Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Plotting Smarter with Freytag's Pyramid

I am not one of those writers who outlines everything. I despise outlines. I feel like it's more work to write a decent outline than it is to hammer out fifteen pages in an hour. I thought I would never grow to appreciate outlining--until I learned all about Freytag's Pyramid.

Freytag's Pyramid, for those of you who are a little confused, is a pattern used to display the conflict progression in a story. Most of you have seen it before, even if you didn't know what it was called. The pyramid looks like this:

It's fine if that picture doesn't do it for you. It doesn't do it for me, either. Let me explain what all those words mean for the sake of your novel or short story.

  1. Exposition. This term refers to the start of a story. The exposition lets reader's get a sense of the setting, characters, atmosphere, and sometimes even the conflict of a piece. In order to move from the exposition, there must be some kind of inciting incident that presents the protagonist with a problem to solve.

  2. Rising action. This part of the plot revolves around complications. Obstacles from the antagonist, minor characters, or other elements such as nature prevent the protagonist from reaching his or her goals. More conflicts arise, and tension mounts.

  3. Climax. The point of highest drama in a literary work. Everything that has been simmering under the surface comes to a head during the climax. It is also referred to as the "turning point" because it changes everything for the protagonist--for better or worse.

  4. Falling Action. The danger has passed, the climax ends, and the main conflict begins to wrap itself up.

  5. Denouement. Also called the resolution, the denouement refers to the end of the piece, after all the loose ends have been tied up into a bow. Side conflicts are resolved and the characters in the story return to their normal lives, somehow different than they were at the exposition.

See? Geometry can be exciting, even to fiction writers. But how can you use Freytag's Pyramid as a plotting tool? This is a loose outline I compiled using this technique:

  1. Sharon Prince is a struggling actress searching for work in New York City. She's been living in Manhattan for a couple of months, and she has yet to find a job. When the rent for her apartment goes up, she realizes she has to become a waitress.

  2. Sharon waits tables at a diner in Times Square. She doesn't get paid much, but at least she's making money. A customer leaves her a massive tip one night. She thinks she will finally be able to make rent.

  3. On her back back to the apartment, Sharon accidentally leaves her wallet on the subway. She's sure someone has stolen it. She breaks down crying on the front stoop of her building.

  4. A man from the subway approaches Sharon and tries to comfort her. He hands her the wallet she thought had been stolen. He tells her that she is too pretty to cry. She tells him what's happening. He suggests she attend a casting call taking place the next morning.

  5. Sharon gives the guy her number and skips up the steps. She pays her rent and returns to her apartment to practice her audition.

As you can see, this outline is rough, but it should be enough to get my point across. The great thing about Freytag's Pyramid is that it allows you to get the sense of security from the outline while allowing for some breathing room. The next time you want to plot your story, experiment with this simple technique.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Guest Post: Molly Ford of Smart, Pretty, and Awkward!


I've been following Molly Ford's blog, Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardfor over a year now. I've loved every minute of it. The concept of the blog is simple: each post contains three bits of advice on how to be smarter, prettier, and (less) awkward. Since the simple things in life are often the most captivating, it is no wonder that Molly Ford is as successful as she is. Recently, I set up a couple of interview questions for Molly to answer. She was gracious enough to oblige. Here's how it went:

1. In your guest post on The Future Buzz, you talk a little bit about starting a blog. What are some tips you can give about blogging?

Great question. My best advice that I often give is the Three Month Rule: blog for three months without telling anyone. This gives you time to find your voice in private and confirm that you really like blogging, and it also gives your readers a back log of posts to read and fall in love with for when you do start going public and promoting your blog.

I would emphasize the importance, especially in the beginning while you are growing your audience, of writing consistently. Everything else—the layout of the site, social media promotion, press outreach, etc. can come later.

2. In that same article, you say, "I honestly thought the blog would just be a flash in the pan, just something else I would try, but after a month or so I realized how much I was liking it and just kept writing." What about blogging appeals to you the most?

I think what appeals to me most about blogging is the ability to share something from my heart to an audience that I hope benefits from my writing. I never write a tip that I don’t do myself or wish I had done, so everything I write feels very personal. I like that.

3. Also in the Future Buzz post, you discuss coming up with the idea for SP&A. Where did you get such a unique blog concept?

I honestly wish I had a better answer for this! I knew I wanted to write an advice blog because I don’t want to put super-personal information online, and because I enjoy reading self-help books. Just focusing on “How to be Prettier,” with beauty/fashion tips, was my first thought, but that type of advice wasn’t enough to cover all the topics I was interested in, so I added How to be Smarter. Then I wanted a third topic so the site name would flow well, so I added How to be (less) Awkward to round out the set. I was originally planning for the third section to be called How to be Awkward and have the tips be tongue-in-check and the opposite of what to do, but adding in the (less) made more sense in the long run.

4. Each post on your blog contains three pieces of advice and an inspirational quote. How do you usually discover these items?

I write down ideas for tips all day long. I keep a super long chain of notes in my phone, as well as in a physical notebook I carry around in my bag. I also usually keep a running draft email in gmail of links I’d like to use.

For the quotes, I usually search around for a quote either by a specific author or about a specific topic. Since the quotes are usually the most last-minute thing I include in the post, they are usually the most up-to-the-minute personal: for example, if at that moment I’m feeling happy about a good date or reading a book that references Eleanor Roosevelt, the quote will either be about happiness or relationships, or by Eleanor Roosevelt.

5. After reading the SP&A Press page, it's clear you've developed a following. How has your Internet presence affected your life?

I think about this a lot. I think having an Internet presence has probably affected how new people interact with me, but not the people I’ve known forever. Everyone googles everyone before first dates or job interviews now, so new people probably relate to me differently based on what they have seen online, but not the friends or people I’ve met in real life first or had pre-blog.

6.Based on your blog, you must be a very dedicated individual. How do you stay motivated?

Probably my best tip for staying focused is: no fluff. It it doesn’t add value or make me happy, I don’t do it. There’s just not time.

Probably the best example of no fluff in my life is that I also don’t watch (hardly any) TV. I don’t even own a TV or Netflix account or anything. I know it’s not a popular opinion to say that you don’t watch television, but I really think that not having that in my life leaves me with more free time, which I try to then use wisely.

7. Your About page says that you live in New York City. What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in the Big Apple?

I will cross the four-year mark of living in New York City this year, and I think I love it more than when I first moved here, which is saying a lot because I cried from happiness on my move-in day post-college. New York City is everything, the good and the bad. And there is probably nothing I could say that would be terribly unique to my experience about living here: it’s wonderful, it’s cultured, it’s full of events, it’s expensive, it’s loud, I live in a shoebox. But to paraphrase an email I sent in 2009 to a friend justifying my decision to live in NYC, “I might have anxiety from living in New York, but I would have much worse anxiety about not living here.” New York City is just the place for me. But I also want to be careful about over-romancing NYC, though: it’s not for everyone.

But I would wish for everyone a place they love as much as I love New York. You have to find your New York.

8. Most of your quotes come from famous individuals. Who are your personal role models?

I love Becky Quick from Squawk Box, Bethenny Frankel, and especially Nora Ephron, who has always been my main role model. I also closely follow Sheryl Sandberg’s career and Lori Gottlieb’s writings.

9. It's also clear that you enjoy reading. What are some of your favorite books?

I read mostly non-fiction, with a focus on business, pop psychology, and narrative non-fiction (memoirs, etc). Nora Ephron’s books have probably had the biggest impact on my life in my college and post-college years, but Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers was also a huge influence to me when I read it. I saw Malcolm working in a coffee shop on the east side once, that was awesome. And of course I love Gretchen Rubin…

10. Finally, since you and I both enjoy The Happiness Project, what habits or practices have you created after reading Gretchen Rubin's book?

The Happiness Project was another total life-changing book for me, and I try not to use clich├ęs like “life-changing” lightly. I just love the idea of small tweaks to make life better—that’s the sort of formula my blog is built around. One of my favorite quotes of the author’s, Gretchen Rubin, is that one of the Secrets to Adulthood is to “Be Gretchen.” I love that phrase: “Be Gretchen!”. She’s talking about it in the context of herself, obviously, but I love the idea of just doing you. There are many things I do that others probably would not enjoy, and vice versa. That’s okay. I just have to Be Molly. That’s really the only person that I can be realistically be 100% of the time anyway.

Molly Ford is such an inspiring woman. She's creative, kind, and self-reliant. As a role model and a person, I consider her to be someone worth admiring. If you've never read Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardgo check it out right now. Thanks, Molly!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Commission Rant

So I'm angry and hurt and a little offended right now. I posted my "Elvis and Dolly" piece on a few websites last night, and it got a fairly positive response. That's not the part that bothers me. A few hours later, I got a message from a potential client interested in hiring me for a commission.

In the freelance world, this situation isn't unheard of. In most cases it's a pleasant surprise. I'm always relieved when someone approaches me without me having to pitch an idea to them first. I messaged this man back asking what he had in mind for the price he'd quoted. He messaged me back. It wasn't at all what I expected.

This particular client was offering to pay me an impressive sum of money to collaborate with him in a sexual roleplay scenario. He wanted me to portray the role of Lily, a straight-A student about to graduate from a master's program who is blackmailed by one of her professors. I have never done anything like that before. The fact that this client would even bring such an idea to me is appalling. You see, this request goes a step beyond freelance writing. In this case, he'd be hiring me almost as a phone sex worker.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with phone sex workers. They're creative, hardworking, and often underappreciated members of society. With that being said, though, it isn't for me. Those services are not at all the kind I aim to advertise. I'm offended because it seems to me that my womanhood is a bigger player in this industry that I anticipated. If I were a man submitting that story, I doubt this particular client would have decided to approach me.

I want to write. My dream is to work for a magazine and write some short stories and novels on the side. I enjoy freelance writing, and the clients I currently work with are such a blessing to me. Yes, I like getting commissioned. Yes, I need the money. But am I willing to compromise my morals and my professional reputation for a few extra dollars? Not at all.

I'm a twenty-year-old woman and a professional writer. Both aspects are a part of my everyday life, but they need not necessarily define me as an individual. I want to do good work. I want to make God, my friends, and my family proud. I don't want to participate in sex roleplays for money.  I want to be treated and respected as a person, an artist, and a working-class citizen.
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