Tag Archives | plotting a novel

Plot Busters – Kat Incorrigible 2 – The Perfect Set-up

You might ask why I decided not to continue breaking down the entire story act by act. Or maybe not, but I’ll tell you anyway. Not all stories have exemplary structure. But most of them capture a certain element of structure and do it well enough to spotlight and learn from.

And this week we’re looking at KAT INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis.

By the end of Act I, we know everything we need to know. The set up is perfect.

We know her goals. Kat starts in the first line by trying to run away. Basically, she fails in her plan to save her family from financial and social ruin.

But will she try again? That’s the debate.

We know the antagonist. Clearly, if Elissa’s soon-to-be husband is a possible murderer, there will be problems.

We see her flaws in action. She’s stubborn. She refuses to listen, regardless of long lectures. And she misses her mother.

We get a terrific feel for the family dynamics. Kat’s relationship with her sisters and how they are portrayed is extremely realistic – fighting and competitive but loyal and loving. Wonderful characters. I fell in love with Kat and would’ve followed her anywhere.

But if the story had stayed in that place for too long, I might have lost interest. After the set up, the story must move forward!

And that’s what happens. After Kat learns she is part of a secret order of guardians, her family packs their bags and heads off to the Abby for Elissa to meet Sir Neville. And that’s where the rest of the story takes place.

But the Break into Two was so effective. Kat had made the definite decision to help her family even if she’s not sure how to do it. The stakes have become more serious (you’ll have to read it to find out how). And they are off for the main part of the story with a different setting and new characters.

We’re ready for the Fun and Games to start!

How does your set-up and transition into Act II hold up?

Tips outside of story structure based on Kat Incorrigible.

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How to choose the best story idea.

Q is for Questions

I don’t know about you, but often, I have more than one story idea floating around in my head. How do we know which one to pursue?

Early on, I’d come up with a great idea and just write it; regardless of whether it would be a hard or impossible sell. Now I examine an idea to see if not only will I love it for the long haul but will it sell. (As much as we can determine that, which really, we can’t.)

What are my goals?

  1. Do I want to be traditionally published with dreams of hitting the bestseller list?
  2. Or am I okay with self publishing or not publishing at all? Or going through Lulu and just making copies for your friends and family?
  3. I’m going to assume that most writers reading my blog would like to be traditionally published and earn some kind of money for their work. No shame in that.

Will the idea be marketable?

  1. Is the idea overdone? (like vampires or angels) If it is, do I have a different take on it? Or maybe I should just ditch it.
  2. Do visual scenes come to mind when I think about this idea?
  3. Will it appeal to a large demographic?
  4. Will the character/idea provide enough external and internal conflict?
  5. Can I think of a main story conflict?
  6. Can I see a place for it in the market?
  7. Is it the kind of story I’d want to read?

Okay, so if the answer is yes to all or most of those questions keep going.

Can I make the story bigger?

  1. If I change the setting, would the story be more appealing? (For example, Across the Universe was a small town mystery but up in space.)
  2. What does my character want and want does he/she stand to lose?
  3. Is the internal conflict/theme primal? As in love, family, survival…etc.
  4. Can I make the stakes even higher?
  5. What are some possible midpoint twists or Act III reversals?
  6. Can I add murder? Betrayal? Lies? Ghosts? Family problems? Friend problems?
  7. Does my main character like a certain type of food that I could easily offer at the launch party?

Make lists. Don’t stop with your first idea. Make a list of 20 different ways the story can go. Make lists for all the questions above. Pick the one that sparks magic in your heart.

How do you determine which idea to invest in for the next year or so?

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The Big Debate (not what you think)

No, I’m not talking about self-publishing vs traditionally publishing. And no, I’m not talking about whether book reviewers should or could be writers too. And no, I’m not talking about the fact that winter has hogged the stage and needs to exit stage left. Or whether I should eat the last homemade chocolate chip cookie.

I’m talking about the Debate section in Act I that Blake Snyder talks about in Save the Cat. Honestly? I’d never heard of this before. And it’s a concept that isn’t really talked about and often overlooked.

Seriously, had any of you heard of it before reading STC?

The inciting incident, or catalyst as Blake calls it, happens in the first couple chapters. It’s an event that turns the protagonist’s world upside down. And between this event and the Act I Climax, our character needs to make the final no-turning-back decision. Is she/he going to do it? Can they?  This is the debate section. And the Act I climax can be what finally convinces our character to say yes.

Why have a debate section?

  • Introduces internal conflict because usually it’s a huge decision. And no real person just runs off to slay a dragon without giving it some thought. (At least I wouldn’t.)
  • It’s a time to draw the reader into the life of the main character and establish the goal, conflict and stakes.
  • Showing your character in conflict makes the reader care. It builds emotion.
  • Showing your character take the time to decide makes your character and story believable.
  • And if your character made the decision right away, you’d be stealing thunder away from your Act I climax.

On my sidebar are links to my break down of How To Train a Dragon and Princess for Hire. Each has a debate section. In HTYD, Hiccup must decide whether he really wants to kill dragons, which at the start, he thought he did. But then he meets Night Fury. During this debate section, I connected with Hiccup and then gasped when he made the decision not to kill and then his dad finally tells him he can.

Do you think about this big debate when writing or revising Act I? Can you think of stories that do this well? Or do you think this concept isn’t needed in all books? Can you think of books you love that don’t have this section? ( I can)

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Snowflake Part I The One Sentence Pitch

I’ve got an exciting idea, my major plot points or disasters, the main antagonist, and my main character. But I haven’t fleshed out any details or know how all the subplots will connect. Or even exactly what will happen in the climax.

Now what?

I’m ready to open my Snowflake software and get to work. (The snowflake method was created by Randy Ingermanson. Check it out.)

First, I write the logline: a one sentence pitch that covers my main character, her goal, the conflict, the stakes, and possibly the antagonist. (I don’t include the antagonist if that is meant to be a surprise.)

For extra help, I read pitch contests on blogs. Great research. Is my idea there? (Hopefully not.) Which ones stick out at me? Which ones would I pick if I were an agent?

The ones I like are all unique and specific. And they sound interesting. In other words, they had a great hook.

No phrases like:

…and her world is turned upside down.
…and he has to fight for his life.
…and she discovers a terrible secret.
…and her past comes back to haunt her.

These are vague and don’t say much about your plot. Be specific. Be unique.

How many of you form a one sentence pitch before writing? As a pantser, do you have that information in your head?

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