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Posts Tagged ‘story structure’

Each event in a story takes place within a scene, showing the reader the action as it happens.

Short stories typically consist of only one or two scenes, while novels contain many. They vary in length, with some only a few paragraphs long and others covering many pages. However, most scenes follow a pattern similar to the typical story arc, beginning with a hook, building conflict or tension in the middle, and ending with a change in time/place, or a suspenseful moment (cliffhanger).

Each scene should serve a purpose in the story. It might:

  •   introduce or develop a conflict, theme, or character
  •   establish the setting (time period or place)
  •   create atmosphere (romantic, suspenseful, etc.)
  •   provide information that moves the plot forward

An author may use exposition to summarize what’s going on rather than including scenes to show all of the action as it happens. This provides a transition between scenes, and helps adjust the pacing of the story.

  

 

How do you determine if a scene is necessary? Do you like scenes that end on cliffhangers?

 

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In fiction the main storyline is the central focus, but there may be secondary plots involved, too. These subplots can pertain to the main characters or minor characters, and may be entwined with the larger plot. For example, the hero may be running for political office while also dealing with his wife’s alcoholism. Or, the heroine may have a brother who is involved in illegal activities that she is unaware of but which eventually cause conflict she must deal with.

Subplots should support the main plot but also be able to stand alone, with a beginning, middle, and end of their own. They may run through the entire story, or be resolved earlier. Often they’ll merge with the main plot at the story’s climax.

Subplots can enhance a story in several ways:

  1. Create tension or conflict
  2. Develop characters
  3. Help resolve the story’s outcome
  4. Give the story added depth
  5. Reinforce the theme
  6. Introduce characters or conflict to be featured in a future book
  7. Affect the pacing

Often subplots are incorporated into a story by using multiple viewpoint characters in alternating chapters. For instance, in the romance genre the heroine’s viewpoint is generally the primary one but the hero’s viewpoint is also used, giving depth to both characters. In many suspense stories, the author will focus on the protagonist’s viewpoint but include chapters from secondary characters’ viewpoints in order to create tension by revealing events the main character isn’t aware of.

Short stories typically don’t have more than one or two subplots, if any. Novels will have several that are of varying importance to the main storyline, but all subplots should support the main plot rather than overshadow it.

  

Can you think of any ways using subplots can be detrimental to the story instead of enhancing it? How many subplots is too many?

 

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When I was in high school, our English teachers encouraged us to use lots of descriptive words in our writing. Adjectives and adverbs were our friends, making us sound educated and interesting. Flowery prose was admired, and many of my favorite stories spent more time describing the scenery than the action.

Times have changed.  

The type of writing I was taught is now considered “purple prose.” That means it’s writing that calls attention to itself by being excessive or exaggerated. The writing itself becomes the focus rather than what is written.

Though the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, clichés, similes, metaphors, and alliteration is no longer in vogue, it doesn’t mean these literary devices shouldn’t ever be used. Sometimes they’re effective in clarifying what we mean, and they can add to characterization. They can be used to grab the reader’s attention or adjust the pacing of a story. In dialog, they add a sense of realism as real speech is generally full of description and clichés. The key is—don’t overdo it.

Today’s readers are less impressed with flowery writing than those of yore. Choose words that say what you mean and are appropriate for your target audience. An occasional adjective or adverb can spice up a sentence, but too much of a good thing can get old quick (like clichés). Limit your use of them to those that are essential to the image or thought you’re trying to convey.

So, how do we know which ones are essential? They’re the ones that make what we’re describing come alive for the reader, or clarify an important noun or verb. They’re the ones that, when missing, make the sentence feel incomplete or unclear.

For those of us who could use a refresher course, here are excellent references for understanding some important points of grammar.

Adjectives  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/adjectives.htm 

Adverbs  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/adverbs.htm  

Verbs  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/verbs.htm  

Nouns  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/nouns.htm

Another helpful site for grammar info is: Purdue OWL  http://owl.english.purdue.edu/   

 

 

   

Did your high school English teacher tell you adding lots of adjectives and adverbs made your writing more interesting? Do you use lots of them in your writing or deliberately limit them? What criteria do you use for determining whether words, phrases, or sentences are essential to what you’re writing?

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Romance novels consistently represent one of the most popular genres, with over a billion dollars in sales each year. There are two basic types of romance novels—category, and single-title books.

 

Category Romance:

Some publishers release several books in a particular line each month, with strict guidelines as to their word count and structure. This format must be followed for every book in the category, regardless of the author.

Single-Title Romance:

These books are sold individually rather than as a group. The page length is not fixed, and the author has more control over the structure of the story.

 

In every romance novel, the growing relationship between the heroine and the hero is the most important element of the book. There must be believable conflict causing them to change and grow closer, but subplots must not take on more importance than their romantic relationship. Conflict, both internal and external, should increase emotional tension, but readers expect things to end with the hope of the couple living happily ever after.

The setting and time period can be anywhere, anytime. There can be elements of suspense, mystery, fantasy, etc., but the couple in love must be the main focus of the book. If it isn’t, it isn’t a real romance.

 

 Resources for the Romance writer:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Romance Readers:

Harlequin ebooks 16 free category romances

 

Reviews and News for Romance Readers

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Why do you enjoy/hate romance novels? Do you prefer the category romances or single-title books? What’s your favorite romance author or book?

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Sometimes I get so caught up in the details of a particular scene, or involved with developing one character, that I lose sight of the big picture.

Losing My Perspective

This is especially frustrating when writing the first draft since events later on may change portions of what I’ve already written. It’s tempting to go back and revise earlier chapters or scenes to take into account things that happen later, but in most cases this isn’t the best approach for a first draft. You can lose momentum, or you may come up with an idea you like better later down the line–meaning you have to revise the beginning yet again. One way to minimize this problem is to put off the editing process until the entire story is down on paper.

Get the bare bones of the story down before you start editing, then set it aside for a while. When you go back to it, you’ll be able to read it more objectively and clearly see errors or plot holes in what you’ve written. Knowing how everything fits together will help you layer in details, foreshadow events, leave clues, develop subplots, and clarify what’s going on.

 

 

The Big Picture

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Do you wait until the first draft is complete to make major revisions, or revise as you go? How do you keep track of things that you change later in the story, such as details about the backstory, or name changes? At what point do you start checking the grammar and punctuation?

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My daughter is vacationing in New York this week. Yesterday she called to tell me what a wonderful time she’s having. When I asked what she liked best so far, she replied: “We can walk everywhere! It’s only a few blocks to anywhere you want to go, and the buildings are so close together that we already walked to 7 different stores. We can even walk to the beach.”

Today she called to tell me they were waiting for a glimpse of the President, who was supposed to land in a helicopter close to where they were standing. They’d walked to Chinatown, Wall Street, and Times Square already this morning, and planned to walk to several more sites before heading back to her friend’s house. She said she was tired of walking, and everything was too crowded. There were buildings everywhere!

Funny how the things she found exciting yesterday were the same things she was tired of today. Too much of a good thing, I guess.

In writing, we can have too much of a good thing too. A fast-paced thriller with no time for the reader to pause and absorb what’s going on can become monotonous. Too much narrative can slow down the pace so much that readers become bored. Too many pointless scenes can leave a reader wondering what the story is about.

Finding the right balance for all the story elements can be difficult, and that balance will vary with different genres. However, when we eliminate everything that doesn’t move the story forward, or doesn’t give a better understanding of the characters, theme, and setting, we’ll have the best chance of keeping readers turning the pages with the same enthusiasm they had when they started.

 

too much vacation

What type of things cause you to lose interest in a book even though you enjoyed the first few chapters? What have you seen too much of in the books you’ve read lately? Are there certain genres or subjects that you’ve grown tired of reading about? What books can you think of that held your interest from start to finish, and what made them so good?

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I was going to write a post on revising manuscripts today, but instead I spent most of the morning ordering food from the menu of a local sports-themed restaurant. My daughter got a job as a waitress there and she can’t start getting paid tips until she has memorized the menu and finished the training program. The entire family has been recruited as practice customers. Thankfully, the food is pretend and so is the bill, or we’d be stuffed and broke.

There are several things she repeated so many times that I’ve memorized them, too. Some of them reminded me of writing:

1. I will never forget that my daughter’s/waitress’ name is Lisa. She greeted me with that opener for every practice meal I ordered.

Repeating the same thing can be very annoying, and most people only need to hear something once or twice to catch your meaning.

2. This restaurant is famous for its wings, and I can name all nine sauces they serve with them.

Stories should have a theme people can recognize, with scenes and events that support it.

3. When served in a glass, beer comes in short and tall sizes. I learned 8 of them, and know the price for each one. As I’ve never been a beer drinker, I doubt this will ever matter to me.

Including bits of information a reader might not know can add interest to a story or article, but too many useless facts can feel like homework.

4. Lemonade isn’t listed on the menu, but is available in several flavors for $2.29. This was important for me to know as I always ask for lemonade with a meal, except for breakfast.

Don’t assume readers know what you’re thinking. They may be able to infer things from the backstory you provide, but some elements need to be clear for the reader to fully enjoy your story.

5. Burgers don’t come with fries. You have to pay extra.

Some readers will feel cheated if a story doesn’t deliver what they expect or doesn’t tie up loose ends. They shouldn’t have to buy the second book in the sequel to feel satisfied with the first one.

I’ll share a few more tips on waitressing and writing when I finish the post on revisions. 😉 That’s taking more time than I expected due to family matters and extra reading I’ve been doing. I’m working on 2 book reviews, and trying to get in 2,000 words each day on the new novel I’m writing. That’s going very well, much to my surprise. My goal is to finish it before October, and so far I’m staying on track. Yeah, me!

 hamburger

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What keeps you from sticking to your writing goals? What job would you want to have if you weren’t planning on being a writer? What’s the worst job you ever had, or the best? About how many words do you write on an average writing day?

 

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