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How to Plot Your Book or Novel So That You Actually Finish It – Part 2: Weaving the Middle

*******Spoiler Alert for The Applicant*******

If you haven’t read it, please go download it here. Now read it before continuing on. It is completely free and a quick read. Otherwise, this post is going to totally ruin the story for you, because I am going to give away many of its secrets below.

You’ve been warned! Now on to the post…

MiddleWeavePic

This is the second installment in my How to Plot Your Book So That You Actually Finish It series. This post talks about working out the middle of your plot or weaving your story. I have been approached by countless people over the course of my life who have had ideas for books. Most of those ideas are just partial premises, as discussed in the previous post about idea generation. However, on those rare occasions where someone had a fully developed idea for a story, and sometimes even had an ending, they had no middle. They knew where their story started and where it ended, but had no idea about what happened in between. Lots and lots of people get stuck with this part of their story.

And to me,

The middle of the story IS the story.

There are several methods for developing the sweet innards of a story, and as I’ve said before, I have no doubt that what I am about to describe is not original. However, this is the technique that I use when plotting my books, and I offer it as a way to complete your plot so that you can actually finish writing your book.

When I first sit down to work on plot, I look at two things. I think about and determine any purposes my story has to serve.

Secondly, I determine and jot down any scenes that MUST happen. These plot points can be derived from why you’re writing the story or they can be events that just have to happen because of the nature of your tale.

To the first point. When I wrote The Applicant, the novella prequel to The Conservation of Magic, I did so for a reason. A few reasons, actually. I wanted a story that was relatively short that would give readers a taste of what they could expect from the longer novel, COM. I also wanted the story to expound on the backstory for some of the primary characters in the novel. Lastly, I wanted the story to go into more detail about Rune Corp, the company that exists in the human world of Tysons Corner, and the way the company’s workers combine magic with technology.

So how did these ideas turn into plot points?

First off, since I wanted to introduce a magic system and wanted to tell more about a company in my novel, I decided that I wanted to write a story about someone applying for a job at Rune Corp. That seemed like a logical scenario to introduce the company and magic since a potentially new employee would have to be introduced to both.

Next, I opened up a Scrivener file (if you don’t have Scrivener for your writing application, shame on you–go buy it now–seriously) and I created a few blank notecards. On a separate notecard for each, I wrote down a series of plot points that I knew had to happen. At this point, it is critical to NOT worry about timelines and putting the puzzle together. Just jot down any scenes that you know are going to occur.

♦  Chris (major character in the follow-on novel) walks up to Rune Corp early one morning, ready for his interview. If one is applying for a job, they have to arrive for an interview. Check!
♦  Cara (the boss’s daughter and second in command) explains the basics of magic to Chris.
♦  Chris has to form a crush on Cara (because he has one in the main novel and this is where it all started)
♦  Chris has to get hired (because he works for Rune Corp in the main novel, so this has to happen).
♦  Oodrosil, the sentient yew tree has to be introduced.
♦  Ohman, Cara’s father and the owner of the business has to be introduced.
♦  The concept of dragons that are elemental forces versus ones depicted as giant lizards with wings has to be introduced.

These are the things that had to happen in my story, and each had a separate note card associated with it like I’ve said. It didn’t mean that each had to be its own chapter or even scene, but each, at this point was a separate thought I had to consider.

Next, I started moving the cards around until they were in some kind of logical order, for me at least. First came arriving a the building, then came being introduced to magic, and lastly came Chris getting the job. These elements were now the spine for my story, and the rest of the plot points were kind of still up fro grabs as far as when they would happen.

Next, I started asking questions and being critical. This is where the weaving began.

Take the first bullet. A story where Chris applied for a job, interviewed with the boss, and got the job, would be boring. Yawn.

Therefore, I decided there had to be more than one candidate. In real life, would a company bring all three candidates in at the same time to interview? Maybe. Not all the time. But sometimes, yes. Well, having three candidates there at the same time sets the story up for some conflict, and conflict is good, and it’s interesting, so that’s what I did.

One of the candidates would be Chris, of course. I knew a little about him, but had no idea about the other two. Why were they there? If they made it to the interview process, they must be special in some ways at least. They certainly wouldn’t be slackers. This was a job where they would be working with magic, after all.

And that made me think about how Rune Corp would find people to hire. They couldn’t just put an add in the paper, right? They would have to look for people with the right type of personality or skills set and then introduce the whole magic concept during the interview.

Now I had three strangers arriving at the front door of Rune Corp early one morning, ready to be interviewed for a job that they thought was one thing, but would turn out to be something different once they talked to Cara.

I knew that Chris was going to get the job in the end, but I didn’t want him to just be the best candidate, as I’ve already said. What were my other options? I decided that my best option was for them to give the job to one of the other applicants first. The female candidate would be better qualified than Chris. But, something would have to happen where she died or otherwise couldn’t accept the job.

Hmm. How would I make that happen? (Do you see how critical thinking is leading me to ask questions and then to answer them, and how the middle is starting to form?)

What about the other applicant? In a short novella like this, there’s no room for a filler, red-shirt character, so the guy had to have some purpose. I put that in my mental queue and let it gestate. I think it was while brushing my teeth later that evening that answer came to me.

I would make him a spy–actually an assassin from the Earth Clan. He would be sent to Rune Corp to infiltrate the company, steal some of its tech, and kill Ohman if possible. If you haven’t read the COM novel, let me explain. Ohman used to be the ruler of the Earth Clan, whose people worship the Earth Dragon. The Queen (Ohman’s ex) is still the ruler there, but she and others are pissed off that Ohman is sharing the secrets of magic with humans, AND they are also jealous of what he has achieved by combining magic with human technology.

Got it? Simple, right?

This idea was great because it accomplished several tasks for me. Among these, it introduced the concept of dragons and it gave me a reason to introduce Ohman (go back and look at my bullets).

So, I wrote the idea of the assassin candidate on its own note card and as I was looking at the index card about the female applicant getting killed, the next piece came to me.

What if the female candidate was so good that she actually ended up saving Ohman’s life by giving her own? That would allow me to show that humans could have a worthwhile purpose in the world of magic. It would also give a solid reason for the woman to NOT get the job in the end. I mean, it sucked, but if she died, they would have to take the next best candidate, right? And given that the third candidate was the assassin (whom they wouldn’t hire either, presumably), well, that just left Chris.

Great. Now, I had a way for Chris to get the job but in an interesting and conflict-filled way. After all, how would you feel if you were offered a job, but you knew it was only because the other candidate who was better and braver than you had just given her life? You wouldn’t feel too great about it, that’s for sure. You might not even take the job. But if it were a job about magic? Well, maybe you’d take it after all.

Luckily, Chris has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and is a disturbed character in the main novel, and with this origin, one could really understand where some of his disquiet came from.

Oh, and the topper? Not only did I decide that the woman was going to save Ohman, but she would also save Cara, the one who Chris likes. Chris ends up feeling like he’s second-best and like he was unable to protect and prove himself in front of the woman he has a crush on.

Do you see the weaving part? Each of little revelation leads to another and to another until the middle of my story is packed with more than enough stuff. All I really started out with was, “Chris shows up for an interview with Rune Corp,” and “Chris is offered and accepts a job with Rune Corp.”

But through jotting down events or outcomes that had to happen and by then applying some critical thinking, the rest filled itself in.

OK, here’s the last main component of doing something like this. Depending on the length of the story, this gestating part where new ideas spring forth from plot points and then weave into one another, for me at least, rarely happens in one sitting. I usually write down the points and let them mull around in my head.

Over the course of the next couple of days or even weeks if it’s a long piece, I keep a little notebook with me to jot down any tiny little pieces of connective tissue that bubble up while I’m going about my day. Trust me, the more you allow yourself and train yourself to do this, the more effective you will become at producing interesting story innards without hardly trying.

Right now, as a matter of fact, my favorite way of doing this is to keep my cell phone handy and to dictate into my voice memos app whenever something comes up. When I sit down at the end of the day (which is when I write), I just listen to all the notes and jot down anything important.

If you first lay down the plot points that HAVE to happen in your book and then fill in between them with some critical thinking, some insightful questions, and some creative answers, you will soon have a thick, meaty middle, and from there, you can start to really craft your story. We will talk about this next time.

I hope this has made some sense. If you have any questions or want help with a real-life example, just drop a comment or a question or email me at mwlayne@gmail.com.

Take care, and happy writing!

Mike

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