Motivation Monday: Novel Structure

Chess Board - TwitterI’m currently plowing my way through KM Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel. There is a very good point early on that I want to address today: writers are afraid that structure will take the art out of their writing.

There are writers who get away without consciously outlining their novels, including Stephen King. It seems to work okay for him. However, he’s also a prolific read and I’m sure he at least understands story structure.

Story structure takes nothing away from art. Here are a few examples from other artforms:

Architecture relies on buildings being structurally sound. Yet for every plain row house out there, there is a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright creation or an IM Pei glass pyramid. They both use structure; in fact, they have to understand it innately to create the buildings they do. But their structure only adds to their artistry.

Michelangelo and da Vinci are both known to have studied human anatomy excessively to give their artwork more lifelike reality. They knew that the underlying structure of the human body is what influences the outward beauty.

So why are writers so afraid that structure will destroy their art?

“The three-act structure is intrinsic to the human brain’s model of the world; it matches a blueprint that is hard-wired in the human brain, which is constantly attempting to rationalize the world and resolve it into patterns. It is therefore an inevitable property of almost any successful drama, whether the writer is aware of it or not.” – Edoardo Nolfo

The three-act structure is really very simple:

  • Setup (beginning)
  • Confrontation (middle)
  • Resolution (end)

Remember that outline we did (some of you kicking and screaming– or just lying about doing it)? Let’s go back to that. We’re going to hash your story (and mine) into three-act structure.

First, we have our amazing opening line and chapter. This is the setup to the setup. Usually, it’s set in the normal, boring world before everything starts. Then the setup continues for roughly 25% of the book. At 25%, you have the end of Act 1.

There is an important plot point at the end of acts 1 and 2:

“The Plot Point at the end of Act I is always the true beginning of your screenplay. Acts I sets up the story components. Then, the screenwriter has to establish the dramatic need and create obstacles to that need; the story becomes the main character overcoming the obstacle after obstacle to achieve his or her dramatic need.”

“There could be as many as nine or 10 plot points during a screenplay. But the two most important come at the end of act one and at the end of act two. They are the anchors of your storyline, the stitches that hold everything together.” – Syd Field, Four Screenplays

After Act 1,  you go into the guts of the story, the meat of it. There’s a lot of flexibility in this section, but you need to continue building upon whatever plot point happened at the end of Act 1. You can introduce (and sometimes close) new plot points, but that main plot point will continue throughout Act 2.

“Act II is a unit of action that is held together with the dramatic context of Confrontation. Your character will confront obstacle after obstacle after obstacle to achieve his or her dramatic need.” – Syd Field, Four Screenplays

Finally, you’re in Act 3 at about 75% of your story. This means you still have 25% left, so don’t go resolving the story early and then dragging out the ending. End the story at the end, period.

“Be certain that the hurdles get bigger and come closer together, accelerating the pace of your story, as your story moves forward.” – Michael Hauge, author and script consultant

Your Monday assignment is to embrace the beauty of structure. Take that outline you did (*coughcough*) and pick out your three act structure: opening line, opening, plot point at the end of act 1, midpoint (not always obvious), plot point at the end of act 2, and ending.

Don’t worry. I’ll be right here, cheering you on.

Unless you throw things. Then I’m moving.


Motivation Monday: Getting Past The First Chapter

Chess Board - TwitterI’m going to assume if you’re reading this you’ve taken me up on my challenge to write and publish an indie book. If you haven’t, go back and read the earlier posts first. I’m pretty sequential for a Figment. Doing things in order is always a good idea.

You have an outline (or you’re humoring me and pretending). You know why you’re writing. You have a first chapter. And now… you’re bored. Or you think you’re blocked.

Here’s my take on it: there is no such thing as Writer’s Block.

Before I get a bunch of angry replies, let me clarify. People to get blocked, but it’s not truly writer’s block. Writer’s block is this mystical thing where your muse has deserted you. Sorry, cupcake. While there are real muses, they don’t cause writer’s block. Here are some reasons you can feel blocked, though:

  • Your story is going in a dead-end direction. If your story isn’t making sense, your subconscious may be trying to tell you to turn it around. Break the rule about not editing and go back and find what isn’t working. If you can’t find it, get a trusted but brutally honest friend to tell you.
  • You have a stressor in your life. Real life is stressful. I avoid it whenever I can. Apparently real people can’t do that. If your life is highly stressful, feeling pressure to finish a book can add to that. Give yourself a day off if you have that luxury. If you don’t, write something silly in the middle of your story. You can edit it out later, but it may get your creative juices flowing.
  • You didn’t outline. One thing about outlines: you always know where you’re going. I know there are writers who say this destroys creativity for them. As long as those writers never get stuck, bully on them. Keep up the good fight! However, for those of us who do get stuck, an outline can tell you where to go next when you just aren’t feeling it.
  • You’re relying on feeling. This is one of those “suck it up, buttercup” moments. I didn’t feel like writing this blog post. There’s a major Spelling Bee Hive event today and I’m missing part of the live bookcast. But I am committed to blogging and it needed to be done. So… I wrote. I hate you all for it, but it will be done shortly. Also, now that I’ve started, I’m remembering that I like writing more than I like watching a bunch of letters chase each other around a grassy field, so I may keep writing.
  • You don’t have a deadline. It doesn’t matter where your deadline comes from, but many of us (not all of us) work better with a deadline. I get my best work done twenty minutes before it’s due. Set yourself a deadline. In fact, I’ll be sure to post about making a schedule later. I’ll lose all three of my regular readers when I do it, but it’ll still be there.
  • You need a break. I know the maxim: write daily. If you’ve been doing that, consider a day of rest. Recharge. Take a quick break. But get back on it tomorrow.

So, what’s keeping you from writing today? How did you resolve it?

A to Z Blogging Challenge: L

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Losing My Motivation

A to Z Blogging Challenge: L

I write parody songs. I have quite a few in my wheelhouse, in fact. Today, since I am still lacking the motivation to write anything truly useful, I thought I’d at least spawn an Ear Worm.

Ohhh, to write is bigger
It’s bigger than myself
And it’s not easy
To show and to not tell it
And I want to cry
Oh no, I’ve failed too much
Have I failed enough?

That’s me with the laptop
That’s me on the internet
Losing motivation
Trying to keep my plot intact
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve played too much
I haven’t played enough.

I thought I could write forever
I thought I could write bestsellers
I thought my words could make men cry.

Every chapter
Of every single scene I’m
Losing my conviction
That this is something I can do
Like the words have all fled my soul
Oh no, I said too much
I failed to set it up.

Rewording this
Rewording this
The novel is writing me
Rewording this
This book has
Brought me to my knees
What if all my fantasies aren’t
Good to go around?
Now I’ve cut too much.

I’d rather be somewhere reading
I’d rather go try to clean
I’d rather give up both my eyes.

I think I’m gonna scream
This writing makes me scream.

That’s me with the laptop
That’s me on the internet
Losing motivation
Trying to keep my plot intact
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I wrote too much
I didn’t write enough.

I thought I could write forever
I thought I could write bestsellers
I thought my words could make men cry.

I think I’m gonna scream
Whine, cry, sigh, scream
I think I’m gonna nap
Just go dream, just go dream.