Monday, October 26, 2020

How to Turn an Idea into a Great Story: Building a Strong Middle #writing #NaNoWriMo #amwriting

Get Advanced Plotting from Amazon in print or ebook.
Are you doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? Here's some help as you prepare to dive into your story.

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). 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Why You Must Be Cruel to Your Characters - #Writing a Strong Plot - #amwriting for #NaNoWriMo

Are you doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? This challenge is designed to get people moving quickly through a first draft of a novel. Here's some help as you prepare for the challenge.

For a strong plot, you need plenty of dramatic action. (This doesn't necessarily mean fights and car chases. The drama can come from interpersonal relationships or even a person's own thoughts. But dramatic things should happen.) But it's not enough just to have dramatic things happening. It's not just What but also Who.

Your main character needs to be able to overcome the challenge you set for him – but just barely. We don't want to watch superheroes fight weaklings. We want to watch superheroes fight supervillains – or even better, weaklings fight supervillains, and barely win, through courage and ingenuity that overcome the stronger foe.

Conflict comes from the interaction between character and plot. You can create conflict by setting up situations which force a person to confront their fears. If someone is afraid of heights, make them go someplace high. If they're afraid of taking responsibility, force them to be in charge.

You can also create conflict by setting up situations which oppose a person’s desires. If they crave safety, put them in danger. But if they crave danger, keep them out of it.

In The Well of Sacrifice, Eveningstar never dreams of being a leader or a rebel. But when her family, the government, and even the gods fail to stop the evil high priest, she's forced to act. In the Haunted series, Jon would like to be an ordinary kid and stay out of trouble. But his sister is determined to help ghosts without letting the grown-ups know what she and Jon are doing, and is constantly getting him into trouble. The reluctant hero is a staple of books and movies because it's fun to watch someone forced into a heroic role when they don't want it. (Think of Harrison Ford as Han Solo.)

Even with nonfiction, you can create tension by focusing on the challenges that make a person's accomplishments more impressive. In my book Jesse Owens: Young Record Breaker, written under the name M.M. Eboch, I made this incredible athlete’s story more powerful by focusing on all the things he had to overcome – childhood health problems, poverty, a poor education. In Milton Hershey: Young Chocolatier (also written as M.M. Eboch) the story of the man who founded Hershey's chocolate is more dramatic because he started with little business experience, and had an unfortunate habit of trusting his overzealous father.

Exercise:  Ask yourself these questions. They may lead to new story ideas, or you can use them to further develop characters in your current work.

What are you afraid of?

What's the hardest thing you have had to do or overcome?

What's the hardest thing you've done by choice?

Ask other people the same questions, for more ideas.

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

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot or suspect that your plotting needs work. This book can help.


Chris has published 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 You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.



Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. Watch as they fall in love with each other and shelter cats. Get a free 10,000-word story set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café when you sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter. Learn more at www.krisbock.com or visit Kris Bock’s Amazon US page or Amazon UK page. (For other countries click here.)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Two Simple Questions to Turn Your Idea into a Great Story: Setting up Plot Conflict #amwriting #writing #NaNoWriMo

Are you preparing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? This challenge is designed to get people moving quickly through a first draft of a novel. Here's some help as you think about your story.

To develop your story, you'll need conflict. But conflict doesn't just come from dramatic things happening. It comes from the character – what he or she needs and wants, and why he or she can't get it easily.

Start with a premise: a kid has a math test on Monday. Exciting? Not really. But ask two simple questions, and you can add conflict.


• Why is it important to the character? The stakes should be high. The longer the story or novel, the higher stakes you need to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.

• Why is it difficult for the character? Difficulties can be divided into three general categories, traditionally called man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself. You can even have a combination of these. For example, someone may be trying to spy on some bank robbers (man versus man) during a dangerous storm (man versus nature) when he is afraid of lightning (man versus himself).


Back to the kid with the math test. Let’s say, if he doesn’t pass, maybe he will fail the class, have to go to summer school, and not get to go to soccer camp, when soccer is what he loves most, and all his friends will be going. That’s why it’s important. Assuming we create a character readers will like, they'll care about the outcome of this test, and root for him to succeed.

Our soccer lover could have lots of challenges—he forgot his study book, he’s expected to baby-sit his distracting little sister, a storm knocked out the power, he has ADHD, or he suffers test anxiety. But ideally we would relate the difficulty to the reason it's important. So let's say he has a big soccer game Sunday afternoon, and is getting pressure from his coach and teammates to practice rather than study for his test. Plus, of course, he'd rather play soccer anyway.


We now have a situation full of potential tension. Let the character struggle enough before he succeeds (or fails and learns a lesson), and you’ll have a story. And if these two questions can pump up a dull premise, just think what they can do with an exciting one!


Come back next time for more tips on linking your conflict to your character.


Do you need help analyzing a plot? Download The Plot Outline Exercise from Advanced Plotting in a form you can edit and reuse! 

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. Learn more or read excerpts at www.chriseboch.com or visit her page on Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)


Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. Watch as they fall in love with each other and shelter cats. Get a free 10,000-word story set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café when you sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter. Learn more at www.krisbock.com or visit Kris Bock’s Amazon US page or Amazon UK page. (For other countries click here.)

Monday, October 5, 2020

“What do I do with my idea?” How to Turn Inspiration into a Great Story: #amwriting #writing #NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a challenge designed to get people moving quickly through a first draft of a novel. Prep for November by starting with the NaNo Prep 101 or read on!

People often ask writers, “Where do you find your ideas?” But for a writer, the more important question is, “What do I do with my idea?”

If you have a “great idea,” but can’t seem to go anywhere with it, you probably have a premise rather than a complete story plan. A story has four main parts: situation, complications, climax, and resolution. You need all of them to make your story work.

The situation should involve an interesting main character with a challenging problem or goal. Even this takes development. Maybe you have a great challenge, but aren’t sure why a character would have that goal. Or maybe your situation is interesting, but doesn’t actually involve a problem.

For example, I wanted to write about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. The girl can see ghosts, but the boy can’t. That gave me the characters and situation, but no problem or goal. Goals come from need or desire. What did they want that could sustain a series?

Tania feels sorry for the ghosts and wants to help them, while keeping her gift a secret from everyone but her brother. Jon wants to help and protect his sister, but sometimes feels overwhelmed by the responsibility. Now we have characters with problems and goals. The story is off to a good start.

•           Make sure your idea is specific and narrow. Focus on an individual person and situation, not a universal concept. For example, don’t try to write about “racism.” Instead, write about one character facing racism in a particular situation.

•           Ask why the goal is important to the character. The longer the story, the higher stakes needed to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.

•           Ask why this goal is difficult. Difficulties fall into categories traditionally called man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself. You can even combine these. Your character may hunt bank robbers (person versus person) during a dangerous storm (person versus nature) when he is afraid of lightning (person versus himself).

•           Even if your main problem is external, give the character an internal flaw that contributes to the difficulty. This adds complications and also makes your character seem more real. For some internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

•           Test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view, setting, external conflict, internal conflict. Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential.

Next time: Building the middle of your story.

For more help on developing your stories, check out these titles: 

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

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot or suspect that your plotting needs work. This book can help.


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 You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more or read excerpts at www.chriseboch.com or visit her page on Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)