Plots, part 2

Larry Brooks’ story structure has several interlocking parts, but more or less breaks stories into four parts. (You could still argue that this is a 3-part structure: 25% beginning, 50% middle, 25% end.)

Setup

This is the first 25% of the novel. It includes the opening scene, a “hooking” moment, then a “setup inciting incident.” Optional: has a major plot twist that doesn’t establish the hero’s need/quest.

  • Hook reader
  • Introduce hero
  • Establish stakes
  • Foreshadow

Response

Begins the middle section, and comprises another 25%. It contains the first plot point (must define need and quest, opposition defined, actions need to flow from this point) followed by the first pinch point (antagonistic force asserts itself).

  • Retreat, regroup
  • Doomed fight back
  • Opposition reasserted

Attack

The second half of the middle section, and another 25% of the novel. It opens with the midpoint. New knowledge creates new context (must be game-changer) and the hero is empowered. There’s a second pinch point, where the antagonistic force hits back hard. There’s a “all hope is lost” lull near the end of this section.

  • Hero proactive and shows initiative
  • Opposition pushes back

Resolution

The final 25% of the story. The second plot point comes into play: final injection of information (gamer changer once again) and last piece of the puzzle.

  • Beyond plot point: no new information or characters
  • Problems resolved, for better or worse

Final resolution sequence

  • The last scene(s) ending the story.

Here’s another way of looking at the story structure, which is more concise and character-centric.

Orphan (25%)

  • Establish demons

Wanderer (25%)

  • Reacts and runs
  • Unsuccessfully strikes back
  • Failures related to character flaws

Warrior (25%)

  • Attacks the problem
  • Overcomes flaws

Martyr (25%)

  • Risks all
  • Conquers inner demons
  • Must be catalyst
  • Never rescued or passive

Read More »

Plots, part 1

Everyone has their own ideas on what a story structure should be. Here’s one I found on Tameri.com which applies to a lot of modern books and movies. Recently I’ve been comparing major films to this outline, and they all follow it, with few exceptions.

Prologue

(prologues are generally discouraged, as books should start at chapter 1, but they can be useful depending on the story)

  • Short setup or tease
  • Useful when action is delayed within the story
  • Establishes “history”

Beginning (~3 chapters long)

Challenge (catalyst)

  • Problem that launches the story
  • Seldom the Big Event
  • Shows life in collapse and chaos begins
  • Primary character losing control, has to regain power or a balance in life
  • A false, then real challenge revealed

Conflict (simple plot)

  • Man vs Man
  • Man vs Society
  • Man vs Nature
  • Man vs Self
  • Man vs Man’s Work (Machines, etc)
  • Man vs Fate
  • Man vs Supernatural

The Middle

Big Event

  • Ends “beginning”
  • Introduces primary conflict, complex plot
  • Major characters known at this point
  • Establishes story’s direction
  • No false Big Event

Revelation (pinch)

  • Mid-story, usually the intermission point
  • Character decides upon a course of action
  • Protagonist learns about others; primarily about his or her self
  • Sometimes a minor false revelation precedes the real
  • “Point of no return”
  • Leads to the crisis
  • True nature of characters revealed

Crisis

  • All seems lost
  • Worst moments in story
  • Doubt, fear, other troubling emotions – will the main character rise to the challenges ahead?

Climax (showdown)

  • Pause, then action
  • Question, state, accuse
  • Crisis solved (or not) based upon the climax
  • More drama / action than Big Event
  • Forces the main character to prove they understand personal weaknesses and overcome them. Not entirely about the external victory; also about internal growth

The End (1-2 chapters long)

Resolution (denouement)

  • Winners and losers are known
  • No loose ends remain
  • New insights for characters
  • Sometimes a brief false resolution
  • Short section, fast paced

Epilogue (dawn)

  • Most long stories have a false then real dawn.
  • Last page or two
  • Happily ever after… but…
  • Leaves a question or two, without undoing the story

Pantser vs Plotter

In case you haven’t heard these words before:

A “pantser” is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. They make everything up as they go along. A “plotter” is someone who plans out some/all aspects of their story before writing.

Both have merits and downsides.

Pantsers have more creative freedom, but their stories may become aimless or trickle off into nothingness. Plotters work within a predetermined structure, which can be limiting, but their plan enables them to write more consistently and achieve a good end.

I used to be a pantser. I’d get an idea, and write until my imagination had transferred everything to a page. The problem with this? I’d fizzle out and never finish what I started. I had a great idea and it would have nowhere to go. I struggled with direction. I couldn’t finish anything to my liking.

As I read more, and did research into outlining/plotting, I found a lot of useful information. And now I have a new view on the “pantser vs plotter” debate:

Pantsing is having an idea. Plotting is having a story.

I’ll probably use both methods. Some people work best with one or the other. You won’t know what’s best for you until you’ve had some experience.

Having structure seems important – a beginning, middle, and end. Instead of starting at the beginning or middle and trying to find the way from there.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll have a series of posts discussing types of plots. Stay tuned!

Short beginnings and endings

“Effective stories introduce the apparent primary challenge as quickly as possible.” – Tameri

So what does ‘quickly’ mean? Tameri has a concise guideline depending on what form your story is in.

Short story

  • Plot introduced in the first paragraph (or within 50 words)
  • Story established within 150 words

Novella

  • Plot introduced by page 3-5
  • Story established by page 10

Novel

  • Plot introduced in the first 25-50 pages, (or within the first 3 chapters)
  • Story established within 50-100 pages

Script for a movie

  • Plot introduced in the first 5 pages
  • Story established within 10 pages

Script for a TV show

  • Plot introduced in the first 10 pages
  • Story established within 25 pages

It’s then suggested that ending is also quick, “like a roller coaster ending with a steep drop,” and is shorter than the beginning. For example, a novel whose beginning is 3 chapters would have an ending that’s 1-2 chapters long. In general it seems the end of your story should be 50-65% of the beginning’s length.

12 Writing Errors Even The Best Authors Make

Today I found an article all about mistakes that are easy to make, and hard to avoid.

https://insights.bookbub.com/common-writing-errors-even-bestselling-authors-make/

It’s a good article and well worth reading. It includes explanations and examples, plus advice on how to fix the errors. It’s a great reference to look at after/during writing something. (Mostly this is for fiction authors, though some mistakes crop up in nonfiction writing as well.)

For the people who don’t have the time or inclination to see what the 12 errors are, here’s the list!

  1. Show, don’t tell
  2. Weak opening narrative
  3. Over-describing the action
  4. Unbelievable conflicts
  5. Point of view
  6. Assumption of knowledge
  7. Misuse of punctuation
  8. Misplaced and “dangling” modifiers
  9. Disruptive or incorrect dialogue tags
  10. Inconsistencies in names and spelling
  11. Misuse of tense
  12. Homonym errors and commonly confused words

Several, like “show instead of tell,” are things we hear all the time. But that doesn’t stop people from doing it. Accidents happen, even when you know what to look for.

Commercial fiction versus literary fiction

From the New York Times. The article’s main points can be condensed into two parts:

So these are odious categories, “commercial” and “literary.” Mind-forged manacles. But they exist, yes, they do exist. We could point at their different velocities, commercial fiction being produced faster (and read faster) than literary fiction. We could say that commercial fiction is the stuff people want to read, while literary fiction is the stuff they think they should read.

and

To make the distinction between literary and commercial both meaningful and slightly less capricious, I prefer to use functional definitions for commercial and literary fiction.

Fiction that aims to, and often does, reach a wide audience and make a lot of money is, in effect, Commercial Fiction. Fiction that, one argues, has a value that exceeds its commercial appeal would be Literary Fiction.

And maybe Commercial Fiction is really great, or maybe it’s great the way a Dorito is great, but Commercial Fiction is in some way consonant with the market.

TVTropes always has something to say when books are involved, even if the site name is “TV” tropes. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LitFic

Lit Fic – short for “Literary Fiction” – is a nebulous, broad term which emerged during the 1960s. Though it is usually contrasted with Genre Fiction […] in some respects, it is a genre unto itself, characterized by an aspiration to literary merit and a greater focus on style, theme and psychological depth – as opposed to the focus on plot and narrative typical of genre fiction.

[…] Rather, a piece of Lit Fic is much likelier to be about everyday people doing everyday things, dealing with everyday problems and eventually coming to realizations or personal transformations. A family struggles with cancer. A man struggles with death. A couple struggles with alcoholism. A child struggles to become an adult. There is very little escapism or Wish Fulfillment in Lit Fic.

One of my friends, who is always correct about everything, describes literary fiction as (more or less) a fancy language exercise. Characters and plots are secondary aspects to how an author composes sentences. Snippets of direct quotes:

  • the focus on plot rather than beauty of language is really awful for literature
  • it shouldn’t be character driven or plot driven, it should be language driven
  • the characters and the plot are “physical” things in your story, tangible more or less, as opposed to the language which is air, it’s words, but the language is what you’re sending to the reader, via the plots and characters that enable you to make use of really special formulations
  • the language is the “beauty” aspect of the work, and the characters and plots embody that beauty to give it a means of transportation, or a means of being “visible”, but the sense of beauty is the whole point of the effort you’re making when you’re writing it
  • I mean, I suppose the whole “character and plot” focus is the most commercial side of literature, GRRM type stuff, but if you want to be an artist it’s language where it begins and ends
  • you know, I remember Nabokov writing something really neat about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He liked the story, but he said that it was written in the completely wrong way. It lacked any tension, any focus on the sense of “I can not get out” that makes a tragedy like that really gripping. Now, Jekyll and Hyde is a classic story and it’s very famous and successful, but I really get where Nabokov was coming from and it could have been so much fucking better if it had that tension of frustration and anxiety that marks the core of the story.

Why readers select books

I came across some blurbs about surveys. They’re a little outdated and yet the information has likely stayed around the same.

Here’s a survey from the American Booksellers Association.  This study, completed between Fall 2009 and Spring 2010, polled “avid” readers online.  More than 9000 people responded. According to that study, people buy books because:

  1.  Author reputation (52%)
  2. Personal recommendation (49%)
  3. Price (45%)
  4. Book Reviews (37%)
  5. Cover/Blurb (22%)
  6. Advertising (including online) 14%

And a survey from Publishers Weekly in 2007:

  1. Friend’s recommendation 49%
  2. Familiarity with author 45%
  3. Description on jacket 32%
  4. Reviews 22%
  5. Advertisement 21%
  6. Place on bestsellers list 17%
  7. Reading group pick 16%
  8. Cover design 12%

There are some obvious common threads. Caveats: the 2007 survey doesn’t mention price (no one was really thinking about ebook prices then) and neither survey mentions book samples. Getting a taste of a story before clicking “buy” is important.

“You want people to buy your book because they’ve heard of it, and because they want it.” – K. R.

How to get started with self-publishing: a 5-step guide

A very basic guide to begin self-publishing. Find the resources to get started – even if you haven’t done anything yet!

Step 1: you need to write your book (personally I think this is the hardest part). Here are some resources for writing and editing by yourself:

Step 2: you’ll need an editor. You can hire some professionals for line editing and proofreading. If you’re budget-conscious, ask friends and family to look over your work. You can also find forums and author groups to help, if you’re willing to help someone else in return. I’m compiling a list of editors and other resources here. Technically this step isn’t mandatory. Still, it’s better not to skip over the editing step. Even if you only use general reader feedback, you’ll need something to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Books are meant to be enjoyed.

Step 3: you’ll need a book cover. Hiring a professional is always the best route to go, and a book cover is less expensive than editing. If you’re budget-conscious, some places offer templates and premade covers. Premade covers usually cost 50-100 USD. You can find all sorts of things with a search engine. You can also contact me since I make professional book covers. (Shameless plug, I know: geoff@glichy.com) Making a book cover yourself with a site like Canva is also an option. I wouldn’t recommend it though, because most authors just aren’t designers.

Step 4: upload your book. Going digital is inexpensive and free. Here are the main places to upload:

Step 5: don’t forget about your book’s categories, search keywords, and description. Fill in the blanks, and you’re done! Congratulations.

Beyond step 5 is social media, marketing, mailing lists, personal websites, and a lot more. Self-publishing is easy; being successful through self-publishing is hard work. You’re on your way. I’m making a big list of resources if you want more information.

6 questions I ask before buying books

When I reach a page on Amazon, I check for a digital version. I don’t have room for physical books anymore.

From there, here’s my approximate order of importance:

1. Is the cover good?

If an author doesn’t have a good book cover, it seems careless. And if you’re careless with the outside of your book, what does that say about the inside? A cover is the thing that grabs customers first, because humans are visual and emotional in nature. A great cover means more than a fancy title. Although to be fair, if your title is laughable or nonsensical, I won’t want to read it either. A title like “The Princely Unicorn Known As Mister Glitter Investigates A Crime” does not work for a horror novella. It has to make sense. Likewise, the cover has to make sense and speak to its genre(s).

2. What are the genres?

Basically I look to see that the book isn’t romance or erotica. A book cover doesn’t always mirror the content so I scroll down. Some of you are a lot more picky with genre. I tend to get behind hard science fiction, gothic horror, and high/low fantasy.

3. What does the sample tell us?

The sample needs to show good writing with adequate description. Nothing too flowery, nothing too bland. At the least, there needs to be professional-looking editing and formatting. It doesn’t have to actually be put together by a team of professionals. Just something that isn’t typd leik thiz. Samples are important. If you have errors and typos, I’ll go elsewhere without a second thought. I’ll only stomach them if I know the author.

4. What do the reviews say?

Good reviews are important, sure. But average/bad reviews can still show that the story holds promise. Some interesting stories don’t get great reviews, and resonate with a small group of fans. Some terrible stories get incredible reviews and have raving fans. Reviews are also subjective as all hell and need to be taken with grains of salt. Still, they often have common threads and compare the book to similar books. Skimming reviews can give you a decent idea of what to expect. Even then, I’ll take a chance on a book if I like the sample enough.

5. Is the price reasonable?

I’m looking at you, major publishers. Penguin and Random House, there is no reason whatsoever to price your ebook at $13-15 when the paperback is under $10. This is one reason why the self-publishing market is booming. Authors can price their work under $5 and people see that as a great deal. And it is. Do you want a 300-page novel for $15, or three 500-page novels that are $5 each?

6. Is the book description silly?

We’re not all looking for a book that’s original or the next big hit. We want a story that’s going to keep our interest and entertain us. Book descriptions are a shorter version of what we should see in the sample. I don’t want another copy-and-paste YA plot outline as a book description (or even something worse). Not unless I know the author, or can expect some twists.

#6 on this list is the most subjective: some people would swap it with #3 (what the sample says). A lot of people see the cover, read the description, check the reviews, then make a decision on whether or not to buy. I look at the cover, double-check the genre, skim the sample, then look at the reviews and price. The biggest common element is the cover. Your book cover has to be good. If not good, then at least passable.

Your Kindle Needs You

To update. The deadline is 22 March 2016.

Amazon is changing a few things – and certain models of Kindle could stop being 100% functional.

They’ve been sending out emails to Kindle owners. I already updated my Kindle and it was pretty easy. I just connected to my Wifi and the update was automatic. Depending on what model Kindle you own, this process may vary.

Business Insider and Snopes posted articles about this, in case there were doubts about authenticity.

In case you can’t get the update for some reason, don’t panic! It can be done manually. For more details, see Amazon: www.amazon.com/ku2016

List of Kindles affected:

  • Kindle 1st Generation (2007)
  • Kindle 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle DX 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle Keyboard 3rd Generation (2010)
  • Kindle 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle 5th Generation (2012)
  • Kindle Touch 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle Paperwhite 5th Generation (2012)