If you’ve got an idea for a novel but you’re struggling to flesh it out into something with plot and coherency, you’re not alone. The more I work on developing my novel idea, the more I feel like I’m trying to carve a sculpture…in the dark…without a reference photo. It’s easy to come up with a concept but how do you turn that idea into a story? How do you create characters that feel real, complex and interesting? Most of all, how do you make your story good? If you’re having trouble finding the answers to these questions, it’s not a bad idea to turn to someone who’s already figured them out.
On the first weekend of November, I attended author Christine Wells’ workshop Novel in a Day: Plot Structure, Character Arcs & Everything Else. The timing of this couldn’t be more appropriate considering NaNoWriMo had begun just two days before. Writers of all ages, genres and backgrounds attended. Some had written novels in the past, others had gotten stuck halfway through a draft and hoped the workshop would help them figure out what to do next, and quite a few were total beginners.
Christine Wells has written thirteen novels; she talks about writing with the ease and confidence of an experienced author. She broke her workshop into three main parts: premise, plot structure and character arcs. Christine walked us through the classic techniques and structures, those that have been tried and tested. According to Christine, she was simply giving us some tools, not rules that needed to be strictly adhered to.
The structure of the workshop broke the novel-writing process into manageable chunks. First, we looked at premise: what it is and how to create a compelling one. Then, we looked at how to develop an engaging plot structure. Lastly, we went over character: the different kinds, the archetypes and how to weave a character arc with your plot structure. The way Christine walked us through each element of the novel made the writing process seem far less intimidating and provided an invaluable toolkit for any writer struggling to shape their idea into a compelling story.
The tips Christine gave us probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but they certainly provide a good starting point for any writer who has found themselves staring at a blinking cursor, without any idea of what to do next. I arrived at Christine’s workshop with an idea – something half-formed, fuzzy and obscure. I can’t say that I left workshop with a plot, fully formed and ready to go, but I think I finally have some tools that will help give my sculpture some shape.
Missed out? Don’t fret. Be on the lookout for more workshops with Christine Wells here at Queensland Writers Centre!