The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Frank Morin’ Category

Macro vs Micro Conflict

20 April 2015 | 1 Comment » | Frank Morin

big dragon little knightLife is conflict. Story is conflict. One of the reasons we seek out great stories is for help dealing with conflict in our lives. We learn lessons from our characters, look for inspiration from heroes that have to risk everything to achieve their goals. After experiencing that level of conflict, sometimes our own are easier to keep in proper perspective. If they can make sense of their crazy worlds, we should be able to make sense of our own.

Frank’s rule on conflict: Rarely is a story with a single conflict interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention for long.

  • A corrolary to that rule is: the more personal a conflict, the more interesting it is.

Let’s start with the biggest conflicts: War. One might think those would be the most interesting stories because entire nations are at conflict with each other. Problem is, I as a reader cannot relate to a nation very easily.

Consider a few highly rated war movies:

What makes these movies stand above the rest in large part is that they have powerful personal conflicts. War is the setting, and battle sequences provide ample fodder for physical and psychological danger. However, it’s the deeply personal conflicts of the combatants, their personal lives outside of the battlefield, that draw in viewers and make them care.

There were war movies made that dealt only with the macro issues of conflict between nations. Those tend to be drier and inherently less interesting outside of a pure historical, strategic, or academic perspective. Because there’s not much story there. It’s hard for people to relate.

But if we take a major conflict like that and populate the setting with interesting characters who have challenges similar to our own in addition to the macro issues of life and death conflict on the battlefield, that’s when we get sucked in. We want our heroes to survive the battle, but what we’re most rooting for are their victories over their inner struggles, their fear. We want them to survive to find a normal life, fall in love, prove there can be some kind of happily ever after.

Let’s look at some other types of stories.

Would we care so much if Luke Skywalker defeated Darth Vader if Vader wasn’t Luke’s father? The Luke vs Vaderlightsaber duels were awesome, and the conflict between the good young jedi and the evil old killer was epic. However, our interest was locked in and set to boiling when the story became one of redemption. We wanted Luke to not only defeat evil, but help his father return to the light.

Titanic was such a successful movie because we cared for the primary characters. The setting was one of a famous disaster where fifteen hundred people died. Yet that wasn’t the main story because major disasters are not relatable at a deep, personal level. It worked because it was a love story between a doomed couple.

The Princess Bride is a completely different type of story. Funny, engaging, filled with epic duels and memorable characters. But the heart of the story is true love. Very little is more relatable than that.

Let’s shift gears again. Rocky. Great movie. Classic story of a man committing his all in a bid to overcome incredible obstacles and break out of the life he’s locked into. The fight scenes are superb, but we’re rooting for him because we relate to him. We want him to prove it’s possible to reach our dreams, no matter how high we’ve set our sights, as long as we’re willing to throw everything we are into the struggle.

Another favorite story of mine is Knight’s Tale. The jousting is awesome, the cinematography is often fantastic, and the setting is very interesting. We root for William, the young knight, because again he’s trying to change his stars, change his life, and find love. If he can do it, we can do it (hopefully with less physical pain involved).

Pride and PrejudiceLet’s consider a final example. Pride & Prejudice. I love to tease my wife about this and other similar stories because the level of conflict is so subdued. There are no knights, there’s no war, there’s no desperate run through traffic to stop the wedding before the true love makes the wrong choice. And yet, this story has held readers for a very long time and most women I know are rabid fans. Why is that?

Because the conflict is relatable. The conflicts are simple, yet powerful. Everyone has to wonder about relationships, their place in the world, and what kind of life they’re going to manage to build for themselves. Add in the romantic Elizabethan era with beautiful costumes, formal settings, and a social code that threatens to keep the characters down, and it’s a winner for the ages.

So as we build stories, make sure at their root there’s a deep, personal conflict that our readers can relate to. Then layer onto that larger challenges with family, society, or culture. Those macro conflicts and opposing pressures can ratchet up tension and stakes, making the personal conflict that much more powerful.

If you can do that, you’ve got a winner for the ages.

Keeping Secrets

9 March 2015 | Comments Off | Frank Morin

Keeping secretsWithholding information just to mess with your readers doesn’t work. If the character would know something, the reader should know it, particularly if you write in first person or deep-dive third person.

In general, all the major information needs to be revealed by about the three-quarter point of the story. This is the second plot point, and is when the hero learns the last major reveal that launches them into the final showdown, giving them the drive to commit everything in their final attempt to win. That doesn’t mean we can’t have twists and turns and creative solutions, but if your story hinges on a bombshell getting dropped in the final chapter that fundamentally changes everything, chances are the approach will fail.

It’s possible, but tricky. Like other rules – know it before you try to break it. Only by understanding the principles can you twist them.

For example, one movie that worked very well was Sixth Sense. The main character didn’t know he was aSixth Sense ghost until the end. That changed everything about the story. It was a gimmick that worked because of brilliant execution. Unfortunately, once we know the gimmick, the story loses much of its power. The Sixth Sense is fantastic to watch once, or maybe twice. I don’t think I know anyone who has watched it more than that.

Some new writers think they need to withhold information to create suspense, to prepare for a big reveal. Suspense is important, but that’s not the way to do it. Holding back information that the reader should know through the normal flow of the story is a cheap trick and readers find it offensive. It insults their intelligence and it’s poor writing.

The author needs to find a better way.

A new writer might have characters avoid questions that they would naturally want to ask, questions that would force important truths to come out. By not asking those questions, they can withhold the information. This doesn’t work because the readers are asking themselves those questions and they’ll think either your protagonist is an idiot for not asking them, or that you as the author are insulting their intelligence.

Another mistake is for a new writer to try skipping the reveal, but allude to it. “Jane then told Bill something that shattered the foundation of everything he’d ever known. Life would never be the same.”

Well, what was that truth? If we’re in Bill’s head, we need to know it too, or you’ve broken the deep-dive you’ve established. We need consistency, or we drive readers out of the story.

So why not choose to structure their POV so we don’t do a deep-dive into the character’s head? In this way we can keep secrets, right?

Maybe. But that deep dive is a huge draw for readers. By creating distance between the reader and the character, it’s harder for readers to connect and empathize and root for the character. You risk your greatest emotional payoff that way. The approach can work for the right story, if the author has the skill to pull it off.

But we can’t tell the reader everything too soon, right? It would rob the final showdown much of its punch. You’re right, but it’s a point that has to be approached with caution. We create suspense with structure, not with gimmicks.

Some ways to deal with the issue:

1. Find a believable way to keep the information secret. For example, in The Maze Runner, the characters Maze Runnersuffer amnesia and one of the biggest challenges they face is to learn about their past. As those bits and pieces are regained, both the characters and the readers learn more, and the stakes grow.

2. It’s all right to have the hero put some pieces together and say, “I have a plan.” And cut the scene. This is pretty common, and if done right, can be very effective. The reader knows enough to feel connected with the ongoing story without feeling blocked or deprived, and they can still enjoy the surprise twists and cleverness of their characters. Just make sure to launch right into the plan, or the readers will expect to hear about that plan.

3. Reveal the secret to the readers, but not the hero, through other characters. If the protagonist is in the dark, but it’s important that the readers know something that’s known by other characters, this can actually help create effective tension. The readers see the problems the protagonist is having and wonder when and how they’re going to learn the secret, and how that truth will affect them.

4. Use misdirection. Mystery novels do this a lot. They’ll focus on the clues that seem to be most important, while the tiny details the characters and readers mostly ignored become key elements at the end.

5. Be creative. For example, in a fantasy series with a magic system, readers gain a sense of how the magic Steelheartsystem usually works. Depending on how rigidly defined the magic system is, this plays into how much it can be used to solve the ultimate problems. Suddenly revealing an entirely new aspect to magic and using it to abruptly win is an insult to readers and a trick I personally detest. However, the heroes can use their magic in creative ways that the reader probably hasn’t considered – taking the principles to the extremes. You’ve still established a foundation to build on, and it makes sense once readers consider the possibility, but you still get to enjoy the surprise/cleverness factor. Brandon Sanderson is famous for doing this. His recent YA fantasy novel, Steelheart is a great example.

6. Study your favorite authors, look at how they create suspense and weave the truths into the story.

7. Lastly, have fun with it. You want to suck your readers in, create believable tension, and seal them to your hero and the seemingly insurmountable challenges they’re facing. When your hero puts all the clues together and devises that clever solution, readers will love it and return to that story again and again.

I Would Do Anything for Love…

27 February 2015 | 1 Comment » | Kristin Luna


But I won’t do that. You know what I’m talkin’ about, Meatloaf.


Instead, we did all of this:

Victoria Morris Threaded the Tapestry

Gregory D. Little Subverted the Meet Cute

Ace Jordan did the Science of Love to Explain the Murky Middle

Mary reminded us that All You Need is Love

Joshua Essoe gave us advice about Writing Sex ScenesIn two posts!

Clancy showed us the Flip Side: Bad Girls and Anti-Heroes and Why the Guys Love them

Travis Heermann Examined and Bound

Kim May Pleasured us with Pain

Stephan McLeroy no longer Struggles to Define Love

Leigh Galbreath Drew us in with Dysfunctional Relations

Tracy Mangum gave us a master class in Love in Screenplays

Jace Killian showed us the Try and Fail in Love

Matt Jones made Ignorant Secret Troubled Love to us

Tracy Mangum followed up with Sex in Screenplays

Lisa Mangum reminded us that First Comes Like

Frank Morin pushed A Life of Passion

Colette advised us to Let Love Simmer

And RJ Terrell wrote On Love


Sure, this month is over, but we know you’ll be back. If you fall we will catch you, and we’ll be waiting. Time after time.


A Life of Passion

24 February 2015 | Comments Off | Frank Morin

Life of PassionWho do you love?

What do you love?

Everyone needs a little passion.

The interesting people in story, and in life, are those who embrace what they love with passion. It might be a spouse, family, work, or hobbies. We love people who are excited about what they do or who they are. We respond to passion. Easy example is when people tell us about a recent book or movie that we haven’t read or seen yet.

If they say, “It was all right.” No matter what our previous anticipation level might have been, it now falls a notch.

What if they say, “It was awesome! I’m going to camp out at the movie theater right now and wait until it opens tomorrow so I can see it again”? We can’t help but absorb a little of that passion. It’s contagious and exhilarating.

People do need to find balance in their life, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still feel passion for each component that makes up who they are and what they do. They just can’t let that passion lead to excess and stupid decisions.

One of the most tragic things we see in literature and in life are people who won’t follow their passion. They won’t ask the girl on a date, won’t apply for their dream job, won’t take a chance and LIVE their lives. Thankfully, this character flaw is seen most often only at the beginning of a story to highlight a hero’s dramatic character arc.

A great example is Walter Mitty in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Here’s a guy who has buried his passionsWalter Mitty so deep, he has to escape life in lengthy ‘zoned out’ moments where he dreams of doing great things. He has shackled himself to a boring job and refused to live, even though he dreams of it. The story is beautifully told, includes breathtaking scenery, and excellent music as Walter begins to break out of the repressed life he’s lived for so long and embarks on an amazing adventure that changes everything. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

In real life, it can be hard sometimes to chase our dreams, to live passionately. Are we Walter Middy before or after the moment where he decides to live?

How many times do we hear someone say, “I’d love to do that!” Only to then banish the thought and turn away. If it’s not illegal or immoral or likely to prove fatal, maybe they should reconsider.

Are you holding back, suppressing your passion?

Fear of failure is often the cause. Sure, we might fail, but at least fail while trying. Failure is a way to learn so much, but society has made failure taboo. The problem is, life is full of failures. Why not fail while doing something we’re passionate about instead of failing at life because we lack the courage to try? Here’s what a few famous people had to say about failure:

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” (Michael Jordan)

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” (Bill Gates)

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” (Thomas Edison)

We don’t like stories of cowards, of those too repressed or afraid or timid to live. Usually in stories, cowards are either killed or, if they’re a main character, their initial cowardice is overcome as they rise to become a hero. There’s a good reason for that. Readers don’t buy stories that lack progression.

Not surprisingly, it was hard to find great examples of characters terminally afraid to live their lives, afraid to embrace their passions.

One example that came to mind for me is Pierre Gringoire, the struggling playwright in The Hunchback of Notre Dame who is saved by Esmeralda, but lacks the courage to do anything productive. He is about as completely useless a character as any I’ve ever read. I’ve hated him since I was first forced to read this dark, depressing book as a kid. Pierre refuses to fight for the beautiful woman who saved his life, refuses to fight for anything useful, and eventually slips away from all conflict, taking along Esmeralda’s pet goat, Djali, the only creature who seems capable of dealing with his pitiful life.

So be Walter, not Pierre, and embrace your passions.

What are you waiting for?


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