This post may be a little bit different than what I normally post…I don’t talk much about my writing, but I felt it only appropriate to show what God has done, since I’m only about 9,000 words away from the end of my first draft of my novel. To say the least, I’m in a bit of a giddy shock right now. Last night I typed the first 1,000 words of the climax of my novel. For those who may not be up on writerly terminology, the climax is basically the high point of the novel, where the main character and villain meet and clash for the final time; the climax decides the outcome of the novel. It is also the penultimate scene or scenes—the only thing left to write after the climax is the resolution, which only takes up a scene or two at the end of the novel. Just since August, I’ve written 6/8 of my novel. That’s 60,000 words. 60,000!!!!!!!!! I’ve been drafting since the end of April, but April was right before my graduation from college and getting all of that together. I spent some time at home with my mom and sister after graduation, and drafted some, but had to go back and rework all of my plot points. I was also trying to get on my feet at the beginning of June—I got my driver’s license, a car, and a job the first two weeks of June, and made my first road trip. So that was stressful. Then, as I got settled in at work and got used to being here, my drafting picked up speed. By August, I was confident in my plot points. I stopped every once in a while, studying writer Katie Weiland’s Character Arc series on her writing blog, “Helping Writers Become Authors.” She has some great books on writing, by the way, and I’m in the process of reading her novel “Dreamlander”—just what I needed to refuel my creative tank!
I’m using the 3-act method for character arc and story structure, using techniques and pointers from Katie’s books and her posts to guide me along the way. The first act takes up the first quarter of the book, and at the end the character will step through the door and set foot on the road to his goal, his change, and the final meeting with the antagonist. The second act is all about learning new skills, embracing the truth, at least partly, and making steady progress towards the goal. The beginning of the third act is a low moment for the character, as they lose their chance of getting what they want by choosing the thing they need. Then they rise up from the ashes of their low point and make their plans to defeat the bad guy. The Climax is that final battle, where the character will be given the ultimate test—will he stick to his guns and use the truth to defeat the baddie, or will he succumb to the lie he’s just shed? Of course, in the type of arc I’m writing, a very popular arc known as the positive change arc, the character will use the truth to wipe the floor with the bad guy. The exciting part is giving the reader just enough doubt to sit on the edge of their chair, biting their nails, thinking Will the main character do it? Will he survive this encounter?
This structure has changed my whole writing process. Before, I would launch in excitedly after typing up a few thousand words of an outline, the story idea fresh in my mind. But usually, when I would get between 40-60 pages in, plot problems began to arise that I would have to go back and solve before moving on. This frustrated me and created endless tangles of problems—sometimes the problems would require excavating entire chapters, reworking characters and backstories, and generally changing the entire story as a whole. As a ‘judging’ type of personality (if you know Myers-Briggs type personality tests, you’ll know what I’m talking about), I want to come to a plan of action and execute it. That’s what I do best. But when it comes to brainstorming a story and outlining it, it is essential to think of all the what-if’s. That means being more of a ‘perceiver’—thinking of all the possibilities. But this process, I think, frustrates me because it delays me from getting started. Still, I’ve realized the hard way (after 8 years of writing and re-writing and re-writing again) that that’s what I need to do. Frustrating? Yes. Worth it? Yes. It’s better because if I let out all the possibilities from the start, I can then execute my natural ‘judging’ function and choose the best ones, and arrange them to see if they’ll all fit together. Much less frustration in the long run this way.
In Katie’s book “Outlining Your Novel,” she walks you through an intensive outlining process that she uses, which is very effective. The great thing is that she gives a disclaimer that you don’t necessarily have to use all of the steps she lists, or stop where she does. I gave her method a shot, and found some things really worked, but others did not. I condensed her steps to a few that work well for me. Whereas she suggests outlining each scene in a bit of detail, and going through the whole novel with this process before you begin drafting, I’ve discovered that if I pin down my major plot points for the whole novel first, then dive into the first act’s requirements, using the plot points in the first act as my frame, I can jot down a few hundred words on ideas for what will need to happen in that first act, then arrange those few hundred words into a workable outline and begin drafting. Once I’m done with the first act, I work through the second act in the same way, then draft it. For some reason, this keeps me more sane than outlining the whole novel in detail from the get-go. I think I get intimidated by an entire novel’s outline, and that if I stray from it I will be shamed for 50 days or something crazy. In other words, I feel guilty if I expend all that energy on an outline that I know I will stray from later. So I take it in smaller chunks. Then, when I’m finished with the first act and I can see how it’s panned out, I can tweak anything that may no longer fit with the plot points in the second act and construct a more accurate outline for the second act, building on what’s happened in the first act. It’s a process that keeps me sane, because it saves me the trouble of having to rework an entire outline if I realize something in the second act no longer fits with the first, or the third with the second, etc. But I still have a decent roadmap for the entire novel before I ever begin drafting, because I have the major plot points (the inciting event, the midpoint, the third plot point, the climax) pinned down.
Hey, you can’t argue with results, right? I fell in love with Katie’s method; I took extensive notes, studied it for hours, and honestly filled an entire notebook trying to accomplish it. But I ended up doing the same thing with the outline that I used to do with my drafts—I wadded it up and threw it away and had to start all over. So in my creative writing classes at college, I spoke with my professor (who happens to be the same four-letter personality type as me) and asked her about her process. She confirmed my intuition about working from plot points rather than an entire, lengthy outline—her process is similar to mine. Plot points, character backstories and goals, and a good knowledge of your setting are all you need to get started. And using this, combined with a bit of extensive brainstorming when I’m pinning down the plot points, and God’s grace, I’ve almost got my first, finished, rough draft of a novel.
To be honest, I didn’t know if I was ever going to finish a project. I kept writing because writing is just what I do, and kept hoping that maybe something would happen and I would discover the way to finish a draft. Discovering this process has helped me so much, and I know I’ll keep refining the process—I know it may not be exactly the same for each project I work on. I’m so grateful to God for His grace and for giving me this gift of writing, and showing me how to put it to work more efficiently and effectively.
I don’t know if I’ve ever blogged about what my book is actually about. The main theme is of uniting faith and reason, and the two main characters in the novel are representatives of faith and reason, so to speak. It is fiction in the spirit of Tolkien and Lewis; somewhat allegorical, but also exploring the personal changes and cruxes that the characters have to accomplish and overcome in order to reach the ultimate fulfillment of the theme, and of their journey as human beings. It has a more modern style to it, more like Ted Dekker than Tolkien, but it is sort of a high fantasy as well—all about the quest! And yes…it will probably end up being a trilogy.
So yes. I apologize sincerely if any of this has bored you, dear reader, but I haven’t journaled about my writing for a while, and I felt the need to share all the exciting discoveries and progress God has helped me to make. Thank you for reading and sharing this exciting time in my life with me!
+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias! To God be the glory!+