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Raise the Stakes!

As we get down to the final two blog posts on Structure for Gardeners, there’s a lot of material I’ve compiled that is not encompassed in some of the “macro” issues that we reviewed in the first five posts. These are more concepts or ideas that were shared with me by other authors over the years.

So, I’m going to try and gather them into some semblance of order and present them today and next Monday, which will be the seventh and last post on Structure.

Over the next two posts we will be looking at ideas concerning plot, backstory, chapters, endings and other miscellaneous thoughts about structure. Some of them I’ve personally found to be preciously effective.

Ideas on Developing Plot:

  • Take your raw idea, define the hook, and establish the view the main character has on the world

  • One way to reveal a character’s nature and temperament is to show how the character will react in extreme situations

  • Determine to write every chapter as if it were the first chapter of the book

  • Remember you're writing a story, not writing Shakespeare

  • Don't write a single chapter that doesn't move the story forward

  • Constantly raise the stakes - you're always asking yourself what's at risk?

  • Readers need to feel what's at stake

  • Create conflict from the first page … conflict/tension on every page

  • Determine when you'll introduce your villain

  • If you introduce the villain early, make them a worthy opponent throughout

  • You must have worthy adversaries

  • Build in surprises to keep the story from lagging

Ideas About Backstory and Prologues:

  • Star Wars – uses an opening “Text Crawl” to establish some of the backstory … an interesting device stolen from old-time movies ... avoid it whenever possible

  • Prologue - writers often use the prologue device because they want to introduce backstory and don't know how else to do it, or they have a boring first sentence/opening

  • Only use backstory if it is part of a “frame” that also has an epilogue ... OR … if you set up the story in one time and place and then tell it in another

  • A writer generally needs to wait 30-to-50 pages before they start introducing backstory … it stops the narrative flow

  • Two forms of introducing backstory are 'Flashback' – one entire scene set off by itself ... OR ... 'Recollection' – a short, memory clip

  • A Prologue should be no longer than one page, two pages top … you lose your present action if it goes on too long

  • By the time we get to 30-to-50 pages into the story then readers should care enough about the characters that it won't deter them from going on.

Ideas About Story Structure:

(These ideas came from a writer’s seminar run by author Kathy Mackle.)

  • People pick up a book by the cover … look at the back … read the 1st sentence

  • Your story always begins where the action begins … Each scene, each chapter begins where the action is

  • Re-write, cut, cut, cut

  • Pace your scenes emotionally … tension and action, then rest

  • Look for patterns in your outlines

  • As you close in on a climactic event pace will quicken

  • Scenes should be motivated by struggles

  • Understand your process … 50% of authors write start to finish; 50% write start & stop

On Monday, in the last post on the Structure for Gardeners series, we will look at how to build chapters, construct story endings and, some musings from author DJ Williams.


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