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Plotting Your Novel by Writing from the Middle

As a writer, I am always learning. I think that’s what I love most about writing––the learning never stops. I am either learning something new about myself and writing as I write, or I stumble across new information as I am looking to learn more about writing. This time it was the latter. Recently on Twitter, I ran across a book recommendation for plotting that I loved so much I had to share it here.

Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell is must read for anyone serious about writing. This book goes into detail about why writers should start from the middle of a story instead of the beginning or end (who would of thought!). And how finding a character’s “mirror moment” is essential to true character development.

I definitely believe character development is a key element in a story. The more a reader can relate with a character and feel for a character’s journey, the better the book becomes. And this method certainly will help with that!

This book also helped me realize that I’m a Tweener (I always thought myself a straight up Pantser). I do love writing by the seat of my pants. That’s how I get some of my best ideas, but I also know where I’m writing too as well. I have a loose idea of events I need to reach and about where I need those events to happen. Also, I find already knowing my ending is a necessity to writing, even if I don’t know specifics. Just having a good idea of where I need to stop gives me a clear goal to reach for. But after reading Bell’s book I have an even better way to approach my writing. Start in the middle and Pants my way to the beginning and end. I’ll still have those events and goal posts to reach, but I think it will be far easier to get there knowing exactly what the character’s journey should entail.

And you know this book couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’ve become somewhat stalled on writing the first draft of my second novel. I think this technique will get things churning quite nicely. Thanks Bell. 🙂

 

Posted in basics of plot, free writing, how to write, novel writing, plot, plotting, plotting a novel, plotting a story, scrivener, story structure, strong plot, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

5 Ways to Untangle Plot

This is a subject I haven’t talked about much lately, but it’s certainly been on my mind as I work through the third draft of Blood Feud. The twists and turns my story takes sometimes even baffles me. I then wonder if that’s a good thing. Maybe this story is getting too complicated, or maybe I just haven’t thought things through enough. So then I go back to the drawing board to see how to untangle the twisty plot strings, and hope I don’t make an even bigger mess. Sound familiar?

Or how about a plot that sounded really good at first, but then a little ways into the story realization hits and that neat idea doesn’t work like it was supposed to? Yeah, I’ve had that problem. Or how about that plot that started out in a frenzy, but now doesn’t have any get up and go? Yep, I’ve been there too. Plot seems to have a mind of its own. It works some days and other days it decides to take a vacation. Sometimes it takes an extended vacation like weeks or months. And all I want is to stop using my messed up or missing plot as an excuse to not write, but how can I do that when I keep getting whacked in the face with plot barriers that seem to come from nowhere?

Well, here are 5 things I have discovered (over many years of trial and error) that help with untangling messy plot or to get around those annoying plot barriers…

1. Free write. So much can be discovered or understood just by this one simple tool. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s easily the most powerful (and most ignored) thing a writer can do. Just write. Write for 10, 15, 20 minutes or longer, or however long it takes to break through the ice freezing up the ideas. Sometimes it takes multiple free writing sessions. I once had to do free writing for a week before I figured out a certain plot angle, but I finally did it, and it felt so good to finally get there all on my own.

2. Time. Time is a writer’s best friend, really it is. Time gives the subconscious a chance to work out difficult problems. I can’t tell you how many times I finally gave up on a certain plot point and moved on to either another section of the story or another story all together, and then when I least expected it, the answer came to me like a flash of light. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens, and the excitement of discovery usually throws me into a writing frenzy for the next several weeks, or months.

3. Friends. Another great way to work through plot problems is to talk it out to a friend, preferably a writing friend or a person who is an avid reader. There’s a saying that two heads are better than one. It’s true. What one person can’t see, another picks up on immediately. An impassible dark passage becomes an easy hiking trail when another prospective lights the way.

4. Outline. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting it down on paper to see all of the plot at once. Make a map of the story (two or three sentences of the major plot points will do). Spread it out on multiple sheets of paper if need be. Link the pieces together. See if they fit or don’t fit. The point it to get the basics of the story down to view it as a whole. Then notice where the plot holes are and work to fill them. Some people use index card to do this and others use poster board and post it notes. I’ve done both ways. I happen to like the poster board the best. Also, some really great outlining software comes in handy too. I use Scrivener, but I hear Outliner works well too.

5.  Learn. Plot is something that is learned. Complicated plot (the kind that works and makes senses) takes even longer to learn. Sometimes plot doesn’t work, because the knowledge to make it work doesn’t exist within the person creating the plot. That’s when writing classes, books, and workshops come in handy. I can’t tell you how many books on plot I have purchased and read over the years. I’ve taken just as many classes and workshops on plot too. By far the best help I’ve ever found in plotting are the fiction novels and stories I’ve read in my spare time. By reading what others have done, I too learned. Also the book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (the workbook, not the book) by Donald Mass has become my constant plotting companion.

These tools have all helped me past plotting hurtles at one time or another. Sometimes I use just one and that’s all it takes, sometimes I use a few, and sometimes it takes all five to get past a particularly difficult barrier.

Plot is different for everyone in how a person works through it and manages ideas. The best thing I’ve learned is to never give up. If it gets too much and you can’t seem to move past a certain point no matter what you do, let it be and find something else to work on for a while. If the story is truly meant to be, it will happen. Don’t let one story, one plot problem stall your writing all together. Writing is about the experience, and if the experience isn’t fun anymore it wears down the desire to write. Don’t let your desire to write be crushed under the weight of plot. Life is too short.

Do you have a different way to break through plot barriers? Please feel free to comment below and share.

Posted in book review, character development, how to write, learning to write, nonfiction, plotting a novel, plotting a story, writing book, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

I recently was told about Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Mass and decided to order a copy and give it a shot. Wow! What a difference it has made in the way I approach a story. This book is a wonderful way to help work out the character and plot kinks of a novel, but it is also very helpful with short stories as well.

This book is sectioned off into three parts Part 1: Character Development, Part 2: Plot Development, and Part 3: General Story Techniques. Each part then goes into great detail about each element within the categories. I love that Donal Mass has included a little “lesson” and follows up with exercises where I can input my own information, depending on the story I want to work on.

I highly recommend this book to anyone serious about writing a novel, or writing period. I, for one, give it huge points just for helping me figure out the tangled weave that is my novel Blood Feud. Thank you, Donald Mass.

Note: This Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook is NOT the same as the Writing the Breakout Novel. I have yet to read the latter, but from reviews, the Workbook is geared more to actively working on the plot of a story. The Writing Breakout Novel seems to take a more academic approach.

Posted in basics of plot, building plot, how to write, learning to write, plot, plotting, plotting a novel, strong plot, The Writer's Toolbox

Understanding the Foundation of Plot

Most writers understand the basic equation that plot equals a story.

Plot = Story

But what is plot exactly and how can you break it down to the point where you can understand each moving part, so that the whole will come together in a moving body of perfection? There are actually three very basic things to know about plot and how it is conceptualized. This is done through 3 elements called idea, concept, and premise. These three things are distinctly different from one another, but build upon one another to make the full idea of plot a thing of reality. If we know each of these steps of plot then we can better understand how it is created.

 What is the idea of a story? An idea is simple. It is one thought that can sum up the whole of a story in the most basic terms. To help show examples of a story idea I have chosen three well known literary stories Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Vern to draw upon.

Examples of a story IDEA…

Treasure Island= finding treasure

Adventures of Tom Sawyer (this book has multiple story arcs but this is the main idea that the rest of the book is centered around)= murder of a man

Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth

What is the concept of a story? A concept gives a bigger picture of the story. It is where the conflict can be found and asks the main question of the story. It is a snapshot of the story or a window into the plot itself, but is not the whole of the plot.

Examples of story CONCEPT…

Treasure Island= finding treasure sought by every pirate and cut throat in the known world

Question of the story: Who will get to the treasure first?

Conflict: Many unsavory and ruthless individuals looking for the same treasure, who are willing to do whatever it takes to get there first.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer= murder of a man leads to another man being wrongfully accused of the murder

Question of the story: Will the wrongfully accused man be found innocent?

Conflict: The truth of a murder is covered up by subterfuge, false assumptions, and innocent lies.

Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth that leads to an epic journey of fantastic discovery

Question of the story: What will be discovered in the journey to the center of the earth?

Conflict: A journey that halted and stalled by events that can be controlled and some that cannot.

What is the premise of a story? A premise is a concept that is expanded to include a character(s) that is brought into the mix of things. This is when plot becomes flesh and blood. If you have a premise, then you have a fully developed plot.

Examples of story PREMISE=

Treasure Island= finding treasure sought by every pirate and cut throat in the known world, but a youth unwittingly becomes drawn into the fierce competition when he accidentally stumbles across Captain Flint’s treasure map.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer= murder of a man leads to another man being wrongfully accused of the murder, the only witnesses to the truth are two boys Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn who happen to have a knack for finding trouble

Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth that leads to an epic journey of fantastic discovery lead by an eccentric professor of science whose impatience is rivaled only by his obstinate nature

As you can see the idea, concept, and premise build upon one another to help build the story to a completed plot. Once this completed plot is discovered the story can then unfold. Sometimes the seed of a story can sprout without first knowing the idea behind the story. The seed can come in the form of a concept, character, or theme (theme is the essence of the story such as Treasure Island’s theme is about truthfulness and loyalty. Can you figure out the themes for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Journey to the Center of the Earth?). This seed can then be watered by inserting in whatever information is missing from the idea, concept and premise. If you have a missing link in any of these three basic elements then there will be a hole in your story, which will cause your plant to wither and die.

What can all of this information do you for you? It can help you have a better understanding of your story and how a story is born. Remember that your concept must ask a question and be the catalyst for major conflict in your story. Also keep in mind that a story cannot stand by itself without a character to propel it forward. These things once known become the life blood of your story and act as a skeleton for the rest of your story as it blossoms into a beautiful flower or tree. So what are the idea, concept, and premise of your creation?

Want to read more on plot check out my other blogs on A Breakdown of Plot Diagrams and Does Nonfiction have Plot.