Tag Archives: Structuring Your Novel

Plotting by Character Arcs Instead of Outlines

Plotting. Plodding. There’s a reason those words look and sound similar. Sometimes, plotting a novel can take all the fun out of actually writing the thing. With every move and event preordained, what’s left to surprise the writer while writing?

If prewriting is getting you down, I offer you an alternative: prewriting by way of character arcs.

If prewriting isn’t getting you down and you’re hardcore geeking out over it, I still recommend these books by K.M. Weiland: Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel.

Character arc. What is it? Simply, it’s the journey the character takes in a story. Expanding further, there are three types of common character arcs, according to K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs: Positive (what we usually see in movies, books, and television, also known as the hero character arc), Flat (wherein the character does not change but has the wisdom of what is right throughout the entire story, an example being the main character’s teacher or mentor), and Negative (this could be an antagonist’s character arc, or a character arc in which the character destroys others and themselves as well).

Let’s say you’d like to write a Positive Character Arc for NaNoWriMo. What does that look like? Let’s go through K.M. Weiland’s Positive Character Arc structure.

  1. Exposition – The Lie Your Character Believes
    • Where does your character start the novel, internally speaking? Is everything perfect, utopian? Does everything suck? Does the character simply believe everything is perfect (aka the character is lying to themselves)? Set up a characteristic moment for your reader that displays your character’s…eh, character. Set them up in a fairly normal situation or normal day. And also, organize your character’s internal storm: what does the character want? Now, what does the character need?
  2. Exposition – Your Character’s Past
    • Weiland calls this the character’s ghost. What happened to your character to make them believe that they need what they want and ignore what they truly need? Why does the character need to change?
  3.  Act One
    • Set up your character’s life in this act. Make sure their motivation(s) is clear. What is he after? What does she want?
    • First Plot Point – something happens here that expands your character’s mind and vision. “The point of no return.”
  4. Act Two, Part One
    • Adventure! That’s what your character will be doing here. Fumbling around, trying to figure things out, and definitely failing.
  5. Midpoint
    • My favorite part in a story; the character’s realization. Maybe he’s in over his head. Maybe she realizes there’s a lot more than meets the eye. It’s the turning point not only in your story, but in your character’s thinking and possibly motivation.
  6. Act Two, Part Two
    • This is the part where your character starts taking control. What does your character need to do to take charge?
  7. The Third Plot Point
    • Your character’s low moment. What happened? Is morale down, did they lose something as big as a battle? The character can no longer evade the truth, they must look at it in the eye and accept it.
  8. Act Three
    • The ramp up before the climax! Intensity, speed! Thrusters on full! In one word, your character is: determined.
  9. Climax
    • Weiland describes the climax as the reason for the story. This is where your character realizes the truth was worth the heartache and pain along the way. The reason for the journey.
  10. The Resolution
    • Now you can show the character living the truth instead of living in the lie they first believed at the beginning of the journey.

Instead of writing your story around what happens, with this method, you’re writing your story around what your character does to push the plot. I personally find these stories more engaging than stories where events happen to the character. I like to see the main character in control, messing up, making amends, and patching things up on their own.

I’d like to take a final moment to remind you that there is no wrong or right way to pre-write. The way that works for you IS the best way, whether that means a big, juicy outline, a short outline, pages and pages of character arcs, or jumping right in. In the end, we all must eventually jump in and write.

K.M.Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel, Part Two

*Please note this is a two part series. Part one of the series was published on Monday, December 14th.*


On Monday, I gave a brief overview of K.M. Weiland’s fantastic writing resource Outlining Your Novel. Today, I’ll give a peek into her follow-up writing book Structuring Your Novel.

Let’s just get the argument out of the way first. Kristin, you’ve already said Outlining Your Novel was fantastic for me to have. How is Structuring Your Novel any different? Doesn’t she just repackage the material covered in Outlining Your Novel in this book?

First, Structuring Your Novel is, surprisingly, completely different than Outlining Your Novel. I can only think of a handful of times where Weiland references something from Outlining Your Novel, but usually to note something you should’ve already have done in the pre-writing stage. Think of it this way: Outlining Your Novel is about conceptualization, like blueprinting a future house. Structuring Your Novel is actually building said house. They are similar in that they are both processes of making a house, but completely different in action.

K.M. Weiland breaks up her book into two sections: the macros of story structure and the micros of story structure. The macros include: the hook, the beginning, the first act, the first plot point, the second and third acts, the climax, the resolution, and the ending. Some of these macros are similar, but Weiland breaks down their differences, what percentage into your book they should occur, and why each are important. She also outlines some common mistakes and pitfalls, how to avoid them, and how to fix them.

The second half of Structuring Your Novel consists of the micros, or scene and sentence structure. Once you’ve structured the overall story, now your attention needs to be paid to each individual scene and chapter. You want these micros to mirror the bigger story: the highs and the lows. Weiland specifically examines and defines The Scene and The Sequel, which I can assure you I did not learn in college. She also briefly examines sentence structure, getting super-micro with structure.

How important is structure, really? It’s the difference between the second book in a trilogy being the ugly stepsister, or as brilliantly important as The Two Towers. How you structure the events in your story will equate to how believable your characters and their actions are.

“Structure is required in all art. Dancing, painting, singing, you name it — all forms require structure. Writing is no different. To bring a story to its full potential, authors must understand the form’s limitations, as well as how to put its many parts into the proper order to achieve maximum effect.” (From the Introduction)

In summary, K.M. Weiland’s books on writing put information on outlining and structure in two, easily accessible locations. What I love best about Weiland’s overarching style in these books is that it is humble and unassuming. She draws from a huge breadth of knowledge on writing, drawing from other writers and other authors of books on writing, and presents the information as clear as a bell.

If you want a clear, no nonsense approach to the basics of prewriting and structuring a story, you need these books.