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Category Archives: Plot

How to Cure the Sagging Middle

Subplots. There. That was easy. Oh, you want to hear the whole explanation? Fair enough.

For those of you who read my personal blog, you know the obstacles I overcame to win National Novel Writing Month this year. For those of you who don’t, it was an insane combination of two kids under 3, out of town guests, and several emotional breakdowns. Yet, I would call this year’s NaNoWriMo the most successful yet and not just because I overcame those obstacles, but also because I regularly hit word counts I’ve never accomplished before while fighting through that “sagging middle.” How did I do it?

The Power of Subplots

The problem with most of my outlines (and all of my first drafts) is that I have only a few scenes planned when I start writing. I know the major plot points and the first act is always crystal clear. But after that, things get fuzzy and I have a hard time getting from Point B to Point C, which means I’m clueless as to how I’ll ever get to Point D. Usually I do it with a bunch of random scenes like dinners–lots of them–and my characters doing dishes (you can’t have one without the other, right?). But then I get to the end of that outline or draft and realize there are a lot of boring scenes I’m not interested in writing (or rewriting), which means there’s no way anyone is going to be interested in reading them.

It took me a while to figure out why I was flailing and then it hit me–I’m not digging deep enough. Not digging deep enough into the story, into the character’s lives, into their friend’s and family’s lives. I was only thinking of the main plot. But if you’re writing a full-length novel, your main character is about more that just that single conflict. Just like you, he or she is juggling relationships, family, friends, work, personal goals, and more.

Breaking It Down

I’ll use my novel as an example.

The main plot/conflict is between my main character and her failing relationship.
But my main character also has issues with the expectations her mom still has for her.
And her father, who she hasn’t had a conversation with in seventeen years.
And then there’s the damage her career is doing to her personal life, no matter how much she loves it, as she reaches a crossroads in her professional life.
And her closest friends are getting divorced.

And to think–when I first thought of this novel, I only had the main plot in mind.

So think of it this way: My novel has about 60 scenes. Since my main conflict is the most important, let’s say it fills half the scenes–30. These scenes include things like the issues my heroine and hero have that are keeping them apart, the one major issue that is the catalyst for their growth, the scenes my main character spends trying to come to terms with it, the scenes in which they take turns trying to fix it, and the scenes where they’re sure it’s over. My MC’s career is also important so we’ll say that’s 10 more scenes. Then, take the other 20 scenes and divide them by the 4 remaining conflicts and we have 5 scenes each.

Now we’ll do the math. And remember, this is just a rough idea just to illustrate my point, not a concrete outline.

Act 1
8 scenes for the main conflict
3 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 2, Part 1
7 scenes for the main conflict
2 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 2, Part 2
7 scenes for the main conflict
2 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 3
8 scenes for the main conflict
3 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Some subplots won’t require 5 scenes, while some will require more. Sometimes you’ll have two or more conflicts within a single scene. But try to come up with at least 5 situations to put your character in which will show the story arc for each subplot. For instance, the conflict my MC has with her father would go like this: them not speaking, revealing why, show the misunderstanding, exacerbate the misunderstanding, and then resolve the conflict. Once you have similar snapshots in mind, sprinkle them throughout your novel, weaving them with the other plots, and you’ll never be short on scenes to write.

A Well of Scene Ideas

It may not always be clear at the beginning of your novel which conflicts your character will battle (mine don’t usually make themselves known until after the first draft) but if you’re having hard time coming up with them, start by thinking of your own. If your life was a novel, what would your plots and subplots be? And then, go from there. Because your characters are just people too (for most of you).

What techniques have you used to get through Act II?

Photo by barockschloss

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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Characters, Craft, Editing, Plot, Revision, Writing

 

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My Favorite Hugs and Chocolate Posts

Sometimes, a hug is all what we need – Jesslee Cuizon

What a good year it’s been over here! I though that the best way for me to end off things would be to share a few of the post by the wonderful ladies I share this blog with. If any of the links go to places they shouldn’t, please let me know.

It’s been such a pleasure getting to know all of you this year. I’m giving all of you big virtual bear hugs. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us.

It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.

Jamie Raintree

My Romance With Writing

Who Cares About Writers?

Instruction Manual for a Full-Time Writer

Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

Why I Heart Scrivener for Outlining

How to NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

Tonia Marie Houston

Bring Your Shovel

St. Patrick and the Writer’s Trinity

Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

33 And It Feels Divine

Give Your Characters Quirk

Synopsis Fundamentals

Heather L Reid

Learn to Love Writing Queries

Dream Big and Never Give Up: How I Landed a 2 Book Publishing Deal

The Third Perspective: Why I Love Third Person Narrative

The First Editorial Letter: Let the Revisions Begin… Again

Riding the Revision Coaster: Completing My 30 Day Deadline

Rebecca Fields

What If…

Luck of the Irish?

The Magic of Fairy Tales

A World of Ideas

Pardon Me, Social Media

Read A (Banned) Book

Courtney Koschel

Filtering Filter Words in Your Writing

Questions to ask When Hiring an Editor

I Suck Syndrome: Recognize it and Beat it

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Common Comma Issues

Manuscript Formatting

Jani Grey

Support from the obvious places

Need a little motivation or inspiration? I have some of that for you

Personal Perspective: Why I write 1st person POV

Let me tell you why you’re a winner

The Small Things

Why the subject of your blog post is so very important

Guest Posts

Visualize Your Way to Success: Guest Post by Vaughn Roycroft

DIY Editing and Proofreading Part 1 with Karen S. Elliot

Editing, Proofreading, and a Contest with Karen S. Elliot

Pants on Fire: Guest Post by Laura Long

Guest Post by Brian Taylor: Take a Walk… On a Tightrope: One Writer’s Journey

I’ll see you next year. Have a happy and safe new year!

 

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Reading as a Writer

medium_302558059I read a book not too long ago. It wasn’t a good one. I don’t say that often, but I had to make myself finish this one. When I was done, I closed it and sat and thought about the what had made it almost unreadable. The plot was confusing. After the first chapter, I thought it was about a girl who was looking for her dream guy, but then the main character stated how happy she was being by herself. Her relatives thought she needed to meet someone. Okay, that could be fun, except we never met the family. The reader was told about a phone call.

I kept reading, thinking I missed something and the plot would be clear later on. I was wrong. The ideas were there, but it wasn’t pulled together. I tried to relate to the character, hoping that would keep me interested in the story. However, it’s hard to relate to a woman who’s drop dead, supermodel gorgeous and only wears designer clothes. The name dropping through the book got annoying. She was wealthy and drove a luxury SUV that one of her many admirers bought for her. She had several stunningly handsome boyfriends that she rotated between. Yes, the main character and I had a major disconnect.

The ending was anti-climactic. The main character finally succumbed to alleged familial pressure and went out on a date with the man her family had chosen. She fell madly in love and married him that weekend. There was no drama, other than when the main character had to tell her other boyfriends that she’d met someone else. There was no danger, no risk and by the time I got to the end, I wanted to throw the book across the room. So why am I telling you all this? Because the germ of a good idea was there. When I read the synopsis, I was picturing a My Big Fat Greek Wedding type story, but the author didn’t follow through. What could have been done differently?

Plot. I know plotting can be difficult. I don’t read a lot of romances and it’s usually a struggle to get through a story that doesn’t have a chase scene or unsolved murder in it, or, better yet, strange creatures wreaking havoc. Anyway. This story had none of those, but I was looking for something to read that didn’t require any thought and would just let me escape for a few hours. This story required more thought because I was constantly trying to fill in the blanks about what happened. The plot could have been as simple as: girl is looking for Mr. Right and after a series of humorous mishaps, finds him. Instead, it was: girl has perfect life and is perfectly content, but out of implied pressure, finds Mr. Perfect with no problem. Give your reader some drama. Life isn’t this easy. No, we don’t want all the gory details, but let us relate to what the character is going through.

Characters. The main character was so one dimensional it was hard to like her, much less, read an entire story about her. She had everything – unlimited money, successful business, the clothes, the shoes, the designer sunglasses, cars, apartments, vacation house, men begging for her attention, friends who adored her every move. It was unrealistic. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, but if you want your reader to pull for your character, give her something to lose and something to work toward. Put obstacles in her way and let the reader see who she is by how she deals with these situations. Everyone has a weakness or two, characters should also. Dig deep into your character and find out who they are. All the stuff I described above was just the surface. I still don’t know who the character was and what drove her. Perhaps she wasn’t as happy with her life as she let on, but even though it was first person pov, there was nothing to indicate she wanted anything to change. Imagine going out to lunch with your character. What would you talk about? Would you want to be friends with them? What about them interests you? Show as many layers to your character as you possibly can.

Setting. The setting from this story ranged from an office, to a luxurious apartment, a glamorous party, a vacation home and then a honeymoon suite. I know that because that’s what I was told. I never got lost in the setting or pictured it in my head. Take your reader on a journey and make them feel like they’re watching from the same room or wherever they may be.

Writing sounds like the easiest job in the world. You sit down at your computer or pick up a pen and paper and write. Except it’s not that easy. All things you see and hear in your head have to come out and sometimes that’s harder than you can imagine. A reader can’t get inside your head, you have to show and tell us. Outline a clear plot and then write it. You don’t have to follow the outline exactly, but know where your story is going. Give your characters depth. Even if the reader isn’t supposed to like the character, show us why. If you find yourself with flat characters, reconsider their importance to the story. Take the reader somewhere they’ve never been before, even if it’s just a strange living room. Make them feel like they’re there.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sis/302558059/”>Sister72</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Books, Characters, Plot, Setting, Uncategorized

 

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