How do you plan a book’s storyline?

How do you plan a book’s storyline?

As I’m still trying to read through my book for the challenge, I’m going to post another answer to one of the questions a local 8th grader posed to me during her “Ask an Expert” project. As a reader, I thought you might find it fascinating, and if a writer, I thought it might be helpful. So here’s this month’s question:
 

How do you decide how to form the book? Notes, pre-made plans, etc? 

In the writing world, we have two classifications (technically three) of writers. Plotters, pantsers, and what I like to call plansters.
 
Plotters are the people who plan out every event that is going to happen in their book before they write it. They look at the structure of story, and determine what needs to happen when. Some do high-level plotting and just look at major turning points in the story. Others go down to the nitty-gritty of what will happen in every scene of the book.
 
Pantsers are those who sit down and write without anything more than a general idea in their head. They see where the story takes them, which can mean lots of revisions and edits as they get rid of rabbit trails or dead ends from the book. These writers tend to have a natural feel of story, and I really recommend new writers don’t just sit down and write. Try to think through the story and plot things out so that you can learn to understand the important elements of Story and when they happen. I spent two or three years studying story structure and plotting things out before I discovered that plotting wasn’t how my brain worked.
 
Plansters is a category name of my own making . We are the rogue black sheep of the writing world. We want to be plotters, but our characters just won’t allow us. I’ve discovered I cannot plan out an entire book even on a high level without my characters taking over, laughing in my face, and taking the story in a different direction than I expected. What I have discovered is I can do a high-level plan of where I need my characters to be in the next 1/4 to 1/3 of the story.
For right now, I’m shooting for my hero to join the board of a house of refuge where possible counterfeiting may be taking place so he can investigate the institution. However, I only have general ideas of what is going to happen to get him there or the order of those general ideas. So as a Planster, I am working toward that goal, but often sit down with no idea of what is going to happen in the scene I am writing until it ends up in words in front of me. This makes for slower writing, but I enjoy it. 
 
All writers do brainstorm though. Before I sit down to write or plan, I’ll think through: What are the possibilities of this chapter? What are the promises to the reader that I need to fulfill? Are there clues I need to drop? What problems need to happen? What is expected in this chapter? What would be unexpected? I don’t always do it, but when stumped, I’ll write down every single idea that comes to my head, whether ridiculous or not and push until I have no other ideas. Then I look back at my list for anything that might be unexpected and would push my story forward in a fun and exciting way. I also do a lot of brainstorming with other writers. They help to push me to think of things in ways I never would have before. They help my stories to become better.
One thing to note is NO writer is the same. Every writer is going to develop their own methods and comfort zones for developing Story. It might even change with every story they write. If you are a new writer, spend some time studying writing craft and trying to plot out the various parts of your story. If you want to know more about story structure, I have a few posts on that on my Writing Resources Page under Story Structure.
Now, I’m off to let my characters look at my plan, laugh at me, and then go their own direction while I follow behind trying to make sense of their actions. At least every day writing is an adventure!

What questions do you have about writing and the writing process? Maybe your question will end up as a post. 🙂

A Fictional Non-Fiction Story

Okay, so I’m really breaking away from my normal routine of posting about historical fiction. I still haven’t gotten back into reading anything new (and I’m really really really tempted to revisit some old favorites), but I DID read an awesome writing craft book which was written like a fiction story.

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, is an entertaining read whether you are an author or not. Using characters from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as well as other fairy tale stories, Randy Ingermanson explains his method of preparing for a story in an incredibly entertaining way.

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

Plot: Goldilocks has always wanted to write a novel, but everyone told her it was an impractical dream. So she followed the practical route of life only to pursue writing once her kids began school. To learn what it takes, she attends a writing conference where Baby Bear introduces her to the Snowflake method. On her journey through plotting her story, she makes friends with a wolf with a bad reputation, investigates a murder, and is placed in mortal danger when the answer is revealed.

Honestly, it is the FIRST non-fiction book EVER for me to read in two days. I probably would have read it in one, had I the time. So whether you are a reader or a writer, I actually recommend reading it.

It’s not my typical blog post, but hey! It’s Thanksgiving craziness and I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction in preparation for another story. Next week I am going to post the top ten books I am thankful for, so be thinking about your top ten. I may or may not have a giveaway in mind. 😉

What to Write Next?

As I approach the end of editing my first book (EEK!!) I am looking to the next book. What will I write? Will I continue with the next book in the series? Or will I write a different series I already have in mind? Or should I begin something new and completely stand-alone?

 

pencil-918449_640

 

I will be honest, my mind creates books in series of three. Each is a stand-alone novel in its own rights, so not a trilogy, but the characters are all connected and revisit one another. Those are the types of books I read and that seems to be how my mind writes as well. 

 

In fact, I have the next two books in the series already outlined and playing in my mind. However, some wise sage of the publishing world recommended that unpublished authors not write the next book in a series until they have a contract to do so. Otherwise, you will have wasted your time.

 

I am still praying that one through, because ultimately, God lets me know what is a waste of my time, but I am playing around with other new ideas.  My current inspiration comes from some fun pictures my family took over Christmas break in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

So here is a peek at the ones that inspire a story in my mind:

dsc_0007

 

 

Don’t you dare cheat with crack-shot Donovan Marshal at the table.  The hardened, undercover Pinkerton agent isn’t fooled by tricks, but when Cassie Granger plays the trick of her life, will they both be fooled by what really is at stake?

 

 

 

dsc_0016

 

 

Former Confederate soldier, Elias Blake, just wants to put the war behind him and rebuild his farm. Upon returning his ramshackle home, he finds the enemy has moved in and taken claim on his land and possibly his heart.

 

 

 

dsc_0019_0

Escaping the law has always been a challenge she enjoyed… until she accidentally married the law.

After a robbery gone wrong, Emily Hoppe is injured and mistaken for a mail-order bride. Not one to turn away a built-in cover, she intends to go along with the ruse until she is well enough to hightail it out of town.

U.S. Marshal Dirk Burn knows something isn’t quite right about his bride, and his instincts never fail him. Determined to sniff out the truth, he gets more than he bargained for when her outlaw family comes to her rescue.

 

 

Okay, so some really high-level ideas, but just maybe one of them will be my next story.

What about you? If you are a writer? How do you choose what to write next? If you are a reader, what makes you decide what to read next? Did any of our goofy pictures inspire you with story ideas? I’d love to hear them!

 

By the way, the winner of Cynthia Roemer’s signed copy of Under this same sky is: 

JANET ESTRIDGE

 

While we did purchase the rights to these pictures, I want to give credit where credit is due. Out of the 22 Old Time Photo places in that tourist-heavy area, we used Old Time Photo #5. Yes, the number is part of their name. You can visit them here if you are interested in checking them out. Our photographer was great.

 

 

WCW: Creating Well-Rounded Characters – Dark Moment Stories

Characters are more than just the sum of their actions.  In the previous weeks, I discussed character archetypes and negative/positive personality traits, but all of these really just boil down to actions. So what more do you need to create a living, breathing, well-rounded character?

 

storyequationTo give your characters the breath of life, you need to give them a past full of good and bad experiences, even though their full back story will never be revealed to the reader. Susie May Warren does a fantastic job of explaining how she does this in her book The Story Equation (SEQ), and I highly recommend getting it. For the meantime, here is the basic process derived from her SEQ.

 

Developing Character History

Your character is who they are when they walk on the page due to their histories. As an author, it would be impossible create a comprehensive life story for your character from birth to the time they walk on the page. Many of those details are not important.

 
woman-1006100_640.jpgThe important details of our lives are those life-altering parts. Those moments in time that end up wounding you, burying a lie deep into your heart, and creating fears. Susie May Warren calls these Dark Moment Stories.

 

Dark Moment Stories

These dark moment stories aren’t as vague as “my parents divorced.” As bad as divorce is, moments within the divorce will be what really shaped the experience of your character. They are the stories that can be retold in detail to another character.

 

 

For example, take a story of a four-year-old boy whose father walked out on him. That memory is so painful, so poignant it becomes immortalized in the mind, twisting and growing roots down to the soul.

 

He can remember his Dad loading up the car, ignoring the son as he followed behind asking questions.

“Daddy, where are you going?”pain-1164308_640.jpg

“Can I go, Daddy?”

“Why is Mommy crying?”

“Can I help?”

Then it happened. Dad closed the door, separating the boy from him forever. The boy runs to the window and watches as the car putters off into the distance without one backward glance from the driver.

 

Imagine the wound developed by that. What fears would develop from that experience? The fear of abandonment. The fear of being unworthy. The fear of being out of control.

 

Lies will develop from this experience. I’ll never be good enough. I am unlovable. I can’t trust people. People I love will always end up leaving.

 

These lies and fears developed from the wound determine the actions of our characters and make them believable. The wounding story is what makes us sympathize the character and even connect with the character. You don’t have to have your father abandon you to understand the feeling of abandonment.

 

chains-19176_640

Bringing your characters to life means giving them experiences that readers can connect to and identify with. Give them experiences that define who they are at the beginning, but are overcome and redefined at the end.

 

Exercise Your Brain

This week, come up with your own dark moment story for a character (or use a real experience, we’ll never know!). Then tell us the possible lies and fears developed from that dark moment story.  Come back and encourage one another and comment on the different stories.

WCW: Crafting the Perfect Chapter – It’s Elementary, My Dears

*This is an expanded edition of my guest blog post to Southern Writer’s Magazine on December 14, 2016.

Crafting the Perfect Chapter – It’s Elementary, My Dears

 

school-1665535_640.jpg

 

Before becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I taught fifth-grade students to analyze writing. I hadn’t given much thought to applying what I taught to my own writing until I substitute taught a fifth-grade reading class. That day, I discovered a crucial concept for every fiction writer.

 

Students all over the country are forced summarize every chapter they read by looking for these key things: Somebody… wants… but… so… then…

 

We, as writers, need to zero in on every chapter we write to make sure we can answer: Somebody… wants…. but…. so… then…

 

How do we do this? It’s elementary, my dears.

 

georgewashingtonssocks

 

To illustrate this concept, I will use chapter eight of George Washington’s Socks.  I will assume most my readers have not had the enjoyment of reading this children’s novel, so I will just give a very brief introduction to the story.

 

George Washington’s Socks

A mysterious rowboat transports five adventurous kids back in time to the eve of the Battle at Trenton where they experience the American Revolution. Through encounters with Hessian soldiers, revolutionaries, and even George Washington himself, Matthew, Quentin, Hooter, Tony, and Katie watch history unfold before their eyes as they see first-hand, the grim realities of war and the cost of freedom.

– Amazon.com Blurb

 

Somebody… wants… but… so… then…

Let’s break it down:

 

office-1454087_640

Somebody…

Who is the central focus of this chapter? This can be one or two characters if you are splitting your story between points of view, but even if there are multiple points of view, a chapter is generally about one person. Who would students identify as the main character for your chapter?

In George Washington’s Socks there are five focus characters, however, chapter eight focuses solely on the perspective of Matt.

 

Wants…

This is the goal of the main character for this chapter only. What is it that the character wants to accomplish in this small timeframe? More often than not it is a small goal that builds into something bigger.

 

For Matt, his initial goal in the chapter was to return General Washington’s cape.

 

But…town-sign-1158385_640

No story is engaging without conflict, and neither is a chapter. What obstacle does the character face? It can be internal or external in nature, but it needs to be plausible and, if at all possible, unforeseen.

 

Matt’s challenge comes in the form of a captain who believes Matt is a rebel soldier.

 

conversation-799448_640

So…

This is the reaction to the conflict. What does the character do? What does he/she think? Do they change their goal? What about the supporting characters? How do they respond to the conflict, and how does their response affect the main character?

 

Matt changes his goal. He goes from wanting to return General Washington’s cape to retreating to the safety of the boat.

 

california-1813238_640

 Then…

This is where a consequence occurs or an additional problem is added to the plot. There could be a hint to the subplot, or a difficult obstacle the character must face, or it could leave the reader with a cliffhanger. Whichever course you choose, the “then” is used as a hook for the next chapter.

 

Matt’s chapter doesn’t end with him being forced into battle. His “then” is the fatal injury of the only man who can get Matt home.

 

Combine all the elements and you get:

Matt wanted to return General Washington’s cape but a Captain thought he was a rebel soldier trying to desert, so Matt tries to return to the boat. Then, as Matt is being forced into battle, the only man who can get Matt and his friends home suffers a fatal injury.

 

books-1141910_640

Somebody… wants… but… so… then… is a quick, easy summary that drives to the heart of a chapter.  Do each of your chapters contain these elements? Could you summarize them in this way?

 

Even scarier…. could a fifth-grader?

 

I challenge you to share one of your chapters in this way, and just so I am being fair, here’s my example from chapter one.

 

Kessara wants to pay off her grandfather’s debt, but she doesn’t want him to find out she had to save the family name again, so she goes to the cemetery at midnight to retrieve her secret stash of money. Then as she is returning to the carriage she stumbles upon a clandestine meeting between two criminals who spot her.

 

What do you think? How would you break down one of your chapters? 

 

Writing Craft Wednesday: The Story Equation

Have you struggled with flat characters? Difficult to plot stories? A lack of knowledge on how to correct these issues?

 

Oh my! I must admit I fall very solidly in this category. After the ACFW Conference, I realized just how much of a beginner I am. It feels like I have scrapped my story for the umpteenth time, but this time I have a solid plan.

 

One of the many benefits of attending the conference was connecting with Susan May Warren, a wonderful author and teacher. She has created this wonderful online community that is lesson based. It does require a membership, but the investment has been definitely worth the cost so far.

 

Due to the fact I do pay a membership, I have been hesitant to share what I have learned. I would not wish to break any copyright laws nor infringe on what Susie has spent so much time creating.

 

But lucky for you, one of the most helpful sets of lessons has recently been transcribed into a book that, even with access to the courses, I have added to my library of resources.

 

storyequation

 

The Story Equation: How to Plot & Write a Brilliant Story From One Powerful Question by Susan May Warren

 

Susie’s wonderful method is based on developing your POV characters from the inside out. I will not steal her thunder, for the information is not mine to share, but I will say this has become my new favorite method to work my story.

 

It is organic and naturally encourages great depth. The plot, theme, and premise developed around my characters with surprising results. My story already feels stronger with the use of the Story Equation (SEQ).

 

I will not lie.  As a beginner, I have spent many hours doing the courses, redoing them, and reading the book over and over again, working my characters as I did so. My characters are finally (mostly) solid and I am working on developing my major plot points.

 

The Kindle Edition of the book costs only $6.99. Let me tell you, this is an AMAZING price for an invaluable book. It is a quick and easy read, and easy to apply. If you can afford a monthly membership to her community, The Novel Academy, I would HIGHLY recommend that as well.

 

Below is the book blurb from Amazon. If you have any questions or experiences with the SEQ or Novel Academy, please comment below. I am so excited to share this resource with you!

 

 

“Discover The Story Equation!

One question can unlock your entire story! Are you struggling to build a riveting plot? Layered characters? How about fortify that saggy middle? Create that powerful ending?

You can build an entire book by asking one powerful question, and then plugging it into an “equation” that makes your plot and characters come to life. You’ll learn how to build the external and internal journey of your characters, create a theme, build story and scene tension, create the character change journey and even pitch and market your story. All with one amazing question.

Learn:

    • The amazing trick to creating unforgettable, compelling characters that epic movies use!
    • How to create riveting tension to keep the story driving from chapter to chapter
    • The easy solution to plotting the middle of your novel
    • The one element every story needs to keep a reader up all night
    • How to craft an ending that makes your reader say to their friends, “Oh, you have to read this book!”

Using the powerful technique that has created over fifty RITA, Christy and Carol award-winning, best-selling novels, Susan May Warren will show novelists how to utilize The Story Equation to create the best story they’ve ever written.”

– Blurb from Amazon

Pin It on Pinterest