Plotting: Relationship Arcs

I generally find it bad taste to summarize someone else’s words on my own blog, especially if I have less experience in the matter and have nothing to add. So head on over to Bestsellerology and read “Building a Plot, One Step at a Time” by Suzanne Johnson.

I hope y’all are getting in more words than I have been. Let’s get motivated, brainstorm little rewards after so many words written (one of mine is painting my toenails, another is eating OREO-topped pudding), turn off distractions, and write now.

My NaNoWriMo Writing Methods

Today: My Writing Space, Plot-driven Versus Character-driven Stories, Manuscript Format, and Shutting Up the Internal Editor.

So, yesterday was Day One of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t make it to 2,500 words because, well, I took a nap. And 1,788 lent itself to a good stopping point.

I thought it might be fun to share what my writing space looks like. Not the interior of my house, because I write all over the place. Also my desk is a mess.

You can tell already this will be a frenzied post, can’t you?

So here’s what the space looks like:

As you can see, I cover nearly every pixel of my screen. On the upper left is my beat sheet, written in Evernote.

On the lower left is a summary I wrote for the novel. It helps me to get the broader picture of what I think will happen.

A note about planning plots

Though I do plan plot (as you can tell from my series on plot), I also make sure that what I am writing is character-driven. THESE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. You can write character-driven stories and still have an idea of where you are going. There’s a difference between a plot-driven novel and a plot planned one.

Let’s say you are planning a road trip across country. You plan your route ahead of time, and you have a rough idea of where you are going. But your route takes you to a road with a closed bridge. If you adhered to the plan without faltering, you’d blast through the “ROAD CLOSED” barriers and traffic cones and gun it, hoping that your tiny sedan can make the jump and land on the other side. This is what happens when a story is plot driven. It might have a lot of excitement, but it usually doesn’t end well for everyone involved, and along the way, you’ll make somebody say, “What the heck just happened?” and not in a good way.

But, it you come up to that closed bridge and you take a detour, you change direction. Maybe you even change your destination, having an existential moment where the sun breaks through the clouds and you realize, It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. That’s the way a person writes something character-driven. It’s fluid and organic, not rigid and contrived.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a plan to begin with. In my opinion, you’ll have fewer projects that die by your hand if you make an effort to think towards a possible ending before you even start. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve written that didn’t work. My current novel has already been scrapped and started over a few times. Here’s to hoping I’m heading in the right direction this time, because I truly love these characters.

Related: Outlining for Pantsers

Back to my writing space

Here it is again.

In the middle is my manuscript. I really hate writing in Times New Roman, but I decided to format my novel in the standard Manuscript format from the get-go. Some people want you to use Courier, others Times New Roman. This is how you format your novel manuscript. Remember, though, to check and see if an editor or agent has specific requirements before submitting.

On the right, I have another document that is specifically for my internal editor. I don’t have success completely gagging my internal editor, whose name is Melvin and looks like George Costanza.

Some people have semi-sadist daydreams about their internal editor, and what it takes to shut him/her/it up. With an internal editor like mine, if you fill his mouth with cotton balls, he’ll just start humming “It’s a Small World, After All” until you let him go. So I’ve found it works best to throw him into a cellar and let him shout out a couple of things now and again through the air vents. That document is a collection of his nags and pointers. I’ve found it’s best to acknowledge the internal editor, but rather than make the fixes, write the problems down on a sort of “Honey-do” list I’ll address during rewrites. Then I can keep writing quickly.

My next post is already scheduled for Motivational Monday! Follow me on Twitter @LaraEdits for NaNoWriMo updates and even more tips.

[Historical Fiction] Friday

Historical Fiction

I can’t believe that NaNoWriMo is less than a week away! I’ve been trying to prep by doing research, since my novel is set mostly in an alternate 12th century England (I know…I know). My intention was to be historically accurate—as much as possible. But when I started researching castles, I realized that my mental image was going to have to change in some respects. For example, here’s a rough idea of what I was picturing:

But Alas, Conwy Castle was begun in the 13th century. One hundred years later. Keep reading to see a progression showing how difficult it is to date a castle, and how people really have almost no idea what castles looked like in the 12th century.

Here’s a floor plan of Chepstow Castle, showing how many renovations the castle received over a few hundred years.

Here’s a model of what the castle looked like in the 1500s, during the Tudor time period which followed the Middle Ages.

And here’s what it looked like roughly around the 12th century.

Exciting, right? A stone “tower” that looks sort of like a prison building, with a couple wooden huts outside? Okay, I exaggerate a bit. But seeing this castle made me go, Eeesh, not what I was expecting, for my heroine who will be living in something like this.

But then to complicate things further, you are not only supposed to get the time period right, but you should also get the class distinction right. Thankfully—as far as I can tell—Chepstow, as lovely as it is, is a fairly modest castle compared to others built in the 12th century. A King’s castle would be more luxurious. Kings’ castles usually get refurbished and rebuilt more often that other castles, though, which is why many (if not most) of the castle ruins in the UK are remnants of much more contemporary designs.

I’ll tell you that I DID find a castle that will and does inspire me and is from the correct time period, and belongs within the correct financial ranking. But all of this research led me to have a discussion with one of my writer friends, and I’d like to hear your input on it, too. Yes, even if you read this post a few years down the line. I’m curious to what you think! And I’ll probably still be working on the novel then, anyway.

How important is historical accuracy in a novel? Would you rather read a novel that 1) gets its history right or 2) tweaks the facts for the sake of their story?

I recently read Christy English’s The Queen’s Pawn. I don’t recommend it. The whole premise of the book was an inaccuracy, but it turns out, finding historical inaccuracies was the only entertainment I squeezed out of the reading. My conclusion is that if you are going to get history completely wrong, you had better write an engaging story so that I the reader will forgive you. I haven’t forgiven Christy English, because the story was not interesting to me. Rewriting history just so you can write about a middle-aged man fornicating with a pubescent teenager is not my idea of worthwhile literature. Lolita it wasn’t.

Ahem. Anyway, your thoughts on historical accuracy?

The Simplest Story Structure

Wednesday I reviewed Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald. In it, he mentions the The Seven Easy Steps to a Better Story.

I’ve already written a series on plot, but I do want to mention these seven steps for two reasons. One, because I have heard them before, but not explained to the extent that McDonald does. Two, because this system works for stories of any length. He heard the steps from a writer named Matt Smith (no, not the Doctor), who heard it from Joe Guppy. And now I’m sharing it with you.

  1. Once upon a time, ________________
  2. And every day, ________________
  3. Until one day, ________________
  4. And because of that, ________________
  5. And because of that, ________________
  6. Until finally, ________________
  7. And ever since, ________________

The story people at Pixar use this method, probably because McDonald uses this method and is a consultant to Pixar. I’ve seen these seven steps written a bit differently. Some change #7 to “And the morale of the story is ________________.” Personally, I don’t like that method. If your story has a point—a morale, theme, or big idea—that point needs to be introduced in the beginning and dramatized throughout the story. If it comes as an afterthought, you may as well leave it out completely, because it will sound preachy if slapped at the end.

Compared to other plotting techniques

“Once upon a time” and “And every day” are Act One, the beginning.

“Until one day” is the inciting incident.

Then there is a series of cause-and-effects that make up Act Two, the middle.

“Until finally” is the climax.

“And ever since that day” is the dénouement or resolution. These last two are the ending.

Compared to the 8 C’s of Plotting a Novel

“Once upon a time” is C1, the captivation.

“And every day” is the opening.

“Until one day” is C2, the change.

“And because of that” is everything between C2 to C5, the Collapse.

“And because of that” is everything between C5 to C8.

“Until finally” is C8, the culmination.

“And ever since that day” is the resolution.

Want more instruction on The Seven Easy Steps to a Better Story? Be sure to check out Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald.

Until next week!