Setting up Your Novel

Every author has an idea swirling in their head that they think about non-stop. It consumes their every thought. They talk about the storyline to everyone who will listen, and they think it will make a killer book and eventually a blockbuster movie. So, where do you start? How do you go from concept to a salable product?

In the construction of any idea, there are things an author must consider. To sell a product to a publisher, consider a few techniques that help the reader understand the work.

Keep your writing within certain parameters. The American audience wants a story that moves swiftly and brings them into the plight of the main character as soon as possible. It should make the reader care about the character’s plight and root for that character’s success overcoming the obstacles set before him in the plot. The reader must also see the story from the eyes of only one character at a time. Make the characters interesting and each one needs a real purpose within the plot.

So, the first thing to do is to organize the material floating around your brain. There are several methods to organizing a story. One is to use a process taught in most college English and logic classes. This process is taught under more than one descriptive name: Clustering, Mind Mapping, and the Bubble method. This way of fleshing out a concept into specifics is used by millions. Creative writing teachers teach them in many forms, but any way you use this technique, it will help bring your ideas into a cohesive order and allow you to put together a workable outline for your story.

To do this, you should start with a large sheet of paper, the bigger the better (I use a sheet 24″ by 30″ for my students to doodle on in class). Place a small circle in the middle of the sheet, make it just big enough to hold your working title or the theme of the story. This allows you to expand on the thoughts you have treasured for so long. You can now build on those ideas fleshing them into a complete story your reader will enjoy sharing with the characters you develop.

Developing the plot in this way allows you to free-write your way from ideas to concept. I have included sample diagrams at the end of the piece that will show the concept of bubbling. The examples show how to use the method with storyline, setting, and/or a character analysis.

When adding information on each of these bubble sheets free your mind and add everything you can think of to define the object of the diagram. Put down everything that will define the concept you are expanding on. You may not use everything you put down, but you don’t want to lose an idea until you have the story defined.

Why are even small ideas significant? After a second look, what looks insignificant may turn out key to plot movement. The more you, the author, know about the plot, the character, or the scene you are constructing, the better picture you can paint for the reader. And, remember, it is the responsibility of the author to use your pen as a paint brush to paint a picture so vivid the reader sees the same image the author has in his mind. If the author blocks the reader from what’s in his mind by writing in vague passive voice, the reader will fill in the gaps. They will relate the plot events to their own world, making the reader the director of the author’s story.

Second, consider choosing whose point of view (P.O.V.) will tell the story. Choosing the wrong P.O.V. (or choosing too many) can make or break a story. You, as the author, are the only one who can make this decision. Will you tell the story in first person, from the mind of your main character? Look at how Susanne Collins put her readers into Katniss’ head to live the Hunger Games with the character. Or, maybe you could have your readers live the duality in Stephanie Myer’s character, Melanie/Wanderer, portrayed in The Host.

You could also choose to write your story in third person (the he said ─ she said experience) as in the Nikki Heat series. Third person stories not only tell the story in abstract, but they show it from the character’s P.O.V.

A lot of authors don’t understand P.O.V. in its purest form. But to bring it down to basics, choose one character (the P.O.V. character) for an entire story or just one scene. The reader should experience the inner feelings of this character only. The main character can see indecision, fear, or happiness in the other characters, but the other characters can express their feelings only through dialogue.

There are types of P.O.V, to consider other than first or third person. Second person is where the author talks directly to the reader as I am in this piece. Omniscient (The least salable P.O.V. you can write in) is where someone outside of the story is telling the reader what they need to know about the character’s or the plot. This only works if you establish the storyteller as a character, the narrator.

Of all of these P.O.V’s, agent’s and publishers consider the third person the most saleable, although, lately, the first-person novel has made a comeback. Whatever P.O.V. you select, if you write from your heart and construct an intriguing, intricate plot, you can make it something that will catch an agent’s or publisher’s attention.

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