Tag Archives: characters

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

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.

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Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories

Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories


Want to write short stories? If you answered yes, that's excellent… Here's why. Today, you can make money writing short fiction.

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Craft Fictional Characters For NaNoWriMo: 3 Tips

Craft Fictional Characters For NaNoWriMo: 3 Tips

Ready for NaNoWriMo? With just over a week to go, I hope that your preparation is proceeding steadily. One of the biggest challenges in writing a book in a month is creating appealing fictional characters. Since your characters create your plot, it’s worth thinking about your characters: primary characters as well as secondary.

To get a handle on your characters, start with the basics.

Vital: your fictional character’s basics: name, age, profession and primary attribute

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.

These kinds of mini character bios take less than a minute to set up, and they give us a head start on our plot. Since her primary attribute is curiosity, we know that we need to show Mara’s curiosity several times in the Setup of our novel’s structure (the first few chapters.) We also know that her curiosity will create problems for Mara in the lead up to our novel’s climax — the final three chapters.

Once you’ve created several of these itty bitty bios for the main players in your novel, your plot starts to take shape. Your task now is to challenge your characters, so they reveal themselves, and kick along the plot.

Let’s look at three tips which will help.

1. Give a character the skill he needs: show how he acquired his skills

As you build your characters and your plot keep watching for things you need to foreshadow, and plant. By the time we’ve created another three or four characters for our cozy mystery for example, we’ve decided on the crime which Mara will investigate: it’s the murder of a prominent man in town. We also know that Mara will break into the house of the victim, and into the home of his mistress too. Mara believes that the police have arrested the wrong man.

House-breaking isn’t a common skill. We need to show how Mara acquired that skill, before she needs it. So we’ll set that up in an early chapter.

2. Show your hero’s dark side: everyone has a shadow

Are you a new author? New authors, and some established authors too, tend to create impossibly perfect main characters. No one is perfect. Give your characters faults. Not little faults, either. No one cares if your heroine is chronically late.

You need to create a major fault for each of your main characters if you want readers to remember the character. Consider Lizzie Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice. She falls for Wickham’s tale, and reads too much into the character of Mr Darcy from her cursory observations of him. Everyone loves Lizzie of course, so her prejudice — judging Darcy on little information — is forgiven and understood.

With our cozy mystery, we could turn Mara’s “curiosity” attribute into a major fault. Everyone has a shadow side, so perhaps Mara’s curiosity could be so strong that it’s almost pathological. The murderer recognizes this, and creates a trap for her.

You can turn almost any attribute into a flaw; just focus on the shadow side of the attribute.

Focusing on the shadow sides of your characters will help you to build your plot too, painlessly.

3. Get to know your character: write his journal

Building characters by playing around with descriptions, character attributes and flaws rarely makes your characters real to you. They’re paper dolls.

To make a character REAL to you, write a character’s journal, in the voice of that character. Writing character journals will not only make your characters much more real to you, it will grow your plot, too.

One point… be aware that you’re doing NaNoWriMo prep. 🙂 You can’t start writing your novel until November 1. I always find that when I’m writing character journals, it’s inspiring, and I want to work on my novel.

When you’ve got great fictional characters, you’ve got a readable novel

Readers read to experience. They want to meet interesting people, with whom they can identify, or not. When you follow our three tips, you’ll create characters readers will enjoy.

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Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

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.

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Writing Fiction And Getting Read: 4 Easy Tips

Writing Fiction And Getting Read: 4 Easy Tips

Not only is writing fiction fun, today it can be very profitable indeed. You don’t need to get your book onto any bestseller lists to make a nice income. All you need is ebooks which are read.

Readers in genres like romance are voracious. They’ll read everything you write, if your books excite them.

Get read, make money

Your aim in writing short stories and novels is to be read right through to the end, particularly if you enroll your ebooks in Amazon’s KDP Select. Enrolling in Select automatically makes your ebooks available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. In KU, you’re paid for every page which readers read.

How do you get readers, and keep them reading? Let’s look at some tips.

1. Spend time on your hook — and keep up the suspense

Ideally your reader finds your hook so amazing that he must start reading… and can’t stop. A “hook” hooks readers’ attention. To keep readers reading, you need to embed your hook, and make sure that you keep hooking readers, right through the ebook.

Spend time studying the hooks in bestselling fiction. Your hook doesn’t need to be outrageous; just something which intrigues readers.

I just checked Amazon’s Top 100 bestsellers in Literature and Fiction. Currently the top ranked book is The Good Neighbor, by J.A. Banner.

From the description:

“Shadow Cove, Washington, is the kind of town everyone dreams about—quaint streets, lush forests, good neighbors. That’s what Sarah thinks as she settles into life with her new husband, Dr. Johnny McDonald.”

Can you see the hook? It takes just two sentences, and your curiosity is aroused. Simple as it is, it’s a hook which works.

2. Keep readers guessing, and surprise them in every scene

You know that readers hate info-dumping — that is, telling too much in an indigestible lump. Info dumps stop your story dead. And there’s a bigger problem with info dumps too. When you info dump, it’s like piling all your storytelling ammunition into a heap, and then ignoring it.

Information is valuable. Dole it out sparingly. Keep readers guessing, and see if you can embed a surprise in every scene.

3. Ensure that your main character has a problem he can’t ignore

Every popular short story and novel is the story of change in the main character, or characters. If there’s no change, readers stop reading. Your characters need to grow.

We’ve talked about character flaws. In your fiction, your characters must have flaws, and they must overcome them. Your main character’s flaw can’t be trivial. It needs to be crippling, so that if he doesn’t recognize the flaw, and overcome it, he’ll be destroyed.

Genre comes to your rescue here. Most genres have tropes, which give you your flaw. In historical romance, the hardened rake is a trope, with a built-in flaw. As Maya Rodale suggests, you can turn that trope on its head, and create a virgin hero.

4. Up the ante: make everything WORSE (or better)

If your readers aren’t reading, chances are that you’re letting your characters off too easy. Don’t do that. When you write a scene, ask yourself how you can make the character’s situation WORSE.

Let’s say that you’ve written a scene in which your main character loses his job. Well done — now make it worse. Not only does he lose his job, but he’s also arrested for fraud. His fiancee calls off the wedding.

While you’re busily making things worse, make sure that your character never, ever sees himself as a victim. Disaster brings out the best in him, not the worst. (Unless you’re writing a comedy.)

Serial Fiction Bonanza: Get Readers, Get Fans — Make A Solid Income From Your Fiction FAST

Serial Fiction Bonanza: Get Readers, Get Fans — Make A Solid Income From Your Fiction FAST

Serial fiction has been around since the days of Charles Dickens. Self-publishing authors love it. Discover how to write serials in our new four week class. Coaching is included — you’re not writing alone.

By the end of the program, you’ll have published several episodes of your serial fiction. You’ll also be steadily marketing, while you’re writing and publishing.

Join us: you’ll have a lot of fun, and you’ll boost your fiction writing career.

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