How to Write and Raise the Stakes More Effectively

Writers are repeatedly advised to “raise the stakes.” Stakes are often defined as what the character has to lose. But when you understand—more accurately—the relationship between plot and stakes, you can create them more easily. And when you understand—more accurately—how they actually work, you can raise them by using the methods in this article. How […]

A Guide to Critiquing a Story

How should we critique someone’s writing? Frequently authors ask if I have a form that I use to help me critique a story.  Given the large number of things that I look at in a story, any form that I might use would simply be too long to be workable.  Yet it makes sense to […]

It’s Complicated

Accepting Responsibility for Your Titles

As your protagonist struggles to overcome a problem, in the past I’ve talked about how the protagonist goes through at least two try/fail cycles. Early in the story, in an inciting incident, the protagonist learns that he has a major problem on his hands. He then struggles to resolve the problem at least three times, […]

Turning Points

How to come up with a plot twist

Whenever you have a story that seems too predictable, look for ways to add turning points.  If a character is trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B, figure out how to force him to go to point C first.  If he thinks that he understands someone else’s motivations or goals—say those of a lover or killer—surprise the reader with a twist that casts the story in a new light.

To Plot, or Not to Plot

A lot of writers wonder whether they should plot a book or not. The truth is that the vast majority of bestselling authors do plot out their books, but that isn’t always the case. There are some writers who don’t plot. They’re called “discovery writers,” and they tend to ponder each scene, write it down, […]

Turning Points

In every story there are turning points, moments in time where the characters are forced into a new course of action and thus get unexpected results. Turning points may be simple or complex, mundane or magical. For example, you might have a character who is driving home from work, and he sees police cars on […]

Micro-plotting

Most of you are familiar with plot charts. You’ve heard of terms like inciting incident, try/fail cycles, climax, and denouement. (If you aren’t familiar with those terms, you might want to look at my book Million Dollar Outlines.) Since the days of Aristotle, folks have been trying to understand how plots work, and depending upon […]