Writing

When You Unconsciously Use the Plot Structure in Any Story You Write

I’ve been studying the writing craft for years. It was seven and a half years ago when I learned the right rules of creative writing. It took about that long to hone my skills and mature my creative writing abilities to what they are now.

However, before I studied the craft, I wrote a bad novel that I was dying to publish and convinced my parents to let me do so. When it was published, there was no positive feedback. However, I do realize now that I still included the classic plot structure, which I wasn’t aware at during that time. I continued to use that structure in later novels where I studied the craft.

What is the structure, you may ask? It starts of with the inciting incident, where something greatly changes your main character’s situation and sets him or her up on a rough road to achieve his or her goal. Then there is a call to action, and the main character often refuses it at first. Then he or she will accept it.

Next comes the first plot pinch, which sets your main character up for failure. Then there is the midpoint, which can be a major defeat or loss. That will push the protagonist’s struggle to achieve his or her goal even further. There will be complications and higher stakes, which will lead to an all-is-lost moment, where the antagonist wins at that time.

Then comes the climax, where something prepares the protagonist for the final battle (not always literally, though). There may be a ticking clock too, where the protagonist’s time starts running out. Finally, there is the resolution of denouement, where the main character has come somewhere satisfying. He or she may achieve his or her goal. If not, he or she may realize that the goal was not something he or she had wanted all along or something not right for him or her.

And no matter what story I write, usually novels, this plot structures comes out into my writing unintentionally. I don’t know why, though. It’s like my brain has somehow inserted the plot structure into its subconscious or something. But that’s probably a good thing.

No matter where you are in the writing process, whether you are new or experienced, it’s important to know the plot structure. Any successful work, written or visual, needs to follow this structure.

Writing

Plot Hole Problems: Why They Bother Me (and Others)

Plot holes happen everywhere: movies, TV shows, books, and so forth. Even the top writers end up making plot holes, either as inconsistencies or unanswered questions.

Of course, no one ever means it—at least not usually. Even when they are being reviewed by agents or anyone before the works get released to the general public, plot holes are missed. It often isn’t until after the works are available to the public that the plot holes are pointed out. Sometimes, shortly after, and other times, not till several years later.

Obviously, no work is perfect nor do any please everybody. But some plot holes bother certain people a lot. There are examples in some of my movie critique posts, like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”. The ones where I spend a lot of time expressing my thoughts are the ones that bother me the most.

A plot hole I have not addressed here before is from the book, “Being Julia”. It’s not a super-big bestseller. But it was good and engaging up to a certain point. Julia gets grounded and has her computer confiscated. She tries to convince her dad to give it back to her shortly after, even though he won’t. When she is no longer grounded, the reader doesn’t get to see her getting her computer back. Another situation is happening. Then the next chapter takes place months later, when Julia is getting ready for college. Um… hello? When did she get her laptop back? This unanswered question plagued me so much that I wrote to the author and asked when Julia got her laptop back. Sadly, the author didn’t answer. So I moved on.

Some people will address plot holes later or separately. A good example is J.K. Rowling. These days she has been answering so many questions about plot holes in “Harry Potter”. Some folks, like me, enjoy that. Others, however, find it amateurish and lazy. I could see why.

While there are some plot holes in works that don’t bother me or I don’t care about, there are still some that will plague me for a while. A YouTube channel, called Cinemasins, is known for pointing out flaws in movies, such as plot holes. Because I watch movies with a critical eye, I enjoy this channel. I discover issues that I didn’t realize before.

Remember that nobody is perfect. Pretty much all works will have plot holes. Some may be addressed in sequels or on separate sources. Others will remain unanswered forever.

Writing

The Struggle with Sequels Standing on Their Own

How many of you have written a full-length novel? If so, congrats! What about a series? Extra congrats times a million! Now can your sequels stand on their own?

I don’t know about others, but for me, getting a sequel to stand on its own was the biggest challenge for me. It ended up connecting to my first book too much. Maybe because of how I ended my first book (don’t worry, I won’t say how)?

To get a sequel to stand on its own, you need just enough backstories to get the reader caught up with what happened in the first or previous installment. It’s going to be a bit hard, depending on your story.

It took me nearly three years to complete my sequel (which is temporarily off the market, but will return as a second edition soon). And the biggest reason is probably because I had trouble making it stand in its own.

Depending on your storyline, you will need to include backstory that is relevant but also makes the sequel stand on its own. My problem was that I hadn’t included enough. But with the help of editors, it worked. And many readers said that the sequel was able to easily stand on its own.

It may also be necessary to summarize your first book in one or two paragraphs in your sequel. Obviously, do it when relevant and don’t get too hooked on certain details.

The best way to test if your sequel can stand on its own is to have editors or beta readers look at it and give you honest feedback. You won’t be able to judge by yourself.

Anyway, thanks for reading. In the meantime, you can check out my novel, “From Frights to Flaws, 2nd Edition” right on Amazon.

art

Drawing by Hand and Coloring in Photoshop

Who’s done this before? Raise your hand. Ha ha, just playing with you. But believe it or not, it can be fun. I’ve done it so many times.

I do have a graphic tablet that I can draw on. Although I’ve gotten better control at it, I still draw better with pencil and paper—the old-fashioned way.

However, when it comes to coloring, digitally is more fun. Think about it. You’ve got unlimited colors, digital tools, and best of all, no mess to clean up. It’s all on your computer or tablet (like an iPad).

Below is an example of an illustration I did where I drew by hand and colored digitally.

Can you see the pencil lines? I don’t know about you, but I can. They look kind of rough. There are a few digitally-drawn lines as you can see on the sidewalk, street, and even the bricks. And the colors are obviously digital.

Here is another image drawn traditionally and painted digitally.

Although this might not look nearly as exciting as the one with the teenage boy above, the pencil lines are more obvious. The colors were originally done with chartpak markers, which leave extreme marks. Some hues were re-painted in Photoshop.

While these were fist done with pencil outlines, sometimes I trace the pen over the pencil and erase the pencil marks, like in this image below.

Chairs

Those lines look crisp and clear, not to mention much smoother. That is because they were done with high-quality pens. And, of course, the colors are digital.

Yes, Photoshop and any other Adobe program is costly. But if you have it or want it, once you get good at it, coloring your hand-drawn images is super fun.

movie

What I Look for in Movies

Image from Pixabay

Who doesn’t love movies? I don’t know about you, but I always have. There were also times where I didn’t know what I was watching. This was mostly when I was little.

I just saw scenes and enjoyed the characters. But did not know the plot. When I was an older child, I started understanding the storylines of movies. When I studied creative writing, I started pointing out plot points (inciting incident, call-to-action, midpoint, falling action, and resolution).

Many adults will understand sarcastic or dry humor. Unfortunately, I don’t, although I do get the inappropriate stuff, even when it’s snuck into G and PG-rated movies. People may also point out hidden symbolisms.

What I do, though, is not only identify the plot points as well as the main conflict and other literary elements, but I also point out these two unique things:

1: Moments that would get you arrested in real life

Have you seen “Toy Story 2” or “Night at the Museum 3” or even watched “Ned’s Declassified: School Survival Guide” on TV? If not, I would not suggest reading forward—unless you are uninterested in watching them.

So here it is. Remember in “Night at the Museum 3”, when Lancelot went crazy and ran on stage during a live performance of “Camelot”? Rather than calling security and having Lancelot arrested, the guy playing Arthur just explained to him that he was just an actor and held the play as he calmly told Lancelot to get off the stage. However, if you run on stage during a live-performance in real life, you would get arrested. Forget about yelling at the actors and threatening to hurt them, like Lancelot did. You could run on stage, stand there, and say nothing and still get arrested. Just the action itself is illegal.

In “Toy Story 2”, Al steals Woody from the garage sale Andy’s mom holds. He gets away with it. Andy’s mom doesn’t bother to call the police. However, in real life, not only would Al have been arrested for stealing, but so would have Andy’s mother for failing to report a crime she’d witnessed. But if that happened, Andy and Molly would’ve been taken away by CPS and the ending would’ve been too sad. Therefore, “Toy Story 3” may never have been made as audiences would have complained about the ending to “Toy Story 2”.

In an episode of “Ned’s Declassified”, where students were having the fifth graders tour the middle school, there was a scene when one of them (not in sight) that removed Seth’s clothes. He was naked while using a plush elephant to cover himself. Everybody else laughed. A younger kid may have done the same. A parent may have stated that it was inappropriate and turned off the TV. I, as an older sibling, reacted by saying, “You’d get arrested for that in real life.” Yup, even as young as 17, I was pointing out things that would get you arrested in real life.

Because of having to learn about the importance of believability in prose writing, I have developed expectations too high for movies and TV shows. I now find it strange when characters in movies do things that real people would get arrested for, but the characters don’t. So many illegal activities happened constantly in the movies “Monster Truck” and “Dumb and Dumber Too”, but the characters didn’t get arrested because of plot movements or conveniences.

While many say “It’s just a movie”, that can also be an issue. Someone who doesn’t know better may imitate those actions and get surprised when they get arrested because the characters in the film didn’t get arrested. Then someone could try to sue the film company.

If the characters can’t get arrested for plot reasons, couldn’t there, at least, be a disclaimer in the end credits, warning audiences not to try those activities or else they’ll get arrested?

2: Things that would not be acceptable today

There are so many of these. I could not state them in one post. However, I will give a few examples of movies that I don’t think would come out today.

  • “A Christmas Story”

If you’ve seen this film, the kid, Ralphie, wants a bb gun for Christmas. Obviously, in the 80’s, that was acceptable. However, today, after so much gun violence, especially in the US, I do not believe this would be acceptable today. No way would a child with a bb gun be appropriate.

  • “Pinocchio”

Although rated G, there is smoking, drinking, and the use of a dirty word, which I will not specify. Smoking wasn’t always inappropriate, especially when people were unaware of the dangers before the 60’s. They thought smoking was cool. And “Pinocchio” was released in 1940. That was at least 20 years before smoking-dangers were discovered. And even then, people were resistant to the studies. I saw in a video that it was not until the 90’s when smoking became inappropriate for young audiences. I don’t think “Pinocchio” would be released today.

  • “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

Just this past holiday season, this movie got tons of criticism for it being offensive, promoting prejudice and discrimination, and more. I was confused, so I watched the film. And I could see why people complained. When Rudolph’s nose cover came off, revealing his red nose, the other reindeer freaked out. Even Santa took their side (“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Santa said to Rudolph’s dad). The elf boss gave Hermey a hard time about being a dentist and not wanting to make toys. “You’re an elf, and elves make toys!” the boss said. Umm… that’s elfist. Another scene is where Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius arrived on the land of misfit toys. There is a Jack-in-the-box whose name is actually Charlie. He complained that no kid would want to play with a Charlie-in-the-box (that’s namist). Sensitivity is growing for some reason. So I could never see “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” being released today.

So that is really it for what I look for in movies. I apologize if I seem overcritical at times. But thanks for reading.

movie

Be Happy With this “Inside Out” Critique (2015)

Warning: Contains Spoilers***

This film must have been so hard to produce. And that is what makes it so enjoyable. It probably involved a lot of studies behind the mind and emotions.

There were actually going to be more emotions than the five the film created for Riley. But that didn’t work out.

Enough said on the introduction. Let’s get down to the critique.

First, the strengths:

1: The mind and emotion constructions

The mind is an abstract place. The creators made everything so literal, and that must’ve been very difficult. There was the train of thought, the core memories, islands representing Riley’s different interests and life essentials, and, of course, the emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear.

The emotions matured as Riley aged over time. When Riley was a toddler, the emotions would react strongly to broccoli and no dessert if she didn’t finish her dinner (which had no protein, by the way. But that’s another topic).

By the time, Riley was eleven, the emotions have matured even more. I appreciated how Joy could feel grief and pain as she was unable to make Riley happy throughout much of the film. She even cried in the “all is lost” moment. However, there is also a special feature of Riley without her internal emotions being shown. And I heard the viewer can understand why Riley can’t be happy.

2: Bing-Bong

Who doesn’t love Bing Bong? Or that cute little song Riley made up as a toddler? He was such an imaginative character as well as a fun one. I loved when he barged into Riley’s dream. But it was very sad when he died as Joy had to continue her way back to headquarters.

3: The “Triple Dent Gum” song

Why was that song so annoying to Riley and even the bus driver in the end credits? I found it amazing and funny. It was a great way to incorporate humor.

4: The boy’s emotions at the end

“Girl, girl, girl.” The emotions panic like crazy in his head. It was so hilarious. It is also realistic for boys if girls like them. Many have been nervous about impressing girls. The animals’ emotions were funny too.

Which brings me to the flaws…

1: Why do Riley’s parents have all male or female emotions while Riley has both?

This plot hole has been wondered so much by the general public. However, the creators revealed that it was just for humor. I guess that’ll work.

2: Why do the Andersons move?

When things go well, of course conflict has to happen. However, why did Mr. and Mrs. Anderson sell the house? Why did they move to a less-appealing building, both unattractive on the outside and the inside? Were they unable to afford the house in Minnesota? Did one of the parents get offered a new job in San Francisco?

It makes sense for Riley to unhappy with the move. At the end, one of her parents says that they missed Minnesota (but they were the one who chose to leave). Is it supposed to remain a mystery?

3: Would a pizzeria really only serve broccoli pizza?

It’s believable for a pizzeria to only to plain cheese pizza. But just broccoli pizza, only for plot convenience? I can’t imagine so. Also, couldn’t Riley have just removed the broccoli from her pizza?

4: “Child runs away from home and parents comfort them after” cliché

I don’t know why the media keeps portraying this. It’s not really credible, let alone allowing an eleven-year-old to walk to school unsupervised in the 2010s (which would get you in trouble with CPS). Riley also stole her mom’s credit card to pay for a bus ticket back to Minnesota. Add that to running away, Riley would’ve gotten the beating of her life and been severely punished for months if this were believable. But the parents had to feel sorry just for plot convenience. Kids, don’t try this in real life. You will most definitely get the beating of your life as well as be grounded for several months—at least.

5: Toddler Riley has no nipples

Okay, this might be a bit much, although they show topless Toddler Riley. And she has no nipples. When I saw this in the movie theater, I found it strange and was thinking “Maggie Simpson has nipples”.

And that’s all. I would rate this movie 5 out of 5 stars. It must’ve been one of the hardest films for Pixar and Disney to create. I always found productions that look so challenging to make more enjoyable than those that look to easy to create.

Writing

Deny, Rethink, Accept, and Write – This is a Part of my Writing Process

Every writer needs an editor, even the most talented ones. And no two editors are alike. They do different services from critiques, content-editing, line-editing, copy-editing, and proofreading. They also have different editing styles and reasons. That is why I have gone through too many different editors. Many have been helpful and rational, but a lot have also been too controlling and even turning my words into their own—practically making my stories their own. I have never used them again.

However, when they give constructive feedback, there comes a process that I often go through: denying, rethinking, accepting, and writing. I could call it DRAWing.

I often love what I write, even if it’s unnecessary or serves little to no purpose to my content. When an editor asks me to change or cut something I admire, I will often deny his or her recommendation. This is natural as I don’t want to believe him or her.

After a little while, though, I do rethink the editor’s suggestion. I consider why he or she said that. Often times, it ends up making sense.

Unless it will screw up the story or any major material, I usually end up accepting the request at some point. Sometimes I even twist a suggestion. For example, if an editor asks me to remove an unnecessary element, such as a character, I will figure out a way to make it important. This has worked at least a few times.

And then the final step, obviously, is to keep writing. Some stories are not meant to be enjoyed or sold, though. I’ve learned that a little too late. I have published five books, but only one is available to buy. The other four weren’t exactly good enough for the market. However, I had not realized that years before. I’d even pretested them with pre-publication feedback, and they got mostly positive feedback.

This process still applies to me now. It probably will forever.

art

Fun with Figure Drawing

At first, I would consider completely avoiding looking at nude models as I’d found nakedness disturbing. I would even decide that I’d rather fail a college art class than look at a nude model. But that was what I had thought when I was in high school.

In college, figure drawing was required in the art curriculum. At first, I was a bit nervous. Even when the model immediately removed her cover-up, I was a bit uncomfortable and tried not grin (obviously, I wouldn’t have burst out laughing—I was 21). But then I got used to it and discovered something new about myself: figure drawing was fun. I got past the discomfort of seeing nudity.

I learned how to draw poses and how to construct them with lines, shapes, and more. I still use these techniques when drawing for pleasure. It helps a lot.

Now why didn’t I post a picture of one of my drawings, you might wonder? Because I don’t believe it’s appropriate for a blog post. Everyone is welcome to read the articles, including kids. But you can try picturing drawing ideas in your head. This technique is necessary for art majors, especially if you are considering illustration or animation. Figure drawing may be exciting for you too. You never know.

cooking

Mmmm… Mac and Cheese Made of Brown Rice Pasta

Doesn’t that look delicious? If you say so, then you’re with me. In fact, as the title says, that is not regular macaroni in the picture. It’s made out of brown rice. It tastes pretty good, believe it or not.

And best of all, the pasta is only a few ingredients, such as brown rice and water. That is certainly a lot different from traditional boxed pasta brands, need I also say healthier too.

The cheese sauce recipe, however, was pretty typical. Shredded cheddar, milk, butter, flour, and so forth. The mustard powder, however, is the key to making the sauce taste good. I’m not kidding—this all depends on your tastes, of course. At least I prefer cheese sauce with mustard powder. In fact, I am starting to like mustard the condiment. But that’s a different topic.

Where do they sell brown rice pasta, you may ask? Specialty grocery stores, like Whole Foods. I have never seen them in typical supermarkets, such as Stop & Shop. Yup, many specialty stores sell products other mass-market places do not. You could probably also buy it off the Internet too.

Brown rice pasta may cook more quickly as well. I don’t really remember, honestly. Often times, I mix in the brown rice macaroni with the regular kind. In fact, that was what I did most recently.

However, I’m starting to consider cutting down on the white pasta. Pasta has been harder to enjoy since I’ve developed a mild tomato allergy anyway. Bell peppers can be good substitutes for marinara, vodka, or meat sauce. But it’s not the same. So aside from alfredo, pesto, and garlic and oil sauces, cheese sauce is my most preferred option.

In fact, I like my mac and cheese baked more than stove top. I’ve experimented with many different recipes. Few have become irresistible.

One thing I’ve learned to avoid were mac and cheese recipes calling for eggs. It’s only good the first time and then it’s like scrambled eggs. Flour is the winner—at least if you like to bake your mac and cheese. And the post stops here.