Happy Holidays

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I am taking the month of December off from posting and most social media. Let’s just call it a holiday gift to myself. See you in the new year! Keep working on plot and structure.

S

 

Plot Part 5 – The Climax

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Last time, we talked about the inciting incident— a great place to start thinking about the plot of your novel. This time I’d like you to think about the climax, which is the next plot point I think you should consider.

The climax is that point in the narrative where the conflict or tension reaches the penultimate moment. It is sometimes called the crisis point. It is the decisive moment or turning point in the storyline where all the conflict reaches its peak.

Everything that has come before in the story explodes at this plot point. The climax will help readers understand the significance of all the previously rising action and prepares them for the resolution of the conflict.

If you have already figured out your inciting incident, think about your climax next. What happens in this scene or chapter that brings your character to this climactic life or death moment? In a quest story or fantasy this may be the battle scene where your character must fight to win the prize. In a romance this is the moment where your lovers get together. In a thriller this is where the world is saved. This is the scene or chapter where the whole kit and kaboodle comes together. In many stories this is typically where the story’s hero finally confronts (or does battle with) the villain.

Now, think about how your inciting incident relates to your climax. Does it make sense that your inciting incident which forced your character into the story and the other (intended) action of the story culminates into this climax moment? If not, should you revise your inciting incident? Or should you revise what happens in your climax moment? Keep in mind that plotting your story will allow you to revise both big picture and little picture ideas before they are written. You can and should revise and edit as you go. Just because you write a few paragraphs about your climax doesn’t mean that you can’t change them. You are the creator.

Keep in mind that the climax should coincide with the big story question hinted at in the inciting incident, and so this is why it is important that you consider the relationship between the inciting incident and the climax. The climax will bring all the story’s action to an end with a bang and it shifts the story problem to the story resolution and releases the reader’s pent-up suspense.

Think of Star Wars. The climax is where Luke finally uses The Force to make the shot that blows up the Death Star. (I recommend that you watch the movie Star Wars and look for the inciting incident, and the climax, and all the rising action points because the movie has a clear, easy to understand structure which makes it easy to use and reference when discussing plot and structure in fiction—I will probably reference it often).

As you begin to think of your plot as a series of relationship steps, it may help you ensure that your novel is successful (i.e. readers will like it because it will make sense as a whole). You can also ensure that your plot meets reader expectations for the genre. Plotting your novel before you write it also help you see plot holes and make fixes before you spend days, months, years, writing your story. Work smarter not harder.

Plot Part 4: The Inciting Incident

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When you think of your story’s plot, it is helpful to think of a story’s parts to help you see the big picture and help you to begin to work out your story’s plot. All stories have beginnings, middles, and endings. They also have inciting incidents, midpoints, and climaxes.

Regardless of the genre of book you are writing, your story must have an inciting incident

The inciting incident is that thing that happens which kicks off your story. It is the single event that sets your story into motion. The inciting incident launches the main action of the story. It is something that happens that is out of the ordinary for your main character. Something happens that upsets the balance of the world. The inciting incident can be positive or negative, but it must change your character’s life either for better for worse. The inciting incident happens to the protagonist or it can be caused by the protagonist. The key in all the above repetitive description is that something must happen. If nothing happens at the beginning of your story, then you don’t have an inciting incident and you should re-evaluate your story plot and structure.

What the inciting incident does:

  • It disturbs your main character out of their day-to-day life and propels them forward
  • It kicks off the story problem (that thing that your main character must now solve-remember that stories are about characters solving their problems)
  • It awakens secret/hidden/unknown desires in the character
  • It forces your character to react
  • It starts the story conflict
  • It is urgent on some level and creates urgency in your character
  • It sets the tone for your novel
  • It hints at the story’s ending

Example of inciting incidents:

  • Star Wars: Darth Vader attacks Princess Leia’s ship
  • The Sixth Sense: Vincent shoots Malcolm
  • Saving Private Ryan: The general learns of the death of the three Ryan brothers
  • Monsters Inc.: Randall leaves the closet door open on the scream factory floor.
  • Jaws: Naked swimmer is eaten by a shark
  • Tangled: A strange man shows up and Rapunzel doesn’t know how to handle his arrival
  • The Martian: Mark Watney goes missing during a storm on Mars and is believed to be dead
  • Shane: Starrett insist that Shane leave

What the inciting incident is not:

  • It’s not necessarily the hook.
  • It’s not necessarily the first thing to happen in the novel (thought it should be close to the beginning of the story and it definitely should be in the first quarter of the story)
  • It’s not the next episode of someone’s regular day-to-day life
  • It is not backstory
  • It is not something from your character’s past

Some Examples of Inciting incidents by Genre:

  • In a murder mystery, there’s a murder
  • In a romance, two single people meet
  • In fantasy, the main character discovers they are the chosen one
  • In science fiction, someone travels back in time to change the world
  • In a thriller, the character learns of a plot to end the world and must race to save it

These are just examples from genre tropes. If you are unclear what your inciting incident might be, take some time to think about the genre of book you are writing, and research plot and structure for that genre. Read books in that genre. This will help you to be become familiar with what readers expect, and then do your best to meet that expectation.

To write your inciting incident, think about your story in parts because they are related

  1. Inciting incident
  2. Climax
  3. Resolution/Ending

If you know what your climax will be (we will cover the other plot parts in subsequent posts) and how you expect your story to end, it may help you to figure out what your inciting incident should be.

Plot Part 3

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As mentioned last time, plot is the significant events and incidents that happen in a story and how these events relate to each other.

But how do you create a plot?

Can’t you just string some events together for your character to muddle through? You could do that, but that story structure generally results in episodic writing. An episodic story is one where there may not be a story question driving the plot (Story question example: Will banished Thor regain his family status and get his hammer back to save Asgard? The story question implies the beginning, middle, and ending of a story). Episodic stories are like soap operas. They don’t have a particular beginning, middle, or ending. They just roll on and on in little dramatic episodes which usually express some theme (Luke Spencer has loved Laura Webber on General Hospital since 1978 or thereabouts…).

So how do you create a plot?

Let me ask you—what kind of book are you writing? I ask this because plot requirements vary by genre.  Think about it this way. Crime fiction needs a crime. Romance needs a meeting between love interests. And the plots of those two genres focus on different things. If you are writing crime fiction and there is no crime, the reader won’t be particularly happy. If you are writing a romance, and the focus is on the WWII rather than the love relationship, the reader won’t be particularly happy.

Now, you can totally have a WWII story that has romantic elements and includes crime fiction elements, but how you work out the plot will dictate the focus of the story and the kind of book it will be. It’s the genre that will dictate the kind of reader you will reach (I am assuming that you are writing a story for someone else to buy and read).

There are different processes and techniques you can use to help you work out your story’s plot and structure. Moving forward, we will focus on those processes and techniques.

Meanwhile, give some deep thought to the kind of book that you want to write. If you want to write a genre story, realize that each genre has specific plot requirements which readers expect. Realize that even non-fiction books take their readers through information in a particular way in order to meet reader expectations.

Know the kind of book you are writing before you write it. That may seem obvious. Unfortunately. for too many beginning writers, it’s not.

Plot Part 3

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As mentioned last time, plot is the significant events and incidents that happen in a story and how these events relate to each other.

But how do you create a plot?

Can’t you just string some events together for your character to muddle through? You could do that, but that story structure generally results in episodic writing. An episodic story is one where there may not be a story question driving the plot (Story question example: Will banished Thor regain his family status and get his hammer back to save Asgard? The story question implies the beginning, middle, and ending of a story). Episodic stories are like soap operas. They don’t have a particular beginning, middle, or ending. They just roll on and on in little dramatic episodes which usually express some theme (Luke Spencer has loved Laura Webber on General Hospital since 1978 or thereabouts…).

So how do you create a plot?

Let me ask you—what kind of book are you writing? I ask this because plot requirements vary by genre.  Think about it this way. Crime fiction needs a crime. Romance needs a meeting between love interests. And the plots of those two genres focus on different things. If you are writing crime fiction and there is no crime, the reader won’t be particularly happy. If you are writing a romance, and the focus is on the WWII rather than the love relationship, the reader won’t be particularly happy.

Now, you can totally have a WWII story that has romantic elements and includes crime fiction elements, but how you work out the plot will dictate the focus of the story and the kind of book it will be. It’s the genre that will dictate the kind of reader you will reach (I am assuming that you are writing a story for someone else to buy and read).

There are different processes and techniques you can use to help you work out your story’s plot and structure. Moving forward, we will focus on those processes and techniques.

Meanwhile, give some deep thought to the kind of book that you want to write. If you want to write a genre story, realize that each genre has specific plot requirements which readers expect. Realize that even non-fiction books take their readers through information in a particular way in order to meet reader expectations.

Know the kind of book you are writing before you write it. That may seem obvious. Unfortunately. for too many beginning writers, it’s not.

Plot Part 2

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What is plot?

Plot is what happens in your story. Plot is the way you organize the events that occur in the novel. Plot is your story line. Plot is the direction of a story’s main events and incidents and how they relate to one another.

Let’s start with thinking about plot as a simple sentence: The world’s heroes must learn to work as a team in order to battle their enemies (Super-basic plot of “The Avengers” movie).

Every action/scene/chapter that shows the heroes having to learn to work together and/or battling the enemy is part of the plot.

Example: Loki steals the Tesseract. Natasha retrieves Bruce Banner. Nick Fury recruits Captain America.

All these events move the story forward and are necessary to get to “The End.”

Let’s think about what’s not plot.

Example: Loki eats a sandwich and takes a shower and has a nap and then goes to the store to buy ice cream.

If Loki does things which don’t impact the outcome of the story in any way, and these actions don’t provide any information about character or anything else, and they don’t move the story forward, then they are not part of the plot.

(Of course, it is totally possible that Loki eating a sandwich could be part of the plot, provided the sandwich was perhaps the only thing that would bring Hulk to Nick Fury…but that’s a whole different show.)

So, what do you call that scene or chapter where Loki eats a sandwich which has no impact anywhere else in the story? It’s Schmerfoople (made up word—Thanks, Angie Hodapp). It’s sloppy scene craft, first-draft writing, loose writing, zero-tension writing, boring, tangential…

It’s bad.

Delete it.

Or better yet, stop yourself from writing it before you spend days, weeks, years working on it.

If “The Avengers” actually had 15 minutes of Loki eating a sandwich, movie watchers would walk out of the theater because it is bad story telling. If you write 15 pages of your character eating a sandwich, readers will throw your book in the trash because It is bad story telling.

Make sense?

Plot is the things that characters do, or feel, or say, or think, that make a difference later in the story.  If you are going to spend your time writing, make sure what you are writing has a plot so that it is not a pointless waist of time. Having a plot makes you a better storyteller. Be a better storyteller.

Plot

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I was recently at Colorado Gold, which is a conference geared toward writers wanting to improve their craft and writing skill. It was a great conference attended by 300+ writers. While there, I chatted with people and I noticed that for some of them, the concept of plot seemed to be an afterthought.

These were generally newer writers.

The conversations when something like this:

“What have you written?” I ask.

“I am writing a story about {fill in the blank}.”

“How’s that going?”

“Well, {long pause} I was really excited when I started writing it after I got the idea. It sounded like such a great story, but it’s kind of bogged down, and I’m stuck.”

I then began asking questions about the story, and the characters, and the author’s intention. Many questions usually resulted with shrugs. I don’t ask these questions to be mean. I ask them to help the writers figure out what the story problems are so they can be fixed.

Usually, I find these issues are plot problems. See…most newer writers begin writing with an idea. They write with gusts of great enthusiasm. A fair number of them will begin writing without the general story line worked out. There is nothing wrong with writing this way. It can be a great exercise in discovery—which all writing is, even when the story is fully plotted—but it can lead to frustration when the writer discovers that what they thought would be a great story, isn’t actually great. Especially when they don’t know what should happen next. Or how to get the character from point A to point B. Or if they don’t know why their character is going off on random tangents.

Consequently, I am starting a series of posts on the various aspects of plot. Over the next several weeks, I hope you will find something that helps you—if you are one of these writers in need of a plot boot camp—figure out why your story has fizzled, or why your story is stuck.

 

 

Writing and the Mid-Year Evaluation

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It’s summer which is a reminder for me to evaluate my writing progress.

While I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of the year, I do make a list of goals. I never achieve them perfectly, but I do move closer to achieving them over time, and I do the work step-by-step to get me where I want to be. Eventually.

This year I have not written nearly as much as I listed on my goal. My word count is abysmal. But I am writing, slowly, progressing toward the end of my newest novel. I may not finish by the end of the year and I am okay with that.  I keep writing. I keep working toward my goal regardless of completion by the self-imposed deadline or not. It’s the journey, right?

I expect some of you made some goals this year too, along the lines of writing, or writing more, or writing every day. Good for you! I hope you’ve had much success on whatever that goal was. And I hope you have confidence that you are making progress as you evaluate your goals mid-year even if you haven’t been perfect, or even great, or even good at doing the work you need to do to get what you want. If you re-visit your goals regularly, that will help you achieve them.

And as you evaluate your writing goals this year, how does reality look compared to the goals you made six months ago? Are you meeting your goals? Exceeding your goals? Have you actually started writing yet? There is no judgement here if  you haven’t started. Just remember that you can start right now. Evaluate your plan, adapt, adjust, and start now. There is no reason to be discouraged.

It’s never too late to begin. It’s all about adapting the plan.

You can do this.

 

 

 

 

Word Counts

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We’ve had a substantial number of submissions at Literary Wanderlust lately. We always take the time to read every submission with the goal of finding some really great stories to contract and turn into books. Well, that’s not actually true. There is one category of submissions that we reject without reading—books with exorbitant word counts.

What?

Yeah.

Here’s the dealio. If you submit a romance novel but the word count is 190k, we just aren’t going to read the submission. It gets an automatic generic rejection and we won’t even read the query letter.

I know that sounds cold, but we can’t sell a 190k word romance novel, especially from a 1st time author. Readers just won’t buy it. There’s just no point for us to take the time to read it.  Note that this also works in reverse. If your book is too short for the genre, it could negatively affect the submission outcome.

You see, each and every genre has an expected word count. The expected word count is based on reader expectations. In order for the book to sell, it has to be something that the reader will buy. This is a business, remember? We all want to sell books.

To help you figure out if you are in the ballpark for word counts by genre, look at the below list. Note that there are some count variances based on publisher and sub-genre. Do your research so you don’t waste your time writing something that just won’t sell because it is unrealistically long, or too short.  If your genre/sub-genre is not listed below, look at a good handful of the most recently published books and average the page count.

  • Fantasy: 90-110K
  • General Fiction: 75-100K
  • Historical: 90-120K
  • Horror: 80-100K
  • Literary: 80-100K
  • Mystery: 75-90K
  • New Adult: 60-85K
  • Paranormal: 75-95K
  • Romance: 50-90K
  • Thriller: 70-100K
  • Science Fiction: 90-120K
  • Western: 50-80K
  • Women’s Fiction: 90-100K
  • Young Adult: 60-80K

Yes, yes, there are always exceptions. But you are not it most likely.

The main takeaway is that you should know the expected word count for your genre so you can write something that readers want and expect. If your genre is not listed above, Google it. You will find it listed somewhere. Research marketing categories and genres so you can find the expected plot structure. Then write within that framework. Throw in a lot of creative stuff while you are at it. Then you will have more luck selling it. Size matters. Length matters. Yeah. Get your mind out of the gutter.