Tuesday, April 24, 2012

And They Lived Happily Ever After...

Jeff Writes:

I have a plot question, which occurs at the end of my novel. Ian's story worthy problem is that he gains his self worth from what others think of him rather than gaining his self worth from within. At the climax, Ian must solve an underwater death maze without his brother's help. At this point, it seems that his story worthy problem is revealed. He has proven to himself that he can think under great pressure. However, he is still stuck in the land of WOW. He and his brother work together to make a machine that will return them home. Is this an anti-climactic ending? I suppose their ability to work as equals could be where the story worthy problem is revealed. Do I need to combine the climax with the revelation of the story worthy problem?
Here is my outline:
Inciting Incident: Ian’s brother, Wesley, disappears.
Ian saves his brother.
Ian invades the castle.
Ian defeats Master O.
Resolution: Ian and Wesley returns home as equals. Ian has lost his innocence.
Thank you,

Hi Jeff ~
Getting the ending right is just as critical as nailing your beginning and as they say, timing is everything...

The biggest problem is knowing when enough is enough. We feel this urge to tie everything up in a neat little package when that just isn't necessary. Fiction is supposed to reflect real life, right? Well, I know very little situations in real life where everything little thing is resolved. It's okay to leave a few strings flapping in the wind--just not the BIG ones.

It's a delicate thing. If you rush it, you're reader will feel cheated and if you drag it out, you're reader will want to kill you. Luckily, there is a way to avoid both. I think that the best way to tie this is up is like this:

Ian and Wesley are forced into the underwater death maze together. Through the course of the maze, Wesley takes charge and Ian lets him... but then come the point that Wesley has solved the maze. Ian has come to a different solution and while Wesley's solution will save them, it's part of Masters O's plan to trap them in the land of WOW forever.

Ian sees a different solution. One that will not only save them but transport them--and all the other abducted children--back home. Ian stops his brother before he inadvertently traps them all forever, and assures him that he knows the answer. Wesley sees a confidence and strength in his brother that he's never seen before and he steps aside to let Ian take the lead. Ian applies his own solution, thus (I can't believe I just used the word "thus"... in an actual sentence) freeing them all.

Once your climax is on the page, it's best to end things quickly--within 5 pages, max. This leaves your reader on a high--they feel good about your story... which means they feel good about you as a writer.

I'm not sure if my suggestion will require re-writes but I'd give it some serious thought. This way will give you your climax, story problem resolution, and proper ending all in one whack. Just remember... during the course of the climax, it's all hands on deck. It's gotta hurt. Throw everything you've got at them, make it seem as if it's an impossible situation to conquer. Don't make it short and sweet. It's gotta be down and dirty. Dangle Ian over a cliff and let him twist in the wind... your reader will cheer for him all the harder for it when he succeeds--guaranteed.

 thanks for the question, Jeff and I hope I was helpful!
Bring me your plot problems:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beginnings & Endings... And Everything In Between

Adina writes:

Hi Maegan,
A question as promised.
I read with interest the story of your 'nine weeks in hell'. Could you share some insight on what you learned during that time about how to get a book's beginning 'right'? Do you have a checklist or similar that you work through to make sure you have certain elements present? Ways to hook in a reader and keep them reading? The reason I ask is that I do this sort of thing pretty much by instinct (or trial and error) and wonder if there's a more reliable way?

Hi, Adina ~
Getting your story beginning right is essential. Nothing--and I mean nothing--in your novel will work from that point on, if you don't nail your inciting incident within the first five pages.
Now, some of you are asking, "What the hell is an inciting incident and why is it so freakin' important?"
Well... I'm here to tell you.
Novels are about trouble. Big trouble. If your novel was a football game, your inciting incident would be the initial kick off. The situation that starts it all. Everything that follows in your book will radiate from this one point. It sets the tone for the entire story. It doesn't have to be huge--no need for fiery car crashes or murder (although, if that's where your novel is going, I say go for it...), just the exact moment in time where your protagonist realizes that their life has been altered in such a way that nothing will be right again until the situation (your inciting incident) is rectified.
Today's reader wants action. When I say action, I don't necessarily mean death and destruction. Action, meaning purpose. Forward movement toward a resolution to the trouble that started your protagonist on their journey--whatever that might be. They want action. Now. Not ten pages from now, and certainly not a few chapters in. The sooner you get your inciting incident on the page, the sooner you'll hook your reader. And the sooner you hook your reader, the more quickly they become involved in your novel. And the more quickly the become involved in your novel, the... well, you get the idea.
So, nailing you your inciting incident is critical to the success of your novel. That's just the way it is.
I have to tell you that I didn't come up with brilliant concept on my own. Nope--it belongs to Les Edgerton. If you'd like to know more, I suggest you pick up a copy of his craft book:
 Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
It's available on If you're struggling with your novel beginnings, this is exactly what you need.
To answer the second part of your question...
In the beginning, I worked much like you do--by feel and instinct. Which is probably how I ended up with a 750 page thriller that totally lacked structure. I knew I needed to streamline my novel and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, because quite frankly, I had no idea what I was doing.
When I decided to take my first writing class (with the ever brilliant, Les Edgerton), writing an outline was the first requirement, and I did so under protest. I fought the idea of an outline because I felt like it would stifle my creativity… boy, was I wrong.
In fact, writing an outline did the exact opposite. Instead of stifling my creativity, it reined it in and focused it in a way I had never experienced before. I was able to look at my outline and see where I was going, which make it so much easier for me to figure out how to get there.
An outline doesn’t have to be some long, intricate, scene by scene affair—in fact it shouldn’t be. 20-50 words is all it takes, hitting all your major plot points. Here’s an example of my outline for my novel, The First:
INCITING INCIDENT: Sabrina is confronted with her past as the first and only surviving victim of a serial killer.

1)         Sabrina meets Michael, the brother of the killer’s latest victim.
2)         Sabrina agrees to return to her hometown with Michael to find killer.
3)         Sabrina returns home to search for the killer.
4)         Sabrina finds the killer.          
RESOLUTION: Sabrina accepts her past and re-builds her family.

Developing my outline beforehand enables me to really focus on writing a scene that truly captures the inciting incident , because I already know what it is. Every time I got lost, or felt myself drift, I’d look at my outline . Once I got through inciting incident hell (yup--that's really what it's called), it kept me on track, making the rest of the re-write a breeze...
I hope this answers your question, Adina!

Remember--If you've got a plot problem or question, send it to:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Need Help Finding Your Voice? Well... You're in Luck

As some of you know, Les Edgerton has been my mentor, coach and friend for a few years now and it's because of him that I've secured an agent and am looking forward to the sale of my first novel (currently in re-writes). Les is a gifted novelist in his own right--crime fiction, noir, literary fiction, non-fiction, short stories... and craft books.
No, I'm not talking about books that teach you how to make handbags out of  old magazines or how to crochet little hats for those unsightly rolls of extra toilet paper in your bathroom.
I'm talking about books on the craft of WRITING.
And it's a craft Les knows very, very well.
I have a confession: I have read very few writing craft books. Oh, I own more than my fair share... Burroway, Lamott, Bickman. I bought them all because I thought that maybe, just maybe, one of them could impart on me some sort of mystical knowledge on the dos & don'ts of writing a breakout novel.
I said I bought them... I never said I actually read them. I tried--I really did--but the majority of them were so dry I was coughing up dust bunnies every time I turned the page. Don't get me wrong, I know oodles of people that  swear by Burroway and Bickman and I'm more than positive that they have plenty to offer in terms of mechanics.
That's not where I needed help. No... my problem was (and still is on occasion) trusting my own voice to tell the story. For the longest time I fought the me that was coming through on the page. I'm a woman--I shouldn't be writing about fist fights and GSWs. I should be couching my scenes in flowery prose, right? Wrong... because it wasn't me, and when your writing isn't authentic, the worst thing in the world will happen--your reader will become confused. And then they'll become distrustful. And then they'll think you're a dirty, rotten liar and never read another word you write again.
Rule #1
If you want your reader to trust you--you have to trust yourself. Les told me that, and he was right.
People have always asked me, "Who do you write like?" It's an honest question... and one I hate beyond any other, because it forces me to put myself in a box. If forces me to conform and, well--I'm not a conformist.
And neither is Les Edgerton.
That's what I found so refreshing about his craft books. He tells you it's okay to trust yourself, that sounding like you--simple, unknown, unpublished YOU--is not only okay, it's the only way to write. He tells you to let go, ignore the critics and embrace your own style, to find your own path.
And not only does Les tell you... he shows you how.
One of his best craft books, FINDING YOUR VOICE, has just released on e-book through Amazon, and for only $5--how cool is that? Here's the link, check it out--you'll be glad you did!
Check it out here at:

And check out his blog for all his latest and greatest:

don't forget--got a plot problem? send it to me at

Friday, April 13, 2012

This Old House

Your novel is a house.
Yes, I said a house—just trust me, it’ll make sense in a minute…
Writing a novel is like building a house. Your plot provides the foundation. Without a solid foundation, your house with never be structurally sound. It’s the same for your novel. Having an idea for a book and developing a plot are two different things. A plot must be able to withstand every possible "what if" scenario you can think of. You must poke at every spot, find its weaknesses and shore them up. If the hole is too big for a patch-job, then you scrap it and start over. It's a process--a long, time consuming process but it's necessary. If your foundation is cracked, your house will fall. Without a solid plot, so will your novel.
Your narrative—the story you build within the confines of your plot—provide the bones of your novel. Timber, nails, trusses—these are the materials you need to make your house a solid structure. They need to be the right lengths and sizes—cut and weighed to fit the exact dimensions laid out by your foundation, or, when finished, your house will look like you hired a troop of hyperactive toddlers to do your heavy lifting.
The same goes with your narrative. It should flow effortlessly. It should never sound forced or unnatural.When you write a paragraph or even a sentence you’re not comfortable with, you should re-read it and ask yourself, “does this sound like me?” If it doesn’t—if it’s not something you would say, or worded how you would say it, then either change it or toss it. If your narrative sounds forced, your reader will know. They won’t trust you. They’ll know that you don’t believe the words you’ve written and if you don’t believe them, neither will they. They’ll tuck a grocery receipt or parking slip between the pages of your book and set it down… and never pick it back up again. That distrustful feeling will stick with them and the next time they’re offered an opportunity to read your work, they’ll say, thanks, but I’d rather watch paint dry.
So, if your plot is the foundation and the narrative is the house that we build on said foundation… that’s it, right?
You’ve build this beautiful house that is solid and strong, but what’s the use if you don’t fill it full of people? We do that with our characters—we built this house for them to live in. Without them, what’s the use? For me, they’re the most important aspect of writing—the most important piece in building your novel. Your characters make your house a HOME.
 Your characters are individuals—they have personalities unto themselves and the words you have them say portray that. Or at least they should. Your dialogue should flow as naturally from them as your narrative flows from you.
Dialogue is important.
It reveals who they are. What they think. How they feel. A single sentence can speak volumes to who they are as a person. Would you have your protagonist’s nine-year-old daughter spout lines that sound like they belong to a stuffy old butler from some BBC drama? Would you have your hardboiled detective whine like a sorority girl who just chipped a nail? If the answer is yes, you need to re-evaluate who your characters really are... and possibly seek professional help.
Got a plot problem? hit me up at:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to write realistic action scenes

Carson wrote:

How do I write an action scene that is both realistic and exciting?

Hi Carson,
You asked how to write believable action scenes. I do great action (or so I've been told) and the best advice I can offer you is watch action films and Youtube fight videos --they will help to give you a visual frame of reference. When I write action scenes, I plan them out and then go over them, frame by frame,  as if I'm watching and pausing an action movie in my mind. Then I deliver a very clear description of what is happening in the story and who it's happening to. Here's an example from my completed novel, The First:
            She took a deep, slow breath and a step back. “Don’t touch me.” Drunk or sober, Sanford was an asshole but at least when he was sober he had slightly better judgment. As it stood, it looked like someone was getting their bell rung. And it wasn’t going to be her. She shifted her body into a defensive stance, ready for a fight.
            He smiled. “Whaddya gonna do,” he sneered and closed the gap between them. “Shoot me?” He drilled his pointer into the center of her chest again. Okay, asshole. Game on.
            She snatched his finger off her chest and bent it back until she heard the pop. Sanford howled and swung wildly with his free arm. She blocked the blow with her forearm and gave him a hard crack in the nose with her elbow. Stunned, he tried to stumble back but the grip she had on his finger kept him tethered. She delivered a face-crushing head-butt that drew blood and he swung again, this time clipping her in the side of the head. Pain shot through her temple but it was fleeting. He’d always been sloppy in a fight but what he lacked in skill, he more than made up for in blind rage. Once he started swinging, he wouldn’t stop until he was put down. Hard.
            He caught her in the ribs with a ham-handed jab that stole her breath. Using the grip she had on his finger like a rudder, she shoved him backward, jerking him to the side before she let go. The force, and the fact he smelled like he was sweating pure booze, sent him stumbling away from her and she used the time and space it created to shed her jacket.
            As soon as it hit the ground, Sanford zeroed in on her SIG. He stood a few feet away, cradling his abused finger, dripping blood all over her cobblestone walkway. Instead of giving him second thoughts, the sight of her gun seemed to give him hope.

Here's another:

                “I’m not gonna shoot you. I’m gonna beat you stupid.” She closed the distance between them, leading with her knee and he instinctively moved to block. She dropped it at the last second and caught him in the face with a right-cross that gave the gift of stars. Adrenaline surged, triggered by the blow.
            Slammed back into the dresser, surprise was fleeting. He circled around, gauging her excellent stance and flawless technique. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, surprised that he actually meant it.
            She said nothing, just circled right to cover his dominant hand. She surged again, this time to the left. She caught him with a devastating combo, cracking her elbow against his temple before she tattooed her fist into his kidney. Grabbing onto his shirt, she jerked him forward to deliver a flat-palmed jab to his mouth and nose. The stitches holding the fabric together gave way under her grip. The shoulder seam separated and she shoved him back.
            “You’re not fighting back.” The fact that he refused to hit her seemed to rile her temper even more.
            “I don’t hit girls.” He reached up to massage the feeling back into his jaw. She said nothing, just growled and charged. She was a blur—arms and fists, knees and feet raining down on him. He became not only the catalyst for her rage, but its conduit as well.
            “Fight back!” she screamed. Her temper boiled over, made her reckless. She was out of control, too far gone to be reasoned with.
            “Enough!” He barreled through her defenses and slipped his hands around her throat. He planted a leg behind her and took her to the floor. He straddled her, knees bracketing her chest.
            She continued to fight, switching to dirty tactics without batting an eye. She slipped her thumb into his mouth and hooked it around his face before pulling back with enough force to rip it open. He felt the corner of his mouth begin to separate. Her other thumb sought the soft spot of his eye, intent on burying itself knuckle deep in the spongy tissue. She was no longer sparring. She was brawling and she wouldn’t be satisfied until he bled.
            With no small amount of relief he slipped his pointer and middle finger under her jaw, against the nerve that rode high, just under her ear lobe. Pressing ruthlessly, he managed to avoid blindness but couldn’t slip the fish hook in his mouth until he bit down on her thumb with enough force to draw blood.
            “…bit me,” she wheezed out. “You’re the girl!” She struggled to get his hands off her throat.
            “Stop it!” he yelled, inches from her face and she gave once final surge, trying to buck him off.
            “Fuck you!” For a split second he thought the pressure point wouldn’t work. Then her eyes fluttered and slammed shut, the applied pressure finally knocking her out.

Both scenes offer clear, decisive action. You know who is doing what and how they're doing it. In action scenes, it's very easy for your characters to get physically tangled. If not careful, we end up writing scenes that are either physically impossible or leave the reader completely baffled as to who is doing what. Remember:
Get a visual frame of reference.
Plan out your scene.
Write it out, frame by frame--giving your reader a blow by blow (literally) account of the action.

Hope this helps, Carson and thanks for the cool blog topic!

Got a plot problem? E-mail it to me at

Sunday, April 1, 2012

How to inject tension into every scene you write

This question from Carson is a two-part question. I've answered the first and will answer the second in a later post.
Carson says:
Plot Meister Maegan, can you help? I have a murder mystery where my protag Ben is just walking from scene to scene doing the talking head thing. I NEED ACTION. NOW! I have two people who want him out of town--if not dead. I need to turn Ben upside down and shake him until his eyes bulge, problem is, everything I end up writing is contrived rather than organic. I won't even send my current work to my sweet writing teacher who NEVER has a negative thing to say about anyone's writing, because even he will fillet me. ;-) I love the dialogue/cerebral scenes. What can I do to up the tension in my scenes?

Hi Carson,
I've read your pages and I think problem here is that Ben faces very little opposition. There is no element of genuine conflict, no feeling that he's in danger. For a thriller to work, there must be tension on every page. Everyone--friends and enemies alike--must throw up roadblocks at every turn. In your story, everyone is too agreeable. Almost everyone is willing to talk. This should be reversed--almost NO ONE should be willing to talk. Ben should be pushing this two-ton boulder up the side of Mt. Everest... and when he reaches the top, he should stumble, only to watch it roll back down to the bottom. His task, whatever it might be at the moment, should be seemingly impossible. Nothing should be easy. If I'm not mistaken, Ben is saddled with his own scarlet letter in this town (and if he isn't, he should be). People should remember his family. They should whisper about him. They should be untrusting and unwilling to help him. Being seen with him should be the kiss of death and helping him should be akin to committing social suicide. People should be avoiding him like a plague.
You say that you have two people on the page that want Ben out of town, if not dead. Now is the time for one (or both) of them to act. What are they waiting for? Here a way to up the tension and place Ben in danger... hope you're ready to do some re-writes!
1) Put a tail on Ben. As he's going about his business, he notices a non-script car following him. On foot, it's a man in a baseball hat and sunglasses. When he tries to double back and catch the guy off guard, he's gone.
2) When he drives by the crime scene--he sees him again but he disappears quickly into the crowd.
3) When he returns to his hotel room, he finds it trashed. Before he can react, he's attacked from behind. There's a struggle. Punches are thrown. Guns are drawn and lost. Ben scrambles and manages to re-gain his and gets a shot off. His attacker is killed and it's found that he's a petty criminal (maybe one of Gayle's old boyfriends). In his pockets there is a snap shot of Ben and a phone number. The phone number is traced to a payphone... an out of service number... a pager. Whatever floats your boat.
4) Ben is left wondering WTF just happened. Did it have to do with the case or his own personal demons he left behind when he fled town as a boy?
 Now you've got the story questions of, who wants Ben dead? Was the guy that was following him the same guy he just killed? Was the guy that tried to kill him the same guy that's been killing little girls? Is the attempt on his life about the case or is it something else--Ben's appearance in town shouldn't just stir up one hornet's nest. It should stir up a hundred, and your audience should be left wondering which hornet is going to sting next with every turn of the page.

I know I only answered part 1 of your question. I'll post my response to the second part as soon as I can. Thanks for the great question, Carson, I hope this helps, and look out for part 2!

Got a plot question? Send it to me at