Tag Archives: plot

Tedious Tasks

Hello everyone!

What is that one thing that your protagonist dreads doing because it is mind-numbingly boring or gag-inducingly disgusting?  This task can reveal a lot about your character and/or your world.  It is also a good way to make your protagonist relatable, because, let’s face it, we all have something we dread doing for one of those reasons.Man Looking at Pile of Dirty LaundryYour writing prompt for the next two weeks is to write two scenes in which your protagonist is required to do a distasteful task.

  • The first scene is where your protagonist is faced with this task for the first time in the book. This is your base line.  Establish the character’s feelings about the task (through showing, not telling) and/or dialogue.  Remember, your character does not have to succeed at the task.  Low baselines leave more room for growth.
  • The second scene is when your protagonist is faced with the task again after something big has happened. The character’s view of or appreciation for the task might have changed.  Or maybe this time there are consequences if the character fails to do the task (quickly, correctly, calmly, etc.).

*Remember to have some sort of believable tension in at least one of the scenes.  If the second scene is a wrap-up for the book or character arc, nostalgia or growth are acceptable emotions to aim for in place of tension; however, wrap-up scenes needs to be short.

Happy writing!

Katie

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Finding the Beats

Hello everyone!

Last year, I decided that I wanted to write a chapter book mystery series.  The problem was I didn’t know how chapter book mysteries were structured.

Magnifying GlassBefore I started writing, I read over 20 books from different mystery series.  Every time I read another book, I paid special attention to how it was similar to other books within the same series, and I also compared it to trends I had found in other mystery chapter book series.  It was a time-consuming process, but it paid off when it came to outlining the first book in my mystery series and editing the rough draft into a polished version.

Below is an exercise I did that I recommend to anyone who wants to get a better grasp on the established beats for books in a specific genre.

  1. Read a book in the genre you want to write.  (I think this exercise works best when done with a book that you have not read before.)
  2. Read chapter one.
    • Write down what you know about the protagonist.
    • Write down what you know about the antagonist.  (The antagonist might not be a person.  It could be an organization, a weather phenomenon, etc.)
    • Write down the information which you think will be important in the rest of the book.
    • Write down the names of characters who were introduced in this chapter and their relationship to the protagonist.
    • Write down what you think the main conflict will be for the book.
    • Write down any major events that occurred in this chapter.
  3. Read chapter two.
    • Write down the same information that you did for chapter one.
    • Write down any additional plot information.
    • Be sure to note if the protagonist attempted something in this chapter along with whether he/she succeeded or failed.
  4. Six Pages of NotesContinue doing this for each chapter. (If you hand write your notes, I recommend having a separate piece of paper for each chapter.)
  5. Once you’ve finished the book, go back and find the beats.
    • In which chapter was the conflict introduced?
    • In which chapter did the climax take place?
    • At what point(s) in the book did the protagonist fail or hit a setback?
  6. Now, read a second book in your writing genre and repeat the exercise you did with the first book.  (Subsequent books can be ones you have read before or books that are new to you.)
  7. Compare the two book outlines.  Which beats were the same and which ones were different?  (If you repeat this process with a third book, you will start to see the pattern for the genre emerge.)
  8. Use this pattern to guide your outline for your own book in this genre.  (I recommend reading no less than five books, 10-20 is better, in the genre you want to write before you start writing your own book.)

Happy writing!

Katie

The Wonder of “Why?”: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Hello everyone!

In my last post, I talked about how to ask your way though plot and character development.  In this post, I want to talk about my favorite question of all: Why?

Why 7The reason I like why so much is because the answer to that question provides the motivation or foundation for all of a character’s actions.  For example, think about your story’s antagonist.  It’s easy for the protagonist to observe or hear about the antagonist’s actions (what he/she does).  A smaller group of characters, which may or may not include the protagonist, knows the process or methods the antagonist uses to execute those actions (how the antagonist does it).  But why the antagonist does something can only be speculated about unless the antagonist himself/herself reveals the reason to another character.  The reader might never find out the antagonist’s motivation.  In some cases, even the antagonist might not even be able to explain why he/she does something, but you as the author should know.

In other words, Why? gets to the heart of an issue and reveals the true motivation of a character.  Check out the sample questions and answers below to see what I mean.

Why don’t two characters get along?

  • Prejudice
  • Bad or inaccurate first impression
  • Personality clash
  • Opposing ideologies
  • Past history

The answer to this question determines how hard or easy it will be for those two characters to reconcile their differences or if reconciliation is even possible.

Why does a supporting character steal?

  • He/She doesn’t have money for food or other necessities
  • Revenge
  • In his/her (country, family, or friend) culture, stealing is socially acceptable
  • Attention seeking
  • Boredom
  • Sabotage – He/She deliberately steals what someone else needs for a plan to succeed

The answer to this question makes the supporting character likeable, pitiable, reprehensible, or daring.  The reason he/she steals is far more interesting than the fact that he/she steals.

Why 9Why is the protagonist having recurring nightmares?

  • Past trauma
  • He/She has been poisoned and hallucinations are a side effect
  • Fear or anxiety about an upcoming event
  • He/She watches scary movies before bed
  • The dreams are divine warnings

Each potential answer gets to the root of the problem, revealing to you as the writer what the protagonist must change or overcome to resolve the conflict.

I hope you have a better idea of why Why? is so important and that the examples help you to apply this essential question to your own writing process.

Happy writing!

Katie

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

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