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.

black and white blackboard business chalkboard

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Concept of Flash Fiction

Flash fiction has become popular. It is a growing phenomenon in our fast-paced world. Many publishers and contests are open to flash fiction. So what exactly is it? Flash fiction is a short-short story with various word counts, but generally under 2000.  Most of the contests I’ve seen are even shorter. They can range from under 1000 words to only 6 words. Flash fiction can fall under any genre.

Since the piece is short, consider one main character. Focus on a single problem and what the character has the most to lose. Paint your characters and action with small vivid scenes. Your setting must be strong and hold the mood of the entire piece. The plot is not something that takes a long time to develop in flash fiction. You must cut to the chase. Each word is working for space in your story. In short-short stories, you need a great ending as well as a good hook. Word limits challenge and sharpen your skills.

Advice to Writers

In this fast, technical world, people don’t always take the time to relax, but when they do, and they pick up something you have written, remember to give your reader time to breathe. They need time to see how your characters interact, they need to feel what your characters  feel, to grieve along with them, and care about them.

Pack That Emotion Into Your Story

If you are writing any story, but especially YA, then you need to have a great emotional starting point for your main character.  Ask yourself, what is the character’s emotional state at the beginning? Is he naïve, selfish, or insecure? Choose an emotional end point that is opposite from the beginning. What experiences help the character grow? Who do they meet that might hinder their growth? Mistakes must be made along the way so the character can grow. For example: an overconfident PTA leader loses her audience when she puts a new member down that brings in new ideas. What can she learn from this new member? She must learn to listen to others and not assume everything will go her way. Maybe her husband works with the new member’s husband and invites them over for drinks. Does the wife refuse to serve them or invite them inside her home? I’m sure you can think of other examples. Have fun.

The Write Way

There is nothing more tiresome for a reader, than seeing the same words over and over in the same paragraph. A thesaurus and a synonym finder should be a writer’s right hand. Read your work out loud to hear your errors or repetition of the same words. Avoid overusing the word, it without an explanation as to who, it is referring to. Break up any monotonies. Long paragraphs exhaust the eyes. Break them up to make it more appealing to the reader. Think visually as you write. Use all five senses to make your story come alive for your reader.

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.

 

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.

Middle Grade Character

Middle childhood is distinguished as the ages from six to ten. Each age group has their own character traits and development. Their world expands from family to school and to peer groups. To write for this group, it’s best to understand the stages.

Interpersonal traits of the six year old:

  • begins building relationships
  • competitive
  • starts increased independence from parents
  • does the opposite from what is asked

Internal traits for the six year old:

  • difficulty making choices
  • feels insecure
  • loves praise and flattery
  • new fears
  • excited with learning new things

Internal traits of the seven year old:

  • absorbed
  • time of withdrawal
  • inner tensions and fears
  • aware of self
  • comprehends bad and good as abstract concepts
  • learns time, days, and months

Interpersonal traits of the seven year old:

  • interested in babies and pregnancy, yet not concerned about sex
  • wants complaints heard
  • listens to other’s needs

Internal traits of the eight year old:

  • hoards possessions
  • can think logically
  • evaluates own failures
  • curious
  • aware of appearance and other’s responses to him/ her
  • beginning to understand death
  • interested in life
  • friendly and less self-centered

Interpersonal traits of the eight year old:

  • nosy about others
  • jealous of siblings
  • talkative
  • shares secrets with friends
  • likes specific clothes
  • likes to play games
  • learns to love animals
  • expansive in learning
  • less afraid

Internal traits of the nine year old:

  • emotions deepen
  • lacks self-confidence
  • overly sensitive
  • difficulty making choices and decisions
  • anxious about health
  • likes standardized rules

Interpersonal traits of the nine year old:

  • resists adult supervision
  • critical of others
  • can’t tolerate teasing
  • prefers reading or talking with friends

Internal traits for the ten year old:

  • gains poise
  • fewer fears
  • girls aware of sex more than boys and asks questions

Interpersonal traits of the ten year old:

  • relationships with friends are important
  • plays in groups
  • competition through organized sports

Also imaginary friends appear between ages three and ten. According to researchers, about 31% of children enjoy an imaginary friend. It is a normal aspect of childhood and not indicative of a psychotic episode.

So have fun with your character.

 

Understanding the YA Character

All of us possess skills, strengths, and emotional scars from our experiences in life. Development is fluid and flexible. Adolescence is  a time for abstract thinking which helps to form concepts of how one thing relates to another and question possibilities. The young person is trying to define themselves and gain an identity.  They may become self-absorbed until they figure out who they are. To understand the YA character, in order to write through their eyes, we must first understand the stages of adolescence. Everyone matures differently, but the average development is shown below.

Early Adolescence ages 11 to 14:

  •  lack of impulse control
  • wide mood swings
  • preoccupation with self and physical changes
  • insecure about appearance
  • growing intelligence
  • wild fantasy life
  • more need for privacy
  • idealistic life goals
  • less active in family activities

Middle Adolescence ages 15 to 17

  • peak of problems with parents and adults
  • beginning acceptance of new body
  • interest in feeling more attractive to others
  • peak of peer influence and energy
  • more sexual activity and experimentation
  • broad range of feelings and expression
  • feelings of omnipotence
  • growing velocity and risk taking

Late Adolescence ages 18 to 20

  • new acceptance of parent values and advice
  • acceptance of adult body
  • peer groups are less important
  • more time spent on intimate relationships
  • practical and more realistic life goals

Someone that wants to write a YA story should keep these stages in the back of their mind. A successful YA novel or story must show emotion. For the younger YA, keep in mind that sex is veiled. You should ask yourself if the sexual content is necessary to the story. The YA category is more about the emotion and romance than the actual sexual content. To retain the interest, choose intimacy such as holding hands, kissing, or a light touch. Be aware that some sex scenes can alienate the school market. Also subjects containing drugs, alcohol, and smoking are frowned upon by the school market. Good luck!

 

Nature Writing

Try sitting outside and just listen. What sounds do you hear? Are there birds singing? Do you hear traffic and if so, can you distinguish the sounds? Write everything down on a piece of paper or a journal. What do you feel? Is the wind blowing? Is it raining? Do you feel the warmness of the sun? What about smells? Can you smell the scent of spring? If you’re near the ocean, can you taste the salt in the air?

I recommend this lesson for any writer. This is a great stress reliever as well as clearing the mind.  Sometimes writers get stuck in the middle of their writing and think, now  what?  This might help.

Look at your notes. Use all five of  your senses to set the stage for your stories. It makes a better setting and draws the reader in.