Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Class Outline on Getting Past the First Chapter of Your Novel

This morning I taught a class on How to Get Past the First Chapter of Your Novel at the Orange County Library. I promised the class I'd put the full outline I used up on my blog, so, here's the promise kept. It's sketchy, since this was mainly used to prompt me into regurgitating the contents of my brain. Still hopefully it will be of some use for those who were in the class, and may be of some interest to other as well.


Part One: Okay, Brain, let’s do this.

The Most Dangerous Thought: One day, when I’m a writer, I’ll have time to write.

Three Empowering Thoughts
1)To write a good novel, you must first write a bad novel.
2)The worst novel you put onto paper is better than the best novel in your head.
3)“The artist must maintain his swagger. He must, he must, he must be intoxicated by ritual as well as result.” Patti Smith, “High on Rebellion”

Part Two: How to write a novel.

Three ways to write a novel
1)Lightning in a bottle.
2)The architectural approach.
3)The hybrid engine.

The hybrid method
1)Lightning arcs.
2)To catch lightning in a bottle, bring a bottle.
3)Arcs are built from scenes. Scenes are built from characters, settings and events. Characters, settings, and events are built from nouns.

Lightning Arcs
An arc is an extended series of events that move your character from one state of mind to another.
One trick to making an arc is to work backward from the desired final state. If you’re writing “A Christmas Carol” and you know that Scrooge has to be loving and generous at the end of the book, you could deduce that in the beginning of the book he should be spiteful and stingy. Once you know the middle and the end of a characters journey, the middle is easy.
(In a pulling teeth, sweating blood kind of way.)

To Catch Lightning in a Bottle, Bring a Bottle
Switching analogies, writing a novel is a bit like working a jigsaw puzzle. Your imagination will keep bringing you little squiggly pieces that intrigue you, but leave you wondering where they fit. But, like a jigsaw puzzle, the key is to build the edges first. To do this, you need to figure out what the major sections of your story are going to be.

Burn Baby Burn
1)Let’s rob some banks!
2)Hounded by heroes!
3)Sanctuary! (The false solution)
4)Doomsday! Oops!

The Wizard of Oz (movie version)
1)Kansas sucks!
2)Let’s go see the wizard!
3)Let’s go get the broom! (The false solution.)
4)There’s no place like home.

A Christmas Carol
1)Scrooge sucks!
2)The ghost of Christmas past
3)The ghost of Christmas present.
4)Whose name is on the stone?
5)Scrooge redeemed!

For your own novel write down three, four, or five major parts. Be vague! You don’t need full sentences. Try to keep things under 25 words.
A generic, multipurpose outline:
2)Gather info and allies.
3)The false solution.
4)Problem solved!

Plots are made of arcs, arcs are made of scenes, scenes are built from nouns. (And, okay, other stuff)
Scenic thinking is the key skill in writing a novel that immerses the reader in the world and creates a sense of immediacy. Your story is going to be about big, abstract things like love and honor and grief. But, to get to the abstract, you must guide the reader there via the concrete. For this, you need nouns. Good nouns go off in the mind like flashbulbs. If you are building a good scene, you can read a list of only the nouns and they will be enough to hint at the story.

Imagine the opening scene of your novel. Make a list of interesting nouns that will hint at where and when the story takes place. Some categories of nouns to get you started: Clothing, creatures, constructs, containers, food, foliage, body parts, and knick-knacks. Try to think of nouns that provoke sensory reactions, like porch swings, bacon, and Vaseline.

Part Three: Butt in chair.

Writing Mantras
1)Here. Now.
2)Never look back.
3)Little by little, the work gets done.

If you were in the class, thanks for coming! I had a great time. If you weren't in the class, don't despair. Everything I went over in class has been developed over the years on this blog, and I promise to continue posting about writing for many years to come. Stay tuned!

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