When I read a book on Einstein’s physics of which I understand nothing, it doesn’t matter: that will make me understand something else. — Pablo Picasso
If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things. — Vincent Van Gogh
Current cant equates fantasy with escapism, and current fashion would have it that fantasy is both easy to read and to write. It isn’t. When it is done honestly, by a skillful writer, fantasy takes us far enough beyond our daily perceptions to open us to the essential realities beneath it. This is the true goal of all art. — Ellen Kushner
Here, “fantasy” doesn’t have to refer just to stories with magical or fantastical elements. It can refer to fiction itself.
Some genres have gathered disdain from their non-readers, in part because of the recognized formula of their structure.
I have three things to say about this.
a) Stop it.
b) They are a fabulous testament to the fact that many people read for the process, the experience, and not the surprise, and
c) They are an impressive example of the creativity and variety that can bloom within constraints.
I like how Victoria Lynn Schmidt (whom I mentioned yesterday) described templates (like Save the Cat or the Hero’s or Heroine’s journeys):
They provide basic outlines to free you from worry about structure. Once you have the steps outlined you know where you’re going. You can spend your time creating interesting characters and adding new twists to the story instead of thinking about the structure and direction of it. [Templates] are a tool to free your creativity.
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Last year, I read the book Silence of the Lambs for the first time– on my kindle. I was just beginning to try and apply things like “first plot point” and the Midpoint reversal.
Reading the novel, I was delighted to see the formula being followed almost mathematically. I felt the story-excitement rising as we approached the 50% mark, and at that point the rug was completely pulled out from under me in a way I never anticipated. I laughed in delight. For the first time I connected the math (the structure) with the execution (no pun intended).
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For now, if you’re following along to get ready for next month, lets take this half-way(ish) mark to consider a few major milestones of “formula fiction,” and how many of them we have so far.
If you’re not ready to do this for you own novel, you may still find it helpful to practice on one of your favorite movies. It will give you a template for when you’re ready to try for your own.
Protagonist (Main character or MC)
- Antagonist (Villain, source or perpetrator of conflict or complication)
- Other influential characters (e.g., the Mentor, the best-friend)
- Hook (first *something* that will grab your reader and keep him/her reading until…
- First Plot Point–everything changes. (25% mark, closes Act-I). The Inciting incident.
- Stakes: Why this action/choice is so significant (what will be lost if the MC acts or doesn’t act)?
- A series of complications — This was the hardest part when I was starting out: things are supposed to keep getting harder, or seem to get close only to be out of reach again. My cynical self used to ask, What’s the point?! But now I know the answer is The Story. The objective is to make it all fit naturally (as opposed to they-have-to-hate-each-other-another-50-pages-try-this).
Plotting (in both senses of the word) the misery that will befall your MC– the betrayal, loyalty, confusion, love and loss– is critical. By plotting I mean taking each misery and setting it up like a deliciously complex falling domino maze.
- Two things to keep in mind:
- This is where/why the B-plot/subplot comes in. If our intrepid hero can focus entirely on his/her problem, then s/he would doubtless have an easier time resolving it, which, as authors, we just can’t allow.
Each choice must each knock the next into motion, or else you run the risk of creating an episodic story. That means more like a series of short stories about the same characters than one cohesive novel.
- Midpoint Reversal— The story, from Act I through the end of Act II might be drawn as a single, gradually rising line, a consistent angle to the x-axis of time. At the Midpoint Reversal, you suddenly realize the author’s been drawing in a z-axis and the plot is now shooting off in a completely unexpected (but totally prepared-for) direction.
- Second Plot Point (~75% mark) the last injection of information, determining final trajectory, sometimes affecting final goal.
- Climax — the big-awesome highest-peak where all the scaffolding of your story allows your MC to climb higher and achieve things s/he was not capable of before.
- Resolution — The breath of relief, and looking at the new (or old) world with the eyes of the new self.
If you’re more of a Pantser, you may not have all of these bullet-points before you start, but the more you have, the faster you’ll be able to write when the time comes.
As a bonus, working out as many check-points or dominoes as you can before you start will save you literally hours in revision-time.
The benefit comes primarily through seeing plot-problems before you’ve spent all the time to write (and fall in love with) them, but also because you’ll have more passes over *this* story, and the planned shape may help you focus the revision time.
Question: Do you already know the genre of your novel for November?
1 thought on “Cross-Genre Support (NaNo Prep 15) and a sort of checklist”
Thanks for the checklist. That’s very helpful. While I haven’t figured out all those (especially the last few), it’s great advice to think about.
I thought I’d write an urban fantasy book. It’s my fave genre and one I read most often. However, the idea/concept that seems wants to be written is more legal thriller, maybe with a side of sci-fi.
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