Outlining Your Novel: Three Act Structure

Last week, I discussed getting started with novel outlining. Now that you’ve decided on your character arc (and general plotline), we can move on to the next step—actually dividing your work into a few smaller chunks. Three chunks, to be specific.

As I stated last week, the purpose of outlining is to break an enormous project (a novel) into manageable chunks.

Here, we’re breaking the novel into three acts.

You don’t have to use a three-act structure. Some novelists prefer four (or five!) acts. But when first learning the task of outlining, I think the three-act is the simplest. And the simplest description I’ve ever run into is in 2K TO 10K by Rachel Aaron:

ACT I: Put your characters in a tree.

ACT II: Light the tree on fire.

ACT III: Get your characters out of the tree.

That’s it—no worrying about turning points, etc., which you often encounter in descriptions of even the three-act structure.

ACT I: Describe the world of your novel. Introduce us to the characters. Even introduce the catalyst for change. Give us some hint of what’s about to send this world into chaos.

ACT II: Here is the crux of the action of your novel. Where the problems absolutely explode.

ACT III: The resolution to the problems. Get your characters to safety. OR: get your characters to extinguish the fire (this will make your characters heroes, because no one else in the world will face the same danger).

This portion takes more than a sentence. It might not even be something you accomplish in a day. It will take some exploratory writing. Play with this. Try out some passages. Imagine some scenes. But the key word here is play. That’s exactly what it is—play. Try things out. Some you’ll keep, some you’ll discard. And that’s okay—in fact, that’s what you should do. It’s a lot easier to try out ideas while brainstorming (and wind up discarding them) than it is to devote 20k words or so to an idea that you wind up scrapping. That’s the point of outlining, after all—to save you time and work!

Outlining Your Novel: Character Arcs

I’m a big proponent of outlining books before writing them. I think it can cut serious amounts of time out of the drafting process—months, in most cases! Most people agree they’ll try anything to cut time out of drafting, but most who are new to outlining often don’t really know where to start. Or they see in their mind a kind of top-down outline that moves through the book in a chronological order.

In my experience, true outlining has very little to do with chronological order. In fact, that’s something I do at the very end of the process. Actually, outlining (at least, the way I outline a project) is about whittling. Taking a big idea and breaking it down in to increasingly smaller chunks.

That’s why I’m starting a series here on outlining.

This week, I’m focusing on the very first step in outlining:

The character arc.

This is arguably the most important part of any book. Even action-driven books.

What is a character arc?

It’s the internal journey your main character goes on in your book. This main character will not be the same person at the end of the book that they are in the beginning. They’ve had a revelation (or several). They’ve seen the world in a new way. They see their role in the world in a new way.

The physical journey they go on—which is the actual plot of the book—facilitates this change. It allows the character arc to take place.

Maybe one of the best examples of a journey that directly facilitates a change occurs in Dickens’s Christmas Carol—Scrooge sees the error of his miserly ways because of his encounters with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. He’s a different man as the book closes.

But the change occurs because of his physical journey. Nobody changes their mind sitting on the couch and binge-watching Netflix. They change because they have an adventure out in the world.

*Your main character will undergo a fairly radical internal change. This change will be the direct result of the physical journey they go on, which will be the plot of your book.

The first step of outlining, then, is deciding who your main character is. And how they will change. And how that change will take place—what will happen that will allow that change will take place. Don’t worry about order of events. Don’t worry about the finer points of plot. Put this part together in a single sentence. Use Scrooge as an example:

Scrooge sees the error of his miserly ways because of his encounters with he ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

That’s it. One sentence. That’s all this step requires.

But it’s also one of the most important steps. In many respects, this is will form the basis or your hook or pitch when you prepare to submit the book.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Don’t worry about hooks or pitches right now. Just write your sentence.

Sending Large Files To Your Kindle Fire

Now that I’ve got my office cleaned and organized, I want to get back to some writing and publishing tips. Really, what is there about a clean office that makes you feel like you’ve somehow organized your mind? It had been so painfully long since my last deep clean. I think as many as five years!

I posted the before and after pics on Instagram:

~Before~

~After~

Ahhhhh…

Anyway, the tip I really wanted to share today was on sending large files to your Kindle Fire. I’ll be honest–I always found the Fire to be the most troublesome file-sharer of all my ereaders (I’ve had several Kindles, as well as a Nook tablet and a Kobo reader). Putting compiled files on my readers has become a regular part of my copyediting process. And with so many students and teachers and work-from-homers depending so much on their digital items and file sharing, I thought this might come in handy:

Don’t Email It

This is the advice I always run into for sharing files to my Kindle. It never really worked all that well for me. It was more reliable to plug a Kindle reader into my computer and just move the file manually. But the Fire never let me do that, and for the most part, my files are just now too big to be emailed. I’d mostly been using my Nook for copyediting. But I really wanted to see how my .mobi files compiled, and didn’t want to rely on Kindle previewer.

Ta-Da! Send To Kindle

Download the Send to Kindle app. Once it’s on your computer, just find the file you want to send, right click, and follow the instructions. Works beautifully.

I wish I’d known about it sooner.

The Ruby’s Place Christmas Collection

Ruby’s Place is a fictional bar in a fictional small town in Missouri. And for the past four holiday seasons, it has been one of my very favorite places to visit.

The idea came to me several years ago, as my hometown was debating a public ban on smoking. A woman appeared on the news to say her business (a small corner bar) would take a serious hit if the ordinance passed. A hard enough hit to possibly even close her business for good. The owner indicated she knew how to do one thing better than anything else: run that bar.

There was just something about the look of her face in the plate glass window of her bar, something about what she said…I started to dream up my own corner bar, my own caretaker of the establishment. An owner who was so good at running her bar, she was still there, rattling her cocktail shaker and serving up drinks long after her own death. When she was herself a ghost of Christmases past.

My Ruby’s Place has become, over the years, a place where the living in Sullivan, Missouri flock to reconnect with the faces of their past. Where they can sit side-by-side with loves and friends and family members who passed on themselves. After all, I thought, what would be a better gift than one last moment to say everything that had gone unspoken? “I love you” or “I miss you,” “You were so important to me,” or maybe even, “I’m sorry.”

This year, I’ve written the finale to The Ruby’s Place Christmas Collection. It’s a standalone, so even if you haven’t read the previous books, you can jump in. But if you’ve been reading along the past few years, you’ll see previous events from a new angle and understand characters in a new light.

The Gift That Is Ruby’s Place is available at all the regular outlets (links below). But this has been such a hard year for everyone that I’d also just really love to spread a bit of holiday cheer—which is also why I’m sending this particular newsletter to all my subscribers, regardless of the list. Whether we’re taking care of children or senior parents (as I am), dealing with natural disasters, financial disruptions, or virtual school years, our lives all feel a bit upside down. Since we’re all facing such hard financial times, if you’d like a free e-copy, please leave a comment here or contact me at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com. I’d be happy to share a copy via BookFunnel.

The Gift That Is Ruby’s Place Links:

Amazon
B&N
Kobo
Apple

If you’d like to read the collection from the start, all four books are available as a single download at Amazon.

I’m so excited to get the full collection into the hands of readers. And please, all, do stay safe and healthy.

Holly

Do Not Check Email (The Art of Putting You First)

This springs off my last post, but for the past few weeks, I’ve been switching up the order in which I tackle my daily list of tasks.

Before, I was hitting email first, then getting to my writing. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but when you factor in all that also needed to be done around the house, I wasn’t even getting started on my writing until eleven in the morning.

Lately, thanks to Gus’s newfound love of spending time in the front yard, I start the day with my work first. (I can’t get a decent Wi-Fi signal in that area, so it’s kind of like a few hours of forced digital detox.) It’s utterly peaceful. There are absolutely no distractions (other than the occasional squirrel), which means I get a couple of hours of uninterrupted brainstorming or drafting or copyediting time at the time of day when I’m the freshest and my mind is the sharpest.

It’s made all the difference in the world.

How so?

I start the day with a feeling of accomplishment, rather than frustration. That, too, sounds like a small thing. But it’s everything. I’m not constantly running to catch up. And the best part? Hitting emails late in the day works every bit as well as hitting them first thing. Turns out, writing first is truly win-win.

Long story short, don’t be afraid to put yourself (or, at least, your writing) first in your list of to-dos. I think you just may find that it helps you breathe a little deeper. And in times like these, breathing a little deeper is a truly beautiful thing.

Looking Ahead to Play It Again: The Playing Hurt Sequel

Hey, all,

I’m in the midst of a couple of new projects–one being the conclusion to the Ruby’s Place series, and the other being the sequel to Playing Hurt. I’ve so enjoyed reading your reviews and hearing from you directly regarding Playing Hurt–but here’s the cool thing: with a sequel in the works, the end of Playing Hurt is really kind of like intermission in Clint and Chelsea’s story. It’s unfinished. At the midpoint.

So–with that in mind, I’d love to hear from you all about the sequel. What are you most hoping to see? What issues would you like addressed?

Feel free to enter all your thoughts in the form below–I’m open to any and all suggestions! If you can’t access the form below for any reason, you can see it here, or you can hit me up directly.

New Read + Author “Tip Jar”!

I’ve got a couple fun new things to share: a fun new read and (hopefully) a fun new way to buy it!

THE NEW READ:

funny final 2 small

This release is called Funny Meeting You Here. It’s comprised of six sweet, humorous shorts. I don’t know about you guys, but the entertainment I’ve been gravitating toward lately is all light and often comedic. I want to smile and chuckle. I’ve been loving Fallon each night—watching his informal interviews and his daughters playing. When I sat down to write during our weeks of isolation, all I wanted to write was something equally sweet and funny. Also, as far as I’m concerned, the best part of any story is the point at which the main characters meet. I combined that hunger for light entertainment with my love of chance encounters to write Funny Meeting You Here. These are quite literally stories of meetings—funny scenarios that bring two characters together. It’s my hope that when you read them, regardless of what the world is like just beyond your door, it will bring two smiles: one to your face and one to your heart.

THE NEW WAY TO BUY IT

Recently, I’ve been hearing from readers wanting to better support authors during the Coronavirus pandemic. Many have contacted me to tell me they’ve bought paperbacks rather than the lower-cost ebooks. That’s incredible! But that’s a big leap between a .99 ebook and a $10 (or more!) printed book. So I’ve started a Payhip store (payhip.com/HollySchindler) as a kind of “tip jar.” At Payhip, you can absolutely still buy Funny Meeting You Here for the listed price of .99, but if you want to set the price to chip in an extra few cents, that’s fantastic, too. I just wanted to give readers a way to offer support and still have enough money left during these lean times to buy themselves another read. One of the best parts of Payhip is that it allowed me to integrate with BookFunnel! When you buy from Payhip, you’ll receive two emails: one from Payhip and one from BookFunnel, both with download links. You can download from either Payhip or Bookfunnel, whichever you’re more comfortable using. Since I’ve been distributing my ARCs and review copies via BookFunnel, and you’re all familiar with that site, I definitely wanted to give you guys that option.

AND, OF COURSE, YOU CAN ALSO BUY THE BOOK AT ALL THE OLD FAVORITE SITES

Funny Meeting You Here is live right now on Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Scribd.

Thanks, guys. I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you all. Feel free to drop a line to tell me what you think of the Payhip process. And please do stay safe and well.

New Book Blurb – The Art of the Kiss

“Conversational, yet edited with considerable care, the book is like a beautifully wrapped box of chocolate—old-fashioned and sweet.

Art of the Kiss final

“Conveyed in narrative snapshots, the scenes of a small town romance fill the pages of this album-novel, while shining a spotlight on a photographer with a retired camera. Obsessed with the past and searching for meaning, every word is like a piece in a juxtaposed puzzle.”

The BookLife Prize