Trying to Get Novel Structure Right

Several times in my blog posts in December I mentioned that I was working on novel structure. Thanks to the writings of K.M. Weiland online and in her books, the light bulb finally came on in my head. Everything fell into place and made sense. At least, I think everything fell into place.

As a reader of fiction, I just knew when I liked a story and when I didn’t. I never gave the structure of a novel any thought. I didn’t know a novel was supposed to hang on a framework. Call me slow, but I just didn’t.

Over the years, I’ve read about novel structure; however, I started writing a novel without giving structure any thought. I thought the words would just naturally flow in chronological order and, when I had written 100,000 or so of them, it would be a novel.

That’s an over-simplification, but it’s not too far off the point.

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I read numerous articles that said a novel has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, duh! Of course. How hard can that be, right?

But there’s a lot more to novel structure than that – and I’m still learning.

I worked on the manuscript for the novel mentioned above for more years than I want to admit. (The working title is either The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon.) Then, I made some major changes in the story because what I thought was a fact turned out to be a legend. There was an ounce of truth in it, but I didn’t want to perpetuate a myth.

I didn’t write for about a year. I didn’t think I could face starting over, but that’s what I did early in 2019. New story, new characters, same old location, and same time period.

Yet again, I plunged into writing without any structure. I wrote a long and detailed outline and thought I had everything right. Some 90,000 words later, in December 2021 the concept of novel structure kept gnawing at me. It wouldn’t let me go until I put everything else aside and focused on it.

When I thought I had a fairly good grasp of novel structure, I set about to compare it to my manuscript. I was relieved to discover I had some things in the correct order and the correct place. There were some scenes, though that had to be moved. That was a scary proposition! Thank goodness for the “cut and paste” buttons on the computer. If this had happened to me in 1990, I probably would have just thrown the manuscript and my typewriter in the trash.

So, what are the basics of novel structure, as I understand them?

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Remember – I’m still trying to grasp all the details and nuances. Don’t use me as your source. Please use K.M. Weiland’s books and online articles as your source if you plan to follow this structure to write a novel. Here’s the link to her website: https://www.kmweiland.com/book/structuring-your-novel/. Here’s the link to her series of online articles about novel structure: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/secrets-story-structure-complete-series/.

The following percentages are approximations, and the explanations are very brief and written to the best of my understanding.

Hook – Close enough to the beginning to “hook” the reader.

Inciting Event – Approximately 12% into the novel. Introduction to the main conflict.

Key Event – The protagonist’s response to the inciting event.

1St Plot Point – Approximately 25% into the novel. Ms. Weiland calls this the “Doorway of No Return.’ This is when the protagonist decides she’s all in. There’s no turning back.

1st Pinch Point – Approximately 37% into the novel. This is a small turning point. The protagonist is “pinched” by the force of the antagonist.

The Midpoint/2nd Plot Point – Approximately 50% into the novel. (No surprise there.) Internal and external conflict come together and the point of the story comes together. New information is revealed to the protagonist resulting in a paradigm shift. She has a clearer understanding of the threat against her.

2nd Pinch Point – Approximately 62% into the novel. The protagonist realizes like never before just what is at stake.

3rd Plot Point – Approximately 75% into the novel. Ms. Weiland says this includes the “dark night of the soul.” The protagonist must decide if she has it in her to keep fighting for her goal. She might make some progress toward reaching her goal, but then there will be a “low moment” where a lie she’s been telling herself all this time will die. She must face the facts.

Climax – Approximately 88% into the novel. This is where the protagonist confronts the antagonist and we find out if she achieves her goal.

Resolution – Loose ends from the story are tied up, unless the book ends with a cliffhanger to entice the reader to want to know more about this character.

It almost takes the fun out of writing a novel! Writing is hard work, but I’m happiest when I’m writing.

Where my novel stands now

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I’ve been inspired to write a novel series. After brainstorming the backstories of my protagonist in The Spanish Coin/The Doubloon, I realized her backstory would make a good novel.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on unsplash.com

I don’t outline my writing projects in a rigid outline form like I was taught in school. I outline in paragraphs, throwing in bits and pieces of dialogue. The first draft of my outline for “Book One” now stands at nearly 4,000 words, and I’m eager to expand that into a scenic plot outline. (That outline is also in paragraph form, but gets into more detail than the first outline.) Next, comes the writing of Book One.

Book One takes my protagonist back to her childhood in Virginia, moving to Salisbury, North Carolina in 1766, and meeting her first husband. The Spanish Coin/The Doubloon will be the second book in the series. I have the bare bones of the third, fourth, and fifth books planned.

Call me overly optimistic, but that’s where things stand today. If my novel(s) never see the light of day, at least I’ve had the utter enjoyment of researching and writing them.

Since my last blog post, in addition to the above outlining

I’ve done a lot of decluttering since last Monday’s post. I’m getting to the age when I need to think about the fact that someday someone is going to have to dispose of my stuff. I need to make that task as easy for him/her/them as I can. I organized my stash of fabric and filled one large plastic storage bin with “unfinished sewing/quilting projects.”

I scanned some old photographs using the Photomyne app on my cell phone. I watched an hour-long webinar about organizing a large collection of photographs.

It seems like half the things I do these days are to decrease the amount of “stuff” my niece and nephew will have to deal with when I’m gone. I’m not trying to be morbid, but the closer I get to 70 the more I need to realize I’m not going to live forever. I’ve already lived longer than my father.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope to spend as much time writing as I do reading in the coming week. I hope you also have productive creative time.

Stay safe and well. Let me know what you’ve been doing.

Janet

The Hook in She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

Writing about a story’s hook, Karen Cogan stated in the closing paragraph of her post, “How to Set the Right Tone for Your Novel” on the Southern Writers: Suite T blog on December 19, 2018: 

“The point is that your reader should never be misled for the sake of an enticing beginning. Certainly, you want an interesting opening. All you must do is to think carefully about your genre for the hook that draws readers into your novel.” For instance, a romance novel should not begin with the gory details of a murder. (Here’s the link to that blog post:  https://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.com/2018/12/how-to-set-right-tone-for-your-novel.html.)

If you’ve followed my blog for a few months, you know that I’m fascinated by the opening lines of novels. Although the “hook” can be more than just the opening line or paragraph, I can usually tell by the first sentence if I’m starting to read a book that I’ll finish.

Sometimes I’m fooled. Most of the time, I find that the opening sentence or paragraph is an invitation to a place or time I’ve never been – like a murder scene, the life of a person making a gut-wrenching decision, the colonial days in America, or perhaps the home front or battlefields of a great war.

As an aspiring novelist, I want to learn what makes a great hook and what doesn’t.

Today I’m highlighting the opening sentence in She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper:

“His skin told his history in tattoos and knife scars.” ~ first sentence in She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

That hook describes Crazy Craig Hollington, president of the Aryan Steel prison gang. No surprise there. Chances are, this is not going to be a Sunday afternoon picnic kind of a story.

She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

This isn’t typical of my reading choices, but I was drawn to it when I read that it won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I wrote the following about the book in my June 4, 2018 blog post, “Reading in May 2018” (see https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/06/04/reading-in-may-2018.)

“After reading the opening description of a white supremacist gang in a prison in Chapter 0 (yes, Chapter 0), I wasn’t sure I could hang in there to keep reading. I continued to read, and I was soon invested in 11-year-old Polly.

“Polly is kidnapped at school by the father she barely knows and is suddenly thrown into a life of crime. The book takes the reader along for a rollercoaster ride as Polly quickly becomes streetwise in order to survive.”

I think, “His skin told his history in tattoos and knife scars” was a good indication for what was to come in She Rides Shotgun.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been racing against the clock to try to read or listen to umpteen books before they have to return to the library or disappear from my Kindle. Too many books, too little time. Look for my blog posts on March 4 and 11, 2019 to see what I read this month.

Update on Decluttering

In case anyone out there is interested, I’m continuing to do battle with clutter. I’ve been inspired this year by Mliae’s blog:  https://lifexperimentblog.com/2019/02/22/february-declutter-update/. She was kind enough to list my blog in her February 22, 2019 blog post, which prompted me to offer an update on my decluttering progress today.

Sometimes mail piles up. Opened, unopened, it doesn’t make a difference. I know the rule of thumb is to only touch a piece of paper once. Some days go well. I open the mail and immediately put it in the paper shredder, a file folder, or the recycle bin. Other days… not so much.

This month I’ve put 22 catalogs in the recycling bin. My goal is to get off as many catalog mailing lists as possible.

I’ve set aside 28 books to donate to the April 6 used book sale at my church. Granted, those 28 books are still piled on the hearth, but at least I know they’re getting new homes in April.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to George Washington’s Secret Six:  The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. I’m trying to finish reading In the Woods, by Tana French before it disappears from my Kindle on Thursday.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and that you’re good at writing hooks.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Don’t forget to look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow when I’ll reveal two books that help me sleep at night. That’s the assignment, anyway. I’m still working on it. (Writing prompt provided by “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog post on January 8, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646)

Let’s start a conversation

How much time or how many pages do you give a book before you give up on it and move to another book?

Janet

I took Mliae’s January challenge

I have discarded, recycled, or set aside to donate more items this month than I can count. All as a result of Mliae’s blog post on December 31, 2018:  https://lifexperimentblog.com/2018/12/31/happy-new-year-2019/.

Mliae challenged her blog readers to get rid of one item every day in January. I missed many days, but made up for it on others. It feels good to get rid of some clutter. Thank you, Mliae!

I finally got around to shredding my income tax records and bank statements from the year 1999 through 2010. That’s not a typo. 1999.

Think back to 1999, if you can. In those days, the bank sent you a statement every month along with all your cancelled checks. The bank and I have come a long way since 1999:  from cancelled checks to online bill pay.

In some ways, I’m organized. I keep each year’s income tax instructions and paperwork together with a rubber band. In theory, this would make it easy to discard (shred) the oldest year’s paperwork when adding the newest year’s records; however, I never put my plan into practice.

Hence, I hadn’t gotten rid of any of those records in 20 years even though we’re required to only keep our income tax records for seven years. It was time to tackle that box of income tax records! I started that project on Friday afternoon and finished it Saturday night. I thought our poor wee paper shredder was going to blow up!

I am reminded of a line I like from At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens:

“… if nothing else, a useful reminder early on that the more I can let go of the old, the more room there is for the new.”

In writing that, Ms. Givens was not referring to getting rid of physical items in order to make room for new things. She was writing about a revelation she had in the early days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan.

Ms. Givens realized that she needed to let go of preconceived ideas and the way she had done things back home in the United States so she could learn the culture of the Kazakh people.

The above quote from Ms. Givens’ memoir struck a chord with me. As I let go of some physical items this month, I made a conscious effort to let go of preconceived ideas.

I want to learn something each day. I want to be open to new ways and new ideas. As my 66th birthday approaches, I don’t want to be “a stick in the mud” or “stuck in a rut.”

Since my last blog post

My vertigo is improving. The things the physical therapist has me doing are definitely making a difference.

Until my next blog post

I look forward to seeing if Mliae will issue a February challenge. Nevertheless, I plan to continue to tackle the clutter that has accumulated.

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Now You See Me, by Sharon Bolton.

If you’re a writer, I hope writing brings you joy. I hope you have quality writing time this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Are you a keeper of things? I think I got it honestly from both parents. They were in college when The Great Depression hit in 1929. Their young adult years were lean and full of struggle. “Waste not, want not,” must have been what they lived by. I never heard either of them say those words, but they raised their children not to waste anything.

By my parents’ example, I learned at an early age not to throw away anything that I could possibly need or find a use for later. Hence, the stack of printer paper that has only been used on one side. The other side can be used for all kinds of things – like writing the plot outline for a novel.

Hence, the used letter envelopes on which grocery lists can be written on the back while the inside conveniently holds discount coupons. And those twist-ties that come on the bag in which sliced bread is purchased? Yes, I’m guilty. There is a place set aside for them in one of the kitchen drawers.

What about you? Are you a keeper or a minimalist?

Janet

Good Teeth

I used to bite my fingernails, much to my mother’s regret. She went through this with all three of her children so, by the time I came along, she knew none of the famous recommendations for helping a child stop this habit worked.

My brother was the eldest child. When she tried painting his fingernails with hot polish that was invented to burn a nail biter’s tongue, she said her would stop biting his nails just long enough to say, “Hot!” before going right back at it.

Fortunately, I stopped biting my nails. I don’t recall when or why, but I’m glad I stopped. That is why a line from Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb caught my eye. To say Ms. McCrumb has a way with words would be a gross understatement.

In Prayers the Devil Answers, Lonnie Varden is in jail in Knoxville, Tennessee. He pushed his wife, Celia, off Hawk’s Wing – a rock that jutted out of a mountain. His cell mate, Ulysses, gives the following observation about the young Lonnie Varden:

“His nails were bitten down to the quick, which told the old man that this kid had two things he didn’t: more trouble than he was accustomed to and good teeth.” ~ from Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb

prayers-the-devil-answers-9781476772813_lg
Prayers the Devil Answers, A novel by Sharyn McCrumb

As I read the book, I jotted down a number of sentences and paragraphs I liked. I have used two of them in my April 19, 2017 blog post,  P is for a Paragraph I Liked and my June 13, 2017 blog post, “Not a rope . . . if drowning”.

I want to be a writer who comes up with expressions and turns of a phrase like Sharyn McCrumb. It will take practice. Practice. Practice.

Since my last blog post

I had something to happen in the health category that led me to do some soul searching. It had a good outcome, and served as a bit of a wake-up call. I’ve reevaluated some things and how I spend my time. Life is short.

I’ve been reading and decluttering. I tend to keep things. My parents were young adults during The Great Depression, so it was ingrained in me from birth that you didn’t throw something away that you thought you might be able to use later. (Examples include rubber bands, scraps of paper, paper bags, scraps of yarn, string, bits of thread, and anything that looks like something that might eventually be useful.)

Hence, things that come into my house tend to never leave. Last week I recycled old magazines, cardboard boxes and loose papers. I shredded papers bearing personal information. (After all, someone stole our garbage once. You just never know!)

I sorted fabric I’ll never sew and clothes I’ll never be small enough to wear again and took them to Goodwill. I can see the improvement, but someone who’s never been in my house before would probably think I still have a problem. They’d be right. I am a work in progress. More decluttering is on my agenda for this week.

My new approach to “things” is to ask myself, “Do I want my nieces and nephew to have to deal with this someday, or should I go ahead and get rid of it?”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! Tell your friends.

Janet