How A Timeline Helps You Plot A Novel

History is neither simple nor linear, but when we show events in a line they seem to make sense. We see the results of cause and effect when we show sequences that exist in relationship to each other. We see patterns, turning points, and progressions. One of the main reasons we read is to make sense of the world.

A timeline suggests a past, present, and future. Using one for plotting allows us to see a beginning, middle, and ending. Linking units of time to events allows writers to plot a book in a graphic way. We are able to see the book from the reader's perspective. Is there a pattern? Does it make sense?

A timeline helps us choose what to include in our story. It also gives us a map to follow. It is the big picture of a novel - a place where we get the chance to see the overarching storylines and how they intersect.

Seven questions that will help create a timeline
  1. How old are your characters when the story begins?
  2. Where are the characters in the story?
  3. Why does the story start?
  4. What are your main characters’ story goals? [Read The Story Goal]
  5. Who are their co-stars?
  6. How old are your characters when the story ends?
  7. Where will it end?
Remember that a time-span has nothing to do with the length of a book. We can cover a lifetime in one paragraph. A week, a month, or a year could span an entire book. A timeline helps us to include only events that are relevant to the plot in our novels.

Beginnings and endings
We should never start our novel on the day our characters take their first breaths – unless that moment is important to the story. We are not writing our characters’ biographies. Try not to bore the reader with a factual re-telling of their first years. 

A timeline can help us remove unnecessary backstory. We get to see how much information we tend to dump in the beginning of a book. It can be used as a tool to help us work through where we should start our stories. We can use this part of our timeline to help fill in a character questionnaire.

Start at a point of crisis or change. The reader will immediately want to know what happened before and after that point. Start when the reason for writing the story begins. [Read The Importance of Inciting Moments]

Carry on by inserting the events needed to get us through the middle of the story to the end. We tell a story in (action) scenes and (reaction) sequels. We usually have 60-80 of these in a novel. You can use these to create the events on your timeline. [Read Why Writers Should Always Make a Scene]

Stop when the main character reaches his or her story goal. [Read The Sense Of An Ending]
One of the most useful things that emerges from this exercise is that we begin to see unnecessarily repetitive scenes and superfluous characters.

  1. Create a timeline for your story.
  2. Create separate timelines for your four main characters.
  3. Make sure they all work together.
There are also online timeline tools you could try, including Timeline, Timetoast, and Timeglider.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting 

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

A 5-Part Story Structure For Beginners

Guest Post

One of the first things we are taught in the 1st grade is how to write a good story. It makes sense because our lives are made up of stories. Each of us has a unique tale. Every day is a story with a plot, characters, and a beginning, a middle, and an end. So, why not tell a good story with a great structure?

Many would support the idea that a good story ought to have these three main parts. Those who agree are professional writers, movie directors, and professors. Without these three fundamental divisions, any given story would appear jumbled. It causes the reader to give up on engaging with the author’s thoughts.

1. Introduction
The beginning of a story is where the author introduces the five important questions: WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN and WHERE. They familiarise the reader with the characters, the plot, and the time zone. They give a general idea of what the reader has to expect from the narrative. 

In this first part, also called the exposition, the author creates a bond with the main character. It is possible to reveal the character’s aim and ensure a ‘hook’. That means to provide an incentive and a reason for the reader to continue pursuing the story.
2. Doorway No. 1
Good narrative structures also contain a delicate shift, or, as some call it a ‘doorway’. It is the section where the author puts the character into a complicated situation and forces him or her into an irreversible circumstance. This is the part of the story where the action starts to brew. The main character may end up in a difficult position and he or she develops the story goal here. This is the best time to hook the reader into your plot.
3. Middle
The first part (or introduction) serves as a section where everything is set up. The second part of the story is where the story line develops and becomes complicated. We call it the "middle". More intricate layers of the characters become clear. Secret intentions and relationships start to surface. Needless to say, as conflict ensues, tension adds to the story. 

It is a good trick to keep the reader on edge. The author also has the option to weave in subplots to add to the main plot. The middle is the part where the story starts to move towards the climax. That's the segment of a narrative, also referred to as the development, that gives the reader the sense of the inevitable conclusion.
4. Doorway No.2
As the level of conflict builds throughout the story, doorway No.2 opens. The writer can make use of it to thrust the main character into a final conflict. Let's call it the pinnacle of the narrative. This climactic moment is where a major blow or crisis usually occurs, which later sets up a potential final solution.
5. End
The end or the denouement is the climax of the story. This is the part where everything comes together and starts making sense - in case it didn't make sense before. This is the section where the author writes about the final confrontation and the inevitable aftermath. 

A good story should not have any loose ends. The denouement is the perfect place to answer all unanswered questions. Respond to inquiries that may have appeared throughout the story.

The ending can also include poetic justice or an element of sacrifice. It depends on the theme and subject matter the author chooses to write about. This elevates the already scandalous atmosphere that reader has been sucked into. 

We have an innate desire for happy endings. Often times, writers choose to provide the readers with what they know the public will generally like. Yet, the story can also end on a negative or ambiguous note. This in turn leaves the reader wondering and perhaps feeling a bit dazed.
It doesn't matter what type of story you choose to write. The most important thing to remember is to start at the beginning, continue in the middle, and finish at the end. And like a good recipe, every story should contain a little bit of spice, whether it’s love and romance, or revenge and power.

By Laura Carter. Laura is a former educator who is now an academic writing and higher education blogger. Laura’s passion is great fiction and short story writing. Follow her on Twitter.


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    7 Ways To Tell If You Have Too Much Plot In Your Story

    When we start to write, we often don’t think about what we’re doing. We pour our stories on to a page and hope for the best. We add characters, viewpoints, settings, and backstory, thinking that it will make sense to everybody because it makes sense to us. 

    It doesn’t. The best way to begin is to stick to one plot and one sub-plot in your first books. Use these as practice runs to help you concentrate on storytelling. This will encourage you to focus on creating nuanced, powerful characters who live in their own extraordinary worlds, even if that world is one room. These characters must overcome obstacles in pursuit of a goal. 

    This forces you to consider if you have a strong enough story or if you just have an idea for a story. 

    Lots of sub-plots may fill up pages, but, if they are weakly constructed, they won’t make any of the story lines stronger. Every sub-plot should have a character who pursues his or her own story goal, encounters conflict, and reaches a positive or negative resolution. When you consider this, you begin to understand how complicated these stories within stories can become. 

    Seven Questions That Will Show You If Your Story Is Cleverly Layered Or Clearly Over-Laden 
    1. Do they understand? Explain your story to five strangers. It is better if these people are not writers or even regular readers. If you confuse them, or worse, yourself, you have a problem. Once you have told your story, ask them to tell you what they think you mean - in their own words. If they can’t, or if you hear something you don’t recognise, you have too many plots.
    2. Can you tell a sub-plot as a stand-alone story? If you can, you should probably do it. Sub-plots are there to support your main plot. They have three functions: (1) They are there to show a different perspective of the central conflict, (2) They test your protagonist's motivations and abilities to achieve the story goal, and (3) They show different aspects of the protagonist’s personality. [Read 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story] If your sub-plot does not do this, or does much more than this, it deserves to be removed or written as a separate book.
    3. Has your protagonist changed? A primary function of plot is to force the protagonist to change on the way to achieving a physical story goal. [Read The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure] This internal change occurs when they recognise their strengths and overcome inner demons to achieve this goal. If your character has not changed, it means that you’ve cluttered the story with noise instead of meaning.
    4. How many characters matter to your main plot? If you have more than four, you have a problem. Remember that each of these four characters is a possible viewpoint character and looking at a story from more than four perspectives in one book is crazy. [Read The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters]This does not mean that there won’t be other characters; it simply means that you need to give prime time to a few characters who are crucial to the story.
    5. Do your supporting characters have their own sub-plots? You know the answer should be no. If you love the character this much, consider writing a novel about him or her.
    6. Is your book filled with events that do not move your protagonist towards the story goal? Avoid including conflict for conflict’s sake. If events happen that spin the story and the characters in many different, unrelated directions, you will struggle to keep a reader’s attention. It takes a skilled storyteller to keep this going. Long, complicated books are published by authors who already have an established track record, for example, one of George R.R. Martin’s first books, Dying of the Light is only 288 pages long, and Stephen King’s Carrie, published in 1974, is only 199 pages long. [Read Word Counts - How Long Should Your Novel Be?]
    7. Can you write a one-page synopsis for your story? If you can’t, you have over-plotted. This synopsis must be about your protagonist’s journey, from the inciting moment, creating a believable story goal, putting a worthy antagonist and obstacles in place, to the end where the story goal is reached. How you deal with this ending – negatively or positively – is your choice. [Read How To Write A One-Page Synopsis
    Remember you can tell a story any way you want to, but it may make your life easier if you accept that too many plots can spoil a book. Why not see if you can plot a great book with one plot and one sub-plot before you embark on a potentially messy marathon?

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

     by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

    © Amanda Patterson

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    6 Things Alfred Hitchcock Can Teach You About Writing

    Alfred Hitchcock was an English film director and producer who worked closely with screenwriters on his films. The master storyteller, born 13 August 1899, died 29 April 1980, pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. He is best remembered for films such as Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, North by Northwest, and Rebecca.

    I have taken six famous Hitchcock quotations to create these storytelling tips from this master of suspense.
    1. 'Drama is life with the dull parts left out.' Take chances. Hitchcock knew exactly how to move us out of our comfort zones. He knew that he couldn't afford to bore his audience. Neither can you. This means you should avoid pages of backstory and endless descriptions. Avoid writing beautiful paragraphs to impress readers. You won't succeed. Most of us read novels for story and to experience traumatic or extraordinary events vicariously. We want you to entertain us. 
    2. 'Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.' Readers want happy endings but the characters need to earn them. Good writers put their characters through hell. To make this work, they create empathetic characters with whom we can identify. Readers enjoy going through this cathartic experience with them. We feel the relentless horror experienced by a young socialite in The Birds. In Psycho, a young woman ends up on the run where she meets a horrible bloody end at the Bates Motel. In Vertigo, we empathise with a detective who is tormented by tragedy and his fear of heights. We suffer with Hitchcock's characters.
    3. 'I’m a writer and, therefore, automatically a suspicious character.' Always look for the dark side of human nature. We all have one. Writers are naturally suspicious because we always consider why people do the things they do. We need to become observers of the human condition. Never take anything at face value. Everything reveals something. Be suspicious of human nature, of possessions, of settings, of body language, of speech patterns - of everything.
    4. 'The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.' Many authors have told me that heroes are only as strong as the characters who oppose them. Create complex antagonists who are the heroes of their own stories. They do not have to be villainous or evil. They do have to have a believable story goal that opposes the protagonist's. 
    5. 'I can’t read fiction without visualising every scene. The result is it becomes a series of pictures rather than a book.' Setting is important. If you use setting skilfully enough, you can create a plot or move a plot forward with it. We all know that changing a setting can change a character. Great setting details create suspense and add layers of mood and mystery to a story. You also don't need elaborate settings. Rear Window takes place through the eyes of a photographer gazing out of the window of his apartment. Rope is set in one room, where a murder victim in hidden in a chest of books. Many people remember the atmosphere created by the settings in Hitchcock's films long after they've forgotten the plots.
    6. 'I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.' Don't be afraid to stick to a genre that suits your writing style. Most writers enjoy writing what they enjoy reading.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

     by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

    © Amanda Patterson

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    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 32: Your 6 Indispensable Plot Pivots

    Welcome to week 32 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

    Goal setting
    1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your novel.
    Breaking it down

    In the beginning
    In Novel Shortcuts, a great guide to drafting a novel, Laura Whitcomb talks about story ‘crosshair moments’ that fall on the turning points of a story. Those moments when your main character is in the firing line – figuratively or literally.

    As I’m reshuffling or rewriting some scenes in my novel, I’m looking for these pivotal moments throughout my manuscript. Keep in mind a pivot is something that can turn – so these are moments that should ‘spin’ your story in a new or different direction.

    But it’s important, I think, to first focus on the six indispensable plot moments in your novel. Once you isolate these moments you can see what you have to build towards.   

    The most important plot point in the beginning of your novel is the inciting incident. To remind you, this is the moment you main character brushes up against the thing or person that will eventually change their world irrevocably.

    At the end of the beginning of your novel, you also need to have the first major turning point. The scene that propels the main character into the middle of the story.

    It is the first real crisis in the story and stems from the inciting incident. This crisis usually ends in a mini-climax of its own. The main character, after accepting what has happened, is forced to make new decision or is determined to pursue a new course of action.
    In the middle
    Right in the middle of your novel, you have to write a strong midpoint – this is one of the most important plot points in your novel. This is the first culmination of your novel. This is probably the most pivotal moment. So much hinges on this moment or plot point.

    At the midpoint, your main character should feel like they’re at their lowest point — they feel like they’re losing. Alternatively, at this point, they should feel like they’re at their highest point – they feel like they’re winning.

    And then later, just before you move into the end of your novel, you have the second major turning point. This is the second culmination of your story. Showdown time!

    This moment is usually predicated by what happens in the midpoint of your novel. It is usually the opposite of the midpoint.

    So, if your main character felt they were at their lowest and losing at the midpoint – here they are their highest and winning. If they left like they were at their highest and winning at the midpoint – here they are there lowest and losing.

    Whatever happens here must push the character into the final stretch of the story. The tension should still be high. What decision or action will they take to test if they truly win – or truly lose?

    In the end
    The two most important plot points at the end of your novel are the climax and the denouement.

    The climax is the last test for your main character. You can spin in another direction – and bring in a twist – but after that your character has reached the end of their journey or fight. They’ve learned their lesson – for better or worse. The tension is finally released.

    Sometimes the climax is a ‘mirror’ of the midpoint. If the main character was losing at the midpoint, they’ve lost now. If they were winning at the midpoint, they’ve won now.

    The last few scenes is the denouement. Here you must wrap up and tie up all the loose ends. What does the main character’s life look like now after the action is over? What glimpse can we give of their future?
    Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

    Write for a half hour or an hour a day on your scenes or chapters.

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Brainstorm as many ideas for plot points as possible – don’t worry if you can use them in your story, just get them down.
    2. Take the scenes you’ve already written or planned. Shuffle these and see if they would work better as one of the other six plot points.
    3. Create a ‘power chart’ – track which of your characters have the most power and at what point in the story. Shifting balances of power are great ways to develop the six major plot points. 
    4. Write down your main character’s goal – the goal that drives them – and see how each of the turning points in the story affects that goal – either in a negative or positive way.
    5. Try to find the six plot points in a fairy tale like Cinderella or Red Riding Hood – sometimes simplifying things makes you see the structure more clearly.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘The crosshairs of a story, like the crosshairs in the scope of a rifle, must be precisely aimed at your target – that most pivotal moment in your plot.’  — Laura Whitcomb

    Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

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        The 7 Critical Elements Of A Great Book

        I used to do manuscript appraisals when I taught creative writing full time. I would never have been able to do it without teaching, though, because teaching taught me how to become a critical reader. I learnt to observe, to critique, and to improve my own writing. 

        Appraising a writer’s unpublished manuscript can be difficult, but it became easier when I broke it down into what readers and publishers look for when they read. The key to making it easier was thinking about the market. What works? What sells and what doesn’t? Why doesn’t it sell? 

        My appraisals were based on the seven basic elements of good novel writing, which are:

        1. Plot 
        1. Does the novel have a plot? Without a plot it is difficult to keep a reader interested. A plot involves a protagonist with a worthy story goal. 
        2. Is this goal strong enough to sustain an 80 000-word long novel? We prefer to read about characters who have something to fight for and something to lose if they don’t. [Read The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure]
        3. Is the plot introduced early enough? The story goal is usually set by an inciting moment that turns the protagonist's life upside down in a negative way.
        4. Is there too much backstory? Readers are not interested in the detailed biography of your character. For the most part, they do not enjoy prologues.
        5. Is there opposition for the protagonist? Conflict is created when an antagonist is introduced to stop the protagonist from achieving the goal. [Read 7 Essential Things To Remember About Very Important Characters]
        6. Does the plot make sense? If it does not, we tend to include things which seem to have no reason for being in the story. A good idea can turn into a maze of irritation if the author does not know where the story is headed.
        7. Has the author used the setting to advance the plot? Descriptions should not be static or incidental. [Read 5 Ways To Use Setting To Advance A Plot]
        2. Characters 
        1. Do I care about what happens to the protagonist and the antagonist? If a reader fails to make me care for one of these characters, I will not carry on reading the book. Why should I? C.S Lewis said that we read to know we are not alone. If I feel no connection with a character, I am alone, lost, adrift in the story. I do not have to sympathise with a character, but I need to care. [Read Make Me Care - 9 Ways To Ensure An Unforgettable Read]
        2. Are the main characters believable? If the characters seem contrived or forced, we stop reading. I think a good way of looking at it is to ask: If I met these characters on the street (even if the story is set in a different universe) would they seem real?
        3. Are their motivations believable? Give readers good reasons to buy into their story goals. For example, most of us would not ruin our lives to wreak revenge without a great reason.
        4. Is the author masquerading as the protagonist? Many first time writers want to write their own stories, but don’t want to write a memoir. They try to turn their experience into a novel. This becomes problematic because they are too close to the story and they cannot see the character objectively.
        5. Does the name suit the character? Sometimes you read a book and you feel as if the author has not thought this through. The name may be out of date or too strange for the world the character inhabits. Here are 10 Things To Consider When Naming Characters
        6. Does their body language, clothing, hairstyle suit them? Sometimes it's a good thing to suggest that a writer completes a character questionnaire so that the characters seem authentic. How a character moves, how he or she reacts with non-verbal responses show that the writer has treated the character like a real person. This cheat sheet for writing body language will help you. 
        7. Do their emotions fit? A character may be happy, sad, or infuriated. A good writer knows how to show these emotions in the things the characters say and do. This needs to be filtered into the story in a believable way. [Read 37 Ways To Write About Anger]
        8. Do the characters fit into their surroundings? Alternatively, do they fail to fit in because of who they are? [Read Wherever I Lay My Hat - How Setting Affects Your Characters]
        9. Has the author used contrived ways to describe the characters? It is off-putting if a writer describes the character in detail. For example, ‘She had blue eyes, brown hair, stained teeth, and she weighed 60 kilos.’ A good writer will let this filter through and leave some of it to the reader’s imagination. 
        3. Viewpoint
        1. Has the writer chosen a viewpoint that suits the story? Most stories are written in third person past tense. For example, ‘He cradled the baby as Freda screamed.’  Most genre novels are written in this viewpoint. Memoirs are often written in first person present tense to make the writing feel authentic and immediate. For example, 'I cradle the baby as Freda screams.' [Read 10 Ways To Tell A Story - All About Viewpoint]
        2. Has the author chosen the correct character to tell the story? This happens mostly when we choose to tell the story through the eyes of the protagonist’s friend. This often makes the story sound forced because the friend cannot know what the character is truly feeling or thinking. It distances the most important character from the reader and there is more telling than showing as a result.
        3. Has the author stayed in the viewpoint character’s head? Many beginner writers head-hop between the different characters in a scene, and confuse readers. As a rule, you should only use one viewpoint per scene. [Read 6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes]
        4. Has the character revealed something he or she could not have known? There has to be consistency and a sense of continuity in storytelling.
        5. If the author chooses a first person narrator, is the character strong enough to bear the weight of a 360-page book? This might seem like common sense, but it’s a tough ask for one character who has to be interesting enough not to bore a reader. The character could be compromised, which is fine if you are considering using an unreliable narrator
        6. Has the author chosen an omniscient narrator? This is so old-fashioned that it takes a truly exceptional writer to make this work. Modern readers prefer to be closer to the characters they are following in stories. 
        4. Dialogue 
        1. Is there enough dialogue in the book? I believe the book should have at least 50% of its pages filled with characters communicating. Being stuck in a character’s thought processes is agonising for long periods of time. Many beginner writers make this mistake, thinking that we will be intrigued. But it actually turns out to be the author who is stuck, trying to work through the fact that he or she does not really have a plot.
        2. Is the dialogue appropriate for the characters? Are you giving the characters the correct vocabulary and tone? Do their words suit them? [Read 10 Dialogue Errors To Avoid At All Costs]
        3. Do the characters sound too similar? This is a common problem for beginners. They use sentence structures and lengths that are the same for each character. Real people have distinct voices when they speak.
        4. Does the dialogue serve a purpose? Writers who include unnecessary conversations also have problems with plotting. All the dialogue in a book should move the plot forward, introduce conflict, or show us something about a character. [Read 10 Ways to Introduce Conflict in Dialogue]
        5. Have they included body language with dialogue? Real people do things while they’re talking. Here are some examples: 60 Things For Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think
        6. Are the dialogue tags good? ‘Said’ is the best tag you can use. The way characters say things and the words they choose should tell the reader how they say it. I am annoyed when characters hiss, spit, cajole, ejaculate and sputter. 
        5. Pacing 
        1. Does the pace suit the story?  Books are made up of scenes and sequels. Scenes are faster than sequels and there are more of them. They are also longer. A good writer knows how to mix these up and how to get a rhythm that works for a story.
        2. Does the pace suit the genre? Thrillers will have more scenes. Literary novels are more leisurely and they will have more sequels.
        3. Is it too fast or too slow, and if it is, can it be fixed? Read The 4 Most Important Things To Remember About Pacing for excellent tips on how to improve problems with pacing. 
        6. Style 
        1. Does the writer have a distinctive, engaging style? You can tell if a writer has this even if the grammar and spelling isn’t perfect. [Read 7 Choices That Affect A Writer's Style]
        2. Can the writer write? Sometimes there are real problems with sentence structure, punctuation, and a poor grasp of storytelling techniques.
        3. Is there too much passive voice in the story? This leads to telling instead of showing and drags a story down with it.
        4. Is the tone appropriate for the story? A sombre tone is inappropriate for a light-hearted romance and a flippant tone is unusual in literary fiction.
        5. Are the readability statistics acceptable for a novel? I work on the assumption that a good book will have an 80% readability value. Novelists need to learn how to write difficult things in the simplest way. [For more, read Why You Should Care About Readability Statistics]
        6. Does the writer have an engaging voice? The best way to find your voice and nurture your style is to write. If you are struggling, read this post for help: How do you find your writing voice? 
        7. Beginnings, Middles, Endings 
        1. Does the story start at the beginning? A beginning is a delicate thing. There should be enough action combined with a touch of description, a hint of backstory, and dialogue – if necessary. Is the hook good enough to make the reader turn the page?
        2. Is there a great inciting moment? I want to be invested in the story from the moment I pick up the book. There should be something to make me care. [Read The Importance of Inciting Moments]
        3. Am I entertained through a muddle in the middle? Is there enough suspense, tension, and conflict to keep the story going? Good writers make the middle work by setting a deadline for a character. They force the character to change, throw in secrets, surprises and even add a dangerous twist. [Read A Tense Situation - Five Tips To Help You Write A Gripping Read]
        4. Does the ending satisfy me? A great ending always completes your story arc, shows a change in your main character, and leaves the reader wanting more. [For more help, read: The Sense Of An Ending - How To End Your Book]
        5. Does it fulfil the book’s promise? Avoid surprise endings and contrived twists. Rather go back and fix the parts of the book that should have been set up properly to support the ending you want. [Read How To Write A Beginning And An Ending That Readers Will Never Forget]
        In the end... 

        If these are covered, and if they work, I find that a book delivers. The author naturally shows me the story instead of telling me what I should think or feel. I also find that a theme is revealed naturally with great plotting and good characterisation.

        If you want to critique a book, you can ask these questions and make notes. At the end you will have a better idea of why you did or did not enjoy it.

        Happy reading and writing!

        If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

         by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

        © Amanda Patterson

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        6-Stage Plot Structure For Successful Storytelling

        Michael Hauge has created a formula around the five turning points and six stages you need to write a good story. Eduardo L. Lozano created this infographic - The Six Stage Plot Structure - illustrating Hauge's formula for writing successful screenplays.

        We think that you can use this as the skeleton for any storytelling, including novels and business stories. As Hauge says, 'Even if you are a novelist, speaker, marketer or attorney, understanding these turning points, and incorporating them into your stories, will strengthen your ability to enthral your reader or audience.'

        He goes on to explain: "Plot structure simply determines the sequence of events that lead the hero toward this objective. [The Story Goal] And here’s the good news: whether you’re writing romantic comedies, suspense thrillers, historical dramas or big budget science fiction, all successful Hollywood movies follow the same basic structure.

        In a properly structured movie, the story consists of six basic stages, which are defined by five key turning points in the plot. Not only are these turning points always the same; they always occupy the same positions in the story.' 

        Hauge is is an author and lecturer who consults with writers, filmmakers, marketers, attorneys and public speakers throughout the world. He is the author of Writing Screenplays That Sell

        If you want to learn how to write a great story, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

        If you enjoyed this post, read:


          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

          Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 27: Theme As the Engine Of Plot

          Welcome to week 27 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

          Goal setting
          1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your novel.
          Breaking it down

          Time alone
          A writer friend of mine recently posted a picture of her writing desk as she worked on her novel on Facebook. It was a happy post because her novel was ‘flowing’ and she was surrounded by her notes as she typed away at her laptop. I felt happy for her. I knew exactly what she was feeling.

          There is nothing as great as spending hour after hour immersed in writing your novel. When it’s going well, the time just flows and you sometimes forget to eat or stop for a coffee. When it’s not going well, every moment can feel like torture.

          This week I realised I’m rapidly approaching the end of my rough draft of the novel. Yes, there’s lots of missing scenes, research still to be done, and other missing elements, but it’s exciting to see it take shape. As I come towards the end of this stage of the journey, everything that takes me away from writing just drains me – work, social activities, and so forth. The good thing is that while I do these things, the characters and plots are still always at the back of my mind.
          Themes and other things
          I’ve been reading Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange again this week.  This is an iconic book that seems to find a new audience, and fresh controversy, in new generation. In an essay at the back of the latest edition, Burgess speaks about the theme of the book. Beyond the debate about good and evil, he believed that man’s ability to choose and have free will is what gives us our humanity.

          I was reminded of this when I was facilitating Writers Write this weekend. It’s so important to have something to say in your story – even if it’s something only you feel passionate about.

          For me, theme must inform every element of plot. For example, while my novel’s plot focuses on stalking, this is really a device to illuminate my themes of obsession, jealousy, the fear of rejection – the idea of wanting someone you can’t have and the fear of losing someone you have to something or someone else.

          Theme is the engine of plot. It stays under the hood and it’s not always pretty, but it’s what gives that slick little racing car its power, isn’t it?

          Primal terrors
          Sometimes we get so hung up on creating the perfect scene, with just the right setting, or finding the right dialogue, we forget about the primal core of our novels. (Just recently I spent almost an hour figuring out what outfit my heroine would wear to lunch.)

          I was reminded of this last night while having dinner with two good friends next to a crackling log fire with a glass of wine.  These friends are not writers but were discussing human genetics and DNA haplogroups – which was when I started staring into the fire and drifting off with a vague smile on my face.

          Just then one of was saying that research shows that many people share a common mother who migrated to the north. And I perked up. In my mind, I was thinking: Who was this woman? How did she survive? Defend herself? She suddenly became an incredibly important and vulnerable character in my imagination.

          Of course, a quick look on Google this morning, suggest that this Mitochondrial Eve was a single woman but a confluence of shared bloodlines, but still it made me realise that our primal instincts in life are ancient and are passed down in our DNA.

          We want to survive. We will fight for that right to defend ourselves. We want to find the perfect mate and will fight for that too. We’re all fighting to stay alive. This is such an important part of any thriller – or even a romance novel – and I realised I needed more of that energy in my own story.
          Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

          Spend half-hour or a full-hour a day working on the scenes or chapters of your novel.

          5 Quick Hacks
          1. Create a short ritual to get your writing time started – maybe it’s sharpening some pencils, laying out your notes. It will become a trigger to help you get started.
          2. Why not write a short essay or blog on the theme of your book? What if you were asked to give a speech on your theme? What would you say to your audience?
          3. List six possible titles for your novel. Which one ties in the best with your theme?
          4. Next time you’re at lunch or dinner, listen out for those conversations that suggest a character or a story. Play with the idea. Write it down.
          5. Look at the names of your main characters. Do you like them? Are they strong enough? Or have they been placeholders until this point in time?
          Pin it, quote it, believe it:

          ‘The thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone.’ — Martin Amis

          Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

           by Anthony Ehlers

          If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

          If you enjoyed this post, read:


              Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

              Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 25: Your Mid-Year Analysis

              Welcome to week 25 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

              Goal setting
              1. Recap your mid-year progress.
              Breaking it down

              Back to basics
              As we approach the mid-point of our journey to write a novel in a year, it’s a good time to take a week to pause and take stock of our progress. Let’s recap the basic elements you should be working with.
              • Do you have your genre and theme as crisp and clear as possible?
              • Do you have a working synopsis or outline of your novel?
              • Do you have character cards or sheets for your main characters?
              • Do you have your primary research done?
              • Do you have a clear idea of your settings and a timeline for the events in the novel?
              When I look at my novel, I can see that I’ve stayed on track in terms of genre. It’s still very much a psychological thriller. However, my theme has changed a bit. I can see that the theme is more about trust and jealousy in a relationship between my two main characters, the lovers Matt and Jenna.

              At this point, I think it would worth my while to re-write or edit my synopsis. Having a short 3-5 page document will help me to see the whole story arc and see if it’s still making sense.  I’ve been doing some extra research as I go alone but I’m not spending too much time on this – the idea is to keep on writing the draft.

              For me, my setting is really nailed down because it plays such an important part in the story.  I know that the story will take place over no more than two or three months – but I guess I could be crisper in my timeline.
              The palette - plot, character, and setting
              By now you should have broken your plot down into individual scenes, chapters, or a group of sequences. You should have your main plotline sorted out and perhaps your subplots.

              What I’ve done in my novel is focused on writing the key scenes in my novel – those that I know definitely have to be in the final manuscript. There are still gaps in places but I’m not stressing about these too much.

              It’s been exciting to see my characters come alive in my imagination and on the page.  My main character is well formed in my mind. I really understand Jenna. However, I’m still struggling with the other characters. They simply won’t behave the way I want them to behave.  This is something I’ll have to look at.

              In terms of setting, this is the easiest part of the story architecture for me.  It’s also been the fun part of writing – maybe because descriptive writing is one of the less demanding elements of writing. I suspect it is for most writers.

              You, the writer
              One thing we overlook in this process is ourselves. We tend to get lost in the writing. But a writer is also a human being – that has to eat, sleep, and have some sort of life outside of writing.

              In one of my favourite novels, Valley of the Dolls, the author Jackie Susann explains the internecine tensions creative people sometimes experience as it applies to her unstable but brilliant character, Neely: ‘It’s like a civil war, with her emotions against her talent and physical strength.’

              Writers tend to get depressed or fatigued more than other people – and that can be a stumbling block. What I’m saying is that you have to look after yourself.  Don’t get overwhelmed.

              One way to manage yourself is to make sure you have a realistic writing schedule.  Also, try to schedule social activities and exercise. Celebrate your achievements.  Keep in mind what we said right at the beginning of this journey: We’re going for progress and not perfection.
              Timelock — 1 to 2 hours

              1-2 hours to recap your mid-year progress.

              5 Quick Hacks
              1. Take a break from your novel. Go for a short holiday. Get a manicure. Visit friends and families.
              2. Create a shelf or drawer to keep all your writing notes and research material.
              3. Print out what you’ve written or do a word count of your scenes. Remind yourself how far you’ve come. Celebrate your achievements.
              4. Do something that requires physical work as a distraction. Clean the windows. Wash the dog. Paint a room. Tidy your writing room.
              5. Reward yourself with a great novel, biography, or a trip to the cinema. Don’t feel guilty about taking a break.
              Pin it, quote it, believe it:

              ‘People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.’ — Harlan Ellison

              Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

               by Anthony Ehlers

              If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

              If you enjoyed this post, read:


                  Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

                  The Marshall Plan For Romancing Your Story

                  Guest Post by Evan Marshall, author of The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing

                  Spring is in the air (in the Northern Hemisphere) and we want to talk romance. We have noticed a trend in fiction writing: adding a romantic subplot. Publishers tell us this technique is especially popular with readers right now.

                  We’ll take a look at it and discuss some examples in three genres: cosy mystery, mystery, and historical fiction.
                  1. In cosy mystery, Karen Rose Smith, in her popular Caprice De Luca Home-Staging cosy mystery series, places romantic upheaval in Caprice’s path in Silence of the Lamps. Will Caprice finally find love? Then there’s bestseller Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen cosy mystery series. For years, Hannah has not been able to make up her mind between Mike and Norman. In the latest in the series, Wedding Cake Murder, Hannah meets Ross and must decide among the three men. Whom will she marry?
                  2. In the mystery category, novelist Elizabeth George made a big mistake when she married off Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley in her bestselling Inspector Lynley mystery series. Lynley had turned into a fuddy-duddy after he and Helen got married and were on the verge of becoming parents. We weren’t surprised when Elizabeth George reversed course and killed off Helen and the unborn baby. Another example of a single detective series with a romantic subplot is detective Joe Cashin in The Broken Shore by Peter Temple, set in Australia.
                  3. Romance is at the core in historical fiction by Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen). Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale mixes equal parts romance and history (and also hits the trending “sisters” category). Romantic suspense in Harlequin Intrigue and Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect mix equal parts romance and suspense.
                  Today, we even recommend that clients consider adding a genre-appropriate romantic subplot in hard-core thrillers. Instead of tying up the romantic subplot with the traditional sugary bow at the end, we advise showing how the couple might get together.

                  To sum up, a romantic subplot adds 3-D texture to your story: depth, dimension and drama. It enables you to reveal intimate character traits in your protagonist and others you might not otherwise have any way to show. It also opens the door to adding conflict, flirty dialogue, misunderstandings, mystery, twists and surprises.

                   by Evan Marshall. Evan is president of The Evan Marshall Agency and Indie Rights Agency, an independent literary agency based in New Jersey, USA. An expert on fiction writing, he has served as a contest judge for Wattpad. He is author of The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing, now How To Write A Novel-The Marshall® Plan Software, co-created with Martha Jewett. Evan is the author of ten traditionally published mystery novels in the Hidden Manhattan and Jane Stuart series, called “Miss Marple lite” by Kirkus Reviews.


                  Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.