plot

NaNoWriMo Tips: Where are Your Cliffhangers?

Cliffhanger movie 1993 screencap of man falling from landslide on cliffHave you included some cliffhangers in your story? Cliffhangers are the moments in a movie or television show when there is a cut-away from the action, often for a commercial, and the viewer is left hanging, anxious about what will happen to the hero.

Cliffhangers are common writing devices, but they work. In a novel, these are found between scenes and chapters, but also between paragraphs, pulling the reader through the story to find out what happens next.

Where are your cliffhangers? Are they critical plot points or have you thrown in a few throughout the story to keep the reader on edge, eagerly turning page after page?

If you don’t have any, start adding them. Write them in. They add tension, conflict, and drag the reader through the story.

The key to a good cliffhanger is how it draws the reader into the story. They are a part of the action. They want to know what happens. A successful cliffhanger is one written to make the reader a part of the story, so they feel like they are the ones pushing or chasing the story forward.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

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NaNoWriMo Tips: Play with Time

Writers can make a moment last pages, even a whole chapter. Or they can make a sentence last a week.

As you work on your novel and stories, consider how you use time. Stretch it to make a moment last, compress it to add tension or skip the story ahead.

Consider adding a race against time element to your story. The clock is ticking and your hero has only so much time to accomplish the task and save everyone.

The groundbreaking television show 24 told the story in real-time, so to speak. Each hour increment in a 24 hour period represented 60 minutes of the story line. They even used a clock to help track the hour during each episode. It was an exciting story device that kept the viewer on the edge of their seat as the drama raced forward.

Doctor Who - the Stolen Earth screencap.

In Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companions and the other characters in the stories can shift between time within a few seconds not just on this planet, but across multiple planets and galaxies. In the finales of Season 4, the time traveling machine called the Tardis was controlled to dial through time, allowing the Doctor and Donna to watch an event that could take thousands or millions of years to complete, helping the viewer experience it with them, adding drama to the story line. In the book and BBC show, Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett, young kids discover a woman who can travel through time with a shopping cart, and go back and forth to World War II to prevent a bomb from exploding in their 1990s time period. Creative manipulation of time lines in stories is found everywhere, helping not only add drama, but to also help the reader understand what’s going on.

As you write, ensure the reader is with you on the passage of time. Do they track that it has been minutes or years between scenes? How have you made that clear?

It’s challenging to keep a reader on track with your creative manipulations of time. Flashbacks, backstory, dream sequences, future thoughts, movements of time between scenes…work it carefully, dragging the reader through the space time continuum.

Help them keep up with the time and the pace of your story, but have fun with how you use time.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: The Ticking Clock

The Ticking Clock is a writer’s device to add tension to a scene or the plot. The clock is ticking, time is running out, the character(s) are up against a deadline and there is no escaping the ticking of the clock.

If you are having trouble writing ticking clock scenes in your plot, here are some questions to consider.

  • How long do the characters have? How much time are you going to give them to succeed before the clock runs out?
  • Could you shorten the time period? To what?
  • What does the character need to accomplish within that time frame?
  • What amount of time would it normally take to accomplish the task?
  • Why is the time period so short?
  • What does the character(s) need to do to “stop the clock?”
  • What will prove that the task is complete and the clock will stop?
  • What are the consequences of failure?
  • What will the character(s) lose?
  • What can go wrong?
  • Will one or more people die?
  • What are the physical obstacles in the way of stopping the clock?
  • What are the psychological obstacles (fears, dreams, risks) to stopping the clock?
  • How does the character(s) handle obstacles (physical and psychological)?
  • How does the race to beat the clock show the character(s) strengths and weaknesses?
  • How long does it take to overcome each obstacle?
  • How does the tension (suspense) grow as the deadline approaches?
  • What are the “cliffhangers” as the character(s) overcome each obstacle?
  • Does stopping the clock start another ticking clock? Is there another task the character(s) must tackle?
  • When all clocks have stopped ticking, then what? How has the character(s) changed? What is next?

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: When Passive Voice Starts Winning

As you plow through NaNoWriMo, are you finding yourself writing with conditional verbs: should, would, haven’t, could, maybe, might? It might be time to redirect your energies because this is a symptom of running out of steam and inspiration.

This isn’t about editing your work during the NaNoWriMo month of November. It is about changing your writing tune midway if you find yourself using passive voice in your writing.

This isn’t about a character who uses passive voice when they speak and in their actions.

This is about being unclear and unsure about what you are writing. It is about you losing confidence in your writing.

Switch immediately to active voice using action and active verbs. Don’t let your characters wonder through a fog of uncertainty. Put them in a place and let them thrive there with your word choices.

Still finding it difficult? Consider passive voice as a symptom. Here are some solutions.

  • Return to your original premise, the concept that sent you down this path. Has it changed? Evolved? Lost its way?
  • Have you swung off the path and meandered down a tangent? Switching to passive voice could be a sign that you are losing confidence in this story line, not the entire story. Find your way back, or start a new tangent and follow that.
  • Are you losing interest in your character(s)? Consider making another attempt at their character personality and descriptions and find what’s missing. Have you fallen out of love with them? Find a way to love them, or change them into someone you can love again.
  • Leave the story and dig into the back story, the history, the politics, the society in and around your story. It’s called worldbuilding. Like a child playing with tinker toys or legos, build the universe in and around your story to find the passion again.
  • Ask yourself why. It is that simple. Why are you using soft, cautious, careful words in your writing? Is it your story? Characters? Self-confidence? Guilt? Procrastination? Something is getting in your way and this is a symptom. Identify it sooner rather than later and get our your mental bulldozer to clear the path so you can keep writing.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Embrace Tangents

During NaNoWriMo, the challenge of the word count hangs over us. Take advantage of it and wander down those tangents. Explore a tickle of an idea. Flesh it out. Does it work? If so, keep meandering. If not, that’s okay, you might be able to use this as a short story or as extras for your website during the promotion of your book later.

Maybe the off-beaten path you’ve just beaten is really your story, not the one you were writing. Or a sequel. You might not have considered this as a series, but it could be. Why not?

Tangents can also help you with back story, character descriptions and personalities, worldbuilding, opportunities to expand your story and your thoughts about the story. You can slice and dice in the editing process, but if the call to deviate pulls your fingers in that direction, go with it for a while and see what happens.

Keep an open mind and let your unconscious lead you in what might be the right direction.

If it isn’t, your mind will pull you back automatically, so don’t worry. Keep writing.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Reverse the Writing Order

One of the challenges in NaNoWriMo is that you may have the start of your novel set, most of the plot points on an outline, but what about the ending? Do you know where this thing ends?

Write your ending first.

Why not? Take a writing session and write the last scene, chapter, or maybe the last two or three chapters. Take your story to the end to see what happens, then start from the beginning.

You might discover that the plot outline you carefully planned out needs to be shifted around, the journey changed as you’ve decided to take this in a new direction. Or that you will have to add characters or remove them, or change other parts of the story to make it tie up with the ending you’ve written.

You can always edit and change the ending later, but knowing your destination might help you get there sooner, and enjoy the journey better.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

Novel Writing: Storyboarding and the W Plot Chart

Mary Carroll Moore is a popular published author offering educational information on writing and publishing your novel. The following video covers creating a storyboard for your novel using a 3-act structure, specifically the W Plot Chart, helping you find the 5 most important points in your novel.

The following are articles and resources covering more about the W Plot Chart and 3-act structure.