First, I’d like to extend my thanks to the Seekers for inviting me to be here today! I always get so much from this blog, and it’s an honor to be able to share. I want to talk about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart—the keys I learned about storytelling that finally made me brave enough to try writing an entire novel.
I’ve spent many years as an editor of educational materials. I learned to organize information and present it in a coherent structure. I became adept at fixing grammar errors and revising sentences for clarity. However, for years I did not think I had the ability to write fiction.
Does that seem surprising? It’s true. I could think of an interesting beginning to a story, and often visualize how I wanted it to end. But what about the rest of the book? What is that mysterious process of getting the characters through a set of circumstances and telling a story that will engage and entertain the reader?
I’m not the only author to face this problem. Maureen Johnson once compared writing a novel to traveling across Australia . Since colonial Australia plays an important part in the backstory of Tom Poole, the hero in my upcoming novel A Lady Most Lovely, it seemed like a good analogy to use here.
Who doesn’t want to get to know this hero better? But I digress...
Australia is a vast continent—just like your story. Maybe you know what’s on the two “coasts,” but finding your way across that vast interior—thousands of miles of wilderness—is a daunting problem indeed. As Maureen rightly points out, the Middle is where you will be spending most of your time as a writer. For many authors it looms, unknown and scary.
So how do we keep the journey in perspective and successfully navigate our way?
For me, the answer came when I discovered a book by Blake Snyder called Save the Cat!
Not only is it charming and funny, it demystified the process of how to tell a ripping good story. (It’s also less daunting and more entertaining than a heavier tome like The Writer’s Journey.) Once I understood the basics of story structure, the process of creating storylines for my books became exciting and fun and—most important of all—doable.
Whew, that’s better!
What follows is a brief and very broad overview of the elements story structure. It’s the basic rhythm of any well-told story.
A. The inciting incident—this is where your character’s story really begins. Something is going to change the world as they know it and set them on a new path.
B. For about the first quarter of the book, you are introducing your characters and their lives to the reader. Their goals, dilemmas, and challenges emerge.
C. At about the 25% mark, you reach the first turning point, something that takes the action in a new direction. Often this is where the hero or heroine decide to accept some task or confront some challenge. They have a specific, tangible goal. They are stepping away from their life as they’ve known it and venturing into something new.
D. At the 50% mark (the midpoint), there will be a huge moment, a major event. You want to convince the reader that from here on out there’s no turning back. Your characters are fully committed to the course they've taken. They've changed in some significant way. In a romance, this can be when the hero and heroine admit they love each other—or it is at least obvious to the reader. It’s often the place where they have their first kiss (or do more, in steamier novels). Their problems are still far from solved, however. These events only raise the stakes.
E. Around the 75% mark is the “black moment.” Screenwriters call it “all is lost.” The goals your characters have been striving for seem hopelessly out of reach. In romance, events have separated your hero and heroine physically or emotionally, and the gulf between them is impossibly wide.
F. At about the 90% mark is what Blake Snyder calls the “moment of clarity” . I’ve heard author Christie Ridgway refer to it as the “Aha!” moment. It’s the moment when the hero (and/or heroine) realizes what the journey has been about. They understand what is truly important in their lives. Often their original goal falls by the wayside as they move forward with this new understanding of themselves and their situation.
G. The final push to the end; story resolution. In romance, the hero and heroine break through the last of their obstacles and achieve their happy ever after.
These are just the broad strokes. I encourage you to build on this and solidify your understanding of story structure. I also recommend two books by Alexandra Sokoloff: Screenwriting Tips and Tricks for Authors, and Writing Love (which specifically covers romance).
Whether you are a “plotter” or a “pantser,” applying these principles can only make your storytelling more compelling and powerful. If you are a pantser, think of these elements in very broad strokes, like signposts you are aiming for as you write. It is also a great tool for editing.
Above all, don’t think of this as a “formula.” Think of it as a set of tools to help you tell your unique story and make it as entertaining and memorable as it can be. When it’s time to travel across Australia, don’t leave home without it.
So how about you? Have you ever been daunted by the “muddy middle” or by the idea of learning story structure? Are there any elements that still mystify you? I’ll be happy to provide specific examples of these turning points from movies and books in the comments.
The youngest child of a Navy pilot and a journalist, Jennifer Delamere acquired a love of adventure and an excitement for learning that continues to this day. She’s lived in three countries and traveled throughout the United States. Her debut novel An Heiress at Heart was chosen by Grand Central Publishing to be the first inspirational romance for their Forever imprint and was nominated for the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award.
Jennifer loves reading classics and histories, which she mines for the vivid details to bring to life the people and places in her books. She resides with her husband in North Carolina—where, when not dreaming up romantic adventures for her characters, she can be found fantasizing about her next European vacation. For more information about Jennifer’s books, blog, and mailing list, visit www.jenniferdelamere.com. You can also find Jennifer on Facebook and Twitter.
Today Jennifer will be giving away 2 copies of A Lady Most Lovely, which releases on September 24. (She'll send them out as soon as her author copies arrive!) Please leave a comment to be entered. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Margaret Vaughn is the wealthiest heiress in London—or so everybody thinks. Saddled with debts and facing financial and social humiliation, she finds an unlikely savior in Tom Poole . . . After amassing a fortune in the gold fields of Australia, Tom Poole is the toast of London society. Yet despite his new found fame, he’s never forgotten his own humble beginnings. When he learns of Margaret’s plight, he offers her financial assistance—but his interest is not strictly business. This rugged adventurer now seeks a different kind of gold. Although many men pursue Margaret’s hand because of her beauty and lands, can Tom convince her it’s her heart he’s after?
Seekerville has discovered that Jennifer's Romance Writers of America RITA® Award nominated novel. An Heiress at Heart is on sale at Amazon for Kindle.