I will probably never stop being an advocate of structure and outlining. For me, it’s the best way to write. But figuring it out, working the way to make it work for me, that was a process.
I’ve talked, quite a lot, about my Twelve-Part Structure. Part of working that out, of course, was figuring out the pacing of each part. If you go into it thinking each part is an equal part of the book, the pacing is going to be very wonky.
Now, one thing to remember: This is structure. It is not formula. There isn’t a mathematical way to Write the Perfect Novel. Anyone who tells you that just wants your money.
1. Establishment: 5%
Since the purpose of this section is to introduce your protagonists, what their situation is and what their capabilities are– you need to get your hooks in and land them solidly. So you don’t want to waste too much time with, say, an overabundance of backstory or infodumping here. So if your target length is a 100K novel, you’re looking at 5000 words. This is handy since a lot of writers’ workshops or other critiquing processes want only 5000 words*, so if you can hook your reader and make them want to read more.
2. Incitement: 15%
Here, you need more work. Setting up the dominoes, introducing secondary characters and antagonists, really building the world. Here, once you’ve drawn your reader in, you can get away with more backstory and infodumps. The plot starts rolling, and that build of momentum is a bit slow, of course. But that’s all right.
3. Challenge: 10%
Now that you’ve got your protagonist juggling the various balls of the plot, it’s time to start really throwing rocks at him. The small rocks. But you can throw several.
4. Altercation: 10%
The Challenge should flow into the Altercation. Your protagonist can rise to the occasion, and have their first real “Hell, yes!” moment. (They might get minor ones up until this point, but the first big one comes in here.) So, at this point, we’re about 40% in.
5-6. Payback-Regrouping: 25%
I’ll admit it, this part may be the hardest section. This is that “mushy middle” where, having knocked down some of the dominoes early, you set up even more elaborate ones. This is where you can get away with more backstory and infodumps, but sparingly, as you don’t want to lose your audience. Drop the first shoe here, and build up the bigger set of problems.
7-9: Collapse-Retreat-Recovery: 15%
Drop that other shoe and run like hell. I’d like to say the breakdown of this is about 5-5-5, but that isn’t always the case. “Collapse” is the moment when things fall apart**, it’s throwing the big rock, and you don’t need to dwell on that. The running away and dealing with what just happened is the more fun part, anyway. But the point is, this can all blend together.
10: Investment: 10%
Now, the book has to breathe a little bit. Only a little, because you’re at 80% in, and the story should be just on the verge of getting completely away from you. Of getting away from the protagonists. But take a moment to appreciate why they’re doing what they’re doing, and who they are. All while running like hell.
11. Confrontation: 8%
Here the pacing should be relentless. This is the point where your readers should be emotionally incapable of putting the book down, because things are happening like crazy and they’re almost at the end and they don’t know what’s going to happen next and they cannot stop themselves. No need to draw this out: if you set up things well enough in Investment, then it’s just a matter of things falling where you need them to here.
12. Resolution: 2%
Finish up, sew up the remaining issues, throw a little tease for book 2, and get out with your reader wanting more. No need to overstay your welcome.
*- Like the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop, for example. There won’t be one in 2013, but you could start planning to attend the 2014 one now, if you want.
**- Yeah, because that’s what “Collapse” means…