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A sense of connection

Plan Your Novel

From how to sceptic to a how to enthusiast

Let me tell you this upfront: planning is something I struggled with for ages, until I came up with a strategy that worked for me. Being an introvert I was afraid to ask, in case the answer was obvious. And I found myself rebelling against the formulas, but I ended up doing so much research into what stories are and how they work that I eventually wrote a how to book for beginner novelists. In other words I went from a how to sceptic to a how to enthusiast. Sort of. I believe it’s possible to break the process down anyway.

‘How to’ systems – the good ones anyway – are simply retellings of classic narrative structure. They’re not formulaic if you add your own specific story. Not convinced? Read on, because over a series of blog posts I’m going write about three powerful exercises that will help you tell your story whether you’re a how to sceptic or not. These are designed to help introverts and story-formula rebels like me.

Story exploring

Without further ado, here’s my first suggestion: Take a look at stories you love. In fact, spend a weekend exploring the books you love, the TV programmes you watch repeatedly, the films you love, any stories of any kind that draw you in – the mode doesn’t matter. Re-read, re-watch or simply browse. (If a weekend doesn’t work, dedicate time to this when you can focus). Ask yourself these questions.

  1. What do the stories have in common?
  2. What is it about the characters that you love?
  3. What do you love about the themes and ideas?
  4. What do you notice about the locations?
  5. Do you notice any patterns? How do they start, for instance, and how do they end?
  6. Is there anything predictable about the stories?
  7. Why do you return to these stories again and again?

When you’re doing this exercise, try to identify what connects you to the story. You see yourself in it, for instance, it’s comforting, it’s about a place you love, you love the central character.

Stories you love

If this exercise feels like a drag, you haven’t picked the right stories. Remember we’re talking about stories you love here. I’m not asking you to think about stories that you haven’t read / watched or think you should have read / watched. If it helps, take a look at your books / watch list and make a list of those you think you ‘should’ read or watch. Then make a list of your top ten stories (any kind) of all time. Or top twenty. Or fifty.

Sense of connection

Of course, your own novel doesn’t have to be about the same themes or similar to the stories you’ve identified in terms of content. Having said that, once you’ve done this exercise, you will have focused on the experience the reader or viewer (you!) has when they engage with a story. You’ve had an intense version of that experience. I suggested you do it that way in order to emphasise the sense of connection. You want your readers to feel that same sense of connection.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

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

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