Joseph Campbell famously dissected the Hero’s journey into specific plot points, a bit like how a tailor might pin the cloth for a suit, and left it to his students to craft their stories using these guideposts.
To paraphrase and condense Mr. Campbell, Shakespeare, Blake Snyder, David Trottier, and Christopher Riley, I see the basic plot pattern as such:
- We start in an ordinary world with an immature Hero.
- The Hero does something endearing, saves a cat or gives a kid a cookie, which helps the audience relate to them and become invested in their goals.
- The antagonist is introduced.
- A disrupting force threatens the routine world.
- The Hero refuses to take ownership of the ordinary world or defend it.
- The Hero meets a mentor who hints at the path the Hero should take.
- The disrupting force irreversibly alters the ordinary world, and the Hero is obliged to take action to accomplish goal 1 (the fake ring).
- The Hero enters a new world and fails miserably to adapt.
- The Hero is humbled by their failure and learns to accept help from others.
Through this interaction, goal 1 is found to be the dust jacket for the real problem – Goal 2.
- The Hero matures in the new world and earns a unique skill or weapon that the audience is made to believe will help them win the day.
- A disrupting force, usually something that has been percolating in the B story, boils over into the A plot and the Hero fails.
- The mentor dies.
- Then, through personal sacrifice or integrity, the Hero unexpectedly achieves goal 2 (This dovetails with the death or humiliation of the antagonist who has been the engine keeping the Hero from reaching goal 2).
- The Hero accepts ownership for the ordinary world and returns to it with the experience and skill (elixir) to make it better.
- The Hero should end up where the script started – completing the story circle.
A good story often has a sub-plot that runs concurrently with plot A. It adds comic relief, prevents lulls, and allows the audience a mental break to subliminally process the developing A plot. It often centers on the supporting characters.
- The immature sub-Hero has a flaw, often comedic, that prevents them from reaching their potential.
- They understand the rules of the new world and help explain them to the audience.
- They allow the audience to see the Hero from a different angle.
- They trust or believe in the Hero’s potential and see them as a role model.
- They are let down by Hero.
- The Hero’s sacrifice and transformation make it possible for the sub-Hero to overcome their own flaw.
- The Hero redeems themselves in the sub-Hero’s eyes.
- The mature Sub-Hero commits to helping the Hero protect the ordinary world.
Reading anything by the authors above will ensure the writer develops a basic understanding of plotting. Only, no wants to wear the ten-dollar machine made suit. They want the tailored-one-of-a-kind-no-one-has -ever-thought-to-do-it-that-way fashion statement that only someone who is familiar with the expected plot can provide. You have to know the rules to change them:
- What if the sub-Hero refuses to forgive the Hero?
- What if the mentor lives and saves the day instead of the Hero?
- What if there is no ordinary world to go back to?
- What if the Hero falls in love with the antagonist?
- What if the sacrifice the Hero must make is the life of the sub-Hero?
- What if the Hero returns to the ordinary world and it has solved its own problem?
You’ll notice how your mind rebels against each of the suggestions above. The story doesn’t feel right. That’s not how things are supposed to end up. You’re right, and your audience will be upset if you leave it that way.
The trick is to drag this false plot out just long enough so that they almost believe the story will end this way before you fix it and put everything right again – the ultimate tailor’s twist. This is a more challenging plot to write but one that people will remember.
Writers are dreamers who refuse to wake up.
I hope this helps – D.C. Lozar.
Ten Best Self-publishing Tips – D.C. Lozar
I’ll start by saying that I discovered these pearls through a good deal of trial and error, and I’m publishing them in hopes of streamlining my fellow author’s journey. Solid ground tends to crumble if you stand on it too long. This is what worked for me this year, but it will change. Let me know if you have something to add or thoughts on the list. I hope this helps.
Writers are dreamers who adapt.
- Design a Cover in Your Mind. A great cover can inspire your imagination and provide validation for what you’re doing. Also, your reader will never know what a wonderful storyteller you are if you can’t hook them with some eye-candy. Now, here’s the hard part – Don’t buy the cover until the book’s done. Visualization is a powerful tool, but stories have a way of mutating. You don’t want to put a romance cover on your groundbreaking murder/mystery.
- Design your own – DYI – if you go to iStock or Shutterstock, you can find some fantastic images and Amazon’s self-publishing programs will help transform them into respectable covers.
- You can buy one for about $50 from GoOnWrite or several other sites.
- For a custom made cover (well-worth it) I would suggest –ExtendedImagery.
- Edit. I’d like to say editing goes without saying, but it doesn’t. Even when you think you’re done, you’re not. Then, when you’re sick of it, you’re not done. When all you want to do is burn the thing and give up on the craft, you’re getting close.
- Have friends or family read it, read it out loud in the car, run it through a program like grammarly, walk away and come back several weeks later with a fresh set of eyes.
- You’ve got one chance to hook a reader, and they won’t come back if you’ve put out something with typos or a sloppy plot.
- Format. If you upload your document onto Amazon as a word document, it will look fine, but your reader’s eye will quickly pick up on the misaligned paragraphs and indents.
- For e-books, I think Vellum is one of the best programs – There’s a small learning curve but the end product is very solid and it will generated 5 different formants for your book. They just recently released a print version, and I think it does a stand up job
- For print books, you may consider trying Bookdesigntemplates. The tutorial that goes along with the template is informative and shows how the computer sees the work we type. In visualizing this, we are better able modify their appearance. I used the crimson template on my e-books for Amazon (just remember to save as a PDF before uploading) and liked having more control over the final product. I found it harder to upload these templates to Ingram Spark and Barnes and Noble for print versions and ended up returning to
- ISBN Bowker -$150 – 300. I would suggest buying these early if you’re going to self-publish. You don’t need to use the code until you’re ready, but it’s one less step you have to do later. What I didn’t understand initially was that you need a different ISBN for each of the formats you plan to sell your work under – i.e. one for e-book, print, and audiobook. Also, some publishers will not let you use the same ISBN for your e-book/paperback/hardcover with them as you did with another group – say Barnes & Noble vs. Ingram Spark (You’ll keep getting error messages, or you’ll be told the ISBN is already in use). The work around for me was using different ISBN’s for each group (more cost less hassle). Remember, the ISBN is the information that pops up when your barcode gets scanned so to associate your book with the ISBN on their website you’ll need to know your format, price, and page count. Having an ISBN allows you to sell to bink and mortar stores and libraries. I haven’t found a use for the barcode they sell with the ISBN, but I would suggest buying the ten-pack of ISBN’s for the best price.
- Publishing. I started with Amazon Kindle and then moved onto Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, iTunes, and finally Ingram Spark. In the future, I’ll try doing it the other way around as Ingram Spark’s prices for author copies are less than B & N. Amazon, as far as I know, makes you pay full price (whatever price you set) for copies of your book (you get some back as “profit” but so do they). Ingram spark publications show up on Amazon – FYI and I’ve found their hardcover and paperback quality to be better than either B & N or Amazon. Ingram also has a wider reach for distribution and allows libraries to see and buy you. I would suggest allowing bookstores and others to send back copies they don’t sell; as it is unlikely they’ll buy a single copy if they can’t return it.
- Learn. It’s a slow process, and it takes away from your writing time, but it is important to keep on learning. The Creative Penn (Especially Joanna’s blog) are excellent and inspiring tools. The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Kobo writing life are also great resources.
- Marketing. This is one of the hardest things for me and, I think, for most authors. I don’t like technology as a whole, and I’m a bit of an introvert so reaching out is a challenge. Still and the same, it is a part of the process, and you may find you’re better at it than you thought.
- Join Goodreads and participate on discussions and review (actual text review) books you’ve read. This helps to narrow down both authors and readers who share your interests.
- Start a website and post on a semi regular basis. Try to make your posts useful to others – I’m trying to do more of this and not just self-promotion.
- Start to develop a mailing list that is independent of groups like Amazon – they do help you get followers (especially when you run giveaways), but they own the names and contacts. To stay in control, you need those names and addresses. I’m starting to learn Mail Chimp, but there are other choices.
- On amazon, you can run giveaways on books by authors who have readers similar to the one’s you want and have them follow you to join. This helps increase your reach and narrow down your audience. Give away your books in the same way once you have them finished. When you publish your next book, Amazon will send these followers a notice.
- On Goodreads, you can giveaway your books once you have the physical copies in your hand. At the end of the giveaway, you send copies to the addresses they supply. This helps ensure readers who want your book get it and increases the likelihood they’ll review it. Consider signing and dating the copy for good measure. Amazon shipping boxes that work well for most paperbacks and hardcovers are –
- Amazon Select. They release e-book versions of your novel for five days for free. This helps to increase your readership. It’s nice to see how many people download copies. May sure the back and front pages of your book have links to your other works or webpage. The downside is they have your title hostage for the next three months and you can’t distribute it with other groups until this period is over (warning: it automatically renews for another three months after you sign up unless you open the file after you’ve joined and say you don’t want to renew). Initially, I thought this was a great deal. Now, I wonder that the number of downloads I’ve had verses the number of actual page reads doesn’t match up i.e., there maybe a lot of bots out there enjoying my digital copies.
- Amazon and Facebook marketing. If you’re selective in your choices when you decide what keywords you want to promote, I think this does help, but I have not seen a fair exchange in cost vs. sales so not sure it’s worth the money.
- Reviews I don’t think I did this one very well. As excited as you are to get your book out there for people to read, take the time make ARC copies, media sheets, set a release date, and put up the reviews you get before the public can read your book. Two useful websites for this were Mid West Book Reviews and Michel Sauret.
- Research people who may be interested in your book on Goodreads and Amazon by seeing what types of books they’ve reviewed in the past. Reach out to them to see if they would be interested in a free copy – iTunes gives you 250 free e-book codes when you publish with them. You can get a gift e-book copy code from Amazon. ACX for audiobooks offers you 25 free download copies if you request it once you’ve published. Offer codes as incentives for possible reviews.
- Audiobook I’ve been happy with ACX. Once you have a published book, you can sign up and associate the book with your account. Then you can put out a short three minute read request and description of the material, the cost you expect to pay per finished hour PFH, and wait for the audition tapes to roll into your account. The level of skill and interest were fantastic. There are those that would suggest doing this process outside of ACX as you do get locked into their contract but I haven’t been disappointed.
- Innovate Try not to get locked into one way of doing things.
- I enjoy short stories and publishing a few of them as individual titles have given me the freedom to experiment with different formats and marketing, things I would have hesitated to do if I only had one title.
- Experiment with rewriting your story as a stage play or screenplay. Consider serializing it on your blog.
- Ask your local independent bookstore if they have new author signings. Mysterious Galaxy in my neck of the woods is fantastic about this.
Please note that I’m as new at this as many of you and my tips are what worked for me. Take what you can from it, keep writing, and let me know if you have suggestions. Writers are readers, readers are people, and people do their best when they work together. We are on the cusp of a new age of storytelling, and we have an opportunity to make the future amazing.
If you enjoyed this, please let me know. Make suggestions, follow me at DCLozar.com and join my mailing list for future posts and recommendations. Thank you for your support.