Tami Parker Fantasy Author & Other Duties as Assigned

CategoryWriting

Finish The Story – UFO

F

Join in for a lighthearted, no-pressure writing prompt. Leave your perfectionist at the door and follow a dangling story thread to see where it leads you.

I always post my story doodle in the comments, and I’d absolutely love to see yours as well if you feel comfortable sharing it!

It flashed through the sky and then it was gone. Lucy was sure she had seen a UFO and was equally sure aliens were here to secretly make contact with a human being. Maybe they would choose her. Maybe she would get to visit their ship. Maybe …

Spinoff Daydreaming – Great British Bake Off

S

No Soggy Bottoms Here

It’s no secret that I adore the Great British Bake Off (or Great British Baking Show, depending on where you’re watching it).

Multiple seasons are now available on Netflix and I absolutely cannot recommend them strongly enough if you are even remotely interested in baking. Despite being a reality show and a contest, it is overwhelmingly British. Everyone is oh-so-polite and there’s none of the underhanded snarky drama that so infests American reality TV.

It’s The Best. Period.

Moving past my general fangirling, I’d like to talk about two different “spinoffs” I’ve been having fun playing with mentally.

 

The Show’s Format

The format of the show is simple.

Start with a baker’s dozen contestants. Each show eliminates one (or two, or none, at the discretion of the judges) person based on their performance during that weekend. The show culminates with the three top-performing bakers facing off in the final episode, where the Champion is awarded an engraved glass cake stand.

Each weekend consists of three bakes.

The Signature Challenge

The first is called a “Signature Challenge”. The contestants are told ahead of time exactly what they are to produce and what the criteria is.

An example would be to make a swiss roll to be judged on both appearance and taste. Critical components are a sponge (cake, for the uninitiated), jam filling, and frosting).

The contestants create THEIR version of this bake. So one person might do a raspberry and white chocolate swiss roll with decorative dots baked into the sponge, while another might go chai spiced with milk chocolate decorative shards.

(As a side note, it’s great fun to pause the show and share what flavors and elements you might use if you were one of the bakers.)

The Technical Challenge

Here, the bakers are surprised with a slimmed-down recipe for something they’re unlikely to have baked before.

The recipe is partially incomplete, leaving out the sorts of things that the judges expect the bakers to be able to guess or intuit based on experience and personal judgement.

For example, the entire list of ingredients may be provided, as well as a baking temperature, but the length of time the item should be in the oven is often omitted.

In the show, this is where much of the hilarious (and sometimes tear-jerking) mistakes are made.

The Showstopper Challenge

The final bake is the Showstopper Challenge. Like the Signature Challenge, the bakers know ahead of time what they’ll be expected to bake and the sorts of things that are expected (a black forest cake without chocolate or cherries is no sort of black forest cake, after all.)

Beyond that, it is much the same as the Signature Challenge, but on a much grander scale. Here, the visual appeal is even more pronounced. The judges want to be WOWed by what they’re offered — and the challenge is often far more complex as well.

The Other Elements That Make It Work

The show is much more than just the base format. The tone of guidance and honest feedback permeates the entire show.

Two comedic hosts assist the judges — since they’re impartial, they can chat with each baker, help them plate bakes, offer time checks, and do an awful lot of comforting and hugging when things just don’t go quite to plan.

That’s not even mentioning the music, gorgeous food cinematography, and wonderful bake diagram art, of course, but I’m already rambling in this silly blog post and I haven’t even gotten to the fun part!

Okay, now that we’ve gone through all that, let’s have some fun with the random spinoffs I’ve been entertaining!

The Great Worldwide Writing Competition

Naturally, the first spinoff is about writing.

Can you imagine a Writing Competition with a similar setup?

It wouldn’t work for novels, but for flash and short fiction? MAYBE.

Two Judges from different writing backgrounds — get as much crossover work as possible. Romance, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Short Fiction, Script Writing, YA, Picture Books … the whole shebazzle.

The Signature Challenge

First, our writers are asked to write a piece of flash fiction. This week, they’re asked to produce a young adult piece that incorporates humor and horror and includes three keywords: shiver, flower, and peanut. The stories must be no more than 1500 words long.

The writing begins strongly, because each author came prepared with a concept ahead of time. Halfway through, one author begins crying because he just doesn’t know how to make a peanut funny. Two other authors help each other by suggesting character archetypes.

The judges are tough but fair. The crying writer is told that the use of “peanut” was exemplary, but that they could have worked more on foreshadowing to really add punch to the twist.

The Technical Challenge

Here, they’re asked to critique a submitted fantasy short story.

One author is admonished for the sheer volume of their edits, and told that they weren’t supposed to rewrite the piece. Another author is horrified to realize they mistakenly corrected all of the author’s italics to double quotes without realizing they were intended to be mental communication.

The Showstopper Challenge

Instead of dictating a genre, each author is allowed to choose their own. They are, however, provided with two different character archetypes and a theme that they must adhere to.  Short stories are evaluated on length (no more than 6,000 words), grammar, characterization, and overall enjoyment.

One author’s second-person POV piece is critiqued as a brave effort, but ultimately it did not serve the story and caused the overall enjoyment to be lessened. Another author turned one of the provided archetypes into an unreliable narrator, much to the delight of the judges.

At the end of the weekend, the judges award Star Writer to the author whose overall performance throughout all three pieces was most impressive.

The Second Spinoff

This one is more hilariously crazy, but Steven liked the idea and made me promise to blog about it.

What if … your favorite TV show had a single episode of their own version of the Bake Off?

Our example show was The Mighty Boosh.

Howard and Vince as judges (Howard pretends to have vast technical knowledge of everything and is known for measuring the crumb structure of a bake). Vince refuses to swallow any food because he can’t afford the calories, but praises the most wild and unreasonable decoration with fervor.

Bob Fossil is one of the contestants. He constantly rages and cries and tries to undermine the other bakers.

Naboo starts out strong but bakes so much marijuana into his bakes that he can’t function by the time the third bake happens.

Tony Harrison can’t reach anything and complains nonstop.

Saboo, Old Gregg, The Hitcher, Bollo are also contestants.

The Moon and Dennis are the hosts. Everyone hates The Moon.

Why Stop There?

This is a ton of fun to do with almost every show. Steven Universe? Steven and Connie as judges, and all the gems baking crazy things? Yes please. I’d watch that.

Bones? Castle? SHERLOCK?

It’s really all a win-win situation here.

If you have a good fandom that you could see being hella fun in this format, I’d love to hear about it! The more details, the better!

7 Point Plot Structure

7

Credit Where Due

Yay, a writing craft post!

So -I- heard about this from the Writing Excuses podcast (which I strongly recommend as audio fodder during commutes).

Dan Wells, the host who is well-known for introducing it, credits the Star Trek RPG Narrator’s Guide for it.

I used this nice article from The Gryphon Clerks for a goodly chunk of my research.

Familiar

Most of this is going to sound super duper familiar to you writer types out there, so instead of laying it out in story-chronological order (which is very easy to find) I’m going to lay it out as if we’re planning a story together.

Sound like fun? OF COURSE IT DOES!

Feel free to ignore my silly example and insert a story you’re currently working (or in my case struggling) with.

Disclaimer

This method will make Plotters happy. Pantsers will probably scoff and do a trendy hair-flip move. Maybe even a z-snap. That’s totally fine. Do what works for YOU, not what you hear other people preaching.

That being said, I’m a Plotter through and through. Also, researching things and trying new techniques makes may happy centers light up with fireworks.

Step 1: Resolution

Yup. We are going to start at the end.

In what state does your story end?

Think plot. Think character. Think state or action.

My random example will be … um …

Resolution: Princess Pepper defeats Princess Petunia in the Princess Academy Baking Competition.

… You didn’t really expect anything else from me, did you? Nope, I didn’t think so. Moving on.

Step 2: Hook

Yay, bouncing around. Aaaallll the way back to the beginning.

So, now that you know where you’re going, let’s figure out where you start.

The key here is to base this on your ending state. If your character ends powerful, maybe they start weak (a character growth arc).  Or if they start out being strong already, maybe they become a different kind of strong by the end (a character shift arc).

Whatever it is, you should see significant change between the resolution and the hook.

Hook:  Pauper Pepper Drudges in a Dreary Inn.

Step 3: Midpoint

The “midpoint” is the BIG shift in the storytelling. The main character goes from reacting to things to making a conscious decision to be active.

Midpoint: Princess Pepper Enters the Princess Academy Baking Competition.

Step 4: Plot Turn 1

I like the term “Plot Turn” more than “Plot Point” because it’s more descriptive. It’s not just a clue, it’s something that actively changes the story.

Let’s take a step back, chronologically speaking. This happens after the Hook but before the Midpoint. (don’t worry, I’ll lay out the chronological order at the bottom of the blog post)

Plot Turn 1 is when something changes that puts things in motion. New ideas. New people. This is the Call To Adventure. In other writing guides, I’d probably call this the Inciting Incident.

Plot Turn 1: Fairy Fernando Informs Pauper Pepper Of her Princesstude and Whisks Her Away to the Princess Academy For Training.

Step 5: Plot Turn 2

Zooming right past the Midpoint, let’s look at the second big plot turn.

This is the moment the character receives that last and oh-so-important THING they need in order to create the resolution.

In a mystery, maybe it’s the final clue that leads them to the real villain. In an adventure, maybe it’s the final magical thingamabooby needed to defeat the villain. In a romance, maybe it’s the realization that he loved her all along.

Plot Turn 2: Princess Pepper Finds the Magic Spell Necessary to Grow the Elusive Eisenberry To Use In Her Prizewinning Pie.

Step 6: Pinch Point 1

*scoots you all back to the first half of the book*

Pinch Point 1 happens after Plot Turn 1 but BEFORE the Midpoint.

Something goes wrong that forces the character to solve a problem.

Smart writers will realize this is a great way to get the villain involved early! (And we are all smart writers here). Don’t just have some random thing go wrong — see if you can make it a direct influence of your villain.

Pinch Point 1: Princess Petunia Replaces Princess Pepper’s Sweet Cherries with Sour CherryBombs, Causing Princess Pepper to Become Unpopular.

(Look, I realize this is getitng nutty, but I’ve come this far and I’m not backing out of my ridiculous, off-the-cuff example NOW.)

Step 7: Pinch Point 2

You’ll be happy to note this is the final step.

Chronology-wise, this is after the midpoint but before the second Plot Turn.

Something goes VERY wrong. (Much more so than in Pinch 1). These are the jaws of defeat from which victory must be grasped. I lovingly know this story beat as “The Darkest Night”. Things look their worst.

Mentors die or vanish. Allies prove unreliable. Plans fail.

(Again, this should be directly related to the villain.)

Pinch Point 2: Princess Petunia Blackmails Prince Paulie Into Sabotaging Princess Pepper’s Baking Stove, Even Though Pepper is His Best Friend.

Chronological Order

From the reader’s perspective, the events unfold thusly:

  1. Hook
  2. Plot Point 1
  3. Pinch Point 1
  4. Midpoint
  5. Pinch Point 2
  6. Plot Point 2
  7. Resolution

Our silly story, put together in order, looks a little something like this:

  1. Pauper Pepper Drudges in a Dreary Inn.
  2. Fairy Fernando Informs Pauper Pepper Of her Princesstude and Whisks Her Away to the Princess Academy For Training.
  3. Princess Petunia Replaces Princess Pepper’s Sweet Cherries with Sour CherryBombs, Causing Princess Pepper to Become Unpopular.
  4. Princess Pepper Enters the Princess Academy Baking Competition.
  5. Princess Petunia Blackmails Prince Paulie Into Sabotaging Princess Pepper’s Baking Stove, Even Though Pepper is His Best Friend.
  6. Princess Pepper Finds the Magic Spell Necessary to Grow the Elusive Eisenberry To Use In Her Prizewinning Pie.
  7. Princess Pepper defeats Princess Petunia in the Princess Academy Baking Competition.

Why Plot Them Out of Order?

For me, outlining and plotting is all about tentpoles. The Hook depends on the Resolution. The midpoint is determined by both the Hook and the Resolution.

And not until those three pillars are up can I figure out what all the stuff in the middle is.

Granted, this was a silly example, but while I wrote it I also found out who my villain was and who two side characters (Prince Paulie and Fairy Fernando) are. I don’t know how Pepper finds that magic spell or what an Eisenberry is, but I DO know that I need to figure that stuff out now and figure out where else to sprinkle it through the book.

Plots and Subplots

The fun thing is that you can use this same structure to make sure you have these points for each of your subplots.

So sure, maybe the main plotline revolves around that baking competition, but Pepper’s friendship with Paulie could also use those same ups and downs in storytelling. I’ve already intertwined the Second Plot Turn for both subplots (which is a neat trick and you should use it as often as you can).

Your turn!

If you’re interested, try it out! See if it works for you.

And let me know your results, I’d love to know if it was helpful!

I’m also curious if you have other types of plotting mechanisms (Save the Cat, Jami Gold, The Snowflake Method, and Larry Brooks are well-known resources I also use)

Finish the Story – Fate or a Stupid Decision

F

Join in for a lighthearted, no-pressure writing prompt. Leave your perfectionist at the door and follow a dangling story thread to see where it leads you.

I always post my story doodle in the comments, and I’d absolutely love to see yours as well if you feel comfortable sharing it!

Looking back, it could have gone either way. It didn’t work out, which makes it look like fate, or a stupid decision, or both. But at the time, I did have a few things in my favor. I had …

Finish the Story – Running Away

F

As always, beware the comments section if you plan on writing something, so as to avoid being influenced.

I look forward to seeing your responses!

 

The yellow lines on the highway sped by in a blur, and we flew through the night, and we felt free. But we weren’t, and we knew it. We were running away from something, and running away was never the path to freedom. I thought about asking John to turn back. I thought about suggesting …

April’s Book – The Starlit Wood

A

I’m cheating a little and posting a book AFTER I’ve read it … but I wanted to make sure it was a good one.

The fun thing about this one is that it’s a book of short stories! So even if you don’t like all of them (which I did not) you are almost certain to love some of them (which I most definitely did!).

Many many thanks to Faith Williams for rising to the challenge of suggesting it for me.

The Starlit Wood

Packed with award-winning authors, this anthology explores an array of fairy tales in startling and innovative ways, in genres and settings both traditional and unusual, including science fiction, western, and post-apocalyptic as well as traditional fantasy and contemporary horror.

The first and last stories were predictably my favorites, but it was super fascinating to read through all of the different genres, styles, and interpretations. Even if a particular story wasn’t to my liking, I still learned a lot from reading them.

My favorites included (in the order they appear in the book):

  • In the Desert Like a Bone by Seanan McGuire
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Penny For a Match, Mister by Garth Nix
  • The Briar and the Rose by Marjorie Liu
  • Pearl by Aliette de Bodard
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (which was worth the cost of the entire anthology, in my opinion)

Those weren’t the only ones I enjoyed, just a sampling of my favorites.

If you read the book, I’d love to discuss!

Finish the Story – Reporters

F

As always, beware the comments section if you plan on writing something, so as to avoid being influenced.

I look forward to seeing your responses!

 

Reporters are trained to develop a sixth sense, a nose for when a story smells fishy. And something about this one wasn’t right. First of all, …

Surround Yourself With Writing

S

Writing Alone

So you want to be a writer.

But it’s difficult.

I get it. I’m not making fun, because I 150% get it.

Finding the time to do it is difficult enough even before adding in feelings of self-doubt and loneliness.

Maybe you don’t have any writing friends. Maybe you DO, but they all live far away or have their own super busy lives that don’t mesh with yours.

If you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo, you understand the true value of a strong writing community. The camaraderie, the readership, the companionship — it’s heady. It’s like going from a world of black-and-white to technicolor … and when it’s gone it’s like watching the last leaf fall from a tree and fly off in a chilly breeze.

Even those who are very self-motivated can find it difficult to maintain writing when it seems like you’re spilling words out into the darkness.

I get it.

But there are solutions. And they don’t involve moving to Canada or Florida to live closer to your writing friends. And they don’t include waiting for VR technology to catch up to your imagination so that you can hang out digitally.

Writing Excuses

My favorite solution is a podcast called Writing Excuses. A friend recommended it a while back (Faith? It may have been you?), though at the time I wasn’t in the right mindset to appreciate it.

Prepping for a recent road trip, I downloaded a dozen or so episodes and listened to them to pass the time.

It was technicolor, friends.

Here were people — authors I know and love! — talking about writing. They were passionate and courteous and skilled and blissfully concise.

Each episode was 15 minutes jam-packed with excellent advice, examples, and anecdotes and even though I wasn’t actively participating, I felt less alone by the time it was done.

If you’re feeling alone or tired or even just a smidgeon bummed out by the feeling that your writing doesn’t matter … maybe give the podcast a try. See if you feel a little brighter at the end of an episode or two.

You

What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks you use to keep the fire stoked when the monochrome tendrils of winter doubt creep in?

Finish the Story – Winter

F

As always, beware the comments section if you plan on writing something, so as to avoid being influenced.

I look forward to seeing your responses!

 

The wind whispered through the dark, empty trees like a warning in a foreign language. Winter was coming, and with winter …

On Concepts and Plots

O

This post was inspired by February’s reading — Ready Player One.

This post is spoiler-free, but the comments may not be. You have been warned.

I recommend it. I did feel the first half was a little slow, but the second half made up for it and the concept was brilliant.

Concept

As it happens, the “concept” is what I want to talk to you about.

As writers, we often find a great “what if” and want to roll with it.

What if Vampires took over after World War 1 and now people are raised as cattle in “pleasant” camps?

What if there is a magic key that turns any locked doorway into a portal to a magical land?

What if a teenager discovers that she is actually half-unicorn on her 16th birthday?

In the case of Ready Player One, you could say, “What if the real world was horrible so most people escaped into a virtual reality realm for their everyday lives?”

That’s a great idea, and the author does a fantastic job with it. The book explores all sorts of things, from currency to health to chat rooms and even tech support.

It can be tempting to grab that concept and run with it.

Plot

Unfortunately, it also needs a PLOT.

It needs a story that only this character can tell that can only take place in that world — within the realm of that concept.

It needs … a rebellious vampire to befriend a human and buck the system. It needs a villain seeking the magic key in order to subjugate the magical land. It needs a vision quest all young unicorns must complete before their 17th birthday or they die.

It needs a PLOT.

And Ready Player One not only had a fantastic concept, it also had a great plot.

A quest to discover three keys hidden within the virtual world and a race against the heartless corporation bent on monetizing the currently-free system enjoyed by millions.

Writing

I am super prone to latching onto an idea while having a difficult time developing a plot.

Once I start trying to nail down an antagonist and a twist, I get all kerfluffled and feel like everything I come up with is pathetically formulaic.

Which is true. But also silly. You don’t need a genre-changing plot in order to have an entertaining story. That’s what the CONCEPT is for. To decorate the plot and describe it in new terms.

Challenge

Daydream up a simple concept.

“What if … ”

You can roll with “What if cats had wings” if you want the pressure-free version.

Now, come up with a PLOT for it. Antagonist. Goal. Character.

What story can only be told in a world with winged cats? (or whatever it is you chose).

Was it difficult? If so, what about it felt awkward or forced or uncomfortable?

If you can spot your own personal hangups with plot-building on simple challenges like this, you will be able to apply that knowledge to the stories that really matter.

Happy writing!

Tami Parker Fantasy Author & Other Duties as Assigned

Email Notifications

Sign up to receive emails about new posts.
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!

Recent Comments

Categories