The Writer's Life

Jody Lebel
Published on: April 2012
So you've got a good idea for a novel. You've got characters bouncing around your head, you've chosen a setting, and you've got an idea of what is going to happen first and how it will end. The middle? Well, that's not always as clear. So now what? Most people just sit down and start writing. Let it be known that those people almost never get published. You've got to have a structure, a plan to get from point A to point B, and keep your reader interested. There are numerous books written on how to do this. You could try to follow any one of them, or take notes from several, but soon you will likely find the whole thing gets horribly complicated and too hard to manage. The following system is better than most and more simple to boot. Lay out your story as though it were being made into a 3-act movie. The following is based on a 260-page book. If yours is longer, then just adjust accordingly.
the writers life,turning point
Stage 1: The opening act & setting up the premise. Introduce your characters and the inciting incident, or the reason why this whole story is being told. We'll work with three examples: A car crash, a woman left at the altar, and a terrorist taping a bomb to his chest and studying the layout of the local elementary school building. Setting up your story should take about 25 pages. That's not to say it will all be in one chapter. Break it down into as many chapters as you need to tell your story.

The 1st turning point comes in at around page 26. Make something happen to change the character's life. (If the car crash victim just died, the book would be over, right?) The car crash victim is in a hospital far from his home state and starts to have feelings for his nurse but he's a married man and keeps his feelings to himself. The jilted bride cleans out her apartment, gets in her car, and heads to Alaska to make a fresh start. The terrorist discovers his wife is pregnant.

Stage 2: The new situation. Give your characters a terrible time, make them suffer. Make awful things happen to them. One of my instructors used to say give them two choices, sucky and suckier. Have the nurse for the car crash victim not only turn out to be married but be pregnant. Have the jilted bride's car break down in a remote area and she gets robbed while she's walking into town. Let the terrorist's whole family move in with him, all his cute little brothers, and his sweet grandma too. This should take you up to page 65.

Turning point #2: A change of plans. The car crash victim gets a terrible infection and has to have 24-hour care by this nurse. They begin to get close. The jilted bride gets herself and her car to a little backward town and has to stay and work while the car gets fixed. She hates it there. The terrorist has to postpone killing himself, but tries to recruit one of his little cousins. Make the cousin adorable.

Stage 3: Making progress. Everyone's plans are moving along. The car crash victim gets a little better and he and the nurse can't deny their attraction. The jilted bride adjusts to the little town and starts to make friends. The bomber's family still doesn't know what he's up to and he is making progress with teaching his cousin terrorist ways. You should be at about page 130.

Turning point #3 is a point of no return so to speak. Some kind of commitment is made. The patient professes his love to the nurse and asks her to run away with him. The jilted bride falls in love with the mechanic who is working on her car. The bomber sets a date when he will have the little cousin blow up the school.

Stage 4 is where complications come in and the stakes get higher. The nurse's husband shows up at the hospital, confronts the car crash victim, and tells him to stay away from this wife. The jilted bride finds out her new love has a record and he is a wanted man. The bomber's plans are found out by his sister and she tells the whole family.

Turning point #4, at about page 195, have a major setback. The car crash victim refuses to stop his adoration of the nurse and her husband comes back and beats him near to death. Also have the crash victim's wife and his two baby girls show up at the hospital. (Double whammy.) The jilted bride finds out her new love is wanted for murdering his wife. The bomber's family calls the cops and he flees.
Stage 5 is the final attempt. The car crash victim tells his wife it is over between them, that he is in love with someone new. Broken hearted, the jilted bride turns her man into the police and gets in her now-repaired car to continue her trek to Alaska. The bomber shows up at the school playground and sneaks into the school to plant his bomb. This should take you up to about page 235.

Turning point #5 is the climax. The nurse leaves her abusive husband and commits to the car crash victim. We find out that his wife was quite the witch, she wasn't all that unhappy about him leav-ing her, and she goes back home. The jilted bride gets a call from the police that her new love has been cleared and she turns the car back around to head back to him. The bomber sets off his bomb and only succeeds in killing himself.

Stage 6: The aftermath; the happily ever after ending that all readers want. The car crash victim and the nurse start a wonderful new life together, and he gets custody of his little girls. In the last scene the jilted bride is at the altar but this time the groom shows up. The bomber's family gets to stay in the USA and the little cousin gets to go back to being a normal happy little kid. The end - page 260.

See how easy that is? Okay, not so easy. But do-able. Get started plotting out your novel. Next month we will talk about POV, point of view.
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