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Blueprint Series part 13: Battling Threads

Now that we’ve learned how to plot from beginning to end, I’m going to talk about what to do with the subplots and other threads you might have hanging around in your story. (For Part 1 in this series, click here.)

I’m calling these threads because sometimes “subplot” feels like too much word for these. So we might be talking about subplots in the way you think of them, or we might be talking about themes, or just things you want to develop and remember to follow.

A friend recently had a specular, freak-out meltdown over her WIP because she went to look at her outline, and there were points there that didn’t make sense, things that seemed left out or left hanging, and the outline itself was no longer a treasure map but sort of an encyclopedia of Huh?

There were a number of reasons why this happened, but essentially it all came down to her not having spent the time to understand her threads, work them through, and tie them into the plot. Consequently, when she had thrown an idea onto the outline that made sense when she thought of it, she later had no idea how to relate it to the story. And this story was an intrigue that really grew in terms of having a lot of different threads to follow. Complexity is great, scary fields of tangled threads and seeming randomness are not.

It took hours of talk therapy to get all the information out of her. It was all there, and it was mostly all good, it just took a long time to straighten it all out, tie it all together, and show her what she really had. On the bright side, it taught me stuff about the process.

But after all this work, and getting to The End, I don’t think you’re going to like it…

Step 13: Battling Threads

  1. List different the different threads/subplots in the story.
  2. For each thread, list its major plot points, and/or how it relates to the plot point moments in the central plot as described above.

Things you might list as threads:

subplots

themes

the constant battle against the inner demon

your romantic relationship

another relationship the character has, like a friendship

a mystery

something a secondary character is doing that will affect your main plot later in an important way

something going on in the background, like events in the town that enhance the setting

Like some of the things we talked about with regard to characters and setting apply here. Namely relevancy and connections. While you’re working through these threads, trying to build them as plotlines, look for ways to tie them back in to the main story. When the main plot points in your main storyline take place, how are these threads affected? How can you use what you already have to build on these ideas? If you need a distraction for your main characters or a red herring to distract the reader, choose from threads you’re already using rather than making up an unrelated incident.

Not all threads will have all their major plots–or at least, if they do, those won’t necessarily happen on the page. It’s probably not true for all stories that plotlines should interweave. I’m sure there are some that keep seemingly independent storylines going without tying them together until some shocking reveal at the end. If that’s how you roll, more power to ya.

I’d guess the important thing is just to be aware of your plans. Keep good notes for yourself, so that you don’t lose any of those great ideas, and you’re not letting threads slip and lie half developed and forgotten as you work.

After this, the only thing left to do is to actually outline. I continue to do this in Word, just making a list of scenes with brief descriptions or bullets of what needs to be shown and why. I then work through the writing of each of the four parts, stopping in between to make notes on changes or new things that developed during the writing.

After all this, I think I need a bit of a break to finish up my own outline for my current project. If you’ve followed the series, I want to say a special thank you. I hope you’ve found it useful. Please feel free to come back and comment (any ol’ where) and tell me how it’s going.

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Blueprint Series part 12: Fleshing Out Part 4

You know what you need to bring your story to a conclusion, but how are you going to make that into a whole quarter of your story? Does it have to be? We’re going to talk about that and some other stuff today as we work prepping part 4 of your story. (Click here for part 1 of this series on story development.)

To answer my own question above, my personal opinion: No, your 4 parts do not have to be equal quarters and your Part 4 doesn’t have to be quite as long as Part 2 or Part 3. But neither should it be so truncated that it seems a lot shorter.

This is one of the many balancing acts we face in writing. Your final act should be that exciting thrill ride we talked about yesterday, full of jarring impacts and forward motion. But it also should not be over so quickly that your reader feels she’s just invested hours in a build-up to something that was over too quickly. That’s a risk if you move from your SPP directly to your final showdown against the antagonist. At the same time, if there’s a long and complicated sequence of events to set up that showdown, your risk slowing everything down and disappointing your reader in a different way.

I just thought I’d throw some worries at you while you think through this, because I’m mean like that. As you’re outlining, you may find that you have more scenes or fewer scenes in your Part 4 than you did in other parts. Maybe it will take you more words to describe all that action, and that will maintain your balance. Hopefully you’ll be writing your climax using the kind of exciting language that will make it a fast read, make your reader power through to keep turning pages to see what happens, and that will provide the balance you need.

What you do not want to do here, is to plan a lot after your exciting climax. Don’t you DARE make me walk back to the Shire with you. Seriously. I’ll go home with your character to see how it all worked out, to see her get her reward, but I don’t need another journey right now, and I certainly don’t want another adventure of any kind.

I’ve got my post-victory buzz on. Don’t bring me down, man.

So let’s look at the Blueprint…

Step 12: Fleshing out part 4

  1. What is the climax of the story?
  2. How do the characters come to terms with their inner demons?
  3. Are there any loose ends to tie up?
  4. What is the happily ever after moment?

Not a lot of questions to work with there, but, at this point, you don’t need them. There is nothing extraneous in your climax. It deals with setting up the antagonist and knocking him down. And to do this, the protagonist overcomes her inner demon, that thing that’s been holding her back all along. It’s her grit, determination, and what she’s made of herself through the training that living through this story has given her, that allow her to win. Not luck, not some guy (unless he’s a co-protag and she saves him right back), not some kind of out of nowhere magic. Your protag saves the day and defeats her foe. She couldn’t have done it back when we met her, but she’s a different person now. Right?

Do you have any loose ends to tie up? Any subplots that need resolving, mysteries to be explained, identities to be revealed Scooby-Doo style? Like I said above, once you’ve impacted the reader with the emotion of the win, getting to THE END as quickly as possible is usually best for everyone. Every page she has to turn after that risks diluting the emotional high she paid for in the book price and hours invested in reading.

(It’s probably obvious that I don’t believe in epilogues. Epilogues that do not advance the series are most often gratuitous frolicking in the story world for an author who just doesn’t want to let go yet. Some readers also don’t want to leave the story world and these characters, and enjoy a drama-free scene of martial bliss 9 months later or whatever. Put it on your website and give those readers a reason to check that out and look at your other projects. The only epilogue type I favor is one with the purpose of dropping a seed that will grow into the next book. Horror movies are good at that type of final scene, but then, making you uncomfortable is the point of a horror movie. And making you feel WIN! is the point of romance, IMO.)

What’s your Happily Ever After moment? You’ve just saved the world from a monstrous, soul-sucking demon from hell? What are you going to do next? This is where you give the protagonist her reward, or the clear promise of it, for all her hard work through the story. Because what’s harder than changing and growing? Sometimes part of this moment in your story is about your protagonist realizing what she’s learned and how she’s changed, especially in stories for younger readers who expect that moral of the story, -what we’ve learned from this after school special- type moment. Often stories end with a punch line. This isn’t so much a joke (although it is often humorous and further breaks reader tension) as a bit of an emotional punch, and is often particularly affected when it is seeded throughout the story in some way.

It seems like we’re done (except for writing), but I still have at least one more thing I want to talk about. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about Battling Threads in your story, and how you might consider dealing with your subplots. Even if you don’t plan to add a subplot, there are still threads of different types that weave in and out of your main action story, and it’s important not to leave them hanging or let them grow into a tangle that impedes your main plot.

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Blueprint Series Part 11: Fleshing Out Part 3

I hope yesterday’s post helped you start to think through what my CP calls “The Valley of the Shadow of the Middle.” Middles are hard for a lot of writers. Today we’ll be working our way through the second half of this often desolate landscape. (If you’d like to start from the beginning, check out part 1 here.)

Part 3 of the story takes us from the MP (midpoint), which changed everything yet again by providing us with a whole new picture of what’s going on, to the SPP (second plot point), the event that will send your characters hurtling toward the story’s climactic end. Smack in the middle of those two points we’ll place PP2 (pinch point two), a reminder of the antagonistic force that’s more terrifying than ever.

Step 11: Fleshing out part 3

  1. How does the hero react to the Midpoint event? What’s different now?
  2. How does the heroine react to the Midpoint event? What’s different now?
  3. How do the characters take proactive action?
  4. How are the characters fighting their inner demons? How will you show that?
  5. What is Pinch Point 2? How will you show the evolution of the antagonistic force?
  6. How do the characters react to PP2?
  7. Is there a Black Moment in the sense of a break-up or break down of relations between the hero and heroine?
  8. Is there an all is lost moment where everything seems impossible for your characters? How do they react to that?
  9. How does the SPP come about?

In part 3, your protag is a different person than the one we’ve seen before. She’s not doing this for the same consequence avoidance reasons that dragged her into this mess. She’s in it now, and she’s becoming the Warrior we always knew she could be. If she could just learn that lesson, fix that skewed world view that would let her get past her inner demon, you know she’d be kicking some serious antagonist tail. But she’s not quite there yet.

So yesterday we talked about what a big deal the MP was. Something happened that really changed things in the story. How? What’s different now? How does it change your characters, and how will you show that?

Now that your characters have survived the the first half of the story, they’re hardly the wilting pansies they once were. They’re done running and hiding and trying to avoid conflict. What’s their plan of action now?

Remember how I said your protag wasn’t quite ready to win because she has to overcome her inner demon first? Remember to remind the reader about that too. Because this flaw she has is probably going to cause her problems come PP2…

Know who else has survived the story this long? Your antagonist. Remember that you’re keeping the odds stacked against your protag team and as they evolve, so does your antagonist. He’s bigger, meaner, and more bad-ass than ever. And he shows that by whooping your characters’ butts at PP2.

This may lead to an all is lost moment for your protagonist. I know I’m often very moved by those story moments in which the protagonist has taken such a beating, the odds seems so impossible, you almost want them to give up and go home, to stop taking all this punishment in a battle that seems hopeless. But that’s not who your protag is. It’s just not in them to give up (because you’ve got a fabulous climactic ending planned!), so they’re going to have to pick themselves up. Give them a story moment to wallow first, if you want to.

Note to romance writers: So much of romance now is action-oriented. Back in the day, we had a lot of historical and contemporary tales that were mostly two people moving through a story together, and much of their conflict was with each other. Today, with the huge popularity of subgenres like romantic suspense and paranormal romance, it seems wise to follow the advice of those who write in the thriller and suspense genres. But to do it with the kind of character depth, interpersonal drama, and loads of sexual tension that make romance what we love.

The “Black Moment” in romance, is something that happens that breaks your two characters apart, at least for a time. It is often followed by a “dark period” in which the characters brood separately and secretly long to patch things up. If you’re writing romance and working with this popular construction, your Black Moment and dark period will probably happen through this second half of part 3.

And now the SPP. In this scene, we turn that last corner that sends us into the sequence of events that make up your climax. In roller coaster terms, we’re at the top of the big rise, and the SPP is the thing that’s going to push us into a downhill sequence of terrifying and exciting events over which we have no control. (Ok, we do, but this is what a good part 4 often feels like for a reader.)

So what is the Second Plot Point? One way I like to think of it is as the delivery of the missing piece of the puzzle. After PP2, your characters are pretty defeated. It doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to go on. But the SPP brings some information that allows them to act. And through acting, they bring about the story’s final showdown.

And look! A middle! As someone who’s wandered the Dreaded Valley many times, there’s not much that’s more satisfying than laying out a rich middle and seeing my characters’ path running through it. I hope this helps you map out yours. And if you get bogged down and depressed listen to The Middle for a pick me up.

The last of the 4 main parts tomorrow! We’ll be filling in some of the detail that lead us to The End.

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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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