"Your plotting program is amazingly easy to understand
and pushed my fiction story to a new level."
NOTE: The print version of this book is 8.5” x 11” to make copy worksheets easy.
Here’s a look inside Break Into Fiction®, including a sample worksheet that is for any type of writer. Once you have ‘your process,’ go with it. Yours is unique to you and you should never plot or write by the seat of your pants unless that works for you!
This is the book you need to create a novel. Why? Because we have spent many years and thousands of hours analyzing commercial fiction for one purpose: to discover what it takes to turn a story idea into a marketable novel. The result of all this work was the creation of Break Into Fiction®, a Template Teaching Series that simplifies the process of how to build a full story with realistic characters.
As national workshop speakers, we have gained valuable insights into how today’s new writers want to learn the craft of writing. We interact with thousands of aspiring writers every year who want to know what it will take to publish in today’s market. Having broken into the ranks of published fiction authors, we understand what the next generation of new writers must do to produce a marketable novel. Until now, writers were faced with first attending hours of workshops and reading tomes, then struggling to remember all the many facets of information when they finally had a chance to use those in their writing.
Frustrated with this antiquated method, we have created innovative templates for plotting a novel.
The response to this style of teaching, Character-Driven Plotting™, was overwhelmingly positive.
If you’re ready to write a novel, then this is your book. You don’t need a cheerleader. You’ve already made the mental decision to write, because you’re holding the book that will put you on that path. You’re ready to get started. However, wanting to write a book and doing it are two different things. First-year med students don’t ask when they get to perform brain surgery—they know there’s a logical progression of steps to get there. At some point they are ready to step forward to reach their dreams. The learning separates those who want to do something and those who do it. Put one foot in front of another and get moving.
Great stories don’t happen by accident. They are the result of creating a powerful Character-Driven Plot™. Writing a novel can seem like a daunting task, but it is no different than anything else you’ve had to learn . . . once it’s broken down into simple steps. There is no formula for writing a book. But the instructions and templates in this book are akin to handing a fine brush to an artist, and then showing a student how to apply paint to his or her own canvas. The final product is different for everyone depending on how gently the brush is wielded and how boldly the paint is applied. You have an idea for a story—that’s why you’re holding this book. Now, turn the page so we can show you how professional writers develop a budding idea into a full-fledged novel with depth, emotion, and dynamic pacing. Start right from the first chapter on your story. We commend you for taking this first step toward your dream.
We want you to start writing your book immediately. The quickest way to take advantage of this material and start writing your commercial fiction story is by watching the movies we use for examples. These four movies were chosen to show you how successful commercial fiction has key elements. This process makes understanding the instruction and templates so simple, you’re ready to apply what you learn to your story immediately. If you’re a fairly new writer, choose one movie and go through all the templates with that one story so that you aren’t confused by too much information at one time. Once you’ve done that, watch the other movies and see how these templates work with every story.
The Bourne Identity (2002—Universal Pictures)—Suspense
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) as the protagonist
Marie (Franka Potente) as a major secondary character
Conklin (Chris Cooper) as the villain (CIA handler)
Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) as the villain (Conklin’s boss at CIA)
Pretty Woman (1990—Touchstone Pictures)—Romantic Comedy
Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) as the hero
Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) as the heroine
Phillip Stuckey (Jason Alexander) as the antagonist/villain
James Morse (Ralph Bellamy) as the mentor/business owner
Casablanca (1942—Warner Pictures)
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) as the protagonist
Ilsa Lund (lngrid Bergman) as the antagonist/love interest Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) as the antagonist Captain Renault (Claude Rains) as the antagonist
Finding Nemo (2003—Walt Disney Pictures)
Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) as the protagonist
Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) as the mentor/ally
The Glossary is next for an important reason. Read through the Glossary, since you’ll be encountering terminology specific to the Break Into Fiction® Character-Driven Plotting™ Program. Becoming familiar with these terms will help you grasp examples more quickly.
"If you’re reading this in the new Break Into Fiction® workbook-size print format, the templates are the perfect size for copying. If you have the original, trade-size paperback, you can enlarge the template book pages by 160 percent for a letter-size sheet. If you’re studying the e-book, you can write the chapter heading….or search BLANK TEMPLATES OFFER at end of this book."
NOTE: Be sure to check for the Free Full-Size Templates offer at end of this book (offer is good for those who purchase e-book and/or print books).
Every writer starts from a different place. Inspiration for a story may be a character, a setting, a situation . . . there are as many reasons behind every story as there are stories.
We start with Characters since every commercial fiction story has a protagonist at the center of everything.
Second, the conflict this character faces is what holds our interest. We want to know how another human being will overcome obstacles to succeed. This is the heart of a commercial fiction story, which is why we will dig deep into your character to establish a conflict strong enough to carry your story.
The question is: Where do you open a story? Continue reading to find the answer.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, character is defined as “A person in a play or novel; distinctive trait; behavior typical of a person or group; moral strength; reputation; status; individual being.”
"Few men are of one plain, decided color; most are mixed, shaded, and blended; and vary as much, from different situations, as changeable silks do from different lights."
There is so much more to creating a real character than choosing physical attributes and personality traits. The most memorable characters stay with us because they touched our emotions and became real people in our minds.
When molding your character, don’t stop at the stereotypical basics—she couldn’t trust men again, he was trying to win his father’s approval, she wanted to prove her independence, he was a loose cannon—if you want him or her to spring off the page.
Build a prior life for your character—to use as reference material for you as a writer, not to fill the pages of your story.
Ed Gaffney writes a legal thriller series based on two law partners— Terry Tallach and Zack Wilson—who are as different as two men can be and share a profession.
Here’s an example of how Zack appears from Terry’s POV taken from Suffering Fools. Notice how deftly the author shares insights about Terry’s personality while the focus is really on Zack.
In this scene, Terry isn’t happy about the pro bono case Zack has taken for a client who appears mentally challenged and guilty as sin. They are currently interviewing the client’s mother. (This scene is in Terry’s POV.)
The victim had ID’d him. What else was there?
Terry turned toward Zack. He sure didn’t look like one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the state. As usual, Zack was sporting his I-look-like-I’m-on-vacation look. Linen shirt—sleeves rolled up, of course, probably just to piss Terry off—jeans, and boots.
But despite his stubborn refusal to look the part, Zack always seemed to be surrounded by this golden aura of professionalism. He walked into a courtroom, smiled like he couldn’t believe how lucky he was just to be alive, and juries instantly fell in love with him. It was like some genetic accident had left him with an overabundance of charm.
Unfortunately, Zack also had an overabundance of patience.
"Long after a story ends, it’s the characters that remain with you. A great character is one you expect to see in real life just around the next corner."
—Pat White, award-winning author of Ring Around My Heart
Don’t you love how even though this is in Terry’s POV we immediately see “Terry” as impatient and someone who takes exception to casual clothes worn during working hours? We got a nice introduction to Zack without learning every detail about him in one chapter, and in an active way. Now let’s take a look at Terry a bit later after the above scene where the defendant’s mother, Katerina Gardiner, has handed the two attorneys a videotape she claims is an exact copy of the damning one the police took from the surveillance cameras at the convenience store. But she claims this tape will clear her son of the charges. (This scene is in Zacks POV.)
Attorney Zack Wilson led his partner, Terry Tallach, into the living room, where they planned to view the videotape that Katerina Gardiner swore would prove her son innocent.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing this,” Terry told Zack as he sat on the couch. “Because as everyone knows, grand juries indict people all the time for armed robbery when the police have videotapes that show they are innocent.”
Terry’s attitude wasn’t exactly a surprise. Ever since they’d met, back in high school, the question for Terry wasn’t whether the glass was half empty. It was whether what was inside the glass would kill him or just make him sick.
Now, twenty years later, they were successful law partners, and Terry still looked at the world through doom-colored glasses.
You can feel the difference in personalities by the sentence structure and word choice as much as by the descriptions given in a vivid way. You can feel the tenseness in Terry and the calm Zack exudes. Terry is cranky about the tape and Zack is patiently waiting to see what is on it.
Notice how you learn just a little more about their history each time, just enough to start seeing these men as real people, but not so much the story stops moving forward. This is a great way to show a character—through the eyes of another character.
Every piece of the story works together to pull a reader deeper into the character’s problems and conflict. The more a reader engages with a character, the more interested the reader will be in watching how a character reacts during something as simple as an interview where one character is methodically taking his time and the other one is a mass of energy waiting to be unleashed. We connect to these two men on a personal level as the story unfolds because Ed has created characters that breathe and think on every page.
The key to showing us emotion within a character is to climb inside that person to understand how he or she will react in a given situation. Every personality trait has a positive side and a negative side, depending on your perspective. Take a look at these examples and build a list showing the strengths and weaknesses of major characters in your story.
POWERFUL CHARACTERS TEMPLATE
The purpose of this template is to develop your main character(s) from the inside out (determine what they are lacking internally to be a more complete human being and what their core beliefs are) and to learn what drives this character (motivation) to action. A three-dimensional character strengthens your story and is the central, most important piece of a strong plot. Use the template for your protagonist (note that there are two protagonists in a romance), antagonist(s), and villain(s). Since they should be your strongest characters, allocate the most page space to them.
NOTE: Directly after each template, there will be a completed on using each of the four movie examples, which will help show you how to apply this to your story.
The Character for this template is:
TIP: Not externally but internally.
TIP: Describe from several other characters’ viewpoints.
TIP: This is tied directly to the Internal Character Growth you (the author) are planning by the end of the story for this character.
TIP: This should play a role in motivation for this character’s actions.
TIP: Sometimes the character knows what the ultimate goal is—find a killer, save the planet, reclaim the homestead—but sometimes the character is not willing to face this ultimate goal until actions over the course of the story prepare them to handle the effort needed to reach this final goal. This character will attempt smaller external goals first, such as find a clue, look for a missing person, agree to work closely with a potential love interest. Sometimes the character is very much aware that their one external goal over the course of the story does not change—find the bad guy, stop a bomb, save a historic building. You, as the author, should know the character’s overall External Story Goal, even if the character is clearly not aware of what their ultimate external goal is or how difficult it will be to reach.
TIP: Think worst case that can happen.
TIP: This character may think that one small step is all he or she needs to accomplish, but you
know it is a step toward the character’s larger External Story Goal.
TIP: This is the Internal Character Growth you, as the author, have planned for the character.
Driven, determined, private.
Jason believes his Everyday World is a dangerous place for him personally.
Jason is not content with his world because he’s been shot, he has amnesia, and he fears his past contains dark secrets.
Being decisive because that’s the difference between life and death on the run.
Jason’s weakness is his amnesia that prevents him from knowing the truth about who he is and what he’s done.
Marie sees Jason as dangerous, but sees his skills as a strength that protects them. Jason’s immediate CIA boss sees Jason’s training as his strength.
Marie observes Jason’s inability to see the good in himself as a weakness; Jason’s immediate CIA boss sees Jason’s inability to terminate a target regardless of collateral damage to innocents as a weakness.
Jason doesn’t know his occupation, but comes to suspect he was some sort of trained killer. The fact that he was a deadly operative with the CIA is a key factor in Jason’s motivation to find the truth about himself.
Waking up with no memory and bullets in his back is something anyone could understand. Additionally, even though Jason has access to guns many times in the story, he chooses to leave them behind. This shows that although he knows how to use a gun, his true nature is not to kill people.
Because of his CIA training, Jason lacks the ability to trust or to connect with other people.
Jason values his freedom and the truth. He hopes he will be able to attain both through the return of his memory.
Jason will have to face the CIA individuals who trained him and stop their actions or die trying to stop them.
Either the CIA will kill Jason or he will be on the run for the rest of his life.
Jason’s most Immediate External Goal is to find out if the Swiss bank vault number found in the capsule dug out of his hip offers a clue to his identity.
The Swiss bank vault is Jason’s only current option for learning his true identity, and someone obviously wants him dead because he woke up with two bullets in his back. Therefore, not reaching that vault and not gaining his identity is life-and-death important because he has no idea who is a threat or who is a friend.
At the beginning of the story, Jason gives limited trust to the fishermen who saved him and treated his wounds, because he’s forced to accept their help.
Jason trusts no one because he has no idea who he is or who shot him. He also realizes that he’s been trained not to trust anyone, although he doesn’t know why.
Jason will trust Marie without question, because she stayed with him when she could have walked away in spite of knowing he’s been trained to be an assassin.
Jason will change from a man on the run who fears he may have been a cold-blooded killer, to a man on the attack who is ready to stop the people who send out assassins to kill regardless of the cost.
By the end of the story, Jason appears to no longer be on the run from threats and he’s connected with Marie.
POWERFUL CHARACTER MOVIE EXAMPLE:
THE CHARACTER FOR THIS TEMPLATE IS:
Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts)
TIP: There are two protagonists in a romance—the hero and heroine—so fill out a template for each one
Loyal, gutsy, and a survivor.
Vivian believes her Everyday World is a dangerous place to live, but that she doesn’t deserve a better life. This world is as good as it gets for a girl like her.
Vivian is not content with her Everyday World, because she never planned to be a hooker and she wants security without having to trade her body for it.
Vivian would say her strengths are her personality and her determination.
Bad judgment of men; being emotionally gullible.
Edward sees Vivian’s strength as her ability to adapt to any situation and connect emotionally with people.
Vivian’s roommate sees Vivian’s weakness as making emotional attachments.
Vivian is a prostitute and does not like it, but feels it’s the most she can expect.
Even though it means Vivian has to pin her boots together, scrounge food from the bar condiment tray, and must climb out the fire escape to hide from the landlord, she is still willing to help her roommate make up the money her roommate squandered, because her roommate was the only person who helped Vivian when she was desperate.
Vivian lacks the ability to believe she deserves a better life than being a hooker.
Vivian values financial security most in life, because it translates into her own personal safety.
That Vivian will find security without trading her body for money, plus leave prostitution for a new future.
Vivian will return to the precarious life of a hooker, living hand-to-mouth and at risk every day.
Vivian wants to make enough money to pay the rent and the drug dealer threatening her roommate.
If Vivian fails to find replacement rent money, she and her roommate will be homeless and at the mercy of a dangerous drug dealer wanting to pimp them.
In the beginning, Vivian only trusts her roommate because she helped Vivian when she had no one.
Vivian does not trust Edward initially, because men have always used her. She does not trust the hotel manager, because people in his position normally treat her like dirt. She doesn’t trust society people, because they look down on her, too.
By the end, Vivian does trust Edward, because he cares about her and values her.
Vivian will go from being insecure and doubting her self-worth at the beginning to becoming emotionally strong enough to demand a true commitment— marriage—from Edward at the end.
Vivian will leave the life of prostitution to seek her diploma and a better life with Edward.
POWERFUL CHARACTER MOVIE EXAMPLE:
THE CHARACTER FOR THIS TEMPLATE IS:
Edward Lewis (Richard Gere)
Isolated, driven, ruthless.
Edward believes his Everyday World is neat and orderly and that most, if not all, people are driven by money.
Edward is content with his Everyday World, because he believes that he controls his world by his ability to make money without emotional consequences.
Edward would say his strength is being a powerful negotiator who does not let emotion cloud his decisions.
Edward would say he has no weakness.
Both Edward’s adversaries and his associates—such as the attorney—revere his business acumen, which is based on not allowing emotions to enter decision-making. Vivian sees Edward’s sense of self-worth as a strength and in contrast to her own lacking sense of worth.
Edward’s attorney sees Edward’s interest in Vivian as a weakness. Vivian sees Edward’s inability to see the human cost of his acquisitions as a blind spot.
Edward is a very successful corporate raider who loves what he does.
When his current live-in girlfriend in New York breaks up with him via phone on a very important day for him, Edward asks a former girlfriend a question about how he handles relationships. When she gives him a truthful answer he might not have wanted to hear, he tells her how lucky her new husband is to have her. He and this prior girlfriend have a warm exchange, indicating she doesn’t hate him, so the viewer is willing to believe he’s a decent guy.
Edward lacks the ability to emotionally bond with another person or to be intimate, so he never has a true relationship with anyone, either in his business or his personal life.
In the beginning of the story, Edward values power and money most in life.
For Edward to partner with the elderly shipping businessman to begin building something rather than taking over and dismantling the struggling company.
Edward will continue the legacy of his father-destroying businesses and other people’s lives.
Edward is driving an unfamiliar car and wants to find directions to his hotel.
Edward stands to be mugged—or worse—since he is barely capable of driving the car, and he is lost in a seedy part of Hollywood.
Edward trusts no one at the beginning of the story, as he assumes all other people are motivated solely by money. As long as he continues to make money, and pay others, he will have people in his life, but not anyone he can trust.
Edward trusts no one because his own father betrayed his trust as a child.
Edward will trust Vivian by the end of the story, because she has shown she has his best interest at heart even without any monetary expectation. He’ll trust the grandfatherly businessman enough to form a partnership, because the grandfather shows Edward the value of building a business over dismantling one.
Edward will change from an emotionally isolated man who believes all relationships come with a price tag, to a man who is able to love and willing to believe there is good in people like the older businessman, and that Vivian’s love is real.
Externally at the end, Edward will no longer take over companies to dismantle, but will now build companies and will marry Vivian.
POWERFUL CHARACTER MOVIE EXAMPLE:
THE CHARACTER FOR THIS TEMPLATE IS:
Richard “Rick” Blaine (Humphrey Bogart)
Cynical loner and politically neutral.
Rick believes he can keep his Everyday World safe as long as he does not get involved with anyone else’s problems.
Rick appears content, although others in his world appear to think differently.
Rick would say that his strength is in being unemotional.
Rick believes that his past tendency to care about others is a weakness.
Ilsa sees Rick’s strength as being able to make decisions and carry them through. Captain Renault sees Rick’s strength as being trustworthy, that his word is his bond.
Renault believes Rick is still a patriot, which is a weakness in Casablanca at this time. Ilsa sees Rick’s bitterness as a weakness. German Major Strasser sees Rick’s idealism as a weakness.
Rick likes owning a popular bar that’s at the center of intrigue for those trying desperately to flee Casablanca, because he believes he’s in control of his world.
All of Rick’s employees talk about aspects of Rick’s personality that he doesn’t show, such as loyalty and generosity. He also makes sure his former lover is escorted home safely when she’s had too much to drink. He doesn’t betray the thief who stole the Letters of Transit and gave them to Rick to keep safe.
Rick lacks connection, because he’s unable to move beyond being hurt by Ilsa. He keeps both people and political causes at arm’s length, which leaves him emotionally isolated.
Rick values privacy and no personal baggage, because he lost his belief in others when Ilsa broke his heart.
For Rick to choose the Allied side in the war against Germany, and for Rick to help Ilsa and Laszlo escape.
If Rick does not choose a political side, he jeopardizes Ilsa and Laszlo’s lives, plus he undermines the Resistance movement.
Rick wants to remain neutral. He wants to hide the Letters of Transit, because he knows they are very valuable.
Rick stands to be imprisoned if the Germans find out he has the Letters of Transit.
Rick only trusts Sam, his piano player, in the beginning.
Rick trusts no one except Sam. He especially distrusts Captain Renault and Major Strasser.
By the end of the story Rick will trust Ilsa, Laszlo, and Captain Renault.
Rick will go from being a cynical and emotionally void person bent on neutrality, to a man who cares about people and feels love again. He is able to take up the sword to fight once more. He shows this by creating a situation that allows the Resistance leader, Laszlo, to escape with Ilsa. So though Rick found love, for the greater good he makes Ilsa leave.
Rick will no longer own his bar, and it’s implied that he will return to freedom fighting.
POWERFUL CHARACTER MOVIE EXAMPLE:
THE CHARACTER FOR THIS TEMPLATE IS:
Marlin (Nemo’s father)
Hypersensitive and overprotective father.
Marlin believes everything outside his home is dangerous.
Marlin is content to stay in his Everyday World of home because that is the only way he believes he can protect his only child, Nemo. He’s also content to keep Nemo close to their home.
Marlin believes his strength is in being an ever-vigilant father by keeping his child from harm.
Marlin would say that his failure once before to keep his family safe was a weakness.
Nemo believes his father’s strength is that he is a good and loving father who will do anything in his power to save Nemo.
Nemo thinks his father’s weaknesses are fear of the outside world and unwillingness to let Nemo experience any of the outside world.
Marlin does not have an occupation beyond being a single father, which is all he cares about.
By showing in the opening scene (prologue) how Marlin once was trusting and excited about life before tragedy struck, how much he loved his wife, and how they are looking forward to bringing their children into the world.
Marlin lacks the ability to relax as a father and allow his son to experience life. He lacks confidence in his ability to protect his child and won’t let Nemo take a risk of any sort.
Marlin values his son more than anything.
For Marlin to find Nemo and rescue him, and in the process learn to live and function in the larger world.
Since Nemo is Marlin’s only family, if Marlin cannot rescue him, Marlin will have lost everyone who matters to him.
Marlin wants to get Nemo to school and back home as quickly and safely as possible.
If Marlin fails, it means Nemo has been put in jeopardy, which means his worst fear has come true – that something has happened to his child.
Marlin trusts no one, not even Nemo, at the beginning, because Marlin believes that everyone is too casual about the dangers in the world.
As noted above, Marlin trusts no one.
Marlin learns to trust others including Nemo, his new friend, Dory, the Sharks who are not eating him, and the schoolteacher who can now take Nemo off to visit the far Reef.
By the end, Marlin is willing to take a risk to save Dory rather than shy away from danger or rush Nemo back to the safety of their home. This will show that he has become a part of a larger community and capable of living.
Marlin will enjoy life outside his home, as well as have a better relationship with his son and the larger community of fish.
Webster’s Dictionary defines conflict as “Antagonistic, incompatible; to be at war; emotional disturbance.”