Saturday 23 March 2019

But Do You Have a Plot? Bad Girl whittles Popular Fiction Bootcamp down to 10 minutes…

As seen on SLEUTHSAYERS today, repeated here for my regular readers:  

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl) 

Last month, I wrote about Endings, and reader expectations for each of the main genres.  The response was positive, and some people have asked that I bring more stuff from class onto these pages.  So here are some notes from the very beginning, class 1, hour 1.

People often ask what comes first: character or plot?

Do you start with a character?  Or do you start with a plot?
This is too simplistic.

Here’s what you need for a novel:
A main character
With a problem or goal
Obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end.

PLOT is essential for all novels.  It’s not as easy as just sitting down and just starting to write 80,000 words.  Ask yourself:
What does your main character want?  Why can’t he get it?

Your character wants something.  It could be safety, money, love, revenge…

There are obstacles in the way of her getting what she wants.  THAT PROVIDES CONFLICT.

So…you need a character, with a problem or goal, and obstacles to reaching that goal.  Believable obstacles that matter.  Even in a literary novel.

There must be RISK.  Your character must stand to lose a lot, if they don’t overcome those obstacles.  In crime books, it’s usually their life.

So…you may think you have a nice story of a man and woman meeting and falling in love, and deciding to make a commitment.  Awfully nice for the man and woman, but dead boring for the reader.  Even in a romance, there must be obstacles to the man and woman getting together.  If you don’t have obstacles, you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a plot, and you don’t have a novel.

Put another way:
When X happens, Y must do Z, otherwise ABCD will happen.
That’s what you need for a novel.


1. Readers must know what each character’s goals are so they can keep score.

2. Goals must be clearly defined, and they must be evident from the beginning.

3. There must be opposition, which creates the possibility of losing.
   >>this conflict makes up your plot<<
4. Will the character achieve his goal?  Readers will keep turning pages to find out.

If you don’t provide goals, readers will get bored. 
They won’t know the significance of the ‘actions’ the hero takes.

To Conclude:
Until we know what your character wants, we don’t know what the story is about.
Until we know what’s at stake, we don’t care.

Friday 15 March 2019

The Added Pain from Losing a Spouse – The Hard Truth

Part of being a writer is being honest.  Even in fiction, we talk about 'the honesty of the writing.'  Reality can be a bugger.  Even humour writers - or perhaps especially humour writers - peel back masks to uncover the truth.

I’m at week seven of being a widow.  In hope of helping others, here’s what I’ve learned:

1.       Well-meaning people say things they don’t mean.

I can’t count the number of people who said, “If there’s anything I can do…anything at all.”  Well, of course there are things you can do.  If you live close by, you can invite me out to lunch or dinner.  You don’t need me to ask you to do that.

So many people said this well-meaning platitude, and then did nothing.  I guess saying it made them feel good – as good as if they had actually done something.  But it’s not the same.  Truly, if you are well-meaning (and several people are, bless them) don't forget to follow through.

If you see someone hurting, give them suggestions of what you could do.  Here are a few:

1.      Make them a meal for the freezer.  Four friends came through in ways that just astounded me.  They kept both of us fed for over a month, and me later, for another month.  Bless them.  I'll never forget this.
2.      Invite them out for a meal.  Suggest something to spend time with them.  They are going to be lonely.
3.      If you live farther away, send them a gift certificate for Skip the Dishes or other restaurants.  Or Amazon, and other bookstores.  I appreciated every one.

2.       You have to be very careful how you answer people who reach out to you.  They really don’t want an honest response.

They don’t want to hear – as an example – the truth of how your loved one died.  They may ask for details, but unless they are medical professionals, they don’t want to hear the painful details.  Death is rarely gentle.  So you will need to lie about this, to some extent.  Otherwise your well-meaning friend will be horrified.  And when people are horrified, they avoid you

You also don’t want to tell them that you felt like killing yourself that first week.  That you now understand suicide.  The pain of what you are going through right now is so great that the possibility of some pleasurable moments in the future means nothing.  Don’t tell them that.  They want to hear that you are grieving as you should, as society expects, but ‘coping.’

3.       You can’t be truthful about how you are coping, weeks on.

If you tell the truth – that you are so lonely – many will back away, afraid you will ask them to fulfill a role they are not prepared to do.  Maybe they give you platitudes in response.  One cousin, who lives 45 minutes away, said to me:  “You can be lonely even in a group of people.”  Take it from me: this is exactly the wrong thing to say.

Instead, why didn’t she acknowledge my loneliness, and perhaps invite me to lunch?

What I know now:  if a grieving widow tells me she is lonely, I will ask her to dinner.  I can’t be company for her all day.  That’s not expected.  But something I *can* do is make her a little less lonely for a few hours, here and there.  Show that I care about her loneliness.

So:  The sad truth about being a widow is you can’t be honest.  You must show that you are coping, so that people don't avoid you.  And in truth, I understand this.  Everyone has their burdens within their own families.  Very few people can invite taking on additional difficulties.

So how am I really coping?  I’m still haunted by how he died, but have learned to compartmentalize it so it doesn’t paralyse me. The loneliness is there, like an illness that won’t go away.  I am blessed to have two wonderful daughters, several close friends, and readers who care.  I’m writing again, and not just blogs as you see here.  I’m even writing humour again.

In short, I’m coping.  Thanks for listening.  I hope you never have to go through this.  But if you come across someone who is, perhaps this post will help.