Building Better Stories

Something I recently discovered thanks to an amazing author, Tasha L. Harrison, is that plotting out story ideas and banking them for later very much helps to keep your mind flowing, and figure out if your ideas are actually good enough to be a story.

I’ve been doing a few workshops and researching how to avoid certain things, and make other things stronger in my writing as well, and what I’ve learned over the past month or so, is that: 1. Plotting, even if it’s just getting your premise and hook carved out, is extremely beneficial, and helps the story move along more smoothly, 2. Understanding the difference between a hook and a premise line are essential, and 3. Character development in a series is hard if you don’t do some type of plotting. Oh, and I might add that if you are working on a series, there will be plot holes or inconsistencies if you don’t keep a book journal.

Let’s start with plotting and why it’s important. I know some people are total pantsers and the thought of plotting is terrifying. That’s how I was when I wrote Cane’s Justice earlier this year. Plotting seemed like the worst thing ever, but now that I’ve pretty much finished the second book in the series, I understand that plotting it out made the story flow properly, and helped me to not miss important information from the first novel. (This is where the book journal came in handy. I had notes, descriptions of character traits and places, and other essential information in there so I wouldn’t have plot holes or inconsistencies.)

I also plotted out the skeleton version of Fatal Reaction, which allowed me to get the entire basis of the story written, and my pantser side could go in and filled out the rest of the story, taking it from a skeleton to a full living thing. I think it made the story come together very well.

Now, back to the premise line and the hook. Thanks to a few cool workshops I found, I’ve been able to develop a stronger premise for my books. I think it will help readers understand what it’s about more clearly, and I also believe it will help gain more interest in the series, stand-alones and shorts that I’ve written thus far, and will write in the future.

Story hook, not this Hook.

So, let me define them for you, then I’ll provide an example that may help. First, a hook is a quick, concise sentence with just enough of the key elements to grab the reader’s attention, but don’t forget it may also grab literary agents and publishers as well. (If that’s something you want to do.)

Let’s get a few examples of a hook for you before we continue. 

A young, rich white woman helps black maids tell their story in 1960s Mississippi.The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

A messed up, just-divorced woman finds peace through a spiritual quest that takes her to Italy, India and Indonesia. – Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

You don’t want him telling you to throw away your story. So let’s get a good premise line going.

Now, the premise line. It expands on the hook and allows the reader a more in-depth look into the book without giving away too much of the details. You get more of the who, the what, the when, the where and the why. Here’s an example.

After a painful divorce, the author sets out to devote one year to pleasure, prayer and love. She travels to three distinctly different locales to immerse herself in these pursuits. Can a heartbroken and confused woman purposely set out to find happiness?Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

While I’m not fond of the question in the premise, it works for some people. I think the movie deal, and the book sales speak for themselves on that one.

Okay. So, these two things are something that should be done before you even start writing because it’ll be your guide for your book. No matter if you’re a panster or a plotter or somewhere in between, make sure you have these two elements before you start writing. It has made plotting a lot easier for me because I KNOW for sure what my story is about.

I’m sure you’re like, Oh you think I don’t know what my story is about? And you would be right. If a lit agent or a publisher, or even just a curious reader or fellow author, walked up to you and asked what your story was about, you would need to give them the premise. 

They don’t want a long, drawn out explanation that gives too much away. They want that short paragraph of detail that makes them crave the entire book. So, trust me on this one, write your premise and hook before you begin chapter 1 and it’ll be smoother sailing.

Now, the last thing I’ll touch upon is the character development. This pretty much applies to every single book you write, but definitely to books in a series. Conflict is key. You want your main characters (MCs) to have some internal and external conflicts they will need to resolve. If you are writing a stand-alone novel, make sure both the internal and external conflicts are resolved by the end of the book. It could be very angsty or it could be something more simple, but everything needs to be resolved by the end of the book.

Now, if you are writing a series, you want to make sure your MCs develop over time. They can’t stay the same person they were in chapter one by the time you get to the last paragraph of your final book in the series. They need to work out their internal conflicts over the course of the novels as well as have different external conflicts resolved in each book of the series.

If you do all of these things, then those books will be A1. Trust me guys. I’ve seen it done and I’m doing it myself. I believe my future books, and the ones I’m working on as I type this, will be so much better and you guys will love the development of the characters, and the internal/external battles they have to face. Also, everything I’ve mentioned above has probably been done tenfold by all of the best-selling authors out there, so it’s proven to work.

So, happy writing and happy reading.

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