Chapter Books and Novels
Whether you're writing about your father's boyhood in rural Pennsylvania or inventing a society of creatures floating above the icy clouds of Jupiter, you owe your older reader an engrossing yet logically consistent world that comes alive on the page. This may sound like a daunting challenge, but you can achieve it by understanding the basics of good story telling.
A good plot allows for an enticing beginning, action and conflict in the middle, intriguing characters doing significant things throughout, and a satisfying wrap up at the end.
The desire to gain or keep something of value provides the driving force--or motivation--behind the actions of your characters. Whatever it is that the characters want or want to avoid pulls the story along on its fictional journey. Does Peter Pan want to stay a boy forever? Does Harry Potter want to become a wizard? These desires initiate the sequence of events that make up the story's plot. The plot grows out of the choices the characters make to reach their goals.
When you're devising a plot for longer works, the outline will be more complicated than for that of a picture book. Successful plotting requires a logical progression of cause and effect.
For example, consider a young adult (YA) book about a 15-year-old character named Jason. If Jason's dad gets a job in a new city, the family will have to move. Jason will have to adjust to a new school and make new friends. If one of his new friends, Drew, turns out to be a drug dealer, what will Jason do? Will he tell Drew's parents? Will he procure new clients for Drew? Will he help Drew find other ways to earn money? Your character's response to any situation should be logical and consistent with his values, goals, personality, and with the facts as you've presented them.
In devising a plot for longer works, I try to include two surprising events--one near the beginning of the book and one near the end. Both surpise events change the plot and send it in a new direction. For example, two children are tormented by bullies at school and they decide to run away (the first surprise). What will happen then? As the children struggle to survive in a new town, things get worse and worse (the middle of the story). Then the children help expose a burglary ring and become heroes (the second surprise). They are sent back home where the strength they've gained enables them to cope with the bullies.
The following process can help you start to outline your plot:
1. Create a working title for your novel.
This gives you a focus and handle on the story while you are developing it.
Example: Horrible Hannah
2. Make a summary statement: What's at the heart of your novel? What's this story about?
Example: Hannah, a girl living in Indianapolis in 1918, learns to adjust to the tragic death of her mother and the problems created when a stepmother becomes part of the family.
3. Decide who your major characters are.
Who is the viewpoint character? What does he or she have to lose? Is this character in every scene? Who are the other main characters?
Example: Hannah is the viewpoint character. She has to find a way to resolve her feelings about her mother's death and make an emotional connection with her new stepmother. Hannah is in every scene. Other main characters are Hannah's older sister, her papa, her mama, and Gertie her new stepmother.
4. Choose where the scenes take place.
Do the chapters have some variety or do they all take place in one setting? (Adding variety usually works best.) While variety will make your story more interesting, it will require more research. You will need to make sure that the details of each setting are accurate and convincing.
Example: The first chapter takes place in Garfield Park. The second chapter takes place at Hannah's school. The third through fifth chapters take place at home and in various places in the neighborhood. The sixth and seventh chapters take place on Uncle Mortcha's farm. The eighth and ninth chapters take place at home. The tenth chapter takes place in Garfield Park.
5. Plan the overall structure of your plot and write it down in two or three sentences. What is the story problem? The problem should be significant, something that will keep your readers turning the pages. At what point in the plot will the action be turned in a different direction?
The first change occurs in chapter three when Hannah's mother dies. Now Hannah must cope with her grief and learn to manage her problems without her mother's help. The second change occurs in chapter nine when Hannah finally accepts her new stepmother into the family.
6. Place a number beside each chapter and then describe the action of that chapter in one sentence. Each chapter should contribute to your overall plan.
Make sure you have an appropriate number of chapters for the particular genre of your novel. For example, a middle-grade novel generally consists of 120 to 160 pages of text, which is divided among 12 to 16 ten-page chapters.
Example: Chapter 6–The girls stay at Uncle Mortcha's farm. (12 pages)
7. Break each chapter into a series of scenes.
When considering each scene, ask: Why must this scene be included? What role does this scene play in advancing the action? Make certain that the scenes in each chapter form a dramatic whole.
Example: Chapter 6–The girls stay at Uncle Mortcha's farm. (14 pages)
Scene 1–Gertie's terrible cooking and Hannah's reaction. The tension between Gertie and Hannah increases.
Scene 2–The girls ride in Uncle Mortcha's automobile. On the trip to the farm, we see that Hannah brings her tendency to worry with her. (This is a humorous scene.)
Scene 3–The girls meet Emma and her cat. We see that Hannah loves animals, and that she is able to make a new friend.
Scene 4–Dinner with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Mortcha. This scene provides some perspective. Even if Hannah has lost her mother, she still has a loving extended family.
8. Think about how your story ends.
Example: Gertie takes the blame for Hannah's mischief. Hannah is grateful and gives Gertie the gift she was making for Papa.
9. Take a last look at any loose ends.
How do you tie them up?
Example: Show that Gertie still has her faults (she is a poor housekeeper and cook), but Hannah's attitude toward her has changed.
Now you have a good idea of your plot. If you're like me, as the ideas start to flow, your thoughts—and subplots—can start flying off in all directions.
While most beginning writers can benefit from writing a sketchy outline, such as the one described here, don’t feel obliged to do this if it doesn’t work for you. Some writers like to jot down a few ideas to get them started; others write a detailed outline of every scene in the story. Still others don’t use an outline at all, preferring to allow room for spontaneity and imagination as the story develops.
ARTICLES AND FUN STUFF
Teachers and Parents