International plot consultant, author of the Plot Whisperer books for writers and founder of PlotWriMo, I help transform stories. As Secrets of Personal Transformation visionary, I help transform lives.
31 July 2009
Backstory / Flashbacks
Writers want to cram everything right up front.
"I know all their history, why would I want to withhold it from the reader?"
"I wrote it that way."
"It's the good part."
Writers spend lots of time imagining and writing every little detail about a character's past, be it for a child or an adult. So, of course, writers would want to tell everything right away. Perhaps, in the process, even show off a bit how clever they are. Until, one understands how curiosity works.
Not telling everything makes the reader curious. Curiosity draws the reader deeper into the story world. The reader wants to fill in the "who," "what," "how" (the "where" and "when" have already been clearly established right up front to ground the reader). They keep reading. This is good.
Tell the reader only what they need to know to inform that particular scene. This is especially true in the Beginning (1/4 mark). During the first quarter of the project, the character can have a memory. But, for a full-blown flashback, where you take the reader back in time in scene, wait until the Middle.
(PLOT TIP: If you're absolutely sure you absolutely have to include the flashback, try using one when you're bogged down in the middle of the middle.)
26 July 2009
Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are is a classic example of the Universal Story (the paradox of life = that which is simple/small is actually huge. That which is big is actually not much at all.)
The Beginning (1/4) introduces Max, establishes his goal = to be a wild thing, shows his flaw = stubborn and belligerent, and strength = enormous imagination.
Crisis ensues ((3/4 mark = page 29) when Max turns lonely and longs to be where someone loves him best of all.
The End (1/4) begins when he smells good things to eat from far across the world. Though his new friends beg him not to leave, off Max sails.
The Climax comes one page before the end of the book when he is able to shed his wolf suit (metaphor for his wildness) and settle down enough to eat his dinner (something he was completely unable to do at the beginning of the story. He needed to go through everything he does in order to gain the skills necessary to appreciate his ordinary world.)
Simple? Yes. Timeless? The book has lasted for 46 years and the movie is soon to be released.
Sometimes we as writers make things too hard. This simple story is about character transformation which is the basis for every great story. Analyze the plot and structure of your story with this in mind. Hope it helps simplify the underpinnings so you can work your magic in the details.
22 July 2009
Universal Story Form and Plot
In anticipation of this, I jump right in, pulling the writer along with me.
My immediate impression? She is drowning in ideas and plot lines. Her story incorporates suspense and romance, some mystery and lots of thematic issues. Before she goes all the way under, I catch her hand.
Once I determine that the main plot thread for her project is mystery, I ask her to briefly recount all the scenes that advance that plot line. While she does that, I plot her scenes out on a Plot Planner for her individual project (which I mail the next day). Scene by scene, the weight of all those loose ends, straining to strangle her, lift.
As soon as we have the mystery plot line in place, it is easy to see the underlying structure of her story. And, lo and behold, the three most important scenes ~ the end of the beginning scene, the crisis, and the climax ~ were there and right where they ought to be. Ah, the magic of writing. This mystery writer's sense of relief is palpatable over the telephone.
Of course, she still has lots of work to do, but this reveal reinforces my conviction that the answers are always right there in our stories. Finding them is the job of the writer (and sometimes along with the help of the plot whisperer).
When you're drowning in plotlines, blind from too many words, lost in your story and pulling your hair out, stop and take a breath. Then get out an oversized piece of paper and create a Plot Planner for yourself. Start with one plot thread. Hang it on the wall. Stand back and look. See if you don't feel a sense of relief wash over you, too.
19 July 2009
Plot Your Writing Career: Traditional versus Self-Publishing
18 July 2009
Plot for a Non-fiction, How-to Book
15 July 2009
A New World Order
14 July 2009
The Downside of Critique Groups
Personally, I've found critique groups a helpful place to:
- Connect with like-minded people
- Learn more about my own individual writing strengths and weaknesses, both from feedback on my own pieces and just as dramatically, if not more so, from giving feedback to others in the group about their own individual pieces
- Improve at my craft
- And more...
However... I continue to believe for many writers, DO NOT SHOW YOUR FIRST DRAFT TO ANYONE.
This practice can prove detrimental in that many groups require that everyone submit. Still, I'm sticking to my belief.
Why? Because for most writers getting the first draft down on paper is like trying to capture the fragile thread of a dream. Whether you pre-plot or write by the seat of your pants, this generative stage comes primarily from the right side of your brain (for an absolutely terrific book about this, check out the non-fiction New York Times bestseller: My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.)
Yes, the two hemispheres are "neuronally integrated" and "two complementary halves of a whole rather than as two individual entities or identities." However, each side does process information in uniquely different ways.
For those writers with a preference for the right hemisphere and who excel at seeing the big picture and the "congruity of the overall expression", to bring in too much feedback, too early in a "linear form of creating sentences and paragraphs that convey very complex messages" (left hemispheric strength) can throw the writer into a tailspin and actually derail their progress.
Also, for most, with feedback too early, the writer tends to get ensnared in the lethal cycle of Going-back-to-the-Beginning Syndrome. Rather than forge ahead all the way to the end, writers attempt to please everyone in their critique group by going back over the critiqued information over and over and over again. Thus, a project that should take months, ends up taking years.
I feel like I'm ranting again, but I've just had two writers thrust into this position and it pains me.
We, as writers, bring enough of our own insecurities to the process. It takes discipline to shut out the inner critic during the first draft. Why allow in a group of critics (because isn't that what a critique group is made up of??? Supportive and helpful, but... According to thefreedictionary.com, critique has been used "to review or discuss critically" since the 18th century, and used to be a neutral verb between praise and censure, but is now mainly used in a negative sense).
Once you have written all the way to the end, especially speaking = the Climax, and begin your rewrite (and only then), get all the feedback you can from trusted sources.
- Find yourself a critique group that excels in both praise and censure.
- Listen carefully.
- Stay open.
- Have fun...
11 July 2009
Literary Fiction and Plot
Having just finished reading two award-winning literary novels: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Run by Ann Patchett in quick succession, I wonder how many literary novels the writer in question has read. She is confused about what plot really is and how useful to any writing endeavor.
In the Elegance of the Hedgehog, not only do the two main characters move from living in their head to their hearts at the arrival of a mysterious stranger, the book finally develops a plot and becomes an actual page-turning story. And, it is precisely then, when the two character's open their hearts and begin to express actual feelings beyond spite and bitterness and resentment and judgement of others and look inward to the part they themselves play in creating their own misery that the reader in turn begins to emotionally connect to the characters and, finally, care desperately about what happens to them.
The publisher of Run, Jonathan Burnham of HaprerCollins, says of the New York Times bestseller, "The story, although it's intricately plotted, is really driven by the characters." (NOTE: isn't all great fiction???) Yes, we love the characters Ann Patchett breathes life onto the page. But, what makes the book impossible to put down is due to her amazing plotting skills (she is the mistress of plot twists).
When did plot get such a bad name in literary circles? Why the intense fear that creative writing withers and dies within plot and structure?
08 July 2009
First Draft versus Rewrites
The plot line that first comes to a writer generally reflects the writer's strength and preference.
This particular writer gives great thought to the action plot line -- outer plot -- and to the romantic plot line -- romance plot (not necessary in every book, though this particular writer is a romance writer, so... Also, because romance fiction is selling well despite the economic downturn, seems to make sense to include some romance??)
Same writer struggles with the character plot line -- inner plot. She balks at filling out the character profile as it applies to the character traits and has done little to explore the protagonist's inner life. Thus, the character shows no transformation in the end. The writer especially resists coming up a flaw -- "I've never been any good at that."
Quick assessment of the key scenes:
2) End of the Beginning
3) Halfway point
The scenes themselves point to the character flaw.
As soon as we know the flaw, it is possible to determine how to rewrite each of the key scenes (and all the other ones, too), at least in relationship to the inner plot -- the character emotional development plot line.
Introduce the flaw
Deepen the readers' understanding all the different ways the flaw is revealed. Expand upon all the ways her basic flaw sabotages her from achieving her long-term goals. Yes, the Middle (1/2) is the territory of the antagonists and of the exotic or unusual world, but both of those elements serve to underline the flaw in no uncertain terms. Antagonists serve to challenge the protagonist, but generally speaking our inner issues and beliefs directly influence the growth and development of the flaw and that flaw does more to sabotage us than any external source. (Can't help it, the plot work I do gives me valuable insight into not only character's behavior but our behavior as writers, as well.)
**End (1/4): Shows the character becoming conscious of flaw and the steps she take to remake herself = character transformation.
06 July 2009
First Draft Blues
It`s like hell in Southern Norway, a three week heatwave is just about to
drain all energy from nearly everybody, but I guess we`ll survive. Hope all
is well with you.
I`m having trouble finishing my book, don`t know how to continue to the end.
It may be better as soon as the heat goes, hope so. I look at your scene
tracker every day, again and again and I see how clever you are to grip the
meaning and help writers like myself. But now? The more I read it the worst
it get. Maybe I should get one hour with you if it get any worse?
I'm sorry about your weather. I do wonder how much the heat is contributing to and influencing your lack of
progress. I send you thoughts of a cool and calming air floating
through your mind and bringing peace, both with the temperature, but
mostly with your story.
Don't forget: the first draft is supposed to be like "vomit-on-the-
page" -- horrible, embarrassing, messy, infantile, etc....
No matter how terrible, once you have a first draft, you are then
able to refine, hone-in, smooth out, bring meaning and beauty to your
work. A first draft is critical both for the final product, but also
for you to know you have finished what you started (though there will
obviously still be lots of work to do).
You are being tested. Writing to the end is not for the faint-
hearted. I know you can do it!!!!
I'm always available for another hour. I'm more than happy to get you
back on track. See how you feel and let me know.
Three links you may like to read:
1) my blog speaks a bit about what you are going through -- http://
2) the page to sign-up for another consultation, if you so decide --
3) my 89 year-old Swedish-born mother's blog I thought you might get
a kick out of reading -- http://svensto.blogspot.com/
I believe in you!!! Keep at it......
Thank you so much. What you said about the first draft made it so much
better for me. I feel now that I can finish, and then I start to refine and
change all that awful stuff. My God, this is just so wonderful, I must have
been blind dumb and deaf to not think about that. You really put it into
place for me dear angel. Gosh!!!
I`ll let you know how I progress, and you are so right about that throw up
feeling when I read it and never thougt of it as my first draft.
Hallelujah!! And if I get stuck again I`ll call out loud and clear.
Lokking forward to read your mothers blog, thank you.
The terrible heat is gone and I pray to heaven it does not come back. Last night
thunder and lightening and lots of rain, wonderful.
And oh, should I print out my first draft before I start anew, or work on
what I have rigt here on my computer. How do others do it and what do you
think is best? Sorry to bother you so much, hope you forgive me for that.
Thanks a thousand times for your belief in me, I know you mean it and I`ll
work all I can and remember your good advice, that first draft is blah....
Ps. I just have to tell yoy, that nobody here talk about first drafts, but I
guess they write more than one, but never tells about it. You sort of have
to help yourself so I`m happy I found you, thanks again.
(NOTE: I'll address her question about rewrites in the next post...)
01 July 2009
Starting a Story Too Early
- Expand your writing skills
- Deepen your writer's voice
- The characters in your story
- What works in your story?
- What does not work?
- What to do about that which does not contribute to the whole = cut or expand?