STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL
BE THE ARCHITECT, BUILDER AND REAL ESTATE AGENT
OF YOUR NOVEL
(Part two of a three-part series)
By T. Dawn Richard
Author of the May List Mystery Series
As the architect of your novel some of the most important things to consider before writing your story are genre, the span of your story in terms of time, the number of characters who will serve your story well, subplots, and setting. Like building a house, having a blueprint to keep you organized and structured will not only guide you but will alleviate frazzled nerves.
In one of my novels I was about 75 pages into the story when I realized I had no idea where the story was going. Delete fifty pages and begin again but this time with a plan. Especially in mysteries, it is paramount to know who did it, how they did it, how to apply misdirection, and how the mystery will be solved. Very difficult to do on the fly. I certainly don’t downplay the value of writing as the inspiration guides you; it can be some of the most beautiful writing you will ever do. It can be soul cleansing and exciting. But like taking a walk through the woods without a compass, while the journey is exhilarating, you may never reach your destination.
Once you have structured your novel in whatever way works for you—with an outline, a synopsis, a timeline, a list of scenes, or a very brief idea of beginning, middle, and end—it’s time to build.
Gather your tools. Some work best with pen and paper, some can’t do without a laptop, others like to speak into a recorder. I learned some time ago that my chicken scratch was almost impossible to read and I couldn’t write fast enough for my thoughts and I learned to use a computer. Today, submitting a handwritten manuscript will quickly be rejected. If you are not comfortable using a computer, find someone who can transcribe your writing before sending to an agent or publisher.
Find a writing space. Don’t apologize if you prefer to sit on your bed (my favorite writing spot) and if that restaurant or coffee joint down the road gets your fingers moving, order some coffee and don’t forget to tip your waitress generously especially if like me, you lose track of time and occupy a space for hours. Music can be wonderful as a background to your story. It can get you in a mood that will mirror the action on the page. If you prefer silence, schedule your writing time accordingly. But do schedule your writing time. Even if you can only manage thirty minutes every day. Write something.
I was reminded the other day that architects aren’t finished when they hand over the plans to the builders; they are available for consultation when the builders need clarification. You will need to refer to your plans, but often something amazing happens. A minor character will become so interesting they will move into a major role. In my own house, the basement wasn’t even finished when we moved in but it’s now where everyone prefers to gather. It’s our favorite space even though it took five years to finish.
During a writing workshop a well-known screenwriter gave me some advice. “Write quickly,” he said. Get the structure of your novel finished as if you’re on a deadline. This will keep you from getting bogged down in the details and it will not allow you to get discouraged. In addition, when your fingers are flying across the keyboard ideas will suddenly come to mind; brilliant ideas that you wouldn’t have found if you were laboring over every sentence. Don’t look back, keep moving.
When the structure is finished, it’s time to go back and edit. This not only means checking for typos, but to add color, texture, and personal flourishes. In a house, you would be decorating—making it livable and all yours.
After your novel is finished the work isn’t done. Now you will need to find a buyer. In the next segment I will describe some of the ways I have sold my novels and, after the novel is sold, ways to market your book. You will become the real estate agent of your story. I love what Gary Provost says in his book Make Every Word Count. “We are writers, you and I. We are writers because we write.”author T. Dawn Richard is a full time writer and author of the May List Mystery Series. Her first book, Death for Dessert, was published in 2003, followed byDigging up Otis, and A Wrinkle in Crime. She completed her fourth book in the series, Par for the Corpse, in 2009. Kirkus Reviews called her "A kind of geriatric Janet Evanovich" because of her quirky senior citizen characters. Richard has recently completed two screenplays and has several other projects in the works. Her books are available onAmazon.com.