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I'm a graduate of How to Think Sideways. Some of Holly's methods didn't resonate with me, but many of them did. . .and still do. I learned how to find great ideas that work for me. I learned how to watch for surprises while writing, and use these gifts to their full advantage. I learned how to create a simple but effective plan for my stories' revisions. In short, I learned to Think Sideways.
To join me in class, or just find out what all the fuss is about, go here:
David Farland is an award-winning, New York Times Bestselling Author with over 50 novels in print. He
has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for "Best Novel in the
English Language" for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for "Best Novel of
the Year" for his historical novel In
the Company of Angels, and the International Book Award for "Best
Young Adult Novel of the Year" for his fantasy thriller Nightingale—among many others.
Recently Dave released a book geared toward writing titled Million Dollar Outlines. In it he
discusses how to write a novel or screenplay that has a wide readership, giving
it the potential to become a bestseller.
Some of his past writing students that have gone on to
success include #1 New York Times Bestsellers such as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).
Along with providing writers with outline and audience
analysis methods, Dave also offers 28 “plotting tools” in Million Dollar Outlines. A plotting tool is basically a technique
that can make your story more exciting, interesting, satisfying, or complete.
Today, Dave is going to share one with us:
When we talk about writing, there are three kinds of
crucibles—crucibles of setting, relationship, or condition. We’ll talk about
those in a moment, but first we need to define, “What is a crucible?”
In metal-smithing, a crucible is a container used to hold
metal or liquid as it boils. For example, to melt gold, one takes a heavy bowl
made from steel and sets it in a fire. The steel, which can withstand higher
temperatures than gold, doesn’t melt. But the small container quickly becomes
super-heated, so that the gold liquefies in moments.
In fiction, a crucible is any setting, condition, or
relationship that keeps characters (such as a protagonist and an antagonist)
from splitting apart.
By forcing these characters to remain together, we may
sometimes create an almost intolerable atmosphere. It allows us to super-charge
the relationships, raise the heat.
For example, imagine that John and Mary have been married for
years, but have grown apart. They decide that they don’t love each other
anymore. The logical thing for them to do would be to divorce and split up,
But there’s no story in that! The characters could easily
resolve the situation by leaving—so as a writer you need them to stay together.
So imagine that John and Mary have grown apart, but both love
their six-month-old daughter. Neither is willing to end the relationship so
long as they risk losing the child. Now you have a crucible, a binding force
that keeps the two together.
But there are different kinds of crucibles. Maybe it is a
child. But maybe you could do the same by putting them both in a car and having
them get stuck in a snowstorm. The car is a different kind of container from
the relationship, but both work to keep the couple together.
So here are the three different types of crucibles.
A setting may act as a crucible. You’ve all seen comedies
where several people are stuck in a cabin in a snowstorm, and each of them is
at the other’s throat. You will also quickly remember the movie “Snakes on a
Plane,” even if you’ve never seen it. A crucible of setting might be a story
set in your characters’ workplace, on a ship, or in a small town. The important
point is to keep the characters together as much as possible, and to let
personalities rub against one another until their tempers boil.
You can never escape your family. You might try, but often
the family relationship is a crucible. A child wanting to leave home is in a
crucible in the same way that a father who must pay child-support is in a
crucible. Any two people who are married are in a crucible, as are any two
people who happen to just be in love.
I recall a fine western when I was young about two heroic
cowboys who are both in love with the same woman. They are forced to band
together to rescue her from a kidnapper. The men hate each other, and as the
audience gets to know each man better, they both come to vie for our
Soldiers in a squadron will find themselves in a crucible. For
example, in The Lord of the Rings,
those who had joined the Fellowship were thrust into a crucible—a small band of
men forced to band together for their own protection. It may be that your character finds himself fighting
beside someone he detests—a murderer or a rapist—and yet he is unable to walk
away from the conflict.
A crucible may also be your conflict with your culture. We’ve
probably all known various folks—Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc., who try to
leave their religion behind but can never stop talking about it. But it doesn’t
have to be your religious culture. My father ran away from the Blue Ridge
Mountains to escape the hillbilly lifestyle. I had a girlfriend who left her
fine home in Southern California because she despised her family’s wealth. In
the movie My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, we have a girl whose main conflict comes
about when she is embarrassed by her ethnic roots.
An intolerable condition may also be a crucible—such as an
illness that two very different characters may join forces to beat. We see this
type of crucible used every week as Doctor House tries to solve the latest
medical mystery. But you can also set your characters up to fight an economic
or political condition—the hunger in India, the tribalism of North Africa.
The condition might be something as mundane as crime in the
streets. Policemen who despise one another are often found joining forces to
fight drug lords, rapists, and other types of crime.
So as you form your story, consider how you might strengthen
your conflicts by developing one or more crucibles.
Here are some of the reviews it’s received so far:
“Mr Farland didn't write a book about outlines; at least not
only outlines. This book shows you how to write a book, story, and screenplay
from blank page to your first million. I can only imagine better instruction
from Mr Farland in person, and plan to take one of his workshops based on the
strength of this work alone.”
—Big Nate, Amazon
“Actually, I have a book on novel outlining which has like 5
stars ratings. It is way boring. I just couldn't get through it. So when I
learned David had written a book on outlining, I knew he could do the topic
justice...and make it interesting. . . . Since David wrote this, I KNEW he had
something UNIQUE to teach, that is, his viewpoint, his experience and his
SYSTEM. Plus, I knew his conversational, no fluff way of writing/teaching would
drive me, compelling me to devour it. And it does.”
Can you think of any more examples of crucibles? Can you see
a way to strengthen your own story by adding a crucible? Leave a comment and
let us know!
Editoral note from Sam: Please check out Mr. Farland's fantastic website as well.