The Story Bodyguard Newsletter

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Each month I send out a newsletter with writing and publishing tips for writers. I share my personal writing journey.

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Welcome to The Story Bodyguard Newsletter for August, 2010

In July we looked at the all-important opening:  the hook and how to introduce and carry it through.  Once you have your audience involved in the story you need to introduce the challenge that sets the story into action.  In screenwriting this is called the inciting incident.  We can just call it trouble.

Introducing Trouble – The Call to Action

Rightly or wrongly, the protagonist makes an action-based plan and takes the first steps to cope with the trouble.

  • How is the protagonist called or propelled into action and moved out of her usual world?
  • Why is the situation urgent?
  • What are the overall consequences if she refuses to act?
  • What is the potential overall payoff if she accepts the call to action?
  • How does the call to action conflict with what she wants?
  • Why does she believe she is unwilling to change the status quo?
  • How does this conflict what she needs?
  • What does she personally stand to lose?
  • What could she gain and how does this relate to her hidden need?
  • How does she demonstrate a slight, new awareness of her needs?
  • Have both of the following important characters been introduced:
  • Love Interest/Main Mentor?
  • Antagonist’s Main Minion?
  • Foil?
  • How does the protagonist actively demonstrate her reluctance to change the status quo?
  • What action does the protagonist take in an attempt to evade or compromise?

If you have not already done a lot of brainstorming about conflicts that might arise and how the protagonist will respond, this is a good point in your process to stop and list as many problems challenges and conflicts that you can think of.  You may not use them all.  Don’t worry the exercise itself will give you many possibilities for creating conflict.

Especially for Screenwriters

Keep it visual.  Don’t have the protagonist think out loud.  Show us.  Introducing trouble (the inciting incident) is the first point in the story where backstory might appear.  Use it to create surprises for the protagonist rather than filling us in on what went on before.  I recommend watching The Badge by Robby Henson.  Here the audience doesn’t know the backstory until something hits the protagonist squarely between the eyes to complicate the story.

From the Notebook

You do keep your notebook, right?  Excerpts from mine.

Meth freaks go to the grocery store, too.  Wandering around, chewing gum-quickly, thinking nobody will notice their behavior.

Mr. Casual- Ostrich skin loafers, Ralph Lauren Chaps, brown leather belt, pressed Hawaiian shirt tucked in.  In long line at crowded store he spreads both arms out with fingertips touching the counter.  There are two cash registers, but he blocks access to both in this stance until his transaction is done.  Little does he know that everyone is noticing his arrogant behavior.  This is as casual as he gets.

Thanks to all my readers.

During my trip in September I will be without access to the internet on some days so Twitter, Facebook, and blog updates will be infrequent.

For updates be sure to check my blog at and the daily tweets @ZaraAltair for tips on writing.

Focus on your story.  Keep Writing!

Welcome to The Story Bodyguard Newsletter for July, 2010.

Story Structure

Three disasters and a climax.

When you look at your story structure can you easily identify the four essential story points?  The story structure is the skeleton on which the scenes build to construct the body of your story.  Inside the beginning, middle and end is the framework on which you build.  In the next several issues I’ll talk about the components of a strong story structure.  The structure applies and works across all genres.

So, how do you start?  Here are some guidelines for the opening scene

The first scene in the story where a protagonist with limited knowledge of a problem is drop-kicked into action on page one as conflict begins.

  • What is the opening image that will stick in the reader’s mind?
  • What is the opening mood?
  • What is the opening tone?
  • What is the opening conflict?
  • What is the protagonist’s outer desire?
  • What is the protagonist’s hidden need that she will fill at the end?
  • How does the protagonist demonstrate that he doesn’t really understand the problem?
  • What is the central theme of the book and how does it relate to the opening scene?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • How is the antagonist introduced or foreshadowed?
  • If the antagonist is only foreshadowed, is there a main minion who appears? Is this main minion a recurring character central to the overall plot?
  • Prior to the opening, what internal and external forces have been at work to make the protagonist suffer?
  • How are these tied to the protagonist’s hidden need?

Next issue we’ll look at the trouble that comes next.

Rewrite and Edit:  Write Hot, Edit Cool

When you have finished your first draft it’s time to edit.  While you are writing your story you are hot.  You’re in the zone.  The ideas fly.

Editing is another process which demands cool and attentive attention to details.  You are looking at story structure, scene structure, sentence structure, paragraph structure, dialog structure.  Did I mention structure?  Yep, that’s what makes you story strong.

Before you get down to the fine details, put your manuscript aside for at least three days, if not a week.  Then, re-read the entire manuscript.  Be ready to mark anything that bothers you—a word, a sentence, a scene.  Don’t do anything yet, just mark the problems as you read because the first thing you want to check is the story overview.

Things to look for in a first read:

  • Does the beginning work?
  • Is the protagonist introduced early and sympathetically?
  • Is there tension from the get-go?
  • How soon is the main story problem revealed?
  • Is backstory kept back until after the third chapter?
  • And then not dumped, but sprinkled out.
  • Just when things are about to slow down, they should pick up again, so look for the pacing and make sure there are no dead spots where the reader might let go.

The Story Bodyguard

This summer I am involved in several consulting projects:  a book of delightful and fun short stories as told by a cat, a script doctoring project for a comedy, and, of course, working on my historical novel.

In  mid-September I will be away visiting family and taking care of business.

The next coaching program will begin in late September.  I’ll be announcing dates next month.

Thanks to all my readers.

For updates be sure to check my blog at and the daily tweets @ZaraAltair for tips on writing.

Keep Writing!

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