Rising Actions | Elements of a Novel – Part 6

Elements of a Novel: Rising Action

Welcome to Part Six of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today we’re talking about Rising Actions! (ICYMI, here are the links to Part One: Creating Characters, Part Two: Choosing a Plot Structure, Part Three: Setting and World Building, Part Four: The Beginning, and Part Five: The Inciting Incident.)

Rising actions are how you keep your story interesting, your readers engaged, and your plot and character development moving forward. That’s a lot to ask of one novel element! This post aims to break down exactly what rising actions are, and how to make them work for you in the least intimidating way possible.

Let’s take a look at what rising actions are, how many you need, and how to manage them in your novel!

What are rising actions?

Rising actions are the pivotal points in your novel that lead to the climactic moment. In a plot structure like the one below, they are the crisis points on the chart. (For more on this plot structure, check out this post!)

Rising actions are designed to continually push the plot and challenge your character. If they’re executed effectively, they will lead you to a natural climactic moment. This may be a showdown between your protagonist and villain, a crucial revelation for your main character, or something similar.

The main role rising actions play in your plot is to ensure your climax doesn’t come out of nowhere. If you know you want your book to end with a major confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist, your readers need to see that conflict build in order to become appropriately invested in the outcome. Rising actions will help you get there gradually. They will help your reader understand and care about the confrontation just as much as your characters do.

Additionally, they can help your character progressively grow. If you want your character to evolve and change by the end of your book, then that growth shouldn’t come out of nowhere either. Readers need to see the tiny steps your character makes throughout the book that gets them from Point A to Point B.

How many rising actions do you need?

There’s no concrete rule on how many rising actions you need. Ultimately, it will depend on the story you’re writing and the plot structure you’re following. Longer books will likely have more rising actions tha shorter ones, and some plot structures suggest more than others. (For more on plot structures, check out part two of this series!) I like to use the plot structure pictured in the previous point, so I usually go with four rising actions. I would suggest considering between three and six, depending on what makes the most sense for your story.

There truly is no right answer here. The more rising actions you have, the more of a build to the climax there will be. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your book. If you pick too few, you run the risk of not paying enough attention to the build and the climax may feel a little random to your readers. However, if you pick too many, it may draw your plot out too much.

When in doubt, go with the middle ground (so, in this case, four or five) for your first draft, then see how your book looks in revision. If the plot feels too drawn out, you can cut or combine rising actions. If it feels too abrupt, you can add some. Be mindful, but don’t let this decision hold you up. You can always fix your book later!

How do you lead into rising actions?

I find it easiest to think of each rising action as mini climactic moments in their own right. It’s typically best to build up to each rising action like you’re doing with the climax itself. Take another look at the plot structure above. Do you notice how the shape of the graph gently slopes up to each rising action? They’re not shown as sharp upward spikes. That’s because it’s usually most effective to progress into the rising action.

For example, let’s say one of your rising actions is that your character has to break out of somewhere. That typically takes preparation. So instead of your character just deciding to break out and making an attempt, you can have events in the chapter or two prior where your character prepares to break out. Maybe in one chapter, they get supplies, then in the next, they watch the guards and choose the best moment. Then in the following chapter, they actually execute the breakout.

This will help your reader anticipate and become invested in the rising action while giving you an event that helps them become equally as invested in the climax.

What should each rising action include?

Ideally, each rising action should include an event that gets your character closer to the climactic plot point and gets your character closer to who you want them to be at the end of the book.

When it comes to plot, each rising action should give your character something that will either help them in the climax, or help them get to the climax. This could mean that one of your rising actions forces your character to uncover a skill they didn’t know they had, which they can then develop and use at your story’s pivotal moment. Or maybe your character learns crucial information that helps them learn or understand something important about their enemy.

Additionally, you can really take your rising actions to the next level if you tie some character development to each rising action. For example, let’s say you want your character to learn to be more trusting. In your first rising action, they can be forced to work with and trust someone they’re uncomfortable with to retrieve information that’s pivotal to the plot. Then the next plot point should build on that trust. Maybe after being forced to work together, they come to a truce of sorts. Then the trust will build from there in the next few rising actions.

For more on how to make plot and character work together, check out this post!

How do you come out of a rising action?

Once you reach the peak of your rising action and get your characters out of their situation/back to safety, it’s usually a good idea to give them a moment to breathe and regroup from whatever they went through. Maybe they nearly got caught by their enemy, or maybe another character died. Whatever happened, they’ll likely need time to process, evaluate their situation, and recover.

These recovery periods can make for some particularly good character moments. As we’ve said, the rising actions themselves should push and challenge your characters. This may put them in emotionally or physically vulnerable situations that they will have to deal with during these recovery periods.

Something else to keep in mind: if you want to keep building tension, it’s a good idea for your rising actions to get more intense and for your characters to suffer more consequences after the rising actions as your book progresses. This may result in stronger and more interesting character moments as you move through your book.

How do you plot rising actions?

Before you can plot your rising actions, you have to choose a plot structure. (See Part Two!) Once you pick your plot structure, you can choose to plot forward or backward, depending on what seems easier.

No matter what you pick, I would suggest having some idea what you climax is from the start, even if it’s only a vague idea. It’s a lot easier to plot your rising actions if you know what you’re rising to.

If you’re plotting from the start of your book and moving forward, look at where your character is starting, and refer to your plot structure. Then figure out what the first step they need to take on their journey to get them one step closer to the climax. Then have them take another step, then another. Keep taking steps forward until your plot structure is filled in or you reach the climax.

In this method, you build tension and momentum in the same chronological way you want your reader to experience it. It’s best for writers who have an idea of how to get their character from the beginning to the end, but just need to fill in some blanks.

If you’re plotting backward, start at your climax and consider your plot structure. Then, figure out the step that needs to happen right before the climax to bring it about. Then you take another step backward and figure out what needs to happen to bring that plot point about. After that, you take another step back, then another until you reach the start of the book.

This method can be best for writers who feel like they have no idea how their character is going to get from the beginning to the end. It helps prevent you from focusing too much on the (possibly) overwhelming big picture. Instead, it encourages you to zero in on the events that need to happen prior, in order for the climax to occur.

I hope this helps you create some awesome rising actions for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What are your tips and tricks for creating rising actions? How do you keep your rising actions interesting? Tell me about it in the comments!

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6 Conflicts to Use in Your Novel | Writing Tips

Six types of conflict for your novel

Let’s talk about conflict! It probably isn’t news to you that conflict is essential to writing an effective story. (And if it is news to you, now you know! ūüėČ But including conflict consistently isn’t always as easy as it sounds. There may be times where you know a scene is lacking conflict, but aren’t sure what to add. Other times, you may find yourself struggling with what the bigger, overarching conflicts should be.

In order to work conflict into your story, you first have to have a good understanding of your options. To help with that, here are six types of conflicts you might find useful in your story.

Character vs. Self

I think most of us can point to a time that we’ve been at war with ourselves about what to do in a given situation. You can let your characters experience the same feelings. This conflict is particularly handy if it doesn’t make sense for your character to be in conflict with someone else or if they’re on their own for some reason.

This conflict can be as big or as small as you need it to be, depending on what’s going on in your story. If you want to include a book-length arc, your character can be struggling with something life-changing or character-defining. Maybe they’re struggling with doing the right thing versus doing something for personal gain. Or maybe they’ve found themselves in a situation with an impossible choice to make–one that will take the whole book to work out.

If the conflict only needs to last a scene or a few chapters, you can consider similar situations to the ones mentioned above, but on a smaller scale. Your character can also struggle with when to keep and share information, the right and wrong thing to do in any given situation, and who to trust and guard against.

Character vs. Character

This is perhaps the easiest and most common type of conflict to include. All you need is two people who want different things in any given moment. This is where majority of the conflicts in our lives come from. Everyone has their own goals and interests. Sometimes they line up, but a lot of the time, they don’t. Any time our wants differ from someone else, it lends itself to a natural conflict. Your characters should operate in a similar fashion.

On a larger, book-length scale, you could have two characters in competition with each other or at odds over something big. Maybe one character wants to take over the world and the other doesn’t want that to happen. Or maybe your protagonist and antagonist are running against each other in an election.

On a smaller scale, the conflict could be as simple as two characters disagreeing over the best course of action to take, or maybe one character is a bit of a bully to another. It can be particularly interesting if two characters who usually get along have a reason to argue.

The key with this type of conflict is to be sure that it makes sense for both characters involved. If it doesn’t make sense for your characters to be on opposite ends of the argument, your conflict will fall flat.

Character vs. Environment/Society

This conflict comes up whenever a character has an issue with their immediate surroundings or society. Any time you’ve had an issue or disagreement with a rule or reality placed on your by an outside source, you’ve likely had a conflict with your environment or society.

On a smaller scale, it can mean that your character doesn’t fit in at school/work or their community. It may be a source of discomfort for your character, but it doesn’t dominate their every thought or overall goal. There can be areas in the story where this is more of an issue than others, but it isn’t the driving force behind the story.

On a larger scale, it can mean that your character is attacked for who they are or what they believe. It could also mean that they are at odds with a controlling government. Dystopian book or books with a rebellion/uprising often have a character vs. environment/society conflicts at the heart of their plot.

Character vs. Nature

Character vs. Nature occurs anytime the natural order of the world threatens your character. This can mean weather, a natural disaster, or any kind of predatory situation or animal encounter. This type of conflict can be particularly useful because you don’t always have to justify why this natural occurrence is happening. As long as it’s feasible for the occurrence to happen in your story’s setting, you can probably get away with it.

And again, these natural occurrences can be as big or as small as you need them to be. If you need a small conflict, maybe your character finds themselves face to face with a hungry wolf they have to escape from. Or if you want to force two characters together, they can be snowed in somewhere.

If you need a bigger conflict, maybe there’s a hurricane headed your character’s way. The countdown before a natural disaster can also lead to a great source of tension.

Character vs. Machine

This conflict is growing in popularity with the growth of technology. The problems we encounter with technology can range from the mild inconveniences to the more serious, life-threatening issues.

If you need a smaller problem, consider technical malfunctions. This can include a GPS that proves to be less-than-accurate, a cell phone that’s dead or lacking reception, or a computer that won’t connect to the internet. For a contained mid-sized problem, something along the lines of a car crushing someone after an accident or any kind of large machine malfunction will get the job done. A gunfight could also fall into this category.

On a larger scale, bombs and missiles about to go off and level entire towns, or any machine that your character has to stop, or alter is worth considering.

Character vs. Fate/Supernatural

And lastly, we have fate and the supernatural. This is the one conflict that may not have a place in your story, depending on what you’re writing. On the other hand, if you’re writing a supernatural story, it may be your biggest conflict.

On a small scale, your character may find themselves with a brief ghostly encounter. It’s also possible that your character might have an encounter with a psychic or a ouija board. On a larger scale, your character may be handed a destiny they’re trying to outrun or be haunted by some kind of ghost, curse, or other supernatural creature.

Paranormal and supernatural books will shape their primary plot around a conflict of this nature, but even books that aren’t centered around this theme may include some supernatural conflicts if you have a character who believes or if it’s relevant to the story.

I hope this helps you add some killer conflicts to your novel!

These are just some possibilities! What your specific story will need may vary, but hopefully, this gives you a good idea of each type of conflict and how to use it in your story.

Now it’s your turn: What’s your favorite type of conflict to write? What’s your favorite conflict to read? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Inciting Incident | Elements of a Novel – Part 5

Inciting Incident: Elements of a Novel

Welcome to Part Five of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today is all about the Inciting Incident! (ICYMI, here are the links to Part One: Creating Characters, Part Two: Choosing a Plot Structure, Part Three: Setting and World Building, and Part Four: The Beginning.)

The inciting incident is one of the most important elements of the plot structure. It’s responsible for hooking your readers into the story and kick-starting your plot. This post aims to break down what an inciting incident is, what makes for a good one, when it should happen, and some tips to help you with your own!

What is it?

The inciting incident is when you’re character’s life starts to change. This change can come as a result of a choice your character makes or as a result of something that happens to them, such as the death of a family member or a change in their circumstances. The inciting incident is what will make your character rise to the occasion, leave their normal life, and move to the main story arc of your plot.

What makes for a good inciting incident?

A good inciting incident should have a personal connection with your protagonist and (by extension) your reader. It should tug at something your character strongly believes in and/or wants to change. Because this element propels the plot, it has to be big and meaningful enough for your character to sign up for the rest of the story. Otherwise, your readers may not find your story to be belivable from the start.

There are two ways you can appeal to your character. First, is in a positive way. In this instance, you give your character a change that is seemingly positive. This will be something that your character will want to leave their normal life for.

One example is from Harry Potter. In this case, the inciting incident is when Harry gets his Hogwarts letter and learns he’s a wizard. At the time, this was a positive change for him. It got him away from his terrible aunt and uncle and into a world of magic. Harry finding his way into the magic world is what set the entire seven-book series into motion.

The second way you can appeal to your character is in a negative way. This can mean killing or endangering a family member, or forcing them to take a risk for their own or someone else’s safety. In this case, your character may not actually want to leave their world, but they’ll do it for the greater good.

A good example of this type of appeal is The Hunger Games. In this case, the inciting incident is when Katniss volunteers as tribute to save her sister. She doesn’t actually want to be in the Hunger Games, but she’s motivated to do so in order to keep her sister out of danger.

When should it happen?

When your inciting incident should happen can vary depending on the story, but generally speaking, you’re going to want it pretty close to the beginning. If you’re using a three-act structure, it generally falls towards the end of act one.

Because your inciting incident is responsible for both pulling your reader in and kicking you plot into gear, it’s typically better to introduce your inciting incident as soon as possible. However, it’s important to establish what “normal” is for your character. Some stories need more time than others to do this. Looking at the two examples above, The Hunger Games had its inciting incident at the end of chapter one, while Harry Potter took several chapters.

Sooner is always better, but don’t cut corners. If your characters are in a fantasy world, you may need to take a chapter or two establishing the world before you dive into your inciting incident. You’re better off taking a little more time to get to your inciting incident and ensure your reader isn’t confused.

And of course, you can always fix it later! On your first draft, you should absolutely take all the time you need. Maybe you have a lot of “normal” to establish and it takes you ten chapters to get to the inciting incident. If it feels like you story is dragging when you read over it, you can always tighten it up. That’s what revision is for!

Tips for an effective inciting incident

Focus on believability

It might be tempting to start your story off with a bang, but if you go too big, too fast, you run the risk or loosing your reader out of the gate. They’re not invested in your story yet, so if they are’t buying what you’re selling at this point, they’re much more likely to walk away now than the might be at chapter twenty. If your story seems too far fetched this early, your reader may see that as a sign of things to come and bounce before they get invested.

On the other hand, if your inciting incident is underwhelming or unrealistic, it might not seem like enough of a reason for your character to abandon their reality for your plot. This may cause your reader to walk away in a similar fashion. For instance, if in The Hunger Games, Katniss chose to volunteer to save someone who wasn’t her sister, it might not ring true to your readers. It simply doesn’t seem believable enough that an average person would sentence themselves to almost certain death for a stranger–especially if they hadn’t done so in the past.

This leads me to the tip.

Make it personal

One easy way to aid the believability of an inciting incident is to make it personal. In Katniss’s case, it’s because her sister was in danger that we so easily believed she would take such a risk. You can use this to your advantage in any number of situations. If you want a character to care about a mystery, it could be that someone they care about was hurt. Or it could be that the person responsible is still out there and could hurt your character or someone else.

However, how personal you need to make an inciting incident can often depend on the stakes of the story and the role of your character. If you’re writing about a detective catching a serial killer, the inciting incident may not have to be all that personal because the stakes are life and death, and it’s the detective’s job to catch such a person. But if the stakes are lower or your character is typically more removed from the plot arc you’re writing, giving them a personal connection is a solid, believable way to get them into the story.

Show clear advantages

It also helps to show clear advantages to your character making the kind of change the inciting incident is asking them to make. Jumping back to our Harry Potter example, not every eleven-year-old would see leaving home, their friends, and their current school to go to a boarding school as a good thing. But in Harry’s case, there were clear advantages. His family didn’t treat him well, he didn’t have any friends as a result, and he was going to a school that would teach him magic. Who wouldn’t say yes to something like that?

Even if you can’t put your character in a situation like Harry’s where they would want to leave their normal world, if you can put them in a situation where the advantages believably outweigh the disadvantages, it will likely be enough to convince your readers to buy into your inciting incident and get your plot off and running!

I hope this helps you create an awesome inciting incident for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What are some of your favorite inciting incidents? What are some techniques you’ve used in your books? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Beginning | Elements of a Novel – Part 4

Elements of a Novel: The Beginning

Welcome to Part Four of the Elements of a Novel Series! It’s time to finally dig into the novel itself and explore the beginning! (ICYMI, here are the links to Part One: Creating Characters, Part Two: Choosing a Plot Structure, and Part Three: Setting and World Building.)

The main goal for the beginning of a novel is to introduce your readers to your world, character, and story. Ideally, you want to do this in a fun and interesting way. Let’s take a look at the specifics of what you should aim to introduce and how to keep your audience engaged while you do it!

Introduce the main character

The first priority at the beginning of your story is to introduce your main character. If you want your readers to connect with your story, they need to be anchored and connected to your protagonist as soon as possible.

However, it’s a bit of a balancing act. If you give your readers too much information about your character too fast, you could overwhelm them. Instead, try to stick to the very basics of what your readers need to know about your character to be willing to follow them through the story. Establishing their voice, attitude, and general personality is far more important than establishing their appearance.

If you feel like you’re struggling to create a connection for your readers, consider putting your character in some kind of heightened emotional state. If they’re worried, or stressed, or afraid of something, your reader will likely be able to latch on and relate to those emotions. This is by no means the only way to start a story, but if you’re having a hard time, it might help!

Introduce related characters

Depending on the events you decide to include in your opening scene, you may need to introduce other characters along with your main character. If you’re going to have a handful of characters in your opening scene, it might be ideal to limit additional characters to supporting characters. This will allow you to keep the focus on your protagonist, while allowing them to have company in the scene.

Alternatively, if you want to include two main characters in the opening scene, you might want to think about limiting the scene to just the two of them. This will help readers get to know the characters and emphasize their importance without pulling focus to less important characters.

But keep in mind, these are not hard and fast rules. They’re guidelines that I have found make for a successful character introduction. You should absolutely be open to modifying as it makes sense for the beginning of your story.

Introduce the setting and/or world

In addition to your character, readers need to know where exactly this story is taking place. Similar to when you introduce your character, you don’t want to give your readers too much too fast. This is especially a concern if you’re setting your story in a completely different world.

There are a handful of ways you can introduce your setting/world successfully, but here are my two biggest tips:

Limit the information you share

Like with your character introduction, consider limiting the information you share about your setting to only what your readers NEED to know to get into your story. This is particularly relevant if you need to introduce a whole new world to your audience. New characters and a completely new world can be a lot for the reader to take in. Limiting information can help your reader ease into your world, while quickly engaging with your story.

For example, if you’re writing a fantasy, you may have magic in your book. It might be important to introduce that magic up front, so by all means, include it in your opening scene. However, the details behind how the magic works and who gets to use it can be discussed later.

Start up close, then widen the lens

This technique is another great way to ease your readers into your setting, regardless of if your story is set on this world or another. When you first introduce your character, only introduce their immediate surroundings at first. So, if your character is at work, just tell us about their work setting. If they’re at home, tell us about their home.

Then as the scene or chapter moves on, widen the lens and tell us where their work or home is located. If there’s something unique about the location you want to mention, go for it! Otherwise, consider leaving the inner-workings of the setting and world until your readers need the information.

Introduce “normal”

Now that you’ve introduced who your main character is, and where the story is set, it’s time to focus on “normal.” What’s normal for your character is going to be relative. For example, if your main character is an assassin, their normal is likely going to be killing someone. This may not be what most, if not all, of your readers consider to be “normal,” but it’s what’s normal to your character.

Why “normal” needs to come first

One piece of writing advice that I come across a lot with regard to beginnings is to start your story “in the middle of the action.” However, that doesn’t mean you should catapult into your story’s inciting incident right out of the gate. While this approach will definitely get you into the story quickly, it’s also likely to confuse your reader. Taking the time to introduce your character, world, and your character’s normal will allow your reader to orient themselves. It also allows readers to see the life your character is used to, and who they are at the start of the book. This will provide a solid basis of how the inciting incident (which we’ll cover in the next post) disrupts their normal, and how the events to come will push your character to grow and change.

How to keep it interesting

Just because the focus of the beginning of the book is an introduction doesn’t mean it should be boring. One of the best ways to establish “normal” and introduce the important information is to put your character in an uncomfortable or tense situation. If you have a character who has a different sense of normal, like our assassin from earlier, your job might be easier than others. Opening with the character completing a hit would be both tense and attention-getting.

If you don’t have a character with an unusual lifestyle, you can still lean on tension and discomfort to create your opening. One book that does this well is The Hunger Games. This book may be dystopian, but the characters themselves are average people. The book opens on the day of the “reaping,” which is when people are chosen to participate in the hunger games. The reaping may not be a daily event, but it’s a normal annual event for the people in this book. It’s also an event that leads to a heightened emotional state for the characters.

You can use any kind of emotionally hightened “normal” situation to pull your readers in.

I hope this helps you with the beginning of your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What are some of your favorite ways to introduce readers to your story at the beginning? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Hero’s Jourey Plot Structure Breakdown

The Hero's Journey Plot Structure Breakdown

The Hero’s Journey Plot was first described by Joseph Campbell. It’s a character-centric plot structure that’s popularly used when the main protagonist of a story is intended to become a true hero. 

Today, we’re to take an in-depth look at each of the twelve stages in the Hero’s Journey Plot structure. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know if you’re using this structure in your story:

The Hero's Journey Plot Structure

1) The Ordinary World 

First, establish the ordinary world of your hero. We need to see what their normal life looks like for them before they go off on their adventure. This is an important element to this plot structure because it’s what allows your readers to relate to your character.

The average person isn’t likely to find themselves in a position to be a hero like your character is in your book. Letting your reader meet and get to know your character in their normal and natural environment will allow your readers to find elements in common with your main character before they go off on their journey to become a hero, which is an experience your reader may not be able to relate to as deeply.

2) The Call to Adventure

Next, your hero gets called to actually be a hero. This will act as the inciting incident for your story. They will be told they have to leave their home and do something very dangerous for the greater good. The call can come in many different ways. There could be a dangerous and immediate threat. There could be a death or some kind of natural disaster. The call could come in the form of a literal person or message. Or it could take a handful of other forms. You can get creative here and come up with a call/inciting incident that makes sense for your world and your character. 

3) Refusal to the Call

Next, your hero will typically put up some kind of resistance to the call. They may say they don’t want this responsibility and reject the mission they’ve been tasked with. Or they may argue they have too many of their own responsibilities in their own world. Or perhaps they don’t feel capable. This is also where readers can learn the risks that come with this journey, which will likely be a contributing factor to the character’s refusal.

This is a good point in the Hero’s Journey to allow your character to doubt their own abilities. By doing so, you’ll allow your reader to connect and sympathize with your character. You’ll also give your character a base point for growth. Throughout the course of their journey, they will likely find they do have what it takes, which will serve as a source of inspiration to the reader. 

4) Meeting the Mentor

The hero will meet the person who will become their mentor and guide them on this Hero’s Journey. This person often gives the hero the push they need to get things off the ground. The mentor will help the hero to believe in themselves and better understand why they are the best or only person for this job. 

If there is some kind of magical ability involved or training required, the mentor will have knowledge and wisdom in this area, which will allow them to guide the hero. This will add to the hero’s confidence and put them in a position where they feel they have a possibility of succeeding. 

5) Crossing the Threshold

The hero will accept their task, cross the threshold and leave the known world to begin their hero’s journey. In order for this to happen, the hero must overcome an obstacle which pushes the hero to fully commit to the journey ahead. It is essentially a “no turning back” moment.  This may include facing one/some of their fears and insecurities, receiving some kind of direction or map, or a final push from the mentor or a loved one staying behind.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Now that the hero has entered the unknown world, they will endure a series of tests and obstacles on their hero’s journey. These tests will push the character mentally and physically, forcing them to grow and change. They will also have to learn who they can and cannot trust. They may find a sidekick or two, or a whole team of supporting characters. They will also make some enemies who are out to do them and their new friends harm.

Additionally, because this is an unknown world, the hero will need to learn the lay of the land. They will need to learn the rules of this world, along with any important geographic or magical information. This step is important because in educating your hero of this new world, you will also be educating your reader. 

7) Approach the Inmost Cave

The hero prepares for the main ordeal they know is coming. This can be a bit of a relief in the tension that has been building up until this moment. At this point, your hero should have had to overcome a handful of challenges and will have proven themselves to natives of this world (whether they be friends or enemies).

This is a chance for your hero and his supporting friends to take a moment and collect themselves. Perhaps they’re coming off a trying series of events that they need to grieve and/or process. Or perhaps they need a moment of light-hearted fun before moving forward. This is also a time for your characters to discuss plans for confronting the Ordeal, which is just ahead of them.

8) Ordeal

The hero is confronted with an extreme ordeal that will call on all of the skills they have learned on this hero’s journey so far, in order to survive. This can be a physical battle with an enemy or it can be a test of mental dexterity. Regardless, the ordeal should force the hero to confront their worst fear. 

Additionally, the hero must face death in some form. This death can be literal or metaphorical.  It can apply directly to the hero or a member of their team. It can mean your hero or another character has a brush with death but is able to be saved or resuscitated, or it could mean another important character dies for the cause. This can also be applied to the “death” of something important in your character’s life, like a belief or relationship. 

9) Reward

After surviving the ordeal, the hero receives some kind of reward for their efforts. This can come in many forms such as an item, information, or a person.

This celebration/break in actions gives both the hero and the reader a chance to breathe before continuing on. The story is building to the climax now, so there won’t be another moment for your characters or readers to relax until you reach the end.

10) The Road Home

The hero recommits to seeing out their journey and forages onward back to the ordinary world. However, the experiences the hero has had on their hero’s journey will make it hard to return. The hero will need another push to enter the known world again, similar to the push they needed to enter the unknown world. This may come from the mentor, another ally or maybe even a threat that is hanging over the known world that adds urgency to your character’s return.

11) The Resurrection

The hero has one final ordeal that typically includes a brush with death and heroic efforts of another to keep the hero alive. This is the final life and death moment and the climax of your story. This time, it should be your hero who nearly (or completely) ends up dead. However, thanks to another character or force, they are able to overcome this final obstacle. The hero then defeats the biggest threat to his/the world’s existence. Others may help with this, but in the end, it has to be the hero who saves the day. This event should allow your character to return home transformed.

12) Return with Elixir

The hero returns to the ordinary world with something to share with the world they left behind. This could be something physical, such as an enchanted object or a cure for a disease, or it could be intangible, such as knowledge. This wraps up the story, either by restoring a balance or tying up loose ends. Your hero is forever changed by the events of your story, and  both your hero and your reader should have a fair amount of satisfaction with the end result.

I hope this gives you a good understanding of the Hero’s Journey plot structure!

Now it’s your turn: Have you used the Hero’s Journey plot structure before? If you have, what did you like and dislike? If you haven’t, do you think it can help your story? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Hero's Journey

Choosing a Plot Structure | Elements of a Novel – Part 2

Elements of a novel: Plot structureWelcome to Part Two of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today we’re going talk about plot structure and how to choose the best one for your novel. (ICYMI, here’s the link to Part One: Creating Characters.)

Before you start writing your novel, it’s a good idea to have some idea of the story you want to write and the path you want to take your characters on. Plot structures are like road maps. They give you landmarks and to hit and act as a guide to help you write an interesting and engaging story that will (ideally) be satisfying to both you and your readers.

There are basic elements that are found in all major plot structures, but there are a few variations that may be better options depending on the type of book you’re writing.

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the three most popular plot structures!

Freytag’s Pyramid

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Overview

Freytag’s Pyramid is the most common dramatic plot structure. Here are the basic elements of this plot structure:

Exposition- Readers meet the characters, get introduced to the world, and learn any background information they need in order to understand the story.

Rising Action- The story builds to the climax with a series of events that lead your characters (and your readers) closer and closer to the climactic moment.

Climax-¬†This is the pivotal moment in your story. The conflict you’ve been building in the rising action comes to a head. It’s the moment that will determine¬†the fate of your main characters and shape their future.

Falling Action- The outcome of the climax is decided and your characters deal with the immediate aftermath.

Denoument- Wrap up your story, tie up any loose ends, and end.

Advantages

This is a timeless, evenly paced plot structure that can apply to almost story.

Disadvantages

It’s a little too straightforward and without more concrete checkpoints, it can lead to a story that’s a little too drawn out. This is because it visually places equal emphasis on the rising action as it does the falling action.

Recommended for:

Anyone who doesn’t know what plot structure to choose, or anyone who wants a straightforward classic.

Three-Act Structure

Basic Three-Act Structure

My Favorite Three-Act Structure

Overview

This structure follows the same basic format as Freytag’s Pyramid but has a few more checkpoints and guidelines. Here’s what this plot structure is made up of:

Act I (Beginning)

Opening/Exposition-¬†Like the exposition in Freytag, here we meet the characters and are introduced to the world. It establishes what “normal” looks like for your main characters. This is intended to be done as quickly as possible.

Plot Point 1-¬†This is your inciting incident. Something happens that shakes your character’s world and essentially kickstarts your story.

Act II (Middle)

3-4 points of crisis-¬†This is similar to the rising actions in Freytag, but as you can see, it’s a little more specific. These points of crisis are intended to increase tension as the story progresses. They aren’t just “actions” they’re actual moments of crisis for your characters.

Plot Point 2- The second act ends with a dark moment for your character leading into the climax. Here, the tension is almost at its peak and everything is on the line for your characters.

Act III (End)

Climax-¬†This is the epic fight or showdown you’ve been building towards. It should be the highest moment of tension for your characters and story.

Denoument- The biggest difference between Freytag and three-act is the very swift resolution. There is very little falling action. The idea is to wrap up your story as quickly after the climax as you can and get out. This should leave your reader satisfied with the outcome, but wanting more.

Advantages

This plot structure focuses more on raising the tension and creating an engaging story. It happens to be my favorite plot structure for this reason. (For more on how I use this structure, check out this post!) The focus on raising the tension with each crisis point helps to create a more tense and engaging story than simply focusing on moving your story closer to the climax. Visually, it also lessens importance on the opening and denoument, which puts the emphasis on writing a tight story.

Disadvantages

It doesn’t leave much room for side stories or character backstories. This can be a good thing if your goal is to write a tight novel. But if you’re looking to write something a little more thoughtful or slower paced, this may not be ideal for you.

Recommended for:

Plot driven stories that are intended to be tight, faster paced, tension driven, or page-turners.

Hero’s Journey

Overview

This plot structure is designed for more heroic stories and typically lends itself well to fantasies. One of the best examples is Lord of the Rings. The exact order of events can vary slightly, but this is the general plot structure:

1) The Ordinary World – First we establish the ordinary world of your hero. We see what their normal life looks like for them before they go off on their adventure.

2) The Call to Adventure –¬†Next, your hero gets called to actually be a hero. They will be told they have to leave their home and do something very dangerous for the greater good.

3) Refusal to the Call-¬†The hero will say they don’t want this responsibility and reject the mission they’ve been tasked with.

4) Meeting the Mentor- The hero will meet the person who will become their mentor and guide them on this journey. This person often gives the hero the push they need to go on this journey.

5) Crossing the Threshold – The hero will accept their task, cross the threshold and leave home to begin their heroic journey.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies –¬†The hero will endure a series of tests and obstacles on their journey. These tests will push the character mentally and physically, forcing them to grow and change. They will also meet people who will help them and make enemies.

7) Approach the Inmost Cave –¬†The hero prepares for the main ordeal they know is coming.

8) Ordeal РThe hero is confronted with an extreme ordeal that will call on all of the skills they have learned on this journey so far in order to survive. This can be a physical battle with an enemy or it could be a situation where the hero is forced to face their deepest fear. Additionally, the hero must face some kind of death. This death can be literal or metaphorical.  It can apply directly to the hero or a member of their team.

9) Reward –¬†The hero receives some kind of reward for their efforts in the ordeal. This can come in many forms such as an item, information, or saving a person.

10) The Road Home –¬†The hero recommits to seeing out their journey and forages onward back to the ordinary world. However, the experiences the hero has had on their journey will make it hard to return.

11) The Resurrection The hero has one final ordeal that typically includes a brush with death and heroic efforts of another to keep the hero alive.

12) Return with Elixir- The hero returns to the ordinary world with something to share with the world they left behind. This could be something physical, such as an enchanted object or a cure for a disease, or it could be intangible, such as knowledge. This wraps up the story, however your hero is forever changed.

Advantages

This structure gives you some very clear and concrete plot points to write an engaging story that is both focused on plot and character development. It is a plot structure that is tried and true. If you’ve got a character who is intended to be the hero of the story, this is a plot structure that isn’t likely to lead you wrong.

Disadvantages

It might be a little too concrete. It puts your character on a very specific path, that may not work for your story, even if it’s intended to be a hero driven story. (For example, if you didn’t envision your character leaving the “ordinary world” then this plot may not be for you.)

Recommended for:

Fantasy and adventure novels with a hero-centric story.

I hope this helps you choose the best plot structure for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What plot structure is your favorite and why? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Track Time in Your Novel: 6 Writing Tips

Time will happen in your novel. Your characters will go to sleep and wake up. They will make plans for the future. The pressure of a ticking clock may add some tension. But time, and consistency¬†of time, can be a detail that’s easy to overlook when you’re writing. This means you have to make it a point to track time in your novels.

It’s important for writers to know when every chapter of their books is happening. So today we’re going to take a look at why it’s important to track time in your novel and some tips to help you do it!

The importance of tracking time in your novel

It’s an important detail

Time may be a relatively¬†small detail in each scene, but it’s an important one. Knowing when we are in the story in relation to the rest of the book will help ground your readers. It’s also how you control the pace of your book and the distribution of information. And if you don’t take time seriously, you may accidentally render events in your book unbelievable or impossible.

It’s how you know when events should be happening

If your characters say they have a meeting with someone “in a week,” you have to be sure that a week has passed before your characters take that meeting. You’ll also have to make sure that you don’t let two weeks pass in your book before you make the meeting happen.

Time inconsistencies will distract your reader

Time management in novels is one of those things that if you’ve done it well, it’s likely no one will notice. But if you get it wrong, it will jump out to your readers and take them out of the story. For example, let’s say you start a chapter and you tell us that it’s night. If the chapter is all one scene and it ends with your characters going to get breakfast, it will give your readers pause. They’ll be more concerned about why your characters are eating breakfast instead of dinner than they will be about what is going on in your story.

You don’t want to give your reader any reason to come out of the story. Tracking time will help them move smoothly from one page to the next.

It impacts the tension and pace in your book

Very few things kick up the tension of a novel like a ticking clock or an impending event. But in order for that to be effective, you have to both understand and convey to your reader how much time is passing.

Tips on how to track time in your novel

Wait until you finish your book to get specific

You should probably have a general idea of time as you write–that way you know when holidays fall and when events need to happen–but I wouldn’t suggest sweating the details until your book is reaching its final stages. If you’re still revising your book, then there’s still a chance you may shift scenes and chapters around, which will impact the timing of them. Don’t waste time figuring out exactly when each scene of your book is taking place until you know the order of events in your book is pretty set in stone.

Read and highlight/underline every reference of time

Once you’re sure your book is set, you can track time for real. Read through it and highlight any and all time references. It doesn’t matter if it’s minutes, hours, days, or years. If anything jumps out at you as not making sense, make note of it. Small changes you can probably go ahead a fix (like, if your character says, “in a few minutes” but it should be in a few hours). But consider waiting to make bigger changes until your finished, in case you find a bigger inconsistency.

Go through your book with a calendar

If you’re not dating your book, it doesn’t matter the year of the calendar you’re using. Pick a starting point for your book on the calendar. If the exact day is vague at the beginning of your book, go to the first most specific point and mark that on your calendar. Unless you’re working with a specific year, the exact dates don’t matter. The point is to give you a concrete idea of when the weekends fall, and when the days, months, and seasons should change. Move through your book and mark each chapter on your calendar on the day it takes place. If a chapter takes multiple days, mark that too! Plot out where your events¬†should¬†fall. Then make note of any¬†inconsistencies in your book to revise.

Don’t forget time zones!

If you have characters that are flying to different parts of the world, be sure to consider travel time and time zone changes. If your characters are flying east or west, they will likely lose or gain time depending on where they’re going. But also keep in mind, that this is fiction. So, if you need your characters to have a smooth time at the airport, or take a difficult-to-get direct flight so they can get somewhere on time, you can get away with it. Sometimes, it’s okay to lean on possibility even if it isn’t a likelihood.

Revise

Revise your book based on your calendar and inconsistency notes.

Double check on your next read through

Read through your book again (or at least, flip through and note when each chapter is taking place) to be sure everything lines up with your calendar notes and still makes sense. You also might want to ask an early reader to keep an eye out for any timing that’s out of place.

I hope this helps you track time in your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What times and tricks do you have to track time in your novel? Tell me about it in the comments!

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