"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Monday, May 30, 2011

How Discovering Scene and Sequel Changed the Way I Write Forever: Part Two

In Part One, (click here), we explored how the three elements of a scene; goal, conflict and disaster, plays a part in conveying plots. In Part Two, we’ll be exploring its counterpart, sequel, and how it plays a role in conveying story.  

A sequel acts as a transition or a bridge between scenes. Better yet, think in terms of how movies literally use a visual scene of “crossing over a bridge” to show a transition between scenes. In literature, it’s a technique used to show your readers what your character is thinking and feeling about what happened in the preceding scene. Sequels also are a great way to provide backstory, convey logic and to convince readers your story is believable.

Let’s explore:

Sequels bring meaning to the action of a previous scene through their four elements; emotion, thought, decision and action. It’s also important they are written in this exact order. Why? Because emotion is the reaction your character has to the end of the previous scene, the disaster, and thought allows your reader to understand why they feel the way they do. Decision is how your character responds to their feelings and action is the outcome of their emotional struggle.

Let’s examine by breaking down Scene II from Part One’s example of scene and add a breakdown of sequel to see how it adds meaning:

The desert flower was so unique it made me reach out and pluck its sweet aroma {goal}, making the buzzing bee angry {conflict}. Feeling its stinging pinch I reach into my back pack just as I remembered forgetting to pack my EpiPen {disaster}. Suddenly, Emma’s soft touch and Billy’s blue eyes flashed before my eyes {emotion}, adding to my panic. If only I had listened to Emma when she said we needed life insurance after Billy was born {thought}. Frantically taking in the surroundings I hear the roar of a distant engine and decide today is not a good day to die {decision}. Throwing my back pack across my shoulder I shove the desert flower in my pocket {action}; after all, it will make the the perfect anniversary gift. 

Scenes should often times be exciting and full of action, while sequels should tend to slow it down and provide an opportunity for reaction. In other words, if your story seems to be unbelievable, build up your sequels to make it credible. If it seems to be slow, increase the conflict by building up your scenes; thus, bringing balance to plot and story. 

I was so amazed once I learned this technique I now keep a typed written note directly in front of my writing zone which looks exactly like this:

Scene          Sequel
Goal           Emotion
Conflict       Thought
Disaster       Decision

It helps me to keep a balance between plot and story as I write and on those rare occasions when I suffer from writer's block, it helps to keep me thinking forward and what my characters are going through. Try it, you just might be amazed!

Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author



Friday, May 27, 2011

How Discovering Scene and Sequel Changed the Way I Write Forever: Part One

I’ve never met an author who said they just one day woke up and decided it would be cool to be a writer and set their life compass in that direction. For most, wanting to write is a desire driven by a deep internal writer’s voice. Some authors pursue a writer’s life straight out of high school or college, (and for some while they’re still in school!), but I believe it’s safe to say most of us go on to do something else while our ever persisting writer’s voice keeps nagging, tugging and pulling at us until we eventually take the path we were meant to walk. 

So, many years ago when I finally succumbed to my writer’s voice I sought the wisdom and expertise of authors who willingly and openly taught their experience to aspiring writers.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Like most aspiring writers, I had a good understanding of the three-act structure.  I knew about opening with a hook, creating a trigger for the crisis, having an epiphany before the climax, and finally, The End.  (Yes, I was one of those “geeks” in high school who paid attention in English Lit, in fact, I loved it!)  What I didn’t know was how scenes themselves are divided into their own internal structure known as scene and sequel and how discovering this would change the way I write forever.

Let’s explore:

Scenes are mostly plot (action) and sequels are mostly story (emotional). Last week, we explored the defining difference between plot and story (click here).  Basically put, scenes move the action forward while sequels explore the action’s effect on your protagonist.  

Scenes and sequel always come in pairs for one cannot exist without the other.  For example, a scene without a sequel would have no meaning and a sequel without a preceding scene would have no reason to exist at all.

This week we’ll break down scene and how it plays a role in conveying plot.   


It’s important for every scene to do two things; provide interest and move the story forward.  Which is why every scene has three elements: goal, conflict and disaster, and it’s important they consist in this order.  Why?  The goal is what your protagonist desires; it’s what sets them in motion.  It can be a goal of an object, information or even revenge.  The conflict is a struggle against some opposing factor and it can be a verbal, mental or physical struggle which will provide interest and disaster is what keeps the readers reading to find out how the character deals with it.  Without these three elements it’s most likely the reader will put your book down and never return to it.

Let’s examine:  Which scene makes you want to read more?

Scene I:  The desert flower was so unique, but remembering I forgot to pack my EpiPen the buzzing bee made me decide not to pick its sweet aroma. Hint:(zzzzzzzzzzz)  

Scene II:  The desert flower was so unique it made me reach out and pluck its sweet aroma, making the buzzing bee angry. Feeling its stinging pinch I reach into my back pack just as I remembered forgetting to pack my EpiPen. Hint: (Oh no, will they have an allergic reaction and die before they can get help?)

What’s the difference?  The first one lacks the three elements of goal, conflict and disaster while the second one doesn’t. 

Let’s break it down:

The flower was so unique it made me reach out and pluck its sweet aroma {goal}, making the buzzing bee angry {conflict}. Feeling its stinging pinch I reach into my back pack just as I remembered leaving my EpiPen at home {disaster}.

So if you have a scene that fails to provide interest and move the story forward, you need to cut it-even if it is one of your favorite scenes.  However, don’t delete it forever, it you’re like me you save all your written words for you never know where they may find a home!

It’s important to understand a scene can be as long as a paragraph or as long as a few chapters.  It’s also important to understand a scene is not every single sentence.  In other words, every sentence is not goal, conflict and disaster.  Some writers will end a chapter at a goal or a disaster, both making the reader wanting to turn the page.  This is the same technique used by script writers to create a cliffhanger. 

Next week, we’ll explore sequel to find out how it plays a role in conveying story and how when you combine scene and sequel together it can change the way you write forever!

Until then,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author

Monday, May 16, 2011

Plot vs. Story: The Defining Difference and How To Find Balance

A long time ago, I read a statistic which stated four out of five professional writers agree on the difference between plot and story, but not one in a hundred could define it!  How about you, can you define the difference?

Have you ever read a book that at the time felt like you were eating your favorite junk food snack?  In other words, it was satisfying at the time, but an hour later you were hungry for something with real substance.  Often times the answer as to why this happens can be found in an author failing to balance between plot and story.  

Let’s explore:

A novel without plot can quickly become boring and a novel without story can leave you feeling emotionally unattached.  So what’s the difference?  Simply put, plot is physical and story is emotional.  Knowing how to find balance between the two is a key factor for any author who wants to keep their readers engaged throughout and leave them with a sense of caring.  How about you, have you ever read a book in which you quickly became bored and put it down or one in which you felt you could care a less about what happened to the main character?

So then, how do you find balance between the two?  First, and foremost, it’s important to know and understand the emotional (story) side because it ultimately drives the physical (the plot) side.  So when you begin to develop your story, think in terms of emotions first, in other words, what your characters are feeling, what they’re thinking and what they are struggling with.  Secondly, think in terms of action, how can you show your character’s feelings, what kind of dialogue, or better yet what kind of action, will reveal what they’re thinking or struggling with? Knowing this first hand will better equip you when writing out your scenes. 

For some of my fellow authors who may be thinking this is too structural for them because they write “off the cuff” then tune in to next week’s adventure for we will be exploring how scenes themselves have their own internal structure.  It helped to change the way I write forever (with or without an outline) and it is my hope it will help you too!

Until then,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author         

Monday, May 9, 2011

Character Development Part Two: Which Attributes Matter?

In Character Development Part One, (click here), we explored different techniques some authors use when creating their characters and which attributes on a character sketch don’t necessarily matter and which ones do.  In Part Two, we’ll be exploring these attributes and why they matter.


What’s in a name?  True, when it comes to Romeo & Juliet, Romeo's last name was unimportant to Juliet in her quest for true love; however, when it comes to creating your characters, names play a very important role.  Why?  Because long before a reader has a mental image of a character or even has a chance to make a judgment about their personality they have already formed an impression of them based on their name. Let’s explore: 

Let’s imagine you’re reading a suspense novel and a character named Hacksaw is introduced.  Right away, without getting to know the character I bet you’ve envisioned a dark shady figure out to do evil and perhaps even has a hacksaw for a hand.  You are certain Hacksaw is the villain.  Another character named Violet is introduced and right away you have a mental image of a beautiful soft spoken woman with perhaps lavender eyes and without a doubt in your mind, Violet is the protagonist.  Then much to your surprise, Violet ends up being the villain and Hacksaw the hero!

In reality, the names an author chooses for their characters may not be as definitive such as these.  I chose them to point out how important it is for a name to fit the character, otherwise, you stand a very good chance of disappointing your readers.  However, I do feel it important to point out there are exceptions to everything and perhaps a writer would have a good reason to choose a name that didn’t fit a character.  How about you, do you carefully choose names to fit the character?


Character flaw is the single most important attribute when it comes to defining your main characters.  After all, isn’t it your main character’s struggle that drives the story?  How about your antagonist’s flaw, doesn’t it drive them to do what they do?  Let’s explore:

Often times without having a complete understanding of a character’s inner struggle many writers spend too much time moving characters around like marionettes on a stage.  But, by taking time to grasp what drives your characters their flaw will move them in the direction demanded by the story you need to tell. 

One technique I use in helping me show my protagonist’s profound change after their epiphany is in their character sketch I define what they were like when they didn’t understand their flaw and then what they are like after recognizing and overcoming their flaw.  Having this understanding allows me to freely write as if they themselves were pounding away on the keyboard!  How about you, do have a technique you use to help connect with your character’s inner struggle?


Your main characters should have a goal; otherwise, their actions have no motivation.  The goal can be a direct result of their flaw or it could be driven by the plot.  Let’s explore:

If your protagonist lacks self-confidence they most likely will spend most of their time struggling to avoid doing what they really should be doing.  Your readers will see this and thus when your protagonist finally sees the light and wins in the end they will thank you!

By putting your protagonist, who’s afraid of commitment, into situations where they will be motivated to overcome their flaw makes for a great love story!

So then, by knowing and understanding your character’s flaw you’re better able to shape their motivation letting these two attributes work together to energize your story.


Real people’s personality is shaped by events that happened to them in the past, thus, by you creating events in your character’s past which explain their flaw you too can make them become “real” to your readers.  How about you, do you establish a history for your characters?

Keep in mind, I’m not saying that every event you create for your characters should be written about in the story, but when you as the author has the inside knowledge of why they behave the way they do you’re better able to write convincing characters that act and react to situations according to their personality.  So go ahead, be creative and daring, it’s only fiction after all!

Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author        

Monday, May 2, 2011

Character Development Part One: To Sketch or Not To Sketch?

If you were to ask any author where they get their ideas for characters from they’ll most likely tell you, “they just come to them when they write.”  However, if you were to ask them how they make their characters seem so real; they’ll most likely say, “because I write who I know.” 

 There are many techniques authors use to get to know their characters.  Some authors I know talk about how their characters have been “floating” around inside their head for some time (even years!) so they feel like old friends, some create characters by meshing together appearance and personality traits from actual people they know while others build their characters using character sketches.  I’ve even met an author (who has over 90 published books!) who told me they actually “interview” their main characters to “get inside their head.”  Is any one of these techniques the right way when it comes to developing characters?  In my opinion, I’d have to say no.  I believe whatever format an author uses to bring a character to life is the right way for that author.
Which technique does The Unknown Author use?  Actually, I have used a little of each of the techniques mentioned above, with the exception of an interview; however, I am open minded to the possibility!  In my writing experiences, I’ve found certain stories dictate how my characters are born.  Most the short stories I’ve written the characters have been inside my head knocking to come out and come alive, while the two novels I’ve written (both between 50K and 120K words) I used character sketches to develop my characters.  Why the difference?  For me, it’s because generally I write my short stories off the cuff and my novels I follow an outline (one reason being is editing and re-writing a 100,000 word manuscript can be a nightmare without one, but, we’ll discuss this in a future posting for this is a topic within itself!).  How about you, do you have a special technique when it comes to creating characters?

First, I think it’s important to point out that character development should be proportionate to the importance of each character.  In other words, you don’t want to write page after page of character description for an extra that shows up in Act Three and is never seen again and only have one paragraph for the Protagonist.  The same applies to your supporting cast versus characters that only have a bit part.  Otherwise, you run the risk of your main characters not acting consistently or realistically.   

What kind of attributes should you put in a main character’s character sketch?  A physical discription, their sex or perhaps educational and financial background?  Sure these types of attributes help to establish the character, but when it comes to bringing them to life they’re unimportant.  Let’s explore: 

Why is the color of eyes or hair unimportant?  Basically, when it comes to your protagonist it helps to eliminate physical appearance altogether, unless it is vitally important to establishing why they are the way they are.  Why?  Because did you know most readers like to actively put themselves in your protagonist’s shoes and picture them as the hero/heroine?  Think about the last book you read in which you had a vivid description of the protagonist?  Go back and reread the book and I bet you will find only a brief, if any, description of their physical appearance.  However, when it comes to secondary characters giving physical descriptions can help the reader keep track of who is who. 

How about sex?  (Okay all you Austin Power fans out there that’s not what I meant!) Unless you are using a name that could be cross gendered your reader will most likely get the picture.
What about their educational and financial background?  Again, unless it is important in establishing their backstory it’s probably not that important to your reader. 

So then, what kinds of attributes are important to add to a main character’s character sketch?  In my experience, the most important attributes I’ve found which help me as an author “write who I know” is their name, their flaw, the goal that motivates their actions and their history.  How about you, what attributes help you to get to know your main characters?

Next week, we’ll explore each of these attributes and why I have found them to be important in bringing my main characters to life!

Until then,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin

The Unknown Author