Tag Archives: plotting

Ultra-Simple Plotting For Pantsers: Focus On 3 Steps

Ultra-Simple Plotting For Pantsers: Focus On 3 Steps

Do you HATE plotting? Many authors do. Others are convinced that they “can’t plot.” Either way, these non-plotting, outline-averse authors are pantsers: authors who write by the seat of their pants.

Plot? Who needs to plot, or outline? Well… maybe you, even if you are a pantser, especially if you habitually start novels you never finish.

Ultra-simple plotting with three steps to success

Last year’s classes on plotting were fun. Amazingly all the pantsers discovered that yes indeed, they could plot, in a fun, minimalist kind of way.

We discovered a fun new way of plotting: I call it the “open the door” method. With this method, you’ve got a clear visual of your plot. It helps.

Look at your plot like this:

  • You’re standing in front of a closed door. Look around… when you open the door, you’ve done the setup of your novel;
  • Next, explore the darkness. Careful — don’t stub your toe!
  • You reach another door. Open it gently (you’ll need to fight to open this door.) Then SLAM the door, and step away.

This method is fun, and helps you to structure your novel.

1. Entry: open the door with the setup

You know that the first 25% or so of your novel is the setup. You get to know the main characters. If you’re writing a mystery, the detective goes to the crime scene, and we learn a little about his (messed up, always) home life.

The setup ends when you open the door. In the Hero’s Journey, the Quest/ Adventure begins.

Getting back to our mystery novel, our detective tries to get someone else to take the case, and fails. He’s stuck with it. Moreover, if he doesn’t solve the case, the results will be dire. The setup ends/ he opens the door when he sets off to hunt for clues and question suspects.

2. Walk around in the dark: nasty surprises

The “walk around around in the dark” phase is the long stretch of the novel from the 25% point (end of the setup) to the roughly 80% point, which is the Dark Moment/ All is Lost/ Ordeal in the Hero’s Journey.

I love the Dark Moment. Prepare for the Dark Moment (80%) as soon as you open the door and start exploring. However, there’s a long stretch between 25% and 80%: this long stretch is often called the “saggy middle.” Your sole aim is to stop the middle sagging. 🙂

Imagine you’re walking around in the dark. Do you:

  • Find a torch?
  • Tumble off a cliff?
  • Meet someone threatening, who injures you?

Pantsers love the idea of walking around in the dark, because they know that the midpoint’s coming up.

At the midpoint — the 50% point of the novel — there’s a BIG change. In our mystery novel, the detective gets fired, and it’s his own fault. He faces his demons. Often, he has a drinking problem, or a drug problem, and he knows he has to overcome this.

In a romance, the hero and heroine make love at the midpoint.

3. Open the door gently, then SLAM it — and step away

As we’ve said, at the 80% point it’s the Dark Moment, or the All is Lost Moment. You’re heading for another door, which is the Climax; the Big Fight at around the 95% point.

At the Dark Moment, your hero loses big: it’s his fault. His negative attribute (carelessness, bad temper, dislike of authority) or whatever it is, means that he knows that there is no way he can win.

Of course he does win… 🙂 However, at this stage, it looks as if he won’t. After the Dark Moment, the hero pulls himself together, and decides that he will win, or die trying.

And it’s onward to…

The Climax: the big fight, or reveal, before your novel is DONE

In a mystery novel, at the Climax, the detective discovers the killer, and captures him. Or, if you’re writing a cozy, your Miss Marples character calls all the suspects into the library, so that she can reveal the killer.

The Open the Door Method helps you to visualize your plotting journey

Students who are pantsers enjoy this method of plotting, because it’s visual. You know where you should be at the 25% point for example: you know that your setup should be done by now.

Give this plotting method a try. It’s sufficiently freestyle to please most pantsers. Have fun with it. 🙂

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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Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

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I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly. More info →
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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.

More Heart To Heart: Write Hot-Selling Romance Fiction

More Heart To Heart: Write Hot-Selling Romance Fiction

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Series: Romance Writing, Book 2
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
I adore writing romance fiction, and now you can write romance too. More info →
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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
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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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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