School just finished up a few days ago, so now I’m free for the summer! Well, not really. I’m working four days a week and have a lot of summer homework to do, but I’ll find time for writing somewhere in there. Hopefully.
If you’ve read any of my last posts, you’ll know that I finished my previous novel. It’s a structural mess, though, so I’ve been putting off the editing process. And what do all writers do when they don’t want to edit? They write more! Or at least I do.
So, this post is for anyone, like me, who’s in the planning stages of writing a new novel. Enjoy!
I never used to outline, and look where that got me. I wrote 100,000 words of a terrible mess. I am not making that mistake again. So, this time around I’m using a stricter outline. I’ve found a format that works by tweaking outlining formats that other authors have suggested and changing things so they work for me. K.M. Weiland has a series of fabulous books on the subject, so if you’d like a deeper look, I’d suggest you check out her work.
- Inciting Event
- Key Event
- First Plot Point
- Reaction to First Plot Point
- Obstacle #1- raises the stakes
- Reaction to Midpoint
- Obstacle #2- Reminder of what’s at stake
- Last Plot Point
I usually find my plot and characters before I find my themes. Last time when I was in the planning stages, I didn’t even think about theme. After finishing, I realized that my major theme in the novel was change vs. tradition. The characters have to deal with the world changing around them, and tradition changing in ways that many people never thought were possible. While I find that even if I don’t pre-plan a theme, one usually works its way into my story, I think that my writing is much more poignant if I already have a theme in mind. Now, taking some advice from my APLit teacher, I usually start with a list of topics that my story revolves around. My list of topics for the book I’m working on now is:
- Loss of Honor
Now, I take this topics and I turn them into a theme. To do this, you must make a claim with the topic. For example, if I take my topic of deception, I can turn it into “Deception is sometimes necessary to do the right thing.” Or, I can take the idea of prejudice, and then turn it in to “Prejudice has a lasting effect on those who experience it.” By figuring out themes before hand, you can write with them in mind, and make your writing much stronger because it is making a claim. Also, if any of you are writing an essay for school, I highly recommend using the above technique. For example, if we take The Great Gatsby, we can say that one of the topics it centers around is the American Dream. Now, we make claim about the American Dream- Fitzgerald uses Gatsby to discuss the decline of the American Dream. Then, from there you can create a thesis.
3. Character Planning
I usually start with a few ideas in mind for characters, whether it be what they look like, or perhaps, a slight idea of their personality. I usually build from there with character interviews or character planning sheets. Once again, in her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, K.M. Weiland wrote a chapter on interviewing your character, which I highly recommend you check out. If you don’t like interviews, I also really like writing a paragraphs on backstory, that way, you can use it later to subtly work it into your narrative. For example, I wrote this on one of my characters:
Hadiya was originally from the borders of the Jephra Desert and the Uka Forest. She grew up with her brothers and father in the forest, after her mother died giving birth to her little sister, who unfortunately died a few days after birth. She spent her childhood playing in the forest and building forts with her brothers. Her family worked gathering produce, but the forest became a dangerous place to live after news of the rebellion reached the Jephrans. Many went on strike, and Queen Calanthe deemed the Uka Forests a savage place and deployed her rangers to keep the peace.
To escape form the danger, Hadiya’s family decided to run away. During the night, they crossed the Ocra Strait to get to Northern Iltany, where the rebels had not yet taken full control. They first settled in northern Sahea at the mouth of the River Illnia, but they found the country filled to the brim with the Queen’s Rangers, who often thought of the Jephrans and Ukans as inferior to them. Many businesses refused to serve them and Hadiya’s father and brothers could not find jobs, so they were forced to move north to escape the prejudice. They moved to the forests of Ashland, where the Queen’s Rangers were scarce.
For a few years, everything was fine- they built a small cabin and started a small farm, which produced just enough to keep their family alive- but the capital of Ashland, Cinias, soon became a hotbed of revolutionaries, causing the queen to deploy her rangers to shut down the rebels. The Queen’s Rangers came across Hadiya’s cabin, and they demanded room to board. Knowing that they could not refuse the soldiers, Hadiya’s father offered them a place to stay. The night passed uneventfully, but in the morning Captain Israel Cotton set fire to their house because they were Jephrans. Hadiya’s brothers chased after the queen’s men with whatever weapons they could scrounge up, but the Captain ordered them killed. Watching from a distance, Hadiya’s father saw his sons killed, and chased after the Queen’s Rangers as well, which ended in his death.
After watching the Queen’s Rangers leave, she pulled her brothers and father back to the house, one by one, where she tried to bring them back to leave, but it was too late. Hadiya buried them on the farm, working day and night to dig the graves, days later. Only a few weeks had passed, when she discovered another man lying wounded on her doorstep, but this time, it was a commander in the rebel army, a friend she would come to know as Benjamin.
In a few paragraphs, I fleshed out Hadiya’s backstory up to the point where my story starts- the moment she meets Benjamin. This comes in handy later on, because I’m not struggling to make up a backstory as I write. Here, I can also find Hadiya’s motivations. Why do Hadiya’s sympathies lie with the rebel army? Because her family was killed by the Queen’s Rangers, and many people loyal to Queen Calanthe think she is inferior because of her nationality. Once you know your character’s backstory, their actions fall into place.
I hope this helps anyone who’s trying to start a novel, but doesn’t know where to start. I definitely think that outlining is almost a necessary step, without it, and I can attest to this, your novel ends up being a structural mess. It’s much easier to fix an outline, than it is to fix a full-blown novel. I think that these three places are a good starting point, and they definitely get the creative juices flowing!