Setting: Anchoring the Reader

Sleeping_Beauty_by_Harbour.jpgWe all like to think whoever picks up our book isn’t going to put it down. Our hope is they sit there in a vegetative state absorbing the words, until like a kiss from a prince/princess, the words, The End, release them from the spell.

Unfortunately, readers need food, water, bathroom breaks, and sleep. Sleep is the tricky one. If they grab a snack, take a tinkle, or get some water, then they come right back to the book. But sleep, well, sleep ruins everything.

I know if I’m reading before bed, I try my best to make it to the end of the chapter. Even if it’s not bedtime, I try to make it to the end of the chapter before I put the book down. The reason is somewhat obvious; I don’t want to start reading in the middle of scene. If that happens, then we may have to slip back a page or two to catch myself back up.

This is an important concept to grasp when you are writing your book.

anchorUsing setting cues at the beginning of a chapter quickly reorients the wayward reader who has ventured back into your world. It doesn’t take paragraphs to accomplish, but some brief setting details (time of day, location, characters present, visceral elements) will cement the reader back into the story.

Anchoring your reader will also increase the pacing of your book.

When I am writing my first draft, I tend to pace quickly.  When I can, I end the chapter with action and start the next one continuing it. One mistake I’ve made is not orienting the reader when I dive into the next chapter. Ending with action is fine. Starting with action is also fine. But if you don’t clue the sleepy-eyed reader into what the action was at the beginning of the chapter, suddenly it’s very confusing.

The Lost Woman.jpgI liken this issue to the writing process. As writers, we have to get our bearings when we sit back down to conjure up our stories. You open up your manuscript, and heck, you may have left off in the middle of a piece of dialogue. So you do what we all do, you scroll up a bit and read to get back into the scene.

Our reader shouldn’t have to do that. If your reader has to flip back a page every time they reopen the book, this is going to be a problem for them (assuming they are stopping at chapter markers or at the conclusion of scenes). Some readers may not realize exactly what the problem is, but in reviews you will see words like pacing, flow, and disorienting.

There are some tools out there you can use to keep your readers engaged. I wrote a post a while back about stitching transitions into setting here. That post focused more on showing passages of time and changing locations within chapters. Some of those concepts spill over.

writers guide to active setting.jpgHowever, in regards to adding setting information into chapter openings, I have found a decent resource. Mary Buckham’s book, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, is one of the best books I have found talking about setting. An entire chapter is dedicated to anchoring the reader in scenes and chapters.

Buckham reinforces the idea I am talking about by saying a, “…common mistake is forgetting that the reader may have set the book down at the end of the last chapter, or scene, or you have ended a scene in one location and opened the next chapter, or scene, in a new location” (p. 151).

Two of the best solutions I have seen are the macro (far away) and micro (up close) approach. There are a bunch of fancy ways of saying this, but breaking it down into mirco and macro seems to be the easiest way to condense the concepts.

fantasy landscape (macro).jpgThe macro approach is to pull back and anchor the reader with a couple pieces of description. Using an omniscient point of view, you approach the beginning of the chapter like a panorama.  n as little as a sentence or two, you can quickly use this method to orient the reader as to who is present, what is around them, what they are doing, and what the time of day is.

fantasy landscape (micro).jpgThe micro approach pulls the reader in closer and offers the above perspective from the POV of the character(s) present in the chapter. For you folks who are writing in 1st person, this is pretty much your only solution. If you have a host of characters you are juggling, it is essential to orient the reader as to who is present; the micro approach solves this problem as well.

It should be noted that it’s not a set-in-stone rule that you should anchor the reader at the beginning of each and every chapter. Some writing styles and genres need to keep the reader guessing and on their toes. However, this decision to not anchor is typically a conscious decision by the writer, not just happenstance.

NewsletterSavage_newsletter_test

Site Info

The Hero’s Journey: For Writing & Life

fantasy castle.jpg

You are probably on a journey; I know I am. For me, it’s a writer’s journey, but it’s a hero’s journey, too. Writers have our own battles, allies, and enemies to navigate. Whether we realize it or not, the characters we write about, and ourselves, have embarked upon The Hero’s Journey. Cinch down your cloak, replenish the ink in your sharpest quill, and let’s talk about it.

hero with a thousand faces 1.jpgThe Hero’s Journey is a concept I first read about in Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell explains that there are reoccurring themes that run through almost all stories, myths, and even religious texts. The theme is The Hero’s Journey. Once it’s broken down into pieces, you can’t help but noticing it in most of the books, movies, and mediums you see everyday. Even aspects of our own lives conform to the structure.

While Campbell introduced the idea of The Hero’s Journey, Christopher Vogler does an amazing job of breaking it down into component pieces in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. Campbell basically said, “There be dragons ahead,” and Vogler took that statement and wrote a book on how to slay those winged beasts.

Vogler’s step-by-step model of writing stories has been adopted by many writers working in different mediums. You’ll have a hard time finding a Pixar or Disney movie that doesn’t adopt this structure outright. The reason? Well, for one, it works. Two, this plotting method is relatable to most people, because our life experience seems to tie into the myth of the story.

Vogler explains, “The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life, especially the writer’s life. In the perilous adventure of my own writing, I found the stages of the Hero’s Journey showing up just as reliably and usefully as they did in books, myths, and movies” (p. 5).

With Vogler and Campbell’s twin stars on the horizon as our guide, lets learn about the journey. Also, let’s uncover how it applies to our writing and our lives.

hobbit holeThe Ordinary World. This is where the writer introduces the hero/heroine in their normal environment. Of course, they aren’t a hero yet. They are a street rat (Aladdin), hairy-footed Hobbit in a hole (LOTR), or girl living in the coal district (Hunger Games).

For the writer, this may be the time before you started writing. Maybe you thought about writing. There was a nagging feeling, but you ignored it. You stayed in the comfort of your Ordinary World.

The Call to Adventure.  This is when an external influence causes the hero/heroine to consider abandoning the Ordinary World.  This call to action is often times them learning of a threat to the safety of their Ordinary World.

For writers, this is the moment of inspiration.  Maybe a book, friend, teacher, movie, flash of clarity, or all of these combined, turns the nagging feeling into something more.  The words are calling to you.

refusing the call.jpgRefusal of the Call. This is the moment of doubt. The budding hero doesn’t want to leave the comfort of the Ordinary World. Family, doubt in ability, lack of incentive, and fear are often played upon refusals.

These are those first doubts you feel as a writer. “I can’t do this.  I don’t have a story to tell. I don’t even know how to write well.  Is writing worth it?”

Mentor Pops Up. Aladdin had a genie, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Katniss had Haymitch. These are their guides to push them along.  Some act as a moral compass, some simply push the hero, and some are there to meddle.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a person when it comes to writers. It can be, sure, but it can also be a book/idea/dream that inspires you. Something to guide you along your path and help you step outside of your comfort zone.

door to a new world.jpgCrossing the First Threshold. This is when the story starts getting interesting. The hero puts his/her head down and embarks on the quest.  They accept the adventure, leaving the Ordinary World and entering a special one.

For you wordsmiths, this is when you say, “Screw it – lets do this thing.” You sit down and begin the process. You exit the real world and enter the creative whirlpool. I see many authors quitting their jobs and taking up writing full-time. No doubt, they are crossing toward the First Threshold.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies.  Here we start getting elements sprinkled in. The hero/heroine meets friends, learn of and encounter enemies, and begin facing minor trials. They battle threshold guardians and sometimes, almost always, they come up short. The hero/heroine haven’t yet honed their skills. Or perhaps they haven’t built a strong enough connection with their allies to be effective.

hercules.jpgFor us scribblers, this is the beginning of the process. We seek out others like us. We deal with writers block and creativity issues. We learn that the initial fire, that spark, won’t sustain us. We need something more: dedication and habit. We often fail, but in the process, we begin to get better at the craft.

Approach to the Inmost  Cave. At this point, the hero/heroine (and allies if applicable) have honed their skills, and are preparing to face the enemy.  They stand at the gates, swords/wands/pens in hand with a determined look on their faces. Their scars, whether metaphorical or very real, are a testament to the journey they have taken to this point.

For writers, this when you start getting deeper into the work. You’ve knocked out a couple hundred pages, maybe told a few people what you are up to, and now the pressure is mounting. The end is in very near, but you still have work to do. You hope your resolve and skill will carry you to the end.

The Supreme Ordeal. This is the, “oh crap,” moment when the hero stares death in the face. For the reader/audience, you wonder if they will survive. The hero/heroine does survive the conflict, often barely, and realize they are more powerful/resourceful than they thought.

For the writer, this is the moment when you almost lose the writing battle. You step away for a few days, weeks, or months — sometimes longer.  You reappraise what you are doing. If you are the writing hero I know you are, you’ll return to the desk and finish.

flying carpet.jpgReward. For the hero, they seize the reward after beating the boss; the battle is won. Many times, they gain a boon, trophy, or magic item. The reward may simply be the realization of power they didn’t know existed within themselves.

My friend M.L.S. Weech always says, the more times you type, “The End,” the more confident you will be in your skill. He also says the more of them you type, the easier and quicker the next one is to get to.  This is sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many of the writers I work with, or consider to be mentors in my own journey. Needles to say, for a writer, typing The End is a major reward.  It is also the realization of hidden potential.

The Road Back. The hero begins the return journey back to the Ordinary World with the reward in hand, or inside them.

For the writer, I equate this to the real world versus fantasy world we live in while we write. You improved your skills while you wrote, you finished the work, now you must come back to the Ordinary World and edit/promote/sell it.

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads.jpgResurrection. The hero may have slain the dragon and seized the magic sword that heals the land, but now the dragon’s mother is in pursuit. Often times, the hero must deal with the consequences of their Supreme Ordeal. When power is found, unlocked, or a magic item is gained, there is often the issue of wielding this power responsibly. Sometimes, those around you become wary of what you have become, or what you are capable of.

For the writer, this is the realization that writing The End is just another beginning. There are edits, rewrites, book covers, email lists, agents, publishers, and critics to contend with now.  More ordeals spring up like weeds.

potion.jpgReturn with the Elixir. It’s all meaningless for the hero if they don’t return to the Ordinary World clutching their spoils. These spoils can by physical: an item to cleanse the blighted land, or powerful weapon to protect it. The spoils can be mental: they now have a story to share, become a mentor themselves, or offer insights to protect and enhance their Ordinary World.

For us writers, these are the moments of impact after the book, or work, is out there. The email from an appreciative reader, the five star review, the kind words from friends and family. Maybe your elixir is to compile a book to illuminate the way, much like Campbell and Vogler did for me.

That’s The Hero’s Journey.  This was a longer post, if you made it this far you’ve completed a reader’s journey.  In the future, I want to elaborate on each step, but we needed a point to jump off from – hence the length.

I hope you found this helpful. Do aspects of your life (writing life/life in general) fit The Hero’s Journey? Do you feel like steps are missing or are incorrect? I’d love to talk about it.


NewsletterSavage_newsletter_test


Site Info

NASA Reveals Space Weapon, then Undetected Asteroid Nearly Hits Earth

asteroid.jpgYou’d think with all the satellites and space-viewing devices that exists in this modern age that you wouldn’t hear about “undetected asteroids” popping up. That’s exactly what happened a couple weeks ago (July 20, 2017). The beaut, roughly the size of the Statue of Liberty, passed between us and our moon.

Deemed Asteroid 2017 001, it was detected on July 23, 2017 by the ATLAS-MLO telescope at Mauna Loa, Hawaii and was nearest to Earth on July 20th (Source: Eddie Irizarry/EarthSky).

predator.jpgSo, what the heck astronomers? How’d this sneaky bastard get by all of you? You all didn’t even notice it until three days after it had passed closest to us? Short answer: it’s not their fault.

Apparently, Asteroid 2017 001 has a non-reflective surface, which allowed it whiz between Earth and our moon at a brisk 23,179 miles per hour (37,303 km/h). It’s like the Predator of asteroids (or so I like think). Holy camouflaged Near Earth Objects (NEOs) Batman!

Our visitor was somewhere between 82 feet and 256 feet in length. No clue what the means? Let’s offer some scale.

The Chelyabinsk asteroid (the one that exploded over Russia in 2013) injured approximately 1,500 people and caused millions of dollars worth of property damage. It was between 55 and 65 feet long, and when it exploded in the atmosphere 12 miles above Earth, some experts have calculated it released 500 kilotons of energy (Source: Deborah Byrd/EarthSky). That’s 30 times the yield of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Remember, our recent visitor was between 82-256 feet. Yikes!

That’s pretty scary, right? It’s especially useful information for me because I am writing about post-apocalyptic worlds. Sometimes the real world makes for the best fiction. Speaking of this, plot twist time!

At the start of this month (July) there was a rash of stories about NASA getting the green-light to develop an asteroid destroying/diverting weapon. Basically, they’d hit the incoming NEO with a fridge-sized spaceship traveling nine times the speed of a bullet. I’m imagining some sort of cannon that shoots ice-boxes. Here’s what it really looks like (Image Source: NASA/Planetary Defense page).

DART Spacecraft.png

A quick stop over at the NASA website, and boom, I’m introduced to the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission. Badass acronym, NASA. To be fair, this isn’t the first mention of this program. Nope. But it is a bit tasty that they would update the info for the DART Mission on July 18th.

Now, let me be the first to say that I’m not a conspiracy theory person; it’s not my thing. But man, what a bunch of coincidences. There’s a stream of news articles regarding DART at the start of the month. Then, the NASA Planetary Defense page updates the DART mission page two days prior to an “undetected asteroid” just missing the Earth…

Like I said earlier, the real world makes for the best fiction. That’s it from me; I’ve got writing to tackle. I like to use the blog page as an idea journal, and this idea was worth recording and sharing. Keep your eyes to the sky and your refrigerator cannons loaded.

Author Page Sign Out

Copyright Info (final)

Digital Killed the Paperback Star…or did it?

time cover July 11.jpgNote: I wrote this article a year back, in the time since, independent book stores are continuing their resurgence. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but please take the time to check out this compilation of reference articles from the American Booksellers Association. More than fifty articles are listed: Independent Bookstores are Thriving


July 3rd, 2016

My weekly Time magazine came in the mail a couple days ago. The cover shouted in red, white, and blue letters, “240 Reasons to Celebrate America Right Now.” I was holding Thor (my baby boy), so I ended up flopping it open on kitchen counter with my free hand. I read articles out loud to him; if he cries, I know the article is boring. Nestled in the centerfold was the title of the 64th reason to celebrate: The death of the bookstore was greatly exaggerated. I read it out loud, and Thor giggled. Okay, maybe he didn’t, but that would of been a nice hook, huh?

The article, written by Lev Grossman, provides a brief snapshot of how independent bookstores are doing. The outlook was pleasing. Here are some takeaways and why it should matter to you as writers and as readers.

Independent bookstores are doing better than some media sources reflect in their reporting. According to the article bookstores have been growing in numbers steadily for the last seven years. Climbing from 1,712 all the way to 2,311 (Grossman cited the American Booksellers Association for these numbers). The growth was attributed  largely to new technology making inventorying libraries easier for small businesses and social media allowing for low cost advertising.

The next reason for this growth jumped out at me; these independently ran bookstores operate in a niche market. Grossman provided a quote from one independent shop owner (Brian Lampkin, owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, N.C.) who stated, “We’re letting Amazon and Barnes & Noble take care of the best sellers. Where are you going to get poetry? Some Barnes & Nobles you walk into, you’re lucky to find Emily Dickinson.”

This quote brings me to my first point.

bookstoreamersterdam.jpgAs indie authors, citizen writers, and artists, why wouldn’t you go and support those who exist to support you? 

If you are a writer of any medium, you should be walking into the local bookstore and seeing what they have going on. You may not be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (yet), but in your town or city, you might be the best thing since sliced bread. Even better, these struggling businesses want you to talk about your work with customers; they want poetry readings; they want the local flavor to come in and mix and mingle. It’s a powerful tool to reach out from beyond the glow of our computer screens.

I have indie author friends who made sure to go to local bookstores and get their work up on the shelves. I know from the Instagram photographs, Facebook posts, and conversations we’ve had, that seeing their work sitting in a bookstore shelf was one of the highlights in their journey.

print is dead.jpgPrint isn’t dead.  Digital may have punched it in the face, but it’s still in the game. Grossman provides an interesting statistic. “Last year the share of e-books
(at least the non-self published kind) actually receded to 24%. The book market appears to have rebalanced itself into a complex mix of paper and digital, with neither format completely dominating…”.

This is an important thing to consider when you decide what formats you are going to produce. I know plenty of indie authors who only sell e-copies of their work. The worry is they won’t be able to recuperate the costs of printing. But perhaps the tides are changing and there could be profit to go to print? Even if it is just a limited print. Especially if there are local stores who are willing to let you throw down a table, do readings, and toss your books up on the shelf. It is something to consider as you move through the process.

If you want to worship, go to the temple. I urge you to go check out your local book haunt. Plenty of these places aren’t making much money doing what they are doing. To them, that’s not the point. They do it because they have a passion for print. They love the look and smell of a wall of books.

Ask yourself this: are we so different from them? Are you making millions from your writing right now? Even if you are, is that the only driving force behind your stories? To be a successful writer, I assume an element of passion must be there. Surround yourself with those equally as passionate and see your fortune rise.

Final Words: To my fellow Americans, I hope your 4th of July is great and you are surrounded by those you love. To my friends outside of our borders, please enjoy the endless videos of us crazy Americans blowing ourselves to smithereens with pyrotechnics.

Author Page Sign Out

Copyright Info (final)

Fear and Loathing at RavenCon 2017

Author Note: This article was lost when my author and editor sites were merged. A big thanks to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne for pointing out the broken link and wanting to read the article in the first place. Now, on to the shenanigans.


Fear and Loathing.jpg

I’m walking through the darkened courtyard of the DoubleTree Hotel in Williamsburg, Virginia, trailing just behind Chris Kennedy. The sun has dropped from the sky, much like my morale after sitting in on a panel where one panelist plugged their book eighteen times. I know this because I kept tally. Eighteen.

Putting this from my mind, I increase my pace and try not to slip on the water-soaked cement. Some kid splashing with a writhing knot of multi-colored pool noodles underneath him shouts up at me from the water, “I bet you didn’t think you’d see someone with seven pool noodles in their trunks!”

jawsIt’s true, kid. I didn’t think I’d see that. Who swims in the dark? That’s how you get eaten by the night sharks who dwell in shallow hotel pools! 

Of course I didn’t say any of that out loud. Careful to not get pulled into an existential conversation about the stuffing of pool noodles into bathing suits with no adult supervision around, I continue following Chris. He is navigating toward a suite being shared by a publishing house. I’m following like a lost puppy.

We’d communicated electronically, but this convention – Ravencon – was my first in-person meeting with him. We had joked about sharing a few beers. Him and I are both Navy vets, so a shared beer is sort of a sacred thing. It seemed Chris was making good on this promise. Unfortunately, the outside door that would give access to the suite is locked, a fatal flaw in his planning.

Undaunted, the quick-witted publisher/author stalks over to the fenced-in balcony where a collection of women puff on cigarettes. It’s the typical metal fencing you see at hotels of this type: waist high, blocky bars, not designed to keep your room from being ransacked, but meant to keep you from passing out and falling into the bushes or wandering into the pool for a final swim.

smoking skull.jpgChris asks the smoke-breathing women if they would mind opening the door to the wing from the inside. Instead, they tell us to jump the fence. Opting for a less acrobatic solution, we squeeze through a one-foot space against the wall, slide the glass door open, and step inside.

A collection of men and women are sitting around and meandering about. A fold-out, veneer table to my left is covered in half-emptied bottles of hard liquor. Despite the age of the occupants attending this venue, the room décor was like that of a college party: plastic trashcans overflowing with bottles and trash, fold out chairs, crappy lighting, hotel carpeting – the works.

Everyone stops talking, looks over at us, then one of the older men tells me to close the door behind me. After I complied with his orders, we walked over to a huddled circle of seated people. The Giver of Orders, a kindly man who didn’t want to be assaulted by cigarette smoke, produced a black cooler bag. It was packed with local craft beer. Happy and grateful to have obtained free social lubricant, I quickly empty the bottle while somewhat awkward conversation happens all around me.

ravencon.png

Everyone around me has titles under their belt, or have contributed to the production of multiple books. I have no published works to my name. As an editor, I’m mildly successful considering I’ve not been doing it professionally for long. But this is a room full of established editors, authors, and publishers. So, I did what I do best: drink, listen, drink, respond, drink, nod, drink, and smile.

drinking buddies.jpgI don’t pass out a single business card – despite having them made for the convention – and I didn’t tell a single person who I was or what I was doing there. I just play the fly-on-the-wall game until we all said our farewells. Chris headed home, and I wandered off to my room. Later that evening, I thought about what a missed opportunity that was while I worked my way through the beers I had stocked in my hotel fridge.

Less than a week later, while I was in the safety of my own home, Chris sent an offer to publish a series J.R. Handley and I have been outlining called The Odera Chronicles. A few weeks later, he informed me a short story I had co-authored will be showing up in an anthology he is releasing in September.

This, for me, is the purpose of something like RavenCon. It’s not about judging the merit of the panels (or panelists), or pimping your books to a room full of disinterested people. It’s certainly not about gloating about your successes and comparing yourself to others. Sometimes, it’s about wandering around, meeting people, pool noodles, jumping fences, and drinking the occasional beer. It’s about being present and open to a strange adventure.

Author Page Sign Out

Copyright Info (final)

Free Books on Query Letters & Agents

A while back I wrote a post about looking for agents (Quest for the Holy Sale: Finding Agents). It was a whimsical bit of nonsense with an undertone of importance. I’ve had a lot of conversations, emails, and questions come my way about agents and query letters since then. My response was, “Dudes and dudettes, didn’t my post indicate my level of uselessness?”

Understanding my deficiency, I’ve been gathering all the info I can obtain about the subject. During this period of self-study, I uncovered a couple free gems (these might only be free for Kindle users).

The two books are both by Noah Lukeman:

How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success

How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent

Eating A Dash of StyleI was really excited to see these free books. I had read Lukeman’s book on punctuation (A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation) a few months back and really enjoyed the content. You know, eating my greens and all of that. In case you couldn’t picture what it looks like when I consume books, I added a picture.

Just wanted to take a minute to pass on these two awesome and free sources of information. I found the book on writing a great query letter to be extremely useful. Lukeman talks about what kind of paper to use (yeah, some people apparently write on cardboard to be clever), how to address the letter, how many paragraphs to write, how to structure those paragraphs, and more.

Good stuff!

Author Page Sign Out

 

Copyright Info (final)

 

What are Plots? Understanding Episodic, Dramatic, Parallel, and Flashback

No Plot.jpg“What’s it all about?” “What’s the point?” If you’re a writer or reader, these are usually questions of plot. They could be the things we whisper in the dark before we sleep, too.

Anyways, moving along.

Let’s start this shindig with a basic definition. I pulled this one from The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, by Alice LaPlante (it’s one gigantic book, but a really great one). “So plot, as we will define it, is that series of events, arranged in a particular order, which brings about the desired final effect of a short story or novel” (p. 377).

Highfalutin folks People who have taken some creative writing courses (or read a few textbooks on the subject) will mutter about The Major Dramatic Question. To put it simply, the major dramatic question is the problem the author presents for their characters to deal with; it’s the same problem the reader is confronted with as they go through the story. After the story is finished, the reader should feel they have an answer, or solution, to this problem (even if the reader’s solution wasn’t the same as what you wrote, at least you got them thinking).

While the journey to answering this question is why readers read, as the writer, it’s often important to take a moment to ask yourself: “Just where the heck am I going with this? What issue am I presenting in this story? Does my ending solve this issue? Should it?”

Ignoring the plot is like foreplay without We don’t want to take our readers on an awesome journey and not give them a payoff of some kind. The plot ensures we stay on track. I’ve read/heard many different techniques for ensuring you achieve this goal. I’m sticking with the shortest and quickest ones I’ve found.

Crying Boy No Plot.jpgDon’t plot. Doesn’t get any quicker than doing nothing. Not what I would recommend, but enough people have read Steven King’s book, On Writing, to cherry-pick passages that indicate plotting goes against creativity (as if every writer is creative in the same way and one person’s recipe for success fits all). According to King, this sort of pre-planning ruins the organic process.

The reason I don’t recommend this is because it’s hard to overhaul a plotless book. These novels/stories stretch on forever, largely because the writer is simply writing without a goal of any kind. They rock back and forth and whisper, “The ending will come, the ending will come…” Bad news, sometimes, it’s not coming. Sometimes, you must have a somewhat realized concept of what the plot was to effectively close it out.

Side note. The lack of any sort of plotting and blind writing is not something I advocate or dissuade people from, generically. Every writer is different. Some can power through to a conclusion that makes perfect sense. Some will get lost in the middle and never find the end. Some advice shouldn’t be stone, it should be sand. So, shift your style to fit your person, even if your person shifts year-by-year.

Plot points. Unlike an in-depth plotting project where you write pages of discovery material, this is a page or two where you numerically number the major plot points in chronological order and cross them off as you move along. This gives you the freedom to connect those dots however you want, and even change them along the way. This provides the writer an endgame, even if the conclusion is in flux and changes as you close on it.

Mission Statement. One of the best and least time-sucky methods I’ve seen comes from the book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark. He states you should take the time to draft a mission statement for your work. The mission statement, according to Clark, is a list of “I want” statements.

Examples. I want the hero to to lose his hero-status and die. I want to show space pirates have a heart of gold. I want to turn (insert trope) on its head. I want to show that kittens are superior to puppies.

These “I want” statements highlight what your goals are for the characters and conflicts in the story. They also can quickly become dramatic questions. Just replace I want with how do I. Suddenly you have a series of questions to answer with your writing. This allows you to be run wild with organic story telling, but also creates a loose set of guidelines to reel you back in.

Moving on.

There are four “main” types of plots out there. Honestly, there are more than four, but these seem to be the most common in current literature: dramatic, parallel, episodic, and flashback.

 

dramatic plot.jpg

An example of a dramatic plot. 

Dramatic Plots. This follows one main rising action to a climax, then tapers down to the end. Most of the book is spent establishing settings, characters, and conflicts. One main conflict reigns supreme, and the characters ride this action to a crescendo. There is a period of lull after this climax (called the denouement) where the reader gets to take a breather, then the writer closes the story.

 

Episodic Plots. These follow many actions or events chapter-by-chapter. The events stack, and are typically related by a character or theme. The goal with this sort of plot is to show a larger event, place, time, or idea from many different angles. Much like the namesake, many television shows are set up with an episodic plot. There are central characters and themes to drive the show, but “filler” episodes could be shuffled around without impacting the series much.

Serving Up Plots.jpgSome military fiction uses this style. Each chapter highlights a different member in the military, tackling a different aspect of the battle or war. Ultimately, these vignettes join to paint a much larger understanding of the conflict.

Parallel Plots. This form allows you to take multiple dramatic plots, usually two or three, and run them at the same time. Remember how the dramatic plot has a rising action that leads to a climax in the story? With parallel plots, the multiple arcs usually all crash together at the climax. Because the reader has followed multiple rising actions, they might be more emotionally involved in the climactic moment.

Flashback, flashback, flashback… This plotting device allows the author to start the story in the middle of a high-action point, and flash backwards to lead back up to it. Giving the reader all the backstory and moving them back to the high-action moment. The clichéd version of this is certainly the, this is how I died, intro. Of course, I should eat my words as one of the most talked about and controversial shows on Netflix right now is 13 Reasons Why. A show about a girl who commits suicide, and each episode it basically a flashback to events leading up to it.

thanksThat’s a wrap for today, thanks for reading! No matter what plot you go with, or if you’re going into the work plotless, you owe your readers that moment at the end of the book where they sigh, look up at the skies, and say, “I feel…something.” Let’s just hope that something is a positive connection, one that will keep them coming back for more. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

%d bloggers like this: