I’m in the middle of working on my first novel. So I’m pulling together everything I’ve learned from writing short stories and the lectures I’ve listened to and putting them to use. I had wanted to put together a post going through my process in case in may help others. But in recent days that process has changed. To understand that change I first need to talk about the original.
Dan Harmon’s Circle Structure
I have mentioned this before in a past post, but I will give it a quick synopsis again. Dan Harmon is the creator/head writer for the T.V. show “Community.” He, like many writers, subscribes to the Monomyth. Lucky for us, he has also taken the time to spell out how he uses the information and applies it to his stories.
This is his breakdown of the Monomyth:
Using this, I am able to write my story into a very high-level concept. I can figure out a head of time the arc that my character must go through in order to have a compelling and interesting tale. I won’t go through each element here. But feel free to follow the other links and get lost in the mind of Dan Harmon.
After that I break up these steps and shove them into The Frame.
Again, I have another step where I flesh out these eight steps by using Anne Greenwood’s “Frame” method. The Frame is a six part structure that consists of an Introduction, Rising Action, Progress, Final Push, and Denouement. Anne first picks the general word count of the novel–in this case we will call it fifty thousand words–and divides that number in half. Each of the sections are then given a percentage of that word count (example: Introduction is 10% of the 25k).
Now, your job is to just write what should happen. No dialogue. Just very quick and simple prose. It doesn’t have to be pretty. In fact, it can be downright informal. You just want to be able to get your ideas down and see how it is all flowing. This is your chance to see what is working and what may need some fleshing out.
For dialogue, you just do some bullet points and get out what needs to be said to move the story forward. Remember, a large part of writing is rewriting. So this is your time to make serious mistakes and play.
How Things Have Changed
I had been using this way for a while now and was really getting the hang of it. I was able to plot out an eight part series (just a coincidence to the circle structure) in a month. I have a very solid idea of where the series needs to go. I then started breaking down one book at a time.
Recently, however, I started listening to Brandon Sanderson lectures. He was asked how he outlines. To simplify, Brandon is a goal based writer. He lists three things–character, plot, and setting–and begins to write down his goals for each of those parts as bullet points. What are his characters’ goals? What are the plot goals? What setting pieces does he want to include? He may even adds goals within goals.
What he is trying to do is get a very quick idea of what actually must happen. So that when he’s writing, all he has to do is grab a few goals per chapter and make sure that they are addressed. He mentions that, as the author, you’re always attempting to get all three done during a chapter.
One thing to bear in mind, is that a goal may actually be the character trying and failing at something. You may have a plot goal for the chapter being something like: The outcast Prince brings proof to the court that the Queen is a Doppleganger. Only to have it come to light that it IS the Queen. He is then thrown into the dungeon. The character goal for this scene is that the Prince learns not to trust everyone he meets. Plot goal is that we learn the Queen is still alive. And finally the setting goal is to show the dungeon everyone has been talking about since chapter 1.
Taking the idea of Goal Writing, I have pretty much walked away from the idea of writing with a Frame. I wanted to bring it up, just in case it may help others. Goal Writing has really struck a chord with me and given me the power to really hammer out the chapters and focus myself on what each one is about.
If anyone tries this stuff out, I’d be interested in hearing how it works for you. Do you have a different method you enjoy? Tell me about it. I’m always interested in hearing how people approach writing.
It is always good to learn, right? Write.