There really is something about fall for me, this huge jolt of energy. Thank God, because I have a lot to do. This week I did my taxes and a book proposal at the same time, two activities that should never be performed simultaneously. (At some point the brain does explode, doesn’t it?) This week I have to write another book proposal while doing edits for another book, and go to Houston to teach a workshop.
In the middle of all of this there is another book that I am dying, just dying to get done. This is why I’m a big fan of Nanowrimo. Even though, truthfully, like every full-time writer I have a Nano-like writing schedule most of the time, there’s something about having a designated month where all kinds of people are putting in this kind of insane writing time with the insane goal of having some rough approximation of a book at the end of it that makes it all feel okay, somehow, even doable.
For the last couple of years I’ve been doing a Nano Prep series on my blog in October, because I reel in horror at the idea of people just sitting down on Day 1 and starting to write to see what comes out. The chances of getting a viable book out of that process seem – slim.
I may finally have gone to the opposite extreme, though. The more I analyze structure, the more it seems to me that every story has the same underlying structure. In previous years I’ve come up with a checklist of story elements, and last year I really expanded on that one. But in the last month of some short workshops and my Nano Prep, I’ve actually tried to put the most important of those story elements into an almost narrative, a cheat sheet for story development.
So I’m running it by you all today, to see if it makes sense to anyone but me.
Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet
We meet the Hero/ine in the Ordinary World.
— a Ghost or Wound
— a strong Desire
— Special Skills
And an Opponent, or several, which is standing in the way of her getting what s/he wants, and possibly wants exactly the same thing that s/he wants
She gets a Call to Adventure: a phone call, an invitation, a look from a stranger, that invites her to change her life.
That impulse may be blocked by a
— Threshold Guardian
— And/or the Opponent
— And/or she is herself reluctant to take the journey.
But she overcomes whatever opposition,
— Gathers Allies and the advice of a Mentor
— Formulates a specific PLAN to get what s/he wants
And Crosses the Threshold Into the Special World.
The hero/ine goes after what s/he wants, following the PLAN
The opponent blocks and attacks, following his or her own PLAN to get what s/he wants
The hero/ine may now:
— Gather a Team
— Train for battle (in a love story this can be shopping or dating)
— Investigate the situation.
— Pass numerous Tests
All following the Plan, to achieve the Desire.
No matter what genre, we experience scenes that deliver on the Promise of the Premise – magic, flying, sex, mystery, horror, thrills, action.
We also enjoy the hero/ine’s Bonding with Allies or Falling in Love
And usually in this Act the hero/ine is Winning.
Then at the Midpoint, there is a big Reversal, Revelation, Loss or Win that is a Game-Changer.
The hero/ine must Recover and Recalibrate from the game-changer of the Midpoint.
And formulate a New Plan
Neither the Hero/ine nor the Antagonist has gotten what they want, and everyone is tired and pissed.
Therefore they Make Mistakes
And often Cross a Moral Line
And Lose Allies
And the hero/ine, or if not the hero/ine, at least we, are getting the idea (if we didn’t have it before) that the hero/ine might be WRONG about what s/he wants.
Things begin to Spiral Out of Control
And get Darker and Darker (even if it’s funny)
Until everything crashes in a Black Moment, or All is Lost Moment, or Visit to Death.
And then, out of that compete despair comes a New Revelation for the hero/ine
That leads to a New Plan for the Final Battle.
The Heroine Makes that last New Plan
Possibly Gathers the Team (Allies) again
Possibly briefly Trains again
Then Storms the Opponent’s Castle (or basement)
The Team (if there is one) Attacks the Opponent on his or her own turf, and all their
— Skills are tested.
— Subplots are resolved,
— and secondary Opponents are defeated in a satisfying way.
Then the Hero/ine goes in alone for the final battle with the Antagonist. Her Character Arc, everything s/he’s learned in the story, helps her win it.
The Hero/ine has come Full Circle
And we see the New Way of Life that s/he will live.
Let me know if this makes sense, or is at all helpful, and otherwise, who else is doing Nano? And for the happy, sane, non-writers, do you get that Back to School feeling about fall, too? What are you doing with that burst of energy?