There aren’t many authors (who actually sell books) who can get away without plotting. Best-selling authors, like Stephen King, who say they don’t plot, don’t realise that they actually do it without realising it. They have an innate plotting talent. They just need less help than the rest of us.
I have noticed that even talented literary authors, who obviously don’t plot, have a shorter shelf life, and fewer readers, than writers who do plot. My greatest wish as a reader is that more literary writers would learn to plot. Can you imagine the incredible books we would have to read? There are some literary authors who do this. Kate Atkinson writes beautifully, and her books have plots.
Is there a difference between a commercial and a literary plot?
What is a literary plot? Generally, literary plots are full of isolated characters without a clear goal. They are slow and full of ambiguities. The author concentrates on the inner journeys of the characters and their psychological setbacks. The endings are often inconclusive and they mostly don’t end happily. The bottom line There are fewer book sales and the author makes less money, unless he or she wins a literary prize.
What is a commercial plot? Generally, commercial plots are driven by characters with a well-defined story goal. There is lots of action and the author deals with the interior and exterior worlds of the characters. There are physical and emotional setbacks. The endings generally suit the genre of the story. The bottom line More of these books are sold and the author makes more money. There is no chance of winning a literary prize.
I think the way forward for modern writers is to marry the two.
If you write literary fiction, spend some time on plotting and add some pace.
If you write commercial fiction, make your characters more complex and add small twists to the endings of your stories.
How to get your reader to identify with an unsympathetic character
Getting the audience to sit in the cheering section for a hero is easy—all you need is a brave, idealistic, upstanding, and highly functional character as the star of your story. But getting them to identify with the antagonist, unlikeable protagonist or anti-hero takes a lot more skill. You want the audience to feel sad for this character, or empathy or even just pity.
What happens when you get to end of your story and your word count is way over what it should be? You probably have a cast of 30 minor characters, 12 sub-plots, 20 settings, and long sentences full of adjectives and adverbs.
If you’re looking for a plot for a first novel, I recommend revenge.
It works in every genre.
It helps beginner writers focus on a story goal.
It requires an antagonist - something most beginners ignore.
If a character wants revenge it usually means that he or she is motivated to act. This is good. Reactionary characters are not interesting to readers, and they usually can’t drive a plot. It also means that something interesting has happened and that more interesting things are likely to happen. Revenge also builds a framework for a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
It goes without saying that you should pay attention to crafting the perfect characters for your book—you must know what they want, need, fear. These internal psychological factors are important, but don’t forget outward appearances. How your character dresses says a lot about them. Obviously some genres, such as glitzy women’s fiction and romance, demand we pay more attention to appearance, but most readers of any genre want to know what the characters look like and what they’re wearing.
Most writers over-write, especially in the beginning. They tend to pad stories and sentences with useless descriptions (even really good or beautiful descriptions can be useless) and boring backstory. They add and explain and include. The only advice I can give them is to cut and cut and cut again, but every once in a while I come across a student who under-writes. These are often people who write for a living, especially journalists and copywriters. They are so used to writing a column of exactly 700 words or a piece of body copy of precisely 150 words that they fit every piece of writing into that format. They set out to write a story of 60 000 words and end with 35 000 words.
Our characters control our story. A novel, which consists of a plot, scenes, and settings, cannot move forward without characters.
One of my favourite things about writing a story is creating a character. I like to concentrate on creating the best protagonist and antagonist I can. These important characters drive stories. I love the idea of a blank character questionnaire, where I can mould a personality who will be strong enough to tell the story. Will he or she have a personality disorder? How will their body language reveal their intentions? Which of the 12 Most Common Archetypes will he or she fit?
Getting under the skin of my characters is fun. I have to decide what motivates a character to act or re-act to a situation. If you look at psychology, this is usually because of an unmet need.
I found this incredible list of universal needs by Gina Senarighi in her post, Relationship Advice: Set Intentions and be heard again. She says, “Marshall Rosenberg founded Non-violent Communication years ago based on his theory that all human behaviour centres on met or unmet needs. Use this list as a guide to identify which unmet needs might be underlying your intention.”
The character you create in a novel will have unmet needs too. Use this list to help you define them.
Psychologist, Robert Sternberg, developed the Triangular Theory of Love. This shows the type of love you share with another person. The theory is based on three components your relationship can possess.
The three components are:
Intimacy: This includes feelings of attachment, closeness, trust, and connectedness. Your partner could feel like your best friend. Do you laugh and have fun together?
Passion: This includes the sexual attraction or the physical connection between two people.
Commitment: This includes the decision to stay together, no matter what, and to make plans for the future together.
A relationship based on a single element is less likely to survive than one based on two or three elements.
Which romantic relationship do your characters share?
What do these Oscar-winning adaptations have in common?
Whenever I watch the Oscars I imagine myself walking down the red carpet, draped in something from Valentino and shod by Jimmy Choo himself. I will of course be skinny and groomed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal hair and make-up team because she’ll be my brand new Hollywood BFF. But as you can imagine I might have a bit of work ahead. Besides the dieting and the befriending of Gwyneth, I need to write something Hollywood will like.
As all great procrastinators do, I convinced myself some research was needed before I could possibly put pen to paper. The results have been interesting to say the least.