I learned early on that, unless you are Virginia Woolf, writing without any sort of structure will result in completely rewritten manuscripts. There is one particular novel that is the first of a series, I’ve been working on since the Clinton Administration, that I’ve rewritten about four times. So, I don’t fly by the seat of my pants anymore.
I’ve also found that if everything is plotted out beforehand, there is no creative flexibility. So it does no good walking in perfectly structured, because it isn’t fun to write that way, and also it will likely come off as planned and formulaic and, most importantly, predictable.
Over the years I’ve discovered a nice balance. Certain things need to be defined before you start and certain things should not be defined or planned.
3 Things You Should Know Before Writing a Novel
1. Environment and Setting
A setting will dramatically inform plot, character decisions, and conflict and it cannot be made up on the fly. While this may be obvious to those working with a real or historical setting, it is doubly true for those in fictional settings. Locations, languages, technology, religion, and other details may not be as important as consistency of behavior, customs, history, and social structure. In any case, the more work you do on the front end, the less you have to do during the editing phase.
2. Character Motivations
You may not know what your character’s parents did for a living, the color of his or eyes or what type of clothes are in his or her closet, but one thing you need to know from the outset is what your characters want and what motivates them to get what they want. The very structure of a story depends upon what characters want and the conflict in which occurs as they try to get what they want. A character without motivation is a prop. We’re not set builders, we’re storytellers.
- 3. Conflict
It is not necessary, and probably not advised, to determine every plot point of your novel before you begin. It was quite common for characters, ideas and whims to swoop in and take control of your story throwing your plot points out the window. I also don’t believe you should know how a book will end or how characters will get out of a bind—mostly because if you know that then you will show your hand a bit and your reader will know. However, if you have not identified what the conflict is within the first chapter of your book, you are headed for a rewrite. Characters want something—something gets in the way of that. It’s that simple. Knowing the conflict will keep your novel on a path toward completion.
Sometimes I like to use a plot formula to help me work out the kinks of a story—especially a short story that needs to be tied-up-and-knotted early in the writing process.
Enjoy my Wicked Awesome Unpatented Plot Formula. Please use with caution. Not responsible for broken storylines, frustrated authors, or unfinished novels.
Protagonist(s) in comfortable situation, wants something and is confronted with challenge/problem, rejects challenge, forced to accept/solve challenge, enters uncomfortable situation, undergoes series of trials, trying repeatedly to solve the problem and repeatedly fails making problem worse, gathers powers/allies along the way, leading to despair and so makes a leap of faith using a personal skill to confront challenge/problem in a final attempt that succeeds/fails resulting in a validation of resolution that demonstrates the protagonist has adapted to the uncomfortable situation, paid a price for it, has become a teacher/wiser, and when returned to comfortable situation, is changed.
In the fall of 1947, Will Shakespeare saw the world collapse around him. Shakespeare, a secret soldier for the Knights Templar, barely escapes the slaughter of his entire knighthood at the hands of a rogue militant arm of the Vatican in a small Montreal church. With orders to escort Templar business associate Dorothy Wilkinson back to her home in Bermuda, Will must locate and rescue the most important secret treasure in human history before it is devoured by a hurricane in the watery caves beneath her father's property. The spiraling quest sends Will and Dorothy into uncovering dark secrets that make up the origins of the knighthood as they confront the traps and puzzles that masterfully protect the world's most coveted treasure.
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Genre – Action, Adventure
Rating – PG
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