I'm prepping my Scrivener template to start rewriting the summary for Janna, and the structure part of it (I'll explain later) looks so clean and clear, I thought I'd share it with you, to save you the headache of figuring it out on your own. I had to figure it out alone, and it took me forever (plus reading a ton of books on plotting, character development, style, and everything in between). When I started using Scrivener, I was searching for a template like that and couldn't find it. Some of you asked me to share it when it's complete. I shared the previous version in this post, but I'll share it again after it's done (email me if you want it), as this version will be even better and more universal in terms of its main elements. It no longer relies only on the Hero's Journey concept but rather encompasses everything that I've read, simplifying it down to the classic Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 idea (Act 2 is often broken in two in most contemporary novels, with the crisis being the breaking point, so it's Act 2a + Act 2b, or some people use the 4-Act structure, but it's all the same thing).
Here is how you can plan your book starting with just one word and finishing with a detailed plan for the finished manuscript before writing down a single word of it (but plenty of words in preparation). I will illustrate it on the example of Rosehead as it's by chance became one of my cleanest books (in terms of its planning and structure). I didn't plan it. It just happened. But now that I know how it happens, I will apply it to Janna (I applied it to TUBE as well, but it was harder and not as clean as I had to preserve four discarded drafts, reinvent the story, and yet somehow keep it within the original idea of an evil train haunting Russian ballerinas).
Take out a clean sheet of paper, copy the questions below and start writing down the answers (you'll find this in the Structure part of the template, after which follow Summary and Style). WARNING: Spoilers. If you don't want to know what happens at the end of Rosehead, don't read further. I'm including the very last paragraph as an example of the book's closing.
IDEA 1 (1 word / phrase): What is this book about?
This book is about … (insert 1 word / phrase).
EXAMPLE: This book is about a rose garden.
IDEA 2 (1 word / phrase incompatible with IDEA 1): What is incompatible with IDEA 1?
… (insert 1 word / phrase).
EXAMPLE: A rose garden eating people. (Rose gardens don’t usually eat people.)
CONCEPT (2 words = IDEA 1 + incompatible IDEA 2): What’s happening in the book?
What if … (insert IDEA 1) did … (insert IDEA 2).
EXAMPLE: What if a rose garden ate people? (CONCEPT must have conflict, it must turn—start with one thing, end with the opposite thing.)
PREMISE (3 words = IDEA 1 + IDEA 2 + 1 main character): Who is making things happen in this book?
What if … (insert main character) did … (insert CONCEPT).
EXAMPLE: What if a 12-year-old girl found out a rose garden was eating people?
THEME (1 main question / TURN = Act 1 question / TURN + Act 2 question / TURN + Act 3 question / TURN): What is the truth you want to tell? What is 1 emotion that illuminates it? Write Act 1 question that turns and leads to Act 2 question, that turns and leads to Act 3 question, that turns and fits within the overall THEME question.
Will … (insert main character) do … (insert the opposite of the PREMISE)? Will … (insert main character + 1 emotion)? THEME: … (insert 1 emotion).
EXAMPLE: Will the 12-year-old girl stop the rose garden from eating people? Will she sacrifice herself for it? THEME: Self-sacrifice.
Act 1 question: Will she find out the rose garden’s secret?
Act 2 questions (Act 2a + 2b): Will she find out who is eating people? Will she stop Rosehead from eating people?
Act 3 question: Will she offer herself to stop Rosehead?
OPENING / CLOSING LINE / PARAGRAPH (THEME stated / restated): Summarize the theme in the beginning and the ending of the book.
Opening line: Start with metaphors / comparisons to get your emotion / THEME across.
EXAMPLE: “Lilith Bloom had a peculiar feeling that the rose garden wanted to eat her. She surveyed it through the open car window, unable to look away. The garden seemed to survey her back. It was enormous. Its red blanket surrounded a solitary mansion at the end or Rose Street, Rosenstrasse in German. No other houses stood in sight, only a distant forest. Apart from tires grating on the gravel, it was eerily quiet, too quiet for a hot summer afternoon.” The color red here is the metaphor for blood (self-sacrifice), and the roses are actually metaphors for vaginas, for the sexual awakening of the little girl's body, the onset of her puberty that is marked by her first period, but it's never mentioned in the book. She has to sacrifice herself as a child, to be reborn as a young woman.
Closing line: End with metaphors / comparisons to get your emotion / THEME across.
EXAMPLE: “At this precise moment, in the back of the scorched wasteland that used to be a magnificent rose garden, on the spot where Alfred Bloom vanished, a tiny sapling shot from beneath the ground, growing quickly—one line of green against the expanse of black. It looked like it might grow into some type of a bush, or maybe into a tree, or maybe, just maybe, into something else entirely.” The color black is the metaphor for the death of the childhood (again, self-sacrifice), and green is the metaphor for the beginning of a new age, and it's left open to what kind of a young woman Lilith will be. It also sets up the sequel, Dogwood, which I'll be writing after I'm done with TUBE, Janna, Marquis and Plato, Cupid, and Seamstress. (Gee, so many books already outlined!)
SETTING: Where and when does the story happen?
Rosehead happens in Berlin in the 1980s, on the enclosed territory (the characters venture behind the fence only once) of the rose garden that surrounds the Bloom mansion. I did draw a map of it, and I even have the sketch of it somewhere, but the rest I held in my head. I mean, the answers to the questions below.
- The differences between the ordinary world (Act 1 + Act 3) and the special world (Act 2).
- The way the differences are seen / heard/ tasted / smelled / felt.
- The rules / laws of the physics.
- The effects of the rules / laws.
- The characters / creatures who use the rules / laws.
- The map of the ordinary / special world.
- The method of counting time: hours / days / months / years / holidays.
CHARACTERS: Who to root for?
These are taken from the Hero's Journey concept, and I found they fit nicely, and many characters can wear multiple masks throughout the story, like in Rosehead the Shadow (Alfred Bloom) is also the Mentor. And the questions below on the way the creatures (in this case, Rosehead and her offspring) move, again, I held it all in my head.
- Hero / Protagonist. Lilith Bloom.
- Shadow / Antagonist. Lilith's grandfather Alfred Bloom, Rosehead.
- Shapeshifter / Fluctuating character (changes alliances). Lilith's mother Gabby Bloom.
- Guardian / Unchanging character (starts and ends the same). Agatha the housekeeper and Gustav the butler. Though they do change somewhat.
- Trickster / Comic relief character (provides humor). Panther, the perfect sidekick and the talking dog.
- Herald / Announcing character (announces change). Rosehead, also her clones, the rose heads, the garden itself.
- Mentor / Wise character (teaches the hero). Alfred Bloom, Lilith's mute friend Ed. Sometimes Panther.
- Allies / Clones / Opposites (help or hinder or copy the hero). Lilith's father Daniel Bloom, all the guests. For example, the blond fat ugly twins Gwen and Daphne are Lilith's opposites.
- The form of the characters / creatures in the special world.
- The advantages / disadvantages / mechanics / methods of movement of the form.
- The history of the form.
- The languages spoken / written.
- The technology / magic used by the characters / creatures.
Then there is the Summary page in the template, and the Style page, and then the scenes themselves. I will cover all this in the next blog post (or even two, who knows how many it will take me).