In my last post I was talking about planning for NaNoWriMo. As far as my own plan goes, here are the headings I’ve got scribbled down to help me piece together my thoughts for Twisted Sister.
You don’t actually need to have a title at the start, but if you have one in mind it helps to write it down.
Any other books, films, places or real-life events that have inspired the novel.
Usually a short, pithy sentence or two that sums up the book as a whole.
Go into as much or as little detail as you like here. You can write a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline or simply an overview of the general plot.
Again, go into as much or as little detail as you like. I have a fact sheet I use for all my characters that lists name, age, background, appearance, personality traits, clothing, and a whole host of other things so that I have a really good sense of everything about them from the start.
Most good novels come with at least one really strong plot twist. Something that comes right out of left field and is totally unexpected. It is surprisingly difficult to think of a GENUINELY good plot twist, but if you can, make a note of it straight away. Try and build your novel around it, instead of throwing it in at the end. That way, it seems genuine, plausible, and truly shocking, rather than the author just wandering off on a tangent. I have used the plural here because you can have as many twists as you like, you’re not limited to one!
Also referred to as the Three Act Structure, or the Beginning, Middle, and End, the Narrative Structure is very important. You Beginning (Act One), is your Setup: it introduces the main characters, their backgrounds and their current situations. It also presents the initial problem of the novel, the main focus of your plot, whatever it is your characters have to face or overcome. Many people make the mistake of making this section very long, going into extensive detail about character background, and dropping in mountains of exposition. The best tip I can give you is to HOLD BACK as much information as possible. Allude to it, whet the reader’s appetite, make them want to know, but don’t actually TELL until as late in the novel as you can manage. This will pull them through your narrative. You should also make sure you don’t present all the mysteries to which they will want the answer at the start. Scatter them throughout so that by the time you are ready to reveal the answer to the first, they are already desperate to find out the answer to the second, third and fourth. In this way, you can propel your reader into the main body of your novel, Act Two, the dreaded Middle.
I say dreaded, because the middle of any novel can drag. A lot has to happen in order for the plot to unfold and if you’re not careful to keep up a good level of action, suspense, and tension, the reader will simply grow bored and never get to the all important ending. The middle is where you give all those answers to all those questions setup at the beginning. It is where you really get to know your characters, and where you see them struggling to overcome the main problems of the novel. For this reason, it is known as the Conflict section of the Narrative Structure. As the name suggests it should be filled with scenes that pit characters against each other, or against their environment. Note that conflict does not necessarily mean physical altercation. Stephen King’s The Shining is a classic example of a novel jam packed with conflict. The physical altercations however, which take place as Jack is possessed by the Overlook, are not the main conflicts in the novel; it is Jack’s conflicted nature that forms the core of the plot. His battle with alcoholism and his own violent nature, as well as his wife’s uncertainty as to whether she should leave him and their son’s conviction that he should keep his powers secret for the sake of the family. Conflict of this nature is almost always more compelling than physical conflict, and even where physical conflict is a prominent part of a plot, you will often find there are other, emotional conflicts, running beneath the surface. This is how you build a strong Middle, fill it with as much conflict as you reasonably can. Avoid long, drawn out scenes where nothing much is happening, and rambling dialogue that may well be realistic and relevant and perhaps even funny, but does nothing to move the plot along. The Middle is all about movement. Keep it moving. The faster it moves, the harder it is for readers to put it down.
This leads us, inevitably, to the all-important ending. Act Three. The Resolution. Simply put, the end of your novel should resolve everything that came before. Personal problems your characters were dealing with should be handled, issues that arose during the course of the Beginning and Middle should be solved, and the answers to all those enticing questions you have littered throughout the narrative should be answered. The end of the novel is also usually where you find the Big Twist. You will often have smaller twists throughout the middle, the big one, the one that knocks everyone for six, comes right at the end. It should leave your reader slightly shell shocked, simultaneously thinking ‘Oh, it all makes perfect sense now!’ and ‘What the ****?’. The twist MUST be believable. It must be completely supported by all that came before, so that as your reader looks back, they realise how obvious it is now it has been revealed. This is why it is so difficult to get the Big Twist right, to make it truly shocking. You have to provide clues and evidence for it along the way, or it feels like a huge cop out, as if it has been put there just to shock you but makes absolutely no sense. If you fall into this trap, you will lose your reader completely. They will feel totally let down and even if they loved the book up to that point, will walk away hating it. So, you have to leave breadcrumbs, but they have to be very subtle.
There is, of course, a great deal more to novel writing than this brief outline allows me to say. I am, of course, far from an expert in the matter and am still learning myself (aren’t we all). I do however hope that you find some useful information here, and that you do well in your NaNoWriMo efforts. I look forward to seeing your work in print!