Well, it is now 23:00 and I think this is the first time I’m sitting down in front of my laptop today. Hence the post being late.
We’re going to have to talk about the upcoming plot point on “All is lost” in the next post. Yesterday we had “Bad guys close in”, today is “All is lost” and in the next post we’re going to come up to “The dark night of the soul”.
You’re seeing the theme? Shit keeps going to shit. No wonder this section is so difficult to write, right?
If you’re following the path of the three act structure, as we started with Jessica Brody and the Save The Cat system, you’re currently round about at the second half of the second act. In Save The Cat, this part is called Bad Guys Close In. This section has room for several scenes where things get so much more difficult.
Shit goes to shit here. This can be a downward spiral and the main goal can change here too. In this section, the flaws of our characters bite them in the ass.
I find this part so difficult to write! I’m sitting exactly at that point right now, I know all the bad things that are supposed to happen and I just don’t want to write them down. I have the constant problem of not wanting to hurt my protagonists, and I keep falling in love with the OCs I’m making up and then I don’t want to hurt them either! Someone has to suffer but I don’t want to be the one doing it to them.
Well well well. Look at that date. Since we have that funny number today, let’s talk about writing better smut.
First question, why even write sex? Why do we want to add that to our stories? Gail Carriger made a post about this a while back, and she gives several reasons why she has sex in her stories. I just want to focus on the first three:
“1. I write sexy because I believe fiction writers have a responsibility to culture. I consider it my duty to glorify different types of healthy adult sexual interaction. 2. I write sexy because violence in fiction is lauded, revered, awarded, and magnified while sensuality, pleasure, joy, and humor are not and that’s wrong. 3. I write sexy because conversation between characters about sex is hot and needs representation in fiction. Because we should all talk about desire with our lovers and learn what we want and how to articulate it.”
This really resonates with me. I use sex in my stories to show character development, to show connection. I show them having conversations, I show them having mishaps, uneasy reactions and conversations about it. I think these scenes have such a huge potential to bring characters and their place in the story forward.
I like writing smut, because it’s fun, it’s satisfying, and even want to say because it’s necessary. I want to show diverse characters, people who have problems, and still show them having good sex. I want show braveness that has nothing to do with violence but with emotional intimacy.
My advice for writing good smut:
Focus on the reaction, not on the action. You don’t have to write about what body part goes where, write about how it feels. Write how the characters react, about their connection to each other. You don’t have to describe all the details of body parts and fluids. Think of it like a dance, action and reaction, the feeling of being so close to each other. Focus on the intimacy, not on the mechanics.
Today I want to point you to another podcast, an interview by Sacha Black with Jessica Brody. You heard that name before, because we are kind of following her approach here in our project. You remember this?
This is from Jessica Brody’s workbook for “Save The Cat Writes A Novel”.
In the interview with Sacha Black, Jessica Brody explains some more how the “Save The Cat” method works. She also talks about a new craft book she’s writing, which is “Save The Cat Writes A YA Novel”. She specifically mentions that with this new book, she added information about multiple protagonists and multiple POV.
I found this section very interesting because she talks about how each protagonist in an ensemble cast can have a differing journey through the story beats. For instance, one character had the inciting incident “off-screen”, before the story even starts, while the other has it several chapters later.
Listening to the interview was quite inspiring and informative for me so I hope it’ll be interesting for you too.
Today’s post is a guest post by mareebrittenford about Circular Plots. Take it away, Maree!
A circular plot, at its most basic, is one where the main character ends up right back where they began.
Portal fantasy is a classic example of that, where the story opens with the character in their mundane life, from which they are whisked away to an adventure, but in the end they return to their home, far wiser and more mature.
Heroic quests are another. (If you google the hero’s journey you’ll notice that it’s always charted as a circle.) The character is sent on a quest, and eventually returns home.
But conceptually circular plotting has a far wider application than just portal fantasy or heroic epics. It applies to almost all fiction.
A classic formula for a good opening is that there is a character, in a setting, and they need something.
For me, the circle of the plot isn’t so much about bringing the character back to the specific location where the story began, but back to the question, the need, that the story began with.
The thing is, that need is not always entirely clear initially. Often the initial need of the MC is superficial or momentary. But as you write you get to know the character, and often you realize that the initial superficial need was a reflection of the real deeper need your character has.
And when you feel like you’ve lost the plot of your own novel you can find it again by focusing back on that need your MC has. Is it to be loved? To be useful? To understand? To create something of worth? And then send them after that.
No matter what plot structure you chose to use, there’s no more satisfying ending than when a character circles back to their deepest needs, as established by what they were seeking at the start of the story, and truly answers the question that was asked in the opening.
So ask your character. How do you get what you need?
This is a good point I don’t see so often. Why even do this? Why this genre? What is my definition of success? Who do I want as a reader?
(2) Fill your creative well
Yes! So important, you cannot be creative in a vacuum. Take care of your body and your mind, find inspiration in the world around you.
(3) Write a story, not just a pile of words
This is where genre and structure comes in, the things we have touched on already.
(4) Write a character that people want to spend time with
I think most of us do this subconsciously. It doesn’t mean that the character is flawless but they are someone we like spending time with as we write and that translate into a character people like to read about.
(5) What happens, why and where?
Setting! You know, I pretty much ignored the setting so far but it gives us so many options to raise the stakes in the conflict. Do not ignore the setting as part of the story.
(6) Get words on the page for your first draft
Well, this is exactly what we’re trying to do here with the WIP project. Write it, write it, get it on the page. Everything else comes later. Write forward.
(7) “Writing is rewriting.”
Exactly. The first draft is not the end product, so don’t waste time on perfecting it as you write. You will work on a better version of the story later, once you’re done with the first draft.
These are such good points! Please read the post for a more thorough explanation.
We hear about writing rules all the fucking time. Show don’t tell, never use adverbs, and so on and so forth. But the thing is, sometimes you have to break these rules to make your story come alive. September C. Fawkes postulates two rules of thumb of how you can break these rules:
Rule of Thumb #1: It Conveys More Than Itself
Rule of Thumb #2: It moves Forward Character (Arc), Plot, or Theme
Read the post for an in depth explanation.
I especially like Rule of Thumb #1. I heard similar advice formulated as trying to make sure that the things you write do double duty. The description of the room also explains something about the setting, the dialogue also gives us a glimpse into worldbuilding. Characters talking while they work shows us what they think of the story problem and also what their position in the hierarchy of the world is.
Here’s to breaking writing rules! Let’s keep on writing!
I’m sure I meant to tell myself something with that. This is usually more of a first act problem but we haven’t talked about it back then. So, let’s talk about infodumping.
Infodumping is, when the writer has so many cool ideas and so many important worldbuilding details to share, that they dump it all into several big paragraphs to give out all the information at once.
We are still in our first draft, so this is not something we have to worry about too much. But I like to make things easier for myself in the reread and I find big paragraphs of info tiring to read, therefore I like to avoid it in the first place.
To avoid infodumping, we first have to pinpoint why we do it in the first place. As writers, we have a whole set of ideas in our minds about how the world of our story is built. We know how society, technology, magic, and everything else functions. Naturally, we assume that our readers need to know all of that too, before they can even understand our stories.
But big blocks of information are not interesting to read. Very few people want to read the meta information before they get the story. Why learn all these rules, names, and symbols, if you don’t even know what the story is about and who the characters are? If your readers have no connection to the characters yet, they’ll probably stop reading in the middle of the big info paragraph.
As a sidenote, if you write fanfiction, you might notice that you don’t write these kind of intro meta-information paragraphs. Why? Because it’s fanfic, we assume that our readers know about this world already (we don’t have to explain the Force in Star Wars fanfic). We need a bit of that vibe for our original fiction.
How do we give our readers the necessary background information without shoving intro meta paragraphs at them? The answer: the sprinkle technique.
Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle.
You want to sprinkle in world building details, while your characters do other things. Show the characters doing things and talking about stuff and explain the world through that.
You want your characters talk about the limits of magic while they tie their shoes. You want them to talk about how the food tastes different because of the atmospheric disturbances. You want them to hide behind a broken down car as the monsters crawl by while they fix their water distillator.
A trick you see used often (and once you’ve seen it, you’ll notice it everywhere) is the introduction of a clueless characters. Sometimes the clueless character is even the protagonist and gets a smart sidekick who explains shit to them. Or the clueless character gets dragged into this situation and needs to catch up quickly to all these new rules wit the explanations from the protagonists. Either Clueless learns by trial and error, or someone takes them under their wing and explains things as they come up. You see how in this kind of setup, you can’t really infodump because things are moving, happening! You can only sprinkle in bits of information here and there and the reader learns along with the clueless character.
Here are some short videos that give you some more information about infodumping and tricks how to avoid it:
Today’s post is late because of COVID. I like blaming COVID, it can take it. Fuck COVID. Anyway.
I spent this morning, when I should have been working on this post, reading and watching stuff about productivity. And then I got rightfully angry at the Vanerwhats of this whole sphere of business where they tell people impossible things to do and charge them for it. The message with all these productivity gurus is that you should always work, grind, love the grind, don’t waste time on frivolous stuff like watching TV or spending time with friends because you’ll be losing money!
What a load of bullshit. For the love of life, don’t stop watching TV, don’t stop socialising. For fuck’s sake, what kind of joyless life is that supposed to be? We all need to rest, we all need to refill the creative well and enjoy life.
But since we’re talking about productivity, here is a good short video by Hank Green: The Secret to my Productivity where he explains how he gets his stuff done.
How? By not doing it perfectly.
He specifically says that he works on a project until it’s 80% done and then shoves it out of the door. This might sound scary but it makes a lot of sense. Because, even if we know that nothing will ever be perfect, we’re still trying to make it perfect. And because we cannot reach this nebulous point of perfection, we get frustrated and waste a huge amount of time on an unachievable goal.
For our writing project and the messy first draft, this is doubly true. Get the scene to 80% and then move forward. Don’t get stuck on making it nicer, that comes later. Aim for 80% and write forward.
If you’re still writing, and sort of following along here, you’re probably near the midpoint of your story now. The midpoint of the novel is an important moment in your story, where you show what’s so important about this plot.
He calls this moment the Mirror Moment and gives several examples how this moment appears in stories.
This is the moment where your protagonist stops and asks themself “Who am I? Why am I doing this?”. They don’t necessarily have to look into the mirror for that but as a metaphor, it works well. It’s a moment of self reflection. This is often connected to a threat of physical or psychological death. It’s the moment where your protagonists decide what they are willing to sacrifice.
Think about your story. What is the Mirror Moment? Write this moment of self reflection, no matter if you’ll use it in the final draft or not. Just write it, to see what it tells you about your story.