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Structuring Your Novel: Using A Chapter Summary, by Karen Wood

This article follows on from my previous article Structuring Your Novel: Chapters and Their Endings.

When I first ventured into writing fiction, it seemed everyone wanted a chapter summary – manuscript appraisers, agents, editors, publishers, marketing teams – they all wanted chapter summaries!

I thought it was because they didn’t have time to read the entire story. They wanted a quick summary of what it was about. I found the task tedious and surprisingly unsettling. Did I really have to list every single chapter? Could I not just write a synopsis?

My first publishing contract was for the first three books in what turned out to be my Diamond Spirit series for teens. These stories were very character driven, i.e. I relied heavily on the strength of the characters to carry the narrative forward. In all three books I got to the 70% stage and then thought, How on earth am I going to end this story? What is this story even about?

I think this is a point where many aspiring writers come to an abrupt halt. Some call it writer’s block. I say there’s no such thing.

As I set about resolving the predicaments my characters had got themselves into in Diamond Spirit, threads began to unravel in the earlier chapters of the manuscript. I had to go back and weave them back in. I began to have continuity problems. I lost count of how many times I had to go back and rewrite Diamond Spirit. To be honest, I don’t know how my editors stuck with me.

If I had revisited those chapter summaries everyone had asked me to write, I would have saved my self an awful lot of rewriting.

First, what is a chapter summary?

It is simply 2–3 sentences summarising each chapter, using bullet points or chapter numbers.

A chapter summary is your story laid bare – no padding, no witty dialogue, no flowery verbose. It is an incredibly useful tool to critique the bones of your story.

Is the premise a good one?

If you are having trouble writing a concise chapter summary, chances are, the premise is flimsy. There is no central story/action line. No mission.

While writing a chapter summary you will soon see where you need to trim the fat and where you could flesh out various themes, i.e. what is relevant to the central mission and what is superfluous waffle. If you don’t delete the superfluous, you can be sure your editor will, no matter how pretty your words are.

Is there a satisfying story arc?

A chapter summary can show you the rise and fall of tension in your novel; the pacing of your story. You can analyse how well your characters have developed, changed and survived their ordeals.

Have I resolved all the burning questions/plot threads?

As you begin to write the end of your novel, a chapter summary of what you have written so far will provide a list of all the issues that need to be resolved. You can cross check that all the threads have been neatly tied off, or not so neatly if you prefer. It will also help you to avoid continuity problems.

My second rural romance novel Rain Dance was told from alternating view points. The story begins with pious vegetarian, Holly Harvey, being forced to move to the country. Her viewpoint alternates, chapter for chapter with Kaydon Armstrong, the son of a beef farmer who is battling a severe drought in regional New South Wales.

I wanted to tell two stories simultaneously, bringing the hero and heroine together in a way that was full of presumptions and discord. I wanted the novel to be about finding empathy between city and country.

Writing a chapter summary for each and tabling them side by side helped me bring Holly and Kaydon’s worlds together in a way that considered tension, pacing and plausibility. I could manage the development and change of each character as they came to understand and appreciate each other.

I am now a lean mean plotting machine. I can write a chapter summary for an entire book, and in fact an entire series, before beginning to write the novel. I also find a chapter summary useful to refer to when writing a blurb, synopsis or pitch to potential publishers. When you rely on writing to make a living, this is a fine thing. It is efficient and time-saving. It is a valuable skill.

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Karen Wood’s author website: www.diamondspirit.net

Karen Wood on Facebook

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United Kingdom (and beyond)

     

Australia (and beyond)

     Winter TownHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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Studying Creative Writing And Learning To Write Novels, by Steven Lochran

More than once I’ve been approached by an aspiring writer asking my opinion about studying Creative Writing at a tertiary level. Given the time and money it takes to attain a qualification, is it worth it?

I should say right off the bat that I majored in Creative Writing. Based on my experience I’d happily recommend it (no, I don’t get a kickback from my university for saying so – though if someone would like to get in touch with me, I have no qualms whatsoever about bribery).

Just because it worked for me it doesn’t mean that I see it as the only way to become a professional writer. There are plenty of authors out there who bypassed tertiary education altogether, dove straight into the business of being a writer and found tremendous success at it. It’s by no means a necessity to make it as a writer.

The benefit to formally studying Creative Writing is that it takes years and years of development and condenses it into an intensive, highly-focused period that exposes the student to multiple forms of writing and reading. The skills you develop through ten years of practice can be distilled down into three, provided you study hard enough, or you invent a time machine, but I’d probably stick with the study option.

When I was at uni, I tried my hand at feature writing, copywriting and sub-editing. I read brilliant books that I otherwise may never have given a chance, and learnt how to deconstruct a text by examining its intentions, its meaning and its execution.

In short, I was guided through the world of being a writer by people who were writers themselves and I was provided a knowledge base that serves me to this day, directly informing the writer I’ve become. But it was a costly experience (which I’m still paying off) and isn’t exactly a luxury that everyone can afford, unless, once again, you’ve invented a time machine (in which case you’re loaded and a Time Lord who doesn’t need my advice).

If you’re uncertain about studying Creative Writing at a university level, you can always look at a short-term course, but even simpler than that would be a writer’s group. They’re easier to find than ever before thanks to the internet, and can provide direction in a way you’d never benefit from on your own. It’s not always easy to hear other people’s opinions on your work, but it’s always invaluable.

If even that level of commitment is a challenge, I’d recommend simply being a student of life. Read a lot. Write a lot. Examine the stories you engage with and analyse what makes them work. Pull apart stories that don’t work and ascertain why. Don’t mindlessly consume. Enquire. Be curious. It’s only through being engaged that you yourself can become an engaging writer.

It’s only a time-flux capacitor that makes time travel possible.

…I’m sorry. I’ll stop now.

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Steven Lochran’s author website: www.stevenlochran.com

Steven Lochran’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

Wild Card by Steven LochranWar Zone by Steven Lochran    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

Wild Card by Steven LochranWar Zone by Steven Lochran    

Australia (and beyond)

Wild Card by Steven LochranWar Zone by Steven Lochran     SparkTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
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Month In Review (December 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the final month of articles for 2013 from this year’s multi-national line-up of novelists. Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for December 2013

What I Read When I Was A Teenager by Elizabeth Wein

Examining Philosophical Beliefs Through Teen Novels by Bernard Beckett

Bad Habits To Avoid While Writing by Andy Briggs

Handling Feedback About My Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Writing Honest Depictions In Your Novels by Paul Volponi

Writing Good Dialogue For Your Novel by Lish McBride

Creating Characters With Flaws by Kashmira Sheth

Writing What You Know by Beth Revis

The Young Adult Fiction Industry by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing The Opening Lines Of A Novel by Kate Forsyth

How I Became A Writer by Monika Schroder

On Being Nice As A Writer by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Medium Sized Budget by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Working With An Editor On A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

***

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing The Opening Lines Of A Novel, by Kate Forsyth

The most important line in any story is the first line.

A novel needs to start with something so captivating that the reader is compelled to read on. This is called the Opening Hook. There is no single strategy for writing a hook. Hooks can use descriptive language, humour, clever phrasing, action, foreshadowing and many other techniques to lure the reader in.

I like my opening lines to do as much as possible. I think that they should identify the protagonist, signal the genre and age group to the reader, arouse curiosity, and jump straight into the action.

Here are my top suggestions for writing brilliant beginnings:

  • Always start at the point of change – what is the inciting incident, the event which will change your protagonist’s life for ever?
  • Always jump right into the middle of the action
  • Start with something that grabs the reader’s attention. A few suggestions:

* Action: the protagonist doing something
* Dialogue: the protagonist  speaking
*
 Thought: the protagonist sharing a thought or feeling or memory
*
 Onomatopoeia: a sound associated with an action
*
 Shocking Statement: something surprising or out of the ordinary
*
 Question: something to start readers thinking
*Anecdote: a short, interesting story

* Vivid Description – but try to avoid simply scene setting

Here are a few of my own opening lines:

‘Hannah Rose Brown was not quite thirteen years old when she discovered her family was cursed.’
The Puzzle Ring

‘The tower blazed upon the island like a column of white flame.’
The Starthorn Tree

‘So! Are you ready to die?’ Merry cried.
The Wildkin’s Curse

‘Being a prince was no fun at all, Peregrine thought moodily, staring out through the arrow slit at the pine trees shivering in the snowy dusk. Especially if you’re the son of a king without a kingdom. ‘
The Starkin Crown

‘Luka whistled as he walked along the country lane, his hat on the back of his head, his hand in his pockets jingling his coins. It was not often Luka had coins in his pocket to jingle, and he wanted to enjoy the sensation while it lasted.’
The Gypsy Crown

And here are a few of my favourite opening lines by other authors:

‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.’
– C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal people, thank you very much.’
– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Throne

‘When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.’
– Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

‘Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done.’
– Eva Ibbotson, Island of The Aunts

‘Once upon a time there lived… ‘A king!’ my little readers will say immediately. No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood.”
– Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio

‘I’d never given much thought to how I would die– though I’d had reason enough in the last few months– but if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.’
– Stephanie Meyer, Twilight

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
– Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle

‘It was dusk – winter dusk.’
– Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
– E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

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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     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAcross the UniverseTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
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Different Types Of Plot In Fiction, by Kate Forsyth

I’m sure you’ve all heard people say that there are only so many possible plots in the world. Some say there’s only three. Some say there’s only seven. For my own amusement and edification, I’ve collected them. Now I share them with you:

Only One Plot:

It is said that there is really only one plot – the resolution of a problem.

This rests on the basic plot structure described in the following, canonical sequence of events: Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Denouement

Image

Two Plots:

The novelist John Gardner used to say “There are only two stories: A man goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town.”

Three Plots:  

In The Basic Patterns of Plot, William Foster-Harris, a professor at the University of Oklahoma contends that there are three basic patterns of plot:

  1. Type A: happy ending
  1. Type B: unhappy ending
  1. Type C: ambiguous or inconclusive ending

Seven Plots:

In his book, The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker outlined a theory that there are seven key plots, which may be used in combination with others. This book is one of my own personal favourites, and I recommend it highly. In short, they are:

1) Overcoming the Monster – tale of conflict typically recounts the hero’s ordeals, an escape from death, and ends with a community or the world itself saved from evil.

2) Rags to Riches – Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling, David Copperfield, and other stories that tell of humble, downtrodden characters who manage to overcome all obstacles to rise in the world.

3) The Quest – a hero travels on a quest to save his world and secure some kind of priceless treasure.

4) Voyage and Return – The protagonist leaves normal experience to enter an alien world, returning after what often amounts to a thrilling escape. The Odyssey, Robinson Crusoe, and Alice in Wonderland are examples of this plot.

5) Comedy – confusion reigns until at last the hero and heroine are united in love.

6) Tragedy – the anti-hero spirals down deeper into darkness and despair, with all ending grimly

7) Rebirth – any story that pivots on the symbolic or actual death and rebirth of a character. Examples include Snow White, and Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov.

20 Plots:

The following come from 20 Master Plots by Ronald B Tobias:

  1. Quest
  1. Adventure
  1. Pursuit
  1. Rescue
  1. Escape
  1. Revenge
  1. The Riddle
  1. Rivalry
  1. Underdog
  1. Temptation
  1. Metamorphosis
  1. Transformation
  1. Maturation
  1. Love
  1. Forbidden Love
  1. Sacrifice
  1. Discovery
  1. Wretched Excess
  1. Ascension
  1. Descension.

36 Plots:  

Finally, we have Georges Polti who wrote a book called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations (translated by Lucille Ray). Although I find the following of interest, I think it’s a little too complicated and hard to remember.

Supplication – Persecutor, Suppliant, a Power in Authority

Deliverance – Unfortunates, Threatener, Rescuer

Revenge – Avenger, Criminal

Vengeance by Family upon Family – Avenging Kinsman, Guilty Kinsman, Relative

Pursuit – Fugitive from Punishment, Pursuer

Victim of Cruelty or Misfortune – Unfortunates, Master or Unlucky Person

Disaster – Vanquished Power, Victorious Power or Messenger

Revolt – Tyrant, Conspirator(s)

Daring Enterprise – Bold Leader, Goal, Adversary

Abduction – Abductor, Abducted, Guardian

Enigma – Interrogator, Seeker, Problem

Obtaining – Two or more Opposing Parties, Object, maybe an Arbitrator

Familial Hatred – Two Family Members who hate each other

Familial Rivalry – Preferred Kinsman, Rejected Kinsman, Object

Murderous Adultery – Two Adulterers, the Betrayed

Madness – Madman, Victim

Fatal Imprudence – Imprudent person, Victim or lost object

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Lover, Beloved, Revealer

Kinsman Kills Unrecognised Kinsman – Killer, Unrecognised Victim, Revealer

Self Sacrifice for an Ideal – Hero, Ideal, Person or Thing Sacrificed

Self Sacrifice for Kindred – Hero, Kinsman, Person or Thing Sacrificed

All Sacrificed for Passion – Lover, Object of Passion, Person or Thing Sacrificed

Sacrifice of Loved Ones – Hero, Beloved Victim, Need for Sacrifice

Rivalry Between Superior and Inferior – Superior, Inferior, Object

Adultery – Deceived Spouse, Two Adulterers

Crimes of Love – Lover, Beloved, theme of Dissolution

Discovery of Dishonour of a Loved One – Discoverer, Guilty One

Obstacles to Love – Two Lovers, Obstacle

An Enemy Loved – Beloved Enemy, Lover, Hater

Ambition – An Ambitious Person, Coveted Thing, Adversary

Conflict with a God – Mortal, Immortal

Mistaken Jealousy – Jealous One, Object of Jealousy, Supposed Accomplice, Author of Mistake

Faulty Judgement – Mistaken One, Victim of Mistake, Author of Mistake, Guilty Person

Remorse – Culprit, Victim, Interrogator

Recovery of a Lost One – Seeker, One Found

Loss of Loved Ones – Kinsman Slain, Kinsman Witness, Executioner

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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     Across the UniverseIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Month In Review (October 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its tenth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of novelists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for October 2013

On Creating A Distraction-Free Writing Environment by Bernard Beckett

Research For Writing Novels by April Henry

On ‘Killing Your Darlings’ When Revising A Novel Manuscript by Monika Schroder

Where My Ideas For Novels Come From by Beth Revis

Dealing With The Idea Of Writer’s Block by Paul Volponi

Maximizing The Potential Of Your Writing Group by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson

Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Worldbuilding When Writing A Novel by Lish McBride

Plot Structure In Novels (Part 2) by Kate Forsyth

Talking About My Writing At Conferences by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing Description In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

On Creating Interesting Characters For Historical Teen Novels by Pauline Francis

Why I Write Teen Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

Developing Good Writing Habits by Kashmira Sheth

Challenging Your Protagonist (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

On Writing Self-Contained Novels In A Series by Andy Briggs

Inexpensive Ways To Market Your Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

***

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Plot Structure In Novels (Part 2), by Kate Forsyth

When I am planning my novels, I think very carefully about when an event in the book happens. Each event must lead logically to the next event, building in pace and suspense until we reach the climax, the point of highest tension in the book. This is called rising action. At the point of climax, the problem of the book must be solved, the antagonist overcome and the crisis resolved.

I usually like to have three major ordeals, or turning points (sometimes called crises).

The first will indicate a change in gear, a quickening of pace, a movement from one place to another, or from one set of feelings to another. I call this the first turning point. It often involves moving through a doorway or gateway, or from one place to another.

The second is what I call ‘the dark night of the soul’, but is also sometimes called the Midpoint Reversal, or the second turning point. It usually is a key moment psychologically as well as physically. It is a moment when it seems all is lost. I like to position this as close to the middle of the book as possible, but that’s because I have an obsession with symmetry. Other writers place it much more loosely in the novel’s structure.

The third major ordeal is the climax of the book, the point at which the hero must triumph or fail.

Each of these three major ordeals or crises takes roughly a quarter of the book to develop and the ending takes the final quarter. This helps me to control pacing, and keep the different sections of the book balanced.

As I work toward the final climax of the book, I will shorten my chapter length, quicken pace, and reduce the number of chapters ending in resolution, so that the compulsion to read on becomes stronger. This helps builds suspense.

The idea behind rising action is that each scene is more intense, more dramatic, more interesting, more compelling, than the scene which came before. Of course, one can still have moments of rest and introspection after a scene of high intensity. They just tend to be shorter.

Another thing to realise is that the tension in each scene does not need to be supplied by gun battles and car chases. It can be a scene of emotional or psychological intensity – a key moment of revelation, for example.

Basically, all events in your story are leading toward the point of highest tension, which is the climax. This climactic scene is followed by falling action, and then the denouement or “unravelling”, a scene in which the triumph of the hero is celebrated, or the tragic hero’s fate is accepted, leading to new self-knowledge.

The combination of rising action, climax, and falling action creates a shape rather like an Isosceles triangle:

Freytag's triangle

This is called a Freytag’s Triangle, named after Gustave Freytag, a German literary critic who analysed Aristotle’s Poetics and broke his theory of dramatic unity down into its different components. The above graph was made by Barbara F. McManus in her book Tools for Analysing Prose Fiction.

This is how I have redrawn this narrative arc for myself:

plot graph

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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     Code Name VerityWinter TownGlow

Writing Teen Novels
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