This cartoon says it all. This year we choose our next president. Many of these politicians are frauds or ignoramuses. Unfortunately, the country is as divided as it hasn’t been since the 1960s and we could be on the brink of a global war or economic collapse. So, this is not the time to blindly follow leaders. This is the time to ask real questions and do your homework. Don’t just go along with what he media says. Who we pick in November could be more serious than any choice you ever made.
As you may know I am helping to produce a small independent horror film called The Quantum Terror, directed by Christopher Moonlight in Austin, Texas. A lot has been accomplished so far. Many scenes have been shot, but we can still use your help in finishing it. We’ve made the film with very little money, but there is still more to do. Here’s a video by Christopher explaining the latest status. You can contribute to the project on our Indygogo page.
I’ll be at the San Diego Comics Fest next month, February 12-15 as a guest. I’ll be on several panels including my Secrets of Writing workshop and a music-comics panel hosted by local artist Jay Allen Sanford. This will be my third Comic Fest show. It’s a wonderful throwback con that tries to create the informal feel of the early comic cons, and was created by one of the founders of that show. It’s held every year in Mission Valley at the Town and Country Convention center.
If you’re in San Diego next month, come by and say hi. I’ll be there all weekend.
Excerpted from The Secrets of Writing
This is one of the most critical things a story needs. It’s an event that sets the story in motion. Until this event happens, your characters are just muddling through life as they normally do. The Trigger Event kicks the plot into first gear. Now you’re moving in a direction.
Think of a story as a section of your character’s life, which has been edited down to the most interesting parts. We live from day to day, trying to achieve certain objectives. Things happen to us that sometimes changes our plans. And sometimes these events set us on a different path than the one we were on.
That’s what the trigger does. It sets your character on a path with destiny. The destiny you’ve chosen for him at the end of the story. Until the trigger he was headed in the “normal” direction his life was taking, whatever that may be. He had a goal in sight or he was doing a daily routine and everything was hunky dory. More or less.
But then the trigger event came along and totally screwed up everything. It has radically upset the life of the hero whether he realizes it or not. The trigger can either have a positive or negative effect on the hero’s life at first, but it must be dynamic. It must radically alter the status quo in a way that will take a lot of doing to change.
A story needs to have movement. It needs to propel the Audience forward at a pace where they won’t be distracted or have their mind wander. A story also needs direction, and the trigger gives the story the initial direction it needs.
In a story you have two opposing forces, the Hero and the Villain. Both will be at odds over some issue central to the story. That issue will usually be the Grail. The trigger event signals when these two forces first begin to be in opposition to each other. It may not be apparent immediately to some of the characters that this is happening, but the trigger serves as the catalyst to make the story come about.
Let’s look at a few famous movies to see some examples of a trigger event.
E.T.: The UFO that brought E.T. to earth has left without him. He’s stranded on an alien world. The UFO was seen by some government men, including a man with keys on his belt (the story’s Villain). The man with the keys senses E.T.’s presence and gives chase. E.T. runs until he reaches the safety of the garden shed where he’ll eventually meet Henry, the central Hero of the story.
STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE: A spaceship carrying Princess Leia and her two droids is captured by the Empire. Darth Vader, the main Villain, shows up to oversee the operation. The two droids escape to the planet below, where they inevitably meet Luke Skywalker, the main Hero. Luke’s Aunt and Uncle is killed when he tries to return the droids. That sets him on the path of the jedi.
SPECTRE: James Bond (the main Hero) is assigned to kill a terrorist in Mexico City. He finds a ring on the body and discovers it has traces of DNA from previous criminals he’s killed. This leads him to Mr. White, a former person of interest to tells him of this criminal organization and its mysterious leader. Bond’s pursuit of this organization takes him to the author of all his pain.
DIE HARD: John McClane, a New York Cop (the main Hero) shows up at his wife’s office party and goes into her office to make a phone call. Shortly thereafter, a band of criminals (lead by the Villain) show up and take people hostage at the party.
ALIEN: The spaceship Nostromo gets orders to land on an alien planet, where the crew (the Heroes) will come into contact with an alien species (the Villain) which will try to kill them all.
Did you notice something about all these trigger events? Either the Villain, the Hero, or both were introduced in them. This is important, because every story will be about these two forces coming into opposition. You want to make it clear who these characters are and what place do they take in the scheme of things.
So the Trigger Event not only starts the ball rolling in a certain direction, but it serves to give the audience a sense of who’s who and what’s about to go down.
In the case of E.T., we know right away that the alien is in trouble and that he’s hunted. That his only hope is to be taken in by someone who will protect him. This is a great trigger incident because it immediately gives you a clear sense of where the story is going and raises a strong question.
Star Wars: A New Hope also does a good job of establishing the nature of the Villain and his relationship to the Heroes of the story, even though we don’t see Luke Skywalker till a little while later.
In Spectre, James Bond’s discovery of a ring is a crucial lead that opens the door to solving a host of mysteries that have been plaguing him.
Placement of the Trigger Event
The Trigger Event should be placed close to the beginning of the story. You might even want to make it the first scene. The only real reason to hold off using it right away is when you need to set up some backstory so that everything makes sense. For example, in The Godfather, the trigger doesn’t happen until after the large wedding sequence. In fact, it doesn’t happen until after the infamous horse head scene. The wedding scene establishes all the main characters of the story and sets up a backstory, showing the Godfather’s relationship with his community, his power over others, and the nature of what he is. The wedding sequence also establishes his son, Michael, who is the Hero of the story. We even wait until after the Hollywood sequence before we get to the Trigger. The Hollywood sequence demonstrates Godfather Vito Corleone’s influence and power via the infamous “horse head” scene. Before then, we only heard second hand stories about the Godfather’s power. Now we’ve seen it in action. We see the fear he creates in others. We are led to believe that someone would have to be crazy to ever think of messing with this dude. This is all a set up for the Turning Point of the first act.
The Trigger Event is the scene where Vito rejects Virgil Pollazo’s offer to join him in the drug trade. By refusing Pollazo, the Godfather has created a powerful enemy who will attempt to have him assassinated at the Turning Point of the first act. Since Michael is the hero of the movie, the attempted murder of his father sets him on the path to become the new Godfather.
So, sometimes it’s necessary to wait before you use the trigger. Sometimes you need to get to know the victims first. But in any event, it must be somewhere in the first quarter of your story.
The Trigger Event can sometimes be in the backstory, rather than a scene in the first act. In Watchmen it was in the murder of the Comedian, which we only see the aftermath of in the beginning. This is because Watchmen is a mystery and it would give away the story’s big twist if we knew who killed the Comedian. This technique of placing the Trigger in the backstory is common in the mystery and crime genres. The hero of the story is arguably Rorschach who is the person who tries to solve the mystery of who killed the Comedian to the end.
REMEMBER: The trigger event gets your story rolling by providing motivation for your hero.
Back in 2014 I had planned to come out with my next novel, Diogenes, which is the first part of a Superhero series of books. Then life happened and I lost my foot and then my leg in 2015. I really want in a writing mood though I did get some work done. So now I am back working on it and I hope to finish it in April for this year. I still have a long way to go but it’s coming along. I intend to release a preview of it for free on this site to people who subscribe to my news letter. So if you haven’t done so, please sign up over on the right.
Diogenes is the story of a man who finds a new lease on life when he’s killed. The experience leaves him with the power to reveal the truth about people and that makes him the most dangerous person alive.
It’s the first in a series of books I want to do to explore superheroes in a way I have not seen done before. More on that later. This was the cover I had planned but it’s subject to change.
I’m working on getting a 2 to the Chest trade out next month. I am in the process of looking into publishing it through Fortan Media. It would be the first graphic novel I do from there, If that works out I will be doing more of my work. The idea is to do print on demand, but I have to make sure they can do what I need at a good price. Otherwise, I will have to look at other options.
2 to the Chest is the story of Troy Geist, a cop in L.A. who gets shot while pursuing a killer. He has an out of body experience and this leads him to evidence which put his and his girlfriends lives in great danger. What he has could be one of the most important documents in history. It’s something a lot of people will kill for and it’s too dangerous to just hand over to the authorities because they’re also trying to kill him to get it.
I wrote it in 2006. Jose Aviles illustrated it. Only three issues of the comic came out due to problems I had with printing it in Spain. But it’s all done and ready for the world.
I will post more info soon.
Excerpted from The Secrets of Writing
All stories arise from conflict. As we stated earlier, the hero wants something. He goes on a quest to obtain the object of desire. What makes it a story is the conflict that stands between the hero and his goal. That is the crux of your story. Conflict keeps stories moving. Lose the conflict and you lose your audience.
Conflict is not action. Many writers mistakenly confuse the two, and thus end up with stories full of meaningless action scenes. Conflict is the reason most action occurs. Conflict is when two forces are in opposition to each other. These forces can be emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, sociological, or elemental.
We begin to understand a character through their response to conflict. How each person reacts to any given situation defines their character. We respond to how characters deal with conflict because we can relate to it. Conflict is in our face every single day in one form or another. And when it’s not, we’re bored.
How a character deals with their conflicts helps us gain perspective on our own lives. It can either serve to validate or repudiate our own choices. If we really disagree with the choices a character makes when dealing with his conflict, we form negative opinions about that character. If we love the choice they make, we love the character more. It’s that simple.
So how your characters deal with conflict will have a lot to do with how your audience is going to feel about your work. Remember one crucial thing, however. Conflict is not action. They are two completely different things. We’ll discuss the nature of action in a later chapter.
Types of Conflict
Conflict comes in several forms. You have to choose the type that best serves your story. Every form of conflict has implications on the level it affects. They are:
INTERNAL: The conflict a person has with themselves. Inner turmoil. Moral dilemmas. Overcoming trauma. Psychological problems. This conflict is not with other characters, though it can affect other characters in the story. The Internal Conflict is best showcased in the novel, where the Audience feels they are in the mind of the character, because they are visualizing based on the chosen words of the writer. Comics can also handle the internal conflict effectively through use of captions. The art work can show the struggle of the character in many different ways. But the film and theater mediums are much less effective dealing with this form of conflict which is why so many novels don’t translate well to film. Novels that deal mainly with external conflicts always translate better than those which deal with internal ones. The internal conflict is about what personal demons or pain stands in the way of them achieving their story goals. Whether they realize it or not. Many people are not honest with themselves about their pain or inner conflicts, and that holds them back. By having a character achieve some sort of break through, an inner conflict is the way for them to move forward and achieve their goal. Failure to do that will result in failure to overcome their obstacle, which may be themselves, or an addiction of some kind.
PERSONAL: This is between the Hero and his friends and lovers. It’s about inter-personal relations between individuals. It does not involve larger issues like peer pressure or the rules of society, but rather, the problems people have relating one on one. This is the conflict best showcased in the theater. Though comics handle it well.
EXTERNAL: External conflict is the conflict that’s happening to the character, from outside forces. Such as society or culture. The external conflict is concerned with how it stands in the way of our characters goals. Everyone wants something. But we can’t have everything we want because something stands in the way. Lack of money, access to something, other people, the law. Your character is faced with this dilemma and dealing with this conflict will be a large part of your story.
ELEMENTAL: Between man and the environment, between the hero and a force of nature. The hero deals with an elemental force which has no persona. It could be anything from a giant meteor heading toward earth or a pack of rabid Chihuahuas.
The Nature of Conflict
By itself, conflict is impersonal. Even it you’re dealing with a war. People understand the concept of a war, but they don’t see what it has to do with them unless you apply the exercise of conscious will on it, through your main characters. Then it becomes tangible.
If I said two guys were fighting down the street, they’d be faceless individuals in your mind and meaningless to you on a personal level. You don’t know who they are or why they’re fighting. But if I said your best friend is fighting your worst enemy, all of a sudden the idea draws you in because it now has personal meaning.
That’s how you involve the Audience in the conflict. By making the characters people they can identify with as they deal with the conflict. You do this by showing their dynamic will in action.
The story of a guy who just wants to have a decent life isn’t very exciting. It’s a very passive, run-of-the mill desire. There’s nothing special about it. Nothing to make the character’s struggle interesting.
But…when you show that he will fight the most incredible odds to secure that peaceful life, then it becomes interesting, and so does the Hero. You transform the conflict by showing his dynamic will in action against it.
When you’re writing a story about personal and/or social conflicts, you are really pitting the will of your characters against each other. And through that use of will, we learn who they are and what they’re made of.
In an internal conflict, the character uses their will against their own innate nature. They may have a phobia about fire. To get out of a building they’re trapped in, they have to walk through a fire filled room. They must force themselves to do something they are afraid to do. They’re battling their own desires for a better good.
Lack of internal conflict limits a character’s dimension. Single minded individuals are only common in bad fiction. Not in life. Everyone has inner demons of some kind. We’re conflicted individuals. According to scientists, reason and emotion are completely intertwined. When someone suffers brain damage to the emotion centers of the brain, they lose the ability to make logical decisions.
This is because we learn by our mistakes. If we no longer fear negative repercussions, we would do anything without thought. So you need to be aware of a characters fears, needs and desires. Their emotional hot buttons.
It will have a big impact on the character’s choices.
REMEMBER: All stories arise from conflict. Conflict is transformed by dynamic will.
How’s that for a link bait title?
SPOILERS AHEAD. Be warned.
I was never a Star Wars fan. I like the movies but I always have problems with their lack of logic or basic science. The latest one, The Force Awakens, was very entertaining. I had a lot of fun watching it, but OMG, there were so many things that were out right stupid, it boggles the mind. For example, Han Solo takes his ship out of light speed right over a planet at one point. Like, a couple hundred feet above the ground. He would have crashed before he even had time to react to the ground coming up to his face. Even if he did, the gravity forces would have shredded him and his ship into a gob of goo.
The Starkiller base is even worse. This video explains why. I will also add that killing your sun will freeze your ass pretty fast. So all these guys walking around on the surface would be dead before they knew it.
This guy’s review is also pretty spot on, though I disagree the Force Awakens is better than the prequels claim.
I would rate the Force Awakens as one of the top three Star Wars films. I see the order as The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope and then The Force Awakens. A New Hope is more original than The Force Awakens, which is mainly a remix of ANH with some of Empire and Return of the Jedi thrown in. It also has some of its own ideas but over all, it’s a remix and more of a fan film than its own movie. But hey, I was entertained. Really. In some ways more than I was by ANH when I saw it the first time.
JJ Abrams knows how to make movies. The problem with him is he is not original. He is big on rehashes. His films are largely emotionally hollow. There is a surface quality to them that is very Hollywood. The emotional core isn’t compelling for me. But I even liked Star Trek: Into Darkness for all it’s flaws. He knows how to entertain people. If only he had fresh ideas.
I’m always fascinated by the engineering of how modern technologies are designed. Thanks to sites like youtube.com, we have people showing us the secrets on video. Today and engineer disassembles one of those cheap inkjet printers so we can see how they work. Very little goes into them which is how they make them so affordable.
Excerpted from The Secrets of Writing
Aside from the choices a character makes, and their contradictions, we have a third technique for defining them. I call it Relational Characterization.
Characters are also defined by the people they associate with. Who they choose as friends and lovers, who they make their enemies, can tell you a lot about a person. But more importantly, the manner in which people inter-relate defines their relationships with each other and reveals some of their sides.
We all react to different people in a different way. Some people turn us on. Some annoy us. Some make us mad. Some make us crazy. Some make us laugh. But not all the time. You may love your mom, but she may also drive you nuts. You may hate your boss, but you had a great time with him at the company picnic. There is a standard mode we have when dealing with certain people and there are other modes depending on our mood, the nature of the conversation, and the situation.
When you ask a friend for a loan, you probably use a different manner than when you’re talking to him about a movie or asking him what you want to do for the evening. When using relational characterization it’s important to stay aware of the context.
This is something we learn as children. We learn how to use different voices to get responses from our parents. We try different things to see what works, We continue this into adulthood. We use a different voice or inflection on people depending on the situation. We might put on our sexy voice for our lover, a high-pitched cutesy voice for our pet or children. We may use a tense, guarded voice for people we don’t trust. And this defines not only our relationships with those people, but the way we feel about them.
The way certain people effect us can create impulsive emotional responses that we later regret. If someone hurt our feelings in the past, something may remind us of that in a conversation and all of a sudden we start saying mean things. These kind of responses are useful to be aware of. Such reactions can clue the Audience to important backstory elements that are revealed later.
Like I said, choice is a powerful indicator. In most cases we choose who we love and hate. And the reasons for this can speak volumes.
When you have a character talk to another character, you really need to understand the relationship they have and how it can reveal to the Audience sides of that character we don’t usually get to see. It helps make that character seem more real and rounded out.
REMEMBER: A character is defined by their contradictions, choices, and relationships.
In addition to the above, there’s a little technique you can use called Symbolic Characterization. This is mainly reserved for supporting characters. But it can be used for the Hero or the Villain, if done carefully.
Symbolic characterization is used when characters appearance and lifestyles are metaphors to enhance the premise, to set mood, or establish a theme. This is usually done through the use of archetypes in archetypal settings.
Comics love to use symbolic characterization because it’s a medium of extremes. It started out showing people as exaggerated caricatures and it never quite lost that tendency.
Batman is a symbolic character. He dresses like a bat, lives (for all intents and purposes) in a cave, and only comes out at night. The Human Torch is a hot headed young man who turns into a living firebrand. Shakespeare made Richard III a ugly hunchbacked character, despite the fact that he was nothing of the kind in real life. He’s visually symbolic of his persona.
But, it’s dangerous to do this sort of thing without first making sure your character is well rounded. Otherwise they can become cartoony and unbelievable.
This hasn’t stopped a lot of comic book writers from creating characters who looked like their personas. They are exactly what the seem. If you do this, don’t expect too many readers to be impressed. It’s been done to death.
You can also use symbolic characterization in contrast to the premise. Or to enhance some theme you’re playing with in the story. There are a lot of ways to use it beyond the obvious.
REMEMBER: Characters need to be believable, even if they look strange.