The Plotting Workshop: Scenes for Act III

scenes-for-act-iii

The first act and both parts of the second act of your plot board are all filled out. Don’t those sticky notes with your ideas written on them look gorgeous? A filled in plot board is seriously one of my favorite things in the world.

We’re almost done now. Just Act III to fill in.

Act III is shorter than Act II. It has a fast pace. You’ve done all your world building, developed all your characters–Act III is pure story. When you get to the point of writing this part of your book, it’s the most fun because you can see the end and the story just races toward it.

Let’s see how your race goes.

ASSIGNMENT TWENTY-THREE

Plot Board, Act III

Act III encompasses two sequences: seven and eight. It has two climactic scenes, with the big one being the third act twist around the end of sequence seven. Go ahead and fill that one in.

Now, go back over your notes and read The Road Back, Ressurection, and Return with the Elixir. Everything you need to round out your story is in there.

You’re going to have scenes of your main character coping with the main climax–which was probably a very dark moment. Your character will rededicate themself to his quest. They’ll have a moment when they realize what they’ve gained. And another when they share it in some way.

The eighth sequence will have some scenes of resolution, tying up the ends of your story. If you’ll have an epilogue, the notes for that are probably your climactic scene for the final sequence.

Act III should have 15 to 20 scenes. Make sure that you’re resolving all of the major story points. If you had love scenes in Acts I and II, you need to make sure you satisfy your reader with regard to that relationship in Act III. If the antagonist had a subplot happening, don’t leave it hanging.

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The Plotting Workshop: Scenes for Act II

scenes-for-act-iiHopefully the left-hand wing of your plot board is nice and full of sticky notes now. You should have what happens in Act I all down.
Can you see how valuable it is to be able to see your story all at a glance? And the sticky notes are so impermanent. That means you can rip one off and replace it, or move it somewhere else, with zero problem. For me, that’s super important. I need my plot board to be flexible, because a novel is a long piece of work and things change when you’re actually writing it.
The point of all of this work isn’t to chisel your story into stone before you even start to write it. It’s to build it up and give your brain a chance to see the full potential of it now, which will make writing it so much easier.
Trust me, anything that makes writing a first draft even a little easier is worthwhile.
Today we’re moving on to the scenes for Act II. Remember, Act II is considerably longer than Act I or Act III. In fact, it’s about half of your story–or about 30 to 40 scenes.
Ready for this?
ASSIGNMENT TWENTY-TWO
PLOT BOARD, ACT II
Act II encompasses four sequences: three, four, five, and six. That means you have four climactic scenes. The two biggies are the mid-point climax at the end of sequence four and the main climax at the end of sequence six. Go ahead and start with those.
Now, look back over your notes at Tests, Allies, and Enemies, Approach to the Inmost Cave, The Ordeal, and The Reward.
You’re going to need two more climactic scenes, one for the end of sequence three and one for the end of sequence five. Keep that in mind as you look at your story.
Leading up to the mid-point climax you’re going to have scenes where your hero meets other people who are important to the story. You’ll probably have a first run-in with the villain, a few tests of
your main character’s resolve, maybe a love scene.
Your MC is going to make their way closer and closer to the place where the mid-point climax will take place, and bad things will happen to them along the way. Each of those things is a scene.
Think of the scenes in Act II, part one, as the rocks you’re throwing at your hero once you’ve finally coaxed them up the tree.
After the mid-point climax, you’ll have scenes where your hero reacts to the Ordeal. Probably another love scene if there’s any romance at all in your book. The rocks will pick up again and things have to get bad enough to reach Dark Night of the Soul territory by the end of Act II, part two.
Just like with Act I, if you find yourself with a build up of scenes in any one sequence, then you need to think about the pacing of your story so that you can get to the climactic scene that leads into the next sequence.
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The Plotting Workshop: Scenes for Act I

scenes-for-act-i

Be sure to click here for instructions on how to set up your plot board.

This is my favorite part of this whole process. I love implementing my plot board! You might be tempted to just whip out your sticky notes and have at it, but I’m going to encourage you to slow down and take it Act by Act.

You probably won’t be shocked to learn that we’re going to start with Act I.

Before we dive in, let me give you a little note about what you’re going to do.

A full-length novel generally has between 60 and 90 scenes. Some kinds of novels have more than others. If you’re writing a 120,000 word high fantasy epic, you’ll probably have more scenes than someone writing a 60,000 word category romance. You don’t have to worry about hitting an exact scene count–just be aware of what’s typical for a novel.

All you’re going to do is write a few words about each scene on a sticky note. Each scene gets it’s own note. When I say a few words, I really mean just a few. For instance, if you have a scene where your hero meets your heroine, you’ll write TARZAN MEETS JANE (use your own character names, please!) on a sticky note. You won’t write something like TARZAN MEETS JANE WHILE SWINGING THROUGH THE TREES. JANE HAS GOTTEN HERSELF LOST FROM HER CAMP. HER FATHER IS LOOKING FOR HER. TARZAN FALLS IN LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT . . .

Too much. Just the basics for your plot board. You’ll thank me later. You’re not writing your novel here. You’re just placing markers along the road.

Grab your sticky notes and a pen (I like to use a Sharpie so that I can see my notes from a distance.) Let’s do this.

ASSIGNMENT TWENTY

PLOT BOARD, ACT I

Remember that Act I of your novel has two sequences: one and two. That means two climactic scenes. One is going to be your inciting incident, at the end of sequence one, the other is your lock in at the end of sequence two.

Go ahead and make those notes and stick them to your board in the appropriate spots.

Two down. Good.

Now look back over your notes for The Ordinary World, The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting the Mentor, and Crossing the Threshold.

Ask yourself what happens before the inciting incident. What scenes let your reader know about the hero’s ordinary world? Do we meet anyone important before the call to adventure happens?

Write out notes for those scenes and stick them in sequence one.

What happens between the call to adventure and crossing the threshold, or the lock in? Which scenes show your main character’s struggle with entering the special world of the story? Which scenes convey the stakes for your MC if they choose not to leave their comfortable ordinary world? What characters are introduced in this part of your story?

Those notes go in sequence two.

You want about a quarter of your total number of scenes to land in Act I–so aim for 15 to 20. But, again, don’t get hung up on getting the number of scenes right. If you find that you have a couple of dozen in sequence one–well, take it from me, you’d rather know that when all you’ve done is write sticky notes than after you’ve written 20,000 words that haven’t moved your story forward.

Story is all about pacing. Every scene in Act I needs to move your MC toward the special world of the story–otherwise known as Act II.

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If you want to see this whole course on Teachable, for free, click here.

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The Plotting Workshop: Return with the Elixir

return-with-the-elixirThis is it! The last little bit of this series that deals with The Writer’s Journey. Once you’ve finished this assignment, you’ll have your entire story arc planned out. There’s a lot of work left to do, but I’m so proud of you for getting this far.

Today we’re going to focus on the part of the Writer’s Journey that Volger calls the Return with the Elixir. Your main character has survived their final brush with death and now they’re on their final journey home–wherever that may be–with their prize.

We’re going to think about what your hero gains at the end of their journey, and what they bring back to share with his new ordinary world. Vogler calls that ‘thing’ an elixir.

The Elixir itself can take on any of several forms–definitely read “Return with the Elixir” in The Writer’s Journey. Your hero might bring something physical home to share, or their elixir might be true love or a heightened sense of responsibility. If you’re writing a tragedy, the elixir will be that tragedy and it will be the audience that learns from it, rather than the hero.

Read “The Elixir” in The Writer’s Journey.

ASSIGNMENT EIGHTEEN

The Twist

This last section of your story starts with the final of five key plot points: the third act twist. Something happens to change your MC’s fortunes once again, this time toward the tone of the end of your story.

Unless you’re writing a tragedy, that means that when all seems completely lost after the main climax of your story, a twist happens to turn things around. If you are writing a tragedy, then of course the twist turns things from the high of the climax to something very dark.

After the climax, the dark night of your hero’s soul, they might not know how they’re going to survive. Something, some twist, happens right here that will show them the way. Think about your favorite books and movies. What happens about three quarters of the way through that changes everything? Go ahead and reply to this email, let me know what you come up with.

You need to think about what your MC is going to bring back to their new Ordinary World with them from this adventure. What are they going to share with their little bit of the world (or, maybe, the world at large)?

Vogler writes that the reward, the elixir, should be proportional to the sacrifice that the hero has made. Also, if your hero has failed to learn an important lesson, there should be some sort of a punishment.

This is also the time to think about whether or not your story needs an epilogue. Most stories don’t, but if yours needs a final bit of closure, this is the place for it. Often an epilogue skips ahead, giving the reader a deeper peek at the new ordinary world the hero now inhabits.

Okay, grab your notebook. Label the next page “Return with the Elixir” and answer these questions.

  • What is the elixir your hero brings back? Is it physical or emotional?
  • Does your hero take on more responsibility in their new ordinary world than they had in their old ordinary world? Have they become a leader in some way?
  • Is there a romance in your story? How does it resolve?
  • Who is the hero at the end of the story? Have there been any disappointments or surprises?
  • Does your story have an epilogue? Describe it.

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The Plotting Workshop: The Resurrection

the-ressurection

We’ve reached the part of your story that is often called The Dark Night of the Soul. It’s a second meeting with death for your main character and the very biggest moment in your entire story. Unless you’re writing a tragedy, this part of your story will be the darkest, worst moment for your protagonist.

Your hero’s Resurrection starts with a brush with death which is your story’s main climax–the fourth of five key plot points. Your character, at this point, will make a final big push toward change.

This lesson has one assignment. Read “The Resurrection” in The Hero’s Journey.

ASSIGNMENT SEVENTEEN

The Dark Night of the Soul

Your character has been through a lot so far. They’ve changed drastically, their old Ordinary World probably seems a million miles away. Maybe by now they know that the road that they’re on will never lead them back to their comfortable place.

In this scene, you have the chance to show (rather than tell) the change that’s happened in your MC. This scene is hard to write, because it can be tough to be mean to a character you feel so connected to. But the main climax is the time when everything your MC has learned and every change they’ve been through comes together.

You need to think about your protagonist’s stakes now. They have to be high. It isn’t just themselves that they’re saving. This is the time when they become a true hero, saving everyone in one way or the other.

Your protagonist might have a big, important choice to make here. Do they get married or leave someone at the alter? Do they make the kill or go with mercy? Do they risk everything or play it safe?

If you are truly writing a tragic story, rather than a dark moment, the main climax of your story will be a soaring win for your hero. You’ll have to lift them up high here, so that when they fall, they fall hard.

Get out your notebook and label the next page “The Resurrection.” Answer these questions.

  • What negative traits has your MC picked up? This is a good way to gauge their change.
  • Which flaws will your MC retain through to the end of the story?
  • Describe the main climax or final ordeal of your story. How does your MC face death one more time? How are they ressurected?
  • Is there a physical showdown between your MC and the antagonist?
  • How has your MC changed?

Tomorrow we’re going to finish up with The Writer’s Journey! Can you believe it? We’ll be talking about your hero’s return with the elixir.

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The Plotting Workshop: The Road Back

the-road-back

All right, here we are in Act III. Can you believe that we’ve made it this far? By now, your novel has shaped up into something you’re excited about–and you can see your way to the end. When you get to actually write this part of your story, your work will take on a life of its own.

The Road Back refers to one of two things. It’s either the start of the hero’s return to the their original ordinary world, or the start of their journey toward some place completely new. Even if your main character is headed back to the beginning–back home, like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz–they have changed so that they aren’t going to experience home in the same way as they used to.

And either way, your MC is starting back toward the Ordinary World–either the one they already know, or one they haven’t reached yet. What they’ve learned and how they’ve changed will impact how they live in that new ordinary world.

But first, something has to happen that will propel your MC toward the end of their story. This scene marks the line between Act II and Act III.

Read the “The Road Back” chapter of The Writer’s Journey.

ASSIGNMENT SIXTEEN

Acceleration

A couple of things are going to happen at this stage of your story.

First, your MC is going to find a new level of dedication to his journey. Usually, it won’t come easily. After the Ordeal, which was a big win, they might be happy where they are. Something has to take place now that yanks them back into the story.

Often this acceleration involves some sort of a chase scene. Something exciting, that will bring your story out of the slower pace of the second act and into the higher-octane third act.

Like the threshold your MC crossed to enter the story, this is the scene that will eventually take them back out of it. It will set them on the road home–whether that’s to their original home or to somewhere entirely new.

Vogler calls the thing that pushes the MC into the main climax a propellant. It boosts the story and forces them to push harder toward their goal.

Second, your villain will probably have a boost of energy toward their own goals. Remember, they are the hero of their own story as well as being the shadow in your MC’s. As the MC gets closer to success, the villain will need to fight harder, too.

This is a big reversal from the high of the Ordeal. It’s often something sudden that happens, with no warning.

Grab your notebook and label the next page The Road Back. Answer these questions.

  • How does your MC rededicated himself to his journey?
  • What does the road back look like? Is it a clear path? Does your MC have to muddle through it? Are they just plopped onto it by some force outside themselves?
  • Where does the road back head? Is your MC going back to the beginning, or somewhere entirely new?
  • What happens to accelerate the story at this point? What is your MC’s propellant.

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The Plotting Workshop: The Reward

the-rewardAfter your main character has lived through the Ordeal, which involved surviving a life or death situation, it’s time for them to collect their reward. The next part of your story is the time when they reap the consequences of surviving their ordeal.

Often the reward involves a party or some other physical celebration for the MC and their allies. Vogler uses the example of the buffalo barbeque scene in Dances with Wolves that happens after the MC’s first hunt. The characters in my book Rebel Nation have a bon fire after their ordeal.

This is a good place for a love scene if you have a romantic element to your story.

The Reward part of your story is the time for your protagonist to grab and hold on to at least part of their goal. There’s still half a book to go, so they aren’t going to get everything they want or need yet. But they’ll get a taste.

And so will the reader. This scene is the reader’s reward for sticking with the hero through their story to this point. It’s fun. It’s satisfying. It feels good.

There is one assignment in this email. You’ll want to read “The Reward” in The Writer’s Journey.

ASSIGNMENT FIFTEEN

A Taste of Success

Taking possession of the reward is sometimes an aggressive, physical act. The MC is amped up by surviving their ordeal and defying death. They have a new confidence that will serve them well through the next phase of their story–which unbeknownst to them is leading up to a scene that is often called The Dark Night of the Soul.

Think about what your hero wants and needs. Why did they enter the special world of the story in the first place? After the Ordeal, are they able to see some part of their goal right in front of them? How will they reach for it? Are they willing to steal it? Fight for it?

The MC finding the courage and confidence to boldly take possession of the reward is a good way to show the change that is already taking place inside of them.

Take a look at the “Trickster” character archetype in The Writer’s Journey. It’s possible that there is a character that will emerge in your story who will try to steal the reward out from under the MC. They might hide as an ally. They might be an outright antagonist. If your story has a trickster, they’ll probably snatch at the Reward while making the hero and the reader laugh.

After surviving the Ordeal, your hero might have some sort of epiphany. They might realize something about themselves that they never knew before. Some truth about their parentage or some interior aspect of themselves that eluded them before. They might gain a stronger drive toward their goal. Sometimes their ephiphany causes a major shift, or direction change, for the MC as they move forward in the story.

Get out your notebook, label the next page “The Reward” and answer these questions.

  • What did your hero learn by confronting death?
  • What do they take possession of? Is there a physical reward of some kind? Is their reward entirely interior?
  • What is the aftermath of the Ordeal? Think about both the positive and the negative affects of the mid-point climax.
  • Does your MC have an epiphany? Describe it.
  • Does your story change direction after the Ordeal?
  • Is there a love scene in the aftermath of the Ordeal? How did the Ordeal solidify this relationship?
  • Is there a character who will try to steal the Reward from the MC? What is the Trickster’s motivation?

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The Plotting Workshop: The Ordeal

the-ordealWe’ve reached the part of your story where your hero, according to Christopher Vogler, will die and be reborn. This is the second biggest moment in your whole story and third of five key plot points.

The Ordeal, or mid-point climax, happens pretty close to the middle of your story–usually at the end of sequence four. It’s the mark between the two parts of Act II. The Ordeal is important to the pacing of your story, because it keeps your reader both turning pages toward it, and then turning pages past it to see how the MC copes.

Yesterday I talked to you about the Mid-Point Mirror. It’s important to keep in mind that the tone of the Ordeal is important to the flow of your book.

Go ahead and read “The Ordeal” in The Writer’s Journey, as well as the “Shadow” archetype chapter.

ASSIGNMENT FOURTEEN

A Big Win (Or Loss)

Of all of the assignments so far, this is the one that is the most pivotal to your story. It shapes what happens before it and what comes after it.

Like I explained yesterday, the tone of the Ordeal mirrors the tone of the end of your story. If you’re not writing a tragedy, the Ordeal results in a win for your MC. If you are writing a tragedy, it results in a crushing loss.

Regardless, this is in someway a life or death moment for your protagonist. Let’s look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The mid-point Ordeal in that story is the quidditch game, which Harry wins for his house by swallowing the snitch, all while someone (Harry thinks it’s Snape, but he’s wrong) is trying to throw him off his broom.

The life or death aspect of this ordeal has a couple of parts. There is real physical risk that Harry will fall to his death. That whoever is trying to stop him will succeed. There’s also a sort of social death at risk. This is the first time in the book where Harry has the opportunity to really be heroic. He gets to shine, instead of just having a mythic legacy surrounding him. If he fails, he suffers a social death. When he succeeds, he gets to finally start actually being a hero.

Speaking of Snape, this part of your book is where the antagonist or villain really takes shape. Vogler asks you to remember that the antagonist is the hero of their own story. Their story arc runs opposite the hero’s–when one is up, the other is down. Some antagonists are true villains (Voldemort, Darth Vader, The Wicked Witch of the West.) Others are rivals who often straddle the antagonist/ally line (Snape, Han Solo, the Wizard.)

In many ways, the Antagonist is a shadow of the Protagnoist. Just as the hero isn’t all good, the villian or rival isn’t all bad. The dark side of the Antagonist reflects the dark possibilities of the Protagonist. Think about how close Harry came to being sorted into Slytherin, or how Luke could have followed his father into the dark side.

Get out your notebook, label the next page “The Ordeal” and answer these questions.

  • Are you writing a true tragedy? Make sure you look at yesterday’s post again if you’re not sure. A sad story is not the same as a tragedy.
  • Describe your climactic mid-point scene. Does it result in a win or a loss for your protagonist?
  • Does your story have a true villain or an antagonist? Does your story have one of each? What are their story arcs?
  • In what ways is your antagonist the shadow of the hero?
  • Does your Antagonist have partners or underlings? How do they interact with the Protagonist?

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The Plotting Workshop: Mid-point Mirror

mid-point-mirrorOne more catch up day today, Ninja.

We’re headed toward the mid-point of your story, so I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about a concept that absolutely changed the way I write. When I was first taught about this little writing trick, it was one of those ah-ha, mind-blown-wide-open moments.

The mid-point mirror is simple and once you know about it, you will see it every time you take in a story in any form.

The concept is this: the tone of the mid-point of your story will mirror the tone of the end of your story. As long as you’re not writing a tragedy (more on that in a minute), that means that your mid-point climax is a big win for your protagonist.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the mid-point climax comes when Harry plays in his first quidditch match and wins the game by swallowing the snitch.

In The Wizard of Oz, the mid-point climax comes when Dorothy and her entourage finally make it past the gatekeeper and into the Emerald City.

The mid-point climax is the second biggest moment of your story. The only climactic scene bigger is the main climax, which is opposite in tone to the end of your story and is often called the Dark Night of the Soul. It’s the darkest moment for your MC. The moment when it seems as if all is lost. That climax is followed by a twist that turns the story around again so that it ends on a much higher note.

The high of the mid-point highlights the low of the main-climax, which makes the high of the end all the sweeter.

See how that works?

If you are writing a tragedy–well, first, lets make sure you’re actually writing a true tragedy. A story can be very, very sad without being a tragedy. The publisher issued tissue packets to people who went to see movie version of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but that story is not a tragedy. A true tragedy is a story where the only positive outcome, in the end, for the MC is death.

If you determine that your novel is indeed a true tragedy, then your story arc is flipped. Your mid-point climax will be a low point, so that it mirrors the end tone of the story.

Think about the movie Seven. Morgan Freeman plays a detective on the verge of retirement. Brad Pitt plays an energetic young detective. They take on the case of a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as a playbook. The mid-point scene comes when the detectives nearly catch the killer, but he escapes. The main climax comes when the serial killer walks into the presinct to turn himself in.

Contrast that to The Wizard of Oz, where the mid-point happens when Dorothy and her friends finally get inside the Emerald City and the main climax happens when they are all nearly killed by the Wicked Witch, who Dorothy melts with a bucket of water.

The mid-point climax is the third key plot point in your story. It happens at the end of the fourth sequence, the start of the second part of Act II. When we start talking about it tomorrow, keep in mind that what you’re looking for here is a big win for your MC (unless you’re writing a tragedy.)

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The Plotting Workshop: Approach to the Inmost Cave

approach-to-the-inmost-cave

Remember when I asked you take a minute and think about an adventure you’ve had in your life? Let’s think about that again today. You were living your ordinary life, right? And something or someone came along and asked the cosmic question: do you want to take this adventure? You might have fought it, you might have tried to say no, but at some point you came to the answer that brought you into the adventure. You said, ‘yes.’

What happened next? My adventure was a trip to Costa Rica with my best friend the summer I was fourteen. I had to convince my parents not only to pay for the trip, but to let me travel alone with another ninth-grader to a foreign country to spend time with her family, who my folks had never met. But I did it. I got to yes.

And then I took an airplane and a rickety bus, and I arrived in a little town that was as foreign from Los Angeles as possible. That town, and the house where I stayed in particular, was the inmost cave of this particular adventure (or story, right? Every adventure is a story.)

The Inmost Cave is the heart of the special world, according to Christopher Vogler. He calls it “yet another special world.” This is the place in the story where Dorothy reaches the Emerald City. It’s the place where Luke makes his descent on the Death Star. It’s the moment when Harry and his friends get past Fluffy and through the trap door.

It isn’t just about the arrival at the foot of the special world, though. The journey is important. It tests the MC’s strength and determination and forces them to truly commit to the path they’ve chosen. And it gives you a chance to start throwing rocks.

Your hero needs to prepare for the mid-point climax, which is the second biggest moment in your whole story. This is an intense part of the story. Relationships will be tested and solidified. A romance might bloom. Allies will gather. Enemies will fight to keep the hero from the inmost cave.

You’ll want to read the “Approach to the Inmost Cave” chapter of The Writer’s Journey.

ASSIGNMENT THIRTEEN

Special World in a Special World

The Approach to the Inmost Cave is important to the pacing of your novel.

It’s the first part of the generally slower-paced second act. It takes place, usually, in the third sequence of your story, so it comes after the big climax of Crossing the Threshold. And, logistically, it comes at a stopping point for your reader. This is a place where they might stick a bookmark in it and go to bed. You have to keep the pace up, so that they’ll want to pick the book up again the next morning.

When your protagonist reaches the heart of the special world of the story, you have the opportunity to write an important climactic scene.

Sometimes this scene is romantic. The MC might consummate a relationship or finally realize that they truly are in love. There might be a run in with the antagonist. The protagonist might have to act like a hero for the first time and find their brave. If they have a tendency to be a runner, this might be the first time they decide to stay and fight.

In this part of your story, the stakes raise. If the MC can’t cross the threshold into the inmost cave, what will happen? Could they decide to turn around and run back to their ordinary world? What would happen if they did that? What’s at stake for the antagonist if they fail to stop the MC?

Take out your notebook and label the next page “Approach to the Inmost Cave.” Answer these questions.

  • Who is your MC at this point in the story? How have they changed already?
  • What obstacles do they face as they approach the inmost cave?
  • What happens to your MC as they head toward the mid-point climax? Make a list of the scenes you know you need to have before your MC gets to that point of the story.
  • Does your protagonist want to turn back? What would happen if they did? What would they lose? What do they have to give up to continue on? What do they stand to gain?
  • Describe your MCs inner demons and external conflicts at this point in the story. How have they changed from the start of the story?
  • Describe the inmost cave. How is it significant to the MC? Are they striving to get there or fighting it? How will they feel when they finally arrive?
  • Will your story have a romantic scene on the way to the inmost cave?
  • Which other characters are important at this point in the story? How does your MC’s relationship with them change?

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