Category Archives: novel


I’m lucky enough to have written and self-published a novel called Ninth-Month Midnight. (

But since then I’ve been going bonkers trying to get started on my next novel. I can’t begin to count the number of suggested approaches I’ve attempted to put into effect. The following are just a few of the resources I’ve consulted:

In Story Engineering, Larry Brooks divides the novel into four parts—Set-Up, Response, Attack, and Resolution—and explains the mission of each. Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid is a geeky, granular analysis of particulars; it can be overwhelming, but read it anyway to gain an in-depth understanding of the novel’s anatomy.

Tara Maya and Christopher Vogler use the Hero’s Journey as a framework for structuring story; K. M. Weiland describes a sequential process of creating a premise, sketching scenes, interviewing characters, writing an outline, and putting the outline into action (this last more easily said than done).

I visited (and still visit) sites like Storyfix and the Creative Penn, and I spent a lot of money on software till I bought Scrivener in an attempt to get a grip on the multi-partite structure of the novel, only to discover the steep learning curve of an admittedly excellent resource. Scrivener will prove a godsend, I think, once I master the feature-rich program.

Meanwhile, I’m drowning in craft materials, trying to grab onto a lifeline that will take me to shore. I want to say, Enough mind mapping and flow-charting and story gridding! Trouble is, I’m not a pantser. I need a framework, and I haven’t settled on the one that works best for me. I’m trying to remember how I got from a to b through z with my first novel, but I can’t, because the process that got me from beginning to end was haphazard and unplanned.

Brooks’s method is best applied to thrillers, which I don’t write. So if I use his formula, I have to adapt it to my women’s fiction genre, which is possible and something I may yet try.

What I love about Brooks is that he deconstructs the novel into hooking moment, inciting incident, plot points, and resolution. He tells you what should happen at specific points as you progress through the story, offering percentiles and word counts for the locations in which, say, the villain is exposed in all his or her evil. This specificity is, in my opinion, the greatest virtue of his book.

Then again, I love the concept of the Hero’s Journey. The mythic metaphor appeals to my esthetic sense, but I find it difficult to apply to women’s fiction. And NOT because the hero is a woman, but because more often than not her concerns are relational rather than global or communal. Can the structure be adapted? No doubt. But maybe only with so much bending and squeezing that the original concept gets lost.

What to do?

I think it’s time to park butt on chair, move pencil across paper, see what

happens . . . and hope for the best.


Orwellian Resurgence: What’s It All About?

Given the current political scene, George Orwell’s work has re-emerged into prominence. His novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was originally published in 1949, when the world faced the rising threat of Soviet totalitarianism. Today, almost seventy years later, the perceived threat is closer to home, and Orwell’s novel has skyrocketed onto Amazon’s bestseller list. In a 1974… Continue Reading

Self-Publishing To-Do List

I had no idea what I was doing when I decided to self-publish my novella, Ninth-Month Midnight, about a woman who loses a child and almost loses herself before a charismatic psychic offers her hope. I came to the do-it-myself decision after wasting too much time waiting for traditional publishers to bite. It took trial… Continue Reading

How to Cure the Beach-Read Blahs

With the onset of autumn, I’m guessing many of you are sick of so-called beach-reads and ready for some substantial fiction, the kind that lingers in the heart and mind long after you turn the final page. To those of you beset by the literary blahs, I offer a potent remedy. The following contemporary novels… Continue Reading

The Plot’s the Thing, Part Two

This month I turn again to John Gardner for inspiration, paraphrasing his comments on plot generation in The Art of Fiction. Last time, we talked mainly about short story plotting. As Gardner points out, writers labor over plot (as if we didn’t already know!). Trying out one approach after another, they often find that an… Continue Reading