In Lesson 2 we look at what, in a nutshell, embodies the difference between writing and writing a novel. I may believe myself to be a good writer, but the key to writing a good novel is not only a matter of literary prowess or a gift for prose. It is rather, and here comes the hard work, structuring your writing in such a way that it is easy to follow and a reader is enticed to read on.
When someone asks you what your novel is about, what do you say?
If someone asks you for the elevator pitch of your book, do you go into a cold sweat? Don’t worry if you do, or if you stumble reaching to the heavens for descriptions. Sometimes plotting and structuring our novel is a lot simpler a process than we anticipate. However, it is a process, and we all tend to forget about processes when rushing to put pen to paper and get that Booker winning scene from our head to the page.
The Indie Novella Writing Course
Lesson 2 - Plot and Structure
As alluded to above, scenes can be a writer’s biggest downfall. Consider a television soap versus a classic film. A television soap is deliberately unending and goes on scene after scene with plots lasting for months. A classic film – usually – resolves after two hours. Take Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and its Three Act Structure. 1) Robin returns from the Crusades to find his father murdered and vows revenge, 2) Robin creates his own resistance and takes back what the Sheriff has stolen, up to the point where he fights one battle too many, 3) the finale where Robin defeats the Sheriff and lives happily ever after… you get the picture. Simple as it is, it is a solid structure, and very easy to explain. However the key point is, as with a classic film and very much unlike real life, a novel resolves i.e. comes to a conclusion.
One common issue some writers have is what is often referred to as ‘the sagging middle’. The writer has drafted a solid opening, laying out what their novel is about, and knows where she wants to take it i.e. she has pretty much drafted the ending in her head. The problem she faces is the bits in between.
A novel is long-form work, and usually requires a plot to please the reader. The writer needs to work out how to progress from writing a series of individual scenes to writing a plot with a beginning, middle and end (if not always in that order!) linked by causation. If a story begins in March and ends in December, the author may struggle with how best to walk their reader through these months so each chapter may end up being a monthly update of what the character has been doing in the intervening time with little relevance to the overall story. Alternatively, the writer could find themselves being episodic, as in soap or short-story, creating strong compelling scenes but not sure how to link one to the next.
A tip therefore is rather than trying to conclude each scene by rounding off what has just happened, make the end of each chapter create a question, hook or hint to what will be happening next. This will build a flow to your writing.