Literary Tips: Weaving Plot, Character, and Setting

If you’re like me and you’ve written your novel, you know who your characters are, what the conflict is, and where everything takes place. But that’s probably because you’ve spent so much time thinking about them. You know your protagonist’s quirks. You know the name of the taxi driver in chapter 7. You know tons of little details about your world and its weather. You’re fathoms deep in your story, and we often scale back on the details we write while drafting to avoid over-exposition.

But have you, also like me, overlooked why you need to weave the characters, plot, and setting together?

Let’s take a step out of stories and look at the real world. We live in places and have experiences that impact who we are. If you grew up where I did, you’d know a bit of French and read it on all your product packaging. If you grew up with my life, you’d have experiences that changed you and your behaviour.

In real life, and as it should be in stories, people can’t be separated from their surroundings and their struggles.

Whether or not your story revolves around character or conflict, the three main aspects of your story (except theme, but that’s a post for another day) are character, setting, and plot. Your story will improve if you can weave them together.

Weaving these three together means thinking about how they interact with one another. There is a push and a pull between them all. They need to work harmoniously. Doing so will create a strong net that will catch your story. You’ll have fewer plot holes if you can justify why problems happen to your character in the setting, and how all three play with each other.

Here are some questions to help you figure out if you’re weaving the plot, character, and setting. These questions are intended to be asked for a scene or chapter, but are also incredibly useful with the broad-spectrum view of your story.

  • How does your character act in the setting?
  • How does setting impact your character?
  • Why does the conflict take place in this setting?
  • Why does your character stay in or leave the setting?
  • What will the plot and conflict change about your character?
  • What can your character do to influence the conflict and plot?

If you can’t remember the specific questions or want a simpler way to remember them, there are three question words to ask about your character/conflict/setting pairings: how, what, and why. How do the two aspects work together? What do they do to each other? Why are they together?

Weaving together the three main aspects of your writing will make your writing feel more connected. You won’t feel like your characters are placed in a random location and have things happening to them. When you weave the people in with the places and plot, you justify what happens to whom, wherever they are.

For your convenience, I’ve also made a simplified triangular relationship chart for this concept!

March 2017 Bullet Journal Spreads

I’m really pleased with how my spreads for this month turned out! I only do one week at a time, in case I want to change things for the next week, so this post has photos from my monthly spread and my first week of March.

For 2017 and all of my monthly views, I’ve been including a different quote/saying. My word for this year is “persevere” and I’ve found some great quotes.

January’s quote: “The will to persevere is often the difference between failure and success.” – David Sarnoff

February’s quote: “Perseverance is the foundation of all actions.” – Lao Tzu (a personal favourite—I would have used this one again if I didn’t have more!)

And this month, the quote is “Persevere and preserve yourself for better circumstances” from Virgil, apparently.

Although I don’t like yellow, I really love the bee washi tape and yellow is really the only colour to go with it. I’ll have a post up this month for my favourite bullet journal supplies, by the way, so you can see the different washi tape and tools I use to make my spreads.

I also couldn’t pass up an opportunity to put in some hexagon icons for my monthly tasks and goals.

These spreads were photographed before I filled them in, so they definitely don’t look as neat anymore. I plan to post the filled in spreads over on my Instagram, and there are more pictures of spreads there—including the one for this week!

My monthly layouts focus on the habit tracker and a quick calendar view of the month. Adding in goals and tasks to the monthly view helps me when I make my weekly views. I can look at my goals for the month and see what I can do during the week to achieve them.

I also have a habit tracker on my weekly layouts for the more important habits I want to develop. Having them shown to me in the week means I’m more accountable, since I’m often too lazy to flip to my monthly view and see what habits I should do.

For the first week of March, I wanted to include a more relaxed meal plan. It doesn’t have the meals planned out for specific days, but I’ve since put in the different meals I can have or cook. In previous meal plans, I found myself switching breakfasts or snacks from one day to another. Now I can look at the meals I’ve written out and pick one!

This week, I also experimented with merging my “next week” and “notes” boxes into one generic space, under the weekly header. I found it much more helpful to consolidate everything together. When the boxes were separate, they took up more space than I could fill in. It made sense to squish ‘em together.

A sleep tracker has become a staple in my weekly layouts. I introduced it back in the fall of 2016, and it’s been fantastic in figuring out the amount of time in my day and how much energy I have.

I plan on keeping the grey and yellow theme throughout the month, though I might change up the grey and go for yellow as the accent colour!

Questioning

Two tree trunks with spray-painted question marks and a text overlay reading Questioning

Lately, I’ve been in that hellish stage of questioning.

Again.

I was here at age 13 and here I am again, and it sucks.

I’m still not comfortable enough to do a broad “coming out” or “here’s what I’ve been questioning” post, but I’m putting this up for a very specific reason.

I’ve written about the fluidity of identity, in a way, when I discussed fluidity in sexuality. I intend to write a follow-up post to that one where I discuss gender identity. But I’ve always been a firm believer of supporting changes in the way people label themselves. There are some parts of your identity that can’t change, like your skin colour and ethnic heritage. There are others, however, that can only change or come about when you find out they exist, like gender, sexuality, romantic attraction, and religious beliefs—and you’re allowed to change your mind based on how much you learn about them.

So I’m posting this to say that I’m wondering if I need to change my mind, too. I’m unsure of the labels I once used. I’m unsure of the identity I once claimed. I’m being intentionally vague here, because I’m not entirely comfortable (let alone certain) of all of this and what labels are accurate. It doesn’t matter which ones I’m specifically questioning. What matters is that I’m back in this space and filled with uncertainty. Part of me is scared—as is normal when something changes—and that part right now is big.

When you question your identity, it often has a domino effect: it can change your relationships, your expression, and your interactions with society. You may have thought you were cisgender, but then you start to question that… and your life changes. There can be small changes or big changes, but it’s not going to be the same after you realise whether or not you are what you thought you were.

Self-Editing Tips: Developmental Edits

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So, I recently finished a rewrite of THE PILGRIMAGE. This is the draft I’ll be revising in a few weeks, and I figured I’d share some self-editing tips, both for my own reference and for yours! In case you didn’t know, I edit stories. I’ve learned a lot through editing other people’s stories, as well as tons of workshopping in my university program.

When you first start revising a book, you must start with developmental edits.

Developmental edits are concerned with the skeletal issues with your story: plot, character, and structure. (Theme is also included, but that can be tweaked through every stage of edits.)

Here are some of my tips for doing your own developmental edits!

Do a cold read-through and make notes.

Before you even start revising the story, read through it and make notes on plot, character, and structure. Don’t do any edits yet—instead, see where you have plot holes, where the conflict lessens, and how much you’ve characterised your cast.

Pin down your story as either plot-driven or character-driven.

Knowing the priorities for your story will help immensely. A plot or action-based story will necessitate different focuses than one based on the characters. To figure out which one your story is, ask yourself the question, “What is my protagonist’s goal?” If it’s something personal, your story is character-driven. If it’s something external, your story is plot/action-driven. For example, if the goal is “Successfully navigate high school,” then it’s personal: it deals with just the protagonist. But if the goal is, “Successfully save high school from demons,” your story relies on action. Character and action will both be important, but at this stage, you need to figure out which one will help you plot out the conflict.

Consider beta readers or critique partners.

Feedback from outside sources is invaluable for revising your story. You know the story in a way that’s completely different to your peers: there’s more in your head than on the page. I highly recommend taking on a few beta readers and critique partners to help give you opinions on character, plot, worldbuilding, stakes, conflict, etc. Sensitivity readers are also recommended. They look for specific problematic content that you can’t experience in your identity.

Resist the line edits!

Developmental edits are for the big picture. Who cares about your typos or sentence structure right now? It’s hard to avoid tweaking details in order to feel like you’re making progress to the finished draft. However, you must consider the broad strokes of your story before you look at the finer, smaller elements.

Breathe.

You can get through this. Your story was drafted over a period of time where you were inevitably growing. You need to remember that you changed as you wrote the story, and you’re working to get it to the best quality you can in the present.

Look into editing resources.

Other writers have written about their processes, and it’s always helpful to find more information on how to do it!

KM Weiland has a wonderful 15-step self-editing process she uses for her fiction.

“How to Self Edit Your Novel” from Fantasy Scroll has suggestions for your self-editing (and has a differing point of view to my list, with their first suggestion being typo fixing!), and also includes more resources and references.

Now Novel has a handy infographic for self-editing.

The book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has been highly recommended to me. It’s on my TBR!

And finally…
Contact your editor.

If you have hired an editor to help with your project—which I also recommend—keep in touch with them while you work on your edits. I strongly recommend hiring an editor. Beta readers and critique partners are helpful, but they often look at your story through a reader’s point of view. While this is helpful, experienced editors have a more intimate knowledge of craft and the skills to impart that knowledge to you.

I wish you the best of luck in self-editing and making it through developmental edits! It can feel like your story is a pile of trash and has lots of problems, but you can fix them and make your story the greatest it can be. (I’ll have to remind myself of this when I get to my own novel in a few weeks… *gulp*)

Month In Review: February 2017

An open book with a calendar and a text overlay reading Month In Review: February 2017

Ah, February. I’ve never really enjoyed this month—it’s too short for my tastes. If we can have so many months with 31 days, why can’t February get 30 as well? Only 5 months really need an extra day to get to 365. I’m sure there are reasons for why certain months in certain calendars have X number of days, but I digress. The month is gone and we’re going to March!

A celebration: I finished my draft of THE PILGRIMAGE!

A change: The weather changed a lot—it was very warm and spring-like on a few days, even including a thunderstorm.

A conflict: I felt a lot of guilt for being so isolated from my friends and family.

A relief: My graduation application was sorted out completely (fingers crossed)!

A regret: I didn’t spend as much time brushing up on my coding skills.

A random memory: I helped my room mate bleach and dye her hair. It took about 2 hours, and the bathroom was surprisingly clean afterward. Her hair no longer looks like a blue-and-yellow cheetah print.

I hope March doesn’t go by quickly. Once April hits, I’ll be gunning to get ready to move—which means packing, scheduling utility turn-offs, and negotiating with the landlord for viewings. Here we go!