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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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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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Wild Card by Steven LochranWar Zone by Steven Lochran    

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Wild Card by Steven LochranWar Zone by Steven Lochran    

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Writing Teen Novels
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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

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The Puzzle Ring   

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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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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
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Month In Review (July 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its seventh 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.

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 July 2013

Why I Write About Children In Times Of  War by Monika Schroder

Plot Is The Backbone Of All Page-Turners by April Henry

Writing Teen Novels With Timeless Appeal by Diane Lee Wilson

Writing Suspenseful Novels by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Handling Novel Writing Deadlines by Paul Volponi

Mistakes I’ve Made As A Novelist by Bernard Beckett

Writing Teen Novels About Pilots And Flying by Elizabeth Wein

Techniques For Overcoming Writer’s Block by Beth Revis

Finding The Right “Voice” For Your Novel by Carolyn Meyer

Pacing A Novel by Lish McBride

Creating A Realistic Story World by Andy Briggs

Plotting A Novel by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Working On My Novel With My Editor by Sam Hawksmoor

Narrating Your Story In A Lean Style by Kashmira Sheth

Writing Prophecies In Fantasy Novels by Kate Forsyth

Structuring Novel Chapters by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Researching For My Teen Historical Novels by Pauline Francis

Maintaining Suspense Throughout Your Plot (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

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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.

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Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Creating Life-like Stories For Novels, by Kate Forsyth

A writer must learn to watch, listen and learn from life, in order to create the illusion of life in their work.

Go out with your notebook and pen to explore and experience. Catch a bus or a train, sit in the park or in a café, wander the streets or go to an art gallery, a museum, a skateboard park or anywhere that catches your fancy. Watch. Listen. Jot snatches of dialogue. Write quick word sketches of people:

– how they sit

– how they eat

– how they dress

– how they behave when in company, and

– how they behave when alone.

Begin to develop stories around them. Wonder about their lives. Imagine motivations for their behaviour. Why do they talk, move, think and act as they do?  Feel free to let your imagination run wild.

Quick character sketches like these can be a great way to amuse yourself while bored waiting in a doctor’s surgery or for a ferry.

Over time you’ll build up pages of them that you can use when actually writing a novel. Train yourself to be observant and notice nervous mannerisms or interesting tics – do they always wear red shoes? How do they like to eat their eggs?

Obviously a character sketch like this only reveals personality by externals, but it’s amazing how much we can infer just from those visual clues.

The great strength of a novel, of course, is that we have dialogue, action and interior monologue to help us delineate characters as well as their visual appearance.

The more you try and get inside people’s heads, and imagine what they think and feel, the easier it becomes.

I always begin a novel by thinking about my characters, and what role they play in the story. In general, most novels contain a cast of characters whose roles can be summarized as following:

– the hero (or protagonist)

– the villain (or antagonist)

– the romantic interest (or two – I do like a love triangle!)

– the companion or sidekick

– the mentor

– the circle of friends and allies

– henchmen (the villain’s circle of friends and allies)

– complications

– clowns

– animal friends

– secret friends and hidden enemies

– the sacrifice

Of course, sometimes one character will take on more than one role. Often the buddy will also be the clown, for example, or he may act as the sacrifice. The animal friend can actually be a robot, a coconut with a face drawn on it or a rag doll. The romantic interest may prove to be a hidden enemy, or the villain may end up being a secret friend.

I assemble my cast of characters – I give them names and faces, and then I begin to daydream them into life. I wonder about:

– their motives

– their key character traits (impulsive and quick-tempered, or slow to anger but slow to forgive?)

– their great strengths

– their great weaknesses

– what sort of clothes do they wear

– what kind of food they like

– how do they move – are they quick and agile, or slow and clumsy?

– how they speak (dialogue is extremely important when delineating character).

Often strengths and weaknesses are different points on a spectrum of the same character trait, for example a generous-hearted person who thinks the best of everyone may sometimes not be a good judge of character.

Then I always begin to wonder about the two great driving forces of any personality:

– what do they FEAR most

– what do they DESIRE most?

I also consider:

– how will they grow and change throughout the story?

– what lessons do they need to learn?

The other thing that is also really important to remember is that the character’s outer journey must always be reflected by the inner journey They must learn something with each ordeal faced and each obstacle overcome. The true narrative arc of any story is the protagonist’s growth towards self-realisation and wisdom.

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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   

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The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     A World AwayThe Night She DisappearedMy Brother's Shadow

Writing Teen Novels
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On Character Development For Novelists, by Kate Forsyth

Why is it that some books you read linger in your heart and mind for the rest of your life, while you have trouble remembering much about another book only a few days later?

It is because some books have characters that seem to leap off the page, vivid and alive. These characters have a story to tell that moves and challenges you, making your pulse hurry and your throat thicken, making you turn the pages faster and faster because you so desperately want to know what happens next.

How do we, as writers, create characters who sing and dance and leap? How do we tell a story that makes someone we have never meet sigh, laugh out loud and weep?

To me, character and plot are the most important cogs in the well-oiled machine that is a working story. It is also where many writers fail.

Let’s start with character, the mainspring of any story’s mechanics.

Character building is, I think, one of the trickiest parts of writing a novel, and the one factor that can transform a mediocre book into a marvellous one. Usually our favourite books are the ones in which we wish the main character was our friend.

When writing about the books of Edith Nesbit, Noel Streatfield invented what she called the ‘bus test’: ‘One way of gauging the aliveness of a family in a children’s book is to ask yourself “Would I know them if they sat opposite me in a bus?”’

I think this is a test for all characters in all books – could you, for example, recognise Jo March and her sisters? Would you recognise Harry Potter or Miss Havisham? What about Sherlock Holmes? Scarlett O’Hara? Peter Pan?

Sometimes characters just appear in your imagination with a strong voice all of their own.

Sometimes you need to build them painstakingly from the ground up and wait for them to come to life.

I often find it takes about the first quarter of the first draft (around 20,000 words) for my characters to really begin to move and talk naturally. So don’t worry if you find it takes you a while to really connect – this is quite normal.

William Faulkner said: ‘It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands upon his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.’

Character 101

First, let’s consider what exactly a ‘character’ is.

Characters are the people who populate your story.

Characterisation: the process by which a writer makes those characters seem real to the reader.

Protagonist: the hero or heroine; the primary character or point of view with whom the reader connects and empathises

Antagonist: the character or force that stands directly opposed to the protagonist and gives rise to the conflict of the story.

Foil: character whose behaviour and values provides a contrast to the protagonist in order to highlight their personalities i.e. weak to strong, quiet to talkative

Antihero: protagonist who has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero. He may weak and ineffectual; or greedy and cruel. It is much harder to build empathy for an anti-hero.

Static character: does not change throughout the work and the reader’s knowledge of that character does not grow.

Dynamic character: undergoes some kind of change because of the action in the plot. Usually the protagonist of a story is a dynamic character and their growth towards self-realisation and wisdom is the true narrative arc.

Flat character: embodies one or two qualities or traits that can be readily described in a brief summary.  Can sometimes be:

Stock character: embodies stereotypes such as the ‘dumb blonde’ or ‘the cruel stepmother’ and so forth.

Round characters: more complex than flat or stock characters, and often display the inconsistencies and internal conflicts found in most real people. They can grow and change and ‘surprise convincingly’.

Showing and Telling: Authors have two major methods of presenting characters: showing and telling. Usually authors use a combination of both.

Showing: allows the author to present a character talking and acting, and lets the reader infer what kind of person the character is.

Telling: the author describes and evaluates the character for the reader.

Characters can be convincing, whether they are presented by showing or by telling, as long as their actions are motivated.

Character Tags:  everyone has certain individual mannerisms such as chewing their nails, sitting with one foot on top of the other, playing with their hair, etc. Try to find one or two that will help define each character i.e. a nervous girl who chews her bottom lip, a confident man who stands too close. A character tag can evoke the personality of a character far more powerfully than whole paragraphs of explanation. However, be careful not to overuse them.

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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     Across the UniverseCode Name VerityTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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