MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 11:22 pm
So I sit down at my computer and I start typing a chapter. Because that is how I begin all my novels (yes, I have plenty of them, all WIPs :). I type and type. One chapter, two chapters, three chapters… and then I suddenly discover a new and more exciting character in my plot! So I gracefully divert the attention from the original main character to this new one who piqued my interest. Before I know it, my plot is spinning a complete web, spiraling off in many different directions with loads of subplots and emotional sagas. I can’t hold myself back from getting deep and personal in the details of the lives of all my sub-characters. I need to know them all, and well!
So… where do I draw the line? And how do I draw the line? And when I am veering off in more than one direction (assuming it is not too many), how do I keep my plot focused and organized and easy-to-follow? And how do all the conflicts magically get resolved at the same time? Or are they resolved at different times throughout the book? Or do some of them just never get resolved? But then how can I discuss them, if they will never get resolved; isn’t that unfair and unclear to the reader?
I am completely overwhelmed and lost. What I usually end up doing is exiting the 80+ page document in frustration, resolving never to open it again. I avoid it until I happen to chance upon it years later, and the nostalgic feelings for my vulnerable and lovable characters are reawakened. I suddenly wish I can revive them and solve their issues. Yet the task is too daunting, and I know not where to start.
HELP! How do you actually write a novel??? Does anyone relate to this??
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 11:49 pm
Anagrammer, at the point you are at, I would take the characters’ plots one at a time, choosing the one that most interests me at the moment.
Create a clear development arc for each: 1) define their goal, 2) what will help them achieve it / hinder it, 3) at what point does their goal seem a futile ambition, hopeless beyond survival and then 4) finally how do they bump against their goal in a way that either they realise it or their issue is resolved in some other unexpected way.
When you’ve done this for two or three characters , you may notice a pattern that will help you intertwine your plots.
IMO, all conflicts need to be resolved in some sort of satisfactory, but believable, way. It doesn’t have to be ‘happily, ever after’ but their conflicts should have been worthwhile because of what they achieved or because of what they have become.
MemberSeptember 13, 2020 at 11:33 pm
Thanks, Sherry. I like your 4 steps; they are organized and uncomplicated. Let’s see where they take me!
MemberSeptember 11, 2020 at 1:13 am
Annagrammer- I can’t wait to read your completed novel- it probably is so fascinating and intriguing- and if each of the characters has backstory- wow. It probably is a novel with a lot of layers, which = more fun!
Perhaps consider having your novel have a few points of view with a character arc for each character (there should still be one character who is the main one- the one who has the biggest character arc). I love the “Save the Cat” method and have spoken about it so many times on this forum… I hope no one will strangle me if I mention it again. Jessica Brody has a book “Save the Cat writes a Novel” which I love. It talks about theme, character arc, patterns of ten successful types of stories…and also how to plot. I love her plotting method. It will help you figure out where to plug in the different elements of your novel…love it.
MemberSeptember 13, 2020 at 11:39 pm
Thanks for the encouragement, Elisheva! In your experience with “Save the Cat”, has it been confusing/complicated? I am getting dizzy just from researching it.
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 1:57 am
HI Annagrammer! I used to be a pantser type of writer until I discover the Save the Cat method. I find it to be very clear, but I also read her book and took her course which is much more straightforward than snippets that you’d find on websites. I’m in love with it but I know some people might find all that structure intimidating
https://www.jessicabrody.com/save-the-cat-starter-kit/?utm_source=jessicabrody&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=pdf-redirect — This is the link to sign up for the beat sheet starter kit. Basically, each main character your story has needs their own beat sheet- but only main character, not side ones.
It could be that this method isn’t for you if you find it very confusing. Just love sharing it ‘cuz it works well for me.
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 2:21 pm
I really enjoy pantsing, and it’s hard for me to break out of it. “Save the Cat” sounds like it’s crushing all the spontaneity that I love about writing. I’m getting the gist of it, but it still sounds constraining… and less fun. (I think my problem is that I write for fun, not to publish…. but I still hope to publish ;)) So, my question really is – why are you in love with it? Simply because it works? Or because it’s also fun?
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 3:32 pm
I think the reason why I love Save the Cat so much is for three reasons:
1-I always hated plotting, but I find this plotting method to be so much fun for me
2-The reason I write is because I have so many messages I am passionate about which I want to share with the world- and what more fun, creative way to share a message than a story? When you watch a character change (think: character arc) you don’t need a mussar schmooze to help you internalize the message. Let’s say I want to explore the theme of forgiveness. I start with a character who is living in their head and can’t move on with their life because of something horrible someone did to them, and by the end of the novel, when they truly understand what it means to forgive through the challenges they faced in the novel, starting with a catalyst that sets the story in motion and out of their status=death moment to the all is lost when they finally just get what they need to do to stop fixing problems the wrong way and how to fix it right
3-there is so much psychology behind this method and parallel to real life. What really makes a person change? Why does Hashem send us nisyonos? When you write a novel, you are mimicing what Hashem does to us all the time- there is something in life we want but Hashem knows we need to learn something else. when we don’t get it Hashem sends us catalysts. We choose how to react, often times still holding onto our wants and start solving problems the wrong way (which is often the drama behind the fun and games on the beat sheet). Then Hashem brings us bad guys who close in and then all is lost and we really almost have to get it and are almost forced to change, which brings us into our own, personal, heroic finales. I saw a parallel in my life- I wonder if you can find it in yours.
It seems like we write for different reasons, so it could be this isn’t the right method for you. But I do want to note that Jessica Brody says that your initial beat sheet does not have to be set in stone. As I write, my novel does take different directions and that’s okay. The beat sheet after will look somewhat different than the beat sheet before. But it’s comforting for me to know as I write my novel that I have a plan and a structure to rely on when the going gets tough.
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 11:37 pm
Wow, sounds like it really works for you! I’ll let you know what I think bl”n…
MemberSeptember 11, 2020 at 1:17 am
p.s. in Save the Cat she mentions that each character who has a character arc should have their own “Beat sheet”- meaning their own plot. Obviously all the character’s beat sheets need to intersect if it’s one novel…one character’s ‘Break into 2’ can be another’s ‘fun and games’. It sounds like you have an amazing novel up your sleeve but need some structure to keep it on track
MemberSeptember 11, 2020 at 4:12 pm
Yup! That’s exactly why my novel is taking soooo long to write…I’ve started over at least five times already… 😉
About backstories, go for it! The more backstory you know, the deeper and richer your characters and story will be.
About complex plots. I’m very into outlining. Once you have your novel’s outline, all you have to worry about is bringing out the best in each scene. If you prefer to be a pantser, take a minute to think about your story. What’s the main plot? Write it down in one or two sentences.
Once you have that clarity, every new plot twist, every new character should be measured against it. If it doesn’t add to your basic story, it should be tossed (sorry…).
In my WIP, I had a character/subplot I really liked. I ended up cutting the whole thing out because it was making the story too complex and didn’t add to the “main” plot and theme. (boy was that a hard decision… but I’m glad I did it.)
Good luck! Let us know how it goes…
MemberSeptember 13, 2020 at 11:41 pm
Thanks, HappiWriter, for the validation and advice. I like how you mention to focus on bringing out the best in each scene. And forcing me to write down the main plot.
MemberSeptember 13, 2020 at 2:29 am
A college tutor of mine used to tell me to just”spill” my thoughts onto the paper. But I totally get it! It’s very frustrating.
MemberSeptember 13, 2020 at 11:42 pm
Passion, I want to “just spill my thoughts onto paper”! That’s what I’m doing 😉 But how can a novel come out of my random thought process? Or could it?
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 12:47 am
Heya Anagrammer! Are you pantsing your story or have you planned it in advance? If you understand where you’re story is heading to and why, I think it’s okay to be flexible and veer off course if you can make the mechanics work. But I think things can become messy especially if you’ve already written 80+ pages. Here’s what I’ve been doing for my novel so far and it’s been really helpful for me. Again, I don’t know if you’ve planned your novel so none of this might apply to you but here goes:
- I jotted down the first story image that literally hit me out of the blue. The first blush of the idea. It was a mix of thoughts, scene snippets, and even Shutterstock images thrown in for good measure. Mood boards allowed me to articulate the image in a tangible way.
- Once the wisp of the story idea was out, I started bouncing a lot of questions off it. I mainly used the ‘why’ question. At this point, it’s a great time to try figuring out why your protagonist wants something and what keeps them back from it.
- Try making sense of why your protagonist believes they can’t get what they want. What happened to them earlier in life which proved to them that they can’t get what they’re wishing for? Dig deep. Usually, the misbeliefs that are formed in childhood affect us later in adulthood.
- Here is where I started working on the family history and circle of relationships of the protagonist. My story involves the protagonist’s two brothers and both parents. I uncovered some fascinating unconscious desires and motivations while exploring the protagonist’s relationships (or absence of relationships) with others.
- At this point, I already have a bit of a foundation to understand the mechanics that will hopefully drive my story forward. Going forward, I aim to uncover the overarching agenda for the protagonist that will create a cause and effect trajectory leading up to the point where the protagonist learns that the misbelief that kept them back from achieving their desire was wrong all along.
So far I’m still creating the backstory for my story so I’m oscillating between the stuff I’ve listed. I’m also dabbling in a bit of research to ensure that my story is sound enough. All of this is done on a single word document where I basically do a brain dump for my story. I have another word document for random scenes and stuff, scene cards, research, and the novel itself 🙂
I enjoy this method because I get to plan and write at the same time.
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 2:30 pm
Thanks, FF, for such a detailed response! First off, I just stumbled across another thread where you mentioned Lisa Cron, so I looked her up, and… I’m loving what I’m reading! Sounds like something that can work for me. From what I’ve researched so far, it seems my problem lies in the fact that I start writing a novel when I think up a good character and setting, not a good story. And then I start to dream up what would be an interesting story that would happen to that character. Sometimes, however, I don’t really know what story is happening, so I’m kind of just rambling about these awesome characters and their lives ;)… Which doesn’t make for such a fascinating plot and kind of dies down at some point. (I sound crazy, don’t I?)
I like a lot of the points you brought up. The ‘why’ question is a very important one… And I like what you said about trying to make sense of why the protagonist believes he can’t get what he wants. Interesting.
Question: The writer always ends up knowing more about the characters than the reader, right (cuz of all that backstory research stuff)? How do I hold myself back from not sharing everything I know with the reader? Especially when there’s fascinating stuff going on behind the scenes!?
MemberSeptember 15, 2020 at 1:18 am
You’re welcome, Anagrammer. I didn’t mention Lisa Cron on this thread because I didn’t want to push any agendas. Since you already looked her up and resonated with what you’ve read thus far, I’ll take the liberty to elaborate a bit more of Lisa’s teachings.
When you say your novel idea consists of a good character and setting yet no ‘story’, I wouldn’t diagnose that as an unsolvable problem. If you dig a bit deeper into your character, the ‘story’ will come forth if you develop it further. Use the ‘why’ question plus the ‘and so?’ technique outlined in Lisa’s book.
As for not knowing what’s happening in your story: Instead of taking the risk of boring your readers by rambling about your awesome characters and their lives without taking the story further, consider shifting those rambles into your notes and out of your novel where you can give it its proper attention. Word vomit as much as you please. Toss around your thoughts and have fun with your characters. I do that all the time so I ain’t think you’re a crazy lady! But your readers shouldn’t be privy to your messy ramblings. They’re the lucky ducks who get to read and enjoy the finished product.
As for worrying about knowing how much to share with your readers about the backstory you’re having fun exploring: Fear not, my friend. To quote Lisa Cron: Your protagonist’s backstory will appear on every single page, from sentence one to “the end” in the form of dialogue, flashbacks, and memories called up in service of navigating the present.
So there you go. You don’t have to kiss anything goodbye! Win-win situation.
MemberSeptember 15, 2020 at 1:20 am
I couldn’t help myself…I mastered the direct reply function for the very first time on Masterpiece!
*explosion of fireworks*
Today is a good day. Baruch hashem 🙂
I’m really liking all this, Fiction Fangirl. Thanks!
And woohoo on the direct reply! 👍
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 3:15 pm
Anagrammer, IMO it’s no go good overthinking. Don’t let the planning keep you back or turn your story into a messy plot.
Once you have a basic plan in place, just go ahead and see where your characters lead you. If your characters are alive, they’ll tell you the story as you go on.
You have talent, you have skill, you have verve, you seem to have an innate understanding of people – now go for it.
Take your long document and start trimming and organising and then follow your arcs to pantsy away.
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 11:34 pm
Thanks, Sherry. How did you know I needed to hear that? :->
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 11:26 pm
You don’t sound crazy Anagrammer (unless I’m crazy too). I struggle with the same issue. All my ideas start with character or concept. It’s really hard for me to figure out plot.
As a way to help myself with this struggle, I’m doing research on plot structure. There are many “derechs” when it comes to plot including Save the cat, 27 chapter, and the hero’s journey. Reading up on these help me brainstorm plot ideas.
MemberSeptember 14, 2020 at 11:35 pm
Yay! Glad to hear I’m not crazy! Thanks, Mindy. Doing my research 🙂
MemberSeptember 17, 2020 at 2:57 pm
Hey just saw this. maybe it could help.
MemberSeptember 17, 2020 at 3:28 pm
Concur with every word.
Hey, I like that!
MemberSeptember 17, 2020 at 4:41 pm
BTW, my best plot twists come just as I’m about to fall asleep, and I’m too tired to jot them down. Anyone can relate?
MemberSeptember 17, 2020 at 11:52 pm
YES, Sherry! Sometimes I F-O-R-C-E myself to jot down three words to jog my memory in the morning (keep a post-it and pen handy for easy reach). Or I just think “Of course I’ll remember”, and then, of course I don’t.
MemberSeptember 18, 2020 at 12:15 am
Sherry- I totally relate. Do jot those thoughts down even if you’re tired! I get most of my story ideas when I’m about to slip into dreamland. I keep a notebook on my nightstand to capture my thoughts. Consider yourself warned, though: I have had nights where I was compelled to write ten pages because the story came gushing out of nowhere at an unstoppable pace. I’ve attributed the nocturnal ‘uncork thy pen’ moments to the logical editor-y side of my brain being sleepy which allows the creative forces to take over.
MemberSeptember 18, 2020 at 12:16 am
Happiwriter, what you’ve shared couldn’t have been more concise and precise! Thank you 🙂
MemberSeptember 18, 2020 at 1:18 am
Thanks Anagrammer and Fiction Fangirl. Pleased I’m in such good company. 😉 And now I have another question for you. Do you ever read what you’ve written the night before and think: My, this is sooo good. Did I really write it?
MemberSeptember 18, 2020 at 1:48 am
Yes, yes, and yes! I think we pull things out of our unconscious when we’re writing in sleepy-mode. Sort of like dreaming. The content can be fascinating!
Btw, I’ve been keeping a dream journal for a while now. Helps with story creation. As a matter of fact, the story idea for the novel I’m working on is based on a dream I had. And yes, I did jot everything down in a notebook when I woke up 😉. Practice what you preach!
MemberSeptember 18, 2020 at 2:05 am
FF, how do you have time to write in your dream journal with all the morning rush?
MemberSeptember 18, 2020 at 4:16 am
Oh boy, I’m late to the party here – aka – fomo (I’m not able to read through all the posts now….) ! lol.
How has your writing been, Anagrammer?
MemberSeptember 23, 2020 at 11:20 pm
Thanks for asking, Passion :). I’ve pretty much put the novels on hold at this busy time of year…
MemberSeptember 22, 2020 at 11:38 pm
On Sept. 14, you asked how to hold yourself back from sharing all the backstory with the reader. Can’t you think of the reader as an agent in a good spy network, and feed this agent information on a “need to know” basis?
Gmar chasima tova,
MemberSeptember 24, 2020 at 8:23 am
Fantastic – made me smile – way to add excitement to the plotting stages.
MemberSeptember 23, 2020 at 11:18 pm
Great advice! Thanks, Jane.
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