The Writer’s Bag of Tricks (Part Four)

Basic Plot Structure Continued: The Point of No Return

The purpose of the Point of No Return scene in your plot is to force your character to move toward the final goal according to the plot type you have chosen. For Overcoming the Monster, the Point of No Return scene forces the main character to pursue the only course of action available to them that will allow them to engage and defeat (or be defeated by) the monster.

The Point of No Return is the result of the inciting incident, which is that singular event which so disrupts the character’s reality that there is no going back to daily life. This incident creates the domino effect that creates the flow and arc of the novel. It is this scene that will define your whole story concept and where the reader will know exactly that the story is about Overcoming the Monster, or The Quest (Lord of the Rings), or The Voyage and Return (Alice in Wonderland), or Rags to Riches (Cinderella), etc.

It is also the Point of No Return scene that concludes all the story set-up. All foreshadowing, clues, introduction of your main character, introduction or hints of your antagonist, etc…should be written into all the set-up chapters prior to the Point of No Return Scene. Remember that these 10 Scenes are not the first 10 chapters of your novel. These are scenes which ensure your storyline works from beginning to end.

Note also that whatever your main character’s central and overwhelming problem is in this scene is the same problem that will only get worse until it seems incapable of being solved. Your character must face the enemy and defeat it or die. It’s always victory or death, in the end. Always.

Let’s look at Star Wars Episode IV again. We left off with Luke rushing off to warn his family after meeting with Obi-Wan. Luke learned of the impending danger from Imperial Forces because they tracked the droids carrying important information to Tatooine, which is Luke’s home. Now in the Point of No Return scene, Luke returns to the farm and finds his aunt and uncle dead (inciting incident). Luke then decides go with Obi-Wan to fight the imperial forces (Point of No Return). There is no way back for Luke. He can only move forward.

You plot and characters hang on the Point of No Return Scene.  It is one of the most important scenes in your novel and is that single scene which can make or break your plot.


Next time: The Main Complication.

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The Writer’s Bag of Tricks (Part Three)

Basic Plot Structure Continued

So let’s choose a plot type that we want for our novel. I chose Overcoming the Monster, but you can choose any plot type that you want, and apply the plot structure to that plot type. The Overcoming the Monster plot type is where the protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (physical, spiritual, social, etc…) which threatens the protagonist and / or the protagonist’s homeland.

We need to break our novel down to the basic elements of our plot so that we can consider what needs to happen for our story to work well. I find that the easiest way to start is to use The 10 Scene Tool (See The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith Jr.), and the first step of The 10 Scene Tool is to set up the first five scenes. Note that the first five scenes are not the first five chapters of the novel. These are the five basic scenes that will ensure that the plot is consistent from beginning to end. We will go through these scenes one at a time.

The Opening Scene

The first scene to work out is the opening scene. The purpose of the opening scene is to create a compelling hook so that your reader is immediately invested in the story. The hook begins in a clear moment of action (or interaction) but reveals enough information to entice the reader while maintaining intrigue. Don’t hide things from the reader, or make it too difficult for the reader to understand what is happening. If the reader is clueless about the events occurring on the page they will put the book down, and that is not a good thing. You want your reader turning pages.

The opening scene puts the reader in the protagonist’s point of view. This could be first person or third person etc… (I will discuss POV later in this series) but the reader will see the events of this scene through your main character’s eyes. We learn the protagonist’s motivation(s) and we also learn what is at stake for the character. There should also be a hint of foreshadowing of what will happen at the end of the novel. Creating some foreshadowing will help your story to arc successfully.

If we apply this opening scene to our plot type of Overcoming the Monster, our opening scene will show our main character living daily life when they learn of some great threat. Some complication of events will move the character forward. This will relate to the inciting incident which is the event that sets your character on the road toward defeating the monster.

In the movie Star Wars, Episode IV we see Luke Skywalker (point of view character) with Uncle Owen purchasing droids to work on the farm (daily life). Luke accidently sees the hologram of Princess Leia (hook) and her desperate plea for help from Obi-Wan Kenobi. The droids escape and Luke goes to look for the droids (the complication that gets the character moving forward). He meets Obi-Wan and learns more information about the battle between the rebel army and imperial forces (stakes). He learns that the imperial army is now close and immediately leaves to warn and protect his family (motivation).

Next time: The Point of No Return Complication

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The Writer’s Bag of Tricks (Part Two)

Continuing the discussion regarding plot from last week, I was contacted on social media yesterday by someone else with plot issues. Their story was episodic with no regular plot structure and their story also had no inciting incident. This means that the story had no specific beginning, middle or end, and the possibility that it will sell is slim. First of all, I give them props for recognizing that their book has issues and is not ready for publication.  With a little guidance, they will learn what craft elements to focus on in order to begin revisions. Secondly, they asked great questions:

How does someone come up with a plot?

How do you know if your plot makes sense?

How do you know if your plot works for your genre?

These are all good questions, and I hope to answer them over the next few posts.

Plot Structure Basics

You may have seen something similar to the Freytags pyramid below. There are several versions floating around the internet if you care to look. The purpose of these images is to try to explain how plot structure works within the novel.

plot structure

Freytags – pyramid

You may look at something like the above pyramid and see an image that makes complete sense to you. You are able to take that image and know exactly what direction your story must take. But it doesn’t work for me personally because even though I am a visual person, I can’t take that image and translate it into a cohesive plan that I can break down to create a story chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Technically, the image perfectly and logically explains the basics of plot. It’s just not my gig.

Plot structure

Plot Structure

Above is another version of plot structure. This image gives you an X and Y axis to help you understand plot and structure for the novel. You can see the visual bumps of the rising action and see on the graph where x equals time and y equals tension, and how the climax equals the greatest amount of tension. This chart makes plotting look like a math problem. I was never great at math so it is still difficult to internally translate the image into a plan for a new novel. I mean, I can do it, but it ain’t easy. This graph makes more sense to me because I can see the crises points. But it still is not overly clear.

In educational circles, these types of plotting visual aids may be useful for some people to help them critique a story, or understand the overall structure of a particular novel. These images do provide the concept that the story tension and conflict should continually rise throughout the novel until the climax, and the story should then end quickly after the climax. Every story thread should also be resolved. You can easily see that there are separate crisis points that arise throughout the novel and you can see the three acts structure (beginning, middle, end). Again, this image provides more information about basic plot structure, but it still doesn’t make the task of plotting a new novel any easier.

So how does a writer select their plot type and work out the details of their story, chapter by chapter, scene by scene? Next week I will begin to break plotting down into manageable steps.

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The Writer’s Bag of Tricks (Part One)

I was contacted recently by a friend of a friend. You know how that works. Somebody tells somebody else that they are writing a novel, and somebody says, “Oh, I know an editor. You should contact them to help you with…” Fill that in as you like. Now, I don’t at all mind helping writers of all levels. I’ve given countless hours of my personal time helping writers transform stories into better versions of said story. I do this because I want everyone to be successful. I do it because I care. I do it because quality matters. In the situation above, it was clear to me that this particular writer needed to learn some craft elements before they published. Their story had no plot.

As a writer, it is important to make sure that your story is the best possible story it can be before you publish (either self-publish or traditionally publish). If your story starts out good, but ends poorly, or if it starts out good but sags in the middle, then the story isn’t as good as it can be, and you have work to do. If the story doesn’t make sense, you have work to do. It the story is boring, you have work to do. Your responsibility as a writer is to learn your craft to the best of your ability so you can create the best possible reading experience for your audience. You do want to make a sale, don’t you?

The thing that keeps your story from sagging in the middle or from ending poorly, or from being boring, is plot. This should be the first thing that you put into your writer’s bag of tricks.

Plot, for all practical purposes, is the events that happen within a story from beginning to end, and it includes the order that the events happen. Plot forces something to move somewhere, and plot forces something to change. It could be your character, or your setting, or any other variation. Plot means something happens.  And something has to happen.

If you look on Wikipedia you can find The Seven Basic Plots and an explanation of each plot type. You can also find The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti explained on Wikipedia. And there are tons of books on plot available at your public library, and tons of writing resources on the internet. Just look around.

The general idea of the plot types  is that every single story can be broken down into one of these plot types, and that writers can use these plot types to help themselves create a story that moves something. It’s the plot that can make your story dynamic. It is the plot that can make your reader turn the page, even at three in the morning when they should be sleeping because they have to get up and go to work in three hours.

Let’s be clear. Plot is important. Learn it.

Knowing the plot types will help you plan and write your story. If you know what has to happen on the page, it will help you make things happen on the page and figure out the hows and whys. And you will save days, months, and years of writing unpublishable meandering words.

Take the time to learn the plot types, especially as they relate to your genre. Make something happen on the page so your readers can’t put your story down.

(more on plot next time)


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To Con or Not To Con

If you’re a writer and you take your art seriously, you want to do whatever you can do to learn or improve your craft. Let’s face it, there are a gazillion writers who publish uncrafted novels which aren’t ready for consumption, and, unfortunately, they usually sell three copies to friends and family. If you want the greatest possibility to be a successful (however you define that for yourself) author, you have to put your best possible product out there. The book must (usually) fit within the standards of the genre (because it has to be marketed by someone, and booksellers need to know where to put it on a shelf), and absolutely must be as polished as possible. Then, and only then should it be pitched (if the author wants to go the traditional publishing route), or be considered for self-publishing (NOTE: if self-publishing there are many more steps that you need to undertake before you click the submit button).

These are craft issues. Most fiction writers don’t have an MFA and it isn’t necessary to obtain a degree of any kind to be a writer. Writing the story is an artist’s passion, or a hobby for some who improve their craft on weekends. And sometimes it is just an idea that someone has who has always wanted to write a book. Regardless, it is necessary to get some educational foundation of the craft of writing. Some writers are able to get that much-needed foundation from books and can use those books to help them create the solid structure necessary on which to hang their plot and characters. There are some very good books that explain how each character needs their own goals and motivations, and how stories are built on conflict. It is possible to learn how to write dialogue, how to create a scene, and how to create just about every aspect of the novel from the pages of writing craft books. It takes time to read all of these books (I’ve not seen one book that teaches it all), and consistent dedication for the writer to translate from what they have read in the book to what they will write on the page.

There is another route. You could  go to a writers conference. But, do be ready to be immersed in all things writing while surrounded by a jillion other excited people soaking up that same information. I personally find writers conferences a great way to soak in information AND make great connections with other writers. It is also a great opportunity to get quality feedback on your work in progress. I also admit to needing a nap afterword.

Do not take it for granted that all writers conferences are the same. They vary based on price and content, as well as quality. Also, be aware that a convention isn’t the same as a conference and you will need due diligence to find the best fit for you. I have been to my fair share of writers conferences and have been both wowed and ho-hummed. And I admit that I am biased, but I do truly believe that the best writers conference in the United States is Colorado Gold, which is hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Colorado Gold has workshops for writers of all levels (beginner, intermediate, and professional) and a wide array of topics on craft and business. Because RMFW is a non-profit educational organization, the conference is very affordable, especially when compared to some other for-profit conferences. It is also a really great group of people who are passionate about helping everyone learn and be successful. If you can only afford one conference this year, I recommend that you attend Colorado Gold.

There are myriad other conferences if you can’t get to Denver in September. One of the best resources I’ve found for finding quality conferences is the AWP directory which has a searchable comprehensive list of writers conferences as well as writing programs and retreats. There is still no guarantee each listing will be the right conference for you, but with a little effort you should be able to research your choice and make an educated decision.

Whether you choose to improve your craft by reading books or you choose to go to a writers conference, do something to improve your skill and your craft so you can be the polished artist that you want to be.

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Interview with Award Winning Author Desiree Holt

Desiree Holt is a force of nature. She has written over 170 traditionally published novels since 2006, she is a tireless supporter of other writers, and is insatiably charming. I am privileged to have had opportunity to work with her on past projects, and delighted to have this opportunity to interview her today.

Hi Desiree!

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog today. I am really looking forward to Colorado Gold and meeting every one attending. And honored to be a presenter.

You have done just about every job imaginable. Tell me about your decision to become a writer.

Writing was always my passion, I think because I have always been a reader and wanted to create my own stories. My friends have always told me I have an overactive imagination. (Grin!). I scribbled in notebooks for years before computers were born, but I wasn’t able to devote the time to it until I retired. Then it was kind of like my brain exploded!

You started writing in 2006. Since then you’ve traditionally published over 170 novels. That is something like seventeen novels a year. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

I am blessed with the quirky ability to write fast. A story takes shape in my brain (which, by the way, NEVER sleeps), and I can’t seem to get the words down fast enough. I never lack for ideas. Also, I write about eight hours a day.

Tell me about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a panster?

I used t be just a pantser because my stories are character-driven. I create the characters first from ideas that have sparked in my brain. Then I play the What If game. What If my heroine did such and such and my hero popped into the picture? What if my hero did such and such and stumbled over the heroine. That kind of thing. But as my writing has progressed two things have made me alter that. First of all, I often have more than one project going at a time. Secondly, I do a lot of series and the only way I can keep things straight is to have at least a bare outline of a plot to follow. Of course, as I get into the story my characters talk to me and we often take major detours.

So you always come up with the characters first?

Characters first. People fascinate me and I always try to imagine stories for them. And as I progress through the story, they talk to me, often taking me on journeys I never expected.

How did you go about learning the craft when you first started writing?

I had no idea how little I actually knew until I joined a writers group and ultimately a critique group. At least half of them were published authors and I am ever grateful for their guidance and input. I also entered a lot of writing contests through RWA and soaked up all the feedback.

What do you feel is the most important craft element for aspiring writers to master?

Discipline and determination. If you really want to be a writer you cannot let disappointment discourage you. The second is to learn the basics of a story: goal/motivation/conflict. Stick to it until you can make it work.

How many manuscripts had you completed before you sold your first book?

I had five full length manuscripts completed before I made my first sale after 137 rejections. See what I mean about not getting discouraged?

What is the best advice you can give someone wanting to publish?

Write and keep writing, and do everything you can to learn about what makes a saleable manuscript. The market is so different today than it was when I started and with the explosion of self-pubbing there are so many choices for readers. Join writers groups. Talk to people. Learn what makes the industry tick today.

What is the easiest thing and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing.

The easiest is creating my characters. The hardest is writing that first chapter. It sets the tone for the story and grabs the reader so I work hard to get it just right.

What is the most surprising thing you learned about the publishing industry over the years?

Wow. Hard to say.

How much marketing do you do for your books? What kind of marketing has given you the best results?

I do a fair amount of marketing along with what my publishers do. I am very big on social media, which has produced great results for me. But of course like anything else you have to have a plan. I am lucky that I have a personal assistant who does a lot of it for me. I do some advertising, along with what my publishers do. And I take full advantage of a very enthusiastic street team.

Which book that you have written is your favorite?

Hmmm. Actually, I have three favorites that I can’t seem to choose between. All completely different. First is a novella, Once Upon a Wedding that has a great twist to it. Second is a novella called Hard Lovin’, based on a 16th century Scottish air and brought forward into modern day Texas. It is being re-released at the end of May with new material and a hot new cover. My Naked Cowboys series because it’s set in a town like the one where I live. And finally my rock star series, because it takes me back to the years I spent in the music business. But I think my new favorite will be my football series, Game On, because I am the world’s most obsessed football fan.

What do you read? Any favorite authors?

I mostly read romance, romantic suspense and thrillers. I have so many favorite authors it’s hard to choose who to name but for romance Marie Force, Carly Phillips, Robyn Carr. For romantic suspense/suspense probably Tess Gerritsen, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts), Debra Webb. Beyond that John Lescroart, Brad Thor, John Sandford, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Jackson.

Desiree, thanks for your time! I know you are a busy lady!


Desiree Holt

Referred to by USA Today (interview) as the Nora Roberts of erotic romance, Desiree Holt is the world’s oldest living published erotic romance author with over 170 published works. A graduate of the University of Michigan with double majors in English and History, her earlier careers include agent and manager in the music industry, public television, associate vice president of university advancement, public relations, and economic development.

She is three times a finalist for an EPIC E-Book Award (and a winner in 2014), a nominee for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, winner of the first 5 Heart Sweetheart of the Year Award at The Romance Studio as well as twice a CAPA Award winner for best BDSM book of the year, and winner of the Holt Medallion for Excellence in Romance Literature.

She has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in The Village Voice, The Daily Beast,USA Today, The (London) Daily Mail, The New Delhi Times, The Huffington Post and numerous other national and international publications. She is also the Authors After Dark 2014 Author of the Year.

“Desiree Holt is the most amazing erotica author of our time and each story is more fulfilling then the last.” (Romance Junkies)

Huffington Post Article

US News and World Report Article

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Call for Submissions

Literary Wanderlust seeks to publish an anthology of short stories (maximum 2,500 words per story) from both emerging and established writers. Submit original unpublished works.

The theme is food and sex. The need for food and sex is encoded in our DNA. Eating is not just a sensory reaction to taste but a necessity for life. Sex is not just a physical exercise but an urgency of the soul. When the two collide with joyous abandon the results are inexplicable ecstasy. Food play should be an integral part of the story.

Deadline: May 30, 2015. Send to:


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