Tag Archives: craft

Writing Stories – One Layer at a Time

Shrek - LayersI love in Shrek when he tells Donkey that ogres are like onions. They have layers. Even though Donkey suggests layered cake would be a better image, the onion analogy really works.

Books can be like ogres, onions, or cake, depending on the day and how your current scene is going. They’ve got lots of layers, and sometimes discovering a new layer can dramatically affect how we approach a work in progress.

Diving deep into a new novel during a focused writing burst like Nano can really help the story come alive in ways impossible to do when we’re outlining or planning or just writing a chapter a week. When we get deep into the zone, we can see things about the story we might have never imagined. We peel back the outer layers of plot, setting, and outer conflict to some of the deeper layers of motivation, inner struggle, and world view of our characters that shape their decisions and how they react to the world.

Those moments of discovery are awesome for both pantsers and plotters, and they’re key to ensuring that a story is deepened as well as broadened. We need to feel the heart of a story and make sure all of those layers align. Until we know those layers and make sure they build upon each other in a solid, optimized way, there’s at least one more draft that still needs to be done.

I’ve learned the hard way that even when I thoroughly outline a story, I don’t really know that story until I’ve worked through all those layers. I might write a huge 200,000 word draft that only touches on the outer layers. It’s not until I begin working edits and diving deeper that the true story emerges. Sometimes that requires some pretty substantial rewrites, but that’s a necessary price to pay for producing a professional quality story. If we quit before that, we’ve cheated the story and ourselves.

Here are a few things to ask yourself about your story to check your progress and make sure you haven’t missed any important layers:

  • Is your plot finished? Do you have a solid arc, including your plot points? Do you know the ending?
  • Is your setting well defined? Are the locations where scenes take place fleshed out with sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch? Is your blocking clear and easy for readers to follow?
  • Is your main protagonist’s challenge clearly defined, with a clear antagonistic force in place, with rising stakes.
  • Do you know what motivates your protagonist? Your antagonist? Other main characters? Why do they see the world the way they do, and are they open to changing that world view, learning, and growing, or are they fixed, closed-minded, and set in their ways?
  • What is your protagonist’s inner struggle?
  • What do other characters struggle with? How do they handle stress? How do they handle change?

If you can answer all of those questions with confidence, you’re well on your way. Keep charging ahead to the end. If you’re not sure, take a few minutes to think about these layers and consider how answering them might add depth and meaning to your story.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Ups and Downs and How to Use Them

Picture this: (Because I saw it on Facebook a few days ago, and now can’t find it.)

Two short, wooden tracks for marbles. One starts high and flattens out, the other looks like a roller coaster with up and down bumps spaced perfectly apart. A marble is released at the beginning of each track. The first performs as predicted, the marble rolls down and to the end, losing momentum as it goes. The second surprises me. The marble goes down, hits the bottom of the hill and goes back up. Once up, it thunders back down, only to go up again. While it loses some momentum going up, the down hills keep it going. And, it makes it to the end before marble #1.

I feel like this is the perfect analogy for the momentum of my own creativity.

I always start out excited, barreling down the hill with all of the purpose in the world with the wind whipping through my hair and sunshine on my face. This can go on for a day or a week or a month, but eventually, the “something” occurs. It can be plot problems, it can be life problems, it can be family problems, it can be day job problems…the list goes on and on.

At this point I have to dig in. My momentum has waned, and the only thing to do is pull out the good old hard work. Sometimes it takes wading through plot problems for a week before I can get going again. Sometimes it takes ignoring the book for a while. Sometimes it takes forcing myself to sit in my office chair and write for an hour, even if it is total crap. Sometimes it takes doing every chore in the house so I don’t have an excuse to mess around anymore. Sometimes it takes all four and then some.

During this I usually feel things getting easier again. I crest the top of the hill, panting because going uphill is hard, and stupid, and look around. Before me I see my path and I am once again excited. I step off and it all starts over.

Back to my analogy. Not only does the roller coaster marble end up with more momentum, it actually goes farther than the other one. And, it gets there faster.

So if you’re feeling a little bi-polar about your creative process, remember that not everyone is the same, and maybe you’re a roller coaster creator, like me. Or maybe the long, slow burn process is your game. Either way, figure out how your process works and then figure out how you can make it work for you.

Using Setting to Reinforce Plot and Character

Pile of rocksA distant explosion jarred Mike out of bed. He stumbled upright in the dark, groping for boots with bare feet as he reached for his weapon.

Where this scene goes next depends on a lot of things, including who Mike is, his profession, and state of mind. It also depends on what type of story we’re telling and which events will move the plot forward.

It also depends upon setting.

If the setting is 1800s wild west, then the explosion was probably from dynamite in a nearby mine, his boots will probably be cowboy style, and his weapon will be a six-shooter, double-barreled shotgun, or lever-action 30-30. If it’s a future space war, the explosion might be an unexpected encounter with the alien pirate space slugs, his boots an armored hovering model, and his weapon a plasma laser.

If the setting is an episode of My Little Pony, well, I’m not entirely sure where I’d go with that one yet.

That setting will also heavily impact the type of plot we can expect to enjoy. As we’ve explored through some really excellent posts this month, developing an effective, engaging setting is a critical component to building a great story.

Setting also plays an important role in reinforcing plot and character, helping to lock the readers into the world, and suggest certain expectations that we as the author can fulfill, exceed, or flip on their heads.

Set in StoneIn my YA fantasy, Set in Stone, the setting grew in sync with the character, the plot, and the magic system, reinforcing all of them and creating a rich tapestry upon which to tell the tales of Connor and his friends.

The magic system came first – based on plain old rocks. So where better to set the story for a rock-based magic system than a quarry? Placing Connor in a small quarry village up in the mountains helped define the type of characters we’d likely see, as well as their level of education and exposure to the world. With that understanding, I more easily identified directions the plot would likely need to flow in order to educate the characters, challenge them, and threaten their world.

Could I have set the story in a grassland, with the nearest rock a hundred miles away? Sure, but that would have dramatically altered the plot and my characters. I didn’t want the story to be about the quest to find magic. I wanted to explore the fun aspects of the magic system, so I needed lots of rocks. Plus in that world, the quarry becomes an important commodity.

So as you build your stories, begin defining your plot, and start bringing your characters to life, make sure you weave the significance of your setting into all of it. That helps bring the world to life, gives reason and continuity for your characters, their histories, and their choices, and helps tie them into the plot and the world you are building.

For pantsers, when you’re free-writing and exploring the fun world you’re creating, it’s important to understand that as cool aspects of your world and setting become clear, they will impact your characters and your plot. Take a moment to scan back over your story and identify ways to leverage those new aspects to setting. Your story will be stronger for it.

 

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Happy Cinco de Mayo

May tulipsHappy Cinco de Mayo!

Hopefully you’re having a barbecue. Here at the Fictorians I’m sharing my special sauce with you.

What makes a Frank Morin book worth reading? (And they are definitely worth reading! Trust me).

Now that I’ve got six novels out there, with a couple more due by the end of the year, I’ve got enough material for readers to get a good taste for my secret sauce.

When you read one of my novels, you can generally expect:

  • Big, epic stories. Seriously, most of my books are at least 150,000 words. Even my one novella is pretty epic.
  • Complex, intricate plots, with a large cast of characters.
  • Lots of action. I like books that move along and in which lots of fun stuff happens, so that’s what I write.

My works to-date span two very different series, and they do have important differences. Jumping from one series to the other has proven a fun challenge and highlighted for me the significant differences.

The Petralist series

First, The Petralist.

Big Magic. Big Adventure. Lots of Humor.

Yup, they’ve got the huge, epic story line with tons of action. Layered on top of that is a super cool magic system based on rocks It’s all topped with a layer of humor that raises the stories to a whole new level. The humor makes them accessible for younger readers down into middle school, even though they’re thoroughly enjoyed by high schoolers and adults too.

I dialed up the numbers a lot on the Humor Scale.

A really interesting theme I get to explore through this series is the question of loyalties. In particular, what happens when loyalties to family, to town, to nation, and to a love interest end up conflicting? Which loyalty trumps others, and what to do when people you care about make choices that place them in conflict?

It’s hard to fight against someone you care for, and those difficulties are compounded further by the fact that both sides in the conflict have reason to feel justified in their actions. It’s even harder to fight an enemy, when they might just be right.

The Facetakers

The Facetakers.

These urban fantasy historical thrillers are so much fun. Think The Matrix, but through history. These are hard-hitting thrillers that my editor described as “Mission Impossible meets Agents of Shield“.

They’ve got an intricate, awesome magic system fueled by the force of human souls. I switched to a strong female lead for these, and Sarah is simply amazing. The supporting characters are fascinating, and they pretty much all have dark moments in their pasts where they’ve done things that Sarah has a hard time accepting. She and her team must hunt through deadly memories that brush against the fabric of time, fighting superhuman-enhanced enemies whose agendas will topple the world order and destroy Sarah and everyone she loves.

A definite stand-out about these novels are the many historical settings. History is not what the books claim it is, and Sarah learns what ‘really’ happened in critical moments in history, which become the primary battlegrounds.

One bonus of these books is the body-swapping tendencies of many of the characters, which allow me to explore all kinds of fun questions of identity and body image. If you’re suddenly swapped into a very different body, are you still you?

So if you like stories that move fast, make you laugh at one moment, but then ask hard questions in the next, and will very likely keep you up a lot later at night than you had planned, sample these books. You won’t be sorry.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org