The piece I was missing, and what made it so hard to get through my first novel, fell in my lap just as I began the first book. I joined a wonderful writing community on facebook, the 10 Minute Novelists, and there I found a community of writers who help each other navigate the seas of words. Under their strict no solicitation policy, we are able to speak freely about the process of writing. Not only the mechanics but also the highs and lows, joys and pitfalls, and everything in between. It’s a wonderful place to commiserate and celebrate. I’ve received countless recommendations for sources of inspiration and instruction.
One such author I found through this group is KM Weiland, who, through her website , offers some of the most helpful advice I’ve found on the world wide web for writing fiction. She also writes books, both instructional and fiction, and her book “5 Secrets of Story Structure” (free on kindle!), blew the roof off my understanding of structure.
Incorporating what I learned there into a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of plot and planning propelled me through book one and beyond. I like to think I understand character development, rising action, character interaction, etc., yet the finer points of how to structure a story was some kind of nebulous idea without edges. Reading about the craft of writing gave me edges to grab. I recommend doing at least a bit of reading on things like this, even if you’re a proud panster. I now consider myself a “plantser,” whereby I plot about two or three plot points in advance, with the ending in mind. I don’t think I’ll ever make a detailed outline, but I’ve learned so very much this last year about how to make my version of pantsing more successful. And enjoyable.
I want to mention one thing. I hear a lot of people complain about the “soggy middle,” both in writing and in reading. It’s easy to fall into the trap of the long, boring middle. I think I might have in book 2? Maybe not, but I get a distinct “Esmeralda Villa Lobos” vibe from it…somewhere. If anyone finds it, let me know.
KM’s book helped me to understand it’s not a three act play at all. It’s four. And each one has a high point in the middle, with a big beginning and a big end. The first act has the beginning, the inciting incident, and ends with the first plot point. I think a lot of people recognize that structure, even if they don’t know the words. But it’s the middle not everyone sees the same. The magic elixir? Pinch points. I get excited just thinking about them. Pinch points aren’t as big as plot points, but they are way stations from one plot point to the next. Without pinch points, I would not have made it through my second novel. I’d probably still be back there, trying to figure out how to slog through act 2, in order to get to the big piece act 3 was going to bring. Pinch points are like bright spots on the road. Like fireworks stands.
Something else I read about this time was about the scene/sequel structure of chapters and something called the Motivation-Reaction-Unit (MRU). You can read more in-depth here . One thing I haven’t done when editing so far is make sure I’ve properly followed the scene/sequel structure. I think I have, for the most part, so editing should go fairly quick. But once I read this, I incorporated most of the advice right away. Where to break paragraphs, for example (the MRU), is paramount to keeping the pages turning. And now when I look at my writing before this change, I hate it. I want to fix it all. The basics of it is:
(new paragraph) The character reacts. Emotionally, physically, verbally, all or some. In varying orders, just like keeping your sentence structure varied.
This not only keeps the reader turning pages, it kept me, the writer, turning pages. What a great hack I had no idea about. It’s interesting how many things I learned I had no idea about. I’ve always said, you don’t know what you don’t know. How do you know to ask the right questions if you are unaware of your ignorance in the first place?
In writing I’ve found part of this is being part of a community of writers. We talk, ask questions, answer questions, learn things. I mean, the MRU is immediately recognizable. But, here’s the kicker, you have to know you’re looking for it. Otherwise, you don’t realize it’s something you have to do. So when you talk with other writers, you learn the questions they’re asking, and you expand your own knowledge by answering them.
Another way to know if you’re asking the right questions is by visiting websites like KM’s, and by reading books on the craft of writing. There’s a book for everyone. A book for plansters like me (I’m assuming), a book for pantsers, a book for plotters, a book for who-knows-what-they-are. A book for writing, for editing, for dialogue, for exposition. There’s the Emotion Thesaurus series, which many people I know absolutely swear by. So to find out what questions to ask, reading is a huge part of it. And not just reading fiction.
And then there’s classes. I, personally, do not currently have the funds or time. I’m the sole breadwinner in the house at the moment. But I ascended to this position (haha) by going to college. Even the two English classes I took helped hone my craft. Yes, English 101 and 102. To be fair, my 102 professor was widely known to be the most difficult English teacher on campus and he was supremely awesome. I learned a lot more than I had expected, and our chats were always informative and enjoyable. I really dug that class. I hope to take more classes. There’s online ones, and there’s more at the community college (you can always apply for grants for community college).
And of course there’s cons. I got to a small one last year and it was super fabulous. I attended one a few years back that the same community college puts on each year. But in 2018, I’m looking to attend a super huge one (hint: it’s at that website I linked), and I cannot wait to meet some of the writers in my online community of awesome. There will be amazing speakers, and I hope to glean some knowledge from them.
Now that I’ve covered structure basics with you, what else is there to writing a trilogy? And what about those pesky characters and their decisions? Next week, the final part. Hope you’ll join me!