CHRIS EBOCH—What I Learned from Nancy Drew: Tools for Fast-Paced Plotting
Note: Chris gave us a handout for "growing an idea into a story," which addressed incomplete ideas. The focus of the below notes is where the writer already has a beginning, middle, and an end, but wants to make the plot move well. That said, I don't have a fully fleshed out middle or a definitive end, but I found this session very helpful. Hopefully you will, too!
- Nancy Drew books are ghostwritten (like the Hardy Boys) by 4-5 writers, including Chris Eboch.
1) Start fast, with a funny, provocative, ominous, or shocking first line.
2) Accompany this first line, early on, with something that’s happening. You need to get an editor’s attention within at least 5 pages.
--Get into the action quickly, but also give readers a chance to catch up with what the action is and who the characters are. If readers don't have some idea who your characters are, they'll care less about all the action.
--Give an intro to the setting and the characters, but start in the scene where something is happening.
--Put research/history tidbits second and focus on plot first. This may mean you have to lose some historical facts that you love, if they slow down your plot.
3) Look for places where you can add more danger, excitement, and tension. Make things more difficult for your characters.
--Rule of 3 = the MC should try and fail twice before achieving the goal.
--You can have interim goals within the story, with steps to be accomplished, before the characters reach the main goal(s). But, make sure that these interim goals add to the story or make it better and aren't just included for the sake of conflict.
--Ways to expand and add complications to the pot = keep your characters in places where danger could happen.
--Q: Are you using your villain as actively as you can? Make sure he/she is actively plotting against your MC, not just waiting for the hero to do something and then reacting. Villains create their own problems, which adds to your story. This works with secondary characters, too, when they want something different than what your MC wants. (e.g., parents/teachers doing things in a way that causes trouble, even if well-meaning.)
--If you don’t have enough going on, consider adding a second "villain" or more effectively using the "villain" you already have.
--You want peaks in your story, but continue to raise tension so the highest point of tension is at the climax (i.e., save the most dramatic scene for last).
4) Use cliffhanger chapter endings.
--Cliffhangers keep people reading.
--If your chapter is dragging, look for a smaller moment mid-chapter to beef up and make stronger, and turn this into a chapter ending.
--**Don’t just get the action on and over with. You need a slow build-up to the intense action. Slow down the detail so there is a closer focus (longer and more detail), building up tension of something about to happen.
--Focus on the MC’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations when working up to cliffhanger endings to chapters.
--Make the reader what to turn the page to see what happens next.
--Make the reader ask: “What’s next? What is it?”
--You can end a chapter mid-scene if it’s at your most dramatic moment. However, it’s okay to have a quieter chapter moment. Including quieter chapters occasionally helps not to frustrate your reader when he/she is looking for a stopping place.
--If you’re using a quiet ending, make sure it shows more is to come (e.g., something ominous is around the next page).
--Don’t cheat. Cliffhangers should fit naturally into the plot. They shouldn’t be there just for the sake of suspense.
--Choose a dramatic moment in the plot--e.g., “We have everything under control/nothing could go wrong”--to end the chapter. This gives the reader a sense of foreboding and lets them know something bad will likely happen (at least with older YA readers; MG readers may take you more literally and think everything is, in fact, under control).
5) Shorter paragraphs/sentences = faster, more intense.
--Try using shorter paragraphs/sentences at the end of chapters to create more intensity.
--i.e., your character doesn’t have time to speak in long/conjunction sentences when something is falling at his/her head. The sentences will be shorter, sharper, more to the point.
We have almost reached the end of SCBWI, but I have at least one more really awesome post for you all. So don't jump ship just yet! :D