The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #2: The Story Arc

Good Thursday to you, Writers. I hope you have a brand-spankin’ new plot started in your head from Tuesday. Moving from that amazing raw material I’m going to tickle your inner plotting nerd and give you a ‘graph’ of sorts to help you with organize a killer storyline.

-I love tickling nerds

Last time we discussed ways to help create a basic plot for your novel idea, today we’re going to outline the beats, or arcs, of that story. If you remember from my handy-dandy, bulleted list on Novels, I list Arcs as being an important element. While this blog does cover some of the theory, I will do a more in depth look at crafting an arc that creates the perfect amount of tension.

Back to plot. Some of the best stories follow a pattern, or what I like to think of as a rollercoaster of ever-rising stakes.

Most plots can be split into three acts. The Set Up (beginning), The Conflict (middle), and The Resolution (ending). Each of these acts should have some defined crisis or event which is like a doorway your character passes through and must either change, fight, or overcome more trials until they find resolution. I found this nifty diagram from David Harris Kline’s “Structure Lesson #2: The Three Act Structure” ( http://www.writers-for-writers.com/2017/11/08/structure-lesson-2-three-act-structure/)

As you can see the beginning has to hook the reader into a specific event, starting point, or character problem. Here’s where you introduce your character and show us who they are, what they want, what they are facing. Throw in some foreshadowing and Bam! You just met a small-town farmer from Tatooine.

Act II comes with something that disrupts their normal day to day. (Holy shit, this droid has an important message from the Rebellion!) The character is forced to make a choice (wipe the droid’s memory or try to get the message to old Ben).

Real, live image of me during quarantine.

The middle, as most of us know, can be a bitch to write. This is where the dreaded doldrums hit. The quagmire. The swamp of eternal despair. I’m not going to get too deep into that swamp today except to say that this is where plotting can really help build a bridge across the muck and help your character get to that final, defining climax. This bridge is paved with different obstacles and trials that keep the action and the tension going through out. (Scruffy looking nerfherders and tough-ass princesses, oh my!)

Then, finally, as our hero/ine comes through that final climax (for better or worse) we witness their transformation or acceptance of who they are or what they need to do . The final act is where you tie up your loose ends and give the audience the resolution they’re seeking. Like giving a Wookie a medal.

Wait a goddamn minute…where’s Chewie’s medal?

Well, that’s pretty much all I wanted to cover on plot for this time around. Next week we’ll be talking about one of my absolute favorite aspects of writing: Characters.

Until next week, diagram your plot, think about what events, scenes or characters you can inject to get those bursts of conflict. Think about what your character wants and what obstacles stand in the way of that. How does overcoming them move them/change them for the next bump in the road?

Good luck out there, and may the Force be with you.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #1: Plot

Can you believe I couldn’t think of a more creative title? Me neither. Some days are like that.

Today, is not my normal blogging day, but we’re getting into the meat and potatoes of writing a novel, and this kind of thing needs space. So, without further ado..

What is Plot and Why is it Important?

All right, I get it, it’s a dumb question, we’re all writers and we all KNOW that plot is the basic story of your novel. It is the idea. The “what happened”, and why, and “what’s going to happen next” of any decent story. I’m not trying to dumb it down for you. But the true test of a good plot lies in the simplicity of answering those questions.

Now, you can have books that are character driven (an event happening TO a person, or BECAUSE OF a person). And you can have books that are historical non-fiction, based on one specific moment in time or occurrence. The PLOT of your book expands more than just beyond an event (otherwise The Hunger Games would have been maybe 50 pages long). The plot is the premise or sequence of events. Some novels will follow a very specific order of events that are common to their genre, or as we like to call them tropes. Tropes comes from the Greek Tropos define as “turn, direction, way” and refers to common, recognizable elements or sequences of events.

Many genre specific tropes (I almost prefer ‘formulas’) are embraced by the audience and even expected. Examples include: “the hero’s journey”, “enemies to lovers”, “small towns”, “cold cases”, “missing persons”, “AI gone wrong”, “fairy tale retelling”. But if almost every novel follows a plot formula how is it #1, that readers don’t get bored and #2 that you tell an original story that hasn’t been done before.

It’s an interesting dilemma on the part of a writer. We know which formulas work in fiction and straying from them often makes a plot fall apart or leaves a reader angry or unsatisfied at the end.

(She’s gonna want to talk to your manager)

But how do we follow commonalities in plot structure and still make it a fun, captivating, and surprising journey for our readers? The answer my friends, lies your ability as a writer to do five things: (Fuck Yeah! A bullet list!)

  • Begin with a unique event or crisis. This comes back to the “scan the headlines” exercise I’ve had you do before. A lot of weird shit goes down in the world. A lot of undercover, shady AF stuff too. Use it as a springboard, to your “what happens then/if” story building.
  • Tie the reader to your character (through love or hate) and make their reactions to events unique or contrary to the norm. (ie a cheerleader who fights vampires. A small town farm boy who becomes a powerful Jedi. A teenager who comes into supernatural powers without the maturity to handle them and doesn’t use them to download free porn–come on.) Character building will come later in this series but if you create unique ones, their actions will create new takes on formulas.
  • Use honed writing technique to build tension for climaxes. Yikes, that sounds dirty. Tension is one key to making a story more than just series of events. So much of this depends on your voice and writing style. But the big take away here is about risk. Making the risks personally huge for your character, and even the world at large, will keep the plot fresh and drive it forward.
  • Play with the number and intensity of climaxes (story arcs). I think I’ll start using story arcs (some prefer ‘beats’) because every time I type climaxes I can’t stop giggling. Ok. Story arcs are BIG deals in your plot. Think of these as door ways, crisis-points at the top of your arc, that your character has to move through in order to get closer to what it is they want/need. Once they hit that doorway, or crisis point, they can’t go back. A serious change has occurred either in the setting or with-in the character and they must move forward. Next blog will be all about these arcs so I won’t go into much more detail here.
  • Consider using unexpected but intelligent twists. The best movies and books I can think of that do this are: “The Sixth Sense”, “Fight Club”, “Gone Girl”, “Mind Hunters”. What better way to shake up an audience than by having them accept one reality for the entirety of the story, only to show them the true reality at the end.

All right, so there are some tips for building an effective plot that carries readers throughout the book. My advice to you this week, is to explore various tropes and patterns, especially those in your genre. Turn a piece of paper (landscape-style) and write out the typical pattern of your story, then overlay events and characters of your proposed idea. See how they match up, see if you have enough tension building scenes, just play around with it. I’m not much of a plotter myself, but even I will do a general outline to keep myself on track and make sure I’m building a solid plot.

Next time, more on story arc, how to climax well (*snork*), and end satisfied (*hahahahaha). Until Thursday, happy writing.

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #22: The Ugly of Starting Over

Hey Kids. Listen, last week I got on a soap box. I’m not even slightly sorry nor is this an apology, but I understand that the purpose of this blog is mostly about writing with a little bit of “living with beautiful intention” sprinkled in. Last week was more about living with beautiful intention and we can all use more of that in this day and age.  

Now, back to writing. Full disclosure: Inappropriate language will follow, so hold on to your knickers.

I’ve been working on a novel (to be honest, I’ve been working on about six of them because I have a problem seeing things through to the end six times out of ten). But this one in particular, I wrote, edited, re-edited, edited again, rewrote, edited, and re-edited all 97,000 words multiple times, always adjusting it with every rejection letter and well-deserved bit of advice. A month ago I wanted to throw it into a dumpster and burn the mother fucker to the ground. I wanted to delete it from my hard drive, the cloud, completely wipe the piece of shit off of the face of the earth. After all those years. After all that work.

It made me so mad that I couldn’t get it right and that it always felt lukewarm that I wanted to quit novel writing all together.

So I killed it. I put it in a file that, I shit you not, I called “The Piece of Shit Series That Will Never Get Published Because It’s Fucking Awful” and left it for a few months while I figured out how to rent a dumpster and get my hands on some gasoline.

Then, like any good writer, I stewed. I festered over it. I fumed.

I hate wasting time. I hate wasting words and effort.

So instead of sending it out yet again to die in some slush pile…or deleting it completely, I started a new document called “What I hate about this book” and I sat on the proverbial therapists couch and let loose all the things that I knew weren’t working and all of which were my fault as a novice writer (I started this thing even before my Fixing Destiny books). I ripped it apart, above and beyond what I heard from outside sources.

Then…at the bottom of the page I wrote, “Is it even worth saving? Is there anything about this story that you love? If you could rewrite these characters, if you could change this plot now, knowing what you know, living what you have lived, what would you make different?”

The next two pages I laid it out. If I had free-reign (ha ha ha, silly writer, that’s your piece of shit you DO have free-reign!) I would change that girl so she wasn’t such a sniveling idiot. I would make her stand up and leave. I’d give her a bigger threat to face on her own. I’d make her tougher. I’d make that boy of hers not be such a fucking mess. She’s already had to clean up enough messes.

Etc.

Now, I’m starting to like these characters. They’ve gone from wet mops to warm bread dough, bubbling with potential and depth…but still not as formed as I would like.

And here’s what I discovered after getting real and hard with myself (whoo…that sounds naughty). I can write and edit a piece of…er…work… a million times, but if I don’t really love the characters, the story won’t follow. I have to believe in them. I have to love and hate them. Not just have them on a page to hold space while the weak plot tries to build a book around them.

This week, I encourage you to take a scene that’s not working, a novel, a short story, a poem…whatever it is that’s sticking in your craw lately, and get brutal. Be fucking horrible to the work and to your part in it. Own your shit-fest and stop tip-toeing around it. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The next step is tearing it down to the foundation of what you’re trying to do, and building it up better, stronger, more beautiful.

Don’t be afraid. You have free-reign writer, to change, to destroy, to rebuild. And if you find, after tearing it apart that there is nothing that can save it, that you don’t have any love for the idea or characters, get yourself some gasoline and a dumpster. Because those horrible little projects that we don’t love enough to stick with will only serve as anchors that tie us to mistakes we need to move past.

Re-write or destroy, but don’t stay stagnant with your writing, or it may just cripple your creativity until you never pick up a pen again.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Lucky Number Thirteen

Let’s talk luck.

Serendipity is a fickle and chaos driven goddess. Sometimes she saves us from that random bus only to drop us into an elevator shaft while we’re reveling in our good fortune. As a writer, it can often feel like some guys (and gals) have all of her attention and the rest of us are left, toiling in the trenches for even a kind rejection letter.

But most self-earned successful people will tell you its not so much about being in the right place (or write place?) at the right time, so much as creating the right place consistently.

How do we create an open door for “luck” in our lives? It’s not too difficult, but it does require patience, perseverance, and consistency.

“Damn it! I knew there was a catch! This is bullshit! I want overnight success!” 

Don’t we all, skippy…but unless you’re planning to marry a train wreck of a Kardashian you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way.

1.) Just like the lottery, your chances of winning increase by how much and how often you play.

You can’t expect to get that six-figure deal with one query letter to one big agent. Think of querying like a giant firecracker filled with the sparkly goodness of your novel, not a single-tipped arrow. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother aiming the damn thing, but you find the publishers and publications who take your kind of crazy, you follow their guidelines, and then you fire that baby off into the universe.

Wile-E-Coyote
Don’t singe yourself

 

2.) Make the chances you get work for you

Okay, you’re not always going to get the acceptance letters you were hoping for, you’re not always going to get the speaking gig or to meet with the agent you’d planned on at a conference. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing but a blank slate out there. Serendipity  exist in the overlooked opportunities.

Maybe they’re in things that you feel are beneath you, maybe they’re in jobs or gigs that you feel you aren’t exactly qualified for, maybe they’re unpaid or paltry in payback. But part of building your platform is taking risks, chances, and putting out there what you do have.

Volunteer to teach a writing class to an elementary school, offer up your book for free or discounted to book clubs that may be interested, try selling it at local coffee shops, be a beta reader for a fellow writer, guest speak at conferences or writing group meetings. It’s not just about marketing, its about seeing where the world can use your talent and opening your arms to offer it. Sometimes when we do this, Serendipity takes our hand.

two person hold hands
Gosh, I hope she washed it first. (Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com)

Disclaimer: When I started out as a writer, it was a non-negotiable fact that you took any guest blog, free article, un-paid ad copy you could to build your resume and presence. But you can’t work for free forever, and please don’t. You should reach a point where you request and follow leads that will compensate you for what you’re worth. If they don’t, load that shotgun, and take a new aim.

3.) Finally, luck is made, not stumbled upon, by those who look for it, work for it, and build their lives and routines around the openness and willingness to jump at the chances that come their way.

Saying yes. Especially when it scares you. Saying yes, even when you might stumble down that elevator shaft. Saying yes even if you’re not sure you’re good enough or bright enough. Saying yes, even if it means stepping off your life-path for a glint of time.

Yes, I’ll send my novel out to three agents today. Yes, I will write that article. Yes, I will stand up in front of a crowd (well, a ZOOM meeting these days) and talk about what’s worked for me in plotting my sci/fi/cowboy/romance/horror trilogy (hint: its probably a lot of post-its and some mind-altering substance).

Serendipity is a seedling. She might show up randomly in our garden, in a burst of color. But we increase our odds of seeing her if we tend the ground, water and feed her, and give her plenty of light.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

How will you make your own luck today?

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #4 Hear Me Out

 

Last week we explored some fun little writing prompts (by the way, I’m all aquiver in anticipation for those to start rolling in so…don’t keep a lady waiting, it isn’t polite). I hope that you found out something fun, disturbing, and original to spark some new projects. You clever writer, I bet they are fabulous (send them in)!

This week, in order to give your creative noodle a break, I thought I’d switch more to the editorial aspect of writing. Specifically, the sound of our writing and what it means for our readers.

Whether it’s poetry meant to be read aloud, stumbling through your first chapter at a promotional event, or having your book read by a parent to their child, the flow and sound of your “writing voice” matters and reading it out loud changes a lot about what you can only see on the page.

So, let’s talk about the benefits of using oral…

laugh

Okay. Sorry, that was the fifteen-year-old boy part of my brain thinking he’s clever.

Ahem.

Apologies.

This exercise doesn’t take much effort and is an easy way to edit a work in progress that may be in its final stages of completion. Or, if you’re a poet, this is by far the best way to gauge the power and purpose of your work.

Print out a chapter of your novel, a poem, or a short story (I suppose you can use your device or laptop—the girl who loves the feeling of paper between her fingers sighs to the encroaching dominance of technology).

Then read that piece out loud either to yourself or to your unwilling cat.

adorable angry animal animal portrait
*note: It isn’t that your cat doesn’t like your work, I’m just saying cats don’t, in general, like anything that doesn’t meet their own needs, and writing that does anything but pay homage to their divinity, tends to fall short in their demographic. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

 

If you don’t have an audience, I encourage you to use a mirror.

Read vibrantly, read purposefully, read with intonation and depth. Meet your eyes in that mirror and feel the story, the dialogue; that stanza of hard cutting thought.

You will start to hear your particular voice emerge and you will also find editorial errors that are invisible during the brash sweep of only eyes without the mouth getting involved.

So, get your mouth involved (*snicker* *snort*)

Oh man… come on!

I think I’ll stop there for the week.

Go read your stuff out loud. Make marks on the paper (or device) where you notice inconsistencies, mistakes, or ‘not right’ words.

Change them, make it better.

I’ll catch you next Tuesday for exciting news about the Poetry Anthology.

The Power of A Flat Character

Hey kids! Today’s blog is all about writing, specifically pinpointing a very prevalent problem novelists face.

Flat characters.

Now, most of my novels are character driven. That is to say, I begin with a person. A beautifully flawed and imperfect hero who has a problem. Hopefully a big problem. (If they don’t have a reason to cry, by God, I’ll give them one!) And normally, not to pat myself on the back, I can write a pretty interesting character. Someone readers want to follow through the ups and downs of plot arcs.

And yet…

When I found myself mired in yet another round of editing my latest novel, wondering why nothing was working and everything seemed so boring and flat in nearly all of my scenes, I realized the story was trying to support dead weight. That is…my character was not providing any sort of flame to heat the story. They were just being pulled along by their circumstances. She was the equivalent of a wet blanket draped across a closeline, pulling both ends of it down in the middle.

I started this novel many years ago around a situation. And the situation was driving the plot. Instead of my character driving the story, she was just a passenger. Not only does that make everything in writing your novel a struggle, it also makes it less interesting for your readers. No one wants to know about the girl sitting complacently in the back seat. They want to know who in the hell is driving the car and how close it is to the cliff.

All the rounds of editing were wasted in trying to make the scenes and plot more vibrant but it never seemed to be enough. Because it couldn’t carry itself and her lazy ass too. A flat character, lacking depth, quirks, a solid core of values or lack thereof, is like an empty billboard in the middle of a field. Taking up the view without contributing to it.

So I’m back to the drawing board and today, I’m going to start it right. I’m starting with a detailed account of just who this girl is and what drives her. If it’s not interesting enough then I’m going to try out some weird shit until that awe inspiring ‘ah-ha’ hits me between the eyes. And then I’ll re examine every page of her story to see if she’s behaving the way she would and saying the things she should. The story will change, scenes will change, her interaction with others and the direction they head will change. I’ve got a ton of work ahead of me.

It’s going to be like starting over and I’m a little disheartened by that. But if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right and I’m not ready to give up on her just yet.

After all, she does know how to shoot, bakes the best biscuits in the county, and can shear an angora goat in under a minute-thirty.

(By the way, the world record for sheep shearing is 37.9 seconds. Goats take longer, because they’re feisty and require a more careful ‘clipping’ technique.)

more you know

Don’t be lazy. In the same way certain Robin Hood actors wouldn’t learn a British accent (ooo, Kevin Costner BURN!) don’t half-ass your main character. They should carry the story, not drag it down.

What are some of your favorite character development tools?

How Many Words?

Gentle readers, it has been a week.

Empathetic critters, such as myself have taken a hit. Not only from personal issues, but from the rising level of hurt, angry rhetoric, senseless killing, and crumbling ecosystems. So I’m stepping back. I’ve left my social media site for a very restful and cleansing week and have decided I’d like to get back to the other side of this website.

That is–Writing.

I’m not just here for flowery posts about helping your fellow humans, finding the light, being the better the world needs… I’m also here to inspire you in your artistic endeavors.

Now I don’t know much about all the arts, (Bob Ross, I ain’t), but I know a few things about the written word. What little I do know I want to share, because others shared it with me and boosted me up when I flailed for solid ground.

So today’s post is about writing. Specifically one of the greatest tools I have ever used to get my novels started, finished, and published.

Ladies and Gents, tomorrow begins the 2018 NANOWRIMO (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth).

Nothing will test your writing muscle like being under a 50,000 word deadline in 30 days.

Impossible? Actually no. But it is a challenge.

Precious few of us have the luxury of spending our days with uninterrupted time to dedicate to our writing. Most of us have jobs, children, families, and obligations, which can make the 1700 words a day seem unattainable.

But I’m here to tell you it’s within your reach. And what’s more, it will help you cull the nasty, time-wasting habits that keep you from doing your job as a writer.

When your time is limited, and the word-count is great, three major things happen;

1.) You stop farting around on the internet. Yep. You heard me. (Actually, you just heard my mother speaking through me). When you only have thirty minutes here and twenty there, and maybe ten in the car, you no longer have the luxury of scrolling through the latest cat videos or Pintrest-ing the hell out of your meal plan for the week. Ten minutes, you will learn is enough to get a good few hundred words in if you focus.

2.) You stop self-editing. What’s more terrifying to the creative process than Facebook Life envy? Um…you’re sitting on its butt. It’s you. You are. You feckless human. You who judges the words and sentences while they’re barely hitting the page. We don’t have time for your inner critic. And what’s more and better, the word-count box doesn’t care. It doesn’t care what the words are, if they are grammatically correct, if they contain gaping plot holes, or confusing tense. It just cares that the words are there. Which is all you should care about anytime you write a first draft.

3.) You begin to believe in yourself as a writer, even when things get tough. Somewhere in the middle of the month, when the bar graph is starting to catch up to itself and you’re hitting the doldrums, you’ll start to wonder not just if you’ll finish, but if you’ll ever want to write again. Some days will be bad, and barely a thought will come. When you reach these places of stagnation you’ll somehow find the outright stubborness to keep moving, even if the plot goes a little wonky or you lose/gain characters that make no sense. You’ll get over humps and realize that you are capable. And that, as G.I. Joe used to say, if half the battle.

It’s just words, people. Just a lot of beautiful words.

And, kids, this is your time. Life doesn’t get any longer. If you really have a novel in you, a pile of papers on the back burner that you’ve put off for far too long, this is the time.

It is now.

Go to the website, and create an account, free of charge (though donations are always welcome and needed!)

NANOWRIMO

Hold yourself accountable to your writing.

I’ll be popping in for a few short blogs during November but most of my words will be playing on a different field for the month.

Good luck! I look forward to hearing from those of you participating and drop me a line if you need any warmth or encouragement.

This is the year you write your novel, I can feel it.

book book pages college education
Photo by Victor on Pexels.com

Cross-Writing

Today was my official first run on an abbreviated 10-week marathon training plan. Okay, that’s a little fictitious. I’ve been running. I trained for and completed a 200-mile relay race last weekend, surpassing my hopes to not die by not only surviving but actually enjoying the whole thing. But this morning I dusted off the old chart and began to slowly start building the mileage I’d need to not die again in October for the Blue Sky Trail Marathon.

runnerIt got me to thinking about different types of runners. Some would have started training much sooner than this. Some are going to show up on race day with minimal miles and legs full of ego. Some have calculated calories to the numbers, selected precise nutrients per ingestion, and are weighing their shoe laces. Some are probably going to drink the night before and show up with four-year old sneakers and a day-old bagel with green chili cream cheese for fuel. The rest of us will fall along the spectrum between.

We’re all in the race, we’ve all got different reasons why, and different motivations to pursue that finish line.

In the same way, there are many types of writers in the world.

Those that dabble only when the muse traipses through their line of sight. Those that succumb completely to the words, to the exclusion of all else in their lives. The researching non-fiction gurus and the world-building sci-fi pros. The haiku aficionados and epic scribblers. The plotters and pantsers. The pious and the pornographic.

We cover all the bases.

penThe one thing we shouldn’t be as writers, no matter if we’re outlining or winging it, is stagnant. Yes, we need periods of repose  where we can recoup our mental losses and rest the neurons. Just like runners need a resting season, writers should take breaks as needed. This doesn’t mean we sit still. We are always, in some way, in training. And sometimes, the best way to train is to diversify the hours we spend at our art.

My suggestion for today’s post is to make a plan with your writing.

HEY! Come back! Hear me out…sheesh…pantsers!

When I say plan, I’m not suggesting you go investing your hours in spreadsheets and calendars. I’m saying expand your repertoire. It’s one of the best ways to grow as a writer.

If all a runner does are long, slow-paced runs, they will only develop a certain set of muscles. If all a runner trains at, are speed drills around a track, the same thing occurs. Unless you’re an olympian in a specific event this is a waste of your potential and a recipe for injury.

Balance, writer. That’s what I’m talking about.

If you are a novelist, take a break and work on a short story (you can even make it about a side character or your main character thrown into an alternate universe). If you’re a flash fiction genius, take a couple minutes to start plot building a novella or research a topic for a non-fiction essay.

If you spend your writing hours researching and plugging away at your non-fiction novel about the long line of Fredricks ruling the Kingdom of Prussia in the eighteenth century, try giving your brain a break and write a noir short story set in 1920’s Chicago. Or, *gasp*, try your hand at a little poetry.

writingStretching your brain is just as important as stretching your training plan to incorporate different activities.

Just like miles for runners, words for writers are not a waste. It doesn’t matter if they’re on paved or dirt roads, up hellacious hills, or on even city streets…the miles are the work and the work makes you stronger for the bigger tests ahead. Your words, your writing, grows stronger and better with every method you use to stretch it.

So get to it.

Go out and do ten fartleks of sonnets and a long-day of article submissions to Knitter’s Weekly.

Get uncomfortable.

Get better.