The dirty ‘M’ word – Marketing

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Writing a book is a mammoth task. Editing, re-editing, revising, polishing, revising, (did I mention revising), and pouring over word selection, sentence structure, and punctuation line-by-line is harrowing. And then, if you are an indie author like myself, there is marketing.

Marketing sounds like such a dirty word. I blame that on all those prim and proper writers in their pure ivory towers whose fingers would never deign to touch a marketing strategy let alone draft one… Just kidding. Kind of.

Truth is, there is a perceived touch of the uncouth – the unpalatable – about an author spending time on anything but penning beautiful prose to paper. A (dangerous) stereotype has been born that equates author authenticity with a very limited skill-set (or focus). We want our authors to be creatives – to focus on the words and leave everything else to the ‘professionals’.

But I have never been one to play to stereotype, or expectations, so being an indie author suits me just fine. I’m also a bit of a control freak – my authenticity is intimately tied to my vision for a book, a series, a character… And I want to control how those things are presented – to you, to my readers, to the world.

And that brings us back to the dirty ‘M’ word. Marketing.

As humans, we market ourselves every day – how we dress, what car we drive (or don’t drive in favour of public transport), what words we use, what words we place emphasis on, who we associate with, what we choose to comment on (and not comment on), what posts we promote and tweets we retweet. We don’t think of it as marketing – it’s just our way of communicating our identity.

That’s how I see book marketing. It’s less a manipulative capitalistic venture designed only to pull dollars from weary pockets and more an introduction. It’s a chance to introduce the identity of a book, or a series, or a character. It’s a chance to match-make – to pair one thing of unique interest and beauty with a person of unique taste and desires.

And like match-making, which can end in disaster as often as true-love (probably more so), marketing is a tricky art to master.

Recently, in the process of finalising Rebellion (the second book in my Divided Elements series), I tried to contact the cover artist who had created the beautiful cover for the first book, Resistance. After multiple attempts, and with a looming publication deadline, I had to start my search for a new cover artist.

This was a tough undertaking – so many readers loved the original cover and (as the cover of my first ever published book) I had also developed an attachment to it. It took me forever to find an artist that I was comfortable to approach, and even then I was skeptical I would end up with a cover that was as imaginative and original as the first.

I shouldn’t have worried.

I first contacted Ethan Scott, an independent artist himself, on the basis of a striking cover he had imagined for HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’. It was the closest thing I had found to capturing the tone and genre and audience of Divided Elements. I told him about my series, gave him some general parameters, and asked him to come up with something striking.

And then he started working on it. And what he came up with was beautiful. Different from the original – as it should be – but still capturing the abstract illustrative style, the theme of a fractured identity, and the singular focus on a strong and independent female protagonist.

This new re-imagining of the series – this new representation of its style and content – is like a re-introduction. Like updating your profile, or putting on a new shirt, or using a new word to describe yourself. Sometimes it’s an improvement, sometimes it’s a detraction, and sometimes it is just different. But, each time, it is an evolution.

I’m so proud of this evolution of Divided Elements – it’s like the visual has caught up to the original vision of this series, that it speaks more honestly to its character. And I’m so pleased to share it with you. To re-introduce you to this world that I have loved crafting (and will continue to craft).

So, here they are – the re-imagined cover of Resistance (Divided Elements #1 and the new cover for Rebellion (Divided Elements #2). Both books are available now for purchase and, if you want to stay up to date with the progress on Book 3 and gain access to exclusive offers and content, you can sign up to my ‘author updates’.

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

Discover the Divided Elements series now with award-winning Resistance (Divided Elements #1) and just-released Rebellion (Divided Elements #2). Available as paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

Divided Elements - Award-winning speculative fiction

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The dirty ‘M’ word – Marketing

Writing and Editing a Sequel – Lessons of an Indie Author

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

It’s been almost five months since my last blog post. In previous years that would have been a bad sign – an indication that I was distancing myself from my writing. Not this time. The last five months have been an absolute mission in getting this novel finished. And, with the last beta readers expected to send through their reactions in the next week, I’m ready to send Rebellion (Divided Elements #2) off to my editor.

This time – in between ‘finishing’ a book and releasing it to the world – is always strange. As an indie author, it’s where I transition from the creative aspects of the job to the management and marketing parts. Both are equally challenging and rewarding in part, and both are obviously necessary for maximising the chances of your book doing well. But, because they are so different, I find myself in a kind of breathing space between the end of one and the start of the other. Which gives me the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I have just accomplished (and what I am about to embark on) and share that reflection with you.

Is writing/editing a second book really that different from writing/editing your first book?

 

Hell yeah. It is radically different. Or, at least it was for me.

It doesn’t help that I have a mild case of sophomore syndrome (that is in a constant state of flux the closer I get to publication date).

It’s weird – it reminds me of my early twenties. I was never richer than when I was in my early twenties. I’ve never been poorer, but my disposable income has kind of stagnated. I earn more money, but whereas in my twenties I was buying cheap wine and tequila and eating $6 chinese noodles for dinner, now I’m buying better wines and better tequila and treating myself to tasting menus at nicer restaurants. My income has increased, but so has my taste.

Same with my books – I had more creative freedom with my first book (and more naivete and misplaced enthusiasm) but less skill. With my second book, I’ve started with more experience, lessons learned and skill, but less freedom and room for error.

The time frames have also been wildly different. I wrote Resistance (Divided Elements #1) in three years and took a year to edit it and bring it to publication. In comparison I wrote Rebellion (Divided Elements #2) in just under a year and took six months to edit it.

As I wrote in a recent tweet – I feel like my first book taught me how to write and complete a story (before Resistance I had started and never finished a lot of stories and screenplays) and my second book has taught me how to craft and refine a story. What I didn’t mention (hey, I was limited to 280 characters) is that in between learning how to write a story and how to craft a story, I learned a lot about my style. As a story engineer, as a writer, as an editor.

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So what did I learn?

Some key take away lessons for me:

  • My approach to story structure holds up under pressure. I used it both as a plotting tool for Rebellion and as a diagnostic tool when editing. I attribute my faster writing and editing time to it. It’s also the reason that, while a lot changed from draft 1 to draft 6, the key turning points didn’t.
  • Writing a second book almost locks you in to a commitment to your writing. Your first book you can pass off as the lovestruck murmurings of youthful naivete – a summer fling, a chance to tick something off your bucket list. Write a second book and you’re effectively saying to yourself, “this isn’t playtime anymore, I’m an author now.”
  • I still have things I need to get better at, but I know them now. And, as GI Joe said, “knowing is half the battle.” Knowing them means I can fix them. And I’m lucky to have a great support network of thoughtful and incisive critique partners, enthusiastic beta readers, and high-quality editors to both point out areas of improvement and help me beat them into submission.

In a word:

 

As a story engineer, I am: curious

As a writer, I am: searching

As an editor, I am: a perfectionist

 

What about you? How would you describe yourself as a story engineer, writer, and/or editor? Let me know in the comments and let’s all check back in a year’s time to see what’s changed 🙂

 

Image courtesy of Green Chameleon via Unsplash
Writing and Editing a Sequel – Lessons of an Indie Author

Editing Your Sequel – Step 3

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Welcome to my blog series on how to edit your sequel. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on Step 1 and Step 2 by clicking their links. For those of you who are caught up, let’s dive into Step 3 – Identifying key themes and flaws

 

STEP THREE – IDENTIFYING KEY THEMES AND FLAWS

You’ve finally made it! Today is the day you get to open up your draft novel again ad start the hands on editing process. This week’s step comes with a few key ingredients you’ll need before you get started:

  1. A copy of your manuscript printed one-sided
  2. At least 4 different coloured markers – I love using Prismacolor dual-ended markers

Okay, let’s get into it.

The focus of step three is all strategic. We want to look at the big picture. That said, sometimes you’ll be reading and find a typo or turn of phrase that you can’t just let lie. I’m not some kind of editing guru nazi, I know that some itches need scratching – hence the four colours.

Colour 1 (I use green) – This is your theme identification colour, where you point out the major underlying themes emerging from your story (we’ll get to this later)

Colour 2 (I use blue) – This is your plot intrigues colour, where you highlight questions or points of interest that crop up in the manuscript and need to be resolved at some point during the story (more on this later).

Colour 3 (I use orange) – This is your copy editing colour, for things like “show don’t tell”, “maybe out of position, move to later in the chapter”, “check consistency of description in later chapters”, “would she really say this?”

Colour 4 (I use red) – This is your proofreading colour. Use it sparingly at this stage! For your ‘I can not move on from this dangling modifier!’ or ‘this word really needs to be this much better word!’ moments.

rhondak-native-florida-folk-artist-83553

Now that we’ve covered the rules – let’s get reading. Try to centre yourself as a reader (letting your draft rest for a couple of weeks will have helped this endeavour) and pick up your Colour 3 marker (because we all know it’s the ‘huh?’/’this needs work’ observations that will be easier to spot initially).

Keep your eye out for plot intrigues – in mysteries, they are the red herrings; in romance, they are the flirtations and hinted tensions; in scifi and fantasy, they are the unique world-building aspects; and in ALL novels, they are the hints of character and plot development – promises of future awesomeness to come.

At the end of each scene or chapter, reflect on the big ticket items. What major themes are emerging? For example, in the sequel to Resistance, my first two chapters identified the following key themes:

  • Anaiya not fighting her dual identity, but embracing it
  • Anaiya’s pervasive guilt and need/desire for redemption
  • Kane’s lessons (from the past and beyond the grave)
  • Impact of new relationship dynamics (due to events of Book 1)

As I continued editing Book 2, I noted the repetition of these themes and emergence of others. Halfway through this process I have a list of around 15 key themes that I can track throughout the novel – noting where they appear, how frequently, whether they escalate (or de-escalate, or stay the same), and how they manifest in plot and character arcs.

Sometimes you will find themes that don’t really go anywhere – that appear weak and unrelated to the others. These are your red flags – rework, rewrite, eliminate. Sometimes you will find themes that jump out as critical – the driving forces of your plot and character. These are also red flags – but good ones! – ramp these up, ensure they are clear and emotionally charged and central to the story.

Happy editing!

 

Image by RhondaK Native Florida Folk Artist on Unsplash

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

Discover the Divided Elements series now with award-winning Resistance (Divided Elements #1) and just-released Rebellion (Divided Elements #2). Available as paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

Divided Elements - Award-winning speculative fiction

 

Editing Your Sequel – Step 3

Editing your sequel – Step 2

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I wrote about my experience in drafting the sequel to my debut science fiction novel, Resistance (Divided Elements #1)and promised to share my upcoming experiences in editing said sequel. Last week was Step 1 – Reviewing Book 1. Which brings us to Step 2 – Seeing your strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of your readers.

 

STEP TWO – SEEING YOUR WORK LIKE YOUR READERS DO

You’re probably champing at the bit to actually rip into your draft manuscript, but trust me – it still needs more resting time. Going back in to a work in progress too soon after typing ‘the end’ can be like trying to reflect on a relationship a week after the break-up: All you’re going to get are hot, messy tears or a rose-tinted view of the belle epoque (neither of which are helpful).

If you’re like me, you’ll be spending this time working on completely unrelated projects – the half-drafted Nano project from two years back that you’ve been holding out on, various short stories for upcoming competitions, beta reading for crit partners, etc. If you’re not doing these things, you should seriously consider them. At the very least, bury yourself in an amazing book that can act as you ‘palate cleanser’, benchmark and inspiration when it finally comes time to review your own novel.

So, while waiting for our WIPs to get to room temperature, it’s time to kick off Step 2 – Seing your work like your readers do.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the challenges and advantages of writing Book 2. One of the advantages I neglected to mention was having the benefit of third party reviews – from crit partners, beta readers, ARC reviewers, and book reviewers.

Getting feedback about your writing style, your plotting, your characters, your world-building – it all adds up to a more refined blueprint for making your second book shine. When you write your first book, you send it off for publication not knowing how readers will respond or engage. With your second book, that uncertainty is not as all-encompassing.

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For those of you playing along at home, this is what I did:

  1. Take out your notebook or open up a new word or excel document – anything you can divide a page into 2 columns. Title the first column “Positive” and the second column “Negative.”
  2. Go to the Amazon and Goodreads pages of Book 1.
  3. Take a deep breath (you’ll need it) and start by filtering for 1* and/or 2* reviews. If you’re lucky enough not to have these, start with your 3*.
  4. Ease the pain by looking for the good amongst the review – even ‘bad’ reviews usually have something positive to say. When you find something good, write it down in the “Positive column”. Where multiple readers raise the same thing, underline/highlight/bold the entry.
  5. If you have less than 100 reviews, repeat step 4 for all them. If you have more, consider doing a dip sample from each of the rating categories.
  6. Now go back and look for the negative points. Write them down – but maybe not verbatim. Bad reviews tend to be full of emotion. Strip that away and get to the core of what the review is telling you – e.g. “All humans have a ‘lifeline’ that plugs into things. All I could think of was [a] silly looking plug-in device. I actually giggled each time it was referenced or used even if it was a serious moment” (yes, that was written in the 1* review for Resistance. sigh.) becomes “lack of understanding about / poor characterisation of world-building technology “.

 

These lists of things – of what your readers loved/were fascinated by/engaged with and what they hated/were turned off by/didn’t understand – become your touchpoints as you edit. The entries become the red flags for things you need to either a) incorporate more strongly or b) consider removing/reframing.

Here’s a snapshot of my list to get you started:

POSITIVE NEGATIVE
·       Original world-building

·       Dark tone that built tension

·       Great character development

·       Thought-provoking

·       Too philosophical

·       Didn’t like the main character

·       Didn’t understand the technology or mechanics of population control

 

Interestingly, of the three negative points listed, I’ll only address one: the lack of understanding about the world-building mechanics. The other two – character likeability and philosophical bent – won’t change. And that’s the thing with reviews – sometimes they just come from readers who didn’t like your book and not because your book was poorly written.

Remember, you’re not trying to please everyone. You want to engage the readers who want to love your story. Remove the obstacles for that love, but don’t try to write the book they wish they could have written.

What about you? What critiques or reviews have been left about your first book that you will incorporating in your Book 2 edits? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

RESISTANCE

 

Editing your sequel – Step 2

Editing your sequel – Step 1

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I wrote about my experience in drafting the sequel to my debut science fiction novel, Resistance (Divided Elements #1)and promised to share my upcoming experiences in editing said sequel.

So, here it goes – a look into Week One of my editing process.

 

STEP ONE – REVIEWING BOOK ONE

 

I haven’t read Resistance since I did the final check prior to publication. Crazy right?

Part of that was because I was terrified that I would read it and hate it; effectively caught in a writer’s purgatory where you hate the words but can’t take them back. But it was also because I had no time to read – my TBR pile of books on my bedside table is already its own Jenga stack and everytime I opened a page I would always feel guilty that I wasn’t writing words instead.

So, last week I sat down and read Resistance. Read it in two days. And (happily) I loved it (and hope I can do it justice with Book 2).

But it wasn’t all recreational reading. I had a purpose here – actually, I had two:

  • Identify the unresolved or hinted plot intrigues
  • Create a first-pass style list of key terms, phrases and spelling conventions

green-chameleon-21532

For those of you playing along at home, this is what I did:

i. Took a deep breath and opened to page one

ii. Read the dedication and reminded myself why I was doing this

iii. Read the first chapter as a reader – no pen in hand, no keyboard in reach

iv. After the initial read-through, wrote down all the plot intrigues – all those hints of conflict, the developing complexities, the world-building points of interest.

I can be pretty left-brain at times, so I used a spreadsheet: the first column for the chapter number, the second for the plot intrigue, and the third for whether it was resolved by the end of the book (fully, partly, not-at-all).

For example, in chapter 4 we see Anaiya (the protagonist) playing a time-wasting / tactical-sharpening game on her wristplate. The game is faintly reminiscent of Solitaire. It was a nod to the retro days, but it was also a reminder that not all technology is ‘new’ in the future. It’s the 21st century and I still use a strangely shaped piece of metal with a fine-toothed wheel to open cans, I still use a metal key to open my front door, I still check the mailbox to find paper letters from companies who want my money, and I still occasionally use tiny rounds of copper and nickel to pay for paper movie tickets. All this in a world where space travel is commonplace, libraries of information can fit into a portable drive smaller than my hand, and video-conversations can happen in real-time with multiple people on the other side of the world.

I touch on the concept a little in Book 1, but it’s such an interesting concept to me, that I think I will elevate it in Book 2.

v. Read the chapter again, focusing on the ‘mechanics’. Again, all this was captured in a spreadsheet, but for this step I used multiple tabs –  one each for character descriptions, location profiles, unique terms, capitalised terms, turns of phrase, spelling conventions, timeline milestones, etc, etc.

This is where you should pick up on things like which words you capitalise or hyphenate and which ones you don’t, e.g. rundown or run-down, the Emancipation or The Emancipation.

More important are the character, location and story-specific nouns. The last thing you want is a diminutive character in Book 1 becoming tall and imposing in Book 2 (unless that’s the sort of sci-fi you are spinning).

Sci-fi and Fantasy have it tougher than most. I can’t tell you how many made-up and manipulated terms I have for things like plastics and metals or city infrastructure. Keep track of them and their descriptions and write it all down.

The list of your character descriptions is also useful because it doubles as a character list – use them! Don’t invent new characters for Book 2 if a supporting (or cameo) character can do the job.

vi. Repeated step 4 and 5 for the subsequent chapters (not forgetting to go back and update whether a plot intrigue has been resolved).

vii. Closed the book, sighed a happy sigh, started planning for the next stage of edits.

 

What about you? Are you going through the editing process as well? What other steps do you walk through in your approach? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

 

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

RESISTANCE

 

Editing your sequel – Step 1

Sophomore Syndrome – How to handle your sequels…

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

*Brushes away the cobwebs* Hello! Yes, it has been quite some time since I last shared my angst and discoveries about crafting compelling fiction. For the veteran readers of this blog, you’ll know this is an annual occurrence – marking the shift from musing about writing to figuring shit out and actually writing.

But, today, dear readers,  I am back.

I celebrated the start of 2018 by typing the final words in Divided Elements #2. It’s crazy to think I actually drafted an entire 100,000 word novel in less than 12 months. I’m really happy with how the sequel to Resistance has developed and I’m looking forward to diving into the editing process to polish up this rough gem of mine.

Over the next couple of months I’ll be posting about this process – sharing my approach in all its glory (challenges, pitfalls, successes, frustrations) – particularly as it relates to editing a sequel.

Sophomore Syndrome

Sequels are tricky things. So tricky, in fact, there’s a whole turn of phrase to describe the inherent difficulties: Sophomore Syndrome.

Sophomore Syndrome (aka Sophomore Slump or Second-Year Syndrome) is the common perception that a second effort or sequel will fail (or has failed)  to live up to the standards of the first. It can plague books, movies, albums, sporting careers, academic achievements, and progeny. [Hahaha, just kidding – let’s not give middle children another reason to get all angsty (shout out and love to my middle siblings)].

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Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland via Flickr Creative Commons

Sometimes the slump is just a product of expectations and time pressures. Think about it: Your first attempt enters the world clean; no-one knows what to expect, no benchmarks have been set, no context is available. And you’ve had all the time in the world, up until that first attempt, to hone your craft and prepare for the unveiling of your debut.

And then it’s time for your sequel. Now, everyone has expectations – of you and your work; the quality of your writing, the complexity of your characters, the nuances of your world-building. And they’re not just expectations that these will be merely as good as they were in the first effort – your audience wants to see growth, development, accelerating excellence; a failure to deliver on these will be seen as failure to realise the potential you so clearly presented in your debut.

And just as expectations rise, patience to see these expectations realised diminishes. Before anyone knew you or your work, there was no demand. Your audience didn’t know what they were missing. Now they’ve tasted the Kool Aid and they’re begging for more. Now. Right Now.

For indie/self-published artists, the pressure is a little less constricting – there are no agents, editors, publishing houses banging on doors, waving around contract clauses, to ratchet that anxiety up a little higher. But, still, it’s there – all artists know that no-one is going to wait too long for a sequel when there are other pretty fish in the sea to turn their attention to.

It’s not all bad news…

So, yeah, sophomore efforts are tough. The narrative arts have their own particular complexities – for instance, juggling stylistic and content consistency while being interesting, innovative and fresh (something I’ll cover in future posts on editing your sequels) – but, like all sophomore efforts, they also have their advantages.an

So before you despair about the challenges of the Sophomore Syndrome, I present the key advantages I gleaned from drafting Divided Elements #2:

  • Competency – This isn’t your first time at the Rodeo. You still have a lot to learn, but you’ve also mastered a lot of the basics. You’re firmly off your L-Plates and on to your Ps
  • No Blank Canvas – By now, you should have fairly well-developed characters, conflict, momentum and world-building. Plus, your first book should hold lots of little nuggets to flesh out, spin, turn inside-out in book 2. Winning!
  • Incentive – You know the end goal. You know the thrill of finishing a draft. You know the awesomeness of publishing and having total strangers say things like:
    “A book that would appeal to fans of dystopia (Think 1984, George Orwell) Resistance is an utterly thought-provoking and subversive book in this genre – Highly entertaining, poignant and brutal by shades, Divided Elements is an original novel, pushing the boundaries of this genre – and Mikhaeyla is surely a writer to watch out for.” (I loved this review – My readers are the best!)
  • Curiosity – Just like your readers, you’ve also set off on this journey of discovery. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be just as curious to find out what happens next 🙂

Where do we go from here?

Second attempts are tricky and satisfying in equal measure. If you’re drafting or polishing your own sophomore effort, why not join me over the next few weeks as I wade through the complexities of editing a sequel? Subscribe to the blog to get the posts delivered directly to your inbox!

In the meantime, tell me about your own sophomore issues/anxieties in the comments.

 

Liked this? Want more?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. 

RESISTANCE

 

 

Sophomore Syndrome – How to handle your sequels…

Rinse & Repeat – The Four Act Novel Structure

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently I reached the midpoint in the first draft of Divided Elements (Book 2). As anyone who has read my blog would know, I am not a fan of drafting ‘story middles’. After smashing through 5000-word weeks while drafting the first act, I watched with dismay as my production levels dropped and my indecision set in.

So, I did what I always do – I went back and reviewed my story structure. 

Like most advice on novel plotting, my own story structure model is great for guiding a writer through the first and final act – the breakdown in structure is clear and detailed and logical. But looking at the middle acts and it all breaks down. The gaps between the single turning point (the Midpoint) stretch for too long and the detail of what is required is reduced to ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’. Not very helpful, is it?

I’m not alone in that department, though. Even the legendary Save the Cat (Snyder) only gives us ‘B Story’, ‘Fun and Games’, and ‘Bad Guys Close In’. Story Engineering (Brooks) makes it even simpler, ‘Reaction’ and ‘Attack’.

Looking back on my plot outline, I knew immediately that the ambiguity around my story middle was the issue. Whereas all the other acts had detailed notes and clear plot points, Act 2A and Act 2B were notated with bare, broad-brushed statements – narrative equivalents of ‘Reaction’ and ‘Attack’.

I needed more detailed advice and guidance, so I started to analyse movies to find a common structural breakdown (I tend to find movies easier and quicker to analyse…). And what I discovered was surprising.

All story structure can be broken down into four acts. And those four acts essentially follow the same structure consisting of five elements. 

To draft this story I didn’t need to plot five turning points and the gaps in between, I just needed to write the first act four times.

“What??” I hear you say.
Stay with me…

The Rinse & Repeat Story Structure

So, this is my new and improved model of story structure, which borrows heavily from the old model but re-imagines it from a completely new perspective:

  • There are four acts: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b and Act 3
  • The main story elements still apply – the inciting incident, the plot points (or doorways), the pinch points, the midpoint, the dark night of the soul, the final battle, the denouement – they’re all still there, but they’re framed differently.
  • There are five elements to each act – i) Status Quo, ii) Incident, iii) Initial Response, iv) Escalation -/+, and v) Decision
  • Each act deals with these elements in slightly different ways

The Matrix - Smith Clones

And this is how it plays out when plotting a novel:

Act 1 – NO ACTION or WRONG ACTION | Protagonist Mission: Maintain 

  • Status Quo – The Normal World – Showing the current state of play and hinting at why it shouldn’t (or can’t) continue on the same trajectory…
    • Introduction to protagonist in a characteristic moment that hints at their strengths, their ‘armour’ (what they draw comfort, protection, stability and strength from), and their critical weakness (their ‘fatal flaw’, ‘wound’, ‘misbelief’)
    • Introduction to the story world or environment that hints at its dark underbelly, vulnerability or weakness
    • Early indications, emerging issues and/or opportunities for a potential incident
  • Incident – The ‘Inciting Incident’ – the incident that threatens the status quo or (as is often the case in sequels) exacerbates it, and that calls the protagonist to action
  • Initial Response – Lack of engagement due to avoidance, resistance, ignorance, inability or error
  • Escalation -/+ – Increased Threat (the negative) followed by the Removal of the Obstacle to Action or emergence of a New Incentive for Engagement (the positive).
  • Decision – ‘Plot Point 1’ –
    • Conscious decision to engage, and
    • Articulating the goal or desire that will drive the protagonist forward from this point on.

Act 2A – ACTION WITHOUT STRATEGY | Protagonist Mission: Survive

  • Status Quo – The New World – Showing the Protagonist challenged by and reacting to the new world they find themselves in
    • Pandora’s Box – Removing the obstacle to action has introduced a whole raft of other obstacles to the protagonist goal
      • Introduction to other players – who assist, distract, antagonise, mentor…
      • Introduction of subplots – to deal with the various new obstacles presented
    • ‘Promise of the Premise’ – Let’s get tropey! – this is what Snyder calls the ‘Fun and Games’, it’s all the stuff you imagine when you hear ‘alien caper film’ or ‘time-travel romance novel’.
  • Incident – ‘Pinch Point 1’ – Hints at the true nature of the threat encountered in Act 1 and raises the level of tension and expectation. Requires a ‘boosted’ effort by the protagonist – i.e. deciding to engage isn’t enough; they need to interact with the threat (note: this is unlikely to be the true antagonist at this stage and more likely to be a manifestation or cronies or similar…)
  • Initial Response – Failed attempts. This is the heart of ‘all action, no thinking’. Everything is reactive, incoherent, unorganised – either because the protagonist and co are acting in the heat of the moment or because they don’t yet have what they need (information, resources, expertise, collaboration, etc) to develop a strategy. In this part of the story, the protagonist is still approaching the new problem the way they would in the old world.
  • Escalation -/+ – Threat of overall failure (the negative) – This needs to be HIGH STAKES! In the face of total failure, the protagonist can not have the option to just walk away. “Failure is not an option!” Immediately followed by a new understanding, revelation, or insight (the positive) that changes everything the protagonist and/or the reader knew (also the ‘Midpoint’)
  • Decision – To take on the antagonist – To deal with the real problem, not just its manifestation.

Act 2B – STRATEGY WITHOUT CHANGE | Protagonist Mission – Win

  • Status Quo – New Imperative – the frenetic action of a new plan coming together. Anticipation, excitement, urgency. Preparation and initial implementation/roll-out.
  • Incident – ‘Pinch Point 2’ – Highlights the underestimated strength of the antagonist and the continued weakness of the protagonist. Sets tone of menace even though the plan seems to be going swimmingly.
  • Initial Response – Continued implementation of the plan, building towards confrontation with antagonist, stringing together small wins, meeting the interim milestones needed for the plan to ultimately be successful. Building towards the False Victory. (This is the opposite of the Initial Response in Act 2A)
  • Escalation -/+ – The plan fails in the worst possible way and all seems lost (the negative) (also the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’). Immediately followed by a reprieve – an indication that success can be obtained, but that it will require facing impossible odds and taking extreme risks.
  • Decision – ‘Plot Point 2’ – The possibility of success is worth the risk / the threat of failure demands that every chance of success is pursued. The greater good takes precedence over personal safety.

Act 3 – CHANGE AND TRANSFORMATION | Protagonist Mission: Resolve

  • Status Quo – Final preparation. Coming to terms with what is being risked. Shedding the ‘armour’ and confronting the ‘misbelief’.
  • Incident – ‘Final Battle’ – Confronting the antagonist in the ultimate battle – a zero sum game – only one can survive.
  • Initial Response – The protagonist stumbles. This is the moment in The Karate Kid when Johnny sweeps the leg, or the moment in Rocky when he’s down for the count, just before the music builds and he lurches himself into one final effort.
  • Escalation -/+ – Threat of overall failure is palpable (the negative), immediately followed by new and extreme resolve (the positive).
  • Decision – The last ditch effort. All-in.

The Decision of Act 3 doesn’t lead into a new act, instead it progresses to:

  • Outcome – the Protagonist defeats the Antagonist (and either survives, or dies (literally or metaphorically) in the process)
  • Impact – the ‘Denouement’ – the resolution of the story. The impact of defeating the Antagonist. The ‘true’ goal of the protagonist is achieved – the intangible, bigger picture, ‘thematic’ goal (e.g. happiness, closure, forgiveness, etc)

 

I hope this helps you with your novel drafting and editing as much as it helped me. Can you see this structure playing out in your own book or favourite movies? Does it work? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Rinse & Repeat – The Four Act Novel Structure