Plotting Your Novel – Ideas and Structure is a book I bought to help me make progress on a novel I started last year, but couldn’t finish. It had some very interesting characters, a fascinating setting, and pieces of a plot that had great promise, but after about 30,000 words it ran out of steam. So, I think this book has rescued me. It was written by Janice Hardy, who has also written Understanding Show Don’t Tell (and Really Getting It), Understanding Conflict (and What It Really Means). and a teen fantasy trilogy. She lives in central Florida with her husband, one yard zombie, two cats and a very nervous fresh water eel, according to her website.
The book is divided into ten workshops:
- Finding your writer’s process
- Finding ideas to write about
- Developing your ideas
- Developing your characters, point of view, theme and setting
- Developing your plot
- Determining the type of novel you’re writing
- Determining the size and shape of your novel
- Turning your ideas into a summary line
- Turning your summary line into a summary blurb
- Turning your summary blurb into a synopsis
Each workshop has brainstorming questions, exercises, and discussion in which she clarifies the meanings of the terms she uses and explaining the importance of each term. For example there are various points of view in which a novel can be written: first person, and various third persons: a particular character, a neutral observer, limited point of view, and omniscient point of view; and there are various multiple points of view. Each POV has advantages and disadvantages, and the choice will depend, in part, on what the author wants to reveal to the reader when.
The section on characters was helpful to me, asking me to think about the character’s objectives and his/her arc (how the character changes during the story). This prompted me to think about the strengths and vulnerabilities of each character, a point not covered by the book, but it helped clarify his/her arc, and some plot details. I now had a rather lengthy paragraph that describes each character.
The hook in my novel needed more thought. Ms Hardy describes the hook as the element which catches the reader’s attention and motivates her to read more. Hook is generated by conflict between the characters or between a character and the external environment.
Now, I think I’m in a position where I can describe the plot in more detail. This, for me, will consist of writing out the principal kinds of events which occur in the first part (establishing the theme, the principal characters and the hook); the middle of the story in which the characters and the conflict are further developed; and the conclusion in which the conflicts are played out and the characters’ arcs are completed.
When I’ve done that, I’ll be able to write a summary line, or two, and a catchy summary blurb. The synopsis will come when the first draft is complete.
I’ve found this book particularly useful in better organising my outlining of a novel, so that when I start writing, I rely less on imaginative story-telling and more on writing to a specification. In this way, the intensity of the novel increases and diversions decrease.