Saturday, 26 July 2008

How to Plot a Story to Engage Your Reader


Often the beginning writers ponders too long over characterization, scenery and setting up the story/backstory and finds it difficult to accept the fundamental element of a good story.



GOAL or PROBLEM is all important.

If you are blocked you might need to re think your story.

Maybe your main character doesn't have a big enough goal to reach, or problem to overcome.
- Maybe nothing or no one is trying to stop him achieving it. (Conflict)
You need obstacles that lead your character to make decisions. (Crises) It's Furtherance and Hindrance that build suspense.
- Maybe you need to physically visit the site, or a similar site, for the setting of your story to get the atmosphere/mood right where you will find the unique details.
- Get a group of friends to fire questions at you about your story so that you have to answer them so fast you'll even make up stuff that wasn't originally part of it and be surprised how relevant the new answers are. That is a wonderful unblocking exercise.
- If all else fails, try introducing a new character to hinder your hero.
Your hero's character develops and changes through the ways he attempts to solve his problem or achieve his goal. How he reacts to his situation is determined by what motivates him.

Have you covered the who, where, when why and how?
1st chapter.
Have you introduced your main character, anchored him in the setting, given him a strong goal, (preferably one the reader thinks is impossible to reach) one which is extremely important to himself, given him a motivation for wanting to reach this goal, and have you put a stumbling
block in his way to prevent him achieving it? Now the reader will read on to find out if and how he does achieve it.
- What is this story about? Reduce it to one noun which will probably turn out to be what motivates your main character at every turn of the story.
eg. Love, pride, honour, brotherhood, survival, etc. [themes/motivations]

Ask yourself
- . What have I promised the reader? A good mystery, an adventure, a rollicking good yarn, a dark thriller, comedy. A hero's journey, a bumpy ride, etc? This should be apparent from the first page.
You must remember to deliver on the promise? [maintaining your focus]

Don't be afraid to use imagery and symbolism. It's amazing how creating a simile to replace an adverb can set you on a roll and get you writing for longer than you intended. Similes and metaphors are great unblockers. You could try getting your character to make up a quote. That will reveal a lot about him/her.
I've discovered that first chapter(s) need to be re written when the novel is completed, so keep moving forward and don't worry about editing until much later. Add to earlier chapters, of course, when you discover you need to prepare the reader for something you hadn't expected in the chapter you are writing. But get it down. You can't edit a blank page.

Keeping this in mind, all writers should do NaNo in November at least once. i.e. write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I completed 3 NaNos successfully. It's hard going but it is so satisfying and teaches you to think fast and to turn off your internal editor until your story is written. You can edit later but by Dec 1st you have a beginning, middle and end to work on and improve.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Writing the Novel

I wasn't sure if there had ever been a monastery at the site of my fictional town which is a real town in real life so I had to be cautious and when I had the chance I checked the details.

My fictional St. Gabriel's monastery was built about 1000 AD, made of wood. That way when it fell into ruin sometime after 1307 AD there would be no trace of it in the modern world as there would be from a stone one. Plus timber (a wattle and daub structure) would more easily burn if I needed it to.
I imagined in the Eastern Arcade salt and grain would be stored at the near end of the promenade.
The time in Switzerland proved to be necessary. I discovered that a monastery does dominate the town of Altdorf. It has been there since the 1580's. In the book I had Stefan wonder if there'd ever been one, so I had to make a quick adjustment during the final edit, to counteract that major error. While in Switzerland, I found it fascinating to discover here is little difference from the Uri Bull emblem seen in Altdorf today and the one common in 1315 AD.