Tag Archives: Novel writing

Story structure sketch note

Story structure

Act 1:

  • Hook
  • Backstory
  • Trigger

Act 2:

  • Crisis
  • Struggle
  • Epiphany

Act 3:

  • Plan
  • Climax
  • Ending

Should be able to write at least 9 scenes with this in mind. Yay!


Time to edit

After finishing my novel’s first draft in April, I set it aside for six months to fester marinate before editing. Today being October 1, I’m ready to resurrect the beast and start filing off its scaly edges.

These notes I wrote to myself back in the halcyon days of becoming la belle noveliste, based largely on my adaptation of the screenwriting strategy laid out in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Now that I’ve arrived on ye olde editing shore, it’s time to unpack.


Questions to ask AFTER FIRST DRAFT is complete

Does the thesis-antithesis-synthesis hold?
Thesis (marriage=prison) > Antithesis (single=freedom) > Synthesis (married AND free)

What were the 6(+) tics established in the Setup? Were they fixed?

Save the Cat: does MC do something early to make us like her?

Is there a good B story? How does it parallel the A story?

Who states the theme in Setup? Does it come up for discussion in the B story? How does the hero fight against the theme in the beginning? How does she incorporate the wisdom of the theme into her Finale solution (synthesis)?

Is there boring exposition? Pope in the pool: how can you “bury” the exposition? Bury, don’t bore!

Does the catalyst change life permanently? Does it thrust the hero into action?

Debate section MUST ask a question. Hero must answer.

Is the hero strong? Decisive? Does the hero move the story from Act 1 into Act 2?

Do you reach the FPP (first plot point) by page 25 (screenplay) or at minimum page 50 (novel)?

Is there a false victory?

Is there a false defeat?

What time clocks appear at the Midpoint?

Does time speed up from Midpoint on?

Who or what dies at the “All is Lost” moment? Does the hero fall completely at this point? (She should.)

Do the A story and B story intersect? In a cool way?

Five point finale: are all five points here?

  • Hero hatches plan to “storm the castle” and “rescue the princess”
  • Castle wall breached. Hero enters bad guys’ fort. Things appear to go according to plan.
  • Reach tower but “the princess” is not there. It’s a trap. Looks like bad guys win after all.
  • New plan. Dig down deep for the last ounce of strength our hero didn’t know she had.
  • Thinking on the fly, the hero discovers her best self, executes a new plan, and wins against all odds.

Is the final image a reverse of the opening image?

Does each character have a character arc?

Each character:

  • has a goal (or problem to solve)
  • is thwarted somehow
  • is at odds with others’ goals
  • his bad thing becomes a plus
  • his good thing becomes a negative
  • wants what someone else has, is, or does

Are B characters upside down versions of A characters?

Is B story bizarro version of world in Act 1?

Is there too much magic, too much of anything that is too unbelievable?

If any of this helps in your editing process, sweet. I’d love to hear about it! I’d also be much obliged if you have ideas or editing strategies to share.


Steroids for stories


I have been doing everything BUT write my brains out for the past six weeks. Packing, decluttering, cleaning, sweeping, painting, power washing, selling… Casa Zirro is on the market! And it’s been a busy spring getting ready to jump into the volcanic adventure of voluntary unemployment and relocation with Punk and Los Zirritos.

Also, I got a paying gig doing a logo design, and my creative hours went toward accomplishing that. So writing has taken a backseat. BUT the novel is still very much in mind. I look forward to having all this moving business behind us so I can get to the business of editing. Still hopeful to start that in October.

Today I’m sharing notes I’ve been making along the way of things I know I’ll want to look out for when I start editing.

Play along! Make your story bigger, stronger, faster, and better with me.

Journalism 101

Covering the basics is pretty basic, but sometimes I’m appalled at the things I’ve left out. I know them, and because they’re obvious to me, I forgot to mention them. But readers only know if I tell them.

Who is being murdered?

What is that sticky stuff on the floor?

When did she realize she’d fallen out of love?

Where is the gun she’ll need to grab in the final scene?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

How did she get out of the closet?

5 Senses

More basics. Sights and sounds come easily, but giving readers the full five-pointed sensory experience enriches your storytelling.

Sight: can readers see this Michigan town I’ve created?

Smell: is that earthy lakeside mustiness stuck in readers’ noses?

Taste: what exactly is he drinking and drinking? =)

Hearing: crickets. Frogs. Waves. Mosquitoes. Breezes. Shouting. Fireworks.

Touch: are readers feeling the roughness of wood, the humidity, the slap across the face?

5 more senses

Sixth sense: when Obi-Wan sensed a disturbance in the force, we knew the story was about to take a sharp upturn. Giving your protagonist a sense of foreboding can heighten suspense and make for a more entertaining ride. But be careful. Sometimes readers are happier if the hero doesn’t see what’s coming. “You gotta know when to hold ’em,” because story enthusiasts love surprise twists in the ride.

Common sense: does the story make sense logically? You create your story world, so you create what that logic is, but once you’ve written the rules, you’ve got to follow them. The plot, characters’ actions, timing, setting and progression all have to make enough sense to be believable.

Sense of adventure: from sensing a disturbance in the force to getting to know another character in the biblical sense, your hero should be proactive, doing stuff and taking risks, for better or worse.

Sense of Direction: can refer to your hero’s moral compass, a philosophical true north, or actual cardinal directions to clarify where things are located within the setting.

Sense of humor: I do a fair bit of promotion work. You know what audiences love? To laugh. They appreciate a good joke and a little silliness, even if it’s cheesy, because life is often serious, boring and depressing.

Stories take us to other worlds, allowing readers to escape the mundanity. Give people something to smile about. A sarcastic villain, a deaf character who misreads lips, a nosy neighbor always showing up at the wrong time, a little boy telling fart jokes in Sunday school— anything that gives your readers an endorphin boost will make them feel good now AND remember you in the future.

Get lost.

Sometimes what we leave out is just as important as what we leave in.

Lose the filler. Cut every second use of a word or phrase, especially descriptive ones. Your character flies into a caffeinated rage in the first paragraph— clever. He makes caffeinated love to his enemy’s barista in the next— not clever. You just invented a cliche.

Lose a character. Kill off someone important. Do you believe Margot Al-Harazi actually blew up the President of the United States? In only the 8th episode? No silent clock, I know. But still! Way to add drama, 24!

Lose yourself in the music. Or in a book, or a painting, or nature. “Stop, collaborate and listen,” as Vanilla Ice says. Get inspired by what others have created. Tune into their rhythm and pretty soon you’ll find your own. Use quotes as a jumping off point. Comment on or describe a work of art. It’s called ekphrasis.

Lose track of time. For you, this means write with abandon and for as long as you can. The longer you write, the more and usually better ideas will flow. For your character, it means going on a wild goose chase or investigating a thread on the side that may or may not weave back into the story later. Either way, you’ll know your hero better and have a little fun together. Writing is supposed to be fun.

Lose your inhibitions. Fear holds us back from writing the truth, writing what we know, writing what we don’t know, even from submitting our stories for rejection publication.

Write like your pen is a lit stick of dynamite, then send your flaming words out there. You have as much right to set the world on fire as anybody.

The End

I finished writing my novel on Monday, March 31, 2014. After fifteen months I finally typed the words THE END.

It was more anticlimactic than I could have imagined. No joy, no sense of accomplishment, no relief.

I actually didn’t write THE END at first. I simply wrote all I could think to write and when I was empty I went to bed.


Unable to sleep, I thought getting up and writing THE END would settle something. Or stir something. But no.

Still empty.

Forty eight hours later, it’s my writing night and I don’t know what to do. Every word penned offends the paper. Poetry won’t flowetry. I was okay this morning but not now in this mourning. I had fallen out of love with the story, true, but now it’s gone and I’m lost in a wash of unanticipated grief.

Who will I be now?

I think I literally wrote my brains out.

There are no more words.

Scenes: 2 types, 7 tools

A little advice from Writing Fiction for Dummies.


Authors Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy categorize scenes into two types – proactive and reactive. Each scene has a recognizable beginning, middle, and end.


Beginning – define the “simple, objective, worthwhile, achievable, and difficult” goal.
Middle – conflict. Hit your POV character. When he tries to get up, hit him again.
End – setback. Make sure he’s down for the count.


Beginning – he reacts to a setback from previous scene.
Middle – Box your guy in. No easy outs.
End – he’s got to make a “simple, objective, worthwhile, achievable, and difficult” decision.

Writing-Fiction-For-Dummies-B002XGICAO-LVery helpful as a sort of checklist for analyzing, and in some cases rearranging, my scenes.

I can see how one scene type segues into the other, so even though the authors don’t really say, I’m guessing the idea is to go back and forth throughout the story. I might put “P” and “R” on my index cards and see if it pans out.

Note: not every scene is going to be knock-down-drag-out, but all of them should do their part to propel the story forward. Those middle bits have to be exciting enough to keep readers turning pages. (Chapter 14)


“Show, don’t tell.”

We’ve all been told, but have we been shown? Showing presents the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings and thoughts of a character. Telling skips over all the sensory stuff and just gives the facts.

In order of importance, 5 tools to help you show:

      • ACTION
      • DIALOGUE

and 2 for when you need to tell:


That “in order of importance” bit bugs me. I’m pretty sure I tell too much, show too little. Anyhoo, there’s some good advice about how to get in and out of a flashback. Even better advice: don’t overuse the technique.

And these are smart tips for writing narrative summary:

  • BE INTERESTING. Not boring. Only surprising facts, critical info about your story world, and vivid imagery.
  • BE STRONG. Distinctive voice, entertaining delivery.
  • BE BRILLIANT.  (Chapter 10)

This post has probably been none of those four things. Brilliant.