Writing Workshop: “The Help” Lights, Camera, Action!

You can read about the basis for this series here. I am so pleased to report that the movie lived up to my expectations. The theater was full but everyone was quiet and respectful; at the end, everyone clapped. Usually that makes me roll my eyes (you know the actors can’t hear you, right?) but I was so gratified by the film that I just smiled. Even though I had heard many good things going into the movie, a part of me was still apprehensive. I’ve been burned by books-turned-movies before. What is it exactly that makes or breaks this kind of film? Here are some fears I’ve identified, and how “The Help” overcame them. Fears about seeing movies based on books Key information will be left out Take for example the Harry Potter films. I made the mistake once of re-reading a book right before going to the movie, and I couldn’t enjoy the movie because I was too busy being indignant at how different it was from the book. I knew that there was no way to include everything from a book that is so rich and detailed, but I still missed seeing some scenes brought to life in the movie. Characters will be altered beyond recognition A book can have as many characters as it wants, as long as the author can keep track of them. A film has a budget to consider, and often that means cutting actors. Characters are left out or blended, which may work for the movie but can be disconcerting for the reader. It doesn’t translate from page to screen Keeping...

Writing Workshop: “The Help” Part Four

Check out this post to see what this is all about. This covers chapters 27-34. The Storyfix Take The Purpose of Part Four The End. That’s what this whole section is about. Larry says the “only real ‘rule’ for our endings is this: it must remain true to the story just told, and reward the reader with something that resonates.” It must do this while still providing a sense of story, not just a wrap-up. “Kathryn Stockett begins setting up the ending of ‘The Help‘ at the Second Plot Point, which occurs on page 452 (of the trade paperback edition) when Miss Skeeter tells her co-authors that Harper and Row has accepted their book for publication.” Larry Brooks It’s a subtle ending, but it follows the rules and does its job. Lady Myers’ Take The End. Are there any worse phrases in a reader’s life? Sometimes it physically hurts me to come to the end of a book. I’ve been so drawn into a world that I don’t want to leave it, yet I know that an ending is necessary for a complete experience. Even the best book would be ruined by refusing to end when it should. The only time the pain is somewhat mitigated is if a good book is followed by a sequel, or several. That’s why I like the fantasy genre so much; there aren’t many stand alone books and sagas can continue for decades. Not so with “The Help.” Things are wrapped up. We find out about what happened with Constantine, what the “Terrible Awful” was, the destiny of the book, Skeeter’s relationship with...

Writing Workshop: “The Help” Part Three

Check out this post to see what this is all about. This covers chapters 17-26 which are comprised of 51 scenes. The Storyfix Take The Purpose of Part Three   This where the hero actively works to surmount whatever obstacles are in the way of succeeding in the quest. The characters have decided what to do and are now committed to do whatever it takes. At the same time, the tension keeps building and the story’s sub-plots get richer. The need to finish the book and have it published is at least as great as the need for safety and security for the “good guys.” For the villain, Miss Hilly, the need to maintain and display her power over the black community (especially the maids), is just as important. Lady Myers’ Take Heat This section of the book boils on every level. I can relate to the hot weather, although thankfully mine is a dry heat. I know the way it makes everything harder to deal with, how people have much shorter tempers. That’s how it is in “The Help” too. Miss Hilly fires her maid and gets her sent to prison, which just makes me sick. The response from the black community is heart-warming and -breaking at the same time. Not only do they pool their resources to send that maid’s sons to school and pay for an attorney, a good number of maids step forward to help with the book. The danger is even more prominent, but nothing is more important than the cause of equality. Skeeter is forced to add the Sanitation Initiative to the League newsletter...

Writing Workshop: “The Help” Part Two

Check out this post to see what this is all about. This covers chapters 7-16, which comprise 51 scenes. The Storyfix Take The Purpose of Part Two Part Two is a response to Part One, building on the stakes that became so important at the First Plot Point. Larry admits that the architecture of this book is very subtle, so I don’t feel so bad about not quite getting the FPP. Part Two also deepens our connections to the characters, with growing empathy for the maids and Skeeter and revulsion for Miss Hilly and those in her camp. There are also a lot of sub-plots going on, including Minny’s home life and Skeeter’s dating life. What at first appears unconnected to the FPP eventually ties in to the overall theme of the book, about the change needed in society and the characters’ relationship to that change. The First Pinch Point  “The optimal target placement is at the 36/37th percent mark,” and it shows us the threat to the hero’s quest. In “The Help,” this is Miss Hilly’s Sanitation Initiative. It sets up a conflict between Miss Hilly and Skeeter that can’t help but come to a head eventually. The thing about finding the First Pinch Point is that there are really many pinch points, with varying levels of significance. It’s about finding the pinch point that represents the biggest threat, the darkest obstacles, to the hero’s journey. It seems obvious when Larry points it out but I doubt I could find it on my own. The Mid-Point  The Mid-Point happens at the end of chapter 16, when the stakes...

Writing Workshop: “The Help” Part One

Check out this post to see what this is all about. This covers chapters one through six which comprise 43 scenes. The Storyfix Take In case you needed more motivation to follow along as I read and learn how to deconstruct The Help, Larry Brooks says this method “is the quickest route up the learning curve that I know” and that “it’s a duplicable, transferrable skill set.” He also says that The Help is an example of story structure so good the reader–even a writing reader–doesn’t notice it. It’s that good even though the author chose the difficult concept  of having three narrators. The Purpose of Part One It sets up the story so that the First Plot Point (FFP) is supported and effective. The FPP in The Help occurs at the 20 percent mark, in chapter six (Larry says this is page 104 of the paperback). By this time the reader is connected to the characters and aware of the context of the book. According to Larry, the FFP “is when Miss Skeeter realizes that she will write the book that will change the lives of all the players in this story.” Mastering the FPP is absolutely essential for successful writing. Thematic Questions “What is worth risking your job, your safety, even your life, to expose, champion and speak for?  And does your answer to that question define you?” Lady Myers’ Take Can you believe the manuscript for The Help was rejected 45 times?! That is a lot of disappointment and even more perseverance. I’m not sure I could deal with it. Knowing this fact adds even more...

Writing Workshop: “The Help”

Okay, I know it’s corny but I can’t help hearing the Beatles’ “Help, I need somebody. . .” lyrics right now. Sing along if you know it! About a month ago I had an idea for a blog series that combined two of my great loves: reading and writing. One of my favorite bloggers, Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com, was posting a series on deconstructing “The Help.” Perfect! I thought. I can commit to reading this title that I’ve been ogling and learn about novel writing at the same time! I’ve mentioned my novel-writing dream before. Maybe some of you have a similar dream. If so, join me as I read and reflect on “The Help,” guided by Larry’s expert break-down and analysis. Here’s how it will work: Start with these posts for some general background: Getting Ready For “The Help” The Flip Side of “Concept” Deconstructing “The Help” Part One This covers chapters one through six, so if you’re playing along read (or re-read) those chapters. Then read these posts by Larry: Ripping Into The Opening Act “The Help”–A Closer Look at the First Plot Point As I read each part, I will post about it both in general and as it pertains to my understanding of story structure. I will be doing this on an accelerated schedule, so look for at least two posts a week in this series. The next post discussing Part One will appear on Thursday. Whether you’ve read it or not, join the fun at any time! Leave a comment, blog about your own experience, email me with your thoughts/questions. . .or just silently...