Wednesday, July 29, 2015

6 Top Plot Tips

Image result for detective images
Six Top Plot Tips (Say that five times fast!)
I took copious notes doing the James Patterson's Masterclass (I totally recommend the class btw. He's such a great raconteur and there's lots I can't cover here!)

But I wanted to share some of the things I learned in Lesson #4 - PLOT. Keep in mind Patterson writes thrillers, so not all of these will apply to every book - but it'll still be helpful.

1) Write every chapter as if it's the first one. We all rewrite first chapters endlessly. Because we know how important they are to hook a reader.

But Patterson says you should treat every chapter as if it's the first. Treat it with that much care and attention. And if a chapter doesn't move the plot forward, lose it!

And then spend the rest of the day having to fix your chapter numbering. Hate that!! So good tip: don't number your chapters on the first draft. I just write 'Chapter' at the head of every new chapter, then when I'm finished the whole book, I search 'chapter' and input the numbers afterwards. I just waste a lot less of my life like this cuz I'm often removing chapters or changing them around.

2) Picture your reader. As you write, imagine telling your story to just one person (particularly a woman since they buy 70% of all books - even his). Keep that person in mind and write so that there's never a chance for them to get up and walk away. They'll always want to know what happens next.

3) Create conflict. That seems pretty straightforward, but it's worth thinking about. Conflict must involve not only the main character, but a worthy adversary or puzzle the hero must solve.

In some books, the protagonist might be battling him or herself as well (or instead of someone else). Inner conflict is a great device for drama. I don't think there's a single great fictional character - from Heathcliff to Hamlet - who doesn't have inner conflict.

So really get to know your character - what bothers them about themselves, their situation, their past, their life. Because they'll constantly be battling that - as well as whatever else you throw at them.
Image result for villain images

4) Create worthy opponents. Stock villains just won't do anymore! Bad guys have to be unique, fascinating and even more clever than your main character. If we believe the opponent is less intelligent than the hero, there are fewer stakes.

The development of your villain will also depend on when you introduce him or her. If you only reveal him at the very end of the story, like a classic whodunnit mystery, you won't have to pay as much attention to developing a unique bad guy.  You probably don't even want people to suspect him! So you may be developing a character who seems very 'good.'

However, if you identify the villain early on and follow him or her throughout the story (think the albino in The DaVinci Code), then that character must be even more multi-dimensional and interesting. Because you know all along who the bad guy is, that 'surprise' isn't there at the end of the story. To make up for that, the villain has to have more depth as a character.

Image result for albino from da vinci code

Not that the albino from Code was the best villain ever (in fact, he was one of a few villains in the book). But he came to mind so he was damn memorable.

5) Build in surprises. You might not be able to surprise your reader in every scene, but if the story is lagging, you have to add in twists and surprises. Patterson recommends writing down several different things that could happen - even outlandish things. He finds that often the most unusual idea - the one that surprises even him - works the best.

6) Condense your story. This was actually rule #1 of plotting for Patterson. But I've put it here because it contains a basic - but complex - element of storytelling.

Try to simplify your story in a few short sentences, to find the essence of the plot. He gives The Great Gatsby as an example. 'Gatsby has everything in the world except love. Gatsby finds love. Gatsby loses love. Consequently, he loses everything. '

That's pretty succinct for one of the most famous novels of all time. But Patterson is nothing if not a master of keeping things jumping. ;)

Here's something to keep in mind though: the crux of good plot is not just storytelling but - causality. Had to look it up to see how it applied to fiction ...

Causality - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Causality (also referred to as causation) is the relation between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the first event is understood to be responsible for the second.

To clarify, he quotes the great E.M. Forster:

A plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. The king died and then the queen died is a story. But the king died and the queen died of grief is a plot. 

The sequence of events is preserved, but the sense of causality - the queen dying of a broken heart after the king's death - overshadows everything.

So the basics of plot according to the bestselling author on the planet?

Write each chapter as if it's your first. Picture the reader and don't let them want to leave. Create conflict and worthy opponents. Build in surprises. And before anything else, make sure you can condense your story and identify the causality in the plot.

Yeah, that's all. Nuthin' to it. ;)

I want to give a quick shout to a writer who just had her first book published this month.

Heather Gordon-Young is probably my fifteenth cousin. We've never even met. Back in the early 90s her brother's death (a suicide) really rocked through our family.

When I heard Heather had written a book about the experience, I had no idea how she would handle it. But I read Fireflies - and I was blown away.

It's a very difficult story. But Heather is an extremely spiritual person - even religious - and she's spent her life trying to understand what happened to her brother and how to deal with it. She's also an incredible writer and is already having success with the book!  Check it out.

I want to hear more from her: about her book launch party, her experience with her publisher, promotion, etc. But wanted to mention!

Yeah, I'm jealous. But I'm proud too. ;)