Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: Crafting the High Moment and Using Conflict

A strong high moment and relevant conflict are important components of effective scene crafting.

Crafting the High Moment

Scenes within a story should mimic the overall story structure, meaning it should have a beginning, middle, climax/high moment, and an ending.

The high moment of a scene uses elevated emotion, action, or revelation to impact the character(s) in some way. This does not have to be a major event or action scene, but it should be noticeable to the reader and stand out in some way.

The high moment typically comes at or near the end of the scene, with the previous parts of the scene building or leading up to the high moment. It should be something that produces a reaction in the character(s) involved in the scene. The more important the scene is, the more important the reaction should be. Reactions might include, fear or happiness, making a decision or increasing uncertainty, hiding or running, pulling away or moving forward, etc.

The high moment reveals the purpose of the scene. The character should learn something, either about his or her self or the other characters, which then affects their perceptions or choices. It should also lead the reader into the next scene by setting up the next step the character(s) will take after the revelation in the current scene.

Emphasizing Conflict

Every scene needs some form of conflict: internal, external, or both.

The conflict in a scene needs to have meaning, not be pointless arguing or endless internal lamenting. Have a clear reason for the conflict and consider how it will eventually be resolved, even if the resolution won’t take place until later in the story. Focus the conflict no the purpose of the scene to keep it from meandering.

Conflict, in general, should get progressively worse throughout the story. This increases the stakes for the character(s). Keep this in mind while planning individual scenes and make sure there is an overall progression throughout the story. When considering the main conflict, break it down into smaller pieces or steps and plan its progression with particular scenes.

It’s also important to vary the type of conflict in subsequent scenes. Too many action scenes or scenes with external conflict in a row can be exhausting for the reader and not provide enough time to take in information or impacts of the action. Internal conflict slows down the action and gives the reader a chance to process the conflict and information along with the reader. Scenes with mostly internal conflict won’t be as explosive, but should increase the overall tension.

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Story Structure: Scene Position, Purpose, and POV

Where a scene is located in the story structure, what role it plays, and whos tells that section of the story are important elements in deciding how to craft a particular scene.

Positioning

Opening scenes should introduce characters, set up the story premise, and give hints at backstory. Don’t go overboard on any of these elements. Orient the reader, and fill in the details later in order to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information or names to remember.

Middle scenes should continue to introduce and work through complications, provide twists, and increase the stakes. These scenes contain the bulk of the story. They should build on each other and provide story progression. Scenes that lag or lack clear purpose should be eliminated or revised to prevent the reader getting bored.

Climactic scenes will build to a climax, and are typically toward the last third of the book. They are often shorter and use high levels or emotion and action. Be careful not to string too many climactic scenes together. This can overwhelm the reader. Give the reader a break every so often with scenes more focused on recovery, discovery, or introspection.

The tone, feel, and purpose of a scene should correspond to its place in the story.

Purpose

Every scene must have a purpose. That doesn’t mean that every scene needs action. Purposes might include advancing the plot, revealing something about the character or world, or providing information about the overall plot, highlighting change, etc.

For writers who outline, it is usually easier to make sure each scene will have a purpose before it is written. For pansters, this may be more challenging, because you don’t always know where a scene is going when you start writing it. Pansters need to revise critically to make sure there are not superfluous or meandering scenes.

The purpose should be able to be condensed into a one sentence summary. For example, This scene will show David blowing up and scaring Emily away by proving to her that he can’t control himself. If a scene doesn’t have a purpose, it likely doesn’t need to be there or need to be revised with a stronger focus on accomplishing something relevant to the story.

Point of View

It is important that a scene be told from the most impactful point of view.

This is usually the character who is most impacted by the events of the scene. If you find that emotion isn’t coming through in the scene like you wanted it to, reevaluate whose POV it’s being told from. Think about what the stakes are for each character involved and who has the most to gain or lose by the outcome of the scene.

POV is often tied to the purpose of the scene. Make sure you have a firm purpose and then evaluate who will learn the most, change the most, react more strongly, risk the most, etc.

There are exceptions, of course, often stylistic ones. If the emotional elements are so strong they may impact the reader in a negative way or be overwhelming, writing the scene from a peripheral viewpoint might be a better option. This may be the case with traumatic experiences or a particularly gruesome encounter.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: Chronological and Non-chronological

How you tell a story in time can make a big difference in its effectiveness. Chronological timelines are the the most common, but non-chronological structures can also work very well when done with careful planning and attention to detail.

Chronological Structure

The story is told largely in chronological order, meaning events are told in the order they occur. Brief flashbacks or flashforwards may be included, but they are not the main storytelling device.

This is the most common story structure used and the easiest for readers to understand. It is important to make sure the order of events and passage of time is clear to the reader. You can achieve this by establish the setting/time in the first few chapters to orient the reader, and then staying consistent throughout the book. This is especially important in anything not set in a current time period. If there is a flash forward or backward, give clear indication of the time change, either through exposition or noting the time change.

During editing, check for inconsistencies, such as injuries, broken items, or people coming or leaving and ensure there are proper healing time, things broken stay broken or get fixed, the people involved doesn’t change without being mentioned to the reader, etc. It’s easy to forget little details and have someone using a whole item that was broken in an earlier chapter, or forgetting an injury should hinder movement or ability, or forgetting about a character who existed in the background of a scene.

Non-Chronological Structures

Past prologue: This type of structure details an important event that happened in the past and has effected the current situation. This is commonly used when there is too much backstory detail to work into a present conversation without info dumping. The reader is given all the pertinent information in a past prologue to orient them in the current time when the story begins.

Future prologue: This type of structure details a tension-filled or dramatic future event meant to capture readers’ attention. It is most commonly used to show an unlikely or startling endpoint of a character or story, then reverts back to the present to show what led to the unexpected event. This should not be used simply for shock value to attract a reader’s attention. It should be important and relevant information the reader needs to know when beginning the story.

Alternating timelines: With this structure, past/present or present/future timelines alternate between different characters or the same character in different time periods. This is often used to show a comparison of experiences or times, or to brings two timelines to an eventual intersection.

Circular timelines: In this type of structure, the story ends where it began. It is used to create a sense of departure from and return to the original structure. Characters still undergo transformation and are affected by events.

Flashbacks: A flashback breaks from the current story to tell of an event that happened in the past, as a complete scene. It can be located anywhere in the story. It is used when more details are needed than what can be conveyed through a recap or explanation, or when the reader needs to “experience” the moment to full understand it. Flashbacks should be used minimally to avoid distraction and breaking the story flow.

Parallel timelines: This is used to tell two stories chronologically in different time periods. Both move forward together and inform the other. This is often used to compare two periods of time and how characters experience those time periods. There should be a link between them that sheds light on one or both storylines.

Time jumping: This is when a character moves through time, either forward or backward, or a combination of both. Scenes are connected in some way and inform the other scenes. Outside of an actual time-traveling storyline, this can be used to show changes in a character, situation, place, etc. in different time periods.

Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: 3-Act Structure

One of the most commonly taught and used story structures in the 3-Act Structure. In this post I’ll break down each act and what should be in it.

Act 1 – The Beginning

Act one compromises about the first 25% of the story and has three main parts.

  • Introduction: The introduction should establish who the main characters are and what their “normal” life looks like at that point in time.
  • Inciting Incident: The inciting incident presents a situation that will prove to be a catalyst for change and which will set the story in motion. In a romance novel, this is usually the meet-cute.
  • Plot Point 1: This first major plot point will introduce the central conflict and present a call to action for the character. The character(s) then react to the inciting incident and call to action, usually accepting the call and setting themselves on the path of the story and character arcs.

Act 2: The Middle

Act two compromises about the middle 50% of the story and contains the bulk of the plot.

  • Confrontation: During the confrontation, the main character faces the first obstacle to achieving his or her desire or goal. In a romance novel this is often something that will prevent a real relationship or keep the main character’s apart, either physically or emotionally.
  • The midpoint: At the midpoint, the main character faces the central conflict in some way. The realization causes a change in the character. This is often a revelation about the self, information about another character, shocking news, reflection on the main conflict, etc.
  • Rising action: During the rising action, the stakes must rise for the main character, building up to the central conflict he or she must face. This is usually achieved through subplots and new information about the central conflict.
  • The second plot point: This is the highest point of tension. It is a crisis that makes the desired ending seem impossible. This should use high emotion to engage the reader and make them concerned for the character. This MUST be believable enough to make the reader think a happy ending may not be possible. This should be big enough that it can’t be resolved easily.

Act 3: The End

Act three compromises the last 25% of the story and contains the worst moment for the characters as well as the resolution or climax and the final ending.

  • Pre-climax/darkest night: In this blackest moment, the character faces the possibly of not achieving their goal during a final clash with the antagonist and deals with the fallout of the crisis The character may realize a new goal that will help them move past the crisis (often alone).
  • Resolution/Climax: This is the final moments of the main conflict where it is resolved by providing an answer to the main problem/conflict. This is normally a single scene, but may extend to several scenes if the resolution/climax is complicated or involves interactions with multiple characters.The main conflict’s resolution MUST be believable and not a simple misunderstanding. The solution should be real and still have an element of risk. The benefits of taking the risk should outweigh staying safe.
  • Denouement:This final ending fulfills all promises to the reader. Make sure to tie up loose ends, answer questions, underscore the theme, in order to leave the reader satisfied.

There is, of course, room to make changes or try new tactics within a 3-Act story structure, but it is still important to make sure you hit all the main elements in some fashion.

Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: Overview

This series will talk about how to structure a story that keeps the reader’s attention and tells a story in the best possible way.

The Basics of Story Structure

Exposition/Introduction

This is where you will introduce the characters, establish the setting, and present the primary conflict. All of this generally happens in the first few chapters or the first act. The goal is to orient the reader in the characters’ lives before you begin adding any major conflicts.

This helps the reader connect with the characters so they will be invested in the outcome of their story. If a reader can’t connect with the main character(s), there’s a good chance they will stop reading. The setting should also be relevant and interesting, so they character appears to be existing in a real world (whether realistic or fantastical).

It’s also important to give readers a good idea of what the main problem is that the characters(s) is dealing with so they know what type of story they are reading and what the character(s) must overcome. This sets up the reader’s expectations for the rest of the story.

Rising Action

This section is where you should introduce the primary conflict and set the main storyline in motion. This should follow with the expectations you set up for the reader during the introduction. Succeeding events become more complicated as the story proceeds, creating stumbling blocks, tension, interest, and excitement.

Rising action isn’t a straight line, however, so problems and complications should be interspersed with moments of calm, reflection, or positive movement. The action will continue to rise overall, but with dips along the way. This gives the reader a break and allows time for reflection and thought.

Climax

This is the major turning point of the story. All the problems and complications established during the rising action will come to a head. There is high tension and conflict, and stakes are at their highest. The risk that things might not turn out should feel real to the reader, even if they know deep down that everything will turn out the way they are hoping.

This is often a moment of crisis that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next. If you are writing a romance, the reader expects there will be a happily ever after ending. You likely won’t get the reader to really think a happy ending is out of the question, but the goal is to make them doubt the how of how that happy ending will be reached. This heightens a reader’s investment in the outcome and deepens the connection with the characters.

Falling Action

After the climax, the story begins to calm down and starts working toward a satisfying ending. Characters decide what action to take to resolve conflict. These decisions and actions should be realistic and somewhat surprising. Easy and predictable resolutions tend to fall flat and disappoint readers. Make sure all the loose ends are tied up, explanations are revealed, and the reader learns more about how the conflict is resolved.

Resolution

At this point, the main conflict is resolved and the book ends. The story, however, should have the illusion of continuing on beyond the page. This is true even if the book is a standalone and will not have a continuation. Give the reader a chance to imagine how the characters’ lives play out. This adds to the satisfying quality of the ending.

Posted in books, creative writing, marketing, publishing, reading, self publishing, social media, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Marketing Primer: Author Platform Basics

It’s never too early to start building your author platform and marketing base. This week, we’ll do a deep dive into what an author platform is and how to use it.

What is an Author Platform?

An author platform is a writers public face

An author platform brands the author, NOT the book. Set up your social media accounts and fan pages under your author name instead of your book or series name. It will save you from trying to manage multiple accounts or pages, or from being difficult to find.

An author platform presents you as an expert in your field. Many writers balk at this because most of us feel we fit the meme of an author knowing a little about everything but is a master of nothing. The truth is, you are the expert of your book and your characters. Start there and expand your expertise.

An author platform is also a means through which to share your message with your target audience. The more fans you accumulate, the more quickly and easily you can disseminate information about you and your books to an interested audience.

An author platform tells readers what makes your work unique. Your platform should reflect your personality and the aspects of your writing that set you apart from other writers.

An author platform implies a promise of quality. Always make sure you are putting out quality products, images, information, etc. Present yourself online as a professional and release professional quality work.

An author platform says something about you as an author. What keeps you writing? What fills your spare time (if you can find any)? Share more than just your books. Share your writing process and experiences in publishing. Remember that you’re building a community with your platform, not just a customer base.

What does an Author Platform do?

It gives authors an opportunity to shows their personality to their readers. In today’s interconnected world, readers want to know their favorite writers. It adds to their reading experience to have some insight into who wrote the book.

It fosters relationships with readers, turning casual fans into super fans who will help promote you and your work. Friendships are also developed which can help authors feel more engaged with the reading community.

It establishes expertise as an author, writer, and whatever other areas of knowledge you have to share. If you write police procedurals, share some of your research. If you write a character who likes to cook, share recipes. Create a world for readers to explore with you.

It builds communication with readers and opens up opportunities for feedback, help, and encouragement. Many writers get bogged down with deadlines, stuck in the middle of a manuscript, or overwhelmed by life. Open up a dialogue with readers.

It creates community with other writers and with readers. Writing can be a lonely endeavor. Use your platform to gather similarly minded book lovers to talk to and engage with.

It builds visibility and extends reach. The more you build your author platform, the more eyes you will have on your books. Engage regularly to encourage readers to do the same. The more welcome a person feels in a group, the more likely they are to invite others to join or talk about how much they enjoy participating.

Use your author platform to build an community of interested readers.
Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Business

Making the move from hobby to business requires treating your writing like a business.

Disclaimer: I am not an accountant or business advisor. I’m simply sharing a few things I’ve learned over the past decade. Always consult industry professionals before making business decisions.

How to make Writing a Business

Schedule/consistency

Set a doable schedule and plan as far in advance as possible.

Write and market on a consistent schedule to keep readers interested. This is important to your success as a writer, and to being able to claim your writing as a business for tax purposes. U.S. Fderal tax laws have specific rules for claiming a business vs. a hobby. Talk to an accountant for more details.

Planning

Set up a doable schedule and plan releases, marketing events, newsletter schedules, and blog schedules according to the time, energy, and ability you have at this point in your life. Plan as far ahead as possible so you’re not always scrambling last minute to find content or submit deals or newsletter spots.

Expert Advice/Help

Ask for expert or professional help when you need to learn more about a topic.

Ask other writers or writing professionals about things you are unfamiliar with or don’t understand in order to avoid mistakes that could hurt your career or slow you down. Most writers are very willing to help. The indie writing community is wonderfully supportive in most cases. Research as much as possible (The Write Life, ALLi, Jane Friedman, Udemy, etc.), but then ask question about things you aren’t sure about or need help with.

Laws/Taxes

Find a professional familiar with self-employed creative arts businesses or LLCs. Royalties have specific rules that not all accountants are familiar with. If you know local authors or artists, ask for recommendations.

Learn about options for business setup and associated laws/taxes/liability. If your town has a local Small Business Center, set up an appointment and start learning. They have a lot of knowledge and a wide variety of contacts to help you.

Profit

The IRS has specific definitions of a business (purpose is to make a profit, it is engaged with continuity and regularity, etc.). You need to meet these requirements in order to claim your writing as a business for tax purposes. Again, consult a professional for advice on this!

If your business is reclassified as a “hobby” you will lose deductions, among other repercussions. Don’t begin claiming writing as a business until you can show at least some profit. You will be required to show a profit on a regular, yearly basis to keep from having your writing being reclassified as a hobby.

The goal of a business is to make a profit, which should be kept in mind when it comes to tax classifications.
Posted in book covers, books, creative writing, editing, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Indie Author Basics: Responsibilities of an Indie Author

Without a traditional publisher, what do indie authors need to handle on their own?

The list may be long, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Breaking everything down can help you decide which tasks to learn to do yourself and which to hire out.

I’ll break these down in the coming weeks, but here’s a broad list of what indie authors devote their time to when not writing:

Production costs

These costs include editing (developmental, copy editing, proofreading), cover design, formatting, setup, distribution fees. Next week, I’ll break down costs for each of these as well as options for reducing the overall cost of book production.

Marketing

Marketing includes building a plan and carrying it out, learning about paid advertising and booking ads, setting up and managing social media accounts, participating in online and in-person events, writing and sending out press releases, and much more.

Networking

When it comes to networking, it’s important to engage with the author community, join groups and lists, make friends for support, find beta readers or critique partners, and learn from others in the industry.

Collaborate

Collaborations that are popular right now include box sets, worlds, promo groups, etc. These collaborations help authors expand their audience and reach, as well as learn more about marketing and promotion.

Reaching Out

Reaching out to media, stores, businesses, etc. is part of marketing, but for many people it’s a different skill than interacting on social media or booking ads. Different types of stores have different requirements for booking an author signing, and bookstores aren’t the only option for signings. Learning how to approach a business, radio station, newspaper, etc. the right way can make a difference in being accepted.

Events

Without an agent or publisher, indie authors are often responsible for organizing their own signings, publicity events, participation in books fairs, speaking engagements, conferences, etc. Learning about what types of events are worth while, how to get involved, or what type of classes to submit to a conference can help you make solid plan.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be discussing each of these topics in more detail. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a topic!

Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Indie Author Basics: What is an indie author and is it right for you?

What is an indie author?

An indie author is a writer who self-publishes to sell their work, who approaches publishing as a business, who retains all or most rights to their work, and who retains creative control over their work.

Authors today have many more publishing options than they have in the past. The three most common are traditional, indie, and hybrid. What are the differences between being a traditional, hybrid, and independent author?

Traditional: Contract with a publisher to have a book published. Sign over some or all rights to the work for a specific period of time. Most production decisions are made by the publisher. Publishers bear the cost of production and some marketing. Royalties are shared between the publisher, agent (if there is one), and the author.

Indie: Self-publishes all their books. Retains all rights to their work. Earns higher royalties. Author bears productions costs and marketing costs. Retains full creative control. Approaches writing as a business/career.

Hybrid: Publishes through a publisher and self-publishing. At least one book is self-published. Has a non-exclusive contract with a publisher, or self-publishes books that have been passed on/release by the publisher using a right of first refusal clause. Indie titles may be backlist books released from contracts.

When considering which option is right for you, consider some of the following questions:

What aspects of publishing can you learn to do yourself?

What aspects will you need help with?

How much of your royalties are you willing to give up in exchange for help?

How much time to do you have to commit to publishing?

How much creative/production control do you want?

What rights are you willing to give up and for how long?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to publishing and deciding on a publishing route should be well thought out.

Next week, we’ll talk about some of the responsibilities indie author take on to build their career.

Posted in audiobook, books, classic literature, dystopian, lessons learned, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Lessons Learned: Brave New World

I just finished listening to Brave New World by Aldus Huxley and there were three main lessons I took away from the book.

Those who aren’t familiar with the novel should know a few things. It was published in 1932 and is a dystopian fiction novel set in largely London and, for a brief period, in a Native American reservation in New Mexico. The story explores themes of society vs. the individual, passion vs. stability, and the price of happiness.

Lesson 1: Use unique structure purposefully

In the early chapters, Huxley has a section where the Controller is explaining the dystopian world to the reader through a tour he’s giving to research students visiting a fertilization factory.

During this explanation, there are insertions of other character’s points of view, sometimes breaking in after only a few lines or mid-sentence. At first, the style was very distracting, especially since I was listening to the book and didn’t have visual cues of the shifts. The patched together structure was interesting, though, because as the Controller is explaining the process of creating humans ideal for their society, the reader is given examples of how these methods control the behavior of individuals.

If you choose to use a unique structure in your writing, make sure there is a good reason for it, or it may only serve to confuse or distract readers.

Lesson 2: Don’t preach to readers to get a point across

I have a personal dislike for preachy books, probably because I grew up in a very religious household and had more than enough of that growing up.

If you have a particular point or philosophy you want to share with readers, do so through the characters and story and NOT by directly telling them what the right way or answer is. Let them discover the idea or answer by experiencing the story.

Huxley does this very well in this book. The Controllers and other characters do, at times, directly state the theories and philosophies of the society, however there is always a skeptical character to give the reader another point of view or at least make them question the legitimacy of the concept.

Each of the four main characters have viewpoints that differ from the main society in different ways as well, so the reader isn’t inundated with only one character’s arguments or ideas. Each character is also given a strong reason for seeing things differently, so their struggle with society feels genuine and unforced.

As the reader, there were times it was hard to decide which idea or concept was “right” or “better” because Huxley did such a good job of showing both sides of an argument. Instead of telling the reader how to think, the story asks reader to thoughtfully consider the philosophies presented and decide for themselves.

Lesson 3: An unsatisfying ending can work when the story calls for it

Just as there were times while reading that I couldn’t fully commit to one side or another of an argument or philosophy, I couldn’t really think of a way the story could end in a satisfying way because the issues were too big to be wrapped up simply and easily.

Maybe Huxley felt the same, or maybe his purpose wasn’t to provide answers (which I think is very likely), because the book doesn’t have a satisfying end in the sense that any of the issues are solved. A few of the characters find relatively acceptable ends but, for the most part, story aspects are left either unhappy or up to the reader to puzzle out.

It didn’t bother me to have the book end like this, though, because a neatly wrapped up ending where everything was solved would have felt manufactured and trite. The purpose of the novel seemed to be to get readers to think more deeply about how individuals and society have to reach a balance, what it means to be happy, whether passion and stability can coexist, and who or what should set moral and ethical boundaries.

A story doesn’t need a satisfying ending if the purpose is to leave readers unsatisfied enough to keep thinking about the problem and the possible solutions.