Tag Archives: writing structure

Advanced Plotting with Chris Eboch

Moonday Madness

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Besides my published books, I have a dozen unpublished manuscripts – part of the learning process.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!

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Filed under Moonday mania, writing craft, writing organization

Getting Lost Taking the Scenic Route

I have been caught off of the main highway of writing and slowed down by the tempting editing side roads along the way. As I have learned to write I keep hoping the editing will get shorter, but now I’m not sure. I thought the fix was in plotting. You see I am a natural pantser. In fifth grade when Mr. Brown was trying to teach us how to write a paper, he showed us how to research, write note cards and formulate an outline. Then and only then would he give permission for us to begin the writing process.

I, naturally, was resistant to this controlled way of writing. Already enamored with story writing I didn’t love the idea of non-fiction, but was willing to give it a try. Research, that was fun. Can’t remember the subject, but I’ve always loved finding out facts. Note cards, yes I liked those. Short sweet and able to shuffle in any order I pleased. Note cards could even be color-coded, that was even better. But the outline, ah yes, the outline. There I failed.

I tried writing an outline, but I didn’t know how things would go together. How could you write a map of where you were going when you hadn’t been there. I struggled with it. Then I gave up. I ended up writing the paper in secret and drawing the outline from that rough draft then turning in the outline. Mr. Brown approved, I waited a day or two and handed in my rough draft. Sneaky.

Already a closet pantser I stayed that way through college, whipping up decent papers the night before or sometimes, if they were short, the morning they were due. I could have been a better student. I could have written better papers had I taken more time, or known how to really do an outline that worked for me. But once again, I found ways around it. And muddled through.

So now I am an adult. No one is asking for the outline, no one is grading me on it. My desire for good grades is enormous. I want that A. I want that editor or that agent to hand it to me on a silver platter. And now I know writing a novel on the cusp of the due date isn’t going to get me there. No, to do that, I need to hand in my best work. But how is a life-long pantser supposed to change?

My perfectionism forces me to edit. And edit. And edit. I have heard, and I’m sure its true, that plotting saves time in the editing stage. And I badly want this. So I started my new story (working title Blood Were) by Snowflaking. Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing fame is the author of this method and when I heard him speak last October at the Heart of Denver mini-con a light bulb went on. This was structure without structure. This was like the note-card shuffle. At this, I could be successful.

I started out well, but soon petered out. I could write a small character sheet, get my main plot points down, but when it came to filling things out I was stuck. It turns out that I can come up with inciting incidents, major plot points and even black moments, but when it comes to anything in between I need to write.

I need to write to really understand my characters, and I need to write to know why my plot goes the way it does. I like having some structure. I now have a sort of a road map in the Snowflake method. Lets call it verbal directions. “Turn right at that drugstore, you know the one with the blue roof, take your third left and when you see the Dairy Queen you’re almost there.” (I always navigate by food, DQ and donuts are the best.) I truly don’t understand the nuances of my characters or how they will interact until those words start flowing.

So here I am. I was hoping to become a reformed pantser, but instead I am embracing it, with a little dip into the plotting pool. I still like the idea of plotting out the main points. I like to know the general idea of where my road trip will take me, but I’ve found out that what I really like is the journey. Even when it means my newest 1,000 plus words need to be cut and re-written from the heroine’s point of view and not the hero’s. What can I say? I’m a sucker for roadside attractions.

My Name my Blog Days Contest is still wide open, so come up with more ideas and post in the comment section. Prizes are waiting!

Contest closes July 18th with the premiere of the new re-vamped Jessica Aspen Writes, so be sure and leave your ideas before then and check back on the 18th to see my new look and who won!

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Filed under Optimisim, writing craft

Why Write?

On Saturday I did something I love to do. I spent the day socializing with my peeps at the Colorado Romance Writers mini-con.There was something for everyone. An editor, Kristen Sevick of Tor/Forge, for pitches. A silent auction, which I am happy to report was full of wonderful critiques and gift baskets. And of course a whole day spent sucking up the wisdom of our guest, Kara Lennox.

Kara has published sixty-eight books. Sixty-eight! In an amazing feat Kara provided a one-woman conference, doing workshop after workshop for the whole day. We started with queries, moved through three act structure and right on into movie tricks for romance writers. Her plot-fixers and agent advice finished out a marvelous day of information overload.

Even when its a topic I think I know something about, I still learn something. I took pages and pages of notes and intend on reviewing them to see what I’ve already forgotten. For example, the three act structure. I use a plot structure when I write that is based on something like three act structure. I am going to do exactly what she suggested and peek into my mid-point and see if its where it should be. Did it move during those many revisions?Kara used movies as her examples. She explained that movies are exactly three acts and when you write screenplays, there had better be three acts. Its something I do and something I’ve learned, but the way she explained it has me wanting to pull out my stopwatch and check my Disney movies for their exact mid-points and black moments.

Many authors want to ignore structure and fly by the seat of their pants, but even fly-by-fabric writers should have some sort of map. Kara said many people think the three act structure is hardwired into our brains. That we look for it, and if an author doesn’t stay close to it, the reader feels cheated.

The most exciting thing for me was seeing that even after so many books, and the ups and downs of a long career, Kara is still excited about writing. She loves her plots and characters. She’s written category romance and screenplays and hopes to publish in single title, but the common theme for the long, long, long day was her enthusiasm.

She kept us interested right to the end. I always wondered how anyone could be as prolific as a Harlequin author. How do they keep coming up with new plots that are fresh and interesting book after book. After listening to Kara, I think I know the secret.

She loves it. You can see as she talks that she feels lucky to have made a career out of romance. And who wouldn’t? A lifetime of creating new stories, new characters and new happy ever afters? Why wouldn’t everyone be struggling to do this for a living? Well, maybe because it isn’t the easiest thing to do. You have to be prolific to pay the bills and there are the rejections and revisions.

But seeing someone who has been successful and prolific and still loves writing? That’s a calling. That’s inspirational. That’s who I want to be.

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Filed under channeling success, Optimisim, writing craft