Monday, July 17, 2017

The Arc of the Story as I see it, by Diane Scott Lewis

I adore history and telling stories. I was born in California and published short-stories and poems in school magazines. I wanted to travel the world, so I joined the navy at nineteen, married my navy husband in Greece-and explored the ancient ruins-then had two sons. We traveled to exotic locales, giving me the urge to weave tales involving the past. My first novel was published in 2010, and many historical novels followed. I now live with my husband in Western Pennsylvania.

My current work in progress is in honor of Canada's 150th birthday: On a Stormy Primeval Shore
In 1784, Englishwoman Amelia Latimer sails to the new colony of New Brunswick in faraway Canada. She’s to marry a man chosen by her soldier father. Amelia is repulsed by her betrothed, and refuses to marry him. She is attracted to a handsome Acadian trader, Gilbert, a man beneath her in status. Gilbert must fight the incursion of English Loyalists from the American war to hold onto his land and heritage. Will he and Amelia find peace when events seek to destroy their love and lives.

Available in 2018
What is a story arc? An agent once asked me if my story followed the three-arc format? I had no idea what she was talking about. Then I took a writing class, which helped—sort of—to explain this issue. I was under the impression I could write my novel any way I wanted to, rambling on and on, throwing in info dumps, but no, you must have an arc, a frame work, highs and lows and a wrapping up at the end.

Since I’m a ‘pantzer’ i. e., I write by the ‘seat of my pants’, I just start writing with a slight idea of who my characters are and what the setting will be. It’s after I’ve written several chapters that I figure out where the story will go.

For this novel, I read up on the history of New Brunswick, decided to start with the ‘break’ of the colony from Nova Scotia in 1784, and tossed my female character, Amelia, a young Englishwoman, into those events. My male character is Acadian. Gilbert grew up with the ebb and flow of changing events, the expulsion of his people when the British came, and so forth. This way I could show the colony from the POV of two different cultures.

As for story arcs, I’m not sure if I follow the framework as I should. I try to intermix action, with gentler scenes, have a big action scene near the end, then wrap up the story. My characters often tell me which way to go once their personalities flesh out and they take over the novel. I try to work in the history in ways that make sense and don’t overwhelm the reader. But I still like those info dumps, darn it!

French flintlock pistol, 1790
I suppose for this type of novel a story arc is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, people shoot at each other, further difficulties arise that I won’t reveal, then, hopefully, everything comes out all right in the end.
To find out more about Diane Scott Lewis and her novels, visit her BWL Author page
Or her website:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Story Arc: Where the River Narrows, by Kathy Fischer-Brown

“It’s always best to start at the beginning.” Wise words from the Good Witch of the North in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz.

Then again, I doubt old Glinda ever wrote a novel or she probably would have come up something a bit less confusing. Unlike Dorothy, I would have asked, “What is the beginning?” 

Okay, in the context of the movie, this is pretty much self-explanatory: If you’re heading from Munchkin Land to the Emerald City, you start out on the Yellow Brick Road and keep going until you reach the big gate with the broken door bell. But with a novel, it ain’t that easy. You can start in media res (in the middle of the action) or at square one, as in Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, with the lead character as a baby. You can start at the end and work backwards, or with a prologue…. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Today’s readers are not so forgiving as Mr. Fielding’s in the middle of the 18th century, or Charles Dickens’s in the 19th  or even Margaret Mitchells in the early 20th century. They want something more fast-paced. They want to jump into a book without the long preambles and slow development our pre-multimedia-consuming ancestors found so appealing. Gone are the days of the family sitting around the fire, by candle- or lamplight after supper on a long winter night, reading aloud as the sole form of entertainment.

Then again, the beginning of a book is dependent on the type of story you want to tell. A murder mystery will begin quite differently from, say, a contemporary romance or a high fantasy. And even with those genres, the author has choices to make. Whose point of view is most compelling and appealing off the bat? First person, second, third, omniscient? Will there be more than one point of view in the novel? Present or past tense? Not to mention how to introduce the setting and its details.

photo © Janice Lang
The fact that I write historicals places certain restrictions on how I approach the arc of a book. The characters are vital to the plot, and the setting has nearly equal weight when planning how the book will be structured. I like the deep third person point of view that allows the reader to get into the skins of more than one character, and I try to include just enough details of time and place without them being overwhelming.

In Where the River Narrows (with fellow BWL author Ron Ady Crouch, to be published by in July 2018), I’ve chosen to begin the book at a what I consider to be a logical start-off point. The Exposition introduces the characters (Elisabeth Van Alen, her family, servants and neighbors, and Gerrit Bosch, the groom in this Brides story) without a lot of preamble. The goal is to show them going about their normal lives while painting in the features and subtleties of the era as a natural offshoot of their daily activities. But to simply present a bunch of people running around in costumes performing out-dated tasks would be boring without a hint of something about to happen. Something is brewing that will upset this charming scene and have far-reaching consequences.

Before the proverbial cart is overturned, relationships between the characters are established, the groundwork laid for the “bride” aspect of the book, and the external conflicts put in place that are responsible not only for capsizing the wagon but for trampling its contents under foot.

Following the “Exposition,” we move on to the “Rising Action.” After the inciting incident (the event that sets the wheels turning), the story takes on an entirely different feel. What had been normal and comfortable no longer is so. War does this, and war, in the form of the American Revolution, has dire consequences for Elisabeth and Gerrit. There are losses and separations. Loved ones die, confidences are betrayed, and the survivors are forced to carry on amid harsh and forbidding circumstances. In this part of the book, Elisabeth and the remnants of her family and servants make a perilous trek to Canada where they hope to seek asylum among the British troops and loyalists to wait out the conclusion of the war. On the way, they meet up with an assortment of colorful characters based on historical accounts from a variety of sources. Once they arrive in Quebec Province, they need to survive further hardship and privation.

The Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement haven’t been written yet. (Neither, for that matter, has much of the Rising Action). But the arc of this story plays out nightly in my mind before I fall asleep. Even though I do not “plot” per se, this book is already as indelible as it could be. There is room for change…but not much. That depends on the research materials I continue to pore over. As anyone who’s ever written a historical novel will tell you, there are gold nuggets waiting to be mined from some dusty old tome that can put a new spin on even those story elements that today seem untouchable.

We shall see….


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the DevilThe Partisan’s Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad,  an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Writing My Novels by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

Writing My Novels

I have never worked with a solid outline or arc for my novels whether they be mystery, historical or young adult. And this is mainly because I find that my characters seldom end up the way I first pictured them and the plot never takes the route I thought it would. I do start the story with a character in his/her everyday life so the reader can get to know them then I put in the trigger that is out of the control of my main character or starts the mystery. This puts the main character on his/her quest for a solution.

I do have scenes pictured where characters are going to have a certain conversation or be at a certain place but unexpected conversations or character twists surface as I am writing the story. Some of these are surprises or mishaps or problems that get in the way of my character’s quest. I strive not to make these predictable nor so far out that they don’t make sense to the story. They should leave the reader with the thought that (s)he should have figured that would happen. I find that it is no fun to read a book where you can foresee where the story line is headed and what is going to happen before it does.

For the climax my character goes through the actions of resolving the problem or solving the mystery. This has to be fast paced and sometimes at a risk to the character. By this time the reader should be rooting for my main character and wanting him/her to succeed without injury. Hopefully, too, this is where the surprise comes in, where the reader goes. “Wow, I didn’t see that coming." or "I never thought it would be that person.”
I have even been surprised or saddened or happy by the ending of my novels and have said that. I believe that if my emotions are rocked by the ending, so, too, should the readers.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Politest of Battles

There is an island that has been in dispute since the 1930s.  Two countries claim it, and a continuous thirty-year battle has been fought over it.  Yet no blood has been shed, no lives lost, and no feelings hurts.

It has to be the politest of battles I have ever heard of.

Where is this miraculous place, that causes such feelings of peace and brotherhood, even in the heat of contested ownership?

Now don't start thinking of lust landscapes and plentiful resources.  The island in questions is called Hans Island, and it is found in the Arctic North.

Spanning approximately 1/2 mile, this tiny island has been claimed by both Canada and Denmark.

"Hans Island is located in the middle of the 22-mile wide Nares Strait, which separates Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, from Canada. Due to international law, all countries have the right to claim territory within 12 miles of their shore. As such, Hans Island is technically located in both Danish and Canadian waters."

In the 1930s, the island was determined to belong to the Danish, by the League of Nations.  When the League fell apart, and was replaced by the United Nations, that ruling held little standing.

Over the years since, wars happened, and the tiny island in the middle of Nares Strait slipped from our consciousness.

Until 1984.

That year, Canadian troops visited the island and planted the Canadian flag. They left a bottle of whiskey to greet visitors.

Soon after, Denmark's Mister of Greenland affairs visited the island, and reportedly planned the Danish flag, left a note that said "Welcome to the Danish island" and included a bottle of Danish Schnapps as a welcome gift.

Every so often, over the last few decades, either side would visit the island, change out the flags, and leave a bottle of spirits (whiskey or schnapps).

And thus - the whiskey war has been faithfully fought for years.  Without one loss of life.  Although, there surely have been a few drinks raised in honor of, if not fallen comrades, then claiming Hans Island for the mother country.

 In 2005, both countries agreed to work to come to an agreement on the disputed land, although as of 2015 no resolution had been reached.  In 2016, they started working on some kind of a plan to share the island ...


Friday, July 7, 2017

The Story Arc

When I started writing, as with most authors of my acquaintance, any conversation with either agents or publishers always included the phrase, ‘What is your story arc?’

Most authors, especially novice ones, have only a general idea in their head when they begin a story. A character, a place, and in the case of historical authors, an event on which the story pivots.

I tend to follow the craft rules more closely these days, and have to pay attention to the rule that ‘If it doesn’t move the story forward’ or is ‘an info dump’ it must go, although there is always a fascinating snippet or a piece of history which is difficult to ignore

Specifically, my story arc for Envy The Wind began with the era. I am writing a series of cosy mysteries set in the early years of the 20th Century and have become fascinated with the time period so it was logical to set my Canadian story in 1905. This was a time of progress in all aspects of life from transportation, information gathering, telecoms, politics and a changing social time, especially women.

I wanted my character, Grace, to have determination and a sense of self who has to manage alone in a very different country. I won’t call it strange, as the population at this time was made up of third and fourth generation English, Scots, Irish etc, so for my character the country wouldn’t have seemed quite so alien.

However as a woman, Grace will face obstacles and local prejudice, to being firstly a woman alone, and then a businesswoman trying to make a living. These aspects will form the main conflict in her search for an independent life. Then there are factors like the extreme weather, the attitudes of society of the time and how she establishes friendships and handles opposition.

The main goal, which is synonymous of everyone in history, is to establish a happy life where Grace can make her own choices without having to make major compromises.

There will, of course, be unexpected bumps in the road. For example, a romantic element, unwanted attention from someone, maybe, a jealous rival, a close friendship, a misunderstanding which threatens that friendship, or a natural tragedy. All these things add to the character’s growth and keeps the reader turning pages to see what happens next. 

The last 30% of the story is where all misunderstandings are resolved, apologies are made, true feelings are revealed and the final solution is satisfactory to all parties.

Envy The Wind – will be released in Spring 2018, and isn’t a romance per se, rather the journey of a young woman determined to go her own way in a different society to the one we are in today. The main question is will she find what she is looking for by the end, or was she searching for the wrong things in the wrong place all along?

I am an inveterate plotter, partly because I am easily distracted and can go off on a tangent very easily, resulting in a disorganized plot which at times appears not to go anywhere.  Thus I set out every scene with a starting point and a goal so I know what my character will achieve by the end of the scene. This is not necessarily definitive, maybe the outcome is a misunderstanding, misplaced loyalty, confusion, even fear.

I cannot summarize my story arc without over simplifying or making it too detailed – also the novel isn’t finished yet, so maybe the story arc will change?  

SS Parisian

Monday, July 3, 2017

What is Your Story Arc by Victoria Chatham

The topic for our blog post for July is the story arc and how does each author decide what the arc of their story will be.

For non-writers who may be reading this blog, and maybe new writers, you may wonder what a story arc is. Don't worry, when I started writing seriously I had no idea either.

As that Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (367 - 347 BC), wrote in his Poetics: 'A whole should
have a beginning, a middle and an end.'  And that, in a nutshell, is what a story arc is.

In the beginning, the author introduces the main characters and the world they inhabit. If it is a romance novel the hero and heroine frequently meet on Page 1, or at least by the end of the first chapter. The middle of the book is where all the fun stuff happens. This is where secondary characters and sub-plots come into play. The heroine might have a BFF who may be her biggest help or worst hindrance. The hero might have a buddy who fills the same help or hinder role. That is up to the author. The end of the book is where all the red herrings and misconceptions are resolved and everything is wrapped up in a satisfactory conclusion.

In a romance, that would be the Happy Ever After, cunningly referred to as the HEA. In a murder mystery, the killer is discovered and brought to justice. In a thriller, you'll likely be on the edge of your seat as you turn each page until the problem, whatever it was, is solved. You may even know who the killer or bad guy is, but you still keep reading to the end to make sure.

In helping to determine a story arc, an author may work with the five W's: Who, What, Why, Where and When. These five W's were immortalized by Rudyard Kipling's poem:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

You will notice Kipling includes an H - the How, but this can be covered by 'What', 'When', or 'Where'.  However, these five W's have been incorrectly attributed to Kipling. Cicero, another Ancient dude and considered Rome's greatest orator and prose stylist, is known to have referred to this concept of what creates a whole. In the 16th Century Thomas Wilson (1524 - 1581), a diplomat and judge, wrote in English verse:

Who, What and Where, by what help and by whose:
Why, How, and When, doe many things disclose.

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut used the Cinderella fairy story to illustrate all these elements as you can see in this YouTube clip at A writer will often use the same method to create smaller arcs for the secondary characters within a larger story. 

All writers are different and have their own way of working. Some plot meticulously. Others sit down and just write, hence the term plotters and pantsers. Several writers I know are a combination of the two. For myself, I start with the characters, then work everything else around them. I write historical novels, so once my characters are set I'll then decide in which year my story takes place and then search the internet for interesting events from that year.

I'll pull all this information together in bullet form, probably swap it around a few times to make sure I have a logical and accurate progression of events, and then let rip with the writing.   

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Some interesting facts about Canada ...

Did you know ...

* Approximately 30% of Canada's land mass is forest

* It is the garter snake capital of the world

"Narcisse Snake Dens is 130 km north of Winnipeg. Mid-April to early May you can see tens of thousands of garter snakes slithering from their dens. Viewing platforms are available for people to watch them from a distance."

If you are scared of snakes ... do NOT go to the National Geographic website link HERE

"Every year, thousands of snakes gather at the Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba, Canada. It's billed as the largest gathering of snakes anywhere in the world. Manitoba’s climate and geology make it the perfect place for red-sided garter snakes to live and mate. It has become a tourist attraction, but it’s not for the faint of heart." National Geographic

* There are overpasses for wildlife

"In Banff National Park in Alberta, highways are designed to create the perfect marriage between passing vehicles and overpasses for the wildlife including; grizzly, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, wolverine, and lynx."

* Canada has more lakes than any other country (unless you listen to Finland - although many of what they consider lakes are far smaller than what Canada considers a lake - it is all in the definition of what is a lake).  Approximately 60% of the world's lakes are in Canada.

* Canada has one of the richest fossil beds of dinosaurs in the world (which is not surprising if you know how fossils form, how the continents have shifted in the last 65 millions years since the dinosaurs went extinct, and all that sciency stuff)

"Dinosaur Provincial Park [Alberta Canada], a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the richest dinosaur fossil sites in the world. Over 40 dinosaur species have been found and over 500 specimens extracted."

* The polar bear population is approximately only 25,000 individuals in the wild.  Of those, 60% of  live in Canada.  In Churchill, Manitoba you can even go polar bear watching - get more information HERE.

* Icebergs Ahead!

"Every spring, icebergs from Greenland float to Newfoundland and Labrador's coast. They are harvested to make wine, beer, vodka, and skin care products."

Unless otherwise stated, quotes are from