Category Archives: Ace Jordyn

After the First Draft, What’s Next?

You’ve finished the first draft, what do you do now? Revise? Publish?

Of all the skills I had to learn about writing, this was the hardest. Revision takes patience, persistence and it requires objectivity. It also requires dealing with well-meaning friends and relatives and their enthusiasm for you. “You’ve written a book! That’s great! When will it be published? When can I buy it?”

Try explaining that the first draft is really just an in-depth outline which needs work and refinement. They don’t get it. Unfortunately, many writers don’t either. That’s a concern with self-published books. Most authors take the time to revise and perfect their manuscripts, but those who don’t have hurt the industry’s reputation.

The trouble is that revision is a hard thing to explain because many writers don’t understand the process or exactly what needs to happen. It’s more than just line by line revision, as we’ll come to learn in this month’s blogs. It’s about story structure and making certain scenes are doing their work. It’s about getting feedback from beta readers and perhaps even editors. We’ll hear from an acquisitions editor for a magazine and a freelance editor about what revision means to them.

We’ll even hear from a pantser about how she approaches revising her novels. This month’s blogs will also tell us HOW to revise. That’s what I had the most trouble with when I first started out, was knowing how to approach revision and what I needed to do.

The issue is this: we have lived, dreamed and scribed the story. We know the characters, the setting and the plot well. We know it so well, that we’re not aware of gaps, pitfalls, inconsistencies, clunky writing, too much telling, and not enough showing. But this creation is our baby and giving it time away from us so that others may applaud and criticize our efforts is a nerve wracking process.  Yet, it is so very necessary for if we don’t address the problems one of two things will happen: readers will either ignore us and never become fans, or the reviews will be so bad that no matter what we write again, it will not be read. And should that reader be an acquisitions editor – well, we don’t want our names to end up in the amateur, do not read pile. On all counts, that is a disaster because we writers desire to entertain through our marvelous creations of character, world, and plot.

My dear fellow writers, I have learned that the first draft is but a mere outline of the story. It begs to be revised time and time again until it becomes its best and perfect self. For it is in the perfection of creation that readers marvel. However, revision can be a joyful and creative process. But first, we must all learn the process, and that’s our goal for April!

Melding the Series Arc and Story Arc

Does a series need an overarching story arc where a question or problem takes several books to resolve? Not all series have an overarching story arc and whether or not you need one largely depends on genre.

Fantasy and science fiction series often have a broader question which needs to be solved or an antagonist who needs to be conquered. Sometimes it is the same antagonist, like Voldemorte in the Harry Potter series, or an antagonist who can change like Larry Brooks’ Shannara Chronicles where after season one in the television series, the antagonist got a new face (but he’s still past of the evil cesspool) and the struggles continue.

Children’s series and crime/mystery or thriller novels don’t need to have an overarching plot problem to be a successful series. Both these genres rely on strong character development and setting to keep the series together. These books stand alone in that they deal with a crime or issue independently and the antagonist or issue is completely resolved. In these series, the character doesn’t need to grow or change, not a lot at any rate. Readers enjoy the characters unique quirks and relationships and they come to rely on their unchanging nature. That is why some series, such as James Bond have lasted for so long. Viewers know what to expect and that’s why they keep coming back.

Crime novels which have stand alone plots can still be tied into a series through their subplots. Such subplots can deal with relationships or fatal flaws such as alcoholism. In these novels, the crime may be solved, but the personal issues are not. Crimes become the setting for character development and the theme of each book speaks to some personal element of the subplot. An excellent example of this is James Runcie’s Grantchester Mystery Series which has been made into a BBC television series in which amateur sleuth and vicar, Sydney Chambers, helps solve a crime. Subplots in the form of personal and local issues resonate in the theme of each episode for main and secondary characters. At the end of each episode, Sydney’s Sunday sermon sums up the theme quire brilliantly.

To create a series whether it be fantasy, science fiction or crime and which has an overarching plot or question, it’s best to map out a few things so that series focus and perspective isn’t lost. Even if you’re a pantser, there are a few things to know before you start writing. Writing a series with an overarching plot or question looks like an umbrella.

The unbrella metaphor helps keep the series in perspective and allows me to include things where they’re the most needed. It keeps issues separated, at least for plotting purposes, helps avoid the murky middle issue for the series and helps keep the series plot unresolved until the end. Here are a few tips for planning hte series and book arcs:

  1. Determine the plot or character problem to be solved by the end of the series. If the protagonist is after a villain, then the climax at the end of the series will be when the two battle it out. If unrequited love creates the resulting climax, know if it will be a happily ever after, an unresolved tragedy, or an acceptance or a moving on with a new person.
  2. Determine each book’s plot or character problem. Resolve that to a satisfactory conclusion. In a crime novel, the criminal is caught. In a fantasy, the fortress is safe and secure from the evil wizard.
  3. Develop the setting and determine key elements so they are consistent throughout the novels.
  4. If your character needs to grow and change, know the degree of this change in each novel. You can’t have the protagonist acting the put together and able to handle things effectively in Book 2 when their great ‘aha! moment’ isn’t supposed to happen until Book 3. If that happens, in Book 2, Book 3 will be redundant.
  5. Think of each book as an act in the series arc (for example, it could be a three or five arc plot). In a trilogy, Book 1/Act 1 introduced the problem and reveals clues. If it is a fantasy, for example, it may be that this is part 1 of the hero’s tussle with the villain and a resolution of some sort happens. The hero may have won the skirmish for now, but the bigger battle is yet to come. Book 2/Act 2 there are more clues and tension increases (murky middles are not allowed!). The hero tussles with the villain more, stakes increase, losses and wins occur. An unrequited love is so close yet so far – hope is won and lost. Whatever the series problem is, now is the time to keep it interesting and happening. Book 3/Act 3 is the most complex and fun to write. Both the book arc and the series arc are dealt with and concluded. All the clues, ideals, character quirks are resolved. But, keep a series diary so that details ad clues are consistent because if you mess up, your readers will tell you.
  6. If the book arcs don’t directly relate to the series arc, but support it, make sure the events reflect, at least in a thematic way the series issues. Think of it this way: whatever personal issues the protagonist faces, he will see the world through those lenses. For example, the self-absorbed alcoholic detective struggles for self control on the job. He will observe and understand issues of self control because he can relate to them. Or, the thriller hero. She may be the stereotypical adventurer who has no desire for long lasting relationships and approaches the world with an abject lack of sensitivity when it comes to understanding people on a personal level.

Have fun creating your own series umbrella. As you saw in the diagram, I like crayons and squiggles when brainstorming.

Some final tips:

  1. Understand the overall gist of what you’d like to write. Know the beginning, the climax and the end result of the series.
  2. Write Book 1.
  3. Step back and note the problem and the clues you’ve planted. Ask if this is going in the direction you want and most importantly as if the larger problem is sustainable? Does it have enough traction for the series or can it be easily resolved? This is the time to up the tension, the stakes and the problems to avoid the murky middle novels!
  4. Revise Book 1 with Book 2 in mind. In fact, I prefer to have even a broad outline. This will help ensure that factors, character traits, clues and setting issues don’t come back to haunt you in subsequent books. I have heard authors complain after Book 1 has been published that they have written themselves into a corner in Book 2 because they can’t change a small detail in Book 1 which greatly affects the plot in Book 2. So, plan and think ahead as much as you can and keep a series diary!

A series can be along and rewarding journey and you must be in love with it in the middle of Book 4 as you were in Book 1. With a little planning, and an eye on the series and individual book arcs, your writing journey will be filled with adventure, personal accomplishment, and the gratitude of loyal readers.

Screen Play Elements – Part 1

I have no trouble suspending disbelief when I watch a movie or a television show so I wasn’t good at analyzing how movies are structured. To better understand how big screen movies, made for television movies, and television shows are structured, I took an on-line screen writing course withi Bill Radkin. During this course, I came to appreciate what is involved in creating a compelling screen play.

If I asked you what are the two key points to writing a screen play, what would you say?
Strong plot. I agree. It’s important.
Snappy dialogue.  Yes, that too.
Using formatting specific to screen plays. Absolutely.
Great characters. Of course.

All these things are important but there are two things which pull this list together to make a memorable movie. These are a having a good STORY and the THREE ACT STRUCTURE.

Today, I’ll explain the Three Act Structure from a screen writer’s perspective. You may understand the Three Act Structure for novels and have a general idea about how to use it, but for screen writing it is a specific formula. STORY has a specific definition and use within the Three Act Structure. I will delve into this in tomorrow’s post Screen Play Elements (Story) – Part 2.

In the following table, I have condensed the key elements of screen plays.

Key Elements of the Three Act Structure

Act 1 Act 2 Act 3
Beginning Middle End

50%   (25% + midpoint + 25%)


Set up

Protagonist gets up a tree


Rocks are thrown at the protagonist


Protagonist gets down the tree

Chaos More chaos Order
Lack of control/information Lack of control– midpoint AHA moment – control begins to be established Control
Central problem with inciting incident established. Ends with a major turning point in the plot/problem complicated and stakes raised by end of Act 1 More complications, major turning point around the middle of the act which is a reversal. Ends with a major turning point (taking charge of situation but not resolving issues), complication or escalation Final confrontation. Protagonist resolves problem /overcomes issues (depends if tragic or happy ending) and order is restored.
Plot oriented (you know where to begin) Story oriented (where theme and ideas are explored) Plot oriented (you know where it ends)

The TREE refers to putting the protagonist into a threatening situation.

The ROCKS are CONFLICT. Conflict takes two forms: external and internal.

External conflict is plot oriented and forms the action. It is the problem, disaster, or situation the protagonist will try to solve, get away from, or realize.

Internal conflict happens when a character deals with internal issues and some type of change occurs (not always. James Bond is always James Bond.) Character change or growth creates the character arc. Internal conflict means fear. The protagonist is afraid of something such as losing someone (family, society); losing something like wealth, prestige, treasure, or a job; or is afraid of change as brought about by an antagonist (the world as it is known, a societal or political change).

Every movie has one major or CENTRAL conflict which creates the SET UP in Act One. The problem is evident, the solution seems impossible, and the stakes are so high that the protagonist is compelled to do something. Once the protagonist is compelled to do something, that moves the story from Act One to Act Two. The Set Up occurs in the first 25% of the movie.

Having a strong central conflict helps avoid the murky middle of Act Two. All scenes must directly involve the central conflict. If they don’t, they’re not adding to the story problems and the story is going in the wrong direction. In other words, they’re not throwing rocks at the protagonist and making matters bad enough that he or she needs to finally figure it out and find some inner resolve to overcome the problem. This is a good point to remember when revising your novel.

A strong central conflict is also used to explore THEME whether it be as simple as good versus evil, the development of a person into a hero, or privilege and income disparity. All characters, reflect the theme as they are either for, against or ambivalent towards it. In every good movie, you’ll see this is true. We stay focused on the central problem and we’re hoping for a triumphant outcome until the end.

How do you know if you’re throwing rocks at the central problem or if the story has gone in the wrong direction? Outline. If you don’t like to outline from the start, do it when you’re finished. Write one line about each scene and focus on the rock. Then decide if the one-line description illustrates the central conflict. If it does, great. If not, either delete that scene or change it.

In the first half of Act Two, the protagonist’s problem keeps getting worse and worse and there seems to be no way to resolve it. The protagonist is missing information, is the hunted or the villain untouchable and keeps jeopardising the protagonist’s mission. Then, in the middle of the act, the MID POINT TURN occurs. Almost exactly (time it, and you’ll see). That is when the protagonist has an AHA moment in which he changes from the pursues to the pursuer, from the victim to the victor. Fortunes change at this point and chaos begins to turn into order. However, it is still a dangerous time for the protagonist because although fortunes have changed, the resolution is not easy. Rocks are still thrown, but they don’t hurt quite as much.

Act Three is where the resolution occurs. The protagonist is the victor except perhaps in a tragedy but the central conflict is resolved or explored to completion. Every question or issue which was set up in Act One is resolved and order is restored.

Pick a favorite movie and with these elements from the Three Act Structure in mind, time it. Do this for the great novels which have been turned into screen plays. Do this only once or twice otherwise, movies may become predictable and it’ll be hard to suspend disbelief and enjoy them. After all, the goal of a novel or movie is to take us to another world for a short time. By understanding how movies work, it’ll empower us as writers to tell compelling stories which readers will flock to.

Join me tomorrow when I discuss STORY.

To Quit or Not to Quit?

That wraps it up for us this month, and what a month it was! We dove into making goals, how to make better goals, when to amend your goals, and when to quit your goals. We hope our insights were helpful to you, and that you carry some of our hard-earned wisdom with you into your future work.

In case you missed a post this month, here they are:

The Stories that Just Don’t Sell by Mary Pletsch

We Always Need a Goal by Ace Jordan

Quitting by Nicholas Ruva

New Goal: Stop Making Goals by Kristin Luna (that’s me!)

A Gamer’s Guide to Quitting by Heidi Wilde

How Goals Can Destroy Your Writing Career by Gregory Little

Finish What You Start, or Not by Kevin Ikenberry

A Faster Book, or A Better Book? by Frank Morin

Quitting with Feeling by David Heyman

In Favor of Failure by Colton Hehr

The Goal Post by Sean Golden

Obstacles May Be Closer Than They Appear by Kim May

To Goal or Not to Goal, That Is The Question by Jo Schneider

Made to Be Broken by Hamilton Perez

2018 – Hello, Universe Calling, Is Scott There? by Scott Eder

When Chronic Illness Sabotages Goals by Ace Jordan

Setting Realistic, S.M.A.R.T. Goals by Shannon Fox

Resources on Goal Setting and Quitting Goals by Kristin Luna


What were some of your favorite posts this month? Did we leave anything out? Comment and let us know!