We have left the stages of lectures and discussions and hit the home stretch. The realization that we need a lot of pages, and possibly not enough words to fit those pages.
With all the partials getting turned in soon, we discovered just what we need to work on this week, which I think ended up being different for every person in the fishbowl. And will probably be different for those of you outside it.
Have you been writing? Did you find the place you need to write? I sure hope so. Sometimes you need to realize that your writing time is the most important part of your novel. This week we start Beta Groups, and I’m the second story we’ll be critiquing. While most, if not all but me, in our class are handing off the start of a novel, I’ve continued one that I have been working on for a while. I started “Part 2” of it this semester, and it’s all coming together today.
This is the moment where I think you need to learn to appreciate having a beta reader who will know your work from start to finish. I discovered that there was a lot of exposition in Part 1 of my novel, and I don’t know if I got it all in a synopsis.
I would highly suggest taking the time to write your own synopsis for your story. It makes you look at the really important parts of a novel – I had to pick and choose what was important, so that I didn’t overwhelm my beta group with pages. I needed 20 to 40 pages of Part 2 – the synopsis of Part 1 couldn’t count for any of them!
If you find a beta reader who is also a writer, give them the courtesy of being their beta reader too. There were two more stories I read that will be sharing critique time with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. They aren’t polished – but neither is mine. However, reading someone else’s work has given me a chance to think “Oh yeah, this needs work… And I do that too, I should remember to work on that.”
I think reading rough drafts of other authors probably help me in my writing as much as reading published books.
Take a look at the genre you like to write. Personally, I love creating Fantasy. I’m a world builder – I think in big pictures. Working with my beta group – all of us creating fantastical and not of this world stories – has been an interesting experience, because it is really rare that you find a classroom that actually has that happen. For the most part, you get paired up with whoever.
When searching for beta readers, and fellow writers, find those who have a similar genre to yours. They understand the tropes, the clichés, and the problems of your writing more than someone who writes a different genre.
No offense to my writer friends who don’t write fantasy, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to dump world building into a story when you don’t have to do it very often.
- Find a beta group
- If possible, those beta readers should be on a similar genre to your writing.
- Remember to return the favor and be willing to be a Beta Reader for someone else.
- Try writing a synopsis for your story to see where the important information is.
- Let your beta readers start from the beginning – not Part 2.
What I learned
- I think, once my story is complete, I need to find friends who would be willing to be beta readers. I am dubious of how well of a critique I can receive when I’m missing major character developments from part 1.
- Having a novel being critiqued is a lot more nerve wracking than any critique I’ve been through yet.
- Beta Readers who are also writers is great, because I can share the really bad writing days with them.
Lindsay Gregg reports on Week 8 from *her own blog* 123writewithme. Thanks Lindsay!
Okay everyone, we’re done with Week Eight.
That means we have eight weeks to go and have logged countless hours of writing amounting to at least 12,000 words. Everything we’ve done so far is starting to turn into something. At this point, for most of us, that something is messy and in need of an organizational override.
This is also the point where many, especially myself, get discouraged and feel overwhelmed by the plethora of words and possibilities and the fact that all of these words and possibilities no longer fit into the hopeful little box you had imagined for them.
The best advice we’ve heard so far is to go on. Muddle through. Do whatever it takes to get words on a page, but at this point words on a page just won’t cut it. As my professor, Cathy Day, put it last week—being a writer is like having…
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Let’s talk about plot and structure. We all have to deal with them sooner or later. They’re the engine to our story, the way we put our ideas into motion and thread them all together. It’s different for every writer. Just like music you have the melody and lyrics, writers have plot and dialogue. Some go dialogue first, some go plot.
Also, remember that a lot of this advice comes from Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.
“Begin every story in the middle. The reader doesn’t care how it begins, he wants to get on with it.”
The plot creates the pace of the novel by building to external turning points, inner turning points and high moments. A good novel plot is multi-layered, meanings lots and lots of the external and internal turning points. External turning points are things that change within the story, internal turning points are things that changes inside your character or characters. Within these turning points there needs to be conflict that they connect and build to the plot and the characters. The conflict needs to be
- Large scale
- Not easy to resolve
- Must happen to people for who we (the readers) feel sympathy
If you want and feel it make the central conflict as deep and as bad as it can possibly be.
Look through your story and at the end of each chapter identify the external and internal turning points and connect them to the main structure of the plot. Then either draw it out, write it out with bullet points, or color code the events and how they are connected. By doing this you will be able to identify and mark your plot in a simple skeleton sketch of the story.
See if your plot is similar to any of the story types or plot structure types.
Four Story Types
Four Plot Structures
Another way to look at a plot structure is:
The Balance. The Unbalance.
Quest for Resolution.
The Climax. The New Balance.
Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories (Watch This!)
So when you’re having trouble with the plot, where to go, what to do or just where to start when you find yourself at a dead end try these tricks to freshen up the writing process while also developing the plot more. They’re from Ben Winters, author of The Last Policeman. We talked about them here, too.
- What are the conflicts of my book?
- Are there any unexpected consequences?
- Complicate the needs and wants of your characters.
- Create consequences that branch of their needs and wants.
- Switch Point of View at the high points.
- Stretch the tension.
- Flashback into your characters background.
- Skip time forward.
- Boomerang the plot. Return to things that you threw out earlier.
- Tell the story of the story to your bestfriend.
- Work on parts of the story that seem exciting and interesting to you at the moment.
Also, don’t be scared to make these particular things happen within your plot. They are cheesy and you see them everywhere but when reading a story these are some things that make the novel real and help connect the reader to the plot and story.
Cheesy High Moments!
- Forgive someone!
- Sacrifice something!
- Sacrifice herself/himself!
- Change direction in life!
- Face moral choice!
And like I said above connect the readers to the characters and make them want to read more.
- Deny to the characters- Food, Shelter, sex, protection of loved ones.
- Keep the outcome in doubt by making failure seem likely.
- Plot often feels like plodding. This then this then this happens. So when the weaving the plot feels old don’t be scared to throw something new and to freshen up the plot and you’re mind.
What I Learned/Figured Out This Week
1. Get into your plot or the action of the story early. Readers do care about what happens before the action starts but they care more about the plot and action of right now more.
2. Give your story as many external and internal turning points as you want. Build and stretch the tension. It doesn’t hurt to complicate the journey through the novel. Keep the reader on their toes with external turning points.
3. If you need to write or draw out the plot and all the turning points within your story to help visualize what’s going on and keep it clean, tidy and concise so not even the writer gets confused.
Here’s an example of how you could use your weekly novel-writing journey to get your blog off the ground or perhaps give it a kick start. It’s not about sharing the actual words you write. It’s about sharing the experience with others. Gail is one of the 71 people “following” this blog from outside the fishbowl. She works at BSU, she’s an awesome photographer (she took my author head shots), and as far as I know, she’s never tried to write a novel before.
Okay, I’ve really struggled with this. The notion of coming up with characters I want to live with and follow for the next few months (or longer). And then, the notion that anything I possibly come up with is….well, kind of lame.
I’m thankful I have my photography career—and the resulting blog(s) that have charted that journey from the early days to where I am now—to remind me that, like anything, this is going to be a process. A process that is going to involve a lot of failures and overall sh-t before it gets better and/or easier.
So I’m just going to jump in. This story may end up being weak. The characters may suck. The plot may fall apart, but at least I’ll have made the attempt to create something in long-form. That’s more than I’ve ever done before.
Here’s where I’m thinking about going (with ALL of…
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by Chase Stanley
There are three rules in writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
–W. Somerset Maugham
There are outline people and no-outline people in the world of writing. Planners and pantsers. And the truth is, both have been successful. But which one are you? How do you figure this out? Is there a right and wrong, here?
Upon reading a few chapters from James Scott Bell’s book, Plot and Structure, I have discovered a few things about outline and not outline people. Not outline people enjoy the act of writing. They enjoy the whimsy of letting their writing take them wherever it feels they need to go. They love not knowing where they are going, and can’t wait to see what happens. Outline people are different. They need a structure and to be in charge of where their writing takes them.
|Here is the man without the plan,
Since the beginning of my writing experience, I have been a pantser. I have always gotten a thrill from beginning with an idea, developing a character, and letting my imagination go wild. The outcome of this story is a surprise, even to me, and I love that part of being a pantser. I’m discovering, for me, this technique only works for stories that are shorter than ten pages.
As I begin to think of myself as a novelist, this is not the case. I need to have an idea of where my characters have come from, where they are going, and where they will end up. I need a method to change my characters or move them from one place to the other. I have to develop some sort of outline to get myself started.
But this does not make me a planner.
I still need that thrill of mystery when my characters take me somewhere I did not expect. I still need a surprise in my stories. If this does not happen, I lose my love for writing. I lose interest in my story and hate myself for letting that happen. At the same time, I need a general plot. A plot that will keep me writing, intrigued, and, most importantly, keep me focused on where I want my characters to end up. So where is the balance? I’ve come to discover that planning does not need to take away the thrill of mystery and surprise with writing, but rather give order to those surprises.
Something I have discovered works wonders for me is to skip around, and plan different plot points with whimsy. Do not pay attention to how this is all going to come together and the end, but develop each main plot aspect you want to include with zeal. Then, I understand where each plot point is going, and when all is said and done, I really do not know how these plots will interact, or even if they will make sense. To me, that is why we edit our pieces.
Am I a pantser? Sort of. Am I a planner? Maybe.
Here is my point. Do not define yourself as either an planner or a pantser. Do both! Have methods, not labels. Have experiences and learn from them. If you do this, I promise you will be happy with your writing style.
By Adam Gulla
|For some, plotting is a labyrinth.|
|“The Board,” a very useful tool in structuring my biggest projects.|
By Molly Miller
Although I mostly consider myself a pantser, some of these ideas that I just have to write down and stuff into my purse are future scenes for stories that are already in progress. This would fall under the category of plotting so I guess I really am a combination of the two. Maybe if I was more of a plotter then more of my stories would be complete. I have a tendency to be able to start them but I always get stuck and stop or simply get another idea and move on with it before finishing the first story.
I guess I really should make a full hearted attempt at plotting. Just to see how it affects my writing and if I am able to actually complete something that I start, although I am feeling pretty confident about what I am writing at the moment. Maybe next time.
Choosing five of my most favorite books of all time is, simply put, an annoyance to me. Perhaps, “five favorite books I can remember off the top of my head”, or “five books that are my favorite…ish”. To spend the millions of hours in calculating which ones are my favorite and which ones justly do not make the cut, well, would drive me insane. I would quite honestly have to read all the books of the world to make that kind of calibrated decision! And so, squandered into the deed of choosing the five favorites, I have silenced the control freak inside, and made my list.
Haunted, By Chuck Palahniuk
The Witches, by Roald Dahl
Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
As most of our tastes are, we tend to get wary of vanilla after a while and venture further into the ice-cream shoppe. Not saying that vanilla is a delightful treat, or what ultimately defines the vanilla novel, but to get down to the point, we all want completely different stories after a while. Coconut Banana Creme Boot ice-cream. Whatever that tastes like. I enjoy finding out.
Now, do not get me started on all the different novels I had to go through and tell them, (tears in eyes and a red nose), that they had to go back on my shelf, and wallow in their dusty sadness for a little while longer. I noticed, however, as they were hopping away on their bindings, that all of them had one thing in common: adventure. Fun, dark, gritty, whimsical, romantic, bloody adventure. I enjoy love, but I do not mind the twisted. Haunted and Brave New World make the cut on spell-binding and/or grotesque. Dune is a classical fantasy adventure, while The Witches tells a tale of a little boy who notices witches (demons in human form) and simultaneously avoids and conquers them in the end (spoiler? eh.) Moon Called would be one of my guilty pleasures on this list, since it is the first of a series, and introduces a single, strong, woman/shape-shifter surrounded by werewolf dominants and the hidden world of magic in the state of Washington. She goes on many adventures, and has the snarky, sarcastic, smooth attitude I love in a female character.
Most of these novels have almost nothing in common, besides the fact that four of the five could never happen in reality, since they fall into the category of magic, fantasy, and lore. The novel titled Haunted, is about a writer’s retreat gone wrong. Which could happen theoretically…however, I doubt very much in the way Palahniuk had processed on those pages. I enjoy main characters that are odd, do not fit in, or have some special attribute about them that make them stand out in their world. The lack of realness in each of these stories is what drew me in. I like to believe in the fantasy. I like to seek out the magic. I like to imagine ALL the possibilities.