Whether you’re just dipping a toe into the waters of your story (fiction or memoir) or you’re stuck rowing around in circles, there are seven basic steps for integrating character development, plot, and structure that will enable you to navigate your way to the other shore. It’s all about creating a roadmap you can follow and refer to when you’re not exactly sure where your book is headed. My four-week spring class, Seven Keys to Unlocking Your Story, will look at examples of these seven steps in successful novels and movies, and then use writing prompts and exercises to create the basic tenets of your story-world.
The beauty of this system is that each step builds on the previous ones, revealing deeper elements of how the moving pieces of your book work together. Each class will focus on one or two steps, as follows:
One: Define your story premise.
The premise, sometimes called the “logline” or “elevator pitch” is your plot stated in one line. We’ll spend some time discovering what your story is really about, as opposed to what happens. You may be surprised how helpful it is to have one clear, concise sentence that you can tape to the wall above your computer as the guiding light for your novel.
Two: Create your book’s designing principle.
The premise is foundation on which you’ll build your book’s designing principle: your overall storytelling strategy, stated in one or two lines. The designing principle organizes the story and gives it a framework. (Makes it easier to write!)
Three: Choose your themes.
A theme is a central topic that appears, either overtly or through symbolism, again and again in a book. On its own, it makes no statement and has no judgement. It’s simply a topic that runs through the book. Common themes include: love, war and peace, survival, judgement, deception, coming of age, family, grief, feminism, and mental health. The trick is to use one primary theme to…
Four: Create your thematic statement.
The thematic statement is a theme with a point of view. In other words, it’s a single sentence that sums up your view about right and wrong actions, and what those actions do to a person’s life. This is critical to establishing a through-line or spine of the book. A clear thematic statement is shown through plot: the actions different characters take to achieve a common goal throughout the book.
These are just sketches of a few of the concepts we’ll cover in my class. I hope you are intrigued and inspired to register for Seven Keys to Unlocking Your Story!
Jennifer Haupt‘s essays have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Rumpus, Spirituality & Health, The Sun and elsewhere. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, was published in April 2018. She is currently working on a memoir/fiction hybrid based in Haiti.