Subplot

In my current work in progress, I realized that I wanted a B story, or subplot. I felt I needed a way to tie in the book’s theme with the character’s arc that was outside the main action of the plot. I had set up the basic outline of the main story, but it was lacking the emotional punch I wanted it to have, hence the subplot idea. Now that I have the subplot in mind, I feel the story will be stronger over all, and I am more confident that I will have a better opportunity to entertain my readers.

A subplot is the secondary plot that supports the main thread of action by adding dimension and depth. Ideally the subplot will raise the stakes for the main character. Subplots should add complexity and should also help the story’s pacing, as well as improve on characterization because you can show different aspects of the character’s personality that you may not otherwise be able to do (well).

Note that the subplot should begin and end with the main story line. All the loose ends should be wrapped up before the climax of the main story. Subplots should:

  • Advance the story incrementally (no big chunks of subplot)
  • Show the transformative forces on your main character
  • Reveal information about your main character to the reader
  • Provide plot twists
  • Adjust the story’s pacing as necessary
  • Create mood
  • Solve any story problems that exist in the main plot line
  • Can help establish backstory for your character

The subplot also needs a beginning, middle, and ending, just like the main plot line

  • Give the main character goals and motivations in the subplot
  • Make it difficult for the main character to achieve the goal in the subplot
  • Bring the subplot to a satisfying ending

Let’s look at a subplot that is visible in a movie.

If you haven’t seen it before, watch “The Princess Bride.” If you have seen it before, think about the threads of the movie and how they intertwine. Those are subplots.

The movie revolves around the romance of Buttercup and Westley, but when Westley leaves to seek his fortune, his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Robert (the attack happens off screen). Meanwhile, thinking Westley dead for the last five years, Buttercup agrees to marry Florin’s Prince Humperdinck. On her way to the wedding, she is kidnapped by three bandits – this is the beginning of one of the subplots. Inigo Montoya (one of the bandits) is on a quest to avenge his father’s death. You probably know the dialogue: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

This subplot leads the audience into a deeper emotional connection with all the characters and they learn that indeed Westley is alive, has become the Dread Pirate Robert, and intends to win back Buttercup, meanwhile helping Inigo Montoya to avenge his father’s death. And all the character’s story arcs are resolved by the climax of the movie. We learn all that we know about the characters through the subplots of the movie. The film is a great visual example of the plot vs subplot concept.

Remember that whatever the subplot, it should serve the purpose of moving the story forward and it should tie in with the main story line. If your novel seems to be lacking emotional depth, have pacing issues, or need conflict, consider adding a subplot.

 

 

Character Development Part 4

Character Development Part 4

We’ve been talking about how to make sure your characters are three-dimensional people rather than Flat Stanley. We have been chatting about the four things that readers learn from novels.

Who

What

Why

Why Not

You know who your characters are now. You know more about them than you did before. You know their past and their idiosyncrasies. You know their biggest fears. You know their physical features and jobs. You know your characters better than you know yourself and all of that knowledge is necessary for you to write them well.

The characters are the who part of this concept. Now let’s look at the what part.

The what part is about what your character wants. It’s the goal part. It’s that elusive thing that your character wants to obtain or accomplish. If your character has no goal, well then, they are a weak and boring character.

What is a goal?

A goal, according to the dictionary, is the result or achievement toward which effort is directed. A goal is your character’s aim. And it is your character’s goal that helps your reader to feel your character’s conflict when they aim to achieve or obtain said goal.

What does your character want?

Think about this. Your character should want what they don’t have. This want should equate to having a determined need. They are desperate for this goal. They just gotta have it, gotta reach it. Failure is not an option. The goal has got to be an urgent thing.

When people need something, they tend to act against their own self-interest. Think addiction (apologies to any with this issue – it’s not my intention to make light). Deep down, people don’t want to be an addict. The issue is that they need the drug (or sex, or cigarettes, or gambling, or whatever). The need is beyond their ability to overcome (in this moment).

The goal has to be important enough that your character will move heaven and earth to obtain said goal. They will endure hardship. They are willing to risk their life. If they fail, life will be more than just disagreeable to them; life will be unbearable. The goal must also be urgent. Urgency is paramount to your character’s goal. Not only must they have this thing, they must have it NOW.

Really?

Yes.

Be thinking about your character’s goal. Next time we will consider what kinds of goals are good ones.

Writer’s Block

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and given the number of people participating, and the number of complaints about low word counts or zero word counts, I thought we should chat about writer’s block.

What is writer’s block?

If you look on Wikipedia, writer’s block is a “condition.”

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer’s block has been a documented problem.

Some people believe it’s an actual thing that happens to people.

For the sake of transparency, I’m in the camp that believes writer’s block is not an actual thing. It’s an excuse.

Let’s look at some of the problems and solutions for having writer’s block.

The Problem: I have been working diligently on my story for a month, and now, suddenly, nothing comes. I just stare at my computer screen.

The Real Problem: This writer doesn’t know where their story is going. They didn’t plan or outline their plot, and so doesn’t know what comes next or how to solve the problem they have written themselves into.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and take an hour, or two, or day, or two, and outline your story so you know what has happened with your plot, where you are currently in your story, and figure out where you need to go to get to the end. Hint: Having an outline, no matter how brief, will help you stay on track. Then write it.

The Problem: I just don’t have any ideas of what to write about.

The Real Problem: This writer wants some kind of magical experience. They are waiting for the muse, and because the muse is on vacation, they don’t know what to write about.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and just write about something. Practice writing. Write about your breakfast. Hint: Writing is five percent inspiration and ninety-five percent doing the consistent work of writing.

The Problem: Pick any excuse for not writing.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and write. Hint: Remember Newton’s Law: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. In other words, it is easier to write consistently if you are dedicated to writing consistently.

Next time: TBD

Scene Writing

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Scene Writing

It’s been a while. We last discussed writing in scenes in April, which seems a very long time ago. So let’s refresh.

Writing in scenes is the idea that if you plot out your novel in scenes, and you focus on writing the best possible scene, one scene at a time, including all the necessary elements to ensure that your reader is grounded in your story world, learns something about your character(s), discovers something about your plot, and ends the scene still wanting to read your novel you will end up with a successful, well-written book.

And it will take you a lot less time than just writing by the seat of your pants without any kind of outline.

I have harped (It’s true. I do occasionally harp) that there should be some kind of conflict on every or nearly every page. Conflict and movement are what move your story forward. So today, let’s jump back into it with…

Action Scenes

What is an action scene?

An action scene is a scene that depends on some form of movement, physical movement, through the setting of that particular scene. The movement can be large or small, but there must be movement.

How do you make movement happen?

Tell the events that happen in your scene in real time, which will allow the reader to feel that they are participating in the events. Think of your favorite action movie. Think of the car chase. Things move. Things happen. And the viewer discovers all the action at the same time as the character.

Action scenes move with some intensity. The pace of the story is much faster than other parts of the book. Your character doesn’t have time to ruminate on the events as they occur. They just occur. If your character needs time to reflect, let this happen later when things have slowed down.

Your characters must be fast on the draw during action scenes. They act first. They think later. Decisions are fast. Reactions are faster. It’s about intuition and instinct.

You can open your action scene in the middle of the action, or in medias res, where events and movement are already in motion.

If the action will begin later in the scene, be sure to set up the action for your reader. Use foreshadowing by the spoon full to indicate the coming action. In other words, give your reader hints. The hints will entice further reading.

One thing to keep in mind in the action scene is that the action and movement of your character, while they are in the midst of intense action, will reveal their true nature. Is your character a coward? They will freeze when they shouldn’t. Are they a hero? They might put themselves in danger to save someone else. See what I mean? And all of their behavior will be action without words or thoughts on your character’s part.

At the end of your action scene, your character should be changed in some way. It could be a small change or a significant one. Your character will also have to deal with all the ramifications of the things that happened in the action scene. Think karma. The decisions your character made will come back later.

Cliffhangers are great at the end of action scenes since they keep your reader guessing. Keep your reading hanging so they have to turn the page.

You can also end the action scene with some form of discovery. Your character can learn some important information that changes something for the character, or the character’s motivation. Or they learn something about their rival, or enemy, or lover, or what have you.

Just remember that the purpose of the scene is to move the story forward, so the action scene should be there for a purpose. If it’s just action, but it doesn’t reveal anything about your character or they don’t learn anything, then it could end up being a gratuitous scene with no purpose.

Next time: More scene writing

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 5

We’ve been talking about the paths to publishing and what each path entails so that authors can make the best possible business decision. For the last few weeks, we talked about the need for every author to market their books regardless of their publishing choice.

I was asked, are there exceptions? Does everyone really market?

The truth is that there are exceptions. Below are some examples.

Example number one:

I have an author friend who has been writing novels for a particular romance publisher for a bazillion years. Okay, literally not a bazillion years but definitely somewhere in the vicinity of four decades. The publisher of these romance books has a loyal following of readers and so sales have always been good. Consequently, my author friend has never marketed a day in her life. She didn’t have to. She’s written four books per year and got reasonably good advances. Her advances, though have decreased over the years, as they have for most authors.

If my author friend wanted to continue to write four romance books a year for the next hundred years, she probably could do that and still never have to market her books. She has a good thing going.

But

What if she wanted to write something different? What if she wanted to write a mystery or romantic suspense?

Her romance publisher doesn’t do romantic suspense or mystery or any other genre so my author friend would have to start from scratch. She’d have to find a publisher, and make a website, and go through all the things that the majority of authors go through to market their books. It wouldn’t matter that she’s written close to 100 novels. She would have to find new readers, and that’s the rub.

This new writing project would in effect make her a new author. She would have to market.

Example number two:

I have another author friend who is a writing machine. She writes eight to ten (yes, 8 to 10) books per year. She has multiple publishers and she publishes multiple series with each publisher. She also does very well for herself.

This author friend also appears to be a marketing machine. She is on Facebook, and Twitter, and Tumblr, and Pinterest, and she does newspaper interviews, and Youtube videos and a ton of other marketing tasks. Not only does she post different information on each different social media platform, she does it several times per day. She engages her followers personally and interacts with them. Each of her followers probably feels that they have a personal relationship with this author, and the result of it is that she is able to create a big readership for her books, regardless of publisher.

But here’s the reality. This author friend loves writing. But she hates marketing. Luckily she is able to afford a full-time marketing assistant, and that is all they do.

Hiring someone to do your marketing if another exception. But I don’t know many authors who can afford to do that.

The important point I am trying to make with the everybody markets rule is that it is easier to plan to be an author who markets than it is to plan to be the exception, because you can’t really plan for that.

Remember that even James Patterson, who sells a gazillion books per year still does commercials for each book.

See?

Everybody markets.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 6