So I’ve recently come out as an aspiring author.
Right? But a person will forever remain an aspiring author unless he/she/it begins to actually kick their ass into gear and start writing that stupid book. (No, no, I’m sorry, shh, it’s not stupid, it’s alright, I take it back).
I think I’ve always wanted to be an author. Well, I’ve always had stories in my head and I’ve always wanted to write them down and turn them into a book and have other people read them. So, yeah, an author.
I was probably like 9 when I first tried to write a book. I remember because I was in 4th grade and we were given these notebooks that we were supposed to write stories in during free writing hour or whatever. And I remember going home and writing a story on the like Notepad feature of my dad’s PC.
But I was just about to start 8th grade (13 years old) when I first dreamt up the characters who would later play the leading roles in my first novel. It’s funny because nearly every aspect of them has remained the same since I first imagined them, all except for one name change and an eye color change or two.
The story itself developed as I continued to develop (don’t take that the wrong way lol), but never really solidified until March of 2016. I’ve had a lot of influences for my story. I was inspired by plots, characters, and relationships I read or watched in YA literature like Twilight (please don’t judge me), the Mortal Instruments series, animes like Inuyasha (stop judging me), Naruto, Spirited Away, television shows like Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones, expository music, and even video games like the Harvest Moon series (specifically Magical Melody for the Nintendo GameCube).
My key word was inspired. As a natural lover of stories and story-telling, I’m very keenly aware of the things that have a huge emotional impact on me. I analyze these things, specify exactly what it is that makes those moments or characters or actions resonate with me, and then I learn from it and learn how I can use that same technique in my own work. Just, trust me.
So anyway, nothing came to fruition until March of 2016, when I was on my spring break from university, vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, MX with my bf. We brought along like six books with us, the last three of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument series, and all three of the Infernal Devices series by her. We were floating in the pool talking about how much we really enjoy her stories, when my book floats along into the conversation.
I was being all cocky, like, “You know I’m going to write a book too, one day.”
And he was all like “Oh yeah? What’s it about?”
And I was like “Hah, well let me tell you. Well. There are these three characters… and there’s this like woman who gets in the way of things… and like, the girl doesn’t get along well with her mom…”
And he was like, “Katie, you have no plot.”
And I was like, “Piss off, I’ve been working on this story for 8 years, of course there’s a plot.”
But I was just being defensive and emotional because this story was my baby, and I couldn’t face the idea that maybe it wasn’t perfect. Because the truth was, I had no plot. I had characters with personalities, backgrounds, designated relationships. I even had a backplot. Is that a word? I mean, I knew the plot of everything that happened up to the point where my story began (thus initiating the story itself). But after that, I had no idea what to do with these characters and their backgrounds and their relationships. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to happen, who I wanted to kiss who (lol), and who would probably die, but I had no plot.
And then the issue became: How does one plot?
And so, like anyone born after 1985, my first instinct was to turn to The Internet!
I think my Google search was something like “teach me how to write a book”. And thoouussannndddsss of results came up. And I wanted to slap myself. Look at all of these resources for figuring out how-to-plot! Look at all of these people who have successfully plotted!
For the next month or so, I began my mission of learning how to plot.
And yo. It’s so much harder than it looks. And so I decided I wanted to chronicle my experience with writing my first novel here on this blog. Because it’s my blog. And I can do whatever I want here. 🙂
The first thing you’ll probably come across if you’re like me and you do any search for something related to “how to make a plot”, or “how to write a story”, etc., will probably be some variation of the basic story-arc.
Now, I’m not going to write another post about this because there’s literally thousands identical to each other on the interwebs, you can do a quick search and find them yourself. But the basic idea is this:
There are three acts to your novel (this can become more complicated if you’re writing a multi-novel story, so I’m sticking with the idea that you’re writing one story in one novel). Yes, three acts like in a play. It’s the same concept.
The First Act is the beginning of the novel, when you introduce the characters, the plot, the villain, the setting, etc. It’s the setup. This is typically 25% of your novel (in page numbers, I guess).
The Second Act is the middle of your novel. This is supposed to be like 50% of your novel, and it’s where the bulk of the action occurs, there’s probably some kind of twist, and the MC (main character) learns more about the issue they’re fighting against. This is like the “confrontation” of the plot.
The Third Act is the end of your novel, another 25%. This is the end, the resolution. It usually includes the climax (the last, biggest, most-important moment when your MC overcomes the antagonist or whatever). And then there is the reversal of things back to the way they first were, or mostly the same, or something.
I am awful at this haha. I recommend checking out Helping Writers Become Authors as she has loads of lovely posts dedicated to, well, helping writers become authors. OH AND ALSO CHECK PINTEREST. It’s like a breeding ground for articles, charts, diagrams, and writing prompts for aspiring authors. It’s amazing.
Anyway, once I learned how to structure a plot, I learned the importance of research and outlining.
I’ll start by stressing the importance of research. Just as it is incredibly important to research the basics about writing a novel and how novels work, it’s super important to research any topic you’re going to cover in your novel that you aren’t like very intimately knowledgeable about.
For me, that means a lot of research on farming (haha, I know, right?), fantasy creatures and magic, government structures, military structures, religion, and genetics. (That give you any insight into what my story is about? I really hope not hahaha). And it can be A LOT of research, especially if you’re writing something like high-fantasy or science fiction. I imagine if you’re writing contemporary novels, that won’t require as much research. (But do some anyway).
The next thing is outlining. Now, in all of the research I’ve done about how to write a novel, I’ve learned that there are essentially two-types of writers: those who outline, then write from their outline, and those who write-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. And what I’ve realized is that I’m a little bit of both.
Outlining is really helpful for making sure that your story is following the basic story-structure-arc-thingy. After all, you don’t want to spend 300 pages in the setup of your novel, and then 60 for the middle and end. But personally, that makes outlining a better editing tool for me than a creative tool.
And what I mean by that is if I sat down one day, outlined my entire novel, and then continued to spend the next year or so writing directly from that outline, I would be foregoing a lot of creative inspiration I might come across in that next year. Believe me, because I tried this method. And that’s really what happened.
I originally outlined a 2-3 book series, but with new inspiration and ideas, I’m thinking it might be more like 4 now. But that doesn’t fit into my outline I created months ago! But now the story is better for it, in my humble opinion, and I’m not going to sacrifice creative genius for structural organization just yet.
So I’m a bit of a pants-er (one who writes by the seat of their pants, according to author lingo), and a little bit of an outliner. I think it’s definitely something you have to learn just by doing it. I had originally thought that outlining my story before writing it would be the solution to all of my scatter-brained problems, but really it just kinda stunted me for a bit.
All in all, I think that’s really all there is to it when it comes to planning a novel. Obviously you have to have an idea for a plot first. And, unfortunately, besides short writing prompts, there’s no magic “How to come up with a cool and unique plot” formula or article that I’ve been able to find. (Haha, yeah, I really did look for something like that back in March. I was super lost).
So first thing’s first: Find your story. Or, better yet, find your characters, and let their personalities create the story for you (it kinda worked for me!). It’ll probably happen whether or not you give them permission to, anyway.
Then, learn how plots and novels are structured. Learn about character arcs. Learn about what makes a good villain. Research your genre, your themes and motifs and the things that make up the world your lovely characters live in.
And then, try at an outline. Just see if it helps.
And theennnnn, go for it! Sit your but down, and word vomit all over your writing doc.
But I’ll get to the actual writing process in my next post. Until then, cuties!
Thank you so much for reading 🙂