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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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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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Self-Publishing Disaster: 3 Tips To Rebuild Your Confidence

Self-Publishing Disaster: 3 Tips To Rebuild Your Confidence

You had huge hopes for your latest book but those hopes have faded. Three months after publication, you’ve sold few copies. Whether you’re a self-publishing pro, or a newbie, you’re disappointed.

Let’s unpack your “failure.”

Here’s the reality. Books fail. Indeed, most books fail. Ask any author. Bestselling ebooks/ books (let’s just call them books) are rare. Luck boosts many books to bestsellerdom. Concentrated effort boosts others.

That said, you don’t need to write bestselling novels or nonfiction books to make a nice living as a self-publishing author.

Why self-publishing fails…

While there are any number of reasons you can self-publish a book and winces at its sales, here are some common reasons for failure in fiction:

  • The author didn’t pick a genre at all, or picked an overcrowded genre;
  • Readers can’t find the book: the description is skimpy, and there’s no meta data, so Amazon has no idea where to “file” the book;
  • The book’s cover gives no clear indication of its genre. Readers are confused, and pass the book by;
  • A lack of promotion.

What about nonfiction? Reasons for the failure of a nonfiction book include:

  • An itty bitty audience, or an audience which is well-served with a large number of new books, and the author’s offering doesn’t stand out;
  • As with fiction, above — the readers can’t find the book, because of a lack of attention to meta data;
  • An unappealing cover. A cover needs to grab readers, and make them FEEL something. If you’re selling a diet book, an apple and a tape measure can make for a great cover, depending on the book’s title, and the photography. Or it may not;
  • As above, a lack of promotion.

There may be no clear reason a book fails

Mainstream publishers publish lots of books. Simon & Schuster for example publishes around 2,000 titles each year and most of those titles will lose money. The occasional bestseller helps any publisher to stay in business.

Please be ware of this: publishing houses expect slow sellers and abject failures in the books they publish. Like you, if they had their way, they’d publish only bestsellers. 🙂

You’re a publisher too. Take the attitude that you’ll publish many books. Some will succeed beyond your dreams.

Now let’s look at how to rebuild your confidence.

1. Publish the next book, and the next, while trying to learn from your failure

Yes, keep publishing. It’s amazing how often a “meh” book you don’t particularly like will shock you with great sales. It happens.

While you keep writing, and publishing, if you think you know why a book isn’t selling, fix what you can. BUT: don’t spend too much money on your book’s revamp. A new cover may help. On the other hand, it may not.

Ask other self-publishing authors their opinion on whether spending money will help. It’s best to spend money boosting books which already sell.

2. Always be learning: the self-publishing industry changes rapidly

Many authors who made huge incomes in 2014 have left the industry. When self-publishing changed, they didn’t keep up. Their books stopped selling, because they stopped experimenting and and growing.

Try new things; keep learning and growing.

3. Build your platform on social media: get readers onto your mailing list

Today, with several million ebooks and many, many millions of books widely available, reaching readers who will love your books is more challenging than ever. Make a real effort to build your platform. Social media is essentially free, other than the time it takes. Use social media to grow your mailing list.

Keep self-publishing: your next book may hit the bestseller lists

Someone once said that success doesn’t last, and neither does failure. Who knows? Your “disaster” may be a sleeper title, which suddenly sells hundreds of copies a day.

In the meantime, success or failure, keep publishing. 🙂

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

Writing Success Secrets: How To Conquer Self Doubt, And Achieve Your Writing Goals, Starting Today

Writing Success Secrets: How To Conquer Self Doubt, And Achieve Your Writing Goals, Starting Today

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Genre: Writing
Today, the opportunities for writers have never been greater. Back in the day a writer who was making six-figures a year seemed a creature of myth. These days, highly successful writers are making six figures a month. More info →
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Write A Novel Readers Love: 5 Tips

Write A Novel Readers Love: 5 Tips

Want to write a novel readers love? If you do, you’ll need to become comfortable with conflict. This can be a real challenge, because most of us hate conflict in our lives. But unfortunately if you try to avoid conflict in your fiction you’ll get reviews which call your novel “boring” or “thin”: you haven’t given your readers want they want. (By the way — short stories need conflict and emotion too.)

Essentially, readers read to escape to another world, or to learn something.

Write a novel readers love, and can experience

Readers read to experience. If you can’t touch their emotions, they’ll stop reading.

It’s always useful to read readers’ reviews on Amazon. Bestselling authors aren’t immune from bad reviews, and you can find a lot of these types of comments when authors haven’t delivered a novel that readers want:

  • “Waste of money. Nothing much happened…”
  • “The story ended at 50% and then dragged on… ”
  • “Boring, no tension, too thin…”
  • Etc.

Let’s look at five tips which will help you to write a novel which readers love.

1. Kick your main character at least once every 1000 to 1500 words

When I’m writing a novel or short stories, my scenes usually average  around 1500 words. When you write a scene, it’s much like writing a novel. The scene has a set up, rising action, a climax, and then it’s over. In other words, every scene gives you a fresh opportunity to make life more difficult for your characters. Take that opportunity.

2. “What’s the worst thing that could happen now?”

The easiest way to include a lot of conflict in your novel is to have each and every character have a conflict with every other character.

Although this sounds difficult, it’s not. Think about the people you love. Your partner, or your child. Do you have conflicts with them? Of course you do. They’re minor conflicts:  they do things you don’t agree with and they know you so well that they push your buttons effortlessly.

That said, you want your story to be one in which something happens. Therefore, in addition to the major obstacles to your main character getting what he or she wants, and minor conflicts, you need constant additional obstacles.

It’s all trouble and strife, all the time. 🙂

Think about the conflicts that your characters have with each other, and aim to have something bad happen in each and every scene.

3. Take away what your character values most

What does your character value? Perhaps you’re writing a New Adult novel. Your main character is a young woman who’s just left college. She’s managed to get the job of her dreams — that’s what she values most. So take that away.

Or perhaps she doesn’t realize what she values most. She takes an overseas job, and realizes what she values most is the man she left behind.

Always torture your characters. Your readers want an involving story. You can give it to them.

4. Ensure that conflict happens because of who your characters are

When new authors first hear about “creating conflict”, they tend to have a lot of conflict happening, but that conflict isn’t directly related to the characters.

For example, perhaps the main character gets involved in a minor fender bender. Or the character does something embarrassing. We all have stuff going wrong all the time, and these minor contretemps are useless in fiction. Readers read for escape — they don’t want to read about minor nuisances because they experience them themselves, daily.

Vital: every conflict which happens in your novel must relate directly to the story question, and must happen because of who your main characters are.

5. Resist your own resistance to conflict

There’s an old saying which goes something like this: if the novel’s characters are having fun, the reader isn’t.

Never make things easy on your characters. Ensure that each and every scene contains conflict. Scenes are “showing”, rather than “telling” (narration), so before you start writing a scene, ask yourself: “what’s the conflict? Who wants what? Who opposes that? How?”

When you write a novel, make your characters FIGHT for what they want

In summary, when you write a novel, make your characters fight for what they want.

Your characters are proactive: they know what they want, and they make plans to get what they want. When they fail, they try again, and again.

Go ahead and kick your characters. Your readers will love it. 🙂

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.

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 →