IT’S TELEVISION TUESDAY!
How to Write a Novel: Plot Gardening with Chris Fox and Joanna Penn
Structuring a story is a challenge that writers meet in one of two ways: either they outline diligently before they write so much as a sentence, OR: they fire up the word maker and see what happens. The former are called plotters. The latter people are called pantsers and I am one of them.
The difference between the groups lies in how comfortable a writer is with chaos. To write is to literally visit a foreign land. Plotters like to have an itinerary. They know where they will be in the morning, where they are eating lunch, etc. Pantsers wake up and walk out the door with nary a thought for the day. Plotters attempt to impose control. Pantsers attempt to maximize experience.
I view writing as a discovery process. It lets me explore the characters, their interactions, the plot and setting. It lets me feel the story. I’m frequently surprised by what occurs, which leads me to more character driven, organic stories. For plotters, the outline process performs the same function. The end result for both groups is a story that is thematically and narratively coherent.
For me a story begins with either a situation or an image. If I see an image then it is usually the climax. Seven men on a sailboat in the Pacific. One of them is trying to sabotage the boat, everyone knows it and everyone is on edge. If I have a situation, it is usually the inciting incident. A dying billionaire wants to read his obituary so he fakes his death.
Why my brain works like this is not something I think about. I believe it is churlish to be picky about how one receives inspiration. One does not find a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk and get upset it was not a twenty. Inspiration is a gift.
Next I figure out the bones of the story, a.k.a. structure. Authors use story structure because it is how people’s brains and hearts respond to narrative.
In the first act, the character sees a flaw in the normal world and ventures into the unknown to fix it. In the second act, the character faces myriad challenges to create a solution to the problem. In the third act, the character braces for a final showdown to win the prize and restore the normal world. This template covers everything from Star Wars to Liar Liar and all points in between.
Let’s talk about storytelling. Or rather, let’s talk about the medium through which storytelling is told and perceived. This is such a fascinating topic I couldn’t resist writing about it.
What is your choice of medium when it comes to books? Paperback, an ebook, or audiobook? I have particular interest in how audiobooks affect our perception of a story. Just stop yourself and consider this one thing. Medium. According to Google medium is defined as the following:
1. An agency or means of doing something.
2. The intervening substance through which impressions are conveyed to the senses or a force acts on objects at a distance.
Both definitions are great, but I prefer the second one because it provides more insight into the topic. Some readers prefer the tactile and visual feedback of a book any day over a digital one. Others hail the ebook over any dinosaur book. I’ve always had trouble digesting books in physical form for some reason. But when the advent of the ebook was created I became a book addict.
Others prefer yet another medium of storytelling. The audiobook. People are listening to more and more audiobooks these days, including myself. Why? What affect does the audiobook have upon the reader? Or better yet, what affect does this medium have upon the listener?
The narrator and his or her performance is the medium through which the story is perceived. No two narrators are the same in skill, personality, voice, training or delivery. So in a sense, you’re getting a completely different medium with each and every narrator. Cool eh? I thought so. But it doesn’t end there.
According to Professor Mehrabian, only 7% of communication is verbal, and 93% nonverbal. Or, the nonverbal component would be 55% body language, and 38% tone of voice. There is some debate about this (of course), so we have to take into consideration other factors such as context, etc. I’ll spare you the boredom. What I’m getting at is the paralinguistic, or paralanguage part of communication that makes up 93%.
Writing to convey ‘what’s not said’ is extremely hard, but the best writers do it with much practice. What’s not said makes up a huge portion of communication, meaning and in understanding another person. This is critical in the context of storytelling when conveying a character properly.
They say that the nonverbal component is broken down into body langauage and tone of voice. Body language being 55% and tone of voice 38%. When you read a book the author has to convey this information adequately. All the nonverbal tells of communication must be rendered by the authors writing. Good writing does this well, but anything less is lacking a lot of useful information.
Now you throw in a narrator. I love narrators! We have to see the entire story through their eyes and skill amongst other things. These are what linguists call Paralinguistics, or paralanguage. Which basically means everything that isn’t verbal. According to the aforementioned statistics it means everything as far as understanding another person’s attitude, motive, mood, personality etc. All this must be skillfully conveyed through the narrator.
You’ve completed the first draft of your novel–now what? Chances are, it’s not perfect…at least not yet. In order to increase your chances of getting a literary agent, selling your manuscript to a publisher, or garnering an audience for your self-published work, you need targeted, practical instruction on tackling the problem areas and weak spots in your story. You need Troubleshooting Your Novel.
In this hand-on, easy-to-use guide, award-winning author Steven James provides helpful techniques and checklists, timesaving tricks of the trade, and hundreds of questions for manuscript analysis and revision. You’ll learn how to:
This is awesome! Two words stick out to me in this statement. Emerge and organic. Trusting the story to emerge as we’re writing it is very intuitive.
Within every scene you will find a variety of narrative forces pressing in on the narrative. For example, believability (the scene needs to remain believable within that story world), causality (every event has an impetus and an implication), escalation (tension continues to tighten), and pace, flow, voice, and so on. The context that precedes a scene will affect the emergence and affect of these forces. Really, any scene edited out of context will suffer in one of these areas. Writing great fiction does not consist of filling in the blanks, but in allowing the context and the unfolding promises and their payoff to inform the direction that the story takes.
I love it. Can’t wait to get more into this.
3. What are the major facets of storytelling?
Beyond the ones I mentioned early would be implied and explicit promises. So, is you start a story by showing how perfect Anna’s home life is, with her doting husband and obedient children and daily yoga lessons, it’s an implied promise to readers that things are about to go very wrong very soon. You’re not telling readers this, but they understand the movement of a story and anticipate it. I strive to always give readers what they want or something better. And much of that comes from making big promises. And then keeping them.
This sounds simple yet profound. I totally agree with readers understanding the movement of the story. When all is well in the beginning there’s a certain amount of anticipation and suspense built up. Excellent.
4. What are the biggest hindrances to storytelling?
It’s lonely. Every novel I write requires at least a thousand hours of solitude. At times it’s hard to feel motivated, especially on a project that’s so large and daunting. So, many of the hindrances deal not with content or ideas, but with words and perseverance.
That’s amazing! A thousand hours of solitude rounds out to be 41.6 days steeped in the organic writing process. You just elicited the Wow factor.
Not going insane by keeping them caged up in my imagination. If I keep them chained up, they start looking for their one way of escape.
I can totally relate to this. This is the real escapism for authors. To gladly unleash our imagination to the world.
He gave himself;
to the power of solitude, willingly.
of words, unsparingly.
Now the masses consume them.
Lorna is a fiction & Non-fiction author, storyteller, blogger, podcaster, story coach and lover of books!
Bio: I love to write unusual historical romances that have been known to include scarred heroines, brave heroes, far too much scheming, evil terrorists and always a way for the two lovebirds to find their sweet happily-ever-after.
When not writing fiction, I love to help first-time and struggling writers get rid of their fear of the blank page and self-publish their stories. In the in-between time I can usually be found either drinking green smoothies, or cleverly think up another way I can convince my hubby and four college-age children to watch yet another old movie;)
Are you originally from Canada?
Yes, I am originally from Canada… and still live there. I was born – the youngest child of 11 -in the far north woods 50 miles north of Fort St. John, British Columbia. We were a family that lived off the land. My Dad had a little more than a section of land, where we grew crops like wheat, barley, canola, oats, hay and more. We also had milk cows, chickens, pigs, a couple of horses, a goat, a lamb, 2 cats and 3 dogs.
We butchered cows and pigs in the fall for our meat for the winter (we did this with our neighbours) and milked the cows every morning and evening for our own milk and cream.
So each of us kids knew how to work – but what I loved most, was that we learned how to play as hard as we worked. We made our own go-carts, wooden stilts, tree forts as well as rode trail motorbikes, rode horses, and played baseball as a family on Sundays.
The summer I finished elementary school, we moved to Hythe, Alberta. Dad and Mom had bought a hobby farm and that’s where I lived until I got married at 19 years of age 🙂
That sounds like a lot of fun! A nice big family on the farm. You definitely don’t see large families like that anymore. I think the hardest part for me would be waking up at 4 am to milk the cows.
Which stories did you grow up reading?
My mom was always reading bedtime stories to us after the days work was done. She would sit on a creaky wooden chair in the hallway that separated our 2 bedrooms (where we slept 2 to a bed – some of the oldest children had moved out of the house by then) and would read Hardy Boy mysteries, Nancy Drew stories as well other children’s books like Hans Christian Anderson or Uncle Arthur’s bedtime stories.
So I grew up with a big interest in stories. There were always stories told around the supper table of some sort of mishap that happened on the farm that day, or my dad or mom would tell stories of their life growing up after their parents immigrated to Canada.
Listening to and reading stories through my growing up years, definitely made a big impact and fed my love of storytelling.
I always enjoy hearing this part of someone’s life. How they were impacted by particular stories and their early reading habits.
Can you name 5 or more books that had the most impact on you? (As a child or adult).
I’m not sure that I can keep the list to 5… but I’ll try. My first real love of stories was when I read the Hardy Boy mysteries for the first time. I loved how they would always get the bad guy in the end…. but I especially loved the suspense leading up to where they discovered who the bad guy was.
Then in my teens I read Anne of Green Gables, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Little Women, Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice. I remember feeling like a whole new world of stories had opened up. I thought to myself, if only I could write stories that were so captivating and descriptive someday, I’d be thrilled.
In my 20s and 30s – while I was studying for my Bachelor of Music degree and later raising 4 children – I would binge read all the time. A few of my favourites were contemporary romances by Debbie MacComber and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.
Some nonfiction books that have really inspired me to push past resistance and have helped me to believe in myself are The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your life by Thomas M. Sterner.
“I thought to myself, if only I could write stories that were so captivating and descriptive someday, I’d be thrilled.” I drawing on this statement. I’m always fascinated how stories affect our imagination from a young age. From a child, through the teenage years and adulthood, they continue to have a major impact on us. I’ve noticed that children attempt to imitate, reproduce or recreate what they see. I can see that you your statement above. I believe every writer has had that thought running through their mind at some one point while reading.
Have you ever cried while reading? What were you experiencing at that moment?
Yeah, I’ve cried many times while reading a great story.
But, I can’t help it, I love a good cry-fest. I’ve cried while reading Anne of Green Gables. It’s this orphan girls struggle to be accepted and loved by family and the town that pulls at my heartstrings.
Another book that made my cry through the whole reading of it, was A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer. To me this is easily one of the saddest true stories of abuse I’ve ever read. This little boy suffered horrific abuse from his abusive mother and others. I cried because of his desperation for love and acceptance and that he still continued to fight for survival in a home where he was thought of as worthless.
Also another real tear jerker is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I cried at the boy and his father traveling by foot in a post-apocalyptic world, trying to eek out an existence when all seems lost. I cried because of their losses, their struggle to survive and was inspired by this profound and moving story – of their journey. The father and his son are inspiring as they still imagine a future even though no hope seems to remain. They are each other’s whole world – and they are sustained by the love they have for each other, in the face of total devastation. Amazing story.
These are all admirable and very touching. I hate crying, honestly. But if an author can evoke tears through their story It’s a 5/5 star read in my book. Only a few books have managed to accomplish that feat so far. One book I recently added to my TBR list had me crying just by reading the premise! It’s called M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
What are your favourite genres?
My favourite genres are Historical Romance and Contemporary Romance. I especially love how characters are in a big mess at the beginning of the story and how they are transformed through acceptance and love 🙂 I love it when each of those genres also includes a little bit of suspense and mystery. Also, I do love reading Dystopian novels too – like Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Testing, and others.
Who are your top 3 – 5 characters and what do you love about them? (If you had to marry one of them who would it be?)
There are a few characters who have stuck with me.
One of those characters is Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. I love that Lizzy grows into a strong, confident woman who isn’t afraid to say “no” to marry the man that her mother wants her to marry. She is respectful to her parents and people around her, but she is strong and many times it’s Lizzy who in her maturity, points out the folly of some of the actions of her sisters or parents.
Anne Shirley, from the story Anne of Green Gables sticks out in my mind from when I was a teenager, as a girl I could relate to. She had to survive through abuse, fear and rejection and continued to grow and transform herself into a better person as she grew up. She didn’t let all of life’s struggles ruin her… instead it made her stronger.
Lastly, I like the character of Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind. Rhett is a man of strength who falls deeply in love with Scarlett. Even through all her temper tantrums, he still loves Scarlett, that is until the very end when Rhett discovers even he has a boundary line that Scarlett crosses. I like how he is practical, that he still does what he needs to do, to help his friends, that he respects his mother and that he is generous throughout the story to Scarlett, despite her childish ways.
Of course, if I wasn’t married already… I would definitely marry Rhett Butler! He’s a man of strength, exciting, adventurous, respectful, generous and loves deeply 😉
Awesomesauce! Gotta love your favorite characters. You do crazy things when you’re in love.
Do you have a favourite antagonist or anti-hero?
Well, as a big fan of Star Wars, I’d have to say Darth Vader is a pretty convincing antagonist. For me, I loved learning of Darth Vader’s background. That he as Anakin Skywalker – a goodhearted jedi and hero of the Clone Wars and a powerful Jedi – that made me see him as more than just an anti-hero. So with the fall of the republic, when Anakin Skywalker became a disciple of the dark side, and eventually became known as Darth Vader, I felt I understood him a little better… he seemed more human somehow… even though he was the bad guy.
Darth is my absolute favorite antagonist. He’s such a, well, force to be reckoned with. No pun intended.
As a reader what are your top 5 pet peeves?
What a great question… and one I took some time to answer.
For a bookworm like me, who finds reading not only relaxing, but often therapeutic, there are many things that have become pet peeves. Maybe there are other readers who can relate.
Spoilers. I really don’t like it when I find a book I’m excited to read, only to have someone else tell me how it ends… before I get a chance to read it. Ugh.
Waiting for Library Books. With 4 kids, we’ve often gone to the Library to read or have ordered books from the Library online. It’s super disappointing borrowing a book, only to realize that you are number 20 on the list… which means you have to wait a couple of months before you can read it.
A book with a promising start that begins to go downhill. I feel a little miffed as a reader, when I love the first few pages or chapter of a book and then the story suddenly takes a turn for the worse. It feels like all my hopes for a good read have just been dashed with cold water ;(
Being interrupted while reading a good book. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a little annoyed at constant interruptions when you’re in the middle – or near the end – of a good book. Although, I must say as far as my family goes, they don’t interrupt me so much anymore when they see I’m reading a book.
Poorly Edited Books. For me, this means not only poor grammar or typos, but also repeated metaphors and descriptions or when the storyline is way too predictable. I guess I just really like some surprises in a story.
So those are some of my pet peeves. But I’m also a reader who loves to give first-time authors a good chance. I’ll read the entire first chapter before I’ll decide if I want to keep reading or pass on a book. I think it’s because I totally get where new authors are coming from… and if they choose to keep writing books, I’ll give another one of their books a chance, because I know as writers we keep getting better in our craft, the more we keep writing.
I love your list, but I love your understanding even better. Very touching.
In your opinion and experience, what makes a great story?
There are a few details, in my opinion, that make a great story.
First a really great story is easy to read. I love it when the story is so easy to read, that I just get “caught up” in the moment.
Secondly, great stories have captivating characters. I love characters that are flawed and yet they are transformed somehow throughout the story. I love coming to ‘the end’ feeling inspired 🙂
Third, a story is compelling when it has a sense of wonder. For example, in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales, the creatures and land of Narnia are so unusual and exotic, that as a reader I feel a sense of excitement and my curiosity is piqued because of the newness of it all.
Fourth, I love a story theme that is easily recognizable and that is meaningful. Common themes are: good vs. evil; love conquers all; or sacrifice, redemption, acceptance, etc. When your flawed characters face soul-searching themes, it’s a pretty compelling reason to keep reading.
Fifth, I do love a story where there’s a lot at stake for the characters. Where they give up everything for love or they have to face an evil villain that challenges all they believe in – and the characters are forced to overcome the odds. The best stories I’ve read, are those where characters were changed and they also changed their world around them for the better.
I LOVE IT! This pretty much says it all! Wonderful.
How do you help writers tell their stories?
I do love to help first-time and/or struggling storytellers, to write, self-publish and market their stories to their unique audience of readers. I’m passionate about helping new writers, because I spent so many years trying to get over fear and insecurity that I could actually write. Then it took me a few more years of searching on Google for answers on how to self-publish my novel. After all those years of trying to figure this out, I became passionate about helping to save writers time and money – to avoid the mistakes I did. So, for new writers who are struggling to write and self-publish and market their books, and are tired of struggling and failing over and over again, they can get Write and Publish your first Book as a Free eBook download – along with The Storyteller’s Roadmap mini-course when you click here: The Storyteller’s Roadmap
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