The Discovery of Q’s

 And now we’re up to Q4. That’s the fourth quartile of the story construction message. Is it the most important part? Yes, but only if Q1 is the bookend to Q4.

Since I discovered this particular form of words about story structure, I’ve become a convert. Yes, I liked to plan, and I did outlines and chapter/scene discovery pieces, but this has put it all together – much like the first time I built a house (okay, more of a shed really, but we lived in it for a while – and it didn’t leak!).

So, what happens in Q4? We lead up to ‘the end’ and we do it in such a way that the story shows the MC (main character) undergoing the metamorphosis from level 1 characteristics to level 2, and now here, to level 3. The final change (even if only temporary) of the inner person; the overcoming of the internal things that let him down, or held him back, or tried (this is the operative word in Q4 – ‘cos it doesn’t work anymore) to make him fear the consequences (etc.) are finally overcome to enable the MC to be the hero of the story. And he has to be the hero – what’s the point of doing the whole story about this person if he can’t be the hero of his own story?

There’s one very important rule for Q4 – no new info!!!! Very important. The MC has to use only the information he’s earned and learned on the way through the story, and this is where it all comes together, where it plays out the hand in the winning layout, where it gets him to the point of no return – to win (however that win may present itself) the day, the girl, the dog, or the personal satisfaction.

There’s a lot of chat out there (e-world) where story is created backwards – find the climactic end-point (q4) and write the story backwards from there. I like this, but I also like to have at least three (3) points of extreme emotional context associated with that climactic moment before I write up an outline (or now: the Beat Sheet!!!! One of my own creation, because (yep, you guessed it) I’m a know-all who likes doing things my own way – I just steal ideas!) and then let it sit in the pile of other outlines until the story muse yells loud enough that I take it out and ‘do’ that story.


So, in recap:

Q1: Title (the first thing a reader sees, so make it the most appropriate name for the story)

Opening Image: book cover and the first opening on the MC.

The six things (see Snyder: Saving the Cat) that come back in Q4 to show the level of change in the MC.

The Inciting Incident: This is the kicker, the breaking of the status of MC’s world, but it’s often not the First Plot Point (PP1).

PP1: The decision to DO something made by the MC – note the distinction: the MC does this, they choose, and then they step out on the path they chose.

Q2: the running, hiding, planning, strategizing that leads up to the MidPoint (MP). MC can’t win any clashes with the baddy, even if we have to meet up with whatever this is halfway through Q2 – it’s called the 1st Pinch Point (1pp). It happens somewhere near the middle of Q2 because the reader needs to know and feel and experience exactly what it is that the MC has to overcome.

Q3: from MP to 2pp to PP2; MidPoint to the 2nd Pinch Point to end the quartile at the 2nd Plot Point. This is the place to fight back with power, with energy, with knowledge. Of course, you don’t win with the first attempt – but you do learn something more, something that changes the MC, something that alerts the inner demons that their time is almost over. But of course, it’s not over, not yet. And the 2pp will show just how strong and intelligent and overpowering the baddy has become, won’t it? There’s always that point where the person gets kicked just once too many times and they consider the option of giving up and letting it all go. But then something happens.

Q4: The PP2 is the last moment of new info for the story – most often, it’s the point where the MC finally sees how it could all come together – and it usually involves some level of defeating those inner characteristic demons before he really sees.

And when he does win, and the Q4 holds all the answers to how the MC has changed (see the six things) from the beginning of the story to the end, and the final image, and the sense of achievement (or some sort of feeling, an emotional grabber for him) or revenge or . . . [your story] and he can walk away at ‘the end’ showing how he learned something, he gained something, he Did It and survived (or died for the right reason).

The End.

Now it’s time for a new story for the new year.

Ready? Let’s Go!

Just remember, the Reader (most important person in your world) appreciates being able to follow the story as if they walked the map of your story – and that’s why the structure works. And for those of us who might have thought it a constraint – within those boundaries is the scope for a Whole Lotta Creativity!


This is the point where most stories fail, and the reason is simple: the third quartile is the beginning of the fight back, it is the point where the obstructions are too much, especially the character’s own inner demons.

The third quartile of the story is from the mid-point to the 2nd plot point (PP2). In that journey, the reader meets (right in the middle of Q3) the 2nd Pinch point (2pp). Remember what a pinch point is? It’s the place where the ‘enemy’ of the MC (main character) gets ahead, takes back power, wins (or appears to win), etc. It’s the vision (for the reader) of the antagonist. And it’s strong, powerful, seemingly invincible (including the fight against the inner demons). The bad guys are doing better than the good guys, and someone is going to be licking his wounds and questioning his right to be in the world, especially this world.

And the darkest part of the journey is just before he hits the PP2. Why?

Because 25% of the story (the setup) worked towards the power of the PP1. And then 25% of the story worked towards the MidPoint. And now (you guessed it!) 25% of the story works towards the PP2. These three power points are what matters. Hit them hard, make the reader feel them in the bones.

Well, maybe not Hard hard, but know that this is the point where they belong, and what they do, and why you have to hit them at all.

The Q1 is the setup (all of Q1) that leads to the PP1. The Q2 is the response to the PP1, so if PP1 isn’t powerful enough to send the MC on the journey of a lifetime – through hell and high water to Do Something – then it needs to be re-thunked. So it becomes a thunk – a moment that sends the MC on the story journey.

The Q3 is the beginning (note that word) of the ability, the things learned and put into action, to begin the fight back. It’s not the point where the MC can win, but he can begin to work on the problems, overcome one at a time (look carefully at the inner demons, and how long it takes to work on something as simple as being able to say ‘hello’ to a neighbour if you’re agoraphobic), and move forwards and then severely backwards.

The last few major points in the Q3 is the (quoting from ‘Save the Cat – Snyder’ here): Bad guys close in; All is Lost; and Dark Night of the Soul. (If you haven’t seen these before, I highly recommend reading his book and enlightening your author-over-mind.)


Next time (don’t know when, ‘cos it’s holiday season, and I’m off to do the things we all know we shouldn’t do) is Q4 – the finale, the resolution, the end.

See you then. Oh, and keep reading.

The Third Moment will be hitting the e-shelves in Jan due to the shut-down of stuff over the holiday period.


This is where to find the previous piece Q2, which has another link to Q1.

2016 – The Year in Review

Did I reach my goal? Achieve what I set out do?

In the beginning, it was the purpose of learning the ropes in the e-world (yes, I know; I was an IT person – but that was mainframe, not modern stuff); this was a place to put my face without the face being visible (that’s me: the invisible person); it was the place to discuss the books – and the goal was to write five books.20160730_122658

I did better: Six books.

Moordenaar, which became The Blood List (mistake to change the name though); which became retired – it could be brought back at a later stage, but Neo Noir could be a bit dark for the other titles. Goodnight, sweetheart. I shall dream of you.

But it was complete and published.

The Journey of Shadow, Book I of the Narrung Sagas: Complete (not retired, but needs serious surgical restructuring).

A Dragon Dream, Book II of the Narrung Sagas: Complete.

Unknown Sins: Complete (now retired – needs surgical restructuring): Complete.

Speculations of a Dark Nature (compilation counts as a novel length work): Complete.

The Third Moment, not yet published because I’m too late for the Christmas market so I’ll let it rest until the week between Christmas and New Year and do a final review before publishing, but: Complete.

That’s six novel length works, and my goal: Five Books in a Year.

If I want to be picky about it, the first draft of Shadow was complete before the year started (well, most of it), and Moodenaar was in a 50/50 complete outline state, and Unknown Sins was fairly well formed (but in a different genre) and some of the short stories were already written – but:

Going into next year with the same goal of five books a year, I have:

Two stories in outline;

42 (yeah, I need distraction sometimes, it seems) shorts in various states of undress;

17 ideas for novel-length stories with some accompanying notes.

And I still have to make time to do the artwork, the publishing, the spreading of the word. Oh, and reading up on the craft skills I need to work on, remember, and use.

So, all in all, I did what I set out to do – and better.

And next year?

Five novel length (well-structured and well-written and well-received) books published;

Two competitions (one story, one literary);

And a new web-site to write for (5bayby14u) which I’m helping to set up (and will be contributing a once a week blog post!).

Yeah, Five books a year, and two blog sites (might have to do a once a week here and a once a week post there – we’ll see), and two competitions, and keep learning. And keep doing – and before you know it, I’ll be looking back at this post and asking the question again, but this time with emphasis on something different:

What will be the aim (for 2017) from the effort of the writing? I think I might have to look at whether the hours put in achieve any ledger activity.

Goal 4: earn some real dosh.

Next week: Q3.

See you then!





The Second Quartile

This is the maddening part of the process of structure (this is the first quartile if you missed it!) – the Second quarter of the story.

The first one was the set-up and contained the inciting incident (sometimes referred to as Catalyst) and the first plot point. It was very dramatic, very interesting, and everything led to a specific point – yes, the first plot point.the-hole-of-the-eye

So what happens in the second quartile? The MC (that’s Main Character) reacts to the 1PP (1st Plot Point). Runs and hides, or hides and runs, or tries to get people on-side, or tries to get people out of his (for this occasion, the MC is ‘he’) life, or he acts like every other human being (or sentient being) who has just had his life hit the fan with a load of [you know what] – he’s Reacting to the situation and trying to figure out what to do about it. He may even try on some things, but these will be first dimension things – and of course, they don’t work, or they don’t work as expected, because [pause for dramatic effect] he hasn’t yet figured out how to put his whole heart and soul, his character arc part, into the effort of change – he can’t yet fight back with his whole being because he’s not yet learned all he has to learn about himself.

That’s the first half of the 2Q (2nd quartile). The next bit, some people call it a pinch point (this is PP1, Pinch Point 1), is the point where the baddie gets centre stage. Not necessarily from baddy POV, but its where the reader has to meet, see, feel, experience what it is that stands in the way of the MC. And I do mean FEEL. The reader has to experience the fear of whatever it is that is the representative of the obstruction for this story. And then he has to react to that and move onto the next main point.

Everything in 2Q leads to the next biggest point in the story: MidPoint (or the beginning of 3Q). Build the pieces (scenes) up to the monster in the room – and then watch as it falls off the edge of the waterfall. The world is turned on its head – again, but worse! [monster, ghost, chipmunk, devil, whatever word you choose to use at that point – but I preferred not to say elephant, ’cause I don’t want to envisage an elephant going over the waterfall. My choice.]

The 2Q isn’t the quickest section of the story, but it can be the most interesting. Why? magentaBecause this is the place the MC can show the depth of three dimensions of character. The outer, surface things that represent him, the inner demons that haunt him, and the first step to recognising (ie the beginning of knowledge which will come in useful when he finally decides to Act) the first steps required to change his life (which is the 4Q, so we’ll get to that later).

And the lead-in here is that the MidPoint is either a false positive or a false negative (see McKee, Robert: Story for what that means) because there’s another part later (PP2) where the opposite emotive aspect will be applied to the MC journey.

So, Q2 is the Reaction, Meet the Monster, and Lead to the Mid.

Simple. Q2: React to 1PP, Meet the Monster in PP1, move onto MidPoint.

Now, go right ahead and do it (I’m watching). I’ll be back with Q3 for the next post.


Is It Real?

On continuing the path to writer-hood (the gooderer type), I have tried to master the concept of structure, of form – and how to create from it the bespoke, the original, the ‘just for you’ story. 20160730_122658

Yes, stories have a format – they start at a beginning. Not THE beginning, but they start somewhere and they end somewhere and in the middle is the fun stuff.

The first skill to master is: Imagery. Nothing to do with words at all. It’s the title and the cover (if it were a movie, it would be the poster). These two things must be the first beacon to the reader – the title to say what it is, to evoke the sense of the type of story and if it’s what we (the reader) want to read; the picture on the cover tells its own story, gives the genre and audience, and beckons to the ones who like this type of story. That’s their job, and if it’s not done well, the book doesn’t open to tell the story to anyone.

Two things – and no sentences yet. Title and Cover have their own format, their own way of communicating the story that will unfold beneath them.

We go inside: to the hook. What is a hook? I mean, I go fishing, I know what a hook is when I’m fishing. But a hook made of words? In the first stage of the story? Is it a small intrigue, something that catches attention? Is it a big thing? Blow-em-up thing? Answer: It’s not always a big thing, it’s not always loud, it’s not always an intrigue. Sometimes, it’s just the way the person is presented to us in those first few pages, in the set-up. Do we (the reader) feel something for this person? Can we put ourselves in that place? Would we make the same choices? Are we connected?

The hook is the emotional connection between the character (story) and the reader. It doesn’t usually involve bait or making the reader bleed (except maybe the heart).

Now that we know the person on the pages, now that we accept who they are and how they are, we wreck their world. We put in the inciting incident, and turn everything upside down – well, not quite yet, but it’s the first step to doing that. We upset the applecart, toss their dreams to the wind and watch them blow away in the storm. And we do it for the prospect of change – physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological – inner and outer is where we look to make these changes for this story. We set up the things that need to change, and then we dump the bucket on ’em.

The next point is to slow it down, give the character time to consider the options – of course, we know they’ll do this or that because it’s the type of person they are – right? they need to make their own decisions about the way forward, find options and lay out the reasons for each option being the right way, the only way. The main character makes a decision (good or bad, it belongs to them as part of their pattern f growth). And then they move on to:

The First Plot Hole in the Road. The Big thing that the first 25% of the story has led us into. The moment of no-turning-back because the decision’s been made. The whole world has been turned upside down, and things do not look the same at all. So where to go to from here?

Swear word here, please. Because what’s above is the first 25% of your story in terms of form (not formula), the basic structure that the rest of the story (the fun stuff) will be built from and into.


Next post will be the next 25% – which is what happens between the end of this section and the MidPoint of the story. And it’s . . . tune in to find out!

And the reason for the title to this blog: Is It Real? That’s the whole purpose of a story – to feel real to the reader, at the very least emotionally.


There’s a little trick some people use to create either story or blurb or concept – and that’s the one or two sentence log-line. It’s an idea turned into an interesting concept. Here’s one (you tell me if it’s interesting):

Concept: What if hell exists and it eats away at everyone while they dream – until its strong enough to break out into the real world – Soon.

Turned into blurb:

A lonely young woman fights off anyone who tries to get too close – she’s afraid the dreams will get them, so she pushes them away for their safety, for their sanity. And then she meets the man of her dreams – the good dreams, that is – and they have just one night together. Nothing left but that thing on the wall – and her broken heart and mind. But now hell has her scent, it knows what she can do, and it’s coming for her.

  • the above is from The Third Moment (title subject to change, maybe blurb, maybe . . .).




Broken Things

There are rules for everything – everything – everything! I can’t abide so many rules for so many things. I want to break some rules – I want to break out of the rules – I want to be free!


I can’t remember how many times I heard this (or similar) from my foster kids as they came to know my house and its rules. It didn’t take long, really, for them to learn that all those rules they railed against were a form of protection – but flexible, and useful, and enlightening.

The first thing they learn is the three unbreakable rules (I’m not going to say what they were because they belonged to us; needless to say, these three rules were inflexible), and that every rule on the list below those three could be manipulated – if the argument for doing so was good enough. And by argument, I don’t mean loud voices (the first loud voice argument is lost immediately – and that’s also something learned very quickly), I mean putting forward your reasoning, getting backup from other ‘powerful’ friends (the other kids), and putting up a balancing proposal.

What is this?

This little process is something I learned from my first foster teenager. He got so annoyed by my reference to all the unwritten rules I kept mentioning – after the fact – that he wrote up a list and hung it on the wall – and added to it each time one of the unwritten rules was spit out.

It was a long list, hung from the ceiling to the floor! We went through it and through it and through it and found the three rules I could not be flexible with – and created a new list. The new list had those three at the top, in red, thick and bold and clear. They were then sewn into a piece of upholstery material (a long piece) and that was tacked up on the wall (we moved a lot, had to be able to take it with us). Then the other rules went on.

These were written on paper and pinned to the ‘scroll’ of the main list in a place appropriate to the reasoning for its existence. Right down the bottom, about rule no. 311, was the one about always taking the shoes off at the door. I mean, who really cares that much about whether the kids take the shoes off before they come inside? But I did appreciate it, and the kid on the roster for cleaning the floors appreciated it, too.

And that’s how it worked.

If the rule had an impact on, or made their life easier, they found a way to live with it. If it needed to be put aside for a moment (a very good reason, that is) they brought it to the table (yes, the dinner table, post eating) to make their argument.

“I’d like to go to ‘this place’ but it’s a school night, so I propose to ‘do this in exchange’ and ask for a vote of support.”

If they got enough support (creates skills in negotiation, socialisation, politics, etc.), it passed, regardless of what I felt (I could always make a plea, couldn’t I?).

So you see, that’s how it works!

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but the basic principles! And it only ever took one example in front of a newcomer for them to learn how to bend the rules! Oh, how I love to bend the rules!


What Was I Thinking?

I wish I could remember – I know it was good – it was all planned out, structured to spruik with the best power and . . . but it’s gone.

The times you lay in bed – should be asleep, should’ve been asleep hours ago – and all of a sudden, there’s this great idea, these great words, and they come so easy, they fall all over themselves in just the right way (or should that be ‘write’ way?) and it’s soooooo exciting!

I just have to remember what it was when I wake up – or should I get up now and write down at least the bones? – because I know (and I know you know) the words – or even the basic idea – will be gone by the time the night becomes the next day.

And that’s what happened. There was nothing there but the memory that it was good, it was great, it was magic. Like all magic, it moves on without a hint of ozone or a whiff of perfume – just pfffffft! Gone.

Such a loss. Because I know how good it was – the idea, the concept, the structured play of words that created a very powerful impact. It was. I promise.

But that’s all there is that’s left – a dream of greatness.


Does that stop me from getting on with what the day requires?

Nope. This has happened before. It happens all the time (you’d think by now I’d know to get up and jot, or have a pen and pad by the bed [but there are other considerations there!] or that I’d just enjoy it and let it go), so I go on knowing (yes, there’s a light) that if I could do it then, it’s going to happen again. It may not be the same words, it may not be the same idea or such a great and unique context or character or structure – but if the mind can think that way at any time, it can do it again when I’m listening better.

It means my current WIP can benefit from the knowledge that I know things are improving, that I’m learning and growing and taking notice of how and what and why things need to be improved.

I know that the craft of writing is a craft like cooking (which I can’t do and if I’m perfectly honest – don’t much care to put that much effort into (as long as it’s mostly edible)), and requires constant learning, practice (a lot of that), listening (to the good and not so good words of advice – I mean, how do you know what’s good and bad unless you can put them up side by side and see how it affects your own work) and application of new knowledge.

We never stop learning. Even the best cooks keep up the process of learning or relearning or revising or reviewing.

And so do I.

The practical application of the skills and requisite knowledge is what counts.

How do I know?

I did a uni degree, majored in Professional Writing.

Years later (it took me years because the uni stuff was so – uninspiring – that I thought it would all be the same), I did a short course on ‘POV and Character’ (something like that). I was looking for a bit of inspiration and maybe someone to start up a critique group.

What did I get? The most amazing opening of the eyes to a skill of the craft spoken in a way that made it all easy to understand and so worthwhile. It showed me how little I got from uni and books and eggspurts, and how much I needed to learn if I wanted to do this thing I can’t live without.

I’ve now done all (not quite, but almost, and some I’ve done twice because my notes don’t quite capture the whole essence, or I need to re-hear the message behind the words, or . . .) those short courses and learned so, so, so much.

But that’s not the end. Courses do not the writer make – it is the application of that learning in the craft of storytelling that moves the learning into the doing into the breathing effort of a STORY.


So, after all that: I’d like to thank the readers who love the Narrung Sagas and bought the Shadow book (four digits), and I’d like to apologise that it’s not the best thing out there, but one day (and soon – they get better with each one!) the books I put out there for you will be the best story you ever read.

Know why? Because I keep learning; because I keep loving the way the words take on structure and meaning and play the story to someone else; because that’s what I do.

One day (maybe on the anniversary of the Shadow publication) I’ll go back and do some surgery to improve it, based on what I’ve learned since. Or do you want me to do it now? Before Book III? You tell me, okay?

Slim big yawn

The Writer Hard at Work