Today enjoy novelist, editor and Star Wars fan, Belea T. Keeney share one of her favorite books for laying out your novel’s outline and story structure. Read on!

Building a house? You’d use an architect’s blueprint, get a site plan, line up your subcontactors, right? Writing a novel? Try Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist (1st edition, Dell Trade Paperback).

Of all the writing reference books I’ve bought over the years, (and we’re talking dozens and dozens here) this one helped me the most in finishing my first novel. Ray’s hands-on, nitty-gritty approach to the details of writing a novel is especially useful to linear/logical writers who naturally work from outlines. And it’s also user-friendly to non-linear writers who usually sit down at the keyboard and float away in the words, only to find out that the floating tangent doesn’t really have a place in the book. While Ray acknowledges the spiritual and emotional aspects of the creative act, he also emphasizes the sheer hard work required to craft a novel.

Just to clarify, this first edition is now out of print and often turns up in used bookstores and online. The mixed reviews on the second edition may make you think twice about investing in it, but it does have more graphics and visual aids for readers used to learning from a screen. For us “old-timers,” the paper and pen method often works just fine. Either edition uses the same premise: you can write a novel in one year, using your weekends to complete the work.

By using a pre-planned approach to characterization, plot, scene building, and key scenes, Ray leads you through developing your protagonist, antagonist, helper characters, and their backstories. In giving each character an agenda for each scene, you help “front-load” your brain with their conflicts and actually writing the material becomes easier. You spend so much time thinking about the story and working out points in advance, that the actual writing becomes much easier, and you spend less time dithering with tangents.

After Character Work, comes Scene Building, and these building blocks are formed using Ray’s storyboard concept. These pre-writing exercises allow you to think about a particular scene, get the time/place/temperature/setting in place (and he advises that you choose setting with care and let it flavor the scene), know which characters will be appearing, know their agendas, pre-plan the action and dialogue with text and subtext for both, decide on point-of-view, and have the scene’s climax and exit line ready to go. I found these invaluable in letting me jot down notes and ideas during the work-week, then using these storyboards when I was able to do the real writing on the weekends.

Ray also advises writing the six Key Scenes early, then working other scenes as needed for support. He proposes breaking down scenes into Acts One, Two, and Three. After an initial, white-hot, no-editing-allowed Discovery Draft, a Meditation Draft follows, which allows the writer to go back and deepen certain scenes, complete any research needed, and follow through on subplots. The Final Draft is for polishing and minor revisions, plus standard editing for mechanics.

Published in 1993, this edition of the book has great relevance for today’s writers. It could be used as a textbook for a novel writing class. I found my copy online several years ago and whenever I’ve stumbled up on it in a used bookstores, I’ve grabbed it for my writing class students. As of this writing, Amazon had over twenty used copies listed for sale.

You’re the word-crafter, laying out the novel’s framework, then you put the bricks and mortar into place. With this book, Ray is the novelist’s architect, giving you a detailed plan for completing your project.

HPIM0028.JPGMore about Belea:


Belea T. Keeney has published three short story collections, and works as an editor for Samhain Publishing, Torquere Press, and a variety of private freelance clients. She especially enjoys working on paranormals, horror, romances, memoir, and most anything written about horses. Find out more about her class, “Writing Popular Fiction and Memoir,” that gives students hands-on experience at crafting their own stories at

And come take Belea’s fiction class Sat. Oct 19 in Apex, North Carolina


Apex Arts Council Creative Writing Class 
Location: Holiday Inn Express, 1006 Marco Drive at NC55 and US1, Apex NC 27502
Saturday, October 19, 2013   Time:   9:30am-2pm, Registration is at 9am 
Fee: $59, FOR ALL AGES
1st class is 9:30-11am, break is 11-12 and 2nd class is 12-2pm
To register:
Are you an aspiring writer? Would you like to learn the secrets of professional 
writers? Then join these two published authors, Belea T. Keeney and Alice Osborn, 
to learn how to achieve your full potential with the written word. This class is 
specially formatted for both experienced writers and novice, so everyone will 
find much to help hone their skills in the material presented. Also included 
are tips on publishing both fiction and poetry. This could be the best four 
and a half hours you will ever give yourself. This event is sponsored by the 
Apex Arts Council 

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