Tag Archives: structure

Write A Novel: You Must Start It, and End It

Write A Novel: You Must Start It, and End It

If you want to write a novel, the novel’s beginning and ending are equally important. As the old saying goes, your novel’s beginning sells your book. The ending sells your next book.

I’ve been working with a group of new novelists, and each one has a complete novel. Sort of. I say “sort of” because their novels are buried amongst a lot of stuff which isn’t needed.

Each student’s novel is like a little treasure chest, buried in a pond. It’s up to the novelist to haul up the treasure chest, refurbish it, and polish up the jewels within.

Of course, these new novelists have lots of reasons they need the pond, but your readers aren’t interested in a pond. They want the treasure.

In other words, they want a story, with a beginning, a page-turning, suspenseful middle, and a good ending.

“This is the story of…”

If you’re currently writing a novel, or have just finished a novel, sum up the story in ONE sentence. Begin your sentence: “This is the story of…”

Just for a giggle, here’s Gone With the Wind in a sentence: Money-hungry Southern belle falls in and out of love; should’ve tried therapy.

Here’s the IMDB on Gone With the Wind: “A manipulative Southern belle carries on a turbulent affair with a blockade runner during the American Civil War.”

Can you sum up your story in a sentence? Of course you can. Write your sentence. If you can’t write a sentence, it’s just about 100 per cent certain that you don’t have a novel.

You may have a case of: this happens, then that happens, then something else happens, and something else happens…

That summed up the situation with my students. A lot of STUFF happened, most of that stuff wasn’t needed. They needed the treasure chest.

Got your sentence? Excellent.

Your Novel Begins When…

You have your story, in one sentence. Now think about when the story begins.

I’m currently rereading, for about the fourth time, Carla Kelly’s The Summer Campaign. The novel begins with a proposal, which the heroine, Onyx, accepts.

Where you start your novel is up to you. Don’t start it too early. I love The Summer Campaign, but it started a little too early. Carla Kelly could have lost the entire beginning, and started it when the highwaymen attacked Onyx’s coach. The proposal was a lot of yada yada; we see what a horrible person the vicar is later in the book. He isn’t a main character, there wasn’t any reason to introduce him at the beginning. Onyx’s relatives aren’t that important, either. They appear and then vanish. The book would have been stronger without them cluttering up the first few pages.

However, it’s up to YOU where you start. As we’ve said, don’t start your novel too early. Start when the main action of the story starts.

Your Novel Ends When…

Your novel’s ending is always in the beginning. This is why I said: start when the main action of the story starts. It’s great if your ending refers back to the beginning, in some way: by location, by an event, or by something that someone says.

You can start your novel in any way you choose, but your novel’s ending ALWAYS meets the expectations of your genre. So, if you’re writing a romance, it’s a forgone conclusion that it ends with a Happily Ever After (HEA.) If it doesn’t your readers won’t forgive you. If you’re writing a mystery, your novel ends when your sleuth solves the mystery.

When you’ve got an ending, and a beginning, you’ve got your treasure chest. Now you can polish the jewels, and paint and lacquer the chest.

When you’re writing your first novel, you’re learning a lot about yourself, and about your writing. Find your treasure chest by writing a one-sentence summary. Then decide where your novel starts, and where it ends.

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Angela Booth’s Easy-Write Process: Write The EASY WAY… Like a Professional Writer

Angela Booth’s Easy-Write Process: Write The EASY WAY… Like a Professional Writer

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Write Your Novel: The Big Rewrite

You’ve written a first draft of your novel. Kudos to you! That’s a real accomplishment… and now the FUN starts. 🙂

I adore rewriting. I’ve got the story down, so things can only get better. However, I know that some writers who haven’t done it before get nervous about revision. Believe me, it’s not a big deal. You’ve now got the chance to remold and rework your material.

I wrote about revision in the 30 Day Challenge. Here it is again, if you missed it.

When you write your first draft, you’re creating the raw material for your novel.

Once you have the raw material, you can begin to shape it into your book. That’s the reason I encouraged you to keep moving forward with your first draft, without editing. What’s the point of tinkering with text which you may cut when it’s time to revise?

The more books you write, the better you’ll get at editing your own work. If you ever get the chance to work with a good editor, you’ll learn a great deal about how to shape a book. There’s a lot you can do on your own. However, before you publish, I strongly suggest that you get some beta readers, and hire a professional editor.

First Steps in Revision

Remember the story question? Keep that in mind as you edit. Everything which doesn’t move the text towards an answer to the story question is unnecessary.

Here’s the editing process.

Before you start editing, read the novel straight through once. You’re aiming to get a sense of the book as it is now. Some writers put the book away for a few weeks. They want to clear their mind of it as much as possible, so that they can read the way a reader would.

At some stage, it’s also helpful to read at least six novels in your genre, so you can get a sense of how they’re structured. Your readers have expectations for their favorite genre. They want you to meet those expectations.

Then:

1. Create an outline of all the scenes. Just a couple of sentences per scene.

2. Once you’ve done that, look at the overall structure. The first three chapters of the book are the setup. You’re introducing your characters, and the basics of the story. Then the action of your story rises, until the climax.

All this sounds very esoteric, I know. I’ve found Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheets very useful in thinking about novel structure. Any of Snyder’s Save the Cat books will help you with creating a good structure, without what’s termed “the sagging middle”. You need to keep your readers’ interest through every page of your book(s).

Here are a couple of useful links which discuss using Blake Snyder’s Beats in a novel, rather than a screenplay:

* http://www.blakesnyder.com/2012/04/27/the-hunger-games-bookmovie-beat-sheet-comparison/

* http://jamigold.com/2012/02/how-to-use-the-save-the-cat-beat-sheet/

3. You’ll find that as you’re working on the structure, you’ll be deleting scenes, and creating new scenes. That’s how it works. 🙂 Do what’s necessary.

Once you have the structure, it’s time to work on your characters. This shouldn’t take much work. If you get the structure right, your characters will fall into line — action defines character. Smooth over any rough edges.

4. Revising your plot. Again, since the structure is the framework of your novel, your plot should be fine. However, at this stage, your novel may feel unfinished — skimpy. Consider adding characters, and another plot arc or two — sub-plots.

Enlist a couple of beta readers if you can. These readers should be interested in the genre you’re writing in. Don’t ask a reader who loves romances to read your horror novel.

5. Whether you’ve added sub-plots or not, once you’ve completed all the major revisions, it’s time for some layering, which we discussed yesterday.

6. Get beta readers, if you haven’t done so already. Ask them to read for story, and character. Are they intrigued with the story? Where do they stumble? Get bored? What seems “off”? Are the characters believable? What was their favorite part of the book?

7. Editing.

There are three kinds of editors:

* Book editors — they edit for structure, plot, and character.

* Line editors (also known as copy editors) — they check facts, your timeline, and query your word use and sentence structure. If you’ve made spelling and grammar errors, they’ll query those.

* Proof readers. A proof reader will pick up grammatical and spelling errors, as well as typos.

If you can afford it, you can hire editors for all three forms of editing. Alternatively, swap these chores with another writer.