Notes compiled by Kristin Oakley on her Weekend-With-Your-Novel experience November 2, 2012

Seven Crucial Questions When Structuring Your Novel (Bridget Birdsell and Danika Dinsmore): Based upon “Poetics” by Aristotle

Establish set-up – do this very quickly – hook: 1) Protagonist; 2) What is she? (fantasy); 3) Where is she?; 4) Supporting characters; 5) What is she doing?; 6) What do we suspect?; 7) Promise to readers based upon choice of genre

Novel = Character who has to solve a problem, need an antagonist, everything is mentioned for a purpose

ABC = Action, Background, Climax – Climatic Moment & Cathartic Moment (Little Death) – right after the climatic moment

Sequence Approach – begins with the status quo, each sequence ends with a power shift = new status quo

Reversals – heading toward a goal and then something happens to keep you from your goal – ticking clocks, complications & major reversals = new status quo; generally happens at the plot points

Looking for agents: “Publisher’s Lunch” and “Poets & Writers List”

Blueprint for Success (Laurel Yourke): Things to consider: What’s the number one thing? First two pages: What’s (who’s) at stake and why do I care? Inciting incident should be in the first sentence. External event is what causes the story to start, what begins the journey, external pressure points induce the internal pressure that leads to the action. It’s also important to know your ending, know your character’s arc, what do you want the main character to achieve? Build to the middle.

Pressure Point Plan: Two things from this: Realism and Causality – every event will drive the next
-Event – forced into action – the protagonist doesn’t want to do it
-What makes your protagonist change against his will?
-He must give something up – short term gratification? Independence? Security? Love?
-Characters – responding internally and externally to the pressure point
-Instantly comprehensible by the readers – crystal clear – direct; Immediately accessible explosion – needs no backstory – active voice

Revision: Well-constructed plot – “can’t take a single scene out of it without the whole thing falling apart” – Donald Maass

1. Check for plot points
2. Scene work – does it have a hook and a cliffhanger?

a. who, what, where, when, how – pay attention to these;
b. a hook is a worry; character should be worried all the time, revisit the worry, state the worry;
c. each scene moves the story along;
d. central question of the story – keep that in the scenes throughout

Logline – hit on the theme – it’s okay to say “my story is about justice (or redemption or trust or whatever)”: Who/premise? What’s at stake? Will they get what they want?

“A Story is a Promise,” by Bill Johnson

In Medias Res – Latin for starting in the middle – start in the middle of the scene with no explanation

Two – six or more pressure points arising from the inciting incident (list them). These grow the protagonist and reveal something about human nature.

Denouement – falling off – falling after the climax – climax is resolution of dilemma

Backstory – think of it as investing $10,000 – do you need to spend it right here, right now? “When eighty percent of the book is complete, then you can add backstory.” Donald Maass
Can be used to delay during tension (builds tension) – never use backstory on the first page.

$650,000 Advance (Laurel Yourke): Writing it the way you need it to be – poetic, psychological. Write the opening that you need. Why are you writing the book you’re writing? It means to me . . .

Scenario and Voice
– number one reason books sell is a great scenario – blockbustery
– if you have a great voice, you can get away with anything
– maximize your inherent strength whether it be scenario or voice

Metaphors: everyone can get better at metaphors – assess other peoples’ metaphors. Don’t repeat yourself, expand and tweak or stop

Lunch with Danika Dinsmore (literaryworlds.worldpress.com):

Ideas to inspire writing: backstory for your objects (particularly those important to your protagonist and the storyline, write a history of objects on your desk, draw maps, draw structures, put your character in a new scene and have her interact with the scene using free write, write a scene with no dialogue (add the dialogue later), your protagonist walks into your office and picks up an object-what is it? Then he takes an object out of his pocket-what is it?

The Triad: Strengthening Character, Plot and Setting in Unison (Christine DeSmet):


1. Check out Dara Marks, “The Fatal Flaw”
2. Have strong scene goals for your character – easier to get in their head
3. Every single person in the book has to have a job. Decide what their job is – why are they in the book?
4. Write the book jacket copy and write a review for your book – point out the flaws, what’s missing?
5. Who’s got a problem? Asked on page one. What’s at stake?
6. Logline as first line
7. Fatal Flaw – go into action, people might know about their flaw and they don’t want that exposed
8. Mid-point crisis
9. Characters try to remake their setting
10. Have several deadlines so that you don’t have middle slump – use the rule of three

Hands-on Revision – Character (Christopher Mohar): Characters are our window into the world of the story, sympathetic to the villain, “strippers as mothers and daughters,” find the humanity in your characters.

Scene: Is it fresh/interesting? Is it related to the plot/story? Does it adequately convey the intended trait?

Aspects of creating the sympathetic character: rooting interest, vulnerability, redeemability, heroic qualities

How does voice reveal my character? Announces mood, education, culture, belief systems

Diction (what words we choose) diagram for characters:

Greeting Insult Exclamation
Bruno, skinhead, biker Grunt “Yo” “Yer mother” F bombs F bombs S bombs
Harriet, fortune, teller “Namaste” “I hope your life line comes up short!” “She’s dead!” “Oh my!”
Aaron – Texas rock & roll star “Howdy” “S’up” “Rock On” “Poser” “Ye-ha!”

This is a good process for all characters in your book.

What does your character care about that drives the story? What does your character attempt to do?
What obstacles/distractions are there? Antagonist’s intervention? Make it even worse.

Closing session: Check out: Noah Lukeman (queries, etc.), AgentQuery, Query Tracker, Miss Snark’s First Victim (name of the website), MeetMe, Hugh Howie author of “Wool” and his success online doing kindle/Amazon singles