A Brief History of Plot

Some of you have asked me about terminology I’ve used recently in my Tuesday #writingtips and #writetips. Or possibly you’ve wondered about my using an inverted check mark to represent plot, so today I’ll explain an excerpt from Novel Basics, my compact yet complete guide to writing a novel.

Note: my illustrations may appear a bit unfinished because one of the points I make in Novel Basics is that writers can jot down the basic  ideas they need to start a novel on twenty 3″ X 5″ index cards in about ninety minutes.

A Brief History of Plot

Way back in 4th Century BCE, the Greek philosopher Aristotle gave the first guidelines to plot structure when he said that a tragedy needs three parts: beginning, middle, and end, later called Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3. He also stated that the beginning isn’t necessarily preceded by any significant action, the middle grows out of the beginning, and the end grows out of middle. A successful plot might contain a surprise like some sort of shift in the action or finding out a secret from the past.

This very simple statement belies all the variations, refinements, arguments and applications to assorted kinds of storytelling that have developed since that time. Those variations included that of Horace, a Roman poet, who later said that a play needed five acts. Both Aristotle and Horace were talking about stories performed on a stage with live actions. Some differences and divergences of how plots were structured came about with the novel.

One of the earliest ways extended fiction was structured was the still popular picaresque plot, so named because Miguel de Cervantes used this type of plot in Don Quixote, first published in 1606, in which the hero and his sidekick, a rascal or picaro named Sancho Panza, go on one adventure after another.

The picaresque plot tends to have a bunch of episodes loosely strung together, that is, just one darned thing after another. You might recognize it from the very popular Fifty Shades of Grey. (Honestly, I haven’t read that novel. But a friend of mine read the first few chapters and reported that the book seemed episodic to her.)

Charles Dickens structured The Pickwick Papers, first published in installments in 1836, in similar fashion though he did frame the adventures with an overall story about Pickwick’s wedding proposal to a woman who sued him for breach of promise for not following through at the end of the novel.

I’ll omit some of the other variations of plot structure and skip to Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, first published in 1979.

Field said that successful movies tend to have three parts: Act 1 that runs for about thirty minutes (about thirty script pages), Act 2 that runs sixty minutes (about sixty pages), and Act 3, that runs to no more than thirty minutes. Field also says that a successful movie has six essential scenes.

Not long after that, Robert J. Ray in The Weekend Novelist described the structure of a novel as similar to Field’s paradigm, but with more pages in each act because the novelist must put much more on the page than the screenwriter does. Suffice it to say that the plot of a novel needs several scenes, six or even as many as nine including scenes that cut up the large Act 2 into manageable parts.

Scriptwriters are often so precise about bringing in the essential scenes that you can time them. “Hey, hey, wait for it. Wait for it. Ah, here comes Plot Point 1, right on schedule at minute 29.” Novelists generally aren’t so precise about hitting the plot points, but still successful novels usually place these important scenes at fairly regular intervals.

Somerset Maugham, author of almost twenty novels, once famously said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” That hasn’t kept other writers from writing books on the subject and coming up with more rules, up to ten in one instance. My own take on this is that the novel you write tells you what it needs and wants to be as you write it, including decisions on structure. For example, although the classical template might dictate otherwise, Suzanne Collins divided The Hunger Games into three parts, all about the same length: Part I–138 pages, Part II–106 pages, Part III–130 pages.

As for myself, a writer primarily of mystery fiction, I prefer a more logical plot than the picaresque novel has, not one darned thing after another, but a tightly connected chain of events: that is, one more thing happens because of what happened before and the whole situation getting more and more complicated until things come together in a big scene in which the whole situation gets resolved.

My favorite representation of plot is the inverted check mark with the three major acts and the six major scenes overlaid on it because this diagram shows how the action and the tension of a well plotted novel build to the highest point of intensity in the book that’s resolved before its end.

Instead of thinking of plot structure as a formula, think of it as a skeleton, the bare bones on which you need to build your novel.

 

Novel Basics is available in print for $8.99 (ISBN: 9781730833991). The digital version of Novel Basics costs only $0.99 from October 9 through October 15, 2019–just in time for you to use it to prepare for NaNoWriMo 2019–at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP and £0.99 at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07K2LXFRP

 

The Once and Future Book

A WiP Report

I’ve reached midpoint of my current Work in Progress. (I think. I hope.)  So I’m taking some time to reflect on the book I’ve worked on – or at least thought about –  since the 1980’s when my daughter and I participated in activities of the Society for Creative Anachronism, “an international living history group with the aim of studying and recreating mainly Medieval European cultures and their histories before the 17th century” (Wikipedia).

In the years Jess and I were active in the SCA, we made many friends; enjoyed the group fantasy of wearing weird clothes, sometimes eating strange food at feasts, speaking an offbeat version of the English language; attending events like  Kris Kinder in December; and learning arcane skills such as transforming fleece into yarn with a drop spindle.

But when I decided to become a part time writer in addition to my full time job as professor of writing at a local community college, and my family responsibilities, my leisure time vanished.

Yet over the years, my mind has returned to the concept of setting a mystery novel at least partly if not completely inside the world of a Renaissance Festival and/or inside a group somewhat similar to the SCA. Some times I called the book Death in Shining Armor and sometimes Die by the Sword. Currently, I’m working on the fourth version, or maybe it’s the fifth, again called Death in Shining Armor.

I wrote the first version of Death of Shining Armor with a young female police officer as the protagonist in the early ’90’s. In 1993 I received a review of the book by a published author who  also  belonged to the SCA, so sarcastic and scathing I felt like I’d been beaten after I read it. As the daughter of a belittling mother, the ex-wife of a belittling husband, and a teacher of writing, I abhor that sort of feedback. I would never permit it in my own classroom. But since those voices in my head echoed that of the reviewer, I abandoned the project.

Later in the 90’s I returned to the book with a female private detective from a family of investigators. I actually got an agent to shop this version around to publishers, but she didn’t manage to sell it. So I moved on to a completely different project.

Still intrigued by the concept, I returned to the project some time in the ’00’s, but gave the book  a young female protagonist in peril who wasn’t an investigator at all. This version I called Die by the Sword. I abandoned this version and a tweak I tried of it in 2017. I think what bothered me most about that version was that I’d bashed some of the characters in it based on people I have known, something I said I abhorred, that is , critique the crap out of them without allowing them to do the same to me.

But apparently this is the book that won’t die. And so about six weeks ago I picked the suspense version up again. And it’s going better. I’m doing a better job of letting the supporting characters live their own lives. In contrast, I’m finding points of identification with the protagonist that help me sympathize with her more. Another thing that might help this version is I’ve set in 1988 instead of present day. (What fun!) Another thing that seems to be helping is the confidence in my own work I’ve gained from my experiences as an indie author since 2011. I’ll keep you posted on how my once and future book is going.

Meanwhile, to keep up with what I’m doing, friend me on Facebook where I’m juliet.kincaid and JulietKincaidauthor2016, follow me on Twitter where I’m JulietKincaid, and occasionally check out my Amazon Central Author’s page at www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG for new publications.

My most recent published work is a boxed set of my first three Calendar Mystery books and a short story featuring a business girl and a dashing detective and set in Kansas City where living could downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. You can get your own copy at www.amazon.com/dp/B07QDKF413

P. S. When you read my work and if you enjoy it, please write a review and post it on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Just a few words, perhaps about what you like most about the book or story, would help. And I’d really appreciate it.

 

 

Old Dog, New Tricks

A WiP Report

Recently I read Chris Fox’s Relaunch Your Novel, filled with tips about making money from one’s backlist. So I decided that it was the perfect time to bring out a boxed set of my first three cozy historical mystery novels plus a short story that follows the last novel. Little did I know (as cheesy fiction says) that I’d need to add a couple of things to my skill set. One of these required lots of trial and error and the time to make stupid mistakes and to fix them.

Assembling the text for The Calendar Mysteries Books 1 – 3 took little time since I just had to put together the most recent text files for January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, plus “Detectives’ Honeymoon” with appropriate front and back matter. The latter now includes a promo for Old Time Stories, Book 4 of the series. Being finicky that way, I also ran a complete spell/grammar checker.

But then as what seems to be my habit, I got in a hurry and loaded the text onto Kindle Direct Publishing before realizing that I forgot to do a Table of Contents. And when I tried to do that, I discovered that the method I used for the trade paperback versions of my publications didn’t actually provide live links in the eBook version to the items listed in the Table of Contents. So I dug out the manual to Word and found out how to do that.

Learning how to create a 3D cover took lots more time. I started by looking at models on Amazon. I did some sketches of the front cover I wanted and flew them by my daughter who did the covers for the individual novels. And then I tried to find a template on KDP. No help. So I Googled the topic to find instructions. As usual, I found services that would do it for me. But it’s a matter of dollars and cents that I do everything involved in publishing myself. A video I watched went by so fast it didn’t help. Then I found a slide show that helped quite a bit – except for that author’s blithe assertion that I could do a 3D cover myself in five minutes. Oh sure. Now that I’ve figured the process out, I still think that I couldn’t do it in five minutes even doing a much simpler cover than I designed. It had ten elements: three 6” by 3” background panels, three thumbnails of the book covers, a box for the text, and three spines for the novels.

Also I found confusing the dimensions in pixels that the author specified for a 3D boxed set cover. Luckily, when I went back to one of the models I’d found and when I measured the thumbnail, I saw it was 2” by 3”. Then I had an aha-moment and realized the 3D cover for the boxed set had to fit inside the 6” by 9” rectangle KDP requires for covers. So then really all I had to do was decide on the dimensions of the cover and the spines, put them together, and skew the corners in a bit for the proper 3D effect. (Tip: With Photoshop for a Mac, go to Image > Transform and click on Skew.) That’s another skill I added to my set. (FYI: I settled on 4.5” by 9” for the front, and .5” by 9” for each novel spine.)

But when I printed out the cover, I thought that the text for January Jinx didn’t show up well on the dark garnet colored spine, so I started the whole cover almost from scratch, brightened the bottom panel, and the spine panel. Then again I got in a hurry and put the three cover panels together in the wrong order in the background, so I had to redo that. And then when I redid the spine section for January Jinx, I made the font too small and had to redo that.

With all my trials and errors, I ended up with 57 different files in that folder, including both jpeg’s and Photoshop versions. (Tip: when you get all done, make a new folder for the final text and cover files. This will save you a lot of time scanning those filled folders to see which one you need to publish.) I really have no idea how much time I spent on this. And it’s still not perfect. But I’ll no doubt be faster the next time I decide to do another boxed set (unless it’s been so long a time that I have to relearn the whole process).

 

The Calendar Mysteries Books 1 – 3 is now available to pre-order for the initial price of only $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B07QDKF413 That’s a great bargain for a book 972 pages and 256,836 words long.

 

Novel Basics on Sale

Let Dr. Juliet Kincaid talk you through her unique method of brainstorming a novel with twenty cards in the first part of Novel Basics. Then follow through with her expert guidance on time management, as well as drafting and revising a novel. Altogether, Novel Basics provides a compact yet complete practical guide to writing a novel, whether it’s your first or your fifteenth.

In this book, I describe the novel as a tool of infinite possibilities, a sort of Swiss Army knife with a million blades. And I view the book as my legacy for future novelists no matter who you are or where or when you write your novels.

Novel Basics is on sale today until March 31, 2019, as an eBook at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP in the US for only $0.99 and in the UK for a penny less than a pound at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07K2LXFRP . It’s also available in print (9781730833991) for $8.99.

Here’s a teaser.

Thank you, Library of Congress

This isn’t the blog I intended to post today. In fact, yesterday I drafted a WiP Report about my life finally getting back to normal after several months of dealing with illness, injury and insomnia. Yesterday I was able to follow my normal routine of getting up, doing my yoga routine now supplemented with exercises supplied by my physical therapist, getting dressed and going on a walk – all before breakfast. Well, it was too slick underfoot to walk outside farther than the end of the driveway, but otherwise I started my day with what used to be my normal routine.

Not so today . . .

It was after eight when my daughter came in to find me, my hacking cough returned, still in bed as I listened to a story on NPR. Local schools have cut back on the entrees they offer the kids for lunch from two choices to one in case the government shutdown drags on until March when they’ll run out of funds.

Earlier I listened to a woman who last year became a paralegal for a governmental agency, something she was pleased with and proud about. Now, having trouble paying her rent and keeping food on her table, she doesn’t trust our federal government anymore.

This makes me very sad. My dad was a civilian employee of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers for twenty-three years, a job he was proud of, a job that allowed him to provide well for our family and fund a comfortable, secure retirement for himself and my mom. Flash forward to January 2019 and one wonders if this sort of thing will still exist post-Trump and how many federal workers will be left.

One can hardly blame the 10% of federal employees currently unpaid who call in sick because they don’t have the money for gas to get to work or for childcare while they’re gone. Or they have to put the landlord off again, so they can buy food. Or they don’t want to take out a disastrous Pay Day loan and their local credit unions haven’t yet stepped in with interest-free loans.

But I’m thinking that our federal workers are much better people than our current president, and more steadfast and conscientious than he is by far. I have some evidence for this statement.

As some of you know from reading my past blogs, I register the copyrights of my work through the Library of Congress though other indie authors don’t. These include my most recent book, Novel Basics, a compact yet complete illustrated guide to writing a novel. I filed for the copyright online early in November. Usually, it takes about three months for the application to be processed. But I figured that this year the Library of Congress would be completely shut down, so it would take months and months before I received the certificate by mail. If the FBI is running out of copy paper because of the shutdown, I thought that surely the Library of Congress has run out of money for postage even if anyone is still working there.

But to my surprise the certificate of registration for Novel Basics came this past Saturday, somewhat ahead of the usual three-month time span. Thank you, dear Library of Congress, for restoring my faith in our federal government and those who work for it.

 

 

Novel Basics is available in print for $8.99 from Amazon and as a Kindle eBook for $3.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP  (And you can read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.)

Legacy

Hello, Everyone!

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I talked to some of you, so this will serve as a catch-up about my activities as an indie author in 2018. It was very busy for me, partly because I made an ambitious resolution at the start of the year to bring out something new, free or discounted every month. And I did it! Here are highlights of the new stuff.

 

In April, I finished and published a brand new calendar mystery short story called “The 9th Street Gang.” It features Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price pursuing a pesky young gang in Kansas City in February 1900 just after they became engaged in Mischief in March. Click on the cover  to buy it for only $0.99.

 

In May, I published another short, “Detectives’ Honeymoon” that picks up exactly where Mischief in March leaves off. It resolves that little cliffhanger at the end of the novel and follows what turns out to be an unusual honeymoon. Click on the cover to buy it for only $0.99.

In July, I published Old Time Stories, a collection of fiction and nonfiction. It includes six calendar mystery short stories like the two mentioned earlier plus the previously unpublished story called “The Shackleton Ghost.” It also includes nonfiction pieces about the people and places that inspired my fiction. Click on the cover to buy the eBook for $3.99. (The print version is available for $10.)

And for those of you Minty and Daniel fans who wondered what happened to the April calendar mystery novel, I drafted it in November as a NaNoWriMo2018 project. I hope to publish it in April 2019.

 

(Note: the digital version of January Jinx, in which my heroine Minty Wilcox confronts all sorts of problems trying to get a suitable job for a woman in old Kansas City, will cost you only $0.99 in the U. S. at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 or in the UK for £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HSSSBE4 from December 27, 2018 to January 3, 2019. It’s also available in print.

 

The project I completed and published in 2018 that I’m proudest of isn’t fiction at all. It’s Novel Basics, an Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel, and very close to my heart as a longtime novel reader, writer, and teacher. Here’s a brief description of that book:

Let Dr. Juliet Kincaid talk you through her unique method of brainstorming a novel with twenty cards in the first part of Novel Basics. Then follow through with her expert guidance on time management, as well as drafting and revising a novel. Altogether, Novel Basics provides a compact yet complete practical guide to writing a novel, whether it’s your first or your fifteenth.

In this book, I describe the novel as a tool of infinite possibilities, a sort of Swiss Army knife with a million blades. And I view the book as my legacy for future novelists no matter who you are or where or when you write your novels.

Novel Basics is now available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP for $3.99 and in print (9781730833991) for $8.99.

Best, Juliet (aka Dr. J)

NaNoWriMo2018: Day 7

I begin Day 7 of NaNoWriMo2018 with 11,211 words written so far and a big surprise for myself. (That’s something I love about drafting a novel. Really it’s a voyage of discovery into the untold reaches of my mind.)

Specifically, once I got started, I found out that Apart in April, Book 5 in my cozy historical mystery series, doesn’t follow the advice I give in Novel Basics, An Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel.

What advice? you ask. Why, to Keep It Simple, Student. (Yeah, I know the second S usually stands for stupid. But I happen to believe the world could do with a bit more civility. Don’t you?)

Now back to the subject at hand . . . In the first section, Novel Basics presents my unusual method of brainstorming a novel with twenty 3” by 5” index cards. (It’s fun. It’s fast. Bet you’ll like it.) I call Card # 1 “the heart card” because it asks the essential question that every story must answer to succeed: “Who wants what?”

Well, I see that I need to back up a little bit and describe my Calendar Mystery series before I travel on. So far the series includes the novels January Jinx, Fatal February, and my personal favorite Mischief in March, plus six short stories, five published as Kindle Short Reads and all six in the collection Old Time Stories. (The collection also includes nonfiction about the people and places that have inspired my fiction.) And altogether the series tells the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. (Yeah, I’ve been working on the description for a while.)

Now back to the cards . . . To my surprise, early in working on Apart in April, I discovered that it has a double heart. That is, it has two answers to the question, “Who wants what?” Daniel wants to find his runaway wife Minty. And Minty wants to solve a case on her own without her husband’s help. What fun! Now I’m off to work on it some more.

Novel Basics, a compact yet complete guide to writing a novel from brainstorming through rewriting, is now available as an eBook for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

You can also find the books and stories in my cozy historical mystery series at https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

New for NaNoWriMo2018

Novel Basics: An Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel

Have you always wanted to write a novel, but haven’t even known how to start?

Or perhaps you’ve written short stories, but the sheer size of the novel scares you off.

Maybe you have a novel you drafted twenty years ago tucked away in a drawer or even several first chapters of novels you didn’t complete or a filing cabinet full of drafted novels you could never interest an agent or an editor in.

Maybe you started a novel during National Novel Writing Month, but didn’t finish it. Or maybe you did write those 50,000 words and got your NaNoWriMo diploma, but you don’t know what to do with those words.

Or perhaps you’re the author of a brilliant, published, and well-received first novel, but you just can’t get your sophomore effort together.

Perhaps you’re the author of a best-selling series for which you still have a ton of ideas, but the notion for a new novel has crept into your head and you’d like to explore its potential.

Maybe you’ve been working on a nonfiction book about growing up or a shocking event in your hometown and now you think it might work better as a novel.

Maybe you don’t fit any of these slots, but still you have an idea, probably sparked by that powerful question “What if?” that just won’t leave you alone.

Regardless of which category you might fit into, Dr. Juliet Kincaid’s NOVEL BASICS will guide you through the process of brainstorming a novel fast with twenty index cards. The book also includes practical tips on time management, the process of drafting a novel, and revising a novel as well.

As for qualifications, Dr. J, as her students called her, has a plenty of experience with the novel. She has more read than 3,000 of them and counting. Her dissertation on fiction in diary form was labeled remarkably free of jargon. She’s written more than a dozen novels and she’s published five so far. Thirty-five years of experience teaching writing at the college level have honed her communication skills.

The book NOVEL BASICS is based in part on Dr. J’s popular workshop of the same name. Here are two testimonials from former students of the course for Juliet’s unusual approach to brainstorming a novel.

Novel Basics is the perfect kick start for new novelists to prepare before writing the first line and continuing through the middle to the conclusion. Important story elements are presented in the logical, easy-to-follow order the writer should consider them. Experienced authors can also benefit from this new approach for their next projects. Mary-Lane Kamberg, award-winning professional writer, speaker, and editor and co-leader of the Kansas City Writers Group and founder and director of I Love to Write Camps for young writers.

Starting with a simple question (“Who wants what?”), this method offers writers a step-by-step guide to organizing and plotting a novel. Kincaid’s approach helps writers think about critical points beforehand so the writing process will be smoother and more productive. Cheryl Brinkman Johnson

NOVEL BASICS is now available just in time for NaNoWriMo2018 as a Kindle eBook for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP