how to plot a book

Story Genius' core message is to know your character's why. It emphasizes the importance of the author's knowing the origin of the main character's world viewpoint.

For this month’s contribution to #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, I’m reviewing Story Genius by Lisa Cron. A member of one of my Facebook groups recommended it to me.

Story Genius’ Core Message

Story Genius’ core message is to know your character’s why. The author emphasizes the importance of you knowing the origin of your main character’s world viewpoint. Story Genius' core message is to know your character's why. It emphasizes the importance of the author's knowing the origin of the main character's world viewpoint. What specific event happened before the story started that has significantly driven all of her life decisions?

The “Know Your Why” concept is something I explored in my book, The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel, in the chapter “5 Whys”. A member of my former writing group, Lisa, always drilled down to the character’s motivation. She force me to answer why they make current decisions based on a specific turning point in their early life.

For example, in an unpublished work of mine, the main character, Naomi, is fiercely loyal to her adopted family. She makes wrong and unethical decisions to salvage her brother’s reputation. Her “Why”? Peeling through the layers of her past, at age eight, she witnessed her birth parents’ murder/suicide. She vowed to do anything necessary to thank her adoptive family for taking her in. She validated their decision with her loyalty. This causes multiple problems from the start of the story, pushing her through the rabbit hole of bad decisions. Ultimately, she has to question her misbelief to attain her true goal.

Questions the author asks you to ask your characters

My very first, official writing conference I attended was Deb Dixon’s, based on her book, GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. Since then, I’ve always looked at my character’s motivation, but Story Genius, asks you to look further and question more.

  • What early event changed your character’s view on the world?
  • How did it form a false belief  that has stopped him from getting what he really wants?
  • What inciting event at the story’s start pushes against his misbelief and causes him to make more and more wrong decisions as the story progresses?
  • What ultimately forces him to confront his misbelief and allows him to reach his goal?

Story Genius, the Subtitle:

How to Use brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel

The book’s subtitle is misleading. While the author touches on how humans are hardwired for story, she did not delve deep enough into the biology of explaining how our beliefs affect our behavior. For the best, in-depth explanation on that theory, pick up a copy of The Biology of Belief by Bruce H. Lipton.

The Biology of Belief does a much better job of explaining how our beliefs affect our behavior than Story Genius

In Conclusion

Story Genius reinforces a story tool I’ve used since the beginning: the character’s “Why” matters and drives the plot. I have not sharpened this tool lately, as I tend to gallop from one plot point to another. I now have to step back, ask questions, and make it clear to myself and my readers why my character makes the decisions she does. If I can bring her “Why” to the forefront, I’ll have a realistic, flawed character the reader can identify with.

What do you think?

Do you explore your character’s background before writing? How deep do you go? I hate character interviews. Who cares if she hated chocolate milk in the second grade? (unless her classmates teased her, warping her sense of friendship that carries on into adulthood, and clouds her view of society). See, that’s what I’m talking about.

Please comment if an event in your character’s past (B.S., before story) shapes the decisions he makes A.S. (after story).

More about #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop is a monthly blog hop for authors who want to learn more about being authors.

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop is a monthly blog hop for authors who want to learn more about being authors. Held the third Wednesday of the month, the members participate with “posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.” If you would like to learn more or become a member, go here.

I’ll be back in July with another AuthorToolBoxBlogHop tip, and twice a week (fingers crossed) with other writing information and happenings in my life.



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Preparing to write NaNoWriMo:Plotting Your Novel

Preparing to write NaNoWriMo:Plotting

Prepare for NaNoWriMo:Plotting

Last week, I wrote about using archetypes to create characters in anticipation of NaNoWriMo in November. My project next month is a retelling of Red Riding Hood and the Big, Bad Wolfe as a romance. I’ve already established a world in Snow White and the Eighth Dwarf (available in January) that I can use.

This week’s self-assignment was to take the strengths and weaknesses of the archetypes I drew from Caroline Myss’ card deck and add them to my plot.

Plotting the Hero

The hero of the book is Mr. Wolfe. Oliver Cox Wolfe (yes, I did think of naming him Oliver Fox, but then the title would be Red Riding Hood and the Big, Bad Fox). Using his archetypes, I examined their weaknesses and arrived at the following plot points:

The Warrior—Weakness:trades ethical principles for victory at any cost. How used in plot:Uses trickery to preserve his kingdom.

The Shapeshifter—Projects any image that serves his personal agenda at the moment. How used in plot: Takes advantage of his position of power to maintain his position of power. Lets his assumed feelings for the kingdom overshadow his feelings for the heroine, not realizing his motive is a way of coping with self-doubt.

The Child-Wounded—Blames any dysfunctional relationships on childhood wounds. How used in plot: His traumatic childhood darkens his ability to love and stunts his growth as a man.

The Athlete—Has a false sense of invulnerability and entitlement. How used in plot:Uses people around him to get what he thinks he and the kingdom wants.

As you can see, Oliver has a lot of baggage. He’s a broken man at the beginning. He’s inherited a kingdom in disrepair and feels obligated to prove his father’s opinion wrong. To battle these conflicts, Oliver needs a good woman at his side. Let’s examine her weaknesses.

Plotting the Heroine

Roswynn is a baker for the village. She learned most of her skills from her grandmother, with whom she lives. Her recent bout with a strange fever resulted in the shearing of her hair, making her hide what is left under a red hood. Her greatest desire is to perfect her craft.

The Hermit—She withdraws from society out of fear or judgment of others. How used in plot: She runs from a royal decree to make the food that hinders Oliver’s shapeshifting abilities.

The Dilettante—Pretends a much deeper knowledge than she possesses. How used in plot: Convinces Oliver she has the formula when she doesn’t. She says so out of self-preservation, as losing the royal baking contract will ruin her and her family.

The Monk Nun—Negative, judgment of physical world. How used in plot: Negative opinion of Oliver and what he’s doing to preserve his kingdom.

Other factors involved in this plot:

  • The true heir to the kingdom makes a claim.
  • A trusted advisor isn’t so trusted.
  • The things Oliver and Roswynn would never do that circumstances and decisions make them do.
  • The conflicts of Oliver being a werewolf.
  • Oliver’s growing love for Roswynn.
  • Oliver’s resolve to be a better king than his father to prove his father’s opinion of him wrong.

Many, many other details need to be ironed out before November 1st, but I am steadily working on them.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at how to put together a novel. I’ll be updating it as I progress.

Blessings to all, especially those who accept the NaNo challenge!







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Warrior archetype

Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Nothing strikes terror into the heart of a writer more than the phrase, “prepare for NaNoWriMo” unless it’s actually taking part in NaNo.

What is NaNo? From their website:

“National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”

50K in one month is daunting. I’ve written that much in the official NaNo month of November; during my writing group’s preferred Winter NaNo-February meeting to March meeting. On my own, I NaNo’ed one May and, most recently, this past July. One of the key elements to a successful writing month is to have an outline. Yes, I know some people like to sit down and let the words flow, but with a daily word count of 1,667, it’s not practical.

My accountability buddy, Kim, and I have challenged each other to complete NaNo next month.

NaNoWriMo, Step One

The first step is deciding what to write. For me, it’s a no-brainer—the next installment in my Enchanted Forest fantasy romance series. The clues I sprinkled about in the first book, Snow White and the Eighth Dwarf (available in January), pointed toward using the Red Riding Hood tale as the foundation. (I’m toying with Red Riding Hood and the Big, Sexy Wolf, or Red Riding Hood in the Big, Very Bad Wolf as titles. What do you think?)

NaNoWriMo, Step Two

The second step is to find my characters. As the fairy tale does this for me, I need to zero in on their personalities. I’ve tried various way of refining personalities, including using the Meyers-Briggs test, but this time, I decided on using mythical archetypes.

I have a seventy-two card deck of Carolyn Myss’ Archetype Cards. Using my spidey/author sense of drawing cards, this is what I picked (or the cards picked me).

For Oliver, the wolf in my story:

The Warrior—strong, skilNothing strikes terror into the heart of a writer more than the phrase, "prepare for NaNoWriMo" unless it's actually taking part in NaNo.led, disciplined, toughness of will, hero, self-sacrificing.

The Shapeshifter (He is a wolf after all)—skilled at navigating through different levels of consciousness, projecting any image that serves his personal agenda.

Child wounded—blames all dysfunctional relationships on childhood wounds.

Athlete—dedication to transcending physical limits

For Red (possibly called Rhoswynn or Rosewynn):

Nothing strikes terror into the heart of a writer more than the phrase, "prepare for NaNoWriMo" unless it's actually taking part in NaNo.

photo courtesy of arenamontanus/flickr

The Hermit—Seeks solitude to focus intently on her inner life. Serves her personal creativity.

Dilettante—Delights in the arts without having to be a professional.

Monk Nun—Selfless devotion and single-minded dedication to Spirit. Removed from the real world.

How do I take these attributes and mold compelling relatable characters? I’ll explore that question in my next post: Prepare for NaNoWriMo:Plot, as well as introduce the archetypes for the secondary characters.

Are you participating in NaNo this year? What preparations are you making? Please comment below and let me know the details.






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