Happy New Year Рlet the next chapter begin 

New Year is a great time to reflect, but also to plan for the future.

We are in the middle of a round the world trip and so far after leaving Perth, Australia, we have visited Tokyo, spent Christmas in the UK with family, followed by a few days in Miami beach where the weather was unseasonably hot.

We are currently in a very chilly Las Vegas where we are waiting to see the new year in. We went for a Grand Canyon helicopter ride this morning, another bucket list item ticked, an awesome experience and a great end to the year.
The final three weeks of our holiday sees a change in pace with hiking in California, and then New Zealand before heading home.

2015 has been a bad year health wise for me, but I am hoping next year will be much better. Looking forward to getting back to my writing when the holiday is over, but enjoying the adventure until then ūüôā

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, writerly new year!

A few of my favorite pictures so far below!

   



  

A simple guide to planning a novel – part 5

In Part 4 of My Simple guide to planning a novel, we looked in detail at the inciting incident.

Today we will look at the remaining key plot points. Next week is our final instalment when we explore the acts of the book and fill in all the gaps.

The remaining key plot points

The Rhythm of a book

You may not know it, but books have a rhythm. This¬†rhythm splits the books into four neat sections. Each section has a purpose, it’s own rhythm, and is triggered by the arrival of a key event that brings change.

One of the great things about taking the time to plan the novel is that you get this rhythm nailed right at the start. Once you know what the key plot points are you can shuffle everything else that happens around them. Unless we have these stabilisers, the story will drift, and we may find it either goes nowhere, or goes somewhere too far away and never really stops.

Each story needs at least 3 key plot points, or at least 4 if the inciting incident happens before the 1st plot point. Many stories have more.

The acts of a story

The mid-point (2nd plot point) is probably the easiest, after the inciting incident, because this is the place right in the middle of the book where our protagonist stops reacting and starts acting. In other words they are no longer a passenger to the events. Whatever has been happening during the first half of the book, something now triggers then to own the issue. It is worth noting that owning an issue is quite different to acknowledging they need to address the issue, which is the inciting incident. They may not have a firm plan at the mid-point, this can wait for the 3rd plot point, but they know they need to do take control.

It is worth noting that this doesn’t have to be a massive big-bang event, it can even be simple or subtle. Maybe it is a repetitive¬†argument or other event that has prevailed throughout¬†the first half of the book and this time the protagonist views it differently and acts differently towards it. This time they change.

Star WarsExample Star Wars:¬†The mid-point of Star Wars is marked by Luke’s discovery that the Princess is being held captive. Further, by his decision to take action independently of Old Ben in initiating her rescue. Until this point Luke, our protagonist, while¬†acknowledging¬†his willing to take part in the fight against the Empire, he was¬†very much just following Old Ben’s guidance. Luke now starts to act independently, and this¬†shows his¬†ownership¬†of his part of¬†the fight against the Empire.

 

The 3rd plot point is where you are all in. It’s all or nothing. There is no turning back for our protagonist, even if they wanted to. This really is the point of no return.

Star WarsExample Star Wars:¬†The 3rd plot¬†point of Star Wars is marked by the death of Old Ben aka Obi-Wan Kenobi.¬†It is worth noting that Old Ben’s death (3rd plot point) at the hands of Darth Vader‚ÄĒthe very man who killed Luke’s father‚ÄĒJust like the death of Luke’s Aunt and Uncle (1st plot point), deepens the stakes and drives Luke further into his role of the protagonist. Luke’s decision to do whatever it takes to see the Empire’s weapon destroyed and Darth Vader’s plan thwarted is effectively reinforced by Old Ben’s death.

 

The first plot point can either come in the guise of the inciting incident, in other words the event that calls the protagonist to action for the first time. Or some other event that brings further irrevocable change.

Reminder: The point of the key plot points is to:

  • bring change
  • deepen the stakes
  • reinforce the protagonist’s commitment
  • provide a theme for the subsequent chapters of the book

When you review your character timelines certain events will pop out at you as potential candidates for the above key plot points. When I jotted my own character timelines for book three, I already had (what I thought was) a firm idea of where events needed to occur. But as soon as I started to explore them against these key plot points, I realised that what I thought should happen near the end (3rd plot point), needed to happen slap bang in the middle (2nd plot point). Once I made this change the rest of the plot points all fell into place, and the rest of the chapters sketched out quickly too. Taking the time to consider the key plot points makes writing the story so much easier. It also provides a vital framework, which gives our story balance and rhythm.

Step 1: Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for all other EVENTS that bring irreversible CHANGE.

Step 2: Consider how these events fit in with the story time line. Can you identify roughly where they occur?

Step 3: Look for the mid-point first. Can you see what triggers your hero to take control of the situation?  The mid-point event drives offensive behaviour. They start to take control and we crank up the stakes even higher. Do you have an event near the middle that makes your character decide to make a stand?

Step 4: Next look for the 3rd plot point. Can you see what triggers the hero to be at the point of total commitment, the point of no going back.¬†The stakes are extreme and it’s all or nothing now. It is the catalyst that drives them to their epic ending. Do you have an event near the 75% mark¬†from¬†which there is no going back?

Step 5: If you don’t already have a 1st plot point with your inciting incident, look for another event close to the quarter point that brings further change.

For all major plot points (including your inciting incident) we want to record in our framework the EVENT and the resulting CHANGE

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

In Part 6, we will look at the acts of the book in more details. This is the final stage where we begin to fill in the rest of the chapter notes.

A simple guide to planning a novel part 1 – Pre-work and character timelines

A simple guide to planning a novel part 2 РWord count and creating a framework 

A simple guide to planning a novel part 3 РThe beginning and the end

A simple guide to planning a novel part 4 РThe inciting incident

A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 РThe key events in a book

A Christmas Carol 

Hoping everyone is enjoying their holiday season wherever you are in the world and whatever you may be doing. 

We are lucky to be taking a break from work to spend time with family and friends in the UK this year. Tomorrow is our last day before we fly on to Maimi for the next leg of our trip.

 I thought I would celebrate with a few of my favourite Charles Dickens quotes from A Christmas Carol.

“Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.‚ÄĚ 

‚ÄúThere is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.‚ÄĚ 

In short, I should have liked to have had the lightest license of a child, and yet be man enough to know its value‚ÄĚ 

“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused‚ÄĚ 

‚ÄúI will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!‚ÄĚ

I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!‚ÄĚ 

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 4 – The inciting incident

In Part 3 of My Simple guide to planning a novel, we explored the beginning and the end of the story, including the opening hook / question, the closure chapter, and the epic ending.

The inciting incident

Today we will see an overview of the book structure, which we will explore in more detail next week, and then we will identify our inciting incident.

Book structure

Books are broken up into 3 Acts, the 2nd Act being the longest and spanning the middle 50% of the book.

The acts of a story

What are the key plot points, and what exactly is an inciting incident

The key plot points (1st, 2nd, 3rd) bring change, and the subsequent chapters (quarters of the book), that follow, are all about our characters reaction to this change.

You need a significant EVENT.

You need a CHANGE catalyst.

You probably have a number of events already identified against¬†each character’s timeline in Part¬†1,¬†and you are probably wondering how you decide which ones are the key¬†plot points, and which are just other key¬†events.

The secret lies in the characters reaction to the event. Think of these 3 key¬†plot points as triggers that colour the subsequent quarter of the book, which is all about the character’s reaction to the event.

We will explore the 3 key plot points in more detail next week, but for now it is important to just be aware of them as it will help in the next section when we look at the inciting incident.

What is the Inciting Incident?

The inciting incident is the very first Key plot point. Definition: It is the point of the plot that begins the conflict. It is the event that catalyzes the protagonist to go into motion and to take action.

The inciting incident can occur:

  • right at the very start as part of the hook /question
  • as late as the 1st plot point
  • anywhere in between

Note: If the inciting incident occurs before the 25% mark, you still need another EVENT at the 1st plot point in the book.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate the inciting incident¬†in the story.

Star WarsStar Wars:¬†The star wars inciting incident happens right at the end of the first act, and is the first plot point. Let’s look at the lead up to the inciting incident.

The escaped¬†droids are found wandering around the desert by a band of dubious traders. Luke’s uncle¬†buys them, not knowing where they came from.¬†One¬†droid¬†escapes in the night, and Luke fearing his uncles wrath, pursues it. The droid¬†is following the Princesses orders and searching for ‘Old Ben’, a former Jedi Knight. Luke finds¬†the droid and meets¬†Old Ben, where he¬†hears the message from the Princess¬†and her¬†desperate plea for help.

Let’s explore this:¬†Luke doesn’t want to get involved in the Princesses problems, besides he’s awful busy tending¬†to the harvest¬†at his uncles farm! But when the Empire tracks the droids to his beloved Uncle and Aunt, Luke races back home to find they are dead (inciting incident EVENT), killed by the Empire.

A little more detail:¬†A¬†whole heap of events are happening here, but the theme throughout the first quarter of¬†the story is Luke’s¬†awareness of something untoward happening. He knows there’s a war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, but he is not yet directly involved, even when he hears the Princesses message and Old Ben urges him to help, he still refuses. But the¬†death of his Aunt and Uncle brings the catalyst for change. This happens right at the very end of the first act, when Luke vows (CHANGE) to go with Old Ben and help the Princess

Toy Story¬†Toy Story: The Toy Story inciting incident happens immediately¬†after the hook. It’s¬†Andy‚Äôs birthday and the toys are all worried about being replaced by a new toy that may be much cooler. They are also about to move house, which adds to their sense of unease. When¬†Andy runs into his room and pushes Woody off his bed to make room for his new toy: Buzz Lightyear, their fears are realised.

They know right off that things will never be the same!

Let’s explore this: Unlike Star Wars, where the entire first act leads to the inciting incident, Toy story neatly chops the first act in half with the arrival of the dreaded new toy (inciting incident EVENT). The second half of the first act is then dedicated to Woody’s reaction (CHANGE) jealousy which soon becomes a deepening sense of his own failure. After all, Woody can’t fly.

Now the Toy Story first plot point: Woody is gripped by his jealousy and is fearful that he no longer has a place in Andy’s world. Woody sets a trap (1st plot point EVENT) for Buzz – to eliminate the competition.¬†¬†Buzz falls from the window. The other Toys are now angry (CHANGE) about¬†Woody’s behaviour.

Hopefully this exploration of the first Act will provide you with some clues when you come to look at your own novel.

Step 1. Find your own inciting event

Remember: You are looking for first significant event that brings irrevocable change and calls your protagonist to action.

  • Review your hook / question in chapter 1. Is this the inciting incident?
  • If not, explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and see if you can identify the inciting¬†event
  • Finally,¬†decide where this¬†inciting incident should sit, whether it is part of your first chapter, your 1st plot point or somewhere in-between.
  • Write¬†this down against the selected chapter in your framework.
  • For all major plot points (including your inciting incident) we want to record in our framework the EVENT and the resulting CHANGE

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

In Part 5, we will be covering the remaining key plot points.

A simple guide to planning a novel part 1 – Pre-work and character timelines

A simple guide to planning a novel part 2 РWord count and creating a framework 

A simple guide to planning a novel part 3 РThe beginning and the end

A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 РThe key events in a book

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes (scheduled 7-Jan-2016)

Around the world starting in Japan

Today is the second full day of our round the world trip that is taking us away from the humdrum of everyday life for nearly six weeks.

This¬†first week will be spent in Tokyo, Japan, and then it is off to the UK to spend Christmas with our family, before heading to America. I love visiting new places and seeing new cultures, we were fortunate enough to spend 3 weeks in China a few years ago now and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’m pretty sure a week is not going to be enough time in Japan, and that means I have a great excuse to come back again ūüôā

Yesterday¬†we were both pretty jet lagged after a four hour flight from Perth to Sydney, followed by an overnight from Sydney to Tokyo. We landed at 5am and then rather foolishly decided to take the train instead of just getting a taxi. The train part itself wasn’t so bad, but lugging suitcases up several flights of stairs at the end, and then trying to navigate to the hotel with google maps was not so much fun. By the time we reached the hotel it was close to 7am and we had¬†a quick freshen up and change and then went straight out!

We found a little coffee shop, loaded up with caffeine and then headed off to explore some of the things to see near to our hotel knowing we were probably not up to a big day after the flight. In the morning we explored the very beautiful gardens of Meiji-Jingu, a city centre forest created in honour of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken for their souls to dwell in. It was a very beautiful setting, and I have quite fallen in love with Japanese trees, even in early winter with their leaves turning. I guess wherever you come from in the world there is a pleasing familiarity with our own native trees. I’m English, and I do love a mighty oak tree, but if I had to adopt another countries trees I would definitely¬†vote for Japan.

Meiji Jingu Tokyo
A serene, tree-lined avenue in the Meiji-Jingu forest, Tokyo.
Sweeping the paths the traditional way at Meiji Jingu
Gate to Shinto Shrine at Meiji Jingu
Shinto Shrine at Meiji Jingu
Shinto Shrine at Meiji Jingu

In the afternoon we headed over to Zojoji Temple, Shibakoen.¬†By the time we had explored the temple¬†and then had another coffee we were both (okay, probably mostly me) flagging. We got back to the hotel intending to have a quick nap…and slept straight through for 15 hours!

We felt human again this morning, thank goodness, so it was off and out again just after 8am. We visited the Kaneiji¬†Temple, Taito-ku. The walk up towards the temple from the gate is a crazy bustle of street vendors with all kinds of food and tourist paraphernalia. One of the good things about walking 25k a day is that you can afford to partake of the tasty looking treats. Most of the time you have no idea what you are about to eat, but it’s kind of fun to just give the snacks a go ūüôā

Bustling street leading to the Kaneiji Temple, Taito-ku
Bustling street leading to the Kaneiji Temple, Taito-ku
My husband at the Kaneiji Temple, Taito-ku
My husband at the Kaneiji Temple, Taito-ku
Kaneiji Temple site, Taito-ku
Kaneiji Temple site, Taito-ku

In the afternoon we headed over to Skytree Tower for a view of the city, which was spectacular even though it was a little cloudy. Unfortunately we could not see Mount Fuji, but the city was super clear. And they had a Star Wars themed top deck, which appealed to the kid in me, and is evidenced by the post cover picture of me with the Storm troopers! We finished off with a walk across town to the Ueno Park.

Plenty more activity before we get on the plane again! Looking forward to a busy few days ūüôā

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 3

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.

The beginning and the end

 

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.

Star WarsExample 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!

Toy StoryExample 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.

Star WarsExample 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!

Toy StoryExample 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.

Star WarsExample 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‚ÄĒdefeating 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.

Toy StoryExample 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!

Conclusion

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 РWord count and creating a framework 

A simple guide to planning a novel part 4 РThe inciting incident

A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 РThe key events in a book

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes (scheduled 7-Jan-2016)