Lower your expectations and allow yourself to write badly. It’s better to write crap than to write nothing at all.
When planning a novel, the most helpful tool I’ve found is a thousands-year-old recipe called the three-act structure. It’s helped me plan out my novels more effectively than any fiction writing software.
What is the three-act structure?
Greek philosopher, Aristotle, came up with this structure. He said a good story has three acts: a beginning, middle and end. Simple, right?
Act I: In the beginning, otherwise known as the setup, the writer introduces the characters and sets the tone for the story. This is also the time for the writer to tell the reader about the setting, at least for the beginning of the story. In Act I, a situation happens, an inciting incident, kicks off the story. This incident usually hints at the conflict that permeates the entire novel. Act I is roughly the first quarter of your novel and at the end of it is the first plot point. This plot point shows the reader a situation thrusting the main characters away from their normal lives into the conflict that changes their destiny.
Act II: This is the middle part of your novel and it takes up roughly fifty percent of your novel. Act II is where all the main confrontation occurs. Your characters find themselves facing a series of obstacles in which they keep getting deeper and deeper into trouble. They are prevented from reaching their goal. Roughly around the middle of Act II–the middle of the novel–everything changes. Your protagonist’s goals are shattered. Or they realize they can obtain the goal, but at a great cost. It might be a reversal of fortune. Whatever, the middle of the novel is where your protagonist and other characters start to change, really change because of the situation. By the end of Act II is your second plot point: everything is at stake. It’s do or die.
Act III: In the last quarter of your novel, the protagonist fights the battle that wins or loses everything. This scene, be it a literal or figurative battle, is the climax. A surprise or twist can make the ending of your novel a satisfying experience for your reader. The sub-plots involving all your minor characters are also resolved in the third act after the climax. In this resolution part of your story, you may hint at the future of your characters. What possibly happens to them after the last page is read? Here’s the main thing to pay attention to as your plan your novel: how are your characters, especially your protagonist, different than they were from the beginning of the story?
Plot a novel using the three act structure. You probably should have several characters already developed. It also helps if you know how the story is going to end, but you may want to discover that for yourself if you plot from scratch. Write one sentence for each of the main scenes in each act. Use the descriptions of the acts above to guide you.
If you already have a first draft of a novel or have already plotted a novel, try and break it down using the the three act structure. Does it work?
Read more on the three act structure:
Another fiction writing workshop from this blog:
Articles on writing I’ve read lately:
I’ve had some of my best writing sessions at a coffee shop, but I’ll be honest: sometimes I just hang out and surf the web. I’m procrastinating. I’m telling myself I’m waiting for inspiration but I confess I’ve gotten no writing done at some so-called writing sessions. Here’s an article that describes it from the viewpoint of a cafe’s employee:
Ten years ago this month, I joined a website club called Book Crossing. The idea behind this website: release books into the wild. Here’s how it’s done.
Only about 20% end up getting notes. Over the years some of the books I’ve released have ended up all over the United States. Several have ended all over the world–United Kingdom, Portugal, The Netherlands and others. Several books have been passed around several times. My copy of The Great Gatsby has been through seven people before the notes stopped a few years ago.
Since I purchased a Kindle in 2008, I stopped “releasing books into the wild” and focused on e-books. Recently, I decided to check on my Book Crossing account, and it’s fascinating to see where some of my books have been traveling over the last few years. I’ve decided to start releasing books again. I just finished a printed copy of The Book Thief and I’m going to release it at a coffee shop.
Kind of an ironic title for this project, don’t you think?
In 2003, I started keeping lists of the books I read. I compiled these lists on Amazon.com, but that wasn’t enough. I discovered Goodreads and listed every book I have ever read, including before 2003. Whenever I remember a book I read that hasn’t been listed, say a book I read back in high school or middle school, I add it to the list. As if that wasn’t obsessive compulsive enough, I exported all my books from Goodreads as an Excel spreadsheet and uploaded it to LibraryThing.com. The great thing about LibraryThing.com is all the free book give-aways you can get–as if I needed more books.
Why do I do this? Because I’m weird.
Actually, I’ve discovered that when I look at one of my booklists, I can remember what was happening in my life when I was reading a certain. It’s sort of a diary by way of literature.
So, on this tenth anniversary of keeping obsessive lists of the books I read, I present what I read in 2013. Who knows? You may find something that piques your reading taste buds.
Publishing companies marketed these books as main stream fiction, event though some of them could fall into other genres.
I know, I know. I need to read more non-fiction.
Even though I enjoy it, I read little poetry. It requires a deliberate sit-down-and-relax attitude which has become a victim of our fast-paced world.
Must read more classics as well, but hey I got some in for this year’s reading.
Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction & Fantasy)
Okay, as you can see, I spend most of my time reading science fiction and fantasy. I always say it’s my guilty pleasure.
Everyone pretends to understand what he means when he mentions voice in writing. I call terradiddle on that. When it comes to prose, I think people have a hard time telling the difference between voice and other elements like style and tone. I do.
For now, let’s see how some writers define voice:
The word that keeps popping up is personality. It is also known as a writer’s persona.
How do you find your voice?
One way to find your voice is to ask who you are. Meg Rosoff, in her interesting blog entry on voice, defines it as: “What You Have To Say That’s Different From Anyone Else.” She talks about writers seeking voice as “not what their sentences look like” but who they are.
Another way to develop our voice is to listen, especially to the prose of other writers. TL Costa says in this blog entry that “if we really wish to master the voice of prose, first we may have to open our ears.” But how is this done? Costa says, “Through the manipulation of words, of dialect, and of punctuation used to appropriately reflect your character(s), their thoughts and their emotions . . . The Catcher in the Rye, for instance, has a very distinct voice, and it’s the word order, the rhythm behind the thoughts, that so clearly demonstrates Holden’s state of mind, that grabs the reader and takes them along.”
How do you develop voice?
Once you begin to find your voice–finding your voice is a gradual process–you can incorporate ways to develop it in your writing. Here are some things to keep in mind for this:
Voice in writing is not something you can force. Let it happen naturally. Read the articles I’ve linked to in this blog entry and try some of the suggestions given.
Another fiction writing workshop from this blog: