How to Begin Part Two

Last week we discussed beginning a novel. This week we’ll cover how to get from concept to creation of your story. So let’s begin.

If you have an idea for a story the best thing to do is begin to plan in order to find your plot.  What’s the inciting incident? How does that lead to the climax? Ask yourself these questions as you begin. Once you’ve figured out your plot, it’s merely a question of sitting down to write it out. (I cover my own personal outlining process here). Ask yourself what happens and what matters in your story world and then begin. Start a character sketch for your protagonist, brainstorm your story concept, decide on setting and flesh out your story world, and consider your concept – who is involved, why are they at odds with each other, what led to this in the first place?

Get to know your protagonist and antagonist and make sure they’re fully developed (check out more about characterization here and how to form a good baddie here). That includes having goals and flaws for each character. And figure out how their flaws and goals affect the plot. Although you have only one major climax to your plot, you’ll want to build tension by having smaller crises moments lead up to the climax. I recommend having 2 to 3 crises moments.

Conflict is crucial so have obstacles and tension building up to the climax. Without conflict there is no story. Make questions for the reader to keep them turning pages. Short stories don’t have space for them, but longer stories should have sub-plots to deepen the story and keep your audience reading to have those questions answered. Add a love interest or a complicated relationship to resolve. Does a minor character have a goal at odds with the protagonist?

The ending contains the resolution for your stories major arc as well as wrapping up smaller arcs set up by your sub-plot. It also resolves the consequences for your characters’ actions. Give your reader resolution and a glimpse of what their new norms will be now that the story has ended.

Ask yourself these questions and then begin to outline. What questions do you ask as you begin? Comment below and happy brainstorming.

Julia

How to Begin Part One

This week’s blog answers the question of how do we begin? This is really two different questions (how do I begin my novel and how do I begin my story) so I will be answering it in two parts. First, how do we begin our novel and what should we do and not do in our first three chapters? Let’s get started.

Good beginnings should start a step back from the inciting incident. Don’t make your reader wait for the action, dive right in. Good beginnings should also hook the reader, introduce main characters (without info dumping), introduce setting (sprinkled in), build up tension, and establish voice. Your first three chapters are the most crucial because agents and publishers will judge your story on the first three chapters and so will your readers. If you don’t have strong characters and an intriguing plot your readers will not make it very far before giving up. Use action and dialogue to Show Not Tell and avoid info dumps. The best way for readers to get to know your characters is to show who they are in what they do and say. Don’t get stuck in an internal monologue, we need action to care about and understand your characters. Draw your reader into the story.

Do not get stuck on backstory. Leave questions for the reader and keep the action going. Give information as needed throughout your story. Do not start with a dream, it cheats the reader by wasting their time understanding something that didn’t even happen. Do not give overly detailed descriptions. It halts all action and calls attention to the writing instead of the story. Let your POV characters describe their world. Do not lose focus either by juggling too many characters, too many storylines, too many POV changes, or too many places in your story. Help your reader settle in to the story. Do not use laundry lists of descriptions whether for a character or setting. Break up descriptions and sprinkle them in throughout your beginning. Do not have your characters simply thinking or reflecting on their life. It’s boring for the reader to just sit with a character. Use action to show how your character is feeling or thinking instead of telling us what they feel. Do not rely on flashbacks in the beginning. Readers need to be interested in the current story happening now before they’re willing to delve into the past. Do not use prologues to dump backstory. Figure out how to add it into the current story.

These are some good basics for what to do and what not to do in your first three chapters. I know I personally struggle with strengthening the beginning of my manuscript to get it ready for publication. Follow these dos and don’ts and let me know if you have any rules for your first three chapters. Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

Body Language

Last week we discussed dialogue and I wanted to take that a step further today. Body language comprises over 50% of what we really say, so it’s crucial to add to dialogue when we write. It reinforces and strengthens our dialogue and characterization so here are some tips and information for different types of body language.

Gestures add a lot of meaning to dialogue. Do your characters talk with their hands? Did she point at him? Slap her hand down? Flip him off? Be mindful that certain gestures have different meanings in different countries.

Facial expressions come through even when the speaker is guarded. Our brains are wired to see and interpret facial gestures so add these to your dialogue. Otherwise your dialogue will be missing a big part of communication.

Touch conveys a lot of different emotions and connections and they add depth to your dialogue and character relationships. Don’t overlook touch.

Posture and how we carry ourselves says a lot about us or what emotional state we are in. Does your character slouch? Lean back in his seat? Stand differently depending on who is around?

Appearance (clothes, hairstyle, accessories, etc.) says plenty about us and our personality. First impressions are strong so don’t forget this aspect of characterization. This is also a good way to add a quirk to a character. Does she wear skirts year round? Does he always wear the color blue? Quirks help bring characters to life.

Actions tell more than just words. What else is your character doing besides talking? Is he running his hands through his hair? Is she playing with the hem of her shirt? Is she slamming dishes around? Use action to show not tell emotions.

Automatic body responses uses show not tell and really immerses the reader in the scene. Blushing, hair standing on end, getting goosebumps, heart pounding, dry mouth, etc. are reactions everyone is familiar with and can relate to. Use them when appropriate.

Body language fleshes out dialogue and is a great way to show not tell emotions and learn about your characters. Don’t just rely on one aspect of body language, fill it out by showing different types of body language. Check out this picture for different gestures you can use. Do you struggle with showing body language in your writing? Let us know in the comments and as always, happy writing!

Dialogue

Last week I took a break from posting to celebrate the holidays. I hope you all had a wonderful time as I did.

Today I want to discuss dialogue. When following the Show Don’t Tell rule, dialogue is the backbone for our scenes and our story. Good dialogue should further the story, keep readers interested and engaged, reveal more about the characters, and be genuine and believable. So what do we need to keep in mind when we write dialogue? Read on.

Avoid info dumps. Do not have characters discuss things they already know. This is a cheap trick and comes across badly to readers. Condense your information and keep dialogue realistically short. People paraphrase in real life to prevent boredom so keep this in mind when you’re writing. Include backstory only if it furthers the plot of the current story. Readers don’t need to know everything you do as a writer. Finally, don’t rely on dialogue to give readers information.

Keep writing believable. In real life people interrupt each other and have unfinished thoughts, especially during arguments or different emotional states. Don’t shy away from things that make your dialogue more genuine. Don’t rely on long monologues, but when you do need one, vary your sentence length and structure to keep it from getting droll. Even though people use these in real life all the time, eliminate umms, yeas, and repetitive phrases that make dialogue stilted and boring. Make sure your dialogue matches the mood and tension for the scene. Should it be an argument or a clandestine conversation? Also, further the theme of your story and your subplots with subtext to reveal more about your characters and your story. Subtext is just as important as the actual dialogue in what it conveys. Each character should sound different. Good dialogue is when each character has a unique voice and dialogue can be correctly attributed to the right character by the reader without being told who is talking. We should recognize who’s talking without being told.

Omit dialogue tags. Dialogue tags are the “he said” and “she asked” tags at the end of dialogue that attribute who was talking. These can be tedious so you should avoid overusing them and only use them to establish who is talking and when it’s unclear who is saying what. Do not use tags other than said or asked. Articulated, grumbled, recalled, etc. are jarring to readers and remove them from the story. They are also the sign of an amateur writer. Said is enough.

Some general tips for writing dialogue. Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound natural? Does it flow and have good rhythm? Eavesdrop on other people’s conversation and take notes. Make sure your dialogue is still comprehensible when writing in accents or using diction. Show don’t tell! Convey emotions with your word choice. And avoid slang terminology since it really does date your work and quickly.

Dialogue can be tricky but it is a skill that all writers need to develop. If you’re struggling with writing dialogue you can read a few plays which rely completely on dialogue to advance the action of their stories. Practice writing a scene only using dialogue. And listen to the way other people talk around you. Do you struggle with writing dialogue? What tips do you have for it? Comment below and happy writing!

Julia