Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Signs" to Guide Writing or Reading a Novel

Connecting With Other Writers
I post quite often about the benefits of connecting with other writers. Critique groups, gatherings of those who write in your genre, experienced writers and published authors sharing the ins and outs of their craft with those of us still plodding along… it is powerful stuff.

I belong to an organization called the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). You may recall I had the joy of attending the national conference of ACFW last September. That is a wonderful opportunity in itself, but once a month those of us living in Ohio get together to share our own writing experiences. I’ve made some great friends through the Ohio chapter.

Hats off to Tamera Lynn Kraft!

This year, under the direction of Tamera Kraft, we have an interesting program agenda. We will be looking at everything from screen writing to children’s literature. We’ll explore formula writing, indie publishing, marketing and more. I’m excited. I love having a once-a-month shot in the arm for my writing.

And I love being able to share with you what I’m learning. Last Saturday’s session was on “Signpost Plotting.” Tamera shared her take on SuperStructure by James Scott Bell (a giant in the industry in my book). I was so intrigued I ordered the book. Though it hasn’t yet arrived on my doorstep, I decided to share my “take away” from the meeting. I urge you to seek out the book for yourself. And read Plot andStructure as well if you really want to understand the underpinnings of writing your novel.

We all know that a novel is generally written in three acts. Acts I and III comprise about 40% of the book while the bulk of the story unfolds in Act II. Bell notes that in each act there certain signposts are present. We need to watch for…uh…plan to include those events to keep the novel moving in the right direction. I won’t go into all of the signposts here. Read the book. I do want to highlight some of what I learned from our discussion. I hope you find it as intriguing.

In Act I we should be able to find the “Disturbance” signpost in the opening lines. There should be a clear indication that something is not right. Something is “off.” There are four other signposts in the first act, all with a purpose. They include incidences that help us identify with the main character, give us a clue that trouble is brewing for our main character, and culminate in the inciting incident…that moment of no return. We put our character on a path and now he or she must travel that road. It will be our responsibility as writers to help our character overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Example From Breathing on Her Own
Disturbanceà Molly Tipton followed her husband through the wide glass doors of the emergency room to the nurse’s station. A male nurse, on the telephone at a desk at the back of the cubicle, didn’t look up. Molly’s heart pounded. She brought her hand down hard on the bell in front of her.

Act II, the largest portion of the book, has four signposts to include. The most curious to me was what is known as “the mirror moment.” It happens almost smack dab in the middle of the story when the main character looks in the mirror either literally or figuratively and confronts him or herself with the “who am I or what do I need to do to change” question.

I hadn’t read about these signposts, so I wondered if I indeed had included such a moment in the middle of Breathing on Her Own.

The Mirror Moment à Downstairs, Molly went into the bathroom and closed the door. She shook. Never before had she been that close to losing her temper with Hunter and Ellie. Would they hate her for it? Hands on the sink’s edge, Molly leaned heavily on the new granite surface.
A pang of self-pity knifed her heart. Hadn’t she already raised her own children? Slowly raising her head, Molly studied her image in the mirror. What was it she had been thinking before the children started fighting?

Can you believe it? I actually had a mirror moment right in the middle of the book! I was in shock. And a bit relieved. It is affirming to go back into something you wrote and find the signposts right where they should be.

The final signpost for Act II is the “Doorway of No Return.” This is where our character must move forward regardless of what lies ahead.

Act III, reveals the resolution to our story. Five signposts guide the writer (and reader) through the final act. In the end, our main character is transformed through the events of the story. We close the book satisfied. I looked again to Breathing on Her Own. Yep, there it is…Look:

Transformation à Molly let out a little laugh. “Actually your accident is what made me realize I was spiritually paralyzed.”

Here is the beauty of using the signpost idea: You don’t have to start with each element strictly defined and outlined. You can write the story you need to write and apply these pieces during the revision stage. The signposts will help remind…all of us where we are in the novel and what we need to clean up or add to get to the bare bones of the story.

I’m anxious to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and let me know if you find this helpful.

And I highly recommend his book, Plot and Structure as well.

Be sure to check in next week. See you then!

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