Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland

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Intellectual Humiliation

Confront your own ignorance.

Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland

Essential keys for writing an outstanding story

The Hook

The hook comes in many forms, but stripped down to it’s lowest denominator, it’s nothing more or less than a question. If we can pique our reader’s curiosity, we’ve got them.

The beginning of a story should present character, setting and conflict. But, in themselves, none of these represent a hook. We’ve created a hook when we’ve convinced readers to ask general questions “what’s going to happen?” Because we’ve also convinced them to ask a more specific question: “what’s scary reptilian monster killed the worker?” Jurassic Park.

Your open question might be explicit: perhaps you open your story with the character wondering something which will hopefully make readers wonder the same thing. But more often the question is implicit, as it is, for example, in Elizabeth Gaskell’s story “Lizzie Leigh” which opens with a dying man’s last words to his wife. All he says is “I forgive her, Anne! May god forgive me!” Readers have no idea who this man is forgiving or why he needs god’s forgiveness in turn. The very fact we don’t know what he’s talking about makes us read more. The important thing to remember about presenting this opening question is that it cannot be vague. Readers have to understand enough about the situation to mentally form a specific question. It’s not necessary for the question to remain unanswered all the way to the end of the story. It’s perfectly alright to answer the question in the next paragraph so long to introduce question and another, and another to give readers the reason to keep turning the pages in search for answers. 

Although no surefire pattern exist for the perfect opening, most good beginnings share the following traits:

1. The don’t open before the beginning.
2. They open with characters, preferably the protagonist.
3. The open with conflict. A great conflict is that your characters be at odds with someone of something right form the get go.
4. They open with movement. Motion gives readers a sense of progression and when necessary, urgency. Whenever possible , open with a scene that allows your character to keep moving.
5. They establish the setting. A quick, incisive intro of the setting serves not only to ground readers in the physicality of the story, but also hook their interest and sets the stage. 
6. They orient readers with an “establishing” shot. Take cue from the movies and opening with an “establishing shot”.
7. They set the tone.

Five Elements of a Riveting First Line

The opening line of your book s your first opportunity to grab your reader’s attention and give them reason to read your story.

1. Inherent question: to begin with, they all end with an invisible question mark. You can’t just tell readers what’s going on in your story, you have to give them enough information to make the ask the questions – so you can then answer them.
2. Characters: opening lines gives you an opportunity to introduce your main character making readers more interested into who they are and what journey they’re being taken.
3. Setting: most lines also offer a sense of setting.  
4. Sweeping declaration: the trick is using the declaration to make readers ask that all important inherent question.
5. Tone: is your back funny, snarky, wistful, sad or poetic? Make sure we find that core element in your opening line. Play around until you find something that perfectly introduces your character’s plot, setting, theme and voice. 

Where Should You Being

The question you need to ask yourself is: “what is the first dramatic event in the plot?” Finding this event will help you figure out the first domino in your story’s line of dominoes.

Pay attention to the placement of your First Plot Point, which should occur around the 25% mark. If you begin your story too soon or too late, you’ll jar the balance of your books and force your major plot points at the 25%, 50% and 75% marks of schedule. Consider your First Plot Point, which will be the first major turning point for your character and, as a result, often the inciting or key event. The setup that occurs prior to these scenes should take no more than quarter of the book. Coming down to it, there are only three integral components necessary to create a successful opening: character, action and setting. Example: “Hitler. Invaded. Poland.”


Stories are about people. We read because we want to cheer for larger than life heroes, learn about people, different and no so different from ourselves and vicariously experience adventures through the eyes of a character who lives in another time or place. 


Don’t settle for opening the curtains to reveal a character standing in the middle of the stage with a name tag pinned to his shirt. When the curtains open, the character should be hard at work, preferably exhibiting himself in a characteristic moment. This moment should show the character’s performing an action that will figure prominently later in the plot, and more importantly, it should illustrate a key point in his personality. 


It’s important to ground the opening of your story in a definitive setting for a number or reasons:

1. It helps readers fill in their mental blanks.
2. It puts readers in the same page as the writer.
3. It sets the tone and defines the story. Don’t bore readers by spending lengthy paragraphs describing the setting. The story should be about the characters interacting with other characters spend your setting dollars wisely by using them to establish the setting and sketching just enough vivid essentials to orient readers and bring the scene to life.

The Dramatic Questions

The beginning and the ending are two halves of the same whole. The beginning ask a question, and the ending answers it. If the ending fails to answer the specific question set out in the beginning, the whole book will fail.

What will be answered in the ending is your story’s dramatic question. It’s the one that will feel the entirety of your plot:

– Will the heroine find true love?
– Will the bad guys suffer justice?
– Will the antihero be redeemed?

Your story’s own unique question will be even more specific:

Will Margie stop her self-destructive lifestyle of drugs and liquor before she loses her soulmate forever?

Your dramatic question might be a plot question or a theme question – or both. But it must be presented in the first scene in order for the ending to resonate. It will be a yes or no question the ilk of: “Will the good guy win?”

Once you’ve set up a powerful question in your story’s opening, you have to follow through by deliberately answering it in the finale. 

When you choose to answer your story’s main dramatic question is also important. The moment you answer this question, your story is effectively over. 

Opening Chapter Pitfalls

Beginning must accomplish the following:

– Plan the irresistible hook.
– Give readers a. Reason to care about what happens to the character.
– Introduce overall tone (dramatic, satiric, etc.).
– Introduce setting (time and place), conflict and theme. 

Questions Your Readers Shouldn’t Have to Ask

1. What’s the characters name?
2. How old is this person? You don’t have to spell put every character’s age, but don’t confuse readers by writing about an 80 year old and confusing them into thinking he’s 17. 
3. What does this character look like?
4. Who is this person? Readers need to know something about your character, so look for details that will help them flesh him out. This could be occupation a prominent personality trait, or a defining action.
5. Where is this scene taking place?
6. What year/season/day is it?
7. What is the narrator interacting with?
8. What is the narrator’s relation to the other character(s)?
9. What is the character trying to accomplish in these scene?
10. Why should I care about any of this?

Introducing Character

Once you’ve hooked readers, your net task is to put your early chapters to work introducing your characters, setting and stakes. The first 20-25% of the book comprises your setup.

These “introductions” include far more than just the actual moment of introducing the characters and setting and explaining the stakes. In themselves, the presentation of the characters probably won’t take more than a few scenes. After the introduction is when your task of deleting the characters and establishing the stakes really begins. 

The first quarter of your book is the place to compile all the necessary components of your story. You must assemble all the parts that your story needs to conclude.

The second duty is to allow readers the opportunity to learn about your characters. Who are these people? What is the essence of their personality? What are their core beliefs (even more particularly, what are the beliefs that will be challenged or strengthened through the book?).

Discovering Your Character

Start by grabbing a piece of paper and writing down a good list of your favorite characters. Then write down why you like them and consider the traits you resonate with. Try to keep this exercise as simple as and generic as possible. 

The trait your list highlights will vary, depending on your type of characters you examine and your own personal values and preferences. But in the end, you should come away with a rounded idea of the traits you want to emphasize in order to achieve the same effect in your own character. The trick here, is to make sure these traits appear organically within your characters. You have to work with her and mold her personality, backstory, and motivations to make sure these traits are an inherent part of her personality – and not just tacked on aesthetics. 

Which Characters Should Be Introduced?

Try to introduce all the following players within the First Act.

Protagonist: introduce the protagonist as quickly as you can – in the first scene if possible. The early introduction of this character signals the reader that this is who the story is going to focus on.

Antagonist: most of the time, you’ll introduce the antagonist early only as well, both to get the conflict rolling and to foreshadow the threat whatever it is your character cares about.  

Love interest: you’re probably going to want to bring your protagonist’s love interest on stage during this section: you don’t have to make it obvious that these two people are going to end up in love, but at least signify the importance of the character with early introduction. 

Sidekick: if the side character is going to have a plot point that helps te he protagonist, introduce him before First Plot Point. 

Introducing Stakes and Settings

In a sense, the First Act is a bit like a program for a play or a musical revve. It’s primary purpose is to prepare your readers for what’s in store. You’re using this chapter to indicate which characters are important, what type of story your readers can expect, and where the journey will take them. 

Introducing the Stakes

As your characters walk on stage, they should bring the stakes right along with them. What they care about – and the antagonistic forces that threaten what they care about – must be shown (or at the very least hinted) in order to properly foreshadow the seeping conflicts. In order to be good to your readers, authors have to willing to be pretty nasty to their characters. One of the first thing an author has to think about is: what terrible thing can my character go through and how can I make it worse?

Keep in mind the arc you’re trying to create for your characters. Some of your characters might need to go through hell to learn their lesson. But some times the catalyst a story needs will be something much smaller and more intimate. 

It’s not enough to merely mention whatever is at stake for your characters. You must also take the time to develop it.

When possible, take the time to introduce the character in his “normal world” before the inciting events come blasting into view. Doing so will allow you to provide contrasts with the difficulties to follow, even as you increase the tension by showing what’s at stake for the character for fail.

Introducing the Setting

When you being your story, always consider what type of setting the plot will require, then try to create the strongest reading experience with a few extraneous settings as possible.

Choosing Settings

All stories possess two kinds of settings to concrete and the throway.

Concrete settings are dictated by scenes that must take place in a specific locale. 

These same stories also offer many throwaway settings – settings that are not confined by the needs of the scenes. 

The First Plot Point

The plot points of a story are the game changes, forcing the life of your characters into a more challenging situations that promise to keep your readers from putting down the book.  

What makes the 25% mark plot point so differ te form any that preceded it is the fact that it changes everything. This is the point of no return for your characters. The First Plot Pint is the moment when the setup ends and your characters crosses his personal Rubicon.

But this isn’t an even that’s happening to the protagonist. This is an event that either incorporates or is directly followed by the characters reacting in a strong and irrevocable way. The First Plot Point makes the Ned of the First Act, and the characters reaction to it makes the beginning of the second. In a sense the First Plot Point is the climax of the First Act.

The Takeaway Value

1. The First Plot Point occurs around the 25% mark. 
2. The First Plot Point is an event that changes everything and becomes a personal turning point for the main character. 
3. The First Plot Point almost always changes the story so irrevocably that even the characters surroundings (either the physical setting or the cast surrounding the main character) are altered. 
4. The First Plot Point is something to which the main character must be able to react strongly and irrevocably.

The First Plot Point is something to which the main character must be able to react strongly and irrevocably. The First Plot Point is one of the most exciting moments in any story. Choose a strong cataclysmic even to which your character has no choice but to react with everything’s he’s got.

The Inciting and Key Events

The inciting event sets the story in motion while the key event is what’s the story about and draws the main character into the story line. The inciting event is rarely difficult to spot. It’s the moment that changes everything for the main character and puts him on the path he will tread for the rest of the story. 

The key event is the moment when the character becomes engaged by the Inciting Event.

Takeaway Value

1. The Inciting Event and Key Events need to take place within the first quarter of the book, preferably in the beginning of the first chapter or at the First Plot Point. 
2. The Inciting Event sets the line of plot dominoes in motion.
3. The key event follows the inciting event.
4. The key event pull the main character into the plot.
5. Sometimes the Inciting Event can take place prior to the beginning of the chapter. But the Key Event must take place within the story proper so readers can experience it. 

The First Half of the Second Act

The second act is the largest part of your story, comprising roughly 50%. We can simplifying it by breaking it down into three segments: the first half, the second half, and the third half.

The First Half

The first half of the second act spans the distance form your first plot point at the 25% mark to your mid point at the 50% mark. The first half o the second act is where your characters find the time and space to react o the first plot point. Remember how we talked about the first plot point being definite because it forces the character to irreversible reaction? The reaction, which will lead to another reaction and another and another, launches your second act. 

The first plot point is going to hit your character hard. His life is no longer running on the same smooth path it always has, and he has a to do something about it. For the net quarter of the book, until midpoint, your protagonist is going to be reacting to the events of the first plot point. He’s taking action, but all his actions are a response to what’s happened to him. He’s trying to regain his balance, trying to figure out where his life is supposed to go. The first half of the second act will being immediately after the first plot point. Your character will act out in response to the events of the plot point in such a way he can never go back to the way things were. The antagonist force responds and again the character is forced to react. The cycle repeat its lose as many times and with as many variations as necessary until the story reaches the midpoint. 

The First Pinch Point

Towards the end of the first half of the second act your character will run afoul of the first pinch point. This is a scene in which the antagonist is given a change to fleet his muscles and impress readers (and probably the protagonist too) will his scary might. This moment serves primarily as the set up to protagonist’s change of tactics in the midpoint by reminding readers of the antagonist power. But it also raises the stakes and foreshadows the climax. It focus will always be that of the central conflict rather than a subplot. 

Take Away Value

1. The characters should react promptly and strongly to the events of the first plot point.
2. Since the characters plans and lives have been turned upside down, they have to find new ways of dealing with the world in general and the main antagonistic fore in particular.
3. The reactions should be deep and varied to comprise the next quarter of the story. 
4. Their reaction must be dominions, moving the plot forward and seeping the weave of scenes, subplots and themes. 
5. Often, this is the section where the character will gain the skills or items necessary will gain the skills in the third arc.
6. Near the end of the first half of the second act, the protagonist will be pressured by the antagonist. This pressure can come in many forms but its primary function to give readers can unfiltered glimpse at the antagonists power.

The first half to the second act is where you deepen your development of character and your foreshadowing of important elements.

The Midpoint

Half way through the second act something marvelous happens: everything changes again. The midpoint is what keeps your second act from dragging. It’s what caps the reactions in the first half of the book and sets up the chain of actions that will lead the characters into the third act. In a lot of ways, the midpoint is a second inciting event. Like the first inciting event, it directly inflúyenos the plot. It changes the paradigm of the story, and it requires of definite story altering response form the characters. The biggest difference is that the character’s reaction is no longer just a reaction. This is where he begins to take charge of the story and act out against the antagonist force. 

This is  a big moment in the story, a major scene. It has a to be the logical outcome of the previous scenes, but it should also be dramatically different and new from anything that has come before. 

Midpoint could be the capture of the main character, the death of someone close to him or him losing his way.

Whatever your choice, the midpoint is yet another moment in the story the character changes in direction. In this point, instead of reacting, they must go out and attack. 

Midpoint must take place at the 50% mark. 

Takeaway Value

1. The midpoint should be dramatic in a way that is new and fresh.
2. It has to happen at the 50% mark.
3. The midpoint should act as a personal catalyst for the main character. It must force him to change the modus operandi. After his simply reacting wont be good enough.  

The Second Half of the Second Act

Once you’ve passed the midpoint, things will start to heat up in your story. The second half of the second act is where your plot really begins popping. Your main character caps the dramatic event at the midpoint with his decisiones to stop reacting and start acting. Almost always, this born of personal revelation, even if the characters can’t yet quite put it into concrete terms. As of the midpoint, he’s becoming someone new. He’s realizing his full power and stretching his wings to discover what he can do with that power. His crippling inner problems are still getting in the way, but, at the very least, he’s realizing he has to do something either about or in spite of them. 

Because the second half of the second act will lead right into the slugfest of the third act, this is our last chance to get all our playing pieces into position. We have to set up the line of dominoes that will knock in the third plot point at the 75% mark, and we do that by creating a series of actions from the main character. Although he’s not likely to be in control of the situation, he’s at least moving forward and calling a few shots of his own, instead of taking it and taking it for the antagonistic force. 

The second half of the second act begins with a strong action form the character. He rises form the drama and trauma of the midpoint and grits his teeth. He responds with an action that fights back, this can be a direct attack on the antagonist, an awakening from ignorance; an intensified drive toward the primary goal; or an inner squaring of the shoulders.

This is a mirror of the first half. In a sense the character is till reacting. But the emphasis is on his own inner purpose now, rather than his need to raise his shields and duck his head. He’s not yet in control of his destiny, but at least now he’s trying to do something about his lack of control. 

The Second Pinch Point

Like the first pinch point, this scene showcases the antagonist, either personally or in some manifestation that emphasizes his power and his potential ability to defeat the protagonist.

The point is ramping up the strakes and foreshadowing the final battle between the protagonist and the antagonist. 


Although most of your subplots will need to be introduced within the first half of the book, the section act is where come into full power. If you’ve plot them correctly, this is where they tie their own loose ends or domino into the main plot in time for the climax.

In a nutshell, a subplot is a thematically related exploration of a minor part of the protagonist’s personality. It’s a “minature” plot that features a sideline story. As such, subplots are vital for providing both contrast within the plot and for allowing us to introduce character depth via situations that would be off limits in the main part of the plot. 

Takeaway Value

1. The second value half o the second act begins with the dramatic turning point at the 50% mark.
2. The midpoint begins a series of actions on the main character’s part. Even though he’s still reacting in a sense, he’s no longer reacting from a place of ignorance.
3. It offer yet another affirmation of the antagonist’s presence and power within the story.
4. This segment is often a place of revelation for the main character. He sees himself and the antagonist more clearly.
5. His actions can be as much a period of inner revelation as actual aggression against the antagonist: sometimes he attacks by simply ignoring the antagonist. 
6. Some of his problems will be resolved in this section, but the bigger problems – but internal and external – will remain to be resolved during the their act. 

The Third Act

The third act is the point. It’s what we’ve been building up to all this time. We’ve found the treasure. Now its time we start digging. 

Like all other acts, the third act opens with a bang, but unlike acts, it never lets up. All the threads we’ve been weaving up to this point must now be artfully tied together.

All the characters must be assembled. Subplots must be satisfactorily tied off. Foreshadowing must be fulfilled. Both the hero and the antagonist must have time to put into play the final aspects of their plans. The hero must face his demons and complete his character arc in concert with the final conflict with the antagonistic force. And then everything must be capped with a satisfactory denouement.  

The Third Plot Point

The third act will begin with another life-changing plot point. The third act as a whole is full of big and important scenes, so by comparison its opening plot point is often less defined than the plot points that market the first and second acts. This will lead right into your character’s low point. The thing he wants most in the world will be almost within grasp – only to be dashed way, smash him down even lower than before. The climax will be the period in which he rises form the ashes, ready to battle form a place of inner wholeness. The third plot point is the place from which he must rise. 

Fulfillment Your Character’s Arc

The final quarter of the story is a place of no escape fort he protagonist. His back is against the wall, and he no longer has any options but to face the antagonistic force. All his reactions and actions in the previos acts have led him to a point where he must face every last one of his weaknesses and mistakes. If he’s to triumph, he must allow himself to be broken by them – and the rise from the ashes with new wisdom and strength. You’re going to force your character into a place that’s basically do or die. Life’s going to look prey bleak. Everything he loves, everything he’s hope for is falling to pieces around him, in spite all of his best efforts. And here’s the key: the reason for the ultimate failure of everything he’s tried up to this point is that he has yet to face his deepest fear or doubt – whatever it is that’s holding him back from transforming himself into a new person.

Takeaway Value

1. From its opening plot point onward, the third act picks up speed and doesn’t slow down.
2. The third act must be thoughtful enough in its first moment to allow all the extra pieces to be either tied off and set out of the way or assembled for the showdown.

The Climax

The climax should have readers at the edge of their seats. They should be breathless, tense and curious to the point of busting. If we’re done our jobs right, they should have a general idea of what’s coming, but they should also be suffering under the exquisite torture of more than a shade of two of doubt.

Inevitability and unexpectedness are two ingredients necessary in every perfect ending. And yet their incompatible. How do you give readers the ending they’re expecting while keeping them form expecting it?

The trick of successfully combining inevitability and unexpectedness rest primarily upon two different factors: foreshadowing and complications.

The best books use foreshadowing to ensure readers have lathe pieces they need going into the climax.

If we can foreshadow our resolutions, readers will feet the ending was inevitable. When we combine the subtle foreshadowing with enough long plot complications to distract the reader form their expectations, we can present them with the possibility of so many outcomes that they’ll never be able to completely predict the one we give them.

The climax occurs at the end of the third act and comprises approximately the last 10% of the book. More often than not, the climactic moment at the end of the climax will be penultimate scene, just before the denouncement.

Make It Fast, Make It Big

Shorten the scenes and chapters in the final quarter of the story. Doing so creates a speed and urgency as the story darts back and forth between the important actions of multiple POV characters, intertwining them, and funneling the all down to their inevitable meeting at the conclusion. Shorter scenes, which are made of shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences – suck readers into the mad dash of your final. As with everything in writing, you have to use this technique with finesse. Don’t force it. Just watch out for the natural scene breaks, which should come faster and faster the closer you get to the end.

The climax is where you have to pull out your big bones. This is a series of scenes that need to wow readers. Dig deep for your most extraordinary and imaginative ideas. Instead of just a first fight, why not a first fight on top of a moving train? Instead of declaration of love why not a declaration in the middle of a presidential inauguration?

Takeaway Value

1. The climax occurs near the end of the book, usually beginning around the 90% mark. 
2. The climax is usually made up of a sequence of scenes that builds up to the important climactic moment. 
3. The climax decisively ends the primary conflict wit the antagonistic force (whether the protagonists wins or loses).
4. The climax is the fulcrum around which the character’s arc turns. This moment is the direct result of the protagonist’s personal revelation. The most powerful climaxes are those segueing form the relegation into the action that ends the conflict. First the character has his revelation then he acts upon it to conquer the antagonist.

The Resolution

The resolution is always is bittersweet moment. You’ve reached the end of your story. The resolution is when you say goodbye to your characters and, by the same token, give readers a chance to say goodbye as well.

The resolution is used not only to give readers a chance to say goodbye to your characters, but also it’s a chance to see how your character’s have changed, they want a preview of the new lie he will live in the aftermath of the conflict. As its name suggest, the resolution is where everything gets resolved. In the climax the main character slew the antagonist and got his love; in the resolution we then see how these actions have made a difference in his life.

Five Elements of a Resonant Closing Line

1. Summation: the close of a book marks the end, even if it’s part of a series. The closing line should give readers a sense of finality, a sense that the main issues of the plot have been taken care of and that they can safely leave the characters worrying about anything more momentous is going to strike. 
2. Theme: at it’s heart, story is theme. We dress it up with story and characters but the theme is what the story is about. Although not necessarily evident out of context, the books above us use their final lines to reinforce their themes of war, love, lust, hope and forgiveness. 
3. Pacing: the final line – and the lines appropriate pacing to guide readers to an instinctive understanding of the coming end. 
4. Farewell: not all closing line swill feature the main character. Sometimes authors will use a “pulling back” of the camera to show readers abroad view of the story, rather than a close up of the protagonist. However, most often than not, closing lines is the last chance to say goodbye to the characters for both the author and the readers.
5. Continuation: finally, as we’ve already discussed, the closing line should also indicate the story isn’t over, and that, in fact, the lies of the surviving main character will continue long after the readers close the back cover. 

The Scene

The Two Types of Scenes

To being with, let me note we’re going to be focusing on two types of scenes: scenes (action) and sequel (reaction).

The scene is where we find conflict (vs tension). Big stuff happens in scenes. Plot points change the course of a story, and characters act in a way that affect everything that happens afterwards. These are the moments that loom large in the story.

The sequel is a much quieter, but just as important factor in your story. Wishing the seque, we find the character’s reacting. There’s not much outright conflict, but there’s plenty of tension. Reactions will be processed and decisiones will be made so characters can jump back into the next scene. 

The Three Building Blocks of the Scene

1. Beginning: hook.
2. Middle: development.
3. End: climax.

To get vs started, let’s take a look at the three building blocks of the first half of the scene: the scene.

Building Block #1: Goal

What your character wants on a large scale is what drives your entire story. What he wants on a smaller scale drives your scene. If he doesn’t want anything, then the story has no impetus. What your character wants in any given scene will be smaller reflection of his overall story goal/and/or step toward his achieving that goal. If your character’s goal is to escape a POW camp your scene might consist of bribing a guard, convince a buddy to come along, etc. Once you know your character’s purpose/goal in given scene, you know that purpose of the scene.

Establishing your character’s purpose as early as possible in the scene. Reader’s need to understand what’s at stake.

Building Block #2: Conflict

Once you have your goal in place, your net responsibility is to creat an obstacle that will prevent that goal from being achieved. Conflict is what keeps the character form reaching his goal – it’s what prevents your story from ending too quickly.

Conflict makes the middle/development of your scene arc. Most of the meat of your scene will probably be taken on by conflict.

Whatever the scene conflict, it must arise organically as an obstacle to the goal.

Building Block #3: Disaster

The conflict must be resolved decidedly – and probably not in the protagonists favor. The scene’s outcome is the building to the next scene. If it’s tied up too nicely, there will be one logical next step and the story will end.

The disaster must evolve organically from the conflict that created.

Finding Out the Purpose of Your Scene

What is the focus of this scene? What is this purpose?

Scenes are created in one of two ways:

1. Either we begin by envisioning something happening without yet knowing host to move the plot forward.
2. Or we start out with the knowledge of what needs to happen to move the plot forward, then build the scene around it. 

Ask yourself : when you’re preparing to write a scene, first establish the purpose, then fin the components, the elements contained within the scene. Strip the scene Dow not basics. For the time being forget about your character’s development of theme. Ask:

– How does this scene move the plot forward?
– How does it build upon what happened in the previous
– How does it lead into the scene that will follow?

Once you know the purpose of your scene, ask where is the conflict?

Once you know your scene purpose and it’s central conflict, you can deepen its subtext by exploring its context.

Start by asking yourself:

– What’s under the surface of this
– What’s happening between this characters or in the background that isn’t spelled out?

Options For Golas in Scenes

Scene goals are dominos we discussed earlier. Each goal is a step forward. Each goal leads to a result that prompts a new goal and on and on. 

Plot Goals vs Scene Goals

Your character’s overall plot goal will be a dilemma that will require the entire story to solve. If we break down the characters overall goal into tiny pieces, we find it’s made up of one small goal after the other. Don’t limit your self into thinking each scene is an island onto itself. Each scene is just a small part of the larger whole.

Share Goals

Make your protagonist and villain share a same goal, but have different ways to achieve them.

Two important similarities between antagonist and protagonist are personality and values. You could show who your protagonist could become if he made the wrong choices.

Options For Scene Goals

Your character is going to want:

1. Something concrete (an object, a person).
2. Something incorporeal (admiration, info).
3. Escape from something physical (imprisonment, pain).
4. Escape from something emotional (grief, depression).
5. Escape from something mental (worry, suspicion).

His methods of achieving this will often manifest in one of the following ways:

1. Seeking information.
2. Hiding information.
3. Hiding someone else. 
4. Hiding self.
5. Confronting or attacking someone else.
6. Repairing or destroying physical objects. 

Questions to Ask Your Scene Goals

1. Does the goal make sense within the overall plot?
2. Is the goal inherent to the overall plot?
3. Will the goal’s implications/resolution lead to a new goal/conflict/disaster?
4. If the goal is mental or emotional does it have a physical manifestation?
5. Does the success or failure of the goal directly affect the scene narrator?

Options for Conflict in a Scene

Conflict keeps your story moving forward. When a characters initial goal is styled by conflict, it causes him to react to a new goal, which is stymied by a new conflict, which causes him again to modify his goal, and on and on – until finally he reaches the goal of the story ends. 

When planning our characters conflicts we usually start out with the obvious altercation between the protagonist and the antagonist. But, why stop there? Why not pour of the conflict? Make everyone have some sort of personal conflict with everyone else? Analyze your scenes to ensure each one erects obstacles between your character and his goal!

Is You Conflict Integral?

Conflict means change, but conflict needs a purpose. Conflict only works within the context of the plot. So conflict, for the sake of conflict is boring. 

You’re looking for conflict that makes sense within the scope of the plot. You’re lookin for conflict that flows form the plot. And that comes from character, and not just characterization, but much more specifically, character motivations, goals and reactions. Story driven conflict arises from a direct opposition to the protagonist goal. 

On the surface, conflict has a very uncomplicated mechanism. But we must always understand what’s driving the conflict in every scene. What’s causing it? What changes will it, in turn, cause futures scenes?

Allowing Conflict to Arise From Character

Integral conflict must arise organically from the character’s personality and inner and outer goals. If you find your character’s POV isn’t embroiled enough within any scene’s conflict, you either need to up the stakes’s for him – or use another character who has plenty at stake. The narrating character’s involvement in any scene must matter to him as a person, preferably on both spiritual and physical level.

Don’t fall into the no – conflict trap. Give your character’s plenty of flaws, plenty of arguments, plenty of respectable motives for engaging in conflict and plenty of antagonist.  

Framing Conflict in Dialogue

Dialogue is all about conflict. Examples: 

1. Keep it to the point. It has to matter to the plot. Readers don’t care about conflict between characters insofar as it advances the plot or reveals interesting things about the people.
2. Maintain an arc in the conversation. Conflict should arise to a crescendo, then taper into climactic (semi)resolution. 
3. Keep the character’s arc in mind. What are the character’s motivation and goals for having this discussion?
4. Vary the tension. Don’t make all your arguments scream level.
5. Use subtext. Use conflict to revela things about your characters.
6. Remember the power of action beat. Instead of arguing have the wife hit her husband with the lobster they just bought.

Options for Scene Conflict

1. Direct opposition (someone, something is preventing the character to reach his goal).
2. Inner opposition (character changes his mind about his goal because of something he learned).
3. Circumstantial difficulties (no flour to bake the cake).
4. Active conflict (arguments, fistfights).
5. Passive conflict (being ignored, being kept in the dark).

Questions to Ask About Your Scenes Conflict

1. Does the opposition to the character’s goal matter to him?
2. Does the conflict evolve organically form the plot?
3. Is the opposition’s motivation logical within the overall plot?
4. Does the conflict lead to logical outcome?
5. Does the conflict directly interfere with or threaten the protagonists goal?

Options For Disaster in a Scene

The disaster is a payoff at the end of the scene. This is Hawthorne readers have been waiting for – often with a delicious sense of dread. At the nod of every sense of dread. At the end of every single scene, you should be looking for a way to thwart your character’s hopes a and make their life miserable. This does not mean he may never gain some ground in achieve his goal. He can achieve his goal with some setbacks.

Options for Scenes Disaster

1. Direct obstruction of a goal (the character need info the antagonist refuses to supply).
2. Indirect obstruction of the goal (the character is sidetracked).
3. Partial obstruction of the goal (the character gets only what he wants).
4. Hollow victory (the character gets what he wants only to find out its more destructive than helpful).

These disasters can manifest in any and every way: death, physical injury, emotional injury, discovery of complicated info, personal mistakes, threat to personal safety, danger to someone else.

Questions to Ask About Your Scene Disasters

1. Does your disasters answer your scenes questions, as posed by the scene goal?
2. Is your disasters integral to the scene?
3. Is your disaster disastrous enough?
4. Does your disaster avoid melodrama?
5. If your character partially or totally reaches his scene goal, is the a “yes, but!” Disaster waiting for him?
6. Will your disaster prompt a new goal from the character?

The Sequel

The sequel is the reaction half of the action/reaction paring. This is where introspective moments, quiet conversations character development occurs. 

The Three Building Blocks of the Sequel

Building Block #1: Reaction

Reaction is what the sequel is all about. This is the time for introspection on the part of the narrating character, a time for him to process what he’s just experienced in previous scenes, and a time for the author to share those reactions with readers. Without focusing on reaction the character becomes an emotionless automation, moving through the stories conflict without responding in a relatable human way.

Building Block #2: Dilemma

When you character has finished his initial (and often involuntary) reaction to the previous scene disaster, he’s going to be faced with a dilemma. Sometimes the dilemma will be a general as “what do I do now?” To more specific:

1. How do I keep my best friend form finding out the truth?
2. How do I avoid the truant officer when he comes after me?
3. How do I apologize to my son before he leaves?

The disaster at the end of previous scene created a new round of problems for the character. During the sequel he’s going to analyze them so he can tackle them appropriately. 

Building Block #3: Decision

The dilemma is going to lead right into the sequel’s final part – the decision. In order to formulate the goal for the next scene, the character has to figure out a solution. This is the planning stage of your story. There character returns from their massive defeat on the battle field and head back to the drawing board. They pore over maps, discuss the mistakes of the former battle, and figure out a what to do next.

Conflict or Tension

Sequel may contain conflict in some form, but they’re more likely to offer tension. This is an important distinction. 

“Conflict” and “tension” are often used interchangeably, not so much because they’re the same thing; but because they’re kissing cousins that fulfill similar functions within the story. 

Conflict indicates the outright confrontation we find in scenes. Two people arguing. Tension, is the threat of conflict, which we find in sequels. You’ll have tension when characters are hunkered down in a bunker waiting for artillery. It’s the anticipation of something’s about to happen.

Options for Reaction in Sequels

The scene is about external action; the sequel is about internal reaction. The sequel will sometimes be confined to the POV character’s mind; other times, it will be dramatized through action or dialogue.

Options for Sequel Reactions

The three parts of the sequel will manifest in three different ways: the reaction will be emotional, the dilemma will be intellectual, and the decision will lead to physical action. As soon as your previos scene reaction hits, your character is going to experience an immediate and instinctive emotional reaction.

1. Elation. 
2. Fury.
3. Anger. 
4. Confusion.
5. Despair. 
6. Panic. 
7. Shame.
8. Regret.
9. Shock.

Once you’ve decided de on an emotional reaction that makes sense to the story; you have to relay those emotions to the reader in four options:

1. Description: you can tell your reader how your character feels.
2. Internal narrative/monologue.
3. Dramatization: you can effectively show a character’s reaction via his external actions. 
4. Tone: you can also use the general tone of your story, as you describe other elements (such as setting, weather, character’s actions) to convey your character’s inner landscape. 

Questions to Ask About Your Sequel Reaction

1. Does the character’s reaction correlate to the preceding disaster?
2. Does the character reaction make sense in context with the preceding disaster?
3. Is the character’s reaction logical per his personality?
4. Have you taken the appropriate amount of time to portray the reaction?
5. Have you portrait the reaction as powerfully as possible, through narrative, description, action or dialogue?
6. Have you made the situation clear without unnecessary rehashing information readers are already familiar with?

Options for Dilemmas in a Sequel

If the first part of your sequel appeals to your reader’s emotions, the second part is all about intellect. The previous disaster has left him in quite a prickle. It was a catastrophic declaration, the dilemma in response, ask: what do I do now?

The Three Phases of the Dilemma

The dilemma is composed of three different phases:

1. Review: looking back on the disaster, the character considers the missteps that allowed it to happen. 
2. Analyze: your character has sto stop and think the specific of his problem. Don’t settle for generalities. Figure out your character’s specific problem/question and make it clear enough that readers could verbalize it themselves.
3. Plan: now that your character has all the information, the net step is to move to the planning phase. 

Questions to Ask About Your Sequel Dilemma

1. Is the dilemma influenced by the disaster at the end of the previous scene?
2. Can the dilemma be stated in specific language?
3. Is the dilemma clear to readers, either through specific examples or through the context?
4. Does the amount of time you spend on the dilemma match it’s importance within the plot?
5. If you’ve chosen to include a review section of the preceding scene, does it avoid repetition?

Questions to Ask About Your Sequel Decisions

1. Is your decision an organic results of your dilemma?
2. Does you decision lead into a strong goal?
3. If your dilemma is long term problem, have your narrowed your decision down to the first logical step in solving that problem?
4. Does your decision solve your dilemma too easily or does it lead to new complications?
5. If your character decides not to take action, is this a logical and important step within the plot?
6. Is your character’s decision important enough to state outright in the sequel? 

My rating:

This book in 3 key points

1. Define the hook of your story.
2. Introduce your character through that hook.
3. Make your character(s) resolve the conflict of the story (hook) by putting him through hell. 


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