Last one for Saturday. You can see why I was so exhausted by the end of this conference! My last session for the day was From Storytelling Mire to Page-Turning Momentum: Three Common Plotting Mistakes that Keep Writers Frustrated, Unpublished and at the Bottom of the Slush Pile. Whew, quite a mouthful, isn’t it? It was run by Annalisa Parent.
Parent began by stating the obvious: Agents want quality writing. Then she mentioned three things that aren’t quality:
- Too Much Backstory
- Lack of Conflict
- Not Pacing the Tension
1. The writer needs to know the backstory. However, the reader may not need to know it. Parent put it this way: “The first time you tell the story, you tell yourself. Every time after that, you’re telling the reader.” This means after that first draft, you cut out anything that doesn’t move the story forward or doesn’t directly deal with the central conflict. If you give too much backstory, instead of caring more, the reader starts to care less. Only tell thing that have a payoff in the end.
2. If there’s no conflict, there’s no story. It’s just a character study or a vignette. It’s a day-in-the-life, a portrait. Keep in mind the forms of conflict:
- Person versus Person (external struggle)
- Person versus Self (internal struggle)
- Person versus Environment (external struggle)
- Person versus Supernatural (external struggle)
I’ll admit, the last one was new to me. I’d probably just lump it into Person versus Person, or I guess we could collectively call it Person versus Entity, but whatever. You get the idea. A good story might even have more than one of these going on at any given time.
In a story, everyone wants something. (Parent used The Wizard of Oz as an example: wanting to go home, wanting a heart, wanting courage, wanting a brain…) Motivations also help define character, which keeps things interesting.
Triangles, Parent said, are the strongest structure. That’s why we see so many of them in books. (Manifesting Destiny is a series of interlocking triangles.) Parent had a diagram of a triangle with these labels at each point: Story Tension, Scene Tension, Character Conflict. She said the question to keep asking as you write is: “How is what is at stake for each character relate to the overarching story?” Every scene has to earn its place, after all. There needs to be tension in each, and it needs to be showing and developing character as well.
3. Things have to get worse before they can get better. This isn’t a formula so much as a method. The story begins with Situation Normal. Then something changes. Obstacles arise. What does the character do? That’s your story. Every time an obstacle is dealt with, there is a result and a consequence. Often, early on, the result/consequence is yet another obstacle or conflict. The stakes rise and continue to rise. There are peaks and valleys. Peaks are high tension. Valleys are respite, moments of hope. You have to pace the reader so that it isn’t just one mountain after another. At the same time, you can’t have valleys that are too wide or the conflict and tension go away and the reader gets bored.
Meanwhile, keep in mind—and be familiar with—your genre. Each genre is like a different kind of music says Parent. Literary fiction is Classical music, for example. It may move a little more slowly and have many layered instruments. YA may be more like pop music, something with a beat.
Speaking of music, why not stop by Liz Josette’s site and see what I listen to? For the next few hours after this posting, you still have a chance to win an Amazon gift card!