Tuesday, July 7, 2015

15 Six Steps to Nail Your Plot, Motivation, Character, and Story Opening plus AN EMBER IN THE ASHES Giveaway

I was reading an interview with NYT Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen over on Novel Rocket, yesterday, and she mentioned that her favorite piece of writing advice is to focus on the character's predicament. I love, love, love that, because it actually addresses four different aspects of your WIP.
In one fell swoop, you can nail the core of your character, the movement of your story, the place you start it, and how you tell it.

Here's how.

  1. Start by putting yourself in your character's head. What's her problem? What no-win predicament does she find herself in? Journal this, just as a rough paragraph or two or three, writing as if she is screaming at someone for putting her in that situation. Let it all loose. Imagine the confrontation, all the emotion, the frustration, the desire to move forward and fix something.
  2. Examine that thing that she has to fix and establish the consequences if she fails. Brainstorm why she wants to fix it and jot it down your on one page in a notebook, note software program, or on a Scrivener entry. Why does she need to fix the problem? Why does she have no choice to act to change that situation? 
  3. What is your character willing or forced to give up to fix her predicament? Add a second page to your notes. Write down what is most important to your character. Explore what defines her view of herself, and how this predicament effects that. What wound from her past or weakness of character is going to make it harder for her to repair the problem? What unexpected strengths can she find along the way that will help her?
  4. Now build your plot like dominos. Once you have a pretty good grasp on the predicament itself, it's relatively easy to make a timeline of how the problem, the person who created that problem (or personifies it) and your character intersect. You can build your plot as if it's inevitable: this happened, your character reacted, because your character reacted, this other thing happened, and so on. One thing leads directly to another.
  5. Next, taking into consideration who your character is, find the place in the timeline, or right before what you've jotted down, where the problem first rears its head. This could be something that your character did that set the problem in motion, or something coming in from outside to shake things up, but there has to be a change. This is where you're going to begin your story, on the day that is different, with the first domino. Write down what that incident is.
  6. Finally, put everything together to set up the story. Your opening has to show the inciting incident, suggest the story problem, and jump start the action, but you also want to foreshadow your character's strength and the weakness that is going to hold her back. You want to give us a hint of the personal lesson she will have to learn in order to get out of the predicament she's facing.
That's it. When you look at it from the standpoint of the character's predicament, every aspect of the story comes together. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, and regardless of whether you're writing a fantasy or sci fi novel, a romance, a contemporary, or virtually anything else, these six simple steps will help you get enough information to structure it in a way that will let it feel like it's writing itself. 

Happy writing!

This Week's Giveaway

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Released 4/28/2015





LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier— and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.

Purchase An Ember in the Ashes at Amazon
Purchase An Ember in the Ashes at IndieBound
View An Ember in the Ashes on Goodreads

More Giveaways

I have exciting news! Want to know the title for the final book in the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy? Head on over to Elizziebooks.com. Liz has my first ever video about Compulsion and the title, plus a great new giveaway. There are two additional places to win a necklace and T-Shirt, and you might even find a Persuasion teaser along the way. : )

There's also a grand prize, and you'll be automatically entered to win it when you enter any of the three T-shirt giveaways. But if you'd like even more chances to win, keep an eye out here, and on my Facebook page. I'll be posting a separate Rafflecopter in a little while!

And finally, don't forget. There's a new Compulsion for Reading bag of books this month!

What About You?

Have you wrestled with this kind of an approach to writing your story? Are you a plotter or a pantser, and is this too much or too little planning for you?

As a reader, do you like stories where the plot feels inevitable? Can you think of an example of a book that read like the characters never had any choice but to do what they did?

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Yes, I am a plotter,
    and is this too much or too little planning for you? Both
    As a reader, do you like stories where the plot feels inevitable?That depends what genre I am reading .
    Can you think of an example of a book that read like the characters never had any choice but to do what they did? Yes, An Ember in the Ashes & Throne of Glass.

  2. I am a pantser, but I think your suggestions are very good. Not too much. A lot of books seem like the characters have no choice. Maybe my favorite in that category is Kindred by Octavia Butler.

  3. You make this sound easy!!! I know it's a little more complicated than this but the outline is great!

    1. Lol. Obviously,,executing all this is the hard part. Put thinking of it in terms of predicament does make it a lot,easier. :)

  4. Nicole WetheringtonJuly 7, 2015 at 8:37 PM

    I don't like a plot that is too predictable! That's no fun!

  5. Love the domino imagery. Plotter here, but I'm always willing to tear something down to its bones and reimagine it.

    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head. There's a certain amount of planning that has to go into a novel. Whether we do that before or after the first draft, and how formally we do it and whether we write it,down is up to personal preference.

  6. don't like predictable plots

  7. I definitely plan my story--I need to know the end and make sure how my character gets there will be believable for my readers.

    1. That's so critical! But at the same time, that's the part that kind of trips me up. Because I have to know the characters well enough to know how they're going to react. Too often, I end up thinking something makes sense, and the characters disagree : )

  8. A book I think that the characters really had to do what they did was in the book Nerve

    1. Ooooh! Don't know that one, but will have to look it up. Thanks for sharing!

  9. As a writer, I like to do a little bit of both. I like to plan my stories, but also a the same time take the plot apart and write spontaneously. As a reader, I hate when the plot is a little to predictable because then I can't enjoy the story as much.


  10. i have never im a plotter to much planning. i don't want to predicted the end after the first three pages.


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