Category Archives: The Plot

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.

Conflict Through Crisis 2

Last week I shared what I learned at SWiC16 when Daniel José Older spoke about moments that change lives. Here’s the link.

Moments of crisis.

A crisis in a character’s life is the moment the story begins. All the moments after it are the realigning of their life back into balance. It’s this search for balance and attempt to make sense out of these events that creates the character arc.

It’s a natural response to:

  • An unstable time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome
  • A condition of instability or danger, leading to a decisive change.
  • A dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life.
  • The point in a play or story at which hostile elements are most tensely opposed to each other.
  • A time of intense difficulty or danger.
  • A time when a difficult or important decision must be made
  • A crisis is a situation in which something or someone is affected by one or more very serious problems.

Thank you Daniel for you insight into creating a better character and story through crisis.

What crisis would you use to intensify your character arcs?

Conflict Through Crisis 1

When I was away at the SWiC16, Daniel José Older was a keynote speaker. He talked about working as a medic.  Some stories were funny, lighthearted and others cut a little deep.

What cut deep?

That all of us have moments in our lives that bring about change. They are moments that leave a mark. Once they occur, we  are forever different and carry that moment with us forever.

They can happen when reading an outstanding book, through spiritual enlightenment or a religious experience, meeting someone who becomes a part of our life,  or witnessing/surviving an event.

These moments build our character and make us the people we are today. Whether we were brave about it or not doesn’t matter. What matters is how we let these moments change us.

After a crisis it is impossible to continue as if it didn’t happen.

For example, although doctors face life and death daily, they still go home and live their lives. The life and death events do not affect them on a personal level.

However, a near death experience can be life altering.

Have you ever used a personal crisis within your story and did help build the tension as you intended?

Writing External Conflict

It can be defined as anything getting between the protagonist and their goal. The easiest example is the antagonist. The measure of tension is based on the determination between the antagonist and protagonist. The more cunning, and skillful the antagonist the harder the hero must work to succeed.

One thing to keep in mind is the main antagonist of the story doesn’t have to been in ever scene. In some cases, other things get in the way of the hero’s success.

In a scene the antagonist can be anything from the setting to a ally.

Some examples a protagonist may face are:

  • Any character determined to stop them
  • Settings: a flood, blizzard, unfamiliar location, imprisonment, stuck on the road with motor trouble
  • A group of characters: law makers, rule enforcers, and simple peer pressure
  • Consequence from an event: broken bone or other physical damage, loss of memory, loss of transportation, loss of support and/or trust, loss of safety net

Throughout the story there will be all kinds of things to challenge the hero and their success. What’s your favorite?

Gleaned from:

Writing Internal Conflict

What causes internal conflict in our characters?

tug-40797_1280Want vs Need:  Often a character is torn between what they need and what they want. An example is marrying for love or money. Another might be keeping a child or giving them up for adoption.

The more heartfelt the choice and its consequences the deeper the inner conflict.

Recovering from past wounds: All our characters should have a backstory full of past wounds and regrets. These wounds will only heal if they are confronted and conquered. Until then the inner pain will stop the character from chasing their dreams or desires.

Dragging baggage through a story or letting it go can be a huge source of inner conflict.

Beliefs and assumptions: How a characters sees their world shapes their reactions within it. An example is their world is a cold place to raise a child, so they may go to great lengths to prevent conception. Another would be if they could only find love then everything would be okay.

It doesn’t matter if the belief or assumption is true. What matters is how the character choose to behave because of what they believe.

Armor or mask: Some characters present a false self to their world. They keep tug-40797_1280aa wall around them or wear a mask as they interact with the world and the other characters in it. Fear of rejection or of judgement can put the mask in place, but emotional armor doesn’t really protect anyone.

In mysteries, its purpose is to hide the killer.

A common source of inner conflicts is fear: What frightens a character the most? Change? Exposure? The truth? Fear of never learning from past mistakes, phobias, torn between two possible futures—making a decision and living with it forever.

Fear of the unknown.

Each conflict demands the character make a conscience choice, commit to it and accept consequences. This can happen once, or repeatedly depending on the character’s journey.

Which is your favorite inner conflict?

Gleaned from: