Category Archives: Fiction Writing

Author Toolbox #1: Plotting, Sub-Plotting, and Series Threads

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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Hi I’m new to the toolbox meme, and I wanted to thank Erika. I read one of her posts and before I knew it I was signing up too. I regularly post about my latest discoveries. When I’ve spent hours root them out, I figure the least I can do is share.

You’ll note I’ve included some links to previous posts. Not because I’m all knowing—we all know I’m not. It’s more of a just-in-case-you’re-interested kind of thing. Enjoy.

This month I’ve being reviewing plotting, sub-plotting and how to drag the threads through a series. Here’s what I’ve gleaned so far.

Plotting:

Plotting seems straight forward to most. A person telling a story around the campfire knows the tension is increasing, and the twist is a surprise from the listener’s reaction.

Not so true when the work is happening in front of a computer. There may be no one but the writer tapping away, throwing in one great idea after another, and topping it all off with a twist or two.  Eventually ending it by blowing the reader away.

Well that’s the plan. Okay that’s usually my plan. Turned out if I don’t do a bit more planning I land up with something else.

So now I come up with a core idea (usually a mystery) that I plot along a three-act structure, striving for one thing—increasing tension and at least one surprise. Without feedback, I have to use my instincts; later, when the time is right, I’ll pick on a few beta readers.

How do I know I’m succeeding?

Once I get all my bright ideas and twists down I write an outline. Please don’t judge me. I do this as a substitute for people around my campfire. Without an audience, I have to be quite critical to get it right. The final copy looks very similar to a synopsis and I’ll use it when I’m querying.

Since this rarely lets me reach my word count, I need to find ways to enhance the storyline. Adding some depth to my supporting cast works by giving them plots of their own.

Sub-plotting:

I guess the biggest question is where does all the tension come from? The protagonist needs to get something done and one person is out to stop them.

Not always.

Personally, if the antagonist showed up on page one in my work and the two of them battled it out, the story is over before it started. As I’m sure you know, mysteries tend to hide the villain until the end.

The supporting cast can fill in for the antagonist and get in the way of achieving the goal… But they need reasons to do so.

One word that always pops into my head is mother. I’m a perfect mother and never annoy my twenty-something son. He never feels I’m interfering or meddling in any way.

But don’t ask him about it, he may tell you the truth. hehehe

So my protagonist always has mother issues. Sometimes best-friend issues and boss issues as well. Keep the list growing and the sub-plots will be plentiful. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that life can get in the way: broken limbs, engine trouble, lenders, borrowers, unexpected ninjas visitors, unemployment, pregnancy, love, hate, and boredom.

Some links:

Series Threads (and the bible):

I write mysteries and very often mysteries lead to a series. With that in mind I try to keep track of people, places and events. The collection of series’ details is called a bible.

Consistency is paramount when writing something over several books. Be kind to yourself and keep track of it all. Unless the mother figure in the book is constantly dying her hair, losing/gaining weight, and shrinking and/or growing. Plan on some kind of reference material.

It can be as simple as bookmarking a special copy of your work to cutting and pasting a special file for each person, place, or event. No one wants to be the person who has to go all their work looking for their mother’s neighbor’s dog’s name because it is suddenly the crux of the next book.

What have I learned?

That only I know the direction my story is going and how exactly I want to get there. Although I seek out feedback, I don’t always take it. I do, however, give each piece of advice serious consideration, knowing the bones of the story really helps me stay on track.

I work hard at being a good storyteller because only a few have been kind enough to read my work. The ones that do deserve my very best effort and I try to put it out there by doing quite a bit of preparation.

What about you? I know you know something I don’t, so share some of your wisdom that gets you through plotting, sub-potting, and series-fact tracking.

IWSG 36: Caves Around British Columbia

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.

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What is the weirdest/coolest thing I ever had to research for a story?

My answer: The caves in BC.

I did quite a bit of research for a little piece called: Mirrors of Ash.

The world building:

There wasn’t too much world building. The majority of the setting was either underground or following a road that leaves my hometown and loops back after several miles. I took the liberty of creating a mountainside called Swallow’s Cliff that could be seen from that loopy road.

Underground:

I’ve never been underground. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’ve been in a basement, the SkyTrain when it traveled into downtown Vancouver, the lower floors of a store or mall. But I’d never gone into a mine, or followed a cave into a mountain.

Luna Farris, my hero, not only goes deep underground, she goes back to her old childhood playground–the caves of Swallow’s Cliff. However this round she goes deeper than ever before to face a family nemisis.

Since I’ve never felt the need or curiosity to do this, I had some research to do. I found YouTube posts on the local caves around my neck of the woods. I’d watch one in the dark to get into the right state of mind.

Skaha Caves/Fissure in Pentiction.

Cody Caves Provincial Park

Not for me

I actually felt claustrophobic as my character worked her way through the gaps; and not being as thin as she was, I knew I wasn’t as physically fit either.

Luna used earbuds and listened to music as she move within mountain but I listened sounds of a cave. It bumped up my imagination as Luna squeezed into places that I wouldn’t dare go.

Sounds of a Cave

Other tidbits of research

  • I looked up some detail about shotguns
  • That the name Faris meant Knight (I was torn between Faris and St George.)
  • Swallow banks (Just because they looked cool and I wanted labyrinth of sorts that my hero needed to work through to find her prey.

FYI:

Still like listening to the sounds of caves as I work. It helps me focus on the story and not be distracted by all the going-ons within the house. Lucky discovery that.

Checking out all the posts

I’m looking forward to the other posts this month. So curious on what all of you discovered. No doubt, I’ll be taking notes are more than one subject. Thanks in advance.

The Mystery Genre and Why I Love It

This is the one I like to read and write. Adult or kid stories—its all the same to me.

The mystery is fiction where a crime must be solved.

It started with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Author Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Series and Agatha Christie’s sleuths—Poirot and Marple.

Some subgenres are: the cozy, whodunit, comic, forensic, police procedural, locked room, historical and private detective. These are but a few of them.

Depending on the sub-genre there usually is a small cast of suspects and each suspect has a creditable motive, means and opportunity to commit the crime. The trick is to figure out who did it and why before the hero does.

One of the things I love about writing mysteries is they can pretty much merge with any other genre. I’ve done fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, romance, contemporary for adult and middle grade and it all works. Think the Harry Potter series for example, most of them ended with a grand reveal of who was behind everything.

Some readers believe it is about the puzzle and the puzzle is a huge part of it. But it also reflects the writer’s need for justice and to right a wrong.

Do you have a favorite mystery?

Gleaned from:

The Thriller Genre and Why I Love It

The thriller is known for provoking suspense, excitement, surprise and anticipation and anxiety (this not so much). The villain driven plot that drives the hero forward often jeopardizing their sanity and their life.

I do love the feeling of excitement as the story unfolds. But I’m not a thrill seeker in my day to day living. I love thrillers so I can have the rush without jeopardizing anything.

Here the underdog takes on saving the world while sip cocoa and enjoying as they succeed against impossible odds. After the story is over, I’ll bask in hope. For if an underdog can succeed, I surely can too.

No wonder I love them so.

In the movie industry, Hitchcock was one of the best. I still remember watching The Rear Window, Vertigo and Strangers on a Train. I could barely breath never mind look away.

The Firm, and The Client, by John Grisham. He reeled me in like a silly old fish on a line and couldn’t get free to save my life. Truth be told, I didn’t try that hard to get away.

What about you, do you have a favorite thriller?

Gleaned from:

The Horror Genre and Why I Love It

Horror covers all fiction that is designed to startle, frighten, and/or disgust (I don’t care for that one) the reader, provoking terror and creating an eerie atmosphere.

It began with Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley and we still read them today. Heck, we even make movies about their monsters.

I don’t write horror. But when I’m looking for horror, I’m looking for exactly that feeling. The feeling of eeriness that carries on long after the story is done.

What scares me most:

Insane people acting normal. My first taste of that was a movie called The Eyes of Laura Mars. I jumped at every unexpected sound for weeks.

Evil entities: I think the first time I was really, really scared was when I read ‘Salem’s Lot. I stayed up to all hours and was convince that reading one more chapter would calm me down. It didn’t happen. Night had a new meaning to me for quite a while.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

Stephen King

I watched the American Werewolf in London. I was at a drive-in (remember them) and ran all the way to the bathroom and back. When I was heading back to the car the scene with the man being chased in the underground was playing. I couldn’t move my behind fast enough.

I love to be scared, but after years of watching and reading horror it takes a heck of a lot to scare me.

What scares you?

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