Our most popular offering at Writing Academy is our monthly subscription package where you get ALL of our courses for just $49 a month. But not everyone needs all that content. So we’ve just created two new bundles tailored for writers specifically interested in fiction or non-fiction. Now there’s a package just right for everyone! Our new bundles are terrific deals!
November is National Novel Writing Month, when authors can sign up at http://nanowrimo.org and receive encouragement as they work to create a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Hundreds of my students have successfully used NaNoWriMo to complete their first draft, so it’s a valuable tool.
It sounds like a lot of work, but you may be surprised how easy it is to create a novel in a month — if you approach that goal with the right strategy.
Here are my tips for how to succeed at NaNoWriMo:
- Don’t just start typing. If you do, you will get lost, hit a dead end, and give up. You must start with a plan, prepared even before NaNoWriMo begins.
- Start with a scene list. If you have a list of 50 to 100 scenes planned to get you from start to finish, then it’s easy to start writing each day, because you know exactly what you need to work on.
- Your scenes need to flow, so create them within a three-act structure. The easiest way is to use the nine checkpoints I teach in all my writing classes.
- To create a checkpoint structure you need to know your characters, especially your protagonist, so start by designing that character. Most importantly, you need to understand the flaw your protagonist must overcome to achieve the goal that drives your novel.
- Steps 2-4 may sound familiar. If you work through them in the opposite order — from character through checkpoint structure to scene list — you are following the path I teach in all my classes. With that done, success is just some dedicated effort away.
- So how much dedicated effort is that? If your scene list is ready to go at the start of NaNoWriMo, then you can focus on writing. 50,000 words is about 1700 words per day for a month. But you should write more than that, because Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or having relatives to entertain are all likely to get in the way as the month draws to a close. Plan on 2000-2500 words per day.
- How much writing time is that? Even if you can type very fast, you probably can’t “write” faster than about 20 words per minute. The great thing is that even if you can’t type very well, you can still probably write about 20 words per minute! That means you need to dedicate 90 minutes to two hours per day to writing during November. If that sounds like a lot, think about how much time you spend watching television. The easiest way to succeed at NaNoWriMo is simple: don’t watch any television in November!
If you follow these guidelines you’ll have a finished first draft by November 30.
Then what should you do?
Put it aside and enjoy the holidays. Then, on January first, create your own NaNoEdMo — that’s National Novel Editing Month! Polish it into a second draft and you’ll be ready for publication in February.
I’ve listed some course links with great discounts below, specifically for NaNoWriMo. The first three will get you ready for NaNoWriMo, and the last one will get you published in February.
Preparing for NaNoWriMo:
Novel Writing Workshop at 90% off (just $19)
Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy at 84% off (just $49)
Young Adult Fiction Writing Workshop at 90% off (just $19)
Publishing Your Finished Novel:
Publish Your Book Now! at 60% off (just $19)
Sign up today and you’ll have a completed novel on November 30th!
Hey gang, our new course just came out and it’s already really popular. I guess there was a pent up demand for this subject, as I’ve had many students request it, so we finally put it all together in a mega course that covers everything.
As is our promise, we wanted to let existing students get in on a special introductory offer, so for a limited time the $299 course is just $49 using the coupon below. Let’s see some of your wildest science fiction and fantasy ideas in the discussion areas, okay?!
Steve and Dani Alcorn help you create your original science fiction or fantasy novel or screenplay, step by step.
- Learn all about the most popular science fiction and fantasy genres.
- Explore plot techniques for space travel, time travel, psy power, magic and more.
- Discover the easy way to structure your character’s story.
- Learn techniques that will bring your writing to life.
- Publish your novel using these simple steps.
- Brainstorm marketing and sales techniques that will make you a bestseller!
WRITING SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY — FROM IDEA TO PUBLICATION
Regularly $299, special introductory price just $49 with this link:
One of the best ways to create believable fiction is to structure it around believable characters. But how do you get to know your characters well, and give them the depth of real people?
One excellent way is to create a list of everything you know about each major character. I’ve created a form you can print out and fill in. It makes the process easy, and will encourage you to stop and think about facets of the character you may not have considered.
In addition, one of the most important attributes you can assign to a character is his or her story structuring flaw. The flaw will be something the protagonist must overcome to solve a problem. And for your antagonist, it will be something he or she can’t overcome.
You can download the latest version of my Comprehensive Character Attribute Form here.
For further help with character development, check out my newest class, Creative Writing Projects. It gives you twelve projects designed to take you from brainstorming to publication, step by step, in twelve weeks. The class is regularly $299, but for a limited time you can enroll for just $39 using this link:
1. “Today you are YOU, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than YOU.”
(Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday To You)
2. “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
(Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends)
3. “Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you. Because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”
( Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
4. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
( J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone)
5. “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew)
6. “Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them–that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”
(L.M. Montgomery, Anne Of Green Gables)
7. “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”
(Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit)
8. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
(Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince)
9. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”
( Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go!)
10. “I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.”
(Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time)
11. “You must never feel badly about making mistakes… as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”
(Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth)
12. “So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!”
(J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)
13. “You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
(Roald Dahl, The Twits)
14. “What day is it?”, asked Winnie the Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
(A. A. Milne, The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)
15. “There’s no place like home.”
( L. Frank Braum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
16. “The moment where you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever being able to do it.”
( J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)
17. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
(Dr. Seuss, The Lorax)
18. “We all can dance when we find music that we love.”
(Giles Andrege, Giraffes Can’t Dance)
19. “It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
20. “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
(E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web)
Develop your own Children’s Book with our course, Writing for Children at Writing Academy!
Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?
There’s no greater gift to share with your loved ones than the story of your own life. Whether you want to share your special moments with friends, family members, future generations, or the general public, it’s definitely worth the time to record the important events of your life.
They’ll also enjoy reading your recollections about past generations, so you’ll be preserving not only your experiences, but also those who came before you.
Whether your goal is writing an autobiography—the story of your life—or a biography—the story of others—it can seem a daunting task to sit down and write the story of an entire life, which is why I’ve created a class called Write Your Life Story that shows you how to do it.
The first question you might be asking is “How can I possibly organize my life story?” Here are three techniques that make it easy. And once you’re organized, every task becomes much simpler.
Your autobiography should be organized the same way you think about your life. Three possible choices are:
Each of these has advantages, so let’s look at them one by one and see which works best for you.
Chronological Organization means arranging events in the order they occurred. For example, your autobiography might begin with your birth, and continue right up to today.
Or you could select only one period of your life, and relate events that happened, in the order they occurred. For example, none of us actually remember being born, so your story might begin with you as a child. Or you could just describe the course of a particularly exciting time in your life: going to college, marrying, a major work project, and so on.
Alternately, you could include even more than your own life, in chronological order. You could start with the arrival of your ancestors in your homeland, and tell about each of them in chronological order, right up until you arrived, and on through to the present day.
Chronological Organization is a very straightforward way to tell your life story. No reader will be confused about the order of events, and it will be easy to understand them in the context of what was happening at the same time, historically.
On the other hand, not every moment of our lives is interesting (nor is every ancestor) so to avoid boring readers, it might be necessary to skip some periods. This can make some life stories seem like they are proceeding in fits and spurts. In that case, there are some alternate approaches that may work better, so let’s look at those, too.
Thematic Organization mean grouping life events according to characteristics that make them similar. For example, if you have several children, you could compare and contrast their experiences with, say, first words, first day of school, hobbies, sporting ability, and so on. Or you could describe your own wedding and those of ancestors and other family members, all in a chapter about weddings.
With Thematic Organization, whatever subjects you choose to write about will be grouped together so that readers can fully explore that theme before turning to another.
The advantage of Thematic Organization is that if readers are interested in specific subjects, they can turn directly to the chapter about that subject. The disadvantage is that it may be difficult for them to get a clear picture of the order of events in your life, so if that’s important to you, Chronological Organization may work better.
Now let’s look at a third, completely different way to organize your life story.
Anecdotal Organization means telling short, usually amusing stories about the events of your life. This is the approach many humorists, such as George Burns and Dave Barry, have taken to writing about their lives.
The advantage of Anecdotal Organization is that it usually results in a very enjoyable read, because everything in your autobiography will be amusing in some way or other. If you have a knack for witty writing, this is an ideal way to entertain others with episodes from your life.
The disadvantage of Anecdotal Organization is that it means leaving out anything that isn’t amusing, so it can result in a rather random look at various moments from your experience, and won’t convey a complete picture of your life to others. On the other hand, that’s exactly what many writers want to accomplish. And the anecdotes can be arranged in chronological order, so there is the possibility of creating some continuity.
Organizing Your Life Story
Whichever of these three organizational techniques you choose, you’ll find they make it far easier to start telling your life story.
Your next step is to learn the story telling techniques that will best bring your words to life, a subject I explore in my class, Write Your Life Story.
And once you know those techniques, I’ll present you with a couple dozen prompts to jog your memory about important and perhaps amusing events you can write about.
By the end of Write Your Life Story, you’ll have more than enough notes to fill you life story, and you’ll be well on the way to sharing your experiences with friends, family, and future generations.
Have you always wanted to write a novel, but didn’t quite know how to get started? Or perhaps you had an idea-—maybe even a dream—that inspired you. You sat down to write, began typing with passion, but then got stuck. Sound familiar?
If so, it’s not surprising. That’s happened to nearly all authors, especially when they’re first getting started.
It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
Fortunately there’s a great solution! The trick is to figure out the structure of your novel before you even start typing. That makes finishing so much easier.
In this post I’ll explain the single most important step to structuring your story. It’s a basic concept that makes it incredibly easy to create exciting, effective fiction. Best of all, it makes it much easier to finish everything you start.
What is this step? It’s simply understanding the essential difference between plot and story.
Plot vs. Story
We tend to use the words plot and story interchangeably, don’t we? It’s easy to think of them as the same thing. In fact, I bet most writers, editors, and other professionals in the world of fiction don’t clearly understand the distinction. Yet it’s very simple, and grasping it will make everything you write so much easier that you’ll be shocked. Here’s the difference:
• Plot is your protagonist’s physical journey.
• Story is your protagonist’s emotional journey.
Your novel (or short story, play, or screenplay) will contain both. The plot will be what happens to your protagonist; the story will be how your protagonist changes inside.
Simple, isn’t it? And yet by keeping these two words separate and carefully using them only when we mean the physical (plot) or the emotional (story), we can bring a whole new level of clarity to everything we write.
Action Vs. Reaction
Another way to think of plot and story is in terms of action and reaction. Some action happens (plot), and your character reacts to it (story). In fact, a novel is nothing more than a repeating series of actions and reactions. Other than a little bit of setting, dialogue, and weather, there’s nothing else to it!
• The plot moves your character from her starting location to her ending location. There may be many struggles along the way, and the physical part of those is the plot.
• The story moves your character from the person she was at the beginning to the person she ends up being at the end. There may be many struggles along the way, and the emotional part of those is the story.
Now that you understand this, it’s easy to see how you can use plot and story continuously throughout your novel. Plot is action, so if things are dragging, simply add more of it. But if things are moving too fast, add more story to slow them down. They work together to keep your novel on pace.
Some novels might be mostly plot. Think about Clive Cussler adventure stories, for example. Some novels might be mostly story. Think of Jane Austen. But all novels alternate back and forth, regardless of the emphasis. A successful novel needs plenty of both.
If you understand the difference between story and plot, you will have one of the most powerful weapons in your writing arsenal. It is astonishing how many successful authors don’t grasp the difference. Sure, some of them apply them intuitively without knowing they’re doing it, but plenty more don’t, and their work shows it.
Plot and Story in The Wizard of Oz
I’ll use The Wizard of Oz movie as an example, because almost everyone has seen it. It’s easy to name lots of plot elements in The Wizard of Oz: A tornado picks up a house and drops it on a witch, a little girl meets some interesting traveling companions, a wizard sends them on a mission, and they melt a witch with a bucket of water. Emotional content: zero.
It’s harder to find the story elements, but when you do, you realize they’re what makes The Wizard of Oz a timeless, movie classic: Dorothy’s sorrow when Toto is taken from her, the distress she feels when she realizes her house has landed on a witch, her fear of both the witch and the wizard, her sadness at having to leave her new friends, and—most important—the moment when she discovers the story’s theme that she has the power to solve her own problems.
Each of these vital story elements is an emotional reaction to a plot element. The constant resonance between story and plot creates the dramatic tension you’ll need to maintain throughout your story. This is what keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Without an emotional reaction, a plot development will have no effect on your readers. And without plot developments, your characters—and your readers—will have no motivation.
So when you devise your story, think of it first in emotional terms. What are your characters feeling? What are they thinking? What are their inner struggles? Emotional impact, after all, is the only thing that really counts.
But don’t stop there. Story cannot exist without plot to carry it on its way. How will you show what your characters feel? What will express their thoughts? What will reveal their inner struggles?
As you develop the plot, remember to test every moment of physical action for its emotional value. If an event ends up having little or no emotional value, then you should find something better.
For example, suppose one of the farmhands encountered Dorothy as she was running away from home. He could try to stop her, or perhaps he could become a co-conspirator, promising not to tell Auntie Em. Either way, what would this contribute to the emotional story? It doesn’t illuminate Dorothy’s character in any way. And although we might learn something about the farmhand, he doesn’t appear again until the last minute of the film. This plot development contributes nothing emotionally. Let’s cut it.
As you can see, the plot you devise depends upon the story you want to tell, and the story you want to tell determines your plot options. I cannot overemphasize how important this concept is.
• Plot is Physical.
• Story is Emotional.
You Can Write Better Than This
It’s astonishing how much mainstream fiction lacks a story. This is particularly true of Hollywood movies, but we can easily find the problem on television and in the bookstore as well.
A great example is Michael Crichton. No one can dispute that this best-selling author can spin an exciting yarn. But there is almost no character development in any of his books. I recently listened to The Lost World as an audiobook on my commute to work. I was appalled by the two-dimensionality of all the characters. They marched like puppets through the dinosaur-populated jungle. How could any reader possibly relate to these cardboard cutouts? Why should I care if they were eaten? They were little more than names to me.
Every James Bond movie begins with some spectacular stunt. In one, Bond and Jaws plunge from an airplane with only one parachute between them. After a dramatic midair struggle, Bond ends up with the parachute, and Jaws ends up as tomato soup.
It’s an exciting way to start a movie. The problem is, it’s completely uninteresting from an emotional standpoint. We haven’t even met Bond’s character yet in the movie. And if we had, we’d find him shallow (unlike the books, where he is more fully developed). Unless we have good memories, we may not even recall who Jaws is from the previous movie.
The problem is that the scene is all plot, no story.
If it were a novel, perhaps we could get inside Bond’s head. We could hear him thinking, “If I die I won’t be able to save the damsel in distress, won’t be able to taunt Miss Moneypenny, won’t ever finish what I’ve started.” Those regrets are the story, but they’re missing in the movie.
Admittedly, the problem is more severe in movies because there is no interior dialogue—we can’t hear the character’s thoughts. But it also exists in books, because we can’t spend all our time in the character’s head. And we can’t just tell our readers that our character is sad. Instead, we must show the story to our readers through the character’s actions.
When tears stream down the character’s face, we are revealing story (emotion) through plot (action). Readers will be moved by the story, not the plot. And they will remember the experience and want to repeat it.
On the other hand, a plot device—no matter how spectacular—is only spectacular the first time we encounter it. That’s why each Bond flick needs to start with a stunt more spectacular than the last.
Of course, in a novel we could make the opposite mistake, spending all our time in the character’s head, with nothing exciting happening in the physical world. A lot of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books suffer from this problem.
It may surprise you to discover that plot comes second. What I mean is that it’s much easier to construct a solid story and then add plot details that make sense than it is to construct a series of events and then try to find rational reasons why people would behave that way. After all, some action we could dream up might have no logical explanation at all, and then we’d be stuck! In Novel Writing Workshop I show you how to first construct a terrific story, and then add the plot. When you’re done you’ll have a perfect balance between plot and story.
Using Plot and Story in Your Own Novel
Now That You Know the Secret, What’s the Next Step?
The difference between plot and story is essential knowledge for successful writing. Once you understand that, then it’s time to create your main character and send him or her on both a physical and an emotional journey.
Perhaps you’ve heard of three act structure? It was devised thousands of years ago, for Greek drama, and it’s used in almost every successful novel and movie, right up until today.
But there’s an even easier way to break your story into bite-size manageable pieces. I call it my “checkpoints of story structure.” Using these, it’s easy to stay on track, and balance your protagonist’s physical and emotional journey by alternating between plot and story.
In my Novel Writing Workshop I’ll show you these techniques and many more. And we’ll return often to the concept that plot is physical, story is emotional. It’s the most essential thing you need to know about writing fiction.
If you’ve already started you novel, Novel Writing Workshop will show you techniques you can apply to your existing material that will, frankly, amaze you. For example, I’ll show you how to divide up your novel into 200 or so short pairs of action and reaction called “scene and sequel” that make it easy to balance plot and story. You can even use “scene and sequel” to control the pacing of your novel. And with such a simple plan laid out before you, your success is almost guaranteed.
And if you haven’t yet started a novel, congratulations! You’re in the ideal position, because you can start with a clean slate and put together a perfect plan. That will save you an incredible amount of time—and several major revisions.
See You in Class!