How books get from my head to your hands.

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Novel Planning – Part 4 – Three Act Structure

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The Three Act Structure is the oldest story telling method in recorded history. Greek plays used the Three Act Structure as did Greek literature.

It’s also common in our literature and movies today. The Lord of the Rings uses the Three Act Structure as does the Star Wars movies. 

This method can be used as the basis for one 3-part book or it can be used as the story arc for a trilogy.

The Three Act Structure

Act I – The Setup (or The Exposition)

Act I introduces the characters and the setting. It also includes the inciting event and the beginning of the rising action. The protagonist/s face their first major conflict and discover exactly what they are up against in their antagonist. This incident ensures that life will never be the same for the protagonist/s.

Act II – The Confrontation (or Rising Action)

Act II shows the protagonist/s embroiled in the conflict introduced in Act I. They are searching for ways to resolve this conflict but instead of resolution, the conflict worsens. They discover they don’t have the resources or knowledge to deal with the antagonist. It usually ends with another confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist walks away with a better understanding of their enemy and what is required to defeat them. 

In many second Acts, the protagonist is defeated, but not destroyed. They can’t comprehend how they will rise from this and ultimately defeat the antagonist. In other second acts, the protagonist wins a small victory, only to discover they are facing a much larger battle in the future.

Act III – The Resolution (or Climax)

Act III shows our protagonist facing their antagonist once again. This time, they have gained the necessary knowledge or experience to defeat them. The protagonist gets the ultimate victory. The third act ties up all the story threads. Most, if not all of the characters walk away with their “happily ever after.” The antagonist has experienced total defeat.

You can find more about the Three Act Structure in this blog post

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Novel Planning – Part 3 – The Snowflake Method

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The next novel planning method we’re going to look at is The Snowflake Method. It was developed by author Randy Ingermanson.

The Snowflake Method

Step 1: One Sentence Summary

Write a one sentence summary of your plot using no more than 15 words if possible. (This sentence could become the hook that will sell your book.) Do not use character names in this sentence. The sentence should aim to show both the big picture plot and what the character has to gain or lose in the situation.

Step 2: One Paragraph Plot

Now expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the background, major disasters, and ending of the novel. Try to think of it as “three disasters plus an ending” where each of the disasters takes a quarter of the book and the ending takes the final quarter. (This could become your back cover blurb.) Again, this paragraph should not be too long. Go for one sentence for each of the disasters and the ending if you can.

Step 3: Develop Characters

You need great characters for any book so you’ll need to develop each of your characters’ story lines. Include this information:

  • Character’s name
  • One sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what your character learns, how they change)
  • A paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Step 4: Plot Summary

The snowflake is growing. Expand the one paragraph from step 2. Each sentence (3 disasters and ending) becomes its own paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in disaster. The final paragraph will resolve the plot and tell how the book ends.

Step 5: Character Charts

Expand your character synopses into full fledged character charts. List everything there is to know about each character – description, history, motivation, goals, etc. 

Step 6: Expand the Plot Synopsis

Now expand each of your paragraphs from step 4 into a full page synopsis of the story. You will end up with four full pages of plot development.

Step 7: Scene list

Combine your plot synopsis pages with your character charts and organize them into chapters.

Then, all you have to do is just sit down and write.

(summarized from: How to Plan and Write Novels Using the Snowflake Method)

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Novel Planning – Part 2 – The Synopsis

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With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, it’s time to cover another method of novel planning. Maybe the outline, covered briefly in our last post, doesn’t work for you. That’s okay, I’m not a huge fan of it, either. That’s why there are different processes for different people.

Synopsis

The Synopsis comes closest to the method of novel planning I use.

Essentially, you are writing a continuous summary of your novel idea without chapter breaks. 

This method works better for improvisation, for changing things and adapting your story as you go along. You should write just enough notes to maintain a good work flow as you write, but not so many that you can’t change or adapt an idea when you feel like it. 

You can use a notebook for your notes as you plan. Think through your basic novel idea, your characters, your setting. Jot notes about your plot ideas. You can include character descriptions and names as you think of them so you don’t have to do that later on. You can include how your characters will interact and at which points.

You’ll want just enough in your notes to trigger your imagination about what happens in your story and when it happens. The rest is up to your imagination as you sit down to write. 

For me, it’s kind of like daydreaming, or watching a movie in my head. I imagine what’s going to happen next. Occasionally, I’ll get lost in the story, just as I would if I was reading a novel or watching a movie. It’s hard to stop writing and come out of the book back into what I need to do in real life.

One disadvantage to this method is that if your story takes a direction you weren’t intending originally, you could get stuck. To overcome this, you’ll need to have a clear idea of both how you want to begin the story and how you want it to end. Everything else is just connecting the dots to get from one point to the other. 

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Novel Planning – Part 1 – The Outline

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NaNoWriMo begins in six weeks. It’s hard to believe November is almost here again! In the next few weeks, I’m going to cover several different methods of novel planning. Most people think of this as “writing process” though that term covers things that go beyond the actual writing of words. I will probably cover that later in the blog series as well.

Outline

The outline is the most common form of book planning. It works well for some people and not so well for others. (I personally don’t outline my books as I shared in this post about my own planning process.) 

An outline consists of headings, followed by subheadings. The absolute simplest way to do this is to divide your novel by chapters and plan one heading for each chapter, followed by each of the plot points that fall under than heading. 

For instance, if you are planning a 50,000 word novel (as is the case for NaNoWriMo), and you hope to have 1,000 words in each chapter, you’ll need 50 headings (or chapters) with subheadings/plot points for each.

Practically speaking, most chapters are more like 1,500 to 2,000 words long. To make this goal attainable, let’s figure 25-30 headings.

Now, once you have a basic idea of what happens in the beginning of your story, your inciting event, the rising action, the climax, and the conclusion, you can break this down into those 25-30 headings. Then, you’ll need to include just enough detail in your subheadings so you remember what you want to write, without “prewriting” your novel during the outline process. I’ve also seen people include notes about their characters and setting in the outline.

Many people write their outline on index cards, one heading and subsequent notes per card. If you don’t have access to index cards, a notebook works well, too. You can write one heading per sheet.

The advantage of this is that you can easily rearrange the plot as needed, should you change your mind about how you want the story to progress. You can also see broad story arcs or patterns before you even sit down to write the book.

The disadvantage of this is that if you decide to make a major change somewhere in your story line, you have to rewrite your outline from that point on, or at least from that point until your prior outline will work again.

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Newsletters and Three Way to Help New Authors

This week has not gone as originally planned. That is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s been a good week. I just didn’t get a few things done that I had planned — like writing blog posts. I’ll get back to it in the next few days, but I decided to use this short hiatus to talk about a couple things.

Email Newsletter Sign-up

My techie husband helped me set up an email list. “Why do you need an email list if you already have a blog?” you might ask. 

I’d like to use the email newsletters to give more personal news and happenings than I’m comfortable with in a public blog. I can also keep people informed about upcoming writing projects. My goal is to send it out once or twice a month. If you’d like to sign up, you can do so on the sidebar here at my blog or on my Facebook page under Email List Sign-up.

Helpingauthors

I posted this image on my Facebook page a few days ago and thought I’d elaborate on it.

Every new author is starting from scratch. They have to build recognition and readership. This takes takes time and the help of their readers. An author is nothing without someone to read their books.

How can you help a new author get their book out?

1. You can read their book.

We spend hundreds of hours planning, writing, and editing our book. We’ve got blood (hopefully not literally 😉 ), sweat, and tears invested in this. We desire nothing more than to share it with the world so you can enjoy it, too. It’s our art. 

But all that is worth nothing if no one reads what we’ve created. 

2. You can recommend their book.

Did you like that book you just read? Tell someone about it. It’s great when a book is shared online, but the best recommendation you can give is in person. Tell a friend. Share it with your mom or sister, dad or brother. Tell the ladies at church or your friends at the gym. Tell someone.

Personally, I’m more likely to read a book if it’s been recommended to me by a friend. Most people are. So spread the word. It helps more than you know!

3. You can rate their book online.

Sadly, no matter how much personal interaction helps, some interaction online is needed. Once you’ve read the book, it helps so much if you leave some feedback about it online. wherever you bought it, whether Amazon or Barnes and Noble or somewhere else. Every time you rate the book, it improves its discoverability on those sites.

Have you read the book? Rate it! You’re doing that author a favor!

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The Plot of Talents

Talents Huckabee

One of my favorite books is called A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery. It tells the story of a family, any of whom could receive a priceless heirloom based on the decisions they make in the year following the reading of the family matriarch’s will. The decisions that follow are sweet, funny, and sad. In the end, everyone is surprised, yet satisfied, with how things turn out.

As I was coming up with the idea for Talents, I knew I wanted to write a book that intertwined the lives of seemingly unrelated characters toward a common goal in the same spirit as A Tangled Web.

I started thinking about this book sometime in 2012. Like any good story 😉 the plot evolved from the question “What if?”

What if several people were given a gift to invest in their community? How would it affect the community? How would it change their lives? What if the real gift wasn’t the money but the impetus to step out and instigate change around them?

Thus, Talents was taken from my imagination and put on paper. This didn’t actually happen until fall of 2013. The story wasn’t finished until January of 2015. (Hey, I’m a busy wife and mom! I don’t get a lot of time to write!)

I enjoyed developing the plots for each of the characters, but my favorites turned out to be Parker and Ed. The challenge with Parker was keeping it believable. I’d get ideas, then I’d think “would this work in real life?” I’d go looking for people in real life who’d done things similar to the idea I had. You can see an idea I had for the book come to life in the book trailer for Talents in the form of the graffiti art I found to photograph.

Ed’s was challenging, because it *needed* to be over-the-top, but not to the point of becoming unbelievable. Unfortunately, I knew of real-life situations that weren’t much different than what I was writing for my character though some of it came from my own imagination. Art imitating life or the other way around? I don’t know. You be the judge.

A few people have asked me about Jackson’s character – Why didn’t I expand his story further in the book? Two reasons: Talents wasn’t about Jackson and his story, though he did provide a springboard to the real story. Second, I might come back to Jackson another time. This is, after all, only book one.

Both the ebook and the paper book are available for purchase today on TouchPoint and Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

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The Setting of Talents

Talents Huckabee

Another important part of a story is the setting, or where a story takes place.

The setting in Talents is just as important as the plot and characters. It’s part of what drives the story.

Lincoln Square is a fictional city based on the real life area in which I grew up. We lived blocks away from Riverview, Baden, and North St. Louis City. Some of my earliest memories were driving through these areas to places like the St. Louis Zoo and Forest Park, the St. Louis Symphony, and the St. Louis Arch. I remember admiring the old, brick houses. They had character. I loved them! Even after I married and had kids we lived in this area. I jogged and biked on trails that went from my house all the way to the St. Louis Arch. We ordered take-out from little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants and got donuts from a shop that had been there for 50 years.

Like any city, you could drive for blocks, seeing only houses that were in good shape, well cared for, with well-kept yards. Then you’d hit blocks of vacant buildings. Some of those houses were beyond repair. Sometimes the city had torn down houses and put green space or playgrounds in their place. I taught 5-Day clubs in these areas, did summer outreach in these areas which weren’t all that far from my home.

Ponticello’s was an old, family owned restaurant in Baden. They’d been on that corner of Riverview and Bellefontaine Road for decades before they closed. I only got to eat there once or twice but their food was delicious!

Even today, I look at my hometown and see, not what it is, but what it was and what it could be if enough people cared to make the investment in it. It needs jobs. It needs better schools. It needs people willing to make the investment in their community.

That’s what I wrote into my book – people willing to invest more than just money to make a difference in their community.

You can see the book trailer for it here. The graffiti images in the trailer tell a lot about the setting and plot of the book. You can also pre-order the book on TouchPoint and on Amazon. It will be available for purchase tomorrow! 😀

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The Characters of Talents

Talents Huckabee

My novel releases on Friday and I thought I’d use the next couple days to share the “behind the scenes” of how the book came into being. Ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but this one was more than two years in the making.

When you plan a book as an author, you plan three parts — the characters, the setting, and the plot. Personally, I prefer a book with engaging characters over a book that is driven by plot, though you do need both.

I thought of the parable of the talents in the gospels. How would a person write a modern day spin on that? I started thinking about it. I thought about the characters, about how their lives could intertwine. Then, I planned the plot points for each character.

The interesting thing about this book is that it’s really a collection of four books I wrote, then combined. I wrote each character individually and then put them all together. The very first readers got a rather disjointed book as I smoothed out all the junctions.

Let me introduce you to the characters.

I started with Beatrice Sutherland. Hers was the first story I planned and wrote. Originally, she was to be the main character. However, I discovered as I wrote her that she was more of a supporting character. A widow, she has become almost reclusive in her grief. She desires to participate in her community, but doesn’t think she has the talent to do anything.

Then I wrote about Collin O’Neill. A lawyer in a big company, he knows he has plenty of talent, but he has no desire to do anything with it for the good of others. Then his friend, Justin, gets him to step outside his comfort zone and his life is changed. Collin ended up being a supporting character, too. (I plan to tell more of Collin’s story in another book in this series.)

Parker Wilson ended up being my main character. I started writing him and his story flowed. He sees the needs and longs to do something to help in his community, but lacks the resources to do anything. But, given the opportunity, he takes his talent and turns it into ten talents. (Parker and Alice appear in another book in this series as well.)

Finally, I wrote Ed Raines. Ed was the hardest to write because he was the one who made terrible life choices. He is also, quite possibly, the most realistic character in the book. It pained me to write his story, knowing that as the author, I could write anything I pleased about the character. That’s the myth anyway. Sometimes characters take on a life of their own and you just write it down as fast as you can lest you miss it.

Another supporting character in the book is Pastor William Conner. I love Pastor Conner. He will be making an appearance in every one of the books in this series. He’s a gentle, gracious man who has stuck it out in a difficult area against insurmountable odds. I know men like him in real life. No, I didn’t write these men into my book. but I knew I could write his character the way I did because real people had done the same things in real life.

Talents goes on sale on Friday, July 28. You can preorder it on TouchPoint and on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading the characters as much as I enjoyed writing them!

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Drumroll please!

It is with great excitement and deepest pleasure that I reveal to you…

The Cover of My Novel!!!!!

Talents Huckabee

Release date set for July 28!

Can you tell I’m excited?! Did I use enough exclamation points?!

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How a Book Comes About – Part 1

My best friend, Rachel Miller, just released her second novel. She is prepping for the sequel to those books and blogged about it on her author blog. She finished her post with the questions: Are you an author? What plotting/outlining methods and tools do you use? I decided to answer her question in my own blog post.

My own plotting methods differ greatly from Rachel’s. This is not a bad thing. I would imagine there are as many methods as there are writers. I’ve read a few books about novel preparation and every author has his or her own ideas of how to do it. In my experience, we fall into one of three categories:

  1. Plotter – A plotter plans their book from start to finish before they sit down to write the actual words and scenes. This might include an outline, historical research, character profiles, and back story. Tolkien wrote an entire language for his novel preparation. Stephen King (who claims to do as little research as possible, but wrote an 800 page book about the Kennedy assassination) has written entire novels from the back story he created for his characters. 
  2. Pantser – Chris Baty coined this term in his book No Plot? No Problem! It refers to a novelist who does little to no preparation for their novel. They may have an idea of a character and a beginning plot device, but they “go where the story takes them” as they write it. This may be an over-simplification of the term, but you get the general idea. 
  3. Plantser – This combination of the last two terms sums up where I fall into the novel plotting/outlining spectrum. It refers to basic plot/character/setting development, followed by “going where the story takes you” ;-). 

When I’m planning a novel, I think of the basic plot premise, beginning, middle and end. I make mental notes for myself, high points – or plot points if you want to call them that, scenes I want to include in the book. I know I need 20-25 of these in a 50,000 word novel, though this number is flexible, depending on how long it takes to write each point and how many perspectives I’m using. (Talents has 4 main characters and each section was 12,000-20,000 words long. I didn’t need as many plot points for each character since I was intertwining the stories of 4 different people.)

Then, I think through the characters. I name them. (This is my biggest struggle. The main character names come easily but the supporting characters are harder.) I think about who they are, how they would respond to different situations and to each other. I’ll work through sample conversations in my head before I ever write a word. I picture what they look like. 

This is how I resemble a pantser:  I don’t write anything down. It’s like watching a movie in my head so I just write down what I see. Sometimes an additional scene will present itself, so I’ll write that into the book. Sometimes I decide I don’t like where it’s going, so I’ll change it as I go. It’s more fluid than an outline but more planned than just winging it.

So far, I’ve never struggled with the dreaded writer’s block. There have been a few times when I had scenes I didn’t really feel like writing, maybe they were painful or included events I’d rather avoid. I’ve even put off writing those for days. A couple times I wasn’t sure how to get the protagonist from where I had him to where I wanted him without using an obvious plot device. (Other times I embraced and flaunted their use! Hah! Sometimes you just need a good plot device in a book!)

My rather loosy-goosy method has produced 8 novels so far. It’s by no means an exact science, but I don’t care as long as it gets the job done. Now I just need to buckle down and get those books edited.