Thursday, October 29, 2009

Haunted Website of Horror!!!

It's like a radio--a radio tuned to the frequency of evil!

If you get that reference... God, I pity you.

So, I've talked about different genre issues here a few times before. With the upcoming holiday, though, I thought it would be nice to pause and talk about one that's near and dear to me.

To be honest, I wasn't always into horror. As I noted on a friend's website recently, it wasn't until my college years that I really embraced the many forms of the genre. Before that, I was terrified of more things than we've got room to list. Yet I eventually hit the point that I started selling original horror stories of my own and was even asked to become a dark god and crush the hopes and dreams of mortals.

But that's a story for another time...

The different forms of horror is what I really wanted to talk about in this week's little rant, though. Anyone who's dabbled in the genre knows that, alas, when you tell folks this is your field you tend to get lumped into this vague slasher/ vampire/ Satanist category. Either that or earmarked as someone working through childhood issues. Most folks don't realize horror can be broken down into many different sub-genres, just like comedy, drama, or other art forms like painting. Being under the same umbrella of "horror" doesn't mean Dracula is anything like Hostel, and neither of them resembles Resident Evil. As a wise man once said "I am nothing like Family Guy!!"

The catch here (and there's always a catch, or you wouldn't be bothering to read any of this, would you?) is that a lot of fledgling writers aren't sure where their stories fit under the umbrella, either. They'll start off with the trappings of one sub-genre, move into a plot more fitting a different one, wrap up with an ending that belongs on a third, and have the tone of yet another through the whole thing. They have a specific name for this problem. It's called Plan 9 From Outer Space.

It's important to know just what you're writing, for two different reasons. One is so you'll be true to it and don't end up with a sprawling story that covers everything and goes nowhere. You don't want your slasher pic to degenerate into torture porn, and if you're aiming for cosmic-level evil it'd be depressing to find all the earmarks and resolutions of a common supernatural story. You also want to be able to market your story, which means you need to know what it is. If you tell an editor it's not torture porn when it plainly is, at the best you're going to get rejected. At the worst, they'll remember you as "that idiot" when your next piece of work crosses their desk.

So, here's a few different panels of that umbrella. Some of them are established sub-genres which have already been debated to death. Others are just things I've noticed on my own that I feel are worth mentioning. Use them a lot and maybe they'll enter the lexicon.

Supernatural stories

This is one of the easiest ones to spot. It's your classic ghost story. The phone lines that fall into the cemetery. The girl out hitchhiking alone in the middle of night. The mother who wishes on a monkey's paw that her dead son would come home.

There are a few key things you'll notice about these. One of the biggies is that the protagonist rarely comes to harm in a supernatural story. Their underwear will need to go through the wash three or four times and they may not sleep well for years afterwards, but physically, and even mentally, they tend to come out okay. If anyone suffers in a supernatural story it's usually the bad guy or some smaller character. Also, these stories tend not to have explanations-- they just are. There aren't any cursed objects or ancient histories at play. Things happen because... well, they happen.

Even with it's clever twist, The Sixth Sense is still a great example of a supernatural story, as is "The Signalman" and "A Christmas Carol," both by that populist hack Charles Dickens.

Giant Evil stories

These are the grim tales when the universe itself is against you. Every person you meet, every thing they do--it all serves some greater, awful evil. H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard wrote a lot of giant evil stories. The Omen is another good (so to speak) story of the universe turning against the protagonist. And any fan of Sutter Cane will of course remember the reality-twisting film In The Mouth of Madness.

Personally, I would toss a lot of haunted house stories in here, because the haunted house (or ship, or insane asylum, or spaceship, or whatever) is essentially the universe of the story. Not all of them, but a decent number. The reader or audience doesn’t see anything else and the characters don’t get to interact with anything else. The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, and Event Horizon could all be seen as supernatural stories, but their settings really elevate them to giant evil stories.


Thrillers also stand a bit away from the pack because they tend to be the most grounded of horror stories. No creatures of the night, no dark entities, far fewer axe-wielding psychopaths. The key thing to remember is that a thriller isn't so much about what happens as about what could happen. It's more about the ticking clock, the killer hiding in the closet, or the booby trap that's a razor-width from going off and doing... well, awful things to our characters. There's a lot of suspense focused on one or two characters and it stays focused on that one character for the run of your story. A thriller keeps the characters (and the reader) on edge almost every minute.

Alfred Hitchcock was really the master of thrillers, although much of his work came from other sources. How many folks have actually read Robert Bloch's Psycho, for example? Silence of the Lambs is another great thriller, both the book and the film.

Slasher stories

Slasher stories are really about one thing, and that’s the body count. How many men, women, and fornicating teens can the killer reduce to cold meat? Note that there’s a few distinctions between a slasher story and a torture porn story (see below), and one of them is usually the sheer number of people killed. There's also often a degree of creativity and violence to the deaths, although it's important to note it's rarely deliberate or malicious. Often it's just the killer using the most convenient tools at hand for the job. The original Friday the 13th film series has pretty much become the standard for slasher pics, and it's what most people tend to think of first when you mention the term..

A lot slasher stories used to have a mystery sub-element to them, and often it was trying to figure out who the killer is. These days it's more often a twist, and often not a very well-done one. You'd've never guessed she was the killer, would you? And the reason you never guessed was because she has no motivation, there was no foreshadowing, and it makes no sense whatsoever within the established story. Slasher films, especially, developed a bad habit of falling back on the insanity defense and got stereotyped as "psycho-killer" movies. Which is a shame because some of them are actually very clever and creepy.

Monster stories

The tales in this little sub-genre tend to be about unstoppable, inescapable things that mean the protagonist harm. They’re rarely secretive or mysterious, but they do have an alarming habit of tending toward unkillabillity (new word, just coined, take that Shakespeare). The emphasis here is that nothing your heroes (or the villains, police, military, or the innocent bystanders) do can end this thing's rampage, and any worthwhile rampage tends to involve people dying. There may be blood and death, but the focus with a monster isn’t finding it or learning about it-- it’s stopping it or at least getting as far away from it as possible. Of course, how far is far enough with something that doesn't stop?

The original monster story is, of course, Frankenstein. Godzilla is a monster, in a very obvious sense, but so are zombies and even Freddy Kruger. I still hold that the reason Jason X is so reviled by fans of the franchise is that the filmmakers turned it into a monster movie, not a slasher film like the ones before it.

Adventure Horror stories

To paraphrase from Hellboy (which would also fit in this category), adventure horror is where the good guys bump back. While they may use a lot of tropes from some of the other subgenres, the key element to these stories is that the heroes are fighting back. Not in a weak, flailing, shrieking cheerleader way, but in a trained, heavily-armed, we've-got-your-number way. Oh, it can still go exceptionally bad for them (and often does), but this sub-genre is about protagonists who get to inflict a bit of damage and live to tell the tale. For a while, anyway. To quote an even wiser man, even monsters have nightmares. Or bothersome irritations, at the least.

Brian Lumley's Titus Crow novellas are a great example of adventure horror stories that are set in the world of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, as is the short story "Blood Bags and Tentacles," by D.L. Snell. The Resident Evil franchise is horror adventure with zombies, just like my own Ex-Heroes. Some of you may have seen Dog Soldiers, and several of you have probably seen Army of Darkness.

Torture porn

Paul Verhoven once commented that the reason Murphy is killed so brutally in the beginning of Robocop was because there wasn’t time at the start of the film to develop him as a character. So they gave him a horribly gruesome death, knowing it would create instant sympathy for the character, and then they’d be able to fill in more details about his life later on in the film. That’s the general idea behind torture porn. Minus the filling in more details about the characters later.

I’m not sure if Stephen King himself actually coined the term “torture porn” in his Entertainment Weekly column, but that’s the first place I remember seeing it. Before then, I was referring to these as “uncomfortable stories.” Torture porn, at its simplest, is about making the reader or the audience squirm. If you can make them physically ill, power to you. The victims are usually underdeveloped, unmemorable, and doomed from the moment they’re introduced. It’s not about characters, it’s about the visceral things being done to the characters. They’re getting skinned, scalped, boiled, slowly impaled, vivisected... and we’re getting every gory detail of it. As I mentioned last week, porn is when you show everything and this sub-genre is about leaving nothing to the imagination. They are the anti-thriller, to put it simply. This is where you'll find the Saw and Hostel films, and many of Rob Zombie's movies.

A key element to torture porn is the victim is almost always helpless. They’re bound, drugged, completely alone or vastly outnumbered. Unlike a slasher film-- where there's always that sense that Bambi or Candi might escape if they just run a little faster or make a bit less noise-- there is no question in these stories that the victim is not going to get away. That hope isn't here, because that's not what these stories are about.

In closing, I’ll also toss in the free observation that it’s very difficult to merge two of these subgenres because a lot of them contradict each other by their very nature. Not impossible, mind you, but very difficult. If you remember the jumble that was Freddy vs. Jason, a big part of the problem there was as the script stumbled back and forth between a monster movie (when it focused on Freddy) and a slasher film (when Jason was on screen). You can't have a film that focuses on chopping up teens one moment and just terrorizing them the next. It's also why the film stabilized a bit, tone-wise, in the second half when it settled into a straight out monster-mash.

So, that's enough of that. Feel free to dwell on these points while you're munching on the ill-gotten gains you scored via your candy beard. Yeah, all of you with kids, you know what I'm talking about...

Happy Halloween. Don't forget to get some writing done.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nudity in Casablanca

Right off, before I forget, check out Live to Write Another Day over there in the right-hand column. It’s the blog of a friend of mine where she offers tips, suggestions, and recipes for folks trying to survive the life of a starving writer. I only make such a blatant plug because she asked me to contribute a recipe and let me put up some photos from my trip to Egypt. So go learn how to make koshari, save yourselves a few bucks, and look cultured doing it.

But back to the business at hand...

While I’m sure several of you saw this title and immediately started scrolling for the Ingrid Bergman pictures, I’m afraid this week’s topic is a bit more subtle than that. Plus, I’m still figuring out how to post pictures.

So, what better way to discuss subtlety than to once again fall back on the world of Star Trek for an example.

The original series and Next Generation each had similar first season episodes that were linked between the two shows. You may not know them by title, but even a casual viewer would remember the stories. The Enterprise crew(s) is infected with a virus that loosens inhibitions leading to constant displays of laziness, lust, and even savagery. You may recall a shirtless Sulu with a fencing foil, or perhaps Tasha Yar in some bizarre casual wear trying to seduce Data. The original series did the story about two months in. Next Generation did their version the second week they were on the air. These episodes were “The Naked Time” and “The Naked Now.”

All well and good, you’re saying, but this is not the nudity I tuned in to see.

Y’see, Timmy, in both of these cases, the point of the story was to give us a better glimpse at who all these characters were beneath our first impressions. What were they really like at the core. Were they lonely? Repressed? Hiding awful secrets? Those first impressions are very important, don’t get me wrong, but we all know what catches our attention is the stuff underneath. A quick glimpse of bare skin is always far more fascinating than the most elaborate and inspiring outerwear.

So, since I’ve already established the nudity I’m speaking of is metaphorical, not literal (and actually watched the hit counter go down now that I’ve clarified it), what does this have to do with Casablanca? Well, Casablanca is a very famous film which is not chronological. On the off chance you haven’t seen it (in which case you should have another window open to your Netflix queue right now) there's a very large flashback smack in the middle. The story rolls back the clock several years to Paris, just as the Germans were invading, and it’s immediately striking to the audience what a different character Rick is at this point. He’s laughing, charismatic, generous--the complete opposite of the man we’ve come to know in the first hour of the movie. We get to find out what happened between him and Elsa to make him become that man, and we realize the kind of person he could’ve been if things had gone a different way. It’s probably one of the most memorable flashbacks in cinematic history.

The only reason this sequence has that kind of dramatic weight, however, is because it’s not at the beginning of the story. There's a reason it's in the middle. It's so we can meet Rick the bitter, sullen drunk and so he and Elsa can have all those subtle looks and sharp words. If we already knew why he was like that, about the relationship between them, or how she had crushed his heart, it would’ve changed everything.

One mistake I see quite often, in books and scripts, though, is that aspiring writers try to front-load their characters. I learn everything there is to learn about Wakko in the first seven paragraphs after he’s been introduced, or his first five minutes on screen, so there’s nothing to learn later. Which means Wakko is only going to have a surface-interest for most people for the rest of the story. To fall back on the nudity metaphor, it’s hard to be titillated an hour in when we got to see everything right up front. What excites us and gets us anxious is waiting for it. To put it even crasser, sometimes putting out on the first date leads to something, but more often than not it doesn’t.

Part of the reason this approach fails is it goes against our instincts as people. Throughout our lives we’ve all met people, but we rarely learn everything about them all at once. I’m sure most of us have had one or two of those “and we talked for six or seven hours” conversations, but even those are stretched out across time and they also don’t cover everything. More to the point, we’ve also had that uncomfortable situation where someone we’ve just met starts telling us way too much information about themselves. In real life and in fiction, getting all sorts of information right at the start just feels unnatural.

Here’s another great example. One or two of you may have seen a little movie called Pitch Black. There’s an early scene when the mass- murderer named Riddick is handcuffed to a pole in the crashed ship and escapes in a... well, it’s a very memorable way. Especially because of the sounds. I won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but needless to say it establishes--without a single line of dialogue--how very determined Riddick can be once he sets his mind to something. His character is solidly defined in that one scene. Everyone who’s seen it knows exactly which moment I’m talking about, it’s that perfect.

However, it isn’t his only defining scene. There’s one much later on, a quieter moment when he explains his religious views to another survivor of the crash. This time around, there are hints that Riddick wasn’t always so kick-ass and vicious, and that as low as he may seem now, he’s actually dragged himself up in the world. If this tiny bit of backstory had come out when Riddick was introduced, it would’ve been melodramatic at best, and at worst would’ve gotten the script tossed in that big pile on the left. It’s more powerful later because we’ve come to known the character one way and are now being shown there’s even more to him. The first bit makes us like the character (for one reason or another) but it’s the second bit that helps make him memorable.

I’m going to end this with two observations made by friends of mine about other forms of art. First is Dave, who was an incredibly skilled painter I knew in high school. This guy could’ve been doing book covers at age seventeen, and as it turns out he was a big fan of doing the Boris Vallejo-type paintings, the ones with bronzed women in chainmail bikinis that make Xena’s outfits look like a parka. When I asked him why he didn’t just do nudes, he smirked and said “Nudity isn’t sexy. It’s what you don’t see that gets you turned on.”

The second observation was from Brad, who was my boss on a long-ago martial arts show called Vanishing Son, the first television series I ever worked on. We were on set one day talking about a recent X-Files episode and a beautiful lighting-camera trick they’d pulled to get around standards and practices, allowing them to show a brutal murder on screen. I lamented the fact that we never did anything as clever, even though our show was loaded with such potential moments.

“It’s because all we do here is porn,” sighed Brad. “Doesn’t matter what kind of show it is. Porn is when you show everything. That’s all anyone here knows how to do.”

So, mull on that until next week.

Speaking of which, next week is Halloween! Or close enough, yes? A good time to talk about some scary stuff.

Until then, go write.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cross Training

When we last left our heroes...

I ended last week in mid-pontification, so let’s do a quick recap. We’d talked about linear structure and then about dramatic structure. Now I want to talk about how they interact and tie together. It isn’t really that complicated an idea, but I’m going to use a few examples to make things clear.

As I mentioned before, dramatic structure is separate from linear structure, because it’s what the audience is experiencing. The dramatic structure follows the narrative while the linear structure follows the characters. Narrative is the way the story is set out for the audience. It’s the way we read a story or a screenplay, from the first page to the last, unless you’re reading a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book or one of James Burke’s clever histories. Simply put, narrative is the path the storyteller has chosen to take us along. Sometimes it’s the direct route, sometimes there are sidetrips. Picture a city with a system of elevated trains and subways. There are trains that circle the city, some that stop at every single platform, and there’s the express that takes you straight to Shell Beach. As the reader, you can decide which train to get on--or which book to pick up--but after that you’re on a set path that was chosen by someone else, and that path is the narrative.

So, keeping that little analogy in mind, let’s look at linear and dramatic structure on our train ride. Now, dramatic structure is easy in this analogy. It’s the speed of the train. As the train gets faster and faster, or gets to go for longer and longer without stopping, it becomes a more exciting, smoother ride. If your train is constantly having to decelerate, accelerate, brake, and so on, it’s jarring and distracting. Pretty soon the passengers have put on their iPods, focused on an ad poster, started thinking about that project at work or ordering pizza when they get home-- they’re thinking about anything they possibly can except the train ride. When the train ride is your story, well... that’s not good. It’s breaking the flow. Screenwriter Peter Staughn recently used a similar idea in an interview. “Once the story engine's up and running, you stop it at your peril.”

Linear structure’s a bit tougher, but look at it this way. Suppose you know that all the platforms on your ride go in a certain order. Perhaps they’re numbered or alphabetical. So while you ride the train, you can look out and see A, B, C passing by. Sometimes you see Z, Y, X out the window and you realize this particular train started at the other end of the commute. Now on one or two trains, you might look and see A, D, G, which seems weird as hell at first, but then you realize this is the green line and it’s got those strange curves in it that only hit every third station. Notice that in all these examples the platforms are still in alphabetical order, but this particular train is passing them at different points, giving the appearance that they’re random or in some strange order.

So, that’s how linear structure, dramatic structure, and narrative all fit together. That being said, let’s take a quick peek at the most common way they don’t fit together.

Last week I mentioned a common clash between linear and dramatic structures. The writer puts things out of linear order in the narrative for no reason, and this means the dramatic structure takes a hit.

Consider it this way. Suppose my linear story is A-Z, and so is my dramatic structure. The waves are smallest at A, largest at Z (or probably W with a bit of denouement). If I randomly rearrange these story points into our now-classic mqnw berctx yzuai sopdl fkgjh order, the corresponding dramatic waves become a jagged, roller-coaster mess of different highs and lows. To be more specific, the waves become static. If you want to stick with the train analogy, this is some bizarre track that loops and circles and leaps between stations almost at random, which means the engineer is constantly slamming on the brakes and leaning on the throttle to hit all the stations in time. It’s the kind of train ride where you just can’t wait for it to be over. Or maybe you’ll just get off at the next station--wherever it is--and take a cab from there.

So, if there’s going to be a flashback or non-linear sequence in your narrative, there needs to be a dramatic reason for it. It shouldn’t be a burst of static, it should fit into the pattern of dramatic escalation--the wave-- you’ve already got going. It should push us higher up the wave or deeper into the trough.

Here’s a quick point of interest. When people talk about how flashbacks don’t work and shout never to use them, this is why. Far too many writers will throw in a flashback that explains something in the story (often in a horrid, expositional way-- yes, I’m looking directly at you, Highlander II) but does nothing for the dramatic structure or the narrative. You get out that vital fact, but the story grinds to a halt in the process. heck, sometimes you don’t even get a vital fact (much as it pains me to say it, like many of the flashbacks in the finale of Battlestar Galactica). So gurus and other “experts” will tell you to avoid flashbacks because 95% of fledgling writers are going to do awful, pointless ones, and it’s easier to say “don’t” then to explain how to do them correctly.

In all fairness, I’ve made this mistake myself. When Ex-Heroes first went out to my little secret cabal of readers, more than one commented that one of the final flashback chapters was smack in the middle of a pitched battle. It disrupted the flow and killed all the dramatic tension the past two chapters had built up. They were dead right, too. When I rearranged things, it gave me a much more powerful ending

In a way, this hearkens back to something I’ve said three or four times before. All that matters is your story. If something isn’t helping or contributing to your story, it shouldn’t be there. Lots of fledgling writers try to do cool things with structure because they think this will make their story cool. The different forms of structure are so intertwined, though, that attempting to change one of them for the heck of it will most likely damage the others. Shuffling Raiders of the Lost Ark would just create a convoluted mishmash. Straightening out Pulp Fiction or Memento would be... well, pretty boring, really.

In architecture, there’s a reason that beam is there and that column is here. When you’re laying out a train system, you put tracks and stops in specific places, and the trains have certain schedules to reach them all efficiently. When writing a story, it’s the same thing. You can use whatever elements you like, but these elements need to fit together in a cohesive way to create a specific result.

And that, ladies and gentlemen (all twelve of you) concludes our intensive three week course on story structure. Is there anything else you’d like to know?

No, seriously. Anything else? I’m beat and I have no idea what to rant about next week. Any suggestions?

Well, we’ll figure something out.

Until then, go write.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Two Steps Forward...

My sincerest apologies for being late with the ranty blog. Again. It’s not that I don’t care about the baker’s dozen of you who read this collection of nonsense. It’s just that I care more about keeping a roof over my head. It’s nothing personal. Plus, I had a very old friend visit from the east coast, and I care more about her, too.

So, anyway... if you know the second part of that title (many thanks to Paula Abdul), you're already way ahead of the pack...

I left off in mid-rant having talked about linear structure. Your characters and your action need to have a logical order to them--even if they’re not presented to your audience in that order. Which brings us to the second thing I wanted to talk about, and that's dramatic structure. While linear structure is experienced within your story (but still perceived by the reader) dramatic structure is experienced by the reader (yet your characters are still aware of many of its elements).

All stories need some level of drama. Drama comes from conflict, and that comes from challenges the characters have to face. They can be action challenges, emotional, intellectual, almost anything. Having to blow up the Death Star before it destroys the Rebel base is dramatic. So is having to face the love of your life who abandoned you in Paris. And so is having to deduce why someone would hire a red-headed man just to copy the encyclopedia.

Now, one challenge all by itself is not a story. If all I have to do is beat the monster and I win, that's not much of a story, is it? It's just a step. Readers and audiences don't want to see someone do X and win. That's boring, no matter if we're talking about action, emotion, or pure cleverness. They want to see the hero do A, B,C, X, Y, Z, and win by the skin of his or her teeth. So a good story has a series of challenges for the hero to face, and this is where dramatic structure comes in.

For this next bit, it’d help if you pictured a wave diagram. Just one of those nice up and down ones, perhaps with the zero-level line drawn across the horizon.

(this graphic, by the way, sent today’s ranty blog almost two hundred thousand dollars over budget. Just saying...)

A good story is like a series of waves, each one representing different challenges your characters encounter. The troughs are setbacks they suffer between, or perhaps because of, each success. For example, Indy finds the Ark of the Covenant, but then he gets sealed alive in the Well of Souls with a few thousand Egyptian asps. If your characters never suffer any setbacks (and you’d be amazed how many stories and scripts I’ve seen with this problem) you don’t have waves, you have a line. Likewise, if your story is nothing but an ongoing string of defeats and failures (which tends to go with “artistic” writing), that’s just another line, too. And let’s face it, lines are flat and boring. It’s the same thing as having nothing but “cool” dialogue. It’s just monotonous.

Which brings us to the second part of good dramatic structure. As the story progresses, the waves should be getting taller, every one a little more than the last. The troughs between them should get deeper and deeper. The height of the waves is a good measure of the tension level the characters are facing. The troughs is the level of failure or setback they’re encountering. If you have a kayak or a surfboard, the journey’s pretty smooth near the shore as you’re starting out. You can coast over those little waves without even noticing them. As you get further out, though, closer to where you want to be, the waves get bigger and there can be some serious drops between them. Then you’re at the point where staying down too long means that next wave will just crush you...

To go back to our very expensive graph, there’s a reason for this ever-increasing structure. If the story’s waves are always five up and five down, they cancel each other out and we’re back at that very dull, monotonous line. The all winning/ all losing lines are boring, yes, but you really don’t want that line to be at zero. Each victory should lift the hero (and the reader) a little higher, just as each setback should send them reeling a little harder.

Let’s take a minute to look at Raiders of the Lost Ark. Once we get past that wonderful opening sequence and into the main story, the first few challenges are almost imperceptible. Indy tries to keep his students’ attention, worries about why government agents want to talk to him, and is excited to hear they’ve enlisted him to search for the Ark. He saves Marion from the Nazis only to have her die in an exploding truck. He learns the secret of the medallion and the location of the Ark, but Sallah’s grabbed before he can escape the Map Room. He finds the Ark, but the Nazi leave him buried alive in the Well of Souls. There’s always a “but” in there, all the way up to Indy infiltrating the secret Nazi island and getting Belloq in the sights of an RPG, but Belloq calls his bluff and Indy is finally captured by the Nazis. After all these increasing ups and downs, the big, terrifying up the film ends on is God himself coming down to stomp the bad guys.

Try to beat that.

Now, a few things to watch for as you consider waves, the expensive graph, and your own story.

One is you shouldn’t have two waves which are the same height. If this challenge is equal to that challenge, one of them either doesn’t need to be there or needs to be lessened/increased a bit. Again, when things are the same, it’s monotonous.

Two is these should be valid challenges and they really should be bigger. Don’t fabricate a wave just so your character has a challenge and then try to convince the readers its a vital, integral part of the story. A ninja attack is cool. A ninja who attacks out of the blue just to create an action sequence is not. You don’t want to be the literary equivalent of the surfer who insists the waves in Lake Michigan are just as big as the ones at Venice Beach.

Three is something I touched on above. Dramatic structure is separate from linear structure, because it’s more what the audience is experiencing. Your story can be structured like this...

Ghijkl abcdef mnopqrs wxyz tuv

...but the dramatic challenges still need to go from smallest to biggest. The waves always have to increase with the narrative, not with the actual order of the story. In this example, abcdef should be a bigger wave than ghijkl, even though abcdef happened to the characters first. If it doesn’t increase drama to have it at this point in the narrative, why is it here? This is one of the biggest problems non-linear stories have--there’s no dramatic reason for them to be out of order. I saw one film that was a non-linear mish-mash, but it accomplished nothing except to confuse the audience.

This is leading into something else, and I’ve prattled on a bit too long as it is. So why don’t I stop again and next week I’ll try to finish up with a convoluted definition of narrative. And maybe some more pictures.

Until then, go write.