Writer School: Structuring a Novel

August 29th

Gardening in August

 

I’ve had plenty of people ask, “How did you write a book?” The curiosity varies from:

  1. How did you actually sit down and do this, vs., say, laundry. Work. Other normal priorities that often keep us from hobby time. To:
  2. How did you take an idea and wrap 300 pages around it.

The writing books will tell you authors are either character or plot driven. Both of my novels are plot driven – meaning I knew what I wanted to happen, in lieu of one person I wanted to write a story about.  (Also: my hobby time is far greater than many of my peers because my family time/responsibility is minimal. I hope this changes, but in the meantime — I’m writing like mad.)

Are you plot or character driven? You don’t have to pick one. Most authors will strengthen their muscles in one category or the other, but a great writer knows how to do both.

The basics of writing any story are identical to the instruction we received in primary school about writing an essay. Essential elements include: an intro, the meat and potatoes, a summary. That’s it. If you are writing a short story, a blog post, a novella or a series of novels – the format remains the same.

Doing this for a 300-page project can certainly be daunting. Take it one step at a time. We shall eat this elephant in bites.

Gardening in August

How you go about completing that format is where a writer’s personality shines. I often know what I want to happen at the beginning and how I want the story to end. I spend a good bit of time plotting out how to get from A to B. There are many ways to organize this information. You can take 15 sheets of blank white paper and label them by chapter. Hang them on a wall and carefully write out a few things you’d like to see happen in each chapter. By number 15, you should be wrapping up.

I use Scrivner. I create chapter folders. I start with notes. I also keep a cheap spiral notebook for each project. There is something great about keeping a working journal for each story. (This justifies my love of notebooks and school supplies.) I tab chapters and as ideas come to me, scribble them in the write spot until I can go back and work them into the project.

Your story may have more than 15 chapters, but you get the idea. This is how I work. I create the plot draft first and then go back and sprinkle in my details.

Then, I focus on character development. Who do I want to do these things? What do they look like? What do they love, hate, desire?

Next week, we’ll talk about the minor and major story arc and how these should be rolling through those 15 chapters at different paces.

So, are you character or plot driven? Have you ever plotted out a large writing project? What are your tricks of the trade?

 

~K

PS: This week I stuck my foot it in. I asked a friend to design book covers for this new novel. I didn’t communicate well with her and ended up really hurting her feelings as a result. It is questionable if our friendship will survive. If you are working on a novel, you’ll likely ask friends and family for help at some point. Treat them with extra care. It is fairly amazing they care about YOUR work at all. Right?

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3 Responses

  1. I am loving reading about your process, Kelli. Sorry to hear about your cover design problem with your friend, but I know you can make it right. Homemade cinnamon rolls cover a multitude of sins… =)

  2. Rhonda L August 29, 2014

    Thank you for this post, and I’m looking forward to the next one. I do well at short stories because they can be written with little planning, but have struggled to transition to novels, so I’m fascinated to see how someone who successfully completes novels approaches it. I bought Scrivener yesterday, so I’m glad to hear you’re using it successfully.

    I’m neither character or plot driven – I’m situation driven. I thought up a cool situation a couple of days ago and was grabbing up a pen and paper to write when I thought, “Wait a minute! Is there a character or plot that goes with this situation? No, just an intriguing situation and lots of scene snippets that add up to atmosphere not plot.” At least I know what to work on.

    Thanks so much for this series, and I hope all works out with your friend.

  3. Oh, great ideas… I use Google Docs, but this post has given me an idea on how to use sub-folders in a much better way than I have been!

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