Monday, November 19, 2018

Strong Writing: Raising the Stakes #NaNoWriMo

Get great plotting tips in 
Advanced Plotting (links below)
Are you doing #NaNoWriMo? You may be hitting a slump. What happens next? How can you keep the story going strong? Let’s talk about the stakes – and how to raise them.

Look at your main story problem. What are the stakes? Do you have positive stakes (what the main character will get if he succeeds), negative stakes (what the MC will suffer if he fails), or both? Could the penalty for failure be worse? Your MC should not be able to walk away without penalty. Otherwise the problem was obviously not that important or difficult. The penalty can be anything from personal humiliation to losing the love interest to the destruction of the world – depending on the length of story and audience age – so long as you have set up how important that is for your MC.

Are things worse at page 200?
Note that those complications should also be both Difficult and Important. Say you have a character who needs to get somewhere by a specific time, and you want to increase tension by causing delays. If she simply runs into a series of chatty neighbors, it’s quickly going to get boring (unless you can push it to the point of comedy). 

Instead, find delays that are dramatic and important to the main character. Her dog slips out of the house while she’s distracted, and she’s worried that he’ll get hit by a car if she doesn’t get him back inside... Her best friend shows up and insists that they talk about something important NOW or she won’t be friends anymore.... 

Ideally, these complications also relate to the main problem or a subplot. The best friend’s delay will have more impact if it’s tied into a subplot involving tension between the two friends rather than coming out nowhere.

Here’s another important point -- you must keep raising the stakes, making each encounter different and more dramatic. You move the story forward by moving the main character farther back from her goal, according to Jack M. Bickham in his writing instruction book Scene and Structure:

        “Well-planned scenes end with disasters that tighten the noose around the lead character’s neck; they make things worse, not better; they eliminate hoped-for avenues of progress; they increase the lead character’s worry, sense of possible failure, and desperation – so that in all these ways the main character in a novel of 400 pages will be in far worse shape by page 200 than he seemed to be at the outset.” 

If the tension is always high, but at the same height, you still have a flat line. Instead, think of your plot as going in waves. Each scene is a mini-story, building to its own climax -- the peak of the wave. You may have a breather, a calmer moment, after that climax. But each scene should lead to the next, and drive the story forward, so all scenes connect and ultimately drive toward the final story climax.

Example: In the Haunted books, the kids have a time limit for helping the ghosts, because their parents’ ghost hunter TV show is only shooting for a few days. But the stakes also rise as the kids get more involved with the ghosts, and understand their tragic plights. Complications come from human meddlers – the fake psychic who wants to take credit, the mean assistant who thinks kids are troublemakers, and Mom, who worries and wants to keep the kids away from anything dangerous.

Exercise: take one of your story ideas. Outline a plot that escalates the problem.

Advanced Plotting has tons of advice on building strong plots. Advanced Plotting is available from Amazon (paperback or Kindle, free in KU) or Barnes & Noble (paperback). 

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs


Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock novels are action-packed romantic adventures set in Southwestern landscapes. Fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell will want to check out Kris Bock’s romantic adventures. “Counterfeits is the kind of romantic suspense novel I have enjoyed since I first read Mary Stewart’s Moonspinners.” 5 Stars – Roberta at Sensuous Reviews blog

Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page. Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter for announcements of new books, sales, and more.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Turning an Idea into Story: Building the Middle #writing #NaNoWriMo

The middle of a story is a trouble spot for many writers. Maybe it feels slow, maybe it feels boring, maybe you can't even figure out what happens next.

A good middle should be filled with complications.


If a character solves his problem or reaches his goal easily, the story is boring. To keep tension high, you need complications. For short stories, try the “rule of three” and have the main character try to solve the problem three times. The first two times, he fails and the situation worsens.

Remember: the situation should worsen. If things stay the same, he still has a problem, but the tension is flat. If his first attempts make things worse, tension rises.

For novels, you may have even more attempts and failures. In my first Haunted book, The Ghost on the Stairs, I made sure each ghost encounter felt more dangerous. As Tania tries to get closer to the ghost in order to help her, Jon worries that she will go too far and be injured or even killed. With enough variety, you can sustain this kind of tension indefinitely (witness the ongoing battle between Harry and Voldemort in the seven-book Harry Potter series).

Worse and Worser


You can worsen the situation in several ways. The main character’s actions could make the challenge more difficult. In my children’s mystery set in ancient Egypt, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a young temple dancer searches for her missing friend. But when she asks questions at the barracks where he was a soldier, she attracts dangerous attention from his enemies.

The villain may also raise the stakes. In my Mayan historical drama, The Well of Sacrifice, the main character escapes a power-hungry high priest. He threatens to kill her entire family, forcing her to return to captivity.

Secondary characters can cause complications, too, even if they are not “bad guys.” In The Ghost on the Stairs, the kids’ mother decides to spend the day with them, forcing them to come up with creative ways to investigate the ghost while under her watchful eyes.

Finally, the main character may simply run out of time. At her first attempt, she had a week. At her second attempt, she had a day. Those two attempts have failed, and now she has only an hour! That creates tension.

• For each turning point in the story, brainstorm 10 things that could happen next. Then pick the one that is the worst or most unexpected, so long as it is still believable for the story.

See the "middles" tab to the right for more advice on building an exciting and dramatic middle. 

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs

Her writing craft books include Advanced Plotting and You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperbackAdvanced Plotting is available from Amazon (paperback or Kindle, free in KU) or Barnes & Noble (paperback).