RU co-founder and multi-published author ADRIENNE GIORDANO tackles a subject sure to make pantsers break into a cold sweat – plot structure for a shorter length novel.
While attending a luncheon last year I had the good fortune to meet a Harlequin Intrigue editor. During lunch, we chatted about my writing and she asked me if I’d ever considered writing an Intrigue. I admitted that I hadn’t because, well, the shorter length (55-60,000 words) scared the daylights out of me. At the time, it took a small miracle for me to bring in a first draft under 90,000 words.
After the luncheon, I was curious if I could handle writing a shorter book and decided to try it.
I began plotting a 55-60,000 word book and kept my fingers crossed that the word hog in me wouldn’t take over. While brainstorming ideas, I realized my obsession with plot structure could help me. While plotting, I like to follow the three-act structure used by screenwriters.
Three-act structure contains three different sections of a story linked by milestones. Act one contains the set-up (character introductions, conflict, etc.) information. At around the twenty-five percent mark of the story there will be a turning point (also known as a plot point) that will spin your story in a new direction. This turning point catapults your story into act two.
In the middle of act two there will be another turning point. This is the mid-point of the story where your character is completely entrenched in his journey and can’t turn back. At about the seventy-five percent mark another turning point will send the story into act three. This turning point will be a major set-back known as the black moment. Here your characters will think all is lost and they will have to fight their way back so they can destroy the antagonist. Click here to see a chart of what three-act structure looks like.
I’m about to make the pantsers out there cringe, but stay with me pantsers! I’m a plotter so I usually know when I start writing what event will represent my first plot point. I also know that my first plot point needs to happen somewhere between the 22,000 and 25,000 word mark (I divide single-title length of approximately 90,000- 100,000 words by four and it gives me my 25% mark). I then keep track of exactly where I am with my word count as I’m writing. If I hit 25,000 words and my first plot point isn’t close to happening, I know the word hog has taken over and my pacing is probably dragging. I then go back and see where I can trim.
My Intrigue was a tricky devil due to its shorter length. With single-titles, I’m used to my first plot point happening somewhere around 22,000 words. With Intrigues my first plot point needs to be around the 14,000 word mark. That’s a big change!
The Intrigues also require me to have minimal secondary characters. If you’ve read my single-titles, you know I love a lot of secondary characters. My next step in writing my Intrigue was to kill any unnecessary secondary characters. Make no mistake, it was difficult, but I forced myself to stay focused on the hero and heroine.
Sub-plots were the next thing to get booted. Zac’s pain-in-the-neck sister needed a love life? Forget it. She could be the heroine in another book. I didn’t have room to explore her needs in Zac’s book.
If I’m making this sound easy, it wasn’t. My inclination was to explore, explore, explore, but writing a category book taught me how to control my plot with surgical precision.
Using three-act structure, I was able to focus on the following two things:
1.) Make Zac and Emma fall in love
2.) Solve the crime.
Before starting each scene I would analyze whether or not the scene I intended to write performed the above tasks. If I had any doubt, I reworked the scene.
I also became even more obsessed with my word count. My plotting partners will find that hard to believe but it’s true. As I hit each plot point in the story, I determined how many scenes I needed to write until I hit my next plot point and calculated my word count accordingly. If my first plot point happened at the 14,000 word mark, it meant my mid-point should happen right around 28,000 words.
I completed the book using this system, and I’m proud to say the first draft of The Prosecutor, a book that had a 55,000-60,000 word count limit, came in at just over 58,000 words.
So, yes, it was worth it.
RU Crew, have you ever tried a plotting method similar to this?
On Wednesday AND Thursday, author Jade Lee brings us a 2-part feature on imagery and characterization.
USA Today bestselling author Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery. She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. For more information on Adrienne’s books, please visit www.AdrienneGiordano.com. Adrienne can also be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AdrienneGiordanoAuthor and Twitter at http://twitter.com/AdriennGiordano. For information on Adrienne’s street team, Dangerous Darlings, go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/dangerousdarlings.
- A Case For Story Structure by Adrienne Giordano
- Troubleshooting Your Plot Holes
- Pinch Points and Turning Points, Oh My!
- Burning Up the Pages…and the Sheets – An easy guide to combining short story structure with super-hot sex by Rie Warren
- Do All Roads Lead to Plot Mapping?