Category Archives: plot

Pants vs. Plans


Woman and Typewriter with crumpled paperHow do you write? Do you plan every little detail in a well-organized outline, or do you sit at your keyboard and channel the spirit of a fourteenth-century minstrel? Okay, maybe that’s a little “out there,” but you know what I mean. Everybody has their own method, and there are pros and cons to both.

If you’re a planner, you know exactly where all your characters are from, what they are thinking, and where they are going. Your protagonist probably follows the perfect path of the hero’s journey. Your story arc peaks at precisely the right time. Your word count is impeccably perfect. There are no surprises. But that’s the down side, too. Everybody enjoys a surprise sometimes.

If you’re a pantser (a term designated for authors who write by the seat of their pants) your stories are filled with surprises. Your characters speak to you, and when they do, they say the craziest things. They make U-turns right in the middle of a scene, and you have no idea what they’ll do next. You sometimes wonder who is writing your story. The problem with pants-ing is that you may get to the end of your story and discover you have 50,000 more words than your editor wants or needs, and half a dozen too many characters to track.Flying by the seat of the pants drawing

So which method is best? Both, and neither. I think most really successful authors blend methods like a French chef creating the perfect sauce. He sets the precise temperature and uses all the best instruments at his disposal, but in the end, his taste-buds tell him when it’s done.

I like to make a rough outline on a story-board with sticky-notes. This gives me a goal and a sense of pace for the overall tale. I do, however, listen to what my characters say. Sometimes they rebel. I would never say that! How about this?

In the process, I’ve written some of my favorite scenes.

The secret is being open. Plan the bones, but let the characters have character. Give them voices and allow them to speak. Just remind them that you, and your editor, choose what makes the final cut.

Kimberly Black

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Filed under basics, character arcs, characters, plot, rewriting, scenes, techniques

The Elements of Story


A CamelThere are four basic elements of story, whether you are writing a short story or a novel.  The first of those elements is a strong hook.  My favorite example of a strong hook is:

The last camel died at noon.” from The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett published in 1980.

It immediately grabs the reader’s attention and pulls him into the story.  Questions come to mind instantly and one is compelled to find out why the camel died and how the characters are going to make the trek through an apparently scorching desert without a ride.

I’m sure you can think of many more first lines that grabbed you by the throat and dragged you on to the inevitable end of the story.  But a story needs more than just a great hook.  It needs a hero/heroine with a desire he or she wishes to obtain and obstacles to that desire that prevent her from reaching her ultimate goal.  The final element of story is a resolution, a satisfying end.  The hero must obtain their final goal or come to grips with why they didn’t need what they desired in the first place.  All loose ends must be tied up and the villain must be foiled.

A good story is like a series of mountains and valleys.  The heroine starts out her journey on a peak with a goal she wants to achieve. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Let’s take Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an example.  She lives on a dull farm on the plains of Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and three goofy but sweet farm hands and her little dog, Toto.  Dorothy dreams of a place where there is excitement, a place where all her dreams can come true.  Along comes an old hag of a neighbor who threatens to take her dog away from her and down into the first painful valley of despair she goes.

She eventually finds herself in a place where nothing seems normal, there are frightening creatures and witches who want to destroy her and no matter how beautiful the place is or how kind some of the inhabitants are, her only desire becomes to find her way back home to dreary old Kansas and her Aunt and Uncle.

She meets some good people who try to help her on her way, but they have their own troubles, and being the kind young lady she is, Dorothy endeavors to help them with their problems while they try to help her.  She experiences happy times and sad times, trials and tribulations along the way and eventually she finds her way back to her aunt and uncle and discovers that what she really wanted all along was never far from her.

While this is a simplistic view of the elements of story, it is easy to see what makes the story a classic.  The heart of the story is Dorothy and her desire for a home, and the peaks and valleys of her journey is the road she takes to find true happiness.

Give your characters a goal, an achievable goal and put roadblocks in their way.  Make them suffer, suffer and suffer some more.  But above all, make their journey both internally and externally satisfying.

Happy Writing!

Suzanne Bogue

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Filed under basics, books, characters, plot, Story Elements, Writing, writing advise

New eBook on Plotting


From time to time I have recommended various books on writing, and shared the wisdom of some of the great writers.  I don’t know or pretend to pass judgment on the wisdom or fame of Aaron Allston, but I can say that his new book on plotting is worth the money and the time to read.  It includes basics on plotting for the beginning writer and insight into solving plotting problems for the seasoned writer.

Allston is the son of a local journalist, Tom Allston, who wrote for the Pampa newspaper as well as the Amarillo Globe-News.  I hope you like the book.

Aaron Allston Releases Plotting: A Novelist‘s Workout Guide
New York Times bestselling novelist Aaron Allston has released his first full-length nonfiction work in e-book form.
Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide describes the craft of plotting novels. In the book, Allston provides methods for creating scenes, determining the meaning and functions of story events, shaping plots and sub-plots, developing character arcs and themes, fixing plot problems, and writing outlines. Also included are numerous writing exercises and Blood Kin, a complete outline for a novel, demonstrating the plotting process from initial concept to finished proposal.Plotting ebook

BASIC INFORMATION:


Title: Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide

Price: &9.99 USD

Publisher: ArcherRat Publishing (www.archerrat.com)

Length: 120,000 words

Central Texas native Aaron Allston, who has 25 years’ professional experience as a fiction writer, is best known for his work in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. His bibliography includes 22 novels and numerous pieces of short fiction released by traditional publishers such as Del Rey Books, Baen Books, Tor Books, and Bantam Books, and digital publishers including WordFire Press. ArcherRat Publishing, publisher of Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide, is Allston’s digital self-publishing line.
With colleague Michael A. Stackpole, Allston has for years taught the Inner Circle Writers’ Seminars at venues across the United States. Their next teaching appearance, in association with acclaimed science fiction author Timothy Zahn, will be as guest lecturers at Arizona State University.
Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide is available from:

For additional information, please e-mail Aaron Allston at allston@aaronallston.com.

Check this book out if you like.  List some of the books you’ve already read on the subject of plotting that have helped you solve your plotting troubles.

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Writing Exercises from Photos


When I was first learning to write fiction, one of my teachers laid out a series of random photos and told us to choose one, then tell a story about what was happening in the picture, or set our story within the picture.  I’m challenging you to do the same:

What happened here?  What happens next?

Tell the story of the people who live here.

What happened in this forest setting?  Was it good or bad?

What are they celebrating?  Or tell the story of one of these people.

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Filed under characters, creativity, description, exercises, novels, plot, short stories, story, Writing

When Your Story Stalls


Have you ever gotten to the mid-point in a story or novel and found that you can’t go any further?  Something isn’t working and you can’t quite pinpoint what it is.

Whether you’re a seat-of-the-pants plotter or an outline maker, there are countless things that can veer your story off course.  How do you figure out where it all went wrong?  It’s simple and complicated at the same time.  Every story should have the four basic elements: Point, Theme(s), Character Arc(s), and Scenes that drive your plot to its conclusion.  Any or all of these things can be the trouble spot.

When your plot grinds to a halt, usually the point at which you have stalled is not the place where the actual plot-related problem has occurred.  If you go back about three chapters you can usually find where the plot failed.

Check the scene functions starting at that point.  Does each scene perform at least one function related to any or all of the four elements?  Does your main character’s personality speak to your plot’s needs or impede the progress?  It is not always apparent when you first conceive of your main character whether you’ve picked the right one.  Maybe one of the other major characters is actually the one who should be the hero.  Maybe one of the minor characters has shown themselves more worthy of carrying the plot to its conclusion.   Have you advanced the character arc for your hero or villain, or have they stalled?  Does he have the right motivation?

If reading three chapters back does not reveal the sticking point, go back another chapter and continue in this fashion until you have found the place where everything went wrong.  Reading for errors at any point in the writing process is always a good idea.  More than likely you will find the problem within the first three chapters ahead of your stopping point, but be persistent until you find and fix the error.  Read through several times using this method.  If at first you don’t succeed, put it down, walk away for a day or two, and try again.

The solution is there waiting to be discovered.  The complicated part is looking at the plot with fresh, objective eyes and taking the precious time out of your writing schedule to do so.  The simple part is when you find and fix it.

As Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing.  I love having written.”

Where is your story stalling point?  What techniques are the most helpful to you?

Suzanne Bogue

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Read, Read, Read


The most common writing advice I have received is to “read, read, read and write, write, write.” When I first heard this, I thought the reading part was easy. After all, I loved to read; it’s one of the reasons I’m a writer. But at the time, I would finish a book, make a mental note of whether I thought it was good or not, and move on to the next one. Recently, I discovered a different approach to my reading. I started noticing the pieces that make a book work and applying them to my own writing. So here’s my advice on reading:

First, learn about the mechanics of a story by reading books about writing or attending writing workshops. That way you’ll know the basics of what to look for. Then, when you finish a book, ask yourself what you liked about it. Was it the interesting characters, exciting plot, vivid descriptions, or did something else jump out at you? Likewise, if you didn’t like the book, or worse, couldn’t finish it, ask what went wrong. Were the characters flat, the plot boring, pacing too slow? Reading books in this way helps you to know what to put in to your writing and what to leave out. And it enables you to reach the ultimate goal of writing a book your readers can’t put down.

Lynnette Jalufka

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