Writing for Story – A Review

Jon Franklin, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, wrote: Writing for Story – Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction to teach authors his methods. Franklin illustrates his technique with annotated versions of his two essays: “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster” and “The Ballad of Old Man Peters,” the first of which won the 1979 Pulitzer prize. The goal of his technique is to impart knowledge and truth to readers. To paraphrase Franklin:

The secret to professional writing is a fusion of learned craftsmanship with artistic vision born of experience. The successful writer is the one who grasps the separate parts of their story and sees how those components work together to produce a compelling and dramatic tale.

Franklin’s writing process consists of three parts: outlining, roughing in the draft, and polishing. Outlining concerns the conceptual associations between the character and action which, for a short story, consists of a time sequence of five major focus narratives: the beginning complication focus, three development focuses which constitute the story body, and the ending resolution focus. Roughing in the draft (i.e., the structural level) involves the internal makeup of major focuses: sequence, emphasis, pacing, and orientation of action. Polishing entails good grammar, word usage, imagery, and principles of sentence and paragraph structure. More details of this process, abstracted from Franklin’s book, are described next. First, he describes the object of his process: the story.

Content of a Story

A story consists of a chronological action sequence that a captivating character undertakes and/or endures to solve a complication that they face. The flow from the complication’s introduction, through the action events, to the resolution constitutes a fiction story’s plot or a non-fiction story’s structure.

The resolution results, often, from a character’s flash of insight as to how to solve their problem rather than directly from the action. A story is said “to work” when a real character struggles diligently to solve a significant problem that confronts them, overcomes the problem, and becomes a changed character as a result.

Story Anatomy

Active images, built on action verbs, are the focuses of action. They are the smallest possible unit of story. Collections of these units form minor focuses. These join via simple transitions to form larger focuses glued together by increasingly complex transitions. Transitions guide the reader through changing times, places, moods, subjects, and characters. These larger focuses combine to form several major focuses that compose the principal subunits of stories.

There are typically five principal subunits in a short story and more in longer form copy. Each subunit has a specific role: the first is the complicating focus. The complicating focus consists of a series of subfocuses that grab the reader’s attention, introduce the characters, and reveal the complication that the story depicts. As examples, jokes may consist of a single image that doubles as a major focus whereas a psychological novel may consist of hierarchical image aggregations at multiple levels.

The next three development focuses (i.e., the story body) describe the actions that the character takes to resolve the complication. These are longer than the first or last focuses but easier to write. The first developmental focus enters deeper into the story and the third (last) developmental focus carries the story to the brink of the resolution.

The climax of the last developmental focus (at its end) is where the character has a “moment of insight” when they realize what they must do to solve the problem. Screenwriters call this flash of realization the second plot point. The complication is the first plot point.

The resolving focus which ends the story can be long or short but reads very quickly. This is possible because the necessary background has been laid and the character has made choices and taken actions to get them to this point. All that remains is the character’s psychological or physical action to clearly solve the problem.

Sagas

The saga is a variation on the five focus short story. Sagas consist of a major complication and resolution; but, instead of having three developmental focuses it has five, more or less, interlinked substories (or episodes) with their own complications and resolutions. These episodes interlink by presenting the complication (or cliffhanger) of the next substory either before or after the resolution of the current substory. This preserves and reinforces the tension of the story as a whole.

The Writing Process

The practicing writer is concerned with three hierarchical processes: outlining, roughing in the draft, and polishing.

Outlining

Outlining is based on complications and resolutions. There is one statement for each major focus (e.g., typically five for a short story) and every subfocus. Use a subject, active verb, and object (i.e., noun-verb-noun form) for outline statements to reduce the story to its essentials. In storytelling, the dramatic action that makes your point comes at the end of each section where the climax belongs. So each outline statement represents the focus ending.

The most dramatic aspect of any story is growth and change in the main character. The outline centers on this growth and change so that it will emerge as the story’s backbone. The outline presents the story’s drama via action that proceeds from complication to resolution.

The main advantage of constructing the outline first is in discovering structural flaws before any text is written. Structural problems can be simply resolved without wasted effort and emotional commitment. The outline is the psychological roadmap of your story and brings out eternal truths.

Rough Draft

Expanding the outline’s focus statements into rough copy marks the halfway point in story creation. Most of the creative work of the story is complete at the start of this stage. At the structural level, word choice is important only at dramatic high points.

This is where the writer constructs transitions, scene-settings, action sequences, and other products that enable the reader to slide through the story. Phrase order and sentence rhythms are not critical when roughing in the draft narrative.

Three Types of Narrative

There are three major types of narrative: transitional, preparatory, and climatic. Transitional narrative switches scenes and keeps the reader oriented. Preparatory narrative comes next and sets the reader up to understand the ensuing dramatic scene. Climactic narrative evokes the reader’s emotions via detailed action descriptions. After the climactic narrative ends, transitional narrative moves the reader to the next time and place so preparatory narrative can hasten them to the next climactic scene.

Transitional Narrative

Transitional narrative enables the reader to negotiate a story’s twists, turns, and changes without getting disoriented or lost. Good narrative makes the reader forget their reality and step into your character’s world. It establishes the time, place, character, subject, and mood at the story’s start and maintains “threads” of continuity through focus changes to the story’s end.

Three Transition Types

There are many types of transitions. Three major ones are: the break, the flashback/flash-forward, and the stream-of-consciousness appeal to emotion. The break transition breaks all five threads with typographic symbols, jars the reader, and is therefore weak. The cinematic equivalent is a fadeout or commercial break.

A flashback, if necessary, is best located immediately after the complication. It is used only once in short or medium length stories. The flashback’s danger is that it forces the reader to break with their experience of time flow, disrupting several threads and weakening others. It is a point of confusion for the reader.

The last transition method is psychological: a stream-of-consciousness emotional connection (e.g., rhyming, common movement, etc.) The human mind is easily directed by exploiting its emotional engine. Psychological transition is a very useful tool to associate images not usually brought together in order to display enduring truths.

Preparatory Narrative

Preparatory narrative follows a transitional narrative to prepare the reader intellectually and emotionally for a dramatic highpoint. An example of preparatory narrative is strong scene-building and character-strengthening text, preferably incorporating action, to help the reader understand and enter into the story.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a powerful technique used in preparatory narrative. It unobtrusively inserts details early in a story that enable later dramatic scenes to be told without explanation of background details which would distract the reader from the ongoing drama.

Climactic Narrative

Climactic narrative expresses a story’s dramatic action and accounts for almost all of a story’s emotional impact. Climactic narrative focusses tightly on events and supporting details. It never tells how a character feels or what he or she does; it shows what happens, what the character does in response, and what happens next. The proverb: “actions speak louder than words,” reflects this understanding.

In climactic narrative, you see generalizations described with detailed action that would be explicitly stated in preparatory and transitional narrative.

Creating the Rough Draft

Start at the ending of a story in order to know what to foreshadow. Write the end of last developmental focus where your character’s point of insight occurs; then write the transitional and preparatory narratives that set up the first scene of the resolution. Finally, write the rest of the resolution scenes to the end.

Next, write the story complication (i.e., the first plot point); introduce your characters, set up the situation, and bring them face to face with the problem. Capture it in as few pages as possible. Once you have the beginning, write successive developmental focuses until you’ve completed your (short) story.

Whenever your story seems to be going wrong, stop, go back to the outline, and read it carefully. Determine why you deviated and modify the story or outline accordingly. This process of refining the story per the outline and outline per the story is called calibration. Once the story and outline match (and you like the story) stop.

Pacing and Intensity

Pacing consists of transitions leading to smooth preparatory narrative cascading into dramatic scenes. Pace is determined by how rapidly the narrative moves from climactic point to climactic point within a major focus.

Intensity is built by closely focusing on the characters and surroundings. The interplay between pace and intensity is complex and can produce a variety of effects.

Cutting Dead Wood

A critical part of the rough draft process involves throwing away words. Remove unnecessary text, no matter how well written and, therefore, distracting, if it doesn’t fulfill Chekov’s law (i.e., a shotgun described as hanging over the mantel must be fired by story’s end.)

Unless you are willing to redefine the story to incorporate the distraction and remove aspects of the original story, the dead wood must be removed.

At this point, the rough draft is finished. Take a few days off to let your subconscious process what you’ve written before conducting a read through.

The Read Through

The read through should ask questions that a reader would ask: who is the character, what happens to them, what does he or she learn from the experience? What does the story make you feel?

Look for errors: is a transition too long, is a scene shortchanged, does a flashback come too quickly after the complication because the transition is too short, etc. After you make any necessary structural corrections then you can retire the outline.

Polishing

Polishing converts rough copy into clear, active, and integrated narrative that moves the story along without intruding into it.

The rules of polish are straightforward and not abstract. They are, however, one-part: logic, prejudice, authority, and tradition. The three rules of polish are: do it consciously, read and apply Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and read good writing voraciously.

Polish – Procedures

Polishing procedures, as opposed to rules, are similar to those for outlining and rough composition. Polish your story without regard to sequence, concentrating on the most critical scenes first and working from focus to focus in the order of their importance.

Once a story is completed, the lead or narrative hook is easier to rewrite. The lead helps the reader transition from their world to that of the character by establishing (or starting to establish) the story’s five threads.

Polish – Imagery and Sequencing

Polishing principles divide into image clarification and image sequencing. To achieve image clarity, make proper word choices and use strong verbs which cohere the words around it in only one way. Sequencing organizes the flow of paragraphs, images, and words to unfold the story image-by-image in a way that best accomplishes the story’s structural (i.e., dramatic) goals.

Complex sentences laden with prepositions and qualifiers alert the writer to inadequate or inessential images. If the copy seems confused, reorder the images as necessary, and rewrite them into new sentences. If the order of two images isn’t important (i.e., one doesn’t build on the other), one of them needs to be discarded.

Rhythm is important in sequencing. A series of long sentences, establishing a slow rhythm, may be broken by a short terse summation thereby adding impact to the conclusion. Rhythms such as blank verse can add psychological effect.

Recap

To sum up the results of Franklin’s process: active images build upon one another to reach an evocative statement at paragraph’s end. The drama drops off through a minor transition, if necessary, and starts rising again in preparatory text. Successive paragraphs rise and fall building towards the climax of a small focus consisting of that focus’s most dramatic images. This focus ends with a statement that summarizes the focus’s drama.

Small focuses transition one to another in sequence. Each one peaks with a dramatic summary statement. These small focuses build toward the major focus resolution where the focus statement is demonstrated. The narrative then passes through a major transition to start the next major focus. At the end of the story, the final few images of the narrative resolve the story’s complication and the story ends.

We heartily recommend Franklin’s method and urge you to read his book yourselves to discover his annotated essay examples and the numerous nuances that we, by necessity, left out.

Writing for Story - Franklin

Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, by Jon Franklin

Speech and Mannerisms

Mandated Memoranda reviewed David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me in a recent series of posts. This book is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters. I created detailed outlines for my personal use. You may profit from the same effort.

This week, we’ll look in more detail at speech characteristics and mannerisms of artisan, guardian, idealist, and rational personalities. Creating authentic dialog and describing specific mannerisms are good ways to flesh out a character.

People who possess an artisan personality type talk about what’s going on at the moment, what is immediately at hand, and that which is specific or individual. They do so without definitions, explanations, fantasies, principles, or hypotheses. In short, they are empirical. Artisans are sensitive to what sounds good. They use colorful phrases, current slang, sensory adjectives, and similes for comparisons.

Comfortable with their bodies, artisans’ most common gesture while speaking is a pawing motion, bent fingers with thumb loose at the side. More aggressive motions are an index finger to jab a point across, a closed fist to pound that point home, or an index finger opposed midjoint by thumb to peck at opponent.

Those who are guardians talk about what’s solid and sensible: commerce, household items, weather, recreation, news items, and personalities. Their speech moves from topic to topic associatively; whatever comes to mind. Never fancy, they use conventional vocabulary and phrasing and favor proverbs and adages.

Guardians avoid showy gestures: an index finger wags warnings, a fist with thumb atop curled index finger (as if holding reins) slows up discussion, and bringing a hand or hands down in a chopping motion emphasizes a statement or cuts off discussion.

Idealists talk about what is seen in the mind’s eye: love, hate, heaven and hell, comedy and tragedy, heart and soul, beliefs, fantasies, possibilities, symbols, temperament, character, and personality. They follow hunches, heed feelings, and intuit peoples’ motives and meanings. They find implications and insinuations in the slightest remark (word magic); this hypersensitivity leads to mistakes now and then.

Extending open hands to others, idealists offer or accept. They row hands like oars or wings to facilitate flow of ideas and words. Idealists bring hands together with fingers wrapped, palms together, fingers vertical, or fingers interlocked, as if trying to hold together two halves of a message in order to reconcile their differences.

Rationals choose the imaginative, conceptual, or inferential things to speak of over the observational, perceptual, or experiential. They avoid the irrelevant, trivial, and redundant in conversation. Their assumption that what’s obvious to them is to others, leading to an overly compact and terse speech style that sometimes loses their audience (to their bafflement.)

Preferring to appear unemotional when they communicate, rationals minimize body language, facial expressions, and non-verbal qualifiers. When they become animated their hand gestures express their need for precision and control. They bend their fingers to grasp the space before them turning and shaping their ideas in the air. They use fingers like a calculator, ticking off points one by one. They arrange small objects (salt and pepper shakers, pens, paperweights, etc.) to map out ideas. Most characteristic is the apposition of thumb to fingers as if bringing an idea or argument to the finest point possible.

***

We’ve said this before: all these traits describe some peoples’ predispositions. Their experiences can mold them, as far as they are willing and able, so that they acquire attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in sum could be said to be their overall dispositions. We covered an example of this kind of change in our posting “Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?

As an editor once urged me, “Details are what draw a reader into your story, add them.” If you are a writer, I heartily recommend reading Keirsey’s book for yourself.

The Four Temperaments of Mankind

The Four Temperaments of Mankind (l. to r.: Idealist, Artisan, Guardian, and Rational,) Preparatory drawing for the sculptors of the Grande Commande, Charles Ie Brun (1619 – 1690), Public Domain in the United States

The Rational Personality

Less than six percent of all men and women are rational personalities. They speak of what is seen by the mind’s eye. Pleasing others and obeying rules is secondary to determining whether intended means will work in achieving their ends. Their thought and speech go from general to specific. Rationals enjoy puns, paradoxes, and word play. They abhor repeated errors, especially their own. Concerned with events, they lose track of time. Ingenuity, autonomy, and resolve govern their self-image.

Rationals keep their emotions in check, are closet romantics, value reason and logic, are goal driven, pursue knowledge relentlessly, relish chances to explain their achievements, and aspire to predict and control events, understanding and explaining their contexts. They are mind-mates as spouses, individuators as parents, and visionaries as leaders.

Notable examples are: Napoleon, Grant, Sherman, Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Lincoln, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Einstein, Schrödinger, Tesla, Howard Hughes, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Kant, Dewey, Twain, Shakespeare, and William F. Buckley, Jr., and in fiction: Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty, and Spock.

Rarely will you meet anyone that fits this description. However, they are found as leaders in government or the military, scientists in laboratories and universities, engineers in industry and startups, philosophers, authors, and renown fictional characters.

This is one of the personalities that is especially important for writers to recognize and portray. David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

Keirsey says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type.

Keirsey defines the rational personality as abstract in their word use and utilitarian in their tool use. They speak about imaginative, conceptual, or inferential things. Their conversation appears unemotional and avoids the irrelevant, trivial, and redundant.

Rationals fall into four subcategories, each containing one to two percent of the population. Two are characterized as directive coordinators: the expressive field-marshal and the reserved mastermind. The field-marshal harnesses people and resources to lead them toward their goals with minimum wasted effort and maximum progress. The mastermind makes efficient schedules with contingencies, interested in moving an organization forward rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Their single-mindedness can lead to ignoring others wishes and points of view to their detriment.

The two other subtypes are informative engineers: expressive inventors and reserved architects. The outgoing inventor makes sure prototypes work under real world conditions. They display a charming capacity to ignore the standard, the traditional, and the authoritative. The highly attentive architect, often working alone, strives for design coherence and configuration elegance as masters of organization.

Rationals possess lifelong curiosity in logical investigation, critical experimentation, and mathematical description. They are preoccupied with the logic of building (i.e., technology) and are intrigued by complex systems, both machines and organisms.

They maximize efficiency of means and anticipate consequences of ends before they act. Rationals regard custom or tradition neither respectfully nor sentimentally, but as useful for deciphering the errors of history. All is uncertain and vulnerable to mistakes. Events aren’t of themselves good or bad, favorable or unfavorable. Only events possess time, all else is timeless.

They see themselves as inventive. Self-directed and self-determined, rationals live independently, free of coercion. They scrutinize other’s ideas for error before accepting them. They have an unwavering strength of will that they can overcome any obstacle, dominate any field, conquer any enemy — even themselves. But they never take will power for granted.

Rationals are unflappable in trying circumstances, reluctant to express emotions or desires. They listen carefully to ideas that make sense but reject illogical ideas or arguments. They have a gnawing hunger for achieving goals that is never fully satisfied. They live through their work; even play is work. Rarely do they measure up to their standards and are haunted by the feeling of teetering on the edge of failure. Relentless in their search, they want to know about the world and know how the world works.

They share abstract ideas with their mates. Marriage, itself, requires careful empirical study since there is no room for error. If they do err, they do their best to reduce underlying values conflict. Each child must become more self-directed and self-reliant, developing their individuality and autonomy. As strategic planners, they usually have a vision of how an organization will look and fare in the long run.

As we wrote in “Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?,” an earlier blog posting, these traits describe some peoples’ predispositions. Their experiences can mold them, as far as they are willing and able, so that they acquire attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in sum could be said to be their overall dispositions.

If you are a writer, I heartily recommend reading Keirsey’s book for yourself. I created detailed outlines for my personal use. You may profit from the same effort. We’ll review artisan, guardian, idealist, and rational personality speech characteristics and mannerisms the next few weeks.

William Shakespeare Mini Biography, via Bio.

The Idealist Personality

Less than seven percent of all men and women are idealist personalities. They follow hunches, heed feelings, strive for consensus, follow laws for community’s sake, avoid or prevent fighting, generalize from particulars, view people and things metaphorically, and put themselves in others shoes.

They are concerned for morale, give of themselves selflessly, search for life’s meaning, seek and develop the potential in those around them, desire inner unity and absolute truth, and are prone to wishful thinking.

Idealists are enthusiastic, intuitive, and romantic. They feel misunderstood and aspire to wisdom. They are soulmates as spouses, harmonizers as parents, and catalysts as leaders. Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther possessed idealist personalities.

You may know a few who that fit this description. The teacher with a gift for drawing out good performances from seemingly incorrigible students, the pastor who seeks out and shepherds the destitute and hurting, the activist championing a noble (or ignoble) cause, or the wise mediator who reconciles differences between conflicting factions.

This is one of the personalities that is important for writers to recognize and portray. David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

Keirsey says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type.

Keirsey defines the idealist personality as abstract in their word use and cooperative in their tool use. Their thought and speech are rich in exaggeration, move from parts to wholes, and spontaneously transform one thing into another, erasing distinctions, and joining opposites.

Idealists fall into four subcategories, each containing only a few percent of the population. Two are characterized as directive: the expressive teacher and the reserved counselor. The teacher takes control of even difficult students with confidence and creativity, broadening or refining their attitudes and actions. The counselor advises, appeals, prescribes, or urges in order to help others toward greater well-being.

The two other subtypes are informative: expressive champions and reserved healers. The champion eagerly explores issues and events in order to passionately champion a cause or ideal that will motivate others to settle conflicts and/or act justly and wisely. The healer helps others to accept, accommodate, or reconcile to mend relationships or make whole a divided self.

Idealists seek professions involving the unfolding of mind and heart toward greater self-understanding and inner peace. They need and want to be in communication with people. They can learn to write and speak fluently with a poetic flair. They form personal relationships which communicate caring and willingness to become involved. However, these relationships can drain them, so either they disconnect professionally or risk becoming emotionally overwhelmed.

Their greatest happiness comes from selflessly giving of themselves to help others grow and develop. They believe things easily and without reserve, join causes, and are loyal to leaders more than principles. They can become fixated about beliefs, unmovable by appeals to reason or experience. Some bravely accept accidents as mystifying and inexplicable; others attribute causes of unhappy events to a higher [or lower] power. They focus on what might be, not what is and are drawn to discerning the true nature and significance of things.

Idealists base self-esteem on the empathy they feel with those closest to them. They maintain a benevolent attitude toward others and their powerful conscience suppresses feelings of animosity. Vague self-doubt nags most of them. They laboriously walk the line between authenticity and moral approval of others.

They exhibit delightful and contagious positive emotions when discussing ideas and insights. When frustrated in idealism, or treated unjustly, they become irritated quickly and respond furiously. They trust first impressions. Unconsciously, but sometimes erroneously, they adopt their perceptions of another’s desires and emotions. They want relationships to be deep, meaningful, and full of beauty and sensitivity. They try to get in touch with the person they were meant to be. Some stop struggling to become a perfected ideal and accept themselves as they are. Recognition as a special person by someone they care about is very gratifying. They want to see behind and through to the world as it really is.

They desire a spouse who knows their feelings without being told, who spontaneously expresses words of endearment that acknowledge their unique identity. They closely bond with their children, even into adulthood, if possible, to encourage their positive self-esteem, self-respect, and self-confidence. At work, idealists facilitate, motivate, or energize cooperative action and high morale in their subordinates.

As we wrote in “Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?,” an earlier blog posting, these traits describe some peoples’ predispositions. Their experiences can mold them, as far as they are willing and able, so that they acquire attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in sum could be said to be their overall dispositions.

If you are a writer, I heartily recommend reading Keirsey’s book for yourself. I created detailed outlines for my personal use. You may profit from the same effort. We’ll review Keirsey’s take on the Rational personality type in two or three weeks.

It’s A Wonderful Life from PNN Media Group on Vimeo.

The Guardian Personality

Roughly forty percent of all men and women are guardian personalities. They are solid, sensible, follow the rules even when no one is looking, move associatively from topic to topic in conversation, always on the lookout for rule breaking, humbly shoulder responsibilities “no matter what,” and suffer when unappreciated.

Guardians are dutiful, prepare for the worst, suffer bravely and patiently, catch and reprimand trespassers, and keep traditions, customs, and continuity with the past. They are helpmates as spouses, socializers as parents, and stabilizers as leaders. Presidents Washington, Bush (41), Truman, and Nixon possessed guardian personalities.

No doubt you know many that fit this description. The concerned citizens that attend town council meetings and staff polling places, the project manager who facilitates timely production, packing, and distribution, the police officer on the street who shields others from imminent danger, the loan official who goes the extra mile to get you affordable loan terms, and the long-suffering wife and mother next door with the truck driver husband and hellion son who sometimes shakes up the neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, we described the artisan personality. The guardian is another of the four personality types that’s important for writers to recognize and portray. David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

Keirsey says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type.

Keirsey defines the guardian personality as concrete in their word use and cooperative in their tool use. They talk about what’s solid and sensible: commerce, household items, weather, recreation, news items and personalities. They believe that only by establishing and obeying rules and regulations can civil order be maintained.

Guardians fall into four subcategories, each containing approximately ten percent of the population. Two are characterized as monitoring: the expressive supervisor and the reserved inspector. The supervisor enforces standard operating procedures. In the home, it’s not enough that others do assigned duties, they must want to do them. The inspector works behind the scene on products and accounts, is watchful for irregularities from rules, and is simple and down-home.

The two other subtypes are conserving: expressive providers and reserved protectors. The provider furnishes others with life’s necessities, makes others part of their group, and is personable and talkative. The protector shields others from dirt and danger of this world, sees to others physical safety and security, and chats tirelessly with a close circle of friends.

Guardians regard companies and corporations as indispensable social institutions that enable them to earn their keep and provide for family. They feel responsible for the morality of their group, guarding right and wrong.

They give their all from a young age. Pain and suffering are unavoidable and must be faced bravely. They believe: “if anything can go wrong it will,” and prepare accordingly. They keep others in line. They are creatures of habit who faithfully follow routines. They value family and societal history.

They shoulder responsibilities “no matter what.” They feel: “if I don’t do it, who will,” and suffer when they’re unappreciated. They are obligated to do good deeds. But they may feel put upon if help isn’t offered (to be shooed away, of course). Receiving service is blow to their self-respect. Modest, unassuming, self-effacing, they crave respect and public recognition.

Concerned about homes, jobs, families, their neighborhood; duties and responsibilities; health, finances, how they dress, whether they’re on time. They worry too much about loved ones and society’s direction. They believe in hierarchical authority structures and are likely to believe in a supreme being. Since the world is going to hell in a handbasket, it’s the institutions that hold people accountable and teach values. They feel appreciated to the degree others are grateful for what they’ve done for them. It is galling when others take them for granted, but they believe responsibility far outweighs entitlement to gratitude. They desire the power to set things straight in light of right and wrong.

They’re ready to roll up their sleeves and work side-by-side with their spouse to build a comfortable, stable family life. Loyal and obligated to stand by their mate in times of trouble and help them straighten up and fly right. Guardians see to it that children are civilized, enculturated, in support of and in step with the community. They carefully administer what is done, how it is done, and who is to do it.

As we wrote in “Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?” an earlier blog posting, these traits describe some peoples’ predispositions. Their experiences can mold them, as far as they are willing and able, so that they acquire attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in sum could be said to be their overall dispositions.

If you are a writer, I heartily recommend reading Keirsey’s book for yourself. I created detailed outlines for my personal use. You may profit from the same effort. We’ll review Keirsey’s take on the Idealist and Rational personality types in the next few weeks.

Truman - The Buck Stops Here

Former President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) at a president’s desk reproduction with foreground “The buck Stops Here” sign, ca. July 1959, Public Domain, Credit: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

The Artisan Personality

More than forty percent of all men and women are artisan personalities. They are bold, empirical, do what works rather than what is socially acceptable, sensitive to what sounds good, always on the lookout for advantage and opportunity, perfecting their technique no matter the cost, and rolling with the punches.

Artisans are unplanned, undiplomatic, and cynical. They do not easily learn from errors and they impulsively abandon activities and relationships without regret. They are playmates as spouses, liberators as parents, and negotiators as leaders. Presidents Jackson, Reagan, and Clinton and Prime Minister Churchill possessed artisan personalities.

No doubt you know many that fit this description. The bully next door who works in a metal working plant, the smooth talking car sales rep who sold you your last car, or the audacious rescue coordinator being interviewed on national television who led a diverse team and saved thousands during a terrorist attack.

We mainly associate this personality with men. Bold and empirical rarely was applied to women. However, now-a-days, women like Ronda Rousey, Ashley Force Hood, or Carly Fiorina have stepped out into prominence in their fields.

This is one of the personalities that is especially important for writers to recognize and portray. David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

Keirsey says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type.

Keirsey defines the artisan personality as concrete in their word use and utilitarian in their tool use. Their language sounds good, it points to things seen or felt, it’s devoid of interpretation, and it incorporates slang and catchy turns of phrase.

Artisans fall into four subcategories, each containing approximately 10 percent of the population. Two are characterized as directive: the expressive promoter and the reserved crafter. The promoter is smooth, able to gain other’s confidence. The crafter is quiet, skillful at using equipment, and sometimes insubordinate.

The two other subtypes are informative: expressive performers and reserved composers. The performer is outgoing, skillful at handling an audience, and outwardly showing social concern while doing what they deem expedient. The composer skillfully blends what excites the five senses, whether music, art, or food.

Artisans are interested in anything requiring skillful practice. They will perfect their technique no matter the cost and employ whatever equipment necessary.

They live each day for maximum payoff. The past is water under the bridge. The future is far off so why plan. Wherever the action is that’s where they want to be. They seize the day but do not learn easily from errors.

They see themselves as artistic, taking pride in their performance; audacious, risking it all fearlessly; and adaptable, altering and shaping their behavior moment by moment according to circumstances in order to be effective.

They value excitement and are easily bored. Artisans are spontaneous, intense, and free; abandoning commitments without regret. They exert a strong presence in events for social impact, seek sensation to liven up dull times, and are impulsively extravagant gift givers. They are relentless in pursuit of artistic execution.

They are devoted to giving pleasure and excitement to mates. A friend but no more. They will leave if they feel trapped. Artisans encourage children to test the limits of their surroundings and do things on their own as early as possible. They easily spot the edge that gives them leverage over people and circumstances.

As we wrote in “Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?,” an earlier blog posting, these traits describe some peoples’ predispositions. Their experiences can mold them, as far as they are willing and able, so that they acquire attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in sum could be said to be their overall dispositions.

If you are a writer, I heartily recommend reading Keirsey’s book for yourself. I created detailed outlines for my personal use. You may profit from the same effort. We’ll review Keirsey’s take on the Guardian, Idealist, and Rational personality types via several posts over the next few weeks.

Kardinal - Hybrid tea rose

Kardinal – Hybrid tea rose, Raised by R. Kordes, Germany. 1986 (reg.), 26 May 2013, Photo by Laitche, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – A Review

James Scott Bell gives us the elements of compelling storytelling in his book Plot and Structure. His introduction motivates the reasons for good storytelling and encourages a lifelong process.

Chapter one covers what a plot is, the types of plots, the distinction between literary and commercial plots, and an argument for formulaic writing that produces excitement. He says, quoting the dictionary: “Plot – a plan as for designing a building or a novel.” The function of the plot is to connect with readers though the story. Story is what sells books to readers. Plot and structure help you tell the story. Quoting Hitchcock: “a good story is life, with the dull parts taken out.”

Bell advocates what he terms the LOCK system. The Lead is vibrant and compelling, someone to watch throughout the novel. The Objective is something which the Lead wants to get or get away from. Solid novels have one dominant Objective. Whether the Lead achieves the Objective is crucial to their wellbeing and is the “story question,” the driving force of the novel. Opposition characters and forces Confront the Lead to thwart them from the Objective. Confrontation provides the reader with emotional involvement in the story. Finally, the novel’s ending should be a Knockout. It should satisfy the reader and keep them coming back for more.

Chapter two covers the structure that holds a plot together. If plot is about the elements of a story, structure is about the timing of those elements. Story structure has beginnings, middles, and ends; three acts. The beginning is about the Lead, the entry point for the reader. It also presents the story world, establishes the tone (epic or farce? action or character progression? fast or slow?), compels the reader to move on to the middle, and introduces the opposition.

Middles are for confrontation where physical, professional, or psychological death hangs over the Lead. This is the place where subplots blossom. It creates a sense of inevitability by weaving plot strands in and out of each other and continuously surprising the reader. The middle also: deepens character relationships, keeps us caring about what happens, and sets up the final Knockout confrontation and resolution at the end. Ends tie up all significant, unresolved plot strands and provide the reader with a feeling of resonance. ‘Resonance’ is something beyond the confines of the book (i.e., its meaning in the larger sense).

Finally, chapter two broaches the concept of the disturbance and two doorways. The disturbance is anything that disturbs the lead’s ordinary life. It is the first threat or challenge to the status quo. However, the lead can still return to normal life. That’s where the first ‘doorway of no return’ comes in. This doorway sends the Lead irrevocably into the confrontations of the second act. The second doorway leads to the knockout ending that achieves resolution and resonance.

Chapter three covers methods for creating plot ideas. Chapters four through six dive into beginnings, middles, and ends.

Chapter seven describes the elements of scenes. Scenes typically take place in one location and time frame. They consist of action, reaction, setup, and deepening. These four chords can dominate the scene or compose portions of a scene called beats. Action and reaction naturally follow each other. Setup creates the circumstances and/or conditions for later scenes. Deepening enriches the reader’s understanding of a character or setting.

Scenes must have a Hook, Intensity, and Prompt (HIP). The Hook grabs the reader at the outset of the scene. Dialog, teaser, or action are good hooks into a scene. Description that is brief and sets a mood can also be a hook. Intensity is a building sense that more is at risk, could be lost, or found out. The writer creates this tension through conflict. The conflict can be stretched for all it’s worth by the interplay between action, dialogue, thoughts, and description. Scenes end with Prompts to read on. Prompts can consist of: impending disaster, portent, mysterious line of dialog, a suddenly revealed secret, a major decision or vow, announcement of a shattering event, a reversal or surprise, or a question left hanging.

Chapter eight discusses complex plots that interweave several subplots with the main plot. A subplot can be thematic, dealing with something the Lead needs to learn, which deepens the plot, lends meaning, and is a place to make a statement about life. Characters carry your themes. Each subplot follows the LOCK method. The subplots can be serial or parallel and each must work on their own.

The next seven chapters dive into the finer points presented in the first eight. This is not so say that you can skip the later chapters. Important principles and techniques are revealed in them. Two appendices summarize the book at a high level and describe how to create back cover material (or a blurb) for your book.

Bell uses movies and well known books to illustrate plot and structure techniques rather than esoteric (to me) literary references. His goal is to teach effectively and not to show how well read he is (and, by implication, how the reader isn’t).

Although portions read like a pep talk, the folksy presentation is not long winded and usually has a point or serves as introduction. The book seems converted to eBook format in a somewhat haphazard way (section and subsection titles in perplexing font sizes, rote use of indent everywhere including bulleted lists, only a logical table of contents). This is likely the publishers doing given the economics involved.

However, weaknesses aside, I strongly recommend the content of James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure for new and struggling novelists who want  to sell books.