Tag Archives: structure

Crafting the Perfect Outline Identifying 5 Major Plotpoints

We can all agree on one thing: there is no one perfect recipe for cooking up a good story. The same goes for crafting an outline. Trust me, I’m elbows deep in it, and everywhere I seek advice, I’m given a different perspective. I am a big fan of Dramatica‘s approach, but at the same time, it requires a thorough understanding of the software to achieve a concise result. Whether you think of your outline as the “best-laid plans” or a treasure map leading to the pot of gold (a satisfying ending) The Script Lab offers a blueprint: How to Write the Perfect Outline.

Let us also agree on another thing: It is downright foolhardy to write anything–a screenplay, a novel and non-fiction book–without an outline. The necessary web of plot points weaved with multiple layers of character development, place, time, mood and dialogue demand detailed forethought if we are to begin, work and complete a piece that makes sense, that presents and resolves a conflict, that satisfies both the writer and the reader (not to mention the agent, editor and publisher).

According to The Script Lab, “nothing is universally perfect. Some writers put together comprehensive 20 page point outlines, plotting in every scene, even tossing in lines of potential dialogue. For other writers, breaking down the broad strokes of the eight sequences and making sure there is a clear central obstacle within each sequence is enough. But still others simply clarify the five major plot points.

“A movie, I think is really only four or five moments between two people; the rest of it exists to give those moments their impact and resonance. The script exists for that. Everything does.” – Robert Towne

Regardless the many variables, however, The Script Lab argues that the most rudimentary outline must include these FIVE CORE ELEMENTS:

1. INCITING INCIDENT

Often called the point of attack, the inciting incident is the first premonition of impending trouble, dilemma, or circumstance that will create the main tension of the story. It usually falls at the end of the first sequence. But it can sometimes appear in the first few minutes of a film.

2. LOCK IN

The protagonist is locked into the predicament that is central to the story, which occurs at the end of Act I, This lock in, therefore, propels the protagonist into a new direction in order to accomplish his/her new objective throughout the second act

3. FIRST CULMINATION

The first culmination generally occurs around the midpoint of the second act and is a pivotal moment in the story but nat as critical as the Lock In or Main Culmination. Consider the first culmination as the second highest or second lowest point in Act II, the second highest hurdle to be faced.

4. MAIN CULMINATION

The final culmination occurs at the end of the second act and brings the main tension to a close while simultaneously helping to create a new tension for the third act.

5. THIRD ACT TWIST

The twist is an unexpected turn of events in the third act. Without a twist, the third act can seem too linear and predictable. It can also be the last test of the character of the hero.

Hungry for more? Check out 8 points to consider when writing your synopsis

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What are your favorite books for writers?

There are countless high-quality publications available on the subject of writing.

Some of my all-time faves? I can’t remember how many times I’ve joyfully referred back to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and Vein of Gold. Superb, helpful, heart-opening, fear-rending, spirit-growing and motivational stuff!

While they seem a bit outdated now, I enjoyed The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon and The Wealthy Writer by Michael Meanwell.

UC Irvine has a fiction novel writing class which uses Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I will certainly be checking into it!

I want to hear from you!

Which ones are your favorites? Please share in the comment box below!

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Filed under Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Freelance Writing, Who is Writing What?

Chapter Three, I know you’re in there!

I’m really struggling to flesh out Chapter Three for several reasons; to begin, I’m introducing Liam Hayden, brother of my protagonist, Treva. The structure of my narrative rotates between the perspective of three family members: Treva, Liam and father Mike Hayden. The narrative reads distinctly as the thoughts of each, and therefore, in order to write Liam’s chapter, I must speak from his knowledge of the world, see things as he does.

I’m surprised that he has presented me such a struggle. The truth is this was supposed to be “his” story. At first blush, Liam was the protagonist, and I only saw the story from his eyes. So why am I not better acquainted with him?

I’ve only written the first page of Chapter Three, but it is enough to show me that I’m sadly trying to make him something he was never meant to be, and I am essentially shooting us both in the foot (can I shoot a fictional character’s foot?) by not figuring out what makes him tick.

In fact, I’ve found the challenge of writing for him so complex that twice now I’ve gone back to my outline to see if my story might work better if he just went bye-bye. Liam, however, is a critical character to both my main and impact characters without whom they would not be who they are “today.”

Everybody needs him, so I’d better find a quiet place to sit, envision him, and hopefully begin to see his choices and actions from his perspective.

Writer Michael Imlay aptly encouraged me to “Give him his due. If he’s so pivotal to so many lives, how does HE feel about that? Is he even aware of it?”

Good questions. I think I need to let go of my plan for his outcome, remembering that he doesn’t yet know what the future holds. I mustn’t allow him to behave as he will when he’s resolved problems that haven’t even even happened yet. He needs those conflicts to learn and grow.

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Is a novel’s outline ever really finished? Time to overhaul…

I have finally finished my rewrite of  Chapter Two, after some constructive criticism from my husband. The rewrite helped me envision a more dramatic and challenging path for my character Aaron Langley, which required the introduction of a new character, Bernie Staithe.
But doesn’t this compromise my (agonizingly time-consuming) outline? Certainly it does. And therefore it is the next thing to be overhauled, because I can’t seem to write a chapter without becoming inspired to alter the future paths of my characters.
This is either the result of undiagnosed A.D.D. or just the reality of the outline as it relates to a work-in-progress. Sigh.
My main conundrum (and I would greatly appreciate your wisdom and advice on this one) is whether to continue my plan to narrate each chapter with the inner monologues of my three main characters. The outline is set up so the storyline rotates between each of their perspectives, and while I’m writing from each perspective, the narration reflects their individual “voices.”
I’m wondering now if that makes sense, and would be reader friendly (or unfriendly)?
Should I unite them under one cohesive narrative voice?
Lastly, my main character gets pregnant by the impact character’s nemesis. I’m wondering if this is necessary or overkill, considering the string of betrayals she will dish out—and have to fix, if she hopes to save her family.

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Improve your writing by slashing adverbs–Here’s how

Today’s educational and enlightening guest post is from the creative mind at My Literary Quest, authored by Utah resident “tsujigiri.” I feel an immediate kinship with this writer; like me, she has had a story to tell for more than a decade and is finally pursuing her dream of writing a fiction novel. Her distractions are/were similar to mine… travel, husband, kids, work, life. But, at some point, our creative spirits must lead us back to expression–be it writing, dancing, photography, painting… whatever makes the heart sing. Now, onto tsujigir’s lesson on adverb usage!

She noted how “every writing book (she’d) read” offers this bit of advice to help strengthen writing – eliminate adverbs.  In her excellent post, tsujigiri refreshes our memories on what makes an adverb and explore why they should be avoided.

Adverb basics:

Put simply, an adverb modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.  They can also be used to modify whole sentences and prepositional phrases.  Clear as mud, I know.  Let’s have some examples:  (Adverbs are in bold. Words modified are italicized.)

  • Modify a verb:
    • She walked slowly.
    • They ate quietly.
  • Modify an adjective:
    • He was incrediblyhandsome.
    • The tree is very old.
  • Modify another adverb:
    • The dog ran very quickly down the street.
    • Martha hugged her Grandma really tightly.
  • Modify a whole sentence
    • Obviouslyhe can’t have seen us.
  • Modify a prepositional phrase
    • They found the locket just under the bed.

Most adverbs are created by adding the -ly ending to an adjective.

  • slowly, painfully, quickly, handsomely, strongly, etc.

However some do not, such as:

  • still, well, never, fast, very, always, often, just.

Why do editors cringe when they see an adverb?
Adverbs are red flags, they replace concrete descriptions or phrases with words that don’t hold real meaning.  Let’s take a look:

Adverb-y writing: She badly needed a smoke.  Slowly she peeked around the wall of her cubicle. Seeing no one, she quietly left the room.

We can do better than that.

Using visuals instead of adverbs: She craved a smoke.  Standing on her toes, she peeked over the edge of the cubicle and saw the corridor was empty.  Carltons in hand, she slid off her high-heels and padded to the exit.

Do you see the difference?  We went from ordinary to interesting by switching the adverbs for concrete images.

You can do it too!

tsujigiri also notes: This post is an extreme example of ridding writing of weak adverbs to make it stronger.  I’m not advocating the elimination of all adverbs.  My goal is to find ways people can use to make writing better.)

Material for adverb usage courtesy of  EnglishClub.com

To see tsujigiri‘s past Grammarland posts go here.

Please follow me on Twitter! @RebeccaLacko

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Chapter two… Done? Not so fast

It was with a great sense of accomplishment that I completed chapter two. I absolutely loved getting in the mind of Mike Hayden, and introducing his thoughts, some of his history, and his pain from the loss of his beloved Camille.

My main character, Treva, was originally supposed to be Mike’s son, but when I sat down to write the story of a father and his two sons, it felt terribly distant from where I wanted to direct the action, and from my own truth. Why would I leave a woman’s perspective out of something I held so dear? Besides, I want to write the kind of story that I would read! The same goes for my intended audience. Not a day goes by that I don’t consider fondly the readers I hope will enjoy my novel.

My husband has openly admitted that he lost much of his interest in my story when Treva took center stage so I was eager to have him read chapter two, because it is Mike’s chapter, “in a man’s words,” so to speak.

He had a number of constructive criticisms. I listened, with the understanding of the story’s complete outline–some things must happen now so that it makes sense later, and I knew which parts I needed to stick up for and which parts were still ripe for reshaping. A story’s beauty is often found in those little seedlings at the beginning which later bloom when the story is fully revealed.

I’m glad I shared it with him, and he had some helpful feedback which I am implementing today. It is extremely valuable (and of utmost importance) to have your work reviewed by a number of experienced writers and editors–and readers. But one’s own spouse can be a tough audience. Or perhaps it’s the criticism that is difficult to receive. Either way, I don’t want my back patted gratuitously, but I do want him to like it.

I’m discovering also that even the best-laid plans leave room for improvement. Like anyone elbows-deep in a story, I think about my characters throughout the day, while in traffic, or while bathing the kids or running errands. As a result, I’m writing additional scenes, and changing the circumstances of my players to increase drama. Next week, I will reorganize all my chapters to include these new revelations, and speed up the action. I know I need to leave a cushion for more inspiration–who knows what new ideas will spring forward as I continue to write?

Have you shared your writing (art, photography, etc.) with your significant other? What was your experience?

Want to read about my process of writing Chapter Two?

Fiction Writing Chapter Two: Character Name Crisis!

Fiction Novel Writing, Chapter Two Begins!

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Fiction Novel Writing, Chapter Two Begins!

I am officially 676 words into Chapter Two. (See Fiction Novel Update… Eurphoric Uncertainty) I mention the word count because it seems like an impossibility. I have been working on, ruminating and procrastinating over this chapter for days, and I only have 676 words?! Sure, I’ve read and reread them, updating, finessing, editing and adding to them. But it seems like I should have more to show for it.

The joy of this chapter is that it is about my Impact character, Mike Hayden, father to Treva and Liam Hayden. The chapter is written like the first–one day after the funeral of Mike’s wife Camille. The entire novel is third person, however, the narrative voice complements the character in action.

Since Chapter Two introduces Mike’s journey (it is “his chapter” so to speak), the narrative is in his voice. I’m having so much fun with it! I love writing in Mike’ s voice because it helps me to more fully understand him,breathe life into him, and make his thoughts and actions realistic. To be sure, he isn’t very happy. He’s just lost the love of his life, his brilliant daughter wants to follow in his less-than-spectacular footsteps, and his attached-to-his-mother’s-apronstrings son wants nothing to do with him. To make matters worse, we find him engaged in his least favorite task–bidding on trade-ins at his rival dealership, Langley’s Mile of Cars.

My driving force of my story was originally going to be son Liam. I had chosen a title I was completely satisfied with…until I discovered that the story would be more dynamic from the perspective of Mike and Treva’s relationship. So, I’m left tossing about title ideas again. Here are my top choices–what do you prefer?

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