Posted in creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Open Doors and Plot Holes

Death_to_stock_Dinner_damo_8.jpgMaybe this only happens in my house, but unlike the picture above with nicely closed cabinet doors, I can walk into a room and, no kidding, there is almost always at least one drawer, cupboard door, or package of something or other left open. Usually, more than one. There have been times when I’ve walked into the kitchen and literally every cupboard door is standing open because someone was looking for something and, after finding it, walked away.

What does this have to do with plot holes?

Your readers are like one of my kids looking for the bag of chocolate chips they want to add to their spoon of peanut butter. They keep looking for the answers you’ve promised them, scouring every page, rereading when they think they might have missed something, or silently working out all possible endings when they’re forced to put down a book and pay attention to real life for a few hours.

Those times when all the cupboard doors are left open because they have to search that hard, it often results from one of two things:

1: They’ve opened every other door in the kitchen and are reaching for the last one, opening it slowly, only to find, the cupboard is bare and the answers you promised aren’t actually in the kitchen, or anywhere…and they walk away, annoyed and vowing to never read anything of yours again because, dang it, when you want a snack and can only find celery sticks that make your mouth itch, your definitely not going to take the time to clean up your mess.

OR

2: They reach for that last cupboard door, pull it open and – because you’ve done an impeccable job of filling in holes and stretching out your reveals – all those awesome answers come flooding out at the very end for your reader to gobble up as hungrily as my kids might those cookies I tried to hide from them, and abandon the kitchen in complete satisfaction…forgetting to close all the cupboard doors.

The point?

Little Blond GirlJust like when my kids (my daughter specifically) stomps away, annoyed I haven’t purchased sufficient snack-worthy foods, your readers will walk away when they finish a book unsatisfied because of questions you never answered if your book leaves them with option #1.

I’ve been teaching a self-editing class this semester, and one of the best tips for avoiding plot holes is to re-outline your novel or story as you do your first major edit.

Why?

Editing sucks, right? 90% of writers will agree with me on that, I’m pretty sure.

Outlines suck even more. Okay, maybe only other pansters will agree with me on that, but that’s got to be at least 50%, right?

You know what sucks more, though? Having a reader leave a nasty review…one that’s legit and calls you out on shortcuts you took or hints you failed to live up to.

During your first major outline, take the time to outline your book, taking note of all the hints you added in, the questions you posed, and the bits of backstory you teased your readers with.

Did you follow up on each and every one?

If not, you have two choices:

1: Nix it. If you never followed up because that particular tidbit simply didn’t pan out, remove it.

Questions2: Fill in where you neglected to follow through. Any questions you posed that pertain to that particular book (notice I’m not talking series-length questions) make sure you have an answer, or make it apparent that question will be answered in a subsequent book, if you’re working on a series.

Most readers have a Love/Hate relationship with valid cliffhangers.

ALL readers have a Hate/Hate relationship with lazy writing that leaves them questioning why they purchased a book.

Don’t let your readers down. Answer every question you ask, even the ones you might have forgotten about from those first few chapters when the concept of your story was still in flux. You’ll thank yourself later, and so will your readers. Nobody wants to end a book like Lost Season 6, trust me. Rants are still happening about that finale six years after the fact.

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing tips

Creating a Protagonist With Depth: Part Five

If you haven’t read the first three part in the series, you can find Part One HERE, Part Two HERE, Part Three HERE and Part Four HERE.


Now let’s discuss how to make your characters fail in a way that makes them better.


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Failure

Just like nobody enjoys a perfect character, no one likes a character that always makes the right choices and succeeds
If your character always succeeds, where’s the tension, the worry that they might fail? Without that, readers get bored.
A story needs fear that the character will fail/die/be beaten in order to keep readers flipping pages.
Even if they think they know where the story is going, they want to find out how they’ll get there


 How do you make them fail? Rope 2

Look back at their list of faults and flaws. Which of those can you use to put them in a situation where making the right choice will be difficult?
In “What We Saw At Night” Allie doesn’t tell the police what she saw because she’s afraid of getting in trouble for being somewhere she shouldn’t.
Why was she out at night? Because she has a severe sun allergy and has started taking risks because she thinks she won’t live very long.


hand over mouthHow do you avoid nonsense failure?

Does it make sense in real life?
If some guy told you he was sneaking into your room to watch you sleep at night, you’d freak out. Bella, though, was totally cool with it, which has garnered criticism.
Would two parents ever actually split up twin girls and never let them see each other for their own selfish reasons like they did in The Parent Trap? I highly doubt it.
When helping characters make decisions, make sure there’s a good reason for what they choose. Lean on that backstory you crafted.
Do their fears influence them?
Have past hurts caused them to mistrust others when they shouldn’t?


What character failures have left an impression with you?


Posted in writing, writing advice

Where Does Your Book End…Literally

Many writers start a project with an end goal in mind. Even those of us who are pantsers (write by the seat of our pants) tend to know generally where our story or book will end. Those who outline and thoroughly plot know exactly where their story will end.

Globe2I’m talking in terms of the end goal of the plot. Will the MC meet their goal or fail so spectacularly that readers will be hard-pressed to forget? This is important. VERY important. Having a weak ending or no ending at all is a major turn-off for readers, but that’s also another discussion all together. What I’m talking about today is where your book ends physically.

How many of you decide or even just consider the physical location where your plot will come to fruition?

You may be asking if it really matters. It does. A lot.

Let’s Consider Neo and the Matrix…

MatrixThe final fight scene in the matrix blew people away when it originally hit theaters in 1999. The special effects have been copied over and over by now, but the bullets halted mid-flight and Neo’s ability to move like the Agents wasn’t the only thing that made this final scene so memorable.

Setting had a huge role to play as well.

The end goal of the plot in Matrix was that Neo realize he is “The One” and figure out how to defend the freed humans against the machines. Fabulous plot, but what would that final realization have been like if Neo had reached it outside the Matrix?

Not nearly as impactful.

Neo being pretty much dead and losing hope while faced with his enemy, inside their fabricated world — of which he has little control of at this point — while his mentor is being tortured in that same building, and no chance of escape…well, that’s a pretty bad place to be, right? The exact kind of place he where you either need to dig deep or give up. Being outside of the Matrix, relatively safe and surrounded by people who are trying to help him…what would have pushed him to find his true strength? Neo realizing he was the one person meant to save the humans wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same effect if it had come over his morning bowl of mush as he worried about Morpheus having been captured.

Where your final scene happens should be connected to your character in some way.


Is it a place from their past, something symbolic of what they’re trying to overcome?

Such as a childhood home or the location of a traumatic experience, or perhaps a place they once loved and they return to at the end of their quest to put their life back together? The location should be relevant to your character’s history and journey.

Has it been previously referenced?

Ending up somewhere that readers are familiar with, even in passing, will mean more to them than a brand new, never before seen venue. Foreshadowing is a great tool in setting up the final location where the book will take place. A brand new location risks seeming irrelevant to the reader, and may not be the most logical place either.

Does the location make sense for what’s going to happen?

If the final scene is a verbal confrontation (Ex: standing up to a tormentor), think about what type of space will make this more intense. Wide open areas provide room to escape or avoid while small spaces may pin the character into the situation until it’s resolved. Public locations vs. private ones can have a great impact as well. A public location means there will be witnesses. Will there be action involved? Will they be on the move or stuck in one area? What obstacles will the location provide?

Is there meaning behind the setting?

Whatever setting you choose, there should be a reason for that choice. Think about your character arc. Where did this character begin emotionally, mentally, physically, and in reference to the overall plot? Where do they end up? Does your final setting reflect the changes your character has made during the journey that is their character arc. A character arc should come full circle. Setting should as well. That doesn’t mean your final scene should be in the same location as the beginning scene, however, the final setting should be chosen just as carefully as the initial setting was chosen. It needs to reflect what the character has overcome and what their future may hold.


What final scenes of books or movies have stuck with you, thanks in part to the setting?

Posted in writing advice, writing thoughts

Unreliable Narrators Are Not My Favorite

gone girlThe unreliable narrator has shown up in some pretty popular books, like Gone GirlClockwork OrangeLolita, and Fight Club, just to name a few.

What is an unreliable narrator?

It’s basically a narrator whose credibility has been seriously compromised.

This can be obvious to the reader, as it is with Alex in A Clockwork Orange, or not so obvious, like it was with Gone Girl.

Why don’t I like unreliable narrators?

Because it’s hardly ever done well. Gone Girl is one of the exceptions, and I’m a little hazy of Fight Club at the moment because it’s been a while, but I seem to remember thinking that one was done pretty well too.

What makes the difference between an unreliable narrator being 8858f-bookpagesdone well or feeling like a cheap trick?

It all comes down to the ending.

I remember watching a movie with my hubby some years back called Hide and Seek. My husband and I both agreed that this one of the worst attempts at an unreliable narrator that we’d come across. What left us feeling that way? Basically, by the end of the movie, we were both left feeling like we had been blatantly lied to through the whole movie. The MC acted in ways completely contradictory to the truth that would eventually be revealed, and so did his daughter.

The daughter was the biggest disappointment, because it made no sense at all that she would respond to the dad’s questions and act the way she did when she knew the truth the whole time. There wasn’t any logical reason for the way the characters behaved, EXCEPT that the writers were lying to the audience.

sixth senseHow is this different that a good unreliable narrator?

An unreliable narrator believes in his or her reality, or is completely committed to the deception they’re trying to perpetrate. Every word that comes out of their mouth, every action the take, and look and gesture should all be in line with their warped viewpoint or deception.

At the end of the book/movie, you should be able to look back and not point out any instances where things don’t line up.

The Sixth Sense is a good example of this. If you’ve ever watched the “making of” for that movie, you’ll see how the painstakingly went through that entire film to make sure Bruce Willis never talks or touches anyone other than the boy. They create situations where there “seems” to be interaction, such as when he’s sitting in the living room with the boys mom, or goes to meet his wife at the restaurant, BUT you see at the end that none of those scenes were what they seemed.

When writing an unreliable narrator, this is what it takes.

Unreliable narrators are tough to write well. There has to be a well thought out plan. Interactions, thoughts, and dialog has to be scrutinized. It’s a lot of work, but if you can pull it off, you’ll have something people will remember for a long time!

Posted in writing advice

Creating a Protagonist with Depth: Part Three

If you haven’t read the first two part in the series, you can find Part One HERE and Part Two HERE.

Now, on to today’s discussion!

Character Arc

What is a character arc?

It’s your character’s journey from who they are at the beginning of the book to who they become by the end.

(Hint: these should be different!)

  • This is basically the main question your character arc needs to fulfill throughout the course of a story. Developing a strong character arc will help you create a character with depth.

There are 3 stages to a character arc.

STAGE ONE

Arc Stage 1

The Catalyst

You need something that will force your character onto the path that will change them from who they are to who you want them to become.

This can be a physical and internal stumbling blocks.

The catalyst is a problem – something your character needs to overcome.

For example…

Tris finding out she’s Divergent.

Katniss volunteering for the Hunger Games to save Rue.

The journey to overcome this problem is what will test them and force them to grow personally and emotionally.

STAGE TWO

Arc Stage 2

During the second stage, your character attempts to resolve the problem from the first stage.
Of course, things can’t go to easily for your character.
In order to make sure your character keeps growing, they need to continue to face new obstacles.
Translation: Things keep getting worse.

Why?
As your character faces new problems, they learn new skills, become more capable, more like the person they need to be.

STAGE THREE

Arc Stage 3

This is the resolution stage, where your story reaches its climax and your character discovers who they are becoming.
This is NOT always the resolution of your characters’ completed arc
If your are writing a series, this may be the first realization for the character of who they want to be or will become.

Your full character arc may stretch over a series of books, but within each book you should have the three stages of the character arc, with the character reaching an important realization at the end of each book.

Making sure your character changes and grows throughout your story will help create a more believable and relatable character.

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Runts and Writing

Calendar DeadlineI’m one of those people who likes to do the things they don’t like first…except when it comes to cleaning bathrooms. I put that off as long as possible. It struck me, though, as I was eating some Runts, that you can’t really do that with writing. As I was picking out all the bananas and oranges to eat first because I like them the least but feel bad just throwing them away, I had the thought that most of my least favorite parts of writing and publishing can’t really be done first just to get them out of the way.

My two least favorite parts of writing are editing and marketing. Editing, I just don’t like because it’s time consuming and annoying and I can never remember how to use a comma properly in every situation. Marketing is just plain tough and time consuming and will totally eat up your whole day if you let it.

In a perfect world, I could just do both of those first, get them out of the way, and then move on to the fun parts. Writing. I can do it with food and chores, so why not writing? Admittedly, it’s tough to edit something you haven’t written, and even though you can start to market a book before it’s published, you still have to have something concrete to market and know how to do it right.

So, how important is having a plan and sticking to it when writing?

Important. 

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

Marketing

The hardcore marketing will usually start once a publication date is finalized, but more general marketing needs to start 6-9 months pre-publication. How do you do that when you’re only on chapter 3?

Ask for input on social media. 

  • What do you think of these names for a (fill in the blank) type of character?
  • Anyone live in ___________? What’s a great first date restaurant, unique location, bad area of town, etc.?
  • Do you believe in ghosts/werewolves/demons?

Get them invested in the idea of your book before you ever even finish it. Make them a part of the writing process so they feel connected to it before they even read a single page. Just remember to include the title or working title in your posts.

Give readers sneak peeks.

Shark2 Teaser 3Post a short excerpt. Tell readers what your character said or did that made you cry/laugh/stare at your computer screen in shock. Make some promo teasers like the one below with interesting quotes or taglines that readers can share.

The more you get readers involved in the pre-publication process, the more excited they’ll be to finally get their hands on a copy once it’s released.

Tours, Guest Posts, etc.

On a more technical note, you also need to be setting up tours, guest posts, events, etc. well before the day your book is going to come out. Most good tour companies are booked at least two months out. Plan ahead.

 

Writing

Sadly, there’s really no way to knock out the editing before you actually do the writing. So, how do you stay on schedule with your writing? Everyone is different, but here are a few ideas that have worked for me and author friends I know.

  • Deadlines: whether this is a deadline for finishing the book, a chapter, or section, sit down and give yourself a reasonable time period to accomplish a set amount of work. Mark it on your calendar.
  • Writing Groups: Make yourself accountable to someone else. Readers can be great at keeping you on track when they’re waiting for a new book, but a writing group that meets regularly and requires you to have something for the other members to critique can help you stay on track.
  • Daily/Weekly Goals: whether this is a word count goal, set amount of time, plan a time that you will use just for writing. Your creativity often needs to be trained to come out and play at certain times.
  • Bribery: Seriously, this works. Give yourself a reason to meet your goal. Chocolate? Shoes? A night out? Whatever motivates you, use it.

 

Sometimes we’re stuck dealing with the order things just have to be done in, but there are ways to make it work for you. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for dealing with some of your least favorite parts of the writing/publishing process.

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Falling Flat or Finishing Strong

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Ever feel like this guy when you’re trying to work out the ending to your book? 

I agonize over the endings of my books, series endings especially. I’ve mentioned this before, but instead of just whining about it, I thought I’d share some insights I’ve learned and some tips from other authors.

Tips From Other Authors

KM Weiland offered up some great tips on her YouTube video. You can watch the full video for her whole discussion, but here are the highlights.

1. Wait until the resolution to tie up any loose ends. In other words, don’t interrupt the action to talk about Carlos’s shoe size or Betty’s grade on her science paper. Rope 2

2. Tie up loose ends BEFORE the climax. If you really need to let everyone know whether or not Skippy found his lost shoe, spit it out before Joe and Susie head off to fight the zombie horde.

3. Make the unfinished business exciting enough to be included in the climax. If Clara’s long lost aunt is going to drop back into the picture, she better have something to do with the solving the mystery or winning the fight or it’ll just be a distraction that pulls readers out of  the story.

Brian Klems offered up some great writing tips in his Writer’s Digest article, but here’s what relates to finishing a book:

1. The hero should be the catalyst. No one wants to invest time and energy in a character only to see someone else step in at Sexy young soldierthe end of the MC’s story and save the day. What was the point of that character going through everything they did if they don’t do anything in the end?

2. The hero should grow internally. What does this means? Basically, the problems the hero faced or struggled with in the beginning need to be resolved in the end and be part of the reason he’s able to triumph at the climax. If you’re dealing with a series, maybe the growth is incomplete, but there should be growth all the same.

3. A new and better hero should emerge. The MC needs to have earned the right to be called a hero by the end of the story. If they don’t demonstrate that they can do something the others characters can’t (and we’re not just talking supernatural abilities), why is he or she able to save the day over any other Joe-schmoe in the book?

What I’ve Learned

The ending can make or break a book. I’ve been disappointed too many times for it not to effect the way I write. I’m slightly obsessed with making sure my books don’t peter out in the last few chapters because, as a reader, I hate that! Here are a few of my own tips to avoid writing that ending that makes your readers cringe.

1. Complete your character arc. What was it in the beginning of the book that your character struggled with the most, that defined who he or she was and why they felt like they couldn’t meet their goals? Have you resolved it by the end of the book? I’m not talking situational problems. This needs to be deeper emotional wounds that have held your character back. Have they overcome some part of what’s been holding them back? If not, take note of what those wounds are and how they need to be fixed in your final chapters. Questions

2. Answer the freaking question! Okay, this makes me think of “Lost” and how confused and irritated I was when they wrapped up the sixth season and 90% of the hints and mysteries were completely abandoned. If you bring up a challenge, hint, clue, noticeable item, etc. and then never mention it again, readers are going to be left saying, “What about…?” And that’s annoying. Either get rid of those plot points that never panned out, or make sure they’re followed up on.

3. Redemption and justice are musts. Unless you want to end things ambiguously on purpose, take a look at the major players in your book and make some tough decisions about what they really deserve. Does your bad guy need to die, or will he find redemption? Is your MC going to save the day or meet with spectacular failure because of his less than stellar choices? If your readers don’t feel like everyone got what they deserved, even if it wasn’t the ending they saw coming or wanted, the ending will feel incomplete and leave them at odds when they set the book down.

Crafting the perfect ending can make you want to tear your hair out. Maybe it will never be perfect, but hopefully some of these tips will help you write a complete ending that will hold readers’ attention and leave them feeling satisfied and ready to go grab the next book!

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