Novel and Character Lecture Notes for English 4420:

last updated 02/27/2014


The basic idea is to have a narrative that is 60,000 words minimum...

Some Speculative Novels to get novel writing ideas from:

Thinking about character first--Obituary for a main character in my possible novel (Architectures p. 111):

Obituary for some of Lee's characters:

Novel Ideas that come from Characters:

Trumby the screenwriter says, "plot comes from character," which to me means you should do a lot of character work (not lists of trivia, though) before you try to write a novel...

Weiland’s What If questions (What if X isn't who they seem to be?) can break you out of your comfort zone, or can reveal “hidden” things about your character, secrets that might be the character's weakness, or inner demons that lead to their weakness, and that might then support plot...

What if my character “the postmodern narrator” isn’t who she seems to be?  Of course, I don’t want to have the usual expectations fulfilled here; she certainly may seem to be cool and full of life and passion, but she is really unfeeling, wanting to stay in bed reading or watching Youtube videos, and few people know this about her.  Few people know that she is agoraphobic, and few people know that she doesn’t like people very much—a misanthrope walking through stores and never looking anyone in the eye, hoping no one will talk to her.  People think she’s funny and talkative, but they don’t know she feels a certain torture when confronted with a conversation.  But isn’t this typical, really?  What other things could she be that others don’t know about?  Of course if she is latina, but no one knows, that means she must be closeted like her father, never speaking Spanish for fear of being seen as Other.  If she’s hiding her sexuality…but that’s too typical, certainly.  If she’s really from another planet, but that’s also typical, the stranger in a strange land motif that’s been done to death in movies and books, or has it been done lately?  Certainly the former Lolita is from another planet, but she passes pretty well into American society.  What if the pomo narrator is…

Brainstorm more What If questions I might be interested in:

Brainstorm What If’s in terms of concepts, plot, setting, theme, or POV etc:


Postmodern Structure: you could use excess to lay out 12-15 chapters that address some kind of rising action, complications, crisis, and denoument (click here for additional ideas that might be pomo or magically real):


Formulaic Structure: You can also fill in the three act restorative structure suggested by Tara Maya on Youtube (at 8:50; she also uses ideas from the Monomyth or Hero's Journey)--each of the 15 points can be a chapter that you fill in with your character's voice and story (but this is potentially very formulaic and cliched--if you try it, try to push hard against the stereotypical plot points you see in stories that follow this structure, or try a parody of this structure):

Act 1:

  1. Opening conflict (many novels, and movies, have this in chapter 1 to get the reader into the action quickly)
  2. Protagonist shown in daily life, before the transformation
  3. Opportunity for change
  4. Resistance to the opportunity
  5. Opportunity accepted--point of no return (before the protagonist desends into the underworld?)

Act 2:

  1. Entering the new situation
  2. Transformative experiences: meeting friends, enemies, romance
  3. Problem brings them together
  4. Problem drives them apart
  5. Crisis hits

Act 3

  1. Terrible secret revealed, or attack starts
  2. All seems lost
  3. Self-sacrifice, or symbolic death
  4. Final showdown
  5. Conclusion: Wed or Dead