Introducing the Friday 5! Every Friday, I’ll post a list of 5 writing-related things. This week, it’s all about looking back on 2018. I hit this year hard when it came to writing craft studies. I devoured hundreds of hours of podcasts and checked out over a dozen books on writing.
All these lessons were applied to Cambiare, my YA fantasy, during a massive slew of rewrites and revision.
The 5 craft lessons that gave me “a-ha” moments this year are:
1. The Baddies Should Not Come To Play
Pinch Points. These are scenes in the story in which the villain demonstrates that they’re a real threat, somewhere prior to the final showdown. It’s that moment where the baddie kills the hero’s loved one, or destroys their blueprints, or burns a village to the ground.
To be honest, I’d never even heard of a Pinch Point until about halfway through 2018. Upon listening to an episode of Start Writing that explains it in more detail, I had an epiphany.
My villains had no pinch points. The main villain didn’t even show up until Act 2.
I added my first pinch point partway through Act 1. My villain now stabs someone at a party. (Fun times!) It added tension and made the antagonist more of a looming threat. As an extra bonus, this event had a ripple effect that helped flesh out my villains in general.
2. Take a Left Turn at 50 Pages
The Second Inciting Incident. I’ve also heard this one called the First Plot Point, but I like Second Inciting because that describes what it does. While the first inciting incident propels your protagonist on their journey at the beginning of the book, the second inciting is the twist that ups the stakes. A big reveal, a significant loss, a change of setting.
Ideally, this will happen somewhere around 50 pages into the story. Mine was closer to page 100, leaving the opening third of the story feeling laggy.
I shuffled things around, cut some stuff, and bumped this incident up the timeline to improve the pacing.
3. Shake Things Up (Again) Halfway
The Midpoint Turn. This is another plot structure element, which was a major focus for me this year (if you couldn’t tell).
This is the halfway point where you amp up the tension and often change the trajectory of the goal. The heroes’ first plan didn’t work out and they have to implement plan B. The villain just changed the rules of the game. Something terrible happens and your reluctant “I’m just in it for the money” hero is now emotionally invested.
My book already kind of had a midpoint turn, but it was in the wrong place. This helped me reposition it.
4. The Darkest Moment Needs to be Legit Serious
This is one of those elements of craft that I’d mostly absorbed by osmosis but never had a name for. Since I wasn’t really conscious of it, I didn’t give it much focus on my first draft(s) of Cambiare.
The Darkest Moment is that point at the end where all seems lost. The heroes’ spaceship has been destroyed, or the villain has the super-spy tied to a chair with a gun to his head. Your reader legitimately wonders “how are they going to get out of this?”
My story’s darkest moment was weak, and I spent an entire round of revision overhauling my whole ending to add a better darkest moment and apply lesson #5. Which is…
5. Your Protagonist Actually Has to Protag
(Yes, I’m stealing the verb form of “protag” from the Writing Excuses podcast). Your main character should be active throughout the novel. Even if they’re kidnapped and held captive, they need to do something. Attempt an escape. Snark at their captors. Mentally formulate a plan. Signal for help.
In particular, if your main character does not have an active role in the climax, the ending of your novel will feel flat and cheap.
Guess who committed that sin? *raises hand*
My main character was essentially standing off to the side while her friends saved the day, and it felt unsatisfying. Instead, I gave her something important to do in the final battle and suddenly the ending was vastly more engaging.
So there they are: the most important things I learned about craft this year, and how I applied them to my own novel.
Did you learn something new about writing in 2018? Let me know in the comments below!