Author Archives: CageDunn

And Then Along Came …

The Character and his journey. That’s what story is about, isn’t it? A character in conflict who struggles to find resolution. The journey implies an arc, something that aligns with the concept and theme and context of the setting and background and turmoils. Because a character has an arc, the story has an arc, and the lesson learned is something aligned with one or two or three bits of ‘the six things’ (which we’ll discuss later).

The story shows us how the character begins his life in this story. We see the first dimension things like how he looks, dresses, what language he uses when he speaks and thinks, the things he likes to surround himself with – all 1D elements of this character.

Then we see the second dimension things: the reasons or excuses for some of the 1D characterisations. Sounds simple, but understanding why a person does something, applying backstory to try to understand a 1D practice, is harder than it first appears. A person can be in a given situation and react in a particular manner – a practiced manner or an instinctive manner (instinct =3D, later). 2D can be the reason they do something a particular way, but the character chooses – it is choice that matters. One person may respond with a response that is reasonable based on the backstory, and the next person may react in a completely different manner. They have chosen to respond to the life-incidents that form 2D characterisation in different ways (but it better conform to the known psychological patterns [unless an alien learning how we operate, of course] and human needs).

And third dimension? This is the core of a person. Their inner beliefs and innate responses to situations. A scream when the snake runs over the path barely one step in front of them versus the other who freezes in the same circumstance. 3D is not the same for all. But it is the core of that person. This is the part of character that needs to be demonstrated as part of the character arc. In Part 1, the 3D is the weaker response, the unlearned innate or instinctive reaction. Part 2 shows the learning process and how hard it is; Part 3 shows the beginning of the fight back (and the losses and scars incurred in the process); Part 4 shows the changes at the core of the character. 3D is different in Part 4, and it should be obvious, through the whole of the story, that this is the true journey. The change.

However, that change may be limited. If a person does the whole gamut, gets to the end, does the heroic thing, and then falls back into ‘life as it was’ – is this the wrong journey? No. People are varied in how they learn and grow. Sometimes the lesson sticks, sometimes not.

Life is like a character arc. Change is hard. We may work up to making the change for the moment it’s required, and then, and then, and then we go back to what’s expected of us, or what we’re comfortable with, or ….

Character arc is the person in the story learning, being burned, relearning, struggling, and coming through for something or someone. Or not. The underlying theme is discovered through the journey he takes through the context of his story.

Remember the auto-responses: fight, flight, freeze. Show the change in character by the use of these auto (core) responses. Does learning or training change one or more? Does the fight to retain or regain something cause a change in how these auto-responses are managed?

Story is: a character in conflict who struggles to find resolution. Characterisation is where the story shows the struggle (internal and external – and the crossover).

Good luck with that!


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February Critique, wherein monsters and magic reign

Two pieces were presented for review this week, both part of ongoing W’sIP. [I like that – wees in pee!]

The first critique focussed on the presentation of the power moments of the scene/s and the character in action and the placement of things and people – you guessed it: the whole gamut of how to get the right feel in the right place at the right time. And clearing up the repetitions.

The second critique focussed on trying to find the reaction to the [where did they go?] character actions. And the repetitions. And the placement of power moments and the placement of people and things – oh, hey! You guessed it: first/second drafts that need to focus on the purpose and progression.

But it was fun and a great learning process.

And in the middle of the discussion, one of our members (the one with the broken wrist and the great story about subterranean beasties that lift the pavement in heaves of discomfort (see the real thing at the museum – yes, they’re real! Diprotodons[?]!) when they try to scratch that itch) had to get the help of the trauma nurse who noticed how we couldn’t help get the funny-looking not-quite-cotton thing – oh, a sling! –  around her neck and arm to hold it in place with a small measure of comfort. Thanks, Danielle, it was wonderful to see the character Adelaide come forth again.

Which started another conversation. ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.’  No, Danielle didn’t look funny – it was the issue of how people in Adelaide are really helpful and how much they go out of their way to offer assistance.

And the conversation moved onto the people we’d met, or heard about, who were not what you would expect an angel to look like, but were nevertheless, angels who helped people in trouble. It’s people who can’t be judged by the covers, not the books, because if a book can’t be judged by its cover, how is the reader going to figure out what it’s about?

The words of  the story introduce the reader to the broad sweeps of the story, just like a painting. They get a view into the world of the story. They see a picture. Or they should. And the cover is part of that introduction to story; it should allow itself to be judged by the way the writer dresses it for presentation to the world. When it comes to people, the saying (adage) may ring true, but for the book and story, it is the opposite – it will always be judged by the first few flickers of the picture that is generated.

Yes, I’m still talking about story with words. Story creates a world for the reader to become part of, to live in, to breathe and sing and dance – it’s real, and it only becomes real when the word-pictures are deep, compelling; when the reader is drawn into the spell (your) story creates for them.

Anyway, next meeting is all about people: Character, how things change, how the person grows and learns though the things they suffer (what we put them through, but it’s alright – we don’t feel a thing). See you then.

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From Concept to Storyboard

Structure – sounds easy, sounds good, and we have an understanding of all the little words strung together to make it sound very ‘writerly’ and vague.

It’s not. Vague, that is. And it can be very simple – but only once you work out which method, which form, works best for the way you work.

So, let’s have a look, shall we?

Structure – from Concept to Storyboard

The first thing to do is find an idea, and from the idea we build a concept of a story and then we turn it into a premise (read Larry Brooks for examples).

Idea: travel to Darwin; concept: travel to Darwin by camel and stop at Rainbow Desert [etc.]; premise: harassed daughter travels with mother [to find a good spot to bury her where no one will find the body!] to Darwin by camel, stopping at Rainbow Desert, etc.

Some people do log-lines for this purpose (see Save the Cat by Snyder), some people like to write out the ‘initial idea’ scenario, some people do other things – what do you do with your idea?

In order to do the ‘Good Story Well Told’ the critical things to know are:

Does the title and cover tell you what it is? If not, why would a reader go further? And if they get the wrong idea about what it is and go in, will they be disappointed? Very important.

What is it? It’s the hero’s story – who he is, who/what he’s up against, and what’s at stake. The premise with the most conflict, the baddest bad guy, the clearest goal – that’s a winner concept. So, it’s about a guy … who is someone we can learn from, want to follow because we are connected to him by empathy, deserves to get what he needs/wants, has the best reason for the stakes at risk. Choose the most suitable character and premise for the genre of the story.

A scene is one event in one place/time from one POV where something happens.

A beat is an action-reaction – a movement.

And we come to a Beat Sheet. There are lots of examples out there; some are very complex, some are very simple. Some have only five beats, some have nine, some have fifteen. Choose the one that works for you (I like Snyder, but have amended to suit the way I work – you can too).

Fill in the main beats: the Inciting Incident, the First Plot Point (1PP), the MidPoint (MP), the Second Plot Point (2PP) – then go back to fill in the bits in each Part.

Part 1 (Act 1 for some) 25% of the story – contains the Setup, Catalyst (or Inciting Incident), and ends (after the Debate) when the DECISION is made to step forward (this is the 1PP);

Part 2 (Act 2, part 1) 25% of the story – contains the response: running, learning, hiding, challenging; mistakes happen; initial attempts at attack don’t produce the results expected; losses happen (Snyder calls it the Fun ‘n Games section); this is the place for a pinch point (which is ‘see the baddy’), ends with the MidPoint;

Part 3 (Act 2, part 2) 25% of the story – contains the Attack, by them and hero (MC) using new info, new knowledge of tools, courage, etc. in an attempt to overcome the (committed and powerful and complex and cunning) enemy/bad guy/antagonist. Several bits here: another pinch point in the middle somewhere, an All is Lost moment, the Dark Night moment, and ends with the 2PP;

Part 4 (Act 3) 25% of the story (no new info in this part) – contains the resolution and finale, the lessons learned can be used in more effective way, the lessons learned put to good use, better equipped to move on, change and growth into the hero – evolved from coward to courageous, from isolated to engaged, inner demons conquered. Now prepared to act, to apply learning to implement heroic decisions – even to the point of martyrdom.  This is where the six things (see Snyder) are shown as proved or disproved or irrelevant.

That’s what the four parts are, the four q’s. Find a beat sheet to put the right things in each of the four q’s and you’re well on the way. Oh, and don’t forget – for every sub-story within the main story, do another beat sheet and board (the board if the story is complex), and it’s a good idea to do one for the antagonist as well.

The structure of the four q’s can be used with Aristotle’s Incline – just put the pieces along the line instead of in the picture of four parts.

And what do we have:

An Idea is developed into Beat Sheet, which evolves into Story Board (the 4q’s), which becomes your Story.

With the beats written out, filled in on the 4q board by the scenes that set up the main beats, scenes that respond to the beats – oh, my – there are so many scenes – I could write a whole novel from that! Yes, because structure is 80% of the work of story. Now it’s up to you to put the best effort into laying out the words that pull your reader in so far they don’t want to come out until … The End.





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A New Year – A Bigger Dream

January, and we’re all here – the whole lot of us! From poet to pastry chef, from dancer to singer to high-flier to cat-whisperer. Okay, enough of that! What did we do? What did we discuss? Where are we going for this new (and better) year?


  • Radio plays (PBA-FM 89.7) and who’d like to do one for the host
  • Chuck Wendig, Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett (know what they have in common?)
  • the word tailor within our group, and the new site
  • the new collaborator (Rose, of the tawny eyes)
  • the Anthology (yes, yes, yes – it will be good, better, the greatest) of Speculative Fiction Stories from Hell to High Victorian and everything in between
  • the list of things to discuss and learn and use in our work as professional writers – the toolbox, now updated
  • And (tah dah)
  • Goals for 2017

What are some of those goals? To write more, of course, but the big one is to learn enough to be able to share that knowledge with someone else. People who teach understand this: the teacher learns as they show others how to learn. This is what we want for each member of the group – learn and relearn when showing others what was learned. It works – try it! The only time to truly understand the level of [craft] knowledge is when it’s put down in a plan to show others how to incorporate what the teacher knows and uses into how the student can use and learn and incorporate into their own knowledge base, their own skill-set. That’s what we want!

Oh, and to write more – or did I already say that? Doesn’t matter – repeat the goal enough times that it becomes a mantra, and repeat the mantra enough times that it becomes a life meaning (and meaningful).

As this was the first meeting for the new (and better) year, the post is short, and it’s no reflection on the amount of time we spent discussing issues and items and responsibilities, but next post will be full of bones, full of sustenance and fibre; it will be solid and . . . [there I go, off on the fairy-trail again – so goodbye from her, and goodbye from him – see you next time!].

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May Critique – An indrawn gasp, a long drift down, and the pound of hearts

Yes – that’s how it is! Get the right feel – for a lazy moment, the sentences should reflect the ‘feel’ of that moment; where the character is in a moment of fight, flight, or freeze – show it through their actions, reactions and events. Setting is part of that event; rhythm of sentences reflect the POV passage through that scene.

Long, lazy, slow sentences are at risk of putting a reader to sleep; sentences that follow the same structure line after line are worse – the reader will never get a feel for the words. Music has rhythm, words have movement and music and light and smell and interactions (action-reaction; cause-effect), and story has ebb and flow and metaphors that don’t get cross or lazy or expositional.

Today, we discussed a lot of pieces:

A short story that was trying to impart a moment of departure from this world. To ensure interest, intersperse deep internalisation with action and events; make something happen.

Short – the fear of the dark, and how to best present how the character finds the moment of redemption/change through the response to normal, everyday moments of joy.

Short – when crossing the line between ‘them’ and ‘us’  and how to ensure there is a line, and the line is clear and distinct, but the story defines the pieces where what really happens, what was really there, is real. It is real, isn’t it? The thing in there? Excellent touches of humour and denouement.

Short – wolves and moons and when the changes happen and don’t; who can see the clues? Good suspense, good thrill.

Viola – rapid paced scene of intrigue.

Stair – where and why and how to instil a fear of the inevitable. What is the moral? And how does she fear the consequences of her actions?

We discussed a lot of things (always do), and even with different genre writing, styles and voices that vary from post-modern to pre-medieval, and the diversity of starting and ending points – we learned a lot. About our own work, about how we use the work of other people to improve our own work, how to push ourselves to produce better work each time, and how to help (push) our other members to do the same – all of us.

Life is short, story is life, put them together to impart a little journey through life into each and every story, each and every character, and each and every theme.

We are all story, and we want you to read ours. Bon appetite!

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Toolbox – Building a Story Structure

In the beginning, the story is sentence. The sentence is structured to have meaning – for this story. The paragraph is structured to show movement, a concept. A scene develops the structure of flow, and change, and connection.

A story: what is it? A character who struggles to resolve a conflict. That story is confined by the structure placed around it – the housing, or box, or container. Whether that container is square and follows the norms for the genre, or maybe moves into a round container for something different, it is the container; the beginning and end.

A lot of books talk about structure and what it is. Most of it can be taken with a pinch of salt, much like the chatter about POV.

After much discussion, many words and analogies and waving of arms, of looking inside books of people who tell us they know what it is, we have decided:

Structure is something that is the form that holds the story together. Whether you start with structure (the 3-act structure or the incline or any of the other terms or concepts) or start with an outline or start with a billowy cloud idea that floats around in your head, by the time the story is ready to be placed within the words that confine it – the structure – the beginning, middle and end are there; the conflict that led to the plot that led to the plan for how to put this here and that there and to hold off on this little piece of information and to drip-feed that little bit through that character or this moment or . . . you get the idea. The ‘feel’ of the story and how to best represent it to the reader to best effect – that is the structure.


Every house is a structure that represents a house to someone who knows what the concept of house should be/is to them. A 3-bed from the 1880’s compared to a 3-bed from the 1950’s compared to a 3-bed apartment on Glenelg foreshore. All different in how they look (inside and out), how they were built (and updated/modified over time), how they are viewed by others (owner, buyer, visitor, developer); all have the same ‘format’ of 3-bed. Yet, they are all structures used for the purpose of housing. A caravan is a house; it just moves from one place to another, as the owner requires. A transportable building can also be moved, but sits still for longer, or for a purpose, or relates to the social standing of the owner/resident. A log cabin is a structure, a house. A bird’s nest is a structure, a house (just not for a human – usually), a kennel is a structure.

Each structure has a way in, a way out (sometimes the same place as the way in, sometimes not), a place where the resident can look out and see the (world) view (also limited by the structure), a place where the outside(r) can look into the structure, get a close and personal view/sense of what’s going on inside. Each structure has a ‘path’ that leads from here to there to somewhere else (halls, through-ways). Each structure contains elements that are ‘owned’ by one character (envisage a bedroom space, clothing), and elements that are communal – where more than one character can convene, work, move around, assist, hinder, etc.

Just because one house has a specified structure, doesn’t mean all houses have the same structure. A house is defined by its purpose – and a story structure is no different.

Story structure is the way the story is put together to hold it up, to present to the world, to hold within the characters and places and events that make up the story.

In the simplest of terms, find the character and give them a conflict – how can this conflict be demonstrated to best effect? Where in the story arc is the best place for . . . etc. etc. etc.

Writing is utterance – chant and rant and litany. A reader expects a story to be within a structural element: beginning, middle, and end. A reader strives to reach the end to ‘find out what happened’ to the character in the story. And the writer wants the reader to strive to the end, to retain the words and feeling of the ‘house’ of the story – to keep it on their shelves so they can re-read the words and re-feel the emotional impact of that house. Structure is an invisible element that combines a strong foundation with solid walls, interesting surroundings and real people who live there.

Now put that to good use.

The 3-Act Structure

1 – establish world, characters, and question/problem. (25%)

2 – journey/quest, wrestle with problems, difficulties along the way. (50%)

3 – concludes the plot with a climax, wrapping up issues and answering questions. (25%)

Aristotle’s Incline

Doing a diagram of the story structure (the arrangement of parts of the novel) plants the design of the story/novel/book in your mind, and gives an overview of direction (path).

The 7 Stories/Plot (some would say)

1 – overcoming the monster

2 – rags to riches

3 – the Quest

4 – Voyage and return

5 – Comedy

6 – Tragedy

7 – Rebirth



Human v human

Human v nature

Human v god

Human v society

Human in the middle

Woman and man

Human v him/herself


Meta-plot begins with anticipation stage

(call to adventure), followed by the dream stage

(adventure begins). Hero has some success

(illusion of invincibility), followed by the frustration stage

(confront the enemy – illusion of invincibility lost); worsens in nightmare stage

(climax) where hope is lost, then resolution when hero overcomes their burden against the odds.

Sound familiar? It’s a story structure – how you put the story inside the parameters so that it tells the story in the best way possible, so that the reader understands the progression and is absorbed by the story elements (and is not confused by where or when that part of the story is).


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The Blue Moon Critique with Elements of Foresight

A full basket of stories:

  1. Update on Ms Hem and her antics (steam punk)
  2. Men go mad under the influence of manipulation (steam punk)
  3. Movement across the desert in search of water – and dragons
  4. What’s down there? Held over ‘til the next critique
  5. Companions we don’t really care for – also held over.


The first discussion was Ms Hem. The story is in fragments of plan, outline, scene/s sequences, and research requirements. A lot of discussion on what level of research is required, specifically for steam punk readers. Detail of certain things is expected, however, other things can be glossed over, particularly if they are a lead in to something that comes later, or have been mentioned before, or are not relevant to story.

Discussion on requirements of scene and POV: when to break a scene, how to prepare for scene change, segue (flow), and cause and effect. It may be good to leave a reader hanging for a moment to build the suspense, to magnify the conflict, but the opening and closing of those little moments are very important.

The second discussion is a follow-on from the previous submission in a steam punk novella (a jolly good show, chaps!). The main discussion revolved around (yes, revolved is the appropriate word) how to use a word to imply a feeling – and the use of metaphors that follow the flow of the story, and stay within the bounds of the metaphorical confines (don’ mix ya metaphoricals, laddy). The story unfolds in a manner that hints at the right things in the right places, causes the reader to check over their shoulder (just in case), and to look askance at people they thought they knew (well, story-wise).

The third discussion tried to get more of a feel of the distinction between internalisation and dialogue – how would a person speak in their own mind about their situation, and whether they would waste breath on someone who is giving them the . . . willies. How many characters need to be active in a scene to bring to scene to life? How many characters does the main char have to interact with in order to give the full impact of the scene? How much of the setting needs to be overlaid onto the main character’s (or should that be through) senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste – and emotions).


We also discussed printed book requirements – what looks good, what doesn’t; cover requirements, text elements, page colours, fonts. It’s a minefield, and that doesn’t include how to ensure the formatting the writer puts forward doesn’t get changed by the auto-formatters!

Short stories – several shorts were discussed and a plan laid out for critique of the ones at the stage of completion (awaiting final critique or final proofread). Short stories can be more difficult because the same requirements of story are held within fewer words, within a tighter structure, but must still lay out a full engagement.

And because this meeting was extraordinary (the blue moon), we’ll be back again next week, to discuss Structure (what is it, and how do we make it work best for this story?).


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