Good Cats Don’t Race Dumb Dogs

dog.catonstool

Before anyone accuses me of disrespecting dogs, let me say that I’m a dog owner, and I absolutely love dogs. Cats are okay too, and I don’t recommend any cat try to outrun a dog, whether the cat thinks that dog is dumb or not. I’ve heard stories.

“Good Cats Don’t Race Dumb Dogs” is my mnemonic for the building blocks of scene and sequel structure that motivate and change the protagonist to move the story forward, hopefully with a willing reader along for the ride.

Scene:  Goal, Conflict, Disaster

Sequel: Reaction, Dilemma, Decision

While writing, I could never remember those specific terms, although I sometimes got the structure right by instinct and other times relied on a note kept near my computer keyboard. But I wanted a helpful device to recall scene and sequel structure in an instant. A mnemonic about animals was perfect for me.

I’ve read a number of books on the fiction writing craft that refer to or analyze that structure, introduced by Dwight V. Swain in his Techniques of the Selling Writer, I believe. I haven’t read any of his books, but I’m now reading K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel, and she refers to Swain’s work. Other published authors and bloggers, such as Randy Ingermanson, address the same structure. Sometimes the terms vary, but they have the same meaning.

So what do you think? Will this mnemonic help you remember, as it does me? Do you have a mnemonic for remembering anything else important to your writing?

 

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Ideas From the Most Ordinary Sources

classifiedsIt doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional novelist or a middle-school student assigned to write a short story. To find new character, conflict, and plot ideas, pay close attention to ordinary life around you. More precisely, look at what people buy, sell, and eat.

At lunchtime—either at school or work—notice the selections, whether purchased on site or bagged and brought from home.

Chili, corn chips, and baklava? You may imagine a south Texan introvert living with his Greek grandmother, and there’s the start of an interesting situation. (So as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, begin with a compliment if you’re unsure what a particular delicacy is. “That looks/smells good. What’s it called?”)

In a grocery or discount store checkout line, strange combinations of purchases may inspire you.

Bandages and a set of kitchen knives (for a clumsy chef?)

Tomatoes and an opera CD (for a disgruntled patron of the arts?)

Now I’m thinking of a story about a chef who is also a disgruntled patron of the arts and goes on a killing spree at an opera house.

And don’t forget to look in the classified ads for hidden gems.

There’s one from many years ago I’ll always remember.

FOR SALE: Loveseat and a pair of women’s motorcycle boots

Now that’s a writing prompt.

What kind of ordinary thing or situation has sparked an idea for a character or story for you?