THE ANVIL MOMENT

I love the anvil moment because it makes writing so much easier.  It takes care of all those inconvenient and messy problems that character arcs create.

What’s the anvil moment?  And what does it have to do with character arcs?  I’m glad you asked.  But first, do you know what a character arc is?  Just in case you don’t, I’ll explain, and it’s really quite simple.  And, at the same time, complicated.  Because the character arc is the change that takes place in your main character (and sometimes other characters) during the course of your story.  Without that change, few readers will think any story was worth reading.  But how do you show the change happening?

For some writers, it’s easy.  I’m not that kind of writer.  I hate character arcs.

I used to try to ease my characters towards what they would be at the end of the story. Problem was it didn’t work.  They got confused… and I got confused… until disaster befell us all and I threw the whole thing in the trash can and started over from the beginning because it was beyond hope.

Then I learned about the anvil moment.  The  moment when… like an anvil hitting someone over the head so hard that it couldn’t be ignored no matter how much that person wished to ignore it… the change happened and it  happened fast.  In one scene.  Usually in one moment in that scene.  Perhaps in just a few sentences, with no fuss and no mess but enough fanfare that even readers who weren’t paying attention got the message that the character had changed and would follow a different path from that moment forward.

You’ve seen movies and read books that have anvil moments.  In Shindler’s List, it’s when Shindler sees the body of the little girl in the red coat and, afterwards, makes it his mission to save as many Jews as possible. To make sure the audience couldn’t possibly miss the moment, everything in the movie was in black and white except the red coat.   It was a real anvil moment.   Or any romance in which the heroine doesn’t realize she’s in love with the hero until he heads out to save the day, or the country, or the world, or the universe, and she realizes she can’t stand the thought of his not returning.  It’s immediate, major, and changes the direction of the story.

One hint.  Choose your anvil moment well.  Make it when events have been building so the change makes sense and then fit it into the context of the scene.  Spend time on that scene because it’ll be pivotal.  Then relax and stop worrying about character arcs because you can do them with the best writers in the field if you make use of the anvil moment.

WHY CHRISTMAS IS IN JULY

Once, I submitted a story about two of my kids and settled back to wait a few months to hear from the editors.  Instead, less than a week after putting it in the mail, I got a frantic call from an editor wanting to know how quickly I could sign a contract because they wanted it for the edition that was about to go to the presses.  Seems it was their Mother’s Day issue and, though I’d not thought about it being that kind of story when writing it, they felt it filled a spot in that particular holiday issue.  I jumped through a few hoops and the story was in their magazine in time for Mother’s Day.

Believe me, that’s not the norm.  Normally, if the holidays are approaching… any holidays… and suddenly a lovely story idea relevant to the holiday flits through your mind, by all means, sit down and write it while it’s still fresh in your mind.  Then polish it.  Edit it for grammar and flow.  And set it aside for six months.

Because publishers work six  months ahead for holiday themed publications.

This also applies if you are self-publishing electronically.  Yep, all those lovely Christmas stories that magically appear on Amazon or Smashwords as the holidays draw near were probably written in June or July in order for the writer/publisher to re-write, edit, find or create a cover, format for e-readers, and publish in time for it to be on-line for holiday reading.

Which means that we writers must think about Christmas in June or July.  Thanksgiving in May or June.  And so on… and so on… and so on… for each and every holiday.  Which also means that, for any writer wanting to write about Christmas, the holiday might as well be in the middle of summer and the Fourth of July be celebrated while the snow flies.

So, if writing holiday stories is on your to-do list, right now while you’re thinking about it, take next years’ calendar and make notes in large letters on the page for whatever month is six months before the holiday that you want to write about.  Then write your story or novel.  Then rewrite it.  Make it perfect in every way.  And, if you are sending it to a publisher, submit it six months in advance of the holiday.  If  you are self-pubbing electronically, make a note on your calendar to remind you to publish it in time for holiday reading.  (Because, if you don’t, you just might forget.)

I admit that it’s a bit odd, thinking of Christmas when everyone else is celebrating the Fourth of July.  And the Fourth of July when everyone else is thinking of Christmas.  But you can do it.   Because you are a writer.

A NOVEL TEMPLATE

Last time I gave out a template for writing short stories and said that, if expanded, it could also become a template for novels.  This post is to explain a bit about how to do that.  Of course, as always, if your writing method differs from mine, do whatever is right for you.

If you wish, you can change the one-or-two sentence descriptions to one-or-two paragraphs to allow for more depth in your characters and in your story.

The big difference, though, is the part that was glossed over in the short story template.  The part that tells you to construct scenes that connect the beginning scene to the conclusion.  In a short story they will necessarily be short scenes, perhaps a few paragraphs each.  But in a book, instead of outlining scenes, you will outline chapters… the story you want to tell divided into segments leading up to the climax… and each chapter may contain several scenes.

When you write each chapter use the template for short stories as if each chapter was a short story.  Which, in a way, it is.  Because each chapter should have a beginning that will outline the problem of that chapter and propel the characters into action.  And a conclusion.  Not the conclusion of the main problem of the book but the conclusion of the smaller but still significant problem that chapter deals with.  And if it doesn’t deal with a problem intrinsic to the plot, then seriously consider deleting that particular chapter.  And each chapter also needs a conclusion, preferably one that resolves the chapter problem and leads the characters towards the next problem they will face.

And that’s a simplified version of how to write a novel.  More in future posts.

THE FIRST STEP TO A STORY

When I first started writing, I didn’t start selling.  The manuscripts went out.  And came back.  And went out.  And came back.  And so on…  until I read an article that contained a short story template.  I followed that template.  Why not?  I couldn’t do any worse than I was already doing.

Lo and behold.  I started selling.  Even when an editor didn’t buy my manuscript, they wrote nice comments saying it was obvious that I was a professional writer and that they’d like to see more of my work.

The only difference was that template.  So I’m going to share it with you now hoping that it will help you, too, if you aren’t yet selling.

1) Describe a main character in one or two sentences.  2) Describe a second main character is one or two sentences.  3) If there is a problem between them, describe that problem in one sentence.  4) Describe in one sentence the problem that will be the focus of your story. 5) Describe in one sentence a scene in which your main character will be forced to begin dealing with the problem. 6) Describe in one sentence the resolution to the problem. 

The beginning of the story is where the problem emerges and the main character must deal with it.  The conclusion is the resolution.  The rest of the story consists of the scenes between the beginning and the resolution. 

So there it is.  This template is short and simple and it works,  And if you expand each part of it expoentially, instead of a short story, you have a novel.

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

A while back, in one of my first posts, I mentioned hearing a bird in the forest near our wilderness resort.  A bird we could never locate and always wondered about.  After the resort was sold and we’d moved closer to town and were preparing to build a house, we went to a home show looking for ideas.

As we entered, we  heard that bird.  We looked at each other and, moving as one person, almost ran to the booth that we believed had a bird in a cage.  Perhaps they sold bird cages.  Or had a garden theme.  We didn’t know, we just knew we were about to finally… finally… find out what kind of bird made that sound.

It wasn’t a bird.  It was a cougar.  It was tame and in a cage where it couldn’t harm anyone.  But the feeling I got upon realizing that a cougar had been nearby when I walked in the forest was something I’ll never forget.

I breathed a prayer of thanks to the two large dogs who always accompanied me when I took walks in the woods.  I never asked them to come, they just did, ambling under the trees.  And keeping me safe even when I didn’t know I needed protecting.

So now comes the point of this post.  That experience… the emotion I felt when I learned I’d possibly been stalked by a cougar… became my novella Wanted:  Sharpshooter.

As I wrote, the feelings just gushed out.  Even though I’d not been afraid during all those years of walking in the forest, I knew what that kind of fear would have been like because of the sheer terror that went along my spine for a brief moment when i saw that tame cougar in the home show.

But Wanted:  Sharpshooter isn’t my only book based on experience.  I find that everything I write is based on something that has happened.   And I also find that there is no limit to the experiences that fuel my imagination and in some manner become the stories I write.

So what inspires you?  Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?  Experience?  Pure imagination?  Something you read or hear about in the media?  A dream that is so vivid you must get it written down?

Let me know.  I’m curious.