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The Intersection of Premise and Protagonist

UPCOMING: I’m doing a second workshop on crafting a terrific premise on February 21, 2-4 p.m. Pacific Time (it will be recorded, so you can watch it later if you can’t attend). Veteran literary agent Steve Laube will listen to your pitches and give some feedback and advice. Space is limited, so be sure to enroll ASAP. And bring your premise statement to share, and get tips on how to improve it! 

Your premise and your protagonist go hand in hand. We’ve been looking at premise lately, and if you’ve been reading these posts (and if you attended last month’s premise Zoom session), you know how crucial it is to have a unique, strong premise.

A premise is not just a situation; it’s about how your protagonist is going to deal with it.

I can be in a bad situation, but I may do nothing about it. I’d be a very boring protagonist. Your protagonist shouldn’t be passive, reactive. She needs to be assertive and proactive. She might not be that way at the start of your story, but the inciting incident that occurs early on should spark a need and/or desire to do something about that situation.

Your protagonist needs to be just the right person to deal with the situation at hand. But so must all your other characters.

Your genre may inform some of the requisite characteristics of your cast of characters, but even within the bounds of genre you can still develop fresh, unique characters. Your readers deserve those elements of originality, so spend time on your characters and resist the default mode (stereotypes). And really, what’s more important is your premise. Continue Reading…

Developing a Scene Outline for Your Novel

Writing a novel is a challenge. If you’ve done it (or tried to), you understand. I’m a big proponent of plotting my novels in advance. While many writers dislike plotting and feel comfortable “pantsing,” it can take a lot of years and practice to get down novel/story structure well enough to “wing it” and come out with a solid story.

I do believe that even pansters can benefit by some basic plotting, and putting together a simple outline is a great way to start coalescing ideas and pieces of story into some organization. I’ve worked with countless (well, at least I’ve never tried to count them all) writers at the outline stage, and I’ve seen what appears to work best—not just for them but also for me as an author.

The first stage is to get all those drifting ideas down onto something tangible: index cards, a notepad, a Word doc, Scrivener. Whatever you’re comfortable working in. I find that taking some weeks or months to let an idea simmer and grow into a premise and finally to a fully fleshed-out plot works best. Keeping a folder to stuff ideas into helps tremendously, whether you jot a scene idea on an index card or you have various pages for your character ideas, plot elements, relationships, twists, etc.

I’m going to share some things I hope will help you in the early stages of your brainstorming and plotting to make the process less overwhelming and more organized. Continue Reading…

The Intersection of Voice and Deep POV

When writers talk about “voice,” they are usually referring to an author’s style of writing. Agents use this definition too. I’ve written about this before, as I feel this designation is off, and often confusing.

In this age of writing in deep POV—meaning, each scene in fiction is coming “through” a particular character, in that every word of the scene is her thoughts, observations, sensory experiences, and opinions. Since that’s the case, that means the entire scene has to be in that character’s “voice,” not the author’s.

This is a huge problem I see in most of the manuscripts I edit and critique. The author’s writing style supercedes the indivual POV characters’ voices such that they all sound the same, use the same vocabulary and syntax, and, essentially come across as clones of one another. Which wouldn’t be a problem if the premise of their novel was about a group of clones. But I haven’t seen that premise cross my desk yet.

What this means is, if you have three POV characters in your novel, the scenes for each one need to read and feel quite different from the other. I should be able to randomly open up a novel I’ve just read (now familiar with the characters) and easily tell, without reading the name, whose POV the scene is in.

Continue Reading…

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