This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘plot points’

Plot Tips for the Aspiring Author

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 11, 2010 at 7:30 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Before we begin, it’s probably a good idea to define the concept of plot. In general terms, it’s the problems your hero confronts as he travels through the world you’ve created for him. Plot is what keeps your readers’ interest.

Those areas of your story that most affect your hero are called plot points. Plot points are situations that turn your novel in a new direction. They alter your hero’s quest. For an example, let’s consider the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker first sees the hologram of Princess Leia. This initial plot point shifts Luke’s life in a dramatic fashion. His quest begins with that recording of the princess. Though that story had many plot points, another was when Darth Vader told Luke he was the young Jedi’s father. That, like the hologram, changed everything.

Your plot is comprised of three major components, the Complication, the Climax and the Resolution. The Complication involves those scenes that begin your major conflict or plot point.  The Complication identifies for your reader what dramatic quest your hero must undergo. The Climax is that plot point where your premier character faces his Complication, the bad guy. The Resolution, of course, is that series of events that solve the conflict outlined in the Complication. It closes the story.

It may help to think of your plot as a three-act play. Your first act is the Complication, the second the Climax and the third, of course, the Resolution.

For some general tips on how to develop your plot, consider the following:

1. Make sure your hero suffers. His trials can be emotional, physical, mental, or best of all, a combination of the three. Keep in mind the more he suffers, the better is his exhilaration during the Resolution phase.

2.  The conflict you create must have enough power to encompass the entirety of your story. A secret to this is to interweave subplots into your novel. (For more on subplots, read THIS article.)

3.  Insure your hero and villain are evenly matched. It’s important for the story that your reader never knows if your hero will survive his ordeal. He will, and they know it, but you do need to create that sense of doubt for your plot to work with efficiency.

4. Each chapter of your story should hang on an issue. As a famous author whom I can’t quote at this time said, someone must want something in every chapter, even if it’s only a glass of water. This constant tension will keep your audience wanting to read more.

5. Make sure you couple the correct setting with your conflict and plot points. It’s more riveting for your hero to suffer thirst in the desert than a coffee shop. (For more on setting, read THIS article.)

6. At some time, your hero must grab the bull by the horns and get into it with the villain. Nobody wants to read about an indecisive hero. Get that man dirty.

7. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it’s just fine to fool your reader. Give your plot twists and turns to confuse and surprise them. I think they call this, “mystery.”

8. Foreshadowing is a powerful tool when developing your plot. Let them know something ominous is coming, just don’t spill those proverbial beans too soon.

9. Try to stay away from stereotypes in fiction. The nun who works for the underground is more interesting than the soldier who does so.

10. Let your plot develop as you move through your story. Don’t be afraid to allow your imagination to take your characters where it wants them to go.

11. The secret to your success as a writer of fiction is the good story. And the good story is all about plot. And plot is all about conflict.

What tips might you wish to share as to how you develop your plot?

Best of luck  and know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, Born to be Brothers.

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10 Tips to Reveal Your Character’s Character

In The Craft of Writing on March 3, 2010 at 7:18 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the podcast of this article HERE.

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One of the three primary secrets to any good novel is effective characterization. The others, of course, are story and dialogue. Without populating your novel with characters the reader will appreciate, there is little chance your novel will succeed. This is not to say a great deal more isn’t necessary to write The Great American Novel, but without this, you’ve got no story.

Your reader needs to become acquainted with your main characters to identify with them and I’ve worked up a list of ten basic steps by which you develop your character’s. They are:

1. The character’s physical description
2. The author’s psychological portrayal of that character
3. What the character says
4. How the character says what he says
5. What the character does
6. What the character thinks
7. The things other characters say about him
8. His reactions to things, people and events around him
9. His how he reacts to himself
10. Your setting

Presenting this type of information all at once is frowned upon in the writing world. So much so, that action has a rather unpleasant sounding name assigned to it. That name is, “Info-dump.” Therefore, for best effect, you’d want to sprinkle these situation around in the pages of your story.

I’m certain you can see how most of these techniques will highlight your character’s personality. After all, isn’t that much the way things work in real life? Regardless, let’s toss in a couple of examples

You’d not want to use only one or two of these techniques and shun the rest. Utilize a number of them for wider appeal

A premier “rule” in creative writing it to “show, don’t tell.” Of course, rules are designed for breaking, but with that in mind, you’d want to shy away from the first item, their physical description, and the second, the authors’ psychological portrayal, as they tend to, “tell.”

As an example of the third item, what he says, in my current manuscript my hero, Jak, is working with a crew to cut down trees. When one wood behemoth refuses to fall, Jak say, “I’ve yet to be bested by an overgrown log.” When I had my critique group read that chapter, a couple of the reviewers mentioned that line and said it told them so much about Jak’s personality. So, the words your character uses are powerful indicators of his individuality.

Let’s give number seven, those things one character says about another, some consideration, too. I think this type of character embellishment allows for interesting opportunities in your novel. It opens the door to misdirection, deception and all sorts and other opportunities to enhance and even introduce plot points into your manuscript. If you possess the imagination, this technique has twists and turns hidden within it, and you can utilize them to great effect.

There’s one of these techniques many authors don’t understand well, so I’ll give it a bit of special attention. Consider number ten, your setting. Setting is much more to your novel than simply a place and time. It is as powerful as any component of your novel and can shape your characters to a great degree. So, too, it gives strong hints as to their personalities. For example, compare a warrior living in the second century to one living in the twenty-first. Don’t you think they’ll have differing outlooks toward war, even though that theme transcends both time frames? Give your setting serious consideration as part of the development of your characters. You can read more about setting in this ARTICLE.

Review these techniques and employ them throughout your novels, and you’ll find your readers become more involved with your characters.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


4 Steps to Character Development

In The Craft of Writing on February 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

We all realize one of the most critical components in the craft of writing any novel is its characters. Without effective characterization, the chance of penning a successful novel approaches zero. Therefore, I spend much of my writing time creating those people who will populate my manuscripts. Personally, I use a four-step process for developing my characters.

These four steps are:

  1. 1. Summarize the type of character needed for the story
  2. 2. Find a photo of that person
  3. 3. Interview my main characters
  4. 4. Review my character’s reactions during the editing process

First, I jot down the basic characteristics I’ll need for my hero, villain and any love interest. I focus more on their personality than physical characteristics and I try to envision how this person I’m creating will react to situations I already imagine will occur in the story.

I sort of feel this person out and makes notes as my mind wanders between the character and the story. Other writers fill in formal note cards or databases, many types of which you can find on the Internet. It matters not how you gather this information, but knowing my characters’ personalities before I craft them helps me flesh them out as I write.

Next I locate, cut out and paste up photos of my characters. I physically mount their faces, and if necessary to the story, full body photos of my people. I pay very close attention to the look in their eyes, for I need specific personality types, and the eyes are the harbinger of this. I might take hours upon hours to find the perfect pictures, but when I have them, I paste these photos on a piece of poster board and keep it on my desk as I write. Early in the writing process, I refer to these photos often, especially when I write dialogue, which I think is one of the secrets to effective dialogue. As I become more familiar with the characters as individuals, I refer to their photos less and less, but still keep the mounting board on my desk as I write.

Third, I interview my characters. Yes, it is a formal interview as if I’m speaking to someone for a magazine article. By now I’ve developed a basic storyline so I ask them questions that relate to my story. For example, in an early manuscript, my heroine learned her husband died in battle and she traveled to the field to find his remains. (It was common in the era in which I write.) So, I asked her, “Lorena, it’s late at night and you’ve wandered over this horrid field with a lantern for hours. You’ve just found your husband, dead on the battlefield. How would you react to this?” I allow my instincts about this character to answer for me. If I don’t get an answer that can translate into an effective scene, I consider altering the scene and/or characterization of this person. By the time I’ve reviewed most of my story’s major plot points as they relate to my major characters, I’ve got a firm visualization of who my characters are and how I’ll write about them in my manuscript.

Finally, as I edit my work I study how my characters reacted to the various situations in which I’ve placed them. Did they respond according to the  personality I’ve given them? Did they act as expected? If not, what has to change, the scene, the character or both? The situations in which my characters find themselves have often morphed into something quite different than I’d visualized in my first draft. I consider it imperative to insure my character’s have adapted to these new situations in a fashion consistent with their personalities.

My manuscripts are character-driven and this four-step process insures those people I create mesh with my plot points and storyline without issue.

Are there other techniques or tips you use to create your characters? Let me know and I’ll post them, with appropriate credit, of course.

Until then, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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The Secrets of the Dreaded Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing on February 12, 2010 at 8:39 am

I’ve yet to meet an author who looked forward to writing their novel synopsis. In fact, many believe it’s more difficult to write than the novel itself. Not to say it’s easy, but a few simple tenets can get you started.

Let’s first ask if a synopsis is even necessary these days. From reading the submission guidelines of agents, I see many don’t request one and that leads me to believe it has lost much of its influence. However, some still do, and as an aspiring author never knows which agent will represent them, it’s a good idea to have it ready.

The second question is why would an agent would feel a synopsis necessary. The critical reason I found in researching this article is it can be THE pivotal item that gets an editor to read your manuscript. That’s enough for me right there. However, if you need more, consider the following. A well-crafted synopsis can assist the author in finding weak plot points and point you toward ways to polish your story arc. It also assists in improving characterization, plot and setting. Further, it is often utilized by various departments of a publishing house once they accept your novel.

We now know the if and why, but what about the what? What, after all, is a synopsis? Many confuse it with an outline which describes what occurs in the storyline, to whom it happens and when it happens. In contrast, a synopsis portrays the “why” of your story. The novel outline describes the action or what happens, whereas the synopsis offers the conflict or how your characters react to that action.

The essential components to a novel synopsis are:

  1. The Opening Hook
  2. Character Sketches
  3. Plot Highlights
  4. The Core Conflict
  5. The Conclusion

If you think about what the synopsis is supposed to accomplish, these five aspects make perfect sense. It will give the various readers a good feel for everything they might need to know about your story. Let’s look at each of these components.

The Opening Hook: Start strong. Remember this is about conflict, how and why your characters react the way they do. It is not about action, what happens to them. For example, you would not open with the first line following for it speaks of the action in the story, whereas the second tells the reader about the characters’ REactions.

Two men fight over a woman.

Two brothers lose their friendship when a woman comes between them.

As with any reader, the agent looks for something that will engage them. If your story doesn’t’ sound interesting right away, they’ll probably not read further. You’ve got ninety seconds, so power your way through them.

Character Sketches: This does not mean you describe your characters but rather get to their individual core conflict and the conflict between your two or three main characters. What makes your hero undertake his great quest? Why is your villain working with such diligence to thwart your protagonist? Think motivation rather than descriptions.

Plot Highlights: Give some detail to the first and the climactic scenes and a couple of those in the middle of your story. Use only those scenes that highlight the emotional action and conflict within your story. Make sure whoever reads your synopsis knows just how much trouble befalls your hero.

Core Conflict: Your Opening Hook will probably introduce your core conflict, but make sure you enhance it here. Don’t allow anyone to misunderstand the “why” of your story. If you have multiple conflicts, highlight the premier point then maybe the next couple of levels.

The Conclusion: Show the agent your novel is worked to its completion and flesh out the ending. They want to know the entire story. If they don’t know the ending, they’ll assume it doesn’t work. Tie together any major loose strings and point to a sequel if your novel is one of a planned series.

That’s all there is to it. With things spelled out like this, it doesn’t seem quite so onerous, does it? Use your writer’s voice as you did with your novel and the agent will have a good idea of what it is you’re offering for him to sell.

Best of luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze



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