Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here! There’s also Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.
Whoa, day 5 of plotting! So pretty much all I’m going to do today is provide a quick wrap-up, including an overview of the main points discussed in yesterday’s video. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, besides the live demo of actually fixing the plot of HNOT, here are the key ideas we discussed:
2) Post-it notes are an awesome tool for visualising the plot of your novel all at once. You can use colours to track points of view (POV), subplots, and more.
3) Liana’s Plot Sheet lists: 3 antagonists; 4 plot twists; opening, ending and climax; ticking time bomb; emotional/thematic statement; thematic concepts; colours; dominant imagery and shapes. See below for a template!
4) It’s okay to write your way into the plot in a draft, but make sure you attend to this in edits.
5) This post-it note visualisation is a process you can do either before or after writing your draft – it can be planning or revision depending on your preference.
6) Your starting scene not only sets the tone for your novel, it also sets the ‘rules’ for your series if you’re writing one. If you start with a character scene, you’re establishing the series as character-focused, and readers will expect to stick with your main character/s for the whole series. You *can* deviate from this, but it’s just not what your readers will be expecting. If you start with a more world-focused scene, on the other hand, readers will subconsciously expect a world-focused series, and you can get away with switching main characters more easily, because you can introduce a starting motif that helps the reader settle into the book and makes it feel like ‘home’ (something that seeing the same character in a new situation would usually do).
7) Establish all POV characters early on and make sure they’re proactively doing things and making choices.
8) Antagonist 1 is your lover in an enemies-to-lovers story – twist 1 brings them in to be an ally.
9) Look for weak conflict (too many conversations is a clue), and weak POVs – is the information learned in one character’s scenes repeated when other characters learn it? Is this POV absolutely necessary?
10) Establish the powers/rules/physics of your world, especially if it’s magical, as early on as possible. Readers need to know what’s possible, especially if things are possible in your world that aren’t in real life.
11) Characters need a scene goal, something that is motivating them to act, something that they are trying to achieve – they can’t just be reacting to everything around them (you can write reaction scenes, but keep an eye on what their goal still actually IS, because they HAVE one, even if it’s just, ‘survive’).
12) Villains always feel like they are the hero of the story, and always think they are smart – they do get caught because they make mistakes, but THEY think they are right and smart.
13) To be a hero, you have to have a villain.
14) Everyone in your story wants something. The antagonist is the person standing in the way of that something, whoever that person might be (and it can change from scene to scene).
15) Character motivation is a common missing ingredient in the work of new writers.
16) If you need to write long sentences to explain what’s happening in the scene, you might have too much going on or a lack of clear focus. You should be able to identify a clear protagonist, antagonist (not always a person), conflict and twist or climax in one short sentence. (A made-up example could be, “Mercury fights her way through the demons to get to the Key, only to discover it’s gone.” Mercury is the protag, who obviously wants the Key; the demons are the antags, who probably want her dead; the conflict is in the verb ‘fights’; and the twist/climax is that when Mercury gets there, the Key is gone.)
17) If a character already has or gets a new skill in the book, it must come into play – akin to Chekov’s gun (if you show a gun on the wall, it better go off in the next three chapters, or else don’t show it to begin with). Remember though that ‘coming into play’ can also mean establishing a clear expectation about the character the item/skill belongs to, not just literally using that item (though this is the easier path).
18) Don’t end chapters with going to bed, work, etc – end with a hook a la the Nancy Drew Hardy Boys series, which often ends chapters not with the door opened to reveal a monster, but with the act of the door still opening.
19) Readers love minor characters – give them genuine wants and needs and make them smart and funny.
20) The best POV characters are the ones who know the least and have the most to lose.
21) Sometimes the character who knows the least is the one who thinks they know the most.
22) Throwing in a random POV scene can be jarring, so make sure you set the book up to be ‘that kind’ of book.
23) If ever you get lost and don’t know where you’re going, aim for twists. OR,
24) If you can’t plot a whole story at once, just plot to the first twist. Write that, then figure out what comes next and plot to the next twist. Rinse, repeat, and you’ll end up with a complete story 🙂
25) Don’t be tempted to think that the first time your character wins their goal is the ending of the story. They also have to deal with the fallout of getting what they want, which means the bad guys will be after them, and they will have to dispatch the bad guys one by one from smallest to largest.
26) A strong lead up to the climax is having your MC face down the Big Bad (Antag 3) and fail.
27) You’re perfectly allowed to make answers up on the spot, but just make sure that you do end up with the answers.
28) Liana makes a valid point: knocking people unconscious IRL can actually cause massive trauma to the brain. Use unconsciousness sparingly!
29) Romances work better if your hero rescues your heroine rather than knocking them out 😉 😀
30) Moment of despair is when everything is stripped away from the character and they find out what their core power and motivations are. They realise who they are when everything else is taken away, and that they have the strength to fight on regardless. This is why the moment of despair is so important, because it’s your character’s ultimate commitment to their course of action, right before the climax of the story. It’s essentially the climax of their character arc, which then allows them to achieve the climax to the plot arc.
31) Your first few novels are going to be messy: You’re learning how to write, you’re learning your voice, you’re learning what your style of plotting is. The good news is, editing is a learned skill. You can learn to edit. And don’t forget that content edits and line edits are very different skills.
32) Realistic expectations are just as vital in a writing career as in everything else. You’re on YOUR track to writing, and it will take as long as it takes. Some people might be faster – but some people will also be slower, and you are who you are. The sooner you make peace with that, the less stressful your writing apprenticeship will be. (General figures thrown around are 10 years and/or a million words to reach genuinely publishable quality writing.)
33) To reiterate: post-it notes are an awesome way to make the plot of your novel more comprehensible as a whole. Having it all physically visible in front of you is the best way to test pacing, character balance, subplot balances, and so forth. Try it!
34) When in doubt, kill a fictional character. That’s sound advice for any problem, right there.