Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple: How to Write, Edit, and Publish Your Debut Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Dystopian Novel

Unlock the 7 Subtle Truths About Writing (That Will Make Your Story Better)

April 24, 2024 Heather Davis Season 1 Episode 16
Unlock the 7 Subtle Truths About Writing (That Will Make Your Story Better)
Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple: How to Write, Edit, and Publish Your Debut Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Dystopian Novel
More Info
Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple: How to Write, Edit, and Publish Your Debut Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Dystopian Novel
Unlock the 7 Subtle Truths About Writing (That Will Make Your Story Better)
Apr 24, 2024 Season 1 Episode 16
Heather Davis

Snag my FREE workbook: https://resources.manyworldswriting.com/truth 

Ever wondered why your favorite novels feel so authentic and cohesive? It’s not about all the surface level editing you’ve been driving yourself crazy with. Instead, it’s about the deeper stuff. The bones of the narrative. 

In this episode I’m going to talk about the subtle parts of writing a great novel so that you’re focusing your energy in the right places as you write and revise.

 In this episode you’ll learn:

The truth about what a story really is and what it’s not.
How transformation is at the very core of impactful narratives.
The basics of character arc development
And so much more…

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Snag my FREE workbook: https://resources.manyworldswriting.com/truth 

Ever wondered why your favorite novels feel so authentic and cohesive? It’s not about all the surface level editing you’ve been driving yourself crazy with. Instead, it’s about the deeper stuff. The bones of the narrative. 

In this episode I’m going to talk about the subtle parts of writing a great novel so that you’re focusing your energy in the right places as you write and revise.

 In this episode you’ll learn:

The truth about what a story really is and what it’s not.
How transformation is at the very core of impactful narratives.
The basics of character arc development
And so much more…

Speaker 1:

Real quick. What is a story? Oh, and what makes a story good? Is it an epic plot? Snappy dialogue, the pacing? The truth is, the art of story is complicated, and when writers try to distill it down to a series of plot points or exciting events, they risk overlooking the most subtle parts of it, its bones, what gives it its core structure and its integrity. So today I want to talk to you about some of those bones, those internal, unseen parts that writers don't always talk about because they aren't as flashy or as on the surface, as plot or dialogue, body language or scene structure or even voice, but they are what gently holds the narrative together and what gives it substance and texture Ready. Okay, let's dive in to the seven subtle truths about story.

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple podcast. I'm your host, heather Davis, and this is the podcast that's all about how to brainstorm, write, edit, publish and sell a powerful speculative fiction novel and maybe just change the world too. Okay. So here's the thing A lot of writers will sit down to write a story when what they really have in their mind is a plot, and a plot isn't a story. And so what we need to do in order to write a good story is to really understand what a story is and how all of the parts of it work together to make it something more than a series of events. So these truths that I'm going to talk about today are all in service of writing a story that is big and important and has the ability and the depth and the texture to be able to change people and help them grow and help them see the world in a different way. So I truly believe that we're here to write powerful stories. So when I work with my clients, that's what we do. We write powerful stories. So we have to have a deep understanding of story in order to do that.

Speaker 1:

Okay, let's dive in Number one. The first truth that you really need to understand is that if you're going to write a powerful story, a story that sticks with people, that lingers with them long after they have finished your novel, that makes them see themselves or the world in a different way, then you need to go into the story knowing what the message is. I call that the point. You have to know what the point is that you're writing about. It's that big picture message. What are you there to say about the world or about the people in it.

Speaker 1:

So take some time and really think, based on the protagonist and based on the plot, based on that what if that has gotten you so excited to sit down and write? What's the real thing behind it? What's the big, powerful message that you are trying to convey? And the truth is, when you first start thinking about this, it might not feel very intuitive. You might have to dig a little bit. You might have to think well, what are my big beliefs? What are the moral issues that I believe the world has right now? Does it have to do with climate change? Does it have to do with racism or sexism or whatever? The big idea is, what is it that I keep coming back to? The theme I keep coming back to again and again in my mind and my writing, and from there you can distill that down into a point, into something bigger that you are trying to say through this novel. So yeah, that's number one. You have to know what you're trying to say about the world or about the people who are living in it in order to write any kind of a novel that has power.

Speaker 1:

The second subtle truth that you need to know about story is this. There's a myth out there that says your story is about the plot. This is a huge trap that so many writers, especially genre writers, fall into because we're all so well acquainted with the expectations of our genre and we're so busy trying to meet those expectations that we lose track of the nuance. So let me dispel that myth once and for all. The story is not about the plot. The plot is really just a tool. You can actually change your plot points, like lips or hats on a Mr Potato Head, and it makes little real difference. Here's the truth about story. Your story is about how the external events of the plot affect the protagonist internally their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs and cause them to grow and change as they pursue some external goal, which leads us to subtle truth.

Speaker 1:

Number three In order to write a novel with power, depth and authenticity, a novel that touches on moral issues and shines light on the dark corners of the human condition, you absolutely must create a dynamic and textured character arc for your protagonist. Think about it. If a story is about how the events of the plot affect the protagonist internally their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs and causes them to change and grow as they pursue. Think about it. If a story is about how the external events of the plot affect the protagonist internally and cause them to grow and change as they pursue an external goal, then the protagonist is the single most important part of your novel. They are the part of your novel. They are the character that's going to learn the lesson of your novel, that's going to learn the message, the point of your novel. So they are the pivotal character. They're more important than world building, the magic system and even the plot that you've been working so hard to create, like it or not, even if you write speculative fiction, even like it or not, even if you write speculative fiction, every powerful story is character-driven. Okay. So if you need a character arc for your protagonist, let's break down what that character arc really is and get an idea of the essential parts of it.

Speaker 1:

Character arc is literally the internal arc of change that your protagonist undergoes during your novel. Your protagonist starts out with a misbelief about the world or themselves. This misbelief is based on their past and it's causing all sorts of issues in their life, though they probably don't realize it at the beginning of the novel. And your plot exists for one reason to help them overcome this misbelief and adopt a new, healed belief. Think of this character arc like a physical path that your protagonist is traveling. They start out with a misbelief that's causing issues in their life and as they walk down the path of your plot, they encounter events that challenge that misbelief again and again, in different ways, pushing at it, poking at it, revealing its inconsistencies, its fallacies, its lies. In fact, each time they encounter a plot event, their misbelief is slowly being eroded until they finally reach the end of your plot and their misbelief has been healed. That's it. That's what your novel is really about, which means, in order to have a dynamic character arc for your protagonist, you need to get clear on your protagonist's starting and ending state. First, you need to understand where they start internally, their misbelief, and, externally, the life circumstances and problems being caused by that misbelief. You also need to understand the past that caused your protagonist to form that particular misbelief. Finally, you need to understand where they end the story internally, their healed belief, and, externally, the life circumstances and problems that have been solved because they healed their misbelief. Okay, in order to understand this, I think you need an example, so I made one up for you.

Speaker 1:

Let's imagine this. Your protagonist is a young princess named Alara, who doesn't believe she has the capacity to be a great ruler like her mother, because she was born a harbinger, which is a person who has a type of magic that allows her to see dark visions of the future. A type of magic that allows her to see dark visions of the future, and people believe that those who are born with this type of magic don't just foresee terrible events, they actually cause them to happen. They cause the war and death and disease that they see in their visions by inadvertently summoning an ancient evil god. Okay, so Ilaria's misbelief is that her magic actually makes her incapable of being a good ruler because she will bring death and war and disease down on her people when she has these visions that she can't control. And the plot is there for one reason and one reason only to fix that misbelief. So that's her starting state, that's who she is and what she believes when the story starts.

Speaker 1:

But it begs the question how did she form this misbelief, like what happened to her that made this be the most rational thing for her to believe? In order for us to really be able to sympathize and empathize with your protagonist. You have to really get to know them. You have to know where their misbelief started, because it will come up in the story. Your protagonist will have memories. They will be thinking back about this stuff. You will be dropping breadcrumbs of their past throughout the entire novel so that the reader truly understands why they think the way they think.

Speaker 1:

So let's sort that out. Let's figure out why she does have this misbelief. Well, the way I see it, if she has grown up in a world where people believe that harbingers are these dangerous people who have visions that they make come true, then it makes sense that she's been hearing propaganda about magic her whole life. So maybe she has some early memories of knowing she's a harbinger and hearing people talk about how terrible and scary harbingers are. Maybe, specifically, her mother and father talked about this and they confided to others that they were glad that Alara is third in line for succession, meaning she'll never have the opportunity to be the ruler of the kingdom.

Speaker 1:

Okay, I think that's good, but I also want something that's even more personal, something with more teeth, something that I know will truly, truly affect her and cause her to deeply form this misbelief, so that it's so well entrenched that it's going to be hard for my plot to help her heal from this. So maybe when she was seven she had a vision of her beloved older brother dying in battle and she told her parents what she saw because it scared her. Then of course it happened and they blamed her for causing it and ever since then her parents have been sort of distant and cold to her. Okay, so that seems good to me. Distant and cold to her Okay, so that seems good to me. That seems like I've got a couple of good memories in there that really have some emotional depth to them and I really think that they will help make Alara a more sympathetic character, someone that the readers really truly understand from the beginning and think, yeah, I totally get why she has that misbelief. I would have that misbelief if I'd have gone through what she went through, all right.

Speaker 1:

So now let's think about what her ending state is. So how does she end the novel? Who is she and what does she believe when the novel is over and my plot is done with her? Well, her ending state must be different than her starting state, right? If she's on a positive character arc and she is then she needs to have dispelled the misbelief Inherently, she will be transformed. Her external circumstances may or may not be better. Honestly, that's optional A lot of times. We do love for our protagonists to end up externally in a better place where they started, because it feels good, right, it feels good for the character, certainly, and it feels good for the writer because we've done well by our character. And it feels good for the reader because, yay, the protagonist has won, they've done whatever they wanted to do. But honestly, it doesn't really matter. The journey that matters is the one that happens inside. So her ending state has to do with her misbelief, not necessarily her external circumstances.

Speaker 1:

Okay. So her ending state? She has to have overcome her misbelief and she has to have replaced it with a healed belief, meaning Alara comes to understand that her magic isn't a curse, it's a gift. She doesn't cause bad things to happen, she just sees them, which actually gives her a leg up in protecting the kingdom and those she loves. Because of this, she realizes she is a strong leader who can guide the kingdom into a new age of peace and prosperity Something like that, okay, great. Into a new age of peace and prosperity, something like that, okay, great. Now I have at least a rudimentary understanding of my protagonist's character arc. Sure, there is a lot more about her internal journey that I need to know as she moves through each leg of the plot, but this is a really good start. This will help me figure out what kinds of scenes I need to put in the novel that's going to get her from where she started to where she needs to go in the end. Subtle truth, number four Stories are inherently about unavoidable change.

Speaker 1:

We, the readers, arrive at the very moment change begins to take place, because change is interesting. It gives rise to more and bigger change. It shows readers that the story is headed somewhere potentially exciting and maybe dangerous. Your protagonist is living their flawed life, with their misbelief running rampant, causing everything to be a mess, and then something changes. An inciting incident comes along and knocks their world on its side. They react to the change, deciding what to do, and this change propels them into your story in earnest. So as your protagonist moves through your plot, as unavoidable change comes over and over again through the scenes, one of the most important things that you need to do is keep track of the changes. So each time you sit down to write a scene, ask yourself what's changing externally for my protagonist and then ask yourself what's changing internally for my protagonist? And the answer to these questions is really the heart of your scene, because every scene is actually about a small change that takes place both externally and internally for the protagonist that leads them through their character arc and through the arc of the plot. We need to see those incremental changes in the scenes and they will add up and build up to the much bigger change at the end of the novel. And this is a really nice way to keep track of what's going on internally for your protagonist and say, okay, are they changing incrementally? Am I showing how the events of the plot are slowly eroding their misbelief? And as I look through the scenes, am I seeing that happen at the scene level? This can be very revealing and it can really really help you keep track of that character arc.

Speaker 1:

Subtle truth number five A novel is really about one problem that escalates and complicates. It's like a snowball effect. Your protagonist wants something and they want it badly. Maybe they want to learn how to use magic, or maybe they want to suppress the magic they already have. Or maybe they want to build a time machine or maybe they want to use a time machine to go back to the very moment they met their true love, or maybe they just want to steal two crates from a moving van, or maybe they just want to steal two crates from a moving train. Whatever the case, your protagonist is pursuing a goal. Look, they have no idea. They're there to move through their character arc. All they know is that they want something, and it's this external thing that they are going to be focused on throughout your entire novel. The problem, well, your plot is standing in the way of them getting what they want, preventing them from achieving their goal. And as your protagonist continues to face conflicts and overcome them, they face yet more conflict. Things spiral, the problem gets worse, more complicated and the stakes get higher, all in service of one thing, of course forcing your protagonist to overcome their misbelief. So, yes, a novel is about one problem that escalates and complicates, and you have to let things get really bad. You have to beat up on your protagonist. You have to force them to learn the point of your novel. You have to force them through their character arc.

Speaker 1:

Subtle truth, number six Scenes follow a cause and effect trajectory. The first scene causes the second scene to happen, the second scene causes the third scene to happen. It's a domino effect. Pick any two back-to-back scenes in your novel. They should be tied tightly together in a cause-and-effect relationship, inexorably linked, such that if you remove one, all the other scenes that come after that one would fall apart, just like if you remove one domino in the line, the rest can't fall down. It's really no different. One error I see so many writers make is that the external and internal realities that their protagonist dealt with in one scene don't really seem to play forward in the next scene. So be careful of that. Make sure that as you're moving from one scene to the next, you can clearly identify how the scene that you just finished literally caused the next scene to happen.

Speaker 1:

Subtle truth, number seven Scenes are tied together by external events, yes, but they are also, and more importantly, tied together by the internal emotions and motivations of the protagonist. This really goes along with the last one about tying scenes together in a cause and effect trajectory. What happens with writers is that they often do let the external things move through right. So if your protagonist is arrested in one scene, they're in jail in the next. But what tends to fall apart.

Speaker 1:

What tends not to make the transition between scenes is the emotional reality that your protagonist is living with, like where they are internally. So if your protagonist was arrested in one scene, how were they feeling at the end of that scene? What was going on with them emotionally, psychologically, and let that be present in the next scene. More importantly, let that cause the important parts of the next scene to happen, because of wherever they are internally, playing forward into their external world and causing things to happen. So their internal world is affecting their external world.

Speaker 1:

That's really important to think about Meaning. Your novel isn't just held together by external events knocking each other over and causing each other to happen, but it's more like this An external event happens which causes your protagonist to have an internal reaction, and then, based on that internal reaction, your protagonist does something that causes the next scene to happen, and then events in that scene take place which cause your protagonist to have an emotional reaction which will then make the next scene happen. So really, you cannot disjoin the external and the internal Meaning. If I could simply pluck out your protagonist and put in an entirely different character and everything would still happen the same way, then you have not done the important work of allowing their internal reality to affect the external circumstances of the novel, and you need to make that connection much stronger for the reader. Okay, we've done it. We've made it to the end of the seven subtle truths about story. I hope I gave you something to think about as you're writing and revising your novel. I know that these are topics that I talk about all the time with the writers that I work with in an effort to help them dig down really deep and get authenticity and power onto the page in their speculative fiction novels, so I hope this will help you do the same.

Speaker 1:

If this episode was helpful, please take a moment to follow or subscribe to the show. It really is the best way of letting me know that you're interested in hearing more. And don't forget to grab the workbook that accompanies this episode. You'll find the link to that right in the show notes. So go get that right now. Until next time, keep writing, keep dreaming and remember the world needs your stories right now. So don't you dare give up on your novel or yourself. See you next time.

The Seven Subtle Truths of Story
Character Arc Development in Novels