Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Joys and Tedium of Subplots

Have you ever started writing a story only to find your characters side-tracked by a morning traffic jam or sudden flood in the basement? Maybe these incidents develop into subplots that take on lives of their own, such as whether the traffic cop is actually worsening the snarl of cars or whether the plumbers secretly installed devices to ensure their services will be required later.

Admittedly, the subplots mentioned above are thin, but the point stands... subplots are a great way to increase your word count. Beyond that, subplots can help to expand the scope of your novel's world, and might tie back in to the main plot with a vital clue, uncommonly good timing, or serve as comedic relief.

For example, writing about the morning traffic jam allows you to explore the kind of car the main character drives, and how he or she drives it. Is she nervous about scratching it? Is he upset that the horsepower is being wasted in bumper-to-bumper traffic? The time the main character wastes on the road could be important later on in the story, as it could cause them to miss a meeting, lose their job, or avoid being at the office when that 7.4 earthquake hits.

The plumbers' subplot gives plenty of opportunity for description and emotions. What did the house or apartment look like before the flood of seemingly Biblical proportions happened? What does it look like now? Is the plumber sympathetic, businesslike, or annoyed at having to slosh through six inches of water and the main character's now-soggy collection of home decorating magazines?

The plumber subplot could tie back into the main story, because now the main character is familiar enough with the basement - courtesy of the hours spent down there, distrustful of the plumber - that she's able to outsmart the serial killer who invades her home in a later chapter.

Consider adding a subplot to your writing project, but try to make them ones that fit with the setting and characters. Cutting to chapters about King Arthur's court might not make sense in a modern-day urban fantasy, but you could try doing a subplot on Renaissance fairs or a comic book convention instead.

Let's try something a little different with the prompt today. I'll give a writing prompt and a subplot. Have fun, and keep writing!

Prompt: The sun was starting to dip below the horizon, and the guy at the stall sighed at me in annoyance as I worked to get the ring off my finger. I'd just wanted to try it on, but now the craft fair was closing up shop for the night. If I didn't make progress - and soon - I'd have to buy the ugly thing and drive to the nearest hospital or hardware store before I lost my finger...

Subplot: Jewelry thieves are plotting to steal from the craft fair, and nabbing this troublesome ring is one of their main goals.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Story Ideas

I don't know how this works for other writers, but I get the best story ideas at one of two times.

1. When I'm taking a long walk, and there's no paper or writing instruments for me to take notes, or
2. When I'm too busy with life, work, and other stuff to write the idea down.

Feel free to comment below about when you get your best story ideas. (Out jogging? During a boring date?)

Here are a few prompts to help with those ideas:

Prompt 1: Sunlight poured down relentlessly, and heat made the simple act of breathing painful. If only he hadn't agreed to run a marathon in Death Valley...

Prompt 2: The plane jolted under her, and she grabbed nervously at the armrests of her seat. She accidentally clamped her hand over the arm of the man sitting next to her, and...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Failure is the Best Incentive

I just received my first literary agent rejection on "An Amazon Scorned". Unfortunately, it was the customary form letter 'this project isn't right for us... best of luck'. Fortunately, the turn-around was less than a day, rather than the weeks or months that I've come to expect.

So, if anyone wants to hear back quickly on their manuscripts, I have to suggest Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency. Maybe one of this blog's readers will have a manuscript that fits their market better. TriadaUS says they're looking for varying types of commercial fiction, so if that sounds like your project, try querying TriadaUS.

Some of the best lessons come from disappointing experiences. Although I wish I'd already found an agent to represent "An Amazon Scorned", this gives me more opportunities to perfect my querying technique and revise the manuscript, not to mention providing material for tonight's post!

Here's a prompt about turning disappointment into opportunity for a character. Have fun, and keep writing!

Prompt: She walked dispiritedly out of the storefront, frustrated that yet another minimum-wage, part-time, no-benefits job prospect had turned her down. She'd heard the economy was bad, but how much did the discount shop have to be hurting to only give her a two-minute interview? She decided to walk home, rather than taking the bus. It wasn't like she could afford the fare anyway. That was when she saw it... the thing that would turn her life around. If she'd been riding the bus, she would've gone by too fast, and completely missed it...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Outlining Techniques... and a Bookend Prompt

I'm beginning work on the sequel to "An Amazon Scorned". (The working title for this sequel is "Amazons' Most Wanted".)

It takes some time, but outlining the chapters is well worth the effort. It doesn't have to be detailed; just a sentence or two about what's going to happen in each chapter.

I prefer to do an outline one of two ways. Either:
1. Use a Word document, or
2. Use index cards.

These two methods work well, because if you realize you've forgotten a chapter, you can just add it as an index card or another line in the Word document. If you write it out on a page, you'll either have to use pencil and be prepared to erase a lot, or to use pen and a fair number of arrows to show added chapters.

If you're able to write out the chapter list from beginning to end without any hesitation or mistakes, more power to you... this is just what works best for me.

Since this post is about planning, here's a bookend prompt on the wisdom of planning ahead. I've given you the beginning and the end... the middle is up to you. Have fun, and keep writing!

Left Bookend: He double-checked the building plans. The last thing he needed was to get caught in a corridor when the alarms inevitably sounded...

Right Bookend: He finally stopped running a few blocks away. Doubled over and panting, he started laughing uncontrollably, relieved and grateful that he'd managed to get away.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

To Rewrite or not to Rewrite?

As you probably read, I finished the first draft of my fantasy novel "An Amazon Scorned" on January 31st. Unfortunately, I now have to deal with the weak spots in it, such as:

1. There's a partially written scene that was supposed to be character development, but I skipped the rest because it was a foil to the main character.
2. I forgot to write a scene that will set up a Wall Street angle in this series' future books.
3. I need to do more research on the mythological entity that one of the villains is based on... and the entity in question has just a few passages, most of which give the same tidbit of character analysis. (It's Angra Mainyu, if anyone was wondering.)
4. (I may have forgotten to develop and conclude a subplot.)

I'm torn about whether I should query literary agents with the book as is, or if I should take another month to reinforce the weak parts.

In support of querying immediately, is the argument that by the time I hear back from any agent, I probably will have fixed the spots anyway.

An argument against querying immediately, is that if an agent wants to see the whole manuscript, I'll have to either fix the weak spot quickly or send it with its imperfections.

Any advice?

While I'm waiting for feedback, here's a writing prompt about dilemmas.

Prompt: He'd heard about being between a rock and a hard place, but this was ridiculous. If he appeased the disgruntled customer, his boss would take the reimbursement out of his earnings. (The boss was just that kind of lady.) If he tried to send the customer away, his boss would demote him for being insensitive. Faced with this, there was only one thing to do...