Monday, October 28, 2013

Chapters Full of Plot Elements

Not only is this a follow-up to last week's post on elements of plot--after all, the overall plot is built from a series of chapters--but my reading also took me in that direction. My focus this week has been on chapters and scenes. I’ll take a short break from writing tips next time so look for a couple of book reviews and a CONTEST during November.

Back to today's focus. I'm intrigued with a sweet romance I am reading, Fair Catch. Since I know the strong attraction means the couple gets together, and in fact they do early in the story, I am drawn to see what the author could possibly come up with in the next chapter to keep my interest going. How does she succeed? Many of the right elements are there. 

The other thing I've been reading is a final read-through of my inspirational historical fiction, The Seventh City, to make it as perfect as I know how before handing it over to my editor. Yes, I tweaked a word or sentence here and there, but the major revisions were complete. I’m pleased to report that I still love my story instead of being sick of it. *Grins* Again, many of the right elements must have been included. The elements of a chapter are similar to those for the entire plot. (Scroll down to last week's post.)  Let’s keep the focus today on chapter goals and transitions.

Each chapter should have a goal just as the book has a goal. Ask what this chapter achieves or what is the point of view character's goal. Is important information included, an object obtained, or travel to a new destination? How can you best give this information or what obstacles must the character overcome in this chapter to show growth and results toward his/her goal? Is his/her motive believable?

One chapter should transition into the next in a logical, linear sequence of events. Jumping back and forth in a timeline is confusing. End a chapter on an emotional high or low to keep the flow going into the next chapter. Leave the reader at a chapter's end with both seeing progress toward the goal and a hint of trouble to come. Don't conclude a chapter with the character simply going off to sleep, *yawn*, unless they go to bed worrying. The worry part is the hint of trouble to come. End with something that makes readers want to know what will happen next. Page turners are not all about leaving a character hanging from the proverbial cliff. Small teases can do the same thing. They hint at something more even while there is closure to the last scene's events. Readers want to feel emotional satisfaction about the results of the scene goal and also look forward to having more revealed.

Hope this was timely help to you NaNoWriMo participants and that you'll check back for my November contest! Have a great week!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Plot Elements - for Outlines, Or Not

Whether you're gearing up for nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November or stuck as to where to go in your novel, or even curious how your favorite author may have planned his/her book, a plotting outline can be a valuable tool. Not every author uses outlines, but they typically save time. Here's a few things to consider whether you put it into outline form or not. (And my thanks to Sarah Anderson for some of these ideas.)

1. Every story has an overall Goal. What does the protagonist want or the problem they need to resolve and what are the Consequences if the goal is not reached? (This will later become the main point to mention in your query letter.)
2. Order of Events. Consider what needs to happen before the goal can be achieved. The inciting event or catalyst that makes the hero decide to initially take action toward the goal is obviously an early event. There will be obstacles along the way that raise the stakes as these complications are introduced. In building to the climax, think what more should be added to show the sacrifice your hero is willing to endure to reach the goal. Think 'emotion'. His or her crisis or darkest night where readers see no physical or other way to pull the hero out of their pit piggybacks into the climax. During the climax, the skills and knowledge a hero uses to get himself out of this pit must have their groundwork laid earlier in the story. We can't all of the sudden have the hero sneak on board an airplane and fly off to safety if the reader never knew they possessed a pilot's skill. 
3. Questions to ask in both plotting and putting together an outline:

  • What world is revealed and Problem presented in this world to set the hero on his new path?
  • What friends, teachers, skills does he meet or learn along the way? How will these be introduced?
  • What obstacles must the hero overcome. In what order should they appear? Weave these throughout the story, not scene after scene of them.
  • What love interest or other subplot should develop? Allot scenes for added fun or excitement between problems. 
  • Add greater complications to change the path, a twist from the expected path. What events will show that the hero is willing to make even greater sacrifices?
  • What is the worst that can happen? What is needed to add to foreshadow it or show the strengths and motivations of the villain so readers can believe the worst is possible?
  • What can the hero do to get himself out of this worst thing when it happens? Others may help with the minor or secondary struggles. Let the hero earn his reward.
  • What loose ends need resolution? Is the ending realistic and satisfying?

Are you an outliner or a panster?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Creating Vivid Villains

My previous post exposed the protagonist from The Seventh City. Today's post follows up with its villain. Meet Japethihah--high priest to Lamanite king, Lamoni. He can be sly, which evolves into deviousness when his status changes. Authors need to know their antagonist every bit as well as they know their hero. My villain is based off Jafar, the royal vizier in Disney's animated movie Aladdin. It doesn't matter if your inspiration comes from a cartoon, magazine image, or real-life person. Arm yourself with knowledge of what they look like, sound like, what they would do and have done. Keep a spreadsheet or some type of notation system.

Each villain needs flaws and strengths just like the main character does. Japethihah's strengths go beyond his respectable position, which crumbles when missionary Ammon comes to preach. The priest exudes confidence and has a gift for speech. He takes matters into his own hands to secure his marriage to the princess. Readers watch him develop from the slimy way he eyes Karlinah to worrying about him as a danger to her.

Villains not only create blocks in the hero's path, they can add a spicy flavor that makes readers love to hate them. They provide contrast next to the good for readers to measure against and they have their own motivations for their choices. Trouble usually starts out slowly and builds as the story progresses. I'm thinking of two main reasons for this: 1) The author may want to keep the reader in suspense longer over revealing the villain, and 2) The clashes presented to the protagonist are meant to show growth along the way. We can't have all the hero's life-altering decisions in the first chapter. Therefore, the villain doesn't do his/her worst until later. 

Do you realize that villains can take other forms than people? Weather, for instance, can play the villain when that scorching desert or killer wave presses upon your protagonist. Without that villain we wouldn't have problems for the hero to overcome. Have fun making them bad! Just make sure that the worst day coincides with where the crisis should fall. 

Do you have a favorite villain that you love to hate?

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Character Connection

I created a great protagonist for my novel--or so I thought, until my Boot Camp Sargent told me she had a hard time connecting with her. She was too perfect. Thin, beautiful, full of life. That was three years ago. Karlinah, from The Seventh City, has evolved since then. Now I am happy to say that an editor deemed her to be "a rich, complex, and compelling character". What thrilling comments to receive! So what has made the difference?

  • Give your character flaws. Okay, so Karlinah is a gorgeous Lamanite princess but she most definitely isn't perfect. She is outspoken, impatient, and has a temper. She's bossy and used to getting her way. Imagine the opportunities to reveal a dynamic, changing character when circumstances force her to face trials out of her comfort zone. Likewise, she has strengths that go beyond the physical and must use them to get out of trouble. We want believable and memorable characters. 
  • Start in a place where readers feel empathy for the character. My boot camp manuscript beginning is now chapter five in the novel. I needed to back up and start with the background event that most aroused reader sympathy for Karlinah. Not overboard sympathy, but enough trouble to make readers instantly care about her. Throw in some intrigue and the new first chapter garnered me a first place in a first chapter contest.
  • Show the protagonist doing something to find the solution to her problem(s). Karlinah makes choices she wouldn't have had to make if she lived forever in her pampered princess world. This is where character and plot work together to show the heroine's growth. What motivation drives your character toward her arc? Avoiding death is perhaps the biggest motivator of all and Karlinah must guard the secret that could get her killed. This secret is partly revealed in the first chapter, with more along the way.

Thinking about these five things to reveal your character can go a long way toward making your story riveting. There are others, of course, but strengthen one at a time during the revision process and you are well on your way. Happy writing!