Valuable Scenes

Several months ago on a blog just around the corner, Alex and I were discussing writing as we usually do, and she mentioned—nay requested—a post on value shifting in scenes because I hit that up every other second when it comes to feedback.

So, my people, I give you my own personal interpretation of Robert McKee’s value shifts. And hopefully this will give you enough reason to go buy this book already and hold it fast like the writing bible it is!


It doesn’t mean morals, if that’s what you’re thinking, although it could be related to a moral. This is part of the real guts of the scene. Think of it as what the character values most in that moment. It might be freedom, In some cases it will be the stakes of the story. Often it will be just the stakes of that scene.

How does Mr. McKee define it?

Story Values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next.

I often think of it as the goal of that moment for the character or perhaps something that will create a goal. Take, for example, Ghostbusters. The big goal of the characters is saving New York from utter destruction from a Mesopotamian god (NEGATIVE).

It just popped in there.

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Connect the Dots, La-la-la-la-la!


In preparation for the NaNo I’m outlining among other things for Shade 2. I have to ask myself questions like WHY? HOW COME? WHAT FOR? And so on.

I have a major plot point I want to get to and from their out it’s fairly plotted. But all the before that, I’m trying to forge some kind of sense out of it. After all…

In storytelling, logic is retroactive.
-Robert McKee, Story

But even if it is retroactive, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. And I’m not complaining… mostly… but was just curious to know any techniques any of you have out there when you’re throwing together your story. I know some of you pantsers will say, “Ba! Outline shmoutline. Just write!” And oh, I intend to. But surely even ye pansters have a few ideas about connecting dots in the heat of the moment.


When I feel like something isn’t working, I stop and ask myself what the motivation of the characters is. Heroes, villains and secondaries alike. Sometimes I’ve found it really helps if you know what the villain is after, because then you can balance it with how the hero would react if they knew or when they know, etc.

I’m constantly asking myself: what is to be gained in this scene? And sometimes I write out in margins the arc I want a character to take. Perhaps they start off really good, but then tread toward the dark side which prepares them for the climax of choosing good or evil. Stuff like that.

And sometimes I pretend I’ve killed my darlings and left them in the dumpster across the street. If I CANNOT ABSOLUTELY use the plot line I just came up with, what’s Plan B. Sometimes this will show me Plan A was really the best plan and to stop doubting myself. And sometimes this shows me new pathways to try that turn out better. And more often than not Plan A and B get morphed into Plan C because I like elements from both.


Sometimes plot flows like I’m tuned into some cosmic writing spectrum flowing through the universe and I can hardly keep up with the ideas spilling out of me. And other times I’m forced to take the time to connect some dots. But many a writer’s conference has taught me when you come to those places where you’re struggling, when the dots aren’t so easy to find, that’s often when you’re on the cusp of something fantastic.

I’ve found that to be true in my case many times. So I’m thinking, thinking, and thinking some more. (Is there really any other way to get things done?)

But I still want to know, so if you’ve got ideas, spill them now.

What do you do when you have difficult plot dots to connect? Any techniques you use or have heard of that you recommend?

Mini Reviews: The Shack, The Help, Logic to the Rescue, Writing the Breakout Novel

I’ve squeezed in a few books lately thanks to my Kindle and a few vacations. I’m still reading The Wise Man’s Fear so a mini-review is in the works in the future. Anyways, on to the reviews.


The Shack by William Paul Young seemed to be the trendy thing to read among my friends back in January, so I gave it a go. This purports to be a book about a man’s experience with God in a shack. Is it fiction? Well, it’s categorized as so. But then you’ve got an author’s forward, explaining this is something he wrote after hearing his friend Mack’s experience because he, the author, was considered to be the better writer. Having known nothing about it before reading it, I was thinking based on a true story.

Nope, 100% made up. Although the author then tries to say, well, but some of the conversations happened to me. Maybe so, I just thought it was a little weird they were trying to be a bit deceptive. Anyways, it’s definitely an out of the mainstream perspective on Christianity and God. Interesting, but some of it gets a little bizarre. I guess that’s the point of the book though, to shake up your perceptions. Some of it I agreed with, some of it I thought was just plain bizarre. Toward the end the conversations the MC was having with God got a bit overdone, maybe posturing to the audience a little bit.

It’s hard to say whether I’d recommend it. But I guess knowing better than I did that it’s not based on anything but imagination you can look at it from a more analytical standpoint.

My grade for this book: B-

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Back from Christmas


My sister and I have become quite fond of doing finger foods for Christmas. I guess to sound more posh I could call them tapas. The primary focus of the photo is of course on the lil smokies. Then of course we have bacon wrapped water chestnuts, cucumber sandwiches, something we call cold cuts (meats and cheeses) lots of veg, and sweet potato fries. Oooh, don’t forget the cranberry salsa. I brought some for lunch today. Mmmmm…

Christmas was actually decently productive. I finished 1 of my 4 holiday book read books, I’m 3/4 of the way through #2. And ladies and gentlemen, please applaud, I finally finished Story by Robert McKee! Woot! Yeah, that thick textbook, while filled to the brim with good info, just takes a long while to get through. I created myself a little worksheet from my notes which I plan on filling out tonight to get SHADE in proper order.

And speaking of SHADE, I got feedback from my mentor Marieke over the holiday. It was very good and thorough and encouraging. However… (there’s always a however, isn’t there?) Well, she makes a very convincing case that I need to climb another mountain. Not Everest, though. Just maybe that Tablerock hike I love. It’s hard and I usually end up with blisters on my toes, but the view makes it all worthwhile.

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Friday Flix: Ernest Saves Christmas


ernestI know what you’re thinking. Really, Jae? Ernest Saves Christmas? Well heavens to Betsy, yes, Ernest Saves Christmas! If Ernest didn’t save it where would we be?

One thing you should know about my family is we love quirky, campy movies—especially my dad. He had a penchant for being up late for one reason or another and finding wacky movies on TV he’d rent for us later to enjoy with him. I think Ernest Saves Camp is what started it, but eventually we saw most of the Ernest movies.

But back to Ernest Saves Christmas. Despite its slapstick humor and absurdist approach, having watched it recently, it is a pretty decent little film. There are lots of good storytelling elements in it. What is it about?


An obnoxious and bumbling but well-meaning man attempts to help Santa Claus find a successor. Failure means there would be no Christmas.

No Christmas?! That’s nearly as high stakes as you can get. It certainly worked well for the Nightmare Before Christmas.


One little nitpicky thing about the show I have to point out is the whole Coca-Cola Santas opening. It doesn’t really give us a sense of what to expect from the movie at all, except that Santa will be in it. It’s more like filler to get the credits out of the way so the real movie can begin. Whenever we create story, each piece should have a role to play in moving the story along. Granted, this is an Ernest movie, but so what? Each story you write should be your best.

Santa talking to the Suit

Santa talking to the Suit

Now when the movie does get started, the opening scene is between some suit and a kindly older gentlemen who looks an awful lot like you-know-who. As the audience, we know what you-know-who means when he says certain things, but the suit takes it to mean that Santa’s just an old businessmen, talking about business. This kind of double-meaning dialogue works fantastically because it creates the tension of knowing something one character doesn’t. We feel like we’re in on a secret. It’s a fairly well-written scene, with a few extra winks and nods in case we don’t get that it’s Santa, but this is a kid’s movie after all. If you can craft clever dialogue that on the surface sounds like one thing, but underneath means something completely different, you’ll create a delightful exchange your readers will enjoy. However, you must trust that your audience is smart enough to figure it out and not try and purposely point out your cleverness. Something like this needs to be discovered if it is to be done well.

Interspersed with this scene we first meet Ernest. We realize almost right away what kind of guy he is, as he sings ‘O Christmas Tree’ as a 3-word song (not very bright, but passionate). He doesn’t have to tell us he loves Christmas, he’s singing it, accentuated by the way he has his cab decorated and how he nearly causes a multi-car pileup just to save a Christmas tree. Later in the movie he mentions how much he loves Christmas, but it’s unnecessary. We’ve already seen it. When you’re crafting your scenes, think of ways you can show us what your character loves or desires without telling us. Plant it in descriptions of their world, things they’re surrounded by, actions they would take.

What I love about Ernest singing O Christmas Tree the way he does is it shows us two things about him immediately, he’s not very bright, but he’s passionate about Christmas. We realize this is probably going to be a story about an underdog whose passion will save the day.

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Row80 Check-in Nov. 19th

Okay, people.

Some of you asked for it.

Some of you hoped for it.

Here it is.

It’s basic, but it’s 100% pure Babybel cheese wax. Bask in its redlicious glory!

Okay, I know, it’s not that exciting. The weather refuses to do anything but gray and gloomy. But it makes me smile and oddly enough gives me a craving for delicious gouda cheese.

If you really warm up the wax, you can create a lot more detailed figures. I did a wax pig for a friend once, but it was teeny weeny.

But we’re here for goals, by golly, and goals you’re going to get:

  • Write at least 3 short stories intended for publication.  I’ll probably try my hand at several more than three, but the hope is to find three gemstones among the rocks.
    On hiatus for now. I’ve got the 250 word contest I’m planning on finishing soon and another new contest called Pitch Wars. What? You haven’t heard of Pitch Wars? Well, if you have a finished novel, you should click on the link and get in on this. To state it simply, apply for a mentor, if they like you they’ll help you polish up your work to submit to an agent. Foot in the door? Maybe. Professional feedback? Yes, please!
  • Read the helpful books to prepare me for the editing fest that will be late November early December on Shade.
    So I know I’ve been saying On Writing would be next, but after Story I’m going to jump into Writing the Breakout Novel since Brian has been enjoying it so much and I think I’ll need its advice for Pitch Wars. And as always, I’m posting little nuggets of Robert McKee wisdom on Twitter. One of my favorite recent nuggets is: “In storytelling, logic is retroactive. You can set up what may seem absurd and make it rational.”
  • Have read all 201 available Anton Chekhov’s short stories, sprinkled with Hemingway and Bradbury.
    I’ve read 48 of 201 Chekhov short stories. I think when I hit 50 I’m going to switch to Hemingway, at least for a couple short stories. When you read Chekhov like I’m doing, so intensively, it feels a bit formulaic—at least the early ones do. I need a break.
  • Once December hits, tear Shade apart and polish it to pure awesomeness!  This goal has changed. Now that I’m doing two contests, Shade has come out early to play. I made it through seven chapters over the weekend in polishing, but I’m probably going to count it as four. I felt like toward the end I wasn’t as sharp. I may try to do the edit out of order thing, but I wanted to regain an overall sense of the story again. So now this goal will be called: Polish Shade to pure awesomeness!
  • No Treat November. Not bad, not great. I forgot to weigh in this morning to see if I’m making any headway. Hopefully Wednesday will mean progress. Although Thursday will probably undo all of it. Thanksgiving is a calorie-free zone, meaning calories go uncounted. I’m going to shovel down as much pumpkin pie, stuffing, and turkey as I can take. Mmmm… Thanksgiving…
  • The Holiday Book Read! I haven’t been able to get back to Abandon yet, but it’ll be this holiday’s book for me. Mini-review on Pretties still forthcoming. As usual, probably with spoilers, since I like to analyze the story and where I thought it wasn’t as strong as it could be.

Okay, there you have it. I’m still waiting for Daphne to decide what trio she, Brian, and I would be. I picked The Three Amigos. Brian picked Lord of the Rings. And you Daphne?

How about you fellow Row80ers and friends? I know some of you are doing contest, and some of you are NaNoing. Have any of your goals had to change suddenly? Are you going in a different direction than you thought? Let me know in the comments below.

Row 80 Check-In Nov. 14th

Fall Leaves

Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find many good pictures of leaves. This is an older one from a hike I went on a month or so ago. I would post winter wonderland pics, but currently we’re in this crusty snow and ugly brown trees stage. I’m not sure what Monday’s picture will yield. Maybe I’ll take a picture of the rabbit I molded from Babybel cheese wax. So there it is, you can look forward to a wax rabbit or snow depending on the weather. I know some of you will secretly be hoping for the wax rabbit. I can’t help but fashion those kinds of things into something, it’s just how my brain is wired.

On to the update:

  • Write at least 3 short stories intended for publication.  I’ll probably try my hand at several more than three, but the hope is to find three gemstones among the rocks.
    No progress right now. I’ve been prepping the first 250 words of Shade for a contest. Once I’ve got it ready, I’ll get back to the short stories.
  • Read the helpful books to prepare me for the editing fest that will be late November early December on Shade.
    I’m making pretty good progress with this. It really comes down to getting on the train and getting it done. I’m halfway through Story and then On Writing will be next. Story is still pretty awesome. And as usual, I’m posting little nuggets of Robert McKee wisdom on Twitter. Enjoy!
  • Have read all 201 available Anton Chekhov’s short stories, sprinkled with Hemingway and Bradbury.
    I’ve read 43 of 201 Chekhov short stories.
  • Once December hits, tear Shade apart and polish it to pure awesomeness!  Shade’s first page is out and being polished. You’d be surprised how little and at the same time how much 250 words are. You really have to make them count if it’s all you get. Hopefully I can give myself a fighting chance with this contest.
  • No Treat November. Still about 50/50 successful, but I’m glad to be making any kind of progress, even if it ends up only being maintain until Thanksgiving. Maintaining through the holidays is a special feat of its own.
  • The Holiday Book Read! Started Abandon. I’m intrigued, but a little annoyed with how long it’s taking the story to just get to the point. She keeps talking about how this amazing thing happened to her and death, but doesn’t tell me what the amazing thing is. I’m not that far in though, so I’m still intrigued enough to keep going. I’m just proud I got one book in already! Woot!

For those of you not participating in Row80, all good. You can post your progress here. How are you coming on your Fall goals? Progress since last we chatted? What books are you currently reading or have recently finished? Are you losing motivation for your goals or are you on goal fire?