Blueprint of a Novel: The Beginning
This is the first installment in a series of three. Check back Tuesday for the second!
Larry Brooks over at Story Fix has a fantastic 10-part Story Structure Series. The series goes over all four acts, all three major disasters, as well as other milestones in between. As Larry points out several times, structure is everything. You can’t build a house without a blueprint, nor can you write a novel without one.
A blueprint for a novel is not an outline. An outline is the detailed scene list you would create with Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. A blueprint is a general guide of major milestones in a story, filling in about 2/3 of your novel, leaving 1/3 of it for you, the writer, to fill in as you go.
Neither method is better than the other. Whichever you use is up to preference, and you cannot be faulted for using one instead of the other.
I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday going through each of the ten parts of the Story Structure Series, noting the important milestones, and applying them to the working plot I have in mind. Lucky for you, this means I have a generic blueprint ready to be filled in.
Larry, however, uses different terms than I usually do. While the discrepancies are easy to figure out, I’ll be nice and use both terms: the ones I tend to use here, and the ones Larry uses on Story Fix.
Act One (Part One): Setup
Hero: In Act One, you need to show your hero as a human. What is your hero’s life like before he becomes a hero? The readers need to empathize with your hero, even if they don’t necessarily like him yet. What are your hero’s inner demons? In other words, what quality, state, prejudice, etc, about your hero must change for him to win in the end?
Hook: Within the first three or four scenes, you need a hook to grab your reader. The hook doesn’t necessarily change anything, but it must be emotionally provoking, seducing the reader to keep reading. It must come early, and it must be good.
Stakes: Stakes here are at the lowest point in your novel, but they still must be there. The reader must have a sense of what the hero has to lose. Whether it’s their job, a friend, a lover, or a scholarship, the stakes must be there. Stakes raise tension and make the story powerful emotionally.
Foreshadowing: The reader needs to sense the upcoming change, both in the upcoming disaster (plot point) and in the rest of the novel. Often, the foreshadowing elements are only visible in retrospect. While foreshadowing may be weak in a first draft, before you’ve written the end, your subsequent drafts should strengthen it.
First Plot Point: This is the First Disaster or Inciting Incident. Your conflict is front and center. Your hero’s goals and motivations change to what they will be throughout the rest of the novel. The FPP arrives about a quarter of the way into your novel, and it’s where the real story begins. This FPP is huge, so I highly suggest you read Larry’s posts on it, as he has several.
Sources and further reading:
- Five Missions for the Set-up (Part 1) of Your Story
- The Most Important Moment in Your Story: The First Plot Point
- The Hook vs First Plot Point — Don’t Get Fooled
That’s all for Act One. An outline would contain these milestones plus the transition scenes between each. Check back Tuesday for the blueprint for Act Two. In the meantime, why not fill out this blueprint yourself, either with a working plot or one you’ve already written?