Story and Plot, part two

In last week’s MtC (that’s the working abbreviation for Mastering the Craft, just trying it out), I talked about the interwoven relationship between story and plot and how you can’t have one without the other. Sorta like that theme song to Married with Children. It isn’t absolutely required that you read last week’s MtC, but if you wanted to boost my self-esteem then go right ahead. Don’t worry I’ll wait for everyone to catch up… you good? Great, onto part two.

So now that you know that story is everything the reader needs to know and the plot is the portion of the story that the writer presents to the reader, let’s talk about what exactly goes into the two narrative elements.

Let’s say I get arrested by the police. Let’s say it was for attempted murder. And, just for the sake of fun, let’s call the victim Mr. Language. His first name’s English. They put me in the interrogation room and a detective says, “tell me where you were on the night of the murder of English Language.”

The initial response would be to tell the detectives everything I’d done that day from beginning to end. That would be my story of what happened. Which is exactly what “story” is, it’s what happens from beginning to end.

Janet Burroway, in her book Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft, states that “a story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order.” It makes sense, right? In the case of the story I told the detective, I stated the events from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, beginning to end.

Any fiction movie, television show, book has a story. Remember from last week that Burroway defined story as “everything the reader needs to know to make coherent sense of the plot.” Note the phrase “coherent sense.” What exactly does that mean? In the case of my story to the detective, they wouldn’t want to know that I brushed my teeth with a baking soda toothpaste or that I ordered my pizza without onions because I hated the texture of the vegetables. Those are details that the detectives don’t need to know in order to make “coherent sense” of my story. The same goes when you’re writing a book.

“Random incidents neither move nor illuminate; we want to know why one thing leads to another and to feel the inevitability of cause and effect,” states Burroway.

How does that affect the plot then, you may ask? That’s right! I have another quote from Burroway (this is starting to sound like a thesis paper) that states “a plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.” Have you ever wondered why a chapter ends with a cliffhanger? What about when Darth Vader reveals that he is Luke’s father, but then nothing is resolved until the next movie? Those are examples of the writers arranging things to deliver a more emotional and dramatic impact on their audience.

Look at the film Reservoir Dogs (1992), written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. If you’ve never seen it, the story is about a group of thieves that attempt a jewelry store heist but things go really wrong due to an undercover cop in their midst. The “story” starts with the undercover cop learning to become a thief in order to infiltrate the group, interacting with the group before the heist, the heist going poorly, the escape, the regrouping of the thieves, then the end. The “plot” is totally different. Tarantino starts the film with the regrouping scene after everything goes wrong. Flashbacks are used intermittently to show the audience more information about who could possibly be the undercover cop. You don’t know into much later in the film. It is clever and if you’ve never seen it before it’s a watch if you’re looking to properly utilize how to create an emotional and dramatic buildup.

It looks like it’s my time to leave you all for another week. Next week, I’ll be discussing more elements within “Story and Plot” so be prepared for more Burroway quotes and maybe I’ll let you know whether or not I was officially charged with the murder of English Language. See? I’m using plot to create a cliffhanger.

Spoiler: English Language deserved it. He allowed the Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey books to exist. Someone had to act.

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Story and Plot, part one

If I had to define my writing style, I’d have to say that I’m a “pantser.” If you’ve never heard that term before, it means to write by the seat of your pants. If you’re still confused, it means to typically write without having things planned out. A “plotter” is someone that typically writes only after fully plotting the story out. While there’s nothing wrong with either types of writing style, I have to wonder about the significance of story and plot when considering the “pantser” and “plotter” writing styles. If a “pantser” writes by the seat of his/her pants, then where does the plot factor in? Is there even a plot?
Well, duh, plot still exists within your work regardless if you detail every little thing. While moving around some things in my office, I came upon some of my old college text books. When I was in college, I would sell back the books that weren’t in my major and would keep all the text books that were associated with English and writing. One book in particular, “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” written by Janet Burroway, had me opening it to this definition:

“Humphry House, in his commentaries on Aristotle, defines story as everything the reader needs to know to make coherent sense of the plot, and plot as the particular portion of the story the author chooses to present – the “present tense” of the narrative.”

Look, I know what you’re thinking. Who is Humphry House? Believe me, I was wondering that myself. After searching the reputable site Wikipedia for a while, I found absolutely nothing. How disappointing. After googling the name, I found that he was a “pioneer of modern literary-historical scholarship of Dickens, a popular teacher at both Oxford and Cambridge, and frequent presenter of talks on the BBC.” He sounds like a cool dude. But what does Burroway and House mean?
Simply put, the plot is absolutely everything you wish to present in your book. Your main character might be left handed (shout out to those that are) or maybe has a restriction to only one cup of coffee a day. However, it’s your decision as the author whether to allow the reader to see those details.
I know that’s hard to understand. Frankly, I think it’s sort of weird too. I mean… how do you just have one cup of coffee a day? There are people out there that do… you know who you are.
So what is the use of story if we know plot is what is presented to the reader? Going back to House and Burroway, we know that story is everything the reader needs to understand the plot. If your main character’s coffee restriction doesn’t play into the events of your book, is that detail something that should be presented to the reader? Maybe yes, maybe not. The detail could be served to create more character depth. Quirky behaviors and other details like coffee restrictions serve to create a fleshed-out character. People that have similar coffee restrictions might feel connected to the character. However, if you do write in that quirky detail, then make sure to either have it connected into the story or not play into it too much.
Now that I’ve explained just a tiny bit about what House and Burroway say about story and plot, how does that effect the writing styles of “pantsing” and “plotting?” Obviously, if you’re one that plots every little detail in your work then it doesn’t really affect you. If you’re like me and don’t do a lot of planning, does it really effect you?
I’ve always looked to Stephen King when I needed author advise. I mean, not personally because he doesn’t know we’re really good friends. We are though, he just won’t acknowledge it in public. Or in all my emails to him. King says “come to a book as you would come to an unexplored land. Come without a map. Explore it, and draw your own map… a book is like a pump. It gives nothing unless first you give to it.”
When I first began to write, I would interpret this as King being a pantser with no plot. Having matured as an author, I’ve come to realize that the unexplored land is the entire world inside of the book. The parts of the land that are explored is the plot, the parts that are presented to the reader. The story would be the tools that are used to explore that land.
I used to abhor plotting my work and relished in the fact that I plotted nothing. Now I understand that plot and story go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Next week I plan to continue the idea of how story and plot are woven together to form a cohesive story.
At least, that’s what I’m plotting.

BvF #1: Girl, Interrupted

*Since the following Book vs Film does feature in-depth analysis, please be aware: Here there be spoilers*

girl interruptedOver on my website, I posted, The Most Satisfying Read, that I had recently finished reading the book by Susanna Kaysen that spawned the movie Girl, Interrupted (1999). I knew that before doing that post that I wanted to do a book vs movie comparison, but upon learning that a fellow writer had a devoted section on his website just for this I wanted to make the future post into a guest post, he agreed, and thus this has become just that!

I’ve been a long-time fan of book versions of anything that made their way into film or television adaptations. Of course, there are a few instances where the movie does the book justice. This doesn’t mean I will go into a film hating it. To be honest, most things I won’t find out until after it was a comic book or a novel first. In the case of Girl, Interrupted I saw the movie first and then just this year read the book. Things sometimes come in that order, I guess, they’re supposed to.

The differences that I noticed:

  • Daisy’s Death – In the movie it’s a pivotal scene, it is there that the movie version of Susanna seems to change and sees how sick Lisa really is. She seems destroyed that Lisa doesn’t care and that another person was ‘pushed’ to killing themselves. The book doesn’t give more than a paragraph to this. It’s news of hearing the Daisy had died. This entire scene of Susanna and Lisa going to Daisy’s home didn’t happen in the book. Lisa escaped many times.
  • The movie made the location of the asylum come off as a ‘teen 90’s movie’ version of mental asylums. The book made the place feel much darker, scarier, and depressing.
  • Added Scenes – If you’re looking for midnight romps in the tunnels or the girls breaking into the doctor’s files, they’re not in the book at all. I understand that scenes were added to most likely change the atmosphere into not as dark, but the book really captured it as it’s the memoir of Susanna and not the portrayal Hollywood did.
  • One of the saddest things in the book that bothered me was how cold Lisa was. You could feel it with every page turn. A patient named Lisa Cody and she went back and forth; both being named Lisa, and both being diagnosed as sociopaths. At one-point Lisa escaped only to come back bragging how Cody was a real junkie now.
  • Georgina Tuskin has a line in the movie about the CIA and her father. In the book, Georgina is dating another patient from the male ward. He had the CIA connects or said to have had them. I’m sure she was adapted to be a pathological liar and saying this was for condensing purposes. It made things flow easier.

Besides the little inaccurate details and descriptions, I loved and still love the movie. Angelina Jolie as Lisa was spot on. I loved it. She was scary, cold, and free. I saw an interview where she said playing Lisa was the freest, she’d ever felt, up to that point, playing a character. Though sick, Lisa, has a sense of freedom to her. The ward, in the book, is on lockdown, patrolled, and she always seemed to escape. She always seemed to get that bit of sunshine outside the walls where everyone else never could. Of course, sometimes she’d come back dazed or ‘out of it’. My heartbreaks thinking on the scene from the movie where Susanna finally blurts out her truths about her to her face and Lisa cries. I credit Jolie’s portrayal as to why I loved the character so much. Fantastic acting!

I really felt, by the end of the movie hopeful for the patients despite everything. I, like many others, wanted to know what happened to them. Luckily, the book explained some things. I loved that she got to see Lisa again in real life. Lisa had a little boy and was out of the institution. She seemed happy. She even joked about her stomach’s changes. Susanna kept in touch with her roommate from the ward as well. It was nice seeing another patient, at least in words, made it out.

Written by L. Bachman Check out her website here.

L. Bachman

L. BachmanAt a young age, L. Bachman started creating stories and art. This form of expression led to becoming a published author with the stories; Maxwell Demon, Human Ouija, and Harvest. She has also been included in several anthologies. In 2016, her short story, The Painting of Martel, was included in the anthology Painted Mayhem. Following its release, she was included in the anthology, And the World Will Burn: A Dystopian Anthology, with her work “The Gaze of Destruction.” She was included in Crossroads in the Dark II: Urban Legends with a short story, “A Farmhouse Haunting.” Lynn also submitted and was accepted in Crossroads in the Dark III: Monsters Under Your Bed, with her short story, “Just Underneath.” Bachman first gained attention in the independent publishing community with her cover design of the collection entitled Murder, Mayhem, Monsters, and Mistletoe: An Anthology. This led to her working with several authors. Following her work on the anthology, she wrote The Blasphemer Series: Maxwell Demon in January 2015. It was nominated for Indie Book of 2016 by Metamorph Publishing, along with her best-selling short, “Human Ouija,” this story went on to win an award in 2017 from “Author’s Excellence Awards” as best horror story of the year. After the passing of her father in April 2016, she dedicated The Blasphemer Series: Harvest to him, dubbing him one of her biggest supporters, if not her biggest fan. In honor of him, she continues to do charitable work and supports active duty military personnel. Her submission to the anthology Painted Mayhem raised money for military personnel suffering and living with PTSD and she donates some of her works to “Authors Supporting Our Troops”, an annual event that sends copies of books to active duty military. Find L. Bachman on social media and the web under the same name.

Review of The Dinosaur Lords

dinosaur lordsThe first thing that drew me to The Dinosaur Lords, written by Victor Milan, was the cover. As you read this, you all might be thinking about that old saying about how you should never judge a book by its cover. However, it’s always been my thinking that a good book deserves a good cover. If the author took the time and care to pen the adventure, then why would the author want that masterpiece wrapped in a cover that’s anything less than a masterpiece? It is a beautiful cover. The cover, done by Artist Richard Anderson, displays a medieval looking knight with a lance sitting atop what looks to be a velociraptor. The beast is all claws and teeth with a harness wrapped around its deadly jaws. The second thing that caught my eye was the quote by George R.R. Martin underneath Milan’s name that states “It’s like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.” Both novels being favorites of mine, I didn’t think I’d be wasting money purchasing this thick paperback novel.

In all fairness to Milan, I didn’t waste my money. It was a decent read. However, it wasn’t as good as Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones either. What Martin said in his book blurb was accurate though. It was a combination between the two books in the sense that it was medieval knights, political intrigue, and dinosaurs. What I would have liked to see more of was the character development that makes Game of Thrones one of my favorite book series.

The quality of writing was almost flawless. Milan expertly crafts a unique fantasy realm that is both intricate and intriguing. Light on the magical, the world utilizes more sword and spears than it does wizards and wands. The amount of detail that Milan writes rivals that of George R.R. Martin. At the beginning of each chapter, Milan has an entry from one of the many fictitious tomes that are part of the fantasy world of Paradise. These entries serve to provide added details that aid the reader’s immersion.

The main drawback to this novel is the development of the characters. Where George R.R. Martin can switch from character to character with ease, Milan seems to have a difficulty. There are a handful of characters with their own storylines. The problem with the storylines is that there’s only one that I found interesting and it wasn’t even integral to the overall story until the last fifty pages. This lack of interest caused me to pause and set the book down.

While the creation of the interesting world, the detailed characters, the inclusion of dinosaurs used as war weapons are interesting elements, but it doesn’t compensate for the boring storylines of the characters. While I don’t believe that this book was a waste of money, after reading it I won’t be purchasing its sequel.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

avengers endgameIn the history of cinema, there are movies that have broke the mold. Movies that change the landscape of the business. Examples include The Great Train Robbery (1903), Modern Times (1936), Jaws (1975), Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), and Iron Man (2008). Don’t get me wrong, there are many others, but the point I’d like to get across is that these films are milestones in history. They are markers to the amazing feats that were once thought impossible in film. This past weekend, audiences witnessed one such film. Avengers: Endgame is a milestone in the history of cinema.

Avengers: Endgame marks the end of the first three phases in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The fourth film to feature a massive cast of superheroes is the culmination of 22 films that span 11 years. It also signifies the end of the story arc of the original cast of Avengers: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.
In Avengers: Infinity War (2018), audiences were shocked when evil doer Thanos fulfilled his destiny to collect the six infinity stones and eradicate half of all the living creatures in the universe. Fan favorites Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and many others were reduced to a pile of dust.

avengers endgame2Now, the remaining Avengers must deal with not only the fallout from half of existence turning to dust, but also the heavy burden of trying to fix what Thanos had done.
Avengers: Endgame is a rather long film. The run time is 182 minutes (3 hours, two minutes). However, the film never feels that long. There wasn’t a moment where I was squirming in my seat, bored, or pulled out of the narrative. For me, the three hours seemed to fly.

Just like Captain America, this film packs quite the punch in the emotional department. Having seen it on opening weekend, the audience clapped and cheered, sniffled and cried at various moments in the film. The film doesn’t just deliver on an emotional level, it delivers in the action department as well. If you thought the fight scenes in Avengers: Infinity War was amazing. Just wait until you watch Endgame.

Another fascinating thing about the film was the story. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything here. Having spent an entire year crafting theories and listening to others, I was surprised by what actually transpired over those three magnificent hours.
Having said all of this, there were a few things about the story that I felt could’ve been better or handled a little differently. However, I can’t discuss those things without spoiling the plot. Those few miniscule details don’t change my overall feelings about the film.

Avengers endgame3Having grown up reading Marvel Comics, Avengers: Endgame was the closest to actually recreating one of those epic, universe altering comic book series. The amount of fan service, call backs to past films, and nods to the comic books just shows how much care the directors, screenwriters, and producers took in handling the last 22 films.
If you’re a fan of comic book movies, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Avengers: Endgame. Even if you’re not a comic book/superhero fan, you’ll find something to enjoy while watching this epic.

The film is Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language. If you’re wondering whether or not this film would be appropriate to take your children to, then I would suggest that if you’re comfortable letting them watch the other Marvel films then you should be fine.

Review of Cinder

I really enjoy when artists take old stories and give them a new twist. Especially when they do this to fairy tales. Take the television show Once Upon a Time for example. So when a friend suggested that I give Cinder by Marissa Meyer a try, I was all for it.

Cinder is the first in The Lunar Chronicles and takes place in the future after the Fourth World War. In this futuristic world, androids aid humans in their daily lives. Cyborgs, humans augmented by technology, are treated as second class citizens. One such cyborg, Cinder, is a gifted mechanic with a mysterious past. Not only is Cinder looked down upon by her stepmother and stepsister, she is also looked down upon by the rest of society as a cyborg. Ashamed of her robotic parts, she hides them in shame. This doesn’t stop Cinder’s family from depending on her to earn the family’s only source of income, the mechanic shop in downtown New Beijing.

However, Cinder’s life is thrown upside down due to a chance encounter with Prince Kai. After that encounter, Cinder is thrown into a deadly game of intergalactic Risk. If she wins, Cinder could gain everything. If she loses, it’s not just her that suffers. The world might also suffer.

The first thing about this Young Adult novel is that anyone can find it entertaining. The storyline, the dialogue, even the plot is appropriate for both younger and older audiences. The second thing about this title is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Marissa Meyer is truly an artisan at what she does.

The basic premise of Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella. An evil stepmother oppresses a poor orphan, a fairy godmother grants the wishes of the orphan, the orphan and prince fall in love, and the prince searches for his lost love, and eventually they all live happily ever after. What Meyer does is take that story and add a fun and interesting futuristic angle on it.

One such change is that of the protagonist, Cinder. She isn’t a helpless orphan that is granted everything she desires from her fairy godmother. Cinder has to struggle to overcome her weaknesses to prove not only to the prince and the “fairy godmother” that she’s worthy of her dreams, but she has to prove to herself that she’s able to do what must be done. Not stopping there, Meyer imbues Cinder with strength, courage, and stubborn determination to create an empowering character. Don’t enter this story expecting that it will be the prince that saves Cinder and the day.

Due to the fact that it is a retelling, there are positives and negatives. The one flaw that I had while quickly devouring this fantastic version of Cinderella was that, at times, it was predictable. I had predicted some of the end based on the prior knowledge of the fairy tale, but for the most part I was surprised. When there were elements of the fairytale that popped up into the novel I was pleasantly hit with nostalgia. I actually laughed out loud a few times when I realized what was happening.

If you have the capability, I would suggest listening to the audiobook version performed by Voice Actress Rebecca Soler. She did an amazing job bringing the characters to life. Each character had their own voice, she sped her reading when the action was kicked up, and you could feel the emotion in the scene through her voice.

If you enjoy popular fairytale retellings, then Cinder is one that you absolutely must pick up. If you did enjoy it then rejoice because it’s the first in The Lunar Chronicles, a series of books that put that same futuristic spin on popular fairytales.

Marissa Meyer creates a fantastic novel that will certainly entertain readers young and old. If you haven’t done it already, enchant your pumpkins, jump into that newly minted carriage, and get yourself to the nearest bookstore before the clock hits midnight.