...  Publishing New Writers

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 March, 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. March 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 (March, 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.)










Weeping Your Readers

       by Bruce Cook


For myself, the best writers are those who can make me weep.

As a writer, I ask myself what kind of emotional scene will do that best? How exactly shall I present it? Maybe a grotesque and tragic scene, or one in which the main character has been miserably deceived. Or a triumphant scene in which the protagonist has vanquished the foe or preserved something that was close to destruction.

Either of these may work, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the reader will not cry unless the writer cries harder. Both have to care about the characters. This is one long and tall order, for the writer just made up the characters and they are entirely fictional. And worse, for the reader, the characters are but shadows and have nothing at all to do with reality.

Despite this truism, the writer and reader can care, and even obsess, over the characters in a story. In fact, even though “a grown man never cries,” if the fiction writer can’t cry deeply over one of his/her own characters, why is the writer doing fiction at all?

There is good reason to cry for our characters. For we cry not only for that character, but for the part of us we which is identified there. Further, while we may not be philosophers or kings, we also weep for that kind of character, for one who suffers or exults and typifies the many who will someday face that kind of situation in all places and times.

Alas, poor Yorick.

But why does a novel we cry over get that special place on the old bookshelf? Is it because we like to cry?

It seems to me that crying is the ultimate emotion, perhaps even better than competing emotions, for it is through crying that we reach out to others. We secretly brush away a tear even as we hope that someone we care about might see and take compassion, or share our exultation.

This is the ultimate power of fiction. As Kathy Hartwell has reminded me, a child’s first communication is through crying. When we die, the first emotion to those around us is the same. And, along the way, weeping often accompanies our mountaintop moments.

Writer, you have access to this great power. The controls are in your hand and heart. Accept this responsibility and use it responsibly, for we need to hold focus on the truths our characters have taught us. Let’s not, like Upton Sinclair in the past and several writers in the modern era, take advantage of this power in vain attempts to manipulate our readers.

Make crying happen for the sake of the character you created. Carefully trim your emotional scene to what your character has proven. Let those fingers slip on tear-stained typewriter keys, and you will have found your home for life.

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Publishing New Writers,

March, 2005 (no. 603)


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

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Boomer Women Speak

by Dotsie Bregel



Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Author?

Life has been good to me as a stay-at-home mom, but in three years my children will all be away at school and I will be out of a job. I know it is time for me to embark on a new career path. I returned to school, took a couple classes, and did some career testing. Interpreting the test results, along with my brewing book idea, soul searching, and journaling, made it clear to me that a livelihood in writing suited me. For close to a year I have read, researched, camped out in book stores, and chatted with other writers trying to figure out what it takes to be an author. What I came up with is that successful writers must be:

Visionaries. Every author needs to have a vision for precisely what our writing project is to accomplish. A vision should describe who you want to write for and how best to reach them. To make that vision clear, we need to read everything we can get our hands on about our topic; run our idea by other people in the profession; give ourselves time to think it over; and write and rewrite until that vision is like a neon sign in our minds.

Passionate. We should fall in love with our writing topics. The words seem to flow and it feels like second nature when we write about what we’re interested in. We have the burning desire to research, read, interview, and learn more because we just can’t help ourselves. When we look at our watches and see that it is two hours later than we expected, we know we are passionate about our topics.

Self-motivated. A strong will to succeed and type A work ethic are the keys to self motivation. Many of us work on our own so we have to be motivated to stick to the task. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals must be set. To-do lists, writing schedules, and deadlines must be adhered to. Sometimes we have to say no to the temptations that call us.

Avid Readers and Researchers. So many books, not enough time must be our motto. We must always try to learn one more fact either through the web, the paper, magazines, or whatever we can get our hands on. Equally important is keeping good records of our findings. Whether on our desktops, in journals, folders, binders, or all of the above, we must have a way to keep track of all our new information so it is at our fingertips when needed.

Confident. This is different than just being a nice, friendly woman. We have to be nice AND we must believe in ourselves, speak and write with enthusiasm about our projects, and act like we have the world by the horns! When we do this people can’t help but catch the fever for our writing projects. We must also remain optimistic, saying no to the inner voices that tell us we can’t write and listening intently when we hear those voices telling us to push on.

Curious. You are curious if you enjoy asking questions of everyone to find out more. Curiosity is what it takes to get answers. There is always something else to be discovered about the topics we write about.

Courageous. There is no room for cowards in this profession. It takes a lot of nerve to ask people who are more accomplished writers than you to write for your book. It takes guts to send query letters to the best agent in the field.

Thick-skinned. Everyone knows about the rejection and criticism, but it’s what we do with it that matters. Remember that people who edit and proofread are only doing their job and trying to help. Rejection is tough, especially when we think we have the perfect publisher for our book and they aren’t interested. Always believe that everything happens for a reason and maintain that confidence and optimism we talked about earlier. Don’t listen to the negative inner voices.

Patient. Writing can be a slow process. It takes patience to do something constructive while waiting to hear from agents, publishers, and editors. Maybe we should try writing, rewriting, and editing some more, starting another project by reading and researching, or taking a much-needed break while waiting. Let the creative juices flow while doing something else we enjoy.

Market Savvy. Whenever dealing with people, whether it is to learn more about what we are writing or to solicit our books, we must be friendly, tactful, and professional. There must also be a salesperson in us if we want to get our books published. This requires us to analyze data on readers, agents, book sales, etc. and to develop a plan on how to present our work for publication.

Clear. Clarity should be a given for anyone who writes. If you are one who can get your point across when speaking, just do the same when you write. We can still be creative and express our ideas clearly. Just go for it and put honesty on the paper. 

So there are my thoughts on the writing profession. While some of us may be better writers or organizers and others may be better marketers or researchers, being an author certainly takes more than a little writing talent. With this list of skills we can all be on our way to greater success.

About the Author - Dotsie Bregel is the curator of stories for baby boomer women. She is writing her first anthology to give baby boomer women a voice. She is passionate about women connecting through the telling and reading of their stories and believes that love and connections heal people. To learn more about her project, please visit the fastest growing web site for baby boomer women, www.boomerwomenspeak.com.












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