NOTE: Last week I blogged about Dan Wells’ Seven-Point System and dissected some successful short stories to see how their structure worked. I’ll be referring to Wells’ system again this week, so I recommend reading last week’s post (HERE) so you know what I’m talking about.
We know that the Seven-Point System works for short stories, but what about novels and longer projects?
My newest WIP novel is the prequel to a YA Horror novel I wrote last year. I’m referring to it as “Jim’s Story” for the main character is a 16 year old reluctant demon hunter named Jim Wolcott.
Wells explained that each of your novel’s character arcs and story plotlines should have its own seven points. Some of those points might be the same across different plotlines, but each “thread” of your novel/screenplay/series needs to stand alone as a complete story. It is your job as the author/screenwriter to weave these threads together in the most effective (see interesting) way possible.
Though I consider myself a pantser/discovery writer, I’m using Wells’ Seven-Point System for “Jim’s Story” to help me craft a three-dimensional novel and stay on track while drafting.
Below is the step-by-step process I used to storyboard my new novel.
Step 1: Think about your story
I know that this novel will have three distinct threads of story:
- Inner Demons: Jim’s Character Arc
- Outer Demons: The Directorate’s secrets and motives
- Romantic Subplot: Jim and Lauren’s love story
Step 2: Gather materials
I have Scrivener (the novel writing software), and I find it very useful for revising once I have a completed draft. But when I’m starting with Draft Zero, I think Scrivener is a little too overwhelming.
Thus, I like to use note cards which I can physically manipulate to figure out the progression of events.
I’m using lined index cards, Scotch brand “Magic Tape” (really just washi tape), and a pen. I’ll use the tape to distinguish between the different storylines. You could also use colored index cards or pens.
Step 3: Work backwards
I found it useful to focus on one storyline at a time. Then I worked backwards from the Resolution of that story to the Hook.
Step 4: Play with Pacing
By lining the different plot points for each story out on my desk, I could visualize the points in the novel where the three story threads aligned perfectly (this is what you want for a climactic scene or resolution) and places where I need to adjust events to create a better pacing impact.
I also noticed that, while Jim’s Character Arc and the Romantic Subplot keep pace with each other (the top 2 rows), the Directorate’s storyline (bottom row) is concentrated at the beginning of the novel. This could be because a lot of background information about the Directorate will be required at the beginning of the novel for worldbuilding and character motivation, but it may mean I need to rethink how/when Jim learns about the Directorate. Perhaps I need to devise a way to disseminate information about the secret demon hunting organization throughout the novel to avoid info-dumping.
Step 5: Revise
I haven’t even started drafting yet, but looking down at my cards and how events were ordered, I realized that some of the points I thought were “pinches” (places where pressure is applied to the character) were actually plot turns that needed to be developed more fully. No worries. Just cross out that card title and rewrite it. Shuffle cards around. Done!
This was a worthwhile writing exercise that took roughly 2 hours (including taking photos and writing this post).
Have a suggestion for how to start a new novel project? Leave a comment below!