I’m sketching for my new novel. I have 20 pages of notes, not really an “outline,” as in Roman numerals and all that, but I start out with a blank document divided into three sections, or “acts,” which are, Beginning, Middle, and End.
In the Beginning section, I make notes about my main character (MC) and her status quo situation (SQ). She’s a carry-over from the last novel, as this is the third in a trilogy, so I already know quite a bit about her. For SQ, I locate her in time and space (contemporary Los Angeles), and have her exercising her occupation (designer of AI androids).
Then a Trigger Event is supposed to occur that destroys her SQ. In this case, the trigger will be slow in coming. First, a mysterious disease has to spread through the population, slowly in the beginning, then ever-increasing. Scientists and authorities are baffled. The public is panicked. When MC is practicing her avocation, all of her students suddenly die of the disease. Consequently, she is identified as a kind of “Typhoid Mary” and is forced into hiding to save her life. That’s finally the trigger.
To bring Act I to a close, I identify MC’s story goal. She must remain hidden, but also find the real cause, and hopefully the cure for the disease. So we have a mash-up of The Fugitive and Saramgo’s Blindness.
Then I sketch the ending, Act III. In that section, MC must confront her obstacles (demons and villains) to achieve the story goal and establish a new SQ with increased self-understanding. The difference between MC’s self-understanding in Act I and her final understanding in Act III, defines her character arc.
I’m a little shaky on that arc. She does undergo a transformation, but it might be too subtle. I think it needs work still.
In the Middle, I sketch notes for Act II, the various actions, reactions, successes, and mostly failures, as MC tries to get from Act I to Act III. My historical tendency is to pile too many complications into Act II, so I’m trying to keep it down. I also need to develop a romantic interest in Act II. Since MC is a shaman, I also want the story to reflect two levels of existence, the objective world we are familiar with, and in which she exercises scientific thinking to solve problems; and a subterranean world, not literally underground, but under the level of self-aware, linguistic consciousness.
A metaphor I’ve found for this layering is music in 6/8 rhythm but with the melody line expressed in a slower, 4/4 time. On 6, 12, 16, and 24 bars, the melody and the rhythm coincide nicely. An example would be “Theme From a Summer Place,” a deadly tune, but one which exemplifies the kind of layering I’m after. A better example is “Ti-Na-Na,” by Buckwheat Zydeco.
To help me develop the idea, I’ve spent most of the morning mounting my electronic keyboard onto the handlebars of my stationary bicycle. To date, my exercise regime has been to sit at my desk and gaze at the exercise bike. That has not produced impressive results. I’m hopeful that with the addition of a piano keyboard, I will be motivated to explore my story metaphor in detail.