I tend to think of novels in terms of shapes. It’s weird, and I can’t draw it out exactly, but basically, I usually think of the shape of a book when I start writing, and then again when I start to edit.
Now, this advice is not going to be for everyone. You need to understand that what I write and read tends to be commercial genre YA fiction, so the shape of the story I’m talking about is the shape of a commercial genre YA novel. Other novels have different shapes, and I suspect that, in the end, what type of book we like tends to be determined by what shape we want our stories to take.
Disclaimer: My mother would not approve of the language I use when I think about my own novels, so I used comic-book symbols to replace some words.
First Fifty Pages
This is where you have to make the reader care about what happens to the main character. This should usually happen in the first few pages, actually. Because…
By the End of the First Fifty Pages
S!^& just hit the fan.
By the Halfway Point of the Novel
S!^& just got real.
By Fifty Pages Until the End of the Novel
S!^& is seriously effed up.
By the End of the Novel
S!^& ain’t so bad any more.
So this is a really blase way to talk about this, but it’s actually pretty much how I chop up my novels into sections and look about how it all works. I guess if I had to describe this shape, it would look something like this (with a note of what these points are more traditionally called):
|Click to embiggen|
I came up with this theory when I was still querying, actually. I noticed that most agents who asked for a partial asked for the first fifty pages of the manuscript. But a lot of the time, I’d really want to show the agent this really cool thing that happened on page 70 or 80 or 100. So…I cut things until the really cool thing happened by page 50. And that seemed, usually, to clear everything back up.
I don’t really plan that much before a novel, but I do sort of think of those points as the main highlights I need to shoot for during writing. Where this really hits me is when I revise. I tend to put much more information between the sections than what needs to be there. I get hung up on telling the reader something that seems essential—but the long and the short of it is, if it doesn’t deal with the important s!^&, so it has to go.