Plotting Your Novel by Writing from the Middle

As a writer, I am always learning. I think that’s what I love most about writing — the learning never stops. I am either learning something new about myself and writing as I write, or I stumble across new information as I am looking to learn more about writing. This time it was the latter. Recently on Twitter, I ran across a book recommendation for plotting that I loved so much I had to share it here.

Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell is must read for anyone serious about writing. This book goes into detail about why writers should start from the middle of a story instead of the beginning or end (who would of thought!). And how finding a character’s “mirror moment” is essential to true character development.

I definitely believe character development is a key element in a story. The more a reader can relate with a character and feel for a character’s journey, the better the book becomes. And this method certainly will help with that!

This book also helped me realize that I’m a Tweener (I always thought myself a straight up Pantser). I do love writing by the seat of my pants. That’s how I get some of my best ideas, but I also know where I’m writing too as well. I have a loose idea of events I need to reach and about where I need those events to happen. Also, I find already knowing my ending is a necessity to writing, even if I don’t know specifics. Just having a good idea of where I need to stop gives me a clear goal to reach for. But after reading Bell’s book I have an even better way to approach my writing. Start in the middle and Pants my way to the beginning and end. I’ll still have those events and goal posts to reach, but I think it will be far easier to get there knowing exactly what the character’s journey should entail.

And you know this book couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’ve become somewhat stalled on writing the first draft of my second novel. I think this technique will get things churning quite nicely. Thanks Bell. 🙂

 

5 Ways to Untangle Plot

This is a subject I haven’t talked about much lately, but it’s certainly been on my mind as I work through the third draft of Blood Feud. The twists and turns my story takes sometimes even baffles me. I then wonder if that’s a good thing. Maybe this story is getting too complicated, or maybe I just haven’t thought things through enough. So then I go back to the drawing board to see how to untangle the twisty plot strings, and hope I don’t make an even bigger mess. Sound familiar?

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The Art of Shut Up and Listen

The world all around us gives us clues on how to do everything we need to do, including becoming a better writer. The more obvious clues come from reading other authors, taking writing classes, talking out problem areas with fellow writers, reading books dedicated to the writing profession. There are other less obvious clues that come from our everyday lives.

The people around us, the dog next door that won’t shut up, the co-worker that steals your desk supplies and blames it on someone else, the mother that won’t stop giving helpful advice, the doctor that that gives you the eye and tells you to lose 50 pounds or else, the mail man that runs his mail truck over the freshly planted flowers in the front lawn. Stories are all around us begging to be told. The people parading through our lives are holding their breath to play the main character in our next story. Why not take these gifts and make use of them?

I have found that by writing about the things that I know, the rest of the story (the parts I don’t know, or unsure of) come more easily. The words have more power and emotion as they flow to the page. I find that I don’t have to work so hard to get the story down and it even becomes fun to see what parts of my life I can add and then throw some crazy fiction in to make a stew that is overflowing with bubbly goodness. Yum.

Next time you find yourself wanting for character or plot, just take a look around. Maybe take pieces from characters in your own life to make one unforgettable character in your story. Take one or more “events” that have happened to you and create a plot that steals the show. Learn the art of shutting up your own hurried schedule and lightening speed thoughts, so you can see the story right in front of your eyes, demanding to be told. A story doesn’t have to be pulled from thin air, it can be an accumulation of your everyday life.

Understanding the Foundation of Plot

Most writers understand the basic equation that plot equals a story.
Plot = Story
But what is plot exactly and how can you break it down to the point where you can understand each moving part, so that the whole will come together in a moving body of perfection? There are actually three very basic things to know about plot and how it is conceptualized. This is done through 3 elements called idea, concept and premise. These three things are distinctly different from one another, but build upon one another to make the full idea of plot a thing of reality. If we know each of these steps of plot then we can better understand how it is created.
   
What is the Idea of a story? An idea is simple. It is one thought that can sum up the whole of a story in the most basic terms. To help show examples of a story idea I have chosen three well known literary stories Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Vern to draw upon.
Examples of a story IDEA…
Treasure Island= finding treasure
Adventures of Tom Sawyer (this book has multiple story arcs but this is the main idea that the rest of the book is centered around)= murder of a man
Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth
What is the concept of a story? A concept gives a bigger picture of the story. It is where the conflict can be found and asks the main question of the story. It is a snapshot of the story or a window into the plot itself, but is not the whole of the plot.
Examples of story CONCEPT…
Treasure Island= finding treasure sought by every pirate and cut throat in the known world
Question of the story: Who will get to the treasure first?
Conflict: Many unsavory and ruthless individuals looking for the same treasure, who are willing to do whatever it takes to get there first.
Adventures of Tom Sawyer= murder of a man leads to another man being wrongfully accused of the murder
Question of the story: Will the wrongfully accused man be found innocent?
Conflict: The truth of a murder is covered up by subterfuge, false assumptions, and innocent lies.
Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth that leads to an epic journey of fantastic discovery
Question of the story: What will be discovered in the journey to the center of the earth?
Conflict: A journey that halted and stalled by events that can be controlled and some that cannot.
What is the premise of a story? A premise is a concept that is expanded to include a character(s) that is brought into the mix of things. This is when plot becomes flesh and blood. If you have a premise, then you have a fully developed plot.
Examples of story PREMISE=
Treasure Island= finding treasure sought by every pirate and cut throat in the known world, but a youth unwittingly becomes drawn into the fierce competition when he accidentally stumbles across Captain Flint’s treasure map. 
Adventures of Tom Sawyer= murder of a man leads to another man being wrongfully accused of the murder, the only witnesses to the truth are two boys Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn who happen to have a knack for finding trouble
Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth that leads to an epic journey of fantastic discovery lead by an eccentric professor of science whose impatience is rivaled only by his obstinate nature
As you can see the idea, concept and premise build upon one another to help build the story to a completed plot. Once this completed plot is discovered the story can then unfold. Sometimes the seed of a story can sprout without first knowing the idea behind the story. The seed can come in the form of a concept, character, or theme (theme is the essence of the story such as Treasure Island’s theme is about truthfulness and loyalty. Can you figure out the themes for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Journey to the Center of the Earth?). This seed can then be watered by inserting in whatever information is missing from the idea, concept and premise. If you have a missing link in any of these three basic elements then there will be a hole in your story, which will cause your plant to wither and die.
What can all of this information do you for you? It can help you have a better understanding of your story and how a story is born. Remember that your concept must ask a question and be the catalyst for major conflict in your story. Also keep in mind that a story cannot stand by itself without a character to propel it forward. These things once known become the life blood of your story and act as a skeleton for the rest of your story as it blossoms into a beautiful flower or tree. So what are the idea, concept and premise of your creation?
Want to read more on plot check out my other blogs on A Breakdown of Plot Diagrams and Does Nonfiction have Plot.

Does Nonfiction Have Plot?

Nonfiction and plot, do they really need each other? Can nonfiction dance alone, by itself without being partnered with plot? Some believe that because of the nature of nonfiction that it does not require plot, but you have to have a focus, don’t you? So wouldn’t the focus be the plot? In short, plot works in nonfiction to present a uniformed piece that draws the reader in and tries to convince them of something specific. 
In order to have good nonfiction then you must have a clear purpose. If you do not have a clear purpose then your nonfiction it is doomed to fail. A bunch of directionless information isn’t going to make the piece hold strong and it will falter.  It’s the purpose that keeps interest and gives it a driving force.
This makes organization elemental to nonfiction. It gives the piece meaning and helps it to stand firm. Just writing out a list of facts isn’t going to cut it, so take the time to think long and hard about what you have, what you will need, and how to organize it to say what you want to say in the best possible way. But is organizing the only thing you need to do? Is your nonfiction still just a wallflower waiting on the sidelines anxiously hoping that it too gets to do a pirouette on the crowded dance floor?
Think about this… Have you read nonfiction and found a pattern in it? If you did then you might agree that the pattern I’m talking about is that most nonfiction has an argumentative undertone. This undertone works to convince the reader of the point you are trying to make and ends to draw a conclusive finale.
So how do you make a piece of nonfiction argumentative? First, make sure it is clear from the very beginning where you are and where you want to go. Doing this in the very first paragraph and even the first sentence is optimum. Second, keep your piece on target and don’t stray from the path you’ve chosen. Proceed in a logical procession of unfolding information, so that you have a good solid base to back up your words. Once reaching the end, find a flourish that will drive your point home and leave the reader enchanted by your words.
Why do people read? – Simple, to be entertained, though nonfiction is mostly to inform. What if you could have your cake and eat it too? What if your nonfiction was informative and entertaining as well? Invigorate your nonfiction with the radiance of plot and bedazzle it with sparkling organization to make this happen. So let’s cue the music, because plot is here to sweep nonfiction right off its feet and give it a tango it won’t soon forget in the limelight of the dance floor. 
Note: This information is also posted as a non-exclusive article at www.associatedcontent.com.

Also if you want to know more about how to write nonfiction check out my blog on How to Write Nonfiction.

The Building Blocks of Plot

I recently became aware of a detrimental flaw to my works of fiction to find myself unable to complete many of my stories. I began to realize that my problem laid with my fundamental understanding of plot and so I decided to dive into research to try and find a way to fix this problem. During my journey that spanned over two months, I found a lot of helpful information and began taking notes- lots of them. I then decided that there may be others out there with my same problem and so began to write an article on plot, but there was a problem. There was way too much information to fit in a 500 to 700 word article, so I began a series of articles. Then a friend of my suggested putting the articles together to create an ebook, so here is the finished product of all that effort. I place it here for those who would like to read it. Hopefully you too will find some use for it. It certainly isn’t a full comprehensive about plot, but it will at give you an idea of what good plot is and how to use it to get that story out from start to finish!

I have the free ebook posted on Google Docs. Check out the link at The Building Blocks of Plot.

A Breakdown of Plot Diagrams

Plot diagram is also called the structure of the story. It is the main outline of what is going on and everything else exists solely to support that structure. There are a couple of different types of plot structure but the basic one consists of Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution. Learning Through Listening explains each of the five elements of plot and even breaks down the Cinderella story to help make it even more understandable. Exposition sets up the story and lets the stakes become known, Rising Action is the problem and/or conflict the character attempts to resolve, Climax is where the story is at it’s worst, Falling Action is where the character begins to solve the problem, while Resolution brings the story to a close in some manner. Exposition, Rising Action, and Climax (or beginning, middle and end) is what is called the 3 acts of a story, each plays an important part to the story.
 
Download pdf file here

 
There is also another plot diagram that some use called Gustav Freytag’s Pyramid.
This has the same 5 elements as above but adds two more for a more complete understanding of plot (this is mostly done in literature). It adds Inciting Incident and Denouement. Your 5 acts would be Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Denouement. What is Denouement?


A denouement (pronounced day-noo-maun) is the part of the story just before the conclusion and after the climax. It is the winding down of a story. Where in the book the “Hobbit” Bilbo would be on his way home.
The denouement is the resolution or outcome of a story. The winding down of a story is referred to as the falling action, which comes immediately after the climax. –Wiki.Answers.com

What is the difference between Denouement and Resolution? The Resolution happens when the character solves the main problem/conflict or someone solves it for him or her. The Denouement is the very ending. At this point, any remaining secrets, questions or mysteries which remain after the resolution are solved by the characters or explained by the author. Sometimes the author leaves us to think about the THEME or future possibilities for the characters.
Want to know more about plot and how to build it in your story?  Checkout my blog post to find more out about my free ebook on The Building Blocks of Plot.
What about plot for nonfiction? Does nonfiction even have plot? Check out my blog post Does Nonfiction Have Plot to find out!