Welcome to week 5 of Anthony Ehlers’s series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week’s post here.
- Expanding the beginning, middle, and end of your synopsis.
- Develop a theme for your novel.
- Experimenting with viewpoint or viewpoints for your novel.
Breaking it down
Sharpening the set-up
I love the weekend. You can spend it visiting friends, going to dinner parties or movies, browsing book shops, or maybe even getting a manicure or facial. Or you could spend it obsessively going over the notes of your novels, trying to fix plot problems, develop characters, or do research. Once the novel writing bug bites, it’s hard to maintain your social life — or keep your nails buffed and polished.
With your working synopsis, you probably have a clearer idea of your story, from major plot points to character arcs. This month we’re going to flesh out at each section of the synopsis: beginning, middle, and end. For this week, we’ll be focusing on the beginning or set-up of your novel.
Typically this would be the first three to five chapters of a novel, but there’s a simpler way to look at it. At what point has your main character made a decision — whether impulsive or deliberate — that is irrevocable?
In my novel, the end of the beginning section is when my couple, Jenna and Matt, have had a threesome with Monty, a younger guy. After this point, their relationship won’t be the same as it was before. There’s no way of ‘undoing’ the night before. For me, this stands out as a natural ‘marker’ in the synopsis.
Last year, I devoured one James Hadley Chase thriller after the other. This author, despite his stereotyped femme fatale characters and two-dimensional villains, was a master of the ‘page turner’. As a reader you keep thinking: What will happen next?
This is a good question to keep in mind when you’re working on the three sections of your synopsis. What will happen next? What could go wrong? How can I make things worse for my main characters?
Teasing out a theme
In the beginning of your novel, you get play with theme — teasing out questions that will prickle the imagination of the reader. In the middle of your book, you need to feed the development of your theme into just about every scene. And, at the end, you must make a strong statement on your theme. You answer the question.
In my story, the question I want to put to readers is clear. Does inviting a third person into your relationship change the chemistry of the relationship?
In the middle, my characters must become more vulnerable. I want Jenna and Matt to grapple with trust, jealousy, and insecurity — instead of becoming closer as a couple, they must turn on each other. The middle must peel away their secret ‘masks’ to expose their real needs, fears, and motivations.
In the end, I want to show that an ‘open’ relationship is based on fantasy and will just invite trouble in. Well, at least for Matt and Jenna.
As you can see from the above, theme is as much about character as it is about plot. Your characters have to be complex enough to sustain the theme in your story. This week try to work on your character profiles a bit more to make sure they support your theme.
Voices on the page
One of my favourite writers is Marian Keyes. When I facilitate Writers Write, I often use this fine Irish novelist as an example of a writer at the top of her game when it comes to viewpoint. She is the ‘mistress of viewpoint’ in my opinion. In one of her novels, This Charming Man, she uses multiple viewpoint devices to give the reader insight into what it’s like to be in a relationship with an abusive man.
Viewpoint is often the ‘secret weapon’ of a novelist: as a device it must help you to tell a better story. Sometimes you may want to use first person as a way to create an intimacy with the reader. In some cases, you may not want to give a character a viewpoint to ‘hide’ their true feelings or motivations.
In my novel, I have a few options when it comes to viewpoint that I can explore. I could give Jenna, as the main character, a viewpoint as she is the character I most want readers to identify with and have empathy for. To create a little bit of distance and coolness in the story, I could use limited third person as a device.
I could also give equal ‘airtime’ to both Jenna and Matt — to build dramatic irony and show the fracture in their relationship. For Monty, as an outsider, I could show his isolation from the rest of the narrative by using stream-of-consciousness or ‘contained’ interior monologues.
Why not play around with ideas for viewpoint for your novel? Which viewpoint would work best?
Timelock — four to six hours
- 2-3 hours for the beginning of your synopsis
- 1-2 hour for theme
- 1 hour for viewpoint
5 Quick Hacks
- If you’re struggling with theme, write down all the possible themes on a page – and cross out the ones that don’t resonate with you as a writer.
- Try to isolate your theme in one or two sentences. Write it out on a card and paste it up at your desk.
- What does the voice of one of your characters sound like? Write out a one-sided telephone call where he or she is telling a friend about a problem.
- Rewrite a passage from a favourite author’s story in a different viewpoint. How has it changed? Did it alter the mood of the passage?
- Cut your own nails, or buy face masks from your pharmacy — it’ll save you a lot of time.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:
‘To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.’ — Herman Melville