This gallery contains 8 photos.
This is not a writing related post! It has simply been on my mind lately and I wanted to put it out there. When is your favourite time of the day/night? Not to write or create or work. I am … Continue reading
Yesterday we discussed paragraph structure and how important it is to the flow and rhythm of your story. Just as important is sentence structure. This is really getting down to the finer details of your novel, and how it will help create a logical and easy to read story that flows well and draws your reader in.
The most effective way to keep your readers’ attention is to make your writing concise and easy to understand, no matter how elaborate the ideas are that you are trying to convey. By structuring your sentences appropriately and using correct punctuation and grammar you achieve simple and effective writing. In this particular post we will focus on sentence structure. At a later date I will write some posts on grammar and punctuation. Once again, I found a post by Lucy Mccarraher “How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: sentence structure and punctuation” a great read, that helps to clarify sentence structure.
A sentence can be long or short and it generally has 3 fundamental components.
There are four different types of sentences. See this article on “Sentence Structure” by Elizabeth O’Brien (Grammar Revolution: Grammar the Easy Way) for more in depth explanations that are easy to read and understand on the different types of sentences.
Then it really gets interesting as you can combine the four main sentence types to create other sentences, like a compound-complex sentence. A compound-complex sentence contains at least two independent clauses, and at least one dependent clause.
The sentence syntax is essentially sentence structure. It is the way you put your words, grammar and punctuation together to create interesting and easy to read sentences. It is usually broken down into three syntactic slots.
Molly (subject) drank (verb) wine (object).
A good rule of thumb is that you can load one or two of these slots with detail, but not all three. If you load all three slots then the sentence becomes harder to read and will slow your reader down. For example:
Filling up one slot: Molly, drank a bottle of her favourite red wine.
Filling up two slots:
Molly, drank long and deep from a bottle of her favourite red wine.
Filling up all three slots: Molly, lonely and single once more, drank long and deep from a bottle of her favourite red wine.
So remember, simplicity is key. Your reader doesn’t want to get bogged down in lengthy and overly detailed sentences. Keep the story moving forward by writing concise but descriptive sentences and adhering to the rules of sentence structure.
That brings us to the conclusion of the Building Your Novel Blog Series. You should now have a more in depth understanding of plotting, story structure, the dramatic elements, paragraph structure and sentence structure. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Please feel free to send me an email, comment if you have any questions, or wish to add anything else to these posts.
Yesterday we discussed the dramatic elements that underpin your story. Today we get down to the nitty gritty details of paragraph structure. It sounds boring, and it can be a dry subject. But if you can master how to write interesting and well-structured paragraphs then you will create an easy to read novel, and your readers will want to read more!
Lucy Mccarraher has produced a great, easy to read and understand post on paragraphs “How to write fiction without the fuss: paragraphs”. It is definitely worth a read if you are looking at how to write and structure your paragraphs.
What is a paragraph?
So what is a paragraph? In both fiction, and non-fiction writing the paragraph is considered one of the most basic building blocks. Obviously words and sentences are even more basic, but it is the paragraph that allows you to string your story together. By definition a paragraph is “a distinct section of a piece of writing, usually dealing with a single theme and indicated by a new line, indentation, or numbering.”
A paragraph can be as little as one word, and as long as a page. But you need to be careful that it remains easy to read and emphasizes what you are saying. The purpose of a paragraph is to act as a visual break and to help create rhythms in your writing. The visual break helps readers to keep track of where they are up to on the page. Solid text, or very long paragraphs are intimidating and tiring to read. Paragraphs of different lengths help create rhythm within your story, as well as the atmosphere you wish to convey. For example; short paragraphs keep the action moving forward at a fast pace, whereas longer paragraphs tend to have detailed description and complex thought processes, which slow the story down.
In non-fiction the structure of your paragraph generally has to follow a set of rules. In fiction writing, which is what we are focusing on today, these rules are more of a rough guideline. Whilst fiction writing doesn’t have the same rigid constraints of non-fiction writing, each paragraph should still convey an idea that relates to the next paragraph and follows a logical sequence.
Think of a paragraph as a framework that contains a certain amount of information. In non-fiction terms this could be description, dialogue, action or any combination of those components. It can be one word, or many sentences.
Starting a new paragraph.
When should you start a new paragraph? This is often a confusing part of writing, and hopefully the points below will help to clarify this for you:
Order of paragraphs.
The most important consideration when deciding which paragraph goes where is the logic of your plot. Place related paragraphs together and read through them to see if they progress in a coherent and easy to read manner. Play around with the order, see how this changes your story and the effect and atmosphere you wish to create. It can take time and lots of revising to make your paragraph structure flow from one to the next.
Paragraph structure is a fundamental tool for all writers. Learn to write paragraphs well and you will build scenes and action, develop characters, introduce themes and control the tension and progress of your story in the best and most logical way.
Tomorrow, we will take it down another level to sentence structure. This is getting into the very fine details of writing and structuring. It will be the last post in the Building Your Novel series. But don’t think the learning ends there! There is so much more to writing your novel.
So far in the Building Your Novel Blog Series, we have discussed plotting and how to structure your story. Yesterday we touched briefly on the importance of the dramatic elements. Today we will go into more detail about the elements, how to incorporate them into your fictional novel and why they are important to your writing.
The four dramatic elements drive everything in your story. They are the fundamental building blocks that run underneath the outline of the 3-act structure. Each of the elements defines the next element, so that ultimately they combine together to form a powerful force behind your story. The elements are sub-textual, meaning they are not stated explicitly but the reader will feel their emotional force at work. It is what will bring them back to read more of your writing, and will create lasting impressions of your story.
Your personal passions are your gateway to writing a memorable and successful novel. This is where all drama begins as an author. The more passionate you feel about something, the better you are able to convey those feelings through your writing to your readers. So what do you feel passionate about? Create a list if it helps, then you can use that to help pick a writing topic.
From your passion you can derive a theme. Theme is the message you wish to share through your writing. The most effective themes are those that can be expressed in a few simple words, or a single short sentence. Passion and theme are quite similar, so to differentiate between them think of it like this: passion is your reason for writing your story, and theme is the take home message for your readers.
Theme is an essential tool a writer can use to test ideas for their story. As you develop each plot or story point ask yourself if it is interconnected to your theme. If it does not relate someway, then is it absolutely necessary to your story? If not, delete it!
Theme is most effectively conveyed by showing your readers what you want them to know, as opposed to telling them your message. For example, telling them that illegal drugs are bad is a weak message that your readers will not relate to. However by showing your reader the effect of illegal drugs on a person, their family and their health creates a lasting impression. Not many people enjoy being told what to believe, but this way you can subtly influence your reader and their beliefs.
It is your main characters’ inner conflict or flaw that drives your story and highlights your theme and passion. This is why when plotting your story it is important to take your time in developing your character.
Your character is a critical dramatic element that your story structure is based around. It is a good idea to develop your main character and their flaw or inner conflict early in your creative process and then base the other dramatic elements around your character flaw.
Generally speaking your main character may have several flaws, but when talking about structuring your story it is easiest to pick one main flaw and focus on that.
Characters are so important to your story. There will be a whole post dedicated to Character Development after the Building Your Novel series.
You premise combines your main character’s flaw and theme to form a “what if?” situation. It helps to move your story from start to finish.
I found this example a great help:
What if a (main character) set out to (task/journey) in order to (goal) and discovered (inner epiphany).
This helps you to define your main character and their flaw, the journey they take and their epiphany. From here you can flesh your story out, but the premise is a simple short sentence to help define your plot and story.
I hope this has helped to highlight the importance of the dramatic elements and how they help to draw your reader into your story. There is a blank worksheet on the Learning Tools page that you can print out and use to help plan your novel using the four dramatic elements. Tomorrow we will cover paragraph structure. The aim is to improve your writing, and it is also useful to help your write interesting and well-structured paragraphs. The end goal is a story that is easy to read and flows from one paragraph to the next.
Using the old favorite, The Wizard of Oz, here is an example of how to use the 3-act outline to form the bare bones of your story. There is a blank worksheet in Learning Tools to help you outline your story.
Hook: Dorothy is running away from her Aunty and Uncles’ farm to save her dog, Toto, from mean Miss Gulch.
Backstory: Dorothy is persuaded to return home by Professor Marvel. On the way she is caught in a cyclone that transport her and the house to Munchkinland. The house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and freeing the munchkins from her terror.
Trigger: Dorothy is forced to travel alone to find the Wizard of Oz so she can get home. This triggers her lack of self-confidence.
Crisis: Dorothy is overcome by her main flaw, her lack of self-confidence. She is terrified and doesn’t know what to do.
Struggle: Dorothy has to travel down the yellow-brick road. She meets friends along the way and takes them with her on her journey to find the Wizard of Oz in the hope that he can help them all. On the way Dorothy is captured by the Wicked Witch and her friends come to her rescue. The Wicked Witch sets the scarecrow on fire.
Epiphany: Dorothy realizes her flaw, her lack of self-confidence, and that only she can overcome this by changing.
Plan: Dorothy must act fast to save Scarecrow from burning. She grabs a bucket of water and throws it on him.
Climax: Dorothy accidentally splashes the witch with water and the witch melts away. The witch’s own flaw is her undoing. She was overly confident and this brings about her demise.
Ending: Dorothy and her friends return to the Emerald City, only to discover that the wizard is a fake and cannot send Dorothy home. The Good Witch, Glenda, comes to her aid and reveals that Dorothy has had the power to solve the problem herself and return home. Then of course there is the famous scene of tapping her ruby-red heels together and chanting “There’s no place like home” until she wakes up in her own bed in Kansas.
Keep in mind that the 3-act structure is a simple outline. You can flesh it our more when you go on to develop the story outline. But these points help to get your thoughts and ideas into a logical order and to make sure you develop a strong, solid and coherent novel.
I have spoken a lot about plotting, using the 5 element or the 3 element style, and story structure utilizing the 3-act framework. It can be confusing when trying to come up with your story outline, plot and structure how they all relate to each other. So I decided to add a quick blog to this series that I hope clears up some of the confusion for you. I have designed a graph with all these elements overlapping to show their relationship. There is also a blank worksheet in Learning Tools that incorporates all these points.
Yesterday we explored how to develop the plot of your novel. Today we are going to cover story structure. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I just want to state again that plot is the physical aspects of your novel and story structure is based around emotional and character development.
Traditionally, story structure follows a path of rising action building up to a climax, which is then followed by a catharsis. A catharsis is a release of emotional tension that refreshes the spirit. Or in literary terms, it is a sound resolution to your book that leaves your readers satisfied and content. So how do you follow this guideline of creating tension in the lead up to a climax, followed by a cathartic resolution? This is where plotting and structuring come in handy. And it is not a matter of simply writing it out once, but building upon your idea in several stages until you have a fully developed story outline.
There are four dramatic elements that underpin your novel and identifying them is the first step to develop your story structure. The four dramatic elements are passion, theme, character and premise. When these elements are properly defined and utilized they form a cohesive powerful force that pulls the reader in and keeps them interested in your story. The four dramatic elements are:
Passion: The more deeply you feel about your writing subject, the better you are able to convey that passion and emotion to your readers.
Theme: From your passion you will develop your theme. Theme is the message you would like to share with your readers.
Character: The best way to convey your theme is through your characters. Your main character is plagued by an inner conflict that drives your story and highlights your theme.
Premise: Is what propels your story from start to finish. It combines your main characters flaw and the theme of your story to create a single short question: “what if…..?”
Tomorrow we will discuss The Dramatic Elements in more detail.
The next stage in developing your story structure is to construct a brief story outline. The easiest way to do this is to use the 3-act structure. Initially it is best to keep the first draft of your outline as short as possible; one sentence per checkpoint is a great place to start.
So what is the 3-act structure? It is exactly what it sounds like, a breakdown of your story into 3 acts! Each act then contains 3 checkpoints, which aim to incorporate all your important plot and story points into a logical outline. This breakdown into 3-acts, or 9 checkpoints, help you to design a story outline that follows the path of building tension until you reach a climax and then a resolution to your novel.
Hook: An interesting event that draws in your reader and opens your story.
Backstory: This is where the main character and setting is established.
Trigger: This is usually an intense event that pushes your main character into a crisis.
Crisis: Can be emotional or physical crisis that is based around your character’s flaw.
Struggle: More obstacles your main character must overcome to resolve the dilemma.
Epiphany: This is where your main character realizes what is holding them back from a resolution.
Plan: Your main character devises a plan to overcome the dilemma.
Climax: The final confrontation.
Ending: The dilemma is resolved.
You can find a blank 3-act worksheet in Learning Tools that you can print off and use to help you develop your story. I have also written out an example of the 3-act structure using The Wizard of Oz as inspiration.
Now that you have plotted each of the nine checkpoints you can begin to flesh out the rest of your story into a short story form. This is the third stage in building your story and bringing your novel to life. To do this, you incorporate all your nine checkpoints from the 3-act structure into a few paragraphs that essentially describes your story in more detail. You can also add in the points from your 5 or 3 element plot structure. This way you are incorporating the physical and emotional aspects of your story. You add in more characters, sub-plots and key details. Keep in mind, that this is all in short form so that you can still fix flaws in your story or chop and change without having to re-write huge parts of your novel. It can also be helpful to give some one else this short story form so they can provide you with feedback and constructive criticism. It is a scary thought to give someone your story before you have actually written it, however it can help having a fresh pair of eyes look over your plot and structure. They may see inconsistencies or weak parts to your story that you missed. It will help you to build a strong, emotive story that will stay in your readers mind long after they have finished reading your book.
I have found the following sites offer great tips and advice on story structure.
All of this plotting and planning may feel like it hinders your creativity, if that’s the case then you do not need to follow this structured way of writing. But once you have finished all this planning, you can go on to write from your heart and finish your novel.
That concludes the second post in the Build Your Novel Blog Series. Please come back and check out tomorrow’s post on The Dramatic Elements. It provides more detail on each element and how to incorporate them into your novel.
Are you flying by the seat of your pants when writing your novel? Are you a rebel who doesn’t sit down to plot before writing your story? Instead of just writing whatever pops into your head and seeing where it leads you, have you thought about plotting first? I am not saying that you should not let your creativity take you wherever you want to go, but following some plan and structure can help take your novel to the next level. By following a rough road map for your story you ensure it follows a logical course of action, and it really does help to develop the emotional and physical aspects of your novel. It gives it more depth then just wallowing along.
I used to have an idea for a story and just sit down and write. Now I spend the time creating a rough plot, structure and developing characters. It sounds time consuming, but I find it so helpful. My writing has improved tremendously and my novels are now multi-dimensional instead of rather simplistic. Please don’t think I am accusing anyone who doesn’t plot of writing trash. If that works for you and you create great writing then fantastic! I envy you. My problem with not having a plot to guide me is I tend to get lost in my writing and waffle. If you find the same, then keep reading.
I have developed the following tips and knowledge about plotting from research, writing courses and experimenting with various methods. Like I have said many times before, writing is a very individual process and you need to find what works for you. Borrow tips and advice from the web, fellow writers and books until you develop a method that works for you.
First of all, make sure you know the difference between plot and story structure. They are terms that can often be used interchangeably, however they are very different. They are both vital to the telling of your story and it is important if you want to sketch out your novel before writing it, that you know the difference between them.
Fundamentally plot is the “what” and “why” of your story, and structure is how you tell your reader about it. Structure can be changed to suit the way you would like to tell the story, whereas plot tends to be linear. Plot is a roadmap from point A to point B that helps to organize the events and information of your novel in a logical manner; essentially it is the sequence of your story. Plot is what you use to draw the reader into your story and the character’s lives; it is the mechanism for drawing the readers’ interest.
Traditionally a plot contains 5 elements. This part is a bit dry and clinical, but is important to understand if you would like help to develop a great plot that is logical and makes sense to your reader. The 5 elements:
If you find the traditional 5 plot elements hard to use, or too restrictive, then don’t worry. You can reduce your plot down to 3 simple elements and base your story around that:
I tend to use the 3 elements as I find it less dry and restrictive. You will find worksheets for the 5 elements and the 3 elements plotting styles on the Learning Tools page. They are blank worksheets you can print out in order to help with plotting.
So, you now know the elements of plotting but how do you design a good and interesting plot? A good plot draws your reader in, maintains their interest, and creates long-lasting impressions and memories of your book. I have found that there are 3 basic ways to help create a good plot:
So you can see from this, that plot sketching is usually event orientated.
That concludes the first blog post in the Build Your Novel Blog Series. Tomorrow we will cover story structure, which tends to be more emotional and character orientated. This is the next step in plotting and outlining your best selling novel!
Through each of the posts in this series you will learn how to plot, structure and outline your novel. Each post will build upon the one before, so that you will flesh out your ideas, weed out any that don’t work, and form a cohesive and emotional story that readers will find easy to follow and relate too.
At the end of the series, you will have a great arsenal of tools to help with your novel writing. I have said it before, and I will say it again, writing is very personal. You can choose to use these tools, or not. It is your creative process, and how you develop your story is up to you.