The various layers of a novel

Hello everybody and welcome to our final round of messing with NaNoWriMo. 🙂 I must say I had a lot of fun and some very good posts came out of this. Hopefully, you could pick one or two good advices from this blog series that’ll make writing a little easier for you in the furure.

Today I want to introduce you to my good friend and critique partner, Melissa Stark. Her novel, The Werewolf King, is in its final stages and hopefully will soon be available for everyone to read. Mel will tell you why you need more than just a sexy hunk and a cute girl to make a romance, or any novel, work out.

Welcome Melissa! Here’s your audience.

Thanks Piper for having me.

Hi there.

So…plot, it is. Sounds easy, right? You come up with a great idea. It’s unique. It’s intriguing. And it would make a great book. Right?

Then you start writing. You realize that plot is a lot harder than you thought. Or, if you think it’s great – your critique partner starts poking holes in your plot. After you internally rant and rave…you ask yourself: So what is plot anyway?

Yeah, I googled it.

Plot. Also called storyline. The plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.

Ok, that cleared things up, right? Not really. At least not for me.

How about this?

A secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, especially a hostile, unlawful, or evil purpose

That’s already better, right? Definitely more interesting. Sounds more plot-like.

I ended up picking up a lot of plotting books that fellow writers have recommended. Michael Hague, Jennifer Crusie, James Scott Bell, and many others. There are several cookie cutter plot structures that you can follow. Definitely look them up. There is a 3-act structure and a 4-act structure and even a 9-act structure. (Screenwriting books have been very valuable as well in how they break these down.)

Essentially, the 3-act structure looks like this:

Act I: The set up. This is the current state of life for the protagonist followed by the Inciting Incident. Something that changes the main character so they can’t go back to the current state.

Act 2: The character(s) face obstacles from reaching their goal. The protagonist eventually reaches the low point where he/she thinks all is lost.

Act 3: The Climax! And the wrap up. The happily ever after.

But what about Subplot? Since Piper asked me to write about Plot and Subplot, I had to pull out the big guns. My favorite books:

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Inside Story – The Power of the Transformational Arc by Dara Marks.

They go a little deeper. Dara says this about plot and subplot:

“Whereas the plot carries the line of action, the subplot(s) carry the emotional and thematic content.”

So, basically the plot is the main action of the story (in our case, of a romance). Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Boy loses the girl. Boy gets girl.

Subplot is everything else. All the why’s and how’s. The guts of the story. It’s how the main character grows throughout the story as a result of conflict. Their emotional journey. Don’t forget to ask the question my 9 year old never stops asking me…Why?

I’ll pull out my favorite advice here – Christina Dodd wrote in a tweet (and I’m paraphrasing) – “What’s the worst that can happen to your hero/heroine? Write that.” Yeah, I think that’s awesome, okay, in a sick and twisted writer way.

Hopefully I helped you understand plot a little better.

Remember that people read a story to go on a journey. They want to struggle with the characters, to live vicariously through them. If the hero can make it through adversity, then we can too.

3 thoughts on “The various layers of a novel

  1. Thank you for coming, Mel! It was a nice month fooling around with NaNoWriMo. And what’s next…? I’m thinking about a confession. 😉 Talk in December.

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