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How to Add Meaningful Subplots to Your Novel

When I first started considering writing novels, I found the idea of subplots daunting. I knew I needed to put them in, but I really had no idea how, why, or in what manner subplots played a role in novel structure.

Subplots are everywhere. We see them in the movies we watch, and they are usually in every novel we read. We may instinctively know how they work in story structure. I always thought they were inserted to give some depth to the overall story, whether movie or novel. And that is one purpose for a subplot. But writers need to be careful not to throw any old subplot into a story in the hope that it will just add some interest. If you keep in mind that everything that goes into your novel must serve the advancement and complication of the main plot, you will fare well. Continue Reading…

Fiction’s Magic Ingredient: The Scene

Today I’m breaking my tradition and hosting a guest blogger as we explore the topic of scene structure. Jordan Rosenfeld—novelist, writing instructor and editor—teaches extensively on scene structure, and I’ve been using her definition of a scene in these posts on this fifth pillar of novel construction: Plot and Subplots in a String of Scenes. She’s the author of Make a Scene, the best book available on scene structure, which I highly recommend all novelists buy and study carefully.

Scenes—those little capsules of action, information, and setting, are more than just a dull little way to practice “show don’t tell” in your writing. There’s a reason I refer to them as “fiction’s magic ingredient” when I teach: without scenes all you have is a lot of throat-clearing narrative, characters ruminating, and fancy words that gaze back adoringly at themselves like Narcissus of the Greek myths. Continue Reading…

Mastering the Passing of Time in Novel Scenes

Scene structure is an essential concept writers must grasp in order to construct solid, fluid novels. I chose that word fluid because I feel readers want something akin to a smooth read. I don’t mean specifically a linear story in which every moment passes in time the same way. I mean the story being told is easy to follow because the scenes string together in a clear flow of time, each giving the sense of real time passing, right here, right now.

This may be a tricky concept for some to grasp, so bear with me a bit. I’ve written some posts in the past on showing time passing in novels. In a film, there are lots of techniques available to the screenwriter and filmmaker to make time appear to slow down or speed up. But not so easy to do with a novel.

Novelists have to use creative ways of wording to show these same effects. But scenes, essentially, are all about showing significant action happening in real time—the way time passes for us as we go through our lives. The variable, however, is linked to the POV character who is experiencing and showing the scene through her eyes. Continue Reading…

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