Wednesday, July 10, 2024

How Your Character’s Internal Conflict Can Help You Plot

Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

If you've been struggling with a plot, or you're looking for ways to deepen an existing plot, try looking at how your protagonist's internal conflict is driving her external actions.

A lot of focus gets put on the core conflict of a novel—the main problem the protagonist has to solve to win—and for good reason. It's the whole point of the book. But sometimes, when we look too hard at the external problems, we miss out on opportunities to let the internal problems muck things up. This is especially true in a character-driven novel, since that inner journey is what's driving the entire book.

While you can’t plot with a character arc, you can use it to create your plot, because what a character has been through and fears, if what determines how they face their problems and make decisions.

At the heart of every good internal conflict is a fear created by trauma.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Getting the Best Response From Your Characters

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Don't confuse your readers by mixing up what happens when and why.

When one of my nieces was little, she'd tell me stories about her day. They usually made no sense, and not just because she was seven. She'd always tell me what she did before she told me why she did it.

"I cried on the swings, because it wasn't fair and they yelled at me."

It often took multiple follow-up questions to get the real story that she got scolded for playing in a sandbox she'd been told three times not to play in (the reason why involved a cat mistaking it for a litter box).  

Granted, few writers write a novel like a seven year old telling a story, but mixing up the stimulus/response structure happens all the time. Usually it's a small mistake that readers can figure out and move on from, but sometimes it's a big error and leaves them confused.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Using Story Archetypes to Find Your Plot

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Story archetypes are useful tools to develop a novel or story.

Although we hear about character archetypes a lot in writing, I’ve found story archetypes much more useful when developing a story. They’re solid jumping off points to help shape an idea and figure out the best direction to take it.

Story archetypes are the common events or situations often seen in fiction. 

Coming of age, rags to riches, the quest, getting retribution, earning redemption, battle of the underdog. They’re classic story types readers have come to recognize and even seek out.

Some story archetypes offer clear tropes and plots to follow, while others are more thematic, fitting whichever style or process a writer has. Those looking for more direction might welcome a trope-laden archetype, while those looking for general inspiration might prefer the theme-laden side. For example:

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Writing Your Novel Backward Might Be the Secret to Success

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

It’s hard to plot a novel if you don’t know what problem it’s trying to solve.

Creating plots has always been easy for me, but endings are my nemesis. I usually have a general sense of what they are before I start a novel, but far too often, I have no clue about the specifics on how my conflict is resolved. My outline might say, Nya needs to “stop the bad guy using her shifting ability.” Grace needs to “find her father.” Chip needs to “solve the murder.”

Vague as they are, my endings at least give me a direction to work toward, which is sometimes all you need to start writing. I might not know how my protagonist solves their problem, but I know what generally needs to be done and where the plot is headed.

Not all writers are this lucky. Some—maybe even you—have no idea where their story is going, because they don’t know what “the end” looks like.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

6 “Fatal Flaws” That Will Kill a Novel

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Fatal flaws can sink a story, but don’t lose hope if you find one in your novel.

First drafts are all about getting an idea from your head onto the page, but sometimes that idea doesn’t come out quite right. Maybe you took the wrong approach, or maybe you tried to do too much to the story, or maybe you overlooked a critical aspect that would make it all come together.

Whatever the reason, your first draft is…not good.

It doesn’t work, there’s something wrong, and you have no clue how to fix it. It’s possible you haven’t even finished it yet, because all your instincts are telling you “Stop writing until you figure this out!”

What’s worse, is that these flawed drafts are often well written and quite good on a scene-by- scene basis, because the writing isn’t the problem. The problem is rooted in the story itself, or how you decided to approach that story.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

5 Common Problems With Middles

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The middle is where most of a novel happens, which is why they're often so difficult to write.

For a long, long time in my early writing days, middles were the bane of my existence. I could start a story no problem, but once I got past the beginning, I narratively drove into the deep weeds. I don’t think there was a problem I didn’t run smack into when it came to middles–which is why I spent so much time figuring out how to make them work.

What makes middles so tough is that middles are where most of the plot happens. The protagonist tries and fails to resolve the story problem, the antagonist makes things harder and harder, the character arc unfolds, and all this stuff has to support whatever the beginning set up.

That takes a lot of work and finesse to get right.

Which is why the only thing harder than writing a middle is writing the ending. Except for writing the beginning.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Sharing the Spotlight: How Much Page Time Do Supporting Characters Need?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Just because they're a supporting character doesn't mean they have to do what the protagonist says.

Everyone knows the protagonist is the star of the show, but supporting characters can be just as critical to the story. They’re the ones influencing your protagonist and causing changes in the plot. Without them, your story can feel empty.

But how much time do supporting characters really need?

It depends on their function.

Supporting characters should feel credible in whatever role they’re in. The fewer scenes they get, the harder it can be to lay the groundwork for whatever their task is. 

If the task is simple, they can show up and vanish and readers won't mind or notice anything wonky. Like a waiter at a restaurant, for example. Little is required for that role to be believable in that situation. But if the character has more impact on the protagonist or the plot, you might need better reasons for them being there.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Throw Rocks at Your Characters (It’s Good for Them!)

By Angela Ackerman

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Sending a character into an emotional spiral is a great way to add conflict to scene or build more tension in a novel. Angela Ackerman joins us today to share tips on how to stress out our characters to create better stories.

Take it away, Angela...
If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that life is stressful. Each day, we’re bombarded with obstacles, challenges, and upsets. We navigate what we can, go to bed, and do it all again the next day.

Do we like stress? No. But adversity builds resiliency. Problem-solving under pressure means we push onward, try new things, and learn on the go. Our trials help us gain new skills, competency, and confidence. In short, we grow!

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Do You Know Who Your Narrator Is?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

If you don't know who's telling your story, how do you know whose story you're trying to tell?

Before I dive in today...

A quick reminder that today is the last day to register for my online workshop, "How to Write Characters with Agency" on May 9. 

As for the SFF writers out there, the Fantasy & Sci-Fi Authors Summit runs May 13-17, with my session on The Power of POV in Shaping Narrative on May 13. 

Identifying your narrator seems like an easy job—they're the one telling the story, right? It's obvious with first person and third-person limited points of view, but once you get into third-person omniscient point of view, narrators can get a little murky.

An omniscient narrator stands outside the story, with access to multiple views, thoughts, and characters. They can be a faceless voice trying desperately not to be noticed, or a strong personality telling the story as they see it, with all the judgment and attitude of a strong character.

The more distant your narrator, the less connected they can feel to the story itself, and this holds true no matter which POV style you use. Are they the author? Are they a god-like being who sees and knows all? Do they change depending on which part of the story they're telling? 

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Stuck on Your Plot? Change Your Story Question

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A strong plot starts with a compelling question.

A lot of writers I speak with struggle with plotting. They can come up with great ideas and wonderful characters, but getting those characters from page one to the end causes plenty of sleepless nights. And from my many conversations with frustrated writers, I see a common thread.

They’re asking the wrong story questions.

You have an idea, you know your story’s conflict, and you write the plot to solve that conflict (which is what you’re supposed to do). The problem occurs when you get too focused on your plot in a, “this is what the protagonist needs to do to win,” type way, which can sometimes put literary blinders on you.

You’re so caught up on what the right path is, that you forget to let your protagonist make mistakes and struggle to find that right path.