It’s been a goodly while since I’ve posted here, but for the best of reasons: against all odds, I was selected by the amazing Kate Karyus Quinn as her PitchWars alternate. YIPPEEE!!!!!!
For the uninitiated, PitchWars is an intense writing contest that pairs newbies with established writers, who spend months helping their mentees polish their manuscripts. At the end, there’s an pitch session with some of the best agents in the industry. A lot of careers have launched from PitchWars, it’s a big deal, and I was shocked shitless to get in, especially after I read my mentor’s novels and realized she might be my writing soulmate.
Now each PitchWars mentor has a different style. Some are like life coaches. Some are like drill sergeants. Mine is like the best of writing partners: smart enough to see my weaknesses immediately, generous with sharing her insider experience, and so solid in the craft I can trust her judgement completely. And what I appreciate most about Kate is how she supported me in my own PitchWars approach. I knew, immediately after reading her feedback, that there was no chance I’d complete the manuscript before the agent round. So instead, I decided to focus on learning something I’d avoided like wasps until now….structure.
Now, like all imbibers of culture, I’ve got a basic grasp on three-act structure. And I’ve read a writing book or two. But an academic analysis of structure in novels. Yeah, no. I’ve never done that, because I’ve always found that I loved the spinning part of writing too much, that organic feeling of taking a character, dropping them into a situation, and seeing where you end up. Which, in my case, was in LaLa land, with an underdeveloped main character, an overdeveloped mentor figure, a love interest with nowhere to go and no one to kiss, and a plot that went everywhere but where I wanted. And I sent this out. To agents.
So I pulled my dunce cap off and put my study sweater on and spent over a month doggedly learning how to structure a novel properly and digging into my main character’s motives. And hot diggity, does it work friends! At the end I had a ten-page, single space scene-by-scene synopsis that’s handily guiding my revisions.
So here are a few of the resources and interesting things I discovered…
When your mentor sez “So…I never understood…what does your main character want?” you know (a) that you’ve got a major problem, Houston and (b) exactly where to start to fix it. So I spent a week or so discovering the answer to Kate’s question. Here’s how I got there:
Big Ass Character Worksheets
This is the mother of all character development worksheets. What’s your characters MBTI type? Their sexual position preference? Don’t know? Well, you will.
Psych and Personality Tests
One of the niftiest tricks I found: run your characters through online psychology tests, like attachment style and the MBTI. Just the questions will give you a solid sense of their day-to-day ticks.
THE FOUNDATION COURSES
Because of time-constraints, I spent most of my time on one superb blog: K.M Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors. She was highly recommended by several PitchWars mentors and for good reason. She does extended series that are basically mini-courses on writing structure topics, making her blog the perfect jumping-off spot for anyone beginning a self-study in craft. Here are the series I did and loved:
Create Stunning Character Arcs
I started here, and I’m glad I did. A detailed series that does exactly as it promises: teaches you how to use character arc as the structural foundation of your novel. The questions at the end are invaluable.
The Secrets of Story Structure
I detoured here when I realized I was unfamiliar with some of the terms in the character arc series. You’ll get a solid foundation in the basics of story structure.
Structuring Your Stories Scenes
Did you know that there is more than one kind of scene? Or that each mini-unit has an arc of its own? Yeah, me neither. A great primer on scene development.
THE SENIOR-YEAR SEMINAR
So once my edits are done on my PitchWars manuscript, I’m going to take another break and go through this amazing blog by Ingrid Sundberg. Recommended by Kate, it’s a deeper analysis of structure that offers alternatives to the standard Hero’s Journey. That bibliography alone is an MFA, and I can’t wait to dive in.