The energetic and talented Catherine Ryan Howard has released three wonderful non-fiction titles: Mousetrapped, Backpacked and Self-Printed all hallmarked with her wry and engaging writing style. She’s now releasing Results not Typical – her first novel. I’m delighted to welcome her here today on her Result’s not Typical blog tour with a guest post on writing with some great tips. And don’t forget to check out her novel!
MY LEAST FAVOURITE PART OF WRITING: THE BIT IN THE MIDDLE
I get plenty of ideas. I have lists of fantastic book titles, and pages of scribbled notes about the themes and settings that could potentially tell the stories that go with them. I’m great with beginnings and ends and they pop into being so fully-formed that I can play them in my head like little movies. I can even see the finished covers in the my mind’s eye, and the outfit I’ll wear to the glittering book launch, down to the outrageously expensive shoes and knees-to-armpits industrial strength magic underwear…
But anyway. I digress.
That’s all good – great, even. But I never, ever know what goes in the middle. I always have to drag that, kicking and screaming, out of the ether (read: the darkest recesses of my brain), and it never comes easily.
That pesky middle. It spoils all my fun.
The problem is determining just what is the middle? How are you supposed to get from A to B without resorting to pointless filler, like a suspiciously detailed shopping trip, dinner preparation or a three-page inventory of your character’s CD collection? What are your imaginary friends supposed to do with themselves for eighty thousand words without sending both writer and reader into an involuntary slump?
That was the biggest hurdle between me and my writerly daydreams and me and a somewhat finished book. I had what I thought was a great idea for a novel (a corporate satire about a slimming company), a great opening (each of my three main characters getting ready to start what would turn out to be the worst day of their lives for at least one of them), a great inciting incident (the formula for their newest product goes missing) and a killer ending with a big twist (which I won’t reveal because I’m hoping after reading this blog post you will feel suddenly and inexplicably compelled to pop over to Amazon and buy the Kindle edition of Results Not Typical, priced at just $2.99.)
But I hadn’t the foggiest about what would happen in between, or why something should. My reference shelf of “How To…” writing books banged on and on about character and setting and point of view and syntax and adverbs and word counts and formatting your manuscript and the kitchen sink, but none of them told me what I need to know: how – exactly – to plot a novel.
But then – phew! – I found one that did: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by the late great Hollywood screenwriter Blake Snyder.
Yes, it’s about screenwriting. But it has helped me no end when it comes to plotting fiction.
Using a three-act structure, a fifteen point “beat sheet” and your imagination, it’ll give you a plot in no time at all. And, if your plot is missing anything – if, for example, between chapter two and chapter eight there’s a black hole so big your entire book could slip into it – this method will make it blink on and off rapidly and sound an alarm. You’ll know about it. For instance, did you know that a good plot needs a midpoint? This, I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn, comes half way through your book (or script). Generally the midpoint will either be a fake high (e.g. the character thinks they’ve solved their problem and is victorious but in a few pages will be brought back down to earth again) or a fake low (e.g. the character thinks all is lost and starts to cry into the their Cornflakes, not knowing that just around the corner things are going to look a lot better). These events will also lead to a significant “stakes raise” where the consequences of the protagonist failing at whatever they’re trying to do suddenly becomes a lot more serious. The midpoint has a bookend later on in the plot, at the lowest point which Snyder calls “All is Lost.” As a general rule, he says “it’s never as good as it seems at the midpoint and it’s never as bad at it seems at the low point” (or vice versa). You may not even realize it but the most satisfying stories contain these and other “Snyder” elements, even if the author didn’t consciously include them.
Save The Cat says this needs to happen, and then that needs to happen, and then this needs to happen too, and it’ll tell you why, and then suddenly the leap between the action and how that action will look in your story with your characters, ideas and fictional world doesn’t feel like such an abyss, and that headache starts to subside.
So if you’re having plotting problems, buy Save the Cat. If you want to read a book that exists because of it, read Results Not Typical. If you’re still having plotting headaches, I’d suggest two aspirin, a dark room and a lie down.
Or we could just stop writing books, and make do with just reading them instead. I’m guessing that would be a lot easier
Results Not Typical on Amazon.com:
If your readers visit http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/14791-results-not-typical they can enter a giveaway to win one of five paperback copies of Results Not Typical. Open for entries from September 30th-October 31st. Open to all countries.
Catherine Ryan Howard is a 29-year-old writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker. She currently lives in Cork, Ireland, where she divides her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at www.catherineryanhoward.com.
About Results Not Typical:
The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire in the debut novel from Catherine Ryan Howard, author of the bestselling memoir Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. Through their Ultimate Weight Loss Diet Solution Zone System, Slimmit International Global Incorporated claim they’re making the world a more attractive place one fatty at a time. Their slogans “Where You’re Fat and We Know It!” and “Where the Fat IS Your Fault!” are recognised around the globe, the counter in the lobby says five million slimmed and their share price is as high as their energy levels. But today the theft of their latest revolutionary product, Lipid Loser, will threaten to expose the real secret behind Slimmit’s success…The race is on to retrieve Lipid Loser and save Slimmit from total disaster. If their secrets get out, their competitors will put them out of business. If the government finds out, they’ll all go to jail. And if their clients find out… Well, as Slimmit’s Slimming Specialists know all too well, there’s only one thing worse than a hungry, sugar-crazed, carb addict – and that’s an angry one. Will the secret behind Slimmit’s success survive the day, or will their long-suffering slimmers finally discover the truth? Available now in paperback and e-book editions.