S2/E32: Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
A little about K.M. Weiland (quoting her author page): “K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the award-winning and internationally published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog. She makes her home in western Nebraska.” Also, she says that you can call her “Katie.”
If you visit her site and sign up for her newsletter list, you can download a free writing craft book. According to Weiland you’ll learn (again, quoting):
Why the Inciting Event isn’t what you’ve always thought it is
What your Key Event is and how to stop putting it in the wrong scene
How to identify your Pinch Points—and why they can make the middle of your book easier to write
How to ace your story’s Climactic Moment every single time
If you haven’t already, I would also urge you to check out Weiland’s podcast, Helping Writers Become Authors, which incidentally is also the name of her website. The website itself is easy to use and chock full of free resources (like the aforementioned free book). No surprise that it’s been listed on Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers every year since 2014.
Finally, I would suggest you consider checking out the accompanying workbook. For what it’s worth, I got the digital version of the book and the physical copy of the workbook so that I could easily jot things as I thought of them. But you do you!
Okay! Down to business. Here are my…
1. “Two Halves of the Same Whole” – Weiland reminds us that beginnings and endings are the true heart of your story, and that satisfying beginnings and endings mirror each other in some way. Boiling it down to its most essential, she says, “The beginning asks a question, and the ending answers it.” And the ending must answer that specific question or according to Weiland, “the whole book will fail.”
2. The Two Big Types of Questions. While you will have a specific question that you need to answer, there are two main types of questions:
Plot Question – Example: “Will Margie stop her self-destructive lifestyle of drugs and liquor before she loses her soul mate Tom forever?”
Theme Question – Example: “Will Margie find self-worth/peace?”
A couple additional notes here. First, novels often have both a plot and a theme question (as above). Secondly, no matter what type of question it is, Weiland advises that it should be a question that can be answered with “yes” or “no” by the end. (Dair note: Of if you write more literary works, an ending that leaves people debating whether it was a yes or a no can be a huge win. See Doubt by John Patrick Shanley and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, for examples.)
3. The End? Despite the fact that Weiland is an enthusiastic plotter/planner and strongly advises outlines, she still writes several endings. This leads us directly to…
“Thanks to the ever-important outline, I never begin a novel without knowing how I want it to end… And yet, I almost always write three or four endings before I find the correct one. Stories – even intricately outlined ones – evolve as we create them. The nuanced ending we have in mind at the beginning might no longer be appropriate once we reach it.” K.M. Weiland
Weiland offers strategies for dealing with this (e.g. use beta readers, set it aside temporarily). And she also reminds you (bonus quote alert!):
“In many ways, endings are one of the most fun parts of the process. By then all the puzzle pieces are available to play with, you know your characters inside out, and you’ve got a pile of 100 pages or more to prove you can do this. So enjoy yourself. If more than one ending is necessary, have fun playing with the options and take advantage of the opportunity to revel in your story world just a little bit longer.” K.M. Weiland
HACK: Is it ever too early?
Weiland advises us to put in our question early, ideally start setting up that question (remember: a yes-no question!) from the very first scene.
I hope this was helpful! Next episode (October 8, 2020) I’ll bring you my three things (and a hack!) from USA Today Bestselling author, Elana M. Johnson’s Writing Killer Cover Copy.
IN OTHER DAIR-RELATED NEWS:
Fellow author Robin Knabel and I recently posted a new episode of our podcast, Unsettling Reads. Come check out our spoiler-free review of Devolution by Max Brooks. Visit www.UnsettlingReads.com to browse our other reviews of books from the crime, fantasy, horror, literary, mystery, sci-fi, suspense, and thriller genres. And a reminder to look for Robin’s short story in the summer issue of The Raven Review!
Until then. . .
Happy writing, people!