Skip to main content

But what does it mean?

Started to feel today that my writing is about to veer off into the wilderness, which is a tad worrying. Obviously, you should know what your novel’s about before you start, that goes without saying. According to legend, you should also be able to sum up the story in a sentence and try to stay focused on it while you’re writing, to keep you on track. Not the plot, as in A meets B, C happens and it goes horribly wrong, then D turns up and everyone lives happily ever after (blimey, I wouldn’t read that story would you?), but the theme underpinning the story; the meaning you want to explore, the message you’re hoping to share, the answer to the question that compelled you to write the sodding thing in the first place, so that a conversation with a Top Agent might (in a parallel universe where you meet Top Agents face to face) go something like this:-
Top Agent - So… what’s your book about?
Writer 1 - It’s a tale of self-discovery via the medium of reality television.
Top Agent – Hmmm. Interesting. Writer 2, what’s your book about?
Writer 2 - It’s a coming of age story, with vampires.
Top Agent - O-kay. Writer 3, tell me about your book?
Writer 3 - It’s about love, loss and redemption in the Arctic circle.
Top Agent – Right. And Karen?
Me - Um, well, it’s a cautionary tale about trying to be something you’re not. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds, I promise. Or…it might be about a woman’s journey from Geek to Goddess and back again. I’m not sure. It keeps changing.
Top Agent – I think you’re losing the plot, dear. I’m going with the vampires.

I know a theme doesn’t have to be set in stone, that it can develop and evolve as you go along, but it bothered me that I’m not entirely sure any more. Does it matter? Should I stop until completely clear about what the blimmin’ heck it is I’m trying to say, or go with the flow and hope that the mist clears along the way? Maybe I’ll end up with a completely different meaning, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as there is one. Sigh.
Luckily, there’s a great “check-list” I came across a while back, by author Stephanie Lehmann, that I'm compelled to refer to at moments like this (yes I've had them before). A bit like a shopping list. “Ah yes, I nearly forgot the conflict.” It usually does the trick.

Romantic Fiction, 8-part structure
The eight-part structure works like a timeline. Remember, it does not need to be slavishly adhered to. Use it as a guide to the extent that it helps you conceive your book.
1. The set-up. The beginning of your book sets up who the main character and what she wants. Both her outer need (an action in the world, like a career or ambition) and her inner need (her feelings, her psychology) are established. The outer need is what the heroine thinks she wants, and the inner need is what she really wants.
2. The love interest. Our main character meets the guy who is going to make her suffer for most of the rest of the book. Or do they already know each other? If so, what’s wrong with the relationship, and why can’t they take the next step, whatever that is.
3. The stakes. Opportunity presents itself. Something happens that makes the situation more exciting. The main character’s expectations are raised. Her inner problems (what are they again?) make whatever is going on in her life become even more intense. And/or… something happens in her outer life that makes her inner problems more intense.
She rises to the occasion. Most likely, she is experiencing early success. Things seem to be going her way. She seems to be achieving her outer need.
5. Things start to go wrong. The antagonist makes things more difficult for the main character. Her inner need may be preventing her from achieving her outer need. You are weaving together the storylines so that they all are inevitably crashing towards…
6. The Crisis. Everything falls apart. The antagonist seems to have prevailed. Your heroine hits rock bottom. She is losing everything. Her love interest doesn’t want her. The worst happens. I like to have a crisis in mind from the beginning – a scenario in which I can imagine everything that I’ve been setting up going wrong. It needs to be the “right” crisis, in that it needs to be an event that helps the heroine learn something about herself.
She takes a risk. Your heroine does something extreme, acts totally unlike herself, goes beyond the call of duty, does “the right thing,” finally tells the truth… She is facing down her demons.
8. The resolution. Our main character has changed – or, in a more Chekhovian ending, perhaps she just learns to accept the highly imperfect way she is. Or perhaps a mixture of both. In any case, she either ends up with the guy or she doesn’t.

Phew, I feel better already.

(If you’re not writing romantic fiction, forget I said anything.)


Jen said…
That 8-point list of writing clues is really rather good. Makes it look easy, in fact. Sigh. If only, eh?
Maddie Moon said…
This is very useful, Karen. I'll print off the 8-point list to refer to when I get stuck, which is about every five minutes at the moment.

Worryingly, the plot you describe in your first para. sounds pretty much like my novel. Have you been peeping?
Actually, I’m starting to prefer Writer 3’s tale of love, loss and redemption.

(Er, Writer 3 doesn’t exist – Ed).

Popular posts from this blog

100th Post!

100 posts! This time last year I was a Blogging Virgin. Now I’m a bit of a slag. It’s become the highlight of my week, both reading yours and writing mine. Which means either:

a) I don’t get out much
b) I don’t get out much, or
c) I don’t get out much

(I think it's C)

This was my first ever post. Not a single comment did it receive. I dry-heaved into my hanky for an hour and considered leaving the country. Then I cottoned on to leaving comments in order to entice readers over.

Anticipating disappointment, outrage or (worse) apathy, I was pleasantly surprised to trap some lovely Readers in my cage of blathery nonsense. I nearly threw a Comments Party, but daren't push my luck.

It’s been a real journey, as they say on bad reality TV (is there any other sort?) On the way, I’ve been given some fantastic advice from you lot, as well as from a Real Published Author and more importantly I've learned that…

Mugs CAN live without kettles
The price of gravy changes with the wind
You can live i…

Q&A with Amanda Brittany

I'm thrilled to welcome Amanda Brittany to my blog today, to talk about her debut thriller Her Last Lie. 

It's been described as 'gripping with a shocking twist' and I can confirm that it is!

(It also has an amazing cover)

Which character in Her Last Lie would you like to meet?
Hi Karen, thank you for inviting me to your blog.
I suppose feisty Roxanne is the character I’d most like to meet. She’s so determined to get to the bottom of things, and appears to be a good friend to Isla.
There are definitely a couple of characters in the book I would hope never to meet.

I know the book has several settings, which did you enjoy writing the most?
I loved writing the second part of the book set in Abisko in Sweden. I visited Abisko a couple of years back, and it was great fun bringing the cold, bleak landscape to life, and describing the way The Northern Lights swoop across the night skies.
Are any of your characters based on people you know?
No, not at all, they all sprang from my imagi…

Guest post - Elise Chidley

Today I’m delighted to welcome author, Elise Chidley to my blog. Elise has written two wonderfully warm and witty novels, The Wrong Sort of Wife and Married with Baggage, and I absolutely loved them both. Intelligent and romantic, as well as funny, they’re peopled with characters you can’t help warming to.

Elise is giving away 2 free copies of The Wrong Sort of Wife and 2 copies of the American version, Your Roots are Showing. If you’d like to leave a comment below I’ll pick the winners at random on Sunday!

So, without further ado …

Elise, when did your writing career begin?

I’ve been writing for a living since my first job as features writer with a national women’s magazine in South Africa, but I started writing fiction after my third child was born. At that stage, I was telecommuting as a staff writer for a publisher of health care magazines, writing three feature stories a week. The pressure of these deadlines, coupled with looking after three small children, was just not sustainable. …