Beginning fiction writers find plotting fiction a challenge. In their first stories, they stick to what they know — they tell their own story, or a version of it, and try to add drama and pizzazz with words. It doesn’t work.
As I said in How To Write Fiction When You “Don’t Know How”:
… new fiction writers focus on the words. That’s natural, because you’re getting used to writing. However, as we suggest in step 4, below, there are no perfect words. More to the point, if you focus on the words, your imagination will sit in a corner and sulk.
Newbies haven’t learned how to ginger up their imagination to make plotting easier, so that they can sell more books.
Luckily, that’s easily fixed.
Want to sell more ebooks and books? Tell better lies.
Make plotting fiction easier: learn how to tell better lies
A quote from George R.R. Martin:
Fiction is lies; we’re writing about people who never existed and events that never happened when we write fiction, whether it’s science fiction or fantasy or western mystery stories or so-called literary stories. All those things are essentially untrue. But it has to have a truth at the core of it.
So, how do you tell better lies?
When fiction editors tell authors that their stories are a snooze, they advise them to “develop their characters” and “add complications.”
Let’s look at three secrets, starting with complications.
1. Reality doesn’t sell: complicate, and complicate some more
In our post on fill-in-the-banks plotting, I suggested that you could create a story character based on an adjective, and a noun; a “naive model,” for example.
Next, write a few hundred words from the point of view of the character. You need to know more about the character, and constantly look for ways to make things worse for the character.
Remember — daydream, as I suggested in this post on writing fiction.
Off the top of my head, and without doing a character journal entry… What if our naive model loses her job? She’s supporting her family; she needs money. Then she meets a man who offers her a job, but she doesn’t realize that he’s a people trafficker.
Good start, right? If you wrote that, or similar, you might be relaxed about that, but remember: complicate.
So you’ve got: naive model, loses job, meets people trafficker. What if a government agent finds drugs in her home? How could you complicate that even more? What if the agent uses our naive model to infiltrate the trafficking ring?
You’ll notice that now, just with the paragraphs above, you’ve made a start on plotting. You’ve got another two characters, a people trafficker and a government agent. Now write a short journal entry from the point of view of each of those characters, complicating things more.
Your plot will grow like a garden of weeds, I promise you. 🙂
2. Augment reality: ask yourself “how can I make it outrageous?”
You’ve made a good start on plotting a novel, or short story. Your next step is to make your plot outrageous… while still remaining (very loosely) within the bounds of credibility.
Take a look at Amazon’s Short Reads in Fiction.
(I prefer looking at Amazon’s Short Reads when I want to assess what’s selling, because if you look at novels, the top sellers are more likely to be influenced by advertising.)
In the Short Reads’ bestsellers you have the usual suspects, billionaires, vampires, et al. Outrageous, right? 🙂 Think about billionaires and vampires, especially if you’re new to writing fiction. As a new writer, you want to make your fiction believable, which means that you hew too closely to reality, and …. BORING. If nothing else, reading about billionaires and vampires probably won’t be boring.
I’m not suggesting that you make your hero or heroine a billionaire — although you could. I AM suggesting that you make your fiction’s reality as outrageous as you can. Remember that your primary aim is to grab a reader, then keep that reader reading.
You’re still plotting, so look for ways you can make your story outrageous. Sticking with our naive model and her woes, how could you make her story outrageous? What if she’s taking part in a reality show? And what if… Keep coming up with outrageous ideas.
Don’t worry that you’ll make it too outrageous — you’re only plotting. When you come to write your novel (or short story), you’ll tone it down anyway, that’s inevitable. You just want to avoid toning it down so much while plotting that your story doesn’t have a pulse.
Now let’s look at developing your novel’s characters.
3. Develop your characters: your story ending lies with the character’s problem
To grab readers, your story’s ending lies within your character’s problem. If you watch the movie Legally Blonde, Elle’s problem in getting what she wants is essentially who she is. She doesn’t fit in. However, as the movie progresses, Elle solves challenges because of who she is. Her problem becomes the solution.
That’s what editors mean when they ask you to “develop” your characters. Use who your characters are. Our naive model is naive, and she uses that, to solve her problems in the novel. She grows, but that growth doesn’t change who she is.
Similarly with your novel. For a satisfying read, the end of your character’s story has to relate to your character’s biggest problem. In our naive model story, by the end of the novel the character won’t be as naive, and she’ll have used elements of her naivety to solve her problems as the story progresses.
Big tip: you don’t need to plot all this stuff before you start writing. I’m by nature a pantser, rather than a plotter. If I spend too much time plotting, my subconscious mind dusts off its hands and says, OK, the story’s done… next? It’s very hard for me to work from a detailed outline; I have to leave plenty of room to imagine as I go. Don’t feel that you “must” plot extensively.
Plotting fiction in a nutshell: tell better lies — complicate everything, and make it completely outrageous
A fiction author’s biggest problem is to avoid boring readers.
Avoid that by complicating everything, and striving to make your novel outrageous.
Onward — let your imagination off the leash and have fun plotting fiction. 🙂
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