Several years ago, when I bought my Kindle, I felt like I was betraying the book publishing industry. Maybe I was. I got over it quick, though, because I love the convenience of reading a digital book. Now I read books on my iPad mini either through the Kindle app or through the public library’s ebook website which is powered by Overdrive.
So now, in this first quarter of the twenty-first century, flying cars are not common, but electronic books are.
At first, there was terror in the streets with cries of “Ebooks are going to kill the print book!” but what has happened is ebooks are just one more way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, and ebook. Don’t panic.
And, these days, we don’t even read our books. We listen to them. I have listened to more books this year than read any. Audible.com is the Amazon of audio book selection (in fact, I think it’s part of Amazon somehow). My local public library also has a nice audio book collection I use to listen to books to and from work.
So, this is the break down of the medium of books I read: audio books in my car, ebooks while I sit in bed before I go to sleep and traditional print books at the coffee shop.
Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but, honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:
Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?
Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.
Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.
Here is my review of Hank Quense’s Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir as it appears in Goodreads and Amazon:
I’ve read many books on writing fiction and after a while I see the same theories and best practices over and over. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a reminder is always helpful. However, when I come across some new best practices for writing a novel, I feel like I’m getting the most out of my time and money spent.
In his Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir, which is part of his Fiction Writing Series, Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. That’s what I want—something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over? Quense’s recommendation to use Scrivener, his practice of mind-mapping, and the idea of a plot cloud gave me some new techniques to incorporate into my writing disciplines. Of course, he also touches on fiction elements I’ve read elsewhere, but his succinct style on concepts like “character arc” proved to be a great review and motivator.
So if you are looking for some fresh ideas on writing fiction, I recommend this book. He includes lots of resources in the Appendices. The reader may or may not decide to use Quense’s ideas, especially if the person prefers to write without planning, but as he says about his mind-mapping technique, “Ultimately, you have to decide whether to use this method or not.”
I’m definitely going to check out his other books in the series.
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?
Project 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?