A blog about the craft of writing
Today’s guest is multi-published author Chris Eboch. Chris is not only an accomplished fiction author, but she now teaches what she has learned. Her book Advanced Plotting will help you smooth out those bumps in the road.
A woman heard I was a writer with 12 books published, and she said, “Why aren’t you living in Beverly Hills?”
I managed to keep a straight face. Besides the fact that I prefer New Mexico to Beverly Hills, 12 books in about as many years does not pay a living wage. It does, however, mean that I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve written historical fiction (The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery set in ancient Egypt, and The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure, both for ages nine and up), an original paperback series (the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs, also for kids), and various types of work for hire. I also recently started writing romantic suspense for adults under the name Kris Bock (Rattled is a treasure hunting adventure in the New Mexico wilderness).
Besides my published books, I have a dozen unpublished manuscripts – part of the learning process. I learn a lot from teaching other writers as well. I lead workshops, work with students through a correspondence school, and do private manuscript critiques. You can’t analyze thousands of stories and novels without learning a few things about what works and what doesn’t.
And yet, somehow, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to see the flaws in your own work. But I’ve found a method to help. I call it the Plot Outline Exercise, and I discuss it at length in my book Advanced Plotting. The short summary is, you make an outline of your finished manuscript, briefly describing the main action and any subplots in each chapter. Then you analyze your plot. Looking at the outline, rather than the entire manuscript, makes it easier to see the big picture without getting distracted by little details.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes a lot of work to make a manuscript strong, so I ask over 40 questions, divided into sections for Conflict, Tension, Main Character, Subplots and Secondary Characters, Theme, and Fine Tuning. For example, here are the opening three from Conflict (and each of these bullet points I consider to be one question, despite the multiple question marks):
· Put a check mark by the line if there is conflict in that chapter. For chapters where there is no conflict, can you cut those, interweave with other chapters, or add new conflict? The conflict can be physical danger, emotional stress, or both, so long as the main character (MC) is facing a challenge.
· Where do we learn what the main conflict is? Could it be sooner? Is there some form of conflict at the beginning, even if it is not the main conflict? Does it at least relate to the main conflict? The inciting incident—the problem that gets the story going—should happen as soon as possible, but not until the moment is ripe. The reader must have enough understanding of the character and situation to make the incident meaningful. Too soon, and the reader is confused. Too late, and the reader gets bored first.
· Where do we learn the stakes? What are they? Do you have positive stakes (what the MC will get if he succeeds), negative stakes (what the MC will suffer if he fails), or best of all, both? Could the penalty for failure be worse? Your MC should not be able to walk away without penalty.
As you answer each question, you make notes on the outline for where you need to make changes on your manuscript. Then, of course, you need to actually make the changes. Advanced Plotting has over 20 additional articles to explain how to make these changes, covering topics such as getting off to a fast start and using cliffhanger chapter endings.
As I said, it isn’t easy to do this kind of revision, but when the result is a much stronger manuscript, it’s worthwhile. Since I now outline before I start writing, I use the Plot Outline Exercise at that planning stage and catch a lot of problems early, but not every writer can – or wants to – sketch out a manuscript in detail in advance. However you write, making an outline at some point can help you see what you really have, so you can identify and fix problems.
Learn more about Chris and read excerpts of her work at www.chriseboch.com (for children’s books) or www.krisbock.com (for adult romantic suspense written under the name Kris Bock) or see her Amazon page at http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Eboch/e/B001JS25VE/. You can also read excerpts from Advance Plotting on her blog:http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/.
Thanks Chris! Leave a question or comment for Chris and you will be entered in today’s Halloween Treats drawing for an autographed copy of Michelle Celmer’s A Clandestine Corporate Affair. All commenters will be entered in the drawing for three grand prizes to occur on October 31st, so check back to see if you are a winner! Saturday’s winner is Gloria Richard! Congratulations Gloria, send me your address and I’ll send you the book!