That went okay. Rebuilding the plot with… well, plotting

I went ahead and mixed the Larry Brooks story points spreadsheet with my scene list. Now, I went through the 32 k words and did a brief description of each scene, the exact word count, the cumulative word count, and percentage of the book location. Then, I put the ideal word count (number of scenes/total word count) for each scene. 60 scenes for 80,000 words = 1333 words per scene.

I then placed the Larry Brooks 6 important tent poles in the location where they should go, whether the corresponding scene was correct or not (usually not).

Then I took a look at what the scenes that are already written are doing, and where they are located.  For instance, my initial scene sets up something that will happen at the midpoint.  It was 800 words, but it lacked conflict. I wrote 400 additional words to bulk up the conflict in the scene. I also added more description. After listening to some major best seller books (CDs… we drove to Tahoe and back this weekend for a snow day with the kids), I concluded my writing is parsimonious and miserly. Go ahead and put that lush description in. Why not? Since each scene now has a job to do, and can be put in the right location, it shouldn’t be a problem filling out the scenery a bit more than I did.

With a bit of tweaking and moving about, I ought to be able to slot the important scenes into their logical locations, and map out the plot twists to the end to increase the pace of work and complete this thing within a month or two.

Nice people write lousy fiction

I suppose that better fiction comes from people who are messier, who don’t mind wading into a scene where there’s conflict.

Because that’s what messes up my plotting. There I’ll be, setting up the battle to end all battles, and I’ve got my people primed and ready to go. There’s going to be Donnybrook!

But wait. Not really a plot twist, more like a balloon full of molten lead. The antagonist has flown the coop. There is no battle. No bodies. No blood. No bullets flying.

That’s awfully boring, isn’t it? No one wants to read that. Give us the figurative blood and gore. We want it. We need it. It’s necessary for fiction to have that.

That’s the point of the title. The nice people out there, they shy away from dragging everyone else through their messes. Fiction comes from the depiction of people in different bad situations. Maybe people who’ve been damaged by conflict in their childhoods might write weak fiction because they shy away from the nasty stuff. I don’t blame ’em.  Maybe you are the eternal optimist and think there’s enough conflict in the world. Maybe you’re just nice and want people to have a yellow happy face have a nice day sort of  blather. Either way, that is the insipid path to dullness.

Stories do not work without conflict.

So brace yourselves and make everyone argue. Peace is a nice thing to talk about in blog posts where you have no intention of doing anything to back it up, but it’s dullsville in fiction.  If you manuscript says, “The elves and dwarves had been at peace as long as anyone could remember,” I’ll fix that for you. Say, instead, “The elves and dwarves had been in a bitter war as along as anyone could remember.”  Everytime we get and elf and dwarf together, there’s a fight!

Plus, each scene needs that conflict goal thing. You know, the character has a goal. There’s a conflict. They can’t have their goal. Then you do the whole mourning thing, they come up with a new goal, and go to carry that out. Scene and sequel. Repeat this over and over. Apply structure, apply arc, add plot twists, you have a book.

I will now go make my characters fight some more. There’s way too much agreement.

5 Common Mistakes Authors Make that Cause Readers and Pesky Editors to Barf Out Loud

We have been discussing use of passive voice and one of the indicators of passive voice, the verb was, and I thought the topic warranted an expansive discussion. (As a side note: I initially wanted to write that sentence as “I thought an expansive discussion was warranted.” Do as I say, not as I do! I struggle daily with passive voice.)  You see, a few decades passed since I last attended a grammar class, and what you see here is the result of reading for forty-two years rather than careful correction by a small horde of English teachers. You’d think I’d be better at it. Reading and writing, that is.

English classes are dull.  The discussion of parts of grammar is dull. This kills it for me, right up to the point where I’m violating that grammar rule and need an answer. For that, we have the internets.

Here’s my list of mistakes authors make that cause readers to barf out loud:

1. Passive Voice.  Sure, it’s evil, all the time, and should be killed wherever it appears.

Or… not.  “By heavens, what, Pontius, are you saying?” you exclaim. I’ll elaborate.

Over here at Now Novel, there’s a post about passive voice. They say:

  • Passive voice error I – Many people make common grammar mistakes by assuming that a passive sentence is any sentence that uses a form of the verb “to be.” In fact, passive voice is simply a sentence in which the object appears as the subject of the sentence. The house was built in 1825.
  • Passive voice error II – Many people believe passive voice is always bad. In fact, passive voice can be used effectively to convey a certain rhythm or mood. It is also unavoidable when the person or thing that performed an action is unknown as in the previous example with the house.

There you go. Permission to use the passive. When your editor screams, tell her that Now Novel said it was okay to “be used effectively to convey a certain rhythm or mood.” And my mood is that I like writing in the passive.

The object appears as the subject of the sentence. That’s simple enough to eliminate, right? When they put it that way, it’s dead simple. I spend much of my time reversing these.

2. As If, so as to, in order to. No, Cher, not your retort in Clueless. Explaining too much. “What’s too much?” asks the head shrinker. “One person’s too much could be your just enough.” Fah, therapy! The Editor’s Blog explains.

Explaining too much or too often. Unless readers can’t possibly catch on without help, writers shouldn’t be explaining dialogue or actions. Tip-offs for explanations are phrases such as “so as to” and “in order to” and “as if.” If you find yourself writing sentences such as He peeked through the blinds to see who was inside the room or He said it with a little-boy voice so she wouldn’t take it too hard, you’ll want to make changes. Readers are smart—let them read intent and meaning into actions and dialogue.

Fix: Don’t explain. Make the action and dialogue convey the message. Search for words that introduce explanation and then rewrite.

This isn’t one I do.  Maybe. I think I need to go check it, now.

3. Commas make us barf. If you forget to put one in, it bugs us so much we’re sick. Really.

Sometimes you do a sentence, you do another.

That,  right there, is an evil comma splice! Kill it! Shoot it! You can either put a period in there, or stick in a connective conjunction. Connective conjunctions are for, as, by, or, and, nor, yet, and but. Go ahead, put one after the comma, and eliminate your lousy run-on sentence. Feel better now?

4. Adverbs. If it ends in ly, as Mark Twain says, just burn it with fire. I’m not sure where this hatred of adverbs stems from, but it’s real and you’d better be prepared to defend every one to the death. Your editor has a steak knife named “deathly.” And another named “Hallows.” Your editor likes Harry Potter a little too much.

5. Commas. Again. Use commas to separate more than two subjects, but don’t use them to keep the two subjects apart. It’s not

The author, and his editor were intensely sick.

Instead, it’s

The author and his editor were intensely sick.

If you want to use commas, add someone to the scene.

The author, his editor, and his wife’s therapist were intensely sick.

Don’t separate two actions of a subject with a comma.

No comma between the subject and its predicate. You’ll make it sad.

The world of commas needs a lot more than two lousy points, but I get fired up on this. I’m passionate about comma usage. I want to see you all employ those suckers with love, control, and joy.

What are the words and phrases you can’t wipe out of your own writing? What are the rules behind them?

Clint Agrees.
Clint Agrees.