How to Fix Any Plot Hole Like a Pro

Is your novel riddled with plot holes? Plot holes ruin the experience of getting lost in a story for the reader and can make you look sloppy or lazy as a writer. Learn what plot holes look like, how they can accidentally be created, and how to find and fix them!Once, I spent a good three hours trying to fix a plot hole involving a parrot while writing my novella, These Savage Bones.

I wish I was kidding.

There’s nothing that can make a writer want to tear their hair out quite like a plot hole. They can be hard to spot and even harder to patch up. And in the case of a particular species of parrot, which turned out to be extinct during the time period my story was set, they can make you question your sanity.

Argh, headaches for days!

Are there pesky plot holes hiding in your story right now? Let’s take a look at the different forms plot holes can take, how they can be accidentally introduced into a story, and how to rid your novel of them for good.

What is a Plot Hole?

Before you can fix your novel’s plot holes, you must first have a clear understanding of just what a plot hole looks like. Funnily enough, Wikipedia (of all places) has one of the best definitions of a plot hole I’ve come across:

“A gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot. Such inconsistencies include such things as illogical or impossible events, and statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.”

So, a plot hole is a contradiction or inconsistency found within your story.

Why Are Plot Holes so Bad?

The problem with plot holes is that they can shatter the reader’s belief in the story you’ve woven. You know that feeling you get when you’re completely lost in a book? During that time, you forget about the outside world and the story’s setting and characters become real to you.

When readers become aware of plot holes, it jerks them from that fictional dream. It ruins the magic of the story and makes them realize the book in front of them is indeed fiction and not real. The plot hole becomes a distraction, and the reader may even begin to look more critically at your novel and try to find more inconsistencies instead of just enjoying the story.

The other problem with plot holes is that they make you look bad as an author. Readers will think you’re sloppy, or that you didn’t bother to think through the logic of your story. Plot holes can be embarrassing mistakes.

Examples of Plot Holes

So how can plot holes appear in your story? Let’s take a look at some examples.

Inconsistency: Let’s say in chapter one you introduce your hero who is a left-handed warrior. But in chapter 8 he’s wielding his sword with his right hand. Or, in book 1 it took your characters 10 days to get from town A to town B. In book 2, it only takes them 3 days. Whoops.

Contradiction: Let’s say you’re writing a fantasy story and early on you established that wizards can only use magic with a wand. But halfway through the story one of your wizards casts a spell with a wave of his hand. This directly contradicts the rules of magic you set earlier in the story.

Illogical: Let’s say your hero has magical fire powers. She has just been kidnapped and is tied up. She manages to find a shard of broken glass nearby and slowly saws through the ropes around her wrists to escape.

But why doesn’t she just use her fire powers to burn through the ropes in the first place? Sawing through the ropes might create tension in that scene, but taking advantage of her powers is the more logical choice for the character in that situation.

Factual Error: Let’s say you’re writing a historical story and your hero arms his fort with cannons to fend off the bad guys. But the problem is your story is set in the 12th century and cannons weren’t invented until the 13th century. Uh-oh.

Impossible: Your hero falls off a 100 foot cliff and survives. Or he becomes a master swordsman in a few days. Or he jumps out of a plane and falls up instead of down. You get the idea. If it defies the laws of science or human capabilities, it’s going to create a pot hole.

How Do Plot Holes Happen?

Now that we know what a plot hole is and have looked at home examples, you might be wondering how they can occur in the first place. Here are a few ways a plot hole can creep into your story:

Losing track of details. A lot of times a plot hole is created simply because the author forgets a detail of the story. This mistake is understandable—there can be an overwhelming amount of details you need to keep track of in a novel, and it becomes even more challenging if you’re writing a series!

Going back to our earlier examples of inconsistency and contradiction, both of these plot holes could have been avoided if the author had been keeping a close eye on the details.

Not setting clear rules and following them. If you’re writing a fantasy story, you need to set rules about how your world works and then follow them. If you don’t set rules, you’re likely to create contradictions and inconsistencies later in the story.

Not thinking things through. Sometimes plot holes happen because the author fails to look at all the angles and think things through. Usually in this sort of situation, the writer is more focused on making things exciting or interesting instead of paying attention to the logical, natural actions the characters would take in the situation.

In our example of an illogical plot hole above, this could have been avoided if the author had put themselves in the character’s shoes and asked what the character would logically do to escape.

Lack of thorough research. Whether you’re writing a medical drama, historical romance, or detective thriller, if you don’t do careful research you’re likely to create plot holes.

Not every reader might catch these mistakes, but some will. If a nurse reads your medical drama and realizes you have no clue about surgical procedures, she will either become frustrated with your book or laugh at you.

Lack of explanation. Sometimes plot holes are created simply because the author neglects to explain something.

Let’s go back to our earlier example of our tied-up hero with the fire powers. The reason she has to use that shard of glass to cut through the ropes is because the bad guys have used some sort of special fire-proof ropes so she can’t use her powers to escape.

But the author neglected to mention this so the reader is left to wonder, why doesn’t she just burn through them?? This leads them to believe there’s a plot hole.

Lack of set-up or foreshadowing. Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where something seemed to come out of nowhere? Two characters are suddenly making out and you didn’t even realize they were attracted to each other. Or the hero is lucky enough to find that gun under his bed when the serial killer is about to murder him.

Situations like these can feel like an inconsistency or contradiction in characters or plot. Where did that gun come from? Why are these two characters in love all of a sudden?

To prevent these sorts of things from feeling like a plot hole, you need to foreshadow or set them up earlier in the story before they happen. Show the characters flirting. Show how the gun got under the bed. Then your reader won’t call into question your consistency or logic.

How do You Find and Fix Plot Holes?

Some plot holes you may discover as you write your first draft, but most you probably won’t notice until you get into editing. The more time you spend with your story the more familiar you will become with it, and the easier it will become to spot plot holes.

Get to know your story inside out. Then, learn to look at it with a critical, careful eye. Think through your scenes and story details and look at them from different angles. Are they logical? Are they consistent? Do they make sense?

I also highly recommended getting another set of eyes on your story. Beta readers will come to your novel with a different perspective and will be able to spot plot holes you may have missed.

If you do come across a plot hole, try asking the following questions to begin brainstorming a solution to fix it:

  • How much of the story did this detail effect? How much will I need to change? (i.e. the ripple effect)
  • Can I simply remove this detail completely?
  • Can I change this detail or replace it with something else that makes sense?
  • Do I need to add, remove, or change something else in the story for this detail to work?
  • Do I need to provide more explanation? Can I explain away this detail to make it work?
  • What would my characters naturally do in this situation?
  • Do I need to set up or foreshadow this detail earlier in the story?

Keeping Track of Your Story’s Details

Another way to find and fix your story’s plot holes, or avoid creating them all together, is to keep track of your story’s details.

Years ago, I spent some time volunteering as a script supervisor for a local film company. What is a script supervisor, you ask? Well, the script supervisor’s job is to make sure there are no continuity errors in a film.

Every day I would closely observe the scenes as they were filmed with my continuity log in hand, taking careful notes.

So, for example, at the beginning of a scene I might take notes on where all the props were before the actors touched them. If we had to do another take or switch camera angles, my notes would be needed to return the props to their original positions. Sometimes, photos would be taken in addition to the notes.

This would prevent inconsistencies between camera cuts in the final version of the film. So let’s say two characters are talking and there’s a gun on the table. The camera cuts to character #1, who is now holding the gun. Then the camera cuts to character #2. Then the camera cuts back to character #1 who reaches for the gun.

Um, wait a minute, wasn’t he just holding the gun a second ago? Yep, he was. The script supervisor’s job is to prevent continuity errors like these through the meticulous notation of details.

To avoid inconsistencies and plot holes, you must become the “script supervisor” for your novel and be obsessive about details.

To help you out, I’ve created a free worksheet for you inspired by a script supervisor’s continuity log. You can use this worksheet to go through your novel scene by scene during the writing and/or editing phase and note all of your story’s details to make sure they stay consistent and logical.

Grab it here:

Plot hole continuity log

Let’s Review

  • A plot hole is a contradiction or inconsistency found within your story.
  • They ruin the experience of getting lost in a story for the reader and can make you look sloppy or lazy as a writer.
  • They can take different forms: inconsistencies, logical fallacies, contradictions, factual errors, and impossible events.
  • They can occur in a number of ways: losing track of details, failing to establish rules, failing to think things through, lack of research, lack of explanation, and lack of set up or foreshadowing.
  • Getting to know your story inside out and learning to look at it critically will help you uncover plot holes. Beta readers can also spot errors you may have missed.

15 More Techniques to Write a Romance That Will Make Readers Swoon (Part II)

Need some more techniques in your romance arsenal? Here are 15 more ways to create a fictional relationship that will make readers swoon! Last week, I shared with you 15 Ways to Write a Romance that Will Make Readers Swoon. Today, I’m excited to bring you the sequel to that post! If you’ve been struggling to write an authentic romance and build a deep, meaningful relationship between your characters, this is the post for you, friend. Here are 15 more techniques to help you create that swoon-worthy romance–enjoy!

(More) Ways to Write a Romance That Makes Readers Swoon

1. Compliments–Let your love interests compliment each other, but don’t limit it to just looks–think about intelligence, accomplishments, skills, etc. as well. What do your love interests admire about each other? Let them say it!

2. Making Sacrifices for Each Other–Loving someone means putting their needs ahead of your own, and doing whatever it takes to keep them safe. Sometimes, this might involve sacrifice. But this doesn’t always have to mean sacrificing one’s life; a love interest might sacrifice something else that’s important to him/her such as a job/promotion, a prized possession, a dream, an opportunity, etc. When they give up something they want or love, it shows just how much they care for their love interest.

3. Accepting Each Others Flaws/Past–Love means accepting the bad along with the good, because let’s face it no one’s perfect. Let your love interests develop a relationship where they feel comfortable sharing anything with each other, now matter how dark or shameful, because they know they will be accepted and forgiven.

4. Encouraging/Supporting Each Other–Let your love interests support each other through tough times, encourage each other to reach their goals, and believe in each other even when they don’t believe in themselves.

5. Verbal Confessions and Affirmations of Love–This might be harder for some characters than others. Though its true actions speak louder than words, its still always nice to hear an “I love you.” Give your love interests an opportunity to verbally express how they feel about each other.

6. Humble Enough to Apologize–If a character has made a mistake, is in the wrong, or has started a fight, have them be humble enough to apologize to the love interest. I see this skipped over too often in films and novels, and it always gets under my skin. “I’m sorry” might seem like frivolous, unnecessary dialogue, but it’s not. It reveals a lot about the love interest’s character. It shows 1) that they are mature enough to take responsibility for their mistakes, and 2) that they are working to “fix things.”

7. Forgiving Each Others Mistakes–When one love interest apologizes for doing wrong, the other should (hopefully) forgive them, though it could depend on the situation. If the love interest has done something completely unforgivable, the relationship might have to end. But for a relationship to work, forgiveness is required. Don’t let your character carry a grudge or hold the mistake over the love interest’s head forever.

8. Sharing Their World with the Other–Have your love interests slowly start to share their worlds with each other. They might begin to introduce each other to friends and family, or share special places, stories, traditions, interests, pets, or possessions. Gradually, they will want to make their new love a part of their world.

9. Sharing a Life & Death/Traumatic/Emotional Experience–When you go through a tragic or traumatic experience with another person, it tightens the bond between you. You both experienced the same intense emotions and helped each other to survive, whether it was physically, mentally, or emotionally. No one else will be able to understand what you went through like that person who shared your experience. Consider putting your love interests through a life & death or traumatic experience to help create a stronger bond between them.

10. Sharing Hopes and Dreams–When you share your dreams, deepest desires, and passions with another person, it’s like sharing a piece of your heart. What do your characters want for their future? What are their dreams? Let them share it with their love interest.

11. Patience–You might not realize it, but patience can be extremely sexy in a love interest. Whether it’s patiently waiting for the other to fall in love, figure out their feelings, begin to open up, or become comfortable enough to move further physically, patience shows determination, dedication, selflessness, and respect. It shows that the character cares enough about their love interest not to pressure them, no matter what they might want themselves at the moment. They put their love interest’s feelings and best interests ahead of their own desires.

12. Devotion and Loyalty to Each Other–Are your love interests completely devoted to each other? Would they do anything for each other? Go to the ends of the earth, to hell and back? Devotion means constancy, unwavering loyalty, and commitment. Create opportunities for your love interests to show their devotion.

13. Showing Concern for/Worrying Over the Other–I always find it sweet in books and movies when a character shows concern or gets worried over their love interest. It shows that they care and the love interest is always in their thoughts.

14. When the Guy Pursues the Girl–I’m not saying a girl can’t pursue a guy, but there’s something about a guy who pursues a girl that’s pretty damn romantic. It shows he’s interested and cares enough that he’s willing to make an effort to win the girl’s heart. It also shows that he’s willing to make himself vulnerable and risk being turned down for a chance that she might like him too. Maybe it’s that combination of boldness and vulnerability that gets me every time.

15. Physical Displays of Affection–Last but not least, let your love interests use displays of physical affection to express their feelings. This could be small, flirty touches, tender embraces, a peck on the cheek, passionate kisses, hand holding, cuddling, etc. Physical touch helps to deepen the bond between love interests.

BONUS: Making the Other Laugh–Whether it’s to try to cheer them up or just because they like to see them smile, your love interests should know how to make each other laugh.

Have anything you’d add to the list? Tell me in the comments below!

Miss out on Part I? Click here to catch up!



15 Techniques to Write a Romance That Will Make Readers Swoon (Part I)

Struggling to write a romance makes readers' hearts flutter? Here are 15 ways you can create a deep, authentic romance readers won't be able to resist falling for! I’m a sucker for a good love story. Whether it’s in a book, film, or TV show, I just can’t seem to help myself. I’ve encountered a lot of fictional romances over the years, some that made me swoon and others that made me roll my eyes (or resist the urge to gag). But lately, I’ve become more aware of just what it takes to write a romance that makes readers swoon.

You see, romance is so much more than candlelight dinners or passionate kisses. It’s more than reciting poetry or making love. In order to write a romance that really gets readers in the heart, you must develop a relationship between your characters that is authentic, deep, and raw. You must go beyond physical attraction and cute romantic gestures. You must reflect upon what it truly takes to love someone, such as trust, devotion, sacrifice, and putting another before yourself.

I’ve spent time analyzing several of my favorite love stories to try to figure out what it was about them that made my heart flutter. I’ve made a list of my observations, which I’ll be sharing with you in two parts. Keep reading for Part I, and check back next week for Part II!

Ways to Write a Romance That Makes Readers Swoon

1. Cute & Memorable First Meeting–Everyone loves a good “How did you guys meet?” story!

2. Rocky Beginnings–Consider having your love interests start out as enemies, disliking each other, or not trusting each other. This allows for more growth in the characters and creates more tension.

3. Similar Backgrounds/Common Interests–Give your love interests some common ground so they can bond and develop an understanding of each other. Maybe they both grew up in foster care, or enjoy the same hobby.

4. Complimentary Personalities–How might your love interests’ strengths and weaknesses balance each other out? Maybe one has a temper while the other is patient. Or, maybe one is a martial arts master while the other is a clever intellectual.

5. Taking Care of Each Other–Give your love interests opportunities to see to each others’ needs, or to put the others’ needs before their own.

6. Protective of Each Other–Give your love interests opportunities to defend each other against danger, or to stand up for each other in a social situation.

7. Respectful of Physical Boundaries–Don’t let one love interest pressure or coerce the other into moving further physically in the relationship than what they’re comfortable with. Show that if one isn’t ready to move further, the other is respectful of their decision and willing to wait.

8. Learning Quirks and Habits–Everyone has them, though you don’t often realize it until you begin to spend more time together. What might your love interests find endearing or annoying about each other?

9. Learning Likes and Dislikes–When you get to know a person, you become familiar with their tastes. If one of your love interests decided to surprise the other with coffee, would they know what to order for them? Or if they went on a trip and bought a gift, would they know what to pick?

10. Thoughtful Surprises–Have one love interest surprise the other with something they said they enjoy or said they had been wanting. It not only shows that the love interest listens to and remembers what the other says, but that they are always thinking of them.

11. Learning to Trust–Can your love interests trust each other to keep a secret? To be honest? To be faithful? To not abandon each other? To not play games with or break each others heart? You must first trust someone before you can become vulnerable with them.

12. Being Vulnerable with Each Other–Revealing secrets, emotional scars, pain or tears, insecurities, fears, flaws, mistakes, embarrassing moments–the things we would normally prefer to keep hidden–these all require vulnerability. Sharing them strengthens the bond between the love interests. A first kiss or confession of love are also acts of vulnerability because there is a chance the feelings might not be reciprocated.

13. Rescuing Each Other–Whether it’s the guy saving the girl or vice-versa, everyone needs help sometimes, and when you love someone you don’t abandon them. Though modern trends might say otherwise, I think it’s fine to have a guy rescue a girl. I don’t think think it shows the girl is weak, but rather, it shows the guys cares enough to risk himself for her.

14. Learning to Depend on One Another–This is especially challenging for stubborn, independent, or proud characters, but as a couple your love interests need to learn how to accept each others’ help and work together as a team. They might have to learn that it’s okay for someone else to do something for them, even if they’re capable of doing it themselves–and acts such as these might even be how a character expresses their love.

15. Comforting Each Other–When one love interest is upset, the other should be there to console them and help them through the situation. Someone who truly cares will share the pain of the person they love, and will hurt because they hurt.

That’s all for Part I, stay tuned for Part II coming next week!

What is it in a fictional relationship that makes you swoon? Tell me in the comments below!



Writing 101: Unraveling Conflict, Tension, and Your Plot

Part 4 in the Writing 101 series for beginning writers! Confused about conflict, tension, and plot? Learn what they are, how they relate, and how you can use them to create a page-turning story.Creating a story is a challenge. Creating one that readers actually complete from beginning to end? That’s even more challenging.

As a beginning writer, it took me years to understand how plot worked, but today I’m going to help you start off on the right foot! We’re going to untangle your plot, conflict, and tension and examine how they all relate. And most importantly, how you can use them to design a page-turning story.

Behind on the Writing 101 series? Click to catch up! Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story), Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary), and Part 3 (Creating a Successful Hero & Villain).

What is Conflict?

Conflict: a clash between two opposing sides.

Conflict is the foundation of any novel. Without it, you have no story. So how do you create conflict? First, you must give your hero a goal. Only when you know what he is trying to achieve can you put obstacles in his path to keep him from getting what he wants. This clash of the hero’s desire and the forces standing against him are your conflict.

For example, look at the fairy tale Cinderella. What does Cinderella want? To attend the ball. What forces oppose her? Her stepmother. Their opposing goals create the conflict of the story, and the reader will have to keep reading to see who wins in the end.

But, here’s the thing–a hero with a goal isn’t enough to carry your story, no matter how amazing it is. In order for the reader to stick through your entire novel, they must care about your hero. Otherwise, the hero’s goal won’t matter. The reader won’t care if they win or fail.

But with Cinderella, we sympathize with her for several reasons–her father’s death, her stepmother and stepsister’s cruelty, and her days of endless chores. Some readers might even be able to relate to her in some ways. And despite all the abuse, she remains strong and kind and dreams of a better life. We want to see her achieve her goal of attending the ball.

So spend the time developing your hero into a life-like human being we can care about and cheer for!

What is Plot?

When I first started writing, my definition of plot was very vague. I thought a plot was just all the exciting stuff that happened in a story. You know, car chases, kidnappings, murders, sword fights, and all that jazz.

But since then I’ve learned that you can’t string together a bunch of random events together and call it a story, no matter how epic they may be. Your story will lack direction and focus, and it won’t be much of a story at all.

Let me paint you a picture. Your plot is like a ship sailing on the churning, choppy waves of conflict. It could go anywhere; it could easily become lost, or even crash upon the rocks of the shore. Your hero’s goal is the guiding light, the lighthouse that ensures the ships stays on course and reaches its destination safely.

In other words, your plot is the vehicle through which the conflict plays out, and your hero’s goal gives meaning to the conflict and guides the plot.

Plot: the account of the actions the hero takes to achieve his goal, and the obstacles he must overcome along the way.

Remember back in Part I when we defined story?:

A story is about someone (hero) who wants something (goal), sets out on a journey to attain it (plot), and grows or learns something along the way (change).

Your plot is you hero’s journey. The steps he takes to attain what he wants, the obstacles he meets along the way, and how he fights to overcome them. A ship navigating a treacherous sea, trying to reach its destination.

Together, your hero’s goal and your story’s conflict create tension.

What is Tension?

Tension: the anticipation of what will happen next in a story. Driven by concern and/or curiosity in the reader.

While conflict is the foundation of story, tension is what keeps readers turning pages. Your hero’s goal + your story’s conflict create a question that must be answered throughout the course of the novel. Broadly speaking, that question is: Will the hero achieve his goal? This question creates your novel’s tension, forcing readers to turn pages to find the answer, to discover what will happen to a character they care about.

But that’s very vague, so let’s look at a specific example. In Cinderella, her goal is to attend the royal ball, but her wicked stepmother is the conflict opposing her. This creates the question: Will Cinderella attend the ball?

But good stories create more than one question, aka source of tension. Your goal is to look for ways to get your hero into trouble–to keep him from reaching his goal–and make the trouble increasingly worse as the story goes along.

Cinderella faces several obstacles. First, her stepmother destroys her gown and bans her from attending the ball. The situation seems pretty hopeless, causing readers to wonder if the stepmother has won. How can Cinderella possibly attend the ball now?

Then the fairy godmother shows up, and creates a gown and carriage for Cinderella. That could be the end of the story, but there’s a catch–Cinderella must return home before midnight or the magic will wear off. Now we have a new source of tension: Will Cinderella make it home in time? Will her stepmother or stepsisters will recognize her at the ball?

When Cinderella finally arrives at the ball, she dances with prince. But then the clock begins to strike midnight and she has to make a run for it, leaving her glass slipper behind. Again, a new source of tension is introduced as the prince decides to find the slipper’s owner: Will the prince find Cinderella? Will her stepmother manage to trick him into thinking the slipper belongs to one of Cinderella’s stepsisters? Will Cinderella marry the prince and live happily ever after?

The reader continues to turn the pages out of both worry for Cinderella, a character they love and who they want to win, and curiosity over what will happen next. To create tension throughout your story you must continually create questions. As soon as one question is answered, create another. This will carry your readers through your story and create a page-turner of a novel!

 What’s your biggest struggle with plot or tension? Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. Ready for Part 5? Click here to learn the basics of dialogue!



Writing 101: The Fundamentals of Story

Before we can write a story, we must first understand how story works. And before we can understand that, we must understand why we read. Learn the fundamentals of story in the first part in a new series for beginning writers! Welcome to the first post in my new series for beginning writers, Writing 101! In this series we’ll cover all the basics you need to know to get started with your first story, such as character, plot, and setting. Today, we’re kicking things off by looking at story itself. So without further ado, let’s hop to it!

Why do We Read?

Before we can write a story, we must first understand how story works. And before we can understand that, we must understand why we read. You might think the answer is obvious. We read for fun, for entertainment, to lose ourselves in a good book. While that may all be true, there’s more behind why we’re so drawn to stories. Actually, there’s even scientific proof to back it up. In her book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains, “Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story.”

Think about that. The desire for story is written in our DNA. Even people who don’t like to read can’t resist a good story. There’s a reason why speakers and businessmen use stories in their speeches and product pitches–human beings respond better to story. It’s how we’re designed.

For example, I can tell you that human trafficking is a $32 billion dollar a year industry, that there are 30 million people trapped in modern-day slavery right now, and 80% of them are women and children. These facts might shock you, but the shock will fade and you’ll soon forget.

But what if I told you the story Mealea, a 13-year-old Cambodian girl whose mother sold her to a brothel to pay her family’s debts so they could survive? What if I told you about her fear and pain, how her captors made her feel worthless and beat her when she tried to escape? What if I told you how she still dreams of going to school, but the pimps cheat her out of her earnings so she can never be free?

Her story would stick with you while those statistics slipped away. We connect with people in a way we can’t connect with facts and figures. Even now, you’re probably wondering in the back of your mind what happens to Mealea, and if she manages to escape. To share a story is to share an experience. Through story, we’re able to connect emotionally with another person, whether they’re real or fictional.

But there’s another reason why we’re hardwired for story. It’s through story that we learn about the world around us, how we should act, and how to survive. We learn what to do and what not to do from the experiences of others–whether real or fictional. Since the beginning of time cultures have passed down tales designed to teach future generations important lessons. Think of Grimm’s fairy tales, Aesop’s fables, or Jesus’ parables.

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explained, “Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalog of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them. What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother?”

There’s a reason why survival stories are so popular–think Robinson Crusoe, The Lovely Bones, The Hunger Games, and The Walking Dead. We like to put ourselves in the character’s place and ask if we would be able to survive in their situation. What would we do in a zombie apocalypse? What would we do if we were kidnapped? What would we do if we were stranded on a deserted island? How would we survive? These stories answer that question, and often without us realizing it our brain is taking note on how to survive these situations.

But survival doesn’t have to be physical. Story also teaches us how to survive socially–how to get the guy, deal with manipulative co-workers, get through our first day of school, make up with an angry friend, etc. Think of Pride and Prejudice, or Jane Eyre. We learn so well through story because we’re designed to think in story. We remember stories, while we tend to forget facts, statistics, or sermons. Our brains soak up stories like a sponge.

So to sum things up, there are 3 main reasons why we crave story:

  1. To connect emotionally to another person and share their experience (whether they’re real or fictional).
  2. To learn about the world around us from the experiences of others to learn how to survive (whether physically or socially).
  3. For entertainment and escape.

What is a Story?

Writing a story is a completely different experience from reading a story. That’s because we’re so used to the masterful, seemingly effortless skill with which authors weave words that we don’t realize how they do it. We’re too busy becoming emotionally engrossed with the hero, sharing her experiences and emotions, to take notice.

In Wired for Story, Lisa Cron points out, “It’s no surprise that we tend to be utterly oblivious to the fact that beneath every captivating story, there is an intricate mesh of interconnected elements holding it together, allowing it to build with seemingly effortless precision.”

Most new writers don’t realize that there is a structure to stories. Heck, just the word “structure” seems to send most writers scurrying (it’s really not that scary, I promise!). But in order to become a good writer, you must be able to dismantle a story like you might a clock. You must learn all of its parts, what they do, and how they work together to make the clock tick.

So, what makes a story a story?

A story is about someone (hero) who wants something (goal), sets out on a journey to attain it (plot), and grows or learns something along the way (change).

It doesn’t matter how many explosions, sword fights, or rabid vampires you have. Without this structure, you have nothing more than a pile of random events that won’t work as a complete story, no matter how exciting they may be.

So, remember:

Hero + Goal + Plot + Change = Story

Why do you read? What do you think makes a good story? Let me know in the comments below!

Ready for Part 2 in the series? Click here!



Why You Need to Rethink Your Definition of Plot

A plot isn't just a bunch of exciting events strung together. Learn the 3 elements that create a focused story.I don’t know about you, but my definition of plot has changed since I first started writing.

When I was a new writer making my first foray into the world of novels, my idea of plot was very vague. I thought a plot was just all the stuff that happened in a story. String together a bunch a exciting scenes and BAM, plot. But in reality, it’s a little more complex than that.

You see, you can’t just mash a bunch of random events together and call it a story, no matter how epic they may be. Your story will lack direction and focus, and it won’t be much of a story at all. You need some sort of order, some sort of structure.

“But what if I’m a pantser,” you argue. “We don’t like structure!”

I know the word “structure” is enough to make most writers run away screaming with arms flailing. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re a plotter who plans the story in advance or a panster who writes it on the fly. Once you have a finished product, you will have to structure it in some way so that it creates meaning for the reader.

Allow me to elaborate. Let’s say you have a story about a kick-ass rebel heroine traveling around the universe hunting aliens and blowing them to bits with her laser gun. There’s lots of fights, chases, alien guts, and heck, let’s throw a cute love interest in there too. It’s exciting, adrenaline pumping, and…completely flat.

Sure there’s a bunch of stuff happening, but there’s no plot. There’s no meaning to unify the events that occur. Why is she running around space killing aliens? What is she trying to accomplish? If there’s no point, there’s no plot.

I love how Lisa Cron defines plot in her book Wired for Story as, “the events that relentlessly force the protagonist to deal with her [internal] issue as she pursues her goal.

Read that again. Let it sink it.

Right there, we have the 4 elements crucial for structuring a plot:

  1. The heroine’s goal (what she wants)
  2. The heroine’s issue (the internal conflict that’s keeping her from her goal)
  3. Obstacles in the heroine’s path (the external conflict that’s keeping her from her goal)
  4. The results of dealing with her internal issue (change)

Let’s go back to our alien assassin. Let’s say her parents were murdered by aliens, so she joins a special task force that hunts down rogue aliens throughout the galaxy in the hopes of finding and killing the ones who murdered her family (goal). Because of her bad experience, she’s become prejudiced toward non-human species (internal issue) even though the task force is a mix of humans and aliens.

When she’s assigned a case that might be her parent’s killers she’s eager to go…until she learns her partner (and love interest) is a non-human. They’ll have to learn to work together to hunt down the aliens (external obstacles) and get justice for her parents. Along the way, she’ll have to learn how to overcome her prejudice (change).

Now we have a plot. Our heroine will set off on a mission to seek justice for her parents’ killers, but must overcome her prejudice against aliens in order to accept her partner’s help. All of the exciting things that happen along the way–chases, shoot-outs, skirmishes–should be obstacles that make it harder for her to get what she wants, or force her to confront that internal issue. And, bonus, her internal issue will serve as even more conflict when she begins to fall for her partner.

So, what am I trying to get at here?

I want you to realize that nothing in your story should be random, or just there for the sake of action or excitement. Every scene in your story should work to create meaning, to serve a purpose. When we view our stories through the lens of these 4 elements (goal, internal issue, obstacles, and change), we can narrow our focus and create a story that resonates and stays with readers because it has a point.

This is because story isn’t simply about exciting stuff that happens to someone. A story is about someone who wants something, sets out to obtain it, is faced with obstacles, and changes along the way. Do you know what the point of your story is?

How do you look at plot? Let me know below!



How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling | Learn how to create a fresh, compelling retelling of a classic fairy tale!I don’t know about you, but I love a good fairy tale retelling. I’m actually writing one right now, and have plot bunnies for several more hopping around my head. There’s just something so fun about taking an old tale and turning it into something new! (Seriously, you’ll get addicted).

If you’ve always wanted to try writing a fairy tale retelling, now is a great time to give it a shot! Retellings are currently popular in the market, both in the publishing and film industry. But how do you pull one off? Here’s my advice for creating a fresh, compelling retelling!

Psst…before we get started, click here to download the free PDF worksheets I created to go along with this post!

Do Your Research

In order to retell a story, you need to know the original. (And I’m not talking about the Disney versions). Read up on the original fairy tale and any variations it might have. You might be surprised to find the originals are a lot darker than their Disney counterparts!

Next, research existing retellings (both films and books) and take notes. Make sure you know what’s been done already so you don’t accidentally write something that’s too similar. Agents and editors want a fresh story! Also read reviews of these books and films and take notes on the reader’s opinions. What did they like and not like about the retelling? Don’t repeat mistakes other writers might have made.

Don’t Give Readers the Same Story

One of the most important things you’re going to need to decide is how similar (or different) you want your story to be from the original. The key to a successful retelling is to avoid giving readers the same story. We know that story. We can read it anywhere. A retelling that’s too similar can lead to boredom in the reader. We want something that’s new and exciting, but still feels familiar.

You don’t want to follow the original plot to a T. Your story will be predictable, and that will lead to bored readers and pages that don’t get turned because they already know what happens. You’ll need to brainstorm ways to make your plot different! You can include main plot points from the original story, or go in a completely different direction altogether and create your own plot.

Let’s look at some examples of retold fairy tale films that illustrate the different degrees of a retelling.

Original Story: Disney’s Cinderella (2015)

This one isn’t really a retelling–rather, it’s a remake. While I enjoyed this film, I couldn’t help but be somewhat bored. It follows the animated version almost exactly and didn’t introduce anything new.  While it was visually pleasing and Prince Charming was cute, I could have just watched the animated version. This is what you want to avoid–don’t remake a fairy tale, retell it!

Slight Modifications: Snow White and the Huntsman

This retelling was more interesting. Snow White is represented as a warrior trying to reclaim her throne rather than a frightened, fainting damsel who is happy to spend her days singing and cleaning. The Huntsman also takes a larger role, and the romance is with him instead of the Prince. Besides these major changes, the film remains very faithful to the original while taking a darker tone.

A Fresh Look: Maleficent

Of the films listed here, this is by far my favorite. The tale of Sleeping Beauty is retold from the villain Maleficent’s perspective, and reveals why she came to put a curse on an innocent baby. This retelling offers a fresh look at a familiar story, yet still follows the original fairly close.

Completely Revamped: Beastly

This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is drastically different from the original. It’s set in modern day and barely follows the original story line. (This isn’t a bad thing! Marissa Meyer does this with the Lunar Chronicles, creating a new plot that keeps things exciting). Instead, it takes the theme of inner beauty being more important than outer beauty and creates a new plot.

You will need to find a balance between drawing inspiration from the original tale and your own ideas. This can be tricky. Pay attention to your favorite parts and elements of the original, as well as those that are the most memorable and iconic. For example, Cinderella’s glass slipper, Red Riding Hood’s red cloak, Snow White’s poisoned apple.

This doesn’t mean that you have to include all of these things. And if doing so feels forced or contrived in your plot, then don’t! But pay attention to what gives the fairy tale its distinct feel, and what is endearing and memorable about it.

Also, look at how you might incorporate these elements in a new way. For example, in Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella), Cinder is a cyborg with a metal foot. Instead of losing a glass slipper on the palace steps, she loses her metal foot. That was a very clever way to stay true to an original plot element, yet make it new and interesting.

Make It Fresh

So how do you retell a fairy tale in a way that’s new and interesting without rehashing the original? Here are some ideas for you!

#1 Switch the Roles of the Hero and Villain

The t.v. series Once Upon a Time does this with Hook and Peter Pan, making Peter a villain and Hook tortured and brooding, eventually joining the side of the good guys.

You have to be careful with this one, though! Those who have a deep love for a character will hate seeing him become a villain. I’ll confess that at first I found the OUAT switch weird, and I was kind of sad that Peter was evil. But it ended up being really interesting and working well in the story!

#2 Use a New POV

Try telling the story from the perspective of a villain, like in Maleficent. Or, use the POV of a different character. For example, what if you were to retell Snow White from the POV of the Huntsman? A third option could be to use a dual or multi POV, switching back and forth between multiple characters. For example, you could go back and forth between Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip.

#3 Change the Time Period

Your story doesn’t have to take place in the same time period as the original. You could make it modern like Beastly, or even futuristic like Cinder.

#4 Change the Setting

You don’t have to stick to the original setting, either. What if you took the traditional European fairy tales and put them in a setting like Africa, Asia, South America, or the Middle East?

#5 Use a Different Genre

You can use genre to put a different spin on a fairy tale. What if you made Snow White into a modern thriller? Or Sleeping Beauty Steampunk? A great example of this is Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which puts a sci-fi spin on classic fairy tales.

#6 Do a Crossover

Both Once Upon a Time and the Lunar Chronicles cross over multiple fairy tale characters and story lines. This can make for an interesting story by exploring how these story lines connect, and how these characters interact with one another.

#7 Make it Dark

You can’t go wrong with going dark! There’s something strangely irresistible about a dark version of the light-hearted happily ever after we’re used to. And after all, the original tales were usually pretty dark themselves!

What are your thoughts on retelling fairy tales? What retellings have and haven’t worked for you?


Guest Post: How Creating Strong Characters Can Help You Build Your Plot by Kristen Kieffer of She’s Novel

Learn how strong #characters and your #plot go hand in hand! Plus, a free workbook!Today I have the pleasure of welcoming the lovely Kristen Kieffer from She’s Novel to the blog for an epic guest post! She’s even created a shiny workbook to help you through all info, which you can download for free by clicking here. Ready to get started?

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What’s more important: characters or plot?

This age-old question has been a source of debate among writers for decades. But let me ask you this: do characters and plot have to be exclusive? Do we have to say that one is more important than the other?

Of course not!

In fact, I’m a firm believer that it is your characters’ stories that actually make up your plot. Their actions and experiences are what drive the novel forward. To say that one is more important than the other is like saying that peanut butter is more important than jelly in the making of a PB&J.

It just doesn’t make sense!

If your characters’ actions make up the plot, then you’re going to need great characters to write a story that will keep readers turning pages. But how exactly can you craft spectacularly memorable characters?

While some factors may depend on your character’s role in the story, there are three things that every character should have. Let’s break them down, eh?

3 Things You Need to Create Strong Characters

1. A Goal

Your character’s goal is the one thing that they are trying to achieve. They believe that attaining this goal will bring them success and happiness, though sometimes what they think they want and what they actually need will be different.

Your characters need strong goals because goals are what drive them to action. They want something, and they are going to take steps to attain it. And should someone stand in their path to success, you can be sure that your character will jump into action, seeking a way to overcome their obstacles.

Simply put: by giving your characters each a clear goal, you are setting yourself up for easy plot production.

 2. A Motivation

Your character’s motivation is the why behind their goal, the reason they are taking action. It’s important to give each of your characters strong motivations as well as strong goals for two main reasons.

  1. A) Motivations reveal who your characters are at heart. They make the good guy realistic and the bad guy sympathetic. They help readers see that your characters are more than just a role to be fulfilled, that they are indeed – in the space of your novel – real people.
  1. B) Some characters, such as your hero and your villain, may have the same goal. Giving each character vastly different motivations will help readers identify the protagonist and the antagonist.

3. A Personality

Having strong goals and motivations will make your characters’ actions interesting, but plots aren’t always made up of action. They also contain interactions between different characters. The ways in which your characters treat one another during these interactions will be determined by their personalities.

When crafting a personality for each of your characters, make sure to give them more than one trait. Characters who are always cheery (or angry or sad, etc.) make for very boring, shallow characters. Don’t settle for that!

Once you’ve chosen a few personality traits, decide when each of those traits comes in to play. If your character is prone to anger, what sets them off? If your character is silly, what makes them laugh? Repeat this process for each of their traits to discover exactly how your character will act in every situation they encounter.

Building Your Plot

Now that you’ve crafted strong characters, it’s time to use their stories to build a plot!

Using only the goals, motivations, and personalities of two characters in particular – your hero and your villain – you will be able to form a plot outline that you can later expand upon as you get to know your story better.

Let’s break down these eight steps to creating a basic plot.

8 Steps for Creating a Plot

1. Understand Their Goals

You know the goals your hero and your villain have, but do you what sparked their desire to achieve those goals in the first place? Was there an event in their past that introduced this desire or does something happen in the first chapters of your novel that sets them down their path?

Keep in mind, understanding what sparked your characters’ goals isn’t the same thing as knowing their motivations. For example, a character may desire to form a rock band after seeing his favorite band play in concert (that would be the spark), but he may only want to start playing music so that he can become famous (that would be the motivation).

Understanding what sparks your characters’ goals will help you establish the beginning of your novel. The spark encourages your characters to take action, setting the plot into motion.

2. Build a Plan

Your hero and your villain each have a goal, but how do they plan on achieving it? Begin to lay out what steps they would take if everything went according to plan. Of course, this plan won’t go smoothly in the end since you’ll be adding conflict to spice your story up. But knowing what paths your characters would take will help you decide what they will actually do at each major plot point.

3. Give Your Hero an Early Failure

To create riveting conflict, you’ll need to show your readers that the villain is actually quite formidable, so much so that your hero might not make it out alive – literally or figuratively speaking.

To show just how powerful your villain is, have them take a step towards achieving their goal that sets the hero back. This will be your hero’s first failure, and it will force them to change their course. Ask yourself what your hero’s next step to achieving their goal will be, and have them work towards it.

Making your villain’s strength evident as soon as possible will hook your readers in for the long run, while also serving to reveal your hero’s motivation. After all, if your hero wasn’t passionate about achieving their goal in the first place, they would probably quit after this early failure. Make sure your readers know that.

4. Put Their Personalities to Work

At this point in your plot, your hero is feeling a tad defeated while your villain is reveling in their achievement. This is where your characters’ personalities will really come into play. Ask yourself:

  1. How does my hero handle their setback on an emotional level?
  2. Does my hero need help to move forward? If so, how do they feel about asking for help?
  3. How does my villain react to making forward progress?
  4. How does my villain treat others based on their early success?

By working your responses into the plot, you’ll allow readers to get to know your characters on a deeper level, ensuring that they –and, in turn, your plot–remain interesting.

 5. See Some Success

Now that you have established the villain’s power and given more insight into your characters, it’s time for them both to make some forward progress. Your hero and your villain should be working towards their goals at full-steam, and each should see some measure of success.

Their progress should definitely be hard-earned (they may even experience a few small setbacks along the way), but for all intents and purposes they are getting closer to achieving their goals. Which also means that they are getting closer to coming into conflict once again.

6. Test Your Hero

At this point in your plot, readers may be feeling pretty comfortable in your hero’s ability to overcome the villain and achieve their goal. Once again, it is time to test your hero’s mettle by making them fail.

Only this time, your hero’s failure shouldn’t be something that merely sets them back. This failure should be massive, something that makes your hero seriously consider quitting their journey altogether. The loss they experience should call their motivations into question, making them wonder if anything they have done thus far has been worth the price they have had to pay.

This not only skyrockets the tension in your novel skyrocket, but opens up the opportunity for you to give your hero some emotional development, as well as to reveal what they truly need to find success (compared to what they’ve been chasing so far).

This is also the place where readers finally get to know the most raw, vulnerable version of your hero, where their true personality becomes more evident than ever.

7. Enter the Climatic Tension

Whether your characters have been chasing individual goals or the same goal for individual reasons, this is the point where they come into final conflict with one another. And it should be epic!

Neither character should be able to take another step towards achieving their goal because the other stands directly in their path to success. As a result, someone’s dream will be completely shattered by the time the conflict ends. All of your hero’s and villain’s actions are hanging on this one final thread, and there is no turning back.

8. The Resolution

The climax is over, and it is now revealed which character will achieve their goal. But do you know how they do it? In some stories, defeating the villain will be your hero’s singular goal (or vice versa), while in other stories, defeating the villain is the last stepping stone in your hero’s path to success.

If they haven’t done so already, now is the time for your character to finally achieve their goal.

This is also the point where we learn how the action thus far had affected your character. Are they the same person in the end of the novel as they were in the beginning? Have they changed for better or for worse?

Use this last portion of your plot to wrap up your main character’s story, revealing how they finally achieved their goal and how doing so shapes the rest of their lives.

And, voila! In eight simple steps, you’ve learned how giving your characters’ goals, motivations, and personalities can help you craft a powerful and memorable plot. Do you agree that characters are the backbone of a novel? How have your own characters shaped your story’s plot?

About Kristen

kristen kiefferKristen Kieffer is the creative-writing coach behind She’s Novel, where she helps writers craft novels that will endear readers, excite publishers, and launch their writing careers.
Her latest creation, The Novel Planner, is a daily planner designed specifically with authors in mind. Kristen also loves coffee, geeking out over Tolkien, and editing her upcoming medieval fantasy novel, The Dark Between. Want to know more? Click here!

The Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Horses

A guide to horses for writers, especially those writing fantasy or historical fiction. Ever wonder how far a horse can travel in a day, or how people in the middle ages cared for their horses? Do you know the difference between a nicker and a neigh? Find out and write horses more realistically in your story! If you write fantasy, you probably have a horse or two in your story. Especially if you’re writing medieval fantasy. Or, maybe you’re writing historical fiction. Whatever you’re writing, if there’s a horse in it and you don’t have a clue about horses, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve created this writer’s guide to horses just for you!

I’ve been in love with horses ever since I was a kid. I took riding lessons for years and read way too many books about them, both fictional and non-fictional. When I started writing my first fantasy novel, you had better bet I had horses in it!

But not every writer is a horse person. They always say write what you know, and I knew horses so that was what I wrote. But if you feel confused or lack confidence when writing scenes involving horses, don’t worry! With a little bit of research you can write about horses so well that your readers will think you’ve been living in the saddle your whole life.

Ready to arm yourself with some horse knowledge? Let’s do this.

Physical Description

  • Here is a chart of the parts of a horse (the ones you will likely reference most in your writing will be the flank, hoof, hock, withers, and crest).
  • Here is a guide to horse colorings, and another to markings.
  • Horse genders: mare (female), stallion (male), gelding (neutered male), colt (baby male), filly (baby female).

Care and Needs

  • Keeping a horse was expensive, so most peasants didn’t own one. Sometimes peasants would chip in together to buy a horse and share it.
  • Horses were usually kept in barns, and sometimes peasants just kept them out in the fields with the sheep, cows, etc.
  • Horses were fed hay, oats, and sometimes bran. The amount of food they were given depended on the amount of work they did. They also grazed in pastures in the summer.
  • Horses will forage in the woods for food, eating shrubs, foliage, moss, and even bark.
  • Most horses wore shoes during medieval times, which were made of iron.
  • Horses were groomed with a handful of straw bound together, or a coarse cloth. Metal curry combs were also used. (Modern metal curry comb for comparison).
  • Horses drink 5-10 gallons of water a day. They can only survive 3-6 days without water.
  • Horses cannot puke. So if they eat something toxic, they can’t puke it back up.
  • Horses live to be 25-30 years old.
  • Horses can swim, but some are afraid of water.
  • Horses only sleep for 2 hours a day, and only a few minutes at a time. They usually sleep standing up, but sometimes they will lie down. This is because they are prey animals, so they must be ready to take flight at the first hint of danger.


  • Horses are sort of like big dogs. They all have their own personalities and quirks. However, they’re less loyal/protective than dogs–if your character is thrown on the battle field, his horse will likely bolt. It’s their fight or flight survival instincts. However, there are stories of horses protecting their owners, though it’s rare. It might depend on the rider’s bond with the horse and whether the horse sees the rider as part of its “herd.”
  • Horses are herd animals, which means they’re social and prefer to live in a group. If they are being kept on their own without other horses for company, they will often befriend other animals like donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, etc.
  • Horses communicate using snorts, nickers, whinnies, squeals, and neighs. (From softest to loudest). A whinny is similar to a neigh, but a neigh is a little deeper. For more information on why and when horses make certain sounds, click here.
  • Horses communicate mostly through body language, and are pretty quiet animals. (Again, prey animal instincts). For more details about horse body language go here (scroll to the bottom).
  • Every horse is frightened by different things, whether it’s a predator, an unfamiliar object, a loud noise, an unexpected movement, or water. When a horse is frightened or “spooked”, he might shy away, buck, balk, or bolt.

Riding & Traveling

  • Medieval saddles are pretty similar to modern saddles. “War” saddles were a bit “deeper” to offer the rider more security, with the front and back parts rising higher. “Riding” saddles were more slender. However, sometimes war saddles would be used for riding and vice-versa.Click here to learn the parts of the saddle (the ones you would use most in your writing would be the cantle, pommel, seat, and stirrup). Also, this video shows you how to saddle a horse.
  • Medieval bridles are also similar to their modern counterparts. To learn the parts of the bridle, click here.
  • It was common for women to ride astride in medieval times (one leg on either side of the saddle). Side saddles were rarely used, and only by noble ladies.
  • It was common for women to ride horses during travel, and noble women also rode horses during hunts.
  • Horses have four different gaits (the term used to refer to a horse’s speed). From slowest to fastest: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
  • At a gallop, a horse can reach a speed of 25-30mph. A horse can gallop for a couple of hours before losing steam. So unless your character is riding Shadowfax, avoid epic days-long gallops.
  • The distance a horse can travel in a day depends on the weight and skill of the rider, the age/health of the horse, the weather and terrain, and how much equipment the horse is carrying. A horse could cover 20-40 miles a day and can be pushed beyond this if need be, but will need a day or more to recover afterwards depending on how hard it was pushed. Remember horses aren’t furry motorcycles, they get tired!
  • If your character is riding a horse for the first time or for a longer period of time than they’re used to, they will be sore after. This is often called “saddle sore.” Riding a horse looks easy, but you’re not just sitting there! You’re actually using a lot of muscles in your body. Saddle soreness is something better experienced than described. Which brings me to my final point…

I would highly recommend riding a horse at least once for research, whether it’s a trail ride or lesson. There are things you experience in real life that you can’t learn from a book or article.

Pay attention to your senses. What does the horse and stable smell like? What sounds do you hear? How do the horse’s coat and mane feel? How does the horse move beneath you? If you can’t get on a horse, here’s a video of a rider’s eye view from the saddle.

Even if you’ve never been on a horse you can write scenes involving horses well as long as you do a little research 😉

Have more horse questions? Post them below!



How Your Hero’s Goal Shapes Your Plot

How your hero's #goal drives your #plot, and how you can use it to your advantage. Let me ask you a question: What is your hero’s goal? What is he trying to achieve in your story?

(Okay, technically that was two questions, I lied). If you’re not sure about your answer or you’re sitting there scratching your head, you have some work to do!

It’s crucial for your hero to have a goal. If he doesn’t, you have no story. “Well why not?” you ask?

Because your hero’s goal is what drives the story. It’s the story’s purpose. Like a ripple effect, it influences your entire plot.

What is Your Hero’s Goal?

A novel is essentially a story about a character who wants something and sets out to get it, faces challenges along the way, and either fails or succeeds to attain his desire.

So, what does your character want?

  • Frodo wants to destroy the ring.
  • Katniss wants to win the Hunger Games.
  • The Pevensie siblings want to end the rule of the White Witch in Narnia.

If your character doesn’t want anything, there’s no point in telling his story. Actually, without a goal you don’t have a story–just a string of random events. Your hero’s goal is what unifies events into a plot.

Be sure to make it clear as soon as possible what your character’s goal is. Of course you’ll spend time in the beginning setting up your characters and plot, but don’t wait until halfway through your story to clue readers in to your hero’s goal.

If readers don’t know the goal, the story will feel pointless and random, with no clear direction. They might even begin to wonder if you know where you’re going with this thing. And you do know, don’t you? 😉

What are the Stakes?

What happens if your hero doesn’t achieve his goal? These consequences are called stakes.

  • If Frodo doesn’t destroy the ring, Sauron will take over Middle Earth, destroy his home, and enslave or kill his friends.
  • If Katniss doesn’t win the Hunger Games, she will die and there won’t be anyone to provide for her mother and sister.
  • If the Pevensie siblings don’t defeat the White Witch, Narnia will be trapped in eternal winter and they will either be killed or stuck and unable to return home.

Stakes give your character a reason to fight. When creating your stakes, make it personal to the hero in some way so the fight is his. With your goal and stakes clearly presented in your story, the reader will be able to pull for your character and it will give them a reason to keep reading.

What Obstacles are in the Way?

Every scene should move your character closer to or further from his goal in some way. What is keeping your character from getting what he wants? What does he have to overcome?

  • To destroy the ring, Frodo has to evade wraiths and orcs and travel all the way to Mordor.
  • To win the Hunger Games, Katniss is faced with killing other opponents, which goes against what she believes in.
  • To defeat the White Witch, the Pevensie siblings must battle her army.

There are tons of obstacles in a story, some large and some small. Some may be physical and others may be internal. But always your character should be facing some sort of opposition. That’s what keeps your reader reading–to find out if the hero will overcome the challenges and win!

If your story feels off-track or meandering, consider your character’s goal. You may have lost sight of it, or you may not be letting it drive your story.

Use Goal When Plotting

Now that you understand how your character’s goal shapes your plot, take advantage of it. Whenever I have ideas for a new story and I’m trying to come up with a plot, I start by asking myself what this character wants.

I used to create plots by stringing together scenes I thought were cool or exciting, with just the vague idea that in the end my hero would defeat the villain. This worked okay, but I ended up with a lot of unnecessary scenes, the story would wander, and the hero didn’t have a personal reason for saving the world (Really, he could have just saved himself all the trouble and stayed at home and let someone else do it!).

Starting off plotting with my character’s goal has helped me tremendously. It has made my plots clearer and tighter and has helped me to develop a plot much faster. This strategy may not work for everyone, but whether or not you start planning your story with your character’s goal you will definitely need to give it attention.

Do you know what your character’s goal is in your current story?