Narrative Structure: The Three-Act Structure

Perhaps one of the more popular narrative structures, the Three-Act Structure is a solid choice when plotting out your novel. As mentioned in my last post about the seven types of narrative structure, the website Helping Writers Become Authors (from K.M. Weiland) has a fantastic, in-depth series on the Three-Act Structure.

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Why should you care about story structure? It’s one of the parts of a story that is most often overlooked by writers. Many writers believe that by utilizing narrative structure, they’ll sap the beauty and art of writing right out of their work. That, or they think using narrative structure is too complicated to bother with. I beg to differ. By applying narrative structure to your story, you help bring readers along in your story. Our brains automatically know when certain plot points are supposed to happen. That’s part of the magic of movies: We inherently know when an exciting bit of action is supposed to happen based on its narrative structure. Narrative structure is intuitive.

Back to our Three-Act Structure. It is, as its name suggests, made up of three separate acts. Act I makes up the first 25% of your story. Act II makes up the middle, or 50%, of your story. Act III makes up the last 25% of your story.

Act I

Act I is comprised of a few parts, including the Hook, Inciting Event, and Key Event.

The Hook is just that—it’s the thing that draws your readers in, makes them want to find out what happens to the protagonist. Essentially, when broken down into its most basic form, the Hook is a question: What’s going to happen? It should also be boiled down to a more specific question, such as: What assignment will Jonas receive at the Ceremony of Twelves? (The Giver by Lois Lowry.) Your hook should be specific and easily posed as a question. It should be inherent to the plot, but doesn’t necessarily need to contain action.

The Inciting Event (click for my post about the Inciting Event) is that major event in your protagonist’s life that changes it forever. They can’t go back from this point. It is the moment when your story officially begins.

The Key Event can be, and sometimes is, the same as the Inciting Event, but it can be separate. Think of the Inciting Event as the moment when your story begins, and the Key Event as the moment that defines what the story is about. This is the moment when your protagonist is engaged with the Inciting Event.

Act II

Act II begins, and Act I ends, with The First Plot Point. Act II is the biggest chunk in your story, made up of highs and lows, and growing action. It is also comprised of the Midpoint, which is the very middle plot point at the 50% mark, and two Pinch Points (note: you can have more than two Pinch Points). K.M. Weiland’s series on this structure breaks down Act II into two separate parts — the First Half of the Second Act and the Second Half of the Second Act, divided by the Midpoint.

The First Plot Point marks the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II. It is generally found at the 25% point of your story, and it’s another event that your protagonist can’t come back from. As Weiland puts it, this event isn’t just happening to your protagonist. He reacts to it in an irrevocable way. In my current WIP that’s with beta readers, The Sound of Snap Dragons, Kylie is attacked by a serial killer, which sets her on her hunt to find justice. It’s the character’s reaction that truly begins the first half of Act II.

Pinch Point #1 is a reminder that the antagonist is out there, flexing his biceps. Whether the protagonist attempts to confront the antagonist in some way, or the protagonist falls trap to something, it’s a reminder that our hero isn’t infallible. The first pinch point may reveal certain clues to the mystery, as well. This plot point can happen anywhere in the first half of the second act.

The Midpoint happens at exactly that —the very middle point of your book. Say your manuscript is 100,000 words; the Midpoint should happen at almost exactly 50,000 words into your story, give or take a thousands words or so. By delaying the midpoint, your readers may feel like the story is dragging. It is the centerpiece of your story; it’s the turning point from reaction to action on the protagonist’s part. This is a major plot point in your story, so make sure it doesn’t fall flat.

Pinch Point #2 is the second flex from the antagonist. It’s another blow to the protagonist’s journey, yet it should reveal new information. Again, this can happen anywhere in the second half of Act II.

Act III

Like the previous two acts, Act III should open with a bang, as Weiland puts it. It opens with the Third Plot Point, which should be major in the protagonist’s life and journey. It’s the point of no turning back for our hero, and his back is against a wall. Act III is comprised of the Third Plot Point, the Climax, and Resolution. Unlike our other acts, it’s a bit more flexible in its placement: It can be as early as 70% or as late as 75% in your story.

The Third Plot Point opens Act III in a pivotal moment. It places our protagonist on his last road to the Climax, and all your dominoes should be lined up for the Climax. This point may be utter upheaval for our hero, and may throw his life into total chaos. As Weiland gives, a great example is It’s a Wonderful Life: the third act opens with the appearance of the angel Clarence, who grants George Bailey his wish of never being born.

The Climax is exactly what it sounds like: It’s the moment when our hero battles evil, takes it head-on. Depending on whether your story is a comedy or a tragedy, your hero should either win the battle or lose it. It should have your readers on the edge of their seats. If you’ve built up your story correctly, your readers should have an idea of what’s to come (unless, of course, you throw in some sort of plot twist). It should occur near the very end of Act III.

The Resolution is only a few pages long, maybe one or two scenes, in which all the loose ends are tied up. It should give your readers closure in some way, even if you plan on writing a series. Here, we see how the climax has affected our protagonist’s life, whether he won or lost the battle.

And that’s the end of the Three-Act Structure. To sum up, it’s comprised of three acts, which are also made up of specific plot points. It’s one of the more popular narrative structures for writing novels, but bear in mind that it’s not the only one. Check back soon for my next post on our next narrative structure: Freytag’s Pyramid!

The 7 Types of Narrative Structure

Did you know there are seven, seven, types of narrative structure? From the Three-Act Structure to the Seven-Point Structure, you have a few to choose from when writing your stories. Today, I will be giving you a brief overview of each narrative structure, and be prepared for future posts solely on each story type of narrative structure.

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What exactly is narrative structure? Essentially, it’s a blueprint to follow when outlining your story structure, telling you where to plot certain points in the narrative. It’s the particular order in which narrative is presented in a story, but it’s also made up of narrative elements that drive the action, such as character, conflict, setting, etc. Remember that your plot is driven by a lot of varying factors, so you can think of a novel as one giant spider’s web, all interwoven and connected. Every element should make sense within your story, and every plot point should have a purpose.

Basic story structure goes as follows:
1. Normal life/Status Quo
Your character is going along, going about his everyday business. Everything is hunky dory (or maybe not so hunky dory, depending on your character’s background, like in The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, where Cormoran Strike is sleeping in his office, has broken up with his intermittent girlfriend, and all around down and out with very few jobs as a private detective). You can make this as short or (sort of) long as you want.

2. The Inciting Event/Incident
This is the event that brings your protagonist’s normal life to a total and utter halt. He cannot come back from his event, and his life is about to change forever, whether for the better or for the worse. This should point your protagonist in the direction his ultimate goal, if not at least begin to lead him in that direction.

3. Rising Action
Your protagonist is pursuing their goal, hindered by the obstacles you put in his way, and each time he gets a little closer.

4. Climax/All-Is-Lost
This is the big moment in your story that you’ve been building up to. It’s the final showdown, a battle of wits. There is also most likely a moment when your protagonist thinks he has lost it all, that the battle is lost, and he’s about to give up.

5. Resolution
Here, your character has either a) won the battle, victory! or b) lost the battle or c) lost the battle, but realized they have something more important.

These are the most common “beats” in a story structure. When you dive into the different types of narrative structure, you’ll find that the placement and types of beats within a story structure will vary.

There are seven varying forms of narrative structure. Below, you’ll find a brief description of each one.

  1. Three-Act Structure
    This structure splits your story into three acts: First Act(25%), Second Act(50%), Third Act(25%). The first act makes up the beginning quarter of your story; the second act makes up the entire middle of your story, or 50% of your overall story (give or take); and finally, the third act makes up the ending 25% of your story. Act one is your status quo/normal life and inciting event, and ends with the first plot point. The first plot point then leads into the second act, which includes your rising action and a midpoint. The third plot point leads into the third act, which includes your climax and resolution. For a great series on the Three-Act Structure, check out helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com.
  2. Freytag’s Pyramid
    This is essentially what it sounds like: picture your story like a pyramid of rising and falling action, with your climax at the very peak. While this structure is named after a 19th-century German novelist, it’s actually based on the Greek tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. It’s one of the more basic structures, including an introduction, rising action, climax, the fall, and a disastrous catastrophe. (It wouldn’t be a tragedy without a catastrophic ending, would it? Think the ending of the stage version of Little Shop of Horrors — everyone is eaten by the blood-thirsty plant, Audrey II.)
  3. The Hero’s Journey
    The Hero’s Journey has quite a few more plot points than some of the other narrative structures, but it falls similarly to the Three-Act Structure. The basic plot points are as follows:
    The Ordinary World. Your status quo, your protagonist is going about his daily life.
    The Call to Adventure. Think of this as your inciting incident.
    Refusal of the Call. Our hero doesn’t want to take on the journey.
    Meeting the Mentor. The protagonist meets the person who will teach them or prepare them somehow.
    Crossing the Threshold. Our hero steps out of his comfort zone.
    Tests, Allies, Enemies. Think of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, when Luke, Obi Wan Kenobi, and the droids pick up Han Solo and Chewbacca for passage to Alderaan.
    Approach to the Inmost Cave. Our hero is nearing whatever it is he wants; he nears his goal.
    The Ordeal. Our hero meets and beats his greatest challenge yet.
    Reward/Seizing the Sword. Our hero gains or obtains something they were after, and victory is in sight.
    The Road Back. Things are going backwards for our hero, and he realizes that seizing the sword might have made things harder for him.
    Resurrection. Our hero faces his ultimate challenge or battle, and the climax of the story rests upon everything the hero has learned over their journey. (Like Luke using the Force to fire at a 2-meter wide shot that he must make.)
    Return with the Elixir. Our hero returns to his normal life (or as normal as it can be).
  4. The Story Circle
    This is actually a narrative structure created by Rick and Morty co-creator, Dan Harmon. It is inspired by The Hero’s Journey, but instead of abstract beats, it simply makes the writer think about the character’s wants and needs by instead using beats like: Protagonist is in a Zone of Comfort, They Want Something, They Enter an Unfamiliar Situation, Adapt to It, Gets What They Wanted, Pay a Heavy Price, They Return to Their Familiar Situation, They Have Changed (whether for better or for worse).
  5. Fichtean Curve
    This narrative structure is fleshed out in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. It puts your protagonist through a series of crises and obstacles on his rising way to the climax. It bypasses the “ordinary world” or status quo of structures like the Three-Act Structure, and it begs for the protagonist to continue having to overcome obstacles in order to keep the tension of the story, therefore keeping the reader engaged to the very end.
  6. Save the Cat
    Similar to the Three-Act Structure, this narrative structure was created by screenwriter Blake Snyder, and it tends to remain a popular choice. It’s made up of 15 plot points, all in a certain order. Each “beat” is numbered by page, assuming you were writing a 110-page screenplay.
  7. Seven-Point Story Structure
    Similar to the Hero’s Journey, the Seven-Point Story focuses on the highs and lows of a narrative. It includes major plot points and beats called “pinch points” — basically, when something goes wrong for your protagonist.

Bear in mind that narrative structures aren’t an exact science, especially when writing a novel. They can be great tools in outlining your novel, knowing when and where to place your plot points.

The Inciting Event

Every event, every plot point in a story should matter, and that especially goes for the Inciting Event. Sure, maybe it’s not the most significant plot point or even the most noticeable, but it’s still important in your overall story structure, which is why I want to talk about it today.

What exactly is the Inciting Event? Basically, it’s the very first plot point that sets your story in motion. It could even seem incredibly insignificant in the lives of your characters, but it’s what tips over that first domino in a long line of dominoes. Essentially, it should change your character’s life forever, no matter how small or big your Inciting Event is. You’ll hear some writing advice say that the Inciting Event needs to be huge and dramatic to change your character’s life forever; I don’t believe this is true. The Inciting Event can be one small notch in your character’s life, but it should be one that they can’t come back from.

Now, the Inciting Event can even happen before the story begins. In The Days Without You, the story opens with Kylie dreading a concert she agreed to attend with her best friend, and there, she meets Adam by mishap. While this is the beginning of the story, the inciting event would technically be Kylie agreeing to attend the concert with Cat, even though this happens before the start of the story. And, your character/s may not even realize that their lives have been ultimately altered! It’s important to remember that the Inciting Event doesn’t have to be realized by your protagonist.

In many cases, however, the Inciting Event happens within the realm of the story. Bear in mind, too, that it may not be the very first thing to happen in your story. in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we have character building and world building before the Inciting Event happens. Similar goes for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. Before the Inciting Event happens, we learn all about what horrible people the Dursleys are, not to mention we also see Dumbledore leaving Harry at the Dursley’s doorstep after being rescued from the wreckage of his home.

Some examples of the Inciting Event:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    In the Hunger Games, we learn all about the dark, evil “game” called The Hunger Games, in which one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each District is selected to compete in a battle to the death, and the winner shall be bathed in riches. Katniss, who is our narrator and protagonist, is devastated when her younger sister, Prim, is selected as the next tribute. In desperation to save her sister, Katniss volunteers as tribute to take Prim’s place. This act of volunteering for her sister is the Inciting Event, as it changes Katniss’ life forever. She can no longer go back to her old life; she must now compete in The Hunger Games, fighting for her life.
  2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    As previously mentioned, there’s a ton of backstory in this novel before we get to the Inciting Event: when Hagrid, a half-giant who barges in upon the Dursleys and Harry in their off-shore hut, tells Harry, “Yer a wizard, Harry.” (Can we all agree that this is a classic line of dialogue?) We identify this as the Inciting Event because it changes Harry’s life forever. Why isn’t the event of the never-ending letters the Inciting Event? Because Harry could have chosen to ignore them, or the Dursleys could have kept them hidden from Harry, thus not setting into effect the dominoes to Harry’s learning that he’s a wizard.
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    Can I just say this is one of my favorite books, and has been since I was in, like, fourth grade and I’ve read it a bajillion times? Favoritism aside, we open the story upon Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a futuristic community that seems like a utopia, but really is a dystopia where babies are “Released to Elsewhere” if they don’t weigh enough. He’s nervous about his career assignment, which he is to receive at the Ceremony of Twelves, because he’s worried he doesn’t fit in anywhere. The Ceremony itself is our Inciting Event, because Jonas learns he has been selected as the next Receiver of Memory, in which the Giver passes down memories of the past world so he can advise the community when it needs to make decisions.

So what should your Inciting Event be? Technically, it can be anything! But, it should make sense with your First Plot Point. That is to say, the Inciting Event should be the first domino that knocks over another, then another, and another, leading to the First Plot Point. In my work-in-progress, The Sound of Snap Dragons, the Inciting Event is that Kylie gets hired as an investigative journalist at The New York Star, a major newspaper in her city, leading her to be assigned a story about a serial killer.

I’d love to hear what the Inciting Event is in your manuscript or published books! Tell me, what are your thoughts on this important plot point?

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Voice. Find your voice as a writer, they say. What exactly does that mean? You may be struggling to find your own unique voice as a writer and author, trying to find what makes your work different, what makes it stand out. Voice, essentially, is the unique mixture of vocabulary, syntax, tone, and point of view that makes you as a writer. The way you write your story, a way only you can tell your story, should make your readers feel something. It’s almost manipulative, in a way, how we control our readers’ emotions, isn’t it?

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I don’t believe that finding your own unique voice as a writer is an easy thing to do. Many times, in the early days of writing, we try to imitate our favorite authors and writers in an attempt to find who we are as writers. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. There is, of course, a difference between an author’s voice and character voice. Character voice is something a skilled author can imbibe upon any given character in a story, utilizing a unique tone and choice of vocabulary for said character. You may see more of a character’s voice in a story that’s written in first person, but this can be character’s voice. For example, The Giver (written by the great Lois Lowry) is written from the Jonas’ point of view, a twelve-year-old boy who’s about to receive his assignment in his community, and he’s anxious because he doesn’t really know where he fits in. In the first few pages of the novel, he’s deciding how he wants to describe how he feels at dinner discussion with his family unit. (He decides on apprehensive.) The narration is voiced through Jonas. Every word is carefully written from the point of view of Jonas.

However, one could say that this narration in The Giver is unique to Lowry, making it her voice as a writer. The vocabulary, tone, and point-of-view are unique to Lowry’s style. One definitely wouldn’t confuse it with, say, Ernest Hemingway or Emily Brontë.

Here are a few tips and exercises you can try for finding your voice as a writer:

  1. Be consistent.
    No matter what sort of style you use, what vocabulary or dialect you choose for your story, or even how flowery your description is, be sure to be consistent. If you like long, lengthy descriptions, try to stick to long, lengthy descriptions in your story. The one facet you may decide to vary on is POV. However, I wouldn’t change POV within the same story — that is, if you use first person, stick to first person in the same novel. What I mean is you may decide to use first person in one novel, and third person in another story. Switching between POV types within the same novel may be confusing for readers.
  2. Formal or colloquial?
    Decide whether you want to be formal or informal in your voice. Do you include swearing/cursing in your stories? Big, complex words? Or do you prefer more informal vocabulary and vernacular?
  3. Do you want your stories driven by description or dialogue?
    Some writers like lengthy passages of flowy description, while others prefer their stories to be driven forward more so by dialogue.
  4. Describe your voice (or what you want it to be) in five words.
    This can be a great exercise in figuring out who you want to be as a writer. Really think about what five words you would use to describe your style and voice.
  5. Ask your friends, family, fellow writers or critique partners to describe your voice in five words.
    Same concept as describing yourself, but you’re asking others to describe your writing. You may be truly surprised at the feedback you get.
  6. Analyze your favorite voices in writing.
    Make a list of a few of your favorite author voices and write down what you love most about them. Is it their description? Their dialogue? Their syntax? Their POV? Take what you discover and try to apply it to your own writing, or simply play around with a few scenes in that particular voice you’re trying to imitate.

No matter how you find your voice as a writer, try to be consistent, as it is a way readers can recognize you. However, bear in mind that it can take a lifetime to develop your true voice, so don’t fret if you don’t feel like you’ve quite gotten the hang of it. We’re all on this writing journey, trying to figure ourselves and our stories out.

Writing a Novel: The First Steps

Maybe the thought of writing an entire novel is daunting for you. Maybe you want to write one but don’t have an idea. Or perhaps you have an idea but don’t know where to start. Either way, I know how it is. When I wrote my first book that wasn’t garbage, I didn’t really know where to start. The first first book, the one that was garbage, I wrote by the seat of my pants the entire way, with no planning, no forethought, no nothing. It ended up with no real structured plot, no real goals, no motivations. That’s why I believe in the power of at least a little planning and plotting beforehand, even if you consider yourself a pantser. Just a little forethought can really go a long way in the quality of your novel.

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That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plot out every little detail of your novel, especially if you enjoy writing by the seat of your pants and seeing where the story and its characters take you. There’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing what your characters’ wants and goals are before you start writing can help you get to your ending a little more quickly — not to mention a little more neatly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of explorative writing, but that’s mostly to learn about my characters and who they are — not as a way to write a novel.

But there is something to be said about writing by the seat of your pants. No matter what gets you writing, be sure to write. You can’t edit a blank page. So whatever gets your fingers to that keyboard (or pen to paper), go for it.

Below are just a few of my own tips that I’ve learned over the years in my writing journey on how to start your novel.

  1. Start with a spark of an idea.
    It can be even a tiny glimpse of a scene, of a character, of a problem. I say spark of an idea, because it doesn’t have to be an entire idea for a novel. It can be just a tiny piece of the puzzle, and that’s what you’ll build your novel around. Prompts can be useful if you’re stuck for sparks, and you can find a ton of prompts on various writing websites.
  2. From that spark, figure out a loose plot.
    This is where character goals and motivations come in handy. By knowing what your character wants, you can throw obstacles in their way to keep them from reaching that ultimate goal. What will happen if your protagonist fails to reach their goal? What do they stand to lose? Essentially, that’s all plot is: the events that happen in a story that keep your character from gaining what they want. Granted, a novel is typically more ornate and intricate than just a bunch of plot points. But learning plot structure can help you mold your story, such as the Three-Act Structure (K.M. Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors has a great series on this). By learning plot structure, you can predetermine where the major plot points of your story will go, and this can help you determine what plot points need to happen in your story. There’s a reason pre-determined plot structures, like the Three-Act Structure, are so popular; it’s the natural points, the inherent ebb and flow, in a story when audiences expect something major to happen.
  3. Get to writing! (And don’t worry about being perfect.)
    Whether you’re prone to plotting or pantsing, you should have at least an idea of what your characters want, what their goals are, and a loose plot structure. Like I quoted before, you can’t edit a blank page. Don’t worry about finding that perfect word or perfect phrase during your first draft. You can edit that later. Just write.
  4. Edit, rewrite, and rewrite.
    If there’s one big mistake I made on that first “novel”, it’s that I didn’t take the time to edit it. I didn’t go through it to make sure it adhered to proper plot structure of some sort; the characters had vague motivations and goals. In other words? It was a hot mess. Make sure you reread your story, check it for cohesiveness, for good flow. Find beta readers and get feedback. Be a nitpick, but remember that you can’t edit forever.

These are just some beginning steps to writing a novel. I want to be clear that it can be much more detailed and involved than just stringing some words together. Carefully think out your novel. Think of how you could sum up your novel and what it conveys in just a sentence or two.

As a reminder, I’m looking for writers, authors, and bloggers to interview on my new podcast (available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!), so if you’re interested in being featured, email me at lithiumskylar@yahoo.com or comment on any post on my blog! I’m also now on Twitter and looking for mutual follows, so follow me @SkylarWwrites.

Enjoying the Craft

I thoroughly believe you should enjoy your writing (or any craft that suits your fancy). Just like those who enjoy mathematics. Personally, I hate math. Gets too complicated for me, and I end up frustrated and feeling stupid. Now, show me a study guide for Latin, and I’m all over it. Foreign language classes were my favorite classes in school, and I took every language my high school offered: Latin, Spanish, and French. Do I remember anything other than “Quelle heure est-il? Il est huit heure et un”? Nope, I can barely speak a lick of French, but I enjoyed learning about the grammatical rules of the language. Latin was probably my favorite language to study, as we didn’t study it conversationally but rather learned about the grammatical building blocks that made up the dead language. That has helped me a great deal in my own writing. (Not to mention we also studied ancient Roman culture, and that is a fascinating subject.) Spanish has been most useful, and I still remember enough that I can read and write some Spanish.

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I suppose what I’m getting at is that you should enjoy what you do. Not necessarily your work—sometimes you have to do what’s necessary in order to get by. But your hobbies? I’ve tried a lot of hobbies that I thought I enjoyed, and even dropped some money on—yoga, crochet, video games…the list goes on. The one hobby I’ve maintained over the years? Writing.

Writing isn’t a craft that can be forced, I feel. Don’t get me wrong—there are times I hate my own writing, and I get so exquisitely frustrated with it and want to hurl my laptop out the window. But for the most part, I love it. I love rereading some of my older works and critiquing what I could have written better.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you should love your work. Yes, you should want to grow as a writer and improve over time, but you should also love what you write, even if you dislike certain aspects of your writing. In fact, disliking certain aspects of your writing is even a good thing — it means you recognize your weaknesses and areas where you can learn and grow. But if you don’t love your work, what reasons are there to want to make it the best that it can be?

If you enjoy the craft of writing, you’ll actually want to make time to sit down and write. That’s why I believe writing cannot be forced. Write because it’s a way to express yourself. Write because you have a story to tell. Write because there are worlds you want to visit, people you want to meet, experiences you want to explore. Write because you have something you want to say, and the only way to express every single emotion inside of you is through words.

Write because you love it. Write because you love the craft, because you love the beautiful structure of a sentence, because only words can come close to expressing what’s inside of you.

Writing Realistic Friendships

I wanted to talk today specifically about friendships — not romantic relationships. Like any relationship, a friendship has dynamics to it. It is a many layered thing, ever evolving, ever changing. There are ups and downs, good times and bad. Most real friendships are not shallow. It’s about give and take, a two-way street.

Look at your own friendships in life. You probably share the good and the ugly with them, and they support you through it all. But you give back in return, supporting them through good and bad times, through the ups and downs. My best friends had a small trophy made for me on the anniversary of my first suicide attempt, and it reads “For Making Bipolar Her Bitch”, followed by a quote from Carrie Fisher.

You also probably share a lot of the same views, whether socio-economic or political, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your characters have to share the same views on everything. In fact, varying views on different issues can create conflict in your story. For example, in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Harry’s best friend, Ron, believed Harry put his name in the Goblet of Fire for the TriWizard Tournament, even though it wasn’t true, leading to the two best friends not to talk to each other for some time.

So, here are some tips for writing realistic friendships:

  1. They need something in common.
    Whether it’s a common interest, a shared trait, or a common belief, your characters should have something that draws them together. Ron and Harry both love quidditch, hate doing homework, and both are Gryffindors. There should be at least one thing, one rallying point for your friends to agree upon.
  2. It can’t always be happy-go-lucky and stars and rainbows.
    People fight, and while it’s not a fun thing, it can be a natural part of relationships. People don’t always get along 24/7 with loving stars in their eyes. In my novel, The Days Without You, Cat tries to force Kylie to cheer up after the loss of her mother, and when Cat learns that Kylie is throwing away her relationship with Adam, she walks out of Kylie’s life, telling her, “I’m done trying to make you open your eyes. Call me when you do.”
  3. Make sure you’ve fleshed out your protagonist’s bestie.
    While you’ve probably done extensive research for your story’s protagonist, it’s important to also build up your protagonist’s best friend into a real person — someone your readers will care for or relate to in some way. The best friend shouldn’t be just a best friend; they shouldn’t serve the sole purpose of being the best friend. They should have their own wants and goals, their own faults and flaws. In essence, they should be a well-rounded person.
  4. Give them backstory (if their friendship started before the beginning of your novel).
    In The Days Without You, we learn that Kylie and Cat have been friends since kindergarten, from the first day of school when Cat asked her to play with her at recess. But they’ve had their ups and downs, such as the time when Kylie lost her father in tenth grade, grew depressed, and stopped talking to Cat for a few months while she learned to accept her loss.
  5. Give them meaningful differences.
    While, yes, they should have some things in common, your best friends shouldn’t be the exact same person. Everyone has their differences, and this can be a source of conflict for your story. Where Harry can be firm and — frankly — sassy (“There’s no need to call me sir, professor” remains one of the greatest examples of Harry’s sassiness), Ron can be more timid and laid back.

What are your thoughts on best friends in books or film? There are always great examples out there of best friends! Han Solo and Chewbacca, Frodo and Sam, Harry, Ron and Hermione. What are your favorite friendships in literature and film, and for what reasons?

Writing Software: A Review

There are a lot of writing programs available for use, and it can be overwhelming to figure out which one will work best for you and your writing habits. From cloud-based programs to your basic word processors, which one do you choose? Are you one for frills? Or do you prefer your basic blank page?

Photo by Kasia Palitava from Pexels

Whatever your preferences are, there’s a program out there for everyone. I’ve tried several of them, and here are my thoughts on a few of them.

  1. Scrivener
    My favorite writing application to date, and it remains one of the most popular writing programs out there today. While I’ve attempted to use other programs, I continually drift back to Scrivener. It has settings and features to organize my research and notes, organize my chapters and scenes, and even has functions to export to PDF, .docx, .epub, .mobi, and more. It offers templates to start you out, with editable inputs for when you export the file. The downfall to all these features? There’s definitely a learning curve to it all. On the upside, it’s a one-time purchase of $49; no recurring subscription fee required.

    You can purchase Scrivener at LiteratureandLatte.com.
  2. Dabble
    Dabble is a cloud-based writing program that aims to be like Scrivener, but fails to do so. I found it clunky to use, hard to organize your notes and research, and overall lacking. The only upside was that I could seamlessly move from my tablet to my phone to my laptop, picking up right where I left off. There’s also a regular subscription fee involved with Dabble, although it is fairly low, but again — recurring.

    You can find out more about Dabble at DabbleWriter.com.
  3. Novlr
    Similar to Dabble, Novlr is a cloud-based, online writing program. It offers a cleaner look than Dabble, and is aimed at increasing focus so you can get those words out. There are Day, Evening, and Night modes, with varying color schemes to reflect the time of day. Overall, however, there aren’t many features, but that can offer a more distraction-free environment for those who are prone to wandering minds. Novlr offers two recurring pay plans: monthly and yearly.

    You can find Novlr at Novlr.org.
  4. Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
    I feel like the premise of this software from Weiland was tight and streamlined, and when I learned that Weiland was putting out this program, I was excited. She has a great series on outlining your novel and the three-act structure. If you like lots of questions and in-depth, thought-provoking prompts to really build your novel, this program is for you. Personally, I found it a tad overwhelming with so many questions, leading me to be let down by the program itself. It has a one-time fee of $40 USD.

    You can find Outlining Your Novel at HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com.
  5. Google Docs
    I’ve used Google Docs a lot in previous employment, and it’s quite fluent in seamless transitions between users. As an internet/cloud-based software, you’ll need an internet connection to access your work. (Although, I think Google Docs has a “work offline” mode? If it does, it’s not one I’ve used.) Users can leave comments, which is great for getting feedback from beta readers or editors. And if your computer ever crashes, you can rest assured your work isn’t lost. Overall, Google Docs is a seamless, clean, easy-to-use word processor.

    You can find Google Docs at Google.com.
  6. Microsoft Word
    The holy grail of clean, simple, easy-to-use word processors. There’s very little learning curve with Word, and you can export to a variety of file types. There is a recurring fee with Microsoft Office 365, but that subscription provides you with cloud-based storage for your files. There’s also an option for a one-time fee, but that limits you to one device. Be sure to save often in case of a crash, however, or you’ll lose all your work.

    You can find Microsoft Word at Microsoft.com.

There are a ton of other writing tools and programs you can utilize, such as ProWritingAid. Sometimes, however, I find good ol’ fashioned pen and paper are my best tools for writing, especially when I’m stuck on a particular scene.

What are you favorite writing programs to use for your craft? Let me know in the comments!

Story Ideas: Where to Get Them

Sometimes, it feels as though the ideas just won’t come. Your brain is dry of all inspiration. You stare blankly at a blank screen, attempting to will yourself to think of something, anything, to write. Maybe you’ve already written one manuscript and are attempting to write a second one. Maybe you’re worried you only had one good idea in you. I am here to tell you that there’s hope!

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Coming up with a story idea is just the first step in novel writing. Without an idea, there’s nothing to write about. Fortunately, inspiration can come from anywhere. I personally enjoy prompts, and currently have six or seven novel ideas written down in my notebook, thanks to various prompts I’ve found on the web. The current first-draft manuscript I’m working on, End of Days (working title), was inspired by an episode of Gotham. A lot of elements of my stories are derived from real-life situations from my own experiences.

So, yes, you can find inspiration from all around you, whether it’s a snippet of conversation you happen to overhear, or someone you see in public for a character idea. The world around you is rife with story ideas; you just have to reach out and snatch them up.

Here are a few places you can look for inspiration:

  1. Story/Dialogue/Character Prompts
    You’ll find tons of these on the internet on various writing websites. You can even find them sorted by genre. They’re little one- or two-line bits of text, usually with a premise of some sort of setting, situation, dialogue, or person. Personally, I find these very helpful for coming up with at least a premise of a novel, even if I haven’t come up with an entire plot yet.
  2. The Classics
    There’s no denying that Little Shop of Horrors is a work of pure musical and story-telling mastery. (Okay, I admit it — it’s my favorite musical, and I’m dying to see the current off-Broadway cast.) I was interested to learn that the stage version (not the movie version!) is based on the Greek tragedy of greed — the idea that greed kills anything and everything around you. The lyrics of Little Shop of Horrors also draw from the 18th century German literary movement, Sturm and Drang, to add to the feel of the play. (“Feel the Sturm and Drang in the air, yeah.”) So, my whole point? The classics, including Roman and Greek mythology, can be great for inspiration.
  3. Ask Yourself: What if?
    Real life is great for finding story inspiration. Whether it’s an interaction you had with a friend, someone you saw in public who was intriguing, or that time you were in the hospital, you can draw from the world around you. Take that one little snippet and ask yourself, “What if?” Some of the greatest story ideas start with a simple question: What if?
  4. Fairy Tales, Fables, or Legends
    Similar to looking to the classics for inspiration, you can find great ideas by taking a peek at fairy tales or old folk tales. Wicked was inspired by The Wizard of Oz and tells the tales of the great witches of Oz.
  5. Analyze the Elements of Fiction
    Consider the important elements that make up fiction: character, plot, setting, style, point-of-view, theme. Pick one and really think about what you would like to read in a work that has that element, whether it’s a certain strong character, a particular setting, a theme that’s personal to you.

There are a lot of places to find inspiration for a story idea; you just have to look around! Of course, coming up with a spark of an idea is just the beginning — you then have to build the story around the elements of fiction.

Where do you get your story ideas?

The Crutch of Show, Don’t Tell

We hear it all the time: show, don’t tell. It’s repeated over and over and drilled into us as writers. But, I don’t believe in “showing” instead of “telling” in every single instance in your writing. Plenty of blogs give advice on how to show instead of tell, so I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I believe in the importance of both showing and telling in your writing, because if you show all the time, in every sentence of your story, your manuscript will end up ten million words long, and who wants to read a book that’s ten million words long? (Okay, maybe there are some people…)

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Some of the greats included telling/exposition in their work. As I’m currently rereading the Harry Potter series, I’ve been enjoying the explicit amount of exposition in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But it’s placed so well, so artfully, that you barely notice it. Rowling had three books-worth of information to catch you up on, but she leaves the exposition and telling to the important stuff, like explaining why Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, isn’t in his life.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying you shouldn’t show at all. I’m all for showing. Showing emotionally charged moments can help draw your reader in. There’s a big difference between “Her eyes stung with tears, but she blinked them away and swallowed the lump rising in her throat.” and “She was sad but tried to hide it.”

Description is important… in the right amount.

For example, there’s no need to give every little detail of a character turning on a light switch, unless, of course, that light switch has significant meaning to your story. No need to describe in detail a character getting changed out of their day clothes. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with description.

Save your highly detailed descriptions for the story-significant parts. Save showing for the emotional moments, the moments that will draw your reader in and leave them feeling raw. If you’re writing in first person POV, really think about the details your character notices as they move about your story and setting. Think about your own POV, in your own life—you wouldn’t notice details about every little motion you make or about every little thing in your setting. If we tried to describe on paper every single thing in a room, we’d have twenty pages of paper filled with insignificant minutiae that nobody cares about.

So, where exactly does “telling” fall in all of this? Think of it as a continuum. On one end is showing, on the other end is telling. Exposition would fall towards the telling end, while a particular moment that is significant to the plot and emotionally charged (and, therefore, full of detail) would fall towards the showing end.

Ultimately, the amount of description you put into your work is your choice. But finding the right balance between showing and exposition—that’s the real challenge.