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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Layering Your Novel

Please welcome guest blogger Caroline Clemmons

I should have asked Sharon Donovan to loan me her butler, Oliver, to serve virtual margaritas and tortilla chips. They would go especially well with today's seven-layered Southwestern dip craft article. You know the dip I mean: (1) Thick refried beans provide stability. (2) A layer of guacamole slides sensually along your tongue. (3) Chopped onions might bring a few anguished tears. (4) Tangy chopped olives provide a few bumps along the way. (5) Salsa adds heat and spice to pique your interest. (6) Shredded cheese is neither hard nor soft and adds tasty bits of mystery. (7) Sour cream cements it all together. Taken alone, each of the ingredients has the potential to satisfy hunger and provide basic nourishment. Combine any two or three for a nice treat. However, scoop the full combination on a tortilla chip and you have a masterpiece to delight the palate. Oh, my, now I'm hungry.

Like that Southwestern dip, your novel must contain multiple layers blended together in one masterful tale. Isn't this what we all want for our writing? Whatever the genre or sub genre, we crave a delectable end result. But suppose the avocado had been a bit too green, or the onions too strong? The result would still be an edible concoction, but the pleasure would not be as great. We want our recipes to turn out perfect, with each layer complimenting and enhancing the others. So, let's talk about how we accomplish this.

Our stories must include all those features of that Seven-layered dip--stability, sensuality, anguish, piquancy, spice, body, and a dash of humor for zest. Just as a cook creates a new recipe, you're going to build a novel. Whether you use a computer, a typewriter, or pen and paper, the tools you have are your words. How you use them determines your result. Do you want a towering epic skyscraper like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander or do plan a short cozy bungalow for a novella e-read? Each of you has the gift to create the world you choose. You alone can unleash the phenomenal power lurking in your subconscious. And, yes, THE POWER IS THERE whether you unleash it or not.

Conceiving a story is a chicken or the egg thing that varies with each writer. Do you visualize the plot line, the characters, or the inciting incident first? Do you plot meticulously or write by the seat of your pants? Do you brainstorm or use a graph? You must find your own way and choose what works best for you. I can only tell you what works for me. A scene comes to me and I visualize it as the first of the book when I begin plotting. That initial scene often winds up later in the actual novel. Perhaps you share this or a similar experience. When I see this event inside my mind, I see the main characters interacting and it's as clear as if it were a movie. This might scare me if I didn't know I am only one of many people who undergo this epiphany of story concept.

Listen to the voices in your head. Well, let me qualify that. Don't listen if they're telling you to grab a gun and shoot someone at the post office or something equally bizarre. J However, if they are telling you a story or any part of it, write it down before the voices fall silent from neglect.

Choose the makeup of your plot. If you are not a detailed plotter, but you aren't a seat-of-the-pants writer, or pantzer as they're called, another way to start is to list the six components known in journalism as the "Five W's and the H" plus a bit more. Those are who, what, when, where, why, and how. We can translate them into the seven-layer dip because we add a seventh one--Why not?

Who are your characters? This includes occupation, physical description, outlook on life, age. At this point, it doesn't have to be detailed--just sketch in age, physical description, occupation, maybe a line or two of backstory to launch your idea.

What is the external conflict or inciting incident that launches these characters? What brings the hero and heroine together and into conflict?

When is this happening?--decide the time period of setting and the length of time characters have to the resolve conflict. Remember urgency is good and a time constraint heightens tension and pace.

Where is your world set? Please let me caution you here. Unless you are as gifted a researcher as Diana Gabaldon or you are creating a world of fantasy, make it easy on yourself. Choose someplace you have at least seen! Write what you know. Otherwise you had better do some darn good research. Someone who reads your book will have been there and catch the slightest mistake in setting. If it's a historical, some of your readers will be experts on that time period, dress, speech and occupations. We have all read books where we catch the author with flowers blooming at the wrong time, flat landscape where there should be hills, etc. and it is annoying. At least it annoys the heck out of me. I know it doesn't matter to all readers but, for me, those mistakes destroy the author's credibility and take away from the pleasure of the book.

Why does the internal conflict jeopardize your hero and heroine and their chance for happily-ever-after? Are they aware of this about themselves?

How will your hero and heroine work--will they work together or in opposition?

Why not? Who or what provides stumbling blocks and keeps the hero/heroine from accomplishing the goal and living happily ever after? What obstacles and stumbling blocks can you throw in our couple's way in addition to the main conflict or as a result of that problem?

Each of you has heard this, I'm sure. No matter how many times we hear speakers or read articles on craft, I believe we can always take something away from the event--a reminder, a different way of looking at things. I hope you can take something away from this blog article. You can let me know at caroline@carolineclemmons.com

Caroline Clemmons' current release is OUT OF THE BLUE, a time travel romance with suspense elements, available from The Wild Rose Press and Amazon. Visit her blog at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com for giveaways, book reviews, guest authors, and miscellaneous rambling. Her web site is at www.carolineclemmons.com. She's on Facebook and her Twitter name is CarolinClemmons (no E in Caroline)

Out of the Blue

A desperate flight from a dangerous man plunges Deirdre Dougherty off a cliff—and into the future…Swept through a time portal 165 years beyond the life she knew in rural Ireland, Deirdre plunges into a lake in central Texas. The brooding man from her precognizant visions rescues her but demands answers she cannot give. Deirdre knows only that he is in danger, and the source has a familiar vibe.

Police Detective Brendan Hunter wants answers. Who shot him and killed his partner? Why? And why does Deirdre know details only he and his late partner knew? The beautiful psycho’s story has to be a colossal fabrication. He wants her gone before he becomes even more fascinated with her.

Together they must solve the riddle of Deirdre’s displacement, battle a drug scandal and stay one step ahead of the enemy—without knowing friend from foe.


Berinn said...

Great post, Caroline. Thanks for sharing.

Sharon Donovan said...

Caroline, fantastic analogy. Comparing the layers of writing to my favorite dip is brilliant! How true about knowing what you write and doing your research. Being a type 1 diabetic since the age of six, it infuriates me when I read a book where an author knows a little about this devastating disease and writes a lot of false statements. This could potentially harm someone and is a thorn in my side. Research is everything, and like you said with the setting, sure enough, one person will spot out a lie a mile away! Great post. Okay, now that I've buttered you up, how about some of that amazing dip? Wink!

Mary Ricksen said...

I agree what a wonderful post.
I never thought about it like that.
Too bad Oliver is under contract he only works for Sharon. He's her character and if I am not incorrect I think he is copyrighted.
But what a brilliant concept.
I love to do research myself, there is nothing better than going to the source!!!

Julie Robinson said...

Hey Caroline,

Late for the party, but I brought my own drinks.
Nobody here? I'll drink alone . . .

Fantastic article---very motivating for me, 'cause many of those voices have died of neglect. I love the tortilla dip analogy to the qualities in a story, as well as the journalism/dip breakdown.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks to everyone who commented. I appreciate your participation! And I don't blame Sharon--if I'd thought of Oliver, I'd copyright him, too. Sharon, I know what you mean. I feel the same way about breathing problems. I remember a famous mystery writer who built her entire premise on a the effects of an asthma medication, but got the reactions wrong. I can't read her books any longer.

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