Category: Story Structure

15 Story Beats to Keep Your Novel On Track

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Regardless of whether you’re a plotter or pantser, you might come to a place mid-way through where your story feels like it’s gone off the rails. During NaNoWriMo, the mantra is just plow through! Keep writing! It’ll work itself out! But I think better advice is to check in with your basic story beats. It doesn’t matter if you plan them ahead of time or figure them out partway through writing. The important thing to know is that these beats are an extremely useful tool to avoid writer’s block, mushy middle syndrome and general NaNoWriMo fatigue.

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


The Hero’s Emotional MidPoint

Category: Characters, Writing Craft, Story Structure

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This week I’m honing the middle of my WIP, so it’s time to dust off the Archives and refresh my knowledge on The Hero’s Emotional MidPoint. What’s that? Click here to find out.


Mushy Middle Writing Tips For NaNoWriMo

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Hey NaNaWriMo writers! How’s it going? It’s mid-November and that means you’re deep in Act II and might be encountering some mushy middle difficulties. So here are some tips to get you through…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


The Inciting Incident: Problem vs Opportunity

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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I confess I’m having trouble with my Act I. This is unusual for me. Typically I find setting up the story the easy part compared to Act II & III. So what’s wrong? After picking my first half dozen scenes apart and rewriting them multiple times, the problem finally became clear:

The Inciting Incident lacks a certain “oomph!”

Right, Heather, because “oomph” is such a clearly defined thing! Touché. But at least I have zeroed in on the issue. Now to examine the parts and what I could be missing…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


Watching For Writers 101: Flash Forwards

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Reading for Writers 101

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I began the “Reading For Writers 101” blog series (for a full summary of posts, click here) because I believe writers can learn so much from reading books. Well, the same goes for watching television shows or films. Hence, this new series: Watching For Writers 101. Welcome! Today we’re going to learn how to effectively use flash forwards.

A flash forward is a scene from later in the story that the writer moves up front, often as the opening scene, to hook the reader/audience. It’s used in movies (Fight Club, Limitless) and TV shows (Alias, Damages, How To Get Away With Murder) where the story opens with the hero in a perilous situation and then rewinds back to the beginning and doesn’t return to that scene until almost the end of the show/episode/film.

Writers use flash forwards because they are exciting and immediately hook the audience with the question: “How did the hero get into this crazy situation?” But flash forwards are often criticized for three reasons…


Audiobook Pitfall: Scene Breaks

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Since I’ve begun listening to audiobooks, I’ve noticed that not all books convert well to the audible format. So I started this little series: Audiobook Pitfalls. The sale of audiobooks is on the rise, and most new releases (not just bestsellers) are now made into audiobooks as well as e-books and print books, so it’s important for authors to be aware of how their writing may or may not work without the visual cues of the page.

Today, we’re going to talk about scene breaks. Most chapters are made up of multiple scenes, and visually these are separated by a space on the page, but in audiobooks it’s simply a slightly longer pause, which, if your scene isn’t well-structured, just doesn’t work. Here’s why…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


Test Those Scene Connections – But, Therefore & Then

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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As I build my outline, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good scene, and that led to these posts: Test That Scene – Is It Essential or Filler? and Test That Scene – Cut or Revise? But what about stringing those scenes together? Is there a test for that? Good news: there is!

Click here to read the full post at WriteOnSisters.com


Is Your Idea a Short Story or Novel?

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Not counting my childhood Young Authors books (for a hilarious selection of those click here), I have written only one short story: a grim ghost tale featured in Pen & Muse’s Haunted House showcase. However, I’ve written many television episodes, which resemble short stories in length and substance. Writing a novel, by comparison, is like crafting a whole season of a serialized TV show. But besides length, what is the difference between long-format stories and short stories? And how can you tell if your idea works best as a short story or a novel? Or can the same story premise work equally well as both?

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


How to Create a Character Arc from Plot

Category: Characters, Writing Craft, Story Structure

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There are lots of things that make a story good. In fact, I’m constantly overwhelmed trying to keep track of them all. But what elevates most stories above the rest is a satisfying character arc. What is this? Well, at the most basic level it is a story where the character changes. If your character doesn’t change, you don’t have an arc. And you must have an arc! Not sure you buy that? Read this post where I explain how stories that lack character change fall flat because they don’t connect with readers.

Since character arc is so important, some might think that every writer would start a story with the hero’s change in mind. That would be smart. I wish I wrote that way. Alas, my ideas are born out of situation, not character. I always think of the plot first. This means I have to create a protagonist for the plot to change…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


The Hook vs Plot Twist Conundrum

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Last month I wrote about a story’s hook. And two weeks ago Robin wrote about reversals, the big and the small. For the purpose of this post, I’m talking about the big type of reversal – the plot twist! I’ll explain how I got twists and hooks mixed up and how to tell them apart.

To refresh, a HOOK is what draws people to your book and makes them want to read it, and a PLOT TWIST is when your story takes a sharp turn due to a surprise reveal of information. The hook is linked to an event that happens early on in the story (Act I), and a plot twist happens later (Act II or III), often at such crucial moments like the MidPoint or the Crisis or The End.

Okay, that all sounds pretty logical, so how does anyone get these story elements mixed up? It goes something like this…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


3 Things That Make A Story Worth Writing

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Theme

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I’ve had many false starts on my writing journey – stories that started strong and got lost in the middle, stories that fell flat and forgettable at the end, stories that had a debilitatingly weak character arc. I found ways to address all those problems, but in the process still wasted a lot of time. Since my theme for 2015 is “Be More Productive!” I’m aiming to avoid these false starts and less-than-stellar stories. So I took a good hard look at what makes a story worthy of being written and decided it comes down to these three things…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


Mushy Middle Tips for NaNoWriMo

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Hey NaNaWriMo writers! How’s it going? It’s mid-November and that means you’re deep in Act II and might be encountering some mushy middle difficulties. So here are some tips to get you through…

Mapping the Mushy Middle

The key to not getting lost in the middle of your novel is a map. Often we writers have an idea of what is the crisis at the end of Act II – the ALL IS LOST moment when it looks as if the hero will never achieve his goal – but how do you get your hero there? The answer is…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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So NaNoWriMo has begun! Some people do a lot of planning, some don’t, but no matter which side you’re on, you might come to a place mid-month where your story feels like it’s gone off the rails. A lot of people will tell you to plow through! But I think better advice is to take an hour to step back and examine your basic story beats and ask yourself these questions…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


Writing Unforgettable Endings

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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The thing about writing a novel or film is that it all comes down to the ending. A great ending is what makes a story memorable. All of the books on my bookshelf have unforgettable endings. The books that don’t make the cut may have had fascinating premises, entertaining characters, and intriguing plot twists, but the endings didn’t resonate. It’s like those books lead me to a dead end. I got there, shrugged and went, “Oh, that’s it?” I want a story that ends somewhere remarkable!

So how do you write that? I’ve been pondering this for some time, and believe it or not, I think it comes down to these two things: Character Change and Surprise.

Read the full post on Writonsisters.com


The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint

Category: Characters, Writing Craft, Story Structure

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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.


Screenwriter Tips for Novelists: Mapping the Mushy Middle

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Screenwriter Tips for Novelists

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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…

Click here to read the full post at Writeonsisters.com


Outlining – Method 3 cont: From Sticky Notes to Proper Scenes

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Outlining

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So you’ve outlined your novel into a Wall of Sticky Notes or a Corkboard of Cards. Congrats, stuff happens! But stories are not just stuff happening. Stories are a series of scenes. Is each note/card a proper scene? Not sure? Take this test:

Click here to read the full post at Writeonsisters.com


Outlining – Method 3: The Wall of Sticky Notes (aka “The Board”)

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Outlining

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If you’re a visual person, Outlining Method #3 is for you! I call it The Wall of Sticky Notes, because that’s how I build it. Others create a Corkboard of Cards. In the business of screenwriting, it’s simply called “The Board.”

Click here to read the full post, including 5 Story Problems The Board Reveals, at Writeonsisters.com


Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”)

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Outlining

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I learned this method of outlining at Ryerson University. My screenwriting professor called it a Step Outline. He instructed us to write a scene-by-scene outline and ONLY describe actions, i.e. what the characters physically do. No dialogue. No narration. Like turning the sound off a movie. The test: could the audience get the gist of the story just from the characters’ actions?

Click here to read the full post at Writeonsisters.com


Story Edit Using The “Save The Cat” Basic Beats

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Outlining, B-Stories & Subplots

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Whatever your writing process, whether you outline or dive straight into prose, there’s one step we all must do – story edit. There are innumerable things to edit in a manuscript, but let’s start with the bones of the story. After all, adding metaphors and sensory descriptions won’t matter if the story is weak.

So bring out that handy Basic Beats chart. Fill it in. Even if you used this to outline your novel, things probably changed when you were writing, so update it.

Just filling in The Basic Beats will reveal missing or flimsy story elements. Bam! You’re already editing!

Once you have all the elements, start asking questions. The first one I usually ask is: “Did this story change the protagonist’s life?” Start to answer by comparing the Opening and the Final Moment…

Click here to read the full post at Writeonsisters.com