7 Keys to Irresistible Plots

Is there a simple way to make the plot of your story irresistible, so that your readers keep turning pages, desperate to find out what happens next?

Yes. Every irresistible plot contains seven key elements that help catch the reader’s attention and hold it to the very last page.

These keys are so universal that you’ve seen them hundreds of times before, even if you didn’t recognize them. In fact, you’ll actually find these plot keys hidden in the spelling of the word FICTION.

F is for Flaw

In a well-crafted story, something is already wrong even before page one. It could be a dysfunctional relationship, an unhealthy situation, or an unresolved trauma haunting the viewpoint character. Or all three at the same time.

Creating a character who is perfectly fine at the start of the story robs you of opportunities to put your character in deeper and more complex trouble over the coming pages.

But starting the story with a character already suffering a certain amount of misery gives them more room to grow — and helps make your story irresistible.
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Is Your Story Stuck? 5 Questions You Need to Ask

Are you writing a novel or story and feeling stuck? Do you have the sneaking suspicion that your story went off the rails somewhere? Not sure what to do with your characters?

Don’t worry. You can fix practically any story problem just by asking yourself five simple questions:

1. Who’s really driving the action in this story?

Sometimes, we start writing a story with one character in mind, but a few chapters later, a different character takes over. That can leave you feeling stuck, and you may not even know why.

To find out if this is your problem, make a quick list of the main characters in your story. Then ask yourself this:

  • Who has the strongest, clearest, most specific goal?
  • Who has the most to lose?
  • Who appears in the highest number of scenes?
  • Who could be (or has been) hurt the worst?

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The Ultimate Guide to Character Motivation (Part 2)

ultimate guide to character motivation part 2Why do heroes and villains do what they do?

In Part 1 of this article, we explored Greed, Revenge, and Acceptance, three of the most powerful motivations in literature.

Now, let’s find out how you can you can create fascinating characters driven by the need for Identity, Love, or Survival.

I is for Identity

Who am I? That question lies at the core of countless stories.

A character driven to establish their identity often begins the story in a negative place, and then has a moment of clarity that tells them why they need to fundamentally change who they are. This is a common motivation for characters just starting out in life who strive to become someone better. It also works for mature characters who have fallen from grace and need to redeem themselves.

Young adult characters trying to establish their identity often come into conflict with parents, teachers, and friends who are growing in different directions.

Identity is also the motivation driving a character who is heir to a “throne” (literal or figurative) that he or she doesn’t want. The character often casts off the fate that has been preordained for them and sets off on their own path, to establish their own identity.

Identity can also be a rich source of conflict when society imposes a stereotype on a character, telling them that they have to “be” a certain way. Consequently, the character must struggle to prove their individuality. This can be a tricky motivation to pull off without falling into clichés. But if done right, it can be deeply moving.

In my Dru Jasper urban fantasy series, the heroine begins as an ordinary shopkeeper who has always regarded sorcerers with undisguised awe. But when her newfound magical powers make her a sorceress in her own right, she struggles to fit into her new identity.

Identity also often plays a part in heroic characters who are trying to make the world a better place, whether by improving society, elevating humanity, or stamping out a widespread problem. In many cases, the character’s true motivation arises from their personal quest to establish or change their identity.

L is for Love

Where would fiction be without characters motivated by love?

Romantic love is by far the most common type in fiction. But it’s also important to remember that “love” in the truest sense can also extend to the love of your friends, your family, your hometown, your country, or any other person, place, or thing.

Love is a powerful motivator. You can make any character go to great lengths simply by threatening someone, something, or someplace that the character loves.

This happens all the time in my books. Greyson, the love interest, must risk his life and even his mortal soul to save the heroine, Dru. Of course, because she also loves him, she just as often saves him in turn. These characters are series regulars, so their love is a continuing source of conflict.

Don’t write off love as a motivation for villains, either. A villain motivated by love can become not only a tragic figure by the end of the story, but also completely sympathetic and unforgettable to the reader.

S is for Survival

One of the most primal motivations, survival is at the core of most action-driven stories. For pulse-pounding excitement, not much can beat watching a sympathetic character struggle to survive against overwhelming odds.

In any science fiction, fantasy, horror, or adventure story featuring a monster with gnashing teeth, the motivation is starkly clear: don’t get eaten. It’s as simple as that.

The survival motivation also kicks in whenever a character becomes lost in the wilderness, shipwrecked, or otherwise stranded far from civilization. Plus, anytime a character is imprisoned, kidnapped, taken hostage, or captured, survival is at the core of your story.

In my Dru Jasper series, the characters are constantly faced with monsters, demons, evil sorcerers, and other deadly forces of darkness. Even though the series takes place in and around the city of Denver, there are plenty of dark alleys, abandoned warehouses, and even the isolated valleys of the nearby Rocky Mountains where the heroes must struggle to survive.

Survival can also be used metaphorically when a character’s career or marriage is at stake. The threat of losing a job or a spouse can feel like a threat to their survival, and drive a character to extremes. What new facets of the character will be revealed when they come face-to-face with their own mortality?

Exercise: What Motivates Your Character?

Pick a character from your story and ask yourself these questions. Write down the answers in your notebook. Think in terms of hypotheticals: what could happen in your story, compared to what’s actually happening. That will get your brain primed to come up with new ideas.

1. What would this character learn or change about their own identity, if they could? How might society expect them to behave in a way that goes against their nature?

2. Who or what does this character love more than anything? A friend, family member, or romantic interest? Who or what would this character do anything to save?

3. What could threaten this character’s life, if not literally, then metaphorically??

To recap, the most powerful motivations are: Greed, Revenge, Acceptance, Identity, Love, and Survival.

Think about one of your favorite stories or books. What motivates the villain? How about the hero?

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The Ultimate Guide to Character Motivation (Part 1)

ultimate guide to character motivationDo you know the real reasons why your characters do what they do? You should.

Without a rock-solid motivation, your characters risk coming across as boring and flat. But if you can give your characters intriguing motivations, you can write a story that truly resonates with readers. That’s because motivation is the engine that powers character-driven stories.

Plus, it’s fun and easy to figure out what makes a character tick. In this two-part article, I’ll show you how.

If you’ve read any of my other columns here on Fiction University, you know that I’m a big believer in acronyms. An acronym not only breaks down complicated concepts clearly and simply, it also helps you remember. The acronym I use for the most common motivations – and here you can imagine the knights of the round table questing after the Holy Grail, if you like – is GRAILS:

  • G is for Greed
  • R is for Revenge
  • A is for Acceptance
  • I is for Identity
  • L is for Love
  • S is for Survival

You can tap into these powerful motivations to enhance your story. Here’s how.
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7 Keys to Creating Bloodcurdling Monsters

How to Create MonstersScience fiction, fantasy and horror stories are full of monsters. But one of the toughest jobs a writer has is coming up with creatures that are new and interesting.

When I sat down to write my urban fantasy novel A Kiss Before Doomsday, I knew that the bad guys would be undead creatures. But today’s readers have seen countless undead foes. How do you put a brand-new spin on such an old idea?

The Secret to Making Monsters

The secret to creating compelling monsters can be found in the word itself. MONSTER makes a useful acronym:

  • M is for Mind
  • O is for Origin
  • N is for Need
  • S is for Sketch
  • T is for Take On
  • E is for Eat
  • R is for Relationships

To create a truly unique, complex monster, look carefully at each of these aspects, then ask yourself questions and write down the answers. By the time you finish, you’ll have a monster that’s not only frightening, it’s also fascinating.
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6 Easy Steps to Planning Out Your Novel

Even if you hate the idea of writing an outline or synopsis, you can still figure out a plan to help you finish your novel fast, avoid major revisions, and beat writer’s block forever.

It’s surprisingly easy. Here’s how to do it.

First, turn off your computer and set aside your notebook. For this exercise, you going to need a pack of index cards. Regular old 3 x 5 cards will work just fine.

Wait — index cards? Really?

Yes. It may sound clunky, but writing on small cards actually makes it easier to plan out your story.

With cards, you can throw away or rearrange your ideas instantly. Plus, small cards force you to focus your thoughts. When you only have a few square inches to work with, you need to be succinct, and that boosts your creativity.

Here’s what to do:

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Urban fantasy author L.R. Braden has a new book out–and a line of chainmail jewelry, too

L.R. Braden, Daydreamer & Storyteller

Note from Laurence: I’m always excited to showcase the work of other up-and-coming urban fantasy authors. L.R. Braden also happens to be a Colorado author like me. That’s an added bonus for local readers.

And she has degrees in both English literature and metalsmithing, so naturally she splits her time between writing and making chainmail jewelry

We had the chance to chat at the ever-popular MileHiCon this year in between book signings. She agreed to share a peek behind the scenes of her latest book, Faerie Forged, which just came out over the weekend. Check it out!

LM: For those who haven’t checked out the Magicsmith series yet, can you talk a little bit about it?

Braden: The Magicsmith series is set in a world where humans and fae have been at war and now live in an uneasy truce, but there are factions on both sides who’d like to see a return to war. My protagonist, Alex Blackwood, believes she’s 100% human until a faerie knight shows up to tell her different. During her ensuing hunt for a serial killer, infiltration of a vampire lair, and debut at Fae Court, she slowly finds her place in the world–smack dab between the warring sides.

LM: What makes Faerie Forged different from other books in the genre?

Braden: The fact that the humans and fae in my world have already been through one war and are on the brink of another is pretty unique. That conflict sets the stage for some interesting plot twists and character development as people fight either to preserve the peace or push toward a second war as the series unfolds.

LM: Did the finished book come out the way you planned, or did you have to edit anything out?

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3 Secrets to Writing Vivid Settings

3 Secrets to Writing Vivid SettingsThere are three elements that make up every story: people, problems, and places.

To form a good story, those elements need to be in balance, because each one affects the others.

That’s why you need to put as much effort into the places in your story—your setting—as you do for your characters and your plot.

Here are the three best ways to make that effort pay off, so that your setting comes alive. Continue reading

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5 Books That Will Inspire You to Be a Writer

The Pulp JungleAre you planning to write a book in 2020?

Want some writing inspiration and wisdom from authors who have written dozens or even hundreds of stories and books?

Check out my list of the five most inspiring books about writing over at Civilian Reader.

P.S. Do you love free stuff . . . like books, for instance? Want a chance to win one? Get my author newsletter.

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My Funny (and Totally True) Ghost Story

Fresh FictionThe fine folks over at Fresh Fiction asked me to write a little bit about ghosts. (Because, you know, there are ghostly bad guys in my new book, Forever and a Doomsday.)

So I got to talk a little bit about the Stanley Hotel, haunted Cheesman Park here in Denver, and — best of all — the funniest ghost story I’ve ever heard.

It’s actually a true story. I know, because it happened to me.

Check it out on Fresh Fiction.

P.S. Don’t miss out on my next book giveaway! Hear about it first in my author newsletter.

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