Tag: Plotting

NaNoWriMo Plot Point Scrivener Template

NaNoWriMo Plot Point Scrivener Template

The Manuscript Shredder’s NaNoWriMo Plot Point Calendar is now a Scrivener Template

Amnesia as a plot device-authortoolbox

Amnesia as a plot device-authortoolbox

Using amnesia in your story can lead to a contrived plot. Without proper preparation, readers will be left annoyed and confused. Don’t fall into this trap. Follow these simple tips

Using Character Motivations in Plot Chains-authortoolbox

Using Character Motivations in Plot Chains-authortoolbox

Why do your characters do what they do?

People may not always behave in a logical manner, but when you are planning out your stories, your characters should. No matter how outrageous your characters behave, there must be some internal logic for their decisions. Even if your readers don’t agree with that logic, they should know what it is. Creating characters without any internal logic will produce an inconsistent, illogical mess. Fortunately, there is a simple trick for fixing this problem.

Plot Chaining

Plot chaining is the linking of cause and effect that will take your character through her journey. The reader should be able to follow this chain unbroken through the entire novel. Every action a character takes will produce an effect and that effect will cause the next action in the character. Without plot chaining, your character’s actions will seem random.Motivating your Characters-www.themanuscriptshredder.com

Creating a plot chain

First identify the type of story you are telling: Action-driven, character-driven, or a mix of the two.

  • Action-driven stories rely on the main character doing something to overcome a problem. These utilize an external antagonistic force, i.e. a villain, the environment, etc., to force the main character into action. In these stories, the main character must fight against the antagonistic forces and overcome them physically. In this
  • Character-driven stories are those that relate an internal transformation in a character. In these stories, a character is dealing with a personal lie that is interfering with his personal happiness, and he must overcome this lie.
  • Blended stories use both internal and external forces in their stories. The contemporary plotting style (Save the Cat) that ties overcoming an internal lie to defeating an external enemy is an example of a blended story.

Now that you have identified your story’s style, this will tell you what type of causes will be powering your plot chain.

Action stories will focus on external cause and effect. This means a character’s cause and effect will be restricted to external, or physical, actions. Character driven stories will use internal, emotional, causes for character actions. Blended stories will use both physical and emotional causes.

  • Physical causes– external forces that act upon a character. The villain sets the building on fire causing the hero to run to the rescue.
  • Emotional causes– internal forces that cause the character to act. Othello’s jealousy causes him to strangle Desdemona

Now, examine your story and map out your plot chain.

Study your outline

Take a look through your outline and see if you can trace a line of cause and effect through your story. If you don’t have an outline, make a scene list with a single line description. You should be able to answer these questions about every scene in your book.

  1. What does the point-of-view character want? Dorothy wants to go back to Kansas
  2. What does he/she do to achieve that goal? Asks the Wizard for help
  3. What are the results? The Wizard gives her a job
  4. How does that change the goal? Dorothy now wants to kill the wicked witch.

In character-driven stories, the causes can be veiled because the character is working through a lie. For example, your main character may think she is diving into her work to make her life meaningful, but she is really doing it to avoid dealing with difficult emotions. In either case, the character has a reason for her actions. Keep these reasons as the driving component of your character’s plot chains

What about scenes that fall outside this chain?

Too often writers will put in scenes for the sake of character building or world building. They accomplish little except dump information on the reader. Scenes that have no purpose in moving the story forward will leave your readers confused and, more often, bored since these scenes often have little to nothing at stake. If you are having trouble filling out your world-building look back through your scenes and find ways for the setting to affect your character. If you are having trouble with a thin character, look for places in existing scenes for your character to show more of her personality.

Introducing subplots

Having a subplot interrupt the flow is acceptable as long as the subplot merges with, i.e. become a cause for change in, the main plot. This is common in blended stories where the character transformation arc and the defeat the villain arc exist simultaneously. Strive to have your subplot fully integrate with the main plot, otherwise, the subplot will be superfluous. And if you plan to alternate scenes from the main plot and the subplot be aware of the amount of space you allow to lapse between scenes. You readers may feel too disjointed if too much time passes between developments in a subplot.

Once you have established the cause and effect sequence through your story, finding extra scenes or useless subplots will be simple. This will leave you with a cleaner, more effective story. Plot chaining is a great tool for keeping your characters on track. By understanding their motivations, you will produce characters your readers can understand. This is the first step to creating a connection. So give your characters a reason for their actions and create a plot line your readers will love.

This article was inspired by The Plot Whisperer Workbook pp. 179-188 by Martha Alderson (Affiliate link)


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The Magic Fix-it Scene

The Magic Fix-it Scene

Adding material to your manuscript to solve a problem? The magic fix-it scene rarely works. While these scenes are intended to solve a specific problem, they often cause a host of other issues. But there is a better way

Opening Action: how to make it work

Opening Action: how to make it work

Start with action sounds like simple advice, but making it work takes careful consideration and planning. The opening action sets the tone for your entire story. Make sure yours doesn’t fall into one of these traps.

The New Normal NaNoWriMo day 30

The New Normal NaNoWriMo day 30

This is it, the end of the story, now we have to tie it all together by showing the new normal

What is the new normal

The new normal is a short scene that shows what the hero’s life will be like from now on. This shows the reader what has really changed in the character’s world. Without this scene, the story will feel incomplete and rushed. The falling action scene won’t bring the tension down completely. You need to show the new normal.

In Inside Out the new normal is Riley playing hockey again. This is an important scene because it shows that she has now adjusted to life in San Fransisco and answers a question earlier in the movie.

In the Lego Movie, the new normal is shown when the man upstairs is playing alongside his son. We see how the rules of Bricksburg have changed.

Showing the new normal

Before you start this scene, make sure you have answered all questions and all the subplots finished (unless you saved one for this scene)

Make sure you write a complete scene

If you are writing in deep POV this is especially important. Make sure your character still has goals and even conflict. (Only this time, the conflict is minor)

ex. your POV character is sitting at the breakfast table and little brother is still hogging all the syrup.

Avoid exposition and telling

Summarization is fine for the transition, but you need to end with an actual scene, otherwise, your ending will feel rushed. This is especially important in deep POV. You cannot just say, “and they lived happily ever after.” You must show it.

Hints for closing scenes

Tips for writing a great ending-www.themanuscriptshredder.com

Cyclical ending

Replay the opening scene but now showing everything that has changed. This can work for stories that have huge changes in setting. A hero may have started the story eating breakfast alone and ended with a new family. The movie Shawn of the Dead used the technique to great effect by showing Shawn’s slacker roommate who, despite becoming a zombie, had exactly the same life as before the story began.

Recurring Theme

In this ending, a reoccurring theme from the book re-emerges in a twist. Ex. a character who can never find his keys realizes they were in his pocket the whole time.

Subplot Closing

In Inside Out, Riley, who was struggling with the move, had decided to quit hockey. In the final scene, we see that she has started playing again. This works because it answers the question raised in the subplot and it also demonstrates that Riley has adjusted to her new life.

Sequel Hint

The Lego Movie uses this device by having the Duplo aliens invade. This works because it demonstrates the true feelings of the son at learning that his sister will also be allowed to play in Bricksburg.

Be careful with this one. There is nothing more annoying than a hackneyed cliffhanger attempt. Don’t chop your story in half trying to get people to buy the sequel. If you have strong enough characters, people will continue to follow them. Every novel should be a complete story.

When is it really over?

Writing an ending line can be just as frustrating as the opening line. You will likely change it half-a-dozen times in the editing. Ending lines must tie everything up and give the reader a sense of finality. In your draft, just stop when the scene naturally ends. As you reread the right place to end will usually present itself.

Congratulations, you have finished NaNoWriMo

If you’ve followed this plot guide, you will have a solid, logical plot that won’t take as much time to edit. Let it rest for a few weeks before you begin. Now go get your winner’s goodies.

Final scenes don’t have to be difficult or boring. This is the best part of the draft. Show your hero’s new world and how she will live in it. You’ve finished. Now type “The End.”

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The Falling Action NaNoWriMo day 29

The Falling Action NaNoWriMo day 29

Too many writers rush through the falling action. The main battle may be over, but there is still plenty to do. Tips for writing the falling action

Writing the Climactic Scene NaNoWriMo day 28

Writing the Climactic Scene NaNoWriMo day 28

The climactic scene is the hero’s last confrontation with the antagonist and her personal lie. Tips for getting the most out of this scene

The Final Battle part 2 NaNoWriMo day 27

The Final Battle part 2 NaNoWriMo day 27

The Hero’s Problems Deepen

The final battle part 2 is the last step before the climax. Today you will be covering two points: the antagonist pushes back and the hero’s second battle.

The Antagonist’s Final Push

At this moment victory for the hero seems inevitable. Then, the antagonistic forces emerge even stronger.

This is such a common plot point that many clichés have emerged.

the surprise resurrection

Final Battle Cliches-www.themanuscriptshredder.comHere the villain appears dead, but when the hero creeps up to investigate, the villain suddenly jumps up and is now somehow not only unhurt, but actually stronger than he was before. This might have worked in the 90’s but for the modern audience , this is no longer believable. Everyone knows this is not the moment to get stingy with your bullets. Double tap that guy and get out of there.

Villain/hero can absorb a ridiculous amount of damage

Unless you are Wonderwoman battling Aries, actual people cannot absorb unlimited numbers of bullets/punches/blood loss. Yet, for some reason, writers who were reasonable with the limits of the human body lose touch with reality for the sake of an exciting climax. All this does is make your ending sound ridiculous. If you need more tension, get closer to the hero’s suffering. A bullet anywhere in the torso puts your hero out of the action, period. There are plenty of resources online that will give you the limits of the human body. Don’t ignore these.

In the Lego Batman Movie, Batman fails to stop the Joker and now Gotham is pulling apart.
In Inside Out, Joy has made it back to headquarters but she’s stuck outside the glass.

Both these moments show the antagonistic forces emerging to cause more problems for the hero.

Some rules for good villainy

  1. New problem must be believable. Villain doesn’t get any surprise powers.
  2. No deus ex machina (your villain doesn’t get away with it either)
  3. Your villain is a person too. He must follow the same worldbuilding rules.
  4. Everything must already exist in your villain’s world. (Lord Business released an army of Micromanagers, something he already had.
<li><span style="font-size: 1rem">In Lego Batman, Joker watched a news story that talked about the flimsy plates supporting Gotham.) If you need to go back and foreshadow something, make a note in your story and pick it up in your first round of edits.</span></li>

The Hero’s Second Attack

Theme Fight

The second attack must have something to distinguish it from the first.
Emmet attempts to teach Lord Business that he is the special too
Batman must convince Joker to work with him to put Gotham back together

Rather than being a simple fight between the two, the second half of the battle relates to the theme. This makes it more meaningful to the story.

Second goal

In Inside Out the second half of the final battle begins after Joy has gotten into headquarters, and now she must convince Sadness to take the control panel so she can stop Riley from running away. Here we see the results of Joy’s character arc: Sadness can help.

Now make it better

It’s easier to make the second half of your fight the same as the first (now with bigger explosions!), but this won’t give the reader what she wants.

Have the hero use what she had learned from the theme to solve her problem.
If you don’t have a theme, have the hero use her brain to solve the problem. This will produce a more satisfying ending than just pounding the “x” button.

This is the last step before the climax. The hero is almost there. Don’t ruin your ending by falling into cliché and lazy solutions. Your hero has already had an epic journey, give her the final battle she deserves.

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The Final Battle Part 1 NaNoWriMo day 26

The Final Battle Part 1 NaNoWriMo day 26

The fight has just begun, but your character’s journey is nearly over. Now everything is in place. This time your hero is ready for the final battle part 1