It’s taken this long to get past the “flailing around and talking about writing something and actually writing” phase of things. But even though I had gotten through the darkest part of this journey (so far), I was far from out of the woods.
As I was finishing Crown, I started to come up with the core ideas that would eventually evolve into Thorn of Dentonhill and Murder of Mages (as well as Holver Alley Crew and Way of the Shield). Now, these were especially rough core ideas. A sense of the characters, and what kind of stories they would be. I had now figured out that I needed an outline to break a story down before I got started with really writing it. So my next step was figuring out how to properly outline a whole novel.
Frankly, a lot of advice out there on the subject is not a big help. I’ve railed on the flaw in “three act structure” before, and will do so again, but core of it is “Act Two” is usually left to “rising action”, which tends to boil down to “more stuff happens” and it’s not particularly helpful.
So I got to work, instead of looking for advice on outlines or analysis of stories*, analyzing stories myself and figuring out how they were structured, and applying that to developing a structure for myself. I used novels, of course, but also TV series and comic books. These two were actually quite useful in thinking about how to keep hooks in an audience, how to use episodic events in service of a greater story.
And with that, I designed my Twelve-Part Outline Structure**. And from that, I was able to put together a rough draft of Thorn of Dentonhill.
IF I HAD SELF-PUBLISHED AT THIS POINT: I had a “cleaned up” version of Crown by now, and still hadn’t given up on it. It would have been a better thing to self publish than the one from a year before, but still not good. And the version of Thorn that I had at that point was a long way off from the version that was sold. For one, it was easily a third shorter, as the “novel length” target I was going for was just too short.
BUT DID I LEARN ANYTHING BY NOW?: Plot structure, finally. Thorn wasn’t ready, but it actually was a story, as opposed to “hanging out with some characters while stuff happens.” And I had used that knowledge, that structure, to plan out Murder, Holver Alley and Way of the Shield as well.
*- Here’s the problem I’ve found with using story analysis– like the Hero’s Journey, for example– as an outline structure: they tend to skip the step of converting the tools of analysis into a tool of structure building. As a simile: it’s as if an architect, instead of studying other buildings as a process of learning how to draw blueprints, decides that simply using photographs of buildings is an acceptable substitute for blueprints. The tools for analysis are not the tools for construction.
**- Structure. NOT “FORMULA”. Crucial distinction.