To compete in the world of book publishing, a polished, well-crafted piece of writing is required. Strong characters, a driving plot, and many other elements of fiction must come together to make your story work and create sellable material.
Enter the INside Track: tips on craft, the writing life, and musings from two guys in with the world of agenting and editing on beautiful Whidbey Island.
Sean Fletcher worked as an intern with Andrea Hurst and Associates before becoming an editorial assistant. Despite having a degree in wildlife biology, Sean has written over six novels, dozens of short stories and just published his first book, I Am Phantom. He fuels his creative ideas through bouts of hiking, biking and traveling, and seeks adventure wherever he goes.
When Shawn McGregor tells people he was a writer who lived in West Virginia, they tend to make a face that says: how did you survive? Well, it’s true in a way—the artistic communities are harder to find, whereas his new home on Whidbey Island has an abundance of artists. Before moving to live on Whidbey in Washington State, he dwelled in the relative solitude of the Appalachians while earning his Masters in Creative Writing. The years of deep introspection gave him the fortitude to move across the country and thrust himself into the ever-changing world of publishing. He is now working a post-Masters apprenticeship with Andrea Hurst and Associates, where he is learning editing and consulting. He is now putting his skills to the best use possible, and feels incredibly gratified to help others navigate the shifting face of the publishing business.
The Plot Thickens.
As it should. Some people would argue there are two types of story: character driven and plot driven. As you begin your story, ask yourself: what is driving your characters’ thoughts and actions? What makes them tick? What is missing from their lives that they must seek out in order to find fulfillment? And that’s the key to a strong plot: a motivation that triggers a change within the protagonist. Who they are at the end of the story is not the same as the beginning.
We were recently looking over a manuscript that had no plot. Zero. Zip. Nada. How is that possible? Well, imagine someone’s diary. Now stop imagining that. It’s creepy.
The point is, while each entry in the diary may have something happen in an almost episodic manner, nothing is affected or changed in the long run. Nothing is connected. Nothing moves the story forward. If characters have no dreams, desires, or motives, this prevents readers from investing in the characters and following them on their journeys. The drive needs to be clear and immediate. It should press on the characters and incite them to propel the story along. A character with no effect on the story isn’t really one worth following.
Without plot in your story there’s no real reason to do anything, including read the book. It’s important to figure out your character’s goals and motivations and what everybody wants. Conflict, and through that, plot, is created when someone wants something and something stops them from getting it.
Of course, this is only the first step to building a tight, engaging plot with complex, imperfect characters. Once your characters are firmly set on their journey, there are still many factors to consider, such as: what kind of obstacles stand in their way, and why? Just how far can you push them? These questions don’t have easy answers, and, moreover, the answers tend to be specific to the kind of story you are trying to tell.
So how has this understanding of plot changed our writing? We look for conflict in each scene, making sure that every piece of action, dialogue, and section draws the story forward. Another good rule of thumb when writing engaging plot is to always, always raise the stakes. Raise the stakes, raise the stakes. Did you do it once? Great! Do it again. A great example is our client, Chris Patchell, who Andrea just signed. Andrea offered Chris representation after her book, In the Dark, won a publication contract on Kindle Scout. How did she do that? She raised the stakes. Again and again and again, in a way that made you unable to put the book down.
Check it out: https://kindlescout.amazon.com
Kill someone off (in your book, please. We don’t want to see a mysterious string of murders following this post), reveal a secret (secret babies work great, who knew?) or drastically shift the story to keep the readers on their toes.
A couple things to check in your story for strong plot:
- What is the overall idea of the story and does it have enough conflict to make a complete and satisfying book? It’s a hard truth, but not every idea is a story worthy idea.
- Does each scene/character have a goal or motivation that can drive the story forward and create conflict? Happy characters are boring characters, after all.
Now get out there and disturb the waters of your story.
Use the comment box to let us know what type of writing & publishing tips and topics you’d like us to explore here.
Thanks for the read.
Sean & Shawn