It’s very important to make sure your readers have a clear idea when something is happening, whether or not you jumped forward or backward in time, and how those events are connected time-wise. A big mistake that a lot of beginning writers make is not establishing time correctly, which could lead to a confusing story.
It can be a bit jarring when you’re reading a book and you come across a sentence like this— Two years had passed. The author is stating when something has happened and making it clear, but you still feel like you were robbed of two years of your character’s life. However, if it’s done well, the author will be able to cut out unnecessary information and get right to the action. Don’t skip ahead in the narrative unless you have a good reason to do it. Is there nothing happening during those two years that you need to explain? Is there a reason why you skipped ahead (something happened during those two years that you want to reveal later)? A huge jump in time needs some sort of explanation. It’s fine if you want to do it and many authors have made it work, but make sure you do it correctly.
Decide what timeline you want your story to exist in. This doesn’t mean you have to write out 10,000 years before and after your story takes place, but you need to decide how many years you generally want to cover. Does your story take place over the protagonist’s entire life? Does the story take place in one year? One day? Really anything is acceptable. Take the time to read stories that cover these timelines. Read a story that takes place in a day, a month, a year, etc. This will help you get an idea on how to pace your story and what can be done in a short or long amount of time. Experiment with your timelines.
The best place to skip ahead in time is often during chapter breaks. Use chapter breaks to your advantage and to show that time has passed. For example, you can end one chapter where your character is finishing up some sort of space training (I don’t know why I picked this example, but let’s go for it!) and then have the next chapter start out with your character IN SPACE and on a SPACE MISSION. If it’s not necessary for your readers to know what happened in between and there are clear transitions/explanations for time passing, then you’re good to go. This is also a great way to put action into your story without any boring, unnecessary details.
Using terms like “A few days later…” and “By the next morning” will help you show short amounts of time passing within certain chapters. You will not be writing about every single action your character takes, so these will be necessary. It’s up to you to decide when you should use them and when you should cut out certain actions. Whatever is dragging your story down, cut it out.
A lack of conflict is a common problem in the work of many beginning writers. There are a number of ways to effectively add conflict to your novel and keep your readers turning pages.
It may help for you to think about conflict as complications. One problem many writers run into when they begin to write their novels is that they have an idea about the main conflict, but it is too easily resolved. For example, maybe the story is about a woman, Andrea, whose dream is to open her own Italian restaurant, but she lacks the funding and experience to do so. Then she meets an Italian chef whose brother wants to invest in a new restaurant, and before she knows it, she has her own restaurant and an experienced chef who can teach her everything she needs to know.
writeintherain said: How many subplots are too many? In my book I’ve got this city guard who is working to quell rebellion, break up riots and fights amongst the civilians. At the same time her friend is a wanted criminal and she has to decide whether or not to turn him in and at the same time her other friend is struggling with alcoholism and someone else is grief-stricken from the death of his GF and at least four other things. How many subplots can I include before it all becomes too confusing for the reader?
Let’s start with the definition of subplot:
Subplot (n): An additional story line to the main plot of a fictional story
There are no laws dictating how many subplots are to be allowed in a single piece of writing. You’re only really limited by your own ability to handle multiple subplots, and honing that ability takes practice. And practicing means you might fail.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Writing is a process. Failing is part of that process. The important part is that you try and keep trying.
Sometimes it takes a whole lot of effort to gain your confidence. You might have to work at crafting your subplots for a long time before you feel like you’ve truly braided them into your story with expert deftness.
Asking us for a number isn’t really going to help you because, as it turns out, we don’t know. We don’t know you as a writer, and we don’t know your story. You’ve got to figure out what works. In the end, only you can decide what’s best for your story.
So, how many subplots can you include before it all becomes too confusing? It depends on your story, your style, your skill. And it depends on how many times you are willing to try and fail before you succeed.
Some things to keep in mind about subplots:
Thanks for your question!
Horrible fact of writing: you are going to know a lot more about your character than will ever be put on the page. This also drags writers down, because often they’re so exciting about their characters, that they want to share everything. Instead of conveying that excitement, it drags the story down, and loses the reader.
So, backstory. Backstory is essential. It is also a pain, figuring out what goes where. Your character worksheets are going to have some backstory, maybe a lot, so for this part, we’re going to focus on the essentials.
- Pick out the major events. That test your character failed in third grade is not going to impact them the same way their parents’ divorce did (unless the character connects the two). Pick out the really important things, whether or not your characters are aware of them. What caused a great internal change? What external issue brings them to the plot now? These things are going to be what your reader will need to know.
- Backstory Timeline: Your character didn’t spring to life the second their story starts on the page. Take that starting point and move backward: how did they get there? When did they move to _____ town, what did they get their degree in? This is going to be more mundane details than your major points, but they’re important too. You might stumble upon a great location, or a new plot idea you didn’t think of before. This can also be an ongoing list; you don’t have to go it in one go.
Both your main characters, supporting characters, and antagonists (we’ll get to them later) need backstory. Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t need it all right now, and some of it will probably change while plotting, but now’s a good time to get started.
The Cinderella story is an archetypal narrative structure that can be found in many books, both by established and aspiring writers.
A put upon person, treated unfairly and cruelly through no fault of their own, overcomes their unjust circumstances to win great rewards and happiness.
It’s an appealing format because it creates a sympathetic underdog who triumphs against adversity; the kind of struggle we’d all like to think we could battle and win.
But there are two problems with the Cinderella story that make her an awkward fit for the modern world.
I really want to start writing my first original story but I have no idea where to start! I’ve written lots of fanfiction stories because it’s easier when you already have a starting point and characters to work off of; but I’m ready to start…
Anonymous asked: How do I work in puzzles/challenges into my story? And the clues? I always found it enjoyable when I read books like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and I want to do something similar for my story. But I’m having a really difficult time in coming up with my own puzzles, even thinking of clues is impossible if I don’t have a puzzle. Where do I start? How would I come up with something interesting? What clues could I do?If you haven’t already, make sure you have your plot and story structure all fleshed out. Next, there needs to be a reason for the puzzles/challenges in your game. Ideally, solving them will bring your protagonist closer to achieving their goal. Take a look at the things you know your character needs to accomplish in order to achieve their goal. For example, maybe you know that the goal is in another place, so one of the protagonist’s objectives is to get from point A to point B. Now you just need to put a challenge in between the protagonist and the objective. First you have to decide whether this obstacle was intentionally put in place by the antagonist in an effort to challenge, stall, or distract the protagonist—or, is this a natural challenge of some kind, like solving the clues left at a murder scene, for example. Depending on the setting of your story, there are a lot of ways you can go. It’s easier if you stick with just a few hints, clues, or mini-challenges that the protagonist has to get through to reach the objective. Then, limit the overall number of challenges between the protagonist and the end goal to maybe three or four.
If you can give me more specific information about your plot, setting, and the protagonist’s end goal, I might be able to give you more specific advice. :)
In these days of the 3-for-2 tables and Tesco Book Clubs, fiction has taken a step forwards into the past.
These days, plot matters. No fiction will be taken on by agents - no matter how brilliantly written, how edgily contemporary, how weighty in subject matter - unless it has a strong story line. We’ve seen stunning work rejected for this reason. This is scary for authors. Get your plot wrong, and your book has failed before you’ve even started. You simply MUST get this aspect of your novel right. Here’s how.
See also our More About Plotting guide … and do watch out for the video below.
The storytelling elements:
1. The Contract
In the very beginning, you have to make a promise. Will this be violent? Scary? Fun? Tense? Dramatic?
2. The Pull
Keep it light in the beginning. You don’t want to scare people away by being too dense — you must trust The Contract.
3. The Incident
This is the event that sets everything in motion. Should occur early and keep the story together.
4. The Reveal
Just before the Point Of No Return, the main character learns what the story is really about.
5. Point Of No Return
The forces of good are faced with an impossible decision that concerns fear, safety, love, hate, revenge or despair.
Sorry, but you must allow the the forces of evil to have an epic win.
7. All-Is-Lost Moment
The moment where all is lost. You must portray the deepest despair for the forces of good.
8. News Of Hope
This is the possibility for one of the side characters to shine. A light that shines into the total darkness of the moment.
The shit hits the fan and the good puts everything at stake and overcomes — despite impossible odds.
10. The End
Public displays of relief and happiness, love and forgiveness. It’s great! We also learn that the hero has evolved.
Article from Doktor Spinn written by Jerry Silfwer aka Doktor Spinn
I’ve written about the importance of a novel’s beginning previously on this blog, and in truth, that importance can’t be overstated. Your novel’s opening words have to draw the reader into the book, give him or her something to care about and something to intrigue, something to entice, a reason to keep holding onto the book and turning the pages.
Unfortunately, too many writers think the only way to draw a reader in is with non-stop action. The concept of “hitting the ground running” has been drummed into writers so often it’s not unusual to find a murder mystery beginning with a death in the first sentence. This isn’t always the best way to draw your reader into the fictional world you’ve created. In fact, “starting with a bang,” so to speak, can actually be disorienting at times.
If you watch potential book buyers in a bookshop, they pick up a book, leaf through it, maybe read a paragraph here and there as well as the cover blurb, then either put the book back on the shelf or buy it. No potential reader expects to fully grasp your story situation with one quick leaf through, and they aren’t searching for the inciting incident. Heck, they probably don’t even know what the words, “inciting incident” mean, though you, as the writer, need to.
What a potential book buyer is looking for is the style of the book, the language, that unique something that makes your writing yours and yours alone. That’s what draws a reader in. Flat, vague writing, no matter how many fireworks go off in its midst, causes a reader to put a book back on the shelf. Language that speaks to the reader, along with vivid imagery, pulls him into the story and won’t let him put the book down.
Margaret Atwood, a master writer, used description to begin my favorite of all her novels, the bestselling Alias Grace. This is how that book begins:
Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails’ eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.
In the one instant before they come apart they are like the peonies in the front garden at Mrs. Kinnear’s that first day, only those were white. Nancy was cutting them. She wore a pale dress with pink rosebuds and a triple-flounced skirt, and a straw bonnet that hid her face. She carried a flat basket, to put the flowers in; she bent from the hips like a lady, holding her waist straight. When she heard us and turned to look, she put her hand up to her throat as if startled.
I tuck my head down while I walk, keeping step with the rest, eyes lowered, silently two by two around the yard, inside the square made by the high stone walls. My hands are clasped in front of me; they’re chapped, the knuckles reddened. I can’t remember a time when they were not like that. The toes of my shoes go in and out under the hem of my skirt, blue and white, blue and white, crunching on the pathway. These shoes fit me better than any I’ve ever had before.
It’s 1851. I’ll be twenty-four years old next birthday. I’ve been shut up in here since the age of sixteen. I’m a model prisoner, and give no trouble.
I love this opening, and when I picked up Alias Grace on a table in my local bookstore, it definitely interested me. I wanted to read more of the book. I wanted to read all it, and I did.
This masterful opening provides the reader with a lot of information, and it raises quite a few questions. For example, who is the narrator? Why on earth has she been in prison for nearly eight years now? And at such a young age? She certainly doesn’t seem like the criminal type. She’s obviously very intelligent and observant. She describes the peonies in near-poetic terms.