Tag Archives: Chekhov’s Gun

#amwriting: advancing the plot

e.m. forster plot memeIn the previous post, I discussed the story arc, and how it relates to what E.M. Forster said about the plot: that plot is the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story. The story arc is a visual description of where events should occur in a story. For me, knowing where they should happen is good, but it doesn’t tell me what those events are.

Planning what events your protagonist will face is called plotting, and I make an outline for that.

“Pantsing it,” or writing using stream-of consciousness, can produce some amazing work. That works well when we’re inspired, as ideas seem to flow from us. But for me, that sort of creativity is short-lived.

Participating in nanowrimo has really helped me grow in that ability, and one nanowrimo joke-solution often bandied about at write-ins is, “When your’re stuck, it’s time for someone to die.” But we all know that in reality, assassinating beloved characters whenever we run out of ideas is not a feasible option because soon we will run out of characters.

As devotees of Game of Thrones will agree, readers (or TV viewers) get to know characters, and bond with them. When cherished characters are too regularly killed off, the story loses good people, and we have to introduce new characters to fill the void. The reader may decide not to waste his time getting invested in a new character, feeling that you will only break their heart again.

The death of a character should be reserved to create a pivotal event that alters the lives of every member of the cast, and is best reserved for either the inciting incident at the first plot point or as the terrible event of the third quarter of the book. So instead of assassination, we should resort to creativity.

This is where the outline can provide some structure, and keep you moving forward.  I will know what should happen in the first quarter, the middle, and the third quarter of the story. Also, because I know how it should end, I can more easily write to those plot points by filling in the blanks between, and the story will have cohesion.

Think about what launches a great story:

The protagonist has a problem.

You have placed them in a setting, within a given moment, and shown the environment in which they live.

You have unveiled the inciting incident.

Now you need to decide what hinders the protagonist and prevents them from resolving the problem. While you are laying the groundwork for this keep in mind that we want to evoke three things:

  1. Empathy/identification with the protagonist
  2. Believability
  3. Tension

We want the protagonist to be a sympathetic character whom the reader can identify with; one who the reader can immerse themselves in, living the story through his/her adventures.

Also, we want the hindrances and barriers the protagonist faces to feel real to the reader. They must be believable so that the reader says, “Yeah, that could happen.” Within every scene, you must develop setups for the central events of that moment in their lives and show the payoffs (either negative or positive) to advance the story: action and reaction.

Each scene propels the characters further along, each act closing at a higher point on the story arc, which is where the next one launches from.

Some authors resort to “idle conversation writing” when they are temporarily out of ideas.  Resist the temptation—it’s fatal to an otherwise good story. Save all your random think-writing off-stage in a background file, if giving your characters a few haphazard, pointless exchanges helps jar an idea loose.

imagesDon’t introduce random things into a scene unless they are important. What if you had a walk-on character who was looking for her/his cat just before or just after the inciting incident? If the loss of the cat is to demonstrate the dangers in a particular area, make it clear that it is window dressing or remove it.

If the cat has no purpose it needs to be cut from the scene. To show the reader something  is to foreshadow it, and the reader will wonder why the cat and the person looking for it were so important that they had to be foreshadowed.

Every memorable element in a fictional story must be necessary and irreplaceable.  In  creative writing, this concept is referred to as “Chekhov’s Gun,” as it is a principal formally attributed to the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov.

Finally, we want to keep the goal just out of reach, to maintain the tension, and keep the reader reading to find out what will happen next. Readers are fickle, and always want what they can’t have. The chase is everything, so don’t give them the final reward until the end of the story.

But do have the story end with most threads and subplots wrapped up, along with the central story-line. Nothing aggravates readers more than going to all the trouble of reading a book to the end, only to be given no reward for their investment of time.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under writer, writing

Finding demographics is not finding Nemo

My New Year’s resolution this year is to identify who I am writing for, and tailor my marketing strategy to that segment of the population.

I should have picked something simple, like losing weight, or bringing about world peace.

I would be lying if I said I write for one particular type of person–although Huw the Bard falls into the not-for-children category. I like to think my books can be enjoyed by both men and women.

Who are youIt’s just that I write whatever I’m in the mood to read, and I read everything, Fantasy first, sci-fi second, then mystery, historical, paranormal, books of political intrigue, books filled with naughty vampires. Romance, YA, hard sci-fi, epic fantasy–I read it all. This makes it difficult to categorize myself .

Looking in the mirror doesn’t help.

At IHop, I am a 55+, getting discounts and a special old people’s menu. I am a senior, according to AARP, and am entitled certain discounts when I produce that all-important AARP card.

These things tell me I am an older person, as does the mirror.

However, these visible signs don’t show the woman with mad kick-ball-skills, who plays Lego Star Wars until the grandchild says she’s had enough games for one day, and he’d like to play outside now. They don’t shed any light on me. the person who will read and reread a book until it is nothing but shreds–if I fell in love with it. The gray hair, the slightly less-than-svelte physique–these clues don’t offer a hint about my obsession with Final Fantasy XII.

And that is the problem.

I write for me, and I don’t know who I am.

The Creative Penn offers 5 tips to assist me in this process:

1. First we must isolate what types and/or groups of people the content of the book would interest.

Well-that is just the problem, isn’t it…but they do give an idea on how to approach that:

 "Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Example: If your book is about an archaeologist who uses Stone Henge to travel into the future, your book would probably interest history buffs as well as fans of speculative fiction/sci-fi.  If that hero happens to be a former Marine, your book might also interest military personnel and/or the families.” (It’s a direct quote, so I am ignoring the terrible itch to edit out the misspelling of Stonehenge.)

Okay–I think I can do this. My book details the adventures of a bard who is forced to  flee his comfortable existence and who finds himself running from one disaster to another with death-defying regularity.

2. Second, we must: identify other books that are comparable to your book and look at the profiles of those books’ main buyers/readers.

They also explain that concept a little further “The target audience isn’t always who the book was written for, but rather, who it ends up appealing to.  Twilight draws in tween and teenage girls with its premise involving a normal, everyday girl falling into a romance with an young, attractive male (the bread and butter of many young girls’ dreams), but it’s appeal stretched to the cross-section of middle-age female readers who love romance and enjoyed Anne Rice in her heyday.”  

Alrighty then–I was heavily drawn, as a reader, to David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, P.D. James, Carl Sagan, Agatha Christie, Piers Anthony, and Fritz Lieber–so I suppose my books reflects a certain amount of their (rather jumbled) influence.

Oh, and don’t forget Roger Zelazney. And Mercedes Lackey.

Well that has narrowed it down quite a bit! (Sarcasm–I know, it’s a nasty habit.) I could have included Tolstoy, James Joyce, Horace Walpole, and Louisa May Alcott, but I didn’t have time.

330px-Pin-artsy3. You are next encouraged to pinpoint what is special about your book.

Again, the Creative Penn offers us some insights on how to go about this: “If you tell someone you’re writing a book about a witch who uses her power of communing with animals to rescue a lost dog from an evil dog-napper, then A. Wow, you have an interesting imagination!  B. You may or may not have taken in 101 Dalmatians too much as a child and C. With such a premise, chances are, your story is more light-hearted than scary, so your target readers to which the mystery aspect of your story will entice are more cozy-type mystery consumers.” So what are the few key words, the hook I can use to sell Huw the Bard? How do I boil the plot down to a few key words? This could take a while, but I’m sure I can do it.

Honest.

4. Now we need to determine some demographics.

That’s the problem–I am the demographic, and I don’t know who I am. Mature Audiences, definitely. There is some graphic sex, although it doesn’t devolve into a porn-fest, There is violence, a witnessed rape, and murder. These are all there because they are watershed moments in Huw’s life, things that change his view of the world. There are also a haunted village and a bisexual knight who talks to his horse, so there is humor midst the misery.

chekhov's gun5. Finally, the Creative Penn suggests we feed the previous four tips into each other to gain even more insight and narrow down who our target audience/s is/are.

Just give me Chekhov’s gunnow. I need to shoot something.

Several times.

Seriously–the article I’ve drawn these suggestions from is a good article, and it goes on to discuss how to use your target audience, which I did find somewhat illuminating.

At this point, if I can get even ONE concrete idea that works, I am feeling good about it. After all, it’s January! I’ve got a whole year to get this down, before I have to admit that this New Year’s resolution has gone the way of my weight-loss dreams and visions of world peace.

2 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Battles, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing