Big Story Events and Your Novel
Updated: Jan 11, 2020
The month of August was a great month for me. I wrote a rough draft for book two in my young adult series about a pastor’s daughter named Violet. I had so much fun focusing on writing during this summer month, but I will not lie. It got challenging at the end! I still made my goal—I wrote 80,000 words by September 1, but I still have some major work to do at the end of the book. In all the excitement of planning and plotting and drafting, I did not write the ending properly. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working until I finished and I thought, “Hmm.” I didn’t include an important event around which I could build the end. Most of my favorite stories end with big finales such as dances, shows, trips, or contests, and it makes sense that good stories end by building toward an interesting event.
For one year, I taught high school drama, and a group I oversaw was an improvisation group. When this group worked on what we call “long-form” or a longer story they made up as they went along, they had to choose a big event to build toward as part of the climax. Watching them execute well-done long-form improvised stories repeatedly, I realized how critical it is to include this in a long story and I try to keep it mind as I write.
Let’s look at why and how to choose big events for your novel.
Why include big events in your story?
1. Big events involve more people, and it’s essential your main character doesn’t fumble through all the problems and obstacles alone. The secondary characters in your story serve an important purpose and they need to interact with the main character. They push the character to change and grow or they hold the character back so it’s a greater struggle. Either way, it’s important to give those wonderful second-string players their time in the spotlight.
2. Large-scale events often serve as hinges for your story because these are times when you can force a character to have a big realization, make an important decision, or see themselves differently. Standing on that stage during the talent show, riding in that car with the boy they thought they loved, or finally saying, “No,” at the dance, everything can change from that point forward.
3. It’s fun to prepare for special events. In the same way you might have fun gathering party supplies at the store or dreaming of the perfect dress for a wedding, you can choose fun events for which your characters must prepare. Choose events that go along with the characters’ strengths or areas where they need to grow. One of my favorite things to do is to shop for dresses online for characters. I have fun pinning pictures and saving images so I can envision what it will be like when a character slips the garment over their head as they prepare for the big day. Big events don’t have to involve dress shopping–your big event can be a tree falling contest or clam-shucking-party. But whatever the event, get into it and have fun as characters plan the upcoming day.
I’ve given you a few reasons to choose large events when writing your novel. Now, let’s go over how and where to use these events.
You can use multiple big events to structure your story. I like to write big events at the beginning, middle, and end, although I try to mix it up because the last thing I want is for my writing to be totally predictable.
Let's look at some of the places you might want to put a big event in your story.
1. Inciting incident/key event. At the beginning of a novel, something must cause a character to react and act. The inciting incident is something bad that happens at the beginning that forces a character to react. The key event, or a second event, usually locks in a character’s desire to take action. If you struggle to generate ideas for these critical beginning points, consider choosing a big event and perhaps the right ideas will follow. Lots of big things can happen at celebrations or community events.
2. Midpoint. If you haven’t yet read Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell, I urge you to stop reading this post and go buy it! With that said, something big happens at the midpoint of stories. Characters see themselves as if in a mirror on their journey to change and grow. What event could happen at the midpoint of your story to help facilitate this big moment for the main character in your story?
3. Climax. It’s too tricky to create a moment that leads to a major battle if you haven’t formed it around a major event. Ask the first draft of the sequel I just wrote. If my book could talk, it would tell you I majorly messed up on the climax the first go around. I have some thinking to do so I can build up a more satisfying ending.
We’ve gone over the why and how of using big story events to write a great novel. Now, as you consider your own work in progress, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What big events would force the main character in your story to react, act, see themselves in a new way, or grow and change?
2. How can external events echo the main character’s internal struggle or need to change?
3. Where in your novel would this event best serve the story?
4. How many big events will you use in your novel?
5. What would happen if one of these events got canceled, or the date got moved? Would that serve your story better than having the event unfold at its originally intended date?
As always, I like to know who’s reading, so please contact me or share this with other writers.
Happy writing, my friends!