In Part 1 and Part 2 of My simple guide to planning a novel, we completed some pre-work, explored our character timelines, and created a framework to pin our plot points on to.
Today we are going to explore in detail at some of the key plot points, including:
- The hook / question
- The conclusion
- The epic ending
Q: How what order will we fill in our chapters?
A: NOT in chronological order…because that would be normal, and normal is known to stifle creativity. Instead, we are going to jump about, just a little.
The more we jump about the timeline the more we will encourage our brain to make lateral connections. Keep a stack of post it notes or a blank pad next to you. If anything pops-up scribble it down. Don’t worry about where or how it fits, just scribble, and if you have any relevant details, such as A must happen before B, note this down, too.
Occasionally, you do note ideas down that are later discarded, and that’s Okay too.
What are these key plot points? and why do we need them?
Books need ‘stuff’ to happen at certain points to avoid our reader getting bored. You know when you are reading a book that does this badly because you start to sense something should be happening and you get bored and switch off.
Note: This can happen at any of the key plot points. We have all been conditioned by years of reading to expect something to change at certain points, and when it doesn’t we notice it, perhaps not consciously, but certainly subconsciously.
This pacing is even more notable with films. You can set your watch by key plot points! (Please don’t try this it will spoil the fun!)
All plot points bring change. Life is not the same after, and the subsequent chapters are all about our characters reaction to the event.
We will go on to explain this in more detail as we go through. But…
Important: EVENT causes CHANGE and REACTION
Before we start, it may be worth taking time for a little quiet reading of everything you have jotted down so far. This includes: all the character timelines, character profiles, location ideas, the overview of the plot, and what you consider to be the start and end points, and anything else you may have relevant to the novel.
Now, let’s look at this first set of key plot points in a little more detail…
Step 1. The Question / Hook – chapter 1
This is the moment that introduces our book and hooks our reader. You know the kind of thing, there’s a murder, or a new kid comes into town. (Think Da Vinci Code and the murder) Whatever this event is, it brings change and it poses a question that will not yet be answered.
I am all for scene setting, but you really need to get on with the hook fairly promptly.
Note: The hook / question must be part of the story i.e. relevant to the entire thread of the book. There is no value in creating a dramatic event just for action sake. If it doesn’t impact the overall story, the reader will just feel cheated.
In summary, the hook presents the reader with a question. Such as, What is going to happen next? How will the characters react?
Chapter 1 can also:
- introduce our character(s)
- introduce our location / book setting
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Example Star Wars: In the very first scene in Star Wars we see a space ship being boarded forcibly by another. We understand there are two sides in conflict and we see a beautiful lady, one we don’t know yet, hide a message on a droid, right before she is captured and taken prisoner. A droid that flees the ship in an escape pod…
Let’s explore this: Right off we are intrigued. Who is the beautiful lady? What did she record in the message? Where is the droid going? Why was she taken prisoner?
Wow, thats a lot of questions and we don’t even know who she is yet!
Example Toy Story: The toys are worried that on Andy’s birthday that a new / cooler toy will come along and replace them.
Let’s explore this: What will Andy receive for his birthday? Will the new toy become Andy’s favourite? How will this impact his current toys?
This is a good solid hook, we can see the stakes, sense the tension, and are intrigued to find out what Andy will receive for his birthday, and more importantly, how the old toys will react.
Hopefully these examples will help you to identify your own question / hook from your notes and character timelines. The hook always needs to happen in chapter one, so take the time now to note some details about your question / hook event against chapter 1. A few bullet points or a few sentences should be enough, but if you have more…go for it.
Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.
Step 2. Closure – the last chapter.
This is where you say good bye to your characters and wrap up all the lose ends.
Important things to consider now:
- who will be part of this scene? Note the characters you want (or think you want) to include
- where will this take place?
- what is the key message theme you want to leave in your readers mind?
Its Okay to leave this chapter a little sketchy when you start, and you may want to just note these questions down against the chapter if you don’t have answers now. You will find ideas pop up constantly throughout the planning or even when writing the book, so keep coming back to this final section of the framework at any point in the writing process, and fill it in as you go.
Example Star Wars: In Star Wars this is the medal ceremony. Our heroes have defeated (if not destroyed) the evil Empire and halted it’s plans. In this scene we see all our main characters, smart and shining in their best dress uniform, receiving a medal for their bravery. The crowd cheers and everyone is smiling.
It’s totally cheesy, but it totally works!
Example Toy Story: This is one of those circular stories that takes us back to the original hook / question, but we now explore it through the characters changed mindset.
It’s Christmas, and new toys are about to arrive. Woody, has lived through, and come to terms with, the arrival of a rival toy-Buzz Lightyear, and further become this rivals friend. In the closing scene, Woody now teases Buzz, with his own fears from the book hook.
Woody To Buzz about the arrival of the new toys: “You’re not worried, are you?”
Hopefully, these examples may have give you ideas about your own closure scene, but if not, just keep this as a background thought and return to it later as your story unfolds.
Step 3. Epic Ending – penultimate chapter(s)
This is the big battle, the big confrontation, the final countdown, where the bad guy gets caught, the lovers fall in love…the epic ending.
Example Star Wars: The epic ending of star wars covers several scenes, and like Toy Story stretches over much of the final Act (last quarter of the book). They know it’s a long shot. Our protagonist, Luke Skywalker, must take the final shot to destroy the Empire’s death star – a powerful weapon that is seconds away from destroying the rebel base (the good guys). In the lead up to this, his squadron has already failed several attempts, but now it is up to Luke, who must trust his inner instincts and embrace his powers known as the force to win through and save the day.
Let’s explore this: This plot point brings culmination to everything the story is about—defeating the evil Empire. It is worth noting that although Star Wars is the first part of a trilogy, we still have a complete story with all the plot points, including it’s own epic ending.
Example Toy Story: There are two climaxes at the end of Toy Story which fill the last quarter of the book. Firstly, defeating / escaping the evil Sid. Secondly, returning to Andy. We will explore this in more detail during the Act Analysis later on. The epic ending is really the culmination of all the above, and would be the scene where Woody lights Buzz’s rocket, and Buzz flys with Woody back to Andy’s house.
The toys are once more home and safe!
The ending should be the easiest part of the book. It brings together all the plot points and character growth and wraps it all up over the final quarter of the book. If exploring your character timeline does not yield ideas, I would continue with the rest of the plot points (covered in the next post) and then come back to the ending.
It is worth noting, that if you are really struggling with the ending, even after exploring the other plot points, it may be the story is not one that will ultimately work. That’s Okay too. Sometimes when we plan we find out that the ideas we had were not strong enough to make a whole story, and it is much better to find this out now than after writing half a book.
Generally, this doesn’t happen often. If you have enough of an idea to come up with interesting characters, and you have some good change points, the ending will become obvious.
Now, check back through your notes and character timelines and take anything and everything you think belongs in the epic ending, and, as many of the prior chapters as you can. Break it up into scenes (person, location, event) and work backwards from your final chapter / scene.
Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.
In Part 4, we will look at the critical part of the book known as the inciting incident...
A simple guide to planning a novel part 1 – Pre-work and character timelines
A simple guide to planning a novel part 2 – Word count and creating a framework
A simple guide to planning a novel part 4 – The inciting incident
A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 – The key events in a book
A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes (scheduled 7-Jan-2016)