I was also privileged to sit in on several other workshops, have dinner with super-agent Natasha Kern, and talk with numerous multi-published authors, with 20, 30, and even 50 books to their credit. It was a great few days in St. Louis. Between the questions and answers below I'll post some pictures taken during the trip.
|Looking East from our conference meeting rooms|
Here are the questions I was handed, some of which I answered in the session, and my answers.
1. On the Emotion Plotting Slide, how do you decide numeric values on each action line, that are used for the graph. (Judy Christie)
Judy, the numbers assigned are subjective and objectively determined. Subjectively, they are based on my sense of how emotionally UP or DOWN the scene will come across to the reader/audience when I'm done editing it. In some scenes/lines the number is my INTENT. In others, it's what it is already. For instance when my protag's husband dies, it's a major DOWNER, when she is able to board the ship safely with her girls to go home, its a minor UPPER. Objectively, the "emotion" I hope my audience will feel is the degree to which they perceive my protag making progress toward the physical goal (positive numbers), or being set up from achieving the goal (negative numbers). I assign a number from -10 to +10 to each scene, and then accumulate a balance, like a checking account balance. It's the balance that is plotted, not the individual scene values.
2. As a preacher, the moral premise has been the centerpiece of all my writings and novels. “Entertainment is a trick to educate and persuade.” However, subtlety is frequently sacrificed in my storylines. How do I introduce subtlety without feeling like I have compromised my mission? (Patrick Johnston)
Patrick, I apologize if, during the session, I misinterpreted your question. In the session I responded that “entertainment” is a necessary component of all persuasive communication, and I referenced my blog post FIRST ENTERTAIN http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/2010/06/first-entertain.html. where I describe the necessity of activating and emotional response in order to train. Stories, by virtue of their God-like ability to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent (http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/2009/02/motion-pictures-window-to-our-divine.html) provide entertainment value that allows us to remember truths.
|L-R: Natasha Kern (agent), SW, Myra Johnson (author)*|
I think of story telling as that process by which, through the simulation of experience we are able to pass on values subliminally. I think of preaching as that process by which, through explanation, we are able to understand what the values are and why they’re important on a cognitive level.
3. Have you heard of the technique in screenwriting where there is a hint of the protag’s inner journey at around the 17 minute mark of the movie? Is this used in every movie? Does it translate to pg 17 in a book? (Kathy Kovach)
|View from our room on the 9th floor overlooking 4th Street|
Now, as to the 17 minute/page mark. That would relate to a movie that is 136 minutes in length. The number you might want to remember is 12.5%. I did not make a big deal about the percentages into a story where turning points occur, but you can read about them in my book and in various posts on my website. Look under the topic “structure” of which Story Structure Basics is the main article http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/2010/06/story-structure-basics.html#more
4. What are some mistakes that can hinder the successful implementation of the moral premise? (Dave Slade)
B. The moral premise is not consistently applied to all the characters and scenes in the story. Successful stories are about one primary moral value, which must be consistently challenged, tested, and argued in every scene and in every character’s arc, and in every setting description and props (the latter being metaphors of the values). When the story tries to give multiple thematic elements equal weight, the story’s focus and purpose gets confused, and the reader doesn’t know what metaphor goes with what purpose.
C. The moral premise is communicated in an overt didactic fashion. Stories work because they force readers and viewers to work and thus psychologically internalize the values that motivate action and understand the physical consequences. When we tell people, rather than show them, this “work” is neglected and learning and connection with the story and characters is diluted. Show, Don’t tell. Again, see what Billie Lets does with the metaphors of the cameras and darkroom, and finding meaning in the shadows.
5. Any specific tips for making the physical story a metaphor for the moral story? (Voni Harris)
|Theoretical physicist and author Randy Ingermanson*|
In trying to come up with an answer I think back to Where the Heart Is and the camera metaphor – no control (Polaroid) to control (Rollie and darkroom). I’m not sure how Billie Letts came up with this one, but it seems she may have started with the purpose of telling a story where bad things happen, but through perseverance the protag is able to access the good that comes out of it. This is the Biblical adage that grace is always stronger than tragedy. With that in mind, Ms. Letts needed to scour the everyday countryside of disciplines and practices until she found out that the black in B&W photo prints can be lightened with potassium ferrocyanide. Out of that I’m pretty confident that Willy Jack’s name got changed to Billy Shadow.
|Pam on our way to dinner with ACFW Board|
6. What is “final incident” vs. “climax”? (Voni Harris)
This is explained in this article: Story Structure Basics (http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/2010/06/story-structure-basics.html#more)
7. In your slide #22 (Core Values) you list a number of virtues and their opposite vices. Do they need to be paired always this way? Could brotherly love be paired with selfishness, or fear? (Kate Hinke)
|Pam devours Tracie Peterson's "House of Secrets" on way home.|
8. Are you going to be in the Los Angeles area? (Margaret Brownley)
I am several times a year, but not always do I know it in advance. I am scheduled to be presenting a short version of this workshop at the Biola Media Conference at the Sony Lot May 5, 2012.
9. What computer program do you use for plotting your cards?(Vickie M.)
|My H.S. English teacher Annette Schroeder*|
10. Do you consult or coach on story development for a fee? (Kellie Gilbert, Rosemarie Karlebach)
Yes, all the time. Making it affordable for a writer who doesn’t have a studio budget can make it difficult. I’ve taken a crack at some fees for ACFW-like writers. You might want to check out http://moralpremise.com/ScriptConsulting.php and give me some feedback.
11. Where is the “evaluation sheet” that the slide package refers to? (Joy Avery Melville)
Ah, yes, the workshop evaluation sheet. There’s a picture in your slide packet, but not in my slide show. What’s up with that? After I submitted the slide package for duplication the ACFW Conference managers told me that they had their own evaluation sheet. So, I didn’t hand out one of my own. But here’s a link to mine, if you want to fill it out, or use it for your own purposes. http://www.moralpremise.com/MoralPremiseEvaluationForm.pdf
12. What are examples of Moments of Grace that are not spoken? Are spoken moments of grace more powerful? (Tricia Goyer)
|St. Louis Cathedral. We got to Sat. AM Mass|
I do not think words make the Moment of Grace powerful or less so. They can make it clear about what’s going on. But I prefer that the reader or audience work and invest some understanding in the meaning of the story. The bottom line is use whatever technique whatever the story demands to get the deepest emotional response and connection to the story.
Thanks Anne Baxter for seeing the typo in slide 121. “Socked” is now “Stocked”
* Some notes on the pictures:
About a year ago, author Myra Johnson, of the Seekerville Blog, ask me to be a guest blogger. She said that her agent, Nastasha Kern, demanded Myra read The Moral Premise. While blogging comments for Seekerville, I was asked to speak at ACFW. As it turns out Nastasha is somewhat of a superagent for novelists, having sold over 1000 books in the last 20 years. Authors love her because she gets involved somewhat as an editor. I love her too, because she asks all her authors to read my book.
|Illinois soy bean field sunset along I-57.|
Annette Schroeder, my high school English teacher, lives in St. Louis. She never thought I'd amount to anything as a writer. At the time I couldn't put together a paragraph. So, I thought it was ironic that she should come hear me lecture to a bunch of authors on how to write a story. She loved it. I was glad she could come. She was also some of my first inspiration about movies. She is friends with Hollywood script writer D.C. Fontana, and her brother Donald is a well-known PBS documentary producer/director also living in L.A.