Plotting – A walkthrough of 7-point story structure

Protip: “Start where your Resolution is and then make sure that the Hook has the character in almost exactly the opposite position.”

Today, I checked out the Writing Excuses podcast. I really love that they are all 15-minutes long!

I listened to Episode 7-41 on 7-Point Story Structure. This is a screenplay technique that works extremely well for action/adventure, romance, and many other genres.

Dan Wells, who is famous for this writing approach on YouTube, gave Harry Pottery examples for the following 7 steps:

  • Hook – who people are what their starting stage is
  • Plot Turn I – the call to adventure
  • Pinch I – Put pressure on char to force them into action (i.e., forcing to use skills to make things happen)
  • Midpoint – Char moves from reaction to action (sick of running, going to face the problem)
  • Pinch II – Really put the pressure on char – as dire as possible (loss of mentor)
  • Plot Turn II – Get last info they need. Figure out puzzle. Realize the weak point that allows everything to wrap up.
  • Resolution – They do it. They win.

But stories have so many more plot twists than that! How can this possibly work?

Dan says this doesn’t restrict you to having only 7 scenes. This approach has you think of your work as 7 key moments that move from Hook to Resolution. And within each of those, you can have a mini 7-point loop as well.

Dan suggests starting from the Resolution. You want to look back and make sure that the Hook has the character in almost exactly the opposite position.

They have to move all the way from one end of the spectrum to the other to accomplish their goal.  When writing, make sure your character moves believably from one point to the next.

If you want to dive deep into this, check out Dan’s Youtube video series. He explains this process in 5 videos over an hour (I think it was part of a workshop or talk).

Overall, I really loved how quick and clear the hosts were. The podcast was informative. I will definitely be listening to Writing Excuses again.

An agent’s take on query letters … and so much more

Pro tip from Suzie: “Keep your query letter to 250 words…. Make sure every word counts.

I’m taking you back again to the YouTube Ask a Mentor Chats with the fabulous PitchWars mentors. They consistently recommended the “88 Cups of Tea” podcast with Yin Chang.

Today, I listened to Episode 151 – SUZIE TOWNSEND: On Becoming a Literary Agent. Yin dives in deep with Suzie, a New Leaf Agent.

I have a lot to share with you. This interview was seriously packed.

The first 30 minutes or so were about Suzie’s journey and how she came to be the lit agent she is today. The next 30 minutes were a deep dive into the world of agents, editors, and their slew of colleagues, including experts in translation, audio, film, and merchandise.

The last 30 minutes really caught and held my attention. Suzie talked about killer query letters and why they were so damned good.

Yin offers a Query Letter Guide at the bottom of the podcast page that includes 6 queries and Suzie’s detailed notes on what she loved about them. Go grab that now!

Here are some gems from the interview.

  • Suzie finds YA to be more trendy than MG.
  • For MG submissions, everything comes back to voice. The voice must be kid-friendly.
  • Editors are looking for a good sense of humor. It doesn’t have to be the main focus, but a healthy dose of humor helps to pull reluctant readers in.

If you get “the call” ask the agent:

  • About communication style — email person or phone person?
  • For references — one person whose book just came out and one person whose has been on submission but the book didn’t sell.
  • What do you do if we go on submission and the book doesn’t sell?
  • What departments are in house?

When talking about killer queries, Suzie said:

  • In the first sentence, explain what the main char wants, what their number one goal is, and give the reason why.
  • Keep the full query to 250 words.
  • Make sure every word counts (no extra words thrown in).
  • Your second sentence should be about where the plot is going. Bring the reader along.
  • Each paragraph should build off the one that came before it. The stakes should be getting higher and higher, especially in a plot-driven story. 
  • Avoid character soup. If you have a big cast of characters, only mention one or two.
  • If you say that you’re sending your query to an agent because she likes plot-driven work, then make sure your query demonstrates that. If you highlight something, it should be very clear in your query and writing style that your story delivers that.

Time to Toughen Up

Two days ago on Twitter, @CooksUpAStory advised authors grow thicker skin and learn to manage our works being critiqued.

I’m approaching this with extreme reluctance. I decided to start by listening to professionals critique other people’s work.

It’s a baby step, I admit, but I’m still moving forward, right?

I listened to the Red Penning Romance podcast, Episode 5: Snow Daze. Mary and Jeremy pull no punches. They are blunt and cutting, but always clear.

I’ll be honest, it was hard to listen to — but it was also valuable. If I’m going to create something and put it out in the world, some people may like it, but guaranteed many will deeply hate it.

So here’s what I learned from that episode:

  • Things have to make sense. (This came up a lot.)
  • If you give a character a unique name. Have a damned good reason for that and make that clear to your reader.
  • Times and sequences of events matter. Check for this when proofing.
  • Think carefully about motivation. What drives your character? And is that even plausible? If you were in that situation, would you do that? Can you imagine anyone else ever doing that?
  • Don’t allude to uber famous writers in your own work. It comes across as bragging.
  • Don’t use the phrase “meet cute” in your novel, even if your story is about a romance author who is plagued by the meet-cute beat.

Toughen up with me and give Red Penning Romance a go. Good advice with callous-building commentary.

Just sex, always

On YouTube Ask a Mentor Chats, the PitchWars mentors 💕 have consistently recommended Print Run Podcast.

Today, I listened to Episode 3: Romance Outakes. It was fun and informative.

Pro tip from Laura and Erik: “Pretend your characters are boning at all times. Just sex always. And your writing will definitely improve.

They talked about unnatural and empty dialog tags that appear in first drafts, like grinning, smiling, and shrugging. For Erik, those unnatural tags are grating. No one grins fives times in a conversation.

“Even in the first draft, which is a bit rough, the sex scenes are the best written parts, because the writer is actually thinking more and more about how the bodies are interacting in space and they’ve made that their focus  and so all this extra stupid action that doesn’t mean anything they suddenly instinctually realize, ‘Oh yeah, that doesn’t belong.’ …

And so my point here is when you’re thinking like that for your sex scenes, think about bodies and space for all your other scenes too. Make all your scenes like your sex scenes in that way. … If you start working from that perspective, you’ll get rid of a lot of … [the] empty dialog tags, a lot of this stupid gesture that doesn’t actually mean anything, and you’ll be able to cut that away and add in other sensory detail, which I think … comes really naturally to people when they’re writing about sex but less so when they are writing about conversation.”

Twitter #writingcommunity and #pitchwars

On August 13 I read the first few pages of “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang, and in her Acknowledgements she thanked https://pitchwars.org/

And then my life changed.

I spent a day pouring over that site. Instantly got hooked on the idea of a mentorship. I love my new novel and I’m proud of it, but I know it can also be better. I need an expert’s guidance to see the things I can’t.

Then I logged into my stagnant and idle twitter account, and I actually tweeted for the first time ever.

(Yes, I do live under a rock.)

I stumbled into #writingcommunity and they are the nicest and most supportive people! It’s been a steep learning curve for me for the past 2 weeks, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

I’m over-the-top excited about pitching to pitchwars. The submission deadline is September 25. I’ll be polishing up my query and synopsis for the next month.

If you’re a writer, check it out.

So empowering!

This week I helped my daughter self-publish an adventure book. It was far easier than I thought.

It also helped me get over the awful sting of my first rejection letter.

I’ve been going about this the wrong way. I’ve got to make this more fun, for me and for my readers.

And thanks to my daughter, I have a plan.

Photo by Elvis Ma on Unsplash

Ouch

The pitching process hurts. I’ve written two novels — one needs a bit more polishing before it’s ready for pitching to agents and publishers.

A few days ago, I got excited and pitched the second novel to my favourite agent. She’d done a Reedsy webinar in February, and I really liked her. A day later I got a form-letter rejection.

Another author said it’s a blessing to get a fast response. I felt about as blessed as a bug on a windshield.

It took me a few days to recover, which probably sounds ridiculous. I posted on an authors’ forum asking for tips on handling the rejection, and one author responded saying that it’s a rite of passage — the path to publishing is littered with rejection letters.

That helped.

I’ve started on the path. Let’s see how long I have to walk it before I get where I want to be.

My paid beta reader experience

In January, I sent the first draft of my suspense romance novel to a paid beta reader for feedback.

I’m new to the world of fictional writing, and most of the beta readers I had were not fans of romance, so I wanted to give this a try.

I found the service on the Romance Refined website.

I sent my manuscript in on Jan 23 and received the feedback on Feb 9. It was supposed to be a two-week turn-around but it took a while for the payment to weave its way through the net. I paid $62.50 for the service and my manuscript is 50,000 words (the fee is based on number of words). You can receive feedback in 1 week if you’re willing to pay more.

The feedback came to me as a 22-page Word Doc with the reader providing answers to 84 questions that the editor/business owner had drafted. It’s basically an enormous form.

The reader filled out a few questions after reading Chapter 1 (so I had an idea of what she thought when she started the story), and then answered the rest after reading the entire book.

What I learned from this paid beta reader:

  • Her feedback aligned with what my non-paid readers had said.
  • My antagonists needed more work (my other readers also flagged this).
  • My prologue needed to go — it didn’t fit and it was the wrong POV (this was confirmed by 4 other people as well).
  • She found a huge racial error I’d made, which I have now fixed (I’m so glad she commented on it — no one else caught this).
  • This reader feedback was kind and gentle and good for my fragile wanna-be-an-author ego.
  • This reader provided little critical feedback for me to work off of (she flagged 3 items to resolve — prologue, antagonists, and racial error — 2 of which I knew of when I sent her the doc).
  • Beta readers are not editors — and I need both.
  • My work is good for a novella — it needs to be longer (about 20,000 words more)  if I want to pitch it as a full novel.

Here are my most fav responses to the editor’s questions. The beta reader was asked ..

  1. What the characters’ goals were and if they achieved them. 
    Her responses were lovely and I’ll weave them into my synopsis. 
  2. About her fav scene.
    They happened to also be the ones I had the most fun writing. 
  3. Would she read the next book in the series? 
    She said yes, she wants to know when this book is published so she can get it, and she identified the character she wanted it to be — and that is the character that I’m writing about next.
  4. Was it easy to set the book aside at the end of chapters? 
    She said she couldn’t put it down once she’d started. 
  5. How would she rate this story if it were published exactly as is?
    She said “4.5 out of 5 but only because of proofreading errors.” (That was hands-down my fav bit of feedback.)

I paraphrased the questions above because I signed an agreement saying I wouldn’t share the actual questions that the editor had used with others, but I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have about my experience with the service.

Some friends have asked if I would use the service again.

I will if my amazing pack of beta readers are not available when I’m done the manuscript for Book 2.

I loved the answers to the 84 questions. They were great. This was an affirming and positive experience, and it helped me accept that I was done with beta-reading phase and ready to move on to the final round of editing.

Words that distance readers

In early April, I sent my manuscript to a fictional editor to help me polish the work prior to querying. I received her edited copy today.

Her advice is that I write in “Deep POV,” which I had first heard about two months ago (from her).

I’m learning about becoming a novelist as I go. I’ve done this deliberately, because this is how I learn best.

I’ll share everything I learn. I think I’ll have a lot to post this week as I work through my editor’s comments and changes.

I did know one thing going in — passive voice distances the reader. So luckily that one is checked off. I’m not going to delve into that much, because I had that down, but if you want to know more about it leave me a comment and add a post on passive construction.

The editor also commented on speech tags and beats. Speech tags on their own distance the reader. Action tags and internal tags pull the reader in. I’ll do posts on those later in the week when I have a better handle on them.

This post is about words that distance the reader. Here’s my understanding of this. Please feel free to correct me in comments if you think I haven’t quite gotten it.

There are words that pull the reader just a little bit out of the story, shifting their focus ever so slightly from the character to the narrator.

In Deep POV, the author fully embodies the character. The author shares only what the character senses, thinks, feels. Applying this approach, using certain terms shifts the reader out of the perspective. Examples of those are felt, looked, saw, heard, glanced, thought, wondered, knew, and made

Again, please jump in here if you think I’ve got this wrong.

The idea here is that when you go about your day, you don’t say in your head. “I wonder if I’ll get that job.”

You think, will I get the job? What happens if I don’t? God, I really need this.

Apparently, first person narration is also less deep than third person, so in my novel, I need to translate this over to third person, like this: She peered into her mug, her eyes on the swirling black liquid. She needed this job. Now more than ever.

If you don’t use a word in your internal dialogue, then, I’m learning, you shouldn’t use it as the narrator either (assuming you’re aiming for this deep POV approach).

I’ll be delving deep into my manuscript over the next week or two. I’ll share all the lessons I pick up along the way.

Sometime this week I’ll add a “Resources” page to this site with a list of websites I’ve found useful while on this journey that I’m compelled to traverse.