Tag Archives: Writers

Writing Tip: Your Plot in Three Acts

2010-05-22

During my work break at the library, I was skimming through the Entertainment Weekly magazine. In one of the articles, the author Miriam Toews made an interesting statement about how she constructs her novel:

You must first establish tenderness, [Mariam Toews] says. Then the excitement will build, as you put “the violence and agony of life into every note” until you must make an important decision: either return to tenderness or “continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.”

I love books that follow this construct. I try to follow this arc myself when I write.

Without this three-act structure, I lose interest in a story fast. And by the three-act structure, I mean, the beginning introduces the conflict, the middle is when crap hits the fan, and the ending is how that conflict is resolved. According to the filmmaker Edoardo Nolfo:

The three- act structure is intrinsic to the human brain’s model of the world; it matches a blueprint that is hard-wired in the human brain, which is constantly attempting to rationalize the world and resolve it into patterns. It is therefore an inevitable property of almost any successful drama, whether the writer is aware of it or not.

During my work break, I ALSO discovered the literary agent Paula Munier’s book PLOT PERFECT, where she gave a breakdown of the conventional beginning, middle and end:

Love Story

Beginning: Boy meets girl.
Middle: Boy loses girl.
End: Boy gets girl back.

Murder Mystery

Beginning: Someone gets murdered
Middle: The cops, detective, or amateur sleuth investigates the murder
End: The murderer is brought to justice

Coming-Of-Age-Story

Beginning: A young person longs for adventure — and new acquaintances and events conspire to make that happen
Middle: With the help of the new friends and mentor, the young person undergoes a series of transformative experiences.
End: Armed with this newfound knowledge and experience, the young person triumphs against overwhelming odds — and comes of age

War Story

Beginning: Our hero (or heroes) learns of the mission.
Middle: Our hero (or heroes) plan out, train for, and undertake the mission
End: Our hero (or heroes) must go above and beyond to overcome the enemy — and the mission is won

Each model shows that by the middle of a book, the Main Character should be tackling some kind of conflict. This conflict should threaten what the MC wants most in life.

 

What does the character in your book want most in life?

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My Writing Music:

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Motivations to Complete Writing a Novel

Confession: I have given-up more times than I’ve succeeded in completing a novel. For example, I have a file on my laptop titled “ABANDONED STORIES” and throughout my 11 years of writing, this file filled up with 20+ documents. Each 5-10 chapters long.

Then I have a file of completed manuscripts. A total of 3 novels completed… (excluding completed fanfictions). But these 3 manuscripts are unpublishable.

Unlike some other writers who perhaps complete and publish the first book they’ve ever written, it took me MANY TRIES before I finally fell in love with the story about a 19th century ‘fallen woman’ (here’s the excerpt of the older version). It’s a story I completed writing in 1 year and began revising for the next 5 years.

However, I’ve tried writing new novels during those 6 years and FAILED EACH TIME to complete it. SO. I totally know how it feels to write while doubting your ability to even complete a novel.

I therefore decided to share some of the practical tips that kept me from giving up on TRC and my other completed works (other than being in love with the plot and characters). Hopefully what inspires me might inspire others as well!

Things that Motivate Me:

  • I never allow myself to write the ending of the manuscript before I’ve written the rest of the story. BUT I always make sure that when I begin writing a novel, I know how the last chapter will end. The desire to reach that ending compels me like CRAZY….because I imagine that it’ll be the BEST of all chapters.
    The Final Chapter of Swan Lake
  • I write, imagining the day when I can type THE END and print out the entire manuscript.  So, yes, during my difficult writing days the desire to press the ‘PRINT’ button compels me.
    Sending this baby off to New York per an agent’s request. Long story short: It got rejected *sniffles*

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  • I write, anticipating the day when I can begin REVISING my completed-manuscript at a coffee shop.

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  • Looking at pretty book covers also inspires me to write, imagining that one day my manuscript will have a cover of its own.

8378780The House Girl by Tara Conklin51Z9RCVRPEL

  • As a history graduate, I love researching about the past, and details about the past always inspires me to write.
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Dear Readers,
What inspires you to keep writing? What keeps you from giving up?

Music I’m writing to:

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Women’s Fiction: A Book With No Heroes

tgw_new_1-680x1024I recently discovered Amy Sue Nathan, an author of Women’s Fiction, whose debut novel THE GLASS WIVES will be released on May 14th (that’s tomorrow). I’m relatively new to Women’s Fiction, so when I visited the author’s page (Women’s Fiction Writers), her blog’s tagline sparked my curiosity: “NO HEROES.” I was intrigued but also bewildered. And so I got in touch with the author and asked:

 

What’s the significance in the absence of a hero?

 

She sent me a great response. I asked for her permission to share it on my blog, so here it is:

Writing women’s fiction, or book club fiction, to me, means it’s about a strong woman who doesn’t need to be saved by a man, which is traditional in romance novels. In the books I write and like to read, there might be love and a bit of a romantic connection, but it is not central to the story. The protagonist’s goal is to be okay (whatever that means to her) but not to be in a romance. To me, hero=someone who saves a woman. In my books, the main character saves herself! I don’t use the word heroine either, but that’s completely a personal preference. Certainly there are many ways to interpret a hero. There are everyday heroes we see on the news. There are heroes fighting for our freedom overseas. But in terms of fiction, a hero is usually the male character who is the romantic interest of the female main character. It’s very popular, many people read it and write it, it’s just not my forte or interest.

I plan to pick up a copy of THE GLASS WIVES and some other books within this genre (I’m ALWAYS up for book recommendations!). As a matter of fact, I really don’t remember the last time I read a Women’s Fiction… Anyway, as I explore this genre, I want to get a better grasp of how writers of this genre:

  • Portray STRONG WOMEN
  • What it means to different writers when a woman doesn’t need to be SAVED by a man. And also, if there are Women’s Fiction writers that do create a woman-saved-by-a-man dynamic, then how the author is able to steer away from perpetuating the damsel-in-distress concept.
  • How men are portrayed within this genre and how much/or how little room they take up in these books

On a random note, I don’t think the TRC rewrite will fit into the Women’s Fiction genre… But we’ll see. I need a better grasp of this genre before making any further conclusions.

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Can the fate of a writer change?

I’ve been discussing this one badly written story with my editor, and it got me thinking:

I wonder if the most mediocre of writers can become a great, laudable writer with enough determination? And I mean a writer with no spark, no redeeming qualities, to her/his writing or plotline. There is a saying: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” But is such a proverb relevant to a writer? Indeed, a young writer will write better as the years go by. There needs to be that will to improve, for only then will one’s writing mature. But this isn’t what I’m talking about. I guess I’m being a bit confusing here, but, do you beleive that good writers have this creativity, this spark, that enables them to write something great with enough practice and effort? And that some people who enjoy writing, lack the said qualities, so that no matter how hard they try to write something good, they never will. In other words, do you think bad writers are doomed to be bad writers?

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Writers are dangerous

This is a true story.

It happened to a friend of a friend of mine.

Ok. Fine. It happened to me. Just a moment ago.

It’s 9pm. I forgot to eat dinner. So I leave my writing for a bit and go to the kitchen. Turn on the stove to fry some eggs. Pan is still heating. So I decide to go write a bit. I forget about the stove and continue writing, lost in my world of men in cravats and top hats. But I’m pulled out of my imagination by the sound of the fire alarm. I’m thinking to myself that this alarm is the one I always tend to ignore. The one where the alarm goes on because someone in another house left on their stove for too long. So I’m in no danger, I tell myself, and continue writing. But then common sense kicks in. I frown. This alarm sounds different. This one sounds like–OH BUGGERS. I dash out of my room and go to the kitchen. (I’m in London, there’s fog everywhere!–no wait, it’s smoke!!) I see the pan, set it on the counter (forgetting that this burning hot pan will melt the surface), and panic when seeing spitting flames coming from the stove. I take up this food package and jump around fanning the kitchen. I run around looking for the fire detector. AHHH the noise is killing me. I run around some more. Finally I find the damnable device. Fan it like crazy. And finally, the alarm stops. My cousin comes to me and this is where I realize what a scatterbrain I am. I’m fanning the friggin fire detector while the stove is STILL ON, SPITTING FIRE.

I smell like BBQ now

This post is dedicated to my cousin, Gee, without whom I cannot live. Pity her, friends, for having to live with someone so dangerous like me. *DUN DUN DUN*

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