I should start calling this the “Spoilers” series, because if you haven’t read CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein or DANGEROUS GIRLS by Abby MacDonald, stop reading this post right now. Heck, I’m not even going to tell you the real topic of discussion until you read those books. Go!
Did you read them? Okay, let’s begin…
Today’s lesson: Unreliable Narrators
A few weeks ago I wrote about Mapping the Mushy Middle of a story. This is a plot-centric approach to figuring out one’s story. However, story is a two-sided coin made up of plot and character. For every plot point there’s a corresponding character arc moment. So I blogged 3 Steps to Creating Character Change where I discuss the hero’s flaw as it presents itself in Act I, causes trouble for the hero in Act II, and is eventually overcome in Act III.
Yet even after figuring all that out, I still have trouble wrapping up my stories with a satisfying character transformation. In a story’s finale, not only is the plot resolved and the character flaw overcome, the hero must be changed. And I’ve found that overcoming a flaw isn’t always enough to change the hero.
So how do I get over this writing hump? Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com and find out.
I read the first book of The Hunger Games series when it came out six years ago. Then I read the next one when it was released. Before the third and final book of the series arrived, I pre-ordered the box set.
And put it on my shelf. For years.
It’s not that I didn’t want to read it. I did. It’s just that the books literally take me away from the world for hours. I never seemed to have a whole day free to read Mockingjay. And, who am I kidding, maybe I was just scared for it to be over. Why? Because endings are hard. What if I was let down?
I stress about endings in my own writing. Is the ending impactful enough to touch readers’ hearts? Is the ending surprising enough to blow readers’ minds? Is it satisfying enough to live up to readers’ expectations? Is the ending right?
Right. This is the hardest requirement to determine. When plotting a story, there seem to be so many ways it could end, but there’s only one right way and it all comes down to the hero.
So did the Hunger Games let me down or did the ending feel right? Here’s what I think…
Last week I talked about Mapping the Mushy Middle of a story so that your characters don’t get waylaid on some meandering goat path of grass-eating boredom before finally arriving in Act III. Or worse, get stuck in the swamp and never reach The End! It comes down to knowing your destinations in Act II: the Midpoint and the All Is Lost moment. If you don’t know what these are yet, click here.
Now that you know where you’re going, the trick is to get there without losing your readers. But how do you know if a story is on the road or the goat path?
Read the full post on Writeonsisters.com
Last week I wrote about how to Create Character Change and the importance of making sure your character’s flaw is foiling her in Act II. This led one of my fellow Write On Sisters to comment that the “mushy middle” is a hard section to write. That it is. Robin wrote about it here from a baker’s perspective. Now it’s my turn to put a screenwriter spin on this difficult section of the manuscript.
I used to be completely confounded by Act II. I’d read Syd Field and knew there was something smack dab in the middle called a “Midpoint” where the character is farthest from their goal. But that definition always seemed a little vague. It wasn’t until I read Blake Synder’s SAVE THE CAT books that I gained some clarity about what actually happens in Act II…
Last week’s lesson was about how Character Change makes a story more satisfying, and I evoked the good name of James Bond to make my point. Audiences and readers, now more than ever, want characters who grow and evolve. But figuring out your character’s change is just one step; you also need to develop how that change occurs.
Today’s lesson: Character Change can’t come out of nowhere!
I read a lot. And since I’m a writer, reading isn’t just entertainment, it’s instructional. I learn from every book, whether good, bad or middling. That’s what inspired “Reading For Writers 101.”
Today’s lesson: Why character change makes a story worth reading.
Months ago I read a book where, frankly, the main character was a precocious, spoiled brat. I hated her but continued reading because I expected her to change – encounter some hard knocks, setbacks and meaningful life experiences that would transform her in the end. After all, a story’s purpose is to dramatize a life-changing moment. Whatever happens it should affect the characters for the rest of their totally-made-up-but-true-to-the-reader lives!
So when this character remained a brat to the very last page, I was super disappointed. But why?
Last week I confessed the reasons Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel, and #1 is that I over-revise. To recap, that means when a story isn’t quite working, I change it in huge, drastic ways that make it a totally different story. Sometimes the main character even sports a whole new personality! My solution to this over-revising problem is to Take A Break. That’s what I’ve been doing this week whenever I get an epically large revision idea – I step away from the story for an hour or three. When I come back to it, I ask these two simple questions to test if my revisions are reasonable or overkill…
When I decided to become a novelist, I thought I could whip out a novel in a year. After all, I knew how to write – I was a professional screenwriter. I could structure stories and develop characters and string together words in a compelling fashion. Why wouldn’t I complete a book in a year?
Six years and zero novels later, that question is no longer confidently rhetorical. What went wrong? I was prioritizing writing time (I even took a year off to write), I never gave up because writing is hard (I’m stubborn like that), and I rarely procrastinated (I beat that bad habit). So I did some painful soul searching and identified my three main problems and (fingers crossed) came up with some solutions…
As a screenwriter, I had no choice but to learn a thing or fifty about writing dialogue. Scripts are 50% dialogue. The other half is physical action. That’s it. There are no other ways to express the story in a screenplay – no inner monologues, no poetic descriptions, and no narrated explanations. Only dialogue and action.
But just because novelists have more tools at their disposal doesn’t mean they can slack off in the dialogue department. It still has to be good. I’m not the only person on the planet who can’t stand reading a novel with stilted, unrealistic, on-the-nose dialogue. But those problems are easy to fix…
Click here to read the full post at Writeonsisters.com
Category: Writing Craft
This week I was working on a revamped novel idea – a fun, scary, action-packed revenge story. It was going to be great. I was feeling especially confident after reading this blog: “Why Revenge is Such a Brilliant Plot for Beginner Writers.” I pictured myself pounding out this simple revenge story while my other novel, a more complicated mystery-thriller, percolated. What a swell plan, and then I noticed something was missing…
Category: Writing Craft
Last week I read the New York Times Bookends column “Are the New ‘Golden Age’ TV Shows the New Novels?” and got riled up about Adam Kirsch’s opinion, which basically boils down to “how dare TV shows think they are as great as novels!” Well, I feel the need to counter with “how dare you dismiss TV as inferior!” Here we go…
I’ve been working on my current novel since May. Back then it was a vague one-sentence idea. I wrote about four beat sheets a month, feeling out the story and figuring out how to shape it. In October I started outlining, and as I outlined I’d find problems and head back to the beat sheet stage to revise. But I felt this back and forth (write, revise and repeat process) was moving forward – I was getting closer and closer to completing the outline to my satisfaction, and after that I would write! Oh, the joy! It would happen soon, maybe next month, and then…
I stopped making progress. I started rewriting everything and getting nowhere. Finally, I put down my pen and assessed the situation. Was I in a rut? And what should I do about it? This certainly wasn’t the first time I’d found myself stuck. As I pondered the situation, I came up with 4 Writing Ruts and how to get out of them…
I always have a pile of books on my bedside table. This month in particular I checked out more books from the library than I had time to read. At one point the pile was twelve high! Craziness! How could I possibly read them all? Well, since I have a job and stuff I’m trying to accomplish (like finish my own novel), I can’t. There’s not enough time to read every book that has a nifty premise or garners great reviews or wins awards. So the simple solution is… don’t finish every book.
[Insert collective *GASP OF HORROR* from reading purists.]
Some people believe if you start a book, you must finish that book. But why? With over 2 million books published each year, there’s no reason to settle for a book you’re just not that into! I’d rather not waste my time. Then again, reading is never a complete waste of time for a writer. Even when I don’t finish a book, I learn from it…
If you’ve read my first blog post, you’ll know I’m a screenwriter who took 2013 off from a career penning cartoons to write a novel. Now it’s 2014 and I’m back in the TV biz writing on a super fun animation show. Not that I’m shelving the novel, no way! I’ll still work on it in between the many stages of writing scripts. However, this television gig is reminding me of all the useful (and sometimes nerve-wracking) things screenwriters go through before they get to that final draft, and I’m going to share that info with you in a little blog series called Screenwriter Tips for Novelists. First tip? Pitch before you write!
I read a lot. And since I’m a writer, reading isn’t just entertainment, it’s instructional. I learn from every book, whether good, bad or middling. Because of this, I’ve decided to start a blog series called “Reading For Writers 101” about all the writerly things one can learn from reading books. Today’s lesson: Book Jackets that LIE.
‘Tis the holiday season, which means you will probably find yourself at lots of social functions making small talk. This will inevitably lead to someone asking what your book is about. And you’ll hesitate, wondering how to sum up the intricate plot, the fantastical world, and the character’s monumental journey in less than an hour, because you know that curious stranger doesn’t want the whole story. They just want a logline, one sentence that describes your novel, like if they were skimming the movie listings. This is a daunting request. After all, a novel is hundreds of pages long. How can that be condensed down to one line? Well, lucky for you guys, I’ve got the answer!
My last post about Theme turned out to be a little contentious. Not everyone agreed with the definition, which isn’t surprising considering we were all taught in English class that theme is a) usually distilled down to one word, like “salvation” or “death”, and b) open to interpretation. This approach to theme works in a classroom setting where the point is to explore a work of fiction, but it’s not very helpful when trying to write.
Theme can be used to strengthen every scene in your story. To learn how, click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com
Theme is like a truffle – it has to be there, just under the surface, but one must snort through much mud to unearth it. A most unpleasant process I’ve been stuck in for the last few months. So why do I keep at it? Won’t the theme of my book just magically appear once it’s written? Won’t a reviewer or professor or reader interpret the theme for me? Why do writers need to know the theme of their novel?
Simple answer: to make the book the best it can be.
Because if you’re not shooting for that, why are you reading a blog about writing craft? Right? Okay. Let’s get to work…
Before I explain what is a B-Story and why it’s crucial, here’s a list of what it is not:
These are not B-Stories; they are filler. And a novel is long enough without pointless filler! The B-Story must count! It must mean something! It must affect the hero! Why? Because the B-Story is the novel’s THEME.
That’s right, Theme, also known as “the meaning of the journey” or “what your hero needs to learn.” One day I will write a more detailed post about Theme, but for now let’s stick to what it has to do with the B-Story…