Category Archives: Novel Revision

14 Nov

How to Choreograph a Great Action Scene

I recently found a gem of a writing book. For my NaNoWriMo challenge, my current love/hate WIP, I decided I wanted to include more action scenes, pushing it more toward YA and more toward a true action book. OK. Action. That should be easy. Um. No.

ActionNewLHPUntil I read this book. Ian Thomas Healy breaks down action into manageable chunks in his book, Action! Writing Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques.

The title appealed to me right away because I do like action/thriller movies, and I recognize that writing action means you must fully evoke the visual, auditory and kinesthetic senses, like a movie would be able to do. Healy delivers.

Action Scenes = Violence

The first shocking thing to realize is that action means violence, says Healy. It’s not just movement, but conflict made concrete. Movement across a scene without a purpose is just the beat of a scene and action implies much more.

Healy breaks down action scenes into three levels: stunts, sequences and engagements.

1) On the simplest level, a STUNT is a single brief action. Carver pulls a gun and fires.
2) ENGAGEMENTS moves up a level by combining multiple stunts as a character moves across a setting. Now, you’re talking more choreography and relating the characters to the setting. Actions are physical, not mental, and thus, they require a setting. How the characters move across the setting while doing stunts is an Engagement. They end with the resolution of a plot point, or they transition into another Engagement, perhaps going from a chase to a fight.
3) A SEQUENCE is a combination of Engagements related in some way. Maybe they are about the same character, setting or conflict.

What actions are possible in this setting? What violence is possible here?

What actions are possible in this setting? What violence is possible here?

This is immensely helpful and practical! When I approach an action scene, first I make sure I understand the setting. What is present in the scene physically and how will that affect the story I can tell. Is there a river? Then some possible stunts would be diving into the river, wading, falling in, slipping on a muddy bank, fist-fight in the water, crossing the river, swimming, fist-fight while in water, and so on. I’m not just trying to create stunts on the fly, but the setting itself suggest what is possible. What if I want the character to fly away? Then the setting must be a unicorn stable, or an airstrip. Can I get the characters to the right place for this scene?

After listing what’s possible in this scene, I can start to map out the action. Often, this is just a mental map, but I can also fall back on a paper/pencil map when needed. Draw out the setting. Put an X where the characters are standing. Then Write #1, 2, 3 and so on for where they move to across the landscape to create an Engagement. Physically point–put your finger on the spot where the actions starts. Move your finger to the next spot where a stunt occurs. Sounds mechanical? Yes! But it works, and that’s the point. As I get better at this, maybe I’ll be able to do it all mentally. But for now, this is working great.

Finally, combining the Engagements into Sequences is simple.

There’s so much more in Healy’s book to recommend. Consider this provocative statement: “One of the most useful things you can do with an Engagement is use it to strengthen character relationships.”

If you’re writing or considering writing a book with lots of action, this is a great tutorial. On his website, Healy critiques some action scenes–interesting to see what he focuses on in the critiques!

One last thing. Yesterday, I was trying to write an action scene set in Mt. Rainier’s National Park and nothing was working. Then, I realized that was because I didn’t know the setting well enough! Of course, if action scenes move across the landscape, then I needed to know my landscape better. I spent the day studying Google Earth, watching You-Tube videos, scanning lists of flora/fauna, and hunting for autumn photos of the stunning vine maple. Before you can write about a physical space, you must know something about it!

12 Nov

Online Video Course: 30 DAYS TO A STRONGER NOVEL

The course is now live on Udemy.com!

Each day includes:

  • A quote that inspires
  • Short, practical instruction from Darcy on a specific topic
  • A simple “Walk the Talk” action to take

9781629440408-Perfect.inddOver the course of the month, you’ll receive the entire text of Darcy’s book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel (November, 2014 release).
We can’t guarantee that you’ll end the month with a publishable novel; but we can guarantee it will be a STRONGER novel.


We can't guarantee a publishable novel; but we can guarantee a STRONGER NOVEL!

We can’t guarantee a publishable novel; but we can guarantee a STRONGER NOVEL!




TakeThisCourseSign up now and receive $5 discount. Use this code: 5OFF30Days

VIDEO COURSE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Watership Down with Armadillos: Titles
  • Search Me: Subtitles
  • Defeat Interruptions: Chapter Divisions
  • Scarlett or Pansy: The Right Character Name
  • My Wound is Geography: Stronger Settings
  • Horse Manure: Stronger Setting Details
  • Weaklings: Every Character Must Matter
  • Take Your Character’s Pulse
  • Yin-Yang: Connecting Emotional and Narrative Arcs
  • Owls and Foreigners: Unique Character Dialogue
  • Sneaky Shoes: Inner and Outer Character Qualities
  • Friends or Enemies: Consistent Character Relationships
  • Set Up the Ending: Begin at the Beginning
  • Bang, Bang! Ouch! Scene Cuts
  • Go Away! Take a Break
  • Power Abs for Novels
  • White Rocks Lead Me Home: Epiphanies
  • The Final Showdown
  • One Year Later: Tie up Loose Ends
  • Great Deeds: Find Your Theme
  • The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting
  • Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters
  • Side Trips: Choosing Subplots
  • Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together
  • Feedback: Types of Critiquers
  • Feedback: What You Need from Readers
  • Stay the Course
  • Please Yourself First
  • The Best Job I Know to Do
  • Live. Read. Write.

Discount Code

Sign up now and receive $5 discount. Use this code: 5OFF30Days



TakeThisCourse

11 Nov

The Power of One

photo 2

I did a school visit on Friday in the tiny town–only about 700 population–of Gillett, Arkansas. The Elementary School and Early Childhood Center are still located in Gillett, but the district was merged with DeWitt, Arkansas, and all middle school and high schools are located in Dewitt, about twenty miles away.
DarcyatGillett

I came at the request of Joli, the PTA President.
Young, beautiful, and full of passion for her community, Joli Holzhauer is a living testament of the Power of One.

The city’s claim to fame is the annual Coon Supper, an event that no politician in Arkansas will miss. Bill Clinton attended the event for many years and brought with him the major political forces; this year, almost every candidate for major offices in Arkansas attended. The event often gets CNN or FoxNews coverage.
photo 5


Wikipedia adds: “The largest alligator ever killed in Arkansas was harpooned near Gillett on September 19, 2010. The thirteen-foot one-inch reptile weighed 680 pounds.”

Joli met her husband, the current mayor of Gillett, at Mississippi State University, when he was planning a far different career; instead, he came home to farm. The area has cotton, soybeans, rice, corn and other crops which grow in this fertile, flat delta area. She says it was different at first from what she was used to, but she dug in and started working to support her community.

Rachel Mitchell, the principal of Gillett Elementary said that Joli comes in to chat and asks, “What do you need? What do you want?”
And then, Joli makes it happen. The PTA sold chocolate bars. Now, in a community of only 700 people (that includes children), how many chocolate bars can you sell? $3000 worth. Whatever the school needs or wants, one person is making a difference.

photo 3

Intelligent, smart, committed. Small communities and their school survive because of people like Joli. I salute you!

photo 4

03 Nov

6 Questions to Sharpen Your Story Beats and Make Your Plot Sing

When you’re writing or plotting a story, one way to approach it is to write out the story beats. A beat is a small action; a collection of beats makes up a scene. It’s sort of like choreographing a dance; you must make character move around, interact and do things. You can write story beats on the fly if you like, but I like doing some planning ahead so the actual writing is easier. If you, too, write story beats ahead, here are some things you should keep in mind.

  1. Where are the characters in space? Because beats represent physical actions of a scene, you must always keep in mind where the characters are in space. In a dining room, is mother on the other side of the table from her daughter or on the same side. If she’s on the other side, then she can’t reach out and touch her daughter. She must physically walk around the table to do that. You must always be aware of EXACTLY where each character is. Draw it out or act it out if necessary.
  2. Where are we? The story's setting determines the types of action possible. Moving around a marina is very different than running through a wooded area. Photo by Darcy Pattison.

    Where are we? The story’s setting determines the types of action possible. Moving around a marina is very different than running through a wooded area. Photo by Darcy Pattison.

  3. What is the moment before? When a scene opens, don’t have a character move out of empty space. For example, if you write, “Mom walked over to Lucy,” then I want to know where Mom started that walk. Where was she the moment before this started. Place her somewhere and give the reader enough context for the action to make sense.
  4. Can you name and transform an emotion? To help me write a scene, sometimes I need to actually name the emotional back and forth. Then, I work to push the emotion into the dialogue, the beats (actions) or the body language. If mother wants to appeal to her daughter for understanding, perhaps she pulls out a chair and sits, which puts her in a lower position than the daughter. If she holds up her hands, mother becomes a supplicant before the daughter and the beats/body language reinforce that mother is asking for understanding. Then, you don’t have to say it, because you’ve shown it. But naming it helps me keep the emotional tensions as tight as possible.
  5. Can you escalate the tension? Mother grabs the daughter’s arm. That’s definitely conflict. But when Mom squeezes harder, the tension escalates. Within a scene you want a mini conflict that rises to a small climax and you should be using the beats to help you escalate and build that tension. What beat did you list? How can you escalate that action in some way? Mom squeezes harder; mom’s face gets in daughter’s face; one of them shoves the other; and so on.
  6. What body Language would help express the beats? While you are writing out the beats, or the actions that characters take, it could be subtle changes of body language. One character leans closer to hear better. Another crosses arms over her chest to fend off a verbal attack. Avoid the clichés: looking away, spun away, tears rolled down her cheeks. Instead, look for fresh beats and fresh ways to use body language.
  7. Is the action clear? Above all, you must strive for clarity. Readers must never be confused about what is happening in a scene. Try to look at it with fresh eyes and see it as a first-time reader would see it. Clarity trumps pretty language every time.
20 Oct

Why I LOVE Cliches and Tropes

I confess: I love a good cliche or trope.

A cliche is a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting.
A trope is a common or overused theme or device, as in the usual horror movie tropes.

I’m in the middle of plotting a massive 3-book story and I need all the help I can get. Here’s the problem: what happens next?

No, let me rephrase: what could possibly happen next?

Sometimes, I just need to know possibilities, or what a story typically does at a particular stage. What are the possibilities? Is this a place for a murder, a confession, a love scene, or a time to gather information?

Literary folk say that there are only a limited number of stories in the world. Depending on who you talk with, there might be just two stories: a character leaves town, or a stranger comes to town. Others say there are up to 32 plots. I’ve written about 29 plot templates before. And it helps immensely to narrow down the choices.

But that’s on the level of an outline. Now that I’m deep into deciding on scenes, my imagination comes up short.

Enter tropes. A trope is a common theme, something that’s been done before. That doesn’t scare me away, because it’s the same as the variety of themes. Every story is a cliche, trope or template in many ways. It’s all in how you TELL that story. The beauty is in the particulars.

Romantic Subplot

Kiss Romantic Trope


My story needs a romantic subplot. I know the basics.
Act 1: Boy Meets Girl/Girl Meets Boy
Act 2: Boy and Girl Fight or are otherwise kept apart.
Act 3: Boy and Girl get together.

But what else? What is possible at each stage?

I turned to TVTROPES.org for help. Their site is a wiki that list all sorts of tropes. The Romantic Arc Tropes list was helpful because it listed typical things that happen at every stage of a romantic relationship.

For example, a story might start with this trope/subtropes:
Love Before First Sight

  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Childhood Marriage Promise
  • Red String of Fate
  • Girl of My Dreams
  • New Old Flame

Each of the tropes listed has its own wiki page, which explains the trope in detail. Particularly valuable are the examples drawn from traditional literature, manga, comic books, fanfics, films, live-action TV, professional wrestling, table top games, theater, video games, webcomics, western animation, real life and more. It’s a treasure trove of examples of the POSSIBILITIES of a particular stage of a relationship.

In fact, I used this romance arc by choosing one trope from each stage of a relationship and slotting that into my story.

Place Holders

Are you afraid that my story will be trite and boring? I’m not. I know that this is a trope and therefore, I must transform it in the storytelling phase of the project. Right now, though, this trope acts as a place holder, something that indicates approximately what will happen in this spot of the story, but not exactly. The nuances that make it fresh await the actual writing.

Using tropes to hold a place with something reasonable makes the plotting easier. I’m loving this help in plotting.

Here are some Arcs to get you started. Be warned: this is a massive wiki and it’s easy to get lost in it. Know what you are looking for and get it/get out.

14 Oct

10 Writer Quotes to Keep you Working on Your Novel

30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video course

30DaysUdemy-960x540-150
Writing teacher Darcy Pattison teachers an online video course, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. Each day includes an inspirational quote, and tips and techniques for revising your novel. Here are the 10 of the inspirational quotes.

LEARN MORE: ONLINE VIDEO COURSE.

Or sign up for more information on the availability of this course and other courses.

Pattison
The titles below are the first ten entries of the Table of Contents for the Online Video Class. Sign up now for the Early Bird list. You’ll be notified when the course goes live.

Mims: Online Video Course

Sign up for information on online video courses with Darcy Pattison. Discounts, deadlines, and more.

  1. The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting

    21-Morrell

  2. Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters

    22-singer

  3. Side Trips: Choosing Subplots

    23-morrell

  4. Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together

    24-lengle

  5. Feedback: Types of Critiquers

    25-goldberg

  6. Feedback: What You Need from Readers

    26-king

  7. Stay the Course

    27-Parker

  8. Please Yourself First

    28-dillard

  9. The Best Job I Know to Do

    29-allen

  10. Live. Read. Write.

    30-Bratslav

Click Here to See 22 More Quotes for Writers

25 Sep

30 Days to a Stronger Novel: Online Video Course

Online Video Classes by Darcy Pattison

Writing teacher and author Darcy Pattison.

Writing teacher and author Darcy Pattison.

Starting in November, 2014, Darcy Pattison will offer online video writing courses through Udemy.com’s platform. See more about Darcy here, or download her bio here.

  • Writing Teacher, Darcy Pattison will explain writing concepts, tips, strategies. Since 1999, Darcy has taught the Novel Revision Retreat nationwide, and many alumni have seen their first publication as a result.
  • The on-demand format allows you to fit the courses into your busy schedule. You access the videos any time day or night. Start the series anytime you need it. No need to wait for the start of the next month.
  • Group discounts available: your critique group can take the class together. Focus your group’s accountability, discussions, and output for a month.

Mims House Book and Online Course Updates

* indicates required

Online Video Courses


If this form isn’t working, click here to sign up.

NOVEMBER 1: 30 Days to a STRONGER Novel: $59


30DaysUdemy-960x540-150

INTRODUCTORY PRICING: One of the most popular series on Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes blog has been her 30-day series on improving a novel. Now updated, the series offers 30 days of sage advice on strengthening your novel, for less than $2/day.

Each day includes:

  • A quote that inspires
  • Short, practical instruction from Darcy on a specific topic
  • A simple “Walk the Talk” action to take

9781629440408-Perfect.inddOver the course of the month, you’ll receive the entire text of Darcy’s book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel (November, 2014 release).
We can’t guarantee that you’ll end the month with a publishable novel; but we can guarantee it will be a STRONGER novel.

VIDEO COURSE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Watership Down with Armadillos: Titles
  • Search Me: Subtitles
  • Defeat Interruptions: Chapter Divisions
  • Scarlett or Pansy: The Right Character Name
  • My Wound is Geography: Stronger Settings
  • Horse Manure: Stronger Setting Details
  • Weaklings: Every Character Must Matter
  • Take Your Character’s Pulse
  • Yin-Yang: Connecting Emotional and Narrative Arcs
  • Owls and Foreigners: Unique Character Dialogue
  • Sneaky Shoes: Inner and Outer Character Qualities
  • Friends or Enemies: Consistent Character Relationships
  • Set Up the Ending: Begin at the Beginning
  • Bang, Bang! Ouch! Scene Cuts
  • Go Away! Take a Break
  • Power Abs for Novels
  • White Rocks Lead Me Home: Epiphanies
  • The Final Showdown
  • One Year Later: Tie up Loose Ends
  • Great Deeds: Find Your Theme
  • The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting
  • Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters
  • Side Trips: Choosing Subplots
  • Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together
  • Feedback: Types of Critiquers
  • Feedback: What You Need from Readers
  • Stay the Course
  • Please Yourself First
  • The Best Job I Know to Do
  • Live. Read. Write.

EARLY BIRD SIGNUP: Great Extras!

When you sign up for the Early Bird list, you are eligible for some great offers. When the course is live, we’ll send out an email to the EARLY BIRD list.

3 Written Critiques

The first three people to sign up for the course will receive the opportunity to submit ten pages to Darcy for a written critique.

5 Group Coaching Sessions

The first five critique groups who sign up for the course will receive the opportunity for a group Skype call where each person gets to ask Darcy a question about their manuscript.

1 Private Coaching Session:

All names will be entered in a drawing for a 15-minute private coaching session (Skype call) with Darcy to discuss your novel.

EARLY BIRD SIGNUP: Great Discounts!

At $59, the 30 Days to a Stronger Novel online video course is a steal: that’s less than $2/day, less than a cup of coffee for coaching by acclaimed writing teacher Darcy Pattison.
If you sign up for the Early Bird list, though, you’ll receive a special discount:

  • 30% discount on regular price
  • 40% discount for groups of 3 or more – sign up with your critique group for the best pricing!
  • For groups of 25 or more, contact Darcy for discount rates.

To be eligible for Early Bird Extras and Early Bird Discounts,
you MUST be on this Early Bird List

Mims House Book and Online Course Updates

* indicates required

Online Video Courses


If this form isn’t working, click here .

Please Share with Your Friends!

21 Sep

Don’t Plot Like I Do!

I’m warning you! Don’t plot like I do.

I’ve been working on the plot of a new novel for about six weeks and I’m still stumbling around. I’ll describe the messy process here and hope that you manage to shortcut your own process.

It started last year with an idea and a short story that gave backstory on the longer story. I’ve wanted to write a sf for a while and this idea has been germinating for a long time. Besides the problem of other projects, there’s the question of audience. I had to grapple with taking creative risks.

Take Creative Risks

One creative risk was the type of story I would tell. Would it be a character story or an action/adventure story?

I plotted out something, but my left brain kicked in and compared the plot to the 29 Plot Templates Regardless of which plot structure I looked at, there were so many holes in the story.

I got advice from Optimus Prime. Hey, I take help where I find it and Optimus was obviously handing out advice on plotting.

By now, though, I was getting bogged down. What was the purpose of all this plotting? I had to remind myself that I was telling a story.

The next disappointment was the worry about how slowly the work progressed.

Listen. I know a lot about novel structure, characterization, plotting, setting and many other topics about novels. I teach this stuff. But when I write, I struggle through the writing process. One of my strengths, though, is that I am open to switching strategies. It’s also my weakness, but while I’m in the throes of plotting, I feel like I am jumping from this method, to that paradigm, to yet another novel structure. In reality, I’m just checking out my story from multiple POVs.
Impossible

A Sixth Grade Aside

When my daughter was in sixth grade, she wrote an essay. The teacher asked my daughter to write an evaluation essay about writing the essay. Write down the process you went through to write this essay, the teacher advised.

And I shook my head in despair.

No, there isn’t just ONE path through the writing process. It’s cyclical, curving back on itself to ask you to repeat this task or that task. Or perhaps describing it as a maze is a better metaphor. I follow false trails until they dead end. I get lost in the middle and can’t fight my way out. I start at the beginning one time and the next time, I start at the end. Somehow, though, the writing gets done. There are strategies, ways of approaching a draft, working habits, and so on. But for any given piece of writing, the process will vary and vary widely.

Messy Writing Process

This time, I’m doing well with trying to go from general to specific.

That got me to an eight-page outline. But the 29 Plot Templates revealed major holes. I realized that I needed to concentrate on sub-plots and figure those out before I returned to the main plot. I focused on the villain as the hero of his own story: why did he want revenge? I re-read articles about writing a revenge story and one comment struck me: “Killing him would be too easy.”

Of course! Revenge isn’t just about hurting or killing the person; it’s about making them suffer as the victim has suffered. I asked myself, “What would make my character hurt/suffer the most?” Of course, that is what I MUST make happen. Voila! A new plot twist grabbed me and I was off and running with the complications from that twist.

10 page outline. But still lots of plot holes.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking at other subplots and milking them for all the conflict that I can. Will there be a romantic subplot? After an initial attraction, there needs to be deep reasons why they must stay apart. What reason is sitting there in my story already, just waiting for me to exploit it? It’s there. I just need an Aha! Moment to recognize it. I’m jumping all around, reading odd articles, re-reading the 10-page outline and looking for the right way to approach this.

I feel like I am being asked to carve a huge statue with a bobby pin.

I have at least three more subplots to work through and slot into the main plot. I’m sure there will still be plot holes then, but I expect there will be fewer.

Should I copy this process the next time I plot? No!
Each time, the writing process creates it’s own maze and demands a different path to story. I’m just trusting that the process will eventually spit out a viable story. I know that I’ll have to decide something about the audience and tone, and spend a while on characters and their back story. I know that some personal issues are likely to complicate the timing of the writing. I know I’ll make multiple starts before I really get going.

Don’t follow my writing process. It’s messy and ugly. Besides—it wouldn’t work for you. You must find your own way through the maze of words to find the story that only you can tell.

16 Sep

Serializing Fiction: Wattpad

I am going to be serializing my novel, VAGABONDS: An American Fantasy, on Wattpad for the next 50 days.

Why Wattpad

Wattpad is a social media platform for readers and writers. Writers post stories and readers comment.
That’s almost enough reason right there to be on Wattpad:it’s a place where readers and writers connect.

The latest statistics say that 16.9 million readers find time to read at least 30 minutes/visit on Wattpad. These are not casual, glance at your website and five seconds later, they click off. When a reader finds a story that interests them, they read. They engage. They comment and vote up. Some call this the “YouTube of Writing.” Popular titles can have over 10M reads and more than 10,000 comments. WOW!

Science fiction, YA, and Fantasy. Over 20 genres are represented on Wattpad, but the most popular categories are science fiction, YA, and fantasy. VAGABONDS definitely fits the popular genre of fantasy, and should have appeal to teen readers. I describe it as a “Watership Down with armadillos.”

The platform provides statistics on how many people read each chapter. In other words, if you have a 50 chapter book and you lose readers after chapter 23–you have valuable feedback on when and where you went askew in your story.

2014 has been a year of experimentation for me. I’ve tried multiple ways to connect my books with the right readers and this seems like a reasonable thing to try. I’ll report in November how the month went. In the meantime–go to Wattpad and read the six chapters. Vote it up!

10 Sep

General to Specific: From One Sentence to a Plot

So, I have a general outline of my story but the writing still isn’t flowing. I realized that I need to break down major events into smaller sections, so I will know what to write.

I’ve gone through two stages of plotting or outlining, each one getting more specific. Here’s an example:

1. First, I stared with major plot points:
A volcano threatens to blow up, so Jake gets alien Rison technology to make it stop.

2. Second, I start to layout possible scenes.
At one point, he realizes he needs the alien technology, so he makes arrangements to get it. I wrote this: Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming.

At this level, a scene may be summarized in a single sentence. However, it’s more helpful to break down both sentences further.

3. On the third pass, I’m looking to split up the action into several scenes, or at least flesh out the one scene a bit better.

Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Conflict with Mom because he really wants to try swim team and she’s distracted b/c negotiations going so badly.
Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming. Bobbie Fleming, a harbor seal upsets Jake’s kayak. Of course, he has no problem with righting the canoe and getting back in and getting back to shore. But something nags at him, the waters feel more like home than the Gulf waters did. Something about being IN Puget Sound—there was something THERE. He had to find out what?

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Snowflakes and Phases

Need a more structured approach to something similar? The Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson is a very structured approach that starts with a single sentence, and then splits that into two sentences, the two into four sentences, etc. until the story takes shape. It’s a structured outlining process with built-in steps for developing characters. Randy has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, and his structured thinking shows in this method, which he’s turned into a software program and various books. If you need a very structured program, you may like the help you’ll get from the Snowflake Method.

Another option for approaching plot in a structured way is Lazette Gifford’s Phases system. You should read her original article about Phases here. She suggests that you write a numbered list of “phases” or short summaries of action. These can be scenes, transitions, thinking about what just happened and so on.

What I like here is the reference to the overall novel. Gifford suggests that you use MSWord’s auto-numbering feature to write phases for your novel.

For example, if you want to write 50,000 words, Gifford, in her free ebook, Nano for the New and Insane, breaks the 50,000 word length into phases:

  • 60 Phases in the outline — 834 words per phase — 2 phase sections per day
  • 120 Phases in the outline — 417 words
    per phase — 4 phase sections per day
  • 150 Phases in the outline — 334 words per
    phase — 5 phase sections per day
  • 300 Phases in the outline — 167 words
    per phase — 10 phase sections per day

In other words, I can start with 60 phases and in that space, I should have a synopsis of the the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Or, if you’d rather, think of it as Acts 1, 2, and 3. Act 1 and 3 get about 15 phases each, which leaves 30 for Act 2.

That is comforting to me. I ONLY have to decide on 15 scenes (or discrete units) for Act 1. Act 1 looms HUGE for me, but 15 scenes sounds easy.

Phases allows me to do an easy, early check on the plot, too. Each phases needs moments of high arousal: excitement, inspiration, awe, anger, humor, action, disgust or outrage. Across the phases, I can easily check on how a subplot fits into the overall structure and how the subplot progresses.

Sixty phases is something that’s easy to see and understand. Once those are set, I may try to increase to 120 words, breaking down the plot into more specific actions.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, this also makes the task of 50,000 words in one day much easier.

Another thing I like about the Phase method is that it’s easy to see progress. I’m all about numbers and keeping score. On 9/5, I started with 23 phases; today, I’m up to 49 phases. My goal is 60 phases by the end of the week. Then I’ll look at it further to see if I want to go for 120 or if the 60 will be good enough to write from.

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