The Plot Beneath

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I was experiencing plot problems.

I went back to the Prologue and reread my manuscript. Yep, all the way to Chapter 14.

I had to think of something. Rearranging scenes was a possibility to consider. Still…

I went to the internet for help. I read several articles. Could the answer to my difficulties really be as simple as adding a subplot? 

A subplot is a story strand that runs alongside the main plot and supports it. It mirrors the main plot, but is shorter than the main story.

To accomplish the creation of a subplot, the writer must create and separate story and connect it, at two or three points, to the main plot.

The purpose of a subplot isn’t to cause the author additional work. It’s to strengthen, or enhance, the main story. It can make it more exciting, add tension, as well as increase the overall length of the book.

With good planning, creating a subplot is so much easier to do when you are just beginning to write your book. If you wait (like I did) you will find it can be a tedious task of weaving characters in, adding conversation and action, and finding just the right places to interject these things.

Adding a subplot can be done—and it may be worth the time and effort to do so.

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Writing Flash Fiction

 

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My last blog post talked about Flash Fiction and got us ready to address the “How-To-Write-It.”

So, here we go with what I’ve learned about writing Flash Fiction from a real-life pro, David Gaffney:                                                                                                                                      1. Start your story in the middle of the action. You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

 2.  Don’t use too many characters. Excess names and places eat up your word count.

 3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end. (What?) Give almost all of the information in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take the reader on a journey beneath the surface. This will help you avoid stories with punch-line- type endings. 

4. Make your title short and sweet. Give it punch.

5. Make your last line ring. Remember, it’s not the ending. – but it should make the reader continue to think about the ideas in the story and speculate about what it all meant.

6. Write long, then whittle your story down to the essentials. When you edit, don’t decrease the impact of the story. Choose your words carefully and sparingly. Make each one count!

Next week’s blog post: Flash Fiction Tips.

Letting Characters Write Their Own Endings

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You’re writing along. Things are going pretty well. And then the unthinkable happens.

Your character doesn’t want to cooperate. He doesn’t want to die or lose the battle or watch as someone else “gets the girl.”

And, you say to yourself, “Just who does he think he is? I created him. I gave him thoughts, ideas, friends, goals, depth. Who is he to tell me here, in Chapter Nineteen—at the climax of the story—that he doesn’t agree with the way I’ve written it?”

I feel your pain. No, really I DO because it just happened to me.

My main character and I are having a meeting of the minds…a war of the words. 

He’s going to win.

I know it. I just know it.

Because he’s REAL. 

He’s lived and breathed life into this story for nine months. 

Who better to tell me how things should end?

In order to change the outcome, it will be necessary for me to go back to Chapter Fifteen and start rewriting.

So, I yell out to him, “Why did you wait until now to tell me this? Couldn’t you have clued me in a little sooner?”

He just laughs and tells me to get back to work.

As Promised

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Second half of critique group questions from last week’s post:

6)  CONFLICT:

* Are character motivations powerful enough to create sufficient conflict?

* Is a potential for conflict established that is strong enough to move the story forward?

* Are the motives understandable?

7)  DIALOGUE:

* Is the dialogue between characters natural, purposeful, interesting, engaging?

* Does the dialogue contain emotion in a way that narrative cannot?

* Are the character’s voices distinct? Does each one have a different way of expressing themselves? Are their voices appropriate for the setting, genre, and time period?

* Is the dialogue believable?

8)  NARRATIVE AND POINT OF VIEW:

* Is the narrative well-placed with the dialogue, not overwhelming the reader?

* Is background information presented at appropriate times and in the correct POV?

* Is POV clear and consistent?  Are changes smooth and logical?

*Should I use a different POV?

9)  PACING:

* Has the author dropped the reader into the action?

* Does the story flow smoothly, freely, and logically?

* Does every scene move the story forward?

10)  STORY:

* Are the story ad plot elements compatible with the genre?

* Can you picture each scene in your head?

* Is the purpose of each scene clear?

* Does each scene move the story forward?

* Does the story hold your interest?

* Does everything in the story build logically, plausibly, and believable toward the end/climax?

* Where do you feel the story is heading?

* Do inspirational elements grow organically out of character or plot?

Use a Checklist

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You may want to consider utilizing a checklist to guide your comments to others in your critique group. Below is one we developed. I am sharing the first five this time and will post the rest next week. 

 

 

1) HOOKS:  

* Does the opening line or paragraph immediately hook the reader?

* Did you want to keep reading?

2)  STYLE:

* Is the writer’s voice distinct and unique?

* Does the author utilize showing and telling skillfully?

* Indicate passages needing more “show”.

3)  PROFESSIONAL IMPACT:

* Does the author have a grasp of the elements of grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

* Is the writing fresh and original, avoiding cliches?

* Is the writer overusing/overdoing actions? Themes? Words? Character traits?

* Is the manuscript appropriate for the general market?

4)  SETTING:

* Was the place, time of day, season, time period set?

* Does the setting support the story?

* Do sensory details (sight, sound, touch, smell) enhance each scene?

5)  CHARACTERS:

* Is the main character identifiable? Unique?

* Do you get a sense of the character’s journey and what the story is about?

* Do secondary characters contribute to the story? Are they defined and likable?

* Do characters’ emotions seem believable and/or provide understandable motives?

Making Stories “Real”

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I’ve been asked if my characters are based on “real life” people that I know and if I use  events from my own life in my stories.

None of my characters remind me of anyone I know, although I often use friends’ names. As of yet, I haven’t used any of their mannerisms or physical traits—only their names as small tributes to their friendship.

As far as events are concerned, Runaways: The Long Journey Home was written in response to a recurring dream. I had dreamed the first few minutes of Jake’s escape so many times, that I simply had to see where the story took him. Where the dream ended, my imagination began. The book tells the story of abuse and forgiveness that has touched many lives.

My dog, Baxter, will appear in my next book, Simon Says. Although he doesn’t play a large part in the story, he will be portrayed accurately, including many of his quirky habits. So far, making him come alive through description has proven to be lots of fun.

If you are planning to use a real life event, or portray a friend of yours as one of your characters, be sure to get their permission. It might save you a lot of heartache should your friend not see past events in quite the same way as you have portrayed them. Don’t let that discourage you, however. Some of the best stories are those real life accounts that uplift and encourage the human spirit.

Finally, I do choose to honor people in my life who mean a lot to me or have influenced me in some way. I do this on the dedication page. For example, I have dedicated my first interactive picture book for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers to my parents. (Mom has Alzheimer’s and Dad is her faithful companion and caregiver.) Although they are not portrayed in, I Remember the Seasons, my mother’s memories did influence my choice of what to include within its pages.

Leave Them Wanting More

 

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People often find it hard to pick a book to read. If they have already read and enjoyed one book in a series, they are often likely to purchase the second. This is especially true if they like the characters and enjoy the writing style of the author.

Authors who write a successful first novel with promises to continue their characters, already have a readership that will come back for more. In fact, if they keep their writing fresh, they are likely to come back again and again.

Publishers love books that promise a sequel. If a book sells well, then it follows to reason that the sequel is going to sell just as well.

So what makes a successful series? 

Characters. One—preferably more—that the reader can root for.

Study the successful ones, such as Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Long of the Rings, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and see how they do it.

I have enjoyed  A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket—smart and humorous—as well as a number of Amish books in series by Beverly Lewis.

Go to the bookstore and find the section where you want your book to be some day. Research a popular series and ask yourself what makes them good. Then develop your own character you know readers will want to follow.

While you’re writing the first book for your series, keep in mind things you want to save for your second book, and so on.

So, what are the key elements in writing a series that will keep readers interested in reading book after book?

 *Believable, engaging characters.

*A fascinating world or universe. 

*Great writing!

*A plot that has definite direction…not just stretching the story out so you can get another book published.

Reward your audience for sticking with you by giving them new and fresh content—not just more of the same.

And, at the end of the book, or movie, the consumer should feel satisfied and, as my grandfather used to say,

left wanting even more.