Tag Archives: fledgling writers

Plotting for Multiple Characters (part 2)

I want to pick up right where I left off last week. If you missed part 1, you can get it here.

So, once I have this down with 4-6 entries for every character on my chart, I start weaving them together to build a timeline. Essentially, what I’m doing is deciding what has to happen before the other thing happens AND—maybe more importantly, in what order I want them to occur in the story. Back in the day when I wrote everything longhand, I’d draw lines and put numbers beside the entries. With excel, I just shift things around. I’ll use numbers for my example here. You’ll also note that I know I want the protag to have the relationship with the love interest; I’m not sure how they meet at this point. That’s okay, because as I begin to fill in the blanks, I can manipulate that to make it happen.

Protag 1 Protag 2 Antag Love interest
1 Parents killed. Lost in woods. Discovered by Mountain Man 2 Wins award for science essay. 3 Comes in 2nd with science essay. Wins nothing. Completes high school under care of single mom.
4 Lives with MM who teaches tracking, hunting and other survival skills. 5 Kicked out of college—accused of copying essay but did not. It was, however, based on research from Mom. 6 Father kicks out of house for losing. Immediately moves across country. 9 Graduates college with computer science degree. Hired by NSA to hack Chinese government computers.
8 Leaves MM to go to big city where he meets Protag 2 in an alley near death. 10 Begins job at high tech espionage firm. 7Joins gang in Eastern coastal city. Quickly establishes reputation for brutality. HOW DOES SHE MEET PROTAG 1?
While “espionaging” is captured and tortured and brainwashed. 11 Promoted in gang to a capo and given a territory. Moves (takes some of his underlings)
Dumped in an alley in the big city. Catches Protag 2—remembers her. Attempts to kill—THINKS he has.

This gives me a rough outline to start working from. Now, keep in mind that before I get to the task of writing, I figure out the goals and motivations for all the characters (at least the primary characters) and I have an idea of what I want their big character arc to be. In fact, I do that before I start charting this out—I’m kinda going by the seat of my pants for the characters in the example and I hope/trust you can look past that for the bigger picture. But what it also means is that the characters can change as I create, but that’s okay, it’s part of the creation process. It also means that my chart/grid is considerably longer than what I’m showing you, and it’s also wider with more characters. One of the things this can help you do is get all your characters “screen” time.

I’m hoping you can use your imagination and fill in the blanks with your own characters and ideas.

I’ve seen it done a different way, but it always felt more formulaic to me. It looked something like this:

A Character
A Character B Character
A Character C Character
A Character B Character
A Character

At which point in time, your A character rotates off (to the left or rather, to the far right) and the B character becomes the A character while the C character becomes the B character. This is mostly a formula for EPISODIC work.

Like I said at the beginning, though, this is just the strategy that I use…Hope it helps you some.



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You Can’t Teach Motivation

It’s nearly impossible to be a writer today and not have attended a writer’s conference of some sort, even if it is simply as a speaker/presenter. I would definitely say it’s impossible to be a writer and at least not be aware of them. Writer’s conferences serve a lot of purposes and are particularly good, I think, for writers just starting out. For experienced writers it’s a great time to hang around like-minded creatives and yes, be reminded of all the writing-type strategies. And as a teacher of creative writing, I’m a fan of them and will encourage all writers (of all skill levels) to make an effort to attend at least one per year…even if you are going just to hang out.

But that got me thinking about all the things covered at conferences and in creative writing programs. We can teach (and learn) things like plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, etc. etc. And if we know about them, we can be reminded of good strategies to use those tools effectively.

But there is one thing teachers/speakers can’t teach, and that’s motivation. I don’t mean fictional character motivation—we can teach that (even if hardheaded students aren’t willing to learn!), but what I mean is writer motivation. Yes, I believe teachers can inspire and encourage and think we should work to do that (but I also think if you love what you do, that’ll come through in the teaching)…but there’s nothing I can really do (not just me, all teachers) that will make a writer give us time on Facebook, or television and write…and then write some more…and then do more writing after that. And then when they’re done writing, finish up with a little more writing.

I don’t know who said it, or I’d give the credit, but I recently read it takes 10,000 hours for someone to reach the stage of successful whatever it is they do. SO, a musician must spend 10,000 practicing in order to reach the level of professional…and so on. So many writers think they’ll slap it down on the page and then they’re done. Oh, maybe an “editing” revision to look for typos and misspelled words—but some don’t even do that!

And with the Olympics just finished (it IS finished now, right?), we’re reminded of all the hard work and HOURS that these athletes (even the ones who lost) put in just to make it there. It takes motivation to force yourself to spend that kind of time practicing. It’s the “WANT TO” of achieving success.

That’s not something that can be taught…it has to come from within.

So whatever it is you do…how bad do you want it? Do you want it bad enough to spend 10,000 hours to get there?


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Control the Language!

At writer conferences, fledgling writers are always looking for the magic bean, the “secret” that published writers have and they don’t know yet. And while they know in their heart that no such thing exists, they still search for it.

The proof is in the question I am asked more than any other question: what do I need to do to break in? Many of them are convinced that they have a super-original concept or story idea that if they can just get an editor to read it, they could sell it. While they may have that one in a million idea (all of us writers like to tell ourselves that!), the chances are more likely they don’t. That’s not to suggest it isn’t a good or salable idea.

I’ve read stories after the writers have communicated to me they want to spend their life writing and selling…only to discover they don’t know the difference between there/their/they’re or it’s/its, they can’t get their subjects and their verbs to agree, or they simply can’t compose a sentence (I almost wrote “they can’t get there subjects and verbs to agreed,” but was afraid I’d get some snarky comment about how even I couldn’t do it!)

Every writer makes typos and simple errors. Editors know that and understand it. But there’s a big difference between typos and lack of ability to control the language.

If you’re one of those who struggle with grammar, never fear! The beauty is that it can be learned. As many have heard me say here before, it’s all about practice, practice, practice. As a writer, you’ve got to write every day, but you’ also need to read every day. And read good stuff, too. I’ve said before that I believe we pick up a lot by osmosis, so be sure you’re absorbing good stuff.


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Common misteaks made by writers

I once wrote a newspaper editorial about making mistakes. I wrote it because I’d made a mistake in the newspaper a week or two before and I felt really bad about it. It was an honest mistake. However, the person affected by the mistake came into the newspaper office and really let me have it; said I shouldn’t make mistakes because I have a degree. Well, degree(s) or not, I still err like anyone else. I put it online for all to see, and if you want to read it, go here. It’s a little difficult to read and it was an attempt at humor (you can decide whether I was successful or not).

But that made me think about mistakes that I see often from writers. So, I thought I’d blog about that…maybe I’ll hit on something that even you weren’t aware of…editing this, I see it will take more than one…so consider this part 1.

One of the quickest ways to get tossed off an editor’s desk is first, format. Follow the directions for formatting. There is a general standard, but not all publishers are alike. Failing to follow their formatting guidelines proves you didn’t do your homework and that you don’t really care what they want. Thus, if you don’t care, why should they?

Next is work that is replete with errors. When submitting to a professional publication that you’d like them to pay you money for your work, yes, even one single solitary error will affect your submission. Proof, again and again.

So, what are some of the no-brainers of errors? Here are a few:

A lot of writers use “suppose” when they really need “supposed.” The first is in essence, thinking. “I suppose we could go there,” or “Do you suppose they arrived safely?” While the latter can be the past tense of the former (“We supposed they arrived safely.”), it is most often used to mean should have. “He was supposed to go today,” or, “You are supposed to stop at a red light.” I’ve seen many writers use the former in those situations. Thus, “He was suppose to go there,” is incorrect. As is “You are suppose to stop at a red light.” Both of these incorrect examples should use “supposed.”

Its/it’s often gives writers fits. The easiest way to remember the difference here is, the apostrophe takes the place of an “I” and means it is. Its is possessive. It’s (see, it is) one of those possessive exceptions in that it is possessive and yet doesn’t use an apostrophe. Thus “It’s a long time until Christmas,” is actually “It is a long time until Christmas.” Whereas “What will you do with its wheel,” is possessive. Meaning the wheel belongs to something (presumably a car…or maybe a bike…or wagon).

Another easy one that writers shouldn’t get wrong is your/you’re. As in the its/it’s case, the former (your) is possessive and the later (you’re) has an apostrophe in place of a missing letter—in this case, “a.” Thus, “This is your blog,” means the blogs belongs to me (possessive). While “You’re going to run over your word count” (see how I got them both in one sentence?) means “You are going to run over your word count,” and the “your” indicates that word count belongs to me.

And, as this has gotten long, I’ll write more mistakes later!


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