Comparing Story Grids

When I think of some of the ‘a-ha’ moments I’ve had when developing my craft as a writing, I think of times I discovered these concepts: show verses tell; avoid on-the-nose writing; subtext in actions and dialogue. I could name many more.

I like to think one of my best ‘a-ha’ moments as a writing who is constantly learning is when I learned about the three-act-structure for storytelling. This can easily be used for novels, screenwriting and plays.

Some writers don’t follow a structure when they write their manuscript, and that’s okay.

But I prefer to follow some kind of guide, so I used the three-act structure to develop the first draft of three of my novels.

However, I kept coming across other methods of novel development in my reading on the writing craft. Many exist. Some of the ‘story grids’ I’ve come across include:

Each of these methods have their strengths. Scott Bell’s signpost come from his book Writing Your Novel from the Middle in which the writer begins developing the story from the turning point of the protagonist and works forwards and backwards from there.

Dan Harmon, creator of the sitcom Community, uses the plot embryo which is helpful due to its simplicity.

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, was written with screenwriters in mind, but the principles are helpful for novelists.

I kept seeing patterns in these methods of developing the novel, so I couldn’t resist comparing them. I created a spreadsheet and tried to fit together the steps of each of these story plans. Feel free to download it and let me know if it needs fine tuning.

novel development methods (Excel Spreadsheet)

novel development methods  (PDF)

Related article of interest:Dan Harmon, “Community” and The Hero’s Journey


My science fiction book OMNIORB is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

 

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My Favorite Fiction Books from 2017

I read other books than the ones listed below, but they were non-fiction or fiction I didn’t want to include as a favorite.

Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror)

21

  • A Dragon of a Different Color
    by Rachel Aaron
    This is the fourth installment of Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, the story of which proceeded nicely until this one. The middle of this book is a world-building info dump disguised as dialogue. Still worth it if you’re invested in the series. Lots of great things happen, but I hope the next one moves faster.

    22

  • We Are Legion
    by Dennis E.  Taylor
    I bought this from Audible.com because it’s not available through my local library system. I was pleasantly surprised. Taylor’s protagonist is a snarky nerd who finds himself part of desperate space exploration program. Funny and sarcastic.

    18

  • The Very First Damned Thing
    by Jodi Taylor
    I admit I downloaded this for free from Audible.com. It’s an introduction to Taylor’s The Chronicles of St. Mary’s universe, which looks good. Interesting, but didn’t blow me over. I’ll probably give the series a try.

    09

  • Name of the Wind
    by Patrick Rothfuss
    I have been wanting to read this for quite a while. Rothfuss unleashes a beautiful writing style with this first book and the story kept me going. The story is complete, but there are some unanswered questions for the rest of this series to address.

    16

  • Crosstalk
    by Connie Willis
    The protagonist got on my nerves, but I so badly wanted to find out what was going on, I plowed through it. Not on the same level as Willis’s The Doomsday Book, but a fun read.

    17     24

  • Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods
    by Sylvain Neuvel
    This series has been a nominee for Goodread’s Best Books two years in a row, and I can see why. The story is told by a group of people involved in a project of finding robotic parts buried around the world and building mechanical giants. Neuvel includes a lot of twists and surprises.

    07

  • The Book of Lost Things
    by John Connolly
    Looks like a kid’s book, but with all the violence, sex and depressing imagery, it’s definitely for grown-ups. Connolly adds some adult themes to some beloved fairy tale icons and draws up this creepy tale.

    15

  • All the Birds in the Sky
    by Charlie Jane Anders
    This turned out to be one of my surprise favorites of the year. Patricia and Lawrence keep crossing paths. At the end of the world, they become involved in a war, end up on opposite sides.

    19

  • Dark Matter
    by Blake Crouch
    Another surprise favorite for this year. Crouch takes the alternate reality trope and raises some interesting questions.

    17675462

  • Raven Boys
    by Maggie Stiefvater
    A group of teens in backwater Virginia, get mixed up in dark matters in their search for a lost king.

Mainstream Fiction

14

  • Landline
    by Rainbow Rowell
    This popped up a couple of times as a book I should read, so I did. A woman tries to repair her marriage by magically talking with a younger version of her husband from the early days of their relationship. Didn’t really reveal how using an old landline phone could do that.

    12

  • A Visit from the Good Squad
    by Jennifer Egan
    While this book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, I’m not sure it is any more thematic than any other similar piece of fiction. I did enjoy the complex characters Egan developed through a series of interrelated short stories.

    11

  • Invisible Monsters
    by Chuck Palahniuk
    Every page of this novel is insane. It creeped me out, but it was Palahniuk at his most bizarre and entertaining.

    05

  • No Country for Old Men
    by Cormac McCarthy
    Man stumbles across a lot of drug money. Lots of anti-heroes in this book. Good read and a good movie, too.

    98687

  • Call Me by Your Name
    by Andre Aciman
    A coming-of-age story about an Italian teen in the seventies who falls for an older guy staying with his parents for the summer.

Classics

01

  • Fahrenheit 451
    by Ray Bradbury
    What would happen if books were illegal and burned when found? I need to read this one again and soon.

    02

  • Slaughterhouse-Five
    by Kurt Vonnegut
    Billy Pilgrim descends into madness, or does he? He tells his tale as an unreliable narrator in this classic.

    03

  • A Separate Peace
    by John Knowles
    Sort of in the same category as Dead Poet’s Society.

    06

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
    by Ernest Hemingway
    Finally, after three tries, I got through it. A slow-paced novel isn’t necessarily a bad thing in Hemingway’s case. It built up the tension.

    04

  • A Farewell to Arms
    by Ernest Hemingway
    Upon finishing this book, I have completed the Ernest Hemingway collection.

    08

  • Winesburg, Ohio
    by Sherwood Anderson
    A little depressing, with characters who are depressed. Still glad to add it to my classics repertoire.

Young Adult Fiction

20

  • Thirteen Reasons Why
    by Jay Asher
    Lots of controversy about this book and the Netflix series based upon it. I’ll be honest. I didn’t think a girl would really kill herself over the reasons presented in this story. But news events in the last month have changed my mind. It does happen.

    10

  • The Outsiders
    by S.E. HintonI decided to re-read this on its fiftieth anniversary. This is the novel that created the whole Young Adult genre–although I doubt Hinton saw herself as the one who would pave the way for all the vampire novels in the Young Adult section. It’s always fun to re-read a book to see how I’ve grown since the last time.

 

Harmon’s Plot Embryo: A Writer’s Tool for both Outlining and Evaluating

 

I admit it: I just started watching Community. Yes, I know. Better late than never. I kept hearing how great the show was, but never got around to following it. Well, now, thanks to Hulu, I can binge watch while I’m cleaning house or laundry or whatever.

Community_title

Lately, though, I’ve been hearing about this “Plot Embryo” for writers developed by Dan Harmon, creator of Community. There are many ways to plot a novel. This Plot Embryo simplifies the process more than any other method I’ve seen.

Not only is it a way to outline a novel, but–if the writer has already written a draft or two of it–it’s an excellent tool for evaluating what has already been written.

Screen shot 2011-09-26 at 8.37.30 AM

Writer Rachael Stephen talks about Harmon’s Plot Embryo in her writing YouTube series. She breaks it down several different ways and also talks about the source material for the Plot Embryo.

Here are some more resources to learn about the Plot Embryo:

I plan to use the Plot Embryo up against my novel in progress to see how it fares.

See also Comparing Story Grids.


My science fiction book OMNIORB is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

I just discovered this neat website for fantasy writers

mythic-header2I came across this online community for writers of fantasy called Mythic Scribes.

Here’s how they describe themselves:

“Mythic Scribes is a community of fantasy writers who are passionate about storytelling.  We provide a platform for new and aspiring authors, as well as a meeting place for writers and fans of the genre.

By sharing both the joys and the struggles of writing, we offer inspiration and support to one another.”

https://mythicscribes.com/

What are the most important scenes in a novel?

theatre-1459597To overcome feeling overwhelmed by finishing your novel, a writer might want to keep these writing principles in mind:

  • She doesn’t have to write chronologically.
  • She can write her most important scenes first and then fill in the blanks.

Now, if she has planned your novel with some kind of outline, then these principles become even easier.

So the question is, what are the most important scenes in a novel?

This doesn’t mean some scenes are less necessary than others. In the final draft, all the scenes should be necessary and move the story along. A post from C.S. Lakin’s blog called The First Ten Scenes You Need to Plot for your Novel offers a list of scenes on which the writer should focus.

I concentrated on finishing these scenes and now I am writing the final draft of the “in-between” stuff. If you get stuck in your writing, jump ahead work on the The Midpoint scene. This is the scene, roughly 50% of the way through your story, where the character asks whether or not she wants to continue. She questions who she is. She decides to go on, or maybe decides to take a different tactic. Then write backwards from that scene, or write forwards.

Here is what the writer should remember: if she gets stuck writing the novel chronologically, she can jump around and write one of the scenes listed in Lakin’s article.

There’s no rule against doing that.

Checklist for writing a scene

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

clapper-board-1420048I didn’t realize until I was a young adult that some scenes in a movie didn’t make it into the final cut. Today we have DVDs where we can see the parts of the movie the director cut and left on the editing room floor.

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I  am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

If a scene doesn’t fit the criteria, slash. It’s gone.

I don’t actually trash the scene, I just put it in a folder called “unused material.”
  • Is it a scene or sequel?
    A scene has a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. A scene that is a sequel has reaction, dilemma, and a decision. Both are okay, but it’s good to know which is which. Read Randy Ingermanson’s article Writing the Perfect Scene for more details.
  • What is the conflict?
    If no conflict exists in the scene, either find a way to rewrite it into the story or cut it.
  • What is the purpose of this scene?
    A scene can have several purposes: introduce a character, build suspense, establish a mood, create a resolution, and on and on. If you can’t figure out the purpose of the scene, cut it.
  • Do you have a consistent point-of-view? Would the scene be improved by changing the point-of-view?
    I wrote some scenes from the viewpoint of my antagonist. However, I felt they were to “on-the-nose” so to speak. No subtext. So I rewrote the scenes from the viewpoint of another character in the same scene, and I felt the story became more effective. Why? Because it created suspense and mystery for my antagonist.
  • Are you using sub-text in the action and dialogue of the characters? Are you avoiding on-the-nose writing?
    Instead of telling what the characters are doing and saying, pay attention to what they’re NOT doing and saying. They may say one thing, but really mean another. It’s what is going on beneath the surface. Here’s a great article about using subtext.
  • Does your character do something surprising?
    Keep your readers on their toes by surprising them with your character’s reactions. In each scene, the character should do something unexpected.
  • What emotion is the character feeling at the beginning of the scene? Does he or she have a conflicting or contrasting emotion by the end of the scene?
    If the character is laughing and playing around at the beginning of the scene, is she pissed off at the end of the scene? May sure your characters express a range of feelings and moods throughout the scene.
  • Does your character have expectations at the beginning of the scene that contrast with  what happens during the scene?
    If your character is expecting to win a competition at the beginning of scene, show him or her losing. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe the character expects to lose and ends up winning by cheating or something else. Surprise the reader.
  • Are the characters only talking in this scene? If so, does it move the story along?
    Your scene may only be a conversation, but it better move the story along.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end? Does it seem like a mini-novel?
    If you consider them a mini-story, then you’re more likely to write stronger scenes. C.S. Lakin talks about scene structure in her article.

I have a file in my Scrivener document called “Tool Box.” It has several lists to use for keeping my novel in check. One of those tools is a Scene Checklist. I review a scene using all of the above criteria. I hope you find it helpful.

Four quick reads on writing

When I was on vacation earlier this month, I read some e-books on writing. Even though these gems were inexpensive and quick, they provided me with some valuable lessons to apply to my writing craft.

Here they are:

  • 2940045351874_p0_v2_s192x300Self-publishing a Book
    By Hank Quense
    Quense has a great series on self-publishing and this is the second one I’ve read. He’s great about explaining why he does it the way he does, but let’s the reader know everyone needs to self-publish the way that is best for himself. Good advice on what publisher to use. I will be coming back to this book as a reference.
  • 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
    2940152280371_p0_v1_s192x300By Rachel Aaron
    I loved Aaron’s Eli Monpress series and I can’t wait to read more of her stuff. She gives advice on how to increase the amount of writing that gets done during a writing session by applying her triangle of knowledge, time and enthusiasm. Now, if that sounds vague, she does get specific about what they mean in this book.
  • Writing from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone In Between
    By James Scott Bell
    9780910355117_p0_v1_s192x300I love Kill Zone, a blog for which Bell contributes as part of a community of writers. This book provided a fascinating piece of advice about character development for novel writing: the “Mirror Moment.” Once again, it’s something I knew already, but didn’t know I knew. This quick read will change the way you plan your novel–and it’s easy to apply to a draft you’ve already started.
  • Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Process
    By M.G. Herron
    2940157649920_p0_v1_s192x300I already read several books on Scrivener when I first learned to use it. The difference between those books (although they were wonderful and helpful) and this one is that Scrivener Superpowers gets into the nitty-gritty of not just learning to use it, but how to use is as a writer. His No-Nonsense Novel Template is also great.

So if you’re looking for some quick lessons for improving your fiction writing with maximum impact, you should check these books out. I highly recommend them.