Tag Archives: novels

Subplots: Natural Complicators

Hello everyone!

The Lost KingdomAs I’ve begun querying the first book in my chapter book mystery series, my mind has wandered back to the novel that I put on hold. While thinking through the plot, I realized I was too nice to my characters. They’re an intelligent lot, and I allowed many of their well-thought-out plans to succeed. But then, while reading The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby, I realized that all the characters, despite being geniuses, had the worst luck in the world. If it could go wrong, it did. ScoutsI then read Scouts by Shannon Greenland. The story was another fine example of Murphy’s law.

I decided to outline my novel so I could see where I needed to throw in some unfortunate events, misunderstandings, and disasters. That led to my thinking about the characters themselves and questioning whether or not their motivation was strong enough. And that made me wonder if the stakes were high enough. (This was a real-life example of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.) It all culminated in my pondering the purpose of subplots within a novel.

My dear friend Olivia Berrier, who is a fantastic storyteller, recently talked to me about how she edits through each subplot to make her story stronger. I decided that the issues with my novel might be due to an insufficient amount of subplots. So, I began researching what they are and how to create good ones. Here are some articles that I found very interesting and helpful. If you think your novel could use a little extra spice or more tension, maybe what you need is to add one or more subplots.

“Writing Subplots in a Novel and Other Subplot Ideas” by Mary Kole

“How to Skillfully Use Subplots in Your Novel” by Jane Friedman

“Subplot ideas: 5 tips for writing better subplots” by Now Novel

Happy writing!

Katie

Disclosure

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How to Grow from Past Mistakes

Hello everyone!

So, I have been reviewing my writing goals for 2018.  At the beginning of the year, my plan was to take my novel The Four Crystals from a rough draft to a polished draft by the end of the year.  I had a plan to accomplish the daunting task (breaking the editing process into weekly segments and tracking my progress); however, I made a few mistakes.

The first one was thinking I could take a rough draft to a polished draft in one edit.  It took longer to edit the first fourth of the novel than I had been anticipating.  Then, I realized that due to all the changes I had made to the first fourth of the book and all of the plot changes I was planning on making to the remaining three-fourths, it would be quicker to re-write the remainder of the book than it would be to edit it.

Fairy Tales 3My second mistake, which I technically made years ago when I started writing The Four Crystals, was not reading a variety of fantasy books before I started writing one.  Up until this year, I didn’t understand that there is a difference between fantasy and fairy tales.  After all, they both have magic, fairies, elves, dwarves, and quests.  Some of my writer friends kindly alerted me to the fact that The Four Crystals, which I wrote to be a fantasy novel, read more like a fairy tale – probably because I have read so many fairy tales and fairy tale spinoffs.  Once I learned that there was a difference, I started reading fantasy novels to get a feel for what beats I would need in my novel.  I also needed to figure out which fantasy clichés I had accidentally put in my novel.  (The wise old mage working with the know-nothing teenage boy might have been one of them.)

Mistake 11.jpgThings I have learned from this year’s mistakes:

  1. Read a minimum of five books in the genre you want to write before you start writing (ten is more advisable).
  2. Do multiple edits and focus on one thing per edit (e.g. characters, plot, dialogue, etc.).
  3. Set a goal, but if everything falls apart, DON’T GIVE UP! Learn from your mistakes, regroup, and try again.  (The failure rate for people who give up is 100%.  I will not be one of them.)

My goals for 2019 are to complete a new draft of The Four Crystals and to write at least the first book in the mystery chapter book series I started brainstorming and researching during the second half of 2018.  (Don’t worry, I already read over 20 mystery chapter books to make sure I understood the genre.)

Happy writing and happy New Year!

Katie

P.S.

I would like to shout out a special thank you to the two people who most supported and encouraged me after I discovered that I needed to do a major re-write to The Four Crystals: my brother and creative consultant, Gregory, and my friend and author, Olivia Berrier.  I don’t know what I’d do without the two of you!

What Does It Add to the Story?

Hello everyone!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “kill your darlings”?  I have, and I used to resent it with every fiber of my creative being.  Why would I eliminate a favorite character, scene, or line?  That question is one I’ve recently had to answer.

My project for 2018 has been editing my novel, “The Four Crystals.”  After making some changes to the main characters’ personalities and motivations, which strengthened the plot and intensified the conflict, I arrived at one of my favorite conversations between two characters.  It no longer worked.

I tried valiantly to save the conversation, but eventually, I had to re-write it.  Cutting the original version of that conversation hurt.  But I was super proud of myself for putting my story’s needs before my own desires.  Then I kept going.

short cutIn a travel sequence, I had an issue fester between two characters over the course of 48 hours and finally culminate in a confrontation.  I had so much fun writing the sequence.  When I looked over it, I realized that those scenes and even the confrontation didn’t move the plot along.  I could tell my reader how long it took my party to go from point A to point B and summarize the main difficulties they faced in one paragraph.  I tried to justify keeping the sequence on the grounds that it contributed to my characters’ development, but the reader already knew there was hostility between those two characters from earlier scenes.  And the mini-confrontation didn’t grow the tension between them enough to justify keeping the sequence.  I had to cut it, and yes, cutting it was painful.

When it comes to editing, I’ve concluded that anything that does not advance the story and/or the characters’ development should be cut.  It makes the story more interesting to read.

My challenge to all of you is when you look at your own work, don’t ask yourself, “How do I feel about this character, scene, or line?”  Instead, ask yourself, “What does it add to the story?”  If the answer is nothing, cut it.

Happy writing, and be bold in your editing!

Katie

Tension is Good for the Reader

Hello everyone!

Ever have a scene that just didn’t hold your readers’ attention?  How about an info dump you couldn’t eliminate because it contained vital information?

Janice Hardy offers some good tips for correcting both of these issues in her articles “Ready, Set…Where’s the Action? Keeping Informative Scenes Tense” and “Is a Lack of Action Really the Problem?”

When it comes to adding tension to a story, I personally am a fan of:

  • Argument 9two characters with conflicting opinions going head-to-head
  • no-win situations
  • point of no return decisions (especially when the protagonist has to choose whether or not to rely on someone who may or may not be trustworthy)

I hope Janice Hardy’s articles give you some good ideas for how to raise the tension in your scenes and keep your readers hooked.

Happy writing!

Katie

Is It Worth the Cost?

Hello everyone!

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.  […]  Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.”
― Veronica Roth, Allegiant

thM7R5DEQIThink about your favorite book.  What does the protagonist want?  In the end, does he/she get it?  That question and answer give you the basic plot.

Now, here’s a deeper question: What does trying to achieve his/her goal cost the protagonist?  The answer to that question is what makes the story and/or character interesting.  In my opinion, the cost is essential to the protagonist’s growth.

untitledConsider The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Edmond wants to be a king, but by siding with the White Witch, he sacrifices his freedom, his family’s trust, and – without Aslan’s intervention – his life.

Now let’s think about The Hunger Games.  Katniss is willing to do anything to protect her sister.  When Katniss takes Prim’s place in the games, she sacrifices her own safety to achieve her goal.  Once Katniss is in the games, her goal becomes to survive.  Surviving the games costs her what little childhood innocence she has left, friendships, and her peace of mind.

By the end of the books, both Edmond and Katniss are changed.  Regardless of whether or not they succeeded, they have to live with the consequences of what they did.

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to:

  1. Choose a protagonist you have already created.
  2. Ask yourself what your character wants.
  3. Decide what he/she loses or willingly sacrifices while attempting to achieve his/her goal.
  4. Write the scene where your protagonist either chooses to pay the price or realizes what he/she will lose even if he/she is not willing to lose it.
  5. Does he/she feel like the cost was worth it?  (I do not think this necessarily needs to be included in a book, but I as the author like to know.)

In “The Four Crystals,” the novel I’m currently editing, having each character risk, lose, or willingly sacrifice something of value has raised the stakes and made the characters’ motivation stronger.  It’s also required a lot more editing than I ever imagined having to put into the novel.  (In-depth editing is the cost of writing a novel worthy of publication.)

Happy writing!

Katie

Optimal Editing

Hello everyone!

When you set out to be a writer, the thing they don’t tell you is that you will spend most of your time editing.  And, whether you like it or not, editing is a time-consuming process.

This year, I have been focusing on editing my novel, “The Four Crystals,” but I began the editing process two or three years ago.  The biggest mistake I’ve made during those years was trying to take my novel from a rough draft to a final draft in one edit.

untitled

It didn’t end well.

What I have learned from reading other writers’ advice is to focus on one thing per edit.

I really liked the way Allison K. Williams broke down the writing and editing process in her article “Seven Drafts.”

The names of Allison K. Williams’ seven drafts are:

  1. The Vomit Draft
  2. The Story Draft
  3. The Character Draft
  4. The Technical Draft
  5. The Personal Copy Edit
  6. The Friend/Beta Read
  7. The Editor Read

I hope you find “Seven Drafts” by Allison K. Williams as helpful as I did.

Happy writing!

Katie

Word of the Day

Hello everyone!

I love words!  Word choice is crucial to my enjoyment of a song, movie, or book.  The perfect words and references make the experience rapturous while poorly chosen ones make it painful.

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to build a story using one or more words as your foundation.

  1. Go to merriamwebster.com and write a story using the word of the day.  The word of the day can be used in your story or be the theme of your story.
  2. For something even more challenging, go to merriamwebster.com 5-7 days in a row and use all 5-7 words in your story.  Make sure there’s a plot!

revising 1*Remember, this is a writing exercise.  If you like the story and the words don’t work, cut them during the revision phase.  (Considering I’ve never edited something just once, I should probably say “phases.”)

Happy writing!

Katie

Daily Disasters Make Fantastic Fiction

Hello everyone!

What is comedy besides a light-hearted portrayal of errors, deception, and miscommunications?

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to take something bad that happened to you and use it as the basis for your comedic story.

Mess 4Remember, a story needs a plot.  What was your protagonist trying to accomplish when this misfortune befell him/her?  How did your protagonist adapt his/her plans?  Feel free to add on multiple mishaps and disasters.

Also, remember that comedies usually end well, or at least ironically; otherwise, it’s just tragic to have someone be that unlucky.

Happy writing!

Katie

Supporting Characters

Hello everyone!

When writing a book, it is easy to focus on the protagonist.  After all, he/she is the person the audience should know, and hopefully relate to, the best.  But what about the other characters?  How prevalent, knowable, and relatable should they be?

For my novel “The Four Crystals,” I divided my book’s cast into four groups: protagonist, antagonist, supporting character, and minor character.

My Group Definitions:

  • protagonist: main character or the character whose viewpoint I am using to tell the story
  • antagonist: villain
  • supporting character: a character whose removal from the book would alter the storyline and/or the plot’s outcome
  • minor character: a character whose removal from the book would not alter the storyline and/or the plot’s outcome because another character could fulfill that function in the story

Since my background is in theater, I subdivided my minor characters into two groups:

  • extras: human background/scenery
  • featured extras: they stand out from the  rest of the extras by having one or more lines, being named, and/or appearing more than once

crowd 4I believe it is important to develop a supporting character as much as I do my protagonist.  My featured extras (messenger, loudmouth in a crowd, etc.) should be recognizable, but if they do not need a backstory to complete their task, they don’t get one.  My extras (villagers, soldiers, etc.) are scenery; they’re lucky if they get noticed by the protagonist.

The following articles offer advice on how to create memorable supporting characters.  I hope they help you to create a memorable supporting cast!

“How to Write Effective Supporting Characters” by Hallie Ephron – She uses the mystery genre to explain how each supporting character needs to have a defined role or purpose in the protagonist’s life as well as a distinct personality.  The article also touches on the difference between supporting and minor characters.

“10 Secrets to Creating Unforgettable Supporting Characters” by Charlie Jane Anders – He gives some tips that apply to developing supporting characters, some that are geared towards designing minor characters, and some that work for creating both supporting and minor characters.

Happy writing!

Katie

 

Have a Holly, Jolly St. Patrick’s Day!

Santa 3Hello everyone and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to create a comedic or tragic holiday mix-up.

St. Patrick's Day 6What would happen if Santa Claus slept through Christmas and tried to deliver the gifts on New Year’s Eve instead?  Do the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns have it in for one another?  Your imagination is your only limitation.Tooth Fairy 2

Whatever you do, you must include at least two holidays and/or holiday characters in your story.

Happy writing!

Katie