I found this magic method awhile back while surfing the net. It belongs to (or at least partly to) Tara Mayer, a published author with a fabulous YouTube channel. I thought I’d create a fun video and explain her method as best as I can.The following method is used by Hollywood screenplay directors, and works for me perfectly. In fact, it practically writes the book.
“It’s a classic, and it always works.” – Tara Mayer.
WHY WE HAVE PROBLEMS WITHOUT OUTLINES
while writing is an art, which is a form of expression, just like a painting, a successful novel needs to follow rules and structure. This is why art classes, and creative writing classes exist. Books that have structure are easy to follow and comprehend.
Without an outline, our novels are destined to be filled with plot holes, mistakes and disappointments. I’m all in favor of improvisation, like the famous Stephen King who doesn’t want to know what happens next, until he writes it; but trying to keep up with 200k words without them being riddled with mistakes, is a massive task made easier with some simple plotting.
My favorite way of keeping everything together is by creating a wordpress blog (free), and creating a page for each section: plot, characters, supporting characters, scenes, chapters, drafts, revisions. Each page has a navigation button which I can easily click onto from the main navigation bar. Each character has a parent page which I can also click from the main navigation bar. I have this webpage open while I’m writing. Example below:
You never want to start a novel which begins with the character scrubbing a lasagna source-stained pan with a dirty Microfiber sponge, unless he throws the pan at the wall in frustration because he’s having trouble with his marriage.
You can’t have a character sitting on the poop thrown, unless he’s run out of toilet paper, and the toilet is inside the house of a hot date.
You can’t start a novel with a woman asking for a man’s phone number, without the man already wearing a wedding ring.
You can’t start a novel with a character waking in the morning unless….. don’t.
You can’t hook a reader without conflict and the best place to have conflict? The beginning. And also all the way throughout.
Always begin with a BANG! You don’t have to start with action, in fact, your character can simply be sitting on the sofa in front of the TV, or strolling along a quiet street. You do have to ensure the reader wants to turn to page two to find out the outcome of the conflict.
You’ve got three pages, also known as the honeymoon pages, to excite or lose your readers.
PROTAGONIST SHOWN IN DAILY LIFE, BEFORE THE TRANSFORMATION
Introducing your characters can be tricky. You want to be able to introduce them briefly, without getting into too much detail in one blow. You also don’t want to introduce too many characters in the same chapter. Don’t believe me? Just think about the last time you started a new job, class, or walked into a party filled with people you hadn’t yet met. Remember how overwhelmed you felt? Did you learn everyone’s name within minutes? Or did it take you some time? Could you separate each person with just a name? Or did you have to scan for details, flaws and perks, tone of voice, distinguishing features? You can’t learn who everyone is at the one time, you need to have a moment with each individual to learn these things, and not all on the same day, or hour. You’re still likely to go home only remembering three, maybe four people. It’s the same with your novel, but right now we will focus on introducing your protagonist, as of course, they’re the most important character in your novel. The person who drives us through your story.
It’s important to dump your protagonist in a scene where we get to witness his behavior, and how he interacts with the world. It’s the quickest way we can get to know someone.
Never start with physical descriptions, and if you’ve began with your protagonist looking into a mirror, it’s best you put your novel to the side and start reading some writing tips. Like this one.
Give us a marker or two to indicate personality. Give us a limp, a stutter, a glass eye, a bruised and cautious heart, or anything that makes us believe your character is distinguishable. If we wanted a character who is just a moving, breathing clump of atoms, we can always sit down on a park bench and stare at people as they walk by.
OPPURTUNITY FOR CHANGE
Also known as an inciting incident. Here lies the opportunity to get your readers riled up. You’re now introducing the exciting plot to your storyline. This should be placed in the first chapter, somewhere towards the beginning. You’re telling your readers that this is it, something is happening; the story has begun.
RESISTENCE TO THE OPPORTUNITY
Don’t give your readers a smooth sail. There has to be a reason your character can’t or doesn’t want to step forward, but otherwise has no choice. Be it an obstacle or an inner conflict. I’m working on a novel where the protagonist has finally found what he has been looking for: a romantic interest who actually likes him back. But because of personal morals, he’s too stubborn to make things happen at this moment. As he grows and changes and loses the battle with his inner conflict, he moves onto the next stage:
OPPORTUNITY ACCEPTED – POINT OF NO RETURN
My protagonist has now given in to his urges and falls in love, despite what he thinks about the situation, and despite what others say. It’s hard to turn back now, so we move forward with the story.
ENTERING THE NEW SITUATION
Here is where Harry Potter enters the enchanting world of witchcraft and wizardry happenings. We’re blown away with the wands, flying brooms and goblins, and we’re a little afraid of Voldemort before we really know who he is.
MEETING FRIENDS, ENEMIES, ROMANCE, TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCES
We meet Ron and Hermione, and we don’t care for Draco Malloy. We get that his trouble from the moment he makes his appearance.
PROBLEM BRINGS THEM TOGETHER
A problem, or a quest brings your protagonist and his/her friends together.
PROBLEM DRIVES THEM APART
Add some heat and tension to what’s famously known as the droopy middle of a novel.
In the novel Room, by Emma Donoghue, character Ma realizes that if she doesn’t leave her enclosure soon, her son could be in danger. For her son, Jack, he has just been told that he must be wrapped up in a dirty, old rug and keep very still, and very quiet, so that he can visit the outside world and call for help, for reasons he doesn’t quite understand. And if he’s not very still and very quiet, then he will be caught and cause grief for Ma. For both Jack and Ma, this is a crises that keeps the readers on the edge of their seats, biting their nails, and wanting to know what happens next.
TERRIBLE SECRETS REVEALED OR ATTACK STARTS
It turns out that the serial killer is your sweet old neighbor, Mrs. Hills, and now she’s knocking at your front door.
ALL SEEMS LOST
How are we supposed to retrieve the gold if it’s guarded by three-headed dragons, and swarm of seven feet-tall wasps, and we have no weapons to fight them?
When resolving an issue, it’s important not to use any means of conveniences to fix it, ie, someone comes to the rescue. Instead, think of ways your protagonist or a supporting (important) character can handle the situation, ie, the protagonist has found a way to distract the dragon and wasp’s attention away from the entrance of the cave. Now your characters can sneak in and take the gold. But oh no! Now they’re going to have trouble leaving the cave.
SELF SACRIFICE OR SYMBOLIC DEATH
Your protagonist becomes a hero one way or another and your readers are proud because your character has grown.
Now is the time to fight the dragon and take ownership if the golden egg, thus giving us the rights to the kingdom and winning over the girl.
CONCLUSION – WED OR DEAD?
Give your readers satisfaction. Your novel now has to be resolved, and your characters either live happily ever after, or died from a drug overdose, whatever you wish. Even if your novel has an opening for a part two, there has to be some closure. Ask yourself, have I answered all the questions? Which questions will I not be taking with me to the sequel? Here is where a beta reader can come in handy, among many other things. They can lay out all their questions for you, even ones you didn’t know needed answers to.
Questions don’t all have to be answered at the end of the book. They can be spread out. But your readers do want some kind of conclusion.
Remember, a book is not a movie. Don’t wrap things up with your character sitting on her back porch smiling to herself – happy about all the achievements she’s made. We need more than this. The hero gets the princess. How does he feel now? What’s he thinking? Is he satisfied? What’s his next motive?