Tag Archives: plotting

3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

In fiction writing, there’s an old argument among authors. Some authors believe that the plot is everything; while others believe that the plot is immaterial — fiction begins and ends with fictional characters.

If you’re unhappy with your fiction — your characters haven’t “come alive” — chances are that you’ve been pushing them around. You’re too focused on your plot.

Let’s look at some fiction writing tips which will help you to build great characters, and a wonderful plot.

Characters in fiction writing: two essentials for each character

New authors imagine that to create a character, you need to know everything about him: his shoe size, for example. Or whether or not he likes anchovies on his pizza.

To create a character who has the potential to be wonderful, you only need to know two things:

  • What he wants. What’s his heart’s desire — what will he sacrifice for?
  • What internal obstacle stops him getting what he wants?

Now let’s look at three tips to help you to build great characters who will grow your plot for you.

1. To create a character, start with an attribute to create an internal obstacle

In Craft Fictional Characters For NaNoWriMo: 3 Tips, we said:

I know some authors like to create page upon page of character bios, and that’s fine — although it’s never worked for me. I like to start with the basics, a fictional character’s name, his age, his profession, and his primary attribute.

Let’s say that we’re writing a cozy mystery, and we want to create a quirky sleuth. Without bending our brain, we decide on:

* Name: Mara Mason, age 26

* Profession: widow, who works from home, as a virtual assistant;

* Primary attribute: intense curiosity.

You can create a character within moments, as you can see. Mara’s primary attribute is curiosity, an essential for a sleuth. It’s also a double-edged sword, and this attribute helps you to create external obstacles for Mara.

Recall however that we also need Mara’s heart’s desire, and an internal obstacle which stops her getting what she wants.

Let’s say that Mara’s heart’s desire is a family of her own. Her parents died when she was young, and she lived in a long succession of foster homes. She wants what she never had. What’s the internal obstacle? It’s a lack of trust. Mara can’t trust anyone enough to reveal herself and build close relationships.

Vital: your character will usually be totally unaware that he has an internal obstacle which stops him getting what he wants. He may also be unaware of what he mostly deeply desires.

Although Mara may be unaware that she has problems with trust, and unaware that she longs for a family, you as the author are completely aware. You use this knowledge to build your plot.

Similarly with other major characters in your novel. You need to know what they most want, and what stops them getting that.

2. Once you know the internal obstacle, build your character’s backstory to explain it

Our backstory explanation of Mara’s trust issues is: orphan, foster homes.

However, if you want to write a novel which is a page-turner, keep 95% of the backstory out of your novel.

As we said in: Fiction Tips: Kill Your Backstory,

Your explanations are backstory. You need to know the backstory, but your reader doesn’t. You may have heard that you should start slotting backstory into your novel after the setup, somewhere after the first few chapters. This can work, but honestly? It still bogs down the story. You want readers to keep reading, so only tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it.

Backstory is a killer, especially for new novelists. I’m currently reading The Night Manager, by John Le Carré. He’s amazing. I love the way he handles backstory, but he’s an expert. Until you have Le Carré’s skill, avoid dumping backstory into your novel.

Instead, hint at the backstory. For example, perhaps Mara has a garden rock on her desk. She took the rock from the garden of the one foster home in which she was completely happy.

You can keep readers wondering: why is that simple rock so important to Mara? Keep them wondering, until you reveal its importance to Mara.

When you limit your revelations of backstory like this, you’ll write a more exciting novel, because you’re involving readers.

3. Develop your plot: your plot is the resolution of your main characters’ internal and external obstacles, in SCENES

You need to know the heart’s desire of all your main characters, as well as their internal obstacles. You SHOW the desires, and the external and internal obstacles in scenes.

We covered how to set a scene in Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips:

Character goals lead to: action, conflict, suspense… DRAMA

It’s often easier to study scenes while watching a movie. There’s less chance you’ll get lost in the words. So watch a movie, with a pen and paper. Pause the action when a scene ends, and replay the scene. Analyze it.

When you focus on your characters’ internal and external obstacles, you’ll automatically build a good plot, scene by scene, because you’re focused on your characters.

In fiction writing, you build characters: remember the desire, and the internal obstacle

If you remember these things, you’ll write good fiction. Not only will your readers enjoy it, you’ll enjoy writing it too. Have fun with it. 🙂

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Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

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Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
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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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Plot Fiction: Fill-In-The-Blanks Plotting For Pantsers

Plot Fiction: Fill-In-The-Blanks Plotting For Pantsers

“I can’t plot fiction,” a student told me. “My mind doesn’t work that way.”

She’s a fellow pantser. We pantsers can plot, if we have to, but plotting kills our inspiration for our novel.

In our Hot Plots program, I teach an organic method of plotting which convinces pantsers that they can plot. However, all you need to do to become comfortable writing your novels is a basic structure for a novel which stops you getting hopelessly stuck.

Think of it as “fill-in-the-blanks” plotting.

Let’s look at that now.

Fill-in-the-blanks: a way to plot fiction for people who hate to plot

Here’s all you need to know for fill-in-the-blanks plotting from Writing Fiction: Show It, Don’t Blow It:

* The setup (approximately a quarter of your novel, in which you set up your story.) After you’ve set things up, you’re moving to…

* The midpoint — what it says. This is the first big turning point of your story, where everything changes. Your story goes in a new direction. Next you head for…

* Story twist number 2. Another turning point. Your main character has tried to change. It’s not working. Things look black, and you’re heading for…

* The showdown. The make or break. The big fight your character needs to win. The story winds down, with…

* The resolution. The killer’s identified in a mystery. The world’s saved in a thriller, and it’s hearts and flowers in a romance.

Story Twist 2 happens at around the 80% point of your novel.

How to get started with fill-in-the-blanks plotting

Yesterday I finished the first draft of a novel, so this morning I started a new novel, with very little preparation. The novel is in a sub-genre (actually a sub-sub genre of romance.) I’ve never written a novel in this category before, so it will be fun, albeit challenging.

Last night I jotted a few ideas on a pad. This morning, I roughed out a couple of ideas for the main character, using an easy character-creation method. 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.

Once I had my main character, I wrote a couple of paragraphs of background, and I was good to start writing. I always like to keep very loose during a novel’s setup. I find the best character and plot ideas come to me while I’m writing. If I plot without writing, all I get are cliched characters and obvious plots.

After an hour, I had 1200 words, which was a good start.

By the time I’ve reached the 30% point of the novel, I’ll have the first plot twist, which kicks the main character into action, as well as the midpoint twist. And by the time I reach the novel’s midpoint, I’ll know what the novel’s climax will be so I tend to write that next.

Make fill-in-the-blanks plotting your own: it’s a freeform way to “plot”

When you’re using the fill-in-the-blanks method, you have way-markers you need to reach. In between those markers, you can write any scenes you please. There are no rules, but do remember that you essentially have two plots, as I explained in The Big Secret To Plotting Fiction:

* The external plot is what happens.

* The internal plot is what your main character, or characters, think(s) about what happens.

Just keep asking your characters WHY. I’ll need to ask my main character of my new novel exactly that shortly, because this morning I had no idea of her motivation for what she did. 🙂

Try fill-in-the-blanks plotting. It’s plotting for pantsers. 🙂

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

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Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters. More info →
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Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories

Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories

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Want to write short stories? If you answered yes, that's excellent… Here's why. Today, you can make money writing short fiction. More info →
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The Big Secret To Plotting Fiction: Two Story Lines (Plots)

The Big Secret To Plotting Fiction: Two Story Lines (Plots)

You’re writing a novel. Are you tearing your hair out yet? (Grin.) Plotting fiction can be a challenge, but it’s made easier when you learn the big secret. Here it is: you have two plots, rather than one.

Plotting fiction: your two plots

I discussed this on Facebook — Today’s writing tip for fiction: realize you have TWO story lines (plots) in your novel. Since Facebook posts tend to vanish quickly, and Facebook’s search function is woeful, here’s the gist.

When you work with two story lines/ plots, it will make plotting a novel (or a short story, for that matter) easier and more fun. Readers will enjoy your fiction more, and that translates to sales.

In fiction, you have (at least) two major story lines: external, and internal

Consider these two plots-in-one; your novel or short story/ novella needs both:

  • The external plot is what happens.
  • The internal plot is what your main character, or characters, think(s) about what happens.

In some genres, the external plot is primary — thrillers, for example. However, in other genres, the internal plot is primary — women’s fiction and any form of romance, for example.

That said, ALL genres, without exception need both. It’s common for beginning writers to “plot”, focusing on the external story line. That’s fine, in a first draft. However, as soon as possible, you need to pay attention to the internal plot/ story line too.

For easier writing, look on the “character arc” as a story line

The internal story line is often referred to as the “character arc”, but I’ve never thought that that was a particularly useful construct.

For example, in the novel that I’m currently working on, a romance, I realized this morning that something wasn’t right. The main character’s internal story line wasn’t working. I could get it to work, but that would require an extra 20,000 words, and it would throw off the pacing. Or instead, I could start the story earlier, and revise what I’d written to reflect that.

So, I decided to revise. Luckily, the revisions will be minor, because the major character isn’t aware of the importance of what happened earlier; it was formerly backstory. All I need to do is write a single scene to start the novel, bringing that part of the backstory alive. In addition, I’ll need to revise the internal story line (character arc) to reflect that. Since I’m halfway through the novel, that means a week of work, but it will make the story more entertaining. And it will be fun to write, which is always a good thing. 🙂

Although I’m not a fan of doing revisions in the middle of a first draft, I decided to do it anyway. It’s the only way I can get the internal plot to work — and the novel to work, for that matter.

You need two plots in one, for an engrossing (and salable) story

Think about the books you’ve loved — the Harry Potter series, for example. Do you remember the plot of each of the books in the series, or do you remember the characters?

Novelist and academic E.M Forster offered this famous definition of plot:

The king died and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot.’

The reason the king died — “of grief”, combined with events, gives you a plot.

Simply recounting events, which newbie fiction authors tend to consider a “plot”, is unsatisfying to readers, because you’re only telling half of the story. You end up with cardboard characters. Readers complain, give your novel low ratings, and they won’t buy your next book.

Chances are that while you’re writing, you’re aware that your plot isn’t working, but you don’t know how to fix it. The solution is to look at your main character’s internal story line.

You’ll find that your plotting becomes easier, once you start thinking of your plot as two strands, intertwined.

Of course, sometimes you have three strands to braid together.

What happens when you have three plots/ story lines?

Some genres have more than two strands to the plot. Mysteries and thrillers for example have three. The crime, or disaster, is a storyline of its own. Your murderer, or evil antagonist, has his own internal and external story line.

Is this starting to sound way too complicated? 🙂

Relax. When you’re writing, just write. Later, when you’ve finished your writing session for the day, think about your story, and ask yourself whether you’ve included an internal story line, as well as the events of your plot.

You’ll find that if you do this, writing fiction becomes more satisfying for you, and reading your fiction is more satisfying for your readers.

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

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You can, when you discover the secrets of writing blurbs (book descriptions) which sell. More info →
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Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99
Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters. More info →
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