Since I’m slowly beginning to think about my next writing project, I decided to write this post about tips I read recently and look forward to implementing. I found these tips in “Write your novel in 30 days” (a Writer’s Digest guide), which was in newsstands earlier this year. It compiles excerpts of several Writer’s Digest books. The excerpts I have found most useful so far – I still have to read the guide to the end – were all taken from Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.
Although the articles are geared toward commercial fiction rather than literary fiction, they offer very valuable advice to all writers. I’ll only mention a few points that I found particularly noteworthy but the whole book seems to be packed with excellent ideas and I encourage any reader interested in writing to buy it or borrow it from the library.
The Index Card System (in: To Outline or Not To Outline?)
- Write a quick summary of the scenes that come to your mind on your cards (one scene per card).
- When you start thinking about structure, begin with the ending, and then give some thought to the major scenes that will lead to that ending. At that stage, you should try to flesh out the scenes more, expanding on the few words you had written before. (The author discusses scene structure later.)
- Arrange your cards in one comprehensive layout from the beginning of the novel to the end, and fill any gaps. Add or remove scenes to your liking. (You can even write different subplots on index cards of different colors.) Shuffle the cards and re-arrange them in a new way to make sure you’re not stuck in the first layout that came to your mind.
The LOCK system (in: Your Three-Act Structure)
- L is for Lead (character)
- O is for Objective (of the lead character): to get something or to get away from something.
- C is for Confrontation (opposition of outside forces and other characters, which stand in the lead character’s way as he/she pursues her main objective)
- K is for Knockout (power of the ending).
The three-act structure (also in the Your Three-Act Structure chapter, obviously)
Here Bell relates the three-act structure with the hero’s journey described by Joseph Campbell and popularized by George Lucas in Star Wars. He also introduces important terminology, such as:
- The disturbance (to the life led by the main character before the novel begins)
- The two “doorways of no return”: from Act 1 to Act 2 and from Act 2 to Act 3, which thrust the character forward.
Another tip I read elsewhere in the guide is to create character sketches. That is certainly something I will do for the next book. I didn’t do it for my previous novel and really felt it would have helped a lot if I had. (Instead I used the Search feature in Word abundantly to find previously inserted details and make sure they didn’t contradict what I wanted to write. I’m glad I have a good memory, but it was definitely inefficient.) Finally, thinking about what, if anything, each scene is supposed to reveal about my characters should help keep the reader interested in the story.
I’ll go and buy index cards now.
This will be my last post for 2011. Look for a new post on January 9, 2012! Best wishes for the New Year.