Pointers from the Pros: Author Berta Platas on the Basics of Novel Writing

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga., two weeks ago and took copious notes at the sessions.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo classes, I’m sharing some tips from some of the ones I was lucky enough to attend.

Here is what awesomesauce chica lit author Berta Platas* had to say in Beginning Novel Writing.

Platas herself!

THE BASICS

  • Novel: a long work of narrative fiction
    • could be based on a real event, but you change it up
  • Novella: a 60-100-page work of narrative fiction
  • Short stories: under 60 pages
    • Novellas & short stories are not published on their own—but in anthologies
  • Genre: a category of story type—where you’d find a particular book in the bookstore
  • Stories can be character- or plot-driven (strong suspense).
  • Pace-heavy books most often get made into movies.

A book similar to Angela Landsbury's MURDER, SHE WROTE series would be an example of what would be classified under "cozy mystery."

CHARACTERS

  • Your hero cannot be perfect—perfect people do not exist.
  • Give them flaws—but not too many.
  • Internal conflict: conflict within the character’s own self
  • External conflict: some outside factor is stopping the hero from attaining his goals
  • Be mean to your characters—it’s hard, but do it!
    • Figure out what your characters are most afraid of—and then stomp on it.
    • What are they afraid to lose?  Take it away from them.
  • The main character has to change or you have no story.
    • If the MC does not change, then there has to be a reason.

GOAL, MOTIVATION, CONFLICT

  • An easy way to craft interesting characters: goal, motivation, conflict
  • Goal: What does the character want?
  • Motivation: What causes the character to want this?  What drives her to seek it?
  • Conflict: What (or who) is standing in the way of the character attaining her goals?
  • Do this for your heroes as well as your villains.
    • Everything your villians do, they have reasons for (in their minds)
    • They think their actions are right or justified in some way.

IN THE FLESH

  • Flesh out your characters—interview them (character sketch)
    • You don’t have to use all of it, but if you’ve got everything down somewhere, you will have more believable characters
  • This will also keep your characters true to who you know them to be.

POINT OF VIEW

  • Who is the best character to tell your story?  It may surprise you, after you flesh them all out.
  • 1st person POV – uses I/me/we/us/our/etc.
    • This is limiting in that you can’t see anything the main character isn’t seeing.
  • 3rd person POV – uses he/she/they/their/her/his/etc.
    • Close third is 3rd person limited feels like 1st person, but it isn’t.
    • You can have other POVs with 3rd person limited.

Sketch out your characters.

  • Multiple POVs allow you to see different parts of the story.
    • When doing this, however, the voices need to be very clear.
  • Be careful not to “head-hop”—going between multiple perspectives within one scene or chapter = confusing.

OTHER SUGGESTIONS

  • Stick to 10-page chapters (helps the pacing).
  • Make sure there’s a hook to each chapter. (“She opens the door and sees something amazing.”  Makes you turn the page.)
  • Give your character a friend, in order to impart info.
    • But don’t have a cast of millions; keep it as slim as you can.
    • Sometimes these secondary characters have subplots
  • Don’t give walk-off characters backstory.
  • Don’t have unnecessary actions or details because your reader will invent reasons and fixate them.
  • Kill off all your characters—and then bring them back to life as needed. 🙂

*Click here for my SWA Presenter Spotlight on Platas.

2 thoughts on “Pointers from the Pros: Author Berta Platas on the Basics of Novel Writing

    • Haha – yes. I’m a bit insane. Actually, I typed them all because I’m so anal – and I knew it would take me seven years to retype everything I would have handwritten. 🙂

      Glad you like!

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