Tag Archives: Novel

Creative Juice #155

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Creative Juice #155

We stand on the shoulders of creative giants. Give yourself a boost with these twelve articles.

Elements of Fiction

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elements of fiction

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

If you are writing a story, you must consider how you will handle these seven elements:

Plot—is what happens. It is the action that starts in the beginning, continues through the middle, and wraps up at the end. Action adventure novels and thrillers are often plot-driven, as are some mysteries.

Setting—is where and when the story happens. The story is profoundly affected by the setting. A story that happens in a suburban town in the present will be very different from a story set in the past on a distant planet.

Character—is who the story is about. The people doing the doing. You need at least one. Most novels have an extensive cast of characters. You have a protagonist, and antagonist, the people who support each, and some random individuals. In order for the characters to be believable, they must each need something, and usually what one needs is at odds with what another needs. Each character’s back story (his life before the beginning of the book) must be considered, even if it isn’t shared with the reader. Each person is the way she is because of something that happened in her past. Many, many novels are character-driven. In my opinion, characters are the most important element of fiction.

elements of fiction

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

Point of view—is the perspective of the person narrating the story or scene. It’s okay to have multiple narrators, but make sure it’s always clear to the reader whose head he’s in at any given time. Generally, it is confusing to change POV within a single scene.

Point of view can be first person, second person, or third person.

First person is when the story is being told by a character, either the protagonist, the antagonist, or a secondary character, using his own words and voice, using the pronouns I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, and ours.

Second person is when the story is being told about and to a person: you did this, you said that. The second person is rarely used in fiction, because it is hard to pull off for a long period of time, but I have seen it successfully used in a memoir that a parent wrote for his child, specifically about the child’s childhood.

Third person can be the viewpoint of a person removed from the story, the invisible author. Pronouns used would be he, she, him, her, they, their, etc. The third person narrator could be omniscient, all-knowing, like God. God knows everyone’s deepest thoughts, and the omniscient narrator does, too, and shares them with the reader. This is the way classical literature was written.

However, contemporary fiction favors an objective third person view point, where the narrator tells only what is observable. That means the writer is very limited about how thoughts are shared. Generally, if a character is alone, we can hear her thoughts. In other scenes, a viewpoint character can be selected, and the story is told through what he can observe, and possibly also through his thoughts. But again, it must be clear to the reader whose head he’s inside. And also, if the reader wonders how a character knows something based on what should be observable to him, the reader will disconnect from the story.

elements of fiction

Conflict—there is no story without conflict. There are two types of conflict, external and internal. An external conflict involves a problem which exits outside of the character, such as a problem with another character or an institution, or a dangerous situation, like wartime or an avalanche. An internal conflict is a problem or need within the character, such as an addiction, or wanting the object of her desire to notice her. In good full-length fiction, the main character, the antagonist, and some of the supporting characters all experience external and internal conflict. In short fiction, there might only be one conflict.

Theme—is a universal truth that your story illustrates. The theme can be as trite as Believe in yourself or Love makes the world go round, or it can be something the writer is passionate about. You don’t have to beat your theme into the reader, but every chapter should reflect the theme, even subversively, in order to have continuity. If you do not chose a theme for your story, or the story does not adhere to a theme, the reader will sense something is missing and try to find her own theme in it. Do not allow your story to be pointless; your reader will be disappointed.

Symbol—is an item that stands for something else. A ring that stands for power; an heirloom teacup that represents love of family. It’s hard not to include a symbol in fiction. If you don’t consciously put one in, your readers will unconsciously find one. (When I wrote worship drama for my church, my ministry partner was constantly finding symbols in my skits that I hadn’t purposely put in.) So you might as well choose a symbol that relates to your theme, and be sure to refer to it several times in the story.

elements of fiction

Depending on your story, certain elements may fall into place easily, while others may challenge you and send you to the library or a writer’s workshop for help. However, to write successful fiction, you must give consideration to them all.

An Interview with Author Victoria Thompson

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An Interview with Author Victoria Thompson

Victoria Thompson is the popular author of twenty-two romance novels, the historical Gaslight Mystery series (twenty-two books and counting), and the Counterfeit Lady novels (Book 3 coming out soon).

I have to brag that I’ve know Vicki since 1982. When my second child was born, she was my La Leche League leader. Soon afterward, she started a Bible study group for young mothers, and she was instrumental in leading me back to the Lord.

She was also the first person I’d ever known to actually have a book published.

Vicki graciously agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

What was your undergraduate major?

VT: English/Secondary Education; I like to say I’m a retired teacher—I taught one year and retired!  This was in a public Middle School in 1970.

You teach writing popular fiction in the Masters program at Seton Hill University. How did that come about?

VT: I was invited to teach in the program when it was just getting started in 2000.  A writer friend recommended me.

I’ve heard your books characterized as “cozy” mysteries. What constitutes a cozy?

VT: A “cozy” or traditional mystery is defined as a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. That doesn’t mean a small town, necessarily, although many traditional mysteries are set in small towns.  It just means the group of suspects are members of a small social community, i.e. friends, family members, members of a church or club, etc.

Murder on Pleasant Avenue

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

VT: Yes. My process is actually somewhere in the middle. I come up with my victim and the cast of suspects before I start writing, but I have no idea who the killer is or what exactly will happen, so I just wing it from there.

Why historical fiction?

VT: I love history and I love exploring how human nature has not really changed ever. The technology is different, but people are not. They are still concerned about the same things now as they were a hundred years ago. I have tried writing contemporary novels, but they just never quite click, for some reason. I think I just have a naturally historical voice and sensibility.

How do you do your research?

VT: I have three sets of bookshelves full of reference books in my office that I consult, but it’s also very easy to use Google for things as well. I don’t even have to get out of my chair! Google will often lead me to a specific reference book and if it’s not available any other way, I’ll get it from the library or inter-library loan.

CityScoundrels_layouts2

How long does it take you to write a book?

VT: Around 6 months, including research and “thinking.”

What is the most fun part of writing a book?

VT: Getting to that point in the book where you realize you’ve got all the clues in place, you know who the killer is and why they did it and all you have to do is write it up so others can read it. For me, this usually happens around 2/3-3/4 of the way through the manuscript.

Who is your agent, and how did you connect?

VT: My agent is Nancy Yost. We have been together about 25 years (neither of us remembers exactly when she took me on).  She was originally my editor for two books I wrote for Avon.  I had just hired a new agent when she told me she was leaving Avon to become an agent.  Two years later, I fired that agent and went with Nancy.

Victoria Thompson photo

Victoria Thompson

What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

VT: I have very little control over the cover art (I do get to approve it or suggest changes), and no control at all over when or how often the books are published and how much they cost. Also, I’d love to write 12 books a year, to keep my fans happy, but that’s physically impossible.

 

Guest Post: Tips to Avoid Discussing Your Novel-in-Progress by Lynda Cohen Loigman

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Guest Post: Tips to Avoid Discussing Your Novel-in-Progress by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Thank you to Writers in the Storm and to Lynda Cohen Loigman for this excellent article about how to avoid spilling the beans.

How To Close an Open Book

I’m an open book.

Ask the people who know me best, and that’s what they’ll tell you. I’m not secretive. No one has ever described me as “aloof.” I’ve never answered an invitation with the phrase “I have other plans,” because I’m fine just telling you what my other plans are. If you ask me something about my personal life, chances are I’ll give you the answer, even if I don’t know you that well. There is nothing enigmatic about me, and I’ve always been comfortable with that.

Except now that I’m working on my second novel, I wish I knew how to be a little more mysterious. Now, for the first time ever, I’m beginning to realize the importance of keeping my thoughts to myself.

Part of why I’m having such a difficult time keeping silent about my second book is because of the way my first one developed. That story had been in my head for over a decade before I wrote a word, and I lived with the characters for almost as long. They were part of my life, so I spoke about them with my husband and friends. Their saga became part of my conversational repertoire. I never cared about keeping it secret, because I had no expectations. Even when I began to write the words on paper, the idea of publishing a book was just a far-away dream. And after the dream turned into reality – after the book was out in the world – it was even more fun to talk about.

With my next novel, I’m finding that talking isn’t such a good idea.

 

hands over mouth; stop talking

First of all, I’m not sure what to say. Even general questions like “What are you working on?” have begun to confuse me. When I started writing this second book, I thought I knew my story. I thought I knew my characters. But in the process of researching, another path began to show itself, a path with richer history and more compelling people. My ideas began to shift, my priorities changed, and now, my story is not the same. Answering questions prematurely has made me a little bit of a liar, and there is no guarantee that it won’t happen again. I have learned that ambiguity can be more virtuous than honesty, and a lot less likely to generate regret.

The same is true for sharing excerpts of my unfinished story. I’m not saying I want to lock up my laptop until this novel is finished, but I have begun to understand that sharing incomplete work is a risky endeavor. What if a friend wants me to keep a character I’ve eliminated? What if a necessary plot point is somehow unpopular? Even if I do away with it in the end, the act of writing it might still be necessary in order for another aspect of the story to emerge.

I love my writing group friends and I adore my classmates. But right now, I’m not ready to share too much. Even the thought of it makes me feel vulnerable – like I’m letting go of something that isn’t mine to give away.

Because she is so wise and generous, and because this isn’t her first second novel, my agent instinctively understands my position. Mine was a single book deal, and though the publisher has asked about my next novel, my agent knows me well enough to know that I’m not yet ready to pitch the manuscript. She knows that my story is still developing, and that adding outside voices or deadlines at this point will only muddy my thinking.

Imagine watching someone learn to ride a bike. The rider hits bumps and falls down. The process is messy and it’s easy to criticize technique. There are plenty of moments where you might want to cover your eyes rather than watch the rider swerve around with no apparent control of where she is going.

If I speak too much about my second novel, or if I give too much of it away in advance, it feels like the people listening or reading are watching me learn how to ride a bike. I want them to trust that I am capable enough not to crash, but the fact is, until the words are printed, there are an infinite number of choices and mistakes to be made. I think it’s best if I make those in private.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Guest Post: AVOIDING FIRST CHAPTER BLUNDERS by Ryan Lanz

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Thank you to Ryan Lanz of A Writer’s Path for this excellent article on your novel’s opening chapter.

pen-and-notebook

You’ve got your idea. Your characters are fleshed out. The setting is crystallized in your mind.

You power up the laptop, and you place your fingers on the keys. Chapter one.

There’s a magic in that. You can practically feel the readers forming an orderly line to purchase your book, even before you finish the first paragraph. But what do you want to accomplish? What are the things to avoid in your first chapter? In this post, we’ll look at the nitty-gritty of a novel’s first chapter.

What are you looking to accomplish?
In a first chapter, you have several things that you want to accomplish and clue the reader on. This is not an exhaustive list, but let’s look at some common items.

  • Identify a protagonist
  • Establish something the protagonist wants
  • Set the tone for the book
  • Make a few promises
  • Indicate what time/place in history
  • Present an immediate conflict/issue

Let’s take a look at each.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

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Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

I actually read this book twenty years ago—and remembered nothing from it. But it was full of my underlining and border notes in my handwriting, so I definitely read it.

The late Jack Bickham wrote 75 novels (two of which were made into films) and six books on the craft of fiction. He understands how to write a story.

Yet, as I was rereading this book over the course of more than a year, I found myself resisting much of what Bickham expounds. For example, Bickham says every scene must end with a disaster. I rejected that idea, because many of my scenes don’t and I couldn’t picture what would have to happen to follow that convention.

frustrated-writer-2

Then I read Children of Blood and Bone. Every scene in Children of Blood and Bone ends with a crisis. (Except maybe one.) And I couldn’t put CoB&B down. The pacing was so fast. The problems were so compelling.

So I began to take Scene and Structure more seriously.

Some of the terms in S&S I’d seen before, but I thought they meant something different. For example, I thought a scene goal was the author’s goal for the scene. It’s actually the viewpoint character’s goal for the scene. I suppose I would have known that if I’d majored in creative writing in college instead of music education.

Here are some points I learned from Scene and Structure:

  • Moment by moment, transactions occur in your scene that involve this progression: stimulus, internalization, response. A cause and effect relationship exists between the stimulus and the response. The response should make sense as a reaction to the stimulus. If the response would confuse the reader, an explanation is necessary; this occurs while the character processes the stimulus during the internalization phase.
  • At the beginning of the story, the main character must state a goal. The reader unconsciously forms a story question: i.e. will the character achieve his goal?
  • At the beginning of each scene, the viewpoint character states a short-term goal related to the story goal, and the reader again formulates a scene question about its attainment. The next element of the scene is conflict. In order to keep the reader engaged, the scene must end with a disaster.
  • Each scene disaster is followed by sequel (sometimes with a connecting transition) in which the character processes what’s just happened. Sequel consists of emotion, thought, decision (creation of the next scene’s goal), and action, which launches the next scene.

Scene and Structure covers much more related to writing the novel, including suggestions on how to create a master plot for your book, and an appendix of excerpts of published novels illustrating some of the concepts introduced in S&S.

scene and structure

This was not an easy book to read. I often had to read sections over and over to understand them. I don’t know if my confusion was the fault of the author or of my own limited intelligence. However, I will be reading this book again, and filtering my manuscript-in-progress through all the bullet points listed. I would recommend Scene and Structure for authors who are not satisfied with their own work but don’t know what’s wrong with it: you may have structural deficiencies.

Guest Post: Avoiding First Chapter Blunders by Ryan Lanz

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Thank you to Ryan Lanz, who blogs about the craft of writing on A Writer’s Path.

Open Book

 

You’ve got your idea. Your characters are fleshed out. The setting is crystallized in your mind.

You power up the laptop, and you place your fingers on the keys. Chapter one.

There’s a magic in that. You can practically feel the readers forming an orderly line to purchase your book, even before you finish the first paragraph. But what do you want to accomplish? What are the things to avoid in your first chapter? In this post, we’ll look at the nitty-gritty of a novel’s first chapter.

What are you looking to accomplish?
In a first chapter, you have several things that you want to accomplish and clue the reader on. This is not an exhaustive list, but let’s look at some common items.

  • Identify a protagonist
  • Establish something the protagonist wants
  • Set the tone for the book
  • Make a few promises
  • Indicate what time/place in history
  • Present an immediate conflict/issue

To continue reading, click here.