Harmon’s Plot Embryo: A Writer’s Tool for both Outlining and Evaluating

I admit it: I just started watching Community. Yes, I know. Better late than never. I kept hearing how great the show was, but never got around to following it. Well, now, thanks to Hulu, I can binge watch while I’m cleaning house or laundry or whatever.

Community_title

Lately, though, I’ve been hearing about this “Plot Embryo” for writers developed by Dan Harmon, creator of Community. There are many ways to plot a novel. This Plot Embryo simplifies the process more than any other method I’ve seen.

Not only is it a way to outline a novel, but–if the writer has already written a draft or two of it–it’s an excellent tool for evaluating what has already been written.

Screen shot 2011-09-26 at 8.37.30 AM

Writer Rachael Stephen talks about Harmon’s Plot Embryo in her writing YouTube series. She breaks it down several different ways and also talks about the source material for the Plot Embryo.

Here are some more resources to learn about the Plot Embryo:

I plan to use the Plot Embryo up against my novel in progress to see how it fares.

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

Reading Roundup for 2016

Here are most of the books I’ve read during 2016:

Classics

Contemporary Fiction

Drama

Graphic Novels

Rereads (these are all pretty much also Science Fiction & Fantasy)

Science Fiction & Fantasy Series

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Spiritual

Writing Instruction

Art Appreciation

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

Why I’m Not Watching “The Walking Dead” Anymore

the_walking_dead_title_cardI didn’t get into the AMC network show The Walking Dead until its fourth season.

Dog sitting for some friends, I binge-watched over a weekend and got hooked. The next season would start in a few weeks, and I couldn’t wait.

For the next couple of years I watched TWD faithfully. Then I got rid of cable.

I planned to watch it on Netflix. Then I realized Netflix only carries past seasons of the show. The current season will be on Netflix after its initial run on AMC. Well, with all the hub-bub over the arrival of Negan, a major bad guy from The Walking Dead comic books upon which the show is derived, ratings were at an all time high.

But, surprisingly, I didn’t care. And I still don’t.

I may or may not watch the current season when it’s on Netflix. I’ve given up on the show. Here’s why:

  • I got rid of cable.  As I said, I got rid of cable and subscribed to Netflix and Hulu. Not only are they cheaper, they have more variety than even hundreds of channels that show the same thing over and over. I’ve discovered a whole set of new tv series on Netflix and Hulu.
  • Tired of the Violence. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t gross out at the bashing in of the skull of a “walker.” I always ask: “Wonder how they did that?” But it seems like each season, the writers of the show try to find an even more gruesome way for someone to die by the hands of walkers. Yawn. Moving on.
  • Lack of hope. This is the main reason I will probably not rush to watch TWD anymore. The show is in its seventh season and there’s no sign of a cure for becoming a zombie. While the show is still on a rating’s high, I understand not wrapping up the story, but after a while, the lack of hope the characters go though wears me down. I don’t know if the comics ever offered any kind of radical change that would wrap up the story, but the television show is surely not going to be done as long as the ratings are good.

And so, I have moved on to other shows like American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful, Timeless, and others. When I get a chance to watch the latest season of TWD, I’ll see how I feel. Right now, I’m not missing it.

Post Script:
Oh, and by the way, getting rid of cable is the best thing I’ve done in a while. Netflix and Hulu (and even Amazon Prime) have more a selection, and I can watch whenever I want. Cable, even with all those channels, had the same thing over and over.

No regrets. I highly recommend it.

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

What are the most important scenes in a novel?

theatre-1459597To overcome feeling overwhelmed by finishing your novel, a writer might want to keep these writing principles in mind:

  • She doesn’t have to write chronologically.
  • She can write her most important scenes first and then fill in the blanks.

Now, if she has planned your novel with some kind of outline, then these principles become even easier.

So the question is, what are the most important scenes in a novel?

This doesn’t mean some scenes are less necessary than others. In the final draft, all the scenes should be necessary and move the story along. A post from C.S. Lakin’s blog called The First Ten Scenes You Need to Plot for your Novel offers a list of scenes on which the writer should focus.

I concentrated on finishing these scenes and now I am writing the final draft of the “in-between” stuff. If you get stuck in your writing, jump ahead work on the The Midpoint scene. This is the scene, roughly 50% of the way through your story, where the character asks whether or not she wants to continue. She questions who she is. She decides to go on, or maybe decides to take a different tactic. Then write backwards from that scene, or write forwards.

Here is what the writer should remember: if she gets stuck writing the novel chronologically, she can jump around and write one of the scenes listed in Lakin’s article.

There’s no rule against doing that.

Checklist for writing a scene

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

clapper-board-1420048I didn’t realize until I was a young adult that some scenes in a movie didn’t make it into the final cut. Today we have DVDs where we can see the parts of the movie the director cut and left on the editing room floor.

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I  am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

If a scene doesn’t fit the criteria, slash. It’s gone.

I don’t actually trash the scene, I just put it in a folder called “unused material.”
  • Is it a scene or sequel?
    A scene has a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. A scene that is a sequel has reaction, dilemma, and a decision. Both are okay, but it’s good to know which is which. Read Randy Ingermanson’s article Writing the Perfect Scene for more details.
  • What is the conflict?
    If no conflict exists in the scene, either find a way to rewrite it into the story or cut it.
  • What is the purpose of this scene?
    A scene can have several purposes: introduce a character, build suspense, establish a mood, create a resolution, and on and on. If you can’t figure out the purpose of the scene, cut it.
  • Do you have a consistent point-of-view? Would the scene be improved by changing the point-of-view?
    I wrote some scenes from the viewpoint of my antagonist. However, I felt they were to “on-the-nose” so to speak. No subtext. So I rewrote the scenes from the viewpoint of another character in the same scene, and I felt the story became more effective. Why? Because it created suspense and mystery for my antagonist.
  • Are you using sub-text in the action and dialogue of the characters? Are you avoiding on-the-nose writing?
    Instead of telling what the characters are doing and saying, pay attention to what they’re NOT doing and saying. They may say one thing, but really mean another. It’s what is going on beneath the surface. Here’s a great article about using subtext.
  • Does your character do something surprising?
    Keep your readers on their toes by surprising them with your character’s reactions. In each scene, the character should do something unexpected.
  • What emotion is the character feeling at the beginning of the scene? Does he or she have a conflicting or contrasting emotion by the end of the scene?
    If the character is laughing and playing around at the beginning of the scene, is she pissed off at the end of the scene? May sure your characters express a range of feelings and moods throughout the scene.
  • Does your character have expectations at the beginning of the scene that contrast with  what happens during the scene?
    If your character is expecting to win a competition at the beginning of scene, show him or her losing. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe the character expects to lose and ends up winning by cheating or something else. Surprise the reader.
  • Are the characters only talking in this scene? If so, does it move the story along?
    Your scene may only be a conversation, but it better move the story along.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end? Does it seem like a mini-novel?
    If you consider them a mini-story, then you’re more likely to write stronger scenes. C.S. Lakin talks about scene structure in her article.

I have a file in my Scrivener document called “Tool Box.” It has several lists to use for keeping my novel in check. One of those tools is a Scene Checklist. I review a scene using all of the above criteria. I hope you find it helpful.

22 Summer 2016 Books You Won’t Want To Miss

reading-in-a-park-1312435From the Huffington Post:

Soak up these family dramas, advice column collections and near-future hijinks.

This summer, in addition to the obvious 2016 warm-weather pastime of drinking watermelon water while listening to “Lemonade,” we’re looking forward to reading new books! Because, although we are big proponents of couch lounging, reading in the grass while using a book to shield your eyes from the sun has its particular joys.

Thankfully, there’re a lot to choose from. It may not be the summer of “the next next ‘Gone Girl,’” but there’s a meticulously wrought new thriller out in June, one that examines a violently broken relationship between sisters. There’s also a wry adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” a screwball story set in 2052, and a new slate of advice columns from Heather Havrilesky, aka Ask Polly. Choose wisely, dear readers; in our opinion, you can’t go wrong with one of the following.

Four quick reads on writing

When I was on vacation earlier this month, I read some e-books on writing. Even though these gems were inexpensive and quick, they provided me with some valuable lessons to apply to my writing craft.

Here they are:

  • 2940045351874_p0_v2_s192x300Self-publishing a Book
    By Hank Quense
    Quense has a great series on self-publishing and this is the second one I’ve read. He’s great about explaining why he does it the way he does, but let’s the reader know everyone needs to self-publish the way that is best for himself. Good advice on what publisher to use. I will be coming back to this book as a reference.
  • 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
    2940152280371_p0_v1_s192x300By Rachel Aaron
    I loved Aaron’s Eli Monpress series and I can’t wait to read more of her stuff. She gives advice on how to increase the amount of writing that gets done during a writing session by applying her triangle of knowledge, time and enthusiasm. Now, if that sounds vague, she does get specific about what they mean in this book.
  • Writing from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone In Between
    By James Scott Bell
    9780910355117_p0_v1_s192x300I love Kill Zone, a blog for which Bell contributes as part of a community of writers. This book provided a fascinating piece of advice about character development for novel writing: the “Mirror Moment.” Once again, it’s something I knew already, but didn’t know I knew. This quick read will change the way you plan your novel–and it’s easy to apply to a draft you’ve already started.
  • Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Process
    By M.G. Herron
    2940157649920_p0_v1_s192x300I already read several books on Scrivener when I first learned to use it. The difference between those books (although they were wonderful and helpful) and this one is that Scrivener Superpowers gets into the nitty-gritty of not just learning to use it, but how to use is as a writer. His No-Nonsense Novel Template is also great.

So if you’re looking for some quick lessons for improving your fiction writing with maximum impact, you should check these books out. I highly recommend them.