As I stated in Writing Goals for 2016., I am trying to make 2016 the year I finally write my first official novel. The first decent draft of a novel, anyway. I’ve actually been working on a variation of this 2016 novel on since 2013. But this is the first time I’ve ever been so close to feeling like this is it; I’ve discovered my protagonist’s story.
I’ve always been a discovery writer, more than an outliner. And that’s been was taken me in so many different directions with this one story. On one hand, it’s been helpful in allowing me to explore different directions. But it’s not been helpful in having confidence that the story can exist outside of me one day, which is what I want. I’d love to be published one day, even if it ends up being in a less conventional way. I want people to be able to read what I write and feel the way I’ve felt after reading my favorite books.
On my old blog, Books o’ the Wisp (soon-to-be defunct), I blogged a lot about writing in the months leading up to November. I’d like to start doing that here. I want to update you all on my progress through my writing goals for the year, and also share any writing tips or advice I find along the way. My aim is not to tell you how to write but to describe how I write in the hopes that it’s helpful or even inspires you to get to working on your great novel.
The details of my story will be revealed only on a need-to-know basis not just to protect against idea theft but also because it doesn’t feel like a lot of details are set in stone. While I’m working on this story, I don’t want to feel vulnerable about how much I’m sharing of I’m writing.
I don’t know how many others have this problem but I struggle with what to call the novels I work on. Although I’ve been working on a variation of the same story for years now, I’ve always felt the need to rename the story every time it took a drastically different turn. Obviously a title is not something a writer need concern themselves with until near the end of the novel-writing process, but it does help to be able to call it something.
As my story is still in the early development stages, I’m not 100% set on the title I’ve labelled by Scrivener document. But I’m just going to go with it for now. I’m not going to tell you the full title, but the acronyms: EMatST. From here on out, I’ll be calling my novel project EMatST. As you might able to gather, it’s a bit wordy. But I’m a fan of descriptive titles.
Ah, the fun stuff. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not a natural outliner. But over the past year, I’ve seen the light, if you will, and I find it much more comforting to enjoy my discovery writing process when I know when I have boundaries and plot targets for which to aim. It’s also supposed to help with the editing process further down the road.
In the past, I tried using a very strict writing structure to help envision my novel: the Three-Act Structure, made famous (to me) by the BookTuber Katytastic. In the three-act structure, there are three acts/9 blocks/27 chapters, organized so that a cycle of [set up -> conflict -> resolution] is consistent throughout the novel. For more information if such a structure appeals to you, see the video How I Outline! by Katytastic.
I’ve personally learned since then that this story structure does not help me. It makes my stories feel overly formulaic and not at all natural to who I am as a writer. I think I might find it more useful to try and apply to a first draft of a novel in which I know exactly what I want to happen already. But I’ve never gotten that far! And I don’t like working within such a strict format at such an early stage in my writing.
The outlining structure I’ve found works best from me actually came from my writing mentor Karen Bovenmeyer. It’s a seven-point plot structure that combines the strengths of discovery and outline writing. The way we think about the seven points is through “lights in the swamp” metaphor. The plot points are dots we need to connect as we write our novels, providing direction through the murky waters of discovery writing. I love it.
I’d love to do a whole separate post on this outlining structure, but I can’t remember who Karen cited as the main “creator” of this method and I wonder about permissions. It’ll probably be all right. I also think I’ve put my own spin on some of it, anyway, so expect that post at a later date.
So the seven plot points are:
- Hook: Hero introduced
- Plot turn 1: Hero accepts/gets locked into quest
- Pinch 1: Hero realizes/is exposed to high stakes
- Midpoint: Hero becomes resolved to do something
- Plot turn 2: Hero learns what needs to be done to complete quest
- Pinch 2: Hero near defeat “finds the power within”
- Resolution: Hero does what she resolved to do
While this is the order in which the story should unfold as it is read, this is not necessarily the way in which it’s been recommended that you work on developing a plot. The way I’ve learned to start plotting is start with the resolution. Because if you know what you want to happen at the end, you should be better equipped to work backwards to figure out how to get there. As opposed to starting at the beginning are working your way forward without a end game in mind.
So I essentially organized a long summary of brainstormed story content in a Word document within this seven-point framework. It helped me realize where important plot points were missing (usually the pinches) and how to think about how each point contributed to the character development of my protagonist. I don’t have all the details I need quite yet (particularly at the beginning), but I have a good start that’s allowed me to formulate questions that tell me what I need to work on next.
For instance, I knew immediately that I would need to work on world-building and setting to help me better ground each plot point with a awareness of place, and the affordances of each place for the action that will occur. Sounds like fun and not at all scary!
If you want to know more about EMatST, I provided a bit more details on genre and the world in my previous writing-related post Writing Goals for 2016. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about my writing throughout the year. I know I love to read blogs of other writing because it inspires me and gets me pumped! If there’s any specific you’d like me to talk about in the future, let me know in the comments!
And in case you’re wondering, I’m thinking I’ll do a new “Novel Progress” update every Wednesday!