Planning my next novel with the three-act structure has been a piece of cake. Identifying the central conflict and major plot points for a Luke Tanner mystery and writing short descriptions for every scene took a couple of hours. But before I could start writing, however, the characters needed to be fleshed out.
A template an editor shared with me consists of thirty or so questions about physical appearance, psychology, sociology, role in the story, and history. Developing a profile for Luke and ten supporting characters took an hour or longer for each one, but was worth the time and effort.
Although still subject to tweaking, the characters are clear in my head. I also have way more information about each one than I could ever use. The greater benefit, however, was finding a problem with stakes and tension related to the central conflict.
What happens if Luke fails? Nothing. His life goes on either way. Readers have no reason to care if he succeeds or fails.
In the past, my solution has been to throw a serial killer into the mix (Until Thanksgiving and No Good Deed). The Mafia did the job in Happy Independence Day. Will our hero be the next victim? The need to know keeps readers turning the page.
Murder isn’t an option this time. Luke Tanner isn’t a cop or private investigator. He gets drawn into mysteries of no interest to law enforcement. Coming up with an interesting mystery was a challenge, but Luke’s life is not at stake if he fails.
I hadn’t noticed the missing element, and wouldn’t have, were it not for the character profile template. In my head, the mystery created the necessary stakes and tension. That may have worked, too, but making it about Luke is more compelling.
After stewing on the problem for a few days, I came up with a solution. The fix requires minor changes to just about every scene. The good news is I hadn’t started writing yet.
I returned to my outline to replace roles(bouncer, jilted boyfriend, etc.) with names, add details I didn’t know about when I wrote the first draft, and pull all the subplots together. Two-sentence scene descriptions morphed into paragraph-long synopses for each chapter — 31 in total.
None of my previous novels were planned. For most of my life, the thought of figuring everything out ahead of time was enough to keep me from trying. Turns out, I didn’t have the right tools. The three-act structure and a good character profile template dramatically simplify the process.
My outline provides turn by turn directions to get me from Chapter One to The End. The route will likely change a bit along the way, but as long as I don’t veer too far off course, side trips and detours won’t be a problem.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.