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Labors, Sins, and Six Acts - Official Novel Writing Guide - All Genres

An ideal first stop...

You will discover below a series of scholarly, researchable, frank and indispensable guides to conceiving and writing the commercial genre novel, as well as the plot-driven literary novel. But the cutting edge of the developmental peels and prods as presented makes an initial big assumption, namely, that you are honestly desirous of true publication either by a classic publisher or traditional literary press, and therefore, willing to birth the most dynamic and can't-put-it-down novel you possibly can. Further, you are also naturally desirous of great sets, mind-altering theme, unforgettable characters, and cinematic scenes, among other things. Does that go without saying?  

Perhaps, but you must know, it won't be easy.

Labors and Sins
First of all, the method-based assertions and information we've gathered and elevated before your eyes below will shiver many of you like a 6.5 on the literary Richter scale because it will contradict some or much of what you've been told about novel writing elsewhere
- at writer conferences, for example, by your writer's group, or by various content-marketing websites operated by amateurs (75%+) playing to their demographic. Second of all, we don't cut corners or hold back to simplify matters for off-track or rank beginners who might be driven away (starting right about now) by the realization of just how much needs to be learned and applied. And though more of you might be driven away immediately following the forthcoming assertion, it is nonetheless true: there are no "SEVEN EASY STEPS" or other shortcut gimmicks that will catapult you into becoming the author of an authentically fine novel. Anyone who believes otherwise is sadly ignorant. 

However, if you are astute and mature enough to know there are many things about novel writing you don't know, but must learn, you've come to the right place. And yes, there is a whole mass of matter to absorb. We make no apologies. Our mission at WE is to take you from A to Z. You should consider all that follows to be a kind of master primer, i.e., whatever is necessary to sufficiently comprehend the novel writing universe. We divide the exploration into three sections, each with their own rubrics.
Just know, it makes no sense to begin writing a novel you plan on selling to publishers or even smaller presses without first having a relatively good idea whether they'll want to buy it in the first place. This concept is radical to many beginners, but it shouldn't be. And the concept that you can't balance an artistic approach with pragmatic story considerations is not only indefensible but contradictory.
The first category approaches the reality of novel writing vs. the myths and the source of those myths. For many of you, it will create emotional responses up and down the spectrum from humor to melancholy and back, depending of course on your mood and experience thus far with the aforementioned universe. Regardless, the overall point is to make a valiant attempt to filter out the many falsehoods and misperceptions with extreme prejudice in order to begin the journey of novel writing with a clear head and a view towards realistic expectation.

The second two categories are relatively self-explanatory. Just know, it makes no sense to begin writing a novel you plan on selling to publishers or even smaller presses without first having a relatively good idea whether they'll want to buy it in the first place. This concept is radical to many beginners, but it shouldn't be. And the concept that you can't balance an artistic approach with pragmatic story considerations is not only indefensible but contradictory.

 Btw, you might wonder if it's advisable to pass on any of the articles below, but it isn't. Everything we've included is considered vital. Even if you believe you have a certain element pretty well covered, don't believe you know it all. Most likely, you don't. Also, the potential exists that you've read or received advice that is counter productive. The advice here at WE, however, is based on decades of experience in the business (e.g., hundreds of sessions at the New York Pitch Conference and many more hundreds in writer workshops across the U.S.), as well as lessons learned from great novel authors, playwrights, and screenplay writers - more about the WE model-and-context methodology  found here... And btw, feel free to leave comments on any of the items that follow.

Before we begin, a favorite quote from one of America's greatest authors, Truman Capote:
    As certain young people practice the piano or the violin four and five hours a day, so I played with my papers and pens... My literary tasks kept me fully occupied; my apprenticeship at the altar of technique, craft; the devilish intricacies of paragraphing, punctuation, dialogue placement. Not to mention the grand overall design, the great demanding arc of middle-beginning-end. One had to learn so much, and from so many sources.

We endeavor to list the points below in the order they should be read, however, it isn't a perfect arrangement due to overlapping. Ideally, the high-concept premise must come first in any case.



Worthy WE Wisdom

The Six Act Two-Goal Novel

What makes for good drama is a constant. To begin, we combine Siegal's "nine act structure - two goal" screenplay (very much like the Syd Field three act except that the "reversal" from Field's structure joins "Act 5" in Siegal's version) with the Field classic three act. The Two-Goal Structure, Siegal maintains, creates more dynamic plot tension due to the insertion of PLOT REVERSAL later in the story. We concur.  NOTE:  "Plot Point" is defined here as a major occurrence that emphatically changes the course of the story. In the genre novel as a whole, we see three to five major plot points depending on various factors: a first PP that begins the rising action, second PP defined by the first major reversal, a third PP defined by a possible second major reversal, a climax PP, and a theoretical PP residing in the denouement, i.e., we think the story is going to resolve a certain way after climax, but a surprise happens that resolves

"Top Ten Worst Pieces of Writing Advice" (and it gets worse)

OUTSIDE OF NARCISSISM, IMPATIENCE AND BAD ADVICE ARE A WRITER'S WORST ENEMIES . If you ever attend writer events, you will never cease to hear utterances of bad writing advice, the popular kind that circulate like  ruinous viral memes through the nervous systems of America's aborning novel writers. And each time you are exposed, you either chuckle or swear, depending on your mood and the circumstance. You might make a daring attempt to kill the meme in its tracks before it can infect someone else, or you might just stare at the writer with a dumbfounded look and ask, "Where the hell did you hear that?" Yes, the primal question: WHERE THE HELL DID YOU HEAR THAT? Inevitably, many will point to their writer's group . Ahhhh, of course , you think. Why just recently at an Algonkian event , one of my faculty (a former senior editor at Random House) and I were faced with an individual who adamantly asserted to us both that using only one point of view to write a n

What Makes a Good Memoir?

By Paula Margulies As a publicist, I'm sent books of all genres by authors interested in my services, but lately I seem to be on the receiving end of a lot of memoirs. I've also spoken to a higher-than-usual number of memoir writers, who either telephone or approach me with questions at writer's conferences. The bulk of these conversations have to do with why their memoirs aren’t selling and what the authors can do to make them better. My first suggestion for all memoir writers is to take a look at their market and identify the different types of people who would want to read their book. This is tricky, for while many memoir writers have done a good job of detailing certain aspects of their personal history, a number of them have not thought about who might be interested in reading what they've written. A lot of memoirs I've seen recently are nothing more than personal recountings of an individual’s experiences – some of which are, indeed, memorable. But I

Loglines and Hooks With Core Wounds

HOOK OR LOG WITH CORE WOUND AND CONFLICT Your hook line (also known as logline) is your first chance to get a New York or Hollywood professional interested in your novel. It can be utilized in your query to hook the agent into requesting the project. It is especially useful for those pitch sessions at conferences, lunches, in the elevator, or anywhere else. When a prospective agent or editor asks you what your book is about, your high-concept hook line is your answer. Writing one also encourages a realization of those primary elements that will make your novel into a work of powerful fiction.  The great novel, more often than not, comprises two stories: the exterior story or plot line, and an interior story focused primarily on the protagonist, one that defines and catalyzes her or his evolutionary arc throughout the novel. For example, a protagonist with a flaw or core wound that prevents her from achieving a worthwhile goal is forced to respond to a lifechanging event instigated

"High Concept"? Sufficiently Unique? - Write a Tale That Might Actually Sell

Aspire to be a great genre author? So what's your high concept?...  If you fail to grasp the vital importance of this second question, you will fail to conceive much less write a publishable genre novel - thriller, mystery, fantasy, horror, crime, SF, you name it. Just not going to happen. Don't let any writer group or self-appointed writer guru online or writer conference panel tell you otherwise. You're competing with tens of thousands of other aspiring authors in your genre. Consider. WHAT IS GOING TO MAKE YOUR NOVEL STAND OUT from the morass of throat-gulping hopefuls who don't know any better? Believe it or not, 99.5% of the writers in workshops all across the country *do not* arrive with a high-concept story. If anything, their aborning novel child is destined for still birth. They strut forward proudly waving their middle or low concept tale while noting how their hired editor from Stanford, or Iowa, or the Johns Hopkins MA program just "loves it!"