As fiction writers, we have two ways to present our story; a first or a third person narrative. This time, however, I’m going to speak as a fiction reader, and not an author.
As a reader, I simply hate the first person narrative. To me, it’s the narcissistic narrative. It’s all, me, me, me, I, I, I, me, me, me, I, I, I. That gets really old, really quick. However, I still get it. The author wants me to have a more intimate relationship with the lead character. But not only does the narcissistic tone turn me off, I also want to know what other characters, particularly the antagonists, are up to.
I love reading fiction written in the third person narrative. To me, and no doubt to many others, reading a novel is, essentially, watching a movie in my head. I want to see the bad guys cooking up their evil schemes. I want to be with them when they do their dastardly deeds. And, I want to experience that moment of shock and surprise when the protagonist gets caught their trap. Likewise, I want to experience the protagonist’s feeling of triumph when the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is why, as a reader, I only read third person narratives. I get to see multiple points of view, and I get to see scene changes with different characters, just like they do in the movies.
I realize this is a personal take, and that other readers may like the first person narrative. To each their own. However, I personally don’t care for it, which is why I always write my own stories in a third person narrative.
It can be a perplexing question for authors, particularly newbies. Do you write an outline, or a treatment, before you begin your book? Or do you just sit down and start writing?
Outlines are recommended for nonfiction books. They can be more precise. However, this blog is for fiction writers, so I’m going to talk about what is the best approach for us. And that is to write a treatment.
A treatment is a short summary of what your story will be about. The amount of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you. Some fiction authors may choose to write treatments summarizing each chapter. Others simply write a brief one or two paragraph description. It’s all a matter of personal preference. We’re creative writers, not technical writers, and the keyword is creative. For us, writing is an art, not a science.
My treatments tend to be short; no more than one to one and a half pages. My objective is how I will begin my story, and how I will end it. I used to fret over what to include in the middle. However, experience has taught me to keep it brief. The details will come after I begin writing. In other words, my treatment is my launching point.
Some fiction writers write bios for their characters, and that’s certainly okay. However, I don’t do it myself. My characters come to life rather quickly, and once that happens they have minds of their own. (This may sound freaky to non writers, but every fiction writer experiences this.)
Some authors like to refer back to their treatments as they write. And that’s perfectly okay. I prefer to put my treatment aside once I begin my story. As your characters come to life you may want to go in a different direction than you originally planned. Other ideas may come to you as you delve deeper into your story. Again that’s okay. We’re creative writers. This is how creativity works.
Once my manuscript is complete I like to go back and look at my treatment. My books never end up as described in the original treatment. They always turn out better. That’s because I let my creativity flow as I write, and many new ideas will pop into my head as I go. My favorite example would be my first Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion.
One of my supporting characters, a young man named, Jeremy, was intended to be a rogue character. He would do his dirty deed and quickly disappear from the story. However, Jeremy was also leading man Ian’s son. And as I got into the story, I soon realized that Ian would never have a son like that. So, Jeremy went from rogue villain to a rival, competing with his father to win leading lady Gillian’s affections. This made for a completely unexpected twist in the story that resonated with me, and my readers.
As I’ve evolved as a writer, my treatments have also evolved. They’ve become less detailed and more generalized. But, as I’ve stated before, how you choose to write your treatment is entirely up to you. As far as I’m concerned, there is no right or wrong way to go about it.
I was an art major in college, and I’ll always remember one of my painting professors said.
“Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done. Otherwise, he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”
It’s extremely difficult for us as artists to see our work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we realize we’ve overworked something, it may be too late to salvage it. Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.
I was near the end of the story. I’d resolved the main conflict. But as I was tying up remaining the loose ends I suddenly discovered a huge opening for one of the antagonists to go after the protagonist a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. However, in this instance, the conflict would have been virtually the same as the conflict in the first book, thus making sequel redundant. In other words, it would have been a boring, “been there, done that,” story. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I wrote a definitive ending and killed off the antagonist, ending the feud once and for all.
Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it may be that your story has become too redundant.
Once upon a time, my friends and I were soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps. I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. I don’t watch soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. Both of my grandmothers watched their favorite soaps when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that today’s soap operas are so poorly written.
Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then one day the producers decided they wanted a younger, more hip audience. As a result, the writers began writing outrageous story lines. Demonic possessions. Frozen cities. Characters buried alive. And, of course, UFOs. Good plot lines for The X Files, but certainly not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.
Those of us who write romantic fiction know that basic plot structure revolves around conflict. For many years, soap operas relied on these classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching.
The Romantic Triangle
Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. But another girl is in love with the same boy. So she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, thus becoming, “The Girl We Love to Hate.”
Extramarital Affairs and Illegitimate Children.
The side effect of the romantic triangle. Soap operas kept audiences riveted for years wondering when an unsuspecting husband, or ex husband, would finally discover that his son or daughter actually wasn’t his son or daughter after all.
Long Lost Half Siblings.
Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight. But one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship. So, she does everything in her power to break them up. Soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom had an affair with the father of her child’s love interest. This means they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated.
Sometimes the writers will create a plot twist. The other mother comes forward later on and says no. So and so wasn’t her child’s father after all. Therefore, they were never half siblings. However, this only happens after the would-be lovers have moved on to other relationships. The fun never stops.
The Big Frame-Up
From time to time a villain has to be killed off. So why not frame a favorite character for a crime they didn’t commit? Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but not until they’d gone on trial and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology with the real killer tampering with the DNA test results.
Catastrophic diseases or injuries.
Hodgkin’s Disease. Brain tumors. Comas. High risk pregnancies. All are common soap opera maladies. Tripping over a waste basket could cause a miscarriage. And how many times did a favorite character go blind or deaf? But, at least in Soap Opera Land, everyone recovers; only to be struck down with another malady a few years later. However, soap opera characters are immune to one disease. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A rare medical condition in the real world. However, it was quite common on soaps. Having a favorite character lose his or her memory and wander off somewhere, with everyone else thinking they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.
Returning from the dead
A favorite character is involved in a plane crash or similar event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. The character leaves the show, only to return later, typically with another actor assuming the role.
This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia. Or maybe not. Either way, the memories will eventually return. The other scenario is when the character returns after being held captive somewhere. Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it home until their spouse or lover has found someone else.
And there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows that such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet. And they work just as well today. I use variations of them in my own romance novels, and my readers tell me they can’t put my books down.