The Psychology of Story Physics

A guest post by Kerry Boytzun

There are writers — some who claim to know, others who simply don’t know — who aren’t buying into the notion of a “first plot point” as a useful or even necessary story milestone.  Those who believe that an earlier inciting incident is sufficient, wherever it appears, and that a gentile dramatic slope from that point onward will suffice.

What these people are missing is an awareness that the human mind thrives on figuring out life experience in a manner that aligns with the principles of story physics, including a moment when “everything changes.”

Which is the reason the FPP exists.

A story without proper, optimized story physics – on this and on other levels – feels flat.  Because we, the humans reading it, are not drawn to it (empathy and vicarious experience, also elements of story physics) at a basic psychological level.  It’s like food — if it smells bad, or simply doesn’t smell good, we aren’t as hungry.

Story physics aren’t random suggestions.  As Larry suggests, they are natural law.  The reasons they work align with the reasons we’re alive in the first place — to discover, to experience, to learn, and most of all, to feel.

And when we feel, we adapt, and we survive.

And so it goes… our stories contribute to life itself.

For example, one can only completely experience water by getting wet, drinking it, swimming in it, using it, and in the extreme, drowning in it or even dying of thirst.  These are all experiences, things we can relate to emotionally even by simply imagining them, without actually going through them.  When a story delivers a heightened level of perception (the realm of vicarious experience), we experience it on a level that becomes intimate… and thus, the story works.

And you, the writer, have just tapped into the psychologial power of story physics.

The six realms of Story Physics provide a framework to understand what we are experiencing, and thus attract us to a story that delivers them.

Say you wanted to understand the circle of Victim-Victimizer, which is a life principle that touches us all.  

Those two words — victim-victimizer — are one and the same. The Victim refuses to be responsible for themselves, regardless of what the cost. For example, a “victim” decides to go hiking without wearing the proper attire to protect themselves from the elements and, due to a late spring snowstorm, freezes to death in the mountains. Let’s say the victim was ignorant of late spring snowstorms. Okay, maybe, but did the victim seek to learn about mountain weather before going hiking, or just decide to wing it? This is what the people at the funeral will think about, and perhaps the victim pondered up until the moment of his death.

Maybe even after that, too… a story we have less empathy with because, well, nobody can say what that’s like.

Note how Story investigates at least part of what the victim will ponder up until his death and what the funeral attendees will be wondering.  Story trumps real life in that regard… in a story we get to do it right, or at least to strive to understand where and why it goes wrong, without actually suffering.

The above example may not be the most elegant, but it should show that a Story has a mind of its own and the Story Mind is working to resolve things as if it were an advanced consciousness, using different “characters” to play different roles to figure things out.

This is the psychology that makes vicarious experience — one of the six realms of story physics — so effective.  And why empathy is the stuff of bestseller.

I’m not alone in these thoughts. The creators of Dramatica said this very thing regarding the Story Mind.

The storytelling options in this regard are wide open.

To dismiss a proper FPP by claiming that the story “started” on page 4 is to not mine the gold of the story physics involved.  Or get confused in a jungle of jargon and rhetoric relative to story structure.

Let’s say you and I were at the funeral of poor Bob, who died of hypothermia on that mountain. How far back in time will we go in discussing Bob’s predicament in order to make sense of it? That’s the key when it comes to storytelling. For Bob, there was the point in time that he was too far up the mountain to make it back before he froze to death… what did he do in order to try to survive in that moment? How did that moment of realization feel?  The moment when everything changes, and now you must respond to the new problem before you.

That would be the First Plot Point in Bob’s tragic story.

Let’s say the searchers that found Bob said he back-tracked the way he came but he either ran out of time, or it got too dark and he fell down a ravine and was too weak to get out.  The obvious question now is: why did Bob go out without adequate clothing in the first place, and did anyone see him before he headed out? In trying to make sense of it, we’re going farther back in time, BEFORE the FPP in order to figure out and make sense of Bob’s FPP.

Why?  To tap into story physics.  To enhance our empathy.  To make the vicarious experience more visceral. To feel the dramatic tension of it.  To ride along (pace).

To me, anyone saying their story starts on page 4 just doesn’t get what a story really is, and without story physics on their side it will be hard to enlist the reader at the emotional level required.

Shakespeare said, “what’s past is prologue.”  Amen to that.

Life is about making sense of experience and the feelings that attach to them…  and taking that understanding with you.

Ultimately,  so are stories.



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40 Responses to The Psychology of Story Physics

  1. When I started planning my current book I outlined (which was a huge change). I began with the main plot points and fleshed the outline around them. I will admit that a few of the plot points changed as the outline grew, but they still formed a useful backbone for the outline.

    I’m now past the first plot point, and shortly before reading this post, I had completed a scene where one character explained to the protagonist that everything had changed after the shelling of a ship. I didn’t think about it then, but that shelling was actually my first plot point: I was unconsciously referencing it as “the moment everything changed.” This was the event that turned my protagonist from someone annoyed with the system and trying to work around it to a revolutionary.

    Although this hasn’t played into the story yet, this was also the turning point for the villain of the book. This was the first truly active act he made as well, and it sets the stage for some of the horrible things he will do.

  2. Thank you for this post. I’ve known on an intuitive level that STORY is based on laws, and I have been seeking to understand those laws. This post has shed more light on them. Thank you!

    MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA
    Truth through Fiction ®
    Harbourlight Books – 2012

  3. Bob’s example, though difficult for him, is most helpful to me. Seeing where the FPP comes in his story, and why it can’t be at the beginning, clarifies.

  4. “The moment when everything changes, and now you must respond to the new problem before you.” That, to me, is the perfect definition of FPP. The inciting incident starts the ball rolling, but at the FPP, the ball lands squarely in the protagonist’s hands and he/she MUST decide what to do with it.

    Are you sure Larry didn’t write this post under a pseudonym? 🙂 Good job.

  5. @Nann

    Months ago, I noticed how what Larry was developing with Story Physics et all were aligning with psychology. Larry thought this would be of value to the site and we collaborated on the piece. Larry’s a smart dude. He’s pushing the envelope attempting to create a structure to an art form. And it’s working 🙂

    The story of Bob in the woods came to me intuitively and reminded me of many discussions people have at funerals or at the office regarding someone that had died, and that perhaps they shouldn’t have–IF they had done X, Y, and Z instead. These discussions were aimed at understanding why Bob had died and if it could have been prevented.

    The more something aligns with our real life desire to understand our experience, the more compelled we will be to, in this case, read your story.

    Not all “life and death” dilemmas (a FPP) are of a physical nature. Many are “subjective” or what I would describe as the “meaning” you give this dilemma.

    For example, a teen that can’t go to the prom in the right dress, with the right date–would “die” if she was seen with the wrong guy, the wrong dress, etc.

    Our lives are highly shaped by such experiences, and others include parenting (or the lack of): a ten year old boy was beaten by his father (who was in a rage due to his own issues) and as a result this crippled the boy’s self confidence. Clearly this boy will “grow up” physically and hit 18 years old, but the question is did his psyche really grow up? No. Unless another experience had or will force the boy to face the lack of his self confidence, as in the case when he was beaten by his father. Such “stories” are an actual life experience that is launched by a FPP experience, but the backstory goes back to the beating he received at ten years old.

    This is why psychotherapy is very limited in “fixing” people, as “talking about” an experience is not the same as being in the experience. As Yoda said to Luke Skywalker–you will not be a Jedi until you FACE Darth Vader. In other words, you can talk about your self confidence all day long, but until you DO something that you are afraid of–only then will you begin to build your self confidence. People want to take short-cuts with tapes, CDs, drugs and anything so that they can AVOID the hard work. That’s called life experience. Stories give us vicarious experience in order to help us understand issues–but we still have to face our own Vaders!

    Society is ripe with humans running around, labeled as “adults” but having psyches that are juvenile at best. I’m not making this up–Freud and Jung said as much. The challenge is that society for the most part is more interested in gratifying their senses (american idol, spectator sports, any form of distraction) then doing the inner work to mature as a solid, sovereign being that doesn’t need another’s approval–to be okay.

    Glad I could help with this work.


  6. Sara Davies

    The Dramatica link is interesting – helps me conceptualize the roles of the various characters in my story – each one of them, on some level, a member of the committee in my head weighing in on the theme of the story.

    I also feel on an intuitive level that dramatic structure and the story physics Larry talks about reflect something innate and hard-wired. He didn’t just make that stuff up. It is not about imposing an artificial structure from outside or forcing a template onto your work, but about mirroring the internal process human beings go through to learn, grow, change, sort out their issues, give meaning to experience, face challenges, achieve, survive, etc. It’s a natural and organic process that we all do in our lives. Stories illustrate how that works.

    If people “don’t get it” you can do one of two things. You can be dismissive, or you can find a way to rephrase and reframe, so they DO get it. I write a lot of non-fiction. I see my role as a non-fiction writer primarily as a teacher. My goal is to transmit as much information as possible with as few words as possible – to be concise, specific, organized, accessible, relatable, and hopefully interesting enough that people will read my work.

    That is so hugely, vastly, enormously, painfully different from writing fiction, where the goal is to create an emotional experience for the reader. Fiction is expressionistic, imprecise, gestural, an exaggeration of reality for effect. I’m forced to think about language in a completely different way. I need to learn how not to write like a reporter…the “show don’t tell” stuff might kill me.

    All of it will probably kill me.

    Getting the big picture in place first is my best way to learn. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the way anyone teaches. They want to feed you all the little pieces one at a time. Here’s a rough thing. Here’s a frondy thing. Here’s a fuzzy thing. What is this stuff? I don’t know. When someone says, “We’re looking at a forest,” then I can say, “Oh, I get it. That’s bark, and that’s a fern, and there’s a squirrel.” Now I know what to do with all the pieces, how they line up, interrelate, and connect to the whole.

    Story Engineering & Story Physics help with establishing the big picture, so all the other tools in the fiction toolkit, like description, characterization, and scene construction, have a home. Now I know what I’m trying to build, the tools become more useful.

  7. Robert Jones


    Well said. As you (and one or two others here) know, prior to discovering Storyfix, one of the better writing teachers I discovered, and learned from, was Sol Stein. His books and programs have a lot of techniques for the problems facing writers–beginners and professionals. However, Stein doesn’t teach structure–neither from the six buckets of story engineering, nor from the six containing the elements of story physics. Stein was, however, editor who went on to becoming a publisher. He also advocates a fairly literary outlook on writing in general. So I was curious to see if the major plot points and structural criteria came into play in his novels, or if he ambled more freely with his characters and plots. So I recently began a deconstruction of his novel, “The Best Revenge.”

    Everything Larry teaches is right there. Stein was around seventy when he published this book, definitely someone who would qualify as one of the old guard. My feelings are that much of the old guard, as well as editors in general, no matter what terms they may have used for what Larry teaches, either kept these things to themselves, or didn’t deem them teachable. I’ll share my deconstruction, in brief, since it illustrates much of what you’re talking about, and furthers how the FPP can be key to everything that follows.

    I calculated where each plot and pinch point should turn up (percentage-wise) before going in–and within two or three pages of my calculations, there they were, like Cheshire cats grinning from atop their secretive fence posts. But thanks to Mr. Brooks, their teeth were pretty visible to those of us in the know 😉

    We’re talking about the FPP here, so I’ll move into that part of the story momentarily for those who are interested. TBR is a novel of broadway, not an action thriller, though it has a good deal of suspense. A famous broadway play producer is bent on producing a play because it is very much like a play he once wrote as a kid before he gave up on his dream. It’s a risk because the play is written in an elevated language, much like a classic play (Shakespeare, or Tennessee Williams at his best). It’s considered too artsy for broadway and the regular investors want no part of it. The stakes come in when we discover the producer has spent escrow money (from the one investor who did come aboard) to pay for sets and expenses before the play is fully financed–which is against the law. He’s pretty much ruined, and facing jail time. He isn’t supposed to spend the first dollar until the last dollar comes in and the play is fully funded.

    The back-story is that this producer’s father was frequently in financial straights and used a money lender. Not finding any other choice aside from jail, he goes to see his father’s money lender, who is out of the business, but refers him to his son–who had a grudge against the producer since they were kids and now wants every asset he has as collateral for the loan.

    The heart of the story is the rivalry between the producer and the money lender. Keeping in mind that the FPP launches the real story, everything before that meeting is set up. The FPP is when the producer doesn’t like the terms of the loan and the situation becomes very heated between the two. Just a little past the 20th percentile (the optimal placement for the FPP) the argument reaches it’s climax and the war officially commences.

    Breaking it down, there are a number emotional things going on in the life of the producer that become inciting incidents prior to the FPP. A subpoena is delivered from the set builder, who never got the second half of his payment, investors who were regulars opting out due to bad rumors. We may not be producers ourselves, but as we learn a little about broadway, we discover those who work there are doing so on an interesting and precarious stage. One cannot always rely on past success.

    Financial problems, especially one where a person who is successful and speculates, then is face with ruination and criminal charges, becomes the emotional hook. No matter what we do in life, money issues are as relatable as blood–it either keeps us alive by flowing smoothly, or trouble follows when it doesn’t.

    The rivalry between two people who grew up on opposing sides of the fence, one a legitimate success, the other a successful criminal, is a recipe for conflict. When their worlds mingle, we want to see what will happen, how the hero overcomes the odds against him.

    By the mid-point, the producer, gets a call from the one guy who did invest, whose money he spent illegally, and now this guy wants his money back–plus interest from the day of investment. Then the producer discovers this person is also a hard-ass who runs a collections agency. The hero is left with no choice but to deal with the money lender. He needs to find this gangster’s short hairs if he wants to get better terms. So the leap from responder to warrior commences.

    Do we feel empathy and dramatic tension? It’s not an action story, nor is the villain a super-genius turning wheels from his fortified tower, but story physics are at work. Structure and physics are very much in place.

    As Larry has said, these plot points and percentages in which they appear, might be called something different by literary advocates. I have no idea how Stein refers to them, but he uses them and paces his narrative accordingly. The hero moves with them, and through them, like clockwork from set-up, to response, to taking action.

    PP2, BTW, in this mini deconstruction, is when the producer finds a problem the money lender is having with a rival gangster-type and makes the situation between the two worse. Much worse than he intended, actually. Now the tables have turned because the money lender’s lawyer is actually advising him to make a better deal with the producer, provided he can hang out with him (bask in the limelight), because a number of actors who screwed loan sharks have managed to stay alive due to the fact that they are constantly in the public eye.

    But even though the hero turns the tables, he has also caused problems for the villain with this other gangster that just won’t let up. So as we march into the conclusion, the most harrowing twists are yet to come. So each part catapults the story into what happens next. And what happens next is a question always dangling in the mind of the reader. There is always danger (stakes). In fact, this story isn’t just a good example of how those structural tent poles are in the right places, but also to see how right behind each milestone, the stakes become raised because of them. Their arrival each brings about a fresh consequence on one side of the fence–sometimes for the hero, sometimes for the villain. But each is still derived from that core dramatic plot (the concept), which is that rivalry between the hero and villain, their relationship and how it evolves throughout the course of the story–which began the moment that FPP was ignited. And increased emotional suspense (empathy), brought on by each new consequence delivered by those key point, keeps the reader reading in order to see how things will turn out.

  8. Kerry,
    Good stuff here. I appreciate your understanding of “Story” and Larry for offering it as a post.

    Though you didn’t state it as such, I think you broke the code on what constitutes writers voice. “… doing the inner work to mature as a solid, sovereign being that doesn’t need another’s approval–to be okay.”

    Those who do that work have a sound other than those who belong to your “society … ripe with humans running around, labeled as “adults” but having psyches that are juvenile at best.”

    It appears to me that in prolonging adolescence we postpone our own FPP. 🙂 Or, living life as an adolescent = life in the prologue. 🙂

    Enjoyed your article.


  9. Awesome article and a slew of gems to be mined from the comments too. I liked what was said about knowing what I’m writing toward (or something to that effect–sorry for mangling (?) it).

    Story Engineering is helping me break out of a two-year rut. I have numerous pages of notes and am beginning to trust that I had a clue when I brainstormed. (I overwhelmed and confused myself.) With the story structure framework, those pieces are finding a home. I’ve also decided to write those tentpole scenes first and then work my way to and from them as needed.

    I’ve also found PJ Reece’s STORY STRUCTURE TO DIE FOR a big help too. Ties in a lot of Larry’s principles but in a shorter read, but very effective in a 3-part story breakdown.

    Great post! Thnx!

  10. @ Curtis: Sorry but I don’t understand what you’re trying to convey regarding code and sound.

    To expand on my article, I believe in multiple life times and a lot of them. The multiple lifetimes are necessary to evolve from one level of consciousness to the next, more advanced level.

    This idea or concept is revealed when we meet children that are incredibly wise about aspects of life that others are not, and there’s no left brained explanation for it. Other children, and adults for that matter–lack wisdom.

    It’s no different than comparing someone who has been a mountain climber for ten years with someone who hasn’t done it at all. The wiser one has experience. Where does such a very wise child get their experience from considering nobody on Earth taught them what they’re wise in? The answer isn’t so much where but WHEN.

    For myself there is no other explanation, than multiple lifetimes, that makes sense. Now if someone wants to propose that the human body is really a vessel for a higher consciousness to use, and said consciousness is accessing “more data” to make their “avatar” (the human we see on Earth) WISER, then they’re just describing the HOW, but not the WHEN and WHERE this data came from. Again it came from multiple life times.

    Some want to believe in collective models whereby all this data is shared like some Akashic database–so that they can downplay the individual significance of themselves: the individual. Such models have been created to make you believe life is a one shot deal. Living a one shot life makes people frivolous and live these adolescent lives to the end, because there’s no reason to otherwise.

    Ask yourself how you’d live your life differently if you knew you were coming back and would continue to come back until “you figured things out”? Would you trash your sphere of life like you do. Would you be terrified of death like you are now? Or would you perhaps not step aside from the crazies out there who have decided that this sphere is their experiment to do with as they please, and let’s make all the environmental destruction and worse–as they please?

    Consider the permanent destruction of a mountain to get coal to burn for a power plant–for ONE life time? If you knew you were coming back, would you live life differently? More wisely?

    Yet it’s quite possible by the time one starts to really believe in multiple life times, that life doesn’t die, that one is on their way “out” to the higher realms? Is this what caught our imagination with the amazing FIRST Matrix movie? Remember when Neo stopped running from Agent Smith, and his teammates were asking why? And Morpheus said it was because “He is starting to believe?”

    So yes, I agree that an “adolescent” life is a prologue to a more mature life, and it’s down the road in future lifetimes. So it is for us all. However, eventually life-times gets us wise enough to a point that we “transcend” this “realm” that we live in. We move beyond our current realm by becoming literally attracted to a more advanced, wiser realm akin to iron being attracted to a magnet. In short, the wiser we get, the more we align with other realms that take us into their dimension if you will. Call it acceptance, or whatever the collective religions label it as.

    But you can’t buy your way into it. No short cuts. No stairway to heaven. You have to do the work. You have to face your FPPs, your Darth Vaders. No exceptions.

    Non-fiction tells you what you are looking for. Fiction tells you what you will go through as a person–to get what you are looking for.

    Non-fiction says that in order to gain self confidence, one must do what they’re afraid of (a fear). Find something you’re afraid of and go and do it. Repeat until the fear is gone.

    Fiction will answer the questions regarding your selection of a fear: Why did you select this one? When did you first experience this fear? Did the object of your fear select you, and if so, why and when? Why couldn’t you face the fear, in other words what were you lacking that made you fearful?

    There are more questions, but IF you were to experience the fear in real life, and overcome it–that–is a story.

    In short, stories relay non-fiction information in a play by play format–BUT it must be relevant to the goal of the non-fiction information. In this case, how to overcome one’s fear.

    Hope this helps.


  11. Sara Davies

    @ Kerry

    I think fiction tells you what things are, and why they are that way, regardless of whether you are looking for that information. It doesn’t intrinsically say anything about fear, or confidence, although someone might choose to write about those topics, or might slant their content to reflect certain attitudes.

    Fiction might answer those questions on behalf of the hero of the story. They are excellent questions.

    I have experienced many things in my life that would make good stories. But they are non-fiction stories. I could tell MY story. But that is not the same as telling an imaginary person’s story, even if that person comes from my imagination. I know the plot, voice, and trajectory of my own story. I know the characters, settings, and mood. The issues faced by a fictitious character can only be metaphorical for my experience…otherwise I am writing an autobiography.

    In a sense, fiction is a metaphorical autobiography?

    But I like the idea of the play-by-play illustrating how the hero fights a battle. I guess you could say that battle is in some way a metaphor for whatever the author is afraid of. That actually does help.


    Interesting reincarnation theory. I believe we get one life only – but that doesn’t make me frivolous. On the contrary, believing in one life makes being alive more precious. If you could come back and do whatever you needed to do later, why do it now? I’m not afraid of death because I know I’m a temporary phenomenon, of no greater significance than a dandelion. Which is all the more reason to do, make, create, or leave something behind with the potential to be useful to someone else. That’s why art matters. As a wise man once said, “If I knew God, I would be God.” What is beyond my purview as a human being…I don’t worry about that. I try to live in alignment with my own value system, and I try to avoid being “frivolous” because I’ve only got one chance to make the most of my time. No one knows how much or how long – none of it can be taken for granted.

    In Lurianic Kabbalah, there is a concept known as gilgul, or transmigration of the soul, which says that a soul can reincarnate for a purpose. This is not viewed as a punishment or trial, but as a gift or act of mercy from the Divine. Reasons to return include the need to repay a debt, or to complete unfinished work.

  12. @ Sara
    You must become the character. All of the characters.Just like an actor or actress, you must become the part. Pretend it’s autobiographical–for a slightly different You.

    What if a magic wand was used to change your beliefs from who you are, to say, “James Bond Villain Sarah”? Or “Rocky Mountain outdoor survivalist Sarah”? In what ways would you be different. How would that change your behavior, goals and the relationships you would have?

    Analyze your beliefs on ethics, say how to treat others and animals. Change them. Could you pretend to be like that, as a character? How would that make you feel? Could those feelings be transferred to a character as internal conflict?

    Go look at the you tube videos for “inside the actors studio”. Many of the actors give deep, personal insights on how they can play characters, many of the roles they don’t even like. Some say it’s painful to play those parts.

    Stories are about something happening to people or characters (dogs) that are sentient (self aware). The writer must play the character, or at least get close enough to imagine the character is telling you how they feel, act, etc.

    Larry has a great chapter on characters, and I recall he broke the characters down into dimensions…something like that. You can create the character in regards to those dimensions, and then wind them up and watch them move, feel, and talk.

    Pretend you’re having auditions and in your mind, you are having them audition for the part. If this gets hairy, then pick a movie you like, watch some scenes of the characters you like, stop the movie and imagine that you are having those characters audition for you. Just so you get the hang of it.

    You must bridge your own reality to a fiction reality.

    Sarah, I’ll tell you a secret.

    Our so called reality is actually all make believe. It’s Subjective.

    Subjective reality is created by us filtering our actual experience via the five senses and taking what’s filtered and focusing on it. This is done very quickly and happens BEFORE we “think”. Thinking in this example actually means “to give meaning” (on what we’re focusing on, sans everything else).

    We give meaning to our objective experience and it becomes our subjective reality–in our minds. The secret is–it’s not that accurate. It’s how we saw our experience, if you will.

    Our subjective reality is made up of beliefs. Guess what: we use our subjective realities to make sense of life in a personal way, and we protect it with our life. It’s what keeps us sane. There are parts of our subjective reality that are up to consideration–and there are parts that aren’t.

    This is why we naturally ridicule and attack any idea that is too different from our beliefs. It’s a defense mechanism. This entire “mind” mechanism, which includes an Ego to help us out (but the Ego is just a program–it’s not us) is what allows us to be “sentient” or self-aware. It’s also there to allow us to evolve through experience.

    Which is why I believe and sense–we live more than one lifetime. Because it is just too illogical for an advanced being to create humans–for one life. They could have stopped with dogs and cats. But no, they made sentient beings that are self aware. A being can’t become more than it is, in just a lifetime. By the time one is getting the hang of it–it’s just about time to die. It’s illogical to wipe out that learning.

    Thus, if all the above is accurate, at least the subjective reality–then you are already “a character”. Like I am. Maybe fiction isn’t that far a stretch? It’s all subjective.

    Just be the part. Be the character.

    Oh, and I think you are way more significant than a dandelion. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    There’s no way I could be having a meaningful and thoughtful dialogue like I am with you–with a dandelion.



  13. Robert Jones

    Non-fiction: passing along information, hopefully based on facts. However, not all published fact are literal, but that’s beside the point.

    Fiction: a story that is created in the imagination, but not all it is made up because it is based on life’s experiences, woven together into sort of a parable that has meaning, a moral, a didactic quality that can illuminate, or expose a larger truth.

    I’m not sure how far I want to go on the subject of the journey of the soul. I believe it not dissimilar to the path we lead our character’s on in fiction. There is a facing of one’s fears, there is certainly a learning process. And in life, like every learning process, there has to be different levels, or dimentionalities. There are a lot of theories as to how the cycle works. Pick a religion, or don’t pick one.

    Personally, I don’t believe we wake up in heaven with some cosmic awareness (how many superstitious, fearful people would be able to handle that?), or get some great reward depending on the life we’ve lead. Knowledge, or the rewards, are cumulative. I think we take who we are and whatever knowledge we’ve accumulated and move on to the next level, or dimentionality, of learning. I believe we continue to learn and create.

    So, without mincing too many of my personal beliefs, I would have to say I fall closer to Kerry’s camp because all men are not equal…though we may have all started out from the same blank slate. Man’s limited beliefs has us all pointing figers and wondering whay god made this poor soul a mental invalid and the next one in line a genius (making god a very fickle creature…or one whose ways are a mystery), but I think there’s a greater rhyme and reason to multiple existences than one very unequal, fickle mystery life.

    It may very well be that many of us only have one life here before moving on to some place else. We could get all Einstein and argue that there are multiple dimentions so close to our own that have only slight differences to the next one in line. But go ahead a hundred or so alternate realities and maybe the poeple living on that earth seem like gods compared to us. A hundred behind us, cavemen.

    On the other hand, there are also a great many whose lives would not only qualify as unfinished business, but have hardly begun. Some try hard to make this life count, while others fear taking that first step toward anything independant of what was handed to them on a preconceived plate–and wonder why their life is so miserable.

    I don’t believe this earthly set up is so diverse as to exist without reason. Neither do I believe that such diversity can be handled in the blink of one lifetime. If we all moved on together, that would make the idea of heaven a pretty unequal place. Some would be painting landscaped with a wave of their hand, while others picked daisies and spouted, “She loves me, she loves me not,” all day long. Unless we all live this very unequal life and all wake up with an equally superior brain in what we think of as heaven. And if that’s the case, if we are all going to the same place anyway–and just by being nice–then why am I working so hard in this life?

    Sequential levels of learning = sequential lives. I won’t argue the where and how, or whose god rules the universe. That’s like kids arguing that my father could beat up your father.

    Guess I tossed out more than I intended to on this subject.

  14. Sara Davies

    @ Kerry

    I love the way elements of a story are viewed as facets of an argument or problem-solving process, with characters acting as the voices of that process.

    A friend once said, “We are remembered according to the interpretations of others.” I was taught that the ego is a shell that protects emptiness and keeps God out (God is viewed as essentially unknowable – or efforts to define God as irrelevant to the business of living). Despite having heard this, I’m no master of humility, but I can still recognize the value of a broad or cosmic perspective. There is also a belief that every person should be regarded as a complete world – in terms of the depth, value, and significance of an individual. I operate on the assumption that IF there is a cosmic purpose that predates and outlives me, it is not my place to know what it is – nor will I ever find out – in effect, it’s none of my business, anyway. In my tradition, everything comes from “God” and belongs to “God” – we don’t get to decide what happens in God’s universe. We are possessions, creations of the eternal. We don’t even own ourselves. Does it seem a little contradictory that our “job” is supposed to be to heal or repair the world? It’s not ours, but we’re supposed to improve it, roving about like cosmic park rangers. In any case, given that the universe is what it is, I can either accept it and make the best of it, or reject it and feel depressed. If those are my two choices, I prefer the former.

    I agree that it seems like a waste of the investment to just be getting the hang of life toward the end (or what I assume is late in the second half, if not later than I think).

    My problem in both life and art…is that I can’t be someone else. I can’t force myself into a role. I don’t have a game face to put on. Or maybe I just refuse to try for fear that I will fall into an abyss and never find myself again. To me that is terrifying – letting go of the center. It’s almost an operating principle – to refuse to sacrifice honesty or integrity for the sake of conformity or even tact. Acting is a profession completely unfathomable to me.

    One of the central “arguments” of the story I’m writing is whether free will exists or is just an illusory construct. The protagonist says we have a choice. The antagonist (or contagonist) says our choices are hard-wired and pre-programmed – our behavior is a manifestation of physiology.

    I don’t think it’s a secret that reality is subjective. Why does anyone think what we perceive with our senses is “real”? What makes it real? Dogs, cats, and bats perceive the world differently. Why is the human way accurate? Another complicating factor: not all humans perceive the world in the same way. Even with functioning senses, those with hard-wired brain differences (schizophrenia, autism) experience the world differently. Why does the majority perspective define “reality”? But I don’t have answers to those questions, never having studied math or science…It sounds as though even the most far-out physicists base their conclusions on the implications of what they see – it’s inference – which may later turn out to have been only part of the picture. In any case, I am not married to the concept that “reality” is reality.

    We can’t change “reality” whatever that is – but we can, to some extent, change how we relate to what we perceive, and make peace with it.

  15. Robert Jones

    In the final analysis, no matter what we believe, Sara’s view holds. We act from the core of our being. We do our best with whatever we’ve brought into this life. And in the end, hopefully we leave it a little better than we entered it.

    On that score, that’s our ptimary mission. Whether we grasped in later in life, or at the beginning. But to be able to grasp it while still within this life, that means growth of character. We may come at it in different ways, even understanding different pieces of the whole, but the aim is essentially the same.

    I for one may have slightly different views than the next person, but our relationship is not built on those differences, It’s build in spite of them, on common ground, and the similarities that affords us. Everything else is a different slice of the learning pie. All we can do is pass it on and see if others like the flavor. People can’t jump past their own stages in the process. It may even leave them more defficient to attempt to pull them along. Like a ladder, our development has steps for a reason, each one carrying the weight and balancing the individual so their climb is safe and consistant.

    So on that score, part of the great mix of intellects here is to remind us where we’ve been, and where we are going on the journey.

    There are, of course, the total zombies who refuse to wake up. All the good will in the world can’t move them as a crowd. We can only drop breadcrumbs and hope.

    I think this is turning into an interesting post. Reading it as characters, one can see several arguments, streams of thought, of a variety of widths and lengths, all rivers leading to the same ocean.

  16. @ Sarah:
    “One of the central “arguments” of the story I’m writing is whether free will exists or is just an illusory construct.”

    I see a correlation between your story’s central argument and your fear of falling into the abyss of being “someone else” or a role.

    Those fears are subjective and not real–and yet we all have our own fears that feel as real as rain.

    Only one way to find out if this abyss is real, or an illusion. That’s what your characters will have to do–find out. One can only sit at the diving board for so long, wondering if they should take the “big leap”.

    Will taking the leap into a new experience, physical or imaginary (going into character) change oneself?

    Hopefully. Otherwise life is static. No growth, no news, nothing to talk about or share, nothing to ponder.

    If I was watching a movie of a character who was afraid to jump–I’d want to see her jump. Not because I’m a sadist, but because I want to see what happens next. How she deals with something new, overcomes the “change” and makes it to her benefit. How she becomes wiser–more than she was.

    As for free will, go against the fear. The fear is the antagonistic force saying you can’t jump. Your free will equals the fear and stepping off the diving board calls the antagonistic force.

    BTW Tim Powers wrote an award winning story called “Last Call”. That book and “The Anubis Gates” are both award winning novels that stretch the imagination relevant to this thread. I recommend all to read those, if nothing else they’re great fun. And not predictable either.

    Go for it. Life is short. Tick tock. Gonna die anyhow. Make it an adventure. Could be your soul wants you to make the leap and show your free will.

    As we used to tell each other when we were kids:
    I DARE you 😉

  17. Sara Davies

    @ Kerry: Yup. Good point. Thanks. So busted. Can’t argue with that.

    Isn’t Anubis the god who worked as a bouncer for the Afterlife? A 27 foot tall replica crossed the lake on a barge and became a sentry at the train station for several months when the King Tut exhibit was on tour.

    @ Robert: There was movie called “New Age,” the punchline of which was, “Live with the question.”

  18. @Sarah:
    Michael Tsarion on Anubis:

    “The Fool’s canine companion symbolizes Anubis, the jackal-headed god of putrefaction, decay and regeneration. He also represents temporality and mortality. Anubis’ name means “Opener of the Ways.” Like Cerberus, of later myths, he was guardian and gatekeeper who lead the seeker through the stages of his mystic journey, who warned of impending danger, and who bestowed magical gifts of protection and power. Like Virgil, Anubis guides the aspirant through the sunlit, moonlit and starlit climes, and also through the fearful landscapes where there is no light of any kind, through the stages of the Underworld, passed the “Devil’s Gate,” and through the terrible shadow-realms his charge may not be able to pass alone. Hand in hand, is how the ancient Egyptians showed the two, negotiating the intense trials that beset the spirit in search of self, the self in search of spirit. If the neophyte ever reaches the great scales of Maat, and the holy precinct of Osiris, it will be due to his ever faithful guardian and guide, sent him in his hours of trembling and exhaustion. The image of the guardian dog can also seen in cards 9 (The Hermit, Thoth Deck) and The Moon (Thoth and Rider-Waite). These are cards which denote the closure of cycles and rebirth.”

    It’s no coincidence that Anubis came up as you and your character may need a guardian and guide–to walk the path before you:
    “the spirit in search of self, the self in search of spirit”.

    Tsarion’s work on the Tarot is ancient and serious, not the parlor fancy most have been exposed to. This Tarot is the oldest book or story on record and reflects the human’s psychological configuration:
    “Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung accurately wrote:
    …astrology represents the summation of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity”

    As if this thread hasn’t gotten deep enough, eh? 😉

    BTW this sort of stuff is HUGE in novels and movies: First Matrix; Star Wars; Prometheus; Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.

    Remember we naturally Ridicule what’s really different from our subjective reality–as a defense mechanism. That’s okay–but go and explore past the protective fence, and see what’s beyond the curtain.

    “Millionaires don’t use Astrology, billionaires do.”
    ― J.P. Morgan

    Authentic Tarot-Astrology et all–is serious business–behind the curtain.

  19. Robert Jones

    @Sara–We all live with questions. It’s the answers that can be tricky. For most, any answer that is not common knowledge, or easily attained, breeds fear. Fear of the unknown, of failure, or just looking stupid. I believe this is where vicarious experience comes in for readers. If a character is facing a situation where they could fall flat, or ultimately die, the reader will go along for the ride because it isn’t happening to them. We’re all curious when an important question is posed. But fear would rather wait and see if the other guy gets killed trying it first. When the odds look favorable, or become proven as fact, then everyone is willing to jump on board. Hints of fear keeps everyone safe and in there place.

    How does this work on a psychological level? For us, and for our characters, fear causes resistance. And when that fear is personal, it becomes an obstacle, tangible or not–it becomes a force that pushes against the goal and keeps it out of reach. Like a beach ball in a swimming pool, the harder we grasp, the more slippery it becomes, skidding across the surface away from us.

    This is the work of those pesky inner demons. We may give our characters tangible problems, but those problems manifested due to some root fear. The exterior problem is either a crutch (drugs, alcohol, etc.), or the psyche retreating in opposition to whatever stimulus reminds it of the root force that created it.

    Fear is basically a hypnotic suggestion. For those great unanswerable questions, (I.E.: what comes after life?) it’s an empty chasm for most. Therefore, the imagination will speculate and theorize. Human nature always looking at the best and worst extremes, fills that void with supreme happiness, and utter terror. It’s the “what if?” that lures the curiosity, and the fear that keeps reason at bay.

    Apply that to life–and I’ll give a personal example: When I was five years old, I had a gym teacher who wanted all the kids to hang upside down on the monkey bars. When I told him I wasn’t sure i could do that, he grabbed me and flung me upside down and held me there in place for a very long time, hoping I would conquer any fear attached to this malady. I didn’t know for sure I had a fear. I was just a kid who never tried it. Then, that teacher thought he would do me the favor of making me volunteer any time swinging from something that involved me being off my feet and off the ground. He’d just grab me and there I would be, held in place “for my own good.” Years later, it took some pondering to realize that I didn’t have a fear of high places…I had a fear of falling. I could be quite high and feeling secure and it wouldn’t bother me at all, but three steps on something as flimsy as a ladder made me dizzy.

    This was all due to never being able to conquer what may, or may not have been a fear as a little kid. That choice was taken from me by what was essentially an adult bullying me, and either creating, or compounding doubt and insecurity.

    Fear is created by lack of control through either circumstances, or a person, with whom we have no relationship. Unknown factors intimidate, and resistence is born. We play it safe. And that can be a healthy thing in some instances, but it can olso be a response implanted through great, or repeated unpleasantness that has an “unreasonable” reaction later in life. In reality, people have things they love and hate for no reason all the time–at least, no reason they are aware of. But all affairs of love and hate (those two extremes) can be traced to experience.

    Often, they manifest as “answers” to questions forgotten. Some would rather forget anything unpleasant. But the resistance is still there, fighting not to repeat the unpleasantness it once experienced. This might be interesting for our characters, but as the author, we always have to know if the story is make sense, have logic, utalize those laws of physics.

    In life, those laws are as in place as they are in fiction. The answers are always there. We just have to be willing to face them, to look beyond the fear factor that has kept them out of reach. Sometimes this requires a searching of the self. And for writers who are learning, treading new ground, that can be a daily task until we find those answers and a degree of comfort in our practice. But if art immitates life, shouldn’t we also be doing the same in our outer world?

    We write, we learn, and hopefully we conquere.

  20. Robert Jones

    This thread will certainly stop people in their tracks. Or maybe the question I should be asking is: Are you afraid yet? Why do the things Kerry is talking about usually make fear arise?

    It’s deep stuff this. Not exactly popular thinking. Again, why? Is it because we understand it, or because we fear it? Does fear in such thinking come by one’s own experiences, or because someone else made you afraid? One might even ask, is it all part of the fear factor that keeps most of us in the dark, in our box, or cage?

    I’m not a radical, by any means. I do look at everything and try to learn something of it’s nature. I can’t claim to be an expert in the great many “evils” we are supposed to fear. Hell, I can’t claim to be an expert in a great many things. Does that mean I should go down the oposite path and be afraid of a great many things? What I can say with some degree of expertise, is that if something comes prepackaged in anything that plays on the lower scale of emotions, it’s usually because someone wants to control your thinking, and probably hopes to profit from your ignorance. In which case, I’ll get curious enought to want to know why.

    I think in a nutshell, Kerry is saying: Be broad in your scope of thinking. Psychology is a two-way street, it’s either working for you, or for someone else who benifits by keeping you inside your box. Psychology is also intuition, trusting your insticts–provided they haven’t been washed out of you by the bombardment of other’s psychology.

    Life and the universe does point. And very often we will see the arrows. But the voices of others will always be calling you back our of fear. Mass fear is a way of life. Psychology has taught us for a very long time that crowds are easier to control, their actions predictible. How often have we been sways by thinking, or beliefs, other than our own?

    And if you can grasp it, this is what good stories are all about. One character has to conquer those fears, another hopes to exploit them. What are the prepackaged fears in your story? How can you exploit them on some level, socially, culturally, infiltration in the guise of communication? If it makes you uncomfotable, it just might be the subject you should be writing about. Study the cause and find it’s effects. Or, look at the effects of fear and discomfort in those things that surround us, then trace them back to their source. You’ll find lots of grist for the writing mill, and probably learn something in the process.

  21. Sara Davies

    @ Robert:

    Fear is an interesting topic. There is not much fear in the story I’m writing. There is loss, depression, guilt, anger, hostility, resentment, mystery…but not terror. I need to think about that. Any suspense is based more in curiosity than visceral reaction, at least to the midpoint. The horrors of the landscape I have created are extreme yet taken for granted by the characters. Maybe it’s inherently frightening to show a world that bad where no one seems to care, but maybe it isn’t.

    As for significant life questions, my point really is that the answers can be more problematic than the questions – hence, “live with the question.” The answers may be worthy of consideration, but not of the suspension of critical thinking. In any case, is pondering the unanswerable the best use of my time?

  22. Sara Davies

    @ Kerry

    I looked for the first novel you mentioned, read the first paragraph on Amazon, and was enchanted. Left to my own devices, I will not give any novel more than two paragraphs to capture my interest. The only way I do this is if a friend nags me into reading something – then maybe I give it three pages. Or, if it’s a close friend, I might be guilt-tripped into reading an entire book. Even those books I’m told I would be more virtuous for having read…if they don’t grab me, I don’t read them, not even if they are considered among the greatest works in the history of literature.

    I have read “Jung and Tarot.” The mother in the book I’m writing gives tarot readings, although she is a minor character, dead when the story begins. I’ve read “Hero With A Thousand Faces.” I’ve read other books on tarot, and been exposed to all manner of New Age thinking. Fairy tales and myths are powerful. The I-Ching and Tarot, and probably astrology for that matter, become containers for projections of the self. It is not what they say, but what people bring to them that gives them their meaning.

    Art is the same way.

  23. Sara Davies

    @ Robert:

    By the way, I had the same experience in elementary school gym class. The “instructors” were vicious bullies who joined in with the bully children to mock the weaker, less coordinated kids. They seemed to take great joy in berating and humiliating the non-athletic. Losers in the adult world, they needed to pick on someone smaller. Such qualities may have been job qualifications at the time. I had to hang by knees, too, for some stupid reason. But my moment of triumph came when we had to hang by our arms for as long as possible. One by one the other students dropped and fell to the floor. I hated that Phys Ed teacher so much, and was so tired of everyone making fun of me, that I stay on the wall until I passed out. Bitches.

    @ Kerry:

    I’ve had such bad experiences with purveyors of New Age Whatever that anything even remotely resembling that stuff infuriates me. Remember the Steve Martin joke, “I studied with the Maharishi for fifteen long, long boring years. I didn’t really learn very much, but the day I was leaving, the Maharishi said something to me I have never forgotten. Always – no, wait, it was never. No – always take a litter bag in your car. If it gets full, you can just toss it out the window.” Ten years of my childhood inside a crazed circus of guru chasers, angel channelers, animal spirit guides, tarot card readers, psychic fortune tellers, astrologers, crystal gazers, chiropractors, naturopaths, fruitarians, and believers in the therapeutic value of high colonics. It took all of my twenties to recover psychologically from having been in that environment.

    Too much of what’s out there was derived from some other culture, where it once had meaning…yet has been warped and bent and reshaped to prey upon the vulnerabilities of “seekers.” Ideas stolen from real, living traditions, when they are removed from their source, don’t mean the same thing any more.

  24. Robert Jones

    @Sara–I think there’s a lot of folks out there fleeing from those who took their spiritual practices to extremes. There are so many interpretations of every religion and belief system out there.

    But again, that’s of interest to us as writers. No matter whether it comes under the guise of a religion, alternative spiritual practice, or just plain having a difference of opinion on a given matter, our characters can each be looking at the same events and have different takes on things…or everything. That’s the key to conflict. Not just from the POV of hero and villain, but even friends and family (as we can all testify) can have radically different views.

    Major disagreements, or light ones, there are few scenes where something contrary couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be happening. How many dramas have we seen where characters doing something as simple as sitting at the dinner table have something that is troublesome, or disagreeable, being brought to that table by at least one of them? And when the main character is getting in deep, do they find a lot of good advice and comfort, or do they seem to walk into trouble everywhere they go?

    The more that’s heaped on a character, the greater the reader empathy because we’ve all had days where the rug of life got pulled out from beneth us. We hate to see it happen to a character we like and want to root for as well.

    My basic theory is that while in Pt. 2 “Response Mode,” a character being driven onward from the FPP is going to find only brief moments of rest before responding to more conflicting circumstances. Subtle, or terrible, that’s the mission statement of the second quartile.

    Once in “Warrior Mode,” (part 3 mission) the hero is going to attempt to make progress, but it’s always going to follow a pattern of one step forward and knocked back two. Regaining equilibrium, they go striding off in a new direction where the same thing is going to happen. In fact, they might get hit worse. Because up to PP2, they still aren’t going to have enough momentum (or information) to know everything they are up against. There’s always surprizes in the form of set backs and conflict. Even where they least expect it. Think of all the movies where the hero is knocked for a loop, only to return home and find the wife and kids have left because they can’t take any more of whatever the hero is going through in their life’s journey.

    People who say they want no part of the conflict, will often strike a match after the hero has had gasoline dumped on them because they feel they need to protect themselves and act out of self defense, or preservation.

    In fact, if a story is to build, by the time we get to part three, the moments of repreave will be considerably less for the hero. 1) Suspense has to increase by degrees as the plot heats up. 2) The hero has stepped up to the plate by ths time, deciding to do something about the problem. So in a sense, they’re just asking for it now. Which is usually what happens when we join in a fight without knowing all the facts up front.

  25. Sara Davies

    You never know what people are responding to. If someone is upset by a situation or discussion…you don’t know if they’re reacting to the content or character of that situation..or if it’s a trigger that reminds them of something else, off-screen, in another time and place. Sometimes they don’t know, either, and you find yourself in an emotional minefield.

    Stein says give each character in a group scene a different set of intentions, an opposing agenda or mission – as if they don’t know what the others are after. In real life, people talk past each other all the time – despite believing they are talking about the same thing.

    How many actual dinners have we attended, where those present were at each other’s throats? I’ve seen everything from shouting matches over politics to outright fist fights erupt from buried resentment, more than just the usual sniping, griping, guilt-tripping, and sedate 30-year grudge matches. When I was four, I watched my father rip the phone cords out of the wall so we couldn’t call the police…and stood frozen on the upstairs balcony while he tried to strangle my mother in the front hallway. I was there when my sisters-in-law got into a screaming match, drunk off their asses. One tried to walk away, but the other grabbed her so she fell on her face and ended up with a bloody lip. Typical family gatherings? Do we really need to imagine conflict, having witnessed it?

    Everything that happens can be a resource…but the hard part is giving it a coherent form, and knowing when to use it.

    Now I’m at my FPP, I’ve run out of momentum. The build up of Part One is the fun part, the mysterious part. Part 2: Boredom.

  26. Robert Jones

    Sara–Emotional triggers is a good one. I need to start making an actual list of these things. I already wrote a “fear” list at the top of my scne list. I think I need a conflict list as well.

    I’m hitting levels of boredom myself today. Not due to any part in particular, just revamping all the things again in my questionnaire to bring it up to speed. I’ve been away from it for a few days to gain some objectivity, but my mind is still cringing when it tries to make the new adjustments. It doesn’t seem to want to go where I want it to.

  27. Robert Jones


    Family stuff is great fun. We all have those memories to call upon. My parents, growing up during the 1950’s, were the sort of people who kept themselves to themselves–but when all those bottled emotions cut loose, it was never pretty either.

  28. @Sarah:
    I think you ended your last post something to the effect that part two is boring? No more momentum? Nothing important to do, or compelling?

    Remember Bob, the hiker? His FPP was very personal. He knew he was going to die UNLESS–he got lucky. UNLESS he beat the odds.

    Perhaps your story’s odds are TOO GOOD for your hero? I don’t mean the odds that he will succeed. I mean the odds that he’s gonna die. The odds must be favored–at the FPP and during Part 2–that he’s gonna FAIL. Clearly the reader hasn’t thrown the towel in, because the setup (situation) has them wanting to turn the page to see what happens next. Because the book has pages to go and it’s assumed something is gonna happen.

    Real life? Hell, we might just write off Bob and go back to watching TV. Stupid bugger should have worn some protective clothes.

    But this is Story. The reader is expecting something to “move it along”. It’s just that it can’t be EASY. The hero is supposed to be heroic–just not in Part 2. Part 2, he gets his ass kicked. He flounders. Is confused. He’s worried, afraid he’s bit off more than he can chew.

    Like Bob on the mountain. He’s freezing and is doubtful he can get back to his car. He just may have made the biggest mistake of his life! This is the feeling you want your reader to have. Bob screwed up!

    Remember the subjective death? He, or she, could die of embarrassment, lose their marriage, a relationship with his child, his job–whatever.

    Larry gives this a label: Stakes. Things you are afraid to LOSE PERMANENTLY. Bob’s life is “at stake”.

    But in real life, if the stakes are personal–all of the sudden it’s no longer boring. Most people live 6 months worth of paychecks away from being bankrupt. That’s a subjective death.

    Sounds like the stakes aren’t high enough in your setup of your own book. Or you haven’t felt them personally–yet. The FPP in this case is just the announcement that the stakes are now ON. Dinner is served and YOU (your character) are on the menu.

    Part two though, is not about you winning. It’s about you floundering. You “didn’t see this coming”, or arrogantly felt it couldn’t happen. BUT that’s the mechanics. The real question about Part two is WHY are you even trying to defend yourself? Why do you care?

    Back to Bob the half naked hiker. His FPP announced to BOB that he’s gonna die on this mountain. UNLESS…

    You have to pretend you are in Bob’s shoes (they’re cold and wet). Bob wants to live! If it’s a suicide play for Bob, then there’s no story here. Bob must want to live, and he was ignorant of the mountain–that’s why he’s in that spot. It was a result of him screwing up. He didn’t see “it” coming.

    Note, this really isn’t about the FPP. That’s just the mechanics. It’s the “art” of how Bob got killed (in this case). In real life at the funeral, people won’t be going what’s the FPP for Bob (yeah okay I would, and Larry would be right there charting it out–but, everyone else will be less mental and more emotional: Bob you idiot!). These mechanics are there to “measure” your Art. But the Art comes from your HEART, and especially broken hearts, fear and gloom.

    If all we do is do mechanics and then try to fit some kind of heart into it–that’s gonna be tough and look like most of the crap movies we see. Those guys make script first, and add the emotions later.

    No, you need a killer story concept. The police stole my daughter. Better yet, they stole YOUR daughter.

    Months ago I wrote several posts more or less implying that many people choose limp things to right about for their own stories. What I was trying to say was that unless you have a BURNING idea that becomes a story concept complete with all the structure mechanics–I don’t believe you, the author, will be able to write the story. At least not write it well or easily.

    Lots of people on this list and Good Reads are always defending about writing about something happy. It can’t be happy at first! Even comedy, like Sweet Home Alabama (my wife will watch it forever…Legally Blonde as well). Those comedies did NOT start happy! Legally Blonde–her boyfriend dumped her ass. Alabama was a divorce.

    Y’all gotta stop kidding yourself that writing happy stories are compelling and interesting! snore snore snore snore snore.

    No you don’t have to go Stephen King, but dang, there MUST be something of interest that gets you emotional. Charged up. If you want a GREAT story.

    Okay, here’s what I’m talking about: Do you remember the 2008 movie, “The Changeling”?

    “A grief-stricken mother takes on the LAPD to her own detriment when it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child, while also refusing to give up hope that she will find him one day. ”

    Eastwood directed it, and I recall him saying that in his business you go sifting through the piles of rejects like you’re panning for gold that someone missed. It was something like that.

    I think he said something like “How did THIS get missed?”

    Imagine living that story out yourself. Imagine that you are meeting me for the first time at the bar and you’re actually looking for your kid…and nobody will believe you, etc. (You’re in Part Two).

    If the setup (situation) is compelling enough–the story almost writes itself. People will say–Then what happened? Did she get her kid back? Did she, did she?

    To put it another way, the premise takes the story concept and makes it about, usually, a couple of people. Bob and the mountain forces, or the Mother vs. the LAPD who stole her child (Changeling). Sure you can create a complicated world, but it must boil down to a couple of people or it’s going to be hard to relate to.

    I don’t know about you but if the LAPD stole my child and was passing off some other kid as my child and then telling everyone else I was crazy–let’s just say that I would be trying to figure something out! And I would NOT know what to do, because I was never prepared for anyone stealing my child, least of all the police who are allegedly supposed to be protecting my child.

    On another note, I read somewhere that the “End” starts with the “Beginning” (the FPP). Someone stole your child. Now what do you do? Give up? Yeah, I can always make another one…ya know, another 9 months. Didn’t like the brat anyhow…

    Authors need to be writing about something they do NOT want to have happen to them–and then make it happen. Love gone bad, family divorce, accidental death or dismemberment. A child moves with her family away from all her friends.

    NOTE: this can be comedic! But it still must be a position you do not want to be in yourself.

    Okay, try this: hey did you hear about the guy who won the lottery? AND…? And nothing. They paid their house off and gave away the rest to charity.

    Yeah, that’s your story? Wow. Exciting. Heart wrenching. Did he win the girl in the end?

    Okay, back to where I was going: It’s a matter of “Subjective” life and death. It’s about LOSS and trying to get it back. Comedy, Romance, whatever.

    A VERY popular Stephen King movie, “The Shawshank Redemption”. The hero was a regular guy who lost his life. Subjectively. He was thrown in prison. Part two: he floundered BUT wanted to figure it out. Make sense of it. It was a matter of “principle” for him. Life and death, subjectively. He beat the warden at his own game! Brilliant!

    Make your story more personal. If I recall, you are afraid of becoming your character. You SHOULD be! We all should be afraid of being our character because we are putting them in jeopardy, either physically, or subjectively.

    The above is “Art”. It’s Heart, and specifically BREAKING hearts. Pain. Agony.

    If your story does not have your heart in it–then forgetaboutit! Your story should something that’s powerful…it can mend hearts and break ’em. It can make you laugh and cry. BUT it has to make you care.


    Part two is easy. If you’re Bob who’s running for his life. If you’re the Legally Blonde girl who is trying to save her subjective life. You’re trying to find anyone who will let you get past the LAPD and find your child.

    But if you wrote something “SAFE”.

    Then it doesn’t “have legs”. Or a heart to lose.

    There’s nothing at stake. I’m talking ART here.

  29. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–Thanks for that last post. It may have helped me to up the emotional level for part 2 of my own story. Perhaps I am going about something here less effectively than it could be. When you mentioned authors should be writing about something they don’t want to happen to them, I began thinking about my hero.

    In short, he’s come home after a long period of being away. And my initial thoughts were that he would want to reestablish his life and I would create obstacles through the villain and personal demons that get in the way. But, what if he only returned home to heal (he isn’t exactly well) and was consequently dragged back into a life he wanted no part of any longer? Isn’t that what happens when we go home? Everyone has certain expectations that differ from our own.

    He still needs to heal, the same obstacles are awaiting him, but now the FPP not only forces his hand, but he has the emotional brakes floored as well as the physical limitations.

    Thoughts on Bob: Maybe he wanted to be anywhere else but on that mountain. Maybe he did know there were risks, but what if there’s another party compelling him and he’s freaking out every step of the way because he knows there is danger. Maybe he even has past reason to hate that mountain due to a past calamity. However, the FPP left him very little choice. Maybe someone else was up on the mountain who didn’t know the risks and he felt he had to try to reach them in time.

    How does this change Bob’s attitude? It certainly makes him more root-worthy, more heroic. But Bob doesn’t feel like a hero. he simply feels responsible, or that he has no other choice. The stakes fall into the same basic category as far as the dangers of the mountain, but now the ante is upped because there is another life (maybe more than one) also at risk.

    But why doesn’t Bob just call for assistance? Something, or someone has to force his hand. And if Bob isn’t well, things look bad for him from the start–which is good for empathy.

    I need to go run this through my scenes and see how it comes together. Meanwhile, any random thoughts on being sucked into a life, or situation, that was the last thing you wanted, would be appreciated.


    I realize this is a bit vague, but

  30. @Robert.
    I think it’s too vague, unless you’re hiding the details so no one steals your story? I don’t think you have anything to worry about as everyone is probably married to their own story for better or worse.

    “Getting sucked in”. Guilt or habits? Rescuing those who needed help, or were playing victim?

    Where’s your heart in this? Something about not being able to do what you want in life because you weren’t dealt the right cards (you refers to anyone…I could have said “one” but “you” may trigger something)?

    Pretend you’re a journalist. The old fashioned kind that wrote what was interesting and emotional.

    What’s your point in what you’re writing? Getting sucked in reminds me of many relationships where the guy wanted sex and the girl wanted companionship. It’s a tug of war. The girl is going to break the Mustang guy, and he will either move on to the next girl, or she will put a spell on him. Literally. If the guy is ready for it, the spell will work. I know of such things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they backfire.

    Oops, she got pregnant. Now what’s the guy to do? Tell you what, a guy and a gal can spend the years to get to know each other and look for the admirable traits in each other–and love that–love each other for the better parts that’s in them both.

    That’s probably more than most relationships of passion that die on the vine ten years later because the couple isn’t willing to look for the admirable traits–or they’re just too different. Or a career got in the way.

    All the above is a PUFF piece if my heart isn’t in it. I would have to make it personal somehow. Take something from my own personal life, a family member, or someone I knew who had such a relationship–and take the fire from their real relationship and transfer it to the fictitious one.

    It’s not hard to find those relationships. Hell you could go to an old folks home and get them to tell you their stories. Sooner or later you’d find something that tugged at your heart.

    That reminds me of the Notebook movie which was a real winner.

    Old folks used to be young. There’s a treasure chest of broken hearts and joy all bundled together in them.

    Use the ART is to grab the heat, the fire (good and bad) from those real life relationships–and tell your story. Just use Larry’s mechanics to measure things out so it doesn’t get all lopsided and goofy looking. I believe that a lot of A-list early books that were stars were written from the Art Heart without a clue of Larry’s mechanics (mechanics is a summary of everything he teaches and is just one word. Sue me, I’m lazy).

    But sure enough, many A-Listers lose the Art Heart and try to come up with something similar, only to produce something that is missing the magic. And without a bunch of tools like Larry’s to measure what they’re building–you get a weird book.

    Art–that’s magical and I believe comes from the Heart. I’ve been thinking about it this week as I’ve been studying a sales course, and it’s clear that those sales people who have their heart in something–can be very persuasive–versus those who don’t.

    Also, “heart” (love or hate…two sides of the same organ) can make the difference between competitive sport teams, as long as they’re close enough competitively.

    I think you’re missing Heart. Kind of like building a great mechanical car–without the appealing body. It runs great.

    And has the looks not even its mother would love.

  31. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–Sorry for being so vague. I sent you down a wrong path, since my story is none of the above. I have my reasons for not wanting the ideas for this one publically known. It’s part legit and part being over protective.

    Anywho, no biggie. Your previous post just sparked a thought on how I might add more inner trauma to the hero in my story. But at second glance, it’s something that will not really work as well as I thought. In fact, it might muddy the waters too much in some areas.

    Thanks for taking a stab at it. I’m trying to make sure everything is working and has a purpose. Things are already fairly complicated. I don’t need to add to that, just make sure everything is working properly. If I feel something is still lacking after this run through, I’ll just email you.

  32. Sara Davies

    My problem isn’t a wimpy concept, lack of fertile emotional ground, or lack of opportunity to create tension…it’s the logistics, how it would play out scene by scene. My outline rested more on the ideas and information that need to be conveyed, and less on what the characters would actually be doing to dramatize the revelation of that information. Doesn’t work like that. Now I need to figure out how to communicate the ideas as a series of events. How do you dramatize an idea? Somewhere toward the end of Part One I lost my handle on a want-obstacle-action-resolution pattern that creates waves of momentum. I can’t have talking heads explaining things to each other in dialogue – they have to be doing something, not giving speeches. As I head into Part 2, I’m looking at risks and stakes that are abstract, based in principle, not immediate threat – if the hero screws up, she’ll lose her job, destroy the home she came from, lose a huge amount of money for her company, possibly influence the start of a war….meanwhile she’s watching a bunch of people being tortured and dying, including her own children, and is about to become embroiled in a political situation that’s bigger than she is – but none of it feels urgent. I thought once I got to the “real” story it would be easy and obvious, but it isn’t.

    Which leads me to believe that no part of this will ever be easy. Which is a lot like painting – every painting is an ordeal from beginning to end, a complete hassle, like wrestling with an alligator, with a few peak moments when things hum along and hope is in the air – but more often than not a brutal struggle between vision and reality. It isn’t just “work,” where nothing is at stake, it’s an excruciating, emotional grind. If it were just a matter of getting paint on a surface, or applying a methodology in an abstract, intellectual way, it wouldn’t be any harder than knitting a sweater. But that’s not how it works.

    I’m used to it being painful to create something worthwhile. I don’t know why it’s that way – only that it has always been that way for me. The difference is that in painting, I have confidence that I will eventually solve the problems, even if it’s difficult – because I can see what the problems are, and have developed the skills and experience to know how to solve them. Doesn’t make solving them easy, but I know what to do. With writing, in addition to the challenge of just doing it, I’m also dogged by the fear that I can’t figure it out.

    Story structure is the foundation that gives all other considerations (like scene construction, dialogue, description, and characterization) a mission and a context – so I know what these other factors are in service OF. Everyone needs to know what the ingredients are meant to be in service OF. But that’s just one part of what has to happen to make the story go.

    If I’d been smart I’d have chosen a project that wouldn’t require so much research – something closer to home. Even Larry thinks I have a viable concept. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about making the transition from “telling” what happened, to “showing” something happening.

    Plus, I’m pissed, because I feel like there’s no good reason why I shouldn’t be able to learn how to make it work. And I’m not patient. And I have high standards and expectations for myself. It is not OK with me if I can’t do it.

    I can sit down and spew out an 800-1200 word article in three hours. First draft right off the top of my head without breaking a sweat. Then fixing, tidying up. Simple. Easy. This is different.

  33. Robert Jones

    @Sara–Sounds like my day yesterday. Then after much pondering and sleeping on it all, today several pieces seemed to fall into place without my giving it much thought.

    I used to be the same way with my artwork. If I wasn’t serious about it, I could sometimes do things off the top of my head that were quite good. But when it came to sitting down and doing serious work, that was a whole different can of processed meat-flavored bi-product. I was recently talking to someone else who has the same problem when it comes to writing. It’s a mental thing. We want to do our best, the problem is our minds have an elevated perception of what goes into being the “BEST.” One of the ingredients is always hard work and struggling. Like mental weight lifters, we heap it on ourselves.

    Sometimes a story is going to require things need to be done in order to get certain points across. It can always be in your face action–although it sounds like you have that in there with the people being tortured and dying.

    Questions and suggestions:

    Are the people who are being tortured in the same lab your hero is working? Can she hear their agony? Is it possible to begin part two with the hero witnessing this torturing and dying early on? If so, this is an image that will stick in the readers mind while she is working on other things–a looming presence of death.

    Compound that with the hero having thoughts about the other ramifications hanging over her head if she fails and that feeling of death permeates all of it. And the threat of war certainly caps that off nicely.

    Is there a way to bring in those reminders of what’s at stake through arguments with others? People spew a lot when they are angry. Or could it be as simple as a radio, or TV, that interrupts with newscasts? People are used to hearing looming threats of disaster, economical and social issues, no news is ever good news. Communication these days is such that you can’t escape it through work, even locked inside a lab. Maybe you could if you were alone and unplugged everything, but if there are people around, the problems at large are all they seem to go on about. This could not only bring in tension, but arguments over those social and political issues at hand.

    Can you give the hero an action that shows her need to escape and take a breath now and then? Alone inside her room, what does she do to relieve the pressure? Can she go out and do something totally absent minded? But if she’s seeing people tortured, how will that effect her world-view outside the lab? What she sees, or how she sees others? There are always the actions of others who are living in ignorance. Does this infuriate her, or does she wish she could be ignorant like them?

    As long as all this comes in response to something that follows the FPP (and all of these actions would clearly signify response) I think you can always find ways for an intelligent, open-minded person to see their world a bit differently–or perhaps more realistically–than others would. And make no mistake, what you’ve described is a terrible position for anyone to be in. Being glued to her lab and work environment is going to become very tense, confined, closed in, very much relatable to those slaves by contrast. Is she free, or is freedom all just an illusion?

  34. @Robert–no worries.

    I hear you on how do you show what’s happening instead of just telling it? Suggestion is to find a similar type of book and see how they did it.

    My guide for the above is it has to be “relevant”. Every scene must be relevant to the core story, which it sounds like Larry and you figured out what that is.

    A concern of mine is that you said your Part two is not urgent. I would need more information on your setup and FPP, but in my opinion the FPP MAKES part 2 urgent.

    Bob in the woods–his FPP, a real life example, was when it finally dawned on his skull, that he might not make it back home, and if he wants to have ANY chance of getting back home–he better turn back NOW. That’s urgent as in the FPP is forcing him to do something or he will suffer the consequences.

    The FPP is a force to be respected. If the event does not force the character to stop what he is normally doing–then there is no FPP yet. Nothing has “started”.

    I sense your frustration…heh you said you’re pissed. I hear you. I’ll help you on the phone if you like. It’s too difficult to figure out what’s going on with your story and what you want to do with it via this medium.

    Email me if you want. Just click my name…

    thanks, Kerry

  35. Sara Davies

    @ Robert: Thanks. Those are all good questions, some of which I’ve considered. I don’t think I ever produced anything good without bleeding for it, as a result of which I kind of accept that suffering is required. Making art was never fun – why should writing be any different? Unfortunately there is only one way to find out if the misery will pay off. That’s the hell of it. Right? Am I right? Anyone who thinks making art or doing creative writing is fun is either peculiarly blessed, or completely delusional. I can tell you have the perfectionist streak, which is good but can also be paralyzing.

    @ Kerry: OK. Thanks. I’ll email you. You might be right about Part 1 not being strong or intense enough. Plus I’m trying to consider a dozen different aspects of the process at once.

  36. @Sarah:
    Your story sounds similar to my story’s “world” in that I am trying to “educate” the reader in many things, much of them very interesting, and frankly would fill up a couple of non-fiction books. And it has, by some popular researchers.

    However, I realized that what I want to educate is different than what the story actually is. I need several stories to convey what is going on in my story’s world. You may be in a similar boat.

    What I did is recognized what I wanted to convey without regard to any story, and then I plotted on paper all the characters that would be involved– in order to achieve what was existing in the story world.

    It would be like looking at a section of brief history at a world, where a bunch of events occurred and the effects caused. Usually, there are ambitious people who want to achieve something, and most just go along with it until they’re swept up in it, but there may be some who are against it from the get-go.

    There are layers to this, and layers of explanation. So called conspiracy research gets into this, as planning is conspiring, and not an evil thing–unless you feel it is evil. However, in real life all elaborate conspiracies have a cover story for the masses, a cover story for those involved at all but the highest levels–with only those at the highest levels knowing why they were engineering the events in the first place.

    But, the story teller can’t tell everything all at once. It’s too large for a story, so one has to focus on a certain layer. Hollywood usually focuses on the public cover story, and regardless of these stories being a cover, there is ample room to convey human emotion and growth. Things to learn from. The original James Bond books and early movies actually hinted at the conspiratorial end of things, and one could read a lot into the operations of SPECTRE.

    Yeah call me, we’ll map it out and all should be become obvious.


  37. Mike Lawrence

    For the *longest* time, I have wanted to ask you about Dramatica. How intriguing to see it mentioned in one of your posts!

    I bought Dramatica many many years ago and read the theory book by Stephanie Anne Phillips cover to cover. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time with it.

    In fact, I was using it to work on my latest story up until about 2 days ago.

    Despite having spent so much time with it, I’ve never been able to get through a complete Dramatica story form. Various reasons, but usually because at some point it takes me to a place that I don’t want to go. Or, more accurately, it runs out of options. I have spent a lot of time pondering how to “tweak” the Story Mind architecture to accommodate for more room once things get down to a final form. It’s a puzzle I have yet to solve.

    Even so, I have found it to be incredibly useful. Even though the story form never ever gives me a complete outline for the story I actually want to write, it does an incredible job of helping me sort out lots of important details about everything, especially characters. It’s query system *will* give you a better understanding of your story.

    After my most recent bout with Dramatica, I took what I developed there and am now setting it all up in Scrivener and “Larryizing” it. This is a new approach for me and it’s interesting how many little facets I keep remembering from my Dramatica run through and fitting them into the Larry Brook Story Machine. (Hey, now *that’s* an idea!)

    All that said, I think the Story Mind theory is very compelling and I really do hope we see an update to this software some day. (for PC. There is an updated version for MAC)

    But I gotta’ tell you, Story Engineering is my bible. And will be for a long time.

  38. Robert Jones

    @Sara–Yes, it’s always a lot of work. But the payoff when things fall into place–and sometimes even the learning itself–can be fun. Maybe it’s like kids with video games, if there isn’t something new to strive for, we’d have given up due to boredom a long time ago.

    @Kerry–If you have a character who is a conspiracy theorist, a lot can be hinted at. You’ve probably already thought of that, but the character from the movie Scream comes to mind that was the horror movie buff and always spouting his knowledge about how these things work made for both interesting speculation and was used to give so much exposition that didn’t seem like exposition because he was a geek who lived and breathed the kind of nightmares he suddenly found himself living.

    I purchased the Dramatica software a few years ago and used it while planning one novel. It’s good, but never wowed me. The character building definitely was the best part. The best software I found was actually FictionMaster and First aide For Writers. Now both are out of print, or possibly being updated. I really liked their method of questions, then examples from other writers, then more questions. You could past large or small chunks of your novel into any of the sections and build on it. It always improved anything I used it for within minutes. The format always gave food for thought.

    I think if Larry put out a step by step structural and planning program, it would fly off the shelves. Just by breaking each step into sections that gave a question and example format would make it interactive and fun. Then we could just print out each section and save a lot of scrap paper…LOL!

  39. Celena

    This was such an interesting read into story physics. Loved it! Well done.

  40. Pingback: The Psychology of Story Physics | jerricavareschi