Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let’s Talk about Writing: Part One – Plot, Characters & Point of View

In the process of trying to write my stories and reviewing stories written by other authors, I started to notice some common errors.  Somewhere along the way there are some of us who forgot about the rules of good writing, so I decided it might be a really good idea to get back to the basics of writing that we all learned about in school. 

First, there are different types of narrators you may use to tell your story. You might have a narrator outside the story observing events as they unfold or you might use a narrator who relates the story as personal experience; each one has advantages but it is important to have a clear understanding of WHO is telling your story when you start writing.  You may also have more than one narrator telling the story. It is important to think about which narrator you want telling the tale and why that narrator is the best choice.

Once you have decided on your narrator it is time to think about their point of view.  A story narrated in the first person is told as if the character is relating it personally, for example, "I did this, and then I did that."  The second-person point of view is not used often in fiction. In this type of narration, it's as if the character you're talking about is the reader. For the second person, you would use language such as, "You did this, and then you did that."  The third-person limited is similar to the first person where a narrator who knows exactly what one character is thinking and feeling is telling the story. The third-person limited is when an outside observer is telling the story, and he can only guess what the characters are thinking and feeling, as he is not in their heads. On the other hand, a third-person omniscient narrator sees and hears all. When using the third person, you will write, "she did this" or "he did that". 

Once you've established your main character and the type of point of view you will use, you want to invent a plot. Seems simple enough, right? In every plot there has to be some sort of problem involved. Your main character has to want something, and someone, or something, has to stand between the main character and that thing he or she wants. If you've got that, you've got a story.

If you remember English class back in school then you know that a basic plot consists of an introduction to the problem, action leading up to the climax, the climax, the falling action, and the conclusion.

To make writing your plot idea easier, think about these three parts to your story:
1         The character's goal (the problem that needs to be solved)
2         What gets in the way of the character achieving his or her goal
3         What the character does so that he or she achieves the goal or what happens to the character when the goal is not achieved

Your main character, the one who wants something, is the protagonist. The person or thing in the way is the antagonist. Now that you have an idea of who your protagonist is and what he and she wants to achieve, and you know who your antagonist will be, it's time to think about what the antagonist will do to keep the protagonist from achieving his or her goal.  A writer has to make sure that the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist matches the strengths and weaknesses of the antagonist to keep the story balanced.  If the protagonist is too weak the story will be frustrating to the reader, if the antagonist is too weak the story will be boring and lack drama. 

Like a good chess match, for every idea the protagonist has, the antagonist counters with a move of his or her own that prevents the protagonist from moving ahead. This creates conflict, which is essential to every good story. Without conflict, we can't root for the protagonist to succeed.

One big pitfall for me personally is consistency in the timing of the story.  Your story will be written in past, present, or future tense.  If you choose to write your story using the past tense, then your narrator is relating events that have already happened. If you would like to write your story in the present tense, your narrator is relating events as they are happening.  It can get very confusing for a reader if your story jumps back and forth from present to past tense.  Be consistent. Some stories do effectively use flashbacks to the past, but be careful to clearly identify when your story has jumped to the past.  I have seen some stories do this by using italicized font or some other indicator to help the reader make the transition.  

Now that your story has a basic pot, in the next blog post I will explore the use of language and dialogue in your story.  


  1. Great reminders for all writers. Sometimes we got so mired in the details we forget these important rules

  2. Great points and reminders. Thank you for this post, looking forward to the next one!