The Danny Ocean Moment — Alethea Kontis


Alethea Kontis pic 11-13 Small

Happy New Year Everyone! I’m here every Monday this month, and I wanted to start with the very beginning. Plotting/Craft. I’ts been done, right? We all have our personal twists, and our personal demons. I call mine The Danny Ocean Moment. 

“Where do you get your ideas?” used to be the question everyone asked authors. Nowadays, it seems like the question du jour is now “Are you a plotter or a pantser?”

In a way, it’s just as hard a question as the previous. The answers will vary from author to author, even project to project. None of them is the magic bullet that panel audiences are hoping for. And most start with, “Well, I’m a little of both…”

Me? I’m a little of both. I start out with a general road map and bullet points: events that need to happen, who the bad guy is, who ends up together, and who dies. With my fairy tale novel series in particular, certain details need to occur in certain chapters because they alternate between the male and female protagonist’s point of view. I have to stay chronological, informative, and exciting all at the same time…and that does require some small bit of planning.

What’s the most interesting to me now that I’ve finished my third manuscript for the Woodcutter Sisters Series (out Fall 2014) are the things I find myself consistently doing that I didn’t realize. First time’s a fluke, second time’s coincidence, third time’s tradition, right?  

Well, now it’s the third time. And for the third time in a row, I’ve gotten to the climactic chapter whose outline includes the bullet point of “Kill the Bad Guy,” and I’ve never actually made any notes on HOW said bad guy is supposed to be extinguished.

 So there I am, stuck on this Considerably Important Chapter, and suddenly I’m forced into what I now refer to as “The Danny Ocean Moment.”

If you’re a film buff, you know that Danny Ocean is the main character in the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” (and its sequels), played by George Clooney. Danny is the brains of the operation. He gathers this elaborate crew for an elaborate heist, and when things (inevitably) go wrong, he is forced to improvise.

So when I’m stuck on that Considerably Important Chapter, I put on my Master Thief hat and have a Danny Ocean Moment. I ask myself, “Okay, self, what have you got?” I have a guy with wings. Or a magic sword. Or a girl turned into a goose. I know who has to die and why that needs to happen…and suddenly, everything falls into place. Then I have to stage the scene so that everyone is positioned exactly where they need to be–and with good reason–before the action goes down. Then it all plays out, and the crew goes home with the vault of not just one casino, but three.

Next time you’re stuck in a situation you can’t get out of, put on your Danny Ocean Hat. What do you have? Make a list of your characters that can be available at the time. What special powers/talents do they have? Check the scene: are there any items (like a gun on the mantelpiece) that could be of assistance? What is your enemy’s weakness? Even better: What is your hero’s weakness? And how can he or she overcome that to defeat the enemy?

With any luck (the good kind), you’ll see that the answer to your dilemma was staring you in the face the whole time. 

HERO last cover

Bio: New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a goddess, a force of nature, and a mess. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, turning garden gnomes into mad scientists, and making sense out of fairy tales.Alethea is the co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter Companion, and penned the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines. She has done multiple collaborations with Eisner winning artist J.K. Lee, including The Wonderland Alphabet and Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome. Her YA fairy tale novel,Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012, was nominated for both the Andre Norton Award and the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea now lives in Northern Virginia with her Fairy Godfamily. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.You can find Princess Alethea online at:
YouTube (featuring “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants”) 
YouTube   (Newest rant — featuring “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants”) 

wwdd_full-cover Alethea

Books: Hero (second in the Woodcutter Sisters series) and Wild & Wishful, Dark & Dreaming (short story collection), both released on October 2013. Upcoming: Revised & Extended edition of Beauty & Dynamite (out of print essay collection) in April, and Book Three of Woodcutter Sisters in Fall 2014.  

11 comments to The Danny Ocean Moment — Alethea Kontis

  • TwilightHero

    Welcome back, Alethea!

    I know exactly what you’re talking about – it happened to me too. I’d reached the ‘climactic final battle’ part of the WIP, with only the vaguest idea of what this would entail. I soldiered on anyway, and before I knew it, I had a dramatic death for the main villain, born of an utterly appropriate plot twist that events at the beginning actually foreshadowed. And I didn’t plan any of it. I love it when that happens 🙂

    And it’s happened in other places too, often when dealing with unexpected plot difficulties. I call mine ‘click’ moments – when things just fall into place.

  • Hey Alethea! I love the title — Danny Ocean Moments. I call mine hind-brain moments. This is when my creative brain (frontal cortex?), which I call my hind-brain because it’s acting out of conscious awareness, has been working on something, sometimes several somethings, getting ready to be used when necessary. When it happens, it is one of the greatest joys of writing!

  • peaster

    Great analogy and excellent insight on how to handle those “what now?” moments. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ken

    Welcome back, Althea!

    I totally have those moments, though I didn’t quite have a name for them (Might steal the Danny Ocean name…I think Danny would approve :)). I do something similar in that I take everything I’ve got and let it “Cook” in my head. For me, though, I find it happening with, not the climactic scene itself, but some of the scenes leading up to it. It’s like I’m in such a hurry to get to “THAT” scene, my head is saying, “Yah, yah, yah, and some magic happens and they’re there. Make with the kaboom already.” Thats where I’ve got to go back and fill in those places where I’ve just sort of glossed over because I didn’t really know how I was going to get from A to B. Sometimes those improvisational moments have an effect on the final outcome in unexpected ways.

  • Brilliant, o princess! (Expected nothing less.) I think the key is the questions: “Okay self, what have I got?” Reminds me of that moment in The Princess Bride (how exquisitely appropriate…) when Wesley is planning/improvising the assault on the castle walls right before Humperdink marries the princess. Inigo lists a few assets off and Wesley immediately announces that it can’t be done. Fezig then mentions the wheelbarrow and the holocaust cloak and Wesley somewhat peevishly asks “Why didn’t you list that among our assets?”… and then proceeds to come up with a perfect plan. Know everything you have to work with–EVERYTHING–and you will almost always find that the answer was there all along, just waiting for you to uncover it. 😉

  • Alethea, my love! Wonderful to see you here. Love the post title, love your jacket art. I was actually thinking along similar lines after finishing up the latest Thieftaker book. I knew what had to happen — who had to live, who had to die. But I had no idea how. I just trusted that when I wrote the scene it would all fall into place. And it did. This approach takes confidence and, I believe, some experience — I used to get panicky when confronted with these scenes; I don’t anymore. Once I convinced myself to dive in and trust in my story and myself, it became my preferred approach.

  • Razziecat

    Oooh, I can so use this! I have a story just hanging there, I know what needs to happen, but I’m stuck on HOW. Now I have some idea how to proceed so I can figure this out. Thank you, thank you! *runs off to drag out unfinished story…*

  • inkfire

    @Edmund Schubert: love the analogy and that movie.

    My problem seems not to be solving my characters probs, but solving them too easily. I look at what they have and come up with a solution. Even when the solution isn’t the first to come to mind, after I’ve written it, it seems totally obvious. I don’t know if I feel this way because I am the one who thought up the solution or if it really is a simple answer.

  • Great start to the month! As I work on “The Book that Shall Not Be Written”, I find that I plan it out similar to your way. I’ve heard it called the Steeple Chase Method before. That’s where you race your story from church steeple (major event) to church steeple (next major event), how you get there is your choice.

    Thanks for sharing! I look forward to your posts!

  • Thanks, everyone! *HUGS TO ALL*

    Edmund, you are absolutely correct. My little sister and I watched The Princess Bride on New Year’s Eve in her hospital room…perhaps in some small way I was channeling that Holocaust cloak!

    Steeple Chase event…that’s a cool way to look at it as well. Good one!

    I hope I have sufficiently inspired some of you to unstick those hung-up plotlines…and if not, there are MORE MAGICAL AND INSPIRING BITS OF INSIGHT from me coming to Magical Words very very soon! xox

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