As I said in mid-April’s post, I’ve come to the conclusion that authors have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to different aspects of writing novels. My personal favorite is world-building; my “story ideas” aren’t really story ideas but rather world ideas. Characters, I feel like I can handle pretty well. But plotting? Let me tell you how much I struggle with plotting: it took me five drafts to figure out exactly how I wanted my plot to go down. I am content with the current plot now, but it took me awhile to get there.
Now I recently had a new novel idea and it took some effort to plan it out but I do have some bare-bones information about it including a bit of world-building, character info, and plot.
1. As Always, the Idea Comes First
So people get ideas in different ways. Since I have been writing short stories for katiebachelder.com, my author’s site, I’ve had a few ideas that I realized would be too big for a short story and would instead be a neat spark for something much larger. That’s where my recent novel idea came from, but of course there are dozens of other places to look if it’s a novel idea you are looking for.
2. Pick a Trope to Twist and Make it Work
This can actually be really enjoyable. We all have that certain thing that we keep seeing in novels that is just irksome. (Love triangles are my big thing, although that’s not the trope I chose to twist.) Or maybe there’s just something that you see that isn’t really annoying, but you want to see how you can make it work differently. As an example of what I’m talking about, we’ll consider the love triangle plot device. It generally revolves around two guys fighting for the attention of one girl. Edward and Jacob over Bella. Gale and Peeta over Katniss. So on, and so forth. What you could do was a gender swap, so that two girls are fighting over one guy (but don’t forget to make one girl good and one girl bad, and have the the guy feel super uncertain about which girl is more alluring, because hey, that’s half the fun). Or you could have the girl only pretending to have mixed feelings about both guys, but is actually only tricking one of them. See? Possibilities are endless. Have fun.
But I cannot stress this enough: you have to make it make sense. The first option I gave was supposed to be funny, a sort of satire on the present state of novels, especially YA. Your options include making it a comedy novel (which I cannot help you with, because comedy isn’t really my style), or set the story somewhere at some time where the satirical element is still there but readers aren’t rolling their eyes because oh, it’s funny, but it’s another love triangle story. The best way to go about that is to make sure that each of the three characters are three dimensional. And by that I don’t necessarily mean they all have to have tragic back stories. Just don’t have the “bad” girl acting “bad” because that’s the role she’s supposed to play, etc. And this goes for any version of this trope. Or any character in general, really.
3. Create Character Shells
By which I don’t mean you have to have a really detailed outline. There are, though, two different kinds of novels: character-driven or plot-driven. Plot-driven do not generally require three-dimensional characters because you’re just reading it for the thrill. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re here for the former rather than the latter, meaning you need to have at least some idea of what kind of characters you have to work with. Your plot should not dictate character behavior; at least, not completely. Instead, if you want your characters to drive your novels, you should have some idea of what they’re capable of before you even start plotting.
I think some good basic questions include
- Gender, rough age (e.g. teen, mid-twenties, etc.), and name. I also included a short list of family in my rough sketch, simply because I didn’t want my characters to be orphans as so many books (including a few characters in Dire Fate, my WiP) tend to do
- Character wants/motivations. What they want can either be the goal of the novel or it can be something the character gains by the end of the novel. Or, if you want a particularly tragic ending, you can probably get away with them not getting what they most want, perhaps with them just within reach of their goal before turning it aside because other things are more important.
- Lines drawn. Each person has their own moral code. There’s that whole concept of honor among thieves, and so on. Knowing how far they are willing to go is incredibly important, but knowing what lines they aren’t willing to cross is just as important. It describes what brand of noble your character is.
4. Struggle With Plot
By this time, you should have a general idea maybe of how the story starts and ends. Maybe a few middle points too. But now comes the beast. Exactly how the novel goes down is going to be up to you. I will add that subplots can be a life-saver, because your novel should not always be focused on the main plot. On a similar note, realize that characters don’t always change as a direct result of the antagonist or main obstacles. You can come up with some plot ideas by having characters develop one way or another, having them face their fears, having their world-view disrupted, etc.
I did a version of the story-board where I took some sticky notes and wrote what I knew was going to happen. Then I incorporated some character-development plot points and placed them, and tried to figure out how to connect the dots. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You might have to revisit this step after draft 1 is done and you know what works, what doesn’t, and how your characters get shaped. But it’s a starting point, and at least gives you something to start with.
Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: High Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
This book was slow. It felt as if there was this huge overshadowing event happening but we weren’t getting there very fast at all. So, especially in the beginning, I kept waiting for something to happen. And it didn’t, really, not even at the end. BUT the world-building was rich. It was a very subtle matriarchy, with fairly-well defined rules in terms of what each brand of magic can do. I loved how, out of three, one of the magic types was one you don’t really see very often — poisoning. I also thought the characters were done well. And while even the ending didn’t feel particularly fast-paced, Blake managed to make it end well, gearing for what I can only assume will be a fantastic sequel.
“Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young.”