Sunday, 7 June 2009

Structure, scenes and snowflakes

I'm so much more confident today. I had a minor panic yesterday when I realised that, while I knew what editing I wanted to do, I had no idea where to start. I wanted to re-shuffle scenes. I wanted to rework the novel's structure. But what structure should a novel have? And what is a "scene"?

Today brought wiser counsel. Kerryn left me a really helpful comment (thank you!); I found a scene structure guide; I browsed Holly Lisle's site for advice; I downloaded yWriter and spent a while at the laptop with a note-pad by my side. I didn't do any writing, but it seems that for now, I need to focus on planning.

I started by crafting a 15-word sentence summarising the novel (difficult, especially when you're trying to make that sentence sound like a blurb on the NYT bestseller list). That was really helpful, though, as the result helped me focus on what should be — and isn't — my novel's main conflict.

I dabbled in the Snowflake Method; wrote blurbs; practised writing scenes; and found a new first scene for my novel. I wrote down specific issues with my novel, with 2-3 possible solutions to each issue; I clarified the central conflicts of my novel; I drew a map of my world. I summarised "chapters", each ending on a point of conflict or danger to my characters; and after the "events" of each chapter, I wrote up their "purpose" in the story.

Sometimes the purpose could only be summarised, weakly, as character development: "This shows M's independence." That helped show me problems. While the central events of that scene may be necessary, is the whole scene needed — or do I need to ruthlessly cut extra dialogue, actions, description? And do I need that scene, or can the events be related later in a conversation, or in a passing reference by the narrator?

I wrote pages and pages of notes.

I still have heaps to do. I want to rewrite my paragraph-summary. I want to write a plot synopsis, and a "character synopsis" for my main characters. A character synopsis is a single-page outline of the character's storyline during the novel; and while this may be obvious for your protagonist, and possibly your antagonist, what about your other main characters?

The place I tripped up when writing my first draft, was when I didn't know what happened when my anti-hero left the picture for a while. I knew exactly what my heroine did, the whole way through the novel; and I knew what the villain did. I knew all the on-screen actions. But when my anti-hero exited the piece and then, later, reappeared, I didn't know where he'd been. This was a major issue for me, and one I should have been better prepared for. I hope writing these character synopses will help me there.

The great thing was that while doing all this, ideas kept occurring to me. The tidiness of my carefully organised notes soon disintegrated as I kept adding excited side-notes: What if M overhears W berating E for [...]? M could then play on E's weakness by [...]. Would E figure out what she's doing? — with possible outcomes bullet-pointed after my side-notes.

I have such better ideas of where my novel's going, than I did 24 hours ago.

It's exciting. I don't know if I'll get writing tomorrow. In a way, I'm straining at the leash to get back to my writing. In a way, I'm cautious to approach my novel because I want to make sure I've got my plan right, this time.

But it's exciting. I can't wait to keep going.


anna said...

Wow, so many links! I'm definitely bookmarking for when I return to editing my novel. Good luck with the editing!

Kerryn Angell said...

That is so great to hear! It sounds like you have been very productive and I love those moments when suddenly looking at the story from a different angle gives you all this insight. :)