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How I Learned to Love (and Learn From) My Kids’ Favorite Books

23 Feb

When my wife and I decided to have kids, we felt pretty sure that they would grow to love reading as much as we did. Even before our oldest son was born, he was getting a taste for literature. In bed at night, I read Tom McCarthy’s weird, avant-garde novel REMAINDER aloud to my wife’s pregnant belly. It was our version of playing Mozart. We didn’t expect that it would make our baby a literary genius, but it was a way to talk to him in a language we loved. Sure enough, when the nurses were drying and weighing, the nurse said, “Say something, Dad,” and so I spoke. Xavier turned his head toward me. The nurse nodded. “He recognizes your voice.”

–Read the entire essay about what I’ve learned from my kids’ favorite audiobooks at the wonderful writer Samantha M. Clark’s blog.

 

You can pre-order The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction here.

 

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My Book Has a Cover!

30 Jan

One of the things I’ve always admired A Strange Object (beyond the inventive, smart story collections they have published) is the beautiful covers they create for their books. I couldn’t wait to see what they would do with The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction. Now it’s official:

The cover was created by Austin-based artist and set designer Lisa Laratta. She actually built the topographical feature in the image. On the back of the book, the image wraps around and continues. It’s a cover that speaks to the explorative nature of the book, investigating the types of fiction that can be written. It also reminds me of the maps my wife and I have used when hiking in New Mexico and the maps I used to pore over when my father went to the local federal office to register his CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) ground; the acres withdrawn from crop production and reserved for grassland had been shaded in by hand with colored pencil by my father. Even though I knew every part of the farm, seeing those same fields from a different perspective made me realize how much there was to discover about it. It’s the same way I feel about reading great fiction in order to expand my skill as a writer.

To learn more about The Writer’s Field Guide and to pre-order the book, click here.

 

 

4 Strategies for Creating Compelling Characters

23 Jan

“An indispensable book that belongs on every serious writer’s desk.” Buy the book here.

Last week, Austin experienced two days of real winter, which meant my 6 and 8-year-olds had no school. Because it was cold and icy, playing outside wasn’t any fun, so we did what anyone would do: watched movies and built medieval siege equipment out of pencils. They both really wanted to watch Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but I didn’t feel like explaining all of the sex jokes, so instead I introduced them to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc. I hadn’t seen the movie since I was a kid, and so I was surprised at how corny it is. It wasn’t just the special effects (skeletons that look like Halloween decorations); the plot is pretty silly as well. But that didn’t matter. The movie holds up, and my kids loved it, because Harrison Ford creates a captivating character. We would have watched him in any movie—and throughout the 80s and 90s, American audiences did.

The movie was a reminder that if you can create a great character, the rest of the story often falls into place. Or, at the very least, the story gets easier to tell.

You can find four exercises designed to create captivating characters in The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction. They exercises are inspired by excerpts from two novels and two stories: the novels The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales and Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older and the stories “My Views on the Darkness” by Ben Marcus and “Proving Up” by Karen Russell.

You can pre-order The Writer’s Field Guide here.

A Short Preview of the Exercises

Each excerpt is accompanied by an essay on the craft within it and an exercise for adapting the strategies to your own work. Here are the first steps in each exercise:

Create Characters with a Single, Definitive Trait, inspired by The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

  1. GIVE YOUR CHARACTER A DEFINING TRAIT. It can be something physical like size, hair color, or an odd body part; in Homer’s Odyssey, the Cyclops, as everyone remembers, has one eye. You can make the trait behavioral: a tic or disorder (as in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), a pattern of behavior (laughing at the worst moments), or a temperament (rage, kindness). You can also use a piece of clothing or accessory; everyone knows that the Monopoly man has a cane and top hat.

 

Make Your Characters Into Something New, inspired by Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

  1. IDENTIFY THE TYPE OF CHARACTER. It’s no secret that characters fall into types: heroes/villains, protagonists/antagonists, detectives/ criminals, butt-kickers/butt-kickees, and lovers/love interests. Think about the role your character plays. Is she the one going on a trip? The stranger coming to town? For just a moment, think about your story in terms of those outlines we’re all familiar with. Which one are you writing?

 

Define Your Character’s Emotional Response to Conflict, inspired by “My Views on the Darkness” by Ben Marcus

  1. SKETCH THE OUTLINES OF THE CHARACTER’S CONFLICT. Marcus’s story uses the genre of apocalypse. People on earth are dying in seemingly large numbers. Not much else is revealed—and we don’t need much else. People are dying, and the living are searching for ways to survive. That’s the conflict. So, begin by stating your story’s own conflict in a sentence or two: _____ is happening, and this causes ____ to happen. This structure works for intimate conflicts as well as apocalyptic ones:

X had an affair, so Y ____.
X got sick, so Y ____.
X owed me money, so I ____.
X fell in love with Y, and Y _____.
X did ___, and so her best friend Y ____.

 

Generate Tension by Giving Characters Unequal Access to an Object of Desire, inspired by “Proving Up” by Karen Russell

  1. IDENTIFY THE OBJECT OF DESIRE. The object is often named in the title: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Lord of the Rings, The Goldfinch. Or the object is implied by the genre: love, vengeance, the solution of a mystery. In most cases, the object is set before a character as a prize, but it’s only over time that the object gains personal importance to the character. This is especially true in mysteries: someone gives the detective a job, and at some point, that job becomes personal. (Sometimes there’s even a line: “Now it’s personal!”). So, even if the object seems a bit dry at the start, you’re at least giving yourself something to work with, a direction to point your character in.

 

Put these strategies to use, and you may have the next Indiana Jones at your fingertips.

Good luck.

You can pre-order The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction here.

 

How to Keep Readers From Skimming Over Your Passages about Setting

11 Jan

Pre-orders available now.

I’ve always felt conflicted about the term “page turner.” I love thrilling novels as much as the next person and remember lying on the mattress on the floor of my bare-walled college apartment one summer, reading the latest Harry Potter novel until about four in the morning. But as much as I love dying to know what will happen, I just as equally loathe when I’m so compelled to reach the end that I start flipping ahead. That’s the wrong sort of page-turner. At the very least, the prose ought to hold your eye to every word.

The passages most likely to get skimmed by readers are descriptions of setting—and for good reason. Done badly, they are mere lists of adjectives and florid metaphors. Readers skim them because they don’t do anything. “Yes,” we think, “we get it: the mountains are tall and pretty. Now, move it along.”

The best writers can make descriptions of setting as interesting and compelling as the drama that follows. The trick is learning how to do it yourself.

You can find four exercises designed to do just that in The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction. They’re inspired by excerpts from one novel and three stories: “Pomp and Circumstances” by Nina McConigley, “It Will Be Awesome Before Spring” by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and “Waiting for Takeoff” by Lydia Davis.

You can pre-order The Writer’s Field Guide here.

A Short Preview of the Exercises

Each excerpt is accompanied by an essay on the craft within it and an exercise for adapting the strategies to your own work. Here are is step one for each exercise:

Take a Tour, inspired by “Pomp and Circumstances” by Nina McConigley

  1. IDENTIFY THE MOTIVE FOR THE TOUR. The character leading the tour may have a destination in mind. Or the tour might be a way to kill time until some scheduled or expected moment. In McConigley’s case, the tour leads to both: a destination where Larson will make his request. This intention, or motive, is crucial. Without it, the characters are simply wandering around.

 

 

Break Setting into Neighborhoods, inspired by “It Will Be Awesome Before Spring” by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

  1. GIVE YOUR CHARACTER A NEIGHBORHOOD TO INHABIT. To start, choose a common term (downtown, suburbs, etc.) that broadly applies to the neighborhood where your character lives, works, or spends time. Imagine that the character (or someone else) is explaining the location of this neighborhood. What phrase or term would be used? Not every character will necessarily use the same term. People who live downtown often view anything beyond their borders as the suburban hinterland, but people living outside of downtown will say things like, “I’m only 10 minutes from downtown,” suggesting that the suburbs are farther out. What does your character (and others) call your character’s neighborhood?

Give Setting a Human Geography, inspired by Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

  1. GIVE YOUR CHARACTER BEHAVIOR TO OBSERVE. Just as people who buy cars or have babies tend to pay close attention to other cars and other parents with babies, all people/characters tend to notice certain behaviors more than others. The question is this: What concerns are on your character’s mind? Someone who just bought a car, for example, is worried about buying the best/cheapest/safest one. What decision has your character made or what decisions must the character make on a daily basis? The rationale for those decisions will likely cause the character to notice people with the same rationale or, perhaps, who make different choices.

Manipulate Characters with Setting, inspired by “Waiting for Takeoff” by Lydia Davis

  1. START WITH A PRONOUN. Davis’ story begins with we. It’s impersonal; we could be anyone. By the end of the sentence, it’s clear that the identity of we is wholly contingent on the setting. We are the people on the airplane. Nothing else about them matters. So, give yourself a pronoun: we, he, she, us, they, it. Don’t use a name. Avoid nailing down details for now. The point is to give your story a warm body, nothing more.

 

Setting should be more than a backdrop. The best writers find ways to bring setting and drama together, forcing them to interact.

You can pre-order The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction here.

How to Start and Keep Writing After a Long Break

5 Jan

Publication Date: February 27, 2018. Pre-orders available now by clicking here.

It’s the start of a new year, a time when dormant writing projects are taken out of drawers and dusted off and new projects are finally started. You feel as though you only need to reach out and grab the book out of the ether. Then, of course, reality sets in. You stare at the void of the blank page, and it stares back. Soon, you remember an errand that needs to be run, some housework that has been put off, a work email that needs to be answered, and before long the book has returned to the drawer.

Starting a project and continuing to write often requires a set of exercises designed to get words on the page. Give yourself enough of those words, enough images and interesting situations, and eventually your writing brain will take over.

You can find four exercises designed to do just that in The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction. They’re inspired by excerpts from two novels and two stories: “The Heart” by Amelia Gray, “Lazarus Dying” by Owen Egerton, Jam on the Vine by Lashonda Katrice Barnett, and Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett. These stories and novels are as different from one another as night and day, which means they offer very different but highly accessible approaches to setting up a situation and giving it the opportunity to grow into story.

You can pre-order The Writer’s Field Guide here.

A Short Preview of the Exercises

Each excerpt is accompanied by an essay on the craft within it and an exercise for adapting the strategies to your own work. Here are the first steps in each exercise:

Drop an Elephant into the Room, inspired by “The Heart” by Amelia Gray

  1. FIND YOUR ELEPHANT. Because there are in nite possibilities for a story’s elephant, there are likely in nite ways to nd them. Let’s try two. First, dig into obsessions. Here’s a good way to identify them: imagine…you’re a guest on your favorite podcast. What are you talking about? If it’s Fresh Air by Terry Gross (not really a podcast, I know, but it’s where I fantasize myself being interviewed), then you’re probably talking about your life and childhood and where you come from. But the podcast could center on some aspect of pop culture—like Back to the Future Minute, the daily podcast that discusses the lm Back to the Future one minute at a time. (Yes, such a podcast really exists.) Almost all stories follow the writer’s interests or sensibilities. What are yours? Make a list. Brainstorm. Then pick one and search within it for some object (specific, tangible) to use as your elephant.

Give Your Characters What They Wish For, inspired by “Lazarus Dying” by Owen Egerton

  1. IDENTIFY WHAT THE CHARACTER WANTS. This should always be one of the first steps to writing a story. The only thing more boring than a character getting what she wants is a character sitting in a chair, not wanting anything. Most stories revolve around desires for common things: love, vengeance, money, possessions, security, certainty, self-validation (the ability to say, “I told you so”), or the resolution to some unresolved matter. Lazarus and his sisters desire life—and, more broadly, an escape from death and suffering. What does your character want? What keeps your character up at night?

Let a Character Respond to an Expected Scene, inspired by Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett

  1. FIGURE OUT YOUR STORY’S EXPECTED SCENE. To do this, think about the premise of your story. If it involves ghosts, there will be an encounter with a ghost, right? If it’s a war story, someone’s going to kill or get killed. In a coming-of-age story, a character will be humiliated or embarrassed. Immigrant stories and American-abroad stories usually involve a moment of cultural difference, ignorance, or miscommunication. What is a scene that is promised by your premise? These scenes are usually the reason people want to read your type of story. Readers want to see encounters with ghosts. What do they want to see happen in your story?

Turn a Premise into Drama, inspired by Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett

  1. IDENTIFY THE SOURCE OF DANGER IN THE PREMISE. For many stories, this should be simple. If there’s a villain, you’ve found your danger. If something can be broken (contract, relationship, trust), there’s got to be a character who acts as the bull in the china shop. If someone doesn’t play by the rules (whatever the rules are), that person is the agent of danger. In Everett’s novel, the risk comes from the drug-dealing neighbor. He and his brother are the ones who will likely do something bad. So, ask yourself, who in your story has the potential to behave badly?

In this first section of the book, we’ll examine some of these skills and how great writers put them to work. They might not seem glamorous at first, but they’re the basic building blocks of the artistic vision. Learn these skills, and you’ll always have them at your fingertips, even when your artistic vision feels lost or dimmed.

Good luck.

You can pre-order The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction here.

Big Changes Are Coming to Read to Write Stories in 2018

2 Jan

I’ve been posting writing exercises and author interviews at this blog for five years, for a total of around 150 interviews and almost 200 exercises. It all started when the journal American Short Fiction asked me to teach a few creative writing workshops, and I doled out some standard workshop advice, most of it phrased in the negative (“Don’t do this, don’t do that”) and someone finally asked the million-dollar question, “What should we do?” I didn’t have a great answer (or any answer), so I brought in some short stories that I admired and asked the students to read passages from them closely so that we could figure out how celebrated authors had handled the same issues that we were facing. From those close readings, I developed writing exercises for my students. When the classes came to an end, I wanted to keep creating exercises based on published work, and so I told my wife, “I’m going to start a blog,” and she said, “What is this, 1994?” (She was also the one who suggested I interview authors about their craft, one of the first being George Saunders, who graciously took time from being a genius to answer some of my questions.) Now, five years later, the blog has led to a book: The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction.

Publication Date: February 27, 2018. Pre-orders available now by clicking here.

The book contains all-new exercises based on one-page excerpts from 40 writers that I admire, including Alexander Chee, Gillian Flynn, Roxane Gay, William Gibson, Kiese Laymon, Laila Lalami, George Saunders, Benjamin Sáenz, Jim Shepard, Zadie Smith, and Jesmyn Ward but also writers who challenged me. Quite frankly, I didn’t get Ben Marcus when I read his work in graduate school. I also struggled at first with Marlon James’ deep dives into his characters’ voices in A Brief History of Seven Killings. I don’t read romance and read very little women’s fiction (which I’ve learned is a defined genre), but I kept seeing Jennifer Weiner’s byline on essays arguing for the respectability of those genres and thought I’d check out her work. I was jealous of Karen Russell because she found success so early. I put off reading Teju Cole for years because I thought his novel premise sounded pompous. Like so many MFA graduates (and non-MFA writers and readers), I thought I knew what I liked. Then I actually read the books I had been avoiding or had put down early and found that they were brilliant. I think about A Brief History of Seven Killings almost every time I sit down to write.

This is easy praise, of course. Marlon James has won so much acclaim that one day someone will rent one of his old apartments and find a shoebox of awards stored behind the furnace vent. Here is, perhaps, more surprising praise, for literary writers, at least: Jennifer Weiner is a hell of a writer. In her novel, Who Do You Love, she wrote a scene that was eerily similar to a scene that I had written in a failed novel, and her scene was so much better than mine, so sharply defined and hard-hitting, that I had one of those moments all writers encounter: I thought, “Why do I even do this?”

The reason I created this blog—the real reason—was because those exercises I created for my students made me a better writer. I was teaching myself, but not just about craft. All writers continually hone their craft. Anne Lamott once wrote, and I’m paraphrasing, that you publish a book and feel elated, and then the next day you realize you’ve got to do it all over again. Nobody ever perfects craft. I learned that through this blog. But I also learned to read positively.

As a MFA student, I tore apart published books in order to see their faults and the seams where they didn’t quite hold together. This is natural. In workshop, you spend three hours explaining why the stories at hand don’t work; of course that mindset will bleed into your leisure reading. But the inability to enjoy new fiction is also a function of jealously. You want so badly to be recognized as a writer and so you get frustrated when people you view as your peers get tapped on the shoulder while you labor in obscurity. It makes you bitter. This, too, is natural. Some very successful, quite famous authors have made spectacularly poor shows of restraining their jealously. It makes for juicy Facebook news, but jealously also makes you a bad writer. If you can’t read your contemporaries and get excited, what sort of art will you create? Maybe you’re a seer, a remarkable genius who will invent a voice and form that revolutionizes literature. Or maybe you’ll just write the same half-baked stories over and over until you give up because journal editors and agents just don’t get it.

The thing I have learned through five years of creating exercises for this blog is to read with the expectation that the story, novel, essay, or memoir I’m about to begin will be amazing. That I will be reading in bed and shake my wife until she stops reading her own book so that I can tell her about the thing I just read. When you read positively, you don’t worry about poorly-crafted sentences or creaking plot mechanisms. Every story has its faults. Lord knows the Internet was designed for the sole purpose of explaining in great detail why the plot of The Last Jedi doesn’t hold together. (For the record, I felt like cheering when Luke brushed off his shoulders.) If you read exclusively for the faults, you only learn what not to do. You never answer the question that really matters: What should you do?

This isn’t to say that you should read without taste or aesthetic. As a former reader for two literary journals, I can tell you with 100% certainty that writing can be bad. Even published books can be bad. Generally speaking, though, you can assume that published books have achieved a basic mastery of craft, plus a little more. They’ve done something to make an agent and/or editor say, “Hey, I like this.” That isn’t easy. If you want to get jaded, sit in front of a slush pile.

The challenge as a writer is to keep jealousy and bitterness at bay. To read the way that K-12 children read, with a hunger and sense of awe. I vividly remember sitting in my parents’ brown, stained, worn living room chair, reading the end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the Ring, my mom hollering that lunch was ready, my five siblings thundering into the kitchen, and me (a kid who once ate so much candy at a church Christmas party that I threw up on the way home) hollering back, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Nobody but a writer gives a damn about craft. But only the craft of creating gripping characters, worlds, and stories can keep a hungry reader in the chair at meal time.

The best writing instruction, whether it’s in a MFA program or ad hoc, is focused on the strategies that  make readers put off eating and sleeping. If you read with that idea in mind, you don’t care about genre or style. You don’t only read the authors who speak to your own experience. You read anyone that you can learn from. The best thing about reading positively is the giddiness that you feel when you hit upon a sentence or scene you can imitate or steal.

Shameless plug: Pre-order the book by clicking here.

I was once at a reading by Junot Diaz, and someone asked how he felt about the proliferation of MFA programs, and he answered that everyone who wants to do it should write a book. Not all of those books will get published. So what? Publication and publicity are the least fun parts of creating a book. The most enjoyable part is writing. I hope that The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction will help you hone the skills that bring your enthusiasm for your own story to the page.

To that end, you’ll see some changes at this website. The front page has changed, giving information about the book. The blog is still there, under the blog tab. I’ll be giving some previews of the book over the next two months before its publication date: February 28. I’ll also be posting some new exercises by authors I love. If you love the blog, buy the book. (Shameless plug, I know). Tell your friends.

Thank you for reading these exercises for the past five years. Thank you for the kind notes you’ve sent, for the likes and retweets and shares. Good luck with your writing. I hope you all write books that will keep your readers turning the pages even as food sits on the table.

How to Knock Your Characters Back to Square One

28 Nov

Kelly Davio’s essay collection It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability led Sheila Black to write, “If you want to know what it feels like to be a person with a disability in the 21st century, read this book.”

Here’s another maxim of workshop: Stories are built out of broken routines. It’s a true and useful piece of advice, but when taken too directly, it can lead to a thousand versions of “A funny thing happened on the way to the ____.” While many stories eventually reach a sentence that rephrases that line, what happens before they do can make or break what comes next.

A great example of building and breaking routine in an interesting way can be found in Kelly Davio’s essay “I Was Once the Writer Kelly Davio.” It was originally published at Change Seven Magazine and is included in her new book It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability.

How the Essay Works

The essay begins with a straightforward presentation of a routine:

I’m pretty good at falling. Over the past few years of living with a progressive neuromuscular disease, I’ve learned how to come down on the flats of my hands without jamming my wrists, and even if my knees bruise, I can always wear something that covers the worst of the marks so I don’t look like the victim of some kind of alarming knee-related crime.

Soon, she adds to it:

Finally, I had to admit I needed a cane; there were times when I had no shoulder to hang from, and I needed a better strategy than hoping I’d magically stay upright every moment I was alone.

So, I did it: I ordered myself a green paisley cane. Fifteen bucks, two days, and some free Prime shipping later, and I was in business.

Between her practice at falling and her new cane, Davis is doing pretty well. But then she attends AWP, the big conference for writers. She’ll see people she knows, people who will be surprised at the cane and her appearance, and so a wrench is thrown into the gears of the routine:

Heaving myself out of the car with my cane, I felt like a grade school kid worrying about what the schoolyard bullies would say about her coke-bottle glasses—my new accessory was a necessity, but something that made me uncomfortably visible.

Things at the conference go well. She even gets quoted at a panel discussion she’s attending, a writer’s dream exceeded in pleasure only by seeing a stranger reading your book. She’s feeling good…and then the routine gets broken (or remade):

It was while shuffling through the corridors with my renewed sense of confidence that I felt the fist in my back. A man walking behind me had, for no reason I can imagine, punched me between the shoulder blades.

I flew forward. I came down, knees cracking hard on the concrete floor, trying to fall so that I wouldn’t injure myself, but failing in the brute surprise of it all.

The usual order of a routine break goes like this: routine, introduction of some new and disruptive element, no more routine. But Davio has done something that is at once more realistic and more interesting. She develops a routine and then adapts it to her surroundings and changes she cannot control. She rolls with the punches, so to speak, until one literally knocks her down. That punch also knocks her back to the conditions that existed before her routine began, when she was not yet “pretty good at falling.” The question for the reader becomes this: What will happen now that she’s back at square one?

The Writing Exercise

Let’s create, break, and remake a routine, using “I Was Once the Writer Kelly Davio” by Kelly Davio as a model:

  1. Find the conditions that force your character to create a routine. For Davio, it’s the physical condition that causes her to fall. Most of us know our own conditions. For me, I don’t buy chips or candy because I know that I’ll eat it all in one feeding. I have plenty of will power—except around those things. Other people avoid or seek out other items or experiences. This step goes hand-in-hand with the creation of the routine. What does your character (or, in the case of essay and memoir, you or your people) need to seek out or avoid? Why?
  2. Let the routine adapt to failure. Davio needs to avoid falling but cannot. So, she gets better at falling. What she avoids is not falling itself but the dangerous landing. If a routine removes your character from danger completely, it’s probably not a good routine—at least for story purposes. (In real life, it might be a great routine.) How can you make the conditions from the previous step unavoidable or impossible to embrace (if sought out)? In other words, how can you make the routine a matter of dealing with the conditions but not changing them completely?
  3. Continue to adapt. Davio eventually buys a cane. Falling well is no longer sufficient or possible. What happens when your character’s routine no longer works as well as it needs to? What does your character add, remove, or change?
  4. Introduce a moment of doubt. For Davio, this comes when she enters a new place: a conference as opposed to her home and usual surroundings. For your character, what change or shift in setting or situation makes the chronic conditions seem suddenly more intense or more dangerous?
  5. Let the character thrive—at least for a moment. For a while, Davio has a terrific conference experience. It’s a relief to her and also to her readers, who are dealt a reprieve from the dread of wondering what bad thing will occur. As a general rule, avoid ramping up your plot or complications in an orderly or predictable way. If things seem to be getting worse (or better), change up the trend.
  6. Knock your character back to life before the routine. For Davio, this happens literally. She started the essay by learning to fall well, but now she has fallen badly. The pivotal moment in her story, then, is both the introduction of something new and disruptive (the guy who punches her) and also a return to the original conditions as they existed before she adapted to them with her routine. What new element could return your character to square one?

The goal is to create a trend (problem, solution, fine-tuned solution) and then break it in a way that play toward and against the reader’s expectations.

Good luck.

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