It’s a balancing act for me because if I know too much about a book before I write it, it takes the magic away. I need to be able to create as I dive into a blank page. So what works for me is following the four act structure that many Hollywood screenwriters use for their scripts, nailing down my key act elements, then allowing myself free artistic reign after that.
My first few chapters set up the story and the inciting incident which pushes my characters into the conflict of the story. The middle of the book escalates the conflict and puts my characters in a situation of no return, launching them into the heart of the book. In true Hollywood fashion, this act contains a resting point, a point where it looks like things might actually turn out and happiness might be attained, however briefly. But of course, that’s not the case and my major crisis then hits my characters between the eyes.
Act three opens with the sense that all is lost, with the big black moment, which is by necessity brought on by my character’s flaws and solvable only through the completion of their character arcs. Thus comes the climax and in the romances I write, a happily ever after, of course.
All of this is necessary because knowing these key turning points tells me what I need to build to, what I need to hit at what point in the story, how my character arcs need to progress. If I don’t know what I’m building toward, I can’t create the right foundation. Every scene must push the story and my character arcs forward and if it doesn’t it doesn’t belong in my fifty-thousand word novel.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to sit down and write a book without outlining because it’ll be that intuitive a process to me. For now I appreciate not getting to the middle of the book and floundering because I have no where to go. I appreciate it’s helped me with less revisions. This middle ground is what’s right for me. But not for everyone.
I have to give a shout out to Connie Flynn and Linda Style and their wonderful Bootcamp for Novelists workshops which really drove these concepts home for me. And I highly recommend Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey to understand what makes classic stories great and what a character’s journey should encompass to make their journey complete. Connie’s Bootcamp For Novelists Basic Training Manual book is a staple on my desk as is Linda’s Bootcamp For Novelists – Beyond The First Draft.
How about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What works for you?