Writing, writing advice, Writing Club

Writing Club: Got Plot?

Last week I promised the coolest young writers in town that I would post our writing club lesson here. Then… well, then a lot of amazing things happened to me and I got a little distracted. I can’t divulge all of the awesomeness yet, but on Saturday I was elected president of Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas. I’m honored and incredibly excited to be leading this talented group of writers here in Little Rock. It’s going to be an exciting year! In the meantime, here is the lesson I promised you:

In writing group we discussed plot by diagramming a traditional plotline. I was surprised how many of our students were familiar with this tool and all of its major parts. Here is an example for those of you who need a refresher.

Plot Parts
Introduction – This is the beginning of your story where you are introducing your characters and the setting to the reader. You can give a little background, but the general rule among writers is to go straight to the action and fill in the backstory as the plot unfolds.

Inciting Incident – This is where the story really begins. What happens that starts the journey for your characters? The dog goes missing, the contest is announced, the dead body is discovered, boy meets girl, etc. are all moments that reveal the true goal of a story. If you do not yet know your character’s goal, then you should begin here. Define the goal and then give it a consequence. What happens if they don’t reach their goal? This is the crux of finding your plot. If you can answer those two questions, then you have a plot.

Rising Action – Here the characters move steadily toward the climax of the story, growing ever closer to reaching their goal. However, don’t make it too easy for them. Be sure to add obstacles along the way or else your story will be boring and predictable.

Obstacles – What will happen to keep your main character(s) from reaching their goal? If all they have to do is walk in and take what they want with nothing to stop them, then that isn’t much of a story at all! Show us what gets in the way. These obstacles increase the dramatic suspense, but they also offer opportunities for character development. When your characters are threatened, denied satisfaction, or in danger, we get to see a lot of how they think and feel in those situations. This will draw characters together or push them apart. Make the most of your obstacles by planning ahead and you will have less trouble with writer’s block.

Climax – This is the moment when your character(s) reach their goal. It’s the big scene, so make it count! Readers want to see the struggle, so bring on the action and the drama.

Denouement – This fancy French word is simply the period of a story where we wrap it all up nicely with a satisfying ending. That doesn’t mean it has to be a happy ending, but it should provide some closure. Love a good cliff-hanger? Go right ahead, but be sure you have thought it through and the ending leaves the reader wanting more instead of scratching their heads in confusion.

Our group had a lot of questions this week about character development and point of view. We’ll cover that in detail next week, but for now I leave you with this question:

 “What is more important, the journey or the people on the journey?” 

Happy writing!

                                             ~ Heather

Writing, writing advice, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: Describing a Setting

Yesterday I met with young writers at the Main Library in Little Rock, Arkansas for our first ever NaNoWriMo group. I was blown away by the diverse group that showed up to write with us. After a long day of school, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 trickled in to share their ideas and a little of their passion for books. I heard a fifth grader swapping book ideas with a twelfth grader and saw all kinds of genres represented from poetry to crime drama. Amazing! I know some people have a hard time working with kids, but I am constantly amazed by the creativity and talent demonstrated in some of the youngest writers. I heard a few lamenting that they are forced to write what their teacher’s assign instead of what they love, but I encouraged them to write anyway because every single opportunity to write is an opportunity to improve. Then, someday you’ll be able to write what you love all day long and that is an amazing treat!

Settings
Anyway, in our short time together I shared a few tips for description and reviewed some of the brainstorming concepts I shared with all of you here a few weeks ago. I asked them to come up with three different settings. They suggested a planet, a cave, and a battleship. We listed a few adjectives to describe each setting. Here’s what we came up with:

When I see the word “planet”, I instantly picture something else entirely. Mars with its red dirt and and expansive deserts, perhaps. A green swirling fog is so unique and utterly different from what I pictured, but isn’t that incredible? With just four words we have an entirely different picture in our minds. Now the trick is to show our readers the same image we have in mind.

Show vs. Tell
 We want our readers to be able to visualize our settings, our characters, and their actions as fully as possible so that they feel as though they were in the middle of the story with them. One way to do that is to describe the setting using your five senses. So, to our list we might add a few distinctive words describing the smell of the air, the feel of the dampness on our skin, or the shouts of soldiers on the battleship. Instead of saying the deck of the battleship was wet, we will describe how the main character nearly slips as he races across the deck or we’ll describe the spray of sea water or the raging wind and rain of an enormous storm. We give our readers clues that let them decide for themselves that the deck is wet instead of just telling them it is. This involves them in the scene as a participant and gives our writing a richer quality.

It’s difficult, I won’t lie, but something we should continue to practice if we want to be better writers. So, why don’t you give it a try? Brainstorm a few settings for the story you are working on and list as many descriptive words as you can using your five senses. Then, use those words to help you create sentences to show the reader how it feels to stand in your setting. What will they see, hear, smell, feel as they enter your world? When you’re finished, come back and leave us your favorite sentence. I would love to see what you came up with as you try your hand at the Show vs. Tell technique.

                                                                       Happy Writing!

                                                                                                                ~ Heather

nanowrimo, Uncategorized, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: It’s All About The Brainstorming

It’s fall and around here that means Writing Club! Each fall I lead a group of young writers through the prewriting process all the way to our goal of finished novels for National Novel Writing Month. It’s my favorite time of year.

We have so much fun writing together and coming up with crazy ideas for our stories. I wish all of you could join the club with us. Since you can’t be here, I thought I might bring some of the fun to you! So, each Monday I’ll share one of our writing lessons with you. That way you can follow along. If you do each lesson, by the end of November, you should have a pretty good story. It takes a little work and lot of dedication to finish an entire story, but you can do it! And if you have questions, you can post them here for the writing club to answer. Sound like fun? Great! Then, welcome to the club!

Lesson One: Brainstorming
When you’re writing, do you ever feel stuck? I’m talking thick, goopy mud kind of stuck. Quick sand, stuck. Yep. It happens to the best of us. So, our very first lesson this year is on how to get unstuck. Before we write a single word in our notebooks, we’re going talk about how to create new ideas and get your brain moving from stuck to running free.

There are many ways to help you gather ideas for your story. Today we’re going to talk about three. The first is a mind web.

You’ve probably seen this idea before and maybe you have a different name for it. A mind web helps us catch related ideas and organize them. Start out by writing a topic in the center of your paper or white board. Maybe use a word that describes your favorite book. We chose the word magic, but you can use any word that interests you. Now, add as many related words as possible around the outside of that center bubble. Branch out from those words, adding more layers.

Here’s an example from our class:

Step One: Add primary words around your central topic.

 

 Step Two: Add secondary words around each primary word.

 

 

Step Three: Add a layer of descriptive words to the outer layer.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopefully this exercise has helped you to create a picture in your head, because that’s your next step. Close your eyes for a moment and try your best to see a clear image of your scene. Focus on either the setting or a character because this will help you most. Remember to use all of your senses as you look around. What do you see? What does it smell like to you? Can you hear anything? Is there movement? What can you taste or feel? Do your best to be there in your mind, taking note of everything around you.

Now, write down exactly what you saw. Don’t worry about writing sentences; we’ll practice putting them into sentences later.  Just list the words for now. Grab all the words you can to describe your setting and a character. Use the list to fill in your mind web. Make it as big as you can. The more words and ideas you have, the more you have to work with when you are writing your story.

What word did you choose for your topic? Leave it in the comments below and take a moment to introduce yourself so we can say hello to our new writing club members. Then, come back tomorrow and I’ll show you what to do next with your mind web.