Monday, November 24, 2014

Puzzling Over Plots, Part 2 of 3: Endings

Today I am jumping from plot beginnings all the way to endings. Why? Because it often helps to envision where your story ends before you write too many scenes. In the puzzle analogy that I've been using, we take frequent glances at the picture on the box that represents the final product. Each glance can remind us of the position of that tree or train car. Having the end in mind, keeps us from piecing sections into the wrong spots.

Knowing your ending can be a good starting point in your planning. Maybe you know a few things that happen and how it ends, but you aren't sure of your opening scene. Work backwards. Ask yourself how the character got to the end point. What happened right before? What happened before that to get him there? It's like connecting puzzle pieces in a row from right to left instead of left to right. A piece's indentation needs a certain nob that fits. What are your connecting factors that got you to the end?

In imagining your ending, make sure you are aware of the overall goal that your main character (MC) has been trying to achieve. The adversary or events that keep blocking the MC's progress now throws the worst at him that can happen. The reader thinks that all is lost until the MC figures out a way to get himself out of his predicament. He will triumph after all

In writing "Secrets of the King's Daughter", Karlinah's goals change, but her overall goal to find love and joy is taken from her when the love interest leaves the city and a kidnapper snatches her away. I had to rewrite the resolution to the climax so that Karlinah was more involved in getting out of her predicament and someone else's.

Don't leave any puzzle pieces out or you will have plot holes; the picture will not be complete. Everything must be connected and all the loose ends tied up by the end. You can resolve these in revisions, if needed. For now, get your best ending scenes onto paper. We will examine middles in the next post.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Puzzling Over Plots, Part 1 of 3: Beginnings

The plot thickens...eventually. Novel writers need an idea to start with first. Let's say that you have your idea--one that inspires you (you better love it or you'll tire of it), has unique elements, and marketability. Now what? Let's think Beginning, Middle, and End-- with today's focus on the beginning.

One good way to put a puzzle together is to start by turning all the pieces topside. For our plot analogy, we need to visualize or imagine the pieces that make up the story. Take a few notes because this is no easy puzzle. Where is the story set? What characters do you know you will need, and what are they like? What theme do you wish to convey?Which event propels your main character into her initial action toward achieving her goal? What are the pieces you know you will need, even if you don't yet know where the pieces will go? Write down everything that comes to mind.

We might sort the puzzle pieces next into colors that go together, or begin the structure by finding the edge pieces. Start sorting out the things you know you want to happen in your story by putting them in the order that makes the most sense for now. A few will be shuffled around later on. For example, if your main character's goal is to have his horse win the championship race, you know that training comes in early. Put as many of the things that you wrote down into an order. This is a loose outline--whether or not you consider yourself an outliner. This planning step will save time later.

Now you want to put a few pieces together on paper. Go ahead and write those scenes that you've been dying to start on, the ones you already visualize strongly. It's like putting one section of the puzzle together. It doesn't matter yet how this section will connect to another. It's stimulating to see something emerge, to show progress. Yes, pieces of the section will still be missing, but you're writing! Remember, this is a rough draft.

For those who like more structure to their outline before writing, there are all kinds of helps beyond the scope of this post. Time spent gaining knowledge will save time in the long run. Other writers have written good stories with strong plots without using any certain story structure formula. You may have taken some classes or read enough stories to recognize some basic steps. Plot beginnings will include something that happens to make your character want something she doesn't have. This is her first goal. Keep this in mind and start writing. If you later decide that the scene where the boy buys the horse is not the best beginning, you can fix or cut that later. You will have both learned backstory that may be worth weaving into the novel, and practiced your writing skills. 

When I wrote Secrets of the King's Daughter, I started with a scene that was vivid in my mind--the scene where King Lamoni's daughter learns she was offered as a wife to "an enemy", Ammon the Nephite. For a long time I thought it was my beginning chapter, but no. New ideas developed and I learned what my plot needed after figuring more things out. I didn't have to toss it, just insert earlier scenes.

In summary, start with the pieces that you imagine and begin writing them down, first as notes and then as scenes. My next post will consider the end of the story. Part three will discuss middles. Until then, happy writing! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ratings and Crossed-the-Line Books

Have you ever gone to a movie and said, "That was a good movie--except for that one part?" Maybe there was too much violence or a sexual scene that went too far. It doesn't even matter what level your standards are; a line was crossed beyond personal comfort. I keep running into this same problem with books.

I used to listen to the radio more, but I've switched to audio books, especially when I'm working in the kitchen. If I come to a scene that crosses my moral standards, I can fast forward or skip ahead. Lots of skipping ahead means replacing it with another book. The problem with relying on library books is that there comes a point when we exhaust the supply of authors we trust, and need to venture into unknown territory. I hate it when they've hooked me into a story, and then they throw in the undesirable stuff. 

How do I rate these books? Sometimes I omit them from my list of read books, ignoring the fact that I read ninety-something percent of it. But that doesn't help anyone else. I advocate reviewing all new (within first year of publication) books. Those reviews are the most helpful to both author and readers. When I do rate a crossed-the-line book, I make sure to put what bothered me into the comments. 

I'm curious to know if you even look at ratings. Do you go by word-of-mouth, favorite authors, or what? The two just mentioned are my preferences, but when I see a list from a reader I trust, I grab it. Back-cover blurbs can also pique interest. Please put your top ways to choose a book in the blog comments.

Best wishes to those participating in National Novel Writing Month! You can do it! I still haven't participated in NaNoWriMo. My editor gave me three weeks to make any corrections/give feedback to her edits, so that's what I've been working on. I'm ahead of schedule and feeling great! Whatever your project, make it a good week!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Revisions/Edits - Your Fifteen Words of Fame

Have you had your fifteen minutes of fame yet? How about your 15 words of fame? Huh? I'll let you in on a little secret: A few of the words in every book come from other people--"Authors" in the form of critiquers, beta readers, and editors. Let me explain.

Two revision opportunities came my way last week, and it set me to thinking about how many printed words of an author are actually theirs. 

First, my critique group decided to take a break from sending one another our weekly ten pages to sending all the revised chapters of one manuscript that we have seen thus far, about 90-100 pages worth. This way we could better understand the upcoming chapters because we know how the plot was fixed, etc. (Some people's manuscripts change more than others.) 

Reading through, I found a phrase, sentence, or idea here and there used from each of us that had critiqued them earlier. At one point I thought, Hey, I'm in her book. Cool. I realized that those who critiqued my pages left their own mark there as well.

Secondly, I got my manuscript back from my editor (hooray!), and looked to see how much I would have to change. Mostly minor things, but I could see a couple places already where it was more than replacing three words with one, or placing the first sentence later in the paragraph. The editor had put in her own choice of words. Another light-bulb moment. Hey, my editor is in my book. Cool? 

Yeah, it's cool. These "suggestions" often work better than the original. Just because we sent off our precious and perfect manuscript to an editor or publisher doesn't mean further edits should feel any different than what early critiquers or beta readers had to say. Really. It's all for the cause of improvement. 

Don't get me wrong. An author is entitled to take the entire credit for his/her book. If there are fifteen words from someone else, who's going to care or know (besides them)? Edits start with the writer's words and ideas anyway. In most cases, the author will have the final say or can see wisdom in the revision. Quality is the goal.

What aha moments have come to you in your writing journey?