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A request to beta-read an as-yet-unpublished novel recently brought to mind again the challenges of writing a novel-length story.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!

Glimpses of Paradise (review)

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Glimpses of Paradise: A Novel of the 1920sGlimpses of Paradise: A Novel of the 1920s by James Scott Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We first meet the main characters in Glimpses of Paradise, 17 year-old Doyle Lawrence (athlete and poet) and 16 year-old Zenobia (Zee) Miller (want-to-be movie star), in the spring of 1916 in Zenith, Nebraska. Doyle, fascinated by the unpredictable and colorful Zee, tells his brother later that evening that he’ll marry Zee someday despite what their lawyer father will say. For her part, though Zee senses his attraction, she wants only to be in the movies.

Their ways soon part. Doyle enlists in the army and goes off to war. Zee runs away from her straight-laced preacher father to chase her dream.

This historical tale by James Scott Bell (first published in 2005) explores many aspects of the years from 1916 to 1925—the war itself, the fate of returning soldiers, the rise of Hollywood’s popularity, and its seamy underside. Concurrent with these secular movements is a spiritual stream personified by the historical preacher R. A. Torrey (a preacher and Bible teacher who helped found Biola University). His sermons and writings play not a little part in determining Doyle’s and Zee’s fates.

I thoroughly enjoyed this substantial novel. I’ve read many of James Scott Bell’s books on the writing craft and it is interesting to see how he puts his advice into practice. His characters are complex and believable. His facility in describing action contrasts, in this book, with quiet moments like the one war-damaged Doyle experiences on returning home after combat:

“He found himself fixated on one brown leaf cloning to a branch. It looked stubborn, alone, like a solitary prayer unheard” – Kindle Location 1553.

What I appreciate most about this book, though, is its unequivocal Christian message, not only as explained by Dr. Torrey but lived out in the choices and destinies of his characters.

If you like fat, informative, and interesting Christian historicals, try this tome of Americana. It won’t disappoint.

Glimpses of Paradise is part of my own Kindle collection.
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