Tag Archive: Heather
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-gender-inclusive-romance/
Sometimes I write a story where lots of exciting stuff happens, my protagonist is proactive and has a goal, and I’m hitting all the right beats (if you don’t know what those are, check out this post on the 15 Story Beats), yet the story still feels flat. What’s wrong? What am I missing?
The truth of the matter is often I’m not missing anything. I spend a lot of time developing my stories and I know all the story parts that I need to make a story sing, but effectively implementing those parts into a manuscript is a whole other challenge. In a manuscript, those parts can get out of whack or lost or muddy. So how do you fix it?
By doing something we screenwriters often call “tracking the story’s spine.” A story’s spine is the character arc woven into the plot; the two should always go together just like your vertebrae and your spinal cord. Tracking a story’s spine means making sure the protagonist’s transformation (arc) is addressed in EVERY SCENE of the journey (plot). Because after all, as I’ve said before (specifically in this post about character journeys), every story is about change.
So let’s get started…
To track a story’s spine, you need to know these 3 Basic Story Parts:
What’s the Character Change?
What’s the Inner Conflict?
What’s the Big Story Question?
Part 1: In order to have a character arc, the protagonist needs to change. They have to start out one way (flawed and not the best person they could be) and end up another (flaw overcome and better because of the journey – that is if the story follows a positive arc; negative arcs are the opposite). For example, in my WIP the heroine starts out doing bad things like using people to try to get ahead. By the end of the story she needs to change into someone who doesn’t do bad things to succeed.
Part 2: Because of their character flaw, the protagonist will have an Inner Conflict. For a detailed explanation of what that is, read this post. In general, Inner Conflict is a desire for two things the hero wants (one of which is their outer Goal), but the catch is the hero can’t have both. So the whole story the protagonist must constantly choose between these two wants. Back to my WIP example, the heroine wants to be a better person (stop doing bad things like using people) but also wants a better life (her Goal is to escape the cycle of poverty by getting a college scholarship), yet she believes she needs to do bad things to achieve that. So yeah, she’s conflicted.
Part 3: The Big Story Question is the will/won’t issue based on the Inner Conflict. Basically, in my story the question is: Will the heroine get a better life? The writer must make the protagonist face that question in every scene, and alternate between scenes that make us and the protagonist think they WILL succeed, followed by scenes that make us think they WON’T. And this question always pivots on the protagonist’s Inner Conflict.
Not lining up the story’s spine is an easy blunder for writers to make, mainly because though we may KNOW the character’s arc, we don’t SHOW it in the plot. Note that I said “show” it, not “tell” it. You can’t solve this problem with internal monologue alone. The character transformation (arc) must manifest itself through actions (plot).
In conclusion, to straighten your story’s spine, check each scene for these 3 things and make adjustments accordingly:
#1 – Change. How does this scene influence your character’s arc? It can be a step forward or a step back, as long as something changes.
#2 – Inner Conflict. Which “want” is your hero leaning towards in this scene? Make sure to alternate this from scene to scene. After all, a hero who favours one desire over the other isn’t very conflicted.
#3 – Big Story Question. Does this scene ask the big, overall question? If not, your story has probably veered off course. Either cut the scene or revise it to make it relevant.
You can test your own manuscript, or a book you’re reading. I bet a million smiley face emojis that books that aren’t very engaging don’t have straight spines! Let me know in the comments what you find out. 🙂 Now I’m off to straighten my story’s spine…
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/how-to-straighten-your-storys-spine/
Happy New Year! Hope you had a wonderful holiday season. We certainly did. We really, really, really needed that break! Heather was all like, “Wake me up when 2016 is over…”
And Robin was like, “Yeah, 2016 beat me up pretty bad… but I’m still standing!”
Politics aside, 2016 was for me (Heather) a year of constantly questioning my career path and exploring my options. I began on a high note, with a new freelance gig writing an educational game, a part-time job as a freshly certified gymnastics coach, and a hopeful grant application (for tips on applying to grants, check out this post). But a few months in things were looking bad — the educational game didn’t pan out, coaching gymnastics was hella stressful and required a lot of out-of-gym work I’m not paid for, and I didn’t get the grant. But just as I was resigned to wallow in a pit of despair, an old TV friend asked me to write some episodes for his new show, Opie’s Home, and I returned to work on LongStory, but this time promoted to Story Editor! Alas, it’s inevitable in the freelance world that all good gigs come to an end (that is the nature of contract work), and by fall I was again wondering how I’d to pay the bills while also having time to work on my novel.
Enter CAREER BRAINSTORMING. What was my next move? Get back into TV writing? Start a copywriting business? Or go back to school?
What was I going to do in 2017?!
I met with friends and colleagues to discuss those options. The first two are doable, but don’t leave time for me to work on the novel right now. The third option (school) is the opposite of making money, but the best idea for finally getting a darn book finished! And the novel is still my priority.
So while WriteOnSisters was on a blogging break, I decided on my path for 2017… I’m going back to school! I’m applying for a post-grad Creative Writing program with a good track record of successful published authors. As for money, this month I start a part-time job writing another awesome video game.
I’m looking forward to learning a lot this year, from school and from writing video games, and I’ll be sure to pass the knowledge on to you guys now that the WriteOnSisters are back to blogging every week. With that…
And if there’s anything you want to know or want us to blog about, tell us in the Comments!
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/career-brainstorming/
Regardless of whether you’re a plotter or pantser, you might come to a place mid-month where your story feels like it’s gone off the rails. A lot of people will tell you to plow through! Just keep writing! It’ll work itself out! But I think better advice is to check in with your basic story beats. It doesn’t matter if you plan them ahead of time or figure them out partway through writing. The important thing to know is that these beats are an extremely useful tool to avoid writer’s block, mushy middle syndrome and general NaNoWriMo fatigue.
Originally posted on Nov. 3, 2014. Revived on Oct. 23, 2016.
*Note: Basic Beats based on Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” method.
1 – Opening… shows where the protagonist is at the beginning before they’ve gone on a journey that will change them to the person we see in the Final scene. For example, if your hero starts off loveless, she will find love in the end.
Do you even have a change? If not, that’s probably why your story has stalled. Think about how this story will change the hero and your writing will find its direction.
(For more, check out “3 Steps to Creating Character Change”)
2 – Theme… is the heart of your book as opposed to the plot. Not knowing the theme or having too many themes is a common reason stories get muddled and bogged down. Figuring out the theme will give your novel a purposeful direction, so ask:
Why are you writing this story? Deep down, what is the one thing you’re trying to say with this novel?
What is the value at stake in this story? Why does it matter?
(For more, check out “Theme With a Capital T” and “The Controlling Idea – Not Your English Teacher’s Theme”)
3 – Set-Up… establishes the protagonist’s world, introduces supporting characters, reveals protagonist’s personal problems and the stuff she’ll need to fix by the end in order for that vital character change to take place.
Did you set up the character’s goal clearly? No clear goal is a common reason stories ramble.
Did you set up the stakes? There needs to be consequences if the hero fails. Stakes drive stories!
(For more on stakes read “6 Questions to Ask to Make Sure Your Story has Real Stakes”)
4 – Catalyst… is also called The Inciting Incident. This event disrupts the character’s world and starts the story. Without it, there’s no story. For example, in “The Hunger Games” the catalyst is when Katniss’s sister’s name is selected for the games. If another kid’s name had been selected, there wouldn’t be a story – Katniss would just keep on hunting and hanging out with Gale in her district. Life would remain the same.
Does the catalyst change your protagonist’s life? If not, figure out what will. Stories need to be life-changing!
5 – The Debate… is when the protagonist decides how to proceed after the Catalyst. This shouldn’t be an easy decision. To go on the journey, or not to go on the journey? Of course, she has to go for there to be a story, but doubt adds tension and stakes, which help move the story forward.
Did your character debate going on her journey? What could have been holding her back and how can that add layers of tension to your novel?
6 – Break Into Act II… This is where the protagonist leaves her familiar world behind and goes on the journey to achieve a goal. The key to this beat is that the protagonist must choose, not be forced or tricked into action.
Is your character pro-active? Passive characters are common culprits in stories that drag.
7 – B-Story… Often this is the love interest, but can also be a sidekick or a mentor. This ally guides the protagonist and is often instrumental in helping him learn the Theme, i.e. what he needs to do to survive and win the story.
Does your B-story character challenge your hero? Maybe they can spice things up with conflict and humor!
(For more check out “What’s a B-Story? And Why that Lame Love Triangle Doesn’t Cut It”)
8 – Act II part 1: Fun & Games… is the promise of the premise. If your novel was a movie, the F&G section would be featured in the trailer. For instance, in a romantic comedy, this is where the two love interests clash.
Do you have enough conflict? Sometimes a story meanders simply because it lacks conflict. Repeat after me: make your characters suffer!
9 – Midpoint… right smack in the middle of Act II, this is usually a False Victory where the protagonist thinks she’s achieved her goal but she hasn’t. It’s here that the stakes are raised and the bad guys start to close in on the protagonist.
Do you have a Midpoint, a turning point that is like a tent pole holding up the middle of your story? If you’re meandering through the mushy middle, probably not. For help, read “Mapping the Mushy Middle”
10 – Act II part 2: Bad Guys Close In… Both internal problems (hero’s issues) and external problems (bad guys) tighten their grip and get closer and closer to thwarting the protagonist’s goal.
Quite simply, are things getting progressively worse for your hero? Don’t just pile on new problems; make sure the problems escalate.
11 – Crisis / All Is Lost… is usually a False Defeat. If at the Midpoint the protagonist thought that she’d achieved her goal, this is where she thinks she’s utterly and completely failed.
What is your All Is Lost moment? It’s easier to keep your story on track if you know the big disaster you’re writing towards.
12 – Dark Night of the Soul… is the emotional fallout of the crisis wherein the protagonist loses all hope. The worst thing about this beat is that she knows it’s her fault. The hero that resonates is not innocent and blameless and perfect; she has flaws just like we do. And despite her best intentions, she had a hand in her own defeat.
Has your hero failed? Does she think it’s her fault? How can you make this the lowest moment of her life?
13 – Break Into Act III… Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute action or advice from the B-story ally, the protagonist digs deep to find a solution.
How does your hero move past her defeat? Having even a rough idea of this crucial moment will help focus your story.
14 – Act III Finale… From what she’s gone through and what she’s learned (i.e. Theme), the protagonist forges a third way and conquers her problems (both internal and external).
How does your hero win in the end? Again, you don’t have to have all the details, but knowing the basic ending (i.e. hero finds love, hero captures bad guy, hero leaves home for college) is invaluable for getting you through to The End.
15 – Final Scene (aka THE END)… is the opposite of the Opening scene and proves a change has occurred. There’s no point to a story if it doesn’t change the hero’s life.
What is your final image? What does your hero look like after this journey is over? How have they changed?
So if you’re ever struggling with your story, check in with these beats and make sure you’ve got the answers. Of course, the answers may change as you are writing, and that is totally fine. I keep a version of this beat sheet with me at all times. I look at it whenever I get off-track and revise it when necessary. Of course, during NaNoWriMo you don’t have time to revise what you’ve already written, but it’s still helpful to note what you will change and write the rest of the novel as if you’ve already done so.
Now good luck with NaNoWriMo, everyone!
For more on basic beats, outlining and story structure, check out the recommended posts:
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/story-questions-keep-nanowrimo-novel-track/
Ever since I learned the terms “pantser and plotter”, I’ve identified as a plotter (someone who outlines a story before writing a manuscript). To me, sitting down to write a whole book without an outline (i.e. the pantser method) is impossible. And now it’s time for a confession: pantsers make me feel stupid. Why can’t I just sit down at my laptop and start writing a novel? Why do I have to plan first? How is it possible that people can construct complicated long-form narratives without a story map? Is it because they’re geniuses and I am not? Should I just give up now?
Then I discovered something that made me realize that pantsers and plotters are more alike than we think. This doesn’t mean we’re all “plansters” — the en vogue definition for writers who see themselves as a little bit of both methods. What I mean is we’re all doing the same thing, but we use different terminology to define it, and sometimes that leads to misunderstandings and a sh*tload of writers doubt. Let’s end that now…
So because pantsers begin by writing a manuscript, I used to think they didn’t do any story development, that the story just spilled from their magic brains fully formed. How I envied that! But that’s not exactly how it works. Every writer goes through a process of story development. We all head out into the unknown and follow that unmarked road to discover where it leads. It’s just that some record that journey in full sentences and paragraphs (first draft), others take point form notes (beat sheets), some map the route (outline) and backtrack to explore (revise), and at one point or another we all stare out the window daydreaming. Each writer is developing the story, but using different methods and calling the process different things. Pantsers call this the first draft, and the reason this made me feel stupid is because as a plotter, I picture a first draft as a readable manuscript that doesn’t need too much story editing. How do pantsers achieve that without an outline or ten?! Well, my pantser friends clarified that they don’t — their first drafts are often a mess of ideas spit onto the page that they then build, revise and edit into a novel via many subsequent drafts. See, it all comes down to terminology: a pantser’s first draft is different than a plotter’s first draft which is different than a plantser’s first draft.
Though this might be obvious to some people, for others, especially those just starting out, hearing writers use the same term to describe disparate stages of writing can be confusing and daunting. I know it was for me. And if you’re a plotter, you might beat yourself up for not “really writing.” Pantsers were always telling me to “just start writing” because they didn’t understand that I was already writing, that my outline serves the same purpose as their first draft, that we’re both getting the story out of our heads but just in different formats. And sometimes the formats aren’t even different! For example, I wrote a post last year (A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win NaNoWriMo) where I confessed that I was not writing a fast first draft for NaNo, I was instead writing a detailed outline, and that started a conversation with some writer friends who said that my detailed outline sounded exactly like their first drafts. We were at the same stage of story development, but called it different things.
There’s a lot of chatter between novelists about whether it’s better to be a plotter or a pantser. A quick Google search reveals that the debate is endless! But I don’t think we’re all that different. Both camps develop, build, revise and edit the story, we just use different methods to execute and different terminology to define those stages.
This is all to say that the Plotter vs Pantser divide is silly and possibly harmful to a writer’s psyche. After all, I didn’t participate in NaNo for the longest time because I don’t “fast draft” first drafts. That’s pantser territory, right? To me, NaNoWriMo didn’t seem like a place for plotters and slow writers. But it can be if you change the terminology. Words are words, after all. If you’re a plotter who’s not at the first draft stage yet, count words for outlines or story development notes or whatever. Use the challenge to motivate yourself to write (that’s ultimately what it’s for) and do it. As for me, I am participating with another “detailed outline” this year. Here’s my NaNo profile. Hopefully I’ll see you there!
What do you think about the pantser vs plotter thing? Are we more alike than different?
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/plotters-vs-pantsers-are-we-really-that-different/
Confession: I saw The Princess Bride for the first time last weekend. I know, I know, my childhood was lacking. There was only one movie theatre with one tiny screen in my town, and my parents said we were too poor to see movies in a theatre. So yeah. Fast forward 29 years later, and I have Netflix which has The Princess Bride. Now all is right with the world.
So what’d I think?
First, I need to establish something else about my childhood that may seem totally unrelated but isn’t… Picture me at about age 7, smaller-than-average with brown pigtails and an overbite, dressed in a frilly dress and white patent Mary Jane shoes. I’m sitting in a church basement with a dozen other kids. We’re in Sunday School. The teacher is telling us about Jesus and the 12 disciples. I raise my hand. When the teacher nods my way, I ask, “Why were all the disciples men?” My teacher answers, “Just because they were.” I’m not satisfied with this answer, yet sadly I’m used to it. This is not the first time I’d asked why men got to do all the things and make all the decisions and women didn’t. I did not yet know the words “sexism” or “patriarchy”, I just knew that men ran the world, and young me thought that this was not fair.
Old me still thinks it’s not fair.
So while watching The Princess Bride, even though I was enjoying the funny banter and swashbuckling fight scenes, I couldn’t help but think, “Why are all the characters dudes?!” Except for Buttercup and two women who have single scene bit parts (Miracle Max’s wife Valerie, and the Ancient Booer – a part so minor she doesn’t even have a name), the other FIFTEEN speaking roles in this film belong to men. And it could so easily NOT have been that way! So easy I’m going to do it right now…
From the very first time the character appeared on screen, I wanted Inigo Montoya to be a girl. So much so that in my mind, I renamed him Indigo! And that’s the only change needed. Indigo is exactly the same as Inigo, except a girl. And I’ll tell you why…
#1 – Equality in Revenge! Why is it that revenge plots starring men usually revolve around a family member who was killed and the hero plots to kill the murderer to avenge that death, yet revenge plots starring women are usually about avenging a sexual assault? Don’t get me wrong, that’s one helluva reason to seek revenge! But it’s been used so much it’s cliche. Why can’t women pick up a sword and avenge wrongs against their family? It’s not inconceivable!
#2 – Sword-fighting. I just want to see more women sword-fight on screen. I’ve read books with women who sword fight, but can’t think of a movie. Chime in in the comments if you know of one!
#3 – Drunkenness. Yep, this is a vice that is generally reserved for the boys – male characters drown their sorrows in drink, while women eat ice cream. And when female characters do drink, they’re portrayed as being pathetic and having a very serious problem; whereas male characters often just shake off their blues, get sober and kick ass. Time for Indigo to demonstrate how women can shake it off too!
Next gender-swap: Westley! In fact, I’m pretty sure Westley is supposed to be a girl disguised as a boy. How else do you explain that moustache? Also…
#1 – Girl pirates rock! ‘Nuff said.
#2 – Girls can do the saving. There have been a couple movies where girls save other people, but nothing compared to all the movies where men save everybody. Now, if one was to write this movie with Westley as a girl, people would probably call her a Mary Sue. Wikipedia defines a Mary Sue as: “an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities” and “a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.” Yet when a male character fits this bill, the reaction from audiences is usually, “Yeah, sure, I buy that.” After all, it’s fun to watch Westley be amazing, right? Well, to me, Westley being amazing as a girl is even better!
#3 – The world needs more LGBT romances without making it an issue. There doesn’t need to be an explanation for why two women love each other, just like there’s not really a reason why Westley and Buttercup love each other. They just do.
Even with those two male characters changed into female characters, the cast of The Princess Bride doesn’t come close to being equally gender split, but it’s a start. Though interestingly, just by changing two heroes into heroines, most people would probably think it was an equal split! For more about our society’s warped perception of male-to-female character ratios, read this enlightening article from Writer Unboxed: The Problem With Female Protagonists.
What do you think of the overall dudeness of The Princess Bride? Would you like to see a remake with women playing any of the traditionally male roles? What characters would you like to gender-swap and why?
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-princess-bride-gender-swapped/
This week I’m honing the middle of my WIP, so it’s time to dust off the Archives and refresh my knowledge on a story’s midpoint…
Originally posted on Aug. 4, 2014. Updated and reposted on Sept. 5, 2016.
Awhile ago I wrote about Mapping the Mushy Middle of a story. This is a plot-centric approach to figuring out one’s story. However, story is a two-sided coin made up of plot and character. For every plot point there’s a corresponding character arc moment. So I blogged 3 Steps to Creating Character Change where I discuss the hero’s flaw as it presents itself in Act I, causes trouble for the hero in Act II, and is eventually overcome in Act III.
Yet even after figuring all that out, I still have trouble wrapping up my stories with a satisfying character transformation. In a story’s finale, not only is the plot resolved and the character flaw overcome, the hero must be changed. And I’ve found that overcoming a flaw isn’t always enough to change the hero.
What to do?! In times like this, I seek out books on writing craft. Many of these simply reword stuff I already know and aren’t very helpful, but I managed to find one that took a different but blissfully simple spin on Character Transformation:
WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE by James Scott Bell.
It’s short and sweet, just 85 pages, and the premise is that once you know the Mirror Moment at the Midpoint, it will clarify what your story is about so you can figure out where the hero begins and how he changes by the end. I recommend reading the whole book (it’s only $3 for the e-book version), but I’ve summarized the gist of it here in 3 steps:
1) Figure out the hero’s death stakes.
No matter how strong the physical death stakes are (i.e. a murderer is literally trying to kill the hero), I think every story also needs psychological death stakes or emotional consequences. It’s easy to spot psychological death stakes in romance – if the lead doesn’t win the heart of his soul mate, he will be lonely and miserable for the rest of his life! His heart will metaphorically die! I find coming up with psychological stakes more difficult in thrillers (the physical death stakes are so high and exciting they can easily take over the whole story), but the ending will resonate much more if the hero has psychological stakes too.
2) Create the hero’s Mirror Moment.
Bell explains two ways characters may reflect on their situation, one for plot-driven stories and one for character-driven stories. MIRROR 1: Hero looks in the mirror and considers the incredible odds against him (plot). MIRROR 2: Hero looks in mirror and muses on the person he is now and/or could become (character). (Note: Literal mirror not necessary.) But because I think all stories need plot and character, I say do both! After all, when considering the odds against, the best heroes would naturally lump their own shortcomings in with those odds.
This Mirror Moment complements the action that takes place at the Midpoint that I talked about in my Mushy Middle post. Basically, the Midpoint (be it a False Victory or a False Defeat) is powerless without your hero’s reaction to it.
3) Transform the hero.
The Mirror Moment hones in on who the hero thinks she is, and the Transformation is who she must become to win the Final Battle. Generally, these things are opposites.
After reading this book, I realize one of my problems is that I create heroes who are already prepared to win the Final Battle. Figuring out the psychological stakes and creating a Mirror Moment forces me to start with a hero who can’t possibly win and needs to change to do so.
What about you? Would a Midpoint Mirror Moment help you figure out your character’s journey? Deepen your story? Finish your book? I hope it helps me with mine!
WOS ANNOUNCEMENT: We’re hosting a Princess Bride Blog Linkup Party the weekend of Sept. 24-25. This is your chance to share your thoughts and opinions on this classic tale. Plus, Robin is a HUGE fan and thought it would be fun to connect with other bloggers who love the book/movie. For all the details, click here.
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-heros-emotional-midpoint/
Do a quick search for “elevator pitch” on the Internet, and most of the information will say it is a 60-second pitch of yourself or your product (in the case of writers, your book). But seriously, 60 seconds? What elevator takes that long? Unless you do this:
Do NOT do this. Or this:
So today in Pitching 101, I’m going to give you some tips on making your elevator pitch as succinct, appealing and not scary – for you or the listener – as possible.
Of course, an elevator pitch is not just for that serendipitous moment when you happen to find yourself in an elevator with a top-notch acquisitions editor, it’s handy anywhere and anytime someone asks you what your book is about. Hey, you never know who has connections in the publishing industry! That random dude at a party might be the son of a big shot editor! But dreaming aside, the more likely scenario writers find themselves in is a 5-minute speed pitch with an agent at a writer conference. Which brings us to the first tip…
#1 – Keep it under 30 seconds.
What? But you have five minutes! Is the agent just going to stare at you for the remaining 4 and a half minutes? Hopefully not, but I’ll get to that in the final tip. First, know this: the purpose of an elevator pitch is just to get the listener’s attention, NOT to tell your story from start to finish. That’s good, right? Way less scary to plan – and remember – a short 30 second pitch than a daunting 5 minute presentation!
#2 – Start with the Hook.
Quickly state the book title, genre and audience, then get right to the hook. What is the most intriguing thing about this story? Express that in one sentence. Hint: the Hook is probably not the story world or backstory or plot. More likely, it is a problem that needs to be solved. It is the “if this happened, what would we do?” question. That said, the hook can be the story world if that world has an inherent problem built into it.
#3 – Introduce the MC.
I almost didn’t put this in the list because it’s so obvious! But then I realized I have something to say about it after all, and that is if your MC is not the hook, you must introduce them immediately after that hook sentence. Don’t make the mistake of setting up the story / problem / world without first giving the listener a person to connect to. You need that or you can’t do the next step…
#4 – Target emotions.
The best way to get someone’s attention is to connect on an emotional level. So pick the emotion you want to convey and get the listener on your protagonist’s side. If your story is a comedy, make them laugh and cringe at the situation the hero finds himself in, but make sure the listener empathizes with the hero too so they care what happens next. If your story is a horror, make sure the pitch sends chills down the listener’s spine as they imagine what it would be like to be the hero in your scary tale.
#5 – Leave them wanting more.
So what happens when your quick elevator pitch is over? Well, hopefully a conversation begins about your book! If your pitch presented an intriguing protagonist with a problem, your audience should want to know what happens to them and how they approach the problem. In short, design your pitch to prompt the listener to ask for more information about your novel. Then relax – you’re no longer pitching, you’re just chatting with someone who’s keen to know all about your book!
Not that scary, right? What about you guys – do you have tips on nailing an elevator pitch?
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/pitching-101-the-elevator-pitch/
This month at WriteOnSisters we’re talking about pitching! A pitch comes in many forms – query, synopsis, one-liner, or book blurb. Anything that “sells” your book to anyone else is a pitch. Usually pitches are written after a novel is complete, because that’s when a writer needs to “sell” their novel to an agent or a publisher or directly to the masses via self-publishing. However, I’m going to encourage you to use pitches differently…
As story development tools.
Yes, I’m suggesting we write those dreaded pitches before and during the novel writing process. I’ll give you three reasons why…
#1 – To test the Story Premise.
It’s common screenwriting advice to write a logline (aka a one-line pitch) before writing the first draft as a test to make sure you have the basic story premise down (PROTAGONIST + PROBLEM + GOAL) and to confirm these elements connect. Read How To Write A Logline for more on that.
Other benefits of writing a one-line pitch? When people ask what you’re writing, you have a concise, catchy answer for them!
#2 – To see things from an Agent/Publisher’s Perspective.
A synopsis or query (aka a paragraph or one-page pitch) includes the story’s major plot points. Once you’ve done some story development (for plotters that can be a beat sheet or outline; for pantsers that’s the rough first draft), write a test query letter to put yourself in the mindset of an agent or publisher. Now, from a publishing professional’s perspective, does this synopsis make sense or are there plot holes? Does it intrigue or confuse? Does it sound original or generic? Would it stand out from the thousands of other queries received? Be honest. The reason you’re doing this now is so you can make changes to your WIP long before you’re at the submission stage. Because by that time, well, it’s a little late.
#3 – To clarify the Hook.
A book blurb is a pitch to the reader that leads with the “hook” that gets them to buy your book. This is a little different than a synopsis in that a blurb doesn’t include spoilers like plot twists or the ending. And because those things are omitted, it forces you to see if you can sell the story without revealing that amazing twist. Because you have to! If you can’t, that’s a sign you need to come up with a proper hook. Also, finding and defining the book’s hook helps locate structural issues, like too much set up. I blogged about that in this post: What Book Jackets Teach About A Story’s Hook.
So even if you’re not near the official agent/publisher pitching stage, I’ve just given you three reasons to stay tuned this month as we blog about all things pitching, including query letters, the elevator pitch, and the increasingly popular Twitter pitch.
Do any of you write pitches before or during your writing process?
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/write-pitch-before-finishing-novel/
Once upon a time I was working on a revamped novel idea – a fun, scary, action-packed revenge story. It was going to be great. I was feeling especially confident after reading this blog: “Why Revenge is Such a Brilliant Plot for Beginner Writers.” I pictured myself pounding out this simple revenge story while my other novel, a more complicated mystery-thriller, percolated. What a swell plan, and then I noticed something was missing…
STAKES. Holy moly! There were no stakes! And I don’t mean that my vampire hunter heroes forgot their wooden stakes. No, the problem was if my vengeful hero didn’t get her revenge… oh well. Shrug. No biggie. She’d survive. Though all the other points made by the above blog are spot on, like having a proactive hero with a goal, an absence of story stakes can be the revenge plot’s downfall. Beginner writers beware!
But wait, don’t revenge plots inherently have high stakes like dangerous situations and even death? Yes, but putting your hero in life-threatening danger during their quest is a scene stake not a story stake. Every scene needs stakes (aka consequences), but the overall story needs ONE BIG CONSEQUENCE if the hero fails to achieve his goal. It doesn’t matter how many scene stakes you throw at your hero if the overall story stake is missing.
Note that story stakes must be dire enough to make the reader care. If all that happens to the heroine upon failing is she feels crummy, well, so what? In SAVE THE CAT, Blake Snyder explains that stakes need to be “primal”, such as survival, hunger, love, protection of loved ones, and death, to ensure that the audience is invested in the hero’s quest. I struggled against this advice. I mean, come on, does what’s at stake always have to be love or death or survival? So I thought about all my favorite books and TV shows and films, and oh my gosh, yes, the answer is a resounding YES. And the most common primal stake? Love. Even if the story isn’t a romance, even if it’s a life-or-death action flick, love is often a big story stake. This might be why most stories have a love subplot. But the love doesn’t have to be romantic. It can also be paternal or platonic. Just make sure your character cares about someone, then jeopardize that relationship or the actual life of that person to create or raise stakes.
Of course, it’s not just revenge plots that can overlook story stakes. It can happen in any genre. So, to make sure it doesn’t happen to you (and me – again), I’ve made a handy Story Stakes Checklist…
1) If the protagonist fails, what happens? Would she lose a loved one, or die tragically, or get her heart irrevocably broken? Would her home be destroyed? Would evil rule the world? Something bad must happen if the protagonist fails to achieve her goal.
2) Is this the worst thing that can happen to the protagonist? What is your protagonist most scared will happen if he doesn’t achieve his goal? What would figuratively or literally kill him? Or both?
3) Are the stakes tangible? Will an actual action happen if the protagonist fails to achieve his goal? Will his lover dump him? Will he be sent to jail and separated from his family? Love, like all stakes, loses its power if it’s not connected to a concrete event.
4) Are the stakes worth fighting for? Your protagonist can’t “kind of” want her goal. Achieving her goal must mean everything to her! Failing would ruin her life! The protagonist can’t be ambivalent to the stakes.
5) Who else cares about the stakes? If only the protagonist cares, the stakes may be too small. Think about the other characters in the story. Do they care if the protagonist fails or succeeds? At least one should or else the protagonist might be a drama queen with trivial stakes. Stakes cannot be inconsequential.
6) If your protagonist succeeds, does she save the day? Avoiding the stakes must feel like a giant victory!
Making readers care about your story and protagonist is difficult to pull off, but with primal story stakes it’s possible. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, figure out the stakes before you start writing, because without stakes, you won’t have a compelling story, and it’s best to find that out before you’ve written tens of thousands of words. Trust me.
Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/6-questions-to-ask-to-make-sure-your-story-has-real-stakes/