The Plot vs. The Point

Confusing the plot and the point of a story is a common mistake, even for experienced writers.

For example, if someone were to ask about the plot of the first Avengers movie, they may get a shot-by-shot retelling of the events, but that’s not what the story is about. It’s about a group of individuals who are used to working alone, learning to work together to overcome a greater threat. The characters’ struggle to work together as a team is the main theme of the story.

Similarly, Major Decision follows a 7th-grade boy who dives into the world of wrestling to avoid the guilt he feels over his older brother’s injury. While the plot includes rival challenges, and old friends trying to drag the boy back to his old habits, the story is ultimately about taking responsibility for one’s actions and developing agency.

In Captain Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan, the plot may include James’ life being changed forever by Peter Pan, the ship, the pirates, the island, and the croc. But, the story is really about a mortal standing up against a supernatural, dangerous, chaotic, uncaring, and savage being. It’s about resistance and resilience in the face of death.

One of the comments on a recent video asked about the difference between plot and point in a story. The commenter wrote about a character who is the only one who can see the doppelgänger villain, who is trying to force them to do awful things. The story is not about the scenes and events, but rather the fear of losing control over the life the character has built for themselves. A doppelgänger is a reflection of the character, capable of all their actions and choices, and possesses all their memories and attachments. The stakes in the story are the life the character has built for themselves and the fear of losing it to the evil reflection.

Another example of a doppelgänger story is Spider-Man and Venom. When Peter Parker found the Symbiote on Battleworld during Secret Wars, it seemed like a blessing. He was stronger and faster, but he would wake up exhausted because the Symbiote was taking over his body at night. Peter started to question whether he was using enough force to stop people from hurting each other and whether he was tough enough. When Spider-Man and the Symbiote split, Venom became an evil reflection of what Spider-Man could do if he let go of his humanity. The story is about Peter’s fear of losing control and his refusal to use arbitrary punishment as a deterrent. Venom represents freedom from that fear, but Peter recognizes the consequences are not worth the momentary satisfaction.

So, what is your main character afraid of? What is your story about? Let me know in the comments or send me a message. I’d love to hear it.

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Embracing ChatGPT as Educators

Without growth, life would be a never-ending Groundhog Day, with the same mistakes being made over and over again. This can be especially true in the field of education.

It is crucial to stay informed about new technologies that may enhance the learning experience for our students. One such technology that has recently caught national attention is ChatGPT, an AI program that uses advanced algorithms and a large amount of text data to understand and respond to questions and statements in a way that mimics human conversation.

While the thought of using ChatGPT in the classroom may raise questions, it’s important to remember that new technology, including educational technology, has often been met with apprehension and resistance in the past. Concerns about the cost and time required for implementation, fear of change and the unknown, and the potential for technology to replace traditional teaching methods are all valid and reasonable reactions.

That being said…

The Danielson Framework, widely used to assess and improve teaching practices, is divided into four domains: planning and preparation, the classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities.

“Flexibility and responsiveness” is part of the instruction domain. This component evaluates how teachers adjust their instruction to meet the needs of all students in the classroom. It looks at how teachers use various teaching strategies, including differentiated instruction, to respond to the needs of their students.

And just like in the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors breaks out of a cycle of misery by changing his behavior, educators should approach new technologies with the same mindset. By investing energy in learning more about ChatGPT, we can make the most of its potential benefits while being mindful of any potential downsides. Either that or we invest twice as much energy policing the technology we refuse to learn. I hate to evoke an “either/or” fallacy, but I’ve seen it go this way for the last twenty years of my career and I’d like to avoid it this time around.

The OpenAI website and their GitHub page are great resources to learn more about ChatGPT and its capabilities. Additionally, websites such as EdSurge and EdTech Magazine provide tutorials, guides, and resources on how to use ChatGPT in the classroom.

While ChatGPT is still in development and its impact on education is not yet clear, it’s worth exploring how it can be used in a way that enhances the learning experience for our students.


Writing (Young) Characters

Characters are such complicated creations. They are yours to do with as you please, but their words and actions rarely feel right unless they are doing what feels natural to them. So how do you know what’s natural? Keep reading and we’ll sort this out together.

For this first post in a series about writing characters, I decided to handle the type that I find to be the most wild and unpredictable: children. 

To be clear, I define “children” as any legal minor. As a teacher for two decades, my perspective is that as long as I am responsible for you as a mandatory reporter, you are a child. Now I am admittedly not a neuroscientist or a psychologist, but I have the behavioral training that comes with being locked in a room with thousands of young people over the last 18 years, so I might know what I’m talking about.

When trying to write these chaotic creatures, I keep three things in mind:

  • Staying Current
  • Know Their Fear
  • Omit Information

Staying Current

Image is important to young people, so research how they see themselves. If your setting is contemporary, you have a wealth of resources to keep in touch with what young people value. Music videos from different genres are an excellent shorthand for popular slang, clothes, and markers of success like transportation and what counts as wealth. Not only that, but these exaggerated and fictionally inflated markers of success should give you even more insight because they deliberately prey on the exploitation of their obvious insecurities. 

But what if your setting is far in the past or in a completely different world? If that’s the case, then you’ll have to know your setting well enough to answer these questions for yourself. No matter where your story takes place, you’ll want to write young people who question authority, subvert plans, defy roles, and explore their identities. Whether they’re Indonesian, Brazilian, or from Cape May, NJ, young people are looking to explore who they are and what decisions are comfortable for them. Those are core human behaviors. 

A great example of the feeling that is the basis for these behaviors is in the song “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, in which our main character rejects the path set for her in favor of the unknown.

Know Their Fear 

There have always been monsters hunting the smallest and tastiest of us in the dark. Lions, snakes, and wolves had been a problem for millennia and that fear is why we still worry about what is hiding under our beds. It’s normal, but it’s basic. 

So what’s scarier than being eaten? Social failure and existential dread. 

Let’s talk about social failure in terms of winning and losing. I coached wrestling in the middle grades for ten years. And I’m not trying to knock any other sport, but wrestling requires a different level of toughness. I would not be the person I am if not for wrestling having taught me how to accept losses with dignity and learn how to win with some kind of grace. It’s given me a lot of insight as to what gets kids invested in doing the hard work that is going to improve them or going to solve the problems they are currently facing. 

Existential dread has a lot to do with a young person’s fear of not knowing their place in this world. This is why they change hair styles and friends as frequently as they change their clothes. This usually happens in phases…

  • When you are young, you search for your place.
  • When you grow older, you believe you have found your place in this world.
  • When you finally grow up, you realize there is no such thing.

The best example of this is in the song “Surface Pressure” from Encanto, in which one of the sisters sings about how she took on a lot of responsibility because that is who she thought she had to be for her family. And even though it takes the whole movie for her to learn not to put that much pressure on herself, she develops through all three steps.

Omit Information

Children know more than you think they do, but nowhere near as much as they think they do. We underestimate how little these children know about what is happening. They think they understand what’s going on and they feel like they have legitimate and reasonable answers. 

I’m going with The Goonies example for this one because I’m sure most of you have seen the movie. What do these kids actually know about the situation? The bank is bad because they are coming after their homes, so they seek out buried treasure and come away with one bag of gems, which is not going to solve anything. The gems might help them put a down payment on a condo somewhere else, but the check was due many final notices ago. Life doesn’t work the way that the movie ends, but the decisions made by these kids are shortsighted and shamefully realistic.

We should keep in mind that we’re writing fiction and too much information may get in the way. The E.T. example works well here. The young protagonists saw a hurt alien and wanted to help it get to its mommy. Would their decisions have changed after a 20-minute backstory about the guy with the radio or a StarTalk episode about the intergalactic species of hordiculturalists? Absolutely not.  

Another way to use the absence of information was done beautifully in Encanto, starting with the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Children don’t learn family secrets until they get older and the main character uncovers this information through inquiry and defiance.

So after all these examples, I aks you… How would a young hero ACTUALLY handle conflicts in your story world?


Not In The Mood To Write? You’re Not Alone…

A simple truth about teaching is that my whole year starts in September. Once Labor Day comes and goes, EVERYTHING changes. Days get colder, blankets are unpacked, and demands on my time become ridiculous. As a result, many of my writing projects get shelved in the basement alongside those gross window air conditioners. 

But I’m not alone. Even famous and notoriously-prolific authors have admitted how hard it is keeping their productivity up during a semester. Something Stephen King wrote still sticks with me years after I first read it: “Teaching school is like having jumper cables hooked to your brain, draining all the juice out of you.” I’m pretty sure that quote was in his book On Writing, but I’m not 100% on that. Either way, it’s still true.

The trick to staying productive is to figure out what it takes to motivate you to do the little things that make big things happen. That’s really all that productivity is… the little things. Scratch an outline on notebook paper. Read for inspiration. Allow yourself to daydream. Type a couple of words. Repeat. Forever.

What Gets Me Writing 

My favorite motivator is an ambitious submission deadline with a hard end date and no room for forgiveness. The funny thing is that this is the antithesis of how I teach children. But I’m no child and I sometimes need a bit of a stiffer push to get things done.

The current project I’ve been obsessing over is a call for submissions for Horror Novellas that was first published in Interstellar Flight Magazine back in May.

The word count of a novella is under 40k, so it is totally doable compared to the idea of writing a full novel in just a couple of months. In Netflix language, think of a novella as an episode of Black Mirror as opposed to a novel which would be the full season of Midnight Mass. Episodes of Love, Death & Robots are all short stories at heart, but we’ll get into all of that another time.

To get started, I’ve been reading fiction in the horror genre from acclaimed authors like Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (Check out my reviews on TikTok for more details – NBBT and TGB). These books have all been great for helping me develop a feel for the pacing and delivery of horror writing and they give me a chance to think of wild “what ifs” that can be seeds for future stories. 

When considering which story I wanted to dedicate my time and attention to, I had to consider a few things. How complicated is the plot? Novellas can’t be too difficult to follow or have as many people to keep track of as a full-length novel, but they require more depth than short stories.

How I Publish Short Fiction

The website I use to find an audience for my short fiction is Duotrope. It is essentially a submission aggregator that lists agents, publishers, and contests with clear guidelines and focused search filters so you know that you are sending your work to the people who are looking for what you have to offer. 

From Duotrope’s About Page: “Duotrope is a subscription-based service for writers and artists that offers an extensive, searchable database of current fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art publishers and agents, a calendar of upcoming deadlines, a personal submission tracker, and useful statistics compiled from the millions of data points we’ve gathered on the publishers and agents we list.”

An easy way to see what short fiction I have sold through this process is by looking at the Table of Contents for Watching From Behind Glass Eyes. A majority of that anthology is work that was first published through Duotrope submissions.

Put Yourself In Control

The sad fact is that nothing gets done unless you do it yourself. Find your motivator and get working on that draft you’ve been neglecting. Your imaginary friends miss you. 

And while you’re looking for motivation, keep an eye open for my NY Comic Con shenanigans on TikTok and Instagram. It should be a wild time.


“I Don’t Grant Wishes” by Jeremiah Kleckner

“I Don’t Grant Wishes” is my 600-word flash fiction story published by New American Legends on March 31, 2020.

Synopsis – Tommy’s home remodel has been delayed for months. And when a magical creature emerges from within the wall he’s demolishing, Tommy struggles to understand the benefit of what is being offered to him.

Read “I Don’t Grant Wishes” for free here: