How to Build a Novel
Monday June 3, 2013 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging
I haven’t really talked about what I’ve been working on for my thesis. Of course it’s science fiction but it’s very different from my first novel, which is securely trunked for now. I had a different story in mind when I went into residency, but I felt like the story I decided to use was much more timely and relevant. Also, I had a much better grip on how it would end, and I wanted something I knew I could finish to complete my degree.
I’ve been writing with a purpose to publish for about four years now and still have nothing to show for it, but I know I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started this process, and it is a process. The more I learn the more I understand that the learning will never end and it should be a constant improvement as I get more words under my belt.
Not every story has the same gravitas or the same appeal, but the writing itself should be improving. There might even be a plateau of sorts at some point where the improvement is very gradual, but I believe in my heart that even Steven King learns more about writing with each endeavor. My expectation is that my learning curve will maintain a fairly consistent upward trajectory for the foreseeable future. Hopefully I’ll be earning a few bucks with published books along the way.
Part of the learning process was to try a new approach to writing this novel. I actually sat down shortly after I began to flesh out the characters and started on an outline. It was crude at first and I had the beginning and a basic idea of the ending in mind. I know that Brandon Sanderson is an advocate of figuring out the ending first and many other writers work that way. I can see the value. It gives you a lighthouse in the fog, something to be working toward the entire development process. That’s not to say it’s in concrete. Mine has changed subtly several times as I got to know my characters better. The beauty of an outline is in its flexibility. It’s a whole lot easier to tweak an outline than it is to rip out hundreds, maybe thousands of words, to make an adjustment if you’ve gotten that far into the actual writing of the story.
I used a basic story structure to begin: Hook, Plot Turn 1, Pinch 1, Midpoint, Plot Turn 2, Pinch 2, Resolution. It’s called a seven point story structure. I took my story idea and hung it on the structure. I realized I wanted something a little more complex so I ended up adding another plot turn and pinch before and after the midpoint and I ended up with a ten point story structure. I know that should be eleven if you counted, but I ended up with a long resolution that closes all the loops. Like I said, it’s not set in concrete and this is working for me. You have to find what’s going to work for your story.
Once I had the story structure built I went into my outline and started fleshing out the scenes, flowing from one point on the structure to the next with as many scenes as it took. Once I had a rudimentary outline I started writing. Let me back up a little here. Full disclosure, I actually fleshed out a more in-depth outline of the beginning before I started writing. I had a pretty good idea where I was going in the early parts of the story and there were still some fairly large holes in the later parts of the book that I left open when I started the actually clacking away on the keyboard for the real story. The characters came to life, and as I learned more about their motivations and relationships I tweaked the outline, adding more scenes or filling the holes I’d left earlier. The outline got more robust and more complex as I added plot twists and changed the ending several times. Some notions based on feedback and some based on new ideas I had for secondary characters and how to tie all of them more deeply into the story. I’m going to do a whole other post on that topic.
The thing I really love about having an outline is I don’t ever have doubt where I’m going. I let the scene develop organically but I know that all roads lead to the next plot point. If I find that I discovered something cool that I want to develop I adjust the outline. So far I haven’t had anything happen that’s caused me to have to backtrack and rip out pages. I think this is due to the outline. Maybe I’m just getting lucky. Maybe it’s the synergism of preparation and a good outline. I’m going with the last one.
Another cool thing that’s come out of the robust outline is that I have a fully developed synopsis already done. I took the outline and just did a few touchups to add more of my voice and make it flow more smoothly. From that I was able to develop my query letter. Query letters are a major pain in the backside and if you don’t believe me you can look in the older portions of this blog to find where I struggled trying to develop one for Clear Ether. Look here: Pitch Polish
My full synopsis is eight pages long. Next on my list of things to do is chop that down to around two or three pages to a have it ready to make a submission. Gotta finish writing the story though before I consider submitting it to anyone.
Good luck in your writing.