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Blueprint for a Chapter

Hi.  I hope you’ve read my previous post about using a Blueprint for your memoir or fiction story.  (If not, you might click on the link.)

Bones of the Blueprint in Review:

  1. Character’s status quo.
  2. What happens to change or destroy that?
  3. How does the character (you in a memoir) try to fix the new challenge?

(Note:  For this post, I’ll call our sample main character “Jimmy”)

Okay, so now let’s take this Blueprint concept and apply it on a smaller scale.  Instead of the whole story, let’s talk about a blueprint for each chapter within your book-length novel or memoir.

Pull Them In and Don’t Let Them Go!

Let’s say you’ve completed Chapter 1 (rough draft, I presume) where you’ve set up a beginning to your story:  Let’s say Jimmy’s camping (status quo).  He falls over a steep cliff and is hanging on knowing if he falls he could end up in the ICU at best.  This is Jimmy’s status quo: an event that changes Jimmy’s life in some important way which happens immediately—soon enough in Chapter 1 to pull in your readers and keep them interested enough to stick around to find out what happens next.  And Jimmy spends the rest of Chapter 1 trying to figure out how to save himself.

A Real Cliffhanger!

Now you’re on to Chapter 2, which begins with a new status quo inherited from Chapter 1.  Chapter 2 picks up with the new state of things (new status quo), resulting from the cliffhanger (in Jimmy’s case, literal) events with which Chapter 1 ended. 

Now, something else must happen to change that new status quo. (while he’s hanging off the cliff, trying not to let go, an aggressive bird comes by?)

Then, for the rest of Chapter 2 your readers are with your character, chewing their fingernails, wondering how Jimmy will work through this new challenge (that bird, that cliff).  (You could also have a subplot running, such as: he just quit smoking and needs a cigarette, but that’s fodder for another blog post.)

Readers will cringe as they picture Jimmy swinging helplessly while his problem gets worse and worse, the harder he tries to solve it (in trying to dissuade the bird, Jimmy manages to attract the aggressive bird’s larger friends?) before Chapter 2 ends with a new cliffhanger.

Compounded Interest (Your Readers’)

And just as Jimmy thought he had Chapter 2’s problem figured out (while dangling by one hand and fishing in his pocket with the other for a cigarette, he finds that easy-open can of tuna he’d brought along and attempts to throw it to the birds?) here comes a new problem, giving Jimmy something new to figure out, only to become even more perplexed and endangered by Chapter 3’s end, thereby further compounding his problem(s).  

And from there to Chapter 4, which starts with a new status quo, his now compounded problem (the birds are vegetarians?) brought on from Jimmy’s (failed) attempts in Chapter 3, and on from there.  Get the idea?  And yes, I feel sorry for your character, which is the whole point, and your readers will, too. 

Let Their Dinner Burn!

As each new problem leads to another, with each new status quo being changed or destroyed right before the next chapter, your readers can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next, and will therefore burn their dinners because they couldn’t put your book down.  And this is the whole purpose of writing your book—to get otherwise normal, organized people to burn their dinners because they couldn’t put your book down.

Holograms R Us        

Each word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter feeds the larger work.  As you write each chapter of your book, the blueprint for the larger story of your novel or memoir will begin to take shape—the blueprint for each chapter a microcosm of the macrocosm of the whole book. 

Using your blueprint within your chapters, each one will be complete in and of itself with a beginning, middle, and an end.  Like holograms, they are perfect reflections of the larger story as a whole, except that at the end of the last chapter of the book your cliffhanger will finally be resolved…

o

r

n

o

t.

(We’ll miss you, Jimmy).      The End.

Excerpt 1, Ch. 1, Two Shores, my novel

 

ARCHANGEL PIC SaintMichaelArcAngel----archangel-michael[1]

Two Shores

Part One: The Early Days                    

“The Archangel…wings upspread, sword uplifted, the devil crawling beneath…. He is the conqueror of Satan, the mightiest of all created spirits, the nearest to God. His place was where the danger was greatest; therefore you find him here.”

                       ~~Henry Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: ….”                                             ~~Daniel 12:1

Chapter 1.     

The Razor Blades of Queens

The first day of kindergarten was my nightmare come true. The thought of being someplace where kids would make fun of me knotted up my stomach. But at least I’d get to leave the apartment with Michael that morning, and not have to stay there alone with Teresa after Michael and Frances went to school, which I had done every day since the day I could remember.

Saint Michael the Archangel looked down at me from my favorite picture on the wall between the windows leading to the fire escape outside. The archangel held his sword high to kill anyone who would dare hurt me. His wings spread wide so he could fly me away from my enemies. Saint Michael the Archangel stood tall, crushing the evil snake under his foot. He was the strongest angel in Heaven.

I pulled my pajama top up over my head and peeked at myself in the small mirror on the dresser. The face that looked back at me with my thick, dark eyelashes and “kissy” lips, as Teresa called them. I looked like her, with her darker skin, lighter than both Michael and Frances’s.

“Danny, you ready?” Michael, my big brother.

“Yes,” I called in. “I’m coming.” I started to tie the laces of my leather shoes, the ones that Michael had grown out of a long time before. I picked up his brown flannel shirt from the bed. I wished I could wear it so I would feel him with me at that dreaded new school. I crumpled it up and held it to my nose. It smelled like him. I put it in the closet, in the back, so the next time I hid there, I could dig my face into it. Then I grabbed my good yellow shirt. What it was good for I didn’t know. I hated yellow. And it was all scratchy, especially around my neck where the tag was. But Teresa told me she’d bought it new to wear to my first day of school, and I always did what my mother told me, so she wouldn’t get mad.

Blueprint for Memoir or Fiction (and even some Poetry)

  1. What was the status quo?
  2. What happened to change, or destroy that?
  3. How did your main character (you, in a memoir) attempt to resolve it?
  4. How did his or her trials turn out?
  5. What do you hope the reader will walk away with?

In a book-length work, the same blueprint should also be the backbone of each chapter, which begins with a new status quo, a new problem for the character (you in a memoir) to get through, and a new ending—a cliffhanger to take the reader to the next chapter.

Even some poetry can fit into this blueprint.

Don’t see it as a template or outline, because it’s not.  But if you can’t answer the above questions, either before or after you’ve written the piece, something’s missing.  (Unless it’s “stream of consciousness”, which is just journal writing and not what I’m addressing here).

Beginning, middle, and end.  It’s the first lesson in the most basic writing class.  Even the story of how your day went today would be told as beginning, middle, and how it all ended. Hopefully, with your having gifted the world with one of your stories!

Perfectionism Can Kill…A Blogger

Blogging is to writing as digital photography is to a Brownie camera.  One fast, the other slow(er).   With blogging there’s a great deficit of time in which to ponder the better way to say a thing, much less the best way.  Blogging is the fast(er) way to write many things.

Perfectionism we already know can be a killer, and is.  To start blogging I had to (and still have to daily—I’m working on it) put aside my Perfectionism; otherwise there was no way it could happen.  And being an editor, I can be annoying, including to myself, doing things like editing birthday cards (“Shouldn’t birthday be capitalized?”).  Even my lists of things to do are not safe—vacuum, dust…should it be and/or dust?

So when it comes to writing blogs which by definition should be posted in a timely manner on a regular basis, I freeze.  I can’t possibly write something perfect so fast or so regularly! (should that be and/or regularly?)  Yes, Hemingway said, “The only real writing is rewriting.”  Bless his heart.  I use that particular quote of his in almost every one of my writing classes and my students hate me for it.  But I suppose anything can be overdone. 

(I hope there won’t be any typos in this post).  Any writing teacher or editor knows the fear of typos in everyday correspondence, whether email, text, or social media, especially with students or clients (Should that be and/or clients? Or students/clients.)

Then there’s consistency.  Should I do one or two spaces after each period or question mark?  And whichever I chose, have I done the same for the duration of the article?  Does anybody care?  And isn’t that the real question?  (I went with two spaces.  I hope to be consistent throughout this post.) 

Now, I admit I abhor sloppy work, whether it’s my own or someone else’s.  And everybody knows there’s too much of that around.  In these days of knocking out a few paragraphs and sending it out into the ether without looking back, there can be frightening results which make us would-be-bloggers-if-we-weren’t-perfectionists glad we’re not out there in the arena.

Now, I have relaxed my attitude about it a bit, and my standards.  For example, I don’t ignore everything a blogger (or anyone else) writes because he or she wrote “their tired” anymore.  And no longer will I jump away from a post until I come across at least, say, five or so misspelled words.  But I do maintain some limits.

My greatest fear though, as a perfectionist, even as I write this, is that after I finish this post and proofread it several times, I’ll still miss something that will be caught by someone out there who will say, “See!  Hypocrite!  Your just as sloppy as we are!”  (yes, that typo is intentional, before you get ready to leave me a mean comment).

I remember a student in one of my classes actually squealed and jumped with joy when she apparently caught me in a mistake.  Did I ever say I was perfect?  Feel sorry for editors.  And isn’t that the whole kick of Perfectionism?  I mean, isn’t the meaning of Perfectionism that perfectionists know they’re not perfect (of course, nobody is), but they keep trying to be.  And when it keeps becoming evident that they’re not perfect, and can’t be, they want to quit, or they skip the want-to part, and just quit.  Or worse, they never start.

Of course, Perfectionism can kill all writing, not just blog writing, and all writers, not just bloggers.  And for that reason it’s important to face the beast and scare it off by continuing to write and blog till the cows come home.  We have to learn to appreciate the value and beauty of a rough draft, knowing it won’t stay rough and shouldn’t (most of the time, unless you’re one of those who does polished work the first time around—or one of those who thinks he or she does polished work the first time around.  I’ve known a few of the latter, none of the former).

So here I sit, facing off the beast of Perfectionism and writing anyway, daring to make a fool of myself in the public arena, telling myself it’s more important to write and possibly benefit even one individual out there than it is to stay safe while I cower in the shadow of possible ridicule.

So I blog on, hopeful that all you perfectionists out there don’t proofread this post.  And I haven’t even gotten to Content! (should I have capitalized that?)