How Well Developed Are Your Storytelling Skills?
by Lois Winston
Without a good plot and well-developed characters, you don’t stand a chance of selling your manuscript, no matter how well you’ve honed your technical skills. You can have the most beautifully crafted sentences the publishing world has ever seen, but if your plot is mundane or your characters are cardboard, your chances of publication are nil.
Plot is story, and story is about what happens in a book, specifically what happens to the characters who populate that book. Characterization is what drives the people who populate the story.
Every scene in a book must do one of two things — either advance the story (plot) or tell the reader something essential that he or she needs to know about the characters (characterization) at that particular moment. If a scene does neither of these things, it’s filler and doesn’t belong in your book.
Plot and characterization go hand-in-hand. Even though some books are more plot driven and others more character driven, a good book needs both.
Both the plot and the main characters in a novel must feature growth of some sort. The story must have a beginning, middle, and resolution. That’s the plot arc.
When it comes to characters, a story that begins and ends with the main characters having the same attitudes and in the same place emotionally and psychologically (and sometimes even physically) is not a successful story. The main characters need to learn and grow from their experiences and the impact the other characters have had on them throughout the course of the story.
Another way to look at plot and characterization is to break them down in terms of the characters’ internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts. Plot deals with the external GMC; characterization deals with the internal GMC. All characters in a novel, no matter the genre, must have both internal and external goals, motivation, and conflict. Without GMC you have melodrama, not drama.
So ask yourself the following questions:
Who are the characters in your story?
What do they want?
Why do they want what they want?
What’s keeping them from getting what they want?
You must be able to answer these questions for all the major characters in your story, both the hero and heroine or protagonists, as well as any villains or antagonists. Once you break your story down in this way, you should be able to see if you’ve crafted a solid plot and characters that a reader will identify with on some level.
This doesn’t mean that all characters have to be likeable. If a character pushes a reader’s buttons, that’s a well-written character. You’ve successfully drawn the reader into the world you’ve created and made her have feelings about the character, even if it’s negative feelings.
If you can’t answer some of the above questions for some of the characters in your story, those are the areas of your manuscript that are weak and need work.
Here’s a little about Lois and and her books:
Death By Killer Mop Doll:
Overdue bills and constant mother vs. mother-in-law battles at home are bad enough. But crafts editor Anastasia Pollack’s stress level is maxed out when she and her fellow American Woman editors get roped into unpaid gigs for a revamped morning TV show. Before the glue is dry on Anastasia’s mop dolls, morning TV turns crime drama when the studio is trashed and a member of the production team is murdered. Former co-hosts Vince and Monica—sleazy D-list celebrities—stand out among a lengthy lineup of suspects, all furious over the show’s new format. And Anastasia has no clue her snooping has landed her directly in the killer’s unforgiving spotlight.
Bio: Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and has been nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at http://www.loiswinston.com/excerptap2.html. Visit Lois at her website: http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.