Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dealing with Creative DOUBT

Dealing with Creative DOUBT
 ----- Original Message -----
...I'm at the point where nothing seems right. Everything I write down is cliche, badly written, and has bad pacing. Yet when I was younger I would turn out stories one right after the other like a non-stop machine. But now...thanks to all those instructors and classes, the creative edge is now limping along like a dog with only one leg.
...I don't have an agent or anything published in the first place. So that does paint an extra layer of doubt upon the situation. 
...when I discuss this, usually I'm berated with people saying, "Stop being so emo." As if depression were something that one can simply switch on and off.
...I guess what I'm doing here is ... trying to find some kind of sign, revelation or clue that I'm not a bad writer or that I'm just another writing loser.

You're not a bad writer or a loser of any kind.
-- You're NORMAL.

The truth is all artists of every kind have to deal with Doubt, from the rank beginner to the professional. All of us, without exception.

The dividing line between an artist and a loser is actually simple; sheer, mule-headed, Stubbornness. Losers give up. Artists won't.

Those of us writers (and artists) that actually make it to publication are monumentally stubborn. We write / create in spite of being less than perfect, in spite of being depressed, or angry, or tired, or blind, or crippled...

The best of us, like Niel Gaimen, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts USE that doubt and stubbornness to improve our skills by refusing to settle for 'good enough'. We dig up every trick we can find and scribble our discoveries into notebooks, on notepads, (or into writing tips,) and Practice them in little stories (or fan-fiction,) until we can actually make use of them.

NO ONE is perfect, but that doesn't mean we can't tell a good story -- that we're not Artists.

Be stubborn. Seriously. It will carry you far further than anything else will -- even skill.

Think I'm kidding? Well then, how about hearing it from one of the pros?

A Pep Talk from Neil Gaiman  

Dear Author,

By now you're probably ready to give up. You're past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You're not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You're in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more--and that even when they do you're preoccupied and no fun.

You don't know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you're pretty sure that even if you finish it it won't have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began---a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read---it falls so painfully short that you're pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That's how novels get written.

You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It's a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn't build it it won't be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.

The search for the word gets no easier, but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering,) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist.

And instead of sympathizing or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm--or even arguing with me--she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, "Oh, you're at that part of the book, are you?"

I was shocked. "You mean I've done this before?"

"You don't remember?"

"Not really."

"Oh yes," she said. "You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients."

I didn't even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That's the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it's the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Pretty soon you'll be on the downward slide, and it's not impossible that soon you'll be at the end. Good luck...

Neil Gaiman

Feel better now? I know I do.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Ten-Second Tip:

Whether you're posting on an Erotic story site, a fan-fiction site, or writing a hot short for a paperback anthology...

No matter what you've been told about making your stories popular, Sex isn't everything. People will like --and Favorite-- a damned good story Without sex faster than they will some slap-dash PWP (Porn without Plot). Believe me, I do it all the time. *grin*

The truth is, people like what makes them React

Whether it's getting them hot, laughing out loud, or weeping, they Fav'd it because it made them feel something strong enough to have a reaction. Look at your own Favorites list and think back on WHY you Fav'd it. What reactions did you have to those stories? What did they make you feel?

The hard part is that in order to put those feelings on paper, you actually have to feel them while you're doing it. This is why I really hate writing Angst.

Having problems writing a Scene?
-- Whether it's angst, crack, or sex, EMBARRASSMENT is normally the culprit behind that form of writer's block.

How do you get past it?

Memorize this:
You are Not your characters. 

That this idea came to you is Not because it's something You would do, but because it's something your characters would. You're just following their train of thought to its logical (or illogical) conclusion. See?

"Then how DO I make my stories POPULAR?"

That's easy:
Write something everyone wants to read.

"How do you find out what everyone wants to read?"

On a story site, that's really easy. Check out the 20 Most Popular Stories, (who has the most Fav's,) and figure out what they have in common. Also, pay attention to the posted comments. The readers will state their likes and dislikes right there.

In the case of Books, visit Amazon and check out 20 Most Popular Books under whatever genre you write for. Again, pay attention to the posted comments.

Make a list of the most common elements:

TYPE of Characters:
-- NOT what they LOOK like, their Personality Types!

  • What type of Female: Sweet? Sour? Mature? Silly?
  • What type of Male? Strong & silent? Sweet & caring? Sarcastic & Rude?
  • What type of Other? Vampire? Werewolf? Ghost? Demon? Angel?
  • Age bracket: Late teens? 20's? 30's? 40's?

  • Fantasy? 
  • Sci-fi? 
  • Contemporary? 
  • Romance? 
  • Horror? 
  • Suspense?

  • Castle? 
  • Forest? 
  • Office? 
  • Middle Ages? 
  • Modern Era? 
  • Ancient times?

  • Romantic? 
  • Bondage & Kink? 
  • Seduction (mild Non-Con)? 
  • M/M? 
  • M/F/M? 
  • F/M/F? 
  • No sex?

  • Fight scenes? 
  • One on One Duels?
  • Epic Battles? 
  • Witty debates?
  • Chase scenes?
  • Monsters?

Once you know all these things, all you have to do is write within these parameters, and write it WELL.

Sometimes the only difference between a Winner and a Dud is NOT the content, but HOW it's Written.

Many readers are forgiving of bad grammar and head-hopping on story sites and even in published books. I am NOT one of them, and I am NOT alone.

When you have a lot of people that write the type of same thing, (SMUT!) someone that takes the time to use their spell-check, doesn't head-hop, and uses proper paragraphing will always pull ahead of those that don't. Someone that's easy to read will always have more readers than someone who writes stuff you have to struggle through just to figure out what the heck is happening.

SKILL counts a hell of a lot more than you think.

Why didn't I bother to list Story LENGTH?

Because when a story is GOOD people will gladly read an Epic. Harry Potter & Lord of the Rings anyone?


Morgan Hawke

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Stuck on a SHORT Story?

10 Second Tip:
Stuck on a SHORT Story?

Stuck on what to put in your story?
-- This is the list of things I check off when I create a story:

Do you have a Setting in mind?
  • - Sci-fi
  • - Historical
  • - Modern day

Do you have ONE big Main Event for the story to focus on?
  • - A battle
  • - An escape
  • - A love scene
  • - An act of revenge
  • - A sacrifice
  • - A treasure to claim

Do you know what you want to SAY with your story?
  • - Love sucks.
  • - Friendship is forever.
  • - No good deed goes unpunished.
  • - A snake can only ever be a snake.
  • - Sometimes you have to take chances.

Do you know where you want to END your story?
  • - A wedding?
  • - A funeral?
  • - A bloody battlefield?
  • - An empty street?
  • - The bottom of an ocean?

Do you have your three central Characters ready?
Just to make things interesting, any one of these three could be the Hero, the Villain, or the Ally.
  • - A main character that personifies what your story is trying to say?
  • - A main character that personifies an opposing opinion of the same topic?
  • - A buddy / friend/ love interest of one or both to personify Joe Normal stuck in the Middle?

Why did I mention Characters Last?

Instead of making a story for my characters, I do the opposite. I make characters for my story.

Some people can come up with a cool character and then build a story around them. Sadly, I am not one of those. I can build a back-story just fine, but my back-stories are never good enough to be the Main Story. A back-story is how a character GOT his Issues. The main story is how they FIXED those Issues. See the difference?

-- When I'm stuck on a story, I try thinking on these questions and often, they'll jog something loose.


Choosing a Story's Title

10 Second Tip: 
Choosing a Story's Title

----- Original Message -----
Do you have a tutorial on how to decide the Title for your story?
-- Nervous Beginner

When I can't decide on a title, I fall back on how the professionals do it.

  • One word is considered ideal for a title.
  • No more than Three words, preferably Two.
  • You can have Four if the word is 'And,' 'The,' 'A,' or something similar.

Okay, so what type of words should you use?

  • One word should represent the Genre.
Any other words should represent:
  • the Emotion the story is trying to invoke
  • a Character
  • an Action
  •   a Location

Star Trek (genre + emotion)
Grimm (Genre & Emotion in one word.)
Once Upon a Time (Genre)
The Addams Family (Name = Genre + Emotion)
 'Addams' IS a genre because the name has been recognized and associated with "spooky" since the 1930s when the comic first appeared in 'New Yorker Magazine.'
Deep Space 9 (Genre = Location)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Character + Genre + Action)
House (Name = Genre) It's the name of a Doctor.
Wizard of Oz (Genre + Location)
Assassin's Creed (Genre + Emotion)
Walking Dead (Genre)
Nightmare Before Christmas (Genre + Emotion + Genre)
Legend of Zelda (Genre + Character)
Despicable Me (Genre + Character)
Tron (Genre)
The Matrix (Genre)
Lord of the Rings (Genre + Character) The One Ring is a Character.

There is No Wrong Way to create a Title.

This is merely how the professionals do it.

If you choose to create your title some other way, DO IT. Just because the pros do it this way does NOT Invalidate how you chose your title. After all, it's YOUR Story.

Though be warned, if you get your story published by one of the big publishing houses, and your chosen title doesn't suit their Marketing needs, they will very likely Change your title.

They did it to me -- Twice!


Morgan Hawke

Plot Device: Foreshadowing...!

10 Second Tip:
Foreshadowing is when the opening scene of a story
acts as a kind of nutshell prophecy for the whole story.

  • In a Horror, this is when the originating Bad Thing happens.
  • In a Mystery or Crime story, it's when the first victim is slain, and/or object (McGuffin) goes missing.  
  • In a Romance this is where the main character meets their soon-to-be lover for a fleeting but memorable moment.  
  • In a Sci-fi, this is where the ruling Theory is presented. 
  • In a Gothic, this is where the main character sees a glimpse of the monster they will be soon become.

This also reveals the Premise, or ruling argument that the story is trying to illustrate; what the story is trying to Prove.

  • The results of Revenge 
  • The path of Ambition  
  • The reality of Love 
  • The pain of being Different

The Story

The meat of the story should fulfill that prophecy using twists, turns, and surprises that compel the reader to Keep Reading to discover 'what's really going on?'

Never forget:  
The Readers DON'T want to be Told what's coming!
They want to figure out what's happening THEMSELVES.

However, if you intend to use (what looks like) chance and coincidence to move your plot you're going to need careful preparation. Using deus ex machina (situations, objects, and helpers that were just suddenly THERE without explanation,) is unacceptable. The author should NEVER pull a rabbit out of their hat simply to rescue their hero.

The trick is to put the plot element into your story EARLY without making the reader aware of its importance. Never telegraph your punches. Every choice made MUST seem logical for that character.

The Conclusion

The last part is what that prophecy brought about--what happened BECAUSE of the events in the story.

  • Were the guilty punished?
  • Was the lost object or person found? 
    • Plus who did it and why?
  • Did the lover gain the attention of their beloved?
  • Was the scientific theory convincing? 
    • Or horrifying enough?
  • Did the monster reconcile with their nature?

Always complete Each plot-cycle that you Begin. 

Solve EVERY problem presented, no matter how small. Any unsolved problems become Plot Holes your readers WILL notice and call you on. "Hey, whatever happened with...?"

The easiest way to do this is by keeping your Main cast SMALL.

  • Hero 
  • Ally (buddy or lover)
  • Villain

Side characters are those who occupy places in the story: the waitress, parents, coworkers, the beat cops..., but don't actually change anything.

Main characters are the characters whose actions actually affect the plot.

The more Main characters you have, the more problems you add--which means the more story you have to write to solve those problems.


Morgan Hawke

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What KIND of story are you telling?

10 Second Tip:
What KIND of story are you telling?
EVERY story is in fact a tale about the relationship of an individual (your main character) to society -- symbolized by their workplace, school, their immediate or extended family, the gang they belong to, a best friend, a lover...

  • A comic story (one with a happy ending,) describes an isolated individual achieving social integration either by being accepted into an existing society or by forming his own. This integration is often symbolized by a wedding or party. 
  • A tragic story (one with a sad ending) describes an integrated individual who becomes isolated. Death is simply a symbol of this isolation.

Keep in mind...! 
 -- The plot should keep us in suspense about what kind of story we're reading. 
  • Even if we already know it's a comedy, the precise nature of the comic climax (the punchline that carries us to the happy ending) should come as a surprise.
  • If we already know the hero is doomed, his downfall should be caused by a factor we've been told, but didn't realize was significant.

Don't give everything away by the fourth chapter! A story we can guess the ending to before we're done is NOT a story worth finishing.

Morgan Hawke

You Don't ALWAYS have to Show. Sometimes you Can TELL!

You Don't ALWAYS have to Show.
Sometimes you Can TELL!
Plot Pacing and Narrative Summary
By Randy Ingerman

Featuring: Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone

If there's one thing that any writer is guaranteed to hear too many times, it's the dictum, "Show, Don't Tell."

There is a lot of truth to this rule of thumb. The purpose of fiction is to give the reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. And the best way to give the reader that Powerful Emotional Experience is by "showing" the good parts, rather than "telling" them.

In short, at the points of highest action in the story, you ramp up the pace by spending more words, "showing" everything in brilliant, Technicolor, slow-motion detail.

But, um, what about the boring parts? Should you "show" those too?

Some of my agent and editor friends have complained to me in recent years that the manuscripts they are seeing these days "show" too much. Sometimes, it just plain makes sense to "tell," rather than "show."

The technical term for "telling" is Narrative Summary.

In Narrative Summary, you summarize what happens, moving rapidly over time and sometimes distance. However, it isn't a good way to give your reader those emotional hits that every reader wants.

In other words, Narrative Summary can be either a good choice or a bad choice. The key question to ask:

"What is the purpose of this passage?"

If the purpose of the passage is to give the reader some particular Powerful Emotional Experience, then showing" is probably your best option.

But if the purpose of the passage is to set the stage or to give the reader some essential facts or to get a character across town or across a country, then "telling" might be the better bet.

One of my favorite examples of "telling" is the opening of Book 1 in the Harry Potter series. The entire first page is all "telling." And it works.

Why does it work? Let's analyze it to see.

As I said before, the key question to ask is:  
 -- What is the purpose of this passage?

In my view, the central problem early in the Harry Potter series is to get the reader to buy in to the concept that in this ordinary world of ours, there are people who are genetically capable of magic.

The natural question for the reader to ask is why nobody knows about these magical people. The reader needs to be led, step by step, to the conclusion that these magical folk are hiding out.

That is the premise for the entire series. If you can't buy into this premise, then the story just won't work for you.

There is a second problem that needs to be solved.

The reader is going to wonder whether these genetically magical people might be the "bad guys." How can the reader be led to the conclusion that the magical folk are the "good guys?"

The solution is to introduce some exceptionally unsympathetic characters, the Dursley family, who are antagonistic to anything weird or magical. In the first chapter, Mr. Dursley sees a number of strange people ("weirdos") and some strange occurrences (owls in broad daylight). One of the weirdos even hugs Mr. Dursley and calls him a Muggle.

The Dursleys respond to this evidence by ignoring it.

The tactical problem is to present all this to the reader as quickly as possible, and then get on to the story.

How to do that?

The solution is Narrative Summary, which is very efficient.

Let's look at paragraph 1 of the story:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense.

Randy sez: In two sentences, we have a broad portrait of the Dursleys.

  • They are "proud," which instantly makes them a bit unlikable.
  • They are "perfectly normal" -- which is pretty unnatural. Most people are abnormal in some way or another.

Most importantly, the Dursleys have no sense of mystery. That is their big failing. Part of being human is to be curious, to be capable of awe, to be inspired by the mysterious. The Dursleys might just as well be robots.

Let's move on to paragraph 2:
Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large moustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere.

Randy sez:
  • Mr. Dursley sounds quintessentially boring.
  • Mrs. Dursley sounds like a gossip.
  • Dudley sounds like a brat.

Notice that we aren't "told" these things. We deduce them.

  • We are "told" that Mr. Dursley is director of a drill company, and we deduce that he has a boring job.
  • We are "told" that Mrs. Dursley cranes her neck over fences, spying, and we deduce that she's a gossip.
  • We are told that Dudley is considered the finest boy anywhere, and we deduce that he's as spoiled as last year's milk.

This is a key point in making Narrative Summary interesting -- tell the facts and let the reader make the value judgments. Readers prefer to make value judgments for themselves, rather than being told what to feel about the characters.

Now we come to paragraph 3, and this is the key to making this chapter succeed.

Here are the first three sentences:
The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn't think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley's sister, but they hadn't met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn't have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be.

This sets the hook for the reader. Every reader is interested in secrets. Every reader is interested in fears.

When we learn that these wretched Dursleys have a secret fear, we must know it. When we learn that the Dursleys are ashamed of the Potters, we must hear more. When we learn that the Potters are the exact opposite of the Dursleys, we instantly like them, because we already dislike the Dursleys.

So there you have it. In just two and a half paragraphs of Narrative Summary, we are prepared to meet the "weirdo" Potters and to like them. We are prepared for them to be mysterious and different. We are even prepared to understand why they might conceal some of their oddities -- because of people like the Dursleys who hate anything mysterious or strange.

This sets the stage for solving the two problems I discussed above. As the first chapter unfolds, we learn that the Potters have been murdered, but their son Harry has mysteriously survived. And we see a number of "weirdos" who use magic as if it were perfectly natural.

By the end of the chapter, most readers have bought the premise of the story -- there is a hidden society of people with genetically magical abilities. One of those people, young Harry Potter, is extraordinary, even among these magical people. He ought to be dead, but he isn't. Harry is "the boy who lived." Therein lies something deep and mysterious. Why did Harry live?

And the story is launched.

If that isn't an effective use of Narrative Summary, then I don't know what is.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine every month.

MEMORY Training

MEMORY Training
How I trained myself to have a Photographic Memory.

Shortly after I published my very first story, I was introduced to the phrase:

"Write What You Know."

I was horrified.

I was horrified because at the time, I was still in high school and living with my Mom in a very small New England town. Other than a few encounters with a couple of ghosts, a couple fast-food jobs, and what I had looked up in my local library, (keep in mind this was 1980; the Internet hadn't been invented yet,) I knew Nothing. Seriously, I had no personal experience doing Anything.

What the heck was I supposed to write if I only wrote what I knew?

I had yet to learn how to drive a car, but that was okay. I was damned good at riding the bus. However, I still hadn't had my first kiss yet, so relationship stories of Any kind were right out. Forget stories that had guns or weapons, though I could use a sling-shot, swing a mean baseball bat, and smack a face with a pocketbook. (Book-bags weren't around yet either.) Forget stories with horses in it, though I did know how to feed and train a dog.

I had three younger brothers, so I had some experience with childcare, but having learned my techniques from a sociopathic parent (Not a Joke,) writing from those experiences would have landed that character in the villain slot, pronto. (The scary part was that I was aware of this back then!) I sucked at sports, and had no friends, so those kinds of stories were out too.

In short, the sum total of my knowledge was strictly from books. Which was to say, Not Useful toward making a story realistic in even the vaguest sense.

Even worse, I discovered that my memory Leaked. I could remember things long enough to pass a test, but that was as far as it got.

Since moving out of my mom's house wasn't looking too close to happening, experiencing new things had to be put on hold. So, instead I started working on my memory.

I tried a number of techniques, but what worked for me was a type of Image Association.

In short, staring hard at something and then later, Drawing it. Or rather, trying to. I was an okay artist, nothing terrific, believe me, but I noticed right away that if I drew a picture whatever I was trying to remember stayed in my head better. Even doodling in the bottom corner of my notebook worked. The really interesting thing was that the picture didn't have to be related at all to what I was trying to remember! Though it worked better if it was.

Strangely enough, cutting pictures out of magazines worked too, though not nearly as well. I had to really stare at the picture and recite out loud what it was I was trying to remember.

This led to the next step: Recitation.

This meant quite literally, staring hard at a scene I wanted to write about later, such as the park during the height of autumn, or a thunderstorm, and describing it out loud -- without writing it down. Just spitting out adjectives that described what I was looking at, or what I was Feeling, such as what the brass handrail in school felt like sliding under my hand while walking down the stairs. After only a couple of tries, it didn't even have to be out loud. Saying it in my head or under my breath worked too.

I never did recall exactly what I said, but I recalled the experience Perfectly.

In other words; Sensory Association.

By the way, the Schoolhouse Rock multiplication jingles saved my math grade, seriously. If I sang along with the cartoon, I remembered it. ALL of it. In fact, I still remember them. Recitation + Images.

About a month or two after I started doing all that, the flip-side of those exercises suddenly kicked in. I started Picturing what I was reading while I read it. In other words, I was playing a movie in my head of whatever I was reading. Though it was a bit more than that. My memory added the experiences I'd worked to remember. If the writer mentioned 'forest', my memory automatically added the sound of the wind, bird-calls, the smell of moldering earth, the specific colors of the leaves in sunlight, and the chilly brush of a breeze.

That doesn't seem like such a big deal, but it had one hell of a side effect.

I could remember anything I'd read. That included Text Books. If the text books had pictures it was even easier. I was actually able to remember the names and stories of any historical figure simply by picturing that person's portrait.

However, I was not remembering the Words, only the images I'd seen and the Stories that went with it. This actually worked well when I needed to answer essay questions.

However, my ability to remember things in a list; dates, names, phone numbers, groceries I needed to buy...dropped off the face of the earth. If I didn't have a picture to connect with what I was trying to remember, it left my head almost the moment it went in.

My last two years of high school saw a major lift in my grades in every subject except One: Math. I still suck at math. Numbers simply don't bring up images. I could remember my times tables, (thank you Schoolhouse Rock,) but that was IT. Geometry was fine because the formulas were all associated with shapes, but Algebra was right out.

One would think that Grammar would have been difficult to remember, but it wasn't. I was using it almost daily in my story notebooks. (When one is writing a story, one NEEDS punctuation to have it make sense to the reader.) Repetition saved me there.

Later on, I finally left home and gathered a great number of wildly varying experiences. I still can't recall all the names of the people I met, but their faces are all engraved on my mind along with everything I experienced down to the weather conditions on the day it happened.

Image Association, Recitation, and Sensory Association.

Those were the keys to how I trained my memory to recall anything I'd seen or done clearly enough to write it on paper. I'm still amazed by how much I haven't forgotten.


Morgan Hawke

Friday, February 21, 2014

Writing HORROR

Writing HORROR

When writing a Horror story, one must begin with a Monster. The most terrifying of course, are the ones you don’t notice, or refuse to notice. The ones right next to you.
“The most dangerous wolves are those that are hairy on the inside.”
-- A Company of Wolves
So, let us begin with what makes a Monster ACT like a Monster.

The Personality of a MONSTER

Think, who are the people that walk right up to you every day – and you let them? Who are people who could ask you to go with them to an isolated location, or just out of sight for a quick word -- and you wouldn't even think twice about refusing them?

• Your neighbors
• Your co-workers
• Your friends
• Your lover
• Your parents
• Your siblings
• Your children

Now imagine if one of them was a man-slaughtering or even man-eating Monster?

In reality, it happens all the time. They’re known as Psychopaths.
"Psychopaths cannot be understood in terms of antisocial rearing or development. They are simply morally depraved individuals who represent the "monsters" in our society. They are unstoppable and untreatable predators whose violence is planned, purposeful and emotionless."
-- What is a Psychopath?
Not only that, Psychopaths are COMMON.

The American Psychiatric Association estimate that 1 in about 25-30 people are Psychopaths. Do you know more than 30 people? Check your Friends list. Check your email address book. Check your phone contacts. According to statistics, for every 30 people you know at least 1 is a Psychopath – an actual monster.

How's that for scary?

The Psychopaths’ weakness, however, is that they’re actually pretty easy to spot by their behavior patterns. Here’s a checklist:

20 Traits of a Psychopath
1. Glibness and Superficial Charm
– Smooth-talking, engaging and slick. (They talk, and talk, and talk...without ever really saying anything. They also frequently mix-up their vocabulary.)

2. Grandiose Self-Worth
– Greatly inflated idea of one's abilities and self-esteem, arrogance and a sense of superiority. (Pride is one of the few emotions they can actually feel, even if they've done nothing to earn it.)

3. Needs Stimulation/Prone to Boredom
– An excessive need for new, exciting stimulation and risk-taking. (Attention-seeking even to the point of provoking fights just to keep the focus on themselves.)

4. Pathological Lying
– When moderate: shrewd, crafty, sly and clever; when extreme: deceptive, deceitful, underhanded and unscrupulous. (When caught, they'll lie even more to cover their lies.)

5. Manipulative
– Uses deceit and deception to cheat others for personal gain. (They have only one agenda: themselves.)

6. No Guilt/Remorse
-- no feelings or concern for losses, pain and suffering of others, cold-hearted and unsympathetic. (Love, Affection, and most importantly, Compassion are things they simply cannot feel -- or respond to.)

7. Emotional Poverty
– Limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness.
(They are only capable of feeling 5 emotions: Pride, Hate, Greed, Fear, Amusement. This is Biological, not psychological. It wasn't 'done to them', they were born this way. It's a Genetic flaw.)

8. Lacks Empathy
– A lack of feelings toward others; cold, contemptuous and inconsiderate. (I repeat: Love, Affection, and most importantly, Compassion are things they simply cannot feel -- or respond to.)

9. Parasitic Lifestyle
– Intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others. (They prefer the easy route, and it's much easier to mooch off of other people, or just plain steal, than it is to work for it.)

10. Poor Behavioral Controls
– Expressions of negative feelings, verbal abuse and inappropriate expressions of anger.
(Since they can only feel 5 emotions, they can only Respond with those 5 emotions: Pride, Hate, Greed, Fear, Amusement. Anything else is an Act.)

11. Promiscuity
– Brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs and an indiscriminate choice of sexual partners. (They literally don't care who, or what, they sleep with because sex is limited to strictly physical sensation. They can't feel any of the emotions that make sex special, such as Love or Affection -- but they know You do, and will happily use it against you.)

12. No Realistic Long-Term Goals
– Inability or constant failure to develop and accomplish long-term plans. (To make a long-term goal, one must have a passion for that goal. The only emotions they can feel passion with are Pride, Greed, Amusement, Fear, and Hate, which is why they can be unusually persistent if they are angered.)

13. Impulsiveness
– Behaviors lacking reflection or planning and done without considering consequences. (Greed / Amusement / Pride + extremely short attention spans = stupid stunts.)

14. Irresponsible
– Repeated failure to fulfill or honor commitments and obligations. (If they think they can get away with it, they will Try to get away with it.)

15. Fails to Accept Responsibility for Own Behavior
– Denial of responsibility and an attempt to manipulate others through this. (When caught, they will ALWAYS blame someone or something else. They are incapable of feeling bad about their actions because the emotions needed to feel Remorse or Guilt, such as affection or compassion, are Missing. However, Fear they definitely feel, so they will do everything in their power to avoid Punishment.)

16. Many Short-Term Marital Relationships
– Lack of commitment to a long-term relationship. (Love, Affection, and most importantly, Compassion are things they simply cannot feel, so relationships happen out of Greed. In other words, they only form attachments to those they can Use. When they can't be used any more, they leave.)

17. Early Behavior Problems
– A variety of dysfunctional and unacceptable behaviors before age thirteen. (As early as 4 years old.)

18. Juvenile Delinquency
– Serious criminal behavioral problems between the ages of 13-18.

19. Revocation of Conditional Release
– Violating probation or other conditional release because of technicalities. (If they think they can get away with it, they will Try to get away with it.)

20. Criminal Versatility

– Diversity of criminal offenses, whether or not the individual has been arrested or convicted. (If one trick stops working they'll happily try another.)

For more detail, read this:
-- What is a Sociopath? -- LoveFraud.com

Know anybody like this? I’m absolutely sure you do. I do. In fact, I can name two from my own immediate family, one of which was actually diagnosed Sociopathic. The difference between a Sociopath and a Psychopath? The Sociopath hasn't killed their victims. They prefer to destroy them, emotionally and financially -- in addition to physical bullying.

The real horror comes in when friends, family, and particularly lovers refuse to see the Monster staring them in the face. Why not? Those fascinated by them (their confidence, their physical attractiveness, their smiling, sweet-talking charm…) simply will not listen to reason, even when warned by those they say they trust, those who have seen the psychopath in action. This is particularly true with Women ‘in love’ with such monsters.

Why won’t they listen? Because they don’t want to.

The psychopath goes out of their way to make the people they consider their possessions (friends, co-workers, family members, lovers…) their victims feel "special” and most importantly: needed. And they’re good at it.

These Monsters are so good at pretending to be exactly what their victims want them to be, (spouse, lover, best friend, parent...) their victims refuse to believe it even when the evidence is staring them in the face. Even when they have been shown point blank that everything they have been told are lies the people that love them still refuse to see the truth -– that it’s only a matter of time before the Monster eats them.

They want the illusion that the Monster made for them; “I love you,” “I need you,” “I’m the only one who will ever accept you as you are,” even if they only get to see that illusion for two short weeks right after the Monster does terrible things to them.

"Take a look at Ted Bundy; my friend's mother once went on a double-date with him and claimed he was the nicest person. His mother said he was the "best son any mother could have." Bundy was also apparently quite good-looking, which made him even more dangerous."
-- What is a Psychopath?
What exactly do these Monsters DO to convince their victims to remain victims? Here’s a list:

Lavish flattery
-- They tell them all the things they want to hear.

Impressive-sounding Credentials
-- They use name-dropping, detailed resumes, or other credentials to sound impressive. However, when investigated, their information is exaggerated and/or completely false.

Trustworthy on the surface
-- They pay back initial loans, or favors, or appear to be unselfishly helping others. Once they are believed they drop everything. “Loan? What loan?”

Lies that sound like the Truth

-- When small inconsistencies or unexplained loose ends come up in their stories, they glibly provide explanations that sound plausible, often using a thick coating of meaningless chit-chat to distract their listener away from the their initial question.

Intense eye contact
-- A "predatory stare"—unblinking, fixated, and emotionless that’s often mistaken for a sign of empathy, or rapt attention. It’s not. It’s an intimidation technique.

Loving Isolation
-- They slowly and subtly separate their victims from those who may question their plans. "No one loves; knows you; trusts you, better than I do."

For more:  How to Spot a Con Artist

How to Make Your Own Monster

So…! Now you know how your monster thinks; what they do, how they do it, and how easily they can fool the people closest to them. You also have their potential victims; those who refuse to see the evidence right in front of their eyes, “He’s never done anything to me?” or worse, those helping them hide their deeds. “I walked into a door. I tripped on the stairs.” "He didn't mean it, it was an accident."

All you need now is a Costume to wrap them in, such as:
• Vampire
• Werewolf
• Sorcerer
• Demon
• Witch
• Mad Scientist
• Ancient god whose seal was accidentally broken…
• Creepy next door neighbor

All that’s left is to Research the mythical monster of your choice.

Once you wrap this costume around the psychopathic personality you’ll have a monster worthy of any Horror story you could possible think of. Even better, it’s realistic. After all, there is nothing more frightening than Reality.

What’s next? A place for Terrible Deeds to happen.

A PLACE for Horror

Coming up with a place for Horror to happen is easy. The scariest places for terrible things to happen are the places we go to daily: school, work, the grocery store, our own homes… Think of all the close-by, but out of sight areas terrible things can happen in while people walk right past the door:

• Empty classrooms
• School boiler room
• Principal’s office
• Janitor’s office
• Apartment building boiler room
• Apartment building laundry room
• Apartment storage sheds
• Stock room in a grocery store
• Store manager’s office
• Office records and filing room
• Empty board room
• Public toilet stall
• Attic
• Basement
• Kitchen
• Bedroom
• Bathroom

Any place just out of casual sight can be the stage for a Terrible Deed, or two. Of course, abandoned buildings, crumbling castles, derelict factories, dark alleys, and dingy clubs with back rooms will also work.

Now you need, a Terrible Deed, or even better, a history of terrible deeds that have yet to come to light.

ACTS of Horror

This is particularly easy. Read or watch the News. You can also go to Google News and type: ‘murder’ in the search bar. There, now you have all the terrible deeds you could possible use.

A Motive?

Monsters don’t need Motives to do their Evil Deeds.
They do them because they simply WANT to.

If the opportunity presents itself, they'll do it. In fact, impulsiveness is a trademark of their kind. Sometimes it’s simple Greed; someone has something they want so they take it, or they destroy it just to make the one who did have it suffer from its loss. Sometimes it's Pride; someone called them on their lies, or got more attention than they did, so they trash that person's credibility, usually with Lies. Amusement is often the trigger for bullying, especially if their target cannot fight back.

Any one of the 5 emotions they feel; Greed, Hate, Pride, Fear, and Amusement, can trigger an Impulse to Do Something -- usually terrible.

No, Monsters don't need a motive. However, if they’re caught, they have thousands of excuses, and all of them begin with: “It wasn’t my fault...!” because Fear is something they definitely feel.

ALL monsters enjoy causing suffering; mentally, emotionally, financially… No matter how much they say they don’t, they do. You can see it in their smile. They find it vastly entertaining to watch desperate people do desperate things; especially if they’re the ones who triggered it.

And desperate people pushed into a corner will do desperate things.

Ordinary, normal people WILL commit Terrible Deeds
when they feel they have no other option. 

Normal, ordinary, not-psychopathic people will kill, lie, cheat, and steal in self-defense, and to defend those they love. This can make them monstrous -- but not Monsters.

How can you tell the Difference
between an ordinary person and a Monster?
Remorse and Regret.

A normal person will Regret that they caused pain to someone else. They will feel genuinely horrified that someone was hurt by their actions, or worse: died, and for a very long time, possibly their entire lives.

A psychopath; a Monster,
is physically incapable of feeling
either Regret or Remorse. 

Instead, they dive straight into Anger and blame. “It’s all their fault! If they hadn’t done such and such, this wouldn’t have happened!

Okay! You have a Monster, you have a list of horrific acts, and you have places for said acts to happen. Now you need someone to uncover and defeat the monster; a Hero.


The best heroes for Horror tales are those that seem completely helpless against the Monster. Most especially, the kind of people no one will believe when they say that they’ve discovered a monster in their midst.

Someone with:
• A history of Low Self-Esteem.
• A history of lying (after making accusations they couldn’t prove.)
• A history of violence (defending themselves against bullies.)
• A history of mental illness (for seeing the world differently.)
• A history of delinquency (frequent absenteeism at school or their job.)
• A history of being different (Goth, nerd, anime fan, artist, poet, stripper...)
• A history of seeking isolation (introverts, the studious...)

Monsters love making victims out of these people because of they are already OUTSIDERS, cut off from the rest of society, or because their trustworthiness has already been destroyed. Monsters know that despite any evidence they might present, these people will never be believed.

So, how does such a Hero defeat a Monster?
The same way one defeats a Bully on the playground.

You know how in grade school they tell you that the only way to defeat a bully is to stand up to one, and don’t back down, in other words; overpower them into backing off? On the playground, this becomes; “hit them back twice as hard as they hit you,” preferably with a pack of friends behind you (to keep the bully’s friends from jumping you,) but it can also mean, “get an adult to stop them,” preferably with expulsion. This technique actually works –- until you reach adulthood anyway.

Anyone that ever told you to Ignore a Bully never dealt with a Real one.

Ignoring bullies doesn’t work. In fact, it can make them downright dangerous. Every last one of them is narcissistic; all attention MUST be on them at all times. It’s why they are bullies to begin with; to get attention using the fastest and easiest means: violence. If they don’t get the attention they want, they get louder and even more aggressive. In fact, being ignored can enrage them to the point that they will chase after you. They will then go out of their way to make your life miserable in every possible way they can; above and beyond anything they might have originally done.

Don’t believe me? Check out the News reports. There are hundreds of cases of psychopathic juveniles that set schoolmates’ and teachers’ houses on fire, or knifed someone at school, or pushed someone into traffic just because they were ignored.

Once adulthood is reached, fighting becomes illegal, unless there are witnesses (and video) to say you were cornered first. That’s IF you know some sort of martial art and can actually defend yourself. For the rest of us, the only way to overpower them is by calling the cops. Unfortunately, that won’t work until After physical damage has been done that the cops can use as evidence against them.

The only other option for dealing with a bully is Disappear.

Change your phone numbers, change your email, change the privacy settings on your Facebook, and password protect anything public that they might try to get to. Disappearing can also mean quitting the job (if that’s where the bully is,) or even moving away. The more dangerous might try to track you down, but those can be arrested.

As for Story Monsters, the first rule applies:

Your characters' only chance at survival should be to Overpower them and KILL THEM ALL.

Other Characters

All you really need for a Horror story is:

a Monster
a Trusted Friend (often a mysterious teacher-type character, but occasionally a love interest) who may, or may not survive, but they are out for the count (or just absolutely no help at all,) during the climactic one on one Monster vs Hero battle scene.
• and a Hero.

All other characters tend to fall in these categories:

• Someone that Interferes with the Hero, until they become part of the body count.
• Someone that Helps the Hero, until they become part of the body count.
• A body waiting to be counted.

Anyone else is merely sprinkles on an already decorated cake.

On to the story!

The Horror STORY

The basic plot for a Horror is pretty much the same as a basic adventure plot with a few minor shifts here and there:

Act One:
There’s a mysterious death
-- Or series of deaths.
Hero discovers Monster.
-- from evidence
-- by seeing the Monster in action.

Act Two:
All evidence disappears.
No one believes the Hero about a Monster
-- and/or they think the Hero is the killer.
Hero privately investigates Monster:
-- who/what Monster is.
-- a way to kill the Monster.
A Trusted Friend appears and reveals a way to kill the Monster.

Act Three:
Monster threatens Hero.
Hero refuses to give in to threat.
Someone close to the Hero dies.
-- Lover
-- Family member
-- Trusted Friend
-- all of the above.
Pissed off Hero gains Special Weapon and goes after Monster.
Annoyed Monster goes on killing spree.
Bodies pile up:
-- proving that the Hero is innocent of murder.
-- proving that there IS a Monster.

Act Four:
Hero goes on Monster Hunt
-- with friends
-- alone.
Monster is cornered and captured
-- or incapacitated.
Monster breaks free
-- or wakes up.
Monster attacks and bodies pile up.
-- Friends
-- Innocent bystanders.
Wounded Hero faces off with Monster and uses Special Weapon.
Fatally wounded, Monster issues one last vague threat.
Monster dies.
Hero goes home
-- to celebrate
-- to angst
-- or dies alone in the rain.

If you want to make your story longer, or Manga style, make Four Heroes (or more) and multiply the entire plot by four, (or however many heroes you have) with all the heroes running through the plot separately and Losing their climactic battle scene. (Often done as Back-Story.)

Once all that’s done, have the Heroes discover each other (usually by being rescued,) until you’ve gathered them all together. Once they agree to become a TEAM, run through the entire plot all over again. This time, when you get to final climactic battle scene, have all the Heroes fight the monster together. The Monster takes out each of the heroes one by one, leaving one last Hero (usually the weakest) to deliver the final blow.

You don’t want to know how much manga I’ve read, and anime I’ve watched, to discover just how common this plotting pattern. Really. Off the top of my head? D-Gray Man, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, Saiyuki, One-Piece… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

SHORT Horror

The Short Horror plot is actually done a little differently from the plot I just showed you. Mainly because the characters are pared down to focus on only three: a Monster, a Hero, and a Trusted Friend. The Hero deals directly and immediately with the Monster while the Trusted Friend is usually someone completely ignorant of what’s really going on and gets caught between them. Often there are other minor characters, but those are just to raise the angst quotient by way of interference and/or body count.

Short Horror is best told entirely from the Monster’s point of view, the Hero’s point of view or the Trusted Friend’s point of view -- and only the ONE from beginning to end.

While there are literally thousands of variations, the Short Horror plot comes in two basic flavors. Each still has 4 Acts, but the stories are far more condensed:

Hero vs Monster

Act 1 -- The Angsty Hero
-- While Hero is recovering from trauma, something mysterious happens.
-- Against advice, Hero investigates.
-- Hero discovers monster and barely escapes.
-- Despite obvious wounds, no one believes Hero about Monster.

Act 2 -- Monster Harasses Hero
-- Letters, phone calls, dead things in the mail.
-- Accidents start happening to close friends/family.
-- Hero isolates themselves to keep friends away from Monster.

Act 3 – Escape Attempt
-- Hero runs and hides in the one place they feel absolutely safe.
-- Someone Hero trusts arrives.
-- Trusted Friend unknowingly brings the Monster with them.
-- Trusted Friend is the Monster!

Act 4 – Hero vs Monster.
-- Trusted Friend interferes during fight and Monster attacks them.
-- Trusted friend finally realizes that Hero was right, but dies.
-- Angry Hero slays Monster and angsts over lost Friend.
-- Hero tries to reason with Friend/Monster who he does not want to kill.
-- Monster offers a bargain: remain with Monster forever or die.
-- Hero accepts and goes off with Monster.
-- Hero accepts and is devoured by Monster.
-- Hero accepts then slays Monster and commits suicide to keep promise.
-- Hero refuses, slays Monster, and angsts for the rest of his life.

Devil’s Bargain

Act 1 - The Angsty Hero
-- While Hero is recovering from trauma, something mysterious happens.
-- Against advice, Hero investigates.
-- Hero discovers monster and makes a bargain with it.
-- Monster carries out bargain in the worst way possible.

Act 2 – The Bargain
-- Scared Hero tries to find way out of Bargain.
-- Scared Hero confesses, but no one believes Hero about Monster.
-- Reminders of bargain arrive: Letters, phone calls, dead things in the mail.
-- Accidents start happening to close friends.

Act 3 – Escape Attempt
-- Hero runs and hides in the one place they feel absolutely safe.
-- Someone Hero trusts arrives.
-- Trusted Friend unknowingly brings the Monster with them.
-- Trusted Friend is the Monster!

Act 4 – The Bargain’s Fulfillment
Hero accepts and…
-- goes off with Monster.
-- is devoured by Monster.
-- is transformed into a Monster.
-- gives Trusted Friend to Monster for devouring.
Hero refuses and…
-- Angry Monster devours Trusted Friend.
-- Angry Monster devours Hero.
-- Angry Monster devours them both.
-- Trusted Friend helps slay monster.
-- Trusted Friend offers themselves in Hero’s place.
-- Trusted Friend reveals that have already traded themselves for Hero.

Note: These plot-lines are, by no means, all the variations possible!

Okay! There you have it, a Monster, a Hero, and some Stories. Everything you need to write a basic Horror.

How to Write HORROR

Use lots of atmospheric description, and tons of angst. Horror thrives on graphic depictions, action scenes, and remorseful (angsty) narration.

The trick to making any scene really work is Detail; also known as DESCRIPTION, but especially in Horrors and Gothics. Atmosphere is what carries those stories, and for that you need detailed depictions of the environment (weather, temperature, light conditions, darkness levels, shadows, smells, and sounds,) in addition to detailed descriptions of your locations, and the characters. (Yes, the characters too!) Most especially, their Expressions.

SHOW the fear, don't just say: "They were scared."

While a monster is scarier when it's Less visible; perhaps only a patch of shadow, what defines the monster's vagueness is how perfectly visible the Rest of the scene and characters are. Go watch a horror movie and look how crystal clear the characters and their immediate surroundings are compared to the monsters (at first anyway.)

Keep in mind that when you get to your climactic Hero vs Monster scene you WILL have to describe your monster in detail too, so be prepared!

As an exercise, pull out your favorite highlighter and dig out an old horror paperback that you don't mind ruining. Go to the best scenes in the book and Highlight all the sections of Description. Now, really LOOK at what was described and what words they used. THAT'S what you need to do. Take notes on what you find, and keep them close so you can add more to them later.

Description is what will make or break your Horror story. Seriously.

The Secret to Horror

What many beginning writers miss is that at its core,
a Horror story is in fact, a MYSTERY story.

The core value of a Mystery is a contest between the Author who presents a Puzzle, and the Reader who seeks to discover the Solution before the end of the story.
  • A Good Mystery is one that Keeps the Reader Guessing until the very last page. 
  • A Poor one gives away the key Villain by the fourth chapter.
Never give anything away until the last possible second.

NEVER give the Monster a POV! 
Unless you intend to tell the whole story from the Monster's POV.

KEY: The Monster should be the Physical Representation, presented as a puzzle, of the story's Concept AND the final Answer.

If you tell your readers the final answer by the fourth chapter, you've just removed their reason for reading your story in the first place. So, Don't Do It! Okay?

Also! The final Answer should be more shocking than your Monster.


Morgan Hawke

13 Hours ~ the Fairytale Heroine's Journey

13 Hours
The Fairytale Heroine's Journey
There is a ton of information on the Heroic Cycle, or Hero's Journey, but what about the Heroine's?

Being a female that prefers to write stories with a female lead, I decided to do a bit of my own research into the myths and fairy tales that feature Heroines rather than heroes. What I found was a little...startling. While many things in the Hero's Journey still apply, Her journey is not quite the same as His because the path the Heroine takes through the labyrinth is guided by her Heart not her head--or her sword

There are Thirteen stages in the Fairy Tale Heroine's Journey. 
Thirteen hours in her clock of adventure--one for each full moon in a year.

Fair Warning: The fairy tale examples used here are my opinionated interpretations of the oldest and Grimmest versions I know.

1. Upon a time ~ Secret Betrayal
Too pretty, too smart, too loyal, too friendly, too obedient, too good at housekeeping, or sewing, or spinning, or making the flowers grow--someone is always out to get the Fairy Tale Heroine. Though it's usually a jealous (aging,) female relative that betrays her, male relatives do too--by trading her skills for cold hard cash.

  • Snow White, Cinderella, Psyche, and Vasilisa were so pretty they inspired jealousy in the other women they lived with.
  • Beauty's father steals a flower and the cost is Beauty.  
  • The father of Rumpelstiltskin's maiden bragged ridiculously about her until he was finally told to prove it, or die.
  • The princess in the Goose Girl was too rich and, too Passive, for her maid to resist bullying.
  • Rapunzel's mother couldn't get enough parsley.
  • Bluebeard's wife, on the other hand, was out to get him.

2. The Herald ~ Bearer of Bad News
This is the Catalyst--a friend, family member, enemy, or object that reveals the deed, promise, or debt for which she is being held accountable, or the deadly danger she's being sent into.
  • The Huntsman tells Snow White that her stepmother wants her heart, among other internal body parts--to eat.
  • Cinderella's stepsisters brag that all the chores she's been given are specifically to keep her too busy to make a ball gown for herself.
  • Beauty's father finally reveals that he has been asked to trade her life for his--and blames her request for a flower that he stole.
  • In Rumpelstiltskin, the maiden's father sends her to the castle knowing full well that she cannot do as he bragged, and will die.
  • A witch offers to buy Rapunzel for a sheaf of parsley.
  • In the Goose Girl, the talking horse, Falada, tells the princess that her maid intends to betray them both.
  • Vasilisa's stepsister brags that she won't be coming back with a live coal to light their fire because the witch, Baba Yaga, will eat her.
  • A letter from her sister tells Bluebeard's future wife that the man killed her--and why.

3. Refusal of the Call ~ Obedience to the Call
Unlike her male counterpart the Hero, the fairy tale Heroine either doesn't want to refuse the call to adventure, or isn't allowed to. She may argue, fight, weep bitterly, or bolt outright, but someone's life or honour is usually if not always on the line--frequently her own. Ruled by her heart rather than her head, she has no choice but to answer it.

On a side note, when these stories were originally told back during the Dark Ages, women were taught from early childhood that to be Feminine they must be passive, faithful, and obedient. Only men were allowed a Choice. 
  • Cinderella knew exactly what she wanted and went right after it--a prince and escape from her step-mother's home. However, her stepmother and stepsisters didn't have any problem refusing for her--by ripping up the gown she'd painstakingly sewed.
  • Against her father's will, Beauty sneaks out of the house and takes off for the Beast's lair.
  • Rapunzel's father refused quite a bit, but her mother was thoroughly addicted to the witch's parsley.  She had no problem trading her daughter for her drug of choice. (Makes one wonder if it was actually parsley, no?)
  • The princess who became the Goose Girl couldn't do anything about her maid's bullying--royal etiquette wouldn't allow for it.
  • Vasilisa considered refusing, but her magic doll advised her that going to see Baba Yaga was the right choice.
  • In Bluebeard, the maiden deliberately sought him out because she wanted revenge for her sister's murder.
    • In another version, he refused her because of her youth. She actually had to drop her clothes to prove she (had pubic hair) was old enough to marry.
    • In yet another version, he sought her out specifically because she was the sister of his last wife. 

4. Mentors, Tricksters & Costly Gifts
A mentor/trickster comes offering gifts. The Mentor is one who actually cares for the Heroine and wants her happy. Tricksters however, are out for themselves. They want whatever they can get out of the Heroine. If what they grant makes her happy, that's nice, but not necessary. Occasionally, a Trickster such as Baba Yaga can become a Mentor, but that normally takes a lot of pretty impressive work on the Heroine's part.

The gift could be:
  • A gown, slippers, and transportation to a ball.
  • The favor such as weaving straw into gold.
  • The answer to a riddle that hasn't been asked yet.
  • Magically long hair.
  • A curse of sleep instead of death.  
  • A spell to call the breeze and make a dead animal's head talk.
  • A family heirloom doll that talks.
  • A glowing skull.
  • A golden key to a deadly room.
In all cases, there is a life-altering price on such gifts. Sometimes the payment is a trinket such as a necklace or ring, but more often it's a promise to be delivered later, or a first kiss--meaning her virginity. Occasionally it's a body part such as her hands, her voice, her hair, her finger, or her firstborn child--the medieval euphemism for her virginity and continued sexual favors until pregnant. In other words, a common law marriage.

5. Enter the Labyrinth
She gives in to temptation and takes the offered gift, crossing the threshold to the labyrinth and committing herself to a path where there is no turning back.

This scene can be played out as a rescue which usually includes the demand of a reward such as a kiss--the symbol for outright seduction.
  • Snow White is rescued by the Huntsman when she escapes into the forest. The price for his silence is a kiss.
  • Psyche is saved from a fall off the cliffs by an invisible Eros and is carried off to be his lover--but not his wife.
  • Rumpelstiltskin's skills at spinning save his maiden from certain death on the sword of the greedy prince, but also put her continued survival firmly into his own hands.
This scene can also be played straight.
  • From her mother's grave, Cinderella gains a heavenly maiden's robes, tiny fur slippers, and a magical clay horse. (The earliest Cinderella is Chinese!)
    • In another version, the gifts include a coach, and come from a fairy godmother
    • In yet another version, a tree that grows from her mother's grave gifts her with three different gowns. 
    • In still another version, she is gifted a branch with three hazel nuts from her mostly absentee father, and they yield a huntsman's garb, a ball gown plus glass slippers, and a wedding gown.
  • Beauty walks boldly into Beast's castle to pay for her father's life with her own.
  • Red Riding Hood takes the basket her mother offers hen trots off into the woods toward grandmother's house.
  • Lonely Rapunzel happily accepts small gifts and conversation from a prince who visits her tower.
  • Accompanied by her talking nesting doll, the ever obedient Vasilisa marches off into the snowy forest to find Baba Yaga's chicken-legged hut so she can ask for a few live coals to light her hearth.
  • In almost all versions of Bluebeard, he gives his wife a golden object designed to betray her.  
Or in Reverse.
  • The princess in the Goose Girl is forced by etiquette to submit to her maid's bullying--and loses her mother's gifts.

6. Secret Allies, Secret Enemies, Deadly Gifts & Scary Promises  
Entry to the labyrinth has been gained, but there's another, even more dangerous task or temptation to deal with. Another gift is offered with an even higher price-tag, a more chilling promise. She has every intention of fulfilling her bargain, but she has secret enemies.
  • Snow White has survived the forest and arrived at the home of the seven dwarves. All they ask is that she be wary of strangers.
  • Cinderella arrives at the ball to seduce her prince, but has promised to leave by midnight.
  • Beast finally allows Beauty a visit home, but she must return by a certain day.  
  • Psyche survives the flight into the clouds, but has promised not to look at her new lover.
  • In the third and final room of straw. Rumpelstiltskin's maiden promises her first born child--a common law marriage--to the dwarf that's helping her.
  • Red Riding Hood has promised not to talk to strangers.
  • Rapunzel promises not to let anyone, but the witch climb up her hair.
  • The princess exchanges clothes with her maid and swears to never reveal the switch to another living thing. She becomes the Goose Girl.
  • Vasilisa is told not to snoop in Baba Yaga's house or ask questions.
  • Bluebeard makes his new wife promise that she will not open one certain door.

7. Treachery ~ Broken Vows
Through trickery, lies, theft, temptation, ignorance, or outright wilfulness, her promise is broken.
  • Even after needing to be rescued from a poisoned comb and a poisoned corset, Snow White bites into an apple offered by the same stranger.
  • While the clock is striking twelve, Cinderella finally notices the time.
  • Beauty's sisters jealously steal her magic ring delaying her to return to the Beast.
  • Psyche's lover is revealed by candle light to be beautiful beyond compare.
  • Rumpelstiltskin's maiden marries the prince--instead of leaving with the dwarf.
  • Red Riding Hood talks to a wolf.
  • Rapunzel lets her prince climb up into her tower--more than once.
  • Her horse killed for his ability to speak, the Goose Girl offers gold to the local knacker to nail Falada's head under a certain bridge. She then proceeds to speak to him daily--right in front of the goose boy.
  • Bluebeard's wife opens the forbidden door to discover hideous contents.
Or not.
  • Despite several dangerous tasks, one of which is cleaning the interior of Baba Yaga's house--plus make dinner, Vasilisa doesn't pry or ask questions. Because her doll does all the dangerous tasks while she cooks, she sees nothing she isn't supposed to.

8. CRASH Point ~ Center of the Labyrinth
Aware that she must pay the price for her broken vow, she bravely goes forth to--find a way to dodge the consequences.
  • Snow White's dwarves dodge her death by putting her in a clear crystal casket.
  • Beauty has a hair-pulling fight with her sisters to get her ring back.
  • Cinderella bolts for her clay horse knowing full well that it won't make it all the way home.
  • Psyche throws herself at Aphrodite's feet and swears she'll do anything to get her lover Eros back.
  • Rumpelstiltskin's maiden bargains for her freedom--his name. She then sends huntsmen all over the kingdom to discover the dwarf's name--before he can get her pregnant.
  • Red Riding Hood eats the meat the wolf gives her, takes off her clothes, and climbs into bed with him.
  • Rather than admit that she's pregnant, Rapunzel tells the witch that she ate too much.
  • Before the king, the Goose Girl reveals that she is being held by a vow of silence--which makes her look even more suspicious. A peasant wouldn't bother to keep such a vow, only a princess would.
  • Because of her dead sister's warning, Bluebeard's wife saves the key from being bloodied, but not her slippers.
  • Vasilisa's ability to accomplish miracles and keep her mouth shut surprises Baba Yaga. Suspicious, the old woman offers to answer a question--but warns that some answers are deadly to know. Vasilisa asks about the three horsemen she saw. The answer is harmless: Black Night, Red Sun, and White Morning Star.

9. Ordeal ~ The Darkest Hour
She faces her greatest fear and death. Unfortunately, she doesn't have any actual weapons at her disposal but her wits. Back then, women weren't allowed to touch things like swords or knives. Fighting wasn't feminine.
  • Snow White is locked in a coma--and a crystal casket.
  • About the same time that the prince announces that he is looking for a woman that fits a certain sized slipper, Cinderella's growing waistline is noticed and she is locked in the attic.
  • Beauty returns to the Beast, but he seems dead.
  • To gain Aphrodite's approval, Psyche goes to the kingdom of the dead to fetch something from Persephone, the Queen of Death.
  • Rumpelstiltskin's maiden goes through name after name with the dwarf trying to keep him too busy to impregnate her.
  • Red Riding Hood starts questioning the wolf.
  • To get around her oath to never speak of her situation to another living thing, the Goose Girl is encouraged by the king to speak to a fireplace--while he waits at the chimney.
  • Bluebeard's wife's runs all over the castle dodging her furious husband while waiting for her brothers to arrive.
  • Knowing exactly how dangerously impossible her tasks were, a puzzled Baba Yaga asks how Vasilisa accomplished them. Knowing that one cannot lie to Baba Yaga and live, yet sworn to secrecy about her doll, Vasilisa dodges with "My mother's blessing."

10. Rewards & Punishments
If she survives the Ordeal, she is rewarded with release from the heart of the labyrinth--or punished by expulsion. Either way, she is permanently marked by her experience.
  • Snow White's crystal casket is discovered and carried off by a necrophiliac prince. On the journey to his home, the apple stuck in her throat is jarred loose, allowing her to awaken.
  • Cinderella finally gets the chance to reveal her other slipper--and her growing belly to her prince.
  • Beast awakens and turns into a handsome young man.
  • Aphrodite tells Psyche to "go home."
  • Rumpelstiltskin's maiden finally hears back from one of her huntsmen.
  • Red Riding hood gets eaten for being too stupid to know that she's in danger.
  • Rapunzel is shorn of her hair and thrown from the tower for preferring a man. Shortly afterward, the witch catches the prince, blinds him, and throws him out of the tower too.
  • The king has his wife's women clean up the Goose Girl and dress her as befitting her station.
  • Vasilisa's diligent work and obedience is rewarded by a kiss of protection on her brow. She is then given permission to take one of the skulls for fire, but she must not touch it, or look directly into its eyes.
    • In another version, Baba Yaga asks a question of her own: "Why go back?" Vasilisa's reply: "I want them to love me." Baba Yaga responds by grabbing her and dunking her into a vat of gold. Not only has her dress turned to gold, she comes out blonde and milky-skinned. Most remarkably, when she speaks, gold coins and jewels fall from her lips. She is then advised to face the crowing rooster at the gate.
  • Bluebeard's wife's brothers finally arrive.

11. Release from the Labyrinth
She heads back to the Ordinary World with a mission to accomplish. At the last threshold, she replays her very first act of commitment, a keepsake gift, a vow, or a kiss.
  • Snow White kisses her astonished (and possibly disappointed) prince.
  • Cinderella leaves with her prince.
  • Beast and his castle finally rejoin the mortal world.
  • Psyche goes home to find Eros on the cliff where she first met him. Unable to live without him, she jumps off the cliff. He rescues her again.
  • Rumpelstiltskin's maiden finally says thank you and uses his name.
  • Free at last from the tower, though bald and saddled with twins, Rapunzel goes looking for her blinded prince.
  • Awakened by her twins suckling for milk, Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty rises from her long sleep to go looking for the man that knocked her up while she was unconscious.  
  • The Goose Girl turned Princess once more, attends the local King's wedding feast for his son--who was supposed to be her bridegroom.
  • Vasilisa uses a tree branch to take one of the flaming skulls mounted on Baba Yaga's gate and goes home to face the stepmother who cast her out into the snow.
    • In another version, she merely stops at the skull-lined gate to face the crowing rooster and is granted a star on her brow.
  • At the gate where she arrived, Bluebeard's wife meets her brothers and leads them straight to the bloody chamber.

12. Confrontation & Rebirth ~ Parties & Payback
She returns to face her original betrayer. She needs them to acknowledge what they have done to her. This scene is often played out as a visit to her home in her bridal finery and a huge feast. However, this is also when the wicked are punished.
  • Snow White's mother dances to death in molten iron shoes.
  • Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters lose their eyes to Cinderella's friends the birds.
  • Beauty invites her family to the castle to meet her new and extremely handsome husband.
  • Psyche's rumour-mongering sisters are transformed into birds.
  • Rumpelstiltskin rips himself in half.
    • In another version Rumpelstiltskin literally throws himself into her body (a poorly euphemistic rape,) right in front of the whole court. He's ripped out of her--and in half--by her angry Prince husband.
  • In the Goose Girl, the false princess is set in a barrel of nails and driven around the castle walls 'til she dies.
  • Under the direct gaze of the magic skull, Vasilisa's nasty stepmother and stepsister are burned to ash. She then buries the skull to keep it from harming anyone else.
    • In the other version, Vasilisa's stepsister is so envious of Vasilisa's golden appearance--and the jewels she literally coughs up, she marches off to spend time with Baba Yaga herself, only she ends up in a vat of pitch. She comes out black-haired, dark-skinned, and spewing slugs and toads when she speaks. At the gate, when she looks away from the rooster she faces an ass and gains a donkey's tail on her brow.
  • Bluebeard is hacked to pieces.

13. The Last Promise and Ever After
After all her final goodbyes are said, she returns to the Labyrinth to take her place there and receives one last gift, normally a crown or wealth, and makes one final promise. Sometimes it's merely a wedding vow, sometimes it's not.
  • Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty, the Goose Girl, Rapunzel, the Sleeping Beauty, and Rumpelstiltskin's maiden all become queens who vow to rule wisely.
  • Psyche accompanies her husband Eros to Olympus and becomes a demi-goddess who vows to stay by his side forever.
  • Vasilisa's cleverness is noticed and she becomes advisor to the Tsar. She vows to always tell the truth.
    • In another version, she merely makes her family rich enough to move into town where she ends up meeting a rich merchant's son. After yet another spiteful trick from her step-family, she marries him.
  • Bluebeard's widow uses his gold to give every woman in the bloody chamber a proper burial and takes over his castle, but vows never to marry again.
So how does one use something like this for Writing?

Consider this a Plot Arc, a map of the major turning points in a story. You can use it to plot the major turning points in any sort of heroine based adventure story, but it's far more effective as Relationship Journey for navigating Love, not life -- and not necessarily a purely female one.

Act One
1. Upon a time ~ Secret Betrayal
-- Their own body betrays them by wanting sex -- and love.

2. Herald ~ Bearer of Bad News
-- "That person Likes you!"

3. Refusal of the Call ~ Obedience to the Call
-- "Let's go see them!"

4. Mentors, Tricksters & Costly Gifts
-- First impressions

Act Two
5. Enter the Labyrinth
-- First personal Encounter

6. Secret Allies, Secret Enemies, Deadly Gifts & Scary Promises
-- The dating game.

7. Treachery ~ Broken Vows
-- "They haven't told you everything."

Act Three
8. CRASH Point ~ Center of the Labyrinth
-- Spying, Prying, and Stalking--oh my!

9. Ordeal ~ The Darkest Hour
-- They know that You know that They know...

10. Rewards & Punishments
-- To Trust and go on, or Not to trust and dump them?

Act Four
11. Release from the Labyrinth
-- Truth & Consequences

12. Confrontation & Rebirth ~ Parties & Payback
-- Showing off the new Lover (spouse); usually in front of the Old lover (spouse).

13. The Last Promise and Ever After
-- Marriage or...?

Simply fill in the blanks.

Wait, FOUR Acts, not Three?
Correct. The Fourth Act is the main character's resurrection from their Ordeal, their rebirth and exit from the labyrinth. Only Tragedies, like Red Riding Hood finish at the end of a Third Act because the main character (or the relationship) does not survive the Ordeal.


Morgan Hawke