It’s a good thing I’m not a math teacher because, apparently, I can’t do basic math – like subtracting five from anything. [I think I might have forgotten March has thirty-one days in it, which is nearly every year.] In any case, you got a break to really dive into the beginning tasks. If you’re just joining us, check out the first post of this series here.
Today, we’re going to take your elevator pitch and transform that into a paragraph you can use to write a more detailed plot outline, if you so choose. This paragraph will give you a road map to follow so you don’t get off-track.
Things you’ll want to include:
- Main characters, including your protagonist and villains/antagonists – even if you write literary fiction like I do and don’t have a human antagonist.
- Goals. Your characters want something. Ideally, your protagonist and antagonist will want the same things but go about it in different ways.
- Conflict. This is the stuff of stories. If you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story.
- Disasters. With conflict comes snafus and twists for your characters. How will they handle not getting their way? What unexpected things happen because things didn’t go according to plan?
- Resolution. Every story comes to an end [eventually]. How does yours end?
Several years ago, a new software hit the internet. It was called Snowflake Pro, and, without really knowing why, I purchased it for pennies. [Not literally, but compared to what it costs today, it feels like that.] I use it for every project, from short stories to mystery series. Since then, Randy Ingermanson has written several articles [and books] about how to implement the concepts of his Snowflake Method without actually purchasing the software. One of the steps in his method is this one paragraph summary. Here is what he suggests, and you can find the full article here.
Ideally, your paragraph will have about five sentences. One sentence to give me the backdrop and story setup. Then one sentence each for your three disasters. Then one more sentence to tell the ending. Don’t confuse this paragraph with the back-cover copy for your book. This paragraph summarizes the whole story. Your back-cover copy should summarize only about the first quarter of the story.
Keep this paragraph handy. We’ll reference it later – and you might find you’ll change it after we tinker with the backbone of your story.
Next, we’re going to choose who gets to tell your story and how that story will be told. In other words, the voice of your story and its point of view. Let’s start with voice first.
Choosing a narrator: By definition, your narrator narrates the story and is not a character in the story. There is a degree of separation between the narrator and the characters in the story in which he narrates. Here’s a great article about how to approach each of these three narrator types with examples from well-known books.
- The omniscient narrator
The omniscient narrator knows everything and can share anyone’s thoughts at any time. He can, and often does, make value judgments about the characters in the story.
- The limited narrator
The limited narrator can share the thoughts of a selected few characters, usually only one per scene. He seldom makes value judgments. He can take a long view, or focus on a single character.
- The objective narrator
The objective narrator is like a photojournalist. He reports the story events, but he doesn’t judge and doesn’t read minds.
If you want a more personalized story that really gets into a character’s (or characters’) mind, you might want to choose allowing a character, or multiple characters, to tell the story instead. We’ll explore different ways you can approach point of view to see who best to hold the proverbial camera. Here is another great article that dives deeper into each of these and includes examples from well-known books.
- First person and close third person [also called deep point of view]: In both of these points of view, the reader gets an up close and personal view of this character’s life and mind. Readers are more immersed rather than using a narrator to tell the story.
In Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint, Nancy Kress writes, “‘close third person’ and ‘first person’ are indistinguishable from one another except for their pronouns. When you transpose first person to third person by changing the pronouns, close third is what you get.”
- Multiple points of view: You may choose to have several characters tell the story, either using first person or using deep point of view for each. This allows you, as the writer, to rely on the perspectives of multiple people, and you may choose to do this for several reasons: create the effect of the unreliable narrator, or to tell different characters’ stories and show how they intertwine. Be careful you don’t choose too many characters to tell the story, though. The more characters you use, readers will be unable to form strong attachments to any one of them, and it will appear fragmented.
Some writing books say if you are writing in “third person” you can reveal information not known to the viewpoint character. This is true only if you are using a narrator. You cannot reveal information unknown to the viewpoint character. The character with the camera can only show what they see. The instant you reveal something the protagonist cannot know, you have taken the viewpoint away from him and given it to a narrator.
Now that you have your narrator and point of view chosen, you can go back to your one paragraph summary. Evaluate it to see if it’s consistent with who is telling the story and who the story is about. Rework it to reflect with your new understanding of your story.
Tomorrow, we’ll go more in-depth with your world and your story, so stay tuned!