So, when I said I was going to attempt a new project, a lot of people said ‘oh, the first chapter is the hardest! Get that out of the way and you’ll be good to go!’
To those people I’d like to say— No.
Because for me, the start is always the easiest and most exciting. It’s where I feel like I am finally accomplishing things and getting these ideas swirling around in my head out and on “paper”. I’m excited and I’m purposeful and I’m typing and fingers are flying and I’m DOING IIIIITTTTTTT!
But then I get to the end of Chapter 1 and think… well. Now what? Because this is where I am. And here is where a little bit of fear creeps in because I realize that I know what I want this story to be about but I don’t have a freaking clue what happens in it. Odd, huh? And then I think ‘what kind of a writer has no clue what happens in their story?’
And there’s where I have to stop myself and focus on something else.
So I figured out that I need to find out what actually happens in this story– what are the little valleys between the peaks of major action? I consulted my favorite reference– Al Gore’s internet– and came upon some tips on creating the story arc, which I hope will help me plot out the pieces. The following is from. Writing a Novel by Nigel Watts (by way of dailywritingtips.com):
How to Structure A Story: The Eight-Point Arc
This is the “every day life” in which the story is set. Think of Cinderella sweeping the ashes, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) living in poverty with his mum and a cow, or Harry Potter living with the Dursley’s.
Something beyond the control of the protagonist (hero/heroine) is the trigger which sparks off the story. A fairy godmother appears, someone pays in magic beans not gold, a mysterious letter arrives … you get the picture.
The trigger results in a quest – an unpleasant trigger (e.g. a protagonist losing his job) might involve a quest to return to the status quo; a pleasant trigger (e.g. finding a treasure map) means a quest to maintain or increase the new pleasant state.
This stage involves not one but several elements, and takes up most of the middle part of the story. “Surprise” includes pleasant events, but more often means obstacles, complications, conflict and trouble for the protagonist.
Watts emphasizes that surprises shouldn’t be too random or too predictable – they need to be unexpected, but plausible. The reader has to think “I should have seen that coming!”
At some stage, your protagonist needs to make a crucial decision; a critical choice. This is often when we find out exactly who a character is, as real personalities are revealed at moments of high stress. Watts stresses that this has to be a decision by the character to take a particular path – not just something that happens by chance.
In many classic stories, the “critical choice” involves choosing between a good, but hard, path and a bad, but easy, one.
In tragedies, the unhappy ending often stems from a character making the wrong choice at this point – Romeo poisoning himself on seeing Juliet supposedly dead, for example.
The critical choice(s) made by your protagonist need to result in the climax, the highest peak of tension, in your story.
For some stories, this could be the firing squad levelling their guns to shoot, a battle commencing, a high-speed chase or something equally dramatic. In other stories, the climax could be a huge argument between a husband and wife, or a playground fight between children, or Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters trying on the glass slipper.
The reversal should be the consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters – especially your protagonist. For example, a downtrodden wife might leave her husband after a row; a bullied child might stand up for a fellow victim and realise that the bully no longer has any power over him; Cinderella might be recognised by the prince.
Your story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Nothing should happen for no reason, changes in status should not fall out of the sky. The story should unfold as life unfolds: relentlessly, implacably, and plausibly.
The resolution is a return to a fresh stasis – one where the characters should be changed, wiser and enlightened, but where the story being told is complete.
(You can always start off a new story, a sequel, with another trigger…)
You can buy Writing a Novel from Amazon.com — I plan to. I guess I need more…*gulp*… help.
I’m off to Arc. Story arc that is.