Dreaming into Reality
Knowing Where to Start =
Knowing How to Start
Before we launch into Planning and then Writing, let’s briefly discuss the 3 Sevens for Dreaming a Novel into Reality: 7 Characters to Know, 7 Plot Elements, and 7 Work Habits.
- These are what to know before you get started, so you start with what you know.
Dreaming up 7 Characters to Spark Ideas
Free templates abound on Pinterest and the internet to help you develop your primary characters. Use them for all of your primary characters and most of your secondaries. Not your tertiary / walk-on characters. Just make a brief list for them.
Here at the start, don’t spend too much time working out these characters in detail. Get the basics then fly through the basic templates as well as these descriptors.
The Two Main Characters
Protagonist: your major character, male or female. Describe them physically, intellectually, emotionally. What do they want? What’s in their way? Where do you want them to wind up?
Antagonist: Repeat the information for the protagonist. Your antagonist is as important—and many say MORE important—than your protagonist.
Two More Essential Characters
Confidante: Who will keep your protagonist going when s/he is mired in the mud? The confidante is the best friend, the one who knows the protagonist’s secrets (not the heart secrets, but all of the others). Describe them. How did they become a confidante? Will they remain a confidante? If no, why not? Will your antagonist have a confidante? Know their wants and conflicts and end result.
Seeming Ally: The SAlly character is more important than the confidante. This is the archetypal shapeshifter: the character who begins trusted but then is not. The alternative form of the shapeshifter is to begin as UN-trusted and then become so. A SAlly, however, is purely devious and manipulative. You may want to research the cunning and manipulative sociopath if you are seeking a villainous character in addition to your antagonist. The sociopath would undermine your protagonist until the protagonist understands just what the SAlly is.
4 Last Required Characters
Blocking Figures: Often well-intentioned family and friends who see the protagonist on a different path than the one s/he has chosen. These characters can supply guilt as the protagonist is pulled between the old, easy path and the newer, challenging path that leads to her/his desire.
Foils: characters who mirror the protagonist and proceed along the same path only to fail, often tragically. They foreshadow what may happen to the protagonist if s/he does not make the dynamic changes necessary. The dynamic changes are tied to three major discoveries: the desired goal rather than end result, the betrayal of the SAlly, and the true heart of the antagonist. Learning these three clarifies the nobler path of the protagonist. Otherwise, s/he is merely a foil.
Walk-Ons: True stereotypes, these characters merely come on stage to provide information or provide an obstacle.
Cameos: characters from previous books in a series. Similar to Walk-Ons, they should not take an active role and interfere with the protagonist as the main character. However, a Cameo can be a blocking figure, a foil, a confidante, or even a SAlly (as long as the Cameo remains true to the personality you created for him previously).
Dreaming up a Plot 7 to Get Started
These are out-of-order for a purpose. The Plot 7 will give you a sketch of your story, enough to know if you have a novel in the making.
Open and Close
Beginning: What do you want the protagonist to be doing when the reader first meets her/him? What exhibits the protagonist’s dissatisfaction with life as it currently is? What represents the dear desire that the P wants so very much?
Ending: How do you want the protagonist to end up? In what physical / intellectual / emotional state? How does the P react when s/he has the dear desire in hand? How will the reader know that the P has triumphed? (Even in a series, the P has to triumph at the end of each novel. Why else does a reader keep reading? Because a well-liked P has won once and will need to win again.)
Danger, Danger, Danger
Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point: How will the protagonist feel at her/his lowest point? What event will put her/him there? How will s/he recover? How will the P react in a different manner than the Antagonist to losing? Why would this be the blackest moment in the entire book?
Antagonist’s Early Triumph over the Protagonist: The antagonist has seemingly won, either in preventing the P from achieving the dear desire or in simply blocking the P from a major step on that journey to achieve it. What occurred? How does the P react? How does the A? Where will each go from here?
Final Battle: What sets up the final encounter between the protagonist and the antagonist? How is this the ultimate encounter? Set the stakes high: this is the defeat of the representative of evil by the representative of honor. Life and death, whether the death is bloody and absolute cessation of life or merely the complete loss of reputation and standing, the death struggle will be the ending of all conflict between the P and the A. What special skill or learning will the P have that allows her/him to defeat the A? Make a note of where that skill / learning will be acquired during the course of the story. What will the P and the A do at the end of the final battle?
Two Planned Ironies
Early Twist: What the Protagonist Expects Doesn’t Occur. You are working with early irony here. The protagonist needs to expect an event that will be helpful to her/him. What or who will prevent this early event from occurring? Do not confuse this event with the Antagonist’s Early Triumph. While you will answer the same questions, the event will be a completely different scenario.
Seeming Ally’s Betrayal: This is another scenario presenting irony, usually occurring before the Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point (and often setting it up) or occurring before the Final Battle. The purpose of the SAlly’s Betrayal is to show the P’s ability to keep pursuing the dear desire, even in the face of betrayal. Study the meaning of the word “betrayal”. It is not disloyalty. Or broken promises. Or simple infidelity or unfaithfulness. It is treachery. It is as deep as a heart stabbed from behind when the P expected a hug.
Once you have the Plot 7, shuffle them into order. You now have a Sketch of a manuscript.
Dreaming through 7 Work Procedures
These Work Procedures are the ones that will build a strong foundation for your story and then for your book.
1st: the Rough Draft
No tinkering, no editing, just writing.
Take the Plot 7 and write the intervening scenes that lead from one to the next.
Launch into that book. About 40 pages in, you will realize if you have a working story or not.
If the story doesn’t work now, set it aside and start with another one. The time for Project 1 may not be now. Try Project 2. Try Project 3. Don’t try Project 4. Go back and try to determine what was wrong with 1 or 2 or 3.
Many, many wannabe writers have dozens of stories, but they haven’t finished one of them. Drafting a book is exceptionally difficult and very important. Many wannabes abandon the draft, or they keep writing and re-writing the beginning or favorite scenes. Finishing is KEY. Stick with one of those 3 projects until its conclusion.
That note you made about a special skill / learning: where does it go in the course of your story? What needs to happen? Who needs to help the protagonist achieve that skill / learning? Where does that character come into the story (more than once, please)?
What other special skills / learning needs to occur to set up escape from the Greatest Stress Point?
What foreshadowing about the SAlly’s betrayal needs to occur?
3rd: Add to the Draft.
Once you have a complete manuscript, now you can revise.
Add in descriptions of characters and settings. Expand on events. Provide the viewpoint character’s thoughts and feelings during scenes.
These additions enrich the story and present your voice.
P.S. Some people can do the added information as they write the rough draft. I can’t. I need a separate step. (Oh, I know! I wish!)
4th: Discover Plot Holes.
Re-read the whole manuscript. Try to complete it in one afternoon. Make notes about plot holes and more hidden clues that need to be added in. Then add them. And read the whole thing again.
5th: Keep Characters on Firm Ground.
As you read through, you may discover character discrepancies. Ensure that every character’s personality is set from the beginning, even the SAlly’s personality.
A character who changes mid-book or book to book is extremely irritating to the reader. Don’t irritate your readers. Woo them.
6th: Foreshadow Sly Evil.
Add in early examples of the Antagonist’s villainy or outright evil.
The A’s minions need to show up as bad people. They can avoid evil, but they definitely need to be people who have chosen the wrong path.
Ensure that your SAlly has three touches that hint at her/his true character allegiance to something other than the Protagonist (whether or not that allegiance is to the antagonist).
7th: Enhance your Writing.
Every fifth manuscript page, work in an example of figurative language or a special sentence structure. These touches will make you the writer stand out.
Figurative language includes but is not limited to simile, metaphor, personification, and symbolism (color symbolism is easy to work in). An implied metaphor can be a simple as “life is a road with its many junctions and curves and hills”.
Special sentence structures include antithesis (juxtaposition), chiasmus (a personal favorite), alliteration (easy to exhibit), asyndetons / polysyndetons, zeugmas, anaphoras / epistrophes, and auxesis (often called climactic structure). Most people haven’t learned about sentence structures beyond declarative / imperative / interrogatory / exclamatory.
Don’t overload the MS page with these enhancements. That’s injecting yourself into the story which can be jarring to the reader. (The reader will think, Oh, yeah, we got an artsy author who thinks highly of her/himself. Not certain I like that.)
Some writers are known for their lyricism: Robin McKinley comes to mind. Cormac McCarthy. Mary Stewart. They are few in number. If you are a poet at heart, keep the poetry to every fifth MS page until you get a following of readers.
Lesson 2 = Chapter 2: Work Every Day. How do you manage that?
Well. . . .
You’ve planned the work, now work the plan. That’s a chiasmus, BTW 😉