Find the right starting point for your novel

Figuring out how to open your story is difficult, because there might be any number of “right times” to begin your story. But in the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist I have avoided phrasing things in the negative, so rather than saying “don’t start at the wrong time,” I put it this way:

The story begins in the right place.

This item is on most editor’s checklists because one of the most common errors we see is two or three chapters of prelude—sometimes more—before the story reaches an engaging starting point. As a freelance editor, I can tell you to delete these chapters to move that point up to the beginning. But if those chapters are present while you are seeking traditional publication or self-publishing, you may not hold the attention of the acquisitions editor or reader long enough to make the sale. Continue reading

Avoid the unnecessary prologue

I took a week off for the Realm Makers conference. Had a fabulous time with all my fellow SpecFic writers, and got some good feedback on my class about representing multiple languages in speculative fiction. Based on that feedback, I’ll be putting the information into a white paper later this year.

The winners of the awards for Christian Speculative Fiction were announced, with the Clive Staples Award going to Patrick Carr for A Cast of Stones. In the Parable Awards for cover design, second place went to Kirk DouPonce for the cover of Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz, and first place to Alexandre Rito for the cover of Numb by John Otte.

OK, enough about Realm Makers. Where were we?

Ah, yes, we were talking about structure. Next up on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist:

Prologue, if used, is necessary and engaging.

On a recent episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, the hosts were asked whether a prologue should be included in one’s proposal when the agent or editor asks for “the first three chapters.” The short answer is yes. The long answer is — if you could omit the prologue and still have your story make sense, then what is the prologue doing there in the first place? Continue reading

An alternative to the five-act structure

The traditional three- and five-act structure is great for writers who outline. For those who don’t, not so much which is why it’s not a huge problem if you look at this item on the checklist and can’t really check it off:

Key events or turning points form a three- or five-act structure.

Being a firm believer in the power of the outline, I love the idea of five-act structure. But some people can’t write that way. We often call them “seat of the pants” writers or pantsers. These are the kind of writers who say “I need to write the story to find out how it ends.” If you are this kind of writer, this kind of structure may be unenjoyable or even unfeasible. Not every story fits in this mold.

And story is what should guide your decisions. Not “rules.” Continue reading

Choose your novel’s structure

We’ve completed the Plot segment of the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist, and now we move on to Structure.

Traditionally, writing instructors have advocated a structure for novels modeled after that used in theater, which is why this item is on the checklist:

Key events or turning points form a three- or five-act structure.

You could plan your structure before you write, but if you’re not an outliner, this may not be enjoyable or feasible. But we’re editing now, and once you’ve finished first draft, you can examine it to see whether your story fits one of the usual models, and tweak if you choose to. Continue reading

Behold the power of the outline

At a chamber fellowship meeting, I was once asked to share my top editing tip. Didn’t have to think long about it: outline.

Snowflake can identify your chapter breaks based on scene length.

Snowflake can identify your chapter breaks based on scene length.

I resisted outlining for many years, because it reeked of term papers and therefore seemed uncreative. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Pro software convinced me otherwise. Designed for novel-writing, it takes you from premise to outline in nine steps. When you’re done, it will compile your entries into a proposal. Continue reading