Last week I talked about the origin of novel ideas. Once you’ve had an idea in your head long enough to know it’s a good one, eventually you get to the point where you’re tempted to turn the idea into a novel. Or try to, anyway.
This process of starting a novel is different for everyone. Some authors use detailed outlines and plot every chapter from beginning to end. Others don’t use an outline at all. And then of course, you have every shade of variation between those two extremes. The trick is finding which method works for you… which isn’t something I can teach you. Can anyone? Maybe you just have to learn by trial and error, through practice. If anyone knows an easier solution, I’d love to hear it!
For my first novel, I used the Snowflake Method for plotting, character development, and detailed outlining. I had planned on using it for my second novel, but then I read the January issue of Writer’s Digest. One of the articles, “Your Novel Blueprint,” is based on the book From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen Wiesner, who uses a Story Plan Checklist to write cohesive stories. I was intrigued by the Checklist because I like to learn different methods and try new techniques. So I decided to use the Checklist for Book 2 and see how it compared to using the Snowflake for Book 1.
If you’re looking for a method to try, I’d suggest looking into both these possibilities. I liked the Snowflake in some ways, but it did require several (often lengthy) summaries of characters and plot. Which might save you a lot of time and effort in the long run and produce a higher-quality first draft… or it might burn you out before you even start the first draft. You want to maintain some excitement and tension so you can make it to the end of the draft, but I also think it helps to know at least some essential elements of the story.
So for the next two weeks (or more?), I’ll blog about my adventures with the Story Plan Checklist. Disclaimer: The method, steps, and ideas belong to Karen Wiesner (the sarcastic comments belong to me). You can learn more by buying her book or the January issue of Writer’s Digest, or by visiting their website (which includes downloadable story plans, worksheets, checklists, and more!). I am just a pawn here, and I cannot guarantee that this method will work for you. It might not even work for me. Wow, this is what it feels like to live on the edge.
Part 1: The Basics
1. Title and Genre. I don’t know why title is first; I’m terrible at thinking of good titles. I like to wait until right before querying before picking a title, LOL. But you do need some kind of reference, some file name to save it as (mine used to be “Erin’s Novel,” which is rather endearing). Genre—now that I can do, since it’s usually my default genre, YA contemporary fantasy. If you’re not sure whether to classify your story as romance or horror (my husband views these as one and the same), just list all possible genres. As your story evolves, it might take a more obvious direction.
2. POV Specification. Now you have to decide what point of view you want to write the story in. Sometimes this is really obvious, and sometimes it’s this grueling, agonizing decision. Maybe an author starts out in multiple POV mode, and then realizes the story should only be told in one POV, thus deleting 17,000 words in the process (*whistles innocently while avoiding eye contact with someone who shall remain unnamed*). Karen makes two really good points that I will quote: “Most stories spark with a character who may end up becoming your main character… In any scene, stick to the view of the character with the most at stake—the one with the most to lose or gain.” Nicely put. Still, it’s not always easy to know what to do. Syd and I often discussed POV for our first novels. I almost wrote EYES OF LIGHTNING in 3rd person, multiple POV, but decided against it at the last minute. For my new novel, it was easier for me to decide to go with 1st person POV, one viewpoint.
3. High-Concept Blurb. These are almost as fun as shooting your eye out. You must sum up your ENTIRE NOVEL in one sentence (and not a crazy run-on sentence as long as a paragraph). Actually, Karen allows up to four sentences, but the Snowflake only allowed one. Either way, it sucks. Here’s the simplified example Karen provides:
A character (the who) wants a goal (the what) because he’s motivated (the why), but he faces conflict (the why not).
So all you have to do is fill in the blanks, and VOILA!—you have your high-concept blurb. Invaluable if you only have ten seconds to pitch to an agent. And once you get published, a blurb about your book might be listed in the New York Times… or perhaps in your county newspaper. Oh, the dreams.
4. Story Sparks. No, not the sparks of flame produced when you set your manuscript on fire. A story spark is an intriguing idea that captivates your imagination and makes you want to see what happens next. Perhaps the original idea for the novel was a story spark. But you need more than one spark per book or else your story will freeze up. Most novels have a spark at the beginning, middle, and end. A novel with over 90,000 words probably needs four or more sparks. I can’t explain this very well, so you might want to check out the examples on the Writer’s Digest website. Basically, you need a beginning that will capture the interest of your readers. Then, just as they’re getting used to the character and the world, you throw in a twist (second spark). Now the protagonist is really in a bind, and the readers frantically read on to discover the conclusion. Third spark is optional, depending on length. The climactic reveal is the final spark.
Whew! I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m worn out. That’s it for Part 1 of the Story Plan Checklist. Tune in next week for—you guessed it—Part 2. Hopefully by that time I’ve read it so I can have some inkling of what I’m talking about.
So any thoughts on Part 1 of the Story Plan Checklist? The good, the bad, the ugly? Would anyone like to share a tried-and-true method for novel-planning?? We’re all ears. 🙂 Or just your own personal preference would be great as well.
Have a wonderful week, everyone!