Tag Archives: Novel

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!


Freshman orientation 

Hey guys! 

I started an online course today, which looks to be pretty awesome. I have no idea how to tell you how to find it. My library calls them Gale courses and offers them for free. They’re owned by a company called Cengage. Their website is ed2go.com. However you find them, see if you can join! It starts today.

I’m doing Write Fiction Like a Pro, taught by Steve Alcorn— a name I KNOW I know, but haven’t been able to place yet. Whatevs, even the first lesson has proven useful and I’m looking forward to writing novel number two according to an outline, rather than pantsing like the first one. DUDE, I am NOT a pantser. 

Anyhoo when I org my notes later I’ll fill you guys in on the highlights so you can vicariously live out your writerly/educationary dreams. 

Let us know in the comments if you’re in, and look for me, username: Mame.

Crossing the finish line

Today is day 100 of #The100DayProject . I finished. Yay. 

*cue partially inflated helium balloons and off key band.

I feel characteristically underwhelmed. It’s always the way— reaching the end of a project when I should be jumping up and down or popping a champagne cork, but instead I’m shrugging, going, “Eh, it’s over, okay, what next?”

There are 109 days left until NaNoWriMo starts November 1. I think I will do 100 days of illustrated poetry bits (thanks to everyone who commented!), but maybe I won’t start tomorrow. I’ve got nine more days to decide. And some laundry to fold. 

The good news is this time (unlike when I finished my novel OVER A YEAR AGO, ahem) I actually DO have something lined up. I signed on to do a Gale course, Writing Fiction Like a Pro. It starts tomorrow, lasts six weeks, and sounds like a good way to organize my outline for the NaNo novel I have in mind. Best part: several friends from my local writer’s critique group are taking it, too! I will enjoy the camaraderie, and probably need the accountability. 

Do you have some short term goals, writing or otherwise? What are your creative plans?

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.