...  Publishing New Writers

Opt-In Publication for AuthorMe.com, AuthorMARK.com, Cookcom.net


 January, 2005


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The Basics: Plot

by Sandy Tritt


Before you can start writing, you must have at least a basic idea of the three major components of a story. Plot is what happens. Character is to whom it happens. And setting is where and when it happens. Most stories are either plot-driven or character-driven. A plot-driven novel is one in which what happens is more important than to whom it happens. An example of this is an action/adventure novel. A character-driven novel is one in which a character evolves during the story, and what happens isn’t as important as how the character reacts to what happens. An example of this is a romance novel.
A successful plot must have a struggle of some sort—on one hand, something that a character (or characters) wants very badly, and on the other hand, something that prevents the character from having it.
There are three fundamental struggles that plots are based upon:
• Man-against-man—this is when another character (the antagonist) is at odds with the protagonist (the main character) and tries to prevent the protagonist from accomplishing his goal. An example of this would be a cop chasing down a serial killer.
• Man-against-nature—this is when nature (or, possibly, machinery) causes problems for the protagonist. An example of this would be a man left behind in Antarctica, fighting for survival against the elements of nature.
• Man-against-himself—this is when some character flaw within the protagonist prevents him from achieving his greatest desire. An example of this would be a man who wants a happy home life, but who battles alcoholism.

Many novels have a main plot, with several subplots spidering off of it. However, in order to focus, it is important to have a focus statement to give your story cohesiveness. A focus statement describes your story’s basic plot in one sentence. Yes. One sentence. Forcing this focus gives you a home base to return to and reflect from, and ensures that you don’t drift too much in other directions. Examples of a focus statement:
• An uneducated man from the slums climbs through the political world in his quest to become President.
• A teenager hones his acting skills in hopes of making it big on the Silver Screen.
• An alcoholic mother struggles to raise her children.

A plot must also have three distinct parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning, of course, is where the story starts. The setting must be firmly established (both place and time), the main character must be introduced, and the story question must be presented. The story question puts the focus statement into a “what if” format:
• Will the uneducated man from the slums be able to achieve his goal to become President?
• Can the teenager make it big on the Silver Screen?
• Will the alcoholic mother be able to successfully raise her children?

The middle of the story is where we build the action and further develop the characters. The middle of the story is the link between the beginning and the end, and that which makes the end possible.
The end of the story consists of two parts, the climax and the resolution. The climax is the turning point in the novel, where the tension is highest. The climax is where all seems lost, where decisions must be made, where life and death hangs on the balance. The climax should lead directly into the resolution, which should answer the story question and resolve the character statement of the main character (usually, these will be linked). In a character-driven novel, the main character should be changed in some way—wiser, more mature, kinder, perhaps even more cynical—but he/she must have undergone a change. If his character goal has not been achieved, then it must be resolved (perhaps the uneducated man from the slums decides that he can make a greater impact on society if he becomes a teacher than he could make as President or perhaps the teenager’s father is seriously injured in an accident and the youth realizes that nothing is more important than his family and he’d prefer to stay close to home).

Plot is accomplished through a series of scenes. A scene is the dramatization of one snapshot in time—what happens at one specific place at one specific time. Of course, the action may unwind over a period of several minutes or longer, but once the action is transferred to a different setting or to a different character, that scene ends and another scene begins. (However, the same scene continues if the viewpoint character himself is moving, say walking down the street from one house to another). Every scene in a novel must further the plot or develop a character (preferably both at the same time); otherwise, it is an extraneous scene and should be cut. Every scene should also have a feeling of completeness about it. This is accomplished by ending the scene with an action, thought or dialogue by the viewpoint character, hopefully resolving or reviewing whatever “mini-crisis” the scene presented.
Most writers divide their novel into chapters. Some give a title to each chapter; others just use numbers. There are no rules for assigning chapters, although I’ve read advice that suggests that each chapter should consist of three scenes or each chapter should consist of twenty pages. I think this is up to the individual writer.
Plot is certainly one of the most important components in your novel. There are several ways to go about developing plot. Some people outline, putting every scene on an index card. Some people allow the plot to develop on its own, as they write. Some people know the entire plot before they even write one word, others discover the plot as they write. Section 8 contains a reproducible Chapter Summary Worksheet, should you like to outline your chapters. Section 8 also contains a reproducible Novel Summary Worksheet, which helps identify each component of your novel. This summary can be used with the Character Trait Charts and the other material available to create a detailed reference of all the components of your story. If it works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t.
In the meantime, happy plotting!

(from Section 2, Workbook)

Want more great tips and techniques? Our Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook is now available. Expanded tips, more topics, reproducible worksheets, exercises to practice what you learn and much more--check it out! Free shipping anywhere in the United States.

(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved, except for those listed here. January be reproduced for educational purposes (such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt at tritt@wvadventures.net for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.

   Keep writing!

Sandy Tritt

Inspiration for Writers tritt@wvadventures.net


Critiquing Special

  • Limited time special, one cent per word.  Just mention Publishing New Writers  Newsletter (January, 2005).

    Critiques by Sandy Tritt

  • Unlike most editors, I consider my role to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other writers.

  • Treat you with respect and compassion. All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.

  • Mark your manuscript, correcting grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where appropriate, line-by-line.

  • Highlight areas that are especially well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.

  • Where appropriate, offer suggestions for plot development, character development or other areas that could be strengthened.

  • Return a two-to-four page written analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting, characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks, etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.

  • If appropriate, recommend reading or resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.

  • Answer any questions you  have via email.

  • Provide my telephone number for a personal follow-up, if you desire.

For Sandy's success stories, see http://tritt.wirefire.com/Manuscript_Critique.html

Write Sandy at tritt@wvadventures.net

(See Sandy's article - above.)










An AuthorMe Duet

by Bruce Cook

(Extract from Publisher’s Christmas Letter to AuthorMe Editors)

Dear AuthorMe Editors:

As we nudge our all-volunteer website into another year, I want to thank you all for your generous efforts. When AuthorMe has success, it is entirely because of your efforts. When a new writer from AuthorMe launches a new career in the publishing world, we can look on like proud teachers or parents and feel satisfied…

Last night’s Christmas service here in the Sleepy Hollow area included a beautiful duet by two sisters - "What Child is This?" The singers were granddaughters of a member, so we had never heard them before. The lead singer must have had professional voice training. Her warmth and technical skill and voice lifted my heart, and I'll never stop hearing her song. But then, soft in the background, her sister's voice came in, and finally this new singer - no training, no experience - tremulously joined that of the professional. The second singer tortured her way through her solo verse until her professional sister joined her again and the two voices brought the song to a glorious close.

Their song did not achieve perfection in musical terms. But it achieved a greater thing as in communicated the patience of a leader, the dedicated efforts of a student, and  a combines statement of personal growth and glory.

Within the thrill of the performance I thought of everyone at AuthorMe. Each of us has patiently shared our talents gratefully, with professional writers and tender new writers. And, like the "What Child Is This" performance, we offer our output on AuthorMe as a series of stories and poems that lead us all to still more glorious expression.

This year our website has been honored to carry many new African writers who will compete in a prestigious writing contest called the Caine Prize. This is important for the writers. At the same time, it has a special cultural and sometimes political importance.

AuthorMe began with the simple aim of providing a meeting place for new writers. Secondly, we provided resources for writers. Today, with the continuing support of our authors and readers, we can say that we bring readers to new writers. And, we are offering free editorial advice and support for many.

As with previous years, our visitorship, is on the increase. Presently I read our visitor logs and find that our numbers are hovering at the 2,000-2,500 per-day levels for a total number of individual visitors (adding the fiction and poetry sites together). For the fist time, our poetry site – led by our new Poetry Editor JonaKarina Whisenant - crossed the 1,000 visitor line the other day and we are starting to see a balance - almost as many visitors to the poetry side as the fiction side, each day. This has been an unheard of possibility in the past.

Next year we will concentrate on promoting our manuscripts via syndication technology and e-mail notifications. Also, we now have a blog and Winona Rasheed’s very successful "Great Read" web syndication service featuring titles from our backlist. These efforts are not "moneymakers" (for we continue operating at a monthly loss, but they do bring our manuscripts to the attention of a growing audience of readers. 

I especially want to thank Kathy Hartwell, our Editorial Director, who has just earned her M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a Concentration in Creative Writing and an Emphasis in English and graduated unofficially Summa Cum Laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA! And, Kathy is now officially registered in the Ph.D. in Education program at Capella University. This is a tremendous effort and we are honored to have Kathy continue service as our Editorial Director. Please encourage her along the way, for her student/teaching schedule is challenging to say the least. And, in many ways, Kathy can be the lead singer in our chorus when we sing "What Child Is This" and other creative productions!

Also, I want to recognize the dedication of Adam Smith, Managing Editor, who has organized our submission and editorial review procedures and made it possible to track manuscripts and produce status reports on demand. (And Adam has done plenty of editing - and revising of his epic Legend of Taarna – along the way.)

I can't omit the undying efforts of Ken Mulholland and his colleague Hollywood (Lyn Fox) - and the robot Robbie - who keep producing fiction and even content for our newsletter. And, to his credit, Ken's patience and dedication is finally resulting in commercial publication by Loranda Press.

Now, with tiptoes on the stairs, my family is awakening for Christmas Day, so I must sign off and regret that I cannot chronicle the achievement of each individual AuthorMe editor. Let’s just say that my professional relationship with each of you means everything to me. No matter what happens, I always know you are there, and hundreds of new writers who come to us, learn to trust us, and grow in their writing careers.

Blessings to all,

Bruce Cook

God Created You: A Guide to Temperament Therapy

New AuthorMe Paperback...   (Released 2005)

By Dr. Rick Martin

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Publishing New Writers,

January, 2005 (no. 601)


Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.  Fax (847) 428-8974.

Submissions /comments  cookcomm@gte.net.

Links are welcome.


To subscribe and/or  review our archive of past newsletters, go to







Novel to Screenplay: The Challenges of Adaptation

Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis
URL: http://www.coverscript.com

Article Summary: Some basic steps when adapting a novel to the screenplay form.


Brimming with confidence, you've just signed the check purchasing the rights to adapt John Doe's fabulous, but little known novel, Lawrence of Monrovia, to screenplay form.  Suddenly, panic sets in.  "What was I thinking?  How the devil am I going to convert this 400-page novel to a 110-page screenplay?"  

The answer is: "The same way you transport six elephants in a Hyundai... three in the front seat and three in the back!"

Old and very bad jokes aside, how does one pour ten gallons of story into a one-gallon jug?

In this article, we'll take a look at this challenge and a few others that a writer may encounter when adapting a novel to screenplay form. 


Screenplays rarely run longer than 120 pages.  Figuring one page of a screenplay equals one minute of film, a 120-page screenplay translates into a two-hour motion picture.  Much longer than that and exhibitors lose a showing, which translates to fewer six-cent boxes of popcorn sold for $5.99 at the refreshment stand.  It took the author of your source material 400 pages to tell the story.  How can you possibly tell the same story in 110 pages, the ideal length for a screenplay by today's industry standards? 

And the answer to this question is no joke.  "You can't!  Don't even try!"

Instead, look to capture the essence and spirit of the story.  Determine the through-line and major sub-plot of the story and viciously cut everything else. 

By "through-line" I mean, WHO (protagonist) wants WHAT (goal), and WHO (antagonist) or WHAT (some other force) opposes him or her?  It helps to pose the through-line as a question.

"Will Dorothy find her way back to Kansas despite the evil Wicked Witch of the West's efforts to stop her?"

The same needs to be done for the major sub-plot.

"Will Dorothy's allies achieve their goals despite the danger they face as a result of their alliance?"

One workable technique is to read the book, set it aside for a few weeks, and then see what you still remember of the story's through-line.  After all, your goal is to excerpt the most memorable parts of the novel, and what you remember best certainly meets that criterion.

In most cases, everything off the through-line or not essential to the major sub-plot has to go.  Develop your outline, treatment or "beat sheet" accordingly.  


Many novels are written in the first person.  The temptation to adapt such, using tons of voiceovers, should be resisted.  While limited voiceovers can be effective when properly done, remember that audiences pay the price of admission to watch a MOTION (things moving about) PICTURE (stuff you can SEE).  If they wanted to HEAR a story they'd visit their Uncle Elmer who drones on for hour upon hour about the adventures of slogging through the snow, uphill, both ways, to get to and from school when he was a kid, or perhaps they'd buy a book on tape.   

The old screenwriting adage, "Show, don't tell!" applies more than ever when writing an adaptation.


Some tribes of American Indians had a word to describe those of their brethren who sat around thinking deep thoughts.  Literally the word translated to, "THE DISEASE OF LONG-THINKING".  Quite often, lead characters in novels suffer from this disease.

"Mike knew in his heart that Judith was no good.  Yet she caused such a stirring in his loins, he could think of nothing else.  He feared someday he would give in to this temptation named Judith, and his surrender would surely bring about the end of his marriage!"

If adapted directly, how on Earth would a director film the above?  All we would SEE is Mike sitting there,  "long-thinking".  That is not very exciting to say the least.   And as mentioned previously, voiceovers are rarely the best solution.

When essential plot information is presented only in a character's thought or in the character's internal world, one solution is to give this character a sounding board, another character, to which his thoughts can be voiced aloud.  Either adapt an existing character from the novel or create a new one.  Of course as always, you should avoid overly obvious exposition by cloaking such dialogue in conflict, or through some other technique.  Even better, figure out a way to express the character's dilemma or internal world through action in the external world.  


Mark Twain is quoted as saying about Oakland, California, "There's no there, there".  Similarly, some novels, even successful ones, are very shy on story and rely for the most part on style and character to create an effect.  Some prose writers are so good at what they do, that their artful command of the language alone is enough to maintain reader interest.  Such is never the case in screenwriting. 

Successfully adapting a "no-story-there" novel to screenplay form is a daunting task.  One approach is to move away from direct adaptation toward,  "story based upon".   Use the brilliant background and characters created by the original author as a platform from which to launch a screen story.  In fact, if for any reason a screenplay doesn't lend itself to screenplay form, consider moving toward a "based upon" approach, rather than attempting a direct adaptation.

Congratulations!  You're now an expert on adapting novels to screenplay form!  Well maybe not an expert, but hopefully you have a better understanding of how to approach the subject than you did ten minutes ago.  And if the subject still seems too daunting, you can always get professional help as outlined on our web page http://www.coverscript.com/adaptation.html

Copyright (c) 2004 Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis, Coverscript.com

Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis
URL: http://www.coverscript.com 

 About the Authors:

Lynne Pembroke is a writer, poet, screenwriter and owner of Coverscript.com, with over 18 years of experience in screenwriting and screenplay analysis helping individual writers, screenwriting competitions, agents, studios, producers and script consulting companies.  Services include screenplay, TV script and treatment analysis, ghostwriting, rewriting and adaptation of novel to screenplay.   Jim Kalergis is a working screenwriter experienced in the art of adaptation.  Visit http://www.coverscript.com for details.












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