To overcome feeling overwhelmed by finishing your novel, a writer might want to keep these writing principles in mind:
She doesn’t have to write chronologically.
She can write her most important scenes first and then fill in the blanks.
Now, if she has planned your novel with some kind of outline, then these principles become even easier.
So the question is, what are the most important scenes in a novel?
This doesn’t mean some scenes are less necessary than others. In the final draft, all the scenes should be necessary and move the story along. A post from C.S. Lakin’s blog called The First Ten Scenes You Need to Plot for your Novel offers a list of scenes on which the writer should focus.
I concentrated on finishing these scenes and now I am writing the final draft of the “in-between” stuff. If you get stuck in your writing, jump ahead work on the The Midpoint scene. This is the scene, roughly 50% of the way through your story, where the character asks whether or not she wants to continue. She questions who she is. She decides to go on, or maybe decides to take a different tactic. Then write backwards from that scene, or write forwards.
Here is what the writer should remember: if she gets stuck writing the novel chronologically, she can jump around and write one of the scenes listed in Lakin’s article.
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.
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?