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Blueprint Series Part 10: Fleshing Out Part 2

If you’re like me, you have some solid ideas for the beginning and ending of your story, but the middle is a little bit mushy. I’ve found that there’s nothing like a little story architecture to help you set up some intermediate supports and start getting inspired. (If you’d like to see how we got to this point of story development, click here for part 1 of the series.)

Looking at my Blueprint, I can see that this pretty much all comes out of what I learned from author, Larry Brooks. If you haven’t checked out his Story Structure series, bought the ebook, and subscribed to his blog, let me just suggest those steps again. I don’t get anything for mentioning it, Larry doesn’t even know who I am. I just recommend this because it made a huge difference for me in terms of how I work and my ability to finish things. Also, if you don’t know what these terms mean, you might want to read for that, or at least check back to part 5 of this series.

Part 2 starts in the aftermath of the FPP (first plot point) and ends with the MP (midpoint). Halfway between those two points is PP1 (pinch point one). So here’s what we’ve got:

Step 10: Fleshing out part 2

  1. How does the hero react to the FPP event?
  2. How does the heroine react to the FPP event?
  3. What are the characters’ new goals?
  4. What is their retreat and regrouping?
  5. What is their plan to take action and how is it doomed?
  6. What is Pinch Point 1? How does the antagonist force take center stage in this scene of Part 2?
  7. How are the main characters affected by PP1?
  8. How will you move into the Midpoint scene or sequence?

Part 2a might come together fairly quickly for you, once you get these questions answered. Something big happened at the FPP, something so big that it forced your characters into the story world. And because of the stakes you set up in part 1, there’s no going back for these guys. So now what do they do?

Well, first they react to what just happened, because, in some way and to some extent, it was life-altering. So how do your main characters react to the FPP event? Do they pack everything up and leave on their quest? Do they go into hiding? Do they turn to someone for help? Do they do something really stupid? Do they seek out a guru to teach them karate or some other skill that will help them defeat the antagonistic force?

Sometimes, this part of the story is about the protagonist gathering forces. That could mean seeking out a mentor to learn a new skill, going on a quest for an important magical item, finding and assembling a team and possibly training them…

At the FPP, your antagonistic force was really revealed. It shook up your protag’s life. Now she’s got to pull it together, so she pulls back from the situation to think a bit. Write out whatever you can think of about this process of reacting, retreating, and regrouping.

Your protagonist, being a proactive character, then comes up with some sort of plan. Whatever it is, that alone isn’t going to do it. She just doesn’t know enough yet, doesn’t have the experience, doesn’t have what it takes. Because really, if she did, this story would be way short. So where the flaw? How do you see this failing?

Now get ready to put the smackdown on your protag, but here comes PP1. The antagonistic force shows itself once again. Even if your heroine has retreated to the mountains to learn kung fu and recruit ninjas, the reader will still benefit from being reminded how badass the antagonist is, and so will your characters. Be afraid. Be very afraid. We always admire people who are afraid, with reason, and move forward anyway. So right in the middle of part 2, plan how to remind us of your antagonistic force and highlight the weakness of your protagonist.

What does this do to your protag and her team (if she has one)? She might have to do some damage control to keep people from leaving. She might have to get a new idea or new direction. She might have to find her way back from the alternate dimension to which the antagonist flicked her like lint off his robe.

The second half of part 2 is building the sequence of events that will lead to your midpoint. At the MP, something is learned or revealed that changes everything. Maybe it just changes it for reader, or maybe everyone’s in on it. But whatever it is, it puts this whole situation in a different light. The MP brings in the element that turns your protag from a Wanderer into a Warrior. Up until the midpoint, she’s probably been governed more by the avoidance of consequences than anything else. What happens at your midpoint that makes her go, Oh, honey, it’s on now.

Figure out what that is, how to show it, and the sequence of events and scenes that will get you there, and part 2 will complete itself. (Just add writing.)

Tomorrow we’re on to part 3, the second half of the middle. Hope you’ll join me.

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Blueprint Series Part 9: Fleshing Out Part 1

Thanks for visiting part 9 of the series. We’re really going to start fleshing out your story this week. In keeping with the 4-part structure we’ve been discussing, we’ll be going over one story section each day and working on some of the things that will help you build your outline. I’ve added a section into the Blueprint that deals with following up with your different threads and subplots. Check the download page to get the latest version. And if you’re just finding the series, click here for part 1.

Step 9: Part 1

  1. What is the hook or question that happens within the first few scenes?
  2. How will you introduce the hero? What will allow the reader to connect with the hero?
  3. How will you introduce the heroine? What will allow the reader to connect with the heroine?
  4. When and how do the hero and heroine meet?
  5. What is the theme(s) of the story?
  6. How will you allude to the theme(s) in Part 1?
  7. What events will you foreshadow and how?
  8. What are the hero’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  9. What are the heroine’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  10. What’s at stake for the hero? When the FPP happens what does he have to gain and lose?
  11. What’s at stake for the heroine? When the FPP happens what does she have to gain and lose?
  12. Are there other characters introduced in Part 1 who will continue through the story? List them, their relationships to the characters, their functions in the story.
  13. How does the FPP come about?
  14. How does the FPP unveil the antagonistic force?

Part one of your story is all about setup. It’s showing us what your character’s life is like before everything changes and she is pulled into the story proper. This is the place where you’re really doing a lot of planting and foreshadowing. You’re showing us what your characters want and need, what they’re afraid of. You’re planting elements that seem like background now, but may become oh-so-important later. When the FPP comes around at the end of part 1, a lot of these pieces will take on new significance for the reader, as she will automatically be in a position to understand how the FPP changes everything. She’ll know, without having it spelled out in exposition, what your character has to gain, what she’s afraid to lose, and why she must move forward into her story. Because you’ve shown all that in your setup.

Opening Hooks: Questions are important to me at the beginning of a story. What will happen next? Will she or won’t she? Why does she feel that way? How did this circumstance come about? What kind of a world is this, where things like this are possible? … Whatever it is, the books that really draw me into a story are the ones that give me some kind of a question that makes me want to turn the page and find out more.

Perversely, nothing turns me off of a story like feeling strung along and left in the dark. There’s a balance between creating intrigue and creating reader confusion. Good critique partners and beta readers will be invaluable to you in deciding if you’ve done your job right. For now, just remember throw the reader some breadcrumbs and answer some of these questions while you create others.

Getting readers invested: Readers follow your story by identifying with, and investing emotionally in, you characters in some way. Figure out what it is about your characters that will make your reader root for them and want them to succeed, whether it’s some need or trait we all tend to have in common, or something compelling that your character really cares about and needs to accomplish. Once you’ve figured out what that is, remember to find a way to show (not tell) it in your setup.

Theme: Some people hate the idea of theme. I love it. I believe in it. And no, I don’t believe writers always have a theme when writing or planning, but theme emerges all the same. I can usually find one in anything that’s been worth reading. It’s really about the question What is this story about? and the answer that doesn’t just summarize the plot. It could be about finding your place, discovering or embracing who you are, the places where Truth hides–this is the place to think a bit dramatically, I suppose. It’s about what you’re saying, beyond simply telling a series of events. It’s about why you’re passionate about telling this story. You may not know what your theme is at this point, but once you find it, you’ll be able to craft details and dialog to enrich the thematic experience for the reader.

Inner Demons: This goes back to your character arc stuff. These are the things your character needs to get over in order to win at the end of the story. In your setup, you can choose to show us what the character is afraid of and why, or you can save the why for later. You can present us someone who’s so distrustful of others that he’s never going be able to be the kind of team player your characters need to achieve the story goal. You can show us someone who is so beaten down by past failures that they can’t even conceive of trying again. Lots of different kinds of demons to slay out there.

Stakes: FPP’s Happen. Should be a bumper sticker. When yours happens, what’s at stake for the character? She must move forward. Why? What will happen if she doesn’t? What will she gain if she succeeds in gaining the story goal? Of course, she’s reluctant to go forward. Why? What will she lose if she tries and fails? Set it up and show us, so you don’t have to tell us.

Other Characters: Since these are notes you’ll be using to develop your part 1 scenes, it’s a good idea to list all the players you need to introduce, so that you can start thinking about at least giving them a mention or a walk-on in your setup.

FPP: If you don’t have some kind of an idea of how your First Plot Point happens by now, you really should. This is the most important moment of your story. The moment that makes it a story. If you’ve got no idea how it happens, make figuring that out a priority.

You might have introduced your villainous character somewhere in your setup. At the FPP, something else is revealed about him. He’s not just the mean, he’s evil. He’s not just greedy, he’s a demon (literally). He doesn’t just casually hate your main character, he actually has a plan in place to destroy her.  What new thing about the antagonistic force are you going to show the reader through the FPP?

There are a lot of questions to think through here, but that’s what makes Part 1 the easiest chunk to put together. By the time you get all of this stuff answered, it pretty much builds itself. Good luck with it.

Tomorrow, we’ll be on to fleshing out the first half of the middle.

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Blueprint Series Part 8: Character Relationships

We’re working on the relationships amongst your characters on the Blueprint today. If you’re just finding this, click here for part 1.

This is another one of those that’s as easy or hard as you want to make it. Let’s just jump in.

Step 8: Character Work- Relationships

  1. For each character in the story, list other characters and make note of their relationships to and with each other
  2. List reasons why the hero and heroine should be together (goal = 20)
  3. List reasons why the hero and the heroine should stay apart (goal = 20)
  4. Are the hero and heroine bookends (peas in a pod, basically alike in some way) or salt and pepper shakers (a matched set of opposites)? How are they perfect for each other? In what way(s) do they complete each other?
  5. How are the hero and heroine the same? How are they different?

Obviously, a lot of this pertains to romance and others may or may not find it useful. The first one, however, if for anyone. I do it like this:

Joss:

+ Dylan = love interest. She’s had a crush on him forever, but assumes he doesn’t think about her at all.

+ Kat = Joss doesn’t really know what to think when Kat starts pushing her way into her life. Kat is sort of a force of nature and Joss finds herself become friends with Kat almost against her will.

Etc. For as many characters as you care to discuss. The do the next one, and work from their point of view.

Dylan:

+ Joss = love interest. He’s been interested in Joss for some time, but his friendship with Marco, and what went on between Marco and Joss, complicates things. Still, he can’t seem to stop thinking about her, and is starting to feel it’s time Marco just got over it. To Dylan, Joss isn’t like any other girl. He sees her as…

And, see, when it’s romance, I could go on all day. But you get the idea.

While outlining can seem like something very dry and creativity sucking to some people, to me it’s a place to play. I do some playing in the manuscript, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot easier to clean up messes here than there. Sketching in all these relationships can be a bit tiresome, until you start finding things. Once you have some basics of these characters down in the Blueprint, and start writing a few lines about their thoughts and feelings for each other, putting yourself into each character’s perspective, connections start happening. New backstory emerges. Stuff you knew about the stories suddenly gets explained to you. To me, this section is always worth working through.

I don’t know where I read about the exercise with the 20 reasons. Maybe Paperback Writer. Again, this is something that’s mainly for stories with a romance. The point was that if you can’t come up with 20 things keeping your H/H apart, you do not have enough conflict in your relationship.  I rarely make it to 20, but I always learn something or crystallize something in the push to get there. And, on the other side of it, you can’t go around having an H/H crazy attracted to each other over just chemistry and your say-so. I don’t care what happens in real life, we readers want more than that. So come up with some qualities and mutually fulfilled needs and crap and then maybe you’ll remember to show us those when you get into writing.

And yes, I agree that I probably just asked the same question twice in a row, as far as how are the H/H the same and different. But do you know that every time I answer it the second time, I still come up with more to say? Maybe because I’m lazy and see a bunch of words, ok that looks like I’ve done my job. No! It’s romance, dammit. You’re job’s not over. More!

That brings us to the end of this week and the end of this part of the Blueprint. We’ve discovered a boat-load of stuff. The next part of the Blueprint takes us into serious outlining. Next stop: Part 1.

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Blueprint Series Part 7: Character Work

We’re getting into Character Work on the Blueprint today. If you’re just finding this, click here for part 1.

Now, again, this is a subject where there’s just so much you can talk about, and many, many people have. Tons of approaches, infinite personalization. This is stuff that I like to put in. You feel free to put in the stuff that’s important to you, and to your particular story and style.

Step 7: Character Work

Character Work- Individuals

For each character, fill in any information you know/believe to be relevant.

  1. Name, including any titles or nicknames
  2. Age
  3. Basic physical description (size, build, eyes, hair, marks)
  4. Family situation (any living or deceased relatives, relationship with family, does the character live with family or have any particularly close or estranged family ties?)
  5. Occupation, including any specifics of the job, work environment, co-workers that you know or believe may be relevant
  6. Living arrangements
  7. Interests
  8. Special traits or abilities
  9. Strengths, weaknesses, fears
  10. Personal History, childhood, adolescence, adulthood. Highlight any life-changing events and their effects on the character.
  11. Positive and negative aspects of personality
  12. How will your character be different at the end of the story than s/he was in the beginning? Jot down some details that may be highlighted in Part 1 of the story that will change by the end.

Copy and paste these questions for as many characters as you choose to detail.

If you read and recall my post on the Story World section, this is like that in that I like to think relevancy when I do this. Some stuff I’ll just throw in because it occurs to me, but generally I like to think about what it means to the character or the story. Be as detailed here as you want, or as sketchy. Leave blanks and fill them in later–even after you’ve started writing your draft. There are always things that get discovered along the way. After all, if you really had everything figured out here, how boring would that be?

Most of these are self-explanatory, but there are a few things I’d like to touch on.

Personal History…I’m not asking you for a life story here, or to come up with a childhood for the sake of exercising your keyboard. This comes from a notion I have that the purpose of backstory is to explain why a person is the way she is. (Characters are always motivated, right?) If your heroine is a big man-hater, there’s probably a reason for that. So what happened? You’ve got some ideas about that, but can you also make them relevant to the story?

How are you going to bring us that information in a way that’s not a dream, flashback, mirror-gazing thoughtologue, or As you know, Bob info-dump? Maybe you can tweak this backstory to make it easier to work into the story you’re about to write. Maybe you can tweak the story or the characters. Make the confidante co-worker into someone who’s known the heroine for years. This is a nice time to be thinking about the hows as well as the whys and whats.

Now moving on to the last question, about the change in your character…you may recognize this as a redundancy. Hey, this is Character Arc. Yep. Will it kill you to write it again? No. And now that you know that much more about your story and have had that much more time to develop your ideas, who knows what you might come up with when you do. Jotting down some ideas of how to show the difference from beginning to end just gives you that much help getting started on what to include in Part 1, which is coming up before you know it.

But not tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll still be on Characters and discussing relationships.

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Blueprint Series Part 6: Pitches and Blurbs

If you’ve just landed, you can click here for Part 1.

If you’ve been doing the work all along, by this time you’ve got a pretty solid groundwork for your book. You’ve got miles to go on details–and then you’ve got to write the thing, which will surely lead to some changes, but essentially you know enough to start talking about it concisely.

And that’s probably what’s key here. When you have that inspiration and it starts to grow, you start to think up all the awesomely cool stuff you’re going to do with it. And that swell, and yeah, if you can pull that off, that will be the sh–that will be great. But hey, slow down spoiler-maker. Save us some surprises for the reading.

I kind of think that people who loathe pitches and blurbs are those who are so in love with every aspect of what they’re doing that the person on the other end needs to know about every bit of the awesome to fully appreciate the scope of, well, the awesome.

Not so much. The fact is that your stuff is so awesome, just the sketch of it, and the hint of more, is premium bait.

Now, I’m no expert on this subject, and I’m sure your GoogleFoo will be able to come up with all kind of articles on this subject. Procrastinate away. When you’re ready, this is all I bother with at this stage:

Step 6: Pitches and Blurbs

  1. Use your GMC work to pitch the story in a few lines.
  2. Use your main plot points to craft a short blurb for the story. (Goal: 400 characters)
  3. What is the working title of the story?

That’s it. No big deal. It’s just some tools so you can engage in conversation, talk to people about what you’re doing, maybe throw up a coming attractions thing on your profiles here and there.

You may or may not remember when I said that once you have a character who wants a goal that is motivated by something, who faces a conflict, you pretty much have a story. That right there is the essence of what you’re doing. And that’s another reason why I like to start thinking about it in this part of the process. Because I have not yet begun to be awesome! So I’m hardly cutting anything by just telling you this much.You’re just taking that GMC statement, filling it in with some details, and maybe raising a question or two.

Note: the questions raised by the blurb should be of the Tell me more! variety and not of the Huh? variety.

Go poke around Amazon and read some short blurbs from novels you know. Hey, they totally didn’t mention that whole part about–no, they didn’t. Pay attention to what draws you in and what doesn’t. Go to Smashwords and do likewise. There you will find many examples of what is not effective.

You can use whatever you like as far as limits on length. You can write a synopsis, 1 paragraph, 3 paragraphs, a certain number of words. Whatever you feel is helpful. I use 400 characters because that’s the Smashwords limit, it doesn’t take up much space no matter where you want to put it, and it’s a nice brain-teaser for me.

And, you know, if you aren’t there yet or you just don’t wanna, then skip it. No one’s coming after you for leaving some blanks.

But get ready to work again tomorrow because we’re going to get down some of the details about the characters who have been taking shape while we’ve been busy plotting.

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Blueprint Series Part 5: Main Plot Points

(I’m not sure what happened with the scheduling of this post, but I apologize for the delay and for the fact that it’ll be two today with another one this afternoon.)

If you’ve been following, you’re totally bored with the following:

If you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.

But now it’s over and we can move on to our focus today:

Step 5: Main Plot Points

  1. What is the Second Plot Point?
  2. How does the SPP event or sequence of events force the main character into the climax of the story?
  3. What is the First Plot Point? What is the event or sequence of events that brings the characters into the story world?
  4. What is the Midpoint of the story?
  5. How does the MP change everything? How does it put your characters into attack mode?

That’s it. I’m just asking you to come up with 3 things today. But they’re really important things.

This all comes out of a brilliant series of articles on Story Structure by author, Larry Brooks. Click here for Part 1. Read the whole series, then buy his book on the subject and read some more. If you want to know how to make a series of unfortunate events that makes a story, rather than a pile of them that makes a mess of dreck, reading Larry is great place to start.

Ok, so there’s no sense in me repeating everything I just linked to. So to boil down what you need to know for this part, I’ll explain that we’re talking about a classic 3-Act structure, in which the middle act is broken down into two parts, separated by the midpoint. Because that’s awkward to talk about, for now until the end of time, we’ll be talking about the story in terms of 4 parts. These parts will be separated by 3 key plot points. So the story goes like this:

  • Part 1
  • First Plot Point (FPP)
  • Part 2
  • Midpoint (MP)
  • Part 3
  • Second Plot Point (SPP)
  • Part 4

Now, especially since these are out of order, you’ll probably have a much easier time understanding what I’m asking of you if you go read through the Storyfix series and come back. But I’ll do my best to explain what these things are and include.

Part 1 is the setup of your story. While it will have a something that hooks the reader, things will happen in there that are important, etc, the story hasn’t actually started in part 1. Grasping this, by the way, has been huge for me. In part 1 you’ll need to be introducing most or all of your characters. You’re giving us a sense of where your protagonist is, both in terms of place and place in the world. What is his life like now, before everything changes? What does he need? What does he want? What does he have to lose?

Did I mention that everything changes? That’s your FPP, and it’s the most important moment in the story. This is the thing that pulls your character from where he is and sets him on the path toward his destiny (which is the story’s end). And it’s probably going to be something your character is reluctant to do because, hey, scary, plus there are probably things in his life he doesn’t want to risk. But whatever happens at the FPP is such that he MUST move forward into the story world.

After the FPP, your hero and your story move into Part 2 in which your hero makes an effort but…let’s face it: if he were man enough to take this on, the story would be over. He’s got a lot of work to do. There are some different ways to approach part 2, as failed attempts to deal with the problem, as avoidance, as gathering a team to combat the problem or focusing on training…

Part 2 ends at the MP. And this is a big turning point in your story. There’s something that happens here that puts a different spin on things, shows everything in a new light, changes everything again. Again, endless options and you’ll want to go and read more about midpoint elsewhere. But it’s something that really changes things for your character and puts him into attack mode.

Because that’s what part 3 is about. Your hero really stepping up his game and approaching this problem with a new outlook or commitment or whatever.

Part 3 ends with the SPP. The Second Plot Point is the thing that sets the wheels in motion for the sequence of events that lead to the climax. Sometimes it’s the last piece of the puzzle falling to place. That bit of information the hero was lacking to really go after the villain, whether that’s knowing the villain’s location, discovering his weakness, or the hero finally getting the right size gear to finish his giant mecha warrior robot beast. I don’t know. You figure it out.

I do this backward because, like I talked about in the last post, I need to know that where I started is going to get me to where I’m going in an effective way. I probably either know the FPP or have a good idea of what kind of FPP I need. So I focus on the SPP first, trying to figure out what kind of scene I will need to plunge these characters into the series of scenes that leads to and makes up my climax. From there I can sort of refine whatever idea I had about the FPP to give me a starting point. Then I can work on the MP and try to figure out how things escalate, what big deal will happen in the middle, and how it will change my characters.

The order in which you choose to do this doesn’t really matter. I think it’s really something you work on all at once and keep refining as you work deeper into the story.

If, after reading the Story Structure Series over at Storyfix, you still feel a little unsure of how that works and need more examples, poke around at the site some more. Larry’s also been doing deconstructions of movies as examples of how the structure works and how to recognize the main points. (Then get his book and read it.)

By now you’re getting a good, solid idea about what your story is and how it’s going to play out. You might want to take a little time to let that marinate. Meantime, since you know what it’s about enough to talk about it now, we’re going to go on to some Pitch and Blurb stuff next time.

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Blueprint Series Part 4: Story World

Welcome back. And, if you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.

So today we’re on Story World, which is pretty straightforward in terms of understanding my questions. Which are:

Step 4: Story World

  1. In what time period is your story? (Current day, historic period, future, alternate reality…) Jot down some things you know about the time period in which your story takes place and how that will affect the story and/or characters.
  2. Where does your story take place? (Town, country, planet, school…) Jot down a general idea of the world in which your story takes place and how the world itself will affect the story and its characters.
  3. Are there background or details about your story world that will impact the story and/or characters? (Politics, regional history, layout, flora/fauna, ethnic influences, socio-economic differences, wars, tech…)
  4. What season is it? Are there any weather events, climate, or holiday details that will impact the story?
  5. Location, location, location. Jot down some of the locations you can already envision in your story, and any details you see as important.

You can spend as much time on Story World as you want. You can get incredibly detailed here. The thing of it is that the more brilliant stuff you come up with, the more you’ll be tempted to put it into your story, whether it actually enhances it or not. So BEWARE.

That said, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a novel. In addition to your plot, your subplot, your characters, their relevant backstories, their interpersonal relationships, you’ve also got to be a director, dialectician (possibly not a word), a costume designer, and, yes, a set designer. So don’t forget that we do need to have a sense of place in your story. Sometimes working through your locations outside of the story will keep those details at your fingertips to be inserted when you need them, rather than the info-dump that often occurs when you’re designing on the fly.

Let me know when you’re done describing the curtains so I can get back to reading your story…

Yeah, just don’t go there.

For some of you, story world is everything. And I’ll confess that I LOVE a good world-building. I love the endless surprises that can happen in a fantasy world. While I choose books for character development and relationships, the books I remember are most often the ones that also delivered a richness of place.

Author Larry Brooks has a nice article about thinking of the concept of “Arena”. It’s about how thinking of telling a story from a specific time and place, one that has critical impact on its events and characters, can really elevate a story to greatness. (This is an awesome blog for writers. Subscribe while you’re there.)

And that’s kind of what I want you to take away from this part of the series. When you’re developing these places for your story world, really give thought to how those details may be relevant to the story you plan to tell. Sometimes details are just there for the sake of detail, and that’s ok. Often that’s your subconscious at work, and those details are picked up and made relevant later on–in the story or in the series. Finding the balance between a rich sense of place and boring the crap out of your reader with your inner Martha is something to strive for. Part of that balance can happen at this stage by finding ways to connect story and place at this stage.

If you need more help with world-building, you might check out that section of Lynn Viehl’s Novel Notebook.

In our next episode, we’re going sketch out your Main Plot Points. I’ll be doing an overview on some story structure basics to get through it.

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Blueprint Series Part 3: LOCK

If you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.

So today we’re working on your big ol’ story climax.

Step 3: LOCK

LOCK- Lead, Objective, Conflict, Knock-out

  1. What do you know about the climax of the story?
  2. How does the ending deliver a knock-out experience?
  3. How does the ending solve the story problem?
  4. How are the hero and heroine the catalyst for solving the story problem?

That nifty acronym is one I got out of a book called Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. The most important thing I got out of this book was the idea of knowing what the ending is going be, how the story problem will be solved, how the protagonist is going to be the one to solve it. Yeah, I know, more obvious. What I really needed, however, was the knock to the head that said: a kick-ass ending would be really good here.

So, much like GMC (see previous post), LOCK is a whole sotory concept with a similar structure. You have:

A Lead (character)

who has an Objective (goal)

who meets with a Conflict

an delivers a Knock-Out win at the end.

Now, this concept helped me a lot because I had been, to that point, very linear in my thinking. I had some vague idea of what the ending would be, or at least some of what it would have to entail, but I never knew how exactly it would come about. So in a sense I was never really writing towards it. And that caused me problems.

So that’s why we’re here at this stage in the process. Because once I have a Goal that’s Motivated, and I know what’s going to provide my character(s) with Conflict, I want to go right to thinking about how they’re going to solve it. How is my team going to provide Big Bad with the smack-down he so richly deserves. I’ll admit that I’m still not great at knowing the details, and sometimes my notes are: There’s a fight, they win, bad guy is arrested–or whatever the ending is. Some of the specifics will always be saved for the end.

The important thing to me is knowing that the ending in my head has something to do with may goal at the beginning, and that it will happen as a result of my characters actions and what they have learned over the course of the story, and not as the result of some deus ex machina BS. It could also be that my ending has little to do with the beginning goal, but in that case, this is the time to be thinking about the goal changes and plot twists that will get me from A to B.

If my heroine is obviously the main character and she’s the one who’s got the issue with the villain, I certainly don’t want to plan an ending in which she sits idly by and watches the hero mop the floor with him. L-A-M-E. If they’re going to be working together, thinking about the ending at this stage allows me to think about how I’m going to work their tag-team on the villain, and what I’m going to have to set up in advance in order to make that satisfying.

Yesterday’s post was pretty long, so I’m ending here today and we’ll continue Monday with thinking about your Story World.

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Blueprint Series Part 2: GMC

It’s not the first time I’ve talked about it, and it won’t be the last. Suck it up and deal.

(Aside: Oh, if you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.)

Theory: A story is about

a character,

who has a goal,

because he is motivated by something,

but faces a conflict.

Easy-peasy and seems pretty obvious, right? And you’d wonder that someone could write a whole book on this very simple, obvious thing. Enter Debra Dixon and her book, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. It’s awesome. It should be on your shelf. It covers everything you could ever need to know about GMC in a story–which, it turns out, is a lot more than what I just said above. There’s internal vs. external GMC, there are multiple levels from an overarching, whole-story type GMC to the Dwight Swain-esque GMC* of each and every scene.

But today we’re dealing with the very most basic story goals of the main characters. Remember in Step 1, where we talked briefly about the “story problem”? That goal. What is it the hero is trying to get? What’s his focus? What is his external goal, meaning something he can go out and get, as opposed to some feeling he wants to change within or about himself. Know what that is, why he wants it, and what’s standing in his way, and you’ve got yourself a story.

Step 2a: External GMC

Goal, Motivation, Conflict

CHARACTER wants GOAL because MOTIVATION, but CONFLICT.

  1. Starting at the beginning of part 2, what is the hero’s external GMC?
  2. Starting at the beginning of part 2, what is the heroine’s external GMC?
  3. What do you know about the antagonistic force in the story?

Now, since I write romance, there’s pretty much always going to be a hero and a heroine. Even when I try not to go that way, I just do. If you only need one main character slot, then go for it. If you want to use one of those slots for a very important supporting character whose GMC will affect your protagonist or who will carry a subplot, go for it. Write out that GMC as a sentence or two with the basic format: Character wants/needs [goal], because [motivation], but [conflict].

Now the antagonistic force… This may be an antagonist character, a villain, a sibling, a competitor. Or it may be something else, a force of nature, a storm, a mountain, a circumstance like poverty what-have-you. So I’m not going to say you need to write that in terms of GMC because you’re going to argue, Your Honor, the mountain didn’t mean to do it! (Even though it’s sitting there all smug like that.) But if you can, you’ll want to, and if you can’t, don’t. The point is that your characters don’t exist in a vacuum, and whatever conflict the protagonist faces, it’s brought on by something or someone. You need to be developing an awareness of what or who that is and how it will impact the hero in his quest for his goal.

Step 2b: Character Arc

  1. What does the hero lack or what is his skewed view of the world? What lesson does he need to learn over the course of the story and how will that be achieved?
  2. What is it that will allow the hero to learn his story lesson?
  3. What are some ideas for scenes, events, etc, that will provide the teaching moments the hero needs?
  4. What does the heroine lack or what is her skewed view of the world? What lesson does she need to learn over the course of the story and how will that be achieved?
  5. What is it that will allow the heroine to learn her story lesson?
  6. What are some ideas for scenes, events, etc, that will provide the teaching moments the heroine needs?

Character Arc is basically Internal GMC. It’s that thing that the character gets out of the story internally. The lesson they learn, the sense of self restored, etc. It’s some change that occurs entirely within the character. Now to me, this is pretty important. If the events I just lived through with the character were not enough to affect some kind of internal change, if he learned nothing, takes away nothing from the experience, what am I supposed to take away? Why did I bother? It doesn’t have to be huge or life-altering, but character arc is one of those things that allow your story to resonate in the heart of the reader. Please don’t blow it off.

Now the problem I’ve had with the concept of character arc as GMC is that sometimes it’s not. Because you’re going to look at it and say: well, yeah, my character may learn this lesson, but that certainly wasn’t a goal. He didn’t set out to become a better person, he just wanted to find the treasure. And that’s cool. I agree. That’s why I’ve tried to come up with a different way, different terms, to think about regarding internal GMC.

What I came up with was the notion that the hero has some internal lack. Some people call it a skewed world view, sometimes it’s a lesson to be learned. That’s what goes in the goal slot. It’s not his goal, it’s your goal as the writer, how you’re going to change the hero from the beginning to the end of this thing.

Then for the motivation slot, it wasn’t so much knowing why the hero needs to learn this. That’s often obvious. What’s less obvious is the how. What’s going to be the chink in his armor, the crack in the facade that will allow your brilliant fictional life-lessons to get in there and fester?

I mean, is he a Mr. Darcy, strutting around, knowing he’s it? And then, CRACK! something just blows his mind. Um, excuse me, did you just tell me no? But…but…I’m Mr. freakin’ Darcy! Well, yes, but you’re being a jackass. And suddenly the poor man has stop and reevaluate.

No, it’s not always just like that. Sometimes it’s just a matter of something getting under his skin. Something that keeps nagging at him. Something he keeps needing to follow. Obviously, as we’re talking about writing here, there are permutations galore. But your hero’s gone on like this for years, and he’s never started to change before. So what happens in your story that makes the difference for him?

Conflict sometimes translates to me as: stuff that happens. So into this slot I would put things that may happen in the story to affect this change. What kinds of teaching moments can I come up with to teach the hero his lesson?

That’s how I came up with my three Character Arc questions, and that’s how I answer them, for both my hero and heroine. You may not be ready to come up with all of this yet, and that’s fine. Remember that you can always come back and refine your answers later, as you learn more. Part of what may be holding you back in this section is that it works in with the big and important question: How Does it All End?

But that’s the subject of tomorrow’s discussion.

If you actually want more babble on my views on Character Arc, and Internal vs. External GMC, click here for another post.

*From Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, nutshell version: in every scene a character has a goal, experiences a conflict, meets with disaster, from which he must then regroup and start over.

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Bischoff Blueprint Part 1

The thing about being writing buddies with Kait Nolan is that she’s always kicking my butt to do things. She’s a lot more patient about it than I would be, gently mentioning something to me 5-6 times (ok, probably more), to which I reply: yes, good idea, I’ll do that (read: some day, when it’s perfect, and the internet is down so I can’t be distracted…). And then, finally, she comes up with something that tells me I really need to just get it done, before I’m good and ready, because that never really happens.

So today my story blueprint went into the virtual world. Look up, see the new tab for Downloads? Click there, find the link. Click the link, the little box comes up–you know what to do. If you don’t, ask. It’s a Word doc right now. If you need some other format, again, ask.

Ok, so what the heck is this thing? This is what you’re asking yourself after you’ve opened it and gone OMG, I don’t want to fill this thing out. And maybe you really don’t. There’s no one right way–that’s why we call it art. But this is a way that works for me, and if you’ve been wishing for something that would take you by the hand and guide you through a process of fleshing out that spark of idea you’ve got–without staring at a blank screen, or instead of writing into what you think might be a story but winds up thousands of words with spider plantish tentacles of tangents and never come to a satisfactory conclusion… You see where I’m going. Try it. Maybe you’ll like it.

This is not intended to be the kind of thing that you complete in a sitting. Ideally, thoughts about the next story are coming to you, even as you’re finishing off the one before it.  This is a place you can start working through some of those ideas, or at least recording some notes, hopefully in a way that doesn’t pull you away from the current project and into Shiny New Book. Pace yourself. Stop when you’re stuck. Set goals and know that even if you’re not writing prose yet, as long as you’ve done some work here, you’re still getting work done. This is part of writing. It totally counts.

I don’t want to leave you with a lame introduction-only post and promise you we’ll get started tomorrow. We all want to get started today. So I’ll leave it at that except to say that if you’ve really given this a try and it’s not working, throw it out. Throw out the parts that aren’t making sense for you. Re-arrange. Take all my numbers and change them to bullets (I actually only use numbers because Word’s auto-formatting stuff confuses me and the bullets never wind up how I want them).

Onward.

The way that this grows, from that initial spark through the production of a scene-by-scene outline, comes from an article I really enjoyed and got me excited from the first time I read it: How To Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. He has ten steps for developing a novel, beginning with a one-sentence summary of your idea, and building out from there, adding and adding, growing your work outward through a series of exercises that add detail, until you’ve got everything you need to sit down and write the hell out of the thing.

It didn’t work for me. I got it when I read it. On some level it was that internal Yes! for me. But there were still some important gaps in my education. While some of my stories seemed to hold together, others fell apart. But even though I hadn’t read the article in a long time when I really got serious about this blueprint thing, skimming through it today I can see how much it stuck with me.

Step 1: Initial Concept

  1. What is the beginning concept or inspiration for this story?
  2. What do you know about the main characters? List some wants/needs and fears.
  3. What do you know about the story world?
  4. What do you know about the story problem?

As you can see, these are just really basic questions about what you know so far. You’re just getting started, so you don’t have to have all the answers, and the answers you have don’t need to be right. They can change. They probably will. They probably should. For now, just write down as much as you know in this moment. Use the heck out of “maybe” and “perhaps”. You can come back and change this at any time, or you might leave it as is just to be able to see how much your story has evolved as you’ve come to understand your characters better, adjusted your ideas to create a richer drama or better structure, developed your story world, etc.

Tomorrow’s post will deal with the next sections: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and Character Arc. I’ll talk about where my understanding of GMC comes from and how I apply it to my work, as well as how I perceive Character Arc as something that is the same as GMC and also different.

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