Warning: Rant ahoy!
This is not directed at anyone in particular, it’s just a general trend I’ve noticed that’s really, really peeved me off.

The beta reader is the most underrated role in the writing process. People think that it’s a simple job – why, they’re just reading a book, aren’t they? It’s the easiest thing in the world. They read the story then tell you what they think. Continue reading

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First person is very easy to slip into just telling, because you are in someone’s head.
Don’t forget that a lot of the time, there’s things you miss. You do things without noticing you do them, and usually only know about it when it’s pointed out by other people.

One example is my main character, Serah, unconsciously calling her charge Van by another name. Because the narrative is from her POV, we only ever hear her calling him Van. What the reader doesn’t realise until Van explicitly points it out later, however, is that she’s actually been calling him by another name.

I had a lot of trouble with this in the first draft. Being in the character’s head, I ended up telling the readers her thoughts with minimal showing involved. She would say someone was a jerk, and that was it. What I needed to do was have the jerk in question do something distinctly jerk-like to any audience, then have the character get annoyed and explain exactly why that person was a jerk for doing that. It provides a deeper insight into the character and what makes her tick. The audience also gains sympathy for her as they too can form their own conclusions about the person being a jerk.

Yes, it’s hard, but it makes for a character that audiences can connect with more easily.

How do you spot when you tell instead of show? What tricks do you use to avoid it?

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In the end, I planned my plot the old-fashioned way – with pen and paper.

You can see that I’ve drawn a timeline for each of my characters. It’s not obvious here, but the timeline of all the background events is the one titled ‘Rabble’. I’ve also added extra events for characters as necessary – these events are then added to the timeline of all other characters. Oh, and the first event that’s covered by a spoiler box? It’s the same event for all. This is a major plot point that affects all the characters in some way.

The last column has a dotted line around it – that’s the next major plot point, where everything and everyone is shaken up and left to fall where they will.

It’s not the most high-tech way, but it works for me because I managed to scribble it all down in ten minutes without the need to fiddle around with any programs or elements, and I can see what my characters are doing at a glance. I can also see how something that a character is doing at any given time would affect another.

But although this gives me an overview of what a character is doing, there is no indication of how the characters grow (or need to grow). You could always just add this into the timeline, but I find that it clutters it up. In the next post, I’ll explain how I decide where the characters are at emotionally and get that down on paper for reference.

The beginnings of a plot outline

So I’m stuck with the problem of planning out my plot. I know how I want it to start and to end, but as for what happens in between, I’m still working that out. In the end, I decided that I would need a timeline of sorts, but I wasn’t quite sure where to begin.

One of the first things I tried was using Microsoft Project for my timeline. You enter the action, a start date and an end date (or a start date and a duration). You can also link events that are dependent, so if the time of one event is moved back, all dependent events are moved back as well. Also, events can be grouped together under headings. Here’s what mine looked like – with the important plot points hidden, of course!



The beginnings of a plot outline

I found it had limitations pretty quickly. I can’t have linked events that happen on the same day. I can’t specify if something happens during the day or during the night – the smallest block of time is one day. I have to put each against a date, and that date has to be a standard date (an Earth date, to be precise!) In the end, it was also just a bit too complex for me. I’m usually the kind of person who prefers scribbling on a blank piece of paper.

Of course, that’s not to say that it wouldn’t work for everyone. If you had a plot stretched out over a longer period of time, if it was set in this world, if you like seeing pretty timelines and it helps you with your plot, then by all means give it a go. It doesn’t have to be Microsoft Project – that’s just what I had on my computer. Any project management software should do something similar.

In part 2 I’ll explain what I used in the end, so stay tuned!