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YES - Shadow Moon, Book 6 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers, is now available for pre-order, for
delivery on March 20 (Happy Equinox!)

Pre-order here for $2.99.

Before I talk about the new book below, with spoilers - I want to remind everyone that this series is written to be read in order. So Thomas & Mercer has put the first five books of the series on sale for you to catch up - just 99c each on Amazon US.

(Huntress Moon may be $1.99 for some people.)

The series turns tropes of violence against women inside out: this haunted FBI agent  and his team is on the hunt for a female serial killer. Who kills men. Lots of them. All over the country. For years.

So if you love a fictional series based on real life horrors, like The Handmaid's Tale or Mindhunter, or if you're just in the mood to see the predators LOSE, here’s your chance to get a great deal.

Special Agent Matthew Roarke thought he knew what evil was. He was wrong.





   Start with Book One - Huntress Moon, and the Award-winning audiobook!


Huntress Moon  - Audiobook

Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration

Audiobook junkies might want to take the sale opportunity to pick up the ebooks - and add the audiobook narration for $3.99 or less.


Huntress Moon and my amazing narrator, RC Bray, won a Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration, Crime & Thriller.

Bob is also the multi-award-winning narrator of the blockbuster audiobook of The Martian, and you can hear his stellar narration in all six Huntress books.





------------------------------------------- Spoilers ahead! -----------------------------------------------





Does Fate connect us?

Mass killer Cara Lindstrom is in the wind, after a deadly encounter which has left FBI Special Agent Antara Singh questioning her own sanity and fitness to serve. ASAC Matthew Roarke exiles Singh to Portland to work as an assistant to his old mentor, retiring profiler Chuck Snyder—but a series of mysterious break-ins alerts Singh and Snyder to an active threat revolving around an old case: a string of brutal murders of homeless teenagers on the streets of Portland and Seattle.

Singh and Snyder must go on the road and deep into Roarke’s and Cara’s pasts to discover a pattern of destiny and interconnection that holds the key to unsolved child murders, past and present.
-->

 Pre-order for $2.99



If you thought Bitter Moon was complex (I did!) Shadow Moon takes it a couple of notches higher, which may be why I'm a little late on it. :) The book takes place over multiple timelines,
encompassing many episodes from Roarke's and Cara's lives within the framework of a heartbreaking, excruciating, present-day case.

You'll learn things you never knew about all the characters—details and backstories that I've been incorporating into the TV episodes.

On the procedural side, as always, I'm writing about real-life failures in the criminal justice system that could so very easily be fixed with obvious and implementable real-life solutions- IF this country decided to make the elimination of sexual violence and sexual homicide a priority.

And I hope the story will also inspire you to think about the role of destiny and synchronicity in your own life. For me, that's part of the mysterious magic of this world - the signs and convergences that me know I'm on my path.

As always, I'm looking forward to talking to you about any and all of the books in the series, your synchronicities, your fears, your triumphs, your love lives...

       -- Alex 




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Happy Valentine's Day! Here's a romantic but thematically useful post for the day.

As many of you know by now, the first assignment I lay out in my Screenwriting Tricks workbooks, and the first exercise I have any class or workshop I teach do right up front, is a Top Ten List of favorite movies.

Because, yes, I teach story structure, but what works for me structurally is not necessarily going to do it for you. My primary goal is to teach you how to do this for yourself.



If you take the time to list, study and analyze the books and films that have had the greatest impact on you personally, or that are structurally similar to the story you’re writing, or both, that’s when you really start to master your craft. Making the lists and analyzing those stories will help you brainstorm your own, unique versions of scenes and meta-structures that work in the stories on your master list; it will help you figure out how your particular story will work. And doing this analysis will embed story structure in your head so that constructing a story becomes a fun and natural process for you.

Making a genre list is particularly useful for brainstorming and analyzing the elements of a genre or sub genre that your reader or audience will be expecting in any book or film of that genre.

So in honor of the day, I'm going to do a favorite love story list.

• Four Weddings and a Funeral
• Lost in Translation
• Next Stop Wonderland
• Notorious
• Bridget Jones’ Diary  (the book more than the movie)
• Notting Hill
• When Harry Met Sally
• Philadelphia Story
• Rebecca
• Bringing Up Baby
• Much Ado About Nothing
• Casablanca
• Sleepless in Seattle

(That’s a list of more than ten, just to demonstrate that the list is whatever you want it to be!)

So what can I learn about my own love story themes by looking at that list?



Four Weddings and a Funeral, Philadelphia Story, Sleepless in Seattle, and Lost in Translation are probably my favorites of that list.

Four Weddings appeals to me on a very personal level because writer Richard Curtis, as is his wont, is not just exploring love relationships between two people, or several sets of two people, but also the group love dynamic of a posse of friends. In fact, in that movie, the group dynamic is one of the factors keeping the hero, Charlie (Hugh Grant) from settling down to marry — and has kept every single one of the others single, except for the one truly married couple in the group, the gay couple who couldn't at the time legally marry. (Wonderful, scathing truth there, every bit as important today).

That group dynamic has always resonated deeply with me, and I imagine it struck a chord for a lot of people. Also, in terms of high concept, the film is great because most of us have experienced that totally exhausting year that every single person you know gets married and your entire social calendar revolves around weddings. I certainly could relate to Hugh Grant groaning and burying his head under a pillow as yet another embossed linen envelope arrived in the mail.

But the real beauty of Four Weddings is the underlying theme that there is something magical about a wedding that opens the door to love, not just for the couple involved, but potentially for everyone who attends. The structure of the film is a round-robin, where at each wedding at least two people find the loves of their lives, and we see one of those weddings next, or the preparation for a wedding, or at least the deepening of the relationship with a promise of marriage. This is something I think most of us would like to believe about weddings: that there is an encompassing magic there, a kairos, that invites something life-changing. That story truly delivered on that theme.

When Harry Met Sally is an enduring romantic comedy not just because of the great chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan and the charming documentary clips of elderly couples talking about how they met and fell in love, but because it explores a strong theme: Can a man and woman ever really be friends? And we experience the great treat of watching Billy and Meg first becoming friends and then falling in love.

Next Stop Wonderland and Sleepless in Seattle are examples of the theme of the soul mate — that there is someone out there who is destined for you, and that the Universe will guide you to that person. Next Stop Wonderland shows two people whose paths cross over and over again, with all kinds of attendant signs that these two people are supposed to be together — but they don’t meet until the last few seconds of the movie. Sleepless in Seattle explores the same kind of fatedness, and similarly keeps the hero and heroine apart until the end of the movie. I admit, this kind of thing just turns me inside out: that there is one person who is all that, and that all of life is conspiring to help you find that person.

Lost in Translation is a bittersweet variation on the soul mate theme: Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are two married people (married to other people!) in spiritual crisis who meet each other in a posh hotel in Japan. They are drawn to each other despite their marriages and the big age difference between them, and we feel a simultaneous HOPE and FEAR that they will get together. We want it at the same time we sense it’s wrong. But the story is really about — to me — the concept that we may have lived multiple past lives, with multiple lovers, and sometimes in the midst of a crisis, one of those soul mates will show up to guide you through the dark woods … but not necessarily stay with you. In the Final Battle (the film’s climax), Bill does not sleep with Scarlett, and they part ways, but their lives have been transformed by each other nonetheless.

Notting Hill is an interesting story because there’s no one person who’s the antagonist (even though Alec Baldwin does a charming turn as the rival, the movie star boyfriend). The real obstacle to Hugh Grant’s and Julia Roberts’ relationship is her fame, and each sequence explores a different aspect of that celebrity and how it keeps the couple apart.

Philadelphia Story has a very sophisticated underlying premise: Cary Grant knows that Katharine Hepburn will never be able to love him fully until she steps off her pedestal and has a roll in the mud. It’s only after she abandons herself and sleeps with Jimmy Stewart (oh, come on, you know they did!), that she is fully human to love Cary.

Try it with your own list!

Every time I teach a story structure class it’s always fascinating for me to hear people’s lists, one after another, because it gives me such an insight into the particular uniqueness of the stories each of those writers is working toward telling. The list tells you who you are as a writer. What you are really listing are your secret thematic preferences. You can learn volumes from these lists if you are willing to go deep.

I really urge you to create your list, and break those stories down to see why they have such an impact on you — because that's the kind of impact that you want to have on your readers.  Why not learn fron your favorite storytellers how to do it?

So of course, what I want today is love stories! What are yours? What romantic themes particularly resonate with you?

Happy Valentine's Day!

      - Alex


=====================================================



                                          STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------

You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:


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Anyone in the mood for some female vigilante justice?

Book 6 of my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series releases in March, and Thomas & Mercer has put the first five books of the series on sale,  so you can catch up - just $1.99 each on Amazon US. 

The series turns tropes of violence against women inside out: my haunted FBI agent is on the hunt for a female serial killer. Who kills men. All over the country. For years.

So if you're in the mood to see the predators LOSE, here’s your chance to get a great deal.

         Special Agent Matthew Roarke thought he knew what evil was. He was wrong.





  


Huntress Moon  - Audiobook

Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration

Audiobook junkies might want to take the sale opportunity to pick up the ebook - then add the narration for as low as $1.99.


Huntress Moon and my amazing narrator, RC Bray, won a Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration, Crime & Thriller.

Bob is also the multi-award-winning narrator of the blockbuster audiobook of The Martian, and you can hear his stellar narration in all five Huntress books.






I wrote the Huntress Moon series because I am sick to death of women and children being raped, tortured, mutilated, and murdered for entertainment in novels, movies, TV shows...
 
And oh yeah - real life. 

The Huntress series turns the tables. The books follow a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer who kills men. A lot of them.

The fact is, one reason novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is that it’s the stark reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators — we’re the prey. But after all those millennia of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say: “Enough”? And maybe even strike back?

Well, that’s a story, isn’t it? And it’s a story that needs to be told now, more than ever, given this political nightmare we’re living. The premise is a way to explore the third rail of crime: the inherent, entrenched, misogyny of the system.   

And this series is a way for me to explore SOLUTIONS. I am not writing fantasies about clever serial killers. I’m writing from real-life psychology and pathology, using real-life examples and profiling, to counter some of the absolutely ridiculous and false portrayals of this pathology that we see in film and television and books.

Serial killers are NOT criminal masterminds. They do NOT have artistic or poetic bents. They are serial rapists who have graduated to murder. It’s a facet of the male pattern violence that we are seeing revealed in the #MeToo stories and lists from millions of women and teenagers in the past few weeks. Mass shooters – that’s also male pattern violence, with domestic abuse being a key indicator of the type of man who commits this particular atrocity. 

You read the #MeToo stories - much less LIVE them! - and the totality of it seems overwhelming. The fact that we have a serial sexual predator and blatant misogynist (and racist, white supremacist, xenophobe, looter, plutocrat…) in the most powerful office in the world, determining national and international policy, appointing judges, reversing laws that protect women and children – all that is part of the totality and even more overwhelming.   

However, there ARE solutions. There are practical and actually very obvious ways to CHANGE this horrific culture of rape and predation. I've spent years now, researching and interviewing experts about real psychology, real systemic failures, and real solutions. I've written ALL of that into the Huntress series, enacted by characters who reader really care about.

One of the keys to understanding male violence is that it is NOT universal. It is a percentage of repeat offenders who commit these crimes (whether identified or not) over and over and over again. We need to be very clear on this point. The problem is not all men. The problem is a percentage of repeat offenders. 

To underscore this point, in the Huntress series, my FBI investigators are mostly men, gay and straight, different races - with one key woman on the team and lots of female leads from various social and legal and religious services. I wanted to depict the kind of men I know, that I have always known, that I personally have always been easily able to identify and not randomly lump in with criminals. I wanted to depict their struggle with the overwhelming force of entrenched rape culture, and their difficult fight to work within the system to change it. I wanted the situation of their hunt for this unusual, very female killer to force them to grapple with extremely real life, practical, workable solutions to changing the system.

I cover different facets of different legal and societal systems in each of the books. And in book 5, Hunger Moon, Special Agent Roarke and his team are working toward a very explicit, law-enforcement based, multi-pronged approach to identifying and convicting serial sexual predators. 

If we all, male and female, binary and non-binary, LGBTQ, people of every race and variation thereof, could come to understand that we need to deal with this segment of repeat offenders, we COULD change this. We could.

It isn't overwhelming, when we take a breath and break it down. And commit to doing better for everyone. Women, men - and especially, especially children.


But we need to know the facts. We need to know where the systemic failures have been. And we need to keep speaking out against EVERY predator. Always. 


       -- Alex 




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Happy Groundhog Day! Let's celebrate by taking a look at the story structure set up of one of my favorite movies of all time.

                Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


Groundhog Day
Written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis
Directed by Harold Ramis
Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell
1993
Running time 101 min.

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite film love stories, with a rare protagonist: an unlikable one who goes through a major character arc because of the crucible of love (and with a little help from the weather gods). Along with being a time loop story, an alternate reality story, and a high-concept comedy, it’s a great example of a male redemption story which also manages to hit all the right love story beats while at the same time completely satirizing those love story beats. It’s an anti-chick-flick story which nonetheless charms the chicks. In fact, I’m pretty certain that Ramis or Rubin, or both, made themselves a list of romantic comedy tropes and set out to mock every one of them, starting with the concept of the MAGICAL DAY — in this case, the least likely magical day you can imagine. Who ever would associate Groundhog Day with love? (But note that it is the closest holiday to Valentine's Day....)

ACT ONE

SEQUENCE ONE

OPENING IMAGE: This is one of my favorite, sly opening images of all time. It’s a shot of very fast moving clouds in a blue sky, with some sort of carnival music underneath. Now, this is a natural image for the story, which is about a weatherman. But I think there’s a lot more going on with this image. Those are very active clouds. I would even say they’re scheming. Yes, I’m from Berkeley and this may be some overanthropomorphizing on my part (or possibly some sort of flashback) — but I honestly think I’m on to something here. I think the filmmakers are deliberately making the weather an antagonist — and mentor — for the protagonist, who has some pretty severe need of character change. Call it weather, call it the weather gods, call it fate — but think about it. There’s no obvious human antagonist in this story. Instead, there is some kind of supernatural force working here to effect the change in surly protagonist Phil Connors.

And the shot to me also recalls the opening image of It’s a Wonderful Life, to which this film obviously owes much. In IAWL, the opening scene consists of snow falling heavily on small town Bedford Falls, with voice-over prayers for someone named George Bailey, which drift gradually upward until we fix on clusters of stars in a night sky. Two of the constellations start to talk about how this is George’s critical night — and we understand there is going to be some heavenly intercession in whatever this George Bailey’s crisis is.

And intercession is exactly what happens with Phil in Groundhog Day, in a more subtle but very effective way.

CUT TO: A news studio, with weatherman Phil Connors doing his shtick in front of a blue screen (basically waving his arms around, a nice visual depiction of the meaninglessness of his job). However, despite his sarcasm and his obvious disdain for what he does — and disdain for his coworkers, too — Phil has star quality (it’s Bill Murray, after all) and he is more than providing the show that the job calls for.

HERO’S OUTER DESIRE: Phil wants out of Pittsburg and onto a major network. One of his first off-camera lines of dialogue is that a major network is interested in him. Yes, have the hero STATE WHAT HE WANTS.

We learn right away that Phil is en route to one of his most despised shoots — up to tiny Punxsutawney to report on the annual Groundhog Day festival (the INCITING INCIDENT — he’s sent off on a job). Going with him are long-suffering cameraman Larry and wholesome, optimistic producer Rita, whom we see first on camera, trying to figure out how the blue screen works. There’s a long close up on Phil’s face as he watches her — it looks like he thinks this woman is a moron. At least, that’s what we would expect him to be thinking. Actually, this is his real CALL TO ADVENTURE (so often in a love story the CALL is seeing the beloved for the first time). And much later in the story Phil confesses to a sleeping Rita what he was actually thinking when he looked at her — it’s a wonderful PLANT.

So they’re off on the road; under the credits we see shots of the big city (relatively), Pittsburgh, then the van drives over a bridge and into snow-dusted mountains with small towns. (The song: “I’m Your Weatherman)." This is the first, more overt INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD moment. Remember that bridges are overt symbols of transition and change.  Out of the city, into a small mountain town. This kind of contrast underscores the feeling of newness and adventure we want to experience in an Into The Special World transition. But a second, more magical INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD is coming...  

In the van, Phil mocks both the festival and impossibly upbeat Rita mercilessly, but still does it with enough Bill Murray charm that we see Rita is amused, and attracted. (Right off the bat we get the DANCE scene — they play well together and Rita is unflapped by Phil’s volleys; she’s able to keep his humor from descending into outright meanness. But meanness is definitely a danger; Phil desperately needs redeeming.)

The crew arrives on Main Street, Punxsutawney, which if you ask me looks exactly like Bedford Falls. Rita has booked Phil into a nice B&B while she and Larry are staying in a cheap hotel. She tells him to “Get some sleep.”

Lights out, and then up on the clock alarm by Phil’s bed (this clock will play a huge role) — clicking over to 6 a.m. for the first time in the film as “I Got You, Babe,” plays. (I have to think this is the Fates having a laugh; they certainly have “got” Phil. But of course, it’s also a love song … ) The whole following sequence — every comic bit, line of dialogue, action and character in it — is the master sequence for all the variations on it that are to come.

• Phil washes up at the sink to the obnoxious patter of the radio jockeys talking about Groundhog Day.
• Phil is scathing to a cheery overweight guest in the upstairs hall.
• Downstairs, Phil mocks the even more cheery proprietress of the B&B.
• On the street, Phil joins the townspeople heading toward Gobbler’s Knob.
• Phil pretends he has no money for the elderly panhandler on a street corner.
• Ned Ryerson, a high school non-friend of Phil’s, recognizes him and tries to sell him life insurance.
• Phil steps in an icy pothole while trying to escape from Ned.
• Phil walks through the throngs of Groundhog Day festival-goers at the Knob (as the band plays “The Pennsylvania Polka”) to join Rita and Larry. Phil does the TV commentary on the groundhog festival: groundhog “Phil” is removed from his cave, consults with town fathers, and sees his shadow. Six more weeks of winter (FORESHADOWING).
• Phil insists on leaving town immediately.
• On the road, the crew hits a roadblock — cars are being turned back because of a big blizzard. (HERO LOCKED INTO THE SITUATION.)
(This is a trope in romantic comedy — the Fates seem to intervene in the form of the weather, forcing the hero or heroine onto a path s/he hadn’t planned for, as we see in New in Town and Leap Year. Groundhog Day takes this and many other romantic comedy clichés and mocks them at the same time as it gets all the mileage it can out of the romance of the situations — which is a big reason the story appealed equally to male and female audiences. Note that the same slightly surreal music from the opening shot is playing under this scene — it’s the Fates stepping in, I’m telling you! I’d also call this the ANTAGONIST’S PLAN. It’s just delicious that the weather has turned into Phil’s opponent. And Phil knows it, as he rails at the roadblock cop: “I make the weather.” (Uh, oh — if I’m not mistaken, this is DEFYING THE GODS. It’s never good when mortals do that …)
• Back in the B&;B, Phil can’t find transportation or even a phone line out of town.
• In his room he tries to shower and is assaulted by icy water; the pipes are frozen.
• He goes to bed. (18:30)

SEQUENCE TWO

And in the morning, Phil wakes up — to the exact same clock shot, the exact same song, the exact same radio patter. Phil assumes the repetition is a studio gaffe: they’ve put in yesterday’s tape by mistake. (A great rational response to a bizarre situation.) But when he looks out the window there’s very little snow on the ground, and people seem to be headed toward Gobbler’s Knob in droves, just as they did yesterday.

And here’s the second, more subtle, but real CROSSING THE THRESHOLD/INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD: when Phil wakes up in the morning to a replaying of the day he just spent. The filmmakers cue this moment with the shot of the clock alarm clicking over to 6 a.m., while “I Got You, Babe” plays on the radio. It’s a big visual that will repeat and repeat and repeat. The numbers on the clock are like a door, and they usher Phil into the real Special World: a time loop where every day is Groundhog Day and there’s no escaping Punxsutawney, PA.

Out in the hallway he runs into the same portly guest, who asks him the same cheery questions. Phil starts to get uneasy then attacks the guest, demanding to know what’s going on.

In the breakfast room, a dazed Phil is nicer to the proprietress just from shock.

He is increasingly distressed as he goes to Gobbler’s Knob (meeting Ned again, stepping in the icy pothole) and finds the festivities occurring in the same order. His newscast is considerably less sarcastic, and Rita wonders.

By now sure that the blizzard is coming and he’s trapped, Phil doesn’t leave in the van with Larry and Rita. At the B&B he again phones a travel agent and tries to get out of town some other way; when the travel agent suggests he try again tomorrow, Phil rails, “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t today.” A nice bit of comic dialogue that also clearly states Phil’s FEAR. (SPELL IT OUT.)

Before he goes to sleep he breaks a pencil and sets it on the bed table. (TESTING THE RULES.) (25:44)

Phil wakes for the third time to the same song, the same radio banter. The pencil is intact, reconstituted.

Phil speeds through the same sequence of events, then at Gobbler’s Knob tells Rita he’s not going to do the show; he’s already done it twice already, and something is terribly wrong. Rita insists he do the show, they’ll talk after. (27:30)

At the diner, Phil tells Rita “I’m reliving the day over and over. I need help.”

Rita thinks he needs a doctor. (So this is the minor, initial PLAN.) Note the stopped clocks on the wall behind Phil, and the bumper sticker that says “The Spirit” behind Rita. In fact, the Tip Top café logo outside on the building is a clock — with no hands.

Rita and Larry take Phil to a doctor. The CAT scan is clean; the doctor suggests a shrink. Phil visits a very young psychologist who has no idea what to do with his problem but suggests they meet again tomorrow.

Phil gets drunk in a bowling alley with two locals. He asks them: “What if you woke up in the same place every day and every day was just the same and there was nothing you could do about it?” The men seem to feel that’s life, in a nutshell. (THEME.) As they leave the bar, the two men are way too drunk to drive, so Phil gets into the driver’s seat of the car and then suddenly takes off, asking, “What if there were no consequences?” One of the drunks answers, “We could do whatever we wanted.” And Phil says, “Exactly.” (PLAN). He races through the town, picking up a police tail, drives on the railroad tracks, barely missing a train, and crashes into a giant groundhog cutout in a parking lot. The sequence ends with the jail cell door closing on Phil … (35 min).

ACT ONE CLIMAX (A comic car chase, crash, SETPIECE.)

… and Phil wakes up in the morning in the B&B bed, to the same clock, the same song. 



--------

Want more? Get full story structure breakdowns of ten movies in each of my workbooks.

                                             
                     Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


                                            STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------


You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

                Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns





 
My Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI Thrillers is ON SALE for $1.99. 

A haunted FBI agent is on the hunt for a female serial killer.
This time, the predators lose. 
 


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I'm thrilled to be able to announce two Stealing Hollywood intensive workshops, both in settings that could jump start anyone's creativity.

March 23-24: Highlands Writing Intensive

For my UK friends (and other Scotophiles), I'm doing a weekend intensive in the Highlands, on the gorgeous, unique grounds of the Pagoda in Grantown-on-Spey. You can stay the whole weekend on site in a lodge with indoor swimming pool, or there are day pass options as well.

Information and registration






November 3-10: Eastern Caribbean Writing Cruise

Join me on the luxury liner Allure of the Seas for a writing retreat/Caribbean cruise!

November 3 10, 2019 Cruising Writers Eastern Caribbean Writing Cruise - YouTube

Cruising Writers is hosting this seven-day cruise to St. Kitts and St. Thomas, with a two-day workshop and individual problem-solving sessions, Q and A sessions, and of course shore excursions and all the amenities that the Allure has to offer. Check out the Cruising Writers website for information, itinerary and registration.



About the workshops:



                             STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

Award-winning author/screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff's internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors story structure workshops and workbooks use movies to teach authors and screenwriters essential film structure and visual storytelling techniques, and have helped hundreds of aspiring authors to publishing deals and professional authors to craft better books.

This two-day masterclass will illuminate the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure of film writing and how to use it to plot your book idea and/or rewrite your novel to make it the best book it can be - and have the most fun you’ve ever had doing it!



DAY ONE

Hour 1: The Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure

In the first hour to hour and a half of the workshop we’ll cover the basics of the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence story structure of film and television and how/why it’s so useful to translate it to writing novels.

Even die-hard pantsers quickly grasp that this is a rhythm of storytelling they’re intimately familiar with, from all the tens of thousands of movies and TV shows we’ve seen in our lifetimes (scary, isn’t it?).
Even more than that, editors, agents and our readers subconsciously EXPECT this rhythm/story pattern. So if we authors don’t deliver, a reader quickly gets uncomfortable that there’s something wrong. We all know this pattern. I’m just putting names to the steps and making it all conscious.

Also in this introductory hour or two I break down the concept of Setpiece Scenes – one of the most useful visual storytelling tricks we can steal from movies.

And I go over The Index Card Method/Story Structure Grid method of plotting (or rewriting/emergency help if you’re a pantser!).

For the rest of the day we’ll go through ALL the Key Story Elements of each Act, and how every one of these 20+ elements appears in approximately the same act, no matter what genre the writer is working with. I’ll tailor examples to your genre and movie preferences.

-       Elements of Act I
-       Elements of Act II: part 1
-       Elements of Act II: part 2
-       Elements of Act III


DAY TWO:

On Day 2 we put what we’ve learned into action with a Movie Screening. We’ll watch a movie while I talk through it, pointing out all the Key Story Elements and how they work, along with Filmmaking Tricks that authors can steal for their books. This fun and hugely helpful session locks in the story structure concepts and teaches authors to use their favorite movies as writing guides.

For the rest of the day we’ll go further into the story elements as well as focus more in-depth on visual techniques. The workshops are very interactive, with questions encouraged throughout.

Get ready for the journey of a writing lifetime!

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(Or - How to watch movies and TV to be a better writer)



So it’s the New Year and people are making resolutions right and left, or swearing off them because “they never work” and all that, right?



I think the better question here is: What can I do this year to be a better -------? 



Fill in the blank—and the real answer is always “be a better person”—but since this is a writing blog, I’m going to deal with the subset of the person you are that is called “writer”.



I was doing some research and watching random Youtube videos on various subjects and I ended up down one of those Youtube rabbit holes and came across this one.




Robin Sharma has a lot of good ideas for achieving excellence in your field in this video, but the one that struck me as incredibly relevant to what I teach is the “60 Minute Student.” That is, do something for one hour every day and you will be the top in your field, whatever that is.

So I want to start the year with something you can do every day. You can do it with a New Year’s hangover, you can do it when you’re depressed, you can do it when you’ve got the kids all day, you can do it even when you have no desire to do anything at all. And it is the absolute bottom line basis of what I teach in my books, and workshops, and blogs.

Practice story.

If you commit some hours at the beginning of this year to learning how to analyze film story structure, then you truly can practice story by osmosis every single time the TV is on, which for many of us is every day, too many hours a day.

Once you have dedicated some time to doing it consciously, you will be able to do it unconsciously and you are growing as a writer every time there is a television remotely in your vicinity.

Don’t you want that?



Craig's and my Boxing Day movie was The African Queen. We were only watching it to space out after two straight days of family. Two very wonderful days. But you know – also family. So the only real intention was to space out on the couch and watch a great movie.

But because both of us practice story for a living, we were also having two great hours of being students of our craft.  
The AfricanQueen is a fantastic movie to watch to get clear on the concept of SEQUENCES. It is an amazing, heartbreaking movie to watch for the concept of the HERO/INE’S GREATEST NIGHTMARE and ALL IS LOST moments – maybe the best I’ve ever seen outside The Silence of the Lambs — with both characters facing their greatest nightmares in completely devastating scenes that set up the excruciating choice they must face to complete their mission. It is a world-class love story with equal hero and heroine’s journeys, and the classic film Romancing the Stone would not exist without this powerful antecedent. It is the best movie ever for its resonant double entendre of the title, as we see Katharine Hepburn becoming a queen before our very eyes.



So if you’re new to consciously analyzing story structure, I urge you to do it with a movie that I can talk you through, first.  Take one of the movies in either Stealing Hollywood or Writing Love, or one of the movie breakdowns that I send you when you sign up for my Story Structure Extras List. One that you already know well is a good choice. One that seems similar to what you are writing or want to write is a good choice.




First, read about the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure. You can download a free sample of Stealing Hollywood, which will give you the basics you need without you having to commit to buying the book. :) 
 
And then go through the movie sequence by sequence, reading my notes before each fifteen-minute sequence, then watching the sequence, then stopping at the end of the sequence to reread my notes, and make your own notes. Proceed through the movie one sequence at a time. Do that two or three times if you’re inspired to – make this movie your “teaching movie”, as Michael Connelly calls it.



After one screening, you have vastly expanded your understanding of story structure.



After two screenings, another whole level of structure will be revealing itself.



After three screenings, your mind will feel like it’s been blown open and you will be rabid to do it with another movie, and then another, and then another.



And you know what? It’s perfectly okay to stop “writing” completely and do just a month of This. Because This IS writing. And after that month, you will come back to your own book or script with a level of mastery unlike anything you’ve experienced before.



Happy New Year, and happy writing



-        Alex

 
-->

=====================================================


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.


                                      STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------


You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

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(Or - How to watch movies and TV to be a better writer)



So it’s the New Year and people are making resolutions right and left, or swearing off them because “they never work” and all that, right?



I think the better question here is: What can I do this year to be a better -------? 



Fill in the blank—and the real answer is always “be a better person”—but since this is a writing blog, I’m going to deal with the subset of the person you are that is called “writer”.



I was doing some research and watching random Youtube videos on various subjects and I ended up down one of those Youtube rabbit holes and came across this one.




Robin Sharma has a lot of good ideas for achieving excellence in your field in this video, but the one that struck me as incredibly relevant to what I teach is the “60 Minute Student.” That is, do something for one hour every day and you will be the top in your field, whatever that is.



So I want to start the year with something you can do every day. You can do it with a New Year’s hangover, you can do it when you’re depressed, you can do it when you’ve got the kids all day, you can do it even when you have no desire to do anything at all. And it is the absolute bottom line basis of what I teach in my books, and workshops, and blogs.



Practice story.



If you commit some hours at the beginning of this year to learning how to analyze film story structure, then you truly can practice story by osmosis every single time the TV is on, which for many of us is every day, too many hours a day.



Once you have dedicated some time to doing it consciously, you will be able to do it unconsciously and you are growing as a writer every time there is a television remotely in your vicinity.



Don’t you want that?



Craig's and my Boxing Day movie was The African Queen. We were only watching it to space out after two straight days of family. Two very wonderful days. But you know – also family. So the only real intention was to space out on the couch and watch a great movie.



But because both of us practice story for a living, we were also having two great hours of being students of our craft.  

The AfricanQueen is a fantastic movie to watch to get clear on the concept of SEQUENCES. It is an amazing, heartbreaking movie to watch for the concept of the HERO/INE’S GREATEST NIGHTMARE and ALL IS LOST moments – maybe the best I’ve ever seen outside The Silence of the Lambs — with both characters facing their greatest nightmares in completely devastating scenes that set up the excruciating choice they must face to complete their mission. It is a world-class love story with equal hero and heroine’s journeys, and the classic film Romancing the Stone would not exist without this powerful antecedent. It is the best movie ever for its resonant double entendre of The African Queen, as we see Katharine Hepburn becoming a queen before our very eyes.



So if you’re new to consciously analyzing story structure, I urge you to do it with a movie that I can talk you through, first.  Take one of the movies in either Stealing Hollywood or Writing Love, or one of the movie breakdowns that I send you when you sign up for my Story Structure Extras List. One that you already know well is a good choice. One that seems similar to what you are writing or want to write is a good choice.




First, read about the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure. You can download a free sample of Stealing Hollywood, which will give you the basics you need without you having to commit to buying the book. :) 
 
And then go through the movie sequence by sequence, reading my notes before each fifteen-minute sequence, then watching the sequence, then stopping at the end of the sequence to reread my notes, and make your own notes. Proceed through the movie one sequence at a time. Do that two or three times if you’re inspired to – make this movie your “teaching movie”, as Michael Connelly calls it.



After one screening, you have vastly expanded your understanding of story structure.



After two screenings, another whole level of structure will be revealing itself.



After three screenings, your mind will feel like it’s been blown open and you will be rabid to do it with another movie, and then another, and then another.



And you know what? It’s perfectly okay to stop “writing” completely and do just a month of This. Because This IS writing. And after that month, you will come back to your own book or script with a level of mastery unlike anything you’ve experienced before.



Happy New Year, and happy writing



-        Alex

 
-->

=====================================================


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.


                                      STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------



You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

Read Full Article
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by Alexandra Sokoloff

Now that we've had some time off from the frenzy of writing that was November, we need to get back to those drafts and - yike! - see what we've got.

This is assuming two crucial things:

       1. You have FINISHED your draft. If not, keep writing to the end.

       2. You have taken enough time off from that draft to clear your head. If you just finished on November 30, you have not taken enough time. A week minimum, two is better, three even better.

But once you have taken the time off… how the hell do you proceed with the second draft?

                    Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Well, first you have to read the first draft. All the way through. Not necessarily in one sitting (if that’s even possible to begin with!).  I usually do this in chunks of 50 pages or 100 pages a day – anything else makes my brain sore.

(And yes, if you’ve been paying attention to the Eight-Sequence Structure, that would mean I’m either reading one sequence or two sequences a day).

I picked up a tip from some book or article a long time ago about reading for revisions, and I wish I could remember who said it to credit them, because it’s great advice. Grab yourself a colored pen or pencil (or all kinds of colors, glitter pens - go wild) and sit down with a stack of freshly printed pages (sorry, it’s ungreen, but I can’t do a first revision on a screen. I need a hard copy). Then read through and make brief notes where necessary, but DO NOT start rewriting, and PUT THE PEN DOWN as soon as you’ve made a note. You want to read the first time through for story, not for stupid details that will interrupt your experience of the story as a whole. You want to get the big picture – especially – you want to see if you actually have a book (or film, if that’s what you’re writing).

If your drafts are anything like mine, there will be large chunks of absolute shit. That’s pretty much my definition of what a first draft is. X them out on the spot if you have to, but resist the temptation to stop and rewrite. Well, if you REALLY are hot to write a scene, I guess, okay, but really, unless you are totally, fanatically inspired, it’s better just to make brief notes.

When you’ve finished reading there should - hopefully! - be the feeling that even though you probably still have massive amounts of work yet to do, there is a book there. (I love that feeling…)

Once I’ve read through the entire thing, I make notes about my impressions, and then usually I will do a re-card (see The Index Card Method). I will have made many scribbled notes on the draft to the effect of “This scene doesn’t work here!” In some of my first drafts, whole sections don’t work at all. This is my chance to find the right places for things. And, of course, throw stuff out.

I will go through the entire book again – going back and forth between my pages and the cards on my story grid - and see where the story elements fall. There is no script or book I’ve ever written that didn’t benefit from a careful overview once again identifying act breaks, sequence climaxes, and key story elements like: The Call to Adventure; Stating the Theme; identifying the Central Question; Central Action and Plan; Crossing the Threshold; Meeting the Mentor; the Dark Night of the Soul - once the first draft is actually finished. A lot of your outline may have changed, and you will be able to pull your story into line much more effectively if you check your structural elements again and continually be thinking of how you can make those key scenes more significant, more magical.

(For a quick refresher on Story Elements, skip down to #10 at the bottom of this post, and the links at the end for more in-depth discussion.)

Also, be very aware of what your sequences are. If a scene isn’t working, but you know you need to have it, it’s probably in the wrong sequence, and if you look at your story overall and at what each sequence is doing, you’ll probably be able to see immediately where stray scenes need to go. That’s why re-carding and re-sequencing is such a great thing to do when you start a revision.


STORY ELEMENTS CHECKLIST

ACT ONE

* Opening image
* Meet the hero or heroine
* Hero/ine’s inner and outer desire.
* Hero/ine’s problem
* Hero/ine’s ghost or wound
* Hero/ine’s arc
* Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure
* Meet the antagonist (and/or introduce a mystery, which is what you do when you’re going to keep your antagonist hidden to reveal at the end)
* State the theme/what’s the story about?
* Allies
* Mentor (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story).
* Love interest
* Plant/Reveal (or: Setups and Payoffs)
* Hope/Fear (and Stakes)
* Time Clock (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story)
* Sequence One climax
* Central Question
* Central Story Action
* Plan (Hero/ine's)
* Villain's Plan
* Act One climax

___________________________

ACT TWO


* Crossing the Threshold/ Into the Special World (may occur in Act One)
* Threshold Guardian (maybe)
* Hero/ine’s Plan
* Antagonist’s Plan
* Training Sequence
* Series of Tests
* Picking up new Allies
* Assembling the Team
* Attacks by the Antagonist (whether or not the Hero/ine recognizes these as being from the antagonist)
* In a detective story, questioning witnesses, lining up and eliminating suspects, following clues.


THE MIDPOINT


* Completely changes the game
* Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action
* Can be a huge revelation
* Can be a huge defeat
* Can be a “now it’s personal” loss
* Can be sex at 60 — the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems


______________________________
ACT TWO, PART TWO


* Recalibrating — after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the Midpoint, the hero/ine must Revamp The Plan and try a New Mode of Attack.
* Escalating Actions/ Obsessive Drive
* Hard Choices and Crossing The Line (immoral actions by the main character to get what s/he wants)
* Loss of Key Allies (possibly because of the hero/ine’s obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).
* A Ticking Clock (can happen anywhere in the story)
* Reversals and Revelations/Twists. (Hmm, that clearly should have its own post, now, shouldn't it?)
* The Long Dark Night of the Soul and/or Visit to Death (aka All Is Lost)

THE SECOND ACT CLIMAX

* Often can be a final revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is
* Answers the Central Question


_______________________________

ACT THREE

The third act is basically the Final Battle and Resolution. It can often be one continuous sequence — the chase and confrontation, or confrontation and chase. There may be a final preparation for battle, or it might be done on the fly. Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelations of the second act.

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It is often divided into two sequences:


1. Getting there (storming the castle)
2. The final battle itself

* Thematic Location — often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare
* The protagonist’s character change
* The antagonist’s character change (if any)
* Possibly allies’ character changes and/or gaining of desire
* Could be one last huge reveal or twist, or series of reveals and twists, or series of final payoffs you've been saving (as in BACK TO THE FUTURE and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE).

* RESOLUTION: A glimpse into the New Way of Life that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he’s learned from it.

And I'll be posting more about how to do different kinds of passes for particular effect. But for now, I think all of the above should keep you busy for a few days...   

Alex



=====================================================


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.

                                      STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------



You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:


Read Full Article
  • Show original
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by Alexandra Sokoloff

It's the last day of #Nanowrimo. Technically. But the thing is, it doesn't REALLY matter. What matters is that you use the momentum of this month to get your book done. That may very well NOT be tomorrow. That's okay! Wherever you are is where you need to be.

But if you ARE in that endgame, let's talk about climaxes. Come on, admit it - one of the great things about being writers is that we get paid for them.



(If you're new to this blog, start here:  Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns)



Have you ever seen “The Making of Jaws”? I swear, bonus commentaries and docs like these are the best thing that ever happened for writers and film students.

Peter Benchley, the author and co-screenwriter, was talking about the ending of the film. He said that from the beginning of production Spielberg had been ragging on him about the ending – he said it was too much of a downer. For one thing, the visual wasn’t right – if you’ll recall the book, once Sheriff Brody has killed the shark (NOT by blowing it up), the creature spirals slowly down to the bottom of the sea.

Spielberg found that emotionally unsatisfying. He wanted something bigger, something exciting, something that would have audiences on their feet and cheering. He proposed the oxygen tank – that Brody would first shove a tank of compressed air into the shark’s mouth, and then fire at it until he hit the tank and the shark went up in a gigantic explosion. Benchley argued that it was completely absurd – no one would ever believe that could happen. Spielberg countered that he had taken the audience on the journey all this time – we were with the characters every step of the way. The audience would trust him if he did it right.

And it is a wildly implausible scene, but you go with it. That shark has just eaten Quint, whom we have implausibly come to love (through the male bonding and then that incredible revelation of his experience being one of the crew of the wrecked submarine that were eaten one by one by sharks). And when Brody, clinging to the mast of the almost entirely submerged boat – aims one last time and hits that shark, and it explodes in water, flesh and blood – it is an AMAZING catharsis.

Topped only by the sudden surfacing of the beloved Richard Dreyfuss character, who has, after all, survived. (in the book he died – but was far less of a good guy.) The effect is pure elation.

Spielberg paid that movie off with an emotional exhilaration rarely experienced in a story. Those characters EARNED that ending, and the audience did, too, for surviving the whole brutal experience with them. Brilliant filmmaker that he is, Spielberg understood that. The emotion had to be there, or he would have failed his audience.

This is a good lesson, I think: above all, in an ending, the reader/audience has to CARE. A good ending has an emotional payoff, and it has to be proportionate to what the character AND the reader/audience has experienced.



IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is another terrific example of emotional exhilaration in the end. Once George Bailey has seen what would have happened to his little town if he had never been born, and he decides he wants to live and realizes he IS alive again, the pleasures just keep coming and coming and coming. It is as much a relief for us as for George, to see him running through town, seeing all his old friends and familiar places restored. And then to see the whole town gathering at his house to help him, one character after another appearing to lend money, Violet deciding to stay in town, his old friend wiring him a promise of as much money as he needs – the whole thing makes the audience glad to be alive, too. They feel, as George does, that the little things you do every day DO count.

So underneath everything you’re struggling to pull together in an ending, remember to step back and identify what you want your reader or audience to FEEL.

Another important component in an ending is a sense of inevitability – that it was always going to come down to this. Sheriff Brody does everything he can possibly do to avoid being on the water with that shark. He’s afraid of the water, he’s a city-bred cop, he’s an outsider in the town – he’s the least likely person to be able to deal with this gigantic creature of the sea. He enlists not one but two vastly different “experts from afar”, the oceanographer Hooper and the crusty sea captain Quint, to handle it for him. But deep down we know from the start, almost BECAUSE of his fear and his unsuitability for the task, that in the final battle it will be Sheriff Brody, alone, mano a mano (so to speak) with that shark. And he kills it with his own particular skill set – he’s a cop, and one thing he knows is guns. It’s unlikely as hell, but we buy it, because in crisis we all resort to what we know.

And it’s always a huge emotional payoff when a reluctant hero steps up to the plate.

It may seem completely obvious to say so, but no matter how many allies accompany the hero/ine into the final battle, the ultimate confrontation is almost always between the hero/ine and the main antagonist, alone. By all means let the allies have their own personal battles and resolutions within battle – that can really build the suspense and excitement of a climactic sequence. But don’t take that final victory out of the hands of your hero/ine or the story will fall flat.

Also, there is very often a moment when the hero/ine will realize that s/he and the antagonist are mirror images of each other. And/or the antagonist may provide a revelation at the moment of confrontation that nearly destroys the hero/ine… yet ultimately makes him or her stronger. (Think “I am your father” in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).

The battle is also a chance to pay off all your setups and plants. Very often you will have set up a weakness for your hero/ine. That weakness that has caused him or her to fail repeatedly in previous tests, and in the battle he hero/ine’s great weakness will be tested.

PLACE is a hugely important element of an ending. Great stories usually, if not almost always, end in a location that has thematic and symbolic meaning. Here, once again, creating a visual and thematic image system for your story will serve you well, as will thinking in terms of SETPIECES (as we’ve talked about before)  Obviously the climax should be the biggest setpiece sequence of all. In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Clarice must go down into the labyrinth to battle the monster and save the captured princess. In JAWS, the Sheriff must confront the shark on his own and at sea (and on a sinking boat!). In THE WIZARD OF OZ, Dorothy confronts the witch in her own castle. In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Indy must infiltrate the Nazi bunker. In PSYCHO, the hero confronts Tony Perkins in his basement – with the corpse of “Mother” looking on. (Basements are a very popular setting for thriller climaxes… that labyrinth effect, and the fact that “basement issues” are our worst fears and weaknesses).

And yes, there’s a pattern, here - the hero/ine very often has to battle the villain/opponent on his/her own turf.

A great, emotionally effective technique within battle is to have the hero/ine lose the battle to win the war. AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN did this beautifully in the final obstacle course scene, where the arrogant trainee Zack Mayo, who has always been out only for himself, sacrifices his own chance to graduate first in his class to help a classmate over the wall and complete the course, thus overcoming his own flaw of selfishness and demonstrating himself to be true officer material.

Another technique to build a bigger, more satisfying climax is is to have the allies get THEIR desires, too – as in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

And a particularly effective emotional technique is to have the antagonist  have a character change in the end of the story. KRAMER VS. KRAMER did this exceptionally well, with the mother seeing that her husband has become a great father and deciding to allow him custody of their son, even though the courts have granted custody to her. It’s a far greater win than if the father had simply beaten her. Everyone has changed for the better.

Because CHANGE may just be the most effective and emotionally satisfying ending of all. Nothing beats having both Rick and Captain Renault rise above their cynical and selfish instincts and go off together to fight for a greater good. So bringing it back to the beginning – one of the most important things you can design in setting up your protagonist is where s/he starts in the beginning, and how much s/he has changed in the end.

I bet you all can guess the question for today! What are your favorite endings of screen and page, and what makes them great?

-   Alexandra Sokoloff


=====================================================

                                        STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)









You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

Read Full Article
  • Show original
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by Alexandra Sokoloff

Okay!! It's the last week - we're into Act III, now! Or maybe, even probably, you're not that far yet, which is perfectly fine. As long as you're writing, it's all good. The book will be done when it's done.

But if you are into Act III, here are the prompts for that last act.

                         Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

- Alex





ELEMENTS OF ACT THREE

Act Three is generally the final 20 to 30 minutes in a film, or the last 70 to 100 pages in a 400-page novel. The final quarter, and the shortest quarter.

It is often divided into these two major sequences:

1. Getting there (STORMING THE CASTLE)
2. The FINAL BATTLE itself 

Plus a shorter RESOLUTION/NEW WAY OF LIFE.

And it usually contains these elements:

• Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero/ine will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelation of the second act climax.
• There may be a TICKING CLOCK
• The Hero/ine may REASSEMBLE THE TEAM, and there may be another short TRAINING SEQUENCE and/or GATHERING THE TOOLS sequence
• The team often goes in together, first, and there is a big ENSEMBLE BATTLE
• In this battle, we possibly see the ALLY/ALLIES’ CHARACTER CHANGES and/or gaining of desire
• We also get the DEFEAT OF SECONDARY OPPONENTS
•  Then the hero/ine goes into the FINAL BATTLE to face the antagonist alone, MANO A MANO
• The final battle takes place in a THEMATIC LOCATION: often a visual and literal representation of the HERO/INE’S GREATEST NIGHTMARE, and is very often a metaphorical CASTLE. Or a real one!  It is also often the antagonist’s home turf.
• We see the protagonist’s character arc
• We may see the antagonist’s character arc, too (but often there is none)
• We get a glimpse of the TRUE NATURE OF THE ANTAGONIST
• Possibly there is a huge FINAL REVERSAL or reveal (twist), or even a whole series of payoffs that you’ve been saving (as in Back to the Future and It’s A Wonderful Life)
• FULL CIRCLE: Not every story uses this, but often the hero/ine returns to a place we saw at the beginning of the story, and we see her or his character growth.
• RESOLUTION: We get a glimpse into the New Way of Life that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he’s learned from it
• FINAL BOWS: We need to see all our favorite characters one final time
• CLOSING IMAGE: Which is often a variation of the Opening Image
All right, let’s look at these more closely.

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist.

And sometimes that’s really all there is to it: one final battle between the protagonist and antagonist. In which case some good revelatory twists are probably required!

By the end of the second act, pretty much everything has been set up that we need to know — particularly who the antagonist is, which sometimes we haven’t known, or have been wrong about, until it’s revealed at the second act climax. Of course, sometimes, or maybe often, there is one final reveal about the antagonist that is saved till the very end or nearly the end, as in The Usual Suspects and The Empire Strikes Back and Psycho.

We also very often have gotten a sobering or terrifying glimpse of the TRUE NATURE OF THE ANTAGONIST — a great example of that kind of “nature of the opponent” scene is in Chinatown, in that scene in which Jake is slapping Evelyn and he learns the truth about her father.

There is often a new, FINAL PLAN that the hero/ine makes that takes into account the new information and revelations. As always with a plan, it’s good to spell it out.

There’s a locational aspect to the third act: the final battle will often take place in a completely different setting than the rest of the film or novel. In fact, half of the third act can be, and often is, just getting to the site of the final showdown. One of the most memorable examples of this in movie history is the STORMING THE CASTLE scene in The Wizard of Oz, where, led by an escaped Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion scale the cliff, scope out the vast armies of the witch (“Yo Ee O”) and tussle with three stragglers to steal their uniforms and march in through the drawbridge of the castle with the rest of the army (an example of a PLAN BY ALLIES). The Princess Bride also has a literal Storming the Castle scene, with the Billy Crystal and Carol Kane characters waving our team off shouting, “Have fun storming the castle!”

A sequence like this, and the similar ones in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, can have a lot of the elements we discussed about the first half of the story: a PLAN, ASSEMBLING THE TEAM, ASSEMBLING TOOLS AND DISGUISES, TRAINING OR REHEARSAL.

I’m not just talking about action and fantasy movies, here. You see a truncated version of this team battle plan and storming the castle scene in Notting Hill, when all of Will’s friends pile into the car to help him catch Anna before she leaves.

And of course speed is often a factor — there’s may be a TICKING CLOCK, so our hero/ine has to race to get there in time to – save the innocent victim from the killer, save his or her kidnapped child from the kidnapper, stop the loved one from getting on that plane to Bermuda…

NO. DO NOT WRITE THAT LAST ONE.

Most clichéd film ending ever. Throw in the hero/ine getting stuck in a cab in Manhattan rush hour traffic and you really are risking audiences vomiting in the aisles, or readers, beside their chairs. This is in fact the most despised romantic comedy cliché on every single “Romantic Comedy Clichés” website out there.
But when you think about it, the first two examples are equally clichéd. Sometimes there’s a fine line between clichéd and archetypal. You have to find how to elevate —or deepen — the clichéd to something archetypal.

Even if there’s not a literal castle, almost every story will have a metaphorical Storming the Castle element. The hero/ine usually must infiltrate the antagonist’s hideout, or castle, or lair, and confront the antagonist on his or her own turf, a terrifying and foreign place: think of Buffalo Bill’s basement in Silence of the Lambs, and the basement in Psycho, and the basement in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The castle can be a dragon’s lair (How to Train Your Dragon), or a dream fortress (Inception), or a church (a million romantic comedies).

Putting the final showdown on the villain’s turf means the villain has home-court advantage. The hero/ine has the extra burden of being a fish out of water in unfamiliar territory (mixing a metaphor to make it painfully clear).

I’ve noticed that in most films, there is a TEAM BATTLE first. The allies get to shine in this one: their strengths and weaknesses are tested, PLANTS are paid off, and allies who have been at each other’s throats for the whole story suddenly reconcile and work together. We also often get the DEFEAT OF SECONDARY OPPONENTS (if we’ve come to hate a secondary opponent, we need to see them get their comeuppance in a satisfying way — think of Fanny and Lucy Steele cat fighting each other in Sense and Sensibility, and Belloq, General Strasser, and Major Toht’s faces melting in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The TEAM BATTLE is generally a big, noisy SETPIECE scene.

And then, almost always, the hero/ine must go in to the FINAL BATTLE to face the antagonist alone, mano a mano.

So if this is the pattern we see over and over again, how can we possibly make it fresh?

Well, of course — look at books and films to see how your favorite storytellers do it.

Silence of the Lambs is a perfect example of elevating the cliché into archetype. The climax takes place in the basement, as it also does in Psycho, and Nightmare on Elm Street. This basement setting is no accident: therapists talk about “basement issues” —which are your worst fears and traumas from childhood — the stuff no one wants to look at, but which we have to look at, and clean out, to be whole.

But Thomas Harris, in the book, and the filmmakers, bringing it to life in the movie, create a basement that is so rich in horrific and revelatory and mythic (really fairy tale) imagery, that we never feel that we’ve seen that scene before. In fact I see new resonances in the set design every time I watch that film… like Mr. Gumb (Buffalo Bill) having a wall of news clippings just exactly like the one in Crawford’s office. That’s a technique that Harris uses that can elevate the clichéd to the archetypal: layering meaning.

But even more than that: Gumb’s basement is Clarice’s GREATEST NIGHTMAREcome to life. Lecter has exposed her deepest trauma, losing the lamb she tried to save from spring slaughter, and now she’s back in that childhood crisis, trying to save Catherine’s life (if you’ll notice,  even the visual of Catherine clinging to Mr. Gumb’s fluffy white dog looks very much like a little girl holding a lamb…)

Nightmare on Elm Street takes that clichéd spooky basement scene and gives it a whole new level, literally: the heroine is dreaming that she is following a suspicious sound down into the basement, and then there’s a door that leads to another basement, under the basement. And if you think bad things happen in the basement, what’s going to happen in a sub-basement?

Comedy characters have a different kind of GREATEST NIGHTMARE. 

Suppose you’re writing a farce. I would never dare, myself, but if I did, I would go straight to Fawlty Towers to figure out how to do it (and if you haven’t seen this brilliant TV series of John Cleese’s, I envy you the treat you’re in for). Every story in this series shows the quintessentially British Basil Fawlty go from rigid control to total breakdown of order in the side-splitting climax. It is the vast chasm between Basil’s idea of what his life should be and the chaotic reality that he creates for himself over and over again that will have you screaming with laughter.

Another very technical lesson to take from Fawlty Towers —and from any screwball comedy or farce — is how comedies use speed in climax. Just as in other forms of climax, the action speeds up in the end, to create that exhilaration of being out of control — which is the sensation I most love about a great comedy.

In a romance, the Final Battle is often the hero/ine finally overcoming his or her internal blocks and making a DECLARATIONor PROPOSAL to the loved one. And I’ve noticed that a lot of romances do the declaration in a one-two punch, two separate scenes: the recalcitrant lover makes his or her declaration, even does some groveling, apparently to no avail, and only in a later, final scene does the loved one show up with a declaration of his or her own.

An archetypal setting for the Final Battle in romantic comedy is an actual wedding. We’ve seen this scene so often you’d think there’s nothing new you can do with it. But of course a story about love and relationships is likely to end at a wedding.

So again, if you’re writing this kind of story, make your list and look at what great romantic comedies have done to elevate the cliché.

One of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, The Philadelphia Story, uses a classic technique to keep that wedding sequence sparkling: every single one of that large ensemble of characters has her or his own wickedly delightful resolution. Everyone has their moment to shine, and insanely precocious little sister Dinah pretty nearly steals the show (from Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant!!) with her last line: “I did it. I did it all.”

(This is a good lesson for any ensemble story, no matter what genre — all the characters should constantly be competing for the spotlight, just as in any good theater troupe. Make your characters divas and scene-stealers and let them top each other.)

Now, you see a completely different kind of final battle in It’s A Wonderful Life. This is not the classic, “hero confronts villain on villain’s home turf” third act. In fact, Potter is nowhere around in the final confrontation, is he? There’s no showdown, even though we desperately want one.

But the point of that story is that George Bailey has been fighting Potter all along.

There is no big glorious heroic showdown to be had, here, because it’s all the little grueling day-to-day, crazymaking battles that George has had with Potter all his life that have made the difference. And the genius of that film is that it shows in vivid and disturbing detail what would have happened if George had not had that whole lifetime of battles, against Potter and for the town. In the end, even faced with prison, George makes the choice to live to fight another day, and is rewarded with the joy of seeing his town restored.

This is the best example I know of, ever, of a final battle that is thematic — and yet the impact is emotional and visceral. It’s not an intellectual treatise; you live that ending along with George, but also come away with the sense of what true heroism is.

And the wonderful final battle in The King’s Speech is just Colin Firth facing a microphone and delivering a nine-minute radio broadcast. But we’ve seen him fail this moment because of his speech impediment time and time again in SET UPS; and this time the STAKES couldn’t be higher: it’s his first radio broadcast as King, and he has to convince his already war-weary country to support a war against Hitler.

So when you sit down to craft your own third act, try looking at the great third acts of movies and books that are similar to your own story, and see what those authors and filmmakers did to bring out the thematic depth and emotional impact of their stories (We’ll be doing more of that in the next chapter, too.)

RESOLUTION AND NEW WAY OF LIFE

After the final battle is fought and won, we want to get a sense of the NEW LIFE the hero/ine is going to lead now that they’ve been through this incredible journey.

One of the greatest images of a NEW WAY OF LIFE ever put on film is from Romancing the Stone: the yacht parked in the Manhattan street outside Joan Wilder’s building, and Jack standing on deck waiting for her, with those alligator boots on. It’s a complete PAYOFF of his and her DESIRE lines (and the alligator boots are a great light touch that keeps it all from being too sugary), and a clear indication of what their life is going to be like from now on. Would this have worked as well if that yacht were in a harbor? No way. It’s the extravagance and quirkiness of the gesture that makes it so grandly romantic. It never fails to spike my endorphins, and that’s what these endings are all about.

FULL CIRCLE

Not all stories use this technique, but very, very often at the end of the story the hero/ine returns to the setting of the beginning. And often storytellers use a visual contrast in how that setting appears in the beginning and the end, to show the protagonist’s change in character or attitude. 

In the beginning of The Godfather, Don Corleone is in his study, sitting behind his desk in a chair that looks like a throne, holding court and deciding the fates of his supplicants. In the final moments of the story, Michael Corleone stands at that same desk with his subordinates kissing his ring: he has become the Godfather. Early on in Act I of Romancing the Stone, pathologically shy Joan Wilder attempts to leave her apartment and is immediately set upon by street vendors, and we see how incapable she is of handling people and life in general. In Act III, she has returned from her adventure a changed woman, and we see her walking down that same street in her full Kathleen Turner goddesslike radiance, waving off those same street vendors both regally and casually. 

You don’t have to use this Full Circle technique, but it can work well to bookend a story and depict CHARACTER ARC.  Start to look for it in movies and see how often it’s used! And be aware that these mirroring scenes don’t have to be the very first and very last scenes of the story: often the Full Circle moment comes at the beginning of Act III, or at the start of the Final Battle sequence. This method also works to let an audience or reader know we’re heading into the final stretch, which is always both an exciting and comforting thing for an audience.

We’ll talk more about great endings in the next chapter. But first, try a little brainstorming of your own.

> ASSIGNMENT: Take your list of top ten best endings of movies and books, and write down specifically, in detail, what it is about those endings that really does it for you.


> ASSIGNMENT: What is your hero/ine’s greatest nightmare? How can you bring that to life in your final battle scene?

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All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 14.99.


                                           STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


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