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 Writers Workshop: #17 Drunk and In Charge of A Bicycle (or How We Should Be Approaching Life in Difficult Times)

Before anyone gets their knickers in a quandary… (see, fancy words are still running over from last week)…I am not, nor have a I ever been (well maybe once but it was completely unintentional and never repeated), drunk and in charge of a bicycle.

Bradbury_2240962bThat line actually comes from an Irish Police report retold by Ray Bradbury in his book, “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Bradbury was talking about the way we approach storytelling and writing, and that is: drunk with life and not knowing where off to next. Such a trip, he wrote, is one half terror and exactly one half exhilaration.

So many schools of thought exist on how best to write your novel or short story. Plan it out, with all of the beautiful arcs, subplots, crises and climaxes, and scientifically bring it home with a satisfying resolution.

Or just write it, in wobbling paces of exhilaration and stumbling wrecks of metal and wheels.

One brings about better structure and fewer injuries…er…plot holes. It also makes the revision process shorter.

The other burns with uninhibited joy and rides the coaster of character dilemmas into the natural hills and valleys of human failure. It is organic and creative, and often a bitch to edit.

I tend to believe that not every writer is always one or the other. Usually, it is a balance between the two…much like riding a bike. The drunk part comes in when we let go of the inhibitions that close down creativity, and/or let our work be curtailed by criticism. Self or otherwise.

This is a time of both terror and not knowing what will come next. A less playful and lighthearted scenario than Bradbury probably meant.

All around us, voices are shouting and arguing. Outside there is a divisive and angry cloud, smothering the world. We are beset from all sides with advice about what we should do, should be doing, should have, should not have, what to feel guilty about, what to embrace…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

etc
Come on…”The King and I”? This is classic stuff! Yule Brenner! Somebody better be impressed.

We run the risk of letting all of these limitations and confusing ‘advice’ smother the bumbling beauty of writing the stories and characters that intrigue and bring us joy.

It doesn’t all have to be hard-hitting commentary. Let’s face it, we’re in the midst of the first three story arcs of a dystopian novel already. And if we know anything from those story lines, it’s that the true worth of the human race is often preserved in the beauty and art we are capable of.

Writing, drunk in love with the art, is Katniss putting flowers on Rue’s grave, and Peeta painting sunsets while other tributes throw spears around him. It’s Tris not choosing any one trait to define her, but embracing the balance of being a little bit of everything.

 

It’s in the saving of books instead burning them.book burning

So, the exercise is simple.

Write.

This week write. Something beautiful. Something true. Fly by the seat of your pants and damn the torpedos (yeah, I mixed my metaphors, what of it?)

Find a reason to fall back in love with your art, your characters, your world. Find a reason for us to go on. Shut the door and unplug the news, and try embracing something other than the fear and hatred that have become our everyday.

What will save the human race will be the dreamers who live, half in terror, half in exhilaration, and not knowing, exactly where we’re off to next, but knowing its beauty is only limited by our imaginations.

That takes the kind of courage rarely seen in the world today.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week 2- Mission Possible: Drafting A Writing Statement

Read that title, again would you?

 

I know, right?! SNOOZEFEST!!!

I promise, this isn’t going to be as painful as it sounds and it might be one of the most useful tools you have when it comes to guiding your writing. A writing mission statement turns vague hopes for an outcome into solid ideas and language.

So what is it that you want your writing to do?

Last week I asked you to compose some answers to questions about your writing in hopes that you can expand on those answers in the coming weeks and use them in addition to our exercises to flesh out your writing career.

From those answers, you should have written down aspirations for what you wanted to accomplish in a year, month, week, etc, and the small manageable goals that can get you there.

This is a little different.

Thinking about the work in progress you’re embroiled in (be it a novel, an article, an essay, or directions on how to make a giant rooster shaped cake)

rooster cake2
Join me next time when I explain how writers are masters of procrastination. Like, looking up images for rooster cake.

I want you to write down what you hope to accomplish with this particular work. We’re talking end game stuff here. What do you want the people reading your work to walk away with afterwards?

Example 1:

Say you’re working on an article about the wage disparity in large corporations.

Take ten to fifteen minutes and write what outcome you want to see as a result of your article. How do you want people to see your subject of the story? How can you make them identify with the people involved? Is it to educate? To change policy? Do you want to give them the tools to make changes, or just to think about it in a new light and in a way that encourages discussion?

Once you know the end goal, it will affect how you write the story.

 

For novelists a mission statement is integral to developing a relationship with your reader via your characters.

Example 2:

I want my readers to identify with a cranky, semi-violent spirit, haunting an old seaside house and fall in love with him. I want my readers to feel the sting of being trapped, and the power of love to soften hurt.

 

Writing about what you want to write will actually help you know what you need to learn in order to accomplish this mission statement.

 

So here’s your job this week:

  • Write a short mission statement for your work in progress or your next work.
  • Share it with someone (accountability bitches)
  • Where is the next, imagined destination of this work?
  • If you have time—study some of your old work, and see if you can write a mission statement for them—what did you learn from each?
  • If you have time—think of your favorite articles, books, masterpieces and see if you can decipher what the mission statement was for them.

Oye, so much work. Don’t make me crack a whip.

Again, feel free to share. I love hearing about your purpose in writing and remember that sharing that will help to manifest your goals!

Next week we’re dipping into some heavy creative work to balance out all of this business side.

 

Take care!