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.

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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

Responses to “Am I a Sun or Just Another Star?”

I considered writing about the Louisiana Purchase today. You know, that 828,000 square miles (or 2,140,000 kilometers) of central and northwestern present-day United States of America purchased from France in 1803 during the Thomas Jefferson Administration? It’s a fascinating topic, but I decided to set it aside in favor of writing a follow-up to last week’s blog post, “Am I a Sun or Just Another Star?”

Was that a collective sigh of relief I heard from the blogosphere?

In answer to last week’s question, I admitted I’m just another star in the blogosphere, and I’m okay with that. Of the 40,320,000 blog posts published every week, I would be delusional to think my one measly post stood out in the crowd.

I wrote that blog experts tell people like me that we have to find our niche. Often times it seems those experts are pushing me to find something to write about that no one else is writing about. The advice that always stops me in my tracks is the ever-popular: Your blog must solve someone’s problems.

I have enough trouble solving my own problems without taking on someone else’s. Perhaps if I had a product to sell or stellar advice to offer on a particular subject, my blog could solve someone’s problem. That’s not going to happen.

At the end of last week’s post, I asked for feedback about my blog. I wanted to know what you like and what you don’t like about my blog, so I could make adjustments to make my blog more appealing. I thank each one of you who took the time to leave a comment.

In a nutshell, people seem to like my blog topics just the way they are. “Whew!” No one had the courage to tell me to stop writing about my long-suffering novel. And no one said my “OnThisDay” posts need to bite the dust. I usually get lots of “likes” when I blog about the books I’ve read, so I think that first-of-the-month topic is safe, too.

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Here are some of the people who gave me feedback last week:

Jo (stillrestlessjo.com blog)

Jo, an Englishwoman living in Portugal wrote the following: “Something that captures my interest, and holds it, and isn’t trying to sell me something. You pretty much succeeded, Janet. Good luck with the book.” Jo’s photos from Portugal are fascinating. I’ll never get there in person, so her pictures bring the southern coast of that country to me.

Randall Anderson

Randall from the state of Georgia wrote that each blog he follows reflects the individual blogger, and that’s what he likes about blogs. Randall specifically commented that he enjoys my blog posts about the books I read because he can compare notes on the ones he’s read and sometimes discovers something he wants to read.

Francisco Bravo Cabrera (paintinginvalencia.wordpress.com)

Francisco in Valencia, Spain is one of my loyal readers. He offers encouragement every week as I aspire to be a novelist. His blog brings art history and music to me that have greatly broadened my horizons. He recently redesigned his blog. He never ceases to amaze me with his talent as a painter, a poet, and his ability to enhance his blog with music and graphics. Francis and I have a bit of a mutual admiration society going on. He flatters me by saying he’s amazed at how many books I read and says I write about them and about history in a way that he envies. The truth of the matter is, every one of his blog posts amazes me.

Laleh Chini (lalehchini.com)

Laleh, a native of Iran who lives in Canada, is another loyal follower of my blog. She encourages me to keep writing, and I’m encouraged by the several books she has written and published in the last few years. The stories she shares from her native Iran often remind me of the parables of Jesus. Her stories remind me that human beings are very much the same all over the world, regardless of nationality or religion. Laleh is a fantastic storyteller and freely shares her talent on her blog.

Neil Scheinin (yeahanotherblogger.com)

And then there’s Neil Scheinin. His blog always brings a smile to my face. He describes his blog as “an award-free/tag-free/challenge-free/etc.-free blog,” and I love that. (I’m tempted to steal that description, Neil!) Neil goes with the flow. His laid-back, self-deprecating style draws me in every time. The last time I checked, his December 7, 2021 blog post had 141 “likes.” Just for comparison, I do cartwheels (well, I would if I could) when I get more than 10 likes.) In his response to my blog post last week, Neil rightly pointed out that WordPress gives bloggers a wonderful platform for expressing ourselves and he added that it has brought to his attention that there are many good writers out there.

S.J. Schwaidelson wifelyperson.blogspot.com AND sjschwaidelson.com

S.J. Schwaidelson took more than a few minutes to write a sincere and thoughtful response to my blog post last week. She’s a New York native who has made her home in Minnesota for many years. She’s a novelist, current events blogger, and playwright. She shared with me the three main things she’s learned from her two blogs. Yes, you heard me right: she writes two very different blogs. She started her first blog after her husband, Ziggy’s death: wifelyperson.blogspot.com. After her third novel was published, she launched her new blog about being an author. You can find it through sjschwaidelson.com.

Rebecca Cuningham (fakeflamenco.com)

Rebecca Cuningham and I have recently found some common interests and started following each other’s blogs. Rebecca writes from Wisconsin. Her blog brings to life her many interests and talents. She shares her vast knowledge of history, her travel experiences, her humor, and life in Wisconsin – all through her descriptions and photographs. Rebecca sets the bar high for me when it comes to writing about history. She’s fluent in English and Spanish and, like Francis Cabrera, she blogs in both languages.

Trish Deveneau (trishdeveneau.com)

Trish Deveneau is a retired teacher, writer of creative nonfiction, blogger, and once-again resident of New York. Her comment last week was so well thought out and beautifully written that I not only will share it here, but I also printed it and taped it to the top of my computer screen. She wrote: “I enjoy blogs that are written from the heart as well as the head, that make me think about things in a new way or expose me to ideas that I haven’t yet bumped into. And of course, I am looking for prose that makes me sit up and take notice!” Please visit Trish’s blog. She writes from her heart and from her head and will expose you to ideas you probably haven’t bumped into yet.

Shelly DS (growingwithspawn.com)

Shelly dropped by my blog yesterday for the first time. I love hearing from new readers! Shelly’s words of wisdom in her comment included the following: “focus on our own niches than to be trying to conquer the universe… that’s the best way to add value!” Absolutely, Shelly! Your comment reminded me of the old saying, “Bloom where you’re planted.” Every blogger needs to do his or her own thing and have fun with it.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

As for me…

Blogging is a creative outlet for me, but it comes with a responsibility. It takes a reader a few minutes to read a blog post. Everyone’s time is limited and valuable, so I appreciate every time my blog is read.

I’m fortunate to have some loyal blog readers. I count them as friends. I value their time, their “likes,” and their comments. A bonus this past week was hearing from several new people. I feel like I’m constantly adding to my circle of blogging friends.

Knowing I have readers and friends throughout the United States and around the world makes the pandemic, conflicts, and other crises of life in 2021 a little easier to take.

By the way, I didn’t try to put true links to the blogs of my referenced respondents because I was afraid I’d mess someone’s link up. I hope I’ve included enough information that you can find each of their blogs by using a search engine.

Since my last blog post

In addition to reading the comments my blog received and responding to each of them, I also found time to read and write. A lot of my public library waitlisted books came in. One of them is Diana Gabaldon’s latest novel, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone. It’s 900 pages and I have three weeks to read it – along with a stack of other books. Wish me luck!

I dived into the writings of K.M. Weiland and suddenly some elements of novel structure fell into place for me. It was truly one of those “aha” moments and it felt like a weight was lifted off my back. I didn’t add to my word count this week, but what I finally learned about novel structure was priceless. I’d read all that structure stuff many times before, but last week I was finally able to visualize my manuscript in that framework and that made a world of difference.

Between breaking a 10-year-old crown while eating pizza, having to get it replaced, learning that an acquaintance has Covid-19 and is on a ventilator in ICU, running out of my medicine that keeps my Seasonal Affective Disorder under control, and finding out that our dog’s heart is three times its normal size, it’s been a trying week; however, all I need to do is to think of the thousands of people who were left homeless by tornadoes in Kentucky and five other states last week, and I realize how blessed I am.

Life goes on for me. Tomorrow is promised to no one, but today I continue to live my life and enjoy the benefits it gives me. I have a roof over my head and access to more food than I should or need to eat. I live in a place of relative peace and quiet. All those blessings probably put me in the top one percent of all the people in the world. I truly don’t know how fortunate I am.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. I have so many to choose from that it makes selecting just one difficult. Hence, I usually have several books going at the same time. (Thank you, free public library systems!)

Note: Tomorrow is National Short Story Day in the United States. Support your local library and short story writer by reading a short story. With some hard work and a bit of luck, maybe I’ll have a collection of short stories to offer you next year when Short Story Day rolls around.

If you’re of the Christian faith, I hope you have a very meaningful Christmas Day on Saturday.

Janet

P.S. When I previewed this post to see how it would look on a tablet or smaller mobile device, it looked terrible. There were no margins! I hope that’s not the way it will look published!