Category Archives: Writing techniques

Plotting Fiction: 3 Tips For Creating Better Plots

Plotting Fiction: 3 Tips For Creating Better Plots

You have a wonderful idea for a novel and you enjoy writing the book. You can’t wait to show it to your writing group and beta readers. Unfortunately, rather than the kudos you expected, you get a lukewarm response. Eventually.

The first big clue that your “wonderful” novel doesn’t hit the mark? It takes forever to get feedback. Finally, you publish. Despite the amazing (expensive) cover, the thousand readers on your mailing list, and the Facebook ads, you make few sales.

What happened?

The one essential for plotting fiction: conflict

According to the reviews, nothing happened. Your reviewers make remarks like:

  • “I kept waiting for something to happen”;
  • “Save your money — I had to force myself to finish it”;
  • “Where’s the excitement? This is a real snooze-fest”.

You wince. Ouch. Your big question is WHY?

Chances are that you forgot the one big essential of fiction — conflict.

From Write A Novel In A Month: 5 Tips To Make It Easy:

Fiction is all conflict, all the time. You need major conflicts, and minor ones too. Never make things easy for your characters.

Recall that you “enjoyed” writing your novel. I love writing, but a big red flashing warning, warning! sign for me is always when I adore my characters, and have a great time with a novel. Yes, you should love writing, but please check that you’re not making things too easy for your characters.

1. Trouble, and more trouble: kick your characters when they’re down (and kick them some more if they show signs of getting up)

I’m a pantser by nature. I hate long outlines. A detailed outline kills my interest in writing a novel stone dead.

That said, I’ve made it my dedicated habit to focus on the conflict in every single scene. No conflict equals NO SCENE.

Here’s how it’s done: make sure that your characters don’t get along. Your novel needs a big conflict, true, but it needs lots of little conflicts as well.

The main characters in your romance start out hating each other, and that hatred doesn’t suddenly switch to insta-love. The sleuth in your mystery novel alienates not only his fellow detectives, but all the suspects too.

Think about your own relationships for a moment. How many of them are totally conflict-free? None, right? No matter how much you love your nearest, sometimes they’re not your dearest. Your kids can get on your last nerve. On bad days, you’re convinced that your partner is on a mission to drive you insane.

Write on a sticky note: no one gets along. Paste it on your computer monitor.

2. Establish your one big conflict as the spine of your book, then add little conflicts

Conflict is uncomfortable. You hate cruelty and fights. Most people do, in real life. Not so in entertainment.

Plotting fiction is mainly plotting conflicts. Let’s say you have 40 scenes in your 60,000 word novel. That’s 40 conflict peaks you need to hit. The BIG conflicts are the major turning points of your novel. Read about them in Writing Fiction: Show It, Don’t Blow It.

A scene is a unit of action: something must happen in every scene, and that something is… conflict. Here’s what I suggested to help you to plot your conflict in Writing Fiction In Scenes: The Big Secret:

You estimate that your big scenes will be 2,500 words. That’s 15,000 words out of your novel — say 20,000 words, because chances are your big scenes will run longer.

If you list those scenes as A, B, C, etc across a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard, it’s easy enough to decide what you need in the scenes which lead up to a big scene.

3. Ending a conflict? Start another one before you do

Can’t find a way to add more conflict?

Here’s a simple solution. Create a conflict-laden subplot. The only rule for subplots is that a subplot must be related in some way to the novel’s big plot.

Many authors plot their major conflict scenes and subplots on a spreadsheet so that they can keep track of them. Your spreadsheet will help you to ensure that you always start another conflict before you end a current conflict.

Let’s say you’re writing a scene in which your sleuth has finally found his prime suspect. Slot in a scene before that, in which his boss tells him that he’s fired. Or a scene in which he finds evidence against someone who wasn’t a suspect, but is now…

Always, always, start a new conflict before you end an on-going one.

Your ONLY goal when you write fiction is to keep readers reading. When you have lots of conflicts, they’ll keep reading. As a bonus, even if you dislike plotting fiction, you’ll find it easy to create lots of conflicts. Look on it as a way of sneaking up on plotting. 🙂

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Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check our our ebooks for writers.

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. More info →
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How To Write Fiction When You “Don’t Know How”

How To Write Fiction When You “Don’t Know How”

You want to write fiction, but you don’t know how. That’s OK. No one else knows either, because fiction flows from your imagination. Unlike nonfiction, which is grounded in facts, and depends on logic, your fiction wilts and dies if you try to use the same mind state in writing it that you use for writing nonfiction.

Consider that essentially: fiction is daydreaming and igniting experiences in your readers.

Want to write fiction? Get out of your mind

Children are good at daydreaming. If you listened to your schoolteachers when they said “pay attention” you might think that daydreaming is wrong. However, fiction writers know that they daydream their stories to life.

Big tip: it’s not about the words.

In my fiction writing classes, new fiction writers focus on the words. That’s natural, because you’re getting used to writing. However, as we suggest in step 4, below, there are no perfect words. More to the point, if you focus on the words, your imagination will sit in a corner and sulk.

Your basic fiction writing mindset is: dream first — and start with an emotion.

Here are some simple steps to help you to write fiction when you “don’t know how.”

1. Start with an emotion: emotions trigger memory and images

I like this list of emotions from Byron Katie; download the PDF.

If you’re a newbie fiction writer, try spending five minutes a day feeling emotions.

Here’s an example. Feel apprehensive.

Hard, right? You need a situation. Imagine that your boss asked you to take the company’s biggest client out to dinner. The client made a lewd remark to your wife. You hit him. The police have been called.

How do you feel? Do you feel apprehensive?

Just for a moment, imagine yourself in that scenario. How does it feel to be apprehensive? What thoughts go through your mind?

As an exercise, come up with a little scenario of your own in which someone feels apprehensive.

If you spend five minutes a day on this little exercise, you’ll make your imagination stronger, and that’s a good thing for fiction writers.

2. Grab a person, anyone will do

I talked about my favorite character-creation method in Plot Fiction: Fill-In-The-Blanks Plotting For Pantsers:

All you need to create a basic character is an adjective, combined with a noun. The noun is usually the character’s job. Some examples:

  •  Naive model;
  •  Bedazzled lottery winner;
  •  Hardworking hairdresser;
  •  Jealous chef.

You can come up with any number of these thumbnail “characters” in a minute or two.

Choose an adjective and a noun, and create your character.

Now go back to your list of emotions, and choose one. Let’s say you chose impatient.

Create a little scenario in which your jealous chef (or whoever) feels impatient. Let’s say that the restaurant owner is complaining to the jealous chef that someone left a negative review for the restaurant on a social media website.

Your next step is to keep asking WHY.

3. Keep asking: “why?”

Grab a pen and a sheet of paper, or open a new computer file, and talk to the character you’ve just created. Keep asking him: WHY — you can add “who?” and “how?” too, if you like. 🙂

Write it down, don’t try to do this in your head.

You daydream your fiction, but you also need to write stuff down, otherwise you won’t remember it, sadly. Day dreams are just like night dreams. They can be hugely involving, but the moment they’re over, they start to fade. So get into the habit of dreaming first, then writing what you dreamed.

Keep going, until the story becomes clearer.

Congratulations: you’ve just experienced plotting. Easy, right?

4. Assure yourself that there are no “perfect” words, just emotion

Many authors find that their biggest challenge in writing fiction is getting out of their own way. Avoid thinking too much. Just daydream, and write down the first words which come to you. You can tinker with your words in revision, but not when you’re writing.

When you catch yourself wondering whether “temper” is preferable to “rage” you’ll know that you’ve just jolted yourself out of the fictive dream, in which:

the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it…

(If you get the chance, read John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. It’s a wonderful book.)

You DO know how to write fiction: just day dream, and write down your dreams

That’s pretty much all there is to writing fiction.

You can now write a bestseller and get your revenge on all those teachers who called you a dreamer. Have fun. 🙂

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Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check our our ebooks for writers.

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

$4.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →

Fiction Writing Tips for Beginners: Super-Easy Outlines

Fiction Writing Tips for Beginners: Super-Easy Outlines

If you’re new to writing fiction, you may be struggling with outlines. You may even believe that you can’t create outlines – or that you don’t need to outline. You may be right. Maybe  you’ll get a flush of inspiration, and your book “writes itself.” That’s never happened to me, nor to any other writer I know, but it could happen. 🙂

Let’s look at some fiction writing tips for beginners. I’ve had lots of questions from readers of our Fab Freelance Writing Blog who are itching to try fiction, but aren’t sure whether they can; I said:

Here’s what’s always worked for me, and works for my students when they’re not sure whether they can write something or other. If you THINK you can, and you WANT TO, you can. What counts is your enthusiasm and excitement.

So, if you think you can, you can.

1. Start With an Image

I like to start my fiction with an image, rather than a bunch of words. In How to Write a Short Story in 5 Steps, I said:

You can start with a real image, if you like. Bestselling novelist Tracy Chevalier received her inspiration for her bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring from Vermeer’s painting. I like starting with an image because a good painting or photograph conveys emotion; you can extrapolate a whole story from that.

Or, you can start with a mental image of a character who’s wonderful, but has a silly hangup (or a more serious one, but your story will need to be longer). She/ he gets over the hangup by the end of the story.

Why start with an image? Because it’s less restrictive. It opens your imagination; words tend to close it.

Here’s another reason to start with an image: an image has built-in emotion – if you choose the right image. Fiction is all about emotion. No emotion? You’ve got nothing. Your idea, no matter how wonderful, will fizzle out. Or you’ll have a bunch of weird emotions tumbling around, which you can’t get a handle on… and the novel or short story fizzles out.

You may get an idea for a story. Let’s say that we’re writing New Adult fiction. Our heroine falls in love with someone she’s only “met” on Facebook. Unfortunately, she’s fallen in love with someone who doesn’t exist. Someone created a fake profile, specifically to lure her into a trap.

2. Make a Simple List

You’ve got a little idea, and an image you’ve found in a magazine, or you’ve copied an image from Pinterest or an art gallery website.

Before you start writing to expand your idea, make a list of nouns. Any nouns which arouse emotion in you. Bestselling novelist Ray Bradbury was very fond of lists, and I am too.

Lists poke your subconscious mind and wake it up, and that’s all you want at this stage.

3. Create a Logline From What You Have

A “logline” is a single sentence which tells your story. Grab any TV program guide to get a sense of loglines. A logline tells you who, what, how, and why.

Here’s a great little template for a logline:

When [INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].

So, for our Facebook “fake” story, we could write:

When her boyfriend is murdered, 20-year-old college student Holly West must solve the mystery of her fake Facebook boyfriend or else take the chance that the murderer will come after her.

OK, I know it’s crappy, but work with me here. 🙂 I haven’t gone through the steps. I haven’t found an image, nor did I make a list. I just worked with the original seed of an idea, and can up with a quick logline. You’ll be able to do much better; just go through the steps.

4. Start writing: outline your scenes as you write

You may love outlines. If your creativity gets sparked by outlining, go ahead and write an outline now. Forget formal outlines like the ones you created in school, make a list of scenes. I use index cards, and Trello.

I’m a pantser at heart, so I usually start writing, once I have the logline. I want to get to know my characters. Once I’ve written a couple of scenes, I interview the hero and heroine, and then I outline the BIG scenes — the pinch points, if you’re working with 7-point plotting. Then I start writing again, outlining just a few scenes ahead.

If you’re new to writing fiction, try working with an image, making a list of nouns, and creating a logline from your initial idea. This is a super-easy way to outline, and to write fiction which sells.

Hot Plots: Craft Hot-Selling Fiction in 5 Minutes (or less)

How To Write Commercial Fiction With Hot Plots

The big secret of making money from your fiction is writing a lot. And publishing strategically and consistently. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program ensures that authors can make money from short stories, and all kinds of fiction. Moreover, whatever you’re publishing, you have a global audience.

You’re about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you’re writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. Discover Hot Plots.

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check our our ebooks for writers.

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle