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.


Dynamic Character Development in 2023

The new year starts with grueling self-inflicted changes, but why do so very few of those changes last? Fiction has the answer, or at least the structure of fiction suggests one… 

Most people are familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. He articulated this story structure in 1949 and it still holds up as a blueprint for a main character’s dynamic change. These short sentences should sound familiar because they are the plot of most of the stories you have read or watched in your lifetime:

A hero leaves the status quo to address an issue. They develop new approaches and attitudes to better deal with this problem because their old ways don’t work. Finally, the hero returns home different than they were before. The end.

Joseph Campbell wrote down seventeen (17) steps, but I am not going through each of them for you right now because each step isn’t exactly relevant to this conversation. 

The part that I want to discuss is the necessary change that the hero goes through to be successful. I used the word dynamic earlier on purpose because dynamic characters change. Characters who don’t change are called static

Real change happens when we are forced to adapt to challenges that will not be resolved by doing things the old way. It doesn’t matter whether the new habit is about trusting others, working with a team, learning to work on your own, accepting responsibility, or learning how to let things go, the hero needs to be torn from their comfort and forced to act in a way that is going to help them succeed.

The cold reality is that most of us aren’t willing to go through that in our daily lives and I don’t blame you. Comfort is comfortable. This is often why we see the most growth and change in ourselves after a traumatic loss or an unexpected setback. And that makes it harder, because who wants to change when everything seems okay? Yeah, we know it could be better, but that requires work, and sometimes work is hard to justify when things are just fine.

My suggestion? Put yourself through the Hero’s Journey. What is your antagonist right now? Relationships? Setting time aside to write? Starting a new career? Write down what you have been doing to address it (or avoid it). Are you solving the problem or are you managing your discomfort? 

Once you figure out what you need to get done, you can start figuring out how to do it. Joseph Campbell suggests a mentor. There are professionals who do this, but friends and family members work fine as long as you can trust them. 

Don’t worry about stiff and declarative resolutions. Intentions are more of a direction than a destination, which reduces some of the pressure. 

Did you want to read more books? Get a library card, download the Libby app, and download e-books and audiobooks from your public library for free. Listen during your commute to work or read on your phone while waiting at the dentist’s office.

Did you want to start writing? Find one hour a day in which you are left alone and get typing. It doesn’t have to be a lot of words at first. Just enough to build the habit. Once you develop that inertia, things will be a lot easier.

Achieve your own dynamic character development in 2023.

My intention for 2023 is to talk with people who share my passion for story structure, character development, and all of that nerdy trash because it makes me smile and gives me an opportunity to review how I can get better at what I enjoy doing. 

So why not help me get off to a good start by subscribing and commenting? 

I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve got planned for 2023. 

Talk soon.


Learn more about the Hero’s Journey:


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?


Let’s Restore Superman’s Image #MyPalSuperman

DC has allowed Superman to grow stale and #MyPalSuperman can fix that. Hear me out…

A major bucket-list item got checked off when I thanked Dan Jurgens at the 2022 NYC Comic Con for helping me become a reader. For those of you who don’t know, Dan Jurgens is the man who wrote The Death of Superman comic book ark in the early 90s. And as we come up on the 30th anniversary, I’m reminded that the whole event not only had a major impact on the comic book world but on my life as well. 

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader until well into high school. The first full book I ever willingly read cover-to-cover was the Rodger Stern’s novelization of Superman’s death and return. 

And then I just kept reading. You may have noticed. 

I’m now an AP English Language teacher who has written a dozen books and a dozen more short stories. I have a good career and a happy life and I feel that I owe a lot of that to the Strange Visitor from another planet that got me reading in the first place.

So now it’s my turn to do some good for #MyPalSuperman.

While I was talking to Dan Jurgens, I asked him if the panel had any plans on restoring Superman’s image. Over the last decade, people have been more interested in twisted versions like Homelander, Omni-man, and Brightburn. DC capitalized on this fad in the short term with the Injustice storyline, but that doesn’t fix the problem I recognized in my teens during the 90s. Superman had been allowed to become corny in a way that made him unwelcome. Edgier heroes like Wolverine and Spawn started gripping readers. Antiheroes became cool and true heroes became silly. Now, even the people who Superman rescues roll their eyes at him on the Harley Quinn show. 

So Dan Jurgens, the man to whom I owe much of my voluntary literacy, stood there nodding as I rambled this at him and, to my surprise, this famous author shook his head and agreed with me, saying, “I don’t know why DC would degenerate their own IP.” 

That got me thinking. About a week later, I figured out how to rehabilitate Superman to a modern audience. 

The best part is that #MyPalSuperman is not a new haircut or an updated suit or grumpier personality. It’s not a recast or a cheap gimmick or fad that will be cringy in ten years. The work I’m doing is a shift in how Superman is SEEN by the people who owe him their lives. 

As of right now, the #MyPalSuperman folder has a half-dozen ideas for scenes that show an ESTABLISHED Superman that can be added to the upcoming Man of Steel 2 or Black Adam vs Superman movies without interfering with the long-term plans that are being worked out as you read this. 

Dwayne Johnson already said that Black Adam should be the one who throws the first punch against Superman. Don’t you want that moment to matter? #MyPalSuperman has that moment mastered along with a finish to this matchup that develops both characters further without either one losing face.

And I’m willing to tell James Gunn and Dwayne Johnson these ideas for nothing. Nothing. If they’re not interested, then I’ll happily thank them for their work and genuinely wish them well. If they like what I have to say, then we can keep talking because my ideas don’t stop here. That’s all I really want. For real, I have a great teaching job in Perth Amboy with top-tier students and a pension and health benefits. Yeah, I have a mortgage and car payments because I’m a regular guy, but I’m not struggling or looking for a change in my lifestyle at all. 

I just want to do right by Superman. 

So what’s it going to be? Three minutes on a video call with me will change how this world sees Superman for a generation. 

I’m asking all of you, everyone reading this, to please share this post or video below until I get three minutes to pitch #MyPalSuperman to Dwayne Johnson and James Gunn. You won’t regret it. They won’t regret it. Promise. 

Please share this video: 

Let’s restore superman’s image!

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