Architecting the Novel: Part I

Image of artwork by Robert Stratti from Fast Company

How do you make physical what are only imaginings in the head? How do you map the  landscapes, calendars, and complicated chronologies of long fiction?

It’s an impossible task trying to net abstractions. Whole universes constructed of letters turned to syllables, words to sentences, and sentences to paragraphs–how can you concretely chart a single lifetime constructed of these two dimensional signifiers let alone five or ten lifetimes interlinked or running parallel when their only physical presence are a finite string of sentences?

Some writers may plot out everything before penning the narrative. They blue print with confidence and set forth with a sure plan, yet no matter how elaborate any forethought was taken, more often than not, the best laid plans are sure to go on the blink. So how to keep track of all the endless but crucial details that make up the fictional universe of a novel? How to double and triple check consistency in time, location, characterization, and chronology–all the laws of physics that keep the story moving and the characters grounded?

Your salonniere has scoured the web for guidance and stumbled across the following helpful links that could have the potential to consolidate all the laws of physics that make a novel’s narrative(s) architecturally sound, and here’s some of the best resources found:

Karen Wiesner’s Novel Blueprint featured on Writer’s Digest:

Excerpt:

The Story Plan Checklist can ensure cohesion between character, setting and plot. This checklist connects all the dots between internal and external conflicts, and goals and motivations, thereby guaranteeing the cohesion all stories require. In its most simplified form, a Story Plan Checklist—which you can find an example of at here—includes free-form summaries (or monologues) covering each of the following:

Created specifically for screenwriting, those noveling still need to think about pacing and these two excel spreadsheets can help streamline and simplify plot and sub-plots visually:

A term that has really resonated with the process of revision is “post-outlining,” which essentially is returning to a piece and considering the function, purpose, and meaning of every sentence and paragraph back to the original intent of writing or looking at the parts of a manuscript that make up the whole. To that end the below set of questions are undoubtedly essential in revising.

Read each chapter before rewriting and consider the following, if applicable:

◦    Is the POV necessary?

◦    Put all the scenes on a notecard and then arrange them by order to see if/how many passive scenes are together.

Watch to see if settings are too similar, in terms of geographical locations, POV, action or non-action, interiority, etc.

◦    What is this novel about? What is the primary emotion(s) and color(s)

◦    What is the attitude of each character in every scene and how can you quickly capture their attitude with a brush stroke? How do they convey their attitude consciously and/or subconsciously?

◦    Each chapter should ground the reader with setting, tone, mood, and main characters.

◦    Are you starting the novel at the right moment?

◦    Watch the step-by-step action–avoid episodic telling and come at each part of the story from different but organic angles that coincide with the voice, tone, and characterization or thematic intent.

◦    Find touchstone passages, paragraphs and chapters that truly capture the essence, whether it be voice, tone, mood, or style and form of the manuscript, print them out and pin over your working space to help guide you when the going gets mucky.

◦    Should the whole story be told from another POV and/or VOICE?

◦    ***Reconsider who and how you introduce characters at the beginning.

◦    Map out conflict among all the characters and at what point

◦    Need symbols/handles for each of these characters (objects, disfigurements, scars, marks, distinct characters, traits, tics, mannerisms, something that they say, etc) and consider how the symbol changes as they move through the novel?

◦    ***Watch PACING, the story events divided by the page count, the higher the ratio, the faster the pace. Count how many story events you have.

◦    When confirming POV need to make sure everyone else’s actions are seen through that main character’s eyes.

◦    Pay attention to the sequence of events and the order of scenes/events.

◦    Every time a new character is introduced, be sure we see that new character from the specific POV with something at stake: impressions, reactions, biases, memories, etc.

◦    Keep the same voice, style, etc in each chapter.

◦    Be sure you tell the location and time at the start of each chapter!

◦    Decide which chapters to rewrite by hand and which chapters to type up.

◦    If a scene is boring, consider changing the scene and therefore the action, especially dialogue scenes.

◦    Start out each chapter with a philosophy, an angle, a slant–need to essentially argue or present something big.

◦    Re-order each chapter by tension, make tension in middle or at the beginning and then consequences or implications follow.

◦    If you feel like there’s a lot going on–TOO MUCH!–subtract.

◦    Be careful of telling too much too soon in dialogue.

◦    Consider combining and compositing characters and storyline to streamline and de-clutter.

◦    Need to track everybody’s relationship with everyone else for each and every chapter.

◦    How do you balance the different genre elements of the manuskript?

◦    Figure out where to beef up history, details, interiority, philosophy to pin down the mystery and take out plot and characters that bog the pace of the story and confuse the reader. Really need to minimize storylines and characters.

◦    Make a list of steps to follow for revision.

◦    Go through each chapter and see if they are each absolutely necessary. Can any of them be turned into a sentence, description, dialogue, detail, back-story or found text.

What methods, spreadsheets, and other strategies do you use to keep track of all your characters, plots and sub-plots? Share here at the salon.

More on architecting the novel and post-outlining coming soon.

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