Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tips on Plotting Your Novel

To celebrate the release of my new book, Advanced Plotting, here’s an excerpt from one of the guest author essays.

Tips on Plotting Your Novel
by Janice Hardy

Story ideas can come from anywhere, and those are the easy part of writing. It’s figuring out what to do past that glimmer of an idea where it can get tricky. How do you get your protagonist from that opening scene to the end? How do you know what problems to throw in their way? Let’s look at some common places ideas start and look for ways to find a workable plot from those sparks.

Event or Situation
Sometimes the idea is a situation or event: a sun going supernova; a threat to a place or person, like a kidnapped child or a terrorist attack; discovery of something profound, either personal or for the world. Something is happening or about to happen, and someone is going to have to deal with it in some way. Questions you might ask here are:

1. Who has the most to lose in this situation?
2. Who has the most to gain in this situation?
3. Who has the freedom to act, but is also restricted in some way?
4. Who can be hurt the most from this situation?
5. What must be done to resolve this situation?

Situation plots usually need the most work on the character goals and stakes, because we know the what, but not the who or why. It’s easy to find surface goals and stakes (to save the word, to stop the bad guy, save a life), but you often find that those aren’t deep enough to help you create the plot. You run out of problems for the protagonist to tackle pretty quickly. The trick is to find the personal stakes and then work from there to determine the goals. People act when they want to (something to gain) or have to (something to lose).

Personal Journey
Journeys are common in character-driven and literary novels, and even in fantasies. A woman tries to find herself after a failed marriage. A man takes to the sea to live the last months of his life after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. A group of adventurers goes on quest for an item of importance. The journey is what matters most, not what’s found on the other side. Some things to think about here are:

1. What are the inherent dangers of this journey?
2. What are the inherent joys of this journey?
3. What resistance would someone get from friends regarding this journey?
4. What fears would keep someone from attempting this journey?

Character growth is key in a story like this, as the journey is almost always what allows them to find what they’re looking for. To grow, the protagonist needs to overcome personal issues that were holding them back. They need to learn ways to better themselves and put them to use. Goals are just as important as in any other story, but they’ll often be more personal and internal rather than external. The external obstacles are the ways in which the lesson is learned.

In her essay for Advanced Plotting, Janice also discusses how to build plots from Setting, Premise or Idea, and Characters.

Janice Hardy offers more tips about writing on her blog, “The Other Side of the Story.” She’s also the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and the upcoming Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins.;

Buy Advanced Plotting for $9.99 in paperback on Amazon. Through September 1, get Advanced Plotting as a $.99 e-book on Amazon or Smashwords.

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