Wow, almost a month

I do think we have the infection under control, so I can continue where I left off way back on May 6th. Here are some of the ways I developed my time line for my stories.

As I worked I discovered the heroine on the top of the line, the hero on the bottom of the line (or vice versa) didn’t work. And then there were the other characters who began to appear as each scene was drawn onto the time line. All of them in black or blue ink, or pencil, whatever was handy. Then I tried stick notes which didn’t work for me, I’d lose them. It also meant going through each note to find the one character involved. So I discovered that by using a colored pen for each new major character I could follow their progress through the story, make sure they were in the right scene, and also wrap their part in the plot up at the end of the time line.

So here’s what I did.  I took a used desk calendar, the big ones from Staples or Office Max, flipped it over to the blank side and drew a line running through the middle of the page,  left to right. At the very top (If I needed it) I laid out the monthly calendar of the year (s) the story would take place. In some cases the months might include two or three together – like May through Aug. Of course the year (s) because I write historicals.

At the far left of the page I outlined with as few words as possible the opening scene using the colors of the characters involved. Oh, one point here. With romance the hero and heroine need to meet in the first few pages of the novel. The colors allowed me to see how many scenes there were before the hero and heroine got to meet. Big help there. In one or two stories, I had to delay the scene so the heroine and hero could meet sooner. Then using the colored pens I could sketch out (brief outline) each scene along the line.

Now this works for me. You may think it’s a lot of trouble for nothing, but if you are someone who needs to plot a novel before you begin you might find this helpful. You can even use the colored pens to identify research paper work that might pertain to one of the characters. I’ll talk about what I learned about researching and keeping that info later on. A couple of sad examples there.

Try my time line. If you don’t like it, it might give you an idea on how to modify it for you! This whole blog is about what I’ve learned. You can always share because plotting is a most important part of the novel. In the next day of two, if the infection doesn’t reoccur, I’d like to tackle as bit about conflict and what I learned about conflict in a novel. Another area where I discovered, I had a lot to learn.

Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to the blog, but my health is very iffy lately. So if I’m not blogging at the moment, I may be in trouble again. I’ll get back when I can,

Allison Knight 

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How the Time Line developed

I came up with the idea for my very first novel on the drive to my parents about three and a half hours from our home. I could almost see the heroine and the hero and what they wanted. She was substituting for her brother on a underground railroad run. She gets caught and all she wants is to go home.

The hero, a younger brother, doesn’t want to defend his brother’s slave ownership and is appalled at the length he goes to get his “property” back. He meets the heroine, saves her from one of the slavers, and falls madly.

He gets hurt in a battle and loses his memory. She starts home. And the story revolves around a necklace.

So, how on earth was I going to get all this down in some kind of order? My DH is a Civil Engineer and works with time lines all the time planning jobs. He thought it might help me to use one so we sat down together and discussed time lines, how they work and how work jobs get scheduled so that plumbers aren’t falling over the backhoes machines.

A couple of days later, he brought me a length of drawing paper and I drew a line. We sat down together and all the things that happened to the heroine I put above the line, and what happened to the hero went on the bottom line. Then I used another piece of paper to line the heroine’s problems, successes and failures in order. I did the same with the hero’s problems.

It was the start. Tomorrow I’ll describe how that time line has developed and what I do now. I do have to warn you. If you didn’t like to diagram in high school. this may not be the plotting method best for you.

Until Tomorrow

Allison Knight 

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The Plot

Today we start looking at plotting. First, as far as I can tell there is no right way to plot, no wrong way either. I have writing friends, successful authors who have the beginning of the story in their heads, the end of the story, some even to the final scene, and nothing in between. I also know some very successful authors who have no idea when they sit down at the computer what they are going to write. There are a whole lot of URL’s that talk about the perfect way to plot, there are computer programs that do the plotting for you, and there are authors like me that have to plot the whole story out before I can do the first bit of composing.

So whether you want to use the snowflake idea, the story arc, sticky notes, time lines, there is no right way to plot. I started this blog because I wanted to share what I’ve learned in this business as a midlist author. And, yes, I’ll address that one of these days as well. What I learned is that what works for you is what you should use.

So, how do you know what will work. You have to give a couple of ideas a try. Try the snowflake idea, learn about the story arc, try plotting as you write. Write a scene. Can it go anywhere? The basics of plotting is showing a story. (Note I didn’t say tell a story) You don’t want to tell a story, you want to show one. You have real characters, with real motivation, and goals, so you are going to show me their story, scene by scene from the beginning to the end. That’s the plot. How you do it, is simple. What works best for you. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how I found my plotting method and how it works for me. This doesn’t mean you can’t use it, because it may not work for you. It may be the perfect method for you. Try it and see.

Remember this blog is about what I’ve learned, not what works for everyone.

Allison Knight

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Let’s forget this week

I’m fighting a nasty lung infection. I’m hoping to start on plot development next week. Keep your fingers crossed.

 

Allison

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Keeping character inforamtion together.

This one  is really tricky, because everyone has their own unique method of storing information. A long time ago, I decided the best way for me to handle all the information I had about my character was in a 3 ring binder. This works for me. One advantage is I have all the information in one spot. When I decided to make one of the novels into a series, I had all the research about clothing, food, housing, etc assembled in one place. I just transferred the information to another binder. Each binder bares the name of the book, and I have computer generated descriptions of characters in the binder.

I have one section for the main characters, one for important secondary characters and a third for the character who just walk on for a scene or two. Yep, a lot of work, but it works for me and that’s my secret. It works for me. A friend uses 3/5 cards and another sticky notes. A couple have talked about using the sticky notes program you find on the computer. However, I like things about one character in one place, and the extra information about the novel there two. My binders, depending on the size of the book, can be small, or like the one I’m working on now, full of info. One of my characters is trying to kill the hero. I know why, my readers won’t for a log time yet, but I have all the information about why and how in with that character. I even have a couple of psychological studies I found on the type of personality this character possess.

Writing a book is not a simple process. There’s a tremendous amount of research that can go into a book, especially if you want the book to contain real characters, and that’s what this whole beginning is all about, building real characters.

However you decide to keep your information together, make plans at the beginning to the book, not half way through. I’ll suggest the Boy Scout Motto here. Be prepared. Oh, you may decide you’d rather try a different method with your next book, but start with something that you feel comfortable with. As an ex-school teacher the binder made sense for me. After twenty four books, I’m still using that method. It works for me. Find one that works for you and stay with it. You’ll thank your lucky stars if you ever decide to do a series.

Well, we’ve covered most of what I’ve learned about characters. I think will take a look a plotting next. Another one of those things that make or break a book. and also one of those things you can do a thousand ways. So, on Monday, I’ll describe some of my early plotting adventurers. Prepare to be amused. I did a lot of that all wrong for a while.

Allison

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Making Your Characters Unique

We’ve given our character looks, goals, a motive for the goals, we know what role their are playing, now, how do we make them unique? It not that hard to make a character unique. In fact, one of the best ways to learn about uniqueness is to go to an enclosed mall and sit in a traffic area (let’s hope there’s a bench) and watch and listen to the people. You’ll hear patterns of speech, you’ll see actions that one person uses, that another does not. Observe how a mother watches her child, how young teens  or older people react to each other. I love shopping at Wal Mart. That’s a great place to watch people’s reactions.

Okay, now  you’ve listened and watched, and you can give you characters some of the reactions, you’ve seen – occasionally. In other words don’t over do it. You can add a reaction following dialogue, or as they come and go in the story but their speech patterns are a little different. For example, if you have a heroine who had a disadvantaged childhood, and grew up around some pretty crude individuals, her English is not going to be perfect and she might on occasion throw in a curse herself. The opposite goes for the girl who attended a girl’s finishing school along with a private boarding school all her life. She wouldn’t dream of using incorrect English, nor would she use some of the crude words my first example would think nothing of using.

Then there are people who end every sentence with a question, and some who end each statement as a command. We have the character who pauses often, or uses a lot of ah’s and oh’s.  The trick is to make certain you character speaks the same all the time. I always thought Dutch Leonard was a master of dialogue, so you might want to skim through a couple of his books to see how he does it. If you are really good, you won’t even need the tags authors use, you know – the he said, she said stuff. You know just by the way the person talks, which character is doing the speaking.. And that is really building a unique character.

One thing that bugs me a lot is the historical author who didn’t bother to check on how modern the word she/he has the character using.  I have a dictionary that dates the first time a word appears in something written. That usually means the words was in common use for it to appear in print. So if the word didn’t show up in a text until the late 1800’s chances are, it wasn’t a word that was in use in the middle ages. So when I’m writing, I also check the age of the words my characters are using. There are tons of words today that held no concept at all fifty years ago. A mouse was a squeaky little rodent, a scan probably only had a medical connotation and tablet was a stack of paper glued together at one end to keep it in order, or it could be a piece of slate on which you wrote important information; we call it a blackboard today.

I like the example of a spirit and a ghost. Look it up, that one is fascinating.

Tomorrow, I’ll explain how I keep all of this stuff straight.

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Building Memorable Characters

Yesterday the topic was character goals. Today we talk about character motivation. Motivation is usually what’s behind the character’s goal, what makes him/her go for something, sometimes to the detriment of everything else.

And I can give you a perfect example using authors. Okay, so we are not the character, but what most people believe is the motivation for an author penning a novel is the money the novel will make. Notice, I said what most people believe. That’s not the case for why most authors write, but it’s what people believe to be the motivation behind the goal of writing a book. Oh, granted in some cases, definitely, but in writing fiction, most of us are interested in telling a story. It a matter of having to write, money is not the motivation behind the goal of writing a novel.

So in building a believable character, your motivation is the reason behind your character’s goal. And this gets tricky, because the character can believe it’s one thing, when actually it is something completely different that he/she is not willing to admit to themselves.

And a character who is believable may have more than one goal. so there can be several motivational factors behind each of those goals, or they can all be the same reason. But the important point here is reality. His/her motivation has to be realistic. A trip to Mars on a space ship could be a wish, a goal, motivated by the fact he hates this planet, but none of it is realistic unless you are writing SCFI. Then it might work.

So real goals, motivated by sound reasons and you begin to build a real character.

An example here might be good. Our hero, Gus carries the  CF gene. He doesn’t want children because be doesn’t want to pass on the gene, so his goal is to stay single and enjoy dating a lot of women. He isn’t afraid of commitment, nor marriage. What he is afraid of is giving his child a fatal disease. That’s his motivation. His goal is to stay single. Of course in a romance, it doesn’t work that way, which is why conflict comes into play. But as I said, that’s for later on. Tomorrow, lets talk about characters and how to make them each individual. This involves speech patterns and habits.

See you tomorrow. And think up as many annoying habits as you can.

Allison

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