Tuesday, July 9, 2019

How to Write a Novel: The (Not-So) Definitive Guide By Marie Wells Coutu

Since I became serious about writing fiction, I’ve studied various methods for creating a novel.

The first challenge was figuring out if I was a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Since I grew up making outlines before writing term papers, I quickly realized I am most comfortable having an outline (i.e. plot) before starting to write a novel. Without a roadmap to my destination, I wind up having to rewrite large portions of the book.

So I began looking for guidance on how to develop my plot. And I found lots of wonderful options:

• The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall
• Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method
• The Story Equation and My Book Therapy, Susan May Warren’s coaching community for writers
• Stan Williams’ workshop on The Moral Premise
• Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
• The Hero’s Journey, based on the work of Joseph Campbell
• Angela Hunt’s Plot Skeleton
• Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Each of these books, workshops, and methods contributed to my understanding of how to develop a solid and engaging plot. I continue to seek out every piece of writing advice I can find, devouring each issue of Writer’s Digest, attending one or more writing conferences every year, and listening to webinars and podcasts. I have a backlog of saved video lessons that I may never finish in my lifetime.

From each one, I glean something new about creating plots, deepening characters, or engaging readers. All these various sources blend together when I sit down to write. I use the basic plot structure from one and mix in ideas from others to create my own method and my own unique stories.

You were expecting the final one-size-fits-all recipe for writing a novel? Sorry, there’s no such thing.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying disregard all this advice that’s available. It’s valuable, and to be a professional author, it’s necessary to learn the craft. Read, study, take courses, attend workshops, try out different methods. But don’t get discouraged if the plot “formula” that works for your critique partner or writing buddy doesn’t work for you. Adapt bits and pieces of what you learn and put them together to develop your own method.

Ultimately, following the method that works best for you is what will make your novel uniquely yours.

You were expecting the final one-size-fits-all recipe for writing a novel? Sorry, there’s no such thing @MWCoutu @MaryAFelkins #amwriting #SeriouslyWrite

Marie Wells Coutu finds beauty in surprising places, like old houses, gnarly trees, and forgotten treasures. When she’s not writing about finding restoration and healing through God-designed journeys, she enjoys taking broken things and making them useful.

The Secret Heart, her newest release, was named a finalist in both the 2018 National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Awards and the 2018 Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by Florida Writers Association. Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. Thirsting for More, the second book in the series was a finalist in the Selah Awards Contest and a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards. An unpublished historical novel set near Golden Pond has been a finalist in five contests.

She grew up in Kentucky, has lived in Kansas, Connecticut, Minnesota, Iowa and South Carolina. With her handyman husband of four decades, she now divides her time between Florida and the Midwest.
You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook author page, her website, MarieWellsCoutu.com or follow her on Twitter or on Amazon.com


8 comments:

  1. Julie, you are so right about what works for others. Not only in the pursuit of our craft, but in life in general, we have to fashion what we learn to fit our distinct personalities. Our way of learning is almost as unique as our fingerprint.

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    1. Betty, the fingerprint is a great analogy for learning (and writing) styles. The more we know about ourselves and our personalities, the more successful we can be at pursuing our craft.

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  2. "I use the basic plot structure from one and mix in ideas from others to create my own method and my own unique stories."
    I agree with you, Marie. Mix and match to find the best plan for you. Thanks for the advice!

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    1. Gail, I'm glad you found this post helpful. Thanks for commenting. Keep writing!

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  3. Marie, love this post. So true: Adapt bits and pieces of what you learn and put them together to develop your own method. Everybody walks and talks differently. Writing is the same thing. Everybody does it differently. Great reminder!

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    1. Sally, I'm glad you agree. We have to remember we are all unique as people and as writers. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. So easy fall prey to searching for formula. I do need a solid structure from the start, allowing myself fluidity as the characters take over and new ones emerge. Glad you've set the record straight for those who demand a one-size-fits all approach!

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    1. Thanks, Mary! It's easy to fall into the trap of formula writing if we're not careful, but we also hae to be sure we don't reject solid story-telling conventions. Just because we use a "formula" structure to get started doesn't mean our story has to be formulaic. Let the story take over when it's appropriate.

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