Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Pump Up Your Writing



You’ve finished your rough draft and now it’s time to go in and pump it up with details to turn it from good to unforgettable! Yet…you pause because this task either seems overwhelming or tedious or both.


Take a deep breath, snuggle into your favorite writing space, and pump up your writing one detail at a time.


Start with your opening scene. Read it out loud. Does it hook you? Are you intrigued? If not, do you have a wow scene you could make the opening scene? Is there a wow scene you could add to hook your readers?


One author I go to for inspiration on opening scenes is Julie Lessman. Most of her books are free on Kindle Unlimited and her opening scenes always hook me with either intrigue or laughter. I would recommend her Love’s Silver Lining or Love at Any Cost.


Next, I like to read the ending of each chapter and ask, does this end with a cliff hanger that keeps me wanting more? Sometimes this is fixed by simply changing where one chapter ends and the next begins. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it keeps your reader wanting more! An author I recently read did a great job of ending each chapter with a cliff hanger. Check out Lynn H. Blackburn’s books for some inspiration!


After that, dig into your sensory details. I know most of you are groaning at this point and I’m with you. This is one of the most tedious parts of revising. Read each scene and put yourself in your characters shoes. What are you seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling that effects your words, thoughts, and actions? This part takes a lot of time, but it brings depth to your setting, plot, and characters.


There is far more you can do to revise your writing, but I hope this gives you a place to start. Keep plugging away and your details with draw your readers in!



Until next time, happy and blessed writing!

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

"Your Book's Plot Doesn't Matter"

That YouTube heading caught my attention, and Abbie Emmons’ accompanying blog challenged my thinking about plot construction. (You can read the entire post here.) She said:

Your plot doesn't matter; only your characters do…

In fact, the characters--more specifically the protagonist--are your story.


Most writers think that…the most important part of your story is the plot. They think the plot is what drives the story and the characters are just along for the ride. Actually, it's the other way around. I've said it before, but it bears repeating a thousand times: Story is not about what happens; it's about how what happens affects and transforms the characters.


This is the backbone of story. It's the foundation, the life blood:  Characters and how they change as a result of their journey.


My first impulse was to brush this aside, but the next day I came across this passage in the autobiography of best-selling Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope: 

I have never troubled myself much about the construction of plots…The novelist has other aims than the elucidation of his plot. He desires to make his readers so intimately acquainted with his characters that the creatures of his brain should be to them speaking, moving, living, human creatures. This he can never do unless he know those fictitious personages himself, and he can never know them unless he can live with them in the full reality of established intimacy.

They must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them. He must argue with them, quarrel with them, forgive them, and even submit to them. He must know of them whether they be cold-blooded or passionate, whether true or false, and how far true, and how far false. The depth and the breadth, and the narrowness and the shallowness of each should be clear to him. And, as here in our outer world, we know that men and women change—become worse or better as temptation or conscience may guide them…

Twice challenged, I reflected on several novels I had read and movies I'd seen. I could recall the overall theme of each story, and I could visualize the protagonist of each one (at least the image I had constructed in my own mind). I also remembered a few major events that revealed the character qualities of each person. Beyond that, Abbie and Anthony were right: A novel's characters took center stage, while its plot became their background.

I’ve often spent painstaking hours trying to construct a plot worthy of my characters. But didn't that simply confirm that my characters drove the plot? On the other hand, when I became familiar with my characters, they told their own stories.

I'm curious to know your experience. Which do you develop first, character or plot? Do you agree that your plot "doesn't matter" if your characters are engaging enough?

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.