Reading the final Harry Potter book helped me to do this. Each of Rowling's books has a story arc, which is a sequence within the larger series arc. Having the larger arc in sight will help the writer to develop the story so that it comes to a logical and satisfying conclusion at the end.
(If each book in the "series" is an individual, self-contained story, like The Wizard of Oz for example, I consider that a collection rather than a series. The difference being, for a series like His Dark Materials, you have to read the books in order for them to make complete sense. I don't know if this is how the industry differentiates between the two, it's just for reference here).
The same ideas behind the story structure of a single screenplay or novel apply to the entire series:
There is a dilemma (intruduced - or at least referenced - in the first book)
There are complications (that build in sequences)
There is a final crisis that our hero must face (and, of course, the hero usually succeeds. How many death threats would there be on Rowling's life if Voldemort had taken over the world?)
I actually have a lot of issues with the Harry Potter books, as much as I love them and can't put them down, which I'll address later in my Summer Reading Review post. Regardless, it's a great tool because the story arc for the series is so clear and the stakes get higher with each book. It HAS to work this way for the series to be effective.
Think about one of your favourite movies. There is an "inciting incident" that propels our hero into this journey. The hero faces a dilemma (two equally painful / dangerous / difficult choices). Complications ensue. The stakes get higher and higher. You think it's about as bad as it gets... but wait, there's more! As the drama builds, our character must face her SPLAT. She is forced to make a decision or take action. She succeeds or fails. The story concludes.
This isn't just action/adventure. In the moving drama Away from Her by Sarah Polley, the protagonist must face the fact that his wife has alzhiemer's. His dilemma - he can't take care of her at home any longer and he can't put her in a home because he's never been away from her. Eventually, he must put her in a home and can't see her for a month. He's devastated. But wait, there's more! When he can finally see her again, she can't remember who he is AND she's got a new "boyfriend" in the home. Now what is he going to do? He can't NOT see her, because that is too painful and he can't visit her either, because THAT is too painful. Wow - dilemmas are us!
For this week's Weekend Writing Workout:
Whether you are working on a screenplay, novel, or book series these exercises will apply. If you are working on a novel series like I am, use these exercises to think about the LARGER story arc of the series.
Set your timer for 7-10 minutes. Write for the entire time without stopping. Do not edit, this is a brainstorm. Let it flow, it doesn't matter how strange, silly, stupid it sounds. No one will ever have to see it.
1) My protagonist's dilemma begins when... she can't _________ because... and she can't ________ because...
2) Complications ensue when...
3) By the end of this series/story my character must...
1) If you are writing a series, do the above for EACH book in the series as well as the ENTIRE series itself. I've been writing dilemma/complications/conclusion for each book in the series and it's working really well.
2) Write out the beats of the story, mapping out all the complications, making sure the stakes are increasing at each point.
Have a great weekend!