Help for novel construction

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A request to beta-read an as-yet-unpublished novel recently brought to mind again the challenges of writing a novel-length story. Two books that were a lifeline for me when I was writing my two Bible fiction novels were How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson and The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction by C. S. Lakin.

In the Snowflake Method, Ingermanson starts writers off by planning from their main concept to ever more detailed aspects of the book. The genius of his method is that you assemble the bones (setting and characters) and construction plan (plot) in its entirety before you ever begin writing. You won’t spend weeks at the computer just to discover that your story comes to a dead end.

He describes his method in detail in the book but he also describes it in short on this page of his website: The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel.

I used his method to do the groundwork when planning both Destiny’s Hands and Under the Cloud.

I purchased the C. S. Lakin book, (The 12 Pillars) while working on Under the Cloud and spent several months making sure my story had each pillar in place. Here again the focus begins with story basics. Lakin identifies four main pillars as the basis for a good story: 1] Concept with a Kicker; 2] Protagonist with a Goal; 3] Conflict with High Stakes; and 4] Theme with Heart. With these established, she goes on to talk about eight additional pillar: 5] Plot and Subplots; 6] Secondary Characters; 7] Setting; 3] Tension; 9] Dialogue; 10] Voice; 11] Writing Style; and 12] Motifs. A downloadable checklist/worksheet (link provided in the book) is available for each of these pillars.

For myself, making sure that I had considered my story in the light of each of these pillars gave me confidence that I hadn’t missed anything major.

So if you’re writing a novel and struggling with any aspect of it, either or both of these books, along with books by James Scott Bell (especially Plot and Structure and Revision and Self-Editing) will prove helpful… or they sure were to me!

Ready … Set … for NaNoWriMo

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A week from today the hordes of writers who signed up for this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge will be logging their first word counts on the way to 50,000. Three years ago I was one of them.

I had decided to sign up a few weeks before that. The decision was not taken lightly. The fiction project I wanted to tackle had been on my mind for years. I had spent months, seven years earlier, researching the setting of the story I wanted to tell and went back to it from time to time. But I always ended up dropping it because it seemed I would never know enough.

I had begun to realize, though, that perhaps I just needed to write the story and fill in the gaps later. NaNoWriMo with its built in hype, inspirational newsletters, and accountability might be just the thing to get me over the great hump of producing a first draft.

To help make sure this would happen I spent the weeks between making my decision and November 1, 2009 doing some groundwork. Here are some things I did pre-NaNoWriMo:

1. I found and printed Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for writing a novel. Then I worked at fleshing out my plot and characters.

2. I re-reread the research I had done.

3. Since my story was Bible fiction it had events that needed to occur in a specific order. I made a document of the Bible script of events, formatting it with the print filling the left half of the page, leaving the right half blank for my notes. When I got ideas of how my character would handle these events, I made jottings on the right.

4. I broadcast my intentions on the forum of The Word Guild, a Canadian writer’s group to which I belong, asking if anyone else was planning on doing the NaNo thing. We soon had an accountability group which included Sara Davison (The Watcher), Marcia Laycock (One Smooth Stone and A Tumbled Stone) and Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts).

By November 1st I was chomping at the bit to get going!

Are you planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year? Have you ever done it? What preparations would you suggest?