Thursday, April 11, 2024

Is Your Plot Going Somewhere Readers Will Follow?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Just because you have a plot, doesn’t mean you have a story.

The first novel I ever wrote was all about the plot. This happened, and then that happened, and I explained how these awesome (I thought) characters discovered this cool mystery about the history behind my fantasy world.

It was terrible.

The writing wasn’t half bad, and the idea itself was pretty cool (to me), but there was no story to speak of. My characters followed a predetermined path that explained how a situation came to pass. The surprises and twists came not from what my protagonist did, but only when I decided as the author to finally reveal a piece of information.

This was not a book anyone else wanted to read.

If you want readers to read your novel, give them a plot they want to follow.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Creating Stakes in Your Story

stakes, make readers care, conflict, tension
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Stakes are critical to any story, because without stakes, why should readers care about what's going on?

Storytelling problems often appear in one of three areas—lack of goals, conflicts, or stakes. There’s a reason these three things make up the holy trinity of good storytelling. They work best when balanced, holding up the story like a three-legged stool. Weaken any one leg, and the stool (and story) collapses.

Goals drive the plot, conflicts create the suspense, but the stakes make readers emotionally invest in the story. Stakes make them care about the characters and their dreams, and makes them worry they won’t overcome their problems and succeed. 

It doesn’t matter if what’s at stake is one small grade on a test or the fate of the world, the risks and consequences of the characters’ actions affect how much readers care.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Get What's in Your Head onto the Page

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

It’s the author’s job to bring a story to life for readers.

Sometimes we envision a story so clearly it plays out in our heads like a movie. We know exactly how the characters move around the setting, we hear all the inflections and nuances in their dialogue, and we even smell the flowers they’re carrying in the air.

Most times, all this detail makes it onto the page as we write and readers are drawn into the scene.

Other times, it doesn’t, and readers struggle for context and have no clue what’s going on—or worse—make misleading assumptions that actually hurt the story.

As the author, you know your story so well, it’s easy to forget your readers are seeing it for the first time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

What “Burnt” Can Teach Us About Conflict and Stakes

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The whole point of creating conflict and stakes is to use them.

My husband and I are big fans of both cooking shows and movies about restaurants, so we were excited to see Burnt. While it let us down as a movie, it did provide a great example on why conflict and stakes are vital to a story. 

Even better, it gave me a wonderful example of why a novel that is well written, has a solid idea, and all the right pieces, might keep getting rejected.

Because Burnt is technically well done. It has an amazing cast, great actors and acting, good production values, strong writing, solid bones in the story—what it lacks are the fundamental elements of good storytelling.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

3 “Easy” Steps for Cutting Words from Your Manuscript

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Deleting words from your novel is easier than you think.

Before I dive in, I'm guest posting at Writers in the Storm this week, with  A Handy Trick for Brainstorming Your Plot. Come on over and say hello!

Getting rid of thousands of words from your manuscript is daunting. Having to cut tens of thousands of words can make you want to curl up in a ball and cry.

But trimming down a novel doesn’t have to be a huge hack and slash deal. You don’t have to rip your baby to shreds and gut the wonderful words that make the story shine. In fact, throwing away entire scenes often hurts more than helps, because you’re killing the story, not the extra words bogging that story down.

You want to get rid of the words that aren’t helping the story.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Avoiding Awkward (or Unnecessary) Internal Questions

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy 

Too many internal questions can come across like the author telling the reader what they ought to be wondering about.

Internalization is a powerful tool for showing who a character is, how they feel, and what's motivating them to act. It does a lot of the heavy lifting in both the character arc and the plot, because readers get to see the internal debates that lead to the choices they make in the story.

But it's easy to go too far with internalized questions.

Internal questions shouldn't read like instructions on how a reader should interpret the scene.

When overdone (or done poorly), they can feel like you're whacking readers in the head with what they ought to be thinking or wondering about, instead of dropping clues that make them wonder about it. For example:
She crumpled the note in her hands. "Sorry?" she whispered. He walked out on her and all he could write was sorry? Was it another woman? Did he meet some hussy in the law school she paid for? Slaved for? Had he been using her all these years? That jerk. She'd never been anything but a cash cow to him. She flung the note across the room. How could he do this to her?
While these are all questions someone in this situation would reasonably think, there leaves little here for readers to wonder about on their own. It also feels like the character's assumptions are indeed the case and there's no other possible reason for the situation. The questions lead the reader too much to one conclusion, and ultimately feels too on the nose. Even worse, it gives the story nowhere to go, as the character isn't doing anything to move the story forward, she's just spouting questions as if explaining why she was just dumped. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

How to Write Description When You Hate Writing Description

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Every novel needs description, even when you don't wanna write it.

I dislike writing description. Which is funny since I write science fiction and fantasy—two genres known for their abundant descriptions. I’d rather focus on what’s going on in the story and less on what everything looks like, but describing the world is a must for genre writers. If we don’t set the scene, the reader can’t ground themselves and be drawn into the story.

So, yeah, super important. And not only for genre writers.

Description is everywhere in every novel—what the characters look like, what the rooms look like, how the setting feels, how the action plays out. When you think about it, even dialogue and internal thoughts are describing how a character says something and how they think.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Tighten Your Novel with a Preposition Patrol

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A tighter novel helps keeps readers engaged in the story.

When I first started writing, my novels were long. Like, seriously long. This isn’t unusual for a new writer, and like countless ones before me, I set out to learn how to trim some of those excess words from my manuscript.

One of the things I discovered was the, “words you don’t always need” advice. On that list was “cut prepositions.”

I’d learned enough about writing at that point to know you shouldn’t heed advice without understanding the reasoning behind it, so I sat down and studied why prepositions and prepositional phrases were so awful.

What I found was—they aren’t.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Keeping Your Distance: How Narrative Distance Works in Your Novel

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The narrative distance in a novel has more impact on it than you might think. Especially when it comes to point of view.

Over the years, I've critiqued a lot of manuscripts, and a common area writers stumble over is narrative distance. They're not always sure what it is, how to use it, or how it affects their point of view.
If you've never heard the term before, narrative distance is that feeling of closeness (or lack thereof) between the reader and the characters. It's what makes the point of view feel close or distant.

There's no "right" narrative distance. It's up to the writer to decide where they want the reader to be, but it's easy to fall into a "limbo narrative" where it isn't clear whereor even whothe narrator is. When this happens, we often slip into telling or too much filtering and readers feel disconnected from the characters and the story.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

One the Road: Take Advantage of Your Reader’s Expectations

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I'm over at Writers in the Storm today with Take Advantage of Your Reader’s Expectations. Here's a sneak peek:

To strengthen your story, look at each scene as a reader would.

We writers spend a lot of time looking at our work like, well, a writer. We study plot and structure, pace and tension, character and dialogue, but how often do we think about how the reader is going to react to our story?

One of my critique groups is a “critique as we write” group. Every week, we turn in two chapters of our first drafts or whatever draft we’re revising. It’s a great way to keep our writing momentum going since we have people waiting for pages, but it’s had a much better benefit than we realized when we started the group. 

We get real-time feedback about what readers expect to happen next.

 This has utterly changed the direction of two of my novels so far, and both for the better.