A few days ago I wrote a post about the Write Your First Novel online course on COURSERA. This is the 3rd creative writing course I take, the rest have been a lot of reading, a lot of self-instruction with material from a large collection of writers and instructors as well as some experimentation.
A novel should grow naturally, without artificial assistance.The Organic Method of Writing – David Wheeler
That is basically the main advise given on the single short video of the 9th lecture. In other words, the only requirement given is the Aristotle’s Three Act structure which has a beginning (Act I), middle (Act II) and end (Act III). This is fine for the bulk of the students that joined without previous writing experience or instruction. But back in 2017, I participated in NaNoWriMo with the challenge to write the 1st draft of a 50,000 word novel in just one month! I made it and it was gruelling! The novel however, is still unfinished. I liked the plot but at 50K it was far from the end. At the time I figured I did not have enough experience to pull a detective novel. I also discovered that it was more than just writing aimlessly. So, since then, I have spent a few years taking courses, writing a bit, learning a lot through a variety of sources, etc.
By now, rather than approaching the task of this course following the proposed “Organic method of writing”, I chose to write it using Horace’s (ancient Roman poet) Five Act structure as we were thought in the Craft of Plot writing course, that is Action-Background-Development-Climax-Denouement. Additionally, I am spicing it up with the 7-Point system which I find overly complicated, yet I am drawn at doing it right this time and not perish in the process. Here a partial review of my 1st chapter.
I am behind on my schedule because I am also taking a long Machine Learning (Artificial Intelligence) course which also requires a lot of attention and mathematical skills I have not used for a long time.
Now I am on the 5th week of the Write Your First Novel course by David Wheeler but armed with extra knowledge. Looking at the course’s forum, as well as reading some of the reviews, I came to the conclusion that some have no idea about writing (not to belittle anybody though), simply, I think the course could have served better to most if extra material had been given to orient those with little or no experience in designing a plot. So, I hope this blog post serves as some sort of briefing to the task of writing the 3rd chapter.
In the previous two chapters we should have covered both the Hook to keep our readers interested in living the adventure we are creating for them as well as the Setup in which they get immersed in the surroundings (description), learn about our characters (characterization), their goals and what is at stake for them.
The course asks for the novel to have 50,000 words and chapters that are 2,500 words long. Based on that target total/chapter word count, and the 7-Point System, my fellow students and aspiring writers should consider planning their 3rd chapter so that these things happen regardless of whether you go for the 3 or 5 Act Structure.
When I successfully finished NaNoWriMo and decided it was time for some serious instructions, I became aware that writing a novel was more than just writing a lot of narrative and dialog because it came out from inspiration. I think the first I learned was that the novel had a structure other than the natural begin-middle-end structure I knew. Unfortunately, my first steps were reading over and over about the 7-Point system. I was still trying to figure out that plot structure when I ran across videos and books from K.M. Weiland about The Character Arc. And my jaw dropped, not only had I to take care of a scripted plot structure, I also had to have character arcs! and to my amazement, these character arcs are also symbiotically synchronized to the important points of the plot! But I don’t want to traumatize my fellow aspiring writers. Instead I hope to touch these points so as to create certain conscience of what must happen. In doing this, I hope they don’t end up with the feeling that they wrote everything for nothing and save them a lot of frustration. So, I will keep it simple but leave some points for further reading for those that are interested.
In chapter 3 we will cross the 6,000 word boundary. Here we have something important happening in our story: the Inciting Event.
What does that mean? Well, this is very important point in the novel. Our readers have gotten this far, but we must keep them interested in our characters and the plot, we don’t want to bore them, do we?
The Inciting Event means that is is a turning point for our protagonist who, by now, is hopefully engrained in the hearts of our readers. Why is this so important? our protagonist was living his/her life as we all do, but now something happened (the Inciting Event). The normal world of our protagonist has been shaken by a conflict so great it cannot be overlooked. If it could, the novel is over, the reader puts the book down and we lost them forever!
At this point our protagonist is at least partially aware of the central conflict (internal. external or both). This central conflict is something we must have defined in our outline (I like outlining, I am not a pantser) of the novel. That means that our protagonist is now forced to rethink the situation, this is something that cannot be ignored. As writers, our task is to make an ordeal of the life of our protagonist.
As it turns out, by the moment of the Inciting Event, our friend K.M. Weiland and others say something important should be happening to the character arc of our protagonist. The character arc describes the evolution of your character through the test of his/her strengths and weaknesses as the plot evolves.
She describes three basic character arcs in the journey of our protagonist through the adventure we created for them. You must choose one of them during the planning phase of your novel:
- Positive Arc. The character grows either spiritually, emotionally, matures or a combination thereof. At the end of the novel, the protagonist is a better version of him/herself. Think if Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of The Rings to name just one.
- Flat (Shift) Arc. Not really interesting, the character is the same at the beginning and end. Apparently little was learned, I don’t think this is an interesting choice for a protagonist at least. It might for other characters. But a shift in position (opinions, etc.) is more interesting. Flat arcs are typically found in genres such as Spy thrillers, Adventure and Mystery novels.
- Negative (Fall) Arc. Things got worse for the character and ended up being a worst version in the end. Think of huge disappointments and disastrous events with long-lasting consequences. Think of Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars
By chapter three our protagonist’s character arc begins its curve for better or for worse. Here, the protagonist -according to K.M. Weiland- gets the first hint that The Lie is not true. Oh no! there it is, yet another thing to keep track off! The Lie is basically something your character believes to be true but at some point the character will start experiencing revelations that what he/she believed is not true and that knowledge will be a game changer! Obviously, this lie has to be significant to the plot, not just any kind of lie, nothing trivial.
I know, it sounds like torture to the uninitiated writer! but nothing better to illustrate it than an example.
Imagine your character is a rich young person with a good heart that hates dirt money, blood diamonds and things like that. He starts in your story making use of this money to enjoy life as his right to do so. And then, your character gets acquainted with someone that plants a doubt. He starts checking things out in the family and little by little comes to the realization that he is actually enjoying money his family earned through the death and suffering of many people! That will put your character in a moral dilemma.