Posts Tagged ‘fiction writing’

Introducing the…
Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

The Fun, Easy Way To Prepare  Your Literary Adventure.

Add to Cart

Writing a novel is so much easier if you do a little planning first. And thanks to the Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook, the process of planning your breakthrough novel has never been easier.

Using simple worksheets and instructions, the workbook guides you through the various stages of

      • Finding story ideas that are original and intriguing.
      • Creating a dramatically sound synopsis.
      • Designing a main character with a compelling inner journey.
      • Rounding out your cast with memorable, believable characters who can fulfill the dramatic requirements of your story.
      • Researching an authentic setting — or designing a fantasy world.
      • Finding the right narrative mode and point of view to tell your story.
      • Crafting a sophisticated thematic message.
      • Planning sequences and scenes.

… and doing it all in a way that is fun and creative.

Combines Fun, Creative Exercises with Sophisticated Literary Technique.

I started my website, How to Write a Book Now, with the goal of taking sophisticated theories of story structure and literary techniques and making them easier, more practical, and fun for aspiring writers (and by fun, I mean a way that harnesses every writer’s natural creativity).

The Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook began as a set of worksheets and exercises developed for a series of creative writing courses I was teaching to both adults and teenagers at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario. Drawing on my training in both Dramatica Story Theory and theatre arts, I designed these courses to help emerging writers take a quantum leap in their creativity, their writing skills, and their understanding of what makes great stories work.

The resulting workbook consists of over 55 pages of worksheets and instructions that guide you through the complete process of planning a novel. It will help you find and develop your story ideas, and make sure your story has a solid, emotionally compelling structure — before you even begin your first chapter.

Unlike other novel brainstorming systems, the Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook is built upon a solid base of story theory. The exercises are open-ended, giving you the creative freedom do design the story you want, while at the same time helping you create a solid story structure.

24 Multi-Page Worksheets Cover Every Aspect of Novel Planning.

Here are just a few of the vital novel-planning steps you can accomplish with the Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook…

      • Practise 3 ways to generate original story ideas.
      • Take a simple story idea and develop it into a rich and detailed narrative suitable for expressing as a full-length work.
      • Create a logline and a brief synopses that reveal the strengths and weaknesses of your story idea before you even start to write a first draft.
      • Map out the arc of your main character’s inner conflict and integrate it with your story’s outcome.
      • Use 3 ways to flesh out your cast of characters, and make each character memorable, believable, and unique.
      • Create detailed settings for the major events of your story — whether your story world is contemporary, historical, or fantasy.
      • Develop a complete plot, including the major turning points and multiple levels of story.
      • Use the power of the monomyth model to create young adult fiction.
      • Discover the right narrative mode and point of view from which to tell your story.
      • Master the secret to great descriptive writing.
      • And more!

By the time you’re finished, your story will be so well planned, the actual writing process will fly by. You’ll never suffer from writer’s block, because you’ll always know what’s about to happen and what your characters will discover around the next corner.

Newly Updated, But Still Just $5 USD

After a successful test run, the Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook has been revised to give all the worksheets additional visual appeal. Some worksheets have been expanded to better address writers’ needs. Also, a new Story Braiding exercise has been added to help you merge multiple subplots and storylines into one overall (and quite thorough) outline for your novel.
The workbook comes in PDF format, so you can easily open it on any computer and print off copies of individual worksheets to write on and perhaps store in your writer’s notebook.

Best of all, I have kept the price to just $5.00 (US).

To download your copy of the Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook, simply click on the “Add to cart” button below. Your payment is safe and secure

Add to Cart
View Cart

Read Full Post »

This was one of the first articles I wrote for my website, and continues to be one of the most popular. It’s a simple approach based on a small piece of Dramatica theory,  but it’s also one of the most powerful ways to develop a dramatically sound synopsis or plot outline for any story.

Create A Plot Outline In 8 Easy Steps.

Read Full Post »

By Glen C. Strathy

One of the reasons I’m fond of the Dramatica story theory, developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Walker, is because it is the most complete description of how stories convey emotional impact.

One of the biggest traps we fall into as writers is the tendency to simplify things. And one of the ways we simplify our understanding of stories is that we try to take several different story points and reduce them to one point. We have to fight this natural tendency because it makes our concept of a story more shallow.

Dramatica helps us by separating all the elements of a story so we can make look at each one and make sure we haven’t left any holes in the plot. For example, most theories include the idea of a climax or crisis, which is the major turning point in a story. This crisis typically occurs in Act 3 of a four-act structure. (Novels may not label parts as “acts,” but a good plot will always have such a crisis.)

Dramatica goes a step further by suggesting that a fully developed third act will actually contain four distinct turning points, because (as it also argues) a complete story needs four separate arcs or throughlines:

1. The Overall Throughline. This throughline concerns the protagonist’s external goal, or the goal that involves most of the characters in some way.
2. The Main Character Throughline, concerning the main character’s inner conflict about whether or not to change and how it gets resolved.
3. The Impact Character Throughline. This follows the impact character, the character who shows the main character a different way of handling problems, giving the main character a reason to think he ought to change.
4. The Subjective or Relationship Throughline, which follows the relationship between the main and impact characters.

Each of these four throughlines will move through four stages:

Signpost #1: Inciting incident
Signpost #2: Complications
Signpost #3: Crisis
Signpost #4: Resolution

So the third signposts of each throughline, taken together, make up the third act of the story.

Here’s how this works in the film, The Return of the Jedi, which I am using because it’s a story most people know, even non-science fiction fans who were dragged to see it by friends.

First, the Overall Throughline in The Return of the Jedi concerns the effort to stop the evil empire from obtaining a new Death Star. This throughline involves almost every character: rebels, storm troopers, and even the little ewoks.

The crisis (signpost 3) of this throughline is the battle in space in which the Death Star is destroyed. Remember big explosion? (The fourth signpost, showing the resolution, is the shot of the ewoks using imperial helmets as drums. So much for the scary empire.)

The Main Character throughline concerns Luke Skywalker. We see Luke at the start of the film, confident in his new Jedi powers as he rescues Han Solo from Jabba the Hut. His second signpost occurs when a dying Yoda tells Luke that Darth Vader is definitely his father and that he must defeat him in order to become a true Jedi. The danger is: will he, like his father, succumb to the dark side?

The third signpost of the MC throughline is the moment when Luke, despite the persuasive powers of Emperor Palpatine, refuses to join the dark side. He tosses aside his light sabre and says, “You’ve failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father.” The fourth MC signpost occurs when we see Luke receiving the approval of the ghosts of Obi wan and Yoda.

The Impact Character of this film is Darth Vader, who provides Luke with an example of another life someone with his abilities could have. In the beginning, we see Darth as the messenger/enforcer/lapdog of the Emperor. His second signpost is when he reveals (or confirms what he said in the previous film) that he has ambitions to overthrow the Emperor and rule the galaxy himself. He just needs another force-user to be his ally. If not Luke, then perhaps his sister would do. This suggestion, more than anything, comes closest to influencing Luke to give in to his anger and join the dark side.

Obviously, Darth’s third signpost is the moment when he chooses to sacrifice his ambition to save Luke. He kills the Emperor at the cost of his own life.

The IC’s fourth signpost shows Darth’s redemption. His ghost appears in Jedi robes. He is Anakin Skywalker once more.

Finally, we have the Relationship throughline. In the beginning, we see that Luke and Darth have a connection. They can sense each other’s presence.

At the second signpost, when they finally meet face-to-face, they argue about whether they should be on the dark side or the good side. Curiously, there is no talk of going their separate ways. It seems they want to be on the same side, whatever that is. The conflict builds as they end up fighting each other with light sabres.

The climax of their relationship is when Luke defeats Darth, settling the argument and establishing himself as the new dominant male of the family.

The final signpost shows Luke and Darth, having reconciled their differences and relinquished the dark forces, behaving like father and son for the first time. Darth asks to see Luke just once with his own eyes rather than through his mask. (Symbolically, “his own eyes” means not through the eyes of the dark side.)

Luke then takes on the role of a good son. He saves his father’s body from the exploding Death Star II and gives him a proper cremation.

So the climax, or Act III of the story, follows a four-part sequence:

Relationship Signpost #3: Luke defeats Darth.
Main Character Signpost #3: Luke refuses to join the dark side, risking his life as the Emperor attacks him.
Impact Character #3: Darth kills the Emperor to save Luke, sacrificing his own life.
Overall Signpost #3: The rebels destroy the Death Star.

According to the theory, it doesn’t matter what order a writer puts the four Signpost of Act 3 in. All that matters is that Signpost #3 of any throughline comes after Signpost #2 of the same throughline and before Signpost #4. It would make little sense for Luke to defeat his father before their conflict arises or after their conflict has been resolved.

I think you’ll agree that if any of the third signposts had been left out of The Return of the Jedi it would have created a hole in the story. It would have made one of the throughlines incomplete.

You will also note that more than one signpost can appear in a scene. Sometimes the signposts are crowded together, especially near the crisis. In other stories, they are more separated in time and space.

Sometimes a signpost consists of a sequence of scenes that takes up a lot of pages. Other times, a signpost can just be one sentence. That’s also okay, as long as each signpost is illustrated separately so that the reader/audience appreciates that it has occurred.

Incidentally, here’s how I see all the signposts in Return of the Jedi:

Read Full Post »

On my other website, How to Write a Book Now, I sometimes field questions from writers on the subject of novel writing and story structure. In particular, I try to make Dramatica Story Theory more accessible to beginners.

One of the most common questions people ask is how to write a good opening chapter. In particular, they want to know where the story should start. And one of the most unfortunate myths they seem to have picked up is the idea that the first chapter of a novel should present an average, normal day for the main character.

I believe this idea originates in the work of Joseph Campbell, who argued that the monomyth (supposedly the archetype of all great stories) begins by showing the hero in his ordinary life, just prior to his receiving “the call” or invitation to begin his journey. The word “journey” here refers not necessarily to a physical journey, but to the quest or pursuit of the Story Goal, the objective on which the entire plot hangs.

The problem with this idea is that, for most people, an ordinary day is just that… ordinary. It’s a day when nothing special happens. That’s a problem for a writer who wants the first chapter of his novel to hook a reader’s interest.

In fact, most agents and editors demand that a novel grab the reader’s attention on the very first page. So an ordinary day just won’t do. Something extraordinary must happen at the start of a novel in order to entice a reader to continue reading – let alone an agent who habitually rejects thousands of manuscripts a year.

One way writers can solve this dilemma is to postpone any depiction of the main character’s everyday life and delve straight into the quest. You can start the story with the inciting incident of the main plot – the big threat or goal.

Of course, the problem with plunging straight into the main plot is that the reader does not get properly introduced to the main character. Yet you want the reader to develop empathy with the main character early on. So writers will sometimes use Chapter Two to backtrack and introduce the main character in his normal environment. You see this technique in films as well. The first scene often shows the start of the main plot. The villain commits some terrible crime or hatches a scheme. Then the story cuts to the main character in his ordinary life, totally unaware of the threat, until a messenger arrives who delivers the call.

An example of this would be the first Star Wars film (Episode IV, A New Hope). The film opens with the attack on Princess Leia’s ship and shows her successfully stopping the Empire from recovering the Death Star plans. Later, we are introduced to the main character, Luke Skywalker, and his frustrated effort to get his uncle’s permission to leave the farm.

However, it is important to note that in Star Wars, the viewer’s introduction to Luke does not occur on an ordinary day. Viewers would be completely bored if George Lucas had made them watch an ordinary day in Luke’s life – a day of farmwork that led to nothing more than another day of farmwork. Instead, we see Luke on a very special day which brings his frustrations to a head and changes his life forever.

Take note: if you ever find yourself writing about an “ordinary” day in the main character’s life, you’re probably wasting time and paper that could be spent on something more interesting. You want to focus on important events, because they make the reader keep reading to see what happens next. By an event, we mean a change, after which things are never the same. A real event sends the characters in a new direction. It is the opposite of ordinary.

So far, I’ve mentioned two possible events you could present in your first chapter – either an event involving the main character or the inciting event of the main plot. But if this sounds a bit formulaic, the theory of Dramatica, developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley, offers writers some other options.

Dramatica proposes that a complete story will have four key throughlines. The Overall throughline (what most people consider the main plot) concerns the pursuit of the Story Goal. It’s the plot that affects or involves the majority of characters.

Second in importance is the Main Character’s arc. This throughline concerns the main character’s inner conflict. The main character begins the story with a habitual way of dealing with problems. In the course of the story, he faces a dilemma about whether or not he needs to change his approach in order to achieve the Story Goal. (Luke Skywalker’s problem is that he has no self-confidence, hence he can’t stand up to his uncle.)

In addition, the Impact Character throughline concerns the character who will pressure the main character to change by presenting an example of a different approach to dealing with problems. (In Star Wars, this role is played by Obi wan Kenobi, who teaches Luke how to have confidence.)

Finally, the Subjective or Relationship Throughline concerns the progress of the relationship between the main and impact characters.

Each of the four throughlines has its own beginning, complications, climax, and resolution – four major turning points. That makes 16 turning points or “signposts” for a complete story.

How you weave the four throughlines together is entirely up to you. If you’re looking for an important event for your first chapter, you can choose the first signpost from any of the throughlines:

1. Overall Throughline, Signpost #1. This is the inciting incident of the main plot. As I mentioned above, this is a frequent choice in action stories.

2. Impact Character Throughline, Signpost #1: This will be the first time that the main character sees or becomes aware of the impact character. It is an event where the Impact character tackles a problem or handles a situation in a way that is totally unlike how the main character would have handled it. It is the act that starts the main character on the road to questioning his approach. In romance stories, this is often the first encounter between the main character and the man she is destined to fall in love with. For instance, think of the moment in Casablanca when Ilsa walks into Rick’s bar, or Bridge to Teribithia when Leslie walks into Jesse’s classroom for the first time.

3. Relationship Throughline, Signpost #1: This will be an event that illustrates the relationship between the main and impact characters at the start of the story. It is a relationship that will be tested and change as the story progresses. It could be the moment when they first become friends, or enemies, or when one becomes the mentor to the other, etc. In Star Wars, this is the sequence in which Obi wan Kenobi offers to teach Luke the ways of the Force and Luke (after his aunt and uncle are killed) accepts.

4. Main Character Throughline, Signpost #1: This is where you introduce the main character and his inner conflict. It will be an event in which the main character tackles a problem using his typical approach. The outcome of this event could be success or failure, but the aim is to show the reader who this person is by showing them in action. In Star Wars, this would be the scene in which Luke accepts Uncle Owen’s decision that he must stay on the farm for another year.

Any one of these signposts can be the basis of a great first chapter. The secret is to make sure that the event, the change, that occurs is a significant event to the characters involved.

Read Full Post »

[I wrote the following article as a guest post for a blog tour I did last fall. Enough time has passed that I feel I can now share it in full…]

Children in the preteen years are a fantastic audience to write for. Having graduated from the chapter book stage, they are now ready for real novels. The best readers among them will devour young adult and even adult titles, if given the chance. At the same time, this group has its own unique characteristics and preferences, which you are wise to keep in mind when writing for them.

Consider the Gatekeepers

Middle-grade readers are a group whose reading is still somewhat controlled. The books that make their way into the hands of 9 to 12-year-olds are usually assigned by teachers or chosen by school librarians, parents, and other grown-ups. So in addition to appealing to kids, your book should be something adults will approve of. Obviously, that means no graphic sex, profanity, horror, or violence. Romance, where it exists, will be either implied or age appropriate – think puppy love or modest flirting. Fighting monsters is okay, if it teaches the value of heroism, but lurid details are not.

Adults also prefer children’s books that set good examples. They like main characters who make morally sound choices (at least, when it comes to the crunch) or who learn lessons that will benefit children when they grow up.

Simplify Vocabulary & Style

Bear in mind that not all middle-grade readers are strong readers. Librarians are always looking for stories that the slower readers in this age group can enjoy. So while your story may be longer and more complex than a chapter book, the vocabulary will be simpler than that of adult novels. When you do use difficult words, don’t put too many in one paragraph. Spread them out. Explain what they mean or make it easy for the reader to figure out their meanings from the context. Sentences and paragraphs should be shorter on average too.

Provide A Hero Your Readers Would Love To Be

The best style of narration for this age group is limited third person. You write from the point of view of one character, who is generally the protagonist. This technique lets the reader imagine being in the main character’s shoes. To further encourage readers to identify with this character, it helps if he or she is…

1. Sympathetic

It’s rare to find a middle-grade novel these days with an adult main character. Children like to read about characters who see the world from a perspective similar to their own. They like characters who are their age or perhaps just a few years older (so they can take bigger risks) and who have similar if slightly bigger problems.

Along these lines, make sure your main character has real flaws and problems. Perfect heroes are boring and unrealistic. More importantly, they are harder for the reader to relate to.

Incidentally, a character does not require a contemporary setting to have realistic problems. Middle-grade readers certainly enjoy historical, fantasy, or science fiction novels. But while your main character is fighting dragons, he may also be coping with typical 12-year-old challenges such as how to fit in, how to cope with peer pressure or bullying, how to choose the right friends, how to get approval from the adults in his life, or how to prove himself.

Every child has problems, and every child feels at times as though they are the only person to have their problem. They love to discover through stories that people in other settings can have similar problems and come out all right.

2. Independent

Children on the verge of adolescence are instinctively beginning to pay more attention to the wide world. They want to start making decisions and doing things they couldn’t when they were little. They are imagining what they will do when they are older. So they love books about characters who go on adventures far from adult supervision and who must tackle problems without adult help.

Of course, that’s true of all fiction. The main character in any novel needs to solve his problem or cope with his situation himself. There’s no point if someone else does it for him. The worst thing you can do in a children’s book is have a parent step in and rescue the main character or deliver the solution on a silver platter. For this reason, many great child protagonists are orphans who have no parent to help them (e.g. Anne of Green Gables, Orphan Annie, Harry Potter, Huckleberry Finn, Oliver Twist, etc.).

3. Courageous

By the same token, middle-grade kids are starting to test their boundaries. They are becoming more powerful and discovering that they can get away with things. For this reason, they find stories that involve risk exciting. Breaking the rules, getting into dangerous situations, telling lies, and even behaving badly are ways the main character can explore his growing power. At the same time, the villains in stories demonstrate why rules of behavior are important.

Of course, your main character will have fears. Courage is the ability to act despite fear. For instance, in my novel, Dancing on the Inside, the main character wants to be a dancer, but she suffers from serious social anxiety that makes her afraid of dancing in front of others. What makes her a suitable protagonist is the fact that, despite her fear, she doesn’t give up. She does things that are incredibly brave for her in order to find ways of fulfilling her dream.

4. Admirable

A good main character is someone children would love to be. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he does have to have some great qualities. Maybe he has a special talent that wins him praise or admiration – which can be anything from athletics to zebra-training. Maybe he is smart, strong, funny, or creative. Maybe he stands by his friends or looks after the weak. While a main character does not have to be a nice person on the surface (he could be a pirate, con artist, vampire, etc.), he must have enough redeeming qualities to be a worthy hero. He certainly must be a better person than the villain.

Set Your Imagination Free

Probably my favorite thing about middle-grader readers is that they have not become jaded. They can believe that anything is possible and they love books that stimulate their imaginations. That gives the writer free rein to unleash the same kind of optimism, idealism, and creativity. It’s a wonderful state of mind for reader and author alike.
About this Author

If you have a question about fiction writing or want to discover more of my writing tips, visit http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com

And if you would like to check out my middle-grade novel Dancing on the Inside, just click on the title.

Read Full Post »

Today, I am making a guest appearance on the blog, Hollywood Daze, with my article that gives 4 reasons why writers should consider doing community theatre.  Here’s a brief excerpt…

     These days I think of myself as a writer. Commercial writing has been my main source of income for the past decade. I have co-authored two non-fiction books, one of which was a bestseller, and most recently I published a children’s novel, Dancing on the Inside.
     However, there was a time in my life when my primary interest in life was the theatre. I won’t bore you with the reasons I did not become a world famous actor or director (and there are several good reasons for that). However, as a young man I performed in a lot of plays – in community theater, university theater, and professional non-union companies. I also directed a few plays and spent a brief time in theater school. Overall, I managed to do around seven productions a year over the course of roughly fifteen years. So that’s over 100 shows under my belt.
     Looking back on that period, I have sometimes felt that I had made a huge detour in my life. Maybe I should have spent all those evenings and weekends writing instead of rehearsing and acting in shows. Maybe my writing career would be a lot further along by now and I’d have finished more some more books.
On the other hand, I feel that the time I spent treading the boards has helped my writing in several ways.
To read the read of this article, visit… Hollywood Daze

Read Full Post »

On Tuesday this week, I made a guest appearance on Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog, where I discussed two key elements of middle-grade fiction.  Here’s how the post began…

“When I was younger, I never could have predicted that I would one day be writing middle-grade fiction. In fact, I always imagined that my first novel would have been adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, simply because that is what I used to read for fun.

“All that changed, however, when I became a father. My daughter loves to read and be read to. She also has a hard time falling asleep. So for many years, I spent one or two hours each evening reading middle-grade fiction aloud to her. I recited all the Harry Potter books so many times that she now knows many passages by memory. I also read the His Dark Materials, and the Bartimaeus series, most of Roald Dahl’s books, and many other classics.

“While I was developing a subconscious understanding of children’s fiction through continuous exposure, I was also working on my own middle-grade novel, Dancing on the Inside, and consciously working out how to make it a book that would appeal to girls my daughter’s age. So let me share with you the two most important things I’ve learned…”

You can read the rest of this post by visiting Morgen’s Blog, which incidentally has a lot of great interviews, reviews, freebees, and information of interest to writers and readers alike. Just click on …

Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: