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Plot Structure In Novels, by Kate Forsyth

Whenever I teach writing, I always spend quite a lot of time talking about plot structure.

This is because I think that it is nearly always the reason why a novel fails. A book can have engaging characters; a fast-paced, action-packed plot; and a fascinating setting, but still not quite work. This is nearly always because it has a weak structure.

Think of the structure as the framework of your novel, the internal architecture. It is like a human skeleton – invisible to the eye, yet the thing that stops it collapsing into jelly. Like the skeleton, it is made up of small parts, each linked one to the other, each doing their job to keep your novel working at full strength. The structure of a novel should fall into logical divisions, usually called scenes, chapters and sections.

A scene is an incident or event in a novel in which the action takes place continuously in a single place or time. Each scene should follow on logically from each other in a cause-and-effect chain.

A chapter is a division of the novel into regular parts, usually comprising one major scene, but sometimes combining several scenes.

A section is a collection of chapters, bound together by the point of view of the primary protagonist, by the place or time in which the action is set, or thematically.

In children’s and young adult fiction, the structure is usually more simple and linear than in an adult book, but this is a rule that can be broken. For example, The Puzzle Ring begins long after the adventure has ended, foreshadowing what will come.

Chapters aren’t just arbitrary rest breaks in a book. They should be carefully planned to control pace, to advance the plot and to work with the reader’s natural reading rhythms.

I usually aim for a chapter length between 1,500-2,000 for a children’s book (aged 8+), 2,500-3,000 words for young adults (aged 12+), and 3,500-4,000 words for an adult’s book (aged 16+). However, there is no rule – a chapter can be can a single word as in Frank McCourt’s final chapter of Angela’s Ashes: ‘’Tis”

I usually maintain a single point of view in a chapter. Sometimes I will move from head to head, particularly in the final climactic scenes when numerous characters may all be working toward the final denouement.

I will usually finish a chapter either at a point of high tension, i.e. some kind of cliffhanger, or at a moment of resolution. I call the first a ‘peak’ scene and the second a ‘trough’ scene. Having peaks and troughs varies the pace and rhythm of the book, and allows moments of rest before cranking up the intensity again.

I try to make sure each point of resolution occurs after half an hour’s reading for a child, and an hour’s reading for a young adult or adult.  This is so the reader can get off their bus and go to school or work, or turn off their light and go to bed. Most people read in this way. I know I do.

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAcross the UniverseTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing Prophecies In Fantasy Novels, by Kate Forsyth

I happen to love prophecies in a fantasy novel. I know lots of people hate them because they find them clichéd and contrived. I cannot help it. I really love them, both to read and to write. I agree that many prophecies weaken a story, undermining the element of surprise. I agree they are often poorly written. I agree there’s often no real need for them, apart to add a sense of inflated importance to it all: ‘Stop the cuckoo’s cry, else you shall all die!” However, sometimes a prophecy just seems necessary.

I have lots of prophecies in my teen fantasy novel, The Starthorn Tree. One of my key characters is a boy called Durrik who has the habit of blurting out prophecies at the very worst moment. He hears them only in fragments and is compelled to utter them at once, even though he may displease his listeners to the point they might want him dead.

‘Cursed is the son of light!’ he shouts in his dreams. ‘Cursed the tower shining bright.’

Most of these prophecies I had planned, and written carefully with the help of a rhyming dictionary and my old poetry textbook full of terms like iambic pentameter and trochee and anapest.

However, there is one prophecy in the book I did not plan in advance, and write carefully, making sure the rhythm and rhyme was as it should be.

This prophecy came to me… well, like a prophecy.

Uncalled for, unplanned, unwanted.

It came to me in a kind of lucid dreaming late one night, when I was up and feeding my newborn son. I had been working on The Starthorn Tree for about a year, and had always thought of it as a stand-alone novel. However, that night, as I sat in the darkness, feeding my baby and listening to the wind and the rain howling about my house, it came to me that there should be three books set in this magical world I had invented, not just one. The heroes of the second book would be the children of the heroes of The Starthorn Tree, and the heroes of the third book would be their grandchildren. Three generations, three adventures, three books.

I caught up my notebook and pen, and scribbled down a string of words or images that came very vividly to my mind’s eye.

‘Three times a babe shall be born,’ I wrote, then a rough estimation of the words ‘between star-crowned and iron-bound’ (I polished this up later.)  Then I wrote: ‘First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer, though lame he must travel far.’

That first child was clearly Durrik, my lame boy who can hear the future. So far, so good.

But then I wrote, hardly knowing where the words came from:

‘Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker, though broken himself he shall be.’

In my mind’s eye I saw a boy falling from an impossibly high crystal tower, falling through clouds, falling down to smash into the sea crawling so far below. The scene was as vivid as a snippet of a film, and I had no idea where it came from.

But more words were beating insistently at my mind’s ear, determined to be told. I scribbled down a few more lines in my notebook, virtually word perfect for how they appeared in the novel:

‘Last, the smallest and greatest –
In him the blood of wise and wild,
Farseeing ones and starseeing ones.
Though he must be lost before he can find
Though, before he sees, he must be blind,
If he can find and if he can see
The true king of all he shall be.’

In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of a boy – small and thin – stumbling through a swamp, his eyes bandaged. A lame girl led him by the hand. That was it – a couple of fragmented images and a prophecy I didn’t understand myself. Yet out of that came two more novels, The Wildkin’s Curse and The Starkin Crown, and my stand-alone fantasy novel became a trilogy.

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     Keeping CornerBlack Storm Comin'Across the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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