Christine Frazier from Better Novel Project

7 April 2015 / Leave a Comment
I write intuitively. I get an idea and plunge right into a story, hoping to work work things out along the way. Invariably, I get stuck around 20,000 words into the first draft of a novel. This is the point where I wish I had some kind of outline to guide me through my problem. So I’m fascinated by those writers that map out their whole book from the start. Christine Frazier has made planning a novel an art form in itself; she is deconstructing bestselling novels, discovering what elements they have in common, and using these elements as a backbone for a master outline. She believes thorough research and planning instead of luck will help her write a better novel ...

Tell us a little about the Better Novel Project and where the idea came from?
Better Novel Project is all about deconstructing bestselling novels, one index card at a time.

I created Better Novel Project because I always wanted to write a novel, but when I finally sat down to do it, I didn’t know how to start. Soon I felt so overwhelmed that I almost quit before I began. Instead, I decided to break down bestselling novels into smaller pieces so that I could see how their structure worked.

I am currently breaking down the first books of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. Each week, I focus on a single common element that three bestselling novels share. My most important goal is to identify not just the element, but why it works. Once I’ve done that, I write up an index card and add it to my “master outline.” In the end, I hope to have the “backbone” to a bestseller. That being said, I don’t believe there is a magic formula that will spit out a bestselling novel-- the outline still needs a writer’s voice and imagination. My research serves almost as a series of guided prompts to help writers find an intuitive structure.

What's the most interesting or surprising things you've discovered through researching bestselling novels?
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is that the “hero’s journey” is everywhere! I guess that’s why it’s called the monomyth. I notice it all over the place now-- commercials, movies, even songs. I am surprised that a common structure doesn’t spoil the suspense-- the story is always different, even when the underlying framework has similar features. I love hearing from different writers who have used my master outline in other genres, from thrillers to fantasy. It’s adaptable enough that any writer can use it and create an entirely different story.

How is your research helping with writing your own novel?
I am the type of person who gets more creative when faced with limitations. A blank page scares me, but starting with a blank page labeled “Rescue Scene” will give me a zillion ideas. Also, writing is really a mind game. Knowing that my research and outline are solid gives me the mental push I need to put myself out there.

And in an indirect way, by posting my research online, I’ve helped my writing by creating some stakes-- now that everyone knows I have set out to write a novel, it’s harder to ditch the idea when it gets difficult. Plus, the support from all the writers I’ve met online who follow Better Novel Project has been invaluable.

I really enjoy the drawings you've done on your site. How does sketching and using visual props assist you with your writing?
Thank you! Sketching an image helps me stick to the point when I am writing a blog post-- in trying to decide what to draw, I am forced to acknowledge what the post is really about. Once I do that, any tangents or unnecessary bits in the post become more apparent. So for blog posts, I like to draw after I’ve written to aid the editing process.

I also like to doodle in the pure sense of the word. I need some absent-minded drawing time that lets my mind wander. I can’t say that those doodles resolve any major plot points for me, but staying active with my hands helps me explore some otherwise lost ideas.

Finally, the drawings assist me with my writing by growing my platform-- social media is a very visual world, so having a whimsical sketch to accompany my writing (instead of a stock photo) helps me interact a little more personally with readers who might otherwise miss me in the crowd.



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