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Signposts of a novel (seeds for planters)



Who can write a novel? The amount of people who say they can far outnumbers those who actually do. I've always tried, but my countless other interests too often take away from my attention to the drafts I've started. Maybe someday I'll chronicle my efforts and we can learn how it's done, together through trial and error.


Which reminds me of something I did actually finish in my efforts to learn how to finish a novel. A few years ago I finished a course on Wondrium called How to Write Bestselling Fiction, and the instructor--James Scott Bell--mentioned that a best-selling novel has certain "signposts" that guide the story. I decided they were important enough to write down.


I call these signposts "seeds for planters" because that's the kind of writer I like to consider myself to be: a planter. Some writers are planners, meaning they carefully outline their work before writing. Others are "pantsers", meaning they "fly by the seat of their pants" when they write. I'm somewhere in between, so I'm a planter. I try to plant seeds in the heart, mind and soul of the reader, hoping what they read someday bears fruit in their lives.


So here are the signposts, or seeds, mentioned in the course:


Disturbance - Don't take too long introducing characters and settings. Jump into the action by disturbing the peace.


Care package - Introduce your main character by making the reader care about them. Show how they have a heart, how they're willing to think of someone other than themselves. Why should we care what happens to this person? Alternatively, make them so rotten that the reader cares that they change, like the Grinch or Mr. Scrooge.


Trouble Brewing - After the disturbance, something happens that compels the main character to change.


Argument against Transformation - The main character resists. The trouble brewing is going to require great sacrifice. Naturally, the character isn't going to want to go through with it. But there is no story without transformation.


First Doorway of No Return - Once they say yes to the transformation, a door shuts behind them and there's no turning back.


Kick in the shins - Arena of conflict: The plot thickens when the protagonist comes face to face with the antagonist.


Mirror moment - Protagonist asks, 'Why am I doing this?' or says 'I'm probably going to die", or some combination of the two.


Pet the dog - The protagonist takes a moment to reflect, to step outside their situation and think of better times.


Second doorway of no return - The next summit of the story makes the conflict impossible to avoid. It usually leads to ...


Lights out - All seems lost. The more you convince the reader that there is no way the main character is going to win, the better.


Mounting forces - A glimmer of hope emerges, but it still requires a leap of faith from the protagonist, or an act of courage.


Q factor - Needs to be established earlier in the novel. The protagonist remembers something he learned earlier on that helps him in the ...


Final battle - The final test will nearly bring the protagonist to his end, or at least to his knees.


Transformation - The final battle results in a transformation of character. Usually it's a life lesson that makes them more virtuous.


Resonance - The ending must resonate in some way. The final pages should stay with the reader for a while. Resonance is an attribute of beauty. Without an ending that resonates, it's not art. It's just another story.


The seeds don't strictly have to be in the order above, but they all should be somewhere in the story.


The courses on Wondrium.com really are worth the time, effort, and money.


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