Before we begin, practice healthy creative habits: Clear your space of clutter, set aside some time to focus and spend 2-3 minutes doing your Daily Free Writing before you begin. See Lesson 2 for more about DFW.

This is your final week.

At this point in the process you should have a relatively well formed book idea in the works. Your chapter outlines might need some work, so let’s spend these last few days cleaning everything up and getting it in shape for a potential book proposal (if it’s a non-fiction book) or with as many notes as possible so that at the end of this course you can set a daily writing target and just start writing your book.

If you’ve been following along in the course, by now you should have your Hero’s Journey guide that you wrote yesterday (or adapted to your needs depending on the subject of your book). That will be your high level guide. You’ll want to keep that close at hand so as you’re working on individual chapters you don’t lose sight of the larger plan.

We begin at the high level, then drill down:

-Hero’s Journey (overall narrative arc)
-Act I, II, III (or however your book is organized)
-Individual Chapters
-Chapter Notes (research, character development etc)

By the way, this is the exact method I used on my book (Mother Tongue) and in the reviews I got a lot of comments about the book being a fast, easy read. I edited my outline quite a bit with this in mind because I feared that a topic as potentially boring as “learning languages” would easily turn people off, and if I wanted to sneak in as much research about the science of language learning in there as possible, then I had to keep it light and fast passed.

This may not be the style of your book and your main goal might not be to make sure everyone reads to the end (but I will tell you, as a writer, getting people to read the whole thing is the only way they’ll share it – a big piece of your success or failure). So how do you get people keep reading?

1. Everything has to have a job. I wrote entire chapters that never made it into the book because ultimately while I loved them, they were some lovely writing, and in isolation they seemed to fit, in the big picture it didn’t tie closely enough to the core message of the book. As your reader is reading they will be constantly asking themselves, “How does this fit? What’s the message or point here?” and if they are not able to discern it they will fall into mild confusion, then annoyance, then stop reading. That’s why that Hero’s Journey piece you wrote the other day is so important.

2. Your writing should push and pull. You don’t want a flat story line: this happened, then this, then this. Within the overall book, there’s an arc. Within each Act or subsection, there’s an arc. Within each chapter there’s an arc. What does that mean? It’s setting up problems, teasing out the story, giving your reader some conclusions but not all. It’s that give and take as you a tell a story. I tried to think of it in terms of problems to be solved, or questions to be answered at the Book, Act, and Chapter levels. It’s the inherent conflict and release in your book. If you’re writing a how-to book it’s going to be teasing in those ah-ha moments so you don’t leave your reader too deep in the wilderness without some kind of payoff. It’s knowing when to release and when to hold back. Tension and drama should be considered at every level.

For today, let’s look at our Acts… we’ve done a lot of work over the duration of this course and things have gotten moved around. You want a point at about 1/3 in – somewhere at the end of Act I – there needs to be a twist / cliffhanger / moment when your readers assumptions about this book/world/story are shaken.

If you’re writing a novel or a memoir this is going to be when you put your main character in peril. For my book, I had moved my entire family to Beijing to learn Mandarin, then BOOM, I flipped everything around. There were tears. Plans were changed. Everything I had said up to that point was put at risk, because nothing was going to be the same. Now the reader wonders – well what will happen next?

Or if you’re writing a non-fiction book that’s advice or how-to then you want to shake things up. It’s might be next level stuff or something spectacular you’ve been holding back (like a truly inspiring story/case study) that’s going to shift everything your reader thinks, and suddenly they are like, “Oh, okay this is good.”

It’s kind of like comedy in a way. We’re delighted by the unexpected. Your reader kind of knows what’s going to happen when they start reading your book, and that’s okay. But then you take that comfort away from them. You disprove their assumptions or refuse to take the easy or obvious way through this story.

Then you should do this again at about 2/3 of the way or at the end of Act II. Your specific placement in your book is going to vary depending on how you’ve structured your book.

Today’s Assignment:

You have two days – today and tomorrow – to read through your outline from the perspective of ACTS or SECTIONS and to look at the narrative arc for each one. It might be helpful to draw it out on a piece of scrap paper to better see how you’ve built tension or stacked knowledge or driven the drama, up and up and up until there is some kind of conclusion or cliff hanger. If you’re not seeing that pattern you don’t have to trash everything – or even solve it right now – just think of what would help and put a placeholder note in the chapter where that needs to be added. It might be:

Chapter Six

Summary (…)
-Need to insert a dramatic story here that will set this character on a different path.

Note: there may be areas that you decide to tone down too so you don’t overwhelm the storyline…

You can address this during the chapter by chapter polish that we’ll be doing over several days following this exercise – so you will have time!

1Daily Free Writing
2Today & Tomorrow review your book from the perspective of Acts/ Sections
3Add chapter level notes for any areas that need to be amped up or toned down