Author: Robert Ray


©2010 by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick Backstory – Antagonist, Protagonist and Time… Backstory–what is it? Why do you need it? If Story is competition for a resource base the writer needs to show how the characters got to where they are. What happened before the story opened? That’s backstory. Fiction is the artful infusion of the past into the narrative present. Backstory determines present action. Writers who don’t know the backstory tend to plot on the fly and plotting on the fly creates huge plot holes that take years of doctoring to fix. So–avoid those holes, write lots of good backstory for each of the characters in your work. Know the backstory. One way to get good backstory is to work backwards in time. Set your timer for five minutes for each jump back. As usual, write until the timer rings. Always finish what you start. Hint: Go as far back as you have to. Five years, ten years… 1 hour before my story opens, the antagonist… 1 day before my story opens, the antagonist… 1 month before my story opens, the antagonist 1 year before my story opens, the antagonist 1 hour before my story opens, the protagonist 1 day before my story opens, the protagonist 1 month before my story opens, the protagonist 1 year before my story opens, the protagonist 1 hour before my...

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Three Act Treatment

©2010 by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick Three Act Treatment: Aristotle laid down the rules for drama: a three-act structure (beginning, middle and end) that rises to a climax where the audience experiences a purging called catharsis. To reach that point near the end of Act III, writers build a structure with lesser climaxes at key points along the way. Think of curtains falling, commercial breaks, bathroom breaks. The three act structure is a handy way to allocate story material. Act I is where you bring on your main characters. Act II is where you dig up the past to create complication. Act III is a suspenseful race to the climax. Writing the Three-Act Treatment: Set your timer for five minutes per section. 1.     I am writing a story about 2.     Act One opens when 3.     Act  One ends when 4.     Act Two opens in a scene called… 5.     At the middle of my story, my protagonist 6.     Act Two ends when 7.     Act Three opens when 8.     My Story climaxes in a scene called 9.     My Story ends with this final image…. Hint: Lay Pipe. A phrase we picked up from the screenwriters. When we wrote The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, Bob and I found that a good entry point to the rewrite is Act Three. Act Three is a template for rewriting Act One. Logic–what...

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Word Pictures from Nouns & Verbs

©2010 by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick When I teach style in a writing workshop, I have the writers circle nouns and verbs. Concrete nouns and strong verbs build word-pictures. A good example is the opening to A Farewell to Arms (1929), where a stationary narrator checks out the terrain of story: “In the late summer of that year, we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” There are two abstract nouns in this opening sentence – summer and year – and five concrete nouns: house, village, river, plain, mountains. The ratio of concrete nouns to abstract is 5:2, enough concrete nouns to paint a picture that locks down the opening of the novel. The view in this Hemingway opening is panoramic, like a wide-angle photograph or a landscape painting. The narrator is First Person. The collective pronoun “we” links the narrator – a volunteer ambulance driver from the American midwest in search of love and adventure in the Great War of 1914-1918 – to his ambulance driver buddies. The word-picture in this opening line puts an implied distance between the narrator in the village and the fighting in the mountains, where the Italian Army does battle with the Austrian Army. In that distant war, the Italians fought on the Allied side, “allied” with England and France...

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The Spine

©2010 by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick What is the  spine of a story? Screenwriters talk about the spine or the armature of a script. Novelists  usually don’t have a clue. But once you know the spine, your writing goes deeper, the characters get better, and the story wraps itself up in itself like a great big birthday present. It’s odd but the spine  often doesn’t reveal itself until you start rewriting. So, how do you get to the spine? You use a technique called “spine-finder“. You search your story for polar opposites like Rich/Poor (Cinderella, Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, Working Girl, or Pretty Woman) and Innocence/Evil (The Silence of the Lambs). In the writing, the polar opposites will give you strings or sets of metaphors. Knowing the spine of your story makes re-writing not only more fun, but also more complete. Sounds abstract? Give it a try. But first read the following: This writing tracks the development of the spine in Jack Remick’s work-in-progress: Gabriela Dominguez. March 5th, 2010 It’s possible that the spine of Gabriela Dominguez is Thick/Thin.  Gabriela is thin, her life is not thick with objects. La Viuda is thick. She has had 85 years to thicken up her life with objects, experiences, romance, heart-ache and pride. July 23, 2010 – More Writing on the Spine Now I’m sure that the Spine of...

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Copyright & Excerpts

©2010-2017 Jack Remick, Robert J. Ray. All rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including text and images, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Short excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray and "Bob and Jacks Writing Blog" with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.