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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

eBook: $5.99
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

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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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How Do You Know That You’re Ready To Write A Book?

How Do You Know That You’re Ready To Write A Book?

NaNoWriMo is on the horizon, which means lots of questions about writing. I had a plaintive cry for help from one woman, who’s been listening to people tell her what she can’t do. Basically, her friends were laughing at her and telling her that she couldn’t write a book.

Oh dear. As you might imagine, that made me very cross indeed. Since none of this writer’s friends are authors, how dare they crush her dreams? (While calling themselves “friends”…) On the other hand, perhaps those friends are helping her more than they realize.

I’ve always said that you will know that you’re ready to write a book when you want to do it — and that you’ll learn what you need to know about writing a book in the process of writing.

With any luck at all, this writer will decide to prove that she can indeed write a book, by writing and publishing one. 🙂

Write a book one idea and paragraph at a time

“How do I know I’m ready to write a book?” is a very common question.

Here’s my answer. If you can write a letter, you can write a book. You just keep writing, putting down one idea after another, and one paragraph after another. Keep writing, and you’ll end up with a book. You don’t even have to love writing, nor do you need to be talented, or even good at writing.

Only writing teaches you writing. The more you write, and the more you want to improve, the more you will improve.

Here’s the thing. No one knows what YOU can do — not even you. So, if you want to write a book, just start writing.

Desire is everything: writing a book will teach you how to write it

Of course people will have opinions. 🙂 To avoid getting side-tracked by those opinions, don’t discuss what you’re doing. Your nearest and dearest mean well when they tell you that you “can’t write a book.” They’re trying to help. (Most of them, anyway.) They don’t want you to be hurt.

When I offer this advice to writers — to write a book, get started and write — they have many more questions. However, if they’re not actively writing, they can’t implement the advice they get. So you need to start writing, no matter how many doubts and questions you have.

NaNoWriMo offers you a great opportunity to discover what writing a novel is like. Basically, it’s a lot of sitting and writing. 🙂

If you’re like the writer above, and wonder if you can write a book — join NaNoWriMo and find out.

Resources to build your writing career

Watch for free contests, 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

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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 →

Writing Process: Words, Words, And More Words

Writing Process: Words, Words, And More Words

I know that consistent production is hard for many writers. So let’s look at a writing process which ensures that you produce more words. This process works for both fiction and nonfiction.

Key: KNOW that you can do it. If you can talk, you can write. I write around 1000 to 1500 words an hour.

If I’m writing fiction, most of that is fairly good, for first draft material. But it’s nevertheless first draft material. It needs editing. If you can only manage 200 words an hour, that’s more than fine. You’ll get faster as you go.

Here’s your basic writing process:

  • Idea generation (know what you’re writing)
  • First draft writing
  • Editing

1. Know what you’re writing when you sit down to write

Never, ever sit down at your computer to write, without knowing what you’re writing, and exactly how much you expect yourself to produce.

Consider your creative self to be the genie in the bottle, if it helps. You need to give your genie orders.

For example, yesterday I needed to do the final edits on a novella. I wanted to publish it yesterday, and I did. I had notes on what I had to cover in the final edit, and I just followed the notes.

This morning I did just 1000 words on a new fiction trilogy. I’d done zero planning, so a lot of my fiction writing time was fiddling around, creating characters. I knew before I started that my goal for that project today was a thousand words, so I wrote them.

To repeat: give yourself instructions. Know what you’re writing before you sit down to write.

2. Get uncomfortable: try Write or Die (your word count per hour will go up)

Every month or two, I use timed writing sessions to force myself to write more words per hour. This is challenging. But it works. You can get too comfortable.

Get uncomfortable. I’ve started using Write or Die 2, because I heard good reports on it, and it keeps stats. Write or Die has two sliders, one for the minutes in your writing session, and the other slider is a word count goal for those minutes.

You don’t need an app. Use a kitchen timer, and set it for a time — half an hour, if you like. Then decide how many words you’ll write.

Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone works. Your productivity will increase.

2. Focus on scenes: write the dialogue first

When you’re writing fiction, focus on scenes.

Here’s how to write scenes:

  • Decide on the goal you want for a scene. What changes? What emotion do you want?
  • Write the scene’s first line;
  • Write the scene’s last line;
  • Write the dialogue between the first and last line;
  • Go back and fill in the extras: emotions, characters’ thoughts, movements, and so on.

The above process works for me, because once you’ve got the dialogue, everything follows from that. I tend to worry too much about characters’ emotions and thoughts. I put in too much, and slow myself — and the scene — down.

Focus on your scenes, and write the dialogue first: try it. You’ll write more, and more easily.

Have fun. 🙂

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