Questionable: How Do You Start and Develop Subplots?

K asked:
Do you start out knowing all of the subplots? Or do they tumble and bump into each other along the way? Are there certain ways you like to develop subplots? Or do they just come to you?  Are they villain driven?

As I believe I’ve said before, I don’t recommend my method. I never know what the hell I’m doing in the beginning.  I just write.  Characters show up.  Some of them are interesting enough they develop their own plot lines.  Some of those I have to put the kibosh on because they’re cluttering up the story (good-bye, Mort).  Some of them echo the main plot or act as a foil to the main plot, and they deepen what’s happening in the story as a whole, so I keep them (hello, Max and Button).  So for the first discovery draft, I just let them happen. After that, as always, I analyze. And to analyze I go back to basic plot structure.

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Questionable: Can a Love Interest Be an Antagonist?

K asked:
“I have a question about villains – and layering them so that they engage with each other and the heroine. Some say the hero (love interest) is the main antagonist, others say there needs to be a stronger antagonist because he’s not one by the end. What say you? What have you found works the best?  Do more antagonists pop up as you write? How do you like to layer them? Do you have a limit/rule that you like or use?

Let’s start with the basics.

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Questionable: What’s the Difference Between YA and Adult Fiction?

Johnna asked:
“What makes YA novels so popular nowadays with adults? And is the line between adult and YA fiction really there anymore, especially in fantasy and science fiction? I know that you aren’t a YA author, but with Nita, for example – is there a reason why your book couldn’t/wouldn’t be in a high school library? (other than perhaps sex scenes?)

As Cate said in the comments, the big determiner of YA is the age of the protagonist. A YA protagonist does not necessarily mean that the book is a YA, but an older protagonist pretty much means it isn’t.   YA readers have too much adult PoV in their lives already; they want to read about people like them solving problems and making connections.  The focus is also likely to be on different things. YA dystopias are different from adult dystopias; YA romantic conflicts are different from adult romantic conflicts. It reminds me of something somebody said about the difference between pop and country music: pop is about falling in love and country is about working on your second divorce.  YA fiction is about becoming an adult and adult fiction is dealing with being an adult.

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Questionable: Can You Put a Death in a Rom Com?

S asked:
“What do you think about death in the romantic comedy? Not the hero or heroine, but someone else who matters. Does this make it something other than romcom? Would readers revolt? Have been studying 4 Weddings and a Funeral – the writer was apparently advised to include the funeral to balance the sweet. . . . Had similar thoughts about the movie The Apartment which was tragic but listed as a romcom. It’s for my WIP – my critique grip is squeamish about a death I’m planning in a book that’s part of a romcom series and I’m wondering if it’s maybe too much for my reader?”

Well, first define “romantic comedy.”  I’ve never thought The Apartmentwas a romantic comedy, so I’m no help there.  My basic definition is that it’s a story of a romance that ends happily and is funny.  If you can make a death work in that context, it’s a romcom.  Obviously, there’s some calibration in there, but death is not antithetical to romance or comedy.

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Questionable: How Can the Concepts of Fiction Apply to Non-Fiction?

Debbie wrote:
I write nonfiction (for work). But I find that many of the things you focus on–particularly the importance of the first scene, and timing–are helpful for both my written work and my presentations. I’m not sure that’s a question, exactly, but it would be interesting to talk about how many fiction rules also apply to non-fiction.

Kelly commented:
I’d like to expand that question to how much can be applied to presentations too, unless that’s getting too far beyond writing?

Nonfiction and fiction are different, of course, but there are some parallels. 

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Questionable: How Do You Show What the PoV Character Doesn’t See?

Sarah asked:
My question is about how to write a book in one PoV only, while still implying someone else’s PoV.   I’ve seen it done (clumsily, I think) in many many books: the PoV MC will say something off-hand to a potential lover (John) and the author writes, “John paused for a moment before replying, as if her remark had hurt him.” That seems to me to be cheating: the PoV MC is meant to be oblivious of John’s real feelings at this point, but the author shows us the card anyway. How blatant do I need to be in using the PoV MC to reveal someone else’s feelings? I know I need to a bit, but I’m struggling between clumsy (as above) and so subtle no one else gets it. 

S

Unless you’re writing in third omniscient, you only get one point of view, no implying others. So let’s review PoV first, then I’ll answer your specific question. There are four PoVs to choose from: first person, second person (don’t pick that one), third person omniscient and third person limited.

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Questionable: Description, Yes, No, Lots, Little?

Kate asked:
What types of description do you think are needed in novels, and what do readers just skip over? Do readers like to know she has brown eyes and a dimple?

My take on needed description is “not much,” mostly because readers like to imagine their own characters and will overrule your descriptions if they get in the way. 

Another reason is that I’m a bear about PoV and the only way a PoV character can describe herself is by looking in a mirror (NEVER DO THAT) which is completely unnatural. (Think about the last time you looked in a mirror; did you describe yourself?  No. The last time I looked in a mirror, I thought, Who is that old woman and why is she wearing my pajamas?).

Another reason is that if we’re interacting with somebody in real life, we get impressions, we don’t stop to do inventories because that takes time, and the long pause and the staring will cause comment. So if a first person or third limited PoV character goes on for a paragraph about what somebody looks like, unless she has a good reason–she’s a detective analyzing a suspect, for example–she’s going to notice only a few telling details (telling to her and the story) and move on.

So what description can you use?

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Questionables: The Writing Process (HaHaHaHa . . .)

Lakshmi wrote:
How do you come up with ideas for a new book? What is your writing process? Has it changed over the years? Do you have a daily word count? Any advice for beating writers block?  I can’t figure out how to plot or outline my WIP. I’ve read the 3 act structure and even tried beat sheets. It gets confusing.

I don’t come up with ideas, the ideas come up with me.  I will do damn near anything to avoid writing.  It’s hard.  I have to work.  I don’t like it.  But then a character starts talking about an idea that my subconscious glommed onto and I tell myself I’ll just write this one bit of dialogue down and pretty soon I’m up to my ass in demons.   Trust me, I don’t go LOOKING for work.  It’s just that sometimes a story grabs onto my leg and I can’t get it off.

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Questionable: Character Chemistry with the Reader

This is another one from Draft Vault, and it included this note: “Somehow I hit “Publish” while this was still in draft form. Therefore, whatever went out in the RSS feed was a rough draft. Sorry about that.” I’m pretty sure I cut almost all of the previous draft, so this shouldn’t be a re-run at all.

Cate M asked:

“Could you do a post on a character chemistry? Not necessarily romantic chemistry, although that would be helpful too. Basically, once you’ve got your checklist of goals, motivation, conflict, how do you make sure the characters are actually fun to spend time with, and better together than they are apart?” Continue reading