Posted in character, character development, good writing, how to write, novel, novel management software, organization, point of view, scrivener, story structure, The Writer's Toolbox, the writing process, writing, writing advice

The Difficulty of Writing From Multiple POVs

This one is a doozy for me, especially since my novel has five different point of views (POVs) that I am telling the story from. There have been many, many times where I question my decision as to whether I really need to be inside five different heads. Can’t I just manage with my main character? Because it sure would be a lot easier and my novel would be done long by now. But I keep coming back to the answer of… yes.

My story is such that it’s bigger than the main character. It’s more than just about the people. It’s about the world they live in and the choices each person makes and how those choices affect the bigger picture. And because of that, the reader really needs to get a front row seat with each of these five major players.

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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 better writing, building plot, character development, fiction, Gustav's Freytag Pyramid, how to write, Johnathan Maberry, plot, plotting, story structure, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

The 3 Acts of Story Structure

In the recent writing workshop with Johnathan Maberry we talked a lot about the 3 acts of the story structure. This workshop made me realize once again how helpful this little tool can be when plotting out a story. Most stories can be broken down to this basic structure and it is something to use as a guide when plotting out your own story. Let’s break down the 3 acts and see what each act entails. I’ll also use an example of the Wizard of Oz to show this breakdown.

 

ACT ONE it is the introduction of characters and setting, possibly a glance at the villain and an introduction to the threat within the story.

This is where all the reader needs to become familiar with the character and become invested in the story that is unfolding. The world needs to be established

END OF ACT ONE happens when the character reaches the point of no return.  He or she is propelled or pushed forward into the story and the character’s path is set

Example: Dorthy is introduced into the story. We see that she is a young girl who is spoiled and untested. A tornado whisks her away to the strange land of Oz.

 

ACT TWO this middle act usually takes up about 50 percent of the story as the character is further developed and the stakes become clear.

This is where relationship building happens between the main character and the supporting characters, and it’s were subplots usually take place (for novels or longer short stories).

END OF ACT TWO happens when the character realizes what must be done to resolve the problem that he or she has been faced with.

Example: Once in Oz, Dorthy meets Glinda. She tells Dorthy what must be done to go home and Dorthy sets out on her mission to find the Wizard of Oz.

 

ACT THREE is when the character finds the resolution to the problem.

This is where the character rises above everything in his or her path to be the story’s champion.

END OF ACT THREE happens once the character resolves the main issue of the story either for the good or bad.

Example: Dorthy defeats the wicked witch and finds the Wizard of Oz.

 

Now it’s true that the 3 act applies mostly to screen plays, but it can also be applied to most stories as well. Sometimes the acts are expanded to create more than three, and sometimes the first act is combined with the second act in stories, but using the three acts can help to show the skeleton of a story. It’s a good simple way to make sure a story is on the right track to creating a coherent and dynamic piece of work. If you haven’t already, can you break down your current piece of work and find the 3 acts of its structure?

There are also those who argue that a 3 act structure can’t show all the elements of a story that it really takes a 5 act structure. This type of structure just breaks down the story even further with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and the denoucement or resolution. You can read more about in a post that I wrote a while ago about Freytag’s 5 act structure.