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Building A Scene-By-Scene “Road Map” For Your Novel

By now you’re starting to know your way around story structure (and if not, be sure to check out my story structure series). But there’s a problem.

You know what your main stops need to be on Story Rd., but you have no-freaking-clue what goes in between. When it comes to the scenes you need to create the actual path your novel will follow, you’re at a loss.

Before you freak out, know this: building the scenes in your novel starts with your structure.

Your Story’s Structure

Your story’s structure: that’s where I always recommend starting. Because when you know your structure, the rest pretty much just falls into place naturally.

Once you have the structure for your story, then you have a starting point for building the rest of your scenes.

Write down the scenes in your core story structure (all of your plot points and pinch points), then use the four parts of story as a guide for what goes in between.

Part One: The Set Up

The first 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Set Up scenes. They set up the real story.

This is when you introduce your Protagonist, show the reader where the Protagonist is at in his life, introduce stakes, and start to give hints of the story that’s to come (at the First Plot Point).

Consider:

  • What needs to be set up in order to reach my FPP?
  • What information needs to be shared with the reader at this point in the story?
  • Which characters are entering the story right now?

Then the First Plot point hits. And that’s when the real story begins.

Part Two: Reaction

The next 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Reaction scenes. They are scenes that have the Protagonist reacting… to what’s happened at the First Plot Point.

This is when your Protagonist is running, hiding, planning, making failed attempts, trying to figure things out, etc.

Consider:

  • How would my protagonist react to what’s just happened?
  • What needs to happen to set things up for the Midpoint that’s to come?
  • What information needs to be introduced in this part of the story?

When the Midpoint hits, then your story is shifted into a whole new context.

Part Three: Attack

The next 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Attack scenes. This means your protagonist is taking action and starting to have the confidence needed to go up against the antagonist.

This is when the protagonist is questioning, chasing, discovering, having small wins, starting to make things happen, etc.

Consider: 

  • How would my protagonist begin to attack the antagonist now that the Midpoint has been introduced?
  • What information needs to be introduced in this part of the story?
  • In what ways can I show that my protagonist is starting to overcome his inner and outer demons?

Then comes your Second Plot Point, the final bit of new information to enter the story.

Part Four: Resolution

The final 14 scenes (give or take) in your story are Resolution scenes. This means your protagonist has shifted into “Martyr Mode” and is willing to do whatever it takes to resolve the story.

This is when your protagonist is finalizing, killing, hunting down, fighting, overcoming, bringing things to a conclusion, being heroic, etc.

Consider: 

  • What needs to happen to resolve this story?
  • What loose ends need to be tied up?
  • How can my protagonist be even more heroic?

Building Your Story “Road Map”

Now that you know exactly what scenes you need in your novel, you can start putting them together. Grab some notecards/Post Its (or a story software, like Scrivener, which I personally use and love). Write out one notecard for each scene (this makes it easier to move things around later),

For each scene include the following information:

  • Mission of the scene
  • Where it takes place
  • When it takes place (as in time of day)

And there you have it. A blueprint for going from scene one to scene done with your story.

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How do you figure out what scenes you need in your story?

The #3 Thing Stopping You From Writing Your Novel

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How do you organize your story ideas? And when it comes to your stories, do you plan them out first or no?

The Final Piece of Information Your Story Needs

This is the final post in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one herepart two here and part three here

Story structure is the skeleton of your story; it’s the backbone that holds the entire thing together.

So here we are.

We’ve reached the final piece of structure on the storytelling road–the Second Plot Point (SPP).

All’s said and done after this moment in your story.

The Second Plot Point

The Second Plot Point, according to Larry Brooks of StoryFix.com, is: “the final injection of new information into the story, after which no new expository information may enter the story, and which puts a final piece of narrative information in play that gives the hero everything she or he needs to become the primary catalyst in the story’s conclusion.”

That means whatever shows up in the story after this moment must have already been in play, set up or foreshadowed.

This is a big moment in your story–it’s the final catalyst that transitions the Protagonist from part three “Attack” mode into part four “Resolution” mode. It’s the moment when the Protagonist becomes the Martyr, willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem at hand and defeat the antagonist.

Brooks covered this in his blog post:

I’m gonna send you over to StoryFix.com now to read more about the Second Plot Point. Then be sure to come back here for some SPP examples.

Second Plot Point Examples

It’s hard to give specific Second Plot Point examples (as Larry mentioned in his blog post) because the SPP can literally be almost anything. So I’m gonna give ya one  specific example, and then a few generic examples, just to give you an idea of how the SPP works.

In the movie, Safe Haven, the protagonist, Katie, is running from a dark past. That past finally catches up to her at the SPP.

The SPP shows up in a dream–Katie falls asleep and dreams of her friend, Jo. Jo leaves Katie with a warning, “He’s here.” Katie replies, “Who is?” And Jo adds, “You know who.”

When Katie awakens, we’ve officially been transitioned into Part Four of the story. She now has all the information needed to resolve the story and secure the title of “Hero.”

There are a million possibilities for the SPP, some of which could be:

  • In a thriller, it’s when the chase scene starts
  • In a romance, it’s when the protagonist realizes he’s in love with the girl and must now do everything in his power to win her back
  • In a mystery, it’s when the final clue is dropped, causing the protagonist to have all the details needed to solve the puzzle

The SPP is the fuel that propels the Protagonist forward for the final time in the story.

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Now that you’ve gotten the full run down of story structure–how will you use this information to write better stories?

Image courtesy of Robert Huffstutter

The Moment In Your Story That Changes Everything

This is part two in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one here. To learn more about story structure, be sure to sign up to receive a free copy of the eBook, How To Write Better Stories

There’s a moment in every story (or at least there should be!) where the protagonist is heading in one direction…and then everything changes.

New information has entered the picture. There’s been a “parting of the curtain” (in Larry Brooks speak). Suddenly things aren’t what they seemed even a moment before.

Now that’s powerful. And it’s also the job of this next piece of story structure: the Midpoint.

The Midpoint

The Midpoint is a plot point that happens smack-dab in the middle of the story, at the 50 percent mark. It introduces new and vital information–and it’s also the moment that shifts the context of the story.

It’s the catalyst that takes your protagonist from part two of the story (where he’s in “reaction mode”) to part three of the story, where he’s ready to start attacking.

Again, just like the First Plot Point, Larry Brooks, bestselling author of Story Engineering, has written a very detailed post about the Midpoint and what it’s all about. So head on over to his site, StoryFix.com, and read:

Then come back here for some Midpoint examples.

Breaking Down the Midpoint: Two Examples

Examples are the best way to really wrap your head around this story milestone and the significance it plays in every great story. So here are two Midpoint examples from movies:

Ian

Cameron Diaz plays Christina in The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing

In this movie we meet Christina (the protagonist), a party girl who just wants to have fun. Her and her friends are partying at a club one night when she meets Peter, a handsome real estate agent. At first they don’t get along, but then as the night progresses we see them getting to know and like each other.

Then we find out Peter is at the club celebrating a bachelor party for his brother, who’s getting married that weekend in Somerset.

The Midpoint happens after Christina and her friend arrive in Somerset where they’ve secretly followed Peter. They sneak into the church–late–for the wedding. They figure they’ll hang out, watch the ceremony and then find Peter at the reception.

But the context of the entire movie is shifted at the Midpoint–when we find out it’s actually Peter’s wedding.

Before this moment the story was heading down one path, but now it’s on a completely different path. That’s what the Midpoint does.

Paul Sherwood

Bill Murray plays Bob in What About Bob? [Image courtesy of Paul Sherwood]

What About Bob?

In this movie we meet Dr. Marvin, an up-and-coming psychologist who has a new book out. Things are going well for him, until he gets introduced to a new patient named Bob.

Suddenly Bob has started showing up everywhere, including on Dr. Marvin’s family vacation, driving him nuts!

The Midpoint happens when Dr. Marvin has his Good Morning America interview–Bob pretty much takes over the interview and ruins everything.

After that moment, we see the Doctor shift into part three of the story, which is “attack mode.”

Without a Midpoint in place to shift your story, you won’t have the catalyst needed to push your protagonist from being a “wanderer” to being a “warrior” (more on this soon).

But that’s not the last stop on the plot point trail. There’s still one more major milestone that has to happen in your story (plus two smaller milestones that need to occur). Up next in this series: Pinch Points, what they are and how to use them.

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What are your thoughts on the Midpoint? Have you noticed it in movies or books that you’ve watched/read? 

Image of Bill Murray courtesy of Paul Sherwood

Image of Cameron Diaz courtesy of Ian

Image of Midpoint Cafe sign courtesy of Peer Lawther

Do You Have An Idea Or A Concept?

“Why won’t this draft work?!” I threw my notebook down in a fit of brattiness. I was on the third draft of a novel. My first novel. The one I wrote back in 2008.

I’d been writing it for months, and still nothing was going right. The story wouldn’t flow like it should, my heroine was a whiny, alchy mess, and the plot didn’t quite make sense. There were so many holes and I had no idea how to fix them.

I was in over my head. This draft, this story, was not working. I was finally ready to admit it.

Problem was, admitting didn’t change the fact that I’d spent close to a year writing and rewriting and rewriting a draft, just to still be sitting in a mess.

I had no idea what I was doing. I was ready to quit.

If you’ve written a first draft before, you know where I’m coming from. You know what it’s like to have a story feel not quite right or parts that don’t seem to fit. No matter how much you rework it.

Why Your Novel Won’t Work

Instead of quitting, I stopped working on my draft and took a short break. Immediately following that break, I had a breakthrough. I came across a website called StoryFix.com and an author named Larry Brooks. Brooks pulled no punches in talking about what it took to write a novel that “worked.”

A major thing I learned from him–from studying his teachings, his methods–was there are story “ideas” and there are story “concepts.”

Most novelists don’t have a “concept” when they start writing, they only have an “idea.” And that lack of concept is what turns their drafts into a hellish nightmare where they either rip all their hair out, quit or end up in a mental institution (OK–maybe not a mental institution, but the drafting process really can drive you NUTS!).

If you’ve experienced this before it’s because your story was only an “idea” when you started writing it, and not a full-blown “concept.”

It’s like you put the bread in the oven and baked it, but you never added any yeast or gave it time to rise (two essentials for baking bread).

You can’t write a strong first draft unless you’ve dug deep enough to have a concept for your novel. (And writing drafts based on “ideas” can kill your spirit–and your fiction career.)

So What’s The Difference?

Stories, at their core, are all about one thing: something happening.

It’s all well and good to have a story with a fancy theme, a cool setting and an amazing protagonist, but if nothing actually happens, your story’s a dud.

Think about when you tell stories to other people–what are they about 9 times out of 10? Something that happened! An action, a conflict.

THIS is what differentiates an “idea” from a “concept.”

An idea is often a seedling, such as a:

  • Location
  • Backstory
  • Theme
  • Character
  • Setting

But that’s all there is. There’s nothing to elevate the seedling to the next level.

And while these seedlings are great and are completely needed, they don’t, alone, make a story work.

A concept is the stuff great novels are made from–a concept is a full-blown picture of a journey.

Every great story (of modern day writing) has a protagonist who has “something happen,” and then he’s forced (by the antagonist) to go on a journey in order to solve a problem/defeat the antagonist/get what he wants. 

Idea Or Concept?

An “idea” becomes a “concept” when it has:

  1. A Character (Proagonist/Hero)
  2. A Goal (Something the Hero wants)
  3. A Motivation (The ‘why’ that’s driving what the Hero wants)
  4. A Conflict (The Antagonist, what’s standing in the Hero’s way of getting what he wants)

Here’s an elevator-pitch formula you can use to begin turning your idea seeds into a fully-sprouted story concept:

(Character) wants (Goal) because (Motivation), but (Conflict)

Some examples:

  • Jack Dawson (Character) wants to get to America so he can start a new life (Goal) because he’s a street rat with nowhere else to go (Motivation), but little does he know the ship he’s on is headed for disaster (Conflict). (Titanic)
  • Dr. Leo Marvin (Character) wants to enjoy his vacation and the success of his book (Goal) because he’s been working hard and has finally become a well-known psychologist (Motivation), but his newest patient, Bob Wiley, has plans of his own (Conflict). (What About Bob?)

This formula can help you take an idea seed and turn it into a full-blown concept.

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Do you have an idea or a concept for your current novel? In the comments 1) Share your concept, OR 2) Using the formula above, turn your current idea seed into a concept and then share it with us.

Image courtesy of Andrew Tarvin

The Lie That NaNoWriMo Has Perpetrated for 15 Years

If you’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) before, you’ve fallen victim to the lie that NaNoWriMo has had going for a decade and a half now. Your potential novel has fallen victim to it.

Since the beginning, NaNoWriMo has prided itself as a novel-writing month. In just 30 days, you can write a 50,000-word novel.

Hundreds of thousands of writers all around the world participate every year. And the writers who cross the NaNo finish line are duped into thinking that they just wrote the draft of a novel.

This lie has been going on for far too long. It must stop.

The NaNoWriMo Lie

The lie that’s being sold to writers all over the world, is that they are, in fact, writing a novel during NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all.

What most writers are writing during NaNoWriMo is a story.

It could be part of a story; it could be a few stories that are mushed together, in need of separation. It could simply be an exploration of a novel idea seed (or concept).

But it’s certainly not a novel.

No, novels have structure. They have purpose, a mission. They have a beginning, middle and end that all ties together in a nice little package.

NaNoWriMo churns out 50,000-words worth of notes on a story that you may want to write as a novel someday. But that day is not NaNoWriMo.

Ask a writer who has participated in NaNo what happened to the “novel” she wrote. Nine times out of 10 it’s in a drawer somewhere collecting dust. (Maybe they should change the name to NaStoWriMo–National Story Writing Month.)

That’s because there’s a lot more to writing a novel than the writing part.

How To Truly “Win” NaNoWriMo

The only way a writer can attempt NaNoWriMo and actually come out at the end of the 30 days with the draft of a novel, is if she does some serious story planning ahead of time. And that’s totally allowed, based on NaNo rules.

You’re allowed to do all the planning, character creating and note-taking that you want to before NaNo starts. The only thing you’re not allowed to do is do the actual writing.

You have to wait ’til November 1 to start on that.

If you want this to be your best NaNoWriMo ever–an epic year where you actually come out of NaNo with the draft of a novel–you must commit yourself to finding your story (and planning it!) now. So when November 1 rolls around, you know exactly what your story is about, who the hero is, what the journey entails and how everyone is getting from page one to “the end.”

Here are some story planning resources to get you started:

Don’t let the opportunity to do some major NaNo prep pass you by. Take the next few weeks of October to really dig in and plan out the story you’re going to write in November. That way you can walk away with the draft of an actual novel. Since you’re putting in all that time and effort.

Regardless of What You Write, NaNoWriMo Still Rocks

While NaNoWriMo isn’t quite what its name suggests, it’s still an awesome annual event, for three reasons:

  1. It gets you started–the hardest part of writing is getting started. NaNo is brilliant for getting you started on your writing.
  2. It creates community around writing–writing is often a lonely calling, so it’s nice that NaNo month (aka: November) brings writers together, both online and in your local community.
  3. It gets writers off their asses (or on their asses, rather) and writing–NaNo is a great motivator for finding time to write every day, and churning out a really cool story idea that you can turn into a novel.

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How do you feel about NaNo? If you’ve competed before, what did you do with the 50,000 words you wrote?