Christine's Note: This is a guest post by Ashley R. Carlson, a writer who just released her YA fantasy-steampunk novel, The Charismatics. UPDATE: The Charismatics was awarded the 2015 Self Publishing Review's Grand Prize AND First Prize for fiction. Congratulations, Ashley!
This summer, a few things happened. I found the website Better Novel Project, and I wrote the first draft of my YA fantasy novel The Charismatics.
I used the master outline many times during the writing process, and I’m here to tell you how it helped me with my novel—and how it can help you.
The Master Outline can be a valuable resource to know you are on the right track with your own book.
Better Novel Project examines three of the most popular YA books in recent history (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hunger Games, and Twilight), and what all of them have in common.
These are distinctly different stories, but they do share elements that seem to be prevalent in popular, successful storylines.
So I examined my first chapter compared to Christine’s Chapter 1 elements in the master outline, and was pleasantly surprised to find that every detail but one matched up almost exactly!
Here are some examples I found in the master outline that exemplify how you can make a story your own while including details that have proven effective for others in the past:
1. Introduce motivation
- hero trait: introduce hero’s everyday goal: In the first chapter I introduce my main character’s everyday goal: to entice her husband into loving her, and also to help the poor peasants (called denizens) who live in squalor below the palace.
- Introducing the hero’s everyday goal is perhaps one of the most important things to keep in mind at the beginning of your book, to give meaning to the storyline from the start. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
2. Working in the villain
- character card: introduce villain: We meet one of my book’s villains, Senator Rathe, within the first few pages.
- I was especially inspired to create a snaky, cold demeanor from tips of Christine’s post, “8 Warning Signs That Your Villain Isn’t Believable.”
3. Finding the Spirit of the Rule
- theme card: socioeconomic tension (show the hero is poor): This detail didn’t line up. My character is not poor—in fact, she is one of the wealthiest individuals in the city.
- A lot of what is described in Christine’s post about socioeconomic tension still rings true in my novel however—my character wants to fit in with her handmaidens (two poor denizens), so although it is not the norm in the master outline for her to be “wealthy,” those same underlying themes of wanting to fit in but still feeling like an outsider are there.
I learned that the master outline can be used if you are stuck on where to take your book next, or regarding elements that should be included for a thrilling storyline.
Throughout my first draft, I would periodically go back to the master outline and see how “The Charismatics” was lining up with it—I wasn’t writing according to the master outline, but I would use it for guidance or inspiration if I was stumped about where to take the story.
4. Feminine Wiles
- One particular instance was two-thirds of the way through, when a character was attempting to extract information from another character. I checked back in with Better Novel Project and found this post: “The 3 Worst Traits Of The YA Heroine.” I was especially inspired by points 1 and 2 in the post: that she would flirt with someone to get what she wants, and hurt someone/manipulate their emotions to achieve her goals.
- I had my main character do a bit of both during the scene I’d been struggling with, and it worked together perfectly (for those who have read my novel, I’m referencing the scene in Ch. 14 when Ambrose, my female lead, questions Professor Clubberill about his past with the government’s experimentations).
5. Ending Strong
- Another post that really resonated with me was “The Zen Of Story Climax.” Points such as “revealing a twist” and the “villain tricking the hero/explaining their secret motives” really stood out to me, and I kept those in mind as I wrote the ending to my book. I can’t tell you what it is, or that would ruin the surprise—but you can find my book here if you’re curious!
I personally think that Better Novel Project’s Master Outline is both helpful in comparing your book to previous bestsellers, and also as a directive resource for possible avenues to take your own storylines. I’d strongly recommend it to any author wanting a fresh take on what makes a story truly unforgettable.
An arranged marriage. A corrupt government called Legalia.
A forbidden spiritual realm.
Duchess Ambrose Killaher was just seventeen-years-old when exiled to Shinery—a city of snow and darkness—to marry a man who despised her, finding her only solace in an invisible companion named Roan.
Now as the poor starve in the streets below and rebellious acts become a frequent occurrence, Shinery holds its yearly celebration to commemorate Legalia’s rule. But when Ambrose stumbles into a hidden courtroom and witnesses a violent murder, she is thrust into a secret world of the supernatural—one that could endanger everyone she’s grown to care for. With the help of a handsome stranger, Ambrose learns of the past Legalia has covered up, and that she alone possesses the power to stop their unspeakable plans for the future.