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Tag Archives: Plots

Story Plot Grist Mill

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As writers, we should see ideas everywhere. They can come out of the most surprising places or something mundane can trigger that creative spark.

Over the last 60 days, I have quit my job of 20 years, accepted the job of a lifetime, sold my house, bought a new house, started the new job and survived the first week of orientation. All without losing my mind or my temper. But, more important, there has been no fewer then eight ideas for story scenes pop into my head based on the situations I’ve been dealing with.

For example: I was sitting at a bar having a going away lunch with a dear friend. I ordered a glass of Macallan 12 year scotch with one cube. Except that instead of “cube” it came out of my mouth as “stone”. The young female bartender with the face of an angel smiled and asked, “Would ice be okay?” Realizing my poor choice of words, I apologized for confusing her.

Her eyes twinkled as she replied, “You’re going to make me cry.”

My friend quickly recommended, “You should go into the freezer to cry so that your tears make him some special ice cubes.”

At this point my overactive imagination took over and the next five minutes, I “think wrote” a scene for an upcoming short story involving a beautiful barkeep, a character ordering a drink with one stone and some ice made from the tear of a goddess. The scene will be the catalyst some unusual story lines.

My friend, who is also my alpha reader, laughed until she cried at the way the scene came together. She had never seen me do that before and has been wondering how I worked.

Every personal interaction can be tweaked a bit and used as the groundwork for your story. Maybe the arrogant moving company agent turns into the guild master who doesn’t realize he’s dealing with a master assassin. Perhaps the talkative real estate agent makes the perfect noble fop to obtain intelligence from on the royal court.

The bottom line is this: keep your eyes and other senses open because you never know where the next interesting idea will come from.

 

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Plot Twists in Short Fiction

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A panel topic at this year’s 4th Street Fantasy convention dealt with using Fake outs, False Fumbles,and Misdirection to spice up standard plot tropes. It was a lively discussion as you might expect. The part of the discussion that interested me the most was the Set-up. Those sentences, paragraphs, and even whole scenes that are used to purposefully send the reader down a dead-end or straight into the surprise plot fake out. The Set-up is the clue(s) the author provides the reader that the plot trope they know and love may get thrown for a loop later in the story. Usually, the clues go unnoticed at first as just lightly related information used as world-building or characterization. The number of Set-ups can vary from story to story but as a rule there should be at least three: one towards the beginning, another somewhere in the middle, and then a last one just before the big surprise ending.

During the panel discussion, a comment was made that this is a little harder to handle in short fiction. The clues would be included in at most a “throw away” sentence or two. Frankly, what shocked me more was that the accomplished short fiction writers in the audience did not jump up and scream at the top of their lungs at this comment. Since when is there “throw away” sentences in a 3,000 word short story?

As I stated previously, the initial clue(s) may go unnoticed. But, can they really in a short work? Can you afford to insert a “throw away” line. just to set up a plot twist later? It seems to me that those “throw away” lines are nearly as important and require at least as much consideration as your opening line. These sentences need to fulfill at least two and maybe three or four purposes. One of which is to give the clue that the reader needs to remember, on some level, so that the surprise ending doesn’t seem contrived. Also, keep in mind that the clue should not be too obvious that it jolts the reader out of the story.

So, I would like to hear from you short fiction writers. How do you handle Set-ups in your short works? Or, do you stick with the tried and true plot tropes?

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 6, 2015 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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More Ideas than time!

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Lately, it seems that new ideas for stories crash into my head on a daily basis. Each one new and different. Some with characters I know and some completely new. I scribble down the idea and sometimes fragments of scenes or dialog. Then, just when I start to feel comfortable with a new idea. a different one pops into my head. The process begins again. Never do I have time to complete the story. They just keep coming like waves in the ocean. It frightens me that I do not have time to write them all. Even if I was a fast typist, I doubt I could get them all finished. I keep the notes safe for some future date because, what frightens me more is when the ideas stop coming.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 9, 2015 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Women Protagonists in Fantasy Fiction

I recently listened to a panel of successful female writers and editors, from the fantasy genre, discuss female protagonists. As a male writer, I found it an interesting discussion. Hoping for some insight on how to make my female characters deeper and more real, what actually was discussed was a distinct dissatisfaction across the panel that most female protagonists in the fantasy genre were kickass warriors.

Hmm. Isn’t that feminist’s equality? I asked myself.

Hold on a moment. Before you all start to go off on me as being a sexist, let me continue. Everyone, myself included, was in agreement that a kickass warrior was infinitely better than the pretty pitiful princess that needs rescuing. The question became, “What other journeys are there for a female protagonist in a fantasy story beside Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’?” Campbell’s journey is by far the most popular and most recognized.

Most fantasy stories have a hero of some sort as the protagonist. It just the way things are in the genre. Maybe because the standard good vs evil convention leads itself in that direction. There has to be someone to vanquish evil or evil will destroy everything.

It made me wonder about other potential character arcs. What other female specific arcs are there? As a matter of fact, I cannot remember hearing of any other character arc being ‘named’, let alone documented. What can I say, I’ve led a sheltered life. Shouldn’t any arc that you can find in literature be used in fantasy?

What other “journeys” are you aware of? Have they been documented in detail somewhere? What have you used? Have kickass female warriors become merely a cliché? Boy, I hope not! It’s hard to beat a story about a woman who goes around kicking ass and taking names.

Your Thoughts?

 
18 Comments

Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Who’s driving this crazy thing?

What is this whole process of storytelling? Sometimes we get so caught up in character arcs, plot points storyboarding, outlines vs pantsing, and God knows what else, that we forget what makes up a story and how to tell one. Sure all of the volumes on writing craft will take you down into the weeds of writing and break down every detail of the mechanics involved. However, sometimes it’s all those details that get in the way of telling a good story. I know a few writers who are so worried about the details that they become “Blocked”. We will discuss writers block in another post so I’m not going down that dark hole today.

Let me start by telling you a story:

A group of writers were sitting on a patio, drinking their tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Being the novice among the group, I asked the question, “What do you need to tell a good story?” They all took another bite of their sandwiches and then sipped their tea. Thoughtfully, One of the more successful of the group announced that, “All you need, to tell a story, is POV and ask the question, ‘What happens next?'” His comment was followed by much head nodding and quiet mumblings of, “Yea, verily, yea.” by the rest of the successful writers present. I took this pearl of wisdom and pondered it for some time. It now seems to me to be sage advice.

Point of View (POV). Who is telling the story? This should be the most interesting person in the story. In my example above, the most interesting person is Me! 🙂 Notice I said most interesting and not most successful. The POV does not need to be from the main character. The two most used POVs are first person and third person. Third person can be further broken down to: close (intimate) view, or omniscient. Whole books have been written on these POVs so I will not go too deep here. The key thing to remember is that the POV dictates how much information can be given the reader and in what form that information will be delivered, narrative, dialogue, actions, etc.

Once you know who is telling the story, the thing that drives the story is the question, “What happens next?” Those of you who routinely write flash fiction should be very experienced with this question. All flash fiction and most writing exercises start with a prompt. For example: “I looked out the window of the airplane and …”. The writer then asks the question what happens next and writes a few sentences. Then, what happens next? Writer, writes a few more sentences and so on until the story ends or you reach so many pages that you have to make it a series. This is how stories are made.

A subset of the question what happens next is the “What if?” The quickest way I have found to get past a block is to ask the question “What if?” and write down the answer, even if it is off the wall and I know it will not make it into the final story. Then again it might! As writers we need to take risks, try new things, experiment. Desperation breeds genius. It is important not to judge the answer until you have given it a good chance to develop.

So, pick the right POV for the story, ask, “What happens next?”, then go tell your story.

What do you think?

 
12 Comments

Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Whew! Good News, Bad News

The good news is I’ve been writing. The bad news is it has not been on my blog.

The good news is I have been able to read some of your posts and comment a little. The bad news is only time for a few comments.

So, on the positive side, I was able to submit another article to Stick and String Traditional Archery magazine. it went in just under the next editions deadline. I believe it will hit the stands in late June. It is a How-to article with lots of pics. I’ll post it in my Traditional Archery category after it is released.

Another positive is, I have been working on the Actress and the Warlock. Some of it will not get posted to the blog because I want to keep a little of the story to myself until I get ready to publish it. However, another scene should make an appearance next week. I think it’s time to start beating up the characters. They have had it too good for too long. 😉 I’ve also had a couple of ideas for plot twists that I want to work in. What if the paparazzi take pictures of something they can’t recognize, I mean besides a sober Lindsey Lohan. Oops. Sorry for the cheap shot LL. Also, the chance to kill off an arrogant publicist might be fun too. We’ll have to wait and see what develops. It is, after all a cliché.

Continuing with the positives, my Twitter experience has improved and seems to be making more sense. I will continue to try to tweet more.

Now for the Bad News. I PROMISE to get a viable post on this blog site within the next five days! There, I have a deadline. We’ll see if that works.

 

 
7 Comments

Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Musings and Odd Thoughts

 

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What’s in Character – Now What!

Okay. We have finished your character’s creation. during the preceding What’s in Character blog posts. You’ve been following this blog and building a character along the way. I can here you now. “Great Dennis. I have twenty-two pages of information on each of my characters. My character notebook is a novel unto itself. I know more about them than I do about my own family. What do I do with all of it?” My standard response to all questions is, “That depends.”

1)  If you don’t have a plot in mind for your story, dive into your character’s lives and find something that would come into great conflict with your protagonist. Hopefully, you can also find something about you protagonist that would pose a great conflict for your antagonist. Ta Da, you have an initial plot conflict.

2)  What if you have a plot in mind? Look for new potential character arcs. Ways in which your characters can change based on the plot line. Trust me that the information you have generated during the previous posts is full of potential.

3)  I have a plot. I have character arcs. I have all the conflicts the reader could hope to want in a story. What else can I use this tome for?  COLOR! The whole point of this exercise was to create characters that are real to the reader. Use this material to add realism. Have you character twirl her hair while she talks to the police detective. The officer doesn’t know this is a tell that she is lying bu,t you can let the reader know it is with a few well-chosen words of description embedded in the dialogue. Add bits and sprinkles of your character’s likes and dislikes or tags and traits into dialogue to break it up and make it grab the reader. After a critical scene, your character may need to reflect on the situation. Have them grab their favorite drink, find their favorite comfortable spot and reflect away. The added details can be found in you Tome of Characters. Have fun with it but, don’t over do it. The information about your character that you relate to thee reader should be there for a reason.

It was my intention to give you details as to how my “Yursi” character was created. However, my character file is at 23 pages and growing. that’s too much for this blog. You will just have to read my short story,  Good Night’s Sleep, and the novel to follow to find out more about the raven-haired witch with twin magical daggers that is searching for a lost relative and her own identity while being hunted down by her own family. 🙂 That project is slated for 2014.

Let me know how your characters turn out. 

 
8 Comments

Posted by on April 10, 2013 in What's in Character

 

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