Tag Archives: plot

Guest Post: Putting the Pieces together

Tick tock, tick tock… my client W.E. Larson‘s writing functions like a well-oiled mechanical device, in the best sense of the phrase. I don’t mean that there’s no humanity in it, but rather that all the plot pieces fit together and unfold so gracefully, like clockworks or the inside of an old fashioned music box. And he has fun while writing. Imagine that?! Here’s what he has to say…

Something I’ve learned about myself while writing novels and stories is that there are parts that I work on before writing the story itself and parts that I don’t. It isn’t that not working at something means you’re better at it– it could be quite the opposite–but that it doesn’t feel as if it gains you anything.

Some people work on characters before starting the novel. I’ve come across character templates to fill out, advice to write vignettes in each character’s voice, and other exercises for developing the characters in the story. When I’ve done that work, it never seemed to change the characters from how they were born in my imagination. Only by writing the actual story do they evolve. I know them well when I finish that first draft and move on to overhauling the manuscript.

For me, the same applies to the setting. In a fantasy story, you can spend a lot of time building a world and crafting all sorts of details. This is something else I like to leave until I start writing the story itself. I create details as I need them, and during rewriting and revising I assemble them into a setting and flesh it all out. Though this doesn’t work for me in some science fiction where I need to make things plausible.

What I work on the most before writing is the plot. Some people can plunge in and create a plot by the seat of their pants, but that isn’t me. Fortunately, I like plotting. Why do I always imagine myself sitting in a chair stroking a white cat when I say that? Anyhow, I enjoy the puzzle-like aspect of it all.

Somehow I’ve got to take all the scenes and characters in my imagination and fit them into a whole. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where I’m making the final image at the same time as I’m fitting in the pieces. I start with the key scenes and make sure I have some for the beginning, the end, and save or invent some good ones for the middle. I always want to save a nice juicy event for the middle. Maybe the scenes are pivotal events, or pivotal emotional moments, or pivotal turns in a relationship, but they are the scenes that make me want to write the story.

With some milestones anchoring the plotline, the fun begins and it’s time to dream up the scenes that put everything together. They’ve got to advance the story to one of the milestones while keeping characters in character, avoiding impossible timelines–no two hour nights, and providing motivation to push the characters along the storyline.

I try to make every scene both snap into place with the adjoining ones while also making sure each one contributes something to the whole. For me, this is where pacing comes into play. If every scene contributes without a string of pieces all contributing the same color, then the final picture won’t have dull stretches of a single color. Maybe a bit of a simplistic analogy, but it’s the way I think about plotting out the story. If I didn’t think of it that way, maybe it wouldn’t be as fun.

What do you work on before you start that first draft?

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To tell or not to tell: Should you spill the plot beans in your query letter?

Someone posed a great question the other day (hi Sion!) when I answered questions about queries here. Here it is:

About halfway through my novel a big secret is revealed – and if I’ve done it right, will come as a big surprise to readers. In a query, do I need to state the secret when I describe my book? I think knowing the surprise ahead of time affects the reading of the manuscript in a negative way. Of course, without revealing it, my description of the story might sound too vague.As an agent do you want all the major plot points covered or is the promise of a payoff enough to entice you to read more? (The novel is also more character rather than plot-driven).

I answered that I don’t really like it when the author spills the beans in the query. Because here’s the thing: I think that if you can do a good job writing a suspenseful query letter, that has me wanting to read your manuscript, so I can find out what’s going to happen next, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to do a bang up job creating a suspenseful page-turning manuscript.

I definitely don’t want all the major plot points covered in your query letter. I want a very, very short synopsis of the story and then I want you to go on and succinctly tell me what it is about your manuscript that will make me want to read it. Is it suspenseful? Funny? Lyrical? Is it fast-paced or does it take its time wandering down a country road? Is it about the apocalypse, or raising goats, or raising children? All three? Do you deal with issues of self-esteem, self-pollution, selflessness? All three? Cool.

As I said before, some agents may disagree. But I say keep the secret.

 

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It’s tension that keeps those pages a’turning…

When I read a novel I want something to happen. My best friend, who is an avid reader, doesn’t agree with me. She doesn’t mind reading a whole long book where basically nothing happens. When I had more time, and I was in a book group, I bagged reading a fair number of books where nothing happened. It’s really a matter of taste. Some of these were books that had won awards, were on best seller lists. People like them. But for me as a reader, it drives me crazy when nothing happens. I do love pretty sentences, carefully drawn characters and lyrical or graphic descriptions of place. But it’s also imperative to have a plot impetus to keep turning those pages. Now that I think about it, that goes for non-fiction, as well. Maybe I’m shallow or lazy or something (it’s quite possible both!), but I want to be pulled forward in a book. If I have to work too hard… well, I can just watch t.v. or pick up something else off the stack of books waiting for me to read them. Don’t get me wrong, I like deep ideas, intricate plots, meandering stories, complex characters. But there has to be a certain amount of tension, a certain amount of not knowing, that keeps the plot moving forward and keeps pulling me towards the end. You know how J.K. Rowling has said that she knew all along how the Harry Potter series would end? She started with the end so writing the books was just a matter of filling in everything that happened, with all the details. I definitely think of it as being pulled toward the end  of the book, rather than being pushed from the beginning. If there’s not enough tension, I don’t care how pretty the words and images are that I just read. I lose interest.

What has you keep reading a book?

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