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

Story vs. Plot and how they work together

To fully discuss these two concepts and see how they work together, let’s start with the most basic definitions:

Old Open Bible on old wooden table.Plot: the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

Story: an account of incidents or events, a timeline of events told in narrative form.

At first, this may sound a little backwards. When you’re writing a story, aren’t you doing more than just recounting a series of events? Isn’t plot the timeline and structure? Isn’t the overall story what ties events together and makes more than just a series of incidences? Story is character and places and motivations and choices, isn’t it?

Yes…and no.

Don’t confuse the technical definition of “story” with a GOOD STORY.

An uneventful walk to the grocery store to buy eggs is a story, just not a very good one. It has no plot. Plotting requires crafting the elements that will turn a “story” into something interesting enough to attract readers’ attention and hold it. Plot is not the story, but it MUST SUPPORT the story.

Man hit by carPlot should guide the reader through a story, providing pertinent information and raising questions that will keep them interested. Plotting gives the writer the chance to recognize important questions and provide the answers in a satisfying and compelling way. This applies to both pantsers and outliners, though it may progress in different ways.

Take the grocery store example: Why is the character walking rather than driving? Why does he/she need eggs, and only eggs. What will the eggs be used for? What happens when the character gets to the store? What will happen if he/she doesn’t get the eggs? What events will follow purchasing the eggs?

Plotting also helps a writer determine how the story should end, because endings should always be related to beginnings. A good story comes full circle in one way or another. The situation and character at the beginning present a problem that must be resolved by the end in order for the story to be satisfying.

Identifying the beginning and ending points makes it easier to craft the steps, events, information, and choices that will get the character from beginning to end. These should be developed in a logical way that will make sense to the reader and answer all (or most) of their questions. The spaces between these events are filled with character development, backstory, worldbuilding, etc. to create a rich and engaging story, but the plot is still the underlying structure that turns a trip to the grocery store into a good story.

question-mark-1872665_1920Consider the questions asked about the egg-buying character. Eggs are most likely not the real conflict. In attempting to answer some of the questions about this character, the possibilities are endless.

  • Perhaps the character is a teen buying eggs to go egg the house of someone who is terrorizing her at school.
  • This may be an ordinary shopping trip for a forgotten ingredient that goes awry when an explosion rocks the store.
  • The character may be walking because he was grounded for sneaking out the night before and now must run all his parents’ errands on foot.
  • The character may never make it to the store, but is instead witness to a strange creature darting between houses, followed the screams of a man.

Adding some actual plot to a story takes it from being a mundane occurrence to something intriguing and engaging. If a story leaves the reader with no questions or motivation to continue reading, it’s still a story…just not one with a good plot.

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

Understanding and choosing the right point of view

When we talk about point of view, what we’re really discussing is the narrative point of view, or how and by whom the story is being told. Let’s review the basics before diving deeper.

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First Person POV has two variations:

First person protagonist where the character narrates his or her own story.

First person observer where a secondary character tells the main character’s story (i.e. Watson narrating Sherlock’s Holmes cases.)

Third Person POV is not told by a character but by an invisible author and has four variations:

Third person omniscient is where an all-knowing narrator tells the story.

Third person dramatic/objective is where the narrator only tells the reader things which could be recorded by a camera or microphone (i.e. no thoughts).

Third person limited is where a narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character at a time.

Third person deep is where the story is told in the hero’s voice, rather than the author’s voice.

Second person POV is written in present tense and addresses the reader directly:

Second person POV makes the reader the protagonist. The narrator often uses detailed description, shares psychological insights, and tries to anticipate reader reactions.

This in uncommon in teen or adult fiction and is mainly used for young children’s literature.

It’s important to understand why some POVs work better for certain genres or storylines and make changes when something isn’t working. Let’s review points to consider when choosing POV.

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First Person

There are several advantages of writing in first person. It feels natural to many writers, because it’s how we speak about our world and experiences. Dealing with only one narrator’s mind can be easier than writing multiple narrators. It’s an opportunity to create a unique and distinctive internal voice. Because you’re only in one character’s mind at a time, it’s easier to “stay in character.” Readers also get to experience the story vicariously through the character more easily. There is also an opportunity to create an unreliable narrator. First person is also much more intimate than other POVs and can fully immerse a reader in a story.

There are disadvantages as well. You are limited to writing only about what the character can see, know, or hear. The narrator must be in every scene, observing and participating in the story. Minds of other characters are off limits, as is their knowledge about the story unless directly shared with the narrator in some way.

 Second Person

Advantages of this POV are limited. You can create a different feel to a story, and can speak to the reader directly.

The disadvantages are more prevalent, partly because this “uniqueness” often doesn’t sit well with readers and feels too personal. It often gives a juvenile feel to a story.

 Third Person Omniscient

Advantages of this POV include being able write the story as an onlooker watching the full story unfold. You can also add contrasting viewpoints with other characters (NO head hopping, though!). This can give a reprieve to the reader and allow them to see another side of the story. You can expand the scope of the story by moving between settings and viewpoints. You aren’t limited to characters in the story when choosing a narrator, which can provide a unique perspective. This POV also allows the narrator to share his or her own views, but should NEVER slip into second person to do so.

Disadvantages center around the confusion this POV can create when not done with attention to detail. If narrators don’t have a distinct voice, readers may be confused on who is narrating. Switching to other characters can diffuse the tension or excitement when not planned well. It’s also easy to write as the author instead of the narrator. This POV can be more difficult to forge a connection with readers if it comes off as too distant or impersonal.

Third Person Limited

This POV attempts to combine the best of first and third person omniscient. The limited POV allows you to more deeply explore the narrator and forge a stronger connection with the reader without asking them to live out a story with the narrator.

For disadvantages, this POV does limit you to choosing a character as a narrator and limits you to the narrator’s thoughts and experiences.

The distance third person creates between the story and the reader can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the story. Some stories may be too raw or personal and distance is needed to allow the reader to remain at a certain comfort level. However, if in order to fully understand or experience a story, the reader needs to be enveloped in it, the distance of third person may prevent that.

 Third Person Deep

The biggest advantage of the deep perspective is that is attempts to remove distance between narrator and reader. The reader can experience more fully what the narrator is thinking and feeling. It feels more like third person to a reader, but uses third person pronouns, which can be important in following genre conventions.

The main disadvantage is that this is a challenging POV to write and is still gaining traction in some genres.

Consider the last book you read and how it would have changed if written from a different POV.

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Posted in writing, writing thoughts

My first six months in journalism

Typewriter illustrationThis past February I started a job as an editorial assistant at a local newspaper. I’ve been writing since I was a teen, and got started publishing fiction almost ten years ago, but journalism is a whole new world of writing for me. I’ve learned a lot so far, some writing-related and some just plain interesting.

The AP Stylebook is the end-all be-all for journalists, even though it says not to use the Oxford comma, which drives me batty on a daily basis.

On the rare occasion AP doesn’t have the answer, Miriam-Webster gets the final say. Any questions either of these can’t handle go to David Buck, who knows everything about journalism but is still super nice.

InCopy has this amazing feature that can change capitalization with one click. It’s my favorite thing about it, especially since the program is kind of a pain in the ass in general. I have no idea why Word can’t change capitalization like this. Get on it, developers. Please?

Writing length is measured in inches, not pages or words. I still haven’t figured out the conversion and need to see it visually, but as usual, my articles are often too long!

Storytelling in journalism is a lot different than in fiction. There’s no room for a detailed backstory or well-developed plot. Journalism answers questions and informs more than tells stories most of the time.

Journalists don’t accept change easily. There were audible gasps when AP announced the percent sign could now be used instead of writing it out.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that one of my coworkers carries a cross in her pocket, not because she’s religious, but because you never know when you might run into a vampire.

I still have a ton to learn about journalism, but I’m enjoying the process and the people.

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If you want to see what I’ve been writing, stop by The Durango Herald and The Journal!
Posted in books

Let’s talk #Podcasts

I do realize that many of my readers have no clue what podcasts are, which is just not okay. I am a podcast addict, and I think everyone should love podcasts as well.

What are they?

Podcast are like radio shows, but they’re prerecorded. They may be recorded live (caller-based shows) and edited later, or they may be completely scripted and prepared, or something in between. The nice thing about podcasts is that they’re archived and downloadable, so you can subscribe to a channel on your podcast app (iTunes, or I use Podcast Addict on Android) and download an episode when you want to listen absolutely FREE.

So, what podcast are awesome? I have a list 🙂

This American Life: Stories from all over the country on all kinds of topics

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The Moth: Live storytelling sessions shared on a theme by theme basis

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Beautiful/Anonymous: Beautiful stories from anonymous people with Chris Gethard

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The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe: Science, superheroes, dumbest stuff, etc.

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Serial: One story told week by week for the whole season

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Kobo Writing Life: Tons of writing topics and interviews

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The Author Hangout: Mainly focused toward indie authors with marketing tips

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If you’re a podcast listener, tell me what you’re listening to, and if you’re not, try some of these out!