Thursday, November 03, 2005

NaNo Tidbits

If you didn't already know, this is National Novel Writing Month. There's this challenge that goes on every year, through the NaNo site, where perfectly sane writers decide to write 50,000 words in a novel in one month.

Since I'm just coming off two back-to-back book deadlines (one I turned in 9-27, the other I turned in 11-1), I'm not doing NaNo this year. I already wrote 140,000 words in the last two and a half months so I'm done for a bit.

However, on one of the e-mail lists I am on, some of the writers are asking questions about how to write a book. I thought I'd post my tidbits here and update my articles list this week. So if you aren't already visiting my site (and who isn't? Right? You all visit it at least once a day, right? LOL), you might want to stop by in the coming weeks.

Without further ado, here's my plot post:


First thing you need is a plot :-) And here's exactly how you create one.

First, you decide what EACH main character's goal is for the whole story. Meaning, what do they want to get by the end of the book? This first goal should be external, meaning it's something that isn't related to their emotional growth. Like Reese Witherspoon wanting Josh Lucas to give her a divorce in Sweet Home Alabama. Like Bruce Willis wanting to save his wife in Die Hard. Like Shrek wanting to just get his swamp back in Shrek.

There should secondly be a STRONG motivation for this goal. It has to be important to your characters or the reader won't care either. Go back to all of those examples I just gave and name the motivation for the character. Motivation answers the question WHY. I normally come up with several motivations because I think it helps layer the book.

Third, you need a conflict -- something that gets in your character's way. This can be another character, a mountain (in a book about someone climbing Mt. Everest, for ex.), Mother Nature, a problem on the character's part (a fear of heights, for instance). I usually come up with at least two of these. They also have to be pretty big conflicts or they won't carry the entire book. In Shrek, for instance, he wants his swamp back but the only one with the power to give that to him is Lord Whats-His-Face . That guy rules basically the whole area, too, and holds the fate of not just Shrek but all the fairy tale creatures in his hands. That's a big conflict. Go back to the other examples and name their conflicts (i.e., Josh Lucas's continued refusal AND her fiancé coming to town, necessitating an entire charade; the bad guys in Die Hard, not to mention his hangover, his mad wife and mad boss).

Then you go back and decide on all these things INTERNALLY for your characters (goal, motivation and conflict). In a book, a character has to grow and change from beginning to end. We want to see people do what we don't want to do ;-) So you need to decide what their goal emotionally can be (in Sweet Home Alabama, for instance, Reese wanted to completely erase any trace of her "hillbilly" background. She thought she couldn't be successful or happy if people found out about that. Really, it was a struggle within herself for the place she loved...and the dreams she had. Her new world absolutely couldn't accommodate the old, so she had to sacrifice one to have the other...conflict ).

Then, you create a ladder of sorts. A plot has continually rising action. As your character works toward the big goal, there has to be little goals that add up to it. In Shrek, he has to go see Lord Whats-His-Face. He has to go on the quest. He has to rescue the princess. He has to get her back to the castle. Each one of those small goals creates a SCENE.

And here's another trick for making sure you have continually rising action. Every scene should create a NEW PROBLEM. That means things are getting worse for your character. Look at Shrek and the problems there. First, he has to take Donkey, then he has to fight the dragon, then deal with the reluctant princess, and then, the biggest problem of all...he falls in love with her. That makes the reader really want to know how it will turn out (and then look at the princess's problems. When she falls in love with Shrek, she's got the ogre at night thing to deal with...what a choice--true love and ugliness or false love and a false beauty).

That should get you started :-)

Good writing!


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