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.

50,000 Words!

No, I haven’t written 50,000 words yet. NaNoWriMo hasn’t even started (it starts TOMORROW)!

But if you are a fellow NaNo, you might be wondering how on earth you can write 50,000 words in 30 days. I know I am.


NaNoWriMo suggests writing 1,667 words per day for 30 days.

If you are a human being, like myself, and not a machine, it might be difficult to have a daily goal. That’s why I’m going with a weekly goal, with two days off for Thanksgiving. Here’s my plan:

Write 50,000 words in 4 weeks.

November 1–7, write 12,500 words.

November 8–14, write 12,500 more words (total 25,000 words)

November 15-21, write 12,500 more words (total 37,500 words)

November 22-23, celebrate Thanksgiving and maybe even hit the shops on Black Friday (or wake up at 3 am and write, making up for a low word count)

November 24-30, write your final 12,500 words (total 50,000 words)

If you want to take weekends off, write 2,500 words per day, 5 times per week.

Since the NaNoWriMo week starts on Thursdays this year, here’s my ambitious plan that will likely not come into fruition.

The unlikely-to-happen Plan

November 1,2, 3: Write 5,000-7,500 words total

November 4: Take day off

November 5, 6, 7: Write 5,000-7,500 words to bring weekly total to 12,500

November 8-14, 15-21: Repeat pattern above 2x

November 22-23: Take Thanksgiving off from writing (but maybe do some final plotting and planning)

November 24: 2,500 words

November 25: See if I’m up to writing 2,500 words.

November 26-30: Write up to the 50,000 words.

Deep breath before the plunge

Take a few moments today to completely forget about what you signed up for and are getting yourself into.

Didn’t work? Okay, then distract yourself by creating a desktop wallpaper for your computer with your own wordcount goals, including some images that will inspire you as you work. I’m thinking of creating one with all my “cast members” (famous or interesting-looking people that fit my mind’s image of the characters). Though I won’t likely do it today—I’ll probably do it one of the days I am experiencing some writer’s fog.

The last year I did NaNo, I took a pastoral picture of a castle and pasted my word count goals on to that for my wallpaper. If you are doing a historical novel like me, perhaps you can make a wallpaper collage of historically-accurate source images, like costumes of the era. Be creative!

See you on the other side—in November!


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!

Writing without Words

Wait a minute here. Writing is using words, isn’t it? Yes, but it’s also more than that.

Often when I listen to how people evaluate stories, I hear them talk about dialogue. When they talk about the script for a film, they are often talking about the dialogue. Or when they mention how well a book is written, they most often mean the way the words are put together—the beauty of a sentence.

When people speak of Shakespeare’s work, they almost always talk about the beauty of the language.

These are all forms of visible ink. This term refers to writing that is readily seen by the reader or viewer, who often mistakes these words on the page as the only writing the storyteller is doing.

But how events in a story are ordered is also writing. What events should occur in a story to make the tellers point is also writing. Why a character behaves in a particular way is also writing.

These are all forms of invisible ink, so called because they are not easily spotted by a reader, viewer, or listener of a story. Invisible ink does, however, have a profound impact on a story. More to the point, it is the story. Invisible ink is the writing below the surface of the words. Most people will never see or notice it, but they will feel it.

—Brian McDonald, Invisible Ink, Chapter One. All quoted text is copyright original author. Emphasis mine.

Yesterday I started reading Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald. It was incredibly difficult to put down, and if I hadn’t had house guests that afternoon, I would have finished it in one sitting. Today I finished it.

I’ve read A LOT of books on writing. I own a bookcase—not just one or two shelvesfilled with books on the subject, and I have read dozens more. Most books repeat what others have said before them. Never have I read a book on storytelling that has so much original content as Invisible Ink. There were several subjects from the book of which I had not heard before, or had not seen explained well until reading the book.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the wisdom McDonald, who often consults for Pixar, offers in Invisible Ink:

  • Writing is more than just the words on the page.
  • The Seven Easy Steps to a Better Story
  • Establish the story’s reality at the beginning.
  • The idea of your story (sometimes referred to as “theme”) is the armature of your story.
  • Every moment in the story should illustrate the idea—otherwise it is superfluous. “Every decision you make should be based on the idea of dramatizing your armature idea.” (Chapter 3)
  • “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” (Chapter 3)
  • Jokes can teach you a thing or two about structure and set up.
  • The use of “clones” is a tool that master writers use to show, not tell, their idea.
  • Each character needs to serve a purpose in the story. Comic relief is not a purpose.
  • Have characters experience their own personal hell. It will make them better people.
  • Speak the truth, not the facts.
  • The best stories have “masculine” and “feminine” parts. Physical action and plot (“masculine”) as well as emotional truth (“feminine”).
  • The best stories transcend genre—anyone can enjoy them.
  • Don’t write subplots. Write supporting plots.
  • “You are a slave to your story, not a master.” (Ch. 5)
  • Think of the audience (Address and Dismiss, Address and Explain, Superior Position), but don’t bring attention to yourself as writer.
  • Once you pay attention to theme, you’ll see what works and what doesn’t in other stories.

This is an outstanding book and fast read. Grab a copy and read it. Highlight the head-scratchers. McDonald gives really great examples of his points using movies and books. Think theme isn’t important? Think morals in books are preachy? Check out Invisible Ink, and chances are McDonald will show you why your favorite stories have made such an impression on you.

Until Friday, dear readers.