Friday, June 17, 2022

Leaving breadcrumbs: how to write plot


I love language. I love a good sentence. I work on my sentences. I have fun when I get to do this, especially in later drafts, because it is one way the characters come to life and the setting comes to life.


Also, I love dialogue. I can reveal a lot of character in a conversation. It’s not just what people say but how they say it. This is also language focused. You have to make the language work.


I love style, a certain writing style. It’s about rhythm and author voice and a particular way of seeing the world, whatever that world might be.


I love character. I love to develop them, discover them, and make them give the story meaning by specific details of a life.


Wait, isn’t this supposed to be about plot? So all those aspects of storytelling I mentioned above are based on language and character. My books are character driven, that is scenes made by characters in situations. But the actual plot has to come from another place. Writers need to see that. Practice plot in isolation until you can put it together with character and language in an intuitive way.


What’s plot then? It’s leaving breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. These lead to a destination that is expected and unexpected and satisfying. Each breadcrumb must be take the reader a little closer to the destination and be interesting in and of itself. When the reader reaches the destination it will be spectacular and the breadcrumbs will all make sense. If you do them well, your reader will follow them with anticipation and the anticipation will be satisfied. You will have several plots like this in a novel but one of these will be the main plot. You will have character arcs, too, that will function in the same way. Breadcrumbs to destination.


And that is that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Zoom draft, part 2

 In my recent zoom post I wrote about a new strategy for writing a novel that I think might help me and might help someone write faster and maybe even better, particularly if they happen to be a panser rather than a planner, a discovery writer rather than an outliner. 

I suggested that you write a very quick draft, one that takes under a week and is 10000-15000 words long. I did this and had a draft of my novel, from beginning to end, in that time. In the past, I felt like I wasted a lot of time writing a longer first draft since often my discovery draft ended up being something I revised throughly anyway. My thinking was that if I wrote a first draft much faster maybe I would speed up my writing process without losing quality since, in my experience, most of the work of creating story came in later drafts, just as improvements in language and theme did.

Now I am working on the revision. I've spent slightly over a month and have increased my word count to about 45000 words. I am about half way through the second/third draft of the novel. However, I'm not just filling out what I had written with additional development. I've made several major changes to the plot as I've tried to develop and deepen the story.

So in that sense, I'm still feeling around in the dark a lot. However, in spite of this, I'm much farther along than I'd normally be because of the short time I spent on the first zoom draft. I don't feel like the road blocks and diversions are any more than on former novels. I had hoped that writing the draft so quickly might make me better at plotting; I don't feel that happened much. I still need a first draft to start working into the story. However, and this is key to how long the writing will take, I didn't spend several months on a first draft. I spent five days.

So far, I'm pleased wit this new strategy.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

When Characters In Your Story Act Out

 My characters get very cranky when I try to make them do things because of plot. Worse than rebellious teens. They will mess things up just to get back at me. They will lead me in all the wrong directions. Solution: you need to give characters real motivations for what they do, say, think. 


Too many formulas tell you to have your characters do things at specific places in the novel in order to follow a certain plot strategy. That can’t work for me.


You tell a character she has to act a certain way on page 33 because 3 is a lucky number, and if you have two 3’s well, double the luck, and you’ll for sure write a bestseller according to some advice.  

Your character says “I wouldn’t act that way.”

You say, “I need you to because I’ve been told you need that need on page 33.”

So after some argument she does. Then she falls into an identity crisis. She becomes a bad actress. Then she acts out or shuts down. This has a domino effect on your other characters in the story. They lose sight of their motivations.


Your characters aren’t going to seem real because they’re doing the wrong things at the wrong time and your story is going to seem forced because it goes in the wrong direction at several turns and pretty soon you’re lost in the swamp.


You know where I’m going  with this.


It’s not a pretty ending.




Work on plot, always. Story is important. But be true to your characters. Give them clear motivations. Readers will read even if they’re reading about terrible characters doing terrible things if the readers feel like they know and feel why they’re doing what they’re doing. 


Try to figure out what your character wants in a scene and why they want it and then put something in their way and be true to the character. If you can get these right you will have plot and character working together and you will pull the character in.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Zoom to a first draft of your novel (abbreviated) in under a week: Write a Zoom Draft

                                         ZOOM DRAFT

First, the disclaimer: This method is a work in progress so I haven't gone all the way through the process of revising a novel yet. I will keep you posted on how long the next step takes. My second point is that some may say I'm just talking about an outline. That is in a sense true EXCEPT I will say that I never have been able to outline my novels. I began writing novels with absolutely no outline. In the past few years I've managed a page of outline when I start a novel an then outlining as I go along, which is some combination of coming up with potential plot points based on what I've written and the kinds of plots I'm writing, adding to character sketches, and doing world building based on the world I seem to be creating in my draft.

OK so let me describe this new process, writing what I'm calling a Zoom draft. This comes from the fact that I cannot outline but that my first draft often goes all over the place as I pants my way through a story. It's a discovery draft and I, well, discover. So what happens is I always seem to have to rewrite huge chunks of it, which leads to major changes through-out the story. I don't like this. It seems a waste. However, I am a fairly fast writer and a first draft does get me into the world and characters and story so I have kept on with this method. I can write a first draft in less than two months but not that much less. Then I spend another two, sometimes three in revision.

It's not a bad method but I feel like I waste a lot of time and go the wrong way a lot in my first draft. The reason revision takes me so long is because I am actually rewriting a lot of it. That's much more than revision. Throw away a chunk and write a new chunk is a longer process.

So I was playing around starting a novel and thinking about the months I would spend on getting the story together and I thought what if I just tried to write the story and didn't worry about development of characters or world so much and focused on pushing through the story without a lot of details. What if I did a general draft. More than an outline. I'd write out chapters, bits of whatever would be in the chapter in terms of description and narrative and especially dialogue between characters. I would also write anything that I thought might add to my understanding of the chapter. I wouldn't sweat forcing myself to try to figure out places where I got stuck. I'd just write myself a note about what might happen and go on.

It took me four days to write one first draft of about 10,000 words. Then I tried another novel, this one second in a series, and it took me five days to write a draft of that novel, 12,000 words. Obviously, these are a fraction of what these novels will be BUT I write from beginning to end. That, I think, is essential.

Now I am revising the second novel, the one I need to get out next. I'm in my second day and it seems like I"m not having to rewrite so much as add to what's already in the chapter. But even if I do have to rewrite later as a I go along, it only took me five days to get this rough draft out. And because it only took me five days maybe it will be more cohesive than my other first drafts. As I was writing it, I felt like I had more control, more narrative momentum.

 It seems to be working. 

MORE when I have written MORE but for me, for the kind of writer I am, a pantser whose first draft always sucks and someone who would like to up my output, this seems to be working.  (To Be Continued)


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

#1 Fiction Writing Tip & New Novel News

 My number #1 tip for writing, or so I think today: time your writing, whether its 15 minute sprints or an hour, and write down how many words you write in that 15 minutes or an hour and do not allow ANY distractions. See what I did there? I snuck in three points by using co-ordinating conjunctions but, in my defense, they are related: Time, count, and focus.

ALSO, MY NEW NOVEL IS SOON TO BE OUT and I'm discounting it to 0.99 cents for the next few preorder days and for the first five days it's available.

Here's the NEW cover:

They’re Here. But who are They? How long have They been here? What do They want? Where do They come from?
July Jackson wakes up in Egypt, Texas (population 1888). He can’t remember the night before. When he steps outside, he sees snow. Temperature gage says 27. It’s August. None of the phones, tv’s, computers, or vehicles work. The entire town is cut off. July is sheriff. It’s his job to protect the town. His duty. Soon he realizes he’s in for the fight of his life, and the enemy isn’t only strangers outside the town limits but neighbors within. An SFF Suspense Mystery

Thanks for stopping by. Brian

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Reverse Engineering: How to Build A Plot In Reverse

 Reverse Engineering is how I give my plots structure. If you're like me, even if you outline a bit and have a sense of where you're going, your first draft is feeling around in the dark a lot. Nothing wrong with that. But it does make for plots with lots of holes. So on my first revision I start thinking about the different plots and where they ended up. Maybe I have a mystery plot and a relationship plot and a wonder plot (which would probably link up with setting since I write mostly SFF).

What I have to do is think about how I got to my endings. I reverse engineer so that I have steps of progress throughout the manuscript. I want to make these the best I can because the quality of my plots will rely on believable important steps. That’s how I shape the story. That’s the kind of revision that can really improve a manuscript. You can’t come up with everything all at once in a first draft but you can, in revision, go back and build a plot.

Here's the funny thing. I begin with character. I think of character as being the most important of all fiction (novel in particular) skills. But you need plot, too. Good plot. Not just something for the characters to talk about or move through. Plots that contribute and really matter. Create characters that people care about working through interesting plots and you've got something.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Stay in the Flow: Do this one thing and you will write better and faster fiction

You want to get a lot of words on the page when you're working. You want those words to be good and you want them to be the right words. Move the story forward. Develop character. Move at the pace you want. Make your reader feel what you want them to feel.

You've got to stay in the flow. Do that and you will write better and faster.

This is both easier and harder than it sounds. If you are in the flow, the words are, well, flowing, and you're doing all the things you want to do. Nothing can stop you. Except an interruption. And here's the thing, often that interruption comes from us. We can talk about the psychology some other time but I know, from personal experience, that sometimes I will give into various interruptions: I must check my email, google some information, do research on my story, walk the dog, talk to the dog, play with the dog (blame the dog for wanting me to play with the dog). You name it, I've probably used it as an excuse to wander from the act of writing. Take a little break. That's a common one.

The thing is these breaks do, in fact, break the flow. They're a scourge on writers. Not just because it takes time to get back into your writing (it does, always) but because it breaks connections we were making when we were in the flow. 

It's simple. Build better habits. Be aware. Be mindful of when you take a break and why. Most of the time it will just be an excuse. And it will harm both your writing and your output. When you're writing make yourself actually write.  Don't waste the flow. I fight this all the time because I'm prone to daydreaming and distractions. But I'm much more aware of how much time this wastes now. So, may the flow be with you, writing brothers and sisters.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Two tricks to write fiction faster

 How to write faster: Two hacks or tricks to try

ONE—One thing you can do to write faster is make sure when you're at the end your writing session—whether you're stopping for lunch, errands, a ten minute phone call OR for the day—is that a few minutes and write a note to yourself about where you will pick up when you get back to your computer. What's next? Figure it out. And when you figure it out, write it down. You will start the next writing session so-so much faster. No starring at the blank page. You'll know where to go. Go.

TWO—About that getting more words on the page in a short amount of time...If you're like me you fool yourself.  "I wrote for two hours or three hours or four hours today," I might declare to my wife. Right. I wrote but I also checked my email three times and made coffee twice and did a little research I needed to get into the characters and looked something up and listened to a song on Youtube that I'd been wanting to listen to and read an article and played with a dog. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. It's so easy to get distracted.

So I tried writing down how many words I wrote in a day to keep me honest. That did help a little but I still messed around a lot. I knew I still wasn't doing as many words in a writing session as I should. Many writers, from Joyce Carol Oates to Brandon Sanderson, prolific writers, talk about focus and being able to get into the flow and concentration. I had my moments but the truth was I still allowed myself to mess around too much.

One simple action has cured me. It's INCREASED MY OUTPUT by about 3X. I write down how many words I write in an hour. I take a break between hours if I get to write for several hours (using #1 to keep me in the flow). Every time I want to check my email or whatever distraction I can come up with to avoid writing, I think about how I only have an hour to get out a certain # of words. I make a goal. Right now it's 800 words an hour. It's a small enough time I can keep my flow going and not want to break it by following a distraction. I'm kind of goal oriented so I don't want to fail to reach my goal. If write for three hours, actually write, you can see I'll have somewhere around 2400 words. For me that's a  good day. If I happen to have a five hour day...that's a really excellent day.

Hope this helps.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Character development

 When I feel disconnected from my character what I try to do is get closer. I try to walk into a room through his/her eyes, hear what he/she hears, think what he/she would think. For example, you could write "John walked into the room and saw his girlfriend talking to his worst enemy. She laughed at something he said. John became angry." It gives information but it's kind of boring. If you get closer, sometimes you can find a specificity of details that brings a scene  to life. "John moved into the crowded room, sliding between bodies and voices, coughing because someone blew smoke in his face. Who were these people? He didn't recognize one face. Across the room he finally saw Gwen. She had a drink in her hand. She was smoking. When did she start smoking? She was talking in an animated way, swinging her arm and spilling her drink, making a point to someone. At first, he couldn't see who she was talking to because the people were packed so tight in the small low-ceilinged room he could hardly see about three feet in front of him.  He leaned left and right to catch sight of Gwen again. Then he saw who Gwen was talking to, laughing with. He couldn't believe it. He felt sweat from his brow drip down in his right eye. It stung. Carl Anderson. It was him all right. John started pushing his way through the crowd." 

I am adding details.  But I'm adding them because I'm in that crowded room right there with my narrator. If I was back trying to see him from a distance I'd have a harder time coming up with authentic details. For me, anyway, a close POV narration gives me a better chance at making a scene come to life and making the right choices.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Write To Please Just One Person: alive or dead


"Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia." Kurt Vonnegut

Write to please just one person. I've heard/read this advice from many writers. Vonnegut, as usual, finds an entertaining way to make the point. I've only recently found the person I want to write to and it's really helped me make my style more personal. The person happens to be dead, but you have to get help wherever you can find it.

First, I think you should write for yourself. Write what thrills you in other people's writing. For me that's a sense of "wonder", which is why I like speculative fiction. But there are other things. A particular style. I like spare writing. Other aspects of a story: I like suspense, a bit of humor to off-set darker writing, mystery and a subplot relationship. A story doesn't need all of these things and other things I could add that I like. But when I'm writing I know I want some of them in my story. 

However, when you have this and you're writing the actual novel it helps to think of one person you're writing to rather than a faceless audience. Too many writers think that writing to the widest audience possible will make their writing attractive to all readers. That doesn't happen. 

First, make your story meaningful to you. Make it excite you when you write and when you think about writing. Second, focus in on one person, your ideal reader maybe or someone whose tastes are like yours, and think about them as you write.

Keep writing.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

How Can You Show More and Tell Less In Your Fiction?

 You always hear show don't tell. There are times to tell, sure, but a lot of writers, especially inexperienced writers, struggle with being able to see when they are telling too much. So what's wrong with telling? One word—boring. Most telling slides into listing information or navel gazing or telling emotions, which can be deadly for a story. You want the reader to connect to your characters and what they're feeling when something is happening in a scene. If the reader isn't feeling the experience with the character, it creates a filter between them and the story and they disconnect. Avoid this at all costs. The other problem, also big, is telling too much leads to mistakes, like overwriting or making the wrong choices about where to go in a scene.

So how do you avoid this problem, particularly if you're inexperienced and find it hard to know if you're telling too much?

Obviously practice is the main way you get a feel for show v tell. But one way to work on this is to consider POV. Doesn't matter if you use first person or third person POV; if you can narrate from your character you will be more likely to keep showing rather than telling. So see the scene and what is happening through your character's eyes and show how they feel by actions and reactions and through dialogue

This is the first paragraph from my work-in-progress:

Sheriff July Jackson opened his eyes. The room was dark, but bright light slipped in the space between the blinds and the window frame. He turned away from it,  forcing himself to sit up, expecting a headache and other symptoms of a one-too-many night. Velcro, 130 pounds without clothes, leaped from the floor onto the bed. His tongue moved up July’s cheek. It was like the scratchy side of a wet sponge.  

That's showing. I'm trying to show the reader the beginning of this scene and let the reader experience it rather than telling the reader what is going on or how the POV main character feels. 

Here's the same scene with too much telling:

Sheriff July Jackson opened his eyes. The room was dark but bright light from the window hurt his eyes. He turned away from it, sat up. He thought his head would hurt because he'd been out drinking the night before but he felt pretty good. Then his dog, Velcro, 130 pounds without clothes, jumped onto the bed and bounced July so that he almost lost his balance and ended up on the floor. The dogs tongue drenched his cheek. He hated that. He loved the dog but he hated that sticky tongue. He'd definitely need a shower to get that off.

The example is just one paragraph but imagine if you had ten or twenty pages, how the show writing would start to distance itself from the tell writing.

The other befit of keeping yourself and narrator out and letting the POV character narrate is, of course, you'll learn about the character. What she sees and the way she describes it will help illuminate who she is.