How to Write Books (Plot)

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The plot of the story is the goal or main point of the story.  The main reasons are (note: the following is paraphrased from Robyn Carr’s book Practical Tips for Writing Popular Fiction):

  • To get something: achieve or acquire.
  • To cause something: revenge or punishment or change.
  • To escape something: danger or pain.
  • To resolve something: get an answer or fix a problem.
  • To survive something: endurance or stamina.

There is a need to do something, which is essential (it is not a want). Layout a plan to include the type of plot (see above), the specific need of the character and its importance, and the obstacles that must be overcome.  Together these create urgency and should provide a sense of movement throughout your book.  The conflict within the book pushes the book forward while the obstacles give the tension. To successfully use unexpected conflicts, alternate expected and unexpected conflicts while keeping all elements leading up to it reasonable and believable.

Tension and conflict must also line up with reader satisfaction.  There is a balance between the intensity of the conflict, progress by the main character, and new obstacles to overcome.  A book gets very good when the conflict and tension come to a breaking point.

A good technique is to write an outline of the story (very rough), add details, revise it, and rewrite it. If not enough detail is provided, the reader may become confused instead of building tension.  Organize your facts and time line so your readers ask the right questions.  You don’t want to the reader to be left completely in the dark and wondering what is going on.  Subplots should not overshadow the main plot, but they can shift the story’s feel temporarily (e.g. comic relief or another problem setup for the next book). Some pitfalls to avoid include not having a well-developed plot idea, not resolving the plot (being to vague or too many subplots), not making things believable.

Mechanics of good storytelling include:

  • Steady flow of action that consistently pushes the story forward instead of burst of detail, action, dialog, and then detail again.
  • Don’t mix your tenses: Present tense (we go), past tense (we went), future (we will go), past perfect (we had gone), and past participle (we have gone). Try to stick with one, but if you mix them make sure that the reader can understand it.
  • Transition sentences or paragraphs that bridge time can be complicated.  Watch out that the transition is not too short.  You also don’t want stay in one place (setting within the book) or time too long.  Remember that transitions move time and people to new places.  Just don’t lose your reader in the transition.
  • Try to avoid using too much passive voice; your story will seem dated instead of current and happening now.
  • Try to stick with one perspective throughout the story. The different types of narrative perspective are: first person (I did…), third person multiple views from the perspective of individual characters (he did and believed…), third person objective/factual (he did and had brown hair), and omniscient or distant (they did…).  The last one is looking at events from an outsider’s perspective, like a reader who not involved with the story.

To choose the perspective of the story,consider who the most important character is, how the perspective will influence the story, characters, action, and plot.

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How to Write Books (Characterization)

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Source: Internet Movie Database, Gone with the Wind

Characters are an important element of a novel.  They are often remembered long after you read the novel and have forgotten the plot, depending on the richness of the character.  The ultimate goal is to bring the characters to life and to make them memorable.

Reader must be able to understand and relate to the character.  The most important job of a character is to stimulate a reader’s emotions by showing traits that can be understood, related to, and are believable.

  • Develop characters one at a time by giving them a few traits (2-5)  that continue throughout the entire story.  (e.g. Smart, curious, adventurous, risk-taking, brave).
  • Don’t contradict characteristics (smart, but continually makes silly decisions)
  • Show your character’s predominant traits first; this will be your fundamental base for your character.
  • Complimentary traits are the second layer of your characters.  These traits compliments (not contradict) the fundamental base characteristics.
  • Complexity/contrasts (flaws) are the third layer of your characters.  Again, the contrasts should compliment the fundamental and complimentary characteristics, but when well done it adds depth and complexity to the individual.  This is where the character becomes more human to the reader.  For example, a brave hero whose one weakness is a phobia of spiders (bad childhood experience).  ***Avoid contradictions!  You have to make a character believable! And don’t change fundamental traits; a character remains the same, but has new dimensions added to them through their experience.  Rather their attitude may change.
  • Create scenes or challenges that lets your character behave with the characteristics you have given to him or her.
  • Emotional impact requires delivering the right emotions at the right time for a specific situation. Create emotions to which people can relate (not being invited to a party).  Make use of whatever emotions are involved in a situation, and remember that the emotions will support a character’s dominant traits.
  • Avoid non-descriptive terms, like “confused” or “uncomfortable” or other emotions that don’t convey thing to the reader.
  • Characters who don’t act “normal” are more interesting and engaging because they tend to be more spontaneous (as long as the character is still believable).  Know the history of your characters; some of their histories may justify behaviors and decisions made by them, and complement their dominant characteristics. You don’t have to tell every detail of a character in your novel, but you should be familiar with them.
  • Give characters a history which motivates their behavior, and give them values (conduct that people live by) that are consistent with their fundamental characteristics.  Readers relate very close to beliefs. When a reader relates to the same beliefs, the relationship with the character deepens. When your character reacts to an event (e.g. keys locked in the car), the reader will either be reassured by their predictable response or surprised by their behavior (they should not be confused).

How to Write Books (Genre Writing)

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Image source: Wikipedia

Picking your genre is an important first step when writing a book.  Why?  Genres are types of literature.  They have certain characteristics, themes, and styles that are unique from other types of literature, and are designed to accomplish certain things.

  • Romances are boy meets girl stories, and what happens as their relationship develops.
  • Mysteries deal with unknown circumstances and how they are resolved.
  • Westerns are good versus bad in a lawless United States town or country side during the Old West.
  • Action-Adventure uses a fast-moving plot that involves physical danger, near misses, daring feats, and a lot of adventure.
  • Suspense books have a main character(s) that evades capture and has near brushes with death.
  • Horror involves pursuit and escape of characters (often supernatural).
  • Fantasies are fictional works that contain elements which do not exist, such as dragons and fairies.  It has myth-like characters and settings, and often includes magic.
  • Historical fiction use historically correct facts and events woven into a made up story or characters during a particular time period.
  • Science fiction incorporates technology that does not exist (although it is sometimes very close to reality) and frequently takes place in the future.

There are other types of literature (techno-thriller, police procedural, historical romance, family saga, women’s fiction, realistic fiction, myth & legend, etc.), but these are the main types of fiction novels.  Your work may have elements of two or more genres, but one genre should be more prevalent than the others.  For beginners, it is helpful to identify the one genre and write toward that style.

The common elements in all successful genre fiction include:

  • Genre has a plot that requires and delivers a resolution.  Each genre is different: mysteries are solved (mystery), the escape is made by the protagonist (suspense), the relational conflict is resolved (romance).
  • There is enough predictability for the reader to guess where the story might head and what the reader expects, but not too much to ruin the story.
  • There is often elements of justice.  Bad guys are caught, lies are brought to light, wrongs are made right.
  • The central character(s) is admirable with qualities that are likable to the reader. For example, physical strength, courage, and intelligence are qualities that most people admire.  A character’s “flaws,” on the other hand, makes them more realistic and perhaps even more likable (more knowable) to the reader.  In fact, they may hinder the character, or the character may need to overcome the “flaw.”
  • It has emotional impact consistent with the type of genre.  Action (rush of excitement), romance (heart-ache), The genre helps defines the emotional impact of the reader, and the emotional impact of the book is consistent with the genre.  Readers expect a certain type of emotion and delivery when reading a genre book.
  • Perhaps most importantly, it should be entertaining, fun, relaxing, and exhilarating to read. If not, readers may not want to finish your book and won’t recommend it to others.
The book cover above is from of the 1911 edition of The Princess and the Goblin published by Blackie & Son.  (Source 5-31-10: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_and_the_Goblin)

Tips for Writing Books (novels)

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Suggested Resources

As I’ve mentioned before, I am in the process of researching how to write a book. I am a professional librarian and an avid reader, so I know books, how they are structured, the publication cycle, etc.  But I have never written a novel (yet).  This is the first of many posts that I plan to make public for myself and to others. My hope is that others will find these notes useful, and perhaps a little fun, for their own writing projects.

A great book that I would suggest reading is Practical Tips for Writing Popular Fiction (1992) by Robyn Carr.  It includes the genre fiction areas of romance, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, western, suspense, historical, action/adventure and horror. Many examples used in the book are from romance novels, since this is Robyn’s area of specialty, but it written broad enough to apply to the other genres mentioned above.

This book would be useful for a reference to help guide you through the overall writing process.  It includes wonderful insights and suggestions on what to include, what to avoid, character development, creating dynamic plot, dialogue between characters, and more. A book that Robyn Carr suggests is On Becoming a Novelist (1980) by John Gardner.

So what does it take to become a writer?

1. Enjoy writing. If you don’t like writing or find yourself unable to finish your projects, writing a novel is probably not cut out for you.  Choose an area to write about that you enjoy reading, and that you have extensive knowledge about or strong personal interest.  Join a writers group in your genre to practice writing, test ideas & writings techniques, and learn what you can from other writers who have more experience.

2. Extensive reading experience. You should read a ton of books in the area you choose to write–several dozens to hundreds of books!  Use these experiences to critique the work; figure out what works and doesn’t work and what makes the book so interesting.

3. Write well. If you are not able to write well, you will not be able to communicate your story effectively to others on paper.  Ultimately, your readers will not be able to understand what you are trying to say, and move on to the next book.  Also consider taking writing classes.  It takes time and energy to become a good writer.  Few people are born with the natural gift of writing–most authors understand that it takes years of practice to develop writing skills and that it is an ongoing skill to hone.

Willamette Valley Pastel Drawing

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willamette_valley

Willamette Valley, 2008

The title of this pastel drawing is “Willamette Valley.”  It had been sitting in my work area for some time before I found the inspiration & motivation to finish it back in 2008.

I used a white Strathmore medium, 400 series, for the paper.  The dimensions are 9″ by 12″.  The color pallete color uses a predominantly red hue to emphasize the powerful sunset.  The white double-mat and black frame makes it look really sharp, and the picture adds a lot of color to our hallway (my an impromptu gallery).

I enjoy sunset and sunrise scenes because they tend to have warm colors associated with them.  This picture reminds me of a summer or autumn sunset in the Willamette Valley, hence the title.  I like how it turned out.

Pastel Drawings: Nehalem Afternoon & Nature’s Reflection

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Here are my two new pastel drawings entitled “Nehalem Afternoon” and “Nature’s Reflection.”

2009 OLA Conference

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2009_OLA_Conference_300

I have to point out the 2009 Oregon Library Association conference logo that was primarily designed by Linda Repplinger (I helped tweak the design & coloring).  It looks wonderful!

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