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Writing Fundamentals: Plot Points

Published August 28, 2016 by nruhwald

Plot-PointsWhat is a plot point?

Like scenes and the four stages of a novel (inciting incident, rising action, climax, and ending), plot points are another structural element of your story which you’ll need to keep track of.

For the writer, plot points are destinations. We write with the purpose of moving the characters towards the plot point. For the character, however, the plot point is a beginning.

A plot point happens when a character makes a decision which sets the story going in a new direction.

In questing stories, often in fantasy genres, plot points are linked to physical locations. In the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, most plot points occur when Frodo decides to go somewhere, and he often adds or subtracts people from his group at this point as well.

  • Frodo begins the quest when he decides to take the ring and meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony in Bree. (Adds Sam, Pippin, and Merry)
  • Frodo decides to go to Rivendell. (Adds Strider)
  • Frodo decides to take the ring to Mordor. (Adds Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, and finally meets up with Gandalf.)
  • Frodo decides to…

You get the point already.

Plot points are also a useful way of determining who your main character is. If you struggle with this question, try mapping the events of the story, and identify which events change the course of the story. Your main character is the person whose actions cause those changes.

The actions of antagonists and other characters happen between plot points and serve to push the main character into making her (or his) decision, but it will always be the main character who causes the story to change.

The Plot Point is Not…

…necessarily super dramatic

It all depends on the novel you’re writing. If the novel you’re writing is about the MC’s relationship between people and not a life and death situation, the plot point could be quite subtle.

I once read a book where the plot centered around a woman trying to gain self-confidence. In this type of book, a plot point could be as simple as a decision to take a self-defence course, or a decision not to attend an event.

The plot point has to be a big deal to the character, and must set the book on a new course. But it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a character leaving a spouse, or taking a new job. That big of a move may very well be reserved for the climax.

…ever ever ever caused by something other than the previous events of the story.

I will talk about this more later on, so I’ll just touch on it now. It has to be the previous events of the story which push the main character into making the decision.

Otherwise, you don’t have a plot point, you have a plot ticket. Plot tickets are to plot points what an ex machina is to the climax. You don’t want a plot ticket.

…laid out neatly like a road map for the character to follow near the beginning of the book.

This is another kind of plot ticket, but this kind is worse because no changes are even being made to the course of the story. I have watched some movies in which the MC was told “you need to get these special items in order to defeat the bad guy. You will find them here, here and here. Off you go.”

I do not like those movies. Sometimes the sub-villians at each of the destinations are interesting enough to keep me watching, but they are never interesting enough to make me think of watching it again without groaning. The story still feels too amateurish.

Normally, these movies are intended for young children who do not know better. This sort of storytelling is marginally acceptable in videogames, but never in novels.

The plot point has to change the course of the novel. Ergo, the MC has to make a decision to do something s/he was not previously planning to do. The story takes a new direction, it does not simply move into the next phase of an already decided-upon plan.

…a complete shock to the reader

While the plot point is a complete change in the story’s direction, there are already forces at work pushing the character into taking the story in that new direction.

For instance, when Frodo reached Rivendell, he wasn’t planning on taking the ring any farther. However, the reader likely realizes that Frodo’s story doesn’t end at Rivendell, and might well have predicted that Frodo’s quest with the ring would continue all the way to Mordor.

 

Planners vs. Pantsers

Do you need to know what all your plot points are going to be in advance?

Short answer: no.

It is widely recognized that there are two generally categories of writers. Those who prefer to plan everything out in advance before they write, and those who do not. I’ve never truly considered myself a “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of her/his pants), because I do quite a bit of planning.

On the other hand, I can list off the top of my head, the plot points I have already written in my current WIP, and the plot point I am writing towards. I also know generally how my climax and ending are going to work. As for the rest of the plot points, I don’t have a clue. That’s not quite true, I do have a clue. But not much else.

I don’t really know how my characters are going to react when I reach my next plot point until I’m actually in the moment, so speculating on the effects of my MC’s next big decision seems like a waste of time. This is probably also why I always write chronologically.

Either way works, but for those of you of the pantser persuasion, I believe you should always write towards a plot point. This will keep your plot on track and driven by your MC.

Cousins of the Plot Point

The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the event that sends your character’s life in a new direction. So, in theory the inciting incident could also be considered a plot point. But it need not be, and most usually aren’t.

Unlike your climax and the inciting incident, this is the one time in your novel when something major happens which does not need to be directly caused by your MC. That said, if your inciting incident is not caused by your MC, the inciting incident will soon be followed by a plot point in which your MC decides what course to take based on the inciting incident.

Returning to the Fellowship of the Ring, the inciting incident in this story is Bilbo’s decision to run off to Rivendell and leave Frodo the ring. Soon afterwards, we have the plot point in which Frodo decides what he’s going to do about it.

However, the inciting incident can be driven by a decision made by your main character, thus making it a kind of plot point. In the newest Star Wars movie, the inciting incident is actually a decision made by one of the characters to leave his previous life. Just in case someone out there has not watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, I won’t go into any more detail.

The Dreaded Plot Ticket

Also sometimes called a plot cookie, you should avoid the plot ticket like the plague.

The plot ticket happens when a change in plot direction occurs, but it is not driven by a decision made by the MC and/or the decision is not driven by previous story events.

For instance, imagine how odd it would have been if Frodo had decided to take the ring and run off to Mordor on his own (with Sam) straight from the Prancing Pony. Weird, right? Why would Frodo do that? How does Frodo even know what he’s supposed to do with the ring? (In most plot ticket blunders, some random thing happens which lets the MC know what s/he is supposed to do. The MC gets handed a “plot ticket” essentially.)

There’s no good reason for Frodo to choose to go anywhere by himself especially given how dangerous his situation is. And beyond that, we don’t want Frodo to leave. We just got introduced to an interesting new character (Strider), and we want to find out what happened to Gandalf.

Now, fast forward, and Frodo has just seen Gandalf “die” and witnessed the destructive effect of the ring on Boromir. The fellowship of the ring is falling apart already, and Frodo doesn’t want the ring or his quest to do any more damage to his friends. So he chooses to go alone (with Sam.)

See how much more effective the plot point is when it’s driven by previous events?

 

The Plot Twist

Plot twists are very effective. I love plot twists. In fact, one of my pet peeves is reading the first chapter and being able to accurately predict the entire plot of the book (*cough* romance novels *cough*). I like surprises.

However, plot twists are not plot points. They may radically change something, but they cannot directly change the course of the novel. Plot twists come out of the blue (with foreshadowing), and plot points do not. Instead, plot twists work very well as one of those events which push the MC into making a decision which completely changes the course of the book, thus creating a plot point.

For instance, Luke Skywalker’s fight with Darth Vader would have ended the way it did whether or not he learned that Darth Vader is his father. Either way, Luke loses the fight and has to get picked up by his friends. At the time, the only thing this really changes is Luke’s mental state. Instead of being disappointed that he failed to kill Darth Vader (and relieved that he survived the fight), Luke is having a massive personal crisis.

However, this emotional trauma dramatically effects the decisions, and thus plot points, Luke makes later on.

 

 

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52 Top Websites to Post Your Book for FREE

Published August 18, 2016 by nruhwald

Reblogging this to keep for future reference. I hope it will come in handy for my readers as well.

Savvy Writers & e-Books online

.
For your book to sell, you need to create the demand. You need an audience, a platform – which you will get when your book is showing up on many websites, visible to readers.

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1. Goodreads
Use your free membership to promote yourself and your books. Reviews are essential and reviews on Goodreads site help your book to really stand out to millions of visitors.

2. Wattpad
Wattpad has experienced explosive growth since its inception and has become the world’s most popular destination to publish and read e-books. Wattpad delivers billions of pages from its library of works created and published by the Wattpad community.

3. On BookTalk,
You’ll find an online reading group and book discussion forum that can help you discover new books. If you’re an author or publisher looking to promote your books, you are welcome to use BookTalk.org as a tool to reach a…

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Jump In

Published August 7, 2016 by nruhwald

This post is going to be a bit shorter than usual, but for a good reason.

I’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about being courageous and seeking new and challenging experiences. Such things are good for authors. How are we to write about characters challenging themselves and overcoming odds if we have not experienced such things ourselves?

The writing life can be scary enough as it is, and to face these challenges we must cultivate a level of bravery. Not fearlessness, necessarily, but a willingness to press forward despite our fear.

So, I’ve been having some adventures this week, and will be “out of office” most of next week doing similar, though more tame things. My blog and my writing will suffer somewhat, but I expect to come back refreshed and with a new perspective.

 

 

Meet Patrick Hood: Part 2

Published July 31, 2016 by nruhwald

Patrick-Hood

 

The following is a continued section of my novel The King’s Children. If you missed the first installment, it’s available to read here. Or read it at my Sneak Peeks page.

 

The house at the fork in Hawes River was legendary among the Hawestone children, and adults alike. Many villages had such a house. Once grand, and fallen to ruin with only a lonely old man living in it, and rumoured to be haunted. Unlike most of these houses, the children of Hawestone never dared each other to sneak across the lawn or ring the bell and run away. This house really was haunted, by a strangeling no less.

Patrick smiled when the house came into view as he crossed the bridge over Hawes. A place of whispered horrors to others, it had always been a place of refuge for him.

The grizzled old sea captain sitting in the rocking chair on the porch stood up when he saw Patrick coming.

“Hello, Father,” Patrick said.

He called Neville father, because Neville liked him to, but privately Patrick could not think of him that way. Patrick knew too well who his father was.

“Where’ve ye been, lad,” said Neville.

“The river folk set off today. I was helping them leave.”

“Funny, I heard tell a group of the younger men went out trying to catch a strangeling. They’ve been gone all day.”

Patrick raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. “Really. Do you think they succeeded?”

Neville tried to look stern but the laugh lines around his eyes gave him away. “I expect not.” Neville beckoned to him. “Come on inside.”

Patrick followed Neville into the house.

“Someday this place is going to come crashing down on us,” Patrick said.

Neville let out a guttural cough of a laugh. “It’s stood for a hundred years and it’ll stand for a hundred more. Place is as stubborn as I am,” Neville said. “Unless some fools decide to set fire to it someday. Wouldn’t be surprised with this blood-child business. Can’t be over soon enough.”

Neville’s bushy gray eyebrows furrowed up as he scowled at the crack wooden floor.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing…nothing.”

Something was wrong, and it took a lot to get Neville worried.

The captain released a deep sigh. “In the morning, I want ye to follow them river folk. Go where ever it is they go and hide ‘till this is over.”

“Why?”

“I need you to be safe, that’s why.”

“I am safe. The villagers have been trying to kill me for years. They’re not going to succeed just because there’s a blood-child.”

“It’s not just them.”

Harnesses jingled, horses hooves clopped on the ground, and the wheels of a carriage crunched in the gravel road leading up the bridge.

“Someone’s coming,” said Patrick.

Neville snorted. “See? This is why we don’t need a dog. Not with you around.”

“Why would anyone take a carriage up here? They must be lost.”

The captain sucked in a sharp breath. “Get out of here, Patrick. I mean it, far as ye can.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“They ain’t after me. I promise. Now get out.”

Twice the captain had lied to him in the last five minutes.

With a bewildered glance over his shoulder, Patrick left out the back door. But instead of leaving, he climbed up the side of the house, and jumped into the old oak. No one would see him there.

The carriage rattled across the bridge and stopped in front of the house. On its side the carriage bore the mark of the king’s guard. He should have known. But why had they come at night? What did they want this time?

The sorcerer stepped out from the carriage first, dressed in the despicable black robes of the Inner Circle. He was followed by three other men in the red uniform of the royal guard. Patrick could see Unseelie faeries, creatures that looked like serpents with clawed feet, slithering all over the sorcerer and the men.

The sorcerer was a fascinator, able to bend the minds of others to do his bidding, but only because the faeries did it for him. No one else, not even the men themselves, were aware of the faeries’ presence. But Patrick was Seelie and they could not hide from him.

Neville stood on the porch, his arms crossed over his chest. “What’re ye doing here?”

“I’ve come to clear up a misunderstanding. I am told you refused an order from the king,” said the sorcerer.

“No misunderstanding, then. I won’t be part of sacrificing an innocent girl. Me nor Patrick. Ye won’t be rid of us so easily.”

Patrick’s eyebrows rose. They wanted him and Neville to go on the blood-child’s voyage? How stupid of them.

“Hm, I think not. Where is he, by the way?”

“He ain’t here.”

“I find it difficult to believe that your pet Black Dog would abandon you so easily.” The sorcerer gave a wicked smile. “Shall we whistle for him?”

One of the guards drew a pistol from his belt and pointed it at Neville, while another walked up to the captain and struck him, forcing the captain to his knees.

Patrick flinched. His fingernails dug into his palms and his teeth were bared in anger.

“Fine then,” said Neville. “Take me, but leave him. The boy has nothing to do with this.”

“On the contrary, Captain Spens. The strangeling has everything to do with this,” said the sorcerer.

“Doesn’t matter. He ain’t here, I told ye.”

“Then you’ll finally get what you deserve.”

Patrick swallowed. One of the guards carried a long hollow pole, with a rope threaded through it, looped at one end. The peacekeepers used something similar to control dangerous animals. He knew who it was meant for. But he had no choice.

“Shall I count to ten?” The sorcerer said.

Patrick dropped from the tree.

Neville swore.

“Good.” The sorcerer smiled.

Patrick looked away. He stiffened, but did not move when the guard slipped the loop of rope over his head. The rope tightened around his neck, and the pole pulled him to the ground. He didn’t struggle, but the rope dug into his neck. He gasped, barely drawing air into his lungs.

“Stop it,” Neville barked. “Whatever ye want. I swear it will be done.”

“You will captain the voyage into the gulf, and this strangeling will guide it.”

Patrick clawed frantically at the rope crushing his windpipe, to no avail. The pain in his neck grew until it seemed to fill his consciousness.

“Yes, I swear.”

“That’s good.” The sorcerer watched with idle fascination as Patrick struggled fruitlessly to breathe.

One of the guards kicked him in the stomach, and darkness closed in over him. He heard Neville bellowing at the sorcerer, but it seemed to come from far away.

They’re trying to kill me, Patrick thought. Am I dying?

The world returned to him with a suddenness that made his head ache. Life-giving air flooded his lungs, eclipsing all else for the moment. Gradually awareness returned to him, and with it came pain. His hand moved to his neck, and he could feel the impression left on it by the rope.

When he opened his eyes, the king’s men were climbing back into the carriage. The sorcerer still stood outside. One of the phantom serpents crawled across his face.

“I would have liked to kill the strangeling. Remember that, should you consider breaking your word.” The sorcerer climbed back into the carriage

Neville stood shaking with rage, staring after the carriage rattling out of sight with murderous intent burning in his eyes.

“Ye alright, lad?” said Neville.

A deep, wolfish snarl erupted from Patrick’s tortured throat. He sprang to his feet, but staggered when the world spun.

“Someday, I swear,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Shush now, don’t talk. Come with me.”

Still dizzy, Patrick let Neville help him into the house, where Patrick fell into a chair in front of the cold hearth.

“Soon as yar able, ye go to them river folk. And this time ye leave.”

Patrick rubbed his aching neck. “I’m not going anywhere. Except into the gulf, evidently.” A smile touched his mouth. “I have a plan. They’ll regret this.”

“You have a plan,” Neville scoffed. “Why’d I go to all the trouble of saving ye from the gulf if yar bound to throw it all away going back?”

“I won’t repay you by letting you die. If I go they’ll kill you.”

Neville waved his arms in an angry, dismissive gesture. “Ah, I should’ve murdered ye then, ye wicked boy.”

Patrick took no notice of Neville’s ranting. “Yes, you probably should have.”

 

Thanks for reading. I will be posting new snippets every month until the novel’s release in the summer of 2018.

Why Do We Write?

Published July 5, 2016 by nruhwald

I mean really, why?

It takes forever to get to the good parts. You have to deal with either writing when you’re not feeling inspired or feeling guilty because you’re not writing. Even when you do write, it often isn’t what you hoped it would be when you envisioned the scene in your head.

And then there’s the re-writing, and the editing. And the re-re-writing, and the re-re-re-writing, and you get the picture. Finally, when you think it’s good, not perfect, but good at any rate, and you send it to someone to get their thoughts on your dearly beloved masterpiece.

Wham.

They hate it. Well, not really. But along with the (you hope) sincere encouragement meant to keep you from quitting writing forever, comes with a heap of criticisms that, surely, a writer as good as you should be immune to.

But then you realize they were right. That was a terrible sentence. Your writing doesn’t make any sense. And plotwise, oh goodness how are you going to keep the reader’s attention when your characters aren’t doing anything?

And don’t even get me started on trying to get published.

So. Why do we do it?

Because after all the freaking out, the sobbing, the ice cream and chocolate, the existential crisis (if I’m not a writer who am I? Why did my english teacher ever tell me I was good at this?) After all that, you tentatively return to your work, and your characters turn to you and say “hi, I missed you.” And somehow it’s all worth it.

 

Character Intro: Patrick Hood

Published June 26, 2016 by nruhwald

Here’s the first sneak peak at my upcoming novel, The King’s Children. This is the introduction scene for one of my two main characters. This section and others can be found on my Sneak Peeks page.

 

Patrick Hood leapt over mossy rocks and fallen trees as he sprinted through the moonlit forest. The silver bells on his sleeves and the hem of his long coat followed him with ringing music. Behind him, the hunting party shouted and cursed as they tripped and stumbled in the dark, crashing through the underbrush. Rifle shot smacked into a branch several yards to his left.

Not their worst shot, which said more about the marksmanship of the would-be heroes of Hawestone Village than it did about his ability to evade them.

He stopped, crouching in a patch of tall ferns growing beneath an ancient oak. The bells fell silent as the strangeling hid motionless in the dark, watching his pursuers. All of Caladavan might seek to punish him for being half-faerie, but his heritage had its benefits as well. His vision at night, as well as his hearing, was as good as any wild animal.

The hunters stopped, panting, to listen for him.

“You can’t hide from us, strangeling,” their leader shouted into the night.

On the contrary, Patrick could have escaped them easily enough. He knew his eyes would light up green with reflected light from their torches and he waited for them to see it.

They stomped around in the leaf litter, huffing like a herd of confused bulls. Perhaps he overestimated their powers of observation. He waved an arm, and the resulting jingle drew their attention.

The pack resumed their chase with a blood-thirsty howl.

Patrick darted out of the ferns, his coat ringing merrily.

Oh what they would do to him if they ever caught him. He could almost smell their murderous intent.

He caught a long willow branch, and used it to swing over a perfectly ordinary clearing in the woods.

When he landed, he jogged a short distance away and waited. Presently he was rewarded by the sound of cracking branches and profuse swearing.

Two days ago, the men had carefully dug a deep pit in the forest, and smoothed the sides to make climbing out next to impossible. They painstakingly laid long, interlaced branches over the top, and covered it with leaves to render the trap invisible. Patrick had watched them from the forest canopy, nodding appreciatively at their ingenuity.

Apparently they hadn’t recognized their own handiwork in the dark, and the trap they had so carefully created snared only themselves.

 

Thanks for reading. This section and others will be permanently available to read in a Work in Progress page on my blog. Part 2 of this excerpt is available here.

The King’s Children will be released, completely free for your favorite ereader, in the summer of 2018.

 

Critical Hit! Response?

Published May 28, 2016 by nruhwald

This post by Kyle Adams spoke to me personally as I’ve been struggling with receiving criticism on my work lately. As necessary as it is to gain others’ opinions, it is also a very difficult process. I’ve often felt like a leaf in the wind, being blown in whatever direction critics took me. As this post demonstrates, it is important to keep control of your own work.

KYLE ADAMS

I haven’t had much time to write lately, though I’ve come up with lots of ideas. I’ve also been dealing with criticism when I can, and I mean that in the best way. So let’s talk about criticism.

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