Secrets escape acute adorations, escape attack from the critical masses by nature of being hidden. When someone mentions SECRET concerning another’s interests, ears attune toward the sound of the one speaking, and syllables are licked from the air as if they were ice cream.
In today’s world, we have books for DUMMIES, how-to books and authors expunging themselves of secrets that supposedly made them billions of dollars. The bestselling Bible Code reveals secret codes in—you guessed it—the Bible. Self-help gurus attune the individual’s consciousness to his inner-nature through secrets of Eastern gurus now finally revealed for the FIRST TIME!
Secrets linger in courtyards, whispers of political intrigues and veiled threats spoken from seats of power. They empower innuendo that cannot be understood by the masses teeming with ignorance, such as the Freemasonry symbols used in some of author Dan Brown’s works, until the spell of ignorance is broken by the solving of riddles—riddles that reveal secrets.
There have been how-to books concerning writing as well, works that promise to reveal the tips and tricks (secrets) to those willing to purchase them. Most are good self-help modules to improve one’s writing, and some are quite excellent. However, the catalyst for “writing secrets” often comes through writing groups based in the internet; one unknown writer reveals something he found on a blog, which is turn revealed to his group. Someone within his group becomes excited and reveals that secret to another writing group she belongs to based in the UK, and pretty soon the SECRET starts to lose some of its secrecy.
This is where I come in. I have a large private web office where secrets are often shouted from the rooftops. Within my private office linger lots of editors concerned with promoting their publications and seeking quality writers, as well as those who wish to improve their own writing, both editors and writers alike. Often, someone posts something of interest to the craft of storytelling. More often than not, there are little snippets within what is presented—secrets, if you will—that go without comment.
I’m going to reveal one of those snippets based on an outline that swept through my private office and out again, with nary anyone commenting or saying a word. Graeme Renolds is the writer who supplied the blueprint, snatched from another writer who received it from another… and through the grapevine it comes. Graeme is a fantastic writer, astute and always willing to learn and evolve in his craft, which is how he came across the outline. I believe he altered the outline somewhat with some modifications.
Here is that outline:
Story Flow Blueprint
Step 1: Characters, conflict, and major story goal are introduced
At the very beginning of your story, the characters, the opposition/conflict, and
the overall goal of the tale are introduced.
Step 2: Characters begin their journey
The characters will begin consciously or unconsciously making preparations for the “journey” or adventure that they will be undergoing throughout the tale. A deeper sense of their abilities and motivations is given to the reader during this section, a means of letting the reader “get to know them” better.
Step 3: First goal is determined
The characters make a decision to take some action relative to helping them reach the story goal. That goal is identified for the reader, as are the reasons behind it.
Step 4: Actions are taken to reach that goal
The characters take some action designed to bring them closer to the goal outlined in the previous step.
Step 5: Characters are prevented from reaching their first goal
The first goal is thwarted, either through the actions of the opposition or some other circumstances that are not under the characters’ control.
Step 6: Characters react
The characters react to the fact that they failed to reach their goal.
Step 7: Stakes are raised
The stakes the characters are facing if they do not reach the story goal are raised, which in turn raises the tension and excitement of the story for the reader.
This is also where the characters react to the raising of the stakes.
Step 8: A new (second) goal is developed
Determined not to let one set-back prevent them from reaching their goal, the characters develop a new, larger goal (since the stakes are now higher).
Step 9: Actions are taken to reach the second goal
The characters take some action designed to bring them closer to the goal outlined in the previous step.
Step 10: Characters are prevented from reaching their second goal
The second goal is thwarted, again either through the actions of the opposition or some other circumstances that are not under the characters’ control.
Step 11: Characters react
The characters react to the fact that they failed to reach their goal for the second time.
Step 12: Stakes are raised
The stakes become even higher, with greater consequences in the event of failure. The characters react to this change.
Step 13: Low period begins
At this point the characters are feeling their failures. They are demoralized and uncertain just what to do next. Some may even be on the verge of giving up. It is only the high stakes that keep them in the game now.
Step 14: Third goal is developed
With uncertainty and confusion running rampant, the characters try to rally and push onward. A new goal is developed, though this time the specter of failure
looms close at hand.
Step 15: Actions are taken despite uncertainty
Determined not to give up without a fight, the characters push through and attempt to reach the goal one more time, despite the fact that their chances of success look slimmer by the minute.
Step 16: Dark time begins
The characters fail miserably and the terrible circumstances they have been trying to avoid seem all too likely.
Step 17: Characters react to the dark time
Despair sets in as the characters reach their lowest emotional point in the story.
Everything they feared is about to come to pass and they seem to be completely out of options. The stakes are at a fever pitch by this point.
Step 18: Pivotal change occurs
A crucial event takes place that makes the character’s all too well aware that they don’t have the option of failing. Maybe their lives are on the line. Maybe it is the life of
a loved one or the fate of the entire world. Whatever it is, the characters must face it and decide that they have to give it a go or die trying.
Step 19: Goals are revised one last time
For the last time, the characters set a goal and go for it with all they’ve got. They are at their limit, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. This is the
point of no return.
Step 20: Final showdown happens, the opposition is defeated and the characters
react to their success
The characters face off against the opposition and this they succeed. The opposition is defeated and they are left to figure out just where to go from here.
One thing that is most interesting is that this blueprint is built for plot, and it creates stories entirely too long for flash fiction. In fact, by itself this blueprint is 743 words. I used it experimentally once shooting for 5,000 words, and I soared to 7,000 words (with the way I love description). With that in mind, what good is this blueprint for flash fiction?
Well, breaking it down into smaller patterns is beneficial. Removing steps can shorten it up. But why would a writer of flash fiction want to do that?
One concept I found from this blueprint that swept through my office—and was forgotten about rather quickly—are the failures disclosed to the protagonist’s accomplishing of his/her goals. Particularly, Step 5, Step 10, Step 16 and Step 20 reveal the secret I’m referring to, and that is one of failure. Writers are well versed with the concept of failure, often calling it rejection—although every bestselling novelist has had stories rejected including Stephen King. The most beloved heroes often fail repeatedly before procuring their goals. Some even fail at the story’s end, as did Mel Gibson’s historical character in Braveheart. The world (readers) are well acquainted with failure, and when they read about a character who fails as many times as they do, AND THEN SUCCEEDS, they tend to identify more with that character.
But this blueprint is already 743 words. How could a writer of flash fiction utilize it?
One way is to get right to the action. Editors are always saying how they want stories that begin with the action. But what if an astute writer began not only with the action, but with the mentioning of two or three previous failures as well? What if the writer began with a character… say, at an abandoned castle surrounded by werewolves? The writer could use some back-story to fill the reader in on the previous failure of the character trying to lead his village to safety from the growing werewolves. After setting out on a two-day journey for the safety of a nearby citadel, the village is destroyed (a failure). A new goal emerges. Now the character must protect those who still survive: his family. The stakes are raised because he loves his family, thus the drama intensifies. He fails. Now, alone, he is in the castle ruins, a very dark time in his life indeed.
Here come the werewolves.
Do you feel this sudden shift in intensity? Just briefly mentioning the past two failures (secrets snatched from this blueprint), the story intensifies and, perhaps, we can use more dramatic language at this point: Behold now the iron will of the nefarious agents of abominable intent. See how negative the distraught hero embraces his doom. Yet somewhere in the back of his mind, he hears his children’s voices saying, “Daddy, don’t give up,” and he remembers lessons he taught his children. As howls fill the air and jaws snap at his heels, the hero races up the castle to the bell tower of the desolate abbey still attached. After slamming a heavy oak door and barring it, he gazes at the vast sky because the roof is gone, recently collapsed. Only his sword and an rusted iron bell hangs and—an idea!
Our hero rings the bell by beating it with his bloodied sword. It creates a sad sound, a dull noise, but the more he beats it the more rust falls away; the outer casing comes off like crumbling armor. Beneath the veneer of rust gleams solid metal, and now the sound rings pure and loud: CLANG, CLANG, CLANG! The werewolves cannot stand the tolling of the bell, and the hero rings the bell until morning, weeping the entire time, until the sun’s rays drive away the evil.
Failure is a tool to increase tension for your characters and readers, a secret for writers of both flash fiction and novels. And it came as a nugget of truth buried within the blueprint listed here. What other secrets lie in the blueprint above? What secrets do you have regarding writing?
Please comment and reveal your writing secrets!
American Zoetrope (where my private web office, Liquid Imagination, resides)
Silver Blade (sister publication of Liquid Imagination)
John “JAM” Arthur Miller owns Liquid Imagination Publishing, an ezine combining artwork and music with speculative fiction and poetry to create a new art form. JAM has over 65 publishing credits/acceptances with various publications ranging from anthologies, print publications and ezines. He is on the Board of Trustees at Silver Pen, a non-profit organization created to promote literacy. JAM has full physical custody of three small children who have tamed his writing and slowed him down somewhat, and that’s just fine with JAM. The importance of optimism combined with the occasional YIPPIE (regardless of rejection) for writers is a frame of mind that, JAM believes, must be attained for optimum performance. “YIPPIE!!!”