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How Novelists Can Go Deep and Wide with Plot

Novelists focus heavily on plot, and rightly they should. Your novel needs a well-crafted and believable plot. A good story will have one. A great story will have many plot layers. You could call them subplots, but I find it helps to think of them as layers because of the way they work in your story.

If you feel your plot is thin and narrow, consider adding layers of plot.

Plot layers come in all thicknesses of importance, and if they are designed carefully, they will make your story a rich one with unique and lasting flavors that will linger long after your reader finishes your book. Continue Reading…

Controlling the Element of Time in Your Novel

Time is a slippery thing. And because of that, it poses an intriguing challenge for fiction writers.

We need to control the pacing in our stories, and one great way to do that is to manipulate time.

There are various techniques writers use to do this when it comes to “speed.” We can create beats or pauses by having action come to a halt and our characters noticing normally ignored things around them: a shift in the weather, a ticking clock, a bird circling.

We infuse beats when we want our character and our reader to process something. (This is all part of the action-reaction cycle that is so crucial to understand). Scene and chapter breaks also gives readers opportunity to take a breath and process.

In a movie there are all kinds of techniques the director and film editor can use to speed time up and slow time down. But I want to talk not just about the speed at which time can move but also the quality of time.

If that seems like an esoteric concept, it is. But I bet you can think of instances or moments when time has felt different. Not just when it slows way down (like when you’ve had an accident or when you’re waiting for a doctor to come into the exam room with your test results ) or speeds up (getting old, in general) but when it feels different. Do you have any idea of what I’m referring to? Continue Reading…

Writing Scenes with a Purpose

I know this may sound silly and obvious, but your scenes need to have a purpose. Thing is, so many scenes that I edit and critique seem purposeless. Or the purpose is irrelevant to the premise. Or to the plot. Or doesn’t help reveal anything of importance about the characters.

I remember Donald Maass talking at his weeklong breakout novel workshop about this. He said something like, “You can’t imagine how many middle scenes I’ve read in novels that accomplish nothing.”

Same idea. Your scene shouldn’t just be entertaining or tense or exciting to read; it has to serve a specific purpose in light of your overall plot and premise. Every scene.

So how do you go about this?

Well, first thing: plot our your story, and make sure you have a riveting, fresh premise. If your premise is boring and predictable, it’s going to be hard to write a story that’s not boring and predictable. Continue Reading…

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