Archive | June, 2009

Alpha Testing for Snowflake Pro

I’ve been quiet on the blog lately because I’ve been working frenetically on my next software product, “Snowflake Pro,” which will make it fun and easy to work through the steps of the Snowflake method. “Snowflake Pro” also creates the skeleton of a book proposal, after you’ve completed the first 6 steps of the Snowflake method.

[Note added on Tuesday, June 30:] I posted the above yesterday and asked for volunteer alpha testers. I received a flood of emails and have selected a team of alpha testers that is small enough for me to be able to manage all the comments. I have put a number of people on the waiting list. I believe I have enough alpha testers for now. Thanks to all of you who volunteered!

Thanks For the Suggestions

Last week I asked the advice of my loyal blog readers on how best to rename those pesky Motivation-Reaction Units. Thank you for all the suggestions!

A few of you expressed concern that my forthcoming book, WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, might be too theoretical, or too focused on this or that, or too something else. All I can say is that the few comments I’ve made so far have dealt with small parts of only two of the 22 chapters. The book will cover everything that I’ve learned and taught over the last 21 years of writing, all in one handy reference. And there are some new ideas in it.

It sounds like the terminology “Objective Beats” and “Subjective Beats” is none too popular. A number of you prefer “Cause” and “Effect”. Others like “Stimulus” and “Response”. Still others prefer “Action” and “Reaction.” The issue I have with all of these is the same problem that I see with “Motivation” and “Reaction.”

That problem is that sometimes the POV character provides the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation/whatever you call it. In those cases, typically a non-POV character provides the Effect/Response/Reaction/whatever.

However, just as often the situation is reversed and some other character is doing the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation and the POV character is providing the Effect/Response/Reaction.

For example, consider these two beats, in which Harry is the POV character.

Harry threw a dung-bomb at Malfoy’s face, hoping he’d swallow it.

Malfoy leaped back, tripped over his own feet, and fell in a bucket of flobberworms.

In the above example, Harry provides the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation and Malfoy provides the Effect/Response/Reaction.

Now consider the following two beats, in which Harry is still the POV character:

Malfoy threw a dung-bomb at Harry’s face. “Eat this!”

Harry leaped back, tripped over his own feet, and fell in a bucket of flobberworms. He desperately hoped Cho wasn’t watching.

In the above example, Malfoy provides the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation and Harry provides the Effect/Response/Reaction.

A number of you like the terms “Internal Beat” (for the POV character) and “External Beat” for all other characters. And I can see your point. I haven’t written the chapter on all this yet (still finishing up the chapter on Theme), but at the moment I’m leaning to Internal and External. Thanks for all your discussion on these points! One thing is clear — it’s impossible to take everybody’s advice.

On another note, I’ve been working furiously hard on a software project, “Snowflake Pro,” which will automate all the repetitive parts of working through the Snowflake method. My current plan is to have this ready for sale by the end of the month. My daughter and I are working on four example Snowflakes that will be included with “Snowflake Pro” when it goes on sale.

“Snowflake Pro” will walk you through all the steps of analyzing your novel. At the end, the program automatically generates a skeleton of your book proposal! It fills in all parts of the proposal that you do as part of the Snowflake method, and it leaves slots for you to fill in all the other parts.

I showed an early version of “Snowflake Pro” to one of my writing friends awhile back, and the first thing she said was, “Wow, this is fun!”

More details soon . . .

Renaming MRUs

I am about to start writing the chapter on those pesky Motivation-Reaction Units for my WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES book. (For those who’ve never heard of MRUs, you can get up to speed almost instantly in my page on “Writing the Perfect Scene.”) MRUs are, in my opinion, one of the most important concepts you need to learn to write good fiction. If you get them right, then your scenes just flow nicely. If you don’t, then your scenes drive about like that ancient Dodge Colt I used to have.

The main problem I’ve always had with “Motivation Reaction Units” (Dwight Swain’s terminology) is that they sound like something cooked up by a robotics engineer. Robotics is wonderful, but fiction is about people, mostly. Powerful Emotional Experiences and all that.

The two main parts of the “Motivation Reaction Unit” are the “Motivation” and the “Reaction.” And I have huge problems with both of those terms:

1) “Motivation” is a word we already use elsewhere in fiction to describe the inner workings of our characters. Now we are using it here for something which is objective and external to our Point-of-View character. What sort of sense does this make? It just confuses my students. On a bad day, it even confuses me.

2) “Reaction” is a word we ALSO already use elsewhere in fiction to describe one of the primary parts of what Dwight Swain calls a “Sequel” and which I now prefer to call a “Reactive Scene.” So again, we have a word doing double duty and it again confuses people. Even worse, it makes it seem that our POV characters are purely reactive. In fact, our POV characters are as often as not proactive.

So how should we rename things so that we don’t use words that overlap with other contexts and that actually have something to do what’s going on?

Here is my thinking at the moment. According to Dwight Swain, the MRU is a unit with two distinct parts. Let’s call each of these parts a “Beat” which coincides more or less with a word that other people already use for a very small unit of action. Then each MRU has two Beats:

* Dwight Swain calls the first of these Beats the “Motivation,” which is always objective and external to our POV character. So let’s call it the Objective Beat.

* Dwight calls the second of the two Beats the “Reaction,” which is always subjective and internal to our POV character. So let’s call it the Subjective Beat.

Now things are pretty simple, especially in scenes in which you have several characters. In a case like that, it’s common to show several characters doing something before you show the POV character. In Dwight’s language, you have a Motivation that may run for several paragraphs and jump across multiple characters, and then a Reaction that covers just the POV character. In my proposed new language, you’d just have several Objective Beats, followed by one Subjective Beat. This is perfectly OK, but now the language is a bit clearer.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. We’ll have a scene with five characters, Malfoy, Hermione, Ron, Snape, and Harry, with Harry as the POV character. I’ll mark each beat as Objective or Subjective.

Malfoy sneered at Harry. “Think you’re really something, Potter? You’re nothing, and you’ll end up like your Mum!” [Objective Beat.]

Rage pulsed in Harry’s throat and he suddenly found that he couldn’t breathe. He flicked his wand out and jabbed it at Malfoy’s face. [Subjective beat.]

Malfoy’s face turned as white as his hair. [Objective Beat.]

“NO, HARRY!” Hermione screamed. “He’s not worth it!” [Objective Beat.]

Ron stepped up beside Harry and gently wrapped his hand around Harry’s fist. “She’s right, mate,” he said regretfully. “Malfoy’s just a stupid git. Wipe him off your shoes and just walk away.” [Objective Beat.]

Somewhere in the back of Harry’s mind, a high, cold voice laughed. A bolt of pain shot through his scar. He pulled his wand away from Malfoy’s sweating face. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. [Subjective Beat.]

Professor Snape walked around the corner and his sallow face scowled. “Is there some reason for four young students to be indoors on a fine spring day like today?” [Objective Beat.]

OK, I’d like to hear the opinion of my loyal blog readers. What do you think? Does it make sense to use the terms “Objective Beat” and “Subjective Beat”? Or are there better terms? I’m still grappling with these things. If there’s one thing I learned as a physicist, it’s that things are simplest when you choose the right notation and they’re complicated when you choose the wrong one. Likewise, in trying to describe what happens in fiction, things are simplest when you choose the right terminology and they get needlessly complicated when you use ambiguous terms.

Sam The Plumber On Twitter

I’m working on my e-zine today, which should go out tonight at midnight.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to note that my latest “Sam the Plumber” humor column is now available. Sam is now on Twitter! The title of this month’s column is “All A-Twitter.” Read all about it here.

And by the way, Sam really does have a Twitter account! Not sure how that happened, but his user name is “SamThePlumber”. Are you following Sam?