Plot Elements

I attended the PNWA conference and one of the speakers was Cherry Adair. She talked about plot. For a good plot it must have these elements: story goal, scene goal, and black moment. A story also needs these 7 things:

  • a succession of significant events with consequences
  • things characters do, feel, think, and say
  • a way of looking and doing things
  • deciding what’s important and showing it to be important
  • showing what matters to your main character
  • one or more characters have something vital at stake
  • something happens

Cherry also suggested not to bog down the opening with details and descriptions, but open with a bang. In other words, start novel with first crisis. There must be some kind of struggle for your main character for the reader to care. The first quarter of the book is the buildup. The middle is the emotional journey and always in trouble. The last act ties up everything. Give characters choices. The main character must grow in some way by the end of the novel. Each scene must have a motivation, goal, and conflict. The higher the stakes the longer the scene.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the point of the scene?
  • What does the reader need to know?
  • What does your main character have to find out?
  • What backstory do you want inserted?
  • What is the time and place?

Emotion, thought, decision, action moves the plot. Define the character’s needs and create obstacles.

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Scene & Sequel

I found this helpful in writing mysteries and young adult stories and thought I would share it with other writers out there.

To move action forward, you write a scene. A scene is a unit of conflict lived through by your character and reader. It is mostly plot. To analyze its effects upon the protagonist, you add sequel. Sequel is a unit of transition that links two scenes. It is mostly story or emotion.

A scene is built around three things: a goal, conflict, and disaster. Every scene should provide interest and move the story forward as well as build characterization. The sequel bridges between scenes where the reader learns what the character is thinking and it’s a good place for backstory. It gives logic and plausibility of your story by explaining why your character acts the way he/ she does. Four parts consist of a sequel: emotion, thought, decision, and action.

Children’s Books

When it comes to children’s stories, the word count varies, depending on the type of book you want to write. For picture books, a good goal is under 500 words, but the shorter the better. Emergent readers have only 32 words. In easy readers, the word count depends on the level you are writing. Level one is usually 200 words. A typical level three can range from 800 to 1200 words.  In chapter books, the range increases anywhere from 5000 to 25,000. A good minimum goal for middle grade novels is 30,000 words and the upper into the 60,000. The young adult or teen novels start from 40,000 and go up.

A good investment is to buy a Children’s Writer’s Word Book. It contains word lists grouped by grade. The internet and educational TV have had a great impact on children’s vocabulary. Children often comprehend more than they can articulate, but if we communicate below their level they become bored. This book helps ease the writer into their world that they can understand. Another good tool is to sit down at the mall or the playground and listen to children talk. Visit the library and see what books are popular with the level you wish to write.

In this fast-paced world, you must capture your audience right away. Always start out with a good hook. Let your reader see, feel, taste, smell your story through your main character. Children like to pretend they are the character. Make it worth their time.

What a Story Needs

Every good story is built around a problem, a conflict, or a challenge for its protagonist. The reader will root for him, agonize over his setbacks, and rejoice in his eventual triumph.

Who is telling the story? The beginning introduces the main character in action and sets up the story problem. Therefore, the main character or protagonist only knows what he experiences or is told about. Convey other characters through the protagonist’s eyes. The middle of the story shows the character tackling the problem. The dramatic high point is the climax of the story. The ending resolves the problem.

Dialogue brings the character to life. It also moves the story forward. Tell the story from the protagonist’s point of view to create a strong sense of identification. In a sense, the reader becomes the hero.


The Challenge of a Story

Every good story is built around a problem, a conflict, or a challenge for its protagonist. The reader will root for him, agonize over his setbacks, and rejoice in his eventual triumph. A beginning introduces the main character in action and sets up a story problem. A middle shows the character tackling the problem. An ending resolves the problem. The dramatic high point is the climax of the story.

Our forebears communicated knowledge, accumulated wisdom, and common experience through the magic of words. Stories have forecast danger, celebrated heroes, provided building blocks for peace, triggered wars, and vilified enemies. It was a way of entertainment. We look for excitement, wisdom, and comfort from a story. It connects us and takes us to other worlds.

As writers, you give voice to the voiceless. You introduce new ways of thinking and lift the reader closer to the light. There is power and purpose of story. Storytelling is an art and a craft. A good story captivates its audience and as writers we must master the skill.

There are many facets to a story as there are people to imagine it. The seed of a story is encountering the extraordinary in the ordinary. Expose your imagination to possibilities. Each author should approach the structure of a story in a way that is comfortable for him.

In the beginning, define what your hero wants and why he wants it. In the middle, create the obstacles the hero must overcome to reach his goal. And in the end, resolve the situation in a believable way. Once you’ve settled on these fundamentals, build the story around them. Consider the different ways to structure your narrative and choose the methods you prefer. Trust in your story and promise yourself you’ll finish it.

How to Make A Great Setting

I’ve noticed that new writers have trouble with the setting of their stories. The setting sets the stage. You must draw in your reader. How do you capture their attention? Open with a great setting. It conveys the mood of the story, besides the visualization. For example; is it raining and it matches the character’s mood of leaving home? Can he feel every drop?

Think of a movie. It’s not only the picture in front of you, but it’s the sounds also. Try using all five senses to bring the scene alive for your readers. How does the character feel? Is he on a ship and his stomach sloshes with his last meal? What does he smell? Are the passengers ripe with body odor? Can he taste anything? Perhaps the bile in the back of his throat? What does he hear? Are the seagulls squawking from above him.

Make a difference in your writing by bringing it alive for your reader and you’ll have a better story.