Saturday, November 19, 2022

How to Turn an Idea into a Great Story: Making Muscular Action! #writing #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

Are you doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? You may wonder how you can possibly develop your novel enough to get 50,000 words. Here's some help on how to expand a story by increasing the action for a strong middle 

“I love it,” the editor said. “I want to buy it.”

Words every writer wants to hear. But such joy does not come without a price. In this case, the editor followed those lovely phrases with “It needs to be twice as long.”

But I already had a plot that worked, and a nice fast pace! All in ... uh ... just over 80 pages. So yeah, that was short, even for a children’s novel. And since I was pitching The Ghost on the Stairs as the first in a series, it had to match Aladdin’s series guidelines for ages 9 to 12. So I had to add 70 pages, while keeping the story fast and active.

Some of you are going, “Yeah, right—I always need to cut, not expand.” That’s a common problem for many, but filling out a story with exciting, dramatic material can cause challenges as well—especially in the middle, where plots can sag and slow. I also see a lot of beginning children’s writers with manuscript in the 5000- to 20,000-word range, a tough sell unless you are doing leveled readers—which often have a very specific word count for each age level. Adult novelists may wind up with novellas, where a full-length novel would have better market opportunities.

So how do you build a bigger manuscript, while keeping it lean and muscular, not padded with fat descriptions or flabby repetition? I studied books on plotting, including Elements of Fiction Writing - Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Nancy Kress, Writers Digest Books) and came up with the several literary “protein shakes” to feed my novel. 

Add More Plot

In my Haunted series, siblings Jon and Tania travel with their mother and stepfather’s ghost hunter TV show, and discover Tania can see ghosts. In each book, they have to figure out what’s keeping the ghost here, then try to help her or him move on. In the version of The Ghost on the Stairs I sent to the editor, people already knew the ghost’s name and why she’s stuck here grieving. To expand the manuscript, I made the ghost story more vague. Jon and Tania have to do detective work to discover her name and background.

Exercise: Make a plot outline of your manuscript, with a sentence or two describing what happens in each scene. How easily does your main character solve his problems? Can you make it more difficult, by requiring more steps or adding complications? Can you add complications to your complications, turning small steps into big challenges?

Example: In Haunted Book 2: The Riverboat Phantom, a ghost grabs Jon.

    I felt the cold first on my arms, like icy vice grips squeezing my biceps. Then waves of cold flowed down to my hands, up to my shoulders, all through my body.
    I tried to breathe, but my chest felt too tight.
    My vision blurred, darkened. The last thing I saw was Tania’s horrified face.
    And I fell.

That’s dramatic enough for a chapter ending. So what’s next? It would be easiest—for Jon and the writer—if Tania is still the only one there when he recovers, and no one else notices his collapse. But if everyone notices, and Jon has to convince his worried mother that he’s not sick, you get complications.

See the "plotting" label to the right for more advice.

Advanced Plotting has tons of advice on building strong plots. Get Advanced Plottingon Amazon in print or e-book

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 100 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 StairsLearn more or read excerpts at 

Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. 
She writes a series with her brother, scriptwriter Douglas J Eboch, who wrote the original screenplay for the movie Sweet Home Alabama. The Felony Melanie series follows the crazy antics of Melanie, Jake, and their friends a decade before the events of the movie. Sign up for the romantic comedy newsletter to get a short story preview, or find the books at Amazon US or All E-book retailers.

Kris's 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.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

You Can Write Strong Stories: The Best Ways to Raise the Stakes for your #NaNoWriMo Novel - #amwriting #Writing

Get Advanced Plotting from Amazon in print or ebook.
Are you doing #NaNoWriMo? You may worry about 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 100 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 StairsLearn more at https://chriseboch.com/ or her Amazon page.

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.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

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.
Get some help as you prepare to dive into your story if you are doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) - or any time.

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 100 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

As Kris Bock, she writes mystery, suspense, and romance. In the Accidental Detective series, a witty journalist solves mysteries in Arizona and tackles the challenges of turning fifty. This humorous series starts with Something Shady at Sunshine Haven.

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).
 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

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.)