So I was going through my ridiculously large pile of half-used notebooks when lo and behold, I found The Snoopy Book. The Snoopy Book was bought for me by my brother, who knows I love Charlie Brown, particularly the comic strips where Snoopy is trying to write. And what better things to put in it, the Past Me thought, than writing help?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I discovered within the pages of The Snoopy Book, a motherlode of information and helpful writing hints. Seriously, I was flipping through it wondering when I’d written these down, where I got them, and why in God’s galaxy I hadn’t been using all of them. So, for your help, enjoyment, and increase of writing skill, I decided to type up all the notes and put them here for your easy reference. I hope they’re as helpful to you as they were to me!
Note: They aren’t in any particular order. I said I was going to type them up, I didn’t say I was going to organize them.
LOCK Plot System
L – Lead. They must be compelling.
O – Objective. What is it? A goal? Escape? Victory? Love?
C – Confrontation. Never let him off easy.
K – Knockout. End with power.
Characters talk differently. For example, ask the question “How are you?” Answers could be “If I felt any better, I couldn’t stand it!” (Which is something my grandpa would say frequently) “Why do you care?” “Fine, I guess.” “Like a trainwreck, thanks. you?”
Ask yourself what a novel should be to you. To me, a novel should be
I value -
- Good as good, evil as evil
- Character growth
- Great banter
- Effective imagery
- Just the right amount of detail
- Great chemistry
- Plot twists
- Endings either sweet and satisfying, suspensful and cliffhanging, or the sort that make me go, “Oooh, there’s GOT to be a sequel, right!?”
If nothing compells the lead into Act 2, they will remain in Act 1. (This is called ‘no plot,’ something wich Painkiller is currently suffering from. Which is fine. Three novels is enough to focus on for now.)
To every disturbance, there are numerous options. Say the lead just saw a murder. She could 1. Call the police, 2. Leave and never mention it, 3. Chase the murderer, 4. Hide the body, or 5. The murderer could see her and head toward her.
The Most Important Question to ask before doing anything is ‘what if?’
Close your eyes and visualize your character.
Think of someone you know nad re-create them. What if HE was a HER?
Read obituaries. Adapt interesting parts and apply to characters.
Ask yourself ‘what is the worst thing that could happen to MC?’
Is he/she obsessed with anything or anyone? What is the main idea of your plot? Is there some other element you can add that is fascinating?
Hook the reader with the first sentence or paragraph. You don’t want to be one of those authors about whose books readers say, “Oh, yeah, it was great after the first couple chapters.” Ways to grab your readers right off – open with a character – named – in motion. This means -
- Raw emotion
Be cruel. You, as an author, must be cruel. Stories are just like real life, without the dull bits.
- What are the stakes? What will be lost if the Lead loses? What will be gained if the Lead wins? What could stop/help the Lead?
“Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book.” – Mickey Spillane
End your book with an “Ah!” or an “Uh-oh!” if intended for a series.
Make every scene count.
You want every chapter to end with a read-on prompt, or ROP -
A mysterious line of dialogue, a secret suddenly revealed, a major decision or vow, announcement of a shattering event, reversal or surprise, a question left hanging.
QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT PLOT STRUCTURE
- Is there an immediate disturbance in Lead’s world?
- Does the first doorway of no return occur before the 1/5 mark?
- Are the stakes being raised sufficiently?
- Are there strongly motivated characters?
- Have concidences been established?
- Is your lead immediately met with a change or a threat?
- Is the timeline logical?
- Is the story too predictable in terms of sequence? Should it be rearranged?
- Is the character memorable and compelling? Do they jump off the page and carry the reader with them?
- Does this character avoid cliches?
- Is he capable of surprising us?
- What is unique about him?
- Is his objective strong ehough?
- How does the character grow over the course of the story?
- How d oes he demonstrate inner strength?
- Is your antagonist interesting?
- IS he fully realized, not just a cardboard cutout?
- Is he justified (at least in his own mind) by his actions?
- Is he believable?
- Is he as strong/stronger than the Lead?
- Is the conflict between Lead and antagonist crucial for both?
- Why can’t they just walk away? What holds them together?
- Are the big scenes big enough? Surprising enough? Can you make them more original,l unanticipated, and draw them out for all they’re worth?
- What is the least memorable scene? Cut i t! Now we have a new one – consider cutting it, too.
- What else can be cut in order to relentlessly drive the story forward? (Ouch, this is the painful part)
- Does the climax come too fast? Can you make it more, set up a ticking clock?
- Do we need a new minor subplot to build up a sagging midsection? (With people and with stories, midsections are most probable to sag)
- What is the minor characters’ purpose in the plot?
- Are they unique and colorful?
- Are you hooking the reader from the beginning?
- Are suspensful scenes drawn out for the ultimate tension?
- Can any information be delayed?
- Are there enough surprises?
- Are character-reaction scenes deep and interesting?
- Do the chapters end with read-on prompts?
- Are there places you can describe how a character feels with action?
- Do you use visual, sensory-laden words?
- Do you cut words within the lines? (i.e. “I do not want to go in there now because it looks too scary” becomes “I don’t want to go in there. Too scary.’)
- Do you give good dialogue to all characters?
- Can you get more conflict?
COMMON PLOT THEMES
- Running from XXXXX
- One against
- One apart
PLOT PROBLEMS AND CURES
P: Scenes fall flat
C: Find your scene’s focal point.
P: Mishandling flashbacks
C: Is it necessary? Write it as a unit of dramatic action, not an infodump. (WATCH OUT FOR THE WORD ‘HAD’)
P: A tangent
C: Free-write an outline of the next few scenes.
C: Go back and look for where the slogging began. Jump cut – take characters out and move them forward in time and/or to a new location. Open a dictionary at random and pick a strong word.
P: Shut down of imagination
C: Recharge your battery. Relive your scenes. Re-capture your vision. (What does your plot ultimately mean?) Take a break from writing. Do not allow yourself to write for a set period of time. I garuntee that by the end of set period, if you love your book, you will be straining to get back to it.
Show, don’t tell. Use actions (they speak louder than words!) Avoid the dreaded list (Perry Mason style) or info-dumps! Cut as many adverbs as you can, and use words ending in -ing as little as possible. They’re lazy.
Avoid soap opera technique – resolve things, but not too soon. Cut away from one scene that leaves the reader hanging and move to another. Repeat.
If a story bogs down, send in a guy with a gun (literaly or figuratively. Plot bunnies are also acceptable.)
Try starting your novel at Chapter Two.
Our minds jump to cliches. THINK UP ALTERNATIVES. (Remember the murder scene!)
“If there is a rifle on the wall in Act One, it must be used before the play is out!”