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A deep understanding of framework

Plan your novel

Story exploring

In the last post I suggested story exploring over an intensive period, say one weekend, to consider what your favourite stories have in common and how they connect with you as reader or viewer. Here’s the beginning of my list as an example. Yours will be unique to you:

  • Series characters
  • Unique / interesting location
  • Quirky humour
  • Predictable shape: beginning, middle and end, with growing sense of crisis in the middle
  • An ending that keeps me guessing
  • Cuts at just the right place to create suspense or tension
  • Not threatening or too frightening
  • Themes: philosophy, meaning of life, what it means to be human, links between places and people, rebelling against authority, magic.

What’s the next step?

I promised you three powerful exercises to help you plan your novel, so here’s the next one. It will help you move from the sense of connection you identified when you explored the stories you love to a deeper understanding of framework.

What is a framework?

It’s the system that holds something together: a group of people, a building or a book. There are frameworks everywhere. They’re constructed, to borrow a term from literary theory and from the building profession; in other words, humans invented the framework or read the framework into something.

Dinosaur, buildings and books

Dinosaurs strolled around the earth for millions of years without knowing some of them were herbivores and some carnivores or even that they were called dinosaurs. That’s a framework we’ve imposed from a distance. When an architect or engineer designs a framework to hold up a building, that’s something they’ve invented to hold the rooms, corridors and stairs (and people) together. Stories have frameworks too. This is a constraint that holds everything (characters, places, events etc) together.

A deeper understanding of framework

Often the advice given about middles is: things get worse. Considering a middle could be thousands of words long, things get worse never felt specific enough to me, which has inspired this exercise.

  1. Take three of the stories you identified when you did the story exploring exercise. Take a look at the middles. Remember we’re talking about stories you love here. So these are middles that you connect with deeply.
  2. Identify three major events that happen in each story middle. Simply list them out.
  3. Add any important detail, such who is involved and where they take place.
  4. How does each of these events make you feel as a reader? Write that down. Do you experience any physical sensations, like your heart beating faster, for instance? Write that down.
  5. Can you say why you felt / experienced that?
  6. Take your own characters and your own locations. Either close your eyes and visualise them until you have a clear picture in your head, or make some notes describing each.
  7. Note down three things that could happen to them that would cause them stress somehow.
  8. Look back at the answers to number 4. How could you create the same response in your own readers? Try freewriting the answer to this question.

We’re deliberately looking at the (traditionally) most difficult part of the planning process – middles – upfront. A framework makes it more likely your readers will experience your story deeply. Just because it’s constructed, doesn’t stop it from being real.

Three key scenes

Come up with plans for three key scenes that will take places in the middle of your novel based on your answers to these 8 questions. (You can do more than 3, but start with 3.) You don’t have to know how you’ll get there or what will happen next. They don’t have to be connected to one another. Think of them as snapshots – glimpses of your characters.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. Here’s the next post in the series.

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