31 Days

Day 26 – Getting Through Act II

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Act II is where everything happens. It’s the longest part of your story, and it’s the part where your protagonist and the characters that surround her are really tested. Some writers love this section – the creative momentum from beginning the novel is enough to carry them through the big climactic scenes. Others hate it because it feels like its. never. going. to. end. Not because the story is boring, of course, but because it can be hard to get to the scenes that naturally lead to the climactic finish in Act III.

When outlining Act II, keep your subplots in mind, and make sure you spend some time on their development as well as that of your main storyline. Subplots that adhere to a three-act structure as well hold their own dramatic tension and keep the main part of the story from getting stale (this can be a boon for writers who have trouble with Act II).

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

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Day 25 – Your Protagonist Accepts their Role

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

In most works of fiction, the protagonist will have an internal struggle with whether or not they should join the story. In many cases, your protagonist does not want to accept the situation you have created for him, and rebels emotionally against it. This sense of the unwilling, or unlikely hero pervades many of the best novels. For example, Bilbo may have agreed to go on the journey with Gandalf and the dwarves, but he never really accepts his new role until after his experience with Gollum and the goblins.

Ultimately, the last major thing that happens in Act I should cause the protagonist to accept their position in your plot. This might come after a series of chance encounters, a brush with death, or a long conversation with a friend.

Don’t feel like after the end of the first Act your protagonist will never second guess themselves – there are several key points where a main character recommits themselves to the plot. But more on that next week.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Day 24 – Conflict in the World of Your Novel

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Yesterday, I discussed the Inciting Incident, the single action that spurs your protagonist into the narrative arc and sets the plot in motion. Throughout the first act (and the second and the third), there will be several definable plot points that function to set in motion a series of events that carry your story along.

Underlying everything, though, is conflict. The primary conflict is the foundation of your story. It is the workhorse of prose, carrying everything else on it’s back through page after page of your novel.

It is conflict at the core of the protagonist, it is conflict in the world she lives in – perhaps one mirrors the other, or is caused by it. It is the deeper intangible that your characters are struggling against. I used The Hunger Games as an example before, so I’ll use it again today – Katniss’ primary purpose is survival – for her family and herself – and in pursuing that purpose she is faced with small, isolated battles (both physical and emotional) that she must fight and overcome. Underneath the whole story, however, is the corrupt government that subjugates its people and forces its children into a battle royale. This is that deep conflict that I’m talking about.

Discovering the struggle at the core of your story can open up a number of new and interesting ways in which your story can move – it has the power to set the mood and the pace of your story. Spend some time thinking about this element of your novel today.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Day 23 – The Inciting Incident

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

The Inciting Incident, also known as the Catalyst, is the first major turning point in a story. It is what takes the world before the story and turns it into the world after the story has begun, and it’s what gets your plot to move.

By now you should know the answer to these questions:

  • What does your protagonist want?
  • What will prevent them from getting it?

The inciting incident is usually what answers these questions, establishing the premise for your story. Let’s use The Hunger Games as an example – the Inciting Incident in this story is when Katniss is selected to participate in the Hunger Games for her district. This is, quite literally, a point of no return for this character. She can’t back out, and must go through the Games in order to get what she wants. The selection for the Games is the event that starts the whole story.

So, what is the event that starts your story?

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Day 22 – 7 Elements in Act I

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

The first act of your novel is where your readers will be introduced to the major characters and learn about the problem that the protagonist will be faced with. Most of your subplots will be introduced, and all will be at least hinted at. If it doesn’t get a lead in your first act, it shouldn’t turn up in your story at all.

So, your first act should introduce the following seven basic elements:

  1. Main Characters – All of these obviously don’t have to be introduced in the first five pages, but all major players should appear for the first time in the first act.
  2. Setting – Where is your story taking place? In a novel, there are frequently several different locations, and if travel is going to happen, this change of setting should be noted somewhere in the first act, even if it doesn’t happen until later. For example, if your protagonist, normally from the backwoods of Wisconsin, is going to end up finding themselves in New York in Act Two, talk about the upcoming trip and change of setting in the first act.
  3. Atmosphere – What is the tone of your book? What is the pervading feeling amongst your characters? Is there a lot of tension? Are you writing about a utopia or a dystopia?
  4. Time – When is the book happening? Make sure your audience is aware of this – don’t write a book that takes place in the Victoria Era and forget to indicate the lack of motorized travel and constrictive clothing until the end. You don’t have to devote pages and pages to this, a simple, “I was born in the fourth year of Victoria’s reign’ will do.
  5. A routine or way of life – More time needs to be devoted to this if you are writing out of time or culture. People writing science fiction or high fantasy will have the most words dedicated to this, but establishing a routine helps reader’s identify with your characters no matter where they are, and also creates something to be shaken up with the inciting incident, so this should be introduced as early as possible.
  6. Backstory – Do not. Never. Don’t even think about writing forty pages of exposition. You will murder your novel in cold blood if you spend time writing out how the characters got to be where they are before the current story began. Unless you are writing your novel in flashbacks, stick to the present day. That said, it’s important for backstory to be revealed because it can provide valuable insight into your characters’ motivations. Hint at it. Gesture to it. Have something remind a character of a particular life-changing event. Pace the revelations throughout the first act and force yourself to keep them under 150 words if you can.
  7. The antagonist – Your protagonist may not actually meet the antagonist face-to-face until later in your story. They may not even know who the antagonist is. But somewhere in the first act, you need to point readers in that direction. Suggest a darkness building, or a cosmic conflict, or something. What you don’t want is a first act where everything is going the protagonist’s way, only to ruin it all halfway through the book.

Remember, everything that happens now is setting up what happens next. So you have to know what happens next.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.