Write Your Best Book – Episode 1
Welcome to Write Your Best Book, a podcast for authors where we will discuss a wide variety of topics to help you write your best book.
Hi. I’m Christina Kaye, CEO and editor at Top Shelf Editing. But I’m not just an editor. I began my career in the book industry as an author. I struggled for years to hone my craft and suffered rejection after rejection until I finally figured out the secrets to writing a book people actually want to read. Now, I’m agented (Jana Hanson, Metamorphosis), I’m an award-winning author, and my 7th book is on its way to publishers as we speak. On this show, I’m going to share every single bit of info I’ve learned through years of training, education, and most importantly, practice.
I developed this podcast when I found there was a depressing lack of shows out there to help authors with the process of writing books. Over the course of this series, I will address every imaginable issue I’ve encountered both as an author and editor throughout my career. I’ll have some amazing guest interviews, including best-selling authors, agents, and publishers, and I’ll offer tons of insider tips, tricks, and advice on writing books, editing them, publishing them, and even marketing them.
Today, I’m going to talk about structure and plotting in fiction writing.
But before we begin, I want to talk to you briefly about a word processing software I discovered a few years ago. It’s called Scrivener. Many of my clients also use Scrivener, but some of you may not be as familiar. When you’re ready to start writing your book, you essentially have 3 options: Word, Google Docs, and Scrivener. Let me tell you a little bit about why I personally love Scrivener. It has some amazing features built in that are essential for authors. For example,
Scrivener remembers where you stopped. Every time you open Scrivener, it takes you to where you left off. Cool, right? You can see all the parts of your novel at a glance. The Binder gives you an overview of your entire manuscript and the structure of your work. Virtual post-it notes – have an idea, but not quite ready to add it to your manuscript? Scrivener lets you create the note and store it away for later use. You can import research documents, web pages/links, and photos right into your project, so even when you take your laptop on the road, you have everything you need. You can also import any writing you already started in another program. And…you can export your final document to .DOC .PDF .RTF .TXT There are so many features, I’ve only scratched the surface. And Scrivener is about to launch version 3.0, which I’m sure will come with even more amazing features. Are you ready for the best part? If you head over to their website now and download Scrivener, the amazing folks at Literature and Latte have agreed to offer our listeners an exclusive 20% discount! Simply go to
www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener and enter the promo code BESTBOOK. I’ll also include the link and discount info in the show notes.
Let’s dive into today’s episode.
WHERE TO START
So you have this great story idea. You dreamed it one night, or you were inspired by something random in your life, and after a lot of inner debate, you’ve overcome your fears and decided to turn that idea into a book. Great. Congratulations. Time to sit down, open your laptop, and start typing, right? Well…hold on, now. It’s not quite that simple. Not if you want to do it right.
Have you ever talked to another writer, and they asked you if you’re a plotter or a pantser? How many of you know the difference? Briefly, a pantser is someone who sits down and writes their book with little to no planning or outlining. A plotter feels compelled to plan out the entire book, chapter by chapter, before even typing the opening line. At Top Shelf Editing, we believe it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. There is a middle ground. You can plan out the structure and outline the plot of your book and still write freely and use that creative right brain of yours. Let’s talk about how you can straddle that fence.
Start big and work your way down.
The Hero’s Journey
We recommend using The Hero’s Journey as a model for your structure.
Definition: The Hero’s Journey is based off a book written by Joseph Campbell in 1949 (The Hero with a Thousand Faces). It’s a method for plotting novels and screenplays based on the journey an archetypal hero would encounter in, say, Greek mythology.
Stages of Hero’s Journey The Ordinary World – we meet the protagonist in their natural environment; see life before conflict Call to Adventure – transition from ordinary world to new world; protagonist introduced to journey Cross the First Threshold – marks major decision for protagonist; point of no return; “I’m going to” Trials, Friends, and Foes – protagonist encounters obstacles; some help, some hurt The Magical Mentor – graced by presence of wiser person; gives protagonist guidance/encourages The Dragon’s Lair – second major decision; put protagonist at risk of injury; but protag must go in Moments of Despair – encounter major obstacle; future looks dim; all hope seems lost Ultimate Battle – protagonist must slay the beast; defeat evil The Hidden Treasure – having won, protag secures the trophy; reward can be physical or emotional Homeward Bound – must return home; journey not over; encounter roadblocks, villains, challenges Rebirth & Return of Champion – final threshold; one last test to solidify his growth; he’s reborn
Example – The Never-ending Story (movie 1984 directed by Wolfgang Peterson) The Neverending Story (book by Michael Ende 1979) https://prezi.com/jjhlaabvgdft/the-neverending-story-a-heros-journey/
Another method to plotting your novel is using the 3 Act Method. Definition: divides the story into a beginning, middle, and end. Most of the time, Act 2 is the largest section, though we recommend when trying to use this for the first time to divide the story equally into 3 parts.
Act 1 – introduce reader to protagonist’s world; problem disrupts life; life changes direction Act 2 – protagonist explores new world; crisis in new world; solution discovered Act 3 – protagonist faces trials; finds his power; battle, climax, and resolution
Example: Wizard of Oz https://blog.reedsy.com/three-act-structure/ Act 1 – Dorothy is in Kansas with Toto (exposition); tornado comes to town (inciting incident) Act 2 – Travels the yellow brick road (new world); journeys toward Oz and encounters crises Act 3 – Encounters witch, is kidnapped, defeats witch, meets real “Oz”
Now that you’ve plotted the main story, it’s time to come up with subplots. But what are those things?
Subplots Add complexity and intensity to your main plot 2 -3 “smaller” storylines Splinter off and take place outside the main story Must interweave with the main plot Must not overpower the story It should strengthen the story in some way
Example – In Hunger Games, it’s Katniss’s two relationships with men – Peeta and Gale. Think of it like a braid. The center strand is the main plot. The two outer strands are the subplots. In order to complete the story (the braid), you must weave all three together into one complete unit.
Let’s take a quick break from our topic. As an author who has struggled through the process of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing my books, I decided to give a few shout-outs to authors who I know deserve a mention on this podcast. Today’s shout-out belongs to Darlene Campos.
Her latest book, HEAVEN ISN’T ME is a coming of age novel about 14-year-old Elysian who suffers with anxiety as her professor parents spend the semester teaching in Buenos Aires. With support from her friends Lalo and Brandon, she learns to cope with the fears that take shape in her mind while also
dealing with constant external pressures from her aunts and uncles about her lack of femininity and “what boys like.”
So do me a favor and head over to Amazon now and check out Darlene Campos’s HEAVEN ISN’T ME. I’ll include a purchase link in the show notes.
Now, let’s wrap things up by talking about the Denouement, which is a fancy way of saying “the conclusion” of your book.
THE END Denouement (conclusion)
How you end your novel depends on many factors, but it’s ultimately up to you. However you decide to end it, there are a few things that must be done if you want to avoid upsetting readers and leaving them unfulfilled. The last thing you want is to leave readers sad or disappointed. This causes anxiety for the best authors. But here are a few things to keep in mind:
- • Fulfill promises made to reader – did you imply we’d find out the motive for a murder but never reveal it?
- • Tie up loose ends – tell us each character’s fate – don’t develop a great secondary character, give them an amazing story arc, then never tell us what happens to them.
- • Answer all questions – if you posed the question of “whodunnit,” make sure you eventually tell us “whodunnit.”
- • Underscore the theme – example from childhood: The Ugly Duckling develops into a swan, but the theme of the story is failure to fit in and accepting your inner beauty. What is your theme? Is it that true love conquers all? Is it that good always triumphs over evil? Whatever it is, make sure the ending comes back around and rounds out your theme.
- • Transform protagonist – may wind up back where he began, but he’s better for the journey
- • Chekov’s Gun (false promises) – Don’t introduce elements that are never explained. If you draw attention to something, you’ll eventually need to assign it meaning and relevance. Anton Chekov, 20th century author – “If in Act One you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.” Example – TV Show, LOST – polar bears shown in season one, lead to Darhma Initiative later on. What if they never explained the polar bears?
Exception – unresolved endings, which are acceptable if you’re writing a series. But don’t leave the reader disappointed. Have some sort of resolution for your character, if not a FINAL resolution for them.
Example – in Book 1 of my Flesh& Blood Trilogy (Like Father, Like Daughter), Libby, the protagonist’s story arc is completed when we find out who actually killed her husband, but I left the door open for future books by not yet explaining the truth behind her father (the serial killer)’s history, and I used a small cliffhanger by letting Libby discover that she has a brother she never knew about, which is the plotline for Book 2, Brother’s Keeper.
That’s all the time we have for today, folks. We’re so happy you joined us for our pilot episode. Stay tuned next Friday when we discuss how to start your novel, including how to write that infamous opening sentence to how to avoid tropes and clichés and grab readers’ attention from page one.
This episode of WRITE YOUR BEST BOOK was brought to you by…
And don’t forget, if you would like to know more about Top Shelf Editing’s services, or if you’d like to set up a consultation with one or both of the editors, visit our website at www.topshelfedits.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask us how to get your FREE sample evaluation and quote for services.
Talk soon, and in the meantime, go write your best book!