Happy Monday! We made it through our first full week of 2021 with little change from 2020 as far as the whole "this one will be better" thing, BUT we still have plenty of time to get work done, so if you're feeling a little overwhelmed and anxious and unmotivated as I was, it's okay. Really.
This week, and for the next three consecutive weeks, I'd like to take a look at a few points that really help me outline or fine tune any plot points I'm working on when I'm struggling. In this month's newsletter, I sent out a Three-Act Plotting template, which can help you create a basic outline for your story and a general order of events. Many stories use this design because it's a clear journey, easy to follow along, and is perfect for coming-of-age stories or other life-changing events that characters will go through, and what better company to look at for a good story than Pixar?
Though some people like to make fun of the predictability of Pixar's hero arcs and storylines, there's no doubt that the method is successful, no matter which characters are created to follow it. Some of their storytelling points can be vague, so I'm going to try to elaborate on them a little bit, at least what they mean to me. Hopefully this will help you as well!
Admire characters for attempting more than their successes have been.This might be one of the hardest things to do as a writer, but I think it's important to treat your characters like you would a friend. If they go after something with a sudden renewed passion and excitement, of course you're going to be excited for them. Characters will get boring if they stay static - the whole point of characters in a book is making them grow. They're something different in the end than they are in the beginning, and that's usually a result of doing something very out of their comfort zones. And there's also the magic word in here: attempting. They're not always going to succeed, which is fair for realism. BUT that doesn't mean they shouldn't try. Let them try to figure out what happens next. Let them try to help.
Keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun as a writer. They can be very different. I can't stress this enough. This is so important for a successful story. There's going to be a near-constant struggle between what's easy and what's good (hasn't that been said somewhere before?), but when you're writing, and when you're reading your own writing, try to think objectively about if you, as a stranger, were reading it. Would you like it? Why? Why not? Killing a villain by throwing him off a building might be the easy way if you don't want to write a drawn-out fight scene at the end. But is anyone going to want to read it? You might want to avoid trying to figure out seemingly insignificant plot holes by saying it was all a dream... but will anyone be happy with that? On the other hand, killing off a character you don't like might be fun before he causes too much trouble. But is that what's right for your story? Is that what will keep readers hooked? In the end, you're not writing this for you. Unless you are, then you can forget everything I just said. Most of the time, you're trying to write it for an audience that's full of different people with different lives and different opinions that aren't always going to like the same things you do.
Trying for theme is important, however, you won't see what the story is about until you're at the end of that story. Got it? Now revise.
This is why revision is so good. This is why first drafts don't work (most of the time). I started my latest draft of my book from scratch because I got stuck and didn't know what was holding me back. But I'd learned things since I started before, so when I was doing the rewrites, I could tweak stuff that didn't make sense or would be important later. Even if you do heavy outlining, once you get on your own with your book, I think it's inevitable that something will change by the time you get to the end. And as I've said before, that's not a bad thing. Embrace it. It's probably better than your original idea anyway!
Once upon a time, there was ______. Every day, ______. One day, ________. Because of that, __________. Because of that, ________. Until finally, ___________.
Here's the predictability we all know and love. It's the ordinary life of an ordinary boy/girl/dog/rat/etc. until something changes to make their life suddenly different. From there, events snowball until we end up with the character at the end. It seems too simple, but when elaborated, it works. Think about it: if you lived your life the exact same way, would you grow as a person if you never took chances or did anything new? The way to grow characters is to force them into something they wouldn't normally do. Give them something to figure out and see how they do it. More on that later!