A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘plot’

NaNo Prep: Plot Paths

So, we have our characters, our conflict, our general plot. Now for the stuff that ties it all together: events. Think of several big things that are going to happen in your novel. Maybe your main character gets kidnapped. Maybe they kidnap someone else. Maybe they go to the moon and realize they forgot to bring enough oxygen to get home (does it even work like that?). Just make a list of the things that you think should happen in your book.

Got the list? Good. Now, number them (or put them on separate note cards or whatever works for you). Try to organize them into a path that goes from inciting incident, to roadblocks, to climax, to resolution (and everything in between, of course). Don’t worry about a detailed outline. Don’t worry about having everything perfectly worked out. Just give yourself some guidelines for when we finally get to write this thing!

To clarify what I mean, I’ll share a bit. Some of my plot stepping-stones are: a girl takes a name, the secret message, enemy in the camp, mother’s passing. Get the idea?

Of course, if you want to outline a little more fully, do it! I like plot paths because when I try to outline, I feel like I never have enough details, or the right details. And then I feel constricted to only write what I have outlined. Plot paths give me more freedom, which in turn helps me write more.

Next time: The Medium

NaNo Prep: Choose your plot

Like choosing your MC, choosing your plot is highly individualized, and pretty obvious. You need some sort of plot to participate in NaNo, since it’s key to stories. So really, I don’t need to go into the whole, plot this plot that speech.

I will say, if you are struggling, check out the book “20 Master Plots and How to Use them.” I was skeptical at first (anything that says “master list” is pretty much ignored by me) but I’m really glad I picked it up. It doesn’t tell you how to write or what to write, but talks about different types of plot and key elements of each one. Pretty useful.

Anyway, if you are struggling with this one, spend the weekend on it and things will turn out alright. Oh, and remember we’re still time-hunting!

Next time: Choose your conflict

It’s for Something

Thank you, those who commented on my post yesterday about my writing wall. Your encouragement means the world to me.

This morning I pushed on ahead. I think a lot of my frustration at this moment is with my tinkering, it basically takes QFS back to the status (and quality) of a first draft. In addition, I’m trying to figure out how to make my characters better, and figure out how to properly structure/plot a novel. Which I’ve never really done. It’s hard and frustrating and tear-inducing.

But I will get there.

Anyway, thanks much and I’m keeping at it.

Write on,



One of my favorite parts* of writing is starting a new project. I love the thrill of endless possibilities, I love the rush of new ideas, I love the potential. But most of all, I love developing the characters, the plot, and the backstory.

I love backstory. Yes, I know it ought not always be included in the actual plot, but it is my favorite thing to develop. Why, you might ask? Because it all leads to the present.  It’s a twisty, turny path from the beginning of a character’s story (which in my opinion always begins with their ancestors) to get to where the character is interesting.

A couple weeks ago, I was at the beginning of working on my new YA project (title in progress). It takes place in Minnesota (though I might change that to Iowa) so it’s a little different than what I typically write, but it is still technically fantasy. One of the first things I did was develop the main characters. And then, I made the family tree.


Yes, I get a little carried away. (At least this isn’t the one where I color-coded the different generations!) I like to know where my characters come from. The past is important in shaping who they are, and almost always has an impact on the plot (at least in my stories). Beyond the family tree, I like to have a family history – where they came from, when major events happened, and even some idea of the lives of many of the ancestors.

Maybe I take it too far, but I love the part of history that deals with people. The people are what make any story, fact or fiction, interesting and that is why I take the time to learn the history of a story before I start writing.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process? How involved do you get in creating backstory?

Take care, fellow travelers!

*My other favorite part is, of course, finishing a draft.

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 4, The Plot

There’s a prophesy about a chosen one and the destruction of the world. The chosen one, after initially refusing to accept that they have a destiny, is faced with a life crisis that makes them care about this world. The chosen one embarks on a journey, faces dangers, and eventually defeats whatever evil is threatening the world.


I’ll admit though, I use this basic formula (sans prophesy) as much as any other fantasy writer. But you know what? I really hate reading books like this. To that end, I’m trying to cease writing based on this plot. It has been over done and quite honestly, is rarely done well. (The only case of it having been done well that I can think of is Harry Potter.)

Before we talk about what can be done to reinvigorate the fantasy plot, let’s talk about why we are stuck in this rut. First of all, we see it in the media and in books so often that we assume (again) that it is the “right way” and people want it. I don’t know about the wanting (other people surely have different opinions than mine) but just because it is a predominant plot doesn’t mean it is the right one. Second, I believe it has to do with the characters we choose. When we as writers focus on nobility, knights, and royalty, the “saving the world” can seem like the only option for a decent plot (it’s not, by the way).

So what do we do? Well, as I said in Part 3, the characters have to shape the plot. Start with an interesting character that is not typical in fantasy, and develop them first. When you know their desires, goals, and beliefs you can shape the plot around them, rather than forcing your characters into a plot that doesn’t work for them. (This is also the way to make your characters more interesting. If you develop them solely to fit the plot, they don’t do anything interesting, they are static and boring.) Let the plot have a direct impact on the life of the MC and the people she/he cares about. When we make the plot more personal to the character, it will feel more realistic. When we make it more personal, the simplest conflict will have as much tension as the doomsday plot.

I’m not saying that we fantasy writers should never have end-of-the-world drama, or high-born characters. What I am saying is that we have to be aware of the cliches of our genre so that we can navigate them and either embrace or reject them. After all, it’s our imagination – why stick with what’s already been done?

Take care, fellow travelers.

Here is a link to a post about the rebirth story-arc: http://writeontheworld.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/writing-the-rebirth-plot-arc-rathilde/


Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 3, Characters

Characters don’t belong on the page. They are living, breathing entities that are birthed from the minds of their creators* and they deserve the prestige that comes with that. That means if they are only words on a page, they are worthless. That means that if you just throw together a mage, a prince, and a (insert third character type here) then you aren’t giving your characters the attention they deserve.

All too often the case in fantasy is to stick to the same-old character types. This includes mages, princes, scholars, warriors, and that unlikely hero that is probably a peasant or servant or a trouble-maker (not to say that the previous character types cannot be heroes – they can and often are). How old are these characters? Usually not over thirty – at least the main character isn’t. Some of the supporting characters might be a little older, but often if there are any middle-aged or elderly characters, they are either non-central to the story or they are the villain. Too many of the protagonists have tragic backgrounds – they are orphans or neglected or abused or are being raised for sacrifice or some such non-sense. What is up with that??? Why do we** insist on sticking to the same character types with the same character histories?

Well, because that’s what we have to read, so we assume that’s what we’ve got to write. But lets look at our characters a little more closely. Couldn’t a farmer trying to support his*** family be just as heroic as a knight going to war for his king, or a prince defying his power-hungry father? Instead of a prince why don’t we get a sailor who discovers that his captain is actually dead and being controlled by a necromancer? Okay, I’m getting into plot a bit here, but that’s because the characters should be important to the plot. I think we all know that our characters have to be in the best possible position to act in the plot, but why does that mean prince/mage/knight/etc.? Why not the sailor?

The characters will influence the plot. If we try to come up with an enthralling plot without first creating our characters, they will be lifeless. Even world-focused† stories need compelling characters! When the characters don’t fit the plot, or the plot doesn’t fit the characters, you get a big ball of word-mush that leaves you feeling disheartened.

So how do we create characters that will breathe life into the plot? Know your characters. Consider our farmer. He’s just lost his wife and his three-year-old daughter. His older children are either going to live with their new families or trying to help him cope with his loss. And then a little girl shows up in his orchard and he takes her in – only to realize that she’s being hunted down for betraying the Temple of Fire to their enemies (though how she did so when she is so young could be trouble – or an interesting plot twist!). The farmer decides to smuggle her to the border and embarks on the adventure.

The farmer’s loss made him willing to help the girl – after all, she was someone’s daughter too. If a prince came across the girl in the forest, the story would be dependent on his character. Sure, it could work, but characters who do things because it is the right thing to do are far less interesting than those that do it because they have something to gain. What, you might ask, does the farmer have to gain? Closure, for one. For another, escape from his children that don’t understand what he has lost.

My point is that characters in fantasy novels all look the same to me. Sure, they might have this flaw or that virtue, but in the end they’re all princes and knights. Give me a farmer or a mother or baker or a sailor. Give them something worth writing about.

Stay tuned for more on Reclaiming Fantasy.††

Take care, fellow travelers.

*Yeah, I’ve got a little Athena/Zeus imagery there. I did notice.

**I say we because I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. Sure I think I’m putting my own spin on it – but am I really? Probably not.

***I use the male pronouns here because far too often fantasy circles around male characters – not because I think fantasy needs to be written about men. Stay tuned for my post on strong females in fantasy!

†The MICE Quotient

††I recognize that this particular post could be for any genre. But my point is that we have too many stereotypical characters in fantasy, and need to widen the playing field.

Friday Inspiration – Joss Whedon

I remember the first time I ever watched Firefly. I was home from school with a cold and my mom went to get me some movies from the library. I don’t think she knew what she was starting when she picked up all four discs of Firefly and brought them home to me. It was love at first episode. Vaguely I remembered seeing previews for Serenity a couple years earlier. This was around the same time that I was waking up at 5:45 to catch reruns of Angel on weekday mornings (with no idea that Joss Whedon had anything to do with that show – I never watched credits). I’d seen a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and really liked that too. And when Dollhouse came out, I was right there watching every week. Needless to say, I loved (and still love) Joss’ stories.

Now, you might be wondering what is so inspirational about watching some old TV shows. A lot, actually, but this post is about Joss Whedon and how he is so inspirational. His shows are brilliant and have a level of planning that is mystifying to me. He creates such characters that jump off the screen and put you through so much emotional turmoil that you don’t even know how you’ll survive it. His plots are sheer genius – honestly, just watch one of his shows and you’ll see what I mean*.

He is a hero of mine, not only for his brilliant writing genius, but for his fantastic female characters**. Too often on TV and in the movies these days we have weak (or at least weaker-than-the-man) women. Joss Whedon throws that out the window. Buffy starts out as a typical high school girl, but really grows into her strength. And yet her strength doesn’t define her (entirely). She’s still human, with the whole glorious range of human emotions. Inara never lets Mal push her around and Kaylee sticks up for what she believes in. Heck, even Cordelia (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is stronger than she lets on.

You want your weekly inspiration? Go watch some shows by Joss Whedon, and try to learn something. I know I have.

Take care, fellow travelers.

*More discussion on the realism of Joss Whedon’s shows/characters/plots/etc. will be in my post next Wednesday.

**I will be writing more about strong female characters later in my series Reclaiming Fantasy. Watch for it!

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