Friday, February 28, 2014

Story Game -- Generating a Mystery Story part 2

This is a relatively short post, finishing up my first draft of The Mystery Creation Game.  The first part of the game was posted two weeks ago.

That would actually work as a stand-alone game.  Depending on the kind of mystery you are looking to create, it creates a social situation, and you can generate motives for both your killer and your red herrings, and choose killer and victim randomly.  (The wheel of motives needs work, but the principle is there.)

For a really good, old fashioned "Clue" type mystery, you could create a Wheel of Murder Methods, and randomize elements of where and when, as well as alibis.  I may do a more elaborate version like that later.   I really enjoy playing this as a game.  However, right now, I'm creating what is useful to me in plotting a book.

To that end, I created one more element of the game.  The Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories.  This wheel has 165 items on it so far -- too long to put in this blog post.  For now, you can find it on this generic Blog Page

It could be used to replace the simple "motives" wheel -- but I like using both.  And that's because of how I use it (more below).

The Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories is really more suited for those of us who write mysteries with elements of suspense.  These are stories which have an extra level of skullduggery in them.

So even though the victim may have been killed out of the usual jealousy or greed, there is also the issue of the smuggling ring or blackmail, or the buried treasure.  And that's the kind of story I tend to write.

If you're going to use this wheel, there is a reason you still might want to use the motive wheel separately:  Every suspect has a motive -- so there can be lots of motives. However, you really shouldn't have more than one big secret plot. Unless they tie in together really well, you don't have a bank robbery AND a smuggling ring AND a plot to cheat the dowager out of her land.

Now, you might want to use one of those as a red herring in and of itself -- a theory your detectives come up with that proves false -- but then you really have to choose one that is compatible with the facts created by the real back story.

Which brings me to how I use this wheel differently.

Browsing Vs. Random Choice

This wheel could be used for random choices like the rest.  As a matter of fact, I did use it that way earlier.  But I apparently didn't even bother to write down what choices came up, because I have no record of them, and I don't remember what I rolled.

I just rolled them and continued brainstorming, and forgot them as soon as the story started latching onto a direction.  Then, after I had a feel for the story and the characters, I went back and browsed through the list, using it as a reference.  Sort of like using a list of baby names to help find the exact right name for a character.

That's the point of making the list so long and exhaustive: so that I can find an element that fits the story that is growing in my head.

That's a different purpose than random choice. Spinning a wheel creates a challenge, and forces you to look closer at a particular option you didn't choose -- it forces you outside of the box.  Or it forces you to stay inside the box and think up some way to make it interesting.  Either way it makes you work. 

Browsing a whole list, if it's long enough, prompts your mind to consider many options to find the right one.  It reminds you of things you might overlook or not have thought of.  (A random choice can do that too, but only with one option at a time.)

While I really like using random choices for stand alone stories, for series fiction, it can be very important to get the choices right. To keep the tone, think at the proper scale. (Some series need a "big" plot with spies and international intrigue, and some will need to stay very small and domestic, for instnace.)  For that kind of thing, it can be more useful to use the wheels as references and browse them for the right option.

(Plus, if you come up with three for four you like and can't make up your mind, well, you can flip a coin or spin a very small wheel to randomly choose one of those!)

So to sum up:

With the Mystery Game, I do continuing brainstorming.  As I mentioned in the first post: start with your existing series or idea.  Roll a set of characters and their relationships with each other, and brainstorm a basic situation on those characters and your existing ideas.  Then roll motives and get an idea of who might have killed who and why.  You can roll a big crime behind the crime at this time, or you can wait until you have more of an idea of what you want, and browse the big list to find the exact right crime secret to suit your story.

Next week I'm going to a little stand-alone game -- more of an exercise really.  It's unrelated to anything we've done so far.   I'm going to have you draw a map.  Not a dramatic map, nor one from a story, but a real if mundane map.  It's an exercise in memory that tends to spur ideas.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Plotting Part 6 - Foreshadowing

(Continuing with the Plot Structure Series. Still working on the opening "Set Up" section of the story. Check out Part 1 - Overview. Part 2- Opening ImagePart 3 - Character Intros 1. Part 4 - Character Intros 2. Part 5 - Action Is Character. )

Today, I'm going to talk about foreshadowing and we're only going to talk about one movie here: The opening three or four minutes of Spike Lee's heist/mystery/thriller movie, Inside Man.

This is a movie I am going to probably follow throughout all the elements of plot, because it is a masterpiece of plotting, and the more I look at it, the more I find. I really recommend that you find it and watch it.

This is also going to be a little bit of a review, since we haven't talked about this movie yet -- but we're going to focus today on Foreshadowing.

Opening Image, Character Intro, AND Foreshadowing

Inside Man is a heist mystery.  The tagline for it is "You can't judge a crime by its cover."  This is the story of a perfect bank robbery that was designed to go wrong from the start.  Nothing about this crime is what it seems.

And the opening sets us up for that.  It's an incredible and efficient opening.

As with Fargo the filmmaker gives us a verbal opening that grabs our attention and makes us sit still through the images of the credits.

In this case, the picture actually starts before the opening image -- over the studio logos, we hear the music begin.  Unless you know the song or the language, it just sounds like some mournful, eery, Middle-eastern music.

Then bam, we are in close up on Clive Owen.  He's looking us in the eye, addressing us directly.  He is calm, precise, and you get the feeling he is a man very much in control.  He seems, in essense, like a master criminal or terrorist, filming a statement or manifesto for the world.

"Pay strict attention to what I say because I chose my words carefully and I never repeat myself."

He gives us the who, where, what, when. why and how of the story.  We understand that this is filmed in retrospect, from "what could most readily be described as a prison cell" -- but he tells us right off that even that is not exactly what it seems.

But I want you to watch more than that, because the credits themselves are a part of the story.

So... We have the opening imsge. We have an introduction of the antagonist of the story, though at this point, it is really unclear whether he might be the protagonist.  He's more than just a thief, but what, we don't know. That will be the puzzle of the story.

And he has already given us all the back story we need to understand what happens next: we're seeing the preparations for a perfect bank robbery.  We see the team being picked up by a gray van. We may not know yet that they are on their way to the robbery, but we know they're getting ready.

We see the setting.  Post-9-11 New York.  We start in Brooklyn -- I presume that is Coney Island, but not inside the park. This isn't tourist New York. This is diverse, real-people New York.  The city of immigrants.  The music we hear is Bollywood music.

Bollywood music with an orchestra added.  This is important because this is where "Foreshadowing" starts to come into it.

The Music

Throughout the credits, we get shots of sculptures and archetectural elements.  Nearly all of these are from one building: 20 Exchange Place, a gorgeous art-deco building down in the financial district. This building is standing in for the fictional bank that will be robbed.  Neither the fictional bank nor the real building is in Brooklyn -- but we start seeing these shots even before the van crosses the Brooklyn bridge.

So this is the target.  This is where they are headed.

We get a feeling for this because we know this is about a bank robbery, and we get a couple shots of the name of the bank -- including a medallion that says when the bank was founded.  This will be important but we don't know that.

But I said the music was important in the foreshadowing. It is.  When we first see these sculptures and plaques, the music adds a deep, ominous layer of orchestra: particularly brass and strings.  One note,  then two notes, then a mini-fanfare.  This ominous fanfare is used throughout the movie to represent authority.  Whenever the camera pans across the police presence, we'll get that fanfare.

Interesting. Hmmmm.

Because it becomes more and more clear that the robbers are the antagonists.  And they aren't nice guys and gals.  Furthermore, the hero of this story is a police negotiator.  And the police are universally displayed as imperfect good guys here.

But it's their side that gets the ominous fanfare.

However, that fanfare does not play for them as individuals. It only shows up when the movie shows them as an overall impersonal force. The police as an army.  The police as an arm of the powers that the bank represents.

(EDITED TO ADD: I just rewatched this and realize that the very first moment we get the fragment of fanfare is when Jodie Foster's name appears on screen -- which really seriously fits with this idea of what the fanfare represents.)

This is foreshadowing, at its most subtle and wonderful: the music is giving us this Pavlov's bell effect.  It's training us to remember and react to authority and power as maybe not such a great thing.

The Sculptures

There is more subtle foreshadowing in this credit sequence: like those monumental sculptures of the figures looking down, with the water stains that make them look like they are weeping.

I don't know the allegory they are supposed to represent, and I don't know which way Spike Lee intended to use them: but they look kind of medieval, don't they?  Almost ... old testament.  But whichever way you look at them, they are art deco -- representations of a mythic past done in the 1930's.  I suspect this is a subtle foreshadowing of some things revealed in the movie's midpoint, and I'll talk about that when we get there.

The Sign on the Truck

And another more obvious bit of foreshadowing, that you didn't get a clear look at in the clip, but there is a better shot in the part of the credits that were cut:

The side of the dusty gray van sports a bright red sign.  It says, in large letters:

"Perfectly Planned Painters."

Since the lead robber already said his robbery was perfectly planned, we know this is him being clever.  However, there is a slogan under that title:

"We NEVER leave until the job is DONE."

This is foresahdowing of what the mystery of the story will be: the robbers will prove themselves oddly uninterested in leaving. Furthermore, there will be another meaning to that by the time we get to the end.

Okay, that's as much as I have time for this week. Next week I'm going to talk about the rest of the first fifteen minutes of Inside Man, and also about some things I skipped over when talking about In the Heat of the Night.  This will concern a very basic kind of storytelling set up that Blake Snyder emphasizes: setting up "What Is Wrong" with the base situation of the story.

All of these other things we've talked about, especially the character introductions, will probably set up much of what is wrong.  But I do agree with Snyder that it doesn't hurt to think consciously about this element. It's the thing that will give form the others. And it will also bring us up to the thing that ends the "set up" and gets the story going - the inciting incident.  Because that, in some sense, is the Big thing that is wrong.

See you in the funny papers.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Story Game - Caring About The MacGuffin

For those of you new to the story game: this is a series of games based on using random choices to generate ideas.  The purpose is to spur creativity, speed up decisions, and maybe force you out of your comfort zones to try something different once in a while.

I created the original Situation Game to have  a lot of fun and stockpile dozens of romantic suspense ideas. 

This game -- the Mystery or Whodunnit Game -- came together under different circumstances.  And I realize that I need to step back and talk about that.

My problem: I did not like how the mystery plot side of the next Starling and Marquette story was going. (That is, the "Man Who" series.)  I realized that I was trying to build the plot out of the front story, rather than build it for itself.

The Front Story in a Mystery

Most mysteries have a front story and a crime story.  The front story is often called the subplot (or "B Story").  This is the story of what is going on with the series characters -- usually unconnected to the case of the week.  For instance, in the TV show Castle, we have the ongoing romance between the lead characters, and the "bromance" between the sidekicks.  And the ongoing melodrama of Castle's mother and daughter, who have their own lives that impact his.  There has been, at times, a large plot arc in which Beckett was investigating the secrets behind her mother's murder, which sometimes became the crime plot for an episode, but often was just the front story.

I call this the "front story" because it's the story that's going on in the foreground.  Right in front of you.  The investigation is a part of the front story, even though it overlaps with the crime story.  I include it as front story because it happens in front of the audience, and it's another part of the characters' lives.  The investigation is one of the things your characters do.

And in some series, the investigation is all there is to the front story -- we don't always have any info about the characters' personal lives.  We still may read or watch that series to spend time with the character.  It's still a front story.

With a cozy th this blending of front story and investigation is stronger; because we're talking about an amateur sleuth.  There's no leaving your personal life at home while you're at work solving the case with an amateur.  Solving the case IS personal.

My problem is that the front story interacts with, and is impacted by, the hidden mystery story.  And the more they interact, the more depth your story has -- because each adds something to the other.

And that's golden, because for me the front story is the most important part of the story.  It's why I read or watch, and it's why I write.  So the more layers added, the better.

But interweaving multiple story lines (including one which is hidden and must mystify the charactes and audience) is tough and takes a long time.   Especially when you do as I was doing, and try to build the hidden back story out of the front story.  That just wasn't working for me.  I found myself stretching and straining the mystery plot to suit what was going on in the front story.

I realized that I had two problems: the mystery plot is just a MacGuffin, but I am very persnickety about MacGuffins.

MacGuffins - The Audience DO Care

Hitchcock definted the MacGuffin as "The thing the spies are after but the audience don't care."

I would change that definition a little.  The audience does care about the MacGuffin, because it drives the story, and the characters care about it, so it had better not be something stupid.  However, the audience is flexible about what it is. It could be something else and still work. And that's the key:

The MacGuffin is something that both drives the story, AND is interchangeable with other MacGuffins.

Hitchcock's example is in his movie Notorious. The script was in development before the end of WWII, and the FBI was concerned that the spies in the story were smuggling uranium.  Everything related to The Bomb was top secret at that time, including the value of uranium.  Hitch told them that he would have no problem changing the script.  It could be industrial diamonds instead.  Notorious is a love story; that's the only part that mattered.

As it happened, the war ended and uranium was no longer a state secret, so they left it as the MacGuffin for Notorious, and Hitchcock got on with finding ways to film Hollywood's longest kiss without breaking the Production Code rules.

Hitch was like that: he would take on a project just so he could do something like see how long of a kiss he could get away with.  Or he wanted to have a chase scene in a theater.  Oooo. What if somebody was killed by a theatrical safety curtain falling on him -- Irony!  Or wouldn't it be cool to shoot a scene in which the badguy falls from the top of the Statue of Liberty!

I have to admit, that's how I approach a story, much of the time.    And that's the thing that led me to realize what I need to do next with the Story Game.

Magic MacGuffins

The point of the story games -- all versions of it -- is not to replace creativity, but rather to get to the most creative parts of your writing quicker.  It's about randomizing the parts that are exchangeable.  In other words, the MacGuffins.

So I think the first thing to do if you want to create your own personalized game, is to start figuring out what your MacGuffins are.  Now, your MacGuffins may not be an object, as it is in most spy stories.  It may be the whole crime plot.  Or it may even be some aspect of the front story.  It's anything that you may have trouble deciding what it is (because one choice is as good as another), but once you make that decision, you can move forward and play with it creatively.

For me, it's the backstory.  In a mystery, that's who killed whom and why.  And how they decided to hide it.  The backstory can be exchanged for a different backstory, at least early on, but it has such a strong impact on the front story, I find it's almost like geography.  It's something that my characters have to deal with, so it impacts the front story.  It gives me something to hang the front story on.  It gives me opportunities for what the actors call "business."

One example might be in the first Starling and Marquette story, The Man Who Did Too Much.  After an exciting action sequence in which Karla and her house are attacked by a couple of thugs, and George rescues here, these two lead characters -- who have not been working together -- return to her house to apply first aid, make a snack, and form a pact.  It's a long character scene, but it's all driven by what is going on in the investigation.

For me to write that scene, I don't necessarily have to know every detail of the crime, but I do have to know what clues they are looking at.  Or where they are coming from or who they have spoken with.  I need a spring board to work with.

Hence... the game.

Flexible Springboards

With the previous game, The Situation Game, I had a rule that you roll out all these random elements and try to come up with a story idea with them as rolled, but that you can, at any time, overrule any item. 

In this game, I'm finding that an even more flexible approach works.  Since the plot of a mystery is driven by theories, you really need several possible main plots, most of which will turn out to be false.

But I'll tell you about that next week when I get to the big crime behind the crime wheel, which I'm now going to call The Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories. 

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Plotting Part 5 - Action Is Character

(Continuing with the Plot Structure Series. Still working on the opening "Set Up" section of the story. Chcek out Part 1 - Overview. Part 2- Opening ImagePart 3 - Character Intros 1. Part 4 - Character Intros 2. Next week: Part 6 - Foreshadowing. )

"Action Is Character"  -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sometimes you'll hear writers argue character vs. plot.  What comes first, what's more important, yadda yadda.  This is a silly argument.  F. Scott Fitzgerald explained it famously and best when he said "Action is character."

Plot and character are inextricable.

Characterization is more than backstory.  It's more than just reactions, or how a character delivers lines and approaches plot points.  What the character does actually creates the plot. 

This is why I spent a little extra time on character entrances (and still didn't get to all I wanted to say): because character entrances are plot points.  They are also, very often "wows" -- or those exciting wonderful moments the audience bought the book or ticket for.

French Scenes

In drama they take entrances and exits so seriously, that one school of thought actually considers any entrance or exit -- even by minor characters -- as being a whole new scene.

They call it a "French scene."  Even if there is a continuous conversation going on between two characters, the coming and going another character in the background changes the dynamics of the scene - if only through changing how the audience sees it.  It's as though each character has a certain amount of gravitational pull on the audience's attention. And when there are two characters, the center of gravity falls between them.  When a third character enters, that center of gravity moves, because that third character also has some sort of gravitational pull.

This is something that actors feel acutely, even if it doesn't always feel overt to the audience.

Now, of course, in this context, when I say "character entrance" I don't just mean that first entrance where the character is introduced, I mean any time the character walks on the stage.  In a play, each character will probably have several entrances.

I should also add that, unlike a book or even a movie, with a stage play, the entrance of an actor has an additional special effect on the audience: the stage is a pretty static place.  Inspite of all sorts of techincal tricks these days, stages don't move much.  It's all on the actors to bring the thing to life.   So yes, any time a character walks on or off, it has a special effect.

In a book or movie, comings and goings of characters don't have quite as much oomph... except for the first entrance.

The fact is, the entrance of various characters can be one of the greatest ways to deal with a major plot point. 

It's for this reason that I do not believe in the old rule that you should introduce every character in the opening "set up" sequence of a story -- be it movie or book.

It's not just that certain genres or kinds of stories demand that some character be introduced later.  ALL stories can sometimes benefit from spreading out your character entrances.

Saving Character Entrances for Later

When I reviewed some of the films I've talked about in this series, and some I'm going to talk about, I notice that major characters appear all sorts of places -- sometimes well past the mid-point. 

For instance, in In The Heat of the Night, we don't meet the widow of the murdered man until the second act.  She actually appears at the start of the second act, and she changes the whole chemistry of the situation.

When I talk about "Finding the Wow" , I played a clip from The Third Man, in which Orson Welles makes his first appearance in that flick.  That's just about halfway through the movie. And yes, you betcha, that event -- the appearance of Harry Lime -- is a huge change of direction for the story.

Of course that entrance is foreshadowed.  People talk about Harry Lime from the first moment of the movie, so you could say he had already made his entrance. (More on that below.)

But in Flashback, the buddy/road picture about the old hippie and the uptight young FBI agent, we don't get any hint of a very important character who doesn't appear until more than two thirds of the way through the picture. Her entrance is part of a key plot point -- "The Secret Is Revealed" -- that I'll talk about later.

So even though character introductions are a key part of your opening set up, you don't have to shoehorn every character into that segment. You don't always have to even get at all the important ones.

Generally, though, the most important characters -- the ones who drive the action of the plot -- need to be introduced in some way.  So I'm going to finish up by talking about delayed entrances: those times when you foreshadow a character's entrance, but let it happen later.

The Star Turn

Orson Welles called his role in The Third Man a special kind of Star Turn. (Or maybe he just said Star Role.)  He likened it to another Star Turn he played on stage many years earlier.  It was a character named Mr. Woo.

All throughout the first act of that play (and with a play, the first act tends to last a long time, maybe as long as half the story), the other characters talked about Mr. Woo.  "Oh, dear, I wonder what Mr. Woo will think of that!" says one.  "You just wait until Mr. Woo gets here!" declares another. They are in awe, afraid, eager for Mr. Woo's arrival.

Finally at the end of the act, we see a silhouette of a bridge in the backdrop, and a figure appears, and walks across it.  It's Mr. Woo! He has arrived!  And the curtain comes down for the intermission.

And the audience goes out into the lobby and talks about nothing but Mr. Woo.  They aren't even thinking about the other characters. They may even, according to Welles, exclaim about what a great performance the actor playing Mr. Woo has put on.

Of course, that comment is not really about Mr. Woo -- it's about Harry Lime.  Welles did a great job playing Harry Lime, but the role did the work for him.  By the time he enters, all he has to do is smile slyly, and it's one of the great moments in film history.

The Teaser

One movie I'll be talking about more is one I haven't introduced to you yet: Inside Man.  It's a wonderful, smart mystery thriller by Spike Lee.  (If you haven't seen it because you aren't into Spike Lee's arthouse flicks, do yourself a favor and rent it. It's very mainstream Hollywood heist flick, but twice as clever.)

In Inside Man, the Set Up section of the story is very efficient, and like so many smart mystery thrillers, full of foreshadowing.  Full of questions.  We meet the bank robber (Clive Owen). We meet the NYPD negotiator who will face off with him.  And we spend most of the first act getting the robbery underway and the police reaction underway.  But this mystery is truly a mystery. There is something else going on. A third force affects the course of the story, who will be personified by Jodie Foster.  But she won't enter until the end of the first act.

Instead we get a glimpse of what will bring her into the story: At the 13 minute mark (just before that key 15 minute mark) we meet the owner/CEO of the bank, Christopher Plummer.  He is dignified and far above it all.  He gets news that one of his (many) bank branches is being robbed, and he is properly saddened.  Then they tell him which branch it is, and he hesitates and continues with his polite, concerned-but-above-it-all demeanor... but as soon as he is alone, he drops into a chair and says "Oh, dear god."

That's it.  We don't know him. We don't know what's what.  We just know that there is another shoe to drop.  The center of gravity on the story shifts just because we've seen him and his reaction, even though it's another 15 minutes or so before we meet the person who he will send to deal with whatever he's so upset about.

The Disguised Entrance

Finally, I want to mention a kind of entrance that is very common in mystery, but which I don't have a movie clip for right off.  Sometimes you want to save a character for later, but you want the dramatic entrance to be a surprise.  In that case you don't want to build it up like Mr. Woo, or tease us with anticipation like the banker with a secret.

But you do want the audience to feel some satisfaction of a tied up loose end, and you want to engage in fair play by not bringing this character in out of nowhere.  In that case, you can introduce an important character as though they are not important.  The key to this technique, though, is that the character must be memorable even as you lead the audience to believe he or she isn't important.

A bad guy might be footling around as an annoying tourist who keeps getting lost.  Or that prissy schoolmarm who is annoyingly nosy turns out to be the undercover agent whose job it is to protect the heroine from harm.

Sometimes, though, you can do this without trickery at all.  Your hero meets a nice couple who help him find his way to where he's going. They are not in disguise, but they are also not identified.  Later, they turn out to be the key witnesses he's been looking for.  Or they may just be friendly folks he can turn to when he needs some help right at the key moment.

I would give one example of this from the children's story by E. Nesbit, The Railway Children.  The children wave to the trains going by and make distant friends with various passengers -- people they never really meet, just wave to every day.  Later, when they need someone important to help them, they call on a dignified fellow they call "the Old Gentleman" and ask him.  As it turns out, he helps them in ways far beyond what they expected.

This sort of misdirection is well-known to mystery writers, but all kinds of fiction can benefit from it.

The key here is not to think of these kinds of delayed entrances as a trick so mucg as to think of them as another kind of foreshadowing.

Well, that's enough for now. 

On Friday I'll talk more about the new Mystery Game.

And next Tuesday for the Plotting series, we still won't quite get to the end of the Set Up.  We'll talk about foreshadowing, and have a little bit of a review of what we've talked about so far when we look at the first few minutes of Inside Man.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Story Game - Generating a Mystery Story

The Mystery/Whodunnit Game is a variation of the Situation Game -- in that it focuses on creating a situation and cast of characters for a story. That is, what the situation is at the beginning of the story and the forces that will drive the story forward.

Two differences: Mysteries, unlike classic suspense, tend to be series fiction, and so this formula does not include the series elements -- in particular, no hero or heroine.  No protagonist.  That should already be set by the series itself.  The other is that I may experiment with my first plot wheel for this game.  (However, I'll get to that on a later day.)

The Assumption of Series

I've made three assumptions in creating this game.  I made these assumptions because... well, that's what's useful to me right now. 

1.) You've already developed your series.  You know who your protagonist(s) are and their relationships with other characters, and you know the location, etc.  You know the flavor and themes of the story.  You may or may not have written books in this series. (I may come up with a "Series Generation Game" later. For now you'll just have to make do.  Hey, write fanfic of your favorite mystery series.)

2.) The goal is to make this a long series.  This game is meant to come up with lots of classic mystery puzzles/plots.  (It still might help you if you are going to do only one or two stories -- but my point in creating it is to speed along the puzzle end of the story.)

3.) You already have an idea that you want to flesh out.

Start With an Idea

In my case, right now, I have an opening scene with no story. It has a couple of minor hooks to take the story further, but I have no idea what they mean.

However I often start with something else, just as nebulous: I might have a title I think is cool. (I do this often with Mick and Casey.)  Or I might have an idea for a tricky clue, or a cool chase scene.  Or a location, or a guest character.

These are all the sorts of things I normally keep on the shelf until I come up with an idea to suit them.  The point of the game is to skip the shelf. I'm too old to wait for ideas to ripen or to happen to find the right story. (My idea shelf is getting more and more crowded all the time.)

So the point of this game is to take an inspiration or idea, and get a mystery plot for it NOW, and get on with the writing.

Create a Character Relationship Circle

This is an upgraded version of the Random Relationships Mini-Game I put at the end of the first Story Game post.  

A quick summary of the  relationship game again:

*Decide how many characters you want.
*Roll a character, then roll a relationship. The relationship tells you what the character is to the next character.
*Keep rolling characters and relationships until you get to the end, and the last character's relationship will be with the first on the list.

I have created a somewhat more complicated (but also more flexible) version of the game:

I roll ten characters and relationships.  The first seven make up a circle, as I decribe above.  The other three are peripheral characters who I can attach to the circle any place I choose -- like charms on a charm bracelet.

Why did I choose this number of characters?

There's an old rule that you can't have more than five main suspects in a murder mystery.  IMHO, that really doesn't do it, because a really great mystery, a la Agatha Christie, will also have minor characters who have parts to play, and sometimes they will turn out to have done it. (And no, that's not always cheating -- I'll talk about that another time.)

But mostly, those minor characters are important as witnesses and motives. (I.e. a killer might have killed to keep a secret from a wife or boss who is a minor character).  Even if you never treat those other characters as suspects, each character has a life, and everyone in that life affects the story.

At the same time, I do like the main suspect list to be kept to a manageable size.  However, until I write the story, I don't know how these characters will develop.  Sometimes a minor character will grow on me, sometimes a person I thought was major will be dull.

So I create ten characters, and even though three are "peripheral," they are actually all equal at this point in terms of who will become the major characters and who are minor. The "peripheral" factor is just to make the mix of relationships a little more natural.

Here are the current lists/wheels for choosing Characters and Relationships.  (You can and should adapt these at will to suit your series and style.)


1. Female Child (1-12)
2. Male Child (1-12)
3. Female Teen (13-18)
4. Male Teen (13-18)
5. Female New Adult (19-24)
6. Male New Adult (19-24)
7. Female Adult (25-39)
8. Male Adult (25-39)
9. Female Middle Age (40-59)
10. Male Middle Age (40-59)
11. Female Senior (60-90)
12. Male Senior (60-90)

Relationships (to next character)

1. Parent/child
2. club/church/organization acquaintance
3. sibling
4. cousin or aunt/uncle or niece/nephew (depending on ages)
5. stranger
6. friend
7. enemy
8. coworker
9. boss
10. neighbor
11. admires or admired by
12. lover/spouse/best friend forever

First Brainstorming Session

After rolling the characters, I look first at the circle of the seven -- and see how they are clustered. This in an of itself will gives some idea of how these characters interlock -- and how they don't.  In a mystery, indirect connections can be the most interesting ones.

As it happens the first time I rolled this, I had two people were strangers to others, and several club/church acquaintances.  This broke the main ring into two clusters.  Hmmm, how are these two groups separate and what brings them together?

That's where my original idea came in handy, and that's also where the three peripheral characters came in handy.  But before I thought of either of those....

Place the Character Circle in the Series!

The location of your series and the kind of people that reside in it can help a lot in filling out the story.  You also have your regular characters and how they might connect in.

In the case of my "Man Who" series, the location is a Northern Lower Michigan beach town.  So with two different groups of people associated by a club or church.... it makes sense for one of those clubs to be the Country Club, and the others to be local members of a church.  The locals would likely work at the country club, and that would connect them.

This idea was strengthened by the fact that my originating idea involved an event which happens in a bar or tavern -- that could be the country club bar.  (And that really makes the idea take off for me!)

The next step is to figure out who might want to kill whom.

Motives and Suspects and Victims, oh my!

I created a list of motives.  I'm not fully happy with it yet, but it worked for me so far.  (Maybe I just got lucky.) Here it is:

1. Jealousy
2. Resentment
3. Money - victim is a threat to wealth the killer already has
4. Money - inheritance
5. Money - theft
6. Money - indirect, money will go to someone else
7. Frame up - Victim is just collateral damage in a plot to hurt someone via framing them for murder.
8. Sibling Rivalry
9. Victim stands in the way of romantic obsession
10. Victim is blackmailer
11. Victim knows something (not a blackmailer)
12. Revenge
13. Falling out among thieves or other plotters
14. Righteous crimes - killing a killer.

Now, I'm going to need motives for suspects as well as for the actual killer, so I chose three of these numbers at random.

Then since creating the relationship circle hadn't given me definite ideas on which character should be the killer or victim, I chose three of them at random and assigned the motives to them.

And then here is the trick: those characters can be killer, suspect, or victim.  The motive might apply to why that person is killed.

This is still the brainstorming stage.  Even the motives can be flexed and turned to suit the situation that arises.  So even though you rolled up "Sibling Rivalry" that rivalry can be connected to a rivalry over inheritance or a romantic obsession.  At this point I'm just looking for the emotions that tie the characters together.

So, at this point I just blather on paper or screen.  Do general brainstorming, maybe even try to find a theme. (Like maybe the siblings aren't the only rivals in the story. Maybe other characters have other kinds of rivalries. Maybe the victim fostered rivalries.)  I'm just looking for things that will get my imagination running.

Because I'm not done yet.

I mean, I could be.  This is enough to get a good story going.  But I'm not because I like a complicated story, and I like an element of intrigue/suspense in my mysteries, so I like there to be a bigger conspiracy or plot to go along with the murder.

Next Friday, I'll talk about my big spiffy new Wheel of the Crime Behind The Crime (which I think might replace the Crime Wheel in my romantic suspense game).  I'll also talk about my first foray into an actual plot wheel -- a Wheel of Reversals to help think ahead about those turns of event that happen at the end of each act of a story.

But that's it for now.  I'll do a Sunday Update with some new pictures and covers, and maybe a list of the movies I'm looking at for the Tuesday Plot Theory series.  And then on Tuesday, we'll continue with introducing characters in the first section of hte story.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Addendum to Character Intros - some books

Just an addendum to the previous post: I've been wracking my mind for an example in prose that handles a large number of characters in a way similar to Bad Day at Black Rock does in a movie.

I think one of the best ways I've seen this done is in non-fiction.  Walter Lord's book about the sinking of the Titanic, A Night To Remember, uses the voice of an omniscient reporter to quickly dip in and out of the point of view of many characters. While his prose can't move as quickly as a camera can in a movie, his technique is definitely a well-established one for giving us a relatively fast picture of many individual characters.

You can check out a sample of the Kindle edition at Amazon.  A Night to Remember.

That brought another book to mind, The False Inspector Dew, a mystery novel by Peter Lovesey.  Lovesey  borrowed from Lord's style to set up some back story to the book's mystery: the  sinking of the Luisitania. He actually has two set up scenes, so this one happens as chapter 2. This is also in the sample available online.  The False Inspector Dew.

I know there are many more. I suspect there are quite a few such scenes in various hard-boiled novels and in short fiction and literary fiction.  I think John Le Carre has also included such scenes (he's fond of interesting points of view like omniscient.)  But none come to mind immediately.  I remember the stories, not the styles.

ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM: the first few comments here have got me thinking.  I'm going to make the next post about introducing a large cast of characters -- in a different way than Bad Day at Black Rock did.   This is the way books more or less have to do it: as individuals.

I will probably talk about one or another of Robert Altman's films.  (Probably Cookie's Fortune.) But here is where we can also talk about books -- mysteries and some kinds of romance in particular.  Georgette Heyer did both good and bad work with this sort of thing.  Christie didn't often have a huge relevant cast... but when she did, she did it masterfully. (Murder on the Orient Express, anyone?)

But I'll also talk about the delayed entrance, which helps with a large cast, but also is a dramatic technique that works fine with smaller casts.We'll see if that turns into more than one post....

See you in the funny papers.

Plotting Part 4 - Character Introductions 1b

(Continuing with the Plot Structure Series. Still working on the opening "Set Up" section of the story. Check out Part 1 - Overview. Part 2- Opening ImagePart 3 - Character Intros 1. Part 4 - Character Intros 2. Part 5 - Action Is Character. Part 6 - Foreshadowing.)

So last week we started to talk about how characters first enter the scene.   We talked about the two lead characters from the 1967 movie In The Heat of the Night -- Virgil Tibbs and Chief of Police Gillespie.  These are a pair of characters who kinda come pre-introduced, in that their political and cultural surroundings pit them against each other regardless of who they are as individuals.

So to get started, we don't have to know anything about either of them except that Tibbs is black, and Gillespie is police chief in a small Mississippi town in 1967.

However, these two guys are not symbolic cartoons for a political drama.  The fact is, the story is an ordinary melodrama -- a murder mystery -- and our two protagonists are regular, complicated people.  The political message of the story is merely that the cultural situation surrounding them makes it a real challenge to do their jobs.

But that political situation also makes it really easy to get the story going, and get our interest in the characters before we really see who they are.

There is a risk to using this method however, which I'll talk about at the end of this post, after I mention two more pictures that use external conflict as a way of introducting the characters.

Flashback -- The Old Hippie And The Young Fed

Back in 1990, there was a little gem of a "buddy movie" called Flashback.  It starred Dennis Hopper as Huey Walker, an old hippie radica, and Keifer Sutherland, as Special Agent Buckner, a straightlaced young FBI agent.

Like In The Heat of the Night, this movie introduces the main characters by just telling us the key thing that puts them in conflict -- old hippie vs. g-man.  Unlike Heat, the characters are very comfortable in their roles.  As matter of fact, they are so comfortable, that they prefer the roles to reality.

That's a part of what this movie is about, and why it is interesting to talk about.  We have two characters who are overtly wearing masks: A Fed must remain professional and keep his authority to the front, never letting us see who he is, because that would make him vulnerable.  And all politicians -- even hippie radicals -- are at least one part conman. Their job is to charm and lie and do what's necessary to win people over.

And we know that these guys are hiding who they really are.

Somehow this allows the filmmakers to pull off something interesting: they don't hint much at where the story is going.  There are some great twists and turns, but I just rewatched the setup section, and there is actually very minimal foreshadowing here.

I'm going to talk about foreshadowing later, and I'll go into what I found in this flick then, but suffice it to say that in general, this picture doesn't find the need to keep use interested with hints of what will come.  Instead, the filmmakers have chosen to do something brave: they let the current situation carry itself.

I've said before how what keeps the reader reading and the viewer watching is that the story makes promises of great things to come.  There are many ways to do this.  In this case, the premise -- a cop transporting a fugitive -- makes all the promises we need.  The fact that the cop is holding to his official personna, and the fugitive is a crafty clown, adds lots of color to the simple fact that we know the fugitive will want to escape, and the cop will want to keep control.

That all by itself gives us a natural story, even if we never learn a thing about these characters. You can read a dry news story about a criminal escape and manhunt, and not know a thing about the characters, and still be fascinated by how it shakes out.

But this is still a story about getting to know these guys.  The opening sequence, their entrances, is all about the surface conflict of their personalities. (Unfortuantely, I have no clips about that.)  Neither takes the other seriously.  They spar.  Dennis Hopper chews the scenery, setting up jokes which others walk right into.  Keifer Sutherland holds his temper and sasses him back.  We see that these two are a reasonable match for each other.

Or at least we think they are.  We can't see beneath their masks, so we can't be sure.  We know were' going to see more.  We just don't know how or when, or if those faces beneath the masks are going to play a big part in the plot itself, or if it's just going to be the heartwarming character development subplot.

However, if youi're paying attention, you will get a clue from what happens at the 15 minute mark.  Remember how I said that is usually seen as a significant moment in movies?

In the clip I showed you of In The Heat of the Night, that was the moment when Virgil Tibbs decides to tell his story, to actively engage with Chief Gillespie.

The clip below is just about the exact same moment from Flashback.  (I couldn't find any earlier clips, but I suppose that's okay.)  It's a long clip, but I'm mostly interested in what happens in the first three and a half minutes. (However, watch until the end and you will see a classic Inciting Incident.)

The start of this is kind of a mini version of the whole movie until that point, at least as far as these two characters are concerned.  Huey (Dennis Hopper) is effusive and jabbers and jokes endlessly.  Buckner (Keiffer Sutherland) is unimpressed, reserved, official.

But watch what happens at the 2:30 mark in this clip: Huey decides to go after Buckner's mask.  He gets personal and says, "You like me."

And it works.  Buckner relents and tells us something about himself -- as proof of why he does NOT like Huey. 

Now, it's relatively clear that Buckner has not really let the mask slip here.  What he has done instead is held up a stronger form of defense.  Huey is all about emotions and sensitivity, so Buckner uses an emotional tool (and an old cliche "My father died in Vietnam to protect creeps like you") to shut him down.

The fact that this happens at the fifteen minute mark indicates it's not just another joust between characters who have been jousting all along.  But unless you're watching the clock while watching the movie, you don't necessarily realize that this is a clue to what the story is about. You really don't know that there is a mystery here and that the truth will get more and more interesting.

So for now, the moment passes and it just seems like the characters are jousting, and that Huey is using personal stuff to try to get under Buckner's skin. We don't actually need to know more.  What we're really expecting is the cop vs. fugitive plot to start ramping up.  And that plot is fun and very very straightforward and clear about where it is going, so we don't miss the mystery we never noticed is there.

Which is all a very long way of saying that you don't need to tell everything about a character to develop that character into something complex, deep and interesting.  It can be good to start with simple and clear, and let the audience see more as you go.

But you also can be complex and mysterious, if you want....

Bad Day at Black Rock

In the comments to last week's post, Steve Vernon pointed out another pot-boiler movie that begins with a train arriving in a town, carrying a catalyst character who will set the story in motion.

The train in Bad Day at Black Rock brings Spencer Tracy, a one-armed veteran just after WWII, who comes to a tiny tiny desert town on a mysterious mission.  And everybody in town is freaked out by his arrival.  It's not that they don't like strangers, or just that strangers hardly ever visit this town (though both of these seem to be true); no, it's something else. Something neither we nor Tracy know anything about.  I'ts just weird.

After a little hunting, I found a clip of the opening on YouTube.  The credits act as the "opening image."  A train races through the desert to loud, urgent music.  It has that inexorable feel of fate racing into the story (a little like Fargo's car in the blizzard, but less ironic.

(NOTE: the credits go on until the 1:20 point, if you want to click ahead. And  at the 4:15 mark, It SKIPS TO THE END OF THE MOVIE, so you may want to stop watching then.)

This story begins with nothing BUT mystery and menace.  We don't know what Tracy is there for, and we don't know why the town reacts the way it does.  All we know is that the very first things we see, other than the train roaring across the dessert, is that when the train just slows down, everybody in town steps out to look.  And not in a friendly curious way.

They aren't exactly scared either. They're suspicous, on edge, and they clearly think that the train stopping is just plain not right. The station agent is aggreived.  "Nobody told me this train was stopping!  And they ought to!"

We see just about every one of the characters even before he speaks.  However, we don't actually get to meet them -- and there are too many to remember at this point.

Now, the good thing about a movie is that when you have an opening like this, you see the actor's faces, so you get a sense of them each being different people.  Even if you don't know who Ernest Bourgnine or Lee Marvin or Anne Francis or Walter Brennan are, you see individuals when you see them.  So when they make their formal entrance, you have been set up to meet them.

In fiction you have a different advantage. A bunch of people sitting or standing outside in a western town are generally all dressed alike. You can't necessarily guess much about them. In a book, though, they have a label.  One guy is the doctor.  Another is a cowhand.  Another is the hotel clerk.

So you can still have that kind of introduction if you want it.  The problem is that it is harder to pull off.  With a movie, one shot can have three guys step forward, looking perplexed, and you don't waste time or focus on them.  With fiction, you have to either describe them, which takes time and draws undue attention, or you summarize to get the same effect, but then you don't see the individuals.

What it usually means is that you have to be selective about your details.  You might not even mention all of the characters, even in summary.  You mention as many as would give you a picture, and let the others be introduced later. 

As for how these characters are really introduced: they make their real entrances one or a few at a time, mainly in their interactions with the stranger or with each other.

But because their interactions are so mysterious, and at first they are all acting as a group, the person we mainly get to know is the stranger played by Spencer Tracy.  They don't want him to know anything about themselves. They put up a front....

So the first thing we learn is how Spencer Tracy handles this brick wall they put up in front of him.  Like Sidney Poitier, Tracy remains polite and vigilant, but his situation is different from Poitier's.  He has more natural power.  These people are wary of him, and so he uses their closed-in stubbornness against them. He steps around them.

Just after the clip, inside the hotel, the deskman tells him there isn't a room available, but the stranger just ignores and steps around him.  He signs in anyway, and he steps over and takes a key.

But then we start meeting the individual townsfolk as they each try new ways to get information out of him without giving any themselves.  And that's when we start to see them reveal character. Lee Marvin tries to bully him.  Walter Brennan is friendly but also doesn't have luck getting info.

BTW, this movie is relatively short, so you could say that it has two moments that are like the 15 minute mark.  Normally that would be about halfway through the opening act.  With this picture, that moment is about 11 minutes in -- and that is when the lead villain enters the story.  But we don't actually quite meet him.  We don't know that he's the lead villain.  He's just a guy in a truck with a dead deer on the front. 

He doesn't speak.  His sidekick steps into Spencer Tracy's path, but Tracy sidesteps them both and continues on his way.

The dead deer is clearly meant to be a symbolic detail -- a touch of extra menace in a town full of subtle menace -- but the thing that really makes it memorable and disquieting is subtle. The deer is not tied across the hood.  It's tied just to the driver's side, strangely off balance like it could slide off.  I suspect this is a clue to the fact that the driver here is the chief menace.  Even though his sidekick is big and belligerant and more menacing, it's the driver (who at this point seems nondescript and unassuming) who is the hunter.

We meet him for real just moments later as he goes into the hotel to meet with his people.  And by the end of that scene... it hits the 15 minute spot, and by golly something significant happens.

But I will tell you about that  when I get to inciting incidents.

Before I get to that, however, I'd like to talk a little more about introducing characters, and how they set up the story.  I was hoping to maybe do an extra post tomorrow, but the novel I've started working on is going great, so... I'm going to stick to the Tuesday schedule for these plot theory posts.

In the meantime, on Friday, I'll tell you a little about this Whodunnit/Mystery Plotting Game that seems to be working for me.

(NOTE: I posted an addendum to this post, just a quick suggestion of some books which introduce a whole community of characters.)

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Update - the Game's Afoot (or maybe it's a hand)

So this week, in spite of having an odd cold, I had some breakthroughs.  For instance, one of the reasons I had trouble getting on with my Plotting blog series is because several of my books -- especially mysteries -- started coming to me.

But it was the front stories that were coming to me.  The character arcs for the series characters. Maybe some mysterious happenings, but not the story behind them.

So I started idly putting together the Mystery version of the Situation Game.  Just the most rudimentary, "slap anything together and call it good" sorts of stuff.  Then I sat down and rolled a story from what I had, with the idea of maybe coming up with a mystery behind that Man Who opening scene I thought of last week....

And Holy Freakin' Moly... IT WORKED!

At least I think it worked.  So far.  Obviously I haven't written the whole book yet to see how it will ultimately work. But I'll talk more about this on Friday.  In the meantime, I'll just mention the basic idea of it:

I used the Random Relationship Circle game I mentioned at the end of this post last fall.  In that you roll characters and their relationships to each other to create a cast of characters. (I've made some adjustments.) I did some brainstorming on that, and then I spun a "Wheel of Motives" and did more brainstorming. And finally I applied my existing idea, and that pulled it all together.

I am however, adding a few more things to play with.  I've got a "Wheel of Reversals" to use for plotting, and a "Big Wheel of the Crime behind the Crime" which may take the place of the motive wheel, or work with it.  It also might replace the Crime Wheel in the Situation Game.


More about all of this on Friday.  Fridays will once again be Story Game posts.  For now they will be miscellaneous topics -- such as Creating Your Own Game For Your Own Genre, and mini-games and exercises.

On Tuesdays (and sometimes Wednesdays) I'll continue working my way through plot theory.  We're still on Character Entrances.  This week is really an extension of last week's post.  I'll look at a couple more movies which also use conflict to set up the characters before we even know them.  I'll be talking about Flashback (1990) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), and perhaps some others.  I may do an additional post on Wednesday, because I wanted to get to the concept of "Save the Cat" and also to Delayed Character Entrances and a few other smaller issues in character entrances.

Because we really do need to move on to catalysts and inciting incidents.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Plotting Part 3 - Character Introductions 1

(Continuing with the Plot Structure Series. Still working on the opening "Set Up" section of the story. Chcek out Part 1 - Overview. Part 2- Opening ImagePart 3 - Character Intros 1Part 4 - Character Intros 1b. )

I didn't end up writing about what I thought I was going to write about.  I meant to write generally about how you introduce characters, different methods and techniques, how character entrance can be a "wow" (or memorable satisfying moment) in and of themselves.

However, I found myself riffing on a theme I started last week when I talked about opening images.

You know how I said last week that you can't immerse your audience in the story with just one paragraph or image, because there is just too much information for them to know before they actually can see the whole story?   So you've got to start simple, and lure them in, maybe with only one bit of info at a time?

Well, characters are like worlds. They are complex, they have surprises built into them, they have backstories and motivations -- some of which are obvious, and some of which even the character doesn't understand.

So introducing a character is a lot like introducing a whole story.  You start with something simple, usually the aspect that is most relevant to the story.  Or at least the element that is most relevant to the situation at the start of the story.

And with the three movies I'm going to talk about today, the thing that gets introduced first and foremost is conflict.  Even though I was going to hold off talking about the "Inciting Incident" that starts the story later, it happens that with all three of these movies, the inciting incident really is the situation itself. These characters start out in conflict, and the story has already begun before the credits end.

In The Heat Of The Night - again

Last week we talked about opening images of In the Heat of the Night.  In middle of a hot night, a train pulls in to a small own in Mississippi in 1967, and an anonymous black man in a suit gets off.

We don't really get to meet that man.  So is it really a character entrance?  Or is it more of a teaser of an entrance?  At this point, it sets the stage for something interesting to happen.

Then we get more stage setting: while we do meet most of hte most important characters in the next ten minutes, we start with secondary characters.  The counterman at the late night diner, the cop on the beat. They annoy each other, we get the feeling of a hot night and short tempers and we see a glimpse of the meanness we expect as the counterman lies to the cop about whether there's any pie or not.

Then we get a quick survey of town as the cop gets back in his patrol car and makes his rounds. We another character or two, in ways that reflect how they will be involved in the story.  Then the cop finds a body.

And then we finally meet the secondary protagonist: the Chief of Police (Rod Steiger).  In some ways, you could say that he is the first protagonist. He and his town have the most to learn.  But I'll revisit this because most of the plot points actually fit with Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) as the protag.)

We first meet the chief standing over the body, chewing gum like he'd like to chew off the heads of everyone around him.  He doesn't seem like a soft spoken guy, but he is reserved, thoughtful and keeps his voice low.  He is in charge. Everyone defers to him.  He asks immediately pertinent questions and gives immediately important orders.

This entrance is actually pretty low key.  Later we will see a man who is belligerant, and derisive.  That later image would be a stereotype of hte obnoxious small town Southern police chief or sheriff.  But the guy we see standing over that body, while he doesn't seem like a nice guy, is a professional dealing with a problem.

And the fact that we see this first gives us a sense that this is the most important aspect of his character. So we give him a little leeway when we meet him again....

In the meantime, we get a reminder of Virgil Tibbs -- our passenger from the train at the opening -- waiting in the trainstation, when the chief decides that the killer is likely to be someone passing through town, and he orders his patrolman to check out all the places a vagrant might be, including the pool hall, and the train station.

And that's when we finally meet the passenger from the train, but even then, we don't get to meet him as a person quite yet.  The cop (Warren Oates) sees a black man sitting in the depot, and he immediately pulls his gun and hauls him in.  Tibbs doesn't even say anything.  He is surprised, for just a second, disbelieving. But once he realizes what is happening he is completely correct, expressionless.

And he doesn't say a word or do a thing.  He's like the civil rights activists sitting at a segregated lunch counter -- exerting complete self-control and correct behavior.

And so we still don't know him.

All the same, we know enough.  He's a guy in a situation with a problem.  Just the fact that he didn't believe it for a moment when the cop pulled a gun on him tells us that he has nothing to hide.  But we know he has a lot to fear.

It's only when we bring these two protagonists together that we actually get to meet these two characters, to know who they are. 

Here is the scene where we actually meet the characters for real.  Especially  Virgil Tibbs.  He hasn't said a word until this moment. Nor has he done anything that tells us anything about him as an individual. Heck, he doesn't even move until about halfway through this scene.

And you could say the same for the chief of police -- he was reserved and busy with a crisis at the moment we met him earlier.  Now we can see him in his regular habitat. We can see the attitudes that Virgil Tibbs is disrupting.  He is now ornery and bigoted and not particularly likeable.  And yet, he is not stupid.  He knows when he has made a mistake.

The thing that is interesting here, is that the moment when Virgil Tibbs finally moves -- he sets down his suitcase and faces the chief and starts telling his story -- is at exactly the 15 minute mark.

The 15 minute mark in movies is generally considered a key moment. The inciting incident often happens there.  It's supposed to be the moment when we see the character's life is thrown out of balance, forcing him to act.  In action movies, which often have a longer set up, this is where the villain may make his entrance. (I believe that in Die Hard, this is where the ominous van appears on the streets, heading for the Nakotomi building where all the action will take place.)

In this movie, these characters really already had their lives thrown out of balance, but this still is the significant moment -- this story is about two protagonists trying to achieve something, in spite of all sorts of conflicts and forces working against them.  This is the moment when they both become fully aware of the other. 

I'll talk more about what happens next later.

And... oh crap, it's late, and I have more movies I want to talk about with this.  Different approaches to the same idea of stories that start with the concept of conflicting characters: Character Introductions 1b.

Well, I'll have to get to that on Tuesday.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Characters Ate My Blog Post

Well, not just my characters.

There's also the virus or allergy that is affecting my inner ear and also making me achy as heck. (Positional Vertigo can be fun, if you like to go for a ride every time you tilt your head....)

And over night, one of the cats threw a gallon of distilled water on the floor of my office, necessitating moving of furniture and things located on furniture, and introduction of fans, etc.  (Max is the prime suspect, though one of the girls was certainly the instigator.  The girls all look innocent, and Max ain't talking.)

I tried to accomplish a very simple task but then realized I had to propagate some new passwords first, and resync devices and then update something, and then re-re-sync devices, and the internet got flaky and...AaaAAGGHHhhhh!  (This can be particularly fun when the room is spinning, your neck hurts, and your feet are wet.)

And on top of all this, all the regular characters (who have been on vacation while I played with the game stories) came sailing back in from vacation and presented me with scenes they've been working on while lounging on the beach in Tahiti (it's a magical place).

They did that, actually yesterday. (Actually George did it Saturday night, then yesterday Mick and Casey and then Rozinshura.  A few others, though Plink remains locked in her stateroom.)

George has come up with an opening scene which would be perfect for a book between The Man Who Did Too Much and what I thought was the next book, The Man Who Stepped Up.  He is suspected of committing a crime, and to be honest, I'm not sure he didn't do it myself.  I'm thinking of calling it The Man Who Didn't Do It, though.

But that will necessitate putting off The Man Who Stepped Up. However, if I can come up with a plot I like, I think the writing of both books will go faster and that means I'll be able to follow up one story with another relatively quickly.

Mick and Casey, in the meantime, were more helpful -- they came up with an opening scene which will add a lighter note to Stone-Cold Dead at the Trading Post -- which is a pretty dark story and could use a little light.  Also, they had worked out a capper ending scene that refers back to the beginning that really suits it.


I forgot all about what I wanted to say for today's blog post.  Something about something....

Actually, this is why I decided to maybe go back to one post a week on an involving topic like this.  I'll post what I meant to post today on Friday, and then the next on Tuesday. After that, I'm going to try to stick to theory posts on Tuesday, and game stuff on Friday.  (I'll be doing little games for a bit, and hold off on the plot game until we're done talking about plot theory.  Also, I think I have a whodunnit game in mind to help with George's new story.)

In the meantime, here is Max as a half-grown kitten, eating pop cans while I watch Perry Mason.  The pop cans are there specifically to keep him from eating the computer.  And, um, though it doesn't show in the video... Max actually did punch holes in those cans.

See you in the funny papers.