What's On My Mind

The Secret of Originality

Creating a novel requires a lot of thought. Actually, maybe that’s a bit of an understatement. You have to know the characters better than your best friends, your settings better than your home, and etc, etc. Well, you get the point. Novels take a lot of work.

If you’re like me, even brainstorming smaller chunks of a book take a while. Or should I say, a long, long while. By the time you find that great idea of yours, a lot of time spent researching, plotting, and brainstorming time has been already used up. You’ve dedicated a lot of energy into this idea and you wish to see it through.

What do you do then, when you realize your idea isn’t totally, well, yours?

You turn on the TV. You pick up a book. You listen to a song. You go to a movie. And there it is. Your supposed “best idea ever” sitting right there in front of you. Were you inspired off of these ideas? Maybe. Did you think this idea was totally unique? Totally. Is your book turning out to be an exact carbon copy of a movie that was already created? Yes.

That realization is very frustrating.

Photo credit: piglove.wordpress.com
Photo credit: piglove.wordpress.com

It just screams “I-can’t-believe-my-subconcious-was-secretly-telling-me-the-plot-of-this-other-book” and perhaps even the “wait-I-thought-I-was-genius-but-I-guess-not”. It’s the feeling that makes you want to *face palm* yourself or tear apart your notebook and computer.

Well, don’t worry. You won’t have to totally trash your 20,000 word manuscript. (And just don’t, even if you feel like it.)

The worst thing you can do for yourself while trying to get into that “creative mode” as a writer is to compare yourself to other books. Please. Do yourself a favor. Don’t worry if your ideas are similar and/or related. Your idea will grow more complex and develop as you go on, leaving it way different from where you started. In other words, keep at it. You can always add memorable characters, settings, and twists that not only make your book unique, but worth reading.

Why?

Quite frankly, no idea out there is totally new and original.

This isn’t a bad thing either. Some ideas throughout history are used over and over and over and over. Yet, people don’t seem to tire of them. Take the Hero’s Journey for example. This structure is used thousands of times throughout classic literature, movies, sci-fi, you name it. The Dystopia is extremely popular and incorporated in Young Adult books everywhere today. Even before the Hunger Games, Fahrenheit 451 was already out making a name for itself.

Every book has to start somewhere. Who knows? The idea you come up with today in your first draft, whether it be a remake of another book or seem completely far-fetched, may turn out to be completely different in your final draft.

So who cares if it’s been done before. It hasn’t been done by you.

As you might have noticed, I changed my theme a little (again). I’m totally loving it right now and can’t wait to get some more featured posts up. Good luck out there. Hope this little post helped a little 🙂 Tune in next week for some more TeenWritr stuff… As always, thanks for reading. ~Corine

What's On My Mind

Three Recipes For a Better Plot

“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down.”– Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back Producer Gary Kurtz, LA Times interview

You have this great idea for a story. There will be this amazing main character that’s great with a bow, some interesting minor characters, a horrendous villain with a large burn mark covering his arms, and everything takes place in this giant city that runs on recycled vegetable oils. So yeah. Awesome.

 

But then what?

Obviously your story has to have at least some meat to it. A build-up. Maybe the villain steals all the vegetable oil and hordes it for his evil robot-making factory and plans to take over the city. There needs to be a fight. The main character is just about defeated when he shoots a fiery arrow at the factory, destroying the robot army and the villain. Your character should experience love and loss. His beloved banana slug is lost in all the chaos. [Just for the record: I just came up with this story in my head, but it’s not the one I’m working on now. You’ll have to tune in later for a sneak peek of that. 😉 ]

You want your story to be not just good, but great.  You’re going to need a killer plot.

Lucky for you, you won’t have to do this all on your own. Whether you’re a novice writer or an award-winning author, more than likely you started with some sort of format. Here’s three different structures– there are dozens out there to choose from– to get those brain juices flowing.

Follow an Archetype

(Take the Hero’s Journey for example…)

Photo credit: pixar.wikia.com
Photo credit: pixar.wikia.com

You’ve probably seen a version of the Hero’s Journey plot and not even realized it. Let’s see. Star Wars. Finding Nemo. Lilo and Stitch. Greek Mythology. Almost all the Harry Potter books. Even though this mold is used over and over, it still doesn’t get old. People just love this archetype. It just comes in about a million different versions.

Typically, this plot starts something like this. This is just a brief description. You can go into more detail here.

  1. Call to Adventure– The main character encounters a problem that forces him into the adventure.
  2. Refusal of the Call– The hero tries to deny the call to adventure because of fear.
  3. Crossing the First Threshold– The main character may physically and/or mentally leave their world and explores the unknown.
  4. Challenges and Temptations– The real adventure and meat of the book. Your character will face several ordeals that will help them develop character.
  5. The Abyss– The abyss will be the greatest challenge he or she will need to face and will force them to change.
  6. Transformation– By overcoming the abyss, the main character has reached their full potential.
  7. Atonement– This is the point by which your character becomes content with their decisions.
  8. Return– The return to regular day life.

The Three-Act Structure

Photo credit: cliffordgarstang.com
Photo credit: cliffordgarstang.com

Most movies are formed after this structure. It’s fairly straight forward and can be as flexible or direct as you wish. It helps make stories flow but, if done incorrectly may result in an unoriginal feeling idea. As you might have already suspected from the name, there are three acts to this process…

Act One:

This act takes about a quarter of the novel is the first part in your book. Usually it goes over the basic premises: who your characters are and what the problem and conflict of your story will be/is. Towards the end of act one your reader should be invested into your novel and ready to set off into adventure!

Act Two:

Taking up almost half of the book on its own, this large chunk is the adventure behind your book. Your character meets their allies, mentors, love interests, etc. while also overcoming huge obstacles and challenges as well. Your character will probably fail more than he or she succeeds, which makes the story interesting. Eventually they will meet the largest obstacle (remember the Abyss?) and hopefully overcome that as well.

Act Three:

How exciting! Act three has the story’s climax and wraps the story up. In other words, they may defeat the villain and return to regular life while growing as a person and character in the process.

The Rubix Cube Structure

Photo credit: wikipedia.org
Photo credit: wikipedia.org

This plotting method was introduced in one of the Nanowrimo (to those who don’t know, that’s National Novel Writing Month) forums and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s an out of the box experience (no pun intended) that really gets you thinking about your story.

It’s a bit hard to describe, so I guess I’ll just quote the original author.

Note: I did not come up with the following idea. It’s unclear who created it first, but here’s the site where it was found.

 “ 1 Triggering event

First thing’s first. What happens? Why have you bothered to write a book, and more importantly, why should a reader invest time flipping through its pages. Your triggering event is the answer to those
questions, so make it a good one. Also, don’t make the reader wait very long for it. First page, first paragraph, first sentence. These are good spots for a triggering event.

2 Characterization

Generally, books succeed or fail on the strength of their characters more so than on the strength of their plots. The second box is where you explore what makes your protagonist tick. No, this isn’t an excuse for drawn out exposition, history, or back story. If your triggering event is captivating, the reader will discover enough about the protagonist in Box Two simply by reading how he or she reacts to the event.

3 First major turning point

By now, your plot is picking up steam, and because of Box Two, the reader is invested in the ride. Time to throw a curve ball. This turning point can be either a positive event for your protagonist, or a negative one, but it should lay the groundwork for the negative turning point in the sixth square. There is a reason these boxes are touching one another; they interrelate. For example, Box Three may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in the sixth square.

4 Exposition

You’ve earned some time to fill the reader in on important data. Since this box touches the first square, here’s where you shed some light on that triggering event. Since it also touches Box Seven, you get to foreshadow your protagonist’s darkest hour. Box Four often reveals a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times in ahead.

5 Connect the dots

Here is where many plots fall apart. Box Five represents the trickiest part of fiction and since Box Five is the center of the book it must connect to all the squares around it. Kind of like the nucleus at the center of a bomb, Box Five should tick systematically upon elements introduced in Box Two and Four. And like the calm before the storm, the fifth square should give the false impression of resolution before heading like a freight train to Box Six. Most importantly, it needs to provide foreshadowing for the protagonist’s revelation in Box Eight. That’s a lot for a little box to do, but focus on efficient prose to get it right. Your plot depends upon it.

6 Negative turning point

Here’s where that bomb explodes and all (word censored) breaks loose. Good thing you laid the groundwork in Box Three. Good thing, too, that Box Nine will deliver some just desserts.

7 Antagonist wins

The protagonist is defeated here, and the antagonist apparently wins. How the protagonist deals with the darkest hour of defeat depend upon the traits and/or story developed in Box Four, which leads to his or her revelation in the next square.

8 Revelation

Of course! The protagonist’s revelation turns the tide. Here is where the protagonist connects the dots and overcomes the obstacles of Boxes Six and Seven via the device introduced in Box Five.

9 Protagonist wins

The negative turning point in Box Six is rectified while the character’s resolve from Box Eight is brought into full bloom. Congratulations! Another great tale told greatly. “

Hopefully these methods helped you brainstorm your plot a little better! Tune in next week for another TeenWritr segment! 🙂

–Corine

What's On My Mind

Making a Perfect Main Character

Imagine a world without people. I wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t be here. The world would be a pretty desolate and boring place to “not” be a part of. The same goes for stories. We tell stories to describe what people do. So whether you’re writing a sci-fi, romance, or action packed amazing adventure, you’re going to need some people (or as we writers call it, characters) to do the actual doing.

This is where the fun part begins. Unfortunately most people don’t know where to start. After all, you have to think up a whole person; this includes their physical characteristics, their beliefs, their values– the whole enchilada. Don’t worry though, that’s what I’m here for.

Let’s start with the biggest character of your book, the main character. This person will drive your theme, fight your conflict, and become the real face behind your new novel.

Photo credit: www.lawrence.lib.ks.us
Photo credit: http://www.lawrence.lib.ks.us

Name them!

Sometimes naming your character is the hardest part of creating the character in the first place. There are thousands of names out there to choose from, so how in the world are you supposed to choose just one?

Easy. Just ask yourself, “What is my person like?” Why you ask? Well, let’s just say you reply, “Brave.” All you have to do then is type into a search bar “Names that mean brave” and see what pops up. You’ll get huge list of names from a bunch of different websites– they are usually baby name websites from my experience– so just choose one that stands out to you. You may want to make sure that name is perhaps the right gender and sounds just right on the tongue. The same goes for surnames and middle names.

If you get lazy or just can’t find a catchy name, there’s always name generators like this one. You may have to click a dozen or so times just to find a perfect name, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Figure out what they look like!

Describing a person’s features using words is really hard. It just is. But as long as you have the right resources and a little idea of what your character looks like, you should be just fine. Obviously there are millions of different resources, but here’s just a few of my favorites!

Character Creators and Generators.

Character Creator
Photo Credit: http://www.kongregate.com/

Sometimes you just need to actually get your thoughts and image of their face on a screen so you can describe them better. In that case, just use a character generator like this one! Although this source is technically a game, I’ve found it incredibly helpful in getting my ideas on a screen. I apologize for the ads though! .___. ‘

Words! Argh!

Can’t find the right words? Been there. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is writing it in such a way that the other person can actually picture what you’re picturing. Which is why they have lists of words out there to help you in that difficult journey of word-searching. Like this: “Words for someone’s facial descriptions.

Find their personality! And voice!

“I don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me.” –Harry from Harry Potter

With only descriptions, your characters are only sad cardboard cutouts of people. They need to have traits that make them relatable and ultimately back up why they are what they are. Picture some of the dialogue your characters would say, some actions they would do, and try to figure out what makes them do what they do. Are they brave? Are they annoying? What makes your character tick?

Of course, there are also some pretty helpful words to help with all this too. If you can’t find that right word, I have yet another helpful something for you! Here are a few words that should help. Find them here.

Plan their ‘Character Arc’

Your characters are people, too. And people are not perfect. Well, unless they are some sort of mutant or vampire. More than likely your main character will grow and change as your story advances, becoming wiser, losing their innocence, and maybe even growing up a little in the process. If so, something needs to change. In other words, your character needs to have flaws. *Que gasps!*

Is your character very athletic but overly proud? Does he or she have great skill but are too stubborn? As you can see, there are a bunch of little scenarios of personality clashes you can spin up. This will be a huge part in your main conflict and force your main character to change mentally and physically.

Lucky for you, I have a link for that too! Right here.

Check, Check, and Check!

You’ll want to have a little something for each of these categories below. Of course this is only to get you started. You’ll need to know everything, and I mean everything, about your characters by the time you finish!

Character Name

Role in Story:

Occupation:

Physical Description:

Personality:

Habits/Mannerisms:

Background:

Internal Conflicts:

External Conflicts:  

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed this week’s segment of TeenWritr! Turns out this was my 100th post! Go figure! Anyhow, tune in next week as I go over something new! Thank you so much for reading this post and viewing my blog.

–Corine