Posted in writing

Creating a Plot

Plot is often the one element that makes or breaks a story. Essentially, plot is conflict. Even in existentialist stories, the conflict is often hidden in the discussion of what life and existence means. For almost every other story out there, the conflict is easier to see.

Usually the basic plot structure is something along the lines of Character wants something and someone or something is stopping them from getting it. There are several variations of the basic plot premise as well, such as:

  • Character must stop someone or something from happening.
  • Something has happened to change Character’s life and they must adapt.
  • Someone broke something and Character must do something to fix it.
  • Character must complete a task or face severe consequences.

Regardless of your variation, your plot is driven by your conflict. Knowing that makes it easier to create a plot. There’s three simple questions you can use to help find your plot, even if you don’t have a plot structure yet.

  • What is your conflict?
  • Who is trying to resolve the conflict and why?
  • What actions are they taking to resolve it?

For example: the three little pigs. The wolf wants to eat the pigs, which the pigs don’t want. Character (the Wolf) wants something (to eat the pigs) which someone or something (the pigs) is stopping them from getting. Just by looking at that, you already know who’s involved and can take a pretty good guess at why these characters are specifically involved. The wolf is hungry and the pigs want to stay alive. That leaves you just one question to answer.

What actions are they taking to resolve it?

In most forms of the story, the pigs try to protect themselves by building houses. First of straw, then of sticks, then of bricks. Their actions cause the wolf to react, mostly by huffing and puffing to blow the houses down. Depending on the version of your story, the wolf either wears himself into exhaustion and is killed by a hunter or woodsman while the pigs keep their hooves clean, or his efforts to blow the brick house down somehow injure and kill him without anyone else interfering.

However your wolf comes to an end, the actions he takes to reach that end still create your plot. If you’re a planning-type writer, those actions can be plugged directly into your preferred story structure. If you’re finding gaps between those actions, remember that your characters will react to each event.

Back to our example: the first pig reacts to the destruction of his house by running to his brother’s house. The wolf reacts to that by chasing (and potentially getting a two-for-one meal). Upon arriving at another house, he uses the same action that worked the first time, forcing both pigs to react, again by running away.

These actions and reactions create the try-fail cycles which push your plot forward. The pigs tried and failed to protect themselves with simple houses. The wolf tried and nearly succeeded at catching the pigs by blowing their houses down.

Although creating a plot can be work intensive, at it’s base, you’re dealing with conflict. Take a look at your own story and ask yourself the above questions. What is the conflict? Who is trying to resolve the conflict and why? What actions are they taking to resolve it?

Posted in General

Starting in the Middle

Beginnings are under a lot of pressure. They’re incredibly important because that’s where readers start. In general, you have about eight seconds to capture a reader’s attention. That means you have maybe a page to not only catch your reader’s attention, but to keep them invested in your story. For that to happen, your beginning needs to do a lot in those first couple of pages.

Which is why when you first start writing, it might help to take that pressure off the story and just start in the middle. Drop your characters right into the first big crisis and take it from there.

The point of doing this is that you have to start somewhere, but rather than bogging yourself down with setting up the scenes and character descriptions, you’re getting right into the meat of the story. It takes pressure off by ignoring all the things a beginning has to do and focusing instead on the story.

The other benefit of doing this is that when you’ve made it to ‘the end’ you can come back to the beginning with a clearer purpose. You’ll already know what the end is, which makes it easier to decide which details are the most important for the beginning pages.

Jumping into the middle of the story usually works best for earlier drafts and rewrites. It might also help if as your drafts progress you find your beginnings are still lacking—it can help you cut through and realize which parts of exposition can be completely skipped, or help highlight when you’ve started a story too early.  Even if you’re in the later stages of editing, give it a try! It might just be the kick your story needs.

Posted in writing

Story Bibles

If you’re a writer and you’re in the midst of editing, or even writing a series, you probably want a place to keep track of all the details of your story. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you want to write a series. Bonus points: if you do a lot of roleplaying and need or want to write your own campaign, having a story bible set up for your in-world conflicts, NPCs and lore makes it easier to keep your campaign more or less on track (sorry, but I can’t promise the same of your players).

A story bible is essentially a document or several documents that keeps the details of your story or stories together. This prevents things like character details changing unexpectedly halfway through the story. It also helps keep worldbuilding and relevant setting details in one place so you don’t have to go hunting for particular details.

There’s several ways you can keep a story bible. If you’d prefer a hardcopy, a binder or multi-subject notebook is a good option. This way you can section your bible off as necessary. Digital options include things like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, or even something like World Anvil or Notebook.ai to keep your bible sorted and on track. Depending on your preference and how you work best, you may find one option better than the other. I personally prefer to keep a digital copy of my notes in OneNote because of the search function.

Although your story bible should work for you, there’s a few sections you may find helpful to keep in it.

Character Notes. This is a good place to keep things like detailed descriptions, character sketches, backstories and family trees. I usually create a small section for each character so I can keep track of their character arc during edits.

Setting Notes. Depending on the genre you’re working in, this can easily become a massive portion of your story bible. Everything from notes on legal systems to lore can be placed in your setting notes. For speculative writers, this spreads to include bestiaries, cultural analysis, maps and even engineering schematics as necessary.

Story Notes. Editing and writing in general tends to create a multitude of different notes—outlines, and even thematic notations. Having a story-specific section makes it easier to keep all your editing tools in one place. A lot of my plotting notes end up here, but I also try to keep a list of any flash pieces relevant to the story, world or characters here.  This way if I need to reference something for a flashback or thematic reason, I can easily reference back to the original piece.

What are some of the things you keep in your story bibles? How do you prefer to keep them?

Posted in General

The Project List

In my ongoing quest to manage my ever-growing mountain of unfinished projects, I made a project list a couple years back. It’s a simple spreadsheet and I initially designed it just to keep track of what status various projects were in.

After going through it this morning, it’s also been a large reminder that I have far too many projects going on at one time. The total of in-progress items comes up to thirty-five.

Thirty-five projects in various stages of edits. It feels a little insane, especially since some of these have been in that mountain for quite literally years.

A look at some of the titles on my list and their current status

Although I’ve had my project spreadsheet for a while, I’ve added monthly and daily word counts to it. This is largely to keep it front and center of my attention whenever I do finish one project and am ready to move onto the next.

How do you manage your project list? What are some of the things you want to work on?

Posted in Exercises, writing

Editing Worksheets

Editing is probably one of the hardest parts of the entire writing process. Once you’re through the effort of writing a rough draft, you then have to pick it apart to find the parts that aren’t working and to make them better. It might be hard to do that, especially when you’re still in the honeymoon phase of just having finished a rough draft. To celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo, I’m including some of the worksheets I use when starting my editing process. Hopefully one of these gives you a good place to start and helps you through the next step of the journey!

Keep in mind that writing—including editing—is a hugely personal and diverse process for each writer. What works for your favorite author may not work for you. Conversely, stories can also throw  Try lots of different things.

Worldbuilding Questions Packet. I’ll often use this as way to help flesh out and kickstart any necessary worldbuilding when my setting feels flat. You don’t necessarily need to answer every question, but having a general idea can help find places where I need to spend a little more time developing the setting, or can highlight interesting conflicts I haven’t explored yet.

The Main Plot. Based off the classic pyramid plot structure, this gives a good overview of the main plot points and tensions in the draft. It can be a good starting point before getting into a more detailed outline, especially when I have a story that needs heavy restructuring in the plot.

Conflict and Event. Similar to the above, Conflict and Event can be used to see how the main and subplot(s) are playing off each other. I have it set up for three conflicts (a main and two subplots) but you can ignore the third if you only need two.

Character Motivations. I’m firmly in the camp of ‘characters make the story’. Character actions and reactions create a plot, and the reason behind their actions and reactions all comes down to motivation. This helps get beyond long-term and short-term goals and into their core values.

Where will you start your editing?

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Psst! Patrons also get an additional three worksheets, one for character arcs, one for subplots and one for more worldbuilding. Check out my Patreon to find these!