Thursday, October 30, 2008

Plot the Novel 2.0

Gearing up for Nanowrimo can be daunting, but if you've been reading the blogs of the many previous years' winners, they all talk about plotting the novel. Heck, you can even find a previous post of mine detailing "three easy steps" toward preparing for the big day.

It has occurred to me, however, that there needs to be a Plot the Novel 2.0, a beyond-the-obvious sort of activity, that kicks the process up to a new level.

Plot the Novel 2.0

1. After you've outlined your basic novel plot, following the sage advice of others (ie Blake Snyder -- and yes, I will continue to plug him simply because he is such a riot, truly making me laugh out loud even after an exhausting weekend, not to mention the fact that his beat sheet totally makes sense), take a serious look at your plot.

1b. Exposition. Check. Inciting Incident. Check. Rising Action. Ch... Wait! Does each burst of conflict up the ante? Increase tension? Push your protagonist to the breaking point and beyond? After you've assured yourself that you've followed the most basic precepts of plot diagramming, then you're ready for the rest.

2. Cut the most likely: Readers are looking for a predictable journey with unpredictable moments. Or maybe I said that backwards. Anyway, unless you're following a specific genre where She must fall in love with He, get out your literary scissors and start hacking away with forethought and precision. Yes, this is easier said than done.

3. Foreshadow the improbable: Readers will follow you anywhere as long as you've provided sufficient foreshadowing. Far from "giving away the plot," these clues are breadcrumbs for the brain. Once we arrive at the improbable end, instead of saying, "No Way. That could not have happened. Impossible," the most likely response is, "Wow. I should've seen that coming. That's Craaaazy!"

4. Consider your theme: No, this is not preaching or nagging or going all moralistic. It is essential to good writing. Ok: even bad writing. So, with that admission, think about it carefully: choose 'the triumph of the human spirit,' or 'never give up,' or 'be careful what you wish for.' Find whatever it is that your plot calls for, whatever it is instinctively saying. Tease it out. It's there, waiting. Once you've discovered it, make sure you've woven it into your scenes. Every major scene should be a refutation or a substantiation of that theme.

5. Plump up your characters: Consider developing your characters into real 3-D people. Unless you truly need a flat, stereotypical character, give them all life. Give both protagonists and antagonists good and bad characteristics. Nothing pops a storyline better than an antagonist with soul.

Those are my thoughts -- what are yours? What are those "finishing touches" you tweak your original novel outlines with? How do you know when you've woven in the perfect number of clues? Or is it even possible to know?


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice, Mr. Moore.