Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘story’

Characters And Story Development For Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

There are several benefits to beginning the story development process with character.  First, it helps the writer avoid the temptation of over-plotting – of creating twists and turns that could collectively make up ten novels, never mind just one.  Beginning with character also gives the story room to grow organically.

A drawback, however, is that the writer could end up with a lack of plot – a story that doesn’t really go anywhere.  This can leave the writer feeling stuck and losing steam.  The story could also end up spiralling out of control, leaving the writer with a draft that needs to be extensively gutted.  When I first drafted Blue is for Nightmares, for example, I didn’t pre-plot at all.  In the end, a lot of what I’d written was extraneous and needed to be cut.  I threw away almost 200 pages, not  because they were poorly written but because they didn’t serve the story I was telling.

What’s best is to begin with both plot and character in mind.  Here are some questions to keep in mind as you do that:

1. What does your character want?

2. What is the conflict?  In other words, what is keeping the character from getting what he wants?  Conflict can be found in an opposing character, or it can be found within your character, i.e. if your main character wants to be loved, a lack of self-esteem may be keeping him from getting loved.

3. What aspects of character are going to affect action?  For example, if your character is lonely or feels ignored at home, she might seek attention in dangerous places.

4. What about your character’s background led to conflict with his opponent?  What need is he or she fulfilling?  What made him feel as though he/she needed to take this sort of control over someone?  You may or may not be answering these questions directly in a story, but it’s important to know the answers.

5. What is the climax of the story?  In other words, what is the highest point of tension?  Why have you chosen it?

6. Does your character finally get what she wants?  Why or why not?

7. How does your character grow?  What does he learn by the end of your story?

***

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

      

Australia (and beyond)

Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little GamesDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)     The Dog in the WoodSparkThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Mistakes I’ve Made As A Novelist, by Bernard Beckett

The spark for a particular novel can come from many places and arrive in many forms. For me, sometimes it’s an idea that’s puzzling me and the writing of the novel is a working through of my own confusion. Other times there’s a plot element, a particular ending perhaps or an opening that intrigues me. Other times it’s a character. The trick is taking this starting point and weaving it into a successful and satisfying story. The trouble is that the path from starting point to finished product is not at all clear. There are any number of paths to take and the great majority of them will end in failure. This, by way of illumination, is a story or one of those failures – my novel Home Boys.

The starting point was unusual for me, it began with my father telling me the story of a man who lived in the same small town as him. The man in question had been sent out to New Zealand post World War Two, as part of the scheme meant to offer new starts to children whose lives had been ripped apart by the war. Like so many of the children, this man’s story was not a happy one. He was signed up to the scheme by an older brother and didn’t know he was on anything other than a day trip until the boat was out to sea. He ended up on a farm where he was essentially used as slave labour. I went and interviewed the chap and was captivated by his story, and by his resilience. In the way of his generation, he seemed to have simply shrugged and got on with it, and looking back, held no bitterness or regret.

My plan was to use the first half of his story (being put on the boat, ending up on the farm, then running away) and then fictionalise the rest. The trouble was, I didn’t exactly know what that rest was. And because I had such a solid start, there was an opportunity to start writing without really thinking about it. The first bits came easily, the character developed, along with the sense of place, and I figured I could probably just follow my nose from there and something would work out.

As I approached the point of departure into pure fiction, I began playing around with new ideas. Another runaway down the road becomes a mate and suddenly we’re into Huckleberry Finn territory. Feeling confident, I threw in some disturbing dreams (always a mistake) that hinted at the possibility of the supernatural. I brought back an Italian prisoner of war, who by strange coincidence (no worries, I’ll solve it later) reappeared and then, following my nose, ended up at a small fishing village and a love triangle at its apex. I think there was even mention of a mysterious cave in the bush from whence no man had returned. I was, it was fair to say, having fun. And the writing, for me, wasn’t half bad. I was enjoying getting the sense of time and place. It was the geography of my own childhood, I knew it well, and loved the challenge of getting that landscape into the paper.

In hindsight, I can see that I was absolutely seduced by the process of putting more and more balls in the air. The idea was that somehow I’d nail the catching as well, that they’d land in my hand one by one in a satisfying succession of plops, and I would bow to the standing ovation. I was caught up in the feeling the reader would also have, that somehow this mad mix of myth, dream, history, lust and coincidence was going to weave itself into an astonishing ending.

The trouble, clearly, was that I had no ending. I didn’t even have a feel for the what the ending should do, what the satisfactory completion of Colin’s character arc would look like. The book was coming to an end, the options were closing in, but there was no place to jump to that would tie it all up. At that point, what I should have done is taken a deep breath, gone back to the beginning and tried to work out what it was I was really trying to achieve. Instead I cheated and threw in a non-ending with the two boys sitting on the back of a truck, having hitched a ride, heading into the city. It was supposed to be symbolic, I suppose, but it was no such thing. It was just a case of not knowing how else to end the story, because this particular story didn’t have an ending, making it not a story at all, but rather a collection of ideas and events and people and places that I really loved writing about. Less a novel, more an extended creative writing exercise.

Looking back on it now, I still love reading from Home Boys, for exactly the same reason I enjoyed writing it. In my head, it’s hugely alive, maybe more than any other piece of my writing. As such it must be filed under ‘ones that got away’, a book where I got caught up in the telling and lost sight of the story.

***

Bernard Beckett’s author website: www.bernardbeckett.org

Bernard Beckett’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

GenesisAugustNo AlarmsRed Cliff     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Red is for RemembranceRooftop

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Developing An Idea Into A Complete Story, by Andy Briggs

It all starts with a sudden explosion of thoughts and concepts that rebound from one another until they start to form the kernel of an idea. It is this precious idea that is going to consume months, if not years, of your life as you nurture it into a story. It’s that tiny idea you thought of on the train, in school or walking the dog that is going to make you get out of bed each morning and hammer away at a keyboard.

So it better be good.

How does this idea evolve into a book? You will start working out the beginning, middle and end – the core three acts that bond your story together. Most of the time, these will be utterly wrong and you will find yourself rewriting your opening, reworking the middle and having no idea how it is all going to end until you get there. Having a notion of where the story might go is enough. Your characters will begin to develop from this. You’ll find yourself bending and twisting the story to fit their needs – try and resist this. You want the story to be a challenge for the characters to navigate, so don’t be concerned about their health and safety.

Now your characters are forming, your plot is also falling into shape. A couple of key scenes will probably have sparked into existence; jot them down and keep them for later.

With the raw elements of characters and rough plot you have reached a fork in your evolving quest. Do you sit and plan the story as best you can, so you know what information each chapter has to convey and what turns your story will take? Or, do you jump in and start writing with no clear idea on where your story is going? Both methods are equally valid, and it often comes down to the individual’s personal tastes. I like to plot – I think this comes from starting my career writing movies. With scripts, you need a solid structure and have a finite number of pages to play out your story. For the novelist, at this moment in time, you have a blank canvas and infinite pages.

Whichever path you have taken, your story will unfold and you will begin to find the characters are not behaving quite the way you want them to. This is because you are giving life to them with each sentence, and no matter how well you think you know them, you don’t. It will feel as if they are taking you in a different direction from what you originally intended. I feel it is pointless trying to change their minds, you may as well go with the flow – but remember, you are the Creator. Don’t let them get away with leading you down an unplanned path. When this happens, I throw down a challenge within the story to derail them and bring them back on the course I plotted. People say you should love your characters – but drama comes from conflict, and you should be causing as many problems for them as possible.

As you plough through your story, you may discover those brilliant plot twists or scenes you dreamt up no longer fit the story. Don’t try to force them in, otherwise your story will seem disjointed. New scenes will evolve from the problems you have thrown at the characters. Rather than force a great idea into an unyielding story, set it aside for another book. Good ideas will have their moment; just remember their moment may not be now.

After navigating through writer’s block, casting misfortune on your characters and typing until your fingers are numb, you finally have a book. You may suddenly realise the ending was not what you had in mind, or, on the lucky occasions, have an ending that surprises you. You may also discover that your beginning doesn’t set the right tone – which probably means you have entered the story at the wrong moment. Try other entry points to see what works.

The most important point is that you now have a complete story: pages of drama and tension that all came from a random idea. As a writer, there is no greater thrill than reaching that moment.

***

Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Tarzan: The Savage LandsRise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Keeping CornerThe Empty Kingdom

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

My Novel Writing Process, by Carolyn Meyer

When I begin the first page of a new novel, I’ve already invested months in research, made notes on yellow pads, obsessed about it on my morning walks. I have a mental picture of my characters and I know in a general sort of way what they’re likely to be doing. I’m telling myself the story I hope will become a novel that teens will read fervently, talk about enthusiastically and love forever. At this point nothing is set in stone.

At first I’m talking to myself, describing the story: first she does this, then she does that, then he says and she says, then they do something else. But that’s not a novel, it’s a treatment – a story about the story.

Then comes the real work: turning the story-about-a-story into a sequence of scenes, each building on the last. In that first chapter I must also provide the teen reader with enough information to understand what’s happening. I approach the writing as though I’m making a movie, fully visualizing each scene. If I can picture it, I can write it and the reader will “get” it.

I decided to begin Cleopatra Confesses with Cleopatra’s long-absent father’s return to Egypt. I used a series of scenes and flashbacks to introduce principal characters and establish family relationships, as well as to create tension. The chapters are brief and the scenes move the story along quickly. Here’s how I structured the first chapter:

Scene 1: Cleopatra hears a commotion and goes out to investigate; a messenger brings news that Ptolemy XII is on his way from Rome.

Scene 2: Cleopatra visits her younger sister, plays her with sister’s pet monkey and her sister’s bodyguard is introduced.

Transition: description of Cleopatra’s older sisters, brothers and father.

Scene 3:  Cleopatra, in borrowed servants’ clothes, leaves the palace for the marketplace.

Scene 4 (flashback): Cleopatra with her father before he leaves for Rome.

Scene 5 (flashback): Cleopatra with her jealous sisters.

Then on to the second chapter, with scenes in the marketplace with Cleopatra waiting for father’s ship; then in the palace, dressing for her father’s welcome.

Total pages for first two chapters: thirteen.

Contemporary teen novels usually take place over a relatively short time – days or weeks, rarely covering more than a year. A teen historical novel may span years, even decades, and that requires tracking the passage of time in a way that keeps teen readers oriented. One strategy is to use the day or date in chapter titles, but the calendar in Cleopatra’s era was so confusing that I indicated the time in other ways: “It is the season of the Inundation, the time of year when the Nile overflows its banks….”, “In the evening of the first day as the royal boat drifts….” or “It is winter now…”

The structure of Cleopatra Confesses evolved as I added and deleted scenes; lengthened, shortened and divided chapters; and changed chapter titles. This process continued through successive drafts and revisions, as it has through all of my teen novels. It may be worth noting that I never get it right the first time but only through trial and error.

***

Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Cleopatra ConfessesMary, Bloody MaryThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette     Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)My Brother's ShadowWinter Town

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Characters And Story, by Andy Briggs

Your characters are one of the most vital components in a story. There has been a lot written about characterisation. Whether your main character is a pirate, an astronaut, a teenager or a dog they will be the focal point around which your story will unfold. The conduit between the page and your reader.

The problem here is that people then automatically write a story from a first person perspective. That is absolutely fine and a wonderful way in which to tell a story, but some writers have used this device to create an emotional bond between the reader and the character at the expense of the story. With a first person perspective you don’t necessarily need to worry about what the other characters are doing at any one given time because you are not going to cut away to them. Fine. However, there is a tendency for some of these stories to have the most wafer thin plots because the author thinks the character is more interesting.

I have had many discussions with professional storytellers who assert that characters are the most important things in a story. I have listened, in stunned disbelief, when they say, as long as you have interesting characters, interesting stories will unfold. I have even seen this written in books that allege to teach writing. It doesn’t matter how fleshed out your character is, without an interesting story they are nothing.

Imagine, Albert Einstein, Elvis and the Pope are sitting in a room. Three strong characters about whom entire volumes have been written. Now imagine none of them can think of anything interesting to say to one another, and imagine nothing happens to the room they’re in. Nobody else enters. You just have three amazingly interesting people doing zip.

The story is what drives your characters to walk, talk and be. People don’t watch the news because they think the teenager running down the street chased by a police helicopter is an interesting character. They tune in to find out what the story is; what led to this moment. During this process we find out about our character – is he a murderer? A thief? We now stick with the story because of the characters. But wait, something else has been discovered: he had left a bomb in his house. The story is re-engaging with us and may well bring in other intriguing characters to help it along.

Back to Einstein and co. The room they are in could be spinning through time and space but without a character to witness and interact with the momentous events outside, we still have no story.

What we have here is a delicate balance: Interesting characters in an interesting story. Like yin and yang they propel your story to the bitter end together.

This brings me on to another bugbear of mine. Character arcs. The notion that a character has to go on an educational or spiritual journey through the story. That they must end up as different people by the end of the story, and through this, we need to learn about their backstory: what happened in the past to shape them into the person they are today. That is not true for all stories.

There are numerous characters who have started with one opinion and finished the story as a whole new person – Ebenezer Scrooge being the first example that pops to mind. Likewise, there are fantastic characters who are perceived as heroes but have broken all the rules. Let me jump from literature to film – it’s still the art of storytelling. Indiana Jones is a modern iconic hero. Go away and watch the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ll wait for you. What a hero, eh?

He starts the story losing the golden idol to his rival. Then he searches for the Ark of the Covenant, loses his leading lady, finds the Ark, loses the Ark, finds the girl, finds the Ark – then loses both the girl and the Ark. Then ends the movie tied to a pole as all the bad guys are killed. He gets the Ark back. Oh, and in the story’s coda, he loses the Ark again. I present to you Indiana Jones, the world’s greatest loser who starts and ends the story as exactly the same person.

***

Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Rise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerRooftopThe Repossession

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 193 other followers

%d bloggers like this: