Here's a fun writing tip that's quite helpful for plotting.
The beginning and ending of your story are often going to be opposites.
What this means is that your main character typically starts out in an ordinary environment, not living life to their fullest for whatever reason. Then an inciting incident comes along. The main character is pushed beyond their previous limits, discovering themselves and a new world along the way--sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.
By the time the main character has overcome the obstacles in their path, they should also have experienced significant personal growth. The older the audience of your story, the greater the change is likely to be.
At the end of the story, the main character typically has a different outlook on life, a different view of their future, and a changed environment.
Let's take a look at this in action.
In the classic Cinderella, Cinderella is a poor, overworked, underappreciated maid in her own home at the beginning of the movie. She's too meek to stand up for herself. By the end of the movie, she's a beautiful princess, married to the prince, and moving into the castle. And more importantly, she makes the decision to speak up when her stepmother breaks the slipper and lets the prince know that she's the mystery girl. This is the opposite of her beginning.
In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is a simple hobbit who doesn't want to go off on an adventure. He knows little of the outside world, and has never encountered anyone capable of true evil in his entire life. Hobbits are peaceful, unnoticed by the outside world. By the time Bilbo's journey is done, he's learned to be brave, traveled farther than many creatures of Middle Earth, fought incredible dangers, and become one of the most significant figures in the battle between good and evil. While Bilbo ends up back home again, he is forever changed and doesn't feel completely at ease until he gives up the ring and leaves again.
If you know where you want your story to begin, but not where it should end, try envisioning how to turn the main character's situation on its head. Then chart a path that will lead them there. This also works if you know your ending but not your beginning.
Let's talk about filtering words--what they are, and why you want to use them sparingly.
Filtering words are words that put more space between the reader and the characters in a story. Instead of directly experiencing whatever the character is experiencing, filter words move the reader back so that the character's experience is being relayed to the reader by the narrator.
(Pro tip: Filter words are typically verbs revolving around the five senses and the character's thoughts and knowledge.)
Why is filtering a bad thing? Well, it isn't always. Sometimes short and to the point is fine. But filter words, by putting distance between the reader and the action, make it harder for a reader to stay immersed in a story. They keep readers at arms' length, instead of creating connections.
One good rule of thumb is that the more involved you want a reader to feel with a scene or character, the less filtering you should use.
If you want to build drama and tension in a scene, you want the reader to feel like they're there, right alongside the main character. That means you want to replace filtering words with stronger verbs that pull the reader in to the experience.
Examples of filtering verbs: to see, to hear, to feel, to touch, to smell, to taste, to know, to wonder, to realize, etc.
But using sensory descriptions is good, and helps pull in readers, you might protest. And you'd be right. But you want to do it the right way, by showing what the character is experiencing.
Filtering: I heard the birds chirping.
Without filtering: Bird songs filled the clearing, their cheerful conversations bounding from tree to tree like an avian game of Telephone.
Filtering: I smelled cinnamon rolls baking.
Without filtering: The smell of warm, yeasty dough greeted me as I walked in the door, with a hint of something else...cinnamon?
See how the filtering version could be me retelling the experience to someone later? Compare that with the non-filtering version, where I describe an experience as it's happening, as if you, the reader, are there with me. That's what you want your readers to feel.
Give it a try in your own manuscripts, or comment below with a filtered version of a sentence and a non-filtered version if you feel like sharing!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!