You’ve got a great idea. The story has been building in your brain until it feels as if your head will burst. Well, parts of it. Random parts that sort of swirl together in a jumble of giggles and heart-flutters and heart-transforming epiphanies. But how in the world do you take your character from introduction to resolution? More than that, how do you do so in a cohesive, engaging, and progressive way?
That, friends, is where storytelling comes in.
As a plotter, much of this process comes to me naturally. This makes it more difficult to explain the process. However, upon further thought, I realized the writing process is much the same for one who plots their stories as it is for one who writes by “the seat of their pants” as they say.
Ultimately, plotting is allowing the story to unfold in the writer’s brain unhindered and without pause. The difference is, rather than stopping to write the scenes as they come, the writer instead quickly jots down main points. Those main points become scene outlines.
Keep in mind, just because a scene lands on a notecard doesn’t mean it’ll make it into the story. Rather, scenes are like roadmaps directing you in a certain direction. If at any time the writer hits an unexpected roadblock or valley, they can toss the scene and replace it with another. In fact, they can reroute their story’s entire course.
Scene one is the introduction of characters and setting, and begins at the inciting incident. In my debut novel, Beyond I Do, the inciting incident occurred when my heroine was asked to deliver medicine for a shut-in at a low-income, inner city apartment. I pulled from my own experience with inner city missions, remembering what I felt, how it stirred my thinking, and how it affected my short and long term desires.
At this point, I’ve normally determined my moral premise. If you haven’t read the book named the same name by Dr. Stanley Williams, I highly recommend you do. Having a strong and consistent moral premise in each and every scene adds incredible depth to your novel.
A moral premise is, to paraphrase Dr. Stanley’s words in the book’s introduction, is the singular psychological obstacle that my hero/heroine’s journey and the book, is really about. This could be love, courage, order, justice, etc. This moral premise always has a counter premise, such as hatred, fear, chaos, injustice, etc. Therefore, through each scene, the reader should see one of the two counter premises at work.
For example, in Beyond I Do, the moral premise is surrender. The counter premise is control. So in every seen, characters are either attempting to surrender or are grasping for control. In some scenes, they may vacillate between the two.
For my hero, my goal is to move her from attempting to find and maintain control to surrendering her goals and fears to Christ step by step. She longs to do this, but of course her fear (inner obstacle) holds her back. And yet, at the same time, God moves her forward, encouraging her to trust in Him.
Can you see how these two premises are at work throughout the novel?
In many ways, the next scenes follow from this in much an if-than format until I reach that ah-ha moment that breaks through her self-deception and leads her to an increased level of spiritual freedom. If, during my plotting, I get the sense she’s made this leap too quickly, I back up, weaving in new encounters and natural set-backs. If, however, she appears to be lingering in plateau land, appears to be learning the same lesson again and again through different circumstances, I cut out those fruitless or repetitive scenes.
I suspect it’s a God thing, but somehow it always works out in the span of 85-90 scenes, which results in an 85,000-90,000 word story.
What about you?
Have you ever allowed yourself to brainstorm a story from beginning to end?
Have you considered your moral premise and how it will (or has) appeared in each scene?
Does each scene in your story build upon the previous?
Beyond I Do Marriage . . . it’s more than a happily ever after. Eternally more. Ainsley Meadow’s encounter with a woman, her child, and their abuser sparks a passion that threatens her engagement. Will seeing beyond the present unite her and her fiancé or tear them apart? Raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignites a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.
Jennifer Slattery is a missional romance novelist with New Hope Publishers. She writes and edits for Christ to the World Ministries, is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Internet Cafe Devotions,Inspy Romance, and Jewels of Encouragement, and manages the social media for Takin’ it to the Streets, a ministry that serves Omaha’s working poor and homeless. She’s placed in numerous writing contests and her work has appeared in numerous compilations, magazines, and e-zines. Visit her devotional blog,JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud, her editing services website, WordsThatKeep, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.