Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wordcraft -- The action dilemma I -- the basics

True confessions time – how many of us have an unsellable novel tucked away in our desk drawers or computer files?  Let’s raise our hands – it’s okay, according to agent Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Literary.  She believes, in general, we writers need to have one or two novels under our belts before we can write some that sells and has legs – long-term appeal.  And then she kicked off her shoes – literally – and gave her audience at the recent DFW Writers Conference a whirlwind introduction to what she sees as the main problem in novels submitted to her.

It’s plotting, Weronika (pronounced Veronica), said.

She follows the dictum that plot and character are synonymous and believes we can either fit our characters to the plot or the plot to the characters.  Whichever way a writer starts, within the first fifty pages she wants to see a character express a main interest; have both something she fears losing and something she wants to gain; and suffer an inciting incident that directly affects her interest and both what she hopes for and fears.

She discussed plotting both in terms of the three-act method and the eight-point arc, similar to the stages of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.  As an aside, I like Vogler’s book for telling me what needs to happen, and the three-act method for telling me when it needs to happen and relatively how long each step needs to take.

Briefly, in the three-act structure, in Act I, background should be employed only as needed for the act’s functions, which include introducing the character and his needs, and the inciting incident.  During Act II, the character will encounter multiple obstacles to achieving his main goal.  Act II will constitute the body of the story.  Its midpoint should be a major showdown.  Act III, the shortest portion of the novel, functions as grounding for a resolution.  There may be dual climaxes for a character’s internal (emotional) and external goals, or multiple climaxes to resolve subplots.

And what’s our framework for writing a novel?  The scene.  “The scene is a mini-novel,” Weronika said, advising us to drive each scene with a goal and to cut out transitions.  Common scene problems that slow down pacing are arrivals, introductions to people, creation of atmosphere, portraying the major sweep of history, and dialogue, unless these invoke tension and conflict.

Next time – Part II – which came first – the character or the plot?

(Want more of Weronika’s tips?  See her blog at 
And since we’re all writers together, share with us how you’ve overcome – or been overcome by – pesky plotting problems dilemmas.)

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