How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue Part 2 – Tips From The Show “Timeless”

Photo by Bruno Sercocima

Photo by Bruno Sercocima

Plot has a rhythm that breathes on the page. Sometimes that rhythm goes rogue with a bit of help from the author. Not knowingly, of course, but rogue all the same. Getting stuck on a theme, or bogged down in the ordinary can create a lackluster plot.

If your plot’s gone rogue, there are a few things to analyze to salvage it from the heap. One of the key causes of a plot gone rogue is the lack of solid conflict and tension.

Let’s take a look at a clip from the new show Timeless to get a bit of insight into our stories.

How To Salvage A Plot Gone Rogue 2:

*Place the hero/heroine in the middle of the action.  Ask yourself if you have placed your hero/heroine as close to the action as possible. Notice in the clip of Timeless that the heroine is in the same booth with Abraham Lincoln. The writer realized how much more dramatic it would be to place the heroine there.

Removing the hero/heroine too far from the action, can make a plot grow lethargic and dull. Analyze your story and reposition the hero/heroine in the middle of the danger or adventure.

*Create an impossible choice between two competing values. In this clip the heroine is forced to decide whether to let Lincoln die, whom she has admired her whole life, or let him live, changing history forever. She doesn’t know whether her world will be the same, or not. A seemingly impossible choice. This is a part of plot I learned from my mentor Susan May Warren.

*Figure out what your hero/heroine’s fighting for. Recognize that deviating to far from the noble quest will result in a plot without an end point. The great climax will not occur. Slowly escalate tension in increments of least to most intense until you reach the climax.

Deescalating conflict can make for flat plot. Deescalation occurs when rabbit trails are followed away from the main plot. These can include over intensification of issues, unrelated story world or side plots, or even character distractions.

What television shows inspire you in plotting?

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How to Multi-Layer A Novel’s Conflict with Tips From Madam Secretary – Rafflecopter Winner Announced

Photo by Robert Linden

Photo by Robert Linden

Last night I caught up on the last three episodes of Madam Secretary. Feeding my inner TV junkie while reflecting on craft is so much fun.

Before I share the latest insights, I’d like to announce the winners of the Idea Sparking: 30 Tips to Write a Novel in a Month Rafflecopter contest:

The Winner of the $50 Amazon Gift Card is Alyson Champion!!

The Winner of the hour phone brainstorming session is Heidi Madsen Robbins!!

Winners will be contacted by mail later today with prize information. Thanks to everyone who joined in the Rafflecopter to celebrate the launch of my new book!

Now for our Tuesday craft tips from Madam Secretary. As one of my favorite new shows, I am often in awe of the many layers to craft the writer uses.

Season 2, Episode 4 multi-layers the conflict to be external and internal. The conflict feeds into public and personal stakes.

Here is how the conflict unfolds in this episode sequentially:

*President has cut her out of the inner circle because of recent issues in Russia while she was there. (External)

*Her daughter and the president’s son have an inappropriate photo about to hit the news cycle. (External)

*The Secretary of State must manage her anger like a politician, despite her maternal instincts. (Internal)

*The Kumari Devi is visiting. A deeply religious figure will not want to be associated with the poor press. (External)

*Her husband loses his temper on national television as the media frenzy begins. (External)

*The Secretary of State wants to cheer for her husband’s stance and speak up herself, but must stuff her emotions. (Internal)

*The President invites the Secretary of State and her husband over for dinner. The resulting argument could cost her the job. (External and Internal Components Involved)

Resulting Stakes:

Photo by MarcLondon

Photo by MarcLondon

Public: Loss of her impact on policy, Loss of public respect, Loss of relationships with foreign dignitaries, and loss of public office position.

Photo by Tim Hill

Photo by Tim Hill

Personal: Loss of relationship with family if handled wrong, pain to her family, embarrassment, and loss of right to express her own emotions. From these examples what can we learn to apply to our own novels?

How to Multi-Layer a Novel’s Conflict with Tips From Madam Secretary:

*Create multiple external conflicts in your novel. These are obstacles that result from things outside of the individual. Events, or actions by others that have an impact on your character.

*Create multiple internal conflicts in your novel. These are obstacles that result from your character’s emotions or flaws.

*Create multiple public stakes. These are simply the things your character has to lose that are in the public arena.

*Create multiple private stakes. These are the private things your character has to lose.

*Weave in tension by making the reader care about the stakes. We see this when the Secretary of State must chose between what is good for her daughter and the country.

What other books or movies are great at multi-layering conflict?

How Could She? All About Love

I’ve been reading romance novels forever.  One book still sticks in my head. I must have been about twenty-two years old. Tired of working all the time and studying constantly, I took a “short” break from homework to read “just a chapter” of a full length contemporary romance novel I’d picked up from a used book store.

I have no idea who the author was or what the book was called, but that book made me so mad!

 

How Could She? All About Love

The short break turned into a long break. I could NOT stop reading it.

I don’t remember the plot beyond the fact the hero and heroine were stuck together in a remote cabin, and he was a fugitive. Naturally, these close quarters made them fall in love.  But the heroine didn’t know the hero was a wanted man. Then her friend/family member (I can’t remember!!) contacted her via walkie-talkie or some other outdated method of communication and warned her there was a felon on the loose. The name? The hero’s!

My nerves ratcheted as I kept reading. The hero had been framed, but the heroine didn’t know it. But…she should know it, right? She fell in love with this amazing man, and she should know he could never rob a bank/kill a person/whatever the plot was!

I couldn’t put this book down. The room grew darker. I flipped on the light without looking up from the page.

About 3/4 of the way in, my nerves ratcheted. My fingernails? Chewed off. The hero and heroine knew their little interlude was ending. The law enforcement friends of the heroine were on their way.

Don’t turn him in! You know he’s not a criminal!

And guess what?

She turned him in!!

How COULD she??

I bawled! I just sat there and sobbed. Hours and hours had gone by with me emotionally invested in this book, and I could NOT believe she did it! But I kept reading. And then my heart really pounded, because the hero was so wonderful. He understood why she had to turn him in. And he forgave her!!

That book taught me a valuable lesson about romance novels. Conflict stirs up emotion in the reader. And the more emotionally invested I am in a story, the more likely I am to skip meals, read in the dark, and conveniently forget about my real life.

Am I still mad the heroine turned him in? Yes! But the author of that book wrung out every feeling inside me–and I’ve never forgotten it.

Have you ever read a book that turned you into an emotional wreck for days afterward?

Please share in the comments!!

***

Jill Kemerer writes contemporary romance novels with love, humor and faith. Her debut novel, Small-Town Bachelor, releases April 1, 2015 through Harlequin Love Inspired. A full time writer and homemaker, she relies on coffee and chocolate to keep up with her kids’ busy schedules.

Besides spoiling her mini-dachshund, Jill adores magazines, M&MS, fluffy animals and long nature walks. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children.  Jill loves connecting with readers, so please visit her website, http://jillkemerer.com.

Brainstorming Goals For Your Scenes – Help! Limp Noodle Attack

Photo by kenis

Photo by kenis

Overcooked pasta can be truly nasty! Mushy, flavored like runny starch, it settles in your stomach like a hairball in a cat. Not the most appetizing dinner.

In our writing we often find our scenes as flat as an overcooked noodle. Why don’t they pop off of the page? Why are they boring? Why does it feel as if nothing is happening in the scene?

Chances are you are under a limp noodle attack.

There are a few things that can make your scenes flat enough to leave a mealy taste in a reader’s mouth. How can you change your scene to have conflict, tension, and readers clamoring for the next scene?

Brainstorming Goals For Your Scenes:

Without definitive goals your scenes will fall flat. You already know about goals and scenes, but you can’t figure out yours? Try brainstorming in this progression:

*Determine if the scene is necessary. Ask yourself these questions: What do I want from this scene as an author? Why am I even writing it? What would be missing from my book if I didn’t write this scene?

Knowing what you want from the scene and how it accomplishes your goal will help you to know whether it needs to be cut or not. A tip I learned from Susan May Warren at My Book Therapy is if it doesn’t further the plot, you need to cut the scene.

If you have a scene goal as a writer, it can help you frame the character goal to best achieve your author goal.

*Identify your author goal. This is the answer to the questions in the previous step. By putting your goal on paper you are able to compare it to the end scene to see if it meets your goals and tweak accordingly.

*Identify your point of view character’s goal. What does your character want in this scene? If you don’t know, step back and consider your author goal. Is it an emotional focus goal, or a plot focus goal?

Example of author emotional focus goal: Character will confront their emotions for the other character.

Flip it to a character goal: Lucy wants to tell Sam she loves him.

Example of plot focus goal: Hero will chase villain to a place where he will be caught.

Flip it to a character goal: Sam hopes to find clues at an old abandoned warehouse as to the villain’s identity.

*Identify the obstacles.  Simply ask yourself the question, “What will stand in the way of my character reaching their goal?” This will allow you to find conflict for the scene.

Example: With Lucy’s goal above, one big obstacle could be to run into an old girlfriend, or a mother. That would keep her from expressing her feelings.

*Add a Kick of Tension. Ask yourself, “Why should this matter to the reader?” Something I learned from Susan May Warren has helped me immensely in my writing. Tension is that extra kick you add in for what it matters to the reader. Some things the reader naturally cares about, but other things need a bit of additional tension.

Example: With Lucy, you could add in the tension of knowing that Sam is moving in a week. If she doesn’t tell him how she feels, she may never get the chance. Now we care even more.

What is the hardest part of brainstorming goals and obstacles for you?

 

For more tips on Brainstorming conflict, check out my book:

Creating A Rocky Balboa Moment In Your Novel

Isn’t this one of the most remembered moments on film? I loved watching these movies when I was in High School!

As Rocky climbed these stairs we were excited for him. We believed that he could do anything, after all he mastered the stairs.

Who would have thought training for a boxing match could be such a high moment? Still, in the Rocky movies they manage to pull this seemingly mundane activity off to be extraordinary.

3 Tips To Add A Rocky Balboa Moment In Your Novel:

*Create an insurmountable task to the average person. The idea of doing that kind of training is daunting for most of us. It is even daunting for Rocky at the beginning of the training session. We see how hard it is for him, we know how hard it might be for us, and we admire the courage.

*Show the struggle to achieve the excellence required to overcome. The first time in the video, Rocky doesn’t just run up the stairs. They show how hard he works to do this difficult task. The sweat and tears involved in finding success.

*Showcase the moment of success in an arena of greatness. Here we see the run up the stairs and the magnificent view as he raises his hands in the air in triumph. The scene is set up to show greatness. If this same scene occurred in a alley and he ran up the stairs of an old warehouse it would not feel the same.

Writing a book we don’t have the leisure of music or a picture to show our readers what we are thinking. We must paint out setting in words, give our character an insurmountable challenge, and show their struggle as they work toward their goal.

Notice that this is a small portion of the movie that leads up to the great fight. It is Rocky’s fight against himself to be strong enough for the great fight. It feels almost like a mini clip of the larger boxing match’s challenge. My Book Therapy has tips on this strategy that helped me along the way.

What did you think of the Rocky movies? What is your favorite part?

5 Tips To Brainstorming Character Conflict

My husband and I couldn’t be more different if we tried. He is the quiet, techno-savvy math loving science buff who isn’t all that fond of words and mostly reads computer programming textbooks.

Me on the other hand? I love words, the arts, read fiction ferociously, am outgoing and techno-challenged. But we are the perfect complement to one another.

Still, being opposite does bring a few sparks along the way. The kind of sparks that build great conflict between characters.

5 Tips To Brainstorming Character Conflict:

*Make them opposites. Two characters that are very different often compliment each other well, but it is also easier for them to misunderstand one another.

*Give them opposing goals. If they are both on opposite sides of an issue that will cause sparks. You can always have them meet in the middle, or one change what they think later.

*Amplify Their Insecurities– In the scene above we see how Scarlett is deeply embarrassed that Rhett has seen a private moment.

*Complement Their Strengths & Weaknesses. Sometimes their lack of strength in an area the other individual is strong in causes conflict. For example, the computer genius tries to teach you how to fix your computer problem, only you don’t understand a word they said.

*Put them in situations where they have to rely on each other. This may occur when they are trying to survive or to reach a common goal or dream.

Who are your favorite conflicting characters in a book or movie?

**Reminder: Jackie Layton, Michelle W, and Liz Johnson you are all $10 Amazon Gift Card Winners from previous Fan Fridays. Please contact me with information so I can send your prize. You can private chat me on Facebook or direct message me on twitter @MichelleLim24. Congratulations!

Are You Feeding Your Characters Enough Broccoli?

Kids have been finding ways to hide their broccoli and other green vegetables for as long as we’ve been buying them. There is nothing worse than stepping on a cold mushy green as you clear the table, or finding a mangled bite under their plate.

Still, they keep trying to feed them to the dog or fleece us with another of their amazing ideas like hiding it in their milk cup until they can dump it without detection. I’ve been to the dark side of the green war and back. Let me tell you, if it wasn’t so important I’d start flying my white flag.

What about your characters? Are you feeding them enough broccoli? You may be thinking I’ve just crossed over from the gray line between sane and certifiable.

No, I don’t want you to go to the kitchen, get your spoon and head to your computer with some greens. I’m not THAT crazy.

Your characters need healthy challenges that they must face. Things that are difficult and require a conscious choice to do what is right. These moments always cost them in the story and bring about new conflict. Most importantly, it helps us as readers relate to them.

These healthy challenges also push them towards a character change. So what is the difference between a healthy challenge and a conflict that arises in the story? By healthy challenges, I mean challenges that impact integrity and challenge us to be stronger Christians.

Story Conflict Example: The thief has stolen the keys to your house. Now you must change all the locks and be careful because he is watching you.

Healthy Challenge Example: A family member that you haven’t spoken to in two years has developed terminal cancer and wants to see you. The last time you saw them they treated you terribly. This is a moment when you must decide to take the high road and visit them. It may cause additional chaos and make other people angry at you, but it is the healthy choice. It will build character in your life.

Both of these elements are key to a solid character and plot. Story conflict is more external and pushes the story forward. Healthy Challenges can be external or internal, but they provide internal conflict that allows the character to grow.

If you lack Story Conflict, you will struggle with a sagging middle and lack of drive to find a happy ending. If you lack healthy challenges, you will miss some of the depth your story could have and a deeper character change.

What are some examples of healthy challenges you have given your characters, or faced in your own life?