Journey to a Bestseller: Plot Points and Writer Goals (Series #42)

I got all my work done this week, excited to plot my story, and I got lost on a few research bunny trails. But I finally got everything that I wanted to happen in my story put down on notecards by scene. I wrote the first five pages of the manuscript and when I hit my “inciting incident” I suddenly remembered something I forgot.

Plot points.

Oh yeah, those things. You might remember last September/October when we had a six-part series called “Essential Scenes in Every Story.” I’m not going to make you reread all that. Plus, I told you about the book I was writing as we went along. I’m sure you don’t want all those details for this story.

Suffice it to say, when I remembered my plot structure, I decided to reorder my notecards to fit the plot points for the story. They are:

Step One: The ordinary world. Show us your character and what it is they are lacking, or what they need.

Step Two: The inciting incident. This is the thing (circumstance) that shakes up the character’s happy (or unhappy) life and catapults them, as well as the reader, into the story. Some call this the call to adventure.

React. (Make sure you are giving the character a moment to react in between these scenes)

Step Three: First plot point. This is often called the point of no return. The character is now familiar with the change and there is no way to go back, they must go forward and deal with this crisis.

React.

Step Four: First pinch point. This is where the bad guy shows up. It will be the protagonist’s first battle, or encounter with the antagonist. Maybe someone is injured, there is some kind of setback and it is the protagonist’s fault. They lose and things look like they’re getting ugly.

Step Five: Midpoint. Some people call this time the shift from wimp to warrior, or victim to victor. If there’s a big reveal, it goes here. The protagonist may have resisted joining the quest up to this point, but now they take ownership and accept their role. If there’s a love story, they start to have feelings, and the stakes rise.

What are stakes? It’s what happens if the good guy loses. What will happen if the bad guy wins? These stakes are always the threat of either love/no love, life/death, enlightenment/stagnancy. Your protagonist should be at risk of losing their life, their love, and/or their enlightenment.

Step Six: Second pinch point. Really pinch your protagonist here. This is the second encounter or battle with the antagonist, and we lose again. At this point in the love story, the protagonist may profess their love, but it isn’t returned, or they have a fight. The character will react badly to this. Something emotional should be at stake, maybe the antagonist points out a fault of the main character. The character needs to see this, and determine a way to use that fault in their favor. Give them a tiny shred of hope…

Step Seven: …then yank it away. This is the dark night of the soul, and it’s just like it sounds. EVERYTHING has gone wrong. They’ve lost two battles, things are on the rocks in their love life, their life is a lie, they give up hope and retreat.

Step Eight: React and plan. Here, the protagonist finds a new resolve. They may gain a pep talk from a mentor, or maybe they have an insightful dream. Either way, they get over themselves. They realize there is a bigger picture and give up fighting it. They plan and gather weapons, etc. They give up hope of winning, or ever returning home, and decide to fight with all they have because it’s what’s right. Fill in any plot holes.

Step Nine: The final battle. The protagonist will sacrifice something personal to move forward. The love interest returns their feelings. The protagonist realizes the truth or gains full knowledge of the situation, or a crucial element is found. The good guy beats the bad guy.

Step Ten: Resolution. In the beginning you gave us their normal, now show us their new normal. Wrap up any loose ends with a pretty bow. Even if you are writing a sequel, the reader needs this conclusion. They need to know that something has been solved, if not everything.

So what’s my problem? When I started putting my scenes in order, I realized I have TWO books, not one. Unfortunately, the second book would be the one with the climax of the story in both books, and thereby the more interesting of the two. I have been racking my brain all afternoon trying to think about how I might combine the two books into one, but I just don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s too much story.

My desk when I discovered my notecard conundrum.

I may have to write this in two books. The plot is closely related to the YA book The Selection, so I looked up its plot and found that it takes several books to get to the point in that series’ contest as well. But I worry, if the first book isn’t as good as the second, will anyone buy the second book? The first one will have to end with a bit of a cliff-hanger, and readers hate that. But I don’t see a way around it.

My daughter’s friend asked me, “Can’t you just write a really long book?” Short answer: no. The second book hits all the plot points for a whole book by itself. So I guess I will just have to make book one fantastic. That thought is nerve-wracking.

If you have a story to tell, make sure you hit the plot points on some kind of story structure. There are many. There’s a four-act plot, twelve- and fifteen-point plot diagrams, there’s the hero’s journey, rags to riches, overcoming the monster, or voyage and return. You will have to decide where your story fits. Google “different plot structures” and see what pops up.

Oh, I’m going to wing it, I hear you pantsers saying. If you don’t want to make notecards, fine. If you want to write it as you go, fine. But keep a story structure open on your desktop. Write those scenes. Even if you don’t like any of my planning processes, this one you shouldn’t skip. Your story needs to have a structure. It’s like trying to build with warm play-doh. It will wilt in some places, go too fast in others. Don’t trust yourself to know every point to hit without a plan.

But my plot doesn’t fit into any of those. Mine didn’t either. Maybe you need to take another look at it. Is your story too short, is it missing points? Or is it too long? Do you have way more going on than the plot points above? You may have more than one book in your story. But don’t force it all into one book if you have enough for two, or more. Each story should, at least loosely, hit all the points in some plot structure. If your story is more than one book, each book needs to follow the plot diagram you’ve chosen.

Use rich language. Use all five senses. Don’t just tell us what happens, tell us how it affects your characters. How does what’s happening make them feel? What do they believe? Do they believe this is really happening, or is it too unbelievable for them to give in? How do they feel about their options? How does the antagonist’s presence affect their behaviors and actions?

Readers want to join your characters in the story. They want to live vicariously through them. If your character feels no pain, neither does the reader, but the readers also miss out on the joy of the end or the revelation of the truth. They aren’t biting their nails when there’s trouble, laughing out loud, or crying when things get too dark to go on. The reader is hoping when they open your book for a roller-coaster ride of description, feeling, emotion. Give it to them.

Right now especially, it’s important to represent diversity in your stories and characters. We need more minority protagonists. However, being a white girl myself, I have heard not to write outside my own race, not to assume I know how other races feel. That’s hard. If we’re all people that are similar, it shouldn’t matter if I make my main character a girl of color, but it’s taboo. However, I encourage you–if you are of a minority race–to include your culture and your experiences in your characters’ lives.

A friend and I made up a character bio sheet with all the descriptions we could think of. The great thing is, when you line up the characters next to each other, it’s easy to see their characteristics and to be sure to vary them. That way you don’t end up with all your characters being tall, blond, and blue-eyed.

Title: 
Name:      
NickName      
Role:Protagonist (MC)Love interestAntagonistBest friend Etc… 
Gender:      
Race      
Age:      
Birthday:      
Height:      
Body Type:      
Hair:      
Eyes:      
Skin:      
Facial Features:      
Distinguishing marks/Tattoos:      
Sexual Orientation:      
Languages:      
Style:      
Extra Info:      
Education:      
Intelligence:      
Skills:      
Abilities/ Powers:      
Occupation/Job:      
Birthplace:      
Family:      
Parents:      
Siblings:      
Peers/Society:      
Residence:      
Living with:      
Love Interest:      
Personal Identity:      
Personality Traits:      
Outlook on life:      
Optimist or Pessimist:      
Introvert or Extrovert:      
Logical or Emotional:      
Daredevil or Cautious      
Hobbies:      
Habits/Drugs:      
Quirks:      
Flaws:      
Soft Spot:      
Skill:      
Lifelong Dream:      
Goal:      
Motivation:      
Motto:      
Greatest Fear:      
Fear:      
Ghost:      
Favorite Food:      
Favorite  Drink:      
Favorite  Book/Author:      
Favorite Music:      
Favorite School Subject:      
Favorite Animal:      
Favorite Color:      
Favorite Holiday      
External conflict:      
Internal conflict:      
Stakes:      
Irrevocable moment:      
Epiphany:      
Resolution:      
General Bio:      

Yeah, it’s a lot, but you may have answers for some characters that you don’t have for others. Make up your own table if you want, or use this one. I don’t know if it will copy and paste, but you’re welcome to it.

I am nervous about putting all the effort into making this book and making it good, just to find out that the plot doesn’t cut it. I considered using the second book and skipping the first, but the introductions that are needed and the time they need to train, and plan and prepare would still need to be there. It would be impossible to write the story without the backstory.

Or would it? Is there anyway you can start in the action and add the backstory in flashbacks? Maybe the whole scene I wrote with the inciting incident could be a memory while the girl is on the train? Hmmm. That still brings us to the same point in the story. She’ll still have to take the journey to an unfamiliar place and scheme and plan and plot for the month that they’re in training. I don’t think I’m going to get away with it. Shoot. It’s looking like two books. Maybe I can write them one right after another and ask to publish them six months apart?

This high-concept story has what it takes, I think, to go far. Still no news from the publishers who have the WIP we just finished. I’m going to try to publish it as a standalone, however, it obviously has a sequel coming. But I think it would be easier to write a sequel than the three extra books I had planned. We’ll have to see who wants it and what they want to do with it.

I’m just going to leave it in God’s hands–or the universe, if you wish. But I’m not going to worry about it. The best promotion you can have is another good book. So, I’m not going to focus on my marketing right now, I’m going to focus on this new story.

Speaking of marketing and promotion … I felt like I was paying too much for my Amazon ads, so, as I continue to make new ads, I lowered my bid to $0.21. You have to think, if I’m paying for ten clicks per sale (the normal rate), how much can I afford to spend on ads and still make a profit? It’s hard to do. Honestly, if I got a sale for every ten clicks, I’d still need to bid under $0.10 a click to make any profit on my $0.99 book. Maybe that’s what I need to do. To be transparent with you, I’m not making a sale for every ten clicks. It’s more like one sale for every forty-five clicks. If you aren’t having luck, join the club.

The problem is, I’m not sure how to fix it. I have new, branded covers, new, fresh sales copy, and good reviews. I have relevant keywords and categories and that keeps my Amazon rank pretty good (within the first four pages of results). But it’s not enough. I don’t know what else to change. I’m constantly looking for new reviewers and sending out my book, but I learned this week that KDP Select (which is Kindle Unlimited for the reader), states that:

“While enrolled in KDP Select, you cannot distribute copies of the book in any digital format. This includes free copies and samples. If you violate these terms, Amazon may keep your royalties (or even block your account!) which is obviously not good if you’re a full-time author.

“If you are offering a free sample of the book anywhere, (such as a lead magnet for building your ARC team), the sample can be up to 10% of the book’s content. So be sure to either take down free samples before enrolling in KDP Select, or make sure the sample is no more than 10% of the book.”

That’s from an article by PublishDrive (Click to read it yourself).

I had no idea. That means I need to go to Bookfunnel, Story Origin, and any other sites with my free book and make sure there are only samples available. I’d like to get out of KDP Select, but even if you cancel now, you are locked into your contract for the duration that was set when you joined. I think it’s a year. I tried to cancel it previously and had to wait three months for my subscription to end, during which time I got a bunch of page reads and decided not to quit it. But I’m back to the belief that my books should “go wide.” Which means they aren’t exclusive to Amazon.

When you publish through other marketplaces, like Apple and Kobo, you can make your first book free and then ask Amazon to do a price match. That’s the only way to make a book “perma-free” on Amazon. That’s my next plan.

BUT right now, I’d be wasting my time worrying about that. I need to write this next book. I’ll have a bestseller to show you soon enough. I’ve also sent in to a few writing contests. My goal is to eventually say I’m a “bestselling,” “award-winning” author. I have a friend whose goal is to be an indie on the NYT bestseller’s list. I support her 100%. That may be my goal one day, too. I don’t feel like I’m starting small, though. Not everyone can say they are a bestselling, award-winning author. I will eventually. And I’ll tell you how I do it, step by step. So stay tuned!

Until next week, Keep Writing!!

~jenn

One thought on “Journey to a Bestseller: Plot Points and Writer Goals (Series #42)

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