At the beginning of this series of blog posts, I included an image of the “Outline/Timeline” I developed to help a gardener become more structured. If you would like a sample of the “Outline/Timeline”, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you some samples of how I’ve used this tool.
Welcome (finally, eh?) to the seventh and last blog post on the topic of Structure for Gardeners. Can you believe I covered all this material in an hour-plus writing seminar on Facebook Live last summer? Amazing. Well, Happy Thanksgiving has a new meaning this year. Thanks that this topic has come to a conclusion!
Let’s do a quick recap on how we’ve gotten to this point.
In September (Hero’s Journey) and October (Plot Skeleton) I offered several blog posts taken from the first two writing seminars I hosted last summer. This month, I shared information presented in the third seminar, which dealt primarily with how to take those plot elements we discussed in the first two seminars and put them into one of the many viable structures that help a writer produce a book.
Thus far in the series Structure for Gardeners, we’ve looked at an Overview on Structure, at the common Three-Act Structure, at the aspects of Plot vs. Character, at the important concept of Point of View, the importance of “Method” and then on Friday we started looking at many different ideas such as Backstory. Today we conclude with a look at Chapters, how to End the Book and a number of other miscellaneous thoughts.
All of the material presented in the original seminar came from other writers, such as Nancy Rue, Angela Hunt, Kathy Mackle, Wanda Dyson and DJ Williams. I also picked up the outline for the Three-Act Structure from The Master Class website.
I believe there are two basic types of authors – architects and gardeners.
Architects are the kinds of authors who build everything before they start – they create extensive outlines, develop detailed chapter summaries and often build meticulous biographies for each of their main characters, sometimes going as far as finding photos of individuals who look like their characters and keeping those photos in front of them.
Gardeners, like me, plant a seed, water it, let the sun shine on it for a while and then see what happens. How does it grow? Maybe it starts growing in one direction then, unexpectedly, it sends off another shoot in the opposite direction. Who knows what stages it will go through before it reaches harvest?
Often, one of the Gardener’s greatest vulnerabilities in writing, or getting their writing completed, is a lack of structure. How can I get from seed to harvest without wasting a lot of time and effort traveling down branches that bear no fruit? Thus, this seminar, Structure for Gardeners.
Today, let’s take a look at how to build chapters, construct story endings and some musings from author DJ Williams.
Get into a scene late and out early. This is one of the most valuable lessons a writer can learn. Don’t give long explanations of where you are or what’s coming. Just get into it. That keeps tension at the highest levels and sparks the reader’s imagination – What’s going on? What’s going to happen next?
Envision the chapter before you write it - like a movie projector in your head.
Play it over in your mind with the characters before you write a word.
Determine the viewpoints of the chapter - what makes it most compelling.
Think about what emotions you want the reader to feel in the chapter.
Leave the reader with questions, so they're left wondering what happens in the next chapter.
ENDING THE BOOK:
Think about every possible ending to the book as you’re building your outline.
Then select the most outrageous ending that works.
Go back through your outline and find places to insert clues about critical elements that will impact the conclusion.
But don't give clues away, or too many hints about what will happen in the end.
You can mislead the readers, but not to the point where they figure out that you are leaving them at dead ends. That will frustrate the reader and they will not be happy.
By the end, the reader should feel something positive when they close the book. There should be a satisfying conclusion that, even if not all their questions are answered, the reader feels it was a worthwhile journey.
Conflict is to your story what sound is to music … it involves the reader in ways that simple words, or notes, on a page can never equal.
Keep making your readers think they can outsmart you. Leave hints that offer alternate paths but clean them up by the end. It’s one reason you need to keep rewriting. You must outthink and outmaneuver your readers.
Allow yourself to write poorly … then learn to edit well … rewrite; rewrite; rewrite.
Avoid adverbs at all cost … any word ending in “ly”. An adverb’s sole purpose is to prop up weak verbs.
Take the manuscript … throw it up in the air, all over the room … pick a page and see if there is tension on it.
Use a “Cut File” for things that need to be cut from the manuscript. But have a folder “Cut File” for each manuscript and then use the things that were cut for blog posts or newsletters.
Remember the “pencil rule” … when you have three elements in a sentence, the MOST important goes last, the second-most important goes at the beginning and the least important element of the sentence goes in the middle.
Your first page and your first chapter establishes a contract with the reader. You are telling the reader, this is what you’re going to get if you keep reading. Your first page/first chapter should give:
A clue to the protagonist;
A clue to the POV;
A clue to the genre.
Your first sentence should also contain a person (normally the protagonist) and a provocative question that will be resolved later.
Think of your book as a movie. You want to visualize every scene in the book and make sure you move quickly from scene to scene. And the biggest question is, would anyone film this book for a movie?
From author DJ Williams: Have a Writing Schedule
Establish a routine to write (creativity is a discipline).
Keep a journal for the first 30 days (log day, time, word count).
Designate a certain amount of time each day, track word count in each session.
Review journal to see when you're most productive, then create a writing schedule.
Track the number of words or pages you write per day.
Track your writing progress over the next year.
Book your writing sessions like you would an appointment or exercise.
Write every day regardless of inspiration (blank pages build character).
Don't procrastinate (no social media, no phone calls, no interruptions).
Even between books, keep the same writing schedule.
In order to build momentum, define clear goals.
When will the outline be done?
The first draft?
How do you know if you are successful?
No matter what ... finish!
Once the first draft is done, step away from it for 30 days – write something else.
You need to look at the story as a whole to know what needs to be changed.
Write until it's perfect … the best that you can do.
Thanks for sticking with me through this Structure for Gardeners series. I hope it’s helped.
This will be my final blog post for 2020. Please have a Happy Thanksgiving and a Blessed Christmas. Stay safe ... stay healthy. Lord willing, I'll meet you here in 2021.