Thursday, September 12, 2013

WRITING A NOVEL - The Blueprint

Writing a novel is like building a house. Some writers might attack their projects head on and start clearing the land and pouring the foundation without a plan. For me, writing without a plan promises needless months of rewrites and structure changes. Been there done that. I guess we learn best by past mistakes.

So tonight I’m drafting a preliminary blueprint for the structure of the novel: word count, page count, number of chapters, the beginning-25% (Act I), the middle-50% (Act II), the end-25% (Act III). The blueprint is mostly a simple left-brain exercise. This is the easy part.

I want the chapters to be short (approximately 1,000-1,500 words each). I like short chapters when I read. Authors like James Patterson are my mentors for this method. I have also found that reading fiction must be “learned”. I write what I like to read. I’m a simple reader when it comes to fiction. I like a puzzle. I like something that has deep themes below the surface. I like to find an easy stopping place. I like to learn something I didn’t know when I read.

I want the overall length of the novel to be approximately 250 to 300 pages (see the blog post: THE NOVEL: Does Length Matter?). Again, I write what I like to read. I like novels that are 300 or less pages. There are exceptions, but typically I get bored with long stories. I had much rather read a trilogy where each book was 250-300 pages than one book that is 600 pages long.

Stories can be made to be any length you want. The way you do this is to add additional characters. Each new character must react with the existing characters. This creates more scenes, more words, and more pages I always wondered why Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 wasn’t longer than 544 pages…I guess it could have been 1,000+ pages with his crazy list of characters.

Word count per page is less (more white space) when dialogue is used on the page. Based on my average use of dialogue, the typically word count per page is approximately 300 words per page. My target length for this novel is 75,000 to 80,000 words, maybe a little less, which equates to about 250-260 pages. With a target word count of 75,000 for the rough draft, I can count on cutting 10% in subsequent re-writes leaving the finished product at 65,000+. This is the length of my Flight into Darkness and Flight to Freedom.

Just a note on re-writes: After the first draft is complete, there will be approximately five runs at editing, cutting, polishing, patching the storyline. Flight to Freedom was done with five. This includes sitting around a table and one person reading the story aloud and editing as you go. Sometimes you can only cover a couple of chapters in four hours. It is a tedious process that is best done when you are not tired. And even then, there are mistakes. They say: writing is re-writing...and re-writing...and more re-writing. Go see what Earnest Hemingway said about the rough draft. I won't post it here due to his choice of words. Back in his day there was an ample supply of editors at the publishing houses. Today, that is not the case.

Typically, the first draft is too wordy. And trust me, I am very wordy in my first drafts. Recently (starting with Flight to Freedom) I began using Dragon to help me get the big chunks on paper. Dragon is a voice-to-text software program. So once the scene is in my head, I talk it onto the paper. This speeds up the process. I type approximately 60 words per minute when I’m writing, but Dragon types as fast as I can talk. It works great for the rough draft. I can count on the rough draft taking me six months to write….IF the story basic story is mapped out. I will show you how I do that in a later blog using story boards.

So here is what the initial blueprint looks like:

Total word count: 75,000
Total pages: 250
Total chapters: 50
Act I (25%): Chapters 1-13
Act II (50%): Chapters 14-37
Act III (25%): Chapters 38-50

I’m always thinking about the story. Once I have the basic concepts in my head I will begin. The blueprint allows me to skip around. I can work on scenes in Act III one day and scenes in Act I the next day without getting lost.

More as it comes…

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