Two approaches to novel structure I recommend you check out!

I’m no expert with regard to writing a novel.  Admittedly, I’m still revising my first one, and while I’ve had some modest success with my poetry and short stories, I’m a complete n00b when it comes to the mechanics of the novel.  I’m learning as I go and I’ll share these bumbling lessons in my Work in Progress category, but for this week’s Alchemy Ink, I thought I’d do a little curating.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve come across two of approaches that attracted me and that I intend to follow through to their blogging conclusions.

Why did I gravitate to these two writing bloggers?

The short answer is that I’m floundering.  I’m working with a peer group in Author Salon and part of that entails the presentation of my project in a formatted profile.  I’ve never queried an agent before, never participated in a pitch slam, or in a workshop that focuses on developing a pitch, hook, synopsis, or any of the other components of the profile.

In recent weeks, both the critiques of my peers and the advice of AS staff have brought several things to my attention:

  • My synopsis misses the mark.  The synopsis we’re asked to produce for the AS profile must be between 200 and 300 words and so is what’s been described to me as the short synopsis.  This is something that might fit into a query letter and could be analogous to the blurb on the back of a book.  The specific form still escapes me at the moment.
  • My hook line doesn’t ‘hook.’
  • My conflict statement isn’t well-defined.  My plot is very complicated and I can’t seem to distil everything into a concise, yet clear statement that addresses internal, interpersonal, and plot level conflicts.
  • I didn’t have a series title, and the title of the novel didn’t resonate with most of my readers.  This is still in flux.  I’ve chosen a series title and changed the working title of the novel, but there were reasons that I chose the original.  I won’t go into those here, but at least one peer thinks the original was better.
  • My original novel was far too long.  I’ve had to cut it in half and that’s changed a whole whack of things.  When initially confronted with this, I was defensive, and unwilling to move, but after my initial panic, I recognized that I didn’t have to take the scorched earth policy and destroy what was a 295,000 word opus.  So I’ve chosen to break the novel up, using the mid-point as the new climax and am editing down from there to a neat 110,000 words.
  • My climax and denouement are not well defined.  This owes to the above re-envisioning of my novel.  Reworking a mid-point to a climax has brought with it its own challenges.

Other issues have become apparent to me in the process:

  • My protagonist’s story arc is not dynamic in its early stages.  There’s a lot of internal conflict, and some interpersonal, but not much that relates overtly to the plot.  It all relates to the larger story arc, but that doesn’t become apparent until later on in the novel.
  • There’s a lot of disembodiment going on.  This is a tough one.  I can fix the POV issues that contribute to some of this, but dream/out of body experiences and shamanic journeying are central to the story.  I’ll have to let this incubate for a while and write through some of the possibilities.

I’m going to need some help working through all of this.

So what are the two approaches already?

Karen Woodward and the Starburst method

I caught on to Woodward with Part 3 and backtracked through her blog posts from there.  There are ten parts/steps to the process, so I’m going to be following Woodward through them from here on out.

Part 1 entails creating a one sentence description of your story.  This equates to what, in screenwriting circles, is called a log line, or what AS is calling the hook line.  That alone made my Writerly Goodness ears perk up (Didn’t know my authorial alter ego was a dog?  Take a look at the site mascot 😛 ).

Part 2 takes that one sentence and creates from it a five sentence paragraph.  This might make a zippy short synopsis.  Woodward discusses the three act structure here as well, another takeaway from the screenwriting world that has been successfully applied to novel writing.

Part 3 expands each sentence into its own paragraph.  By now, I think I have a decent idea of where the Starburst method is heading, but I’m still curious enough to follow through with it and see where it leads me.

K.M. Weiland and the Secrets of Story Structure

Late to the party with Weiland as well, I didn’t pick up on her series until part three, and was reminded of it this week when Porter Anderson reposted a link to part five in this week’s edition of Jane Friedman’s Writing on the Ether.

Why I like Weiland’s approach

What struck me immediately was that Weiland’s secrets are both organic in nature, having emerged from her own process and experience, and very clear.  Ideas and insight started to pop as soon as I read her first post.

Part 1 answers the question: Why should authors care?  It made complete sense to me.

Part 2 deals with the hook in its story structure form as opposed to the hook line that AS wants.   Still, the way Weiland describes the hook offers insight into what (perhaps) should and shouldn’t be present in a hook line.  It’s the question that the protagonist, and therefore the reader, needs to answer.  For the writer, it propels the plot; for the protagonist, it sets her feet on the hero’s journey; and for the reader, it keeps him or her reading until the question is answered.

Part 3 covers the first act.  How do you introduce your characters, the setting, and the plot stakes?

Part 4 defines and illustrates the first plot point.  What is the first major plot point and how does it differ from the inciting incident and the key event?

Part 5 goes into more detail with regard to the inciting incident and the key event.  At each stage, Weiland uses the same set of examples to illustrate what she’s talking about and solidifies the takeaways in point form at the end of her posts.  Excellent blogging form 🙂

These last three together are important factors to consider in writing the first part of your novel, what AS calls your “First 50 Pages,” but admits could be as many as 100 pages.  This is also part of what’s critiqued  in the AS process and something I may have to rewrite substantially.

I’ll summarize by reiterating my invitation to check out both of these blogs.

Have you come across any excellent online resources regarding novel or story structure?  Please share!