Sunday, 30 January 2011

Plan your novel - a guide to structure

My 12 step structure is loosely based on Christopher Vogler’s 12 step theory. It is a guide only. You might use my structure to create a plan and start you off. then you might stray from the structure as you gain confidence whilst you are writing. 

If you want more detail of Christopher Vogler's theories, buy his excellent book "The Writer's Journey" from Amazon (see link to the right). Or you could ask me specific questions about my structure in the comments bit below this post.

I have tried to align my 12 steps to the standard 3 act structure. Also I have suggested a chapter breakdown based on 40 chapters. So, assuming you write 2,000+ words per chapter you will end up with an 80,000+ words novel to edit at the end.

Act One

Step 1 - The Normal World (chapters 1, 2) The heroine (H) is shown in her normal world. Show her problems, friends, hopes, ambitions & fears. Some novels have a metaphor for the story in chapter 1 – write the metaphor in after you have finished your first draft of the whole novel.
Step 2 – Inciting Incident (chapter 3, 4) H faces a major problem, or big challenge, or asks herself, or is asked, a serious question. This point is often called the Inciting Incident. It is also where the major conflict/antagonist of your novel is introduced. The conflict/antagonist can be a person, animal or monster, something inanimate like the weather or an organisation, or it can be inside her head.
Step 3 – Doubt (5, 6) H is reluctant to move out of her comfort zone and she doubts her ability and whether she is up to the challenge.
Step 4 – Leave the Normal World (7 - 10) Friends, events, voices in her head or someone she meets, encourages her to leave her comfort zone and go on the adventure. An adventure can be a romance, the decision to solve a crime or any change from her normal life.

Act Two

Step 5 – First Test (11 – 14) H is tested to remind reader and her of the problems she faces. She will probably fail this first test, but she will learn from it and she may gain friends & allies who help her in future.
Step 6 – Small successes (15 – 20) H and her new allies have small successes to rebuild her confidence and set her on the right road again.
Step 7 – Second Test (21 – 25) H is tested again but this time she fails miserably. She may lose friends & allies. She may want to return to her normal world. Her lowest point.
Step 8 – Wandering (26 – 29) H prepares for her journey home. She has lost. If she has any friends left, they console her. Then something happens. Maybe someone she helped earlier sets an example to her and re-invigorates her.
Step 9 – The Final Test (30 – 34) H and her allies build up their confidence and approach the final test. They overcome all difficulties and triumph. Or do they?

Act Three

Step 10 – The Real Final Test (35 – 38) Weakened, injured, alone, not ready, H has to face the final test again because she didn’t completely succeed the first time. Maybe she stopped short of killing the baddy, or she sees her man talking to that woman again. This time H triumphs on her own to show she has grown into a new person. She has learnt something about herself.
Step 11 – The Road Back (39) H has to make a choice. Does she go back to her normal world? Or does she begin a new life and create a new normal world for her?
Step 12 – New beginning (40) H has made her choice. She has learnt something about herself and may have changed slightly. Of course there may be a new adventure just around the corner…     

So there is a rough guide to a general story structure. It is based on sound theory and with careful thought can be applied to all genres including crime, romance, sci-fi & fantasy, amongst others.

So how can you use this structure? Start thinking about a rough plan of your story into 40 chapters and next week I’ll show you how to fit in sub-plots. Sub-plots are very useful; they can help elevate your story and they will help keep the readers’ attention and interest, especially through the long stretch that is act two in the middle of your novel; this area is the downfall of many writers. 

Once you have a plan you can start writing, but there are other things you should consider first like sub-plots and point of view, which I will cover in the next few weeks. 

If you have any questions or comments please add them below. I will be happy to answer them.

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