Novel Writing: The Remake Your Life Plot

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I'm about three chapters into a new novel and the other day when I was making some notes on themes and events to come, the thought occurred to me that I'm writing a Remake Your Life plot.

I made that name up, but these kinds of plots are staples of women's fiction.  For various reasons, the protagonist's life falls apart, usually in unexpected ways, and then she has to go about finding a new one. 

As I made notes and pondered, a rough basic outline of this kind of story came to me and I jotted it down.  Here it is:

1.  Everything falls apart, and/or the protagonist loses everything she's held dear.

2. She has no choice but to start over again, often in a new place.

3.  There, she's a stranger in a strange land.  She has to navigate in these strange new surroundings and it is often puzzling.

4.  But slowly, she settles in.  And bit by bit things begin to go well.

5. However, there is still more to be learned.  Any lingering issues left over from the problems at the start will now rear their heads to be solved.

6. The heroine's actions come back around to haunt her, good and bad. 

7.  The choices the heroine has made in the second half of the book are now what truly count because these are the choices she has made as her new, wiser self.

8. The heroine uses these new found traits and skills to manage the final crisis.

9.  Often, but not always, she returns home triumphant.

This is also a variant, of course, on the heroine's journey.

What do you think?  What did I miss?  What did I get right?  Have you ever written a lot like this?  Guys, why aren't there more novels with plots like this for men? 

I'd love to hear your opinion.

*Don't forget to sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter.  In return, you'll get a free Ebook called Jumpstart Your Book with a Vision Board.  It will help you envision plots like the one discussed here!

**Photo of board game by Will Folsom.

25 thoughts on “Novel Writing: The Remake Your Life Plot”

  1. For her to lose everything is not enough. Five and six suggest some difficulties. I think it should be more forceful than that. Once she sets her mind on recovery, she should encounter some impossible-to-overcome obstacles–these sometimes walk around on two legs.

  2. I would think that actually a lot of guy novels follow a similar plot line, but wouldn’t admit it.

    For example, guy’s life is falling apart, wife is leaving him, job is on the rocks, all because he is selfish/works too much/is a pain to live with/can’t work with a team. Suddenly he finds himself in a holdup/receiving a ransom call/falling in with a bad crowd. Action, mayhem and witty dialogue ensues, during which he realises why his life was falling apart. Along the way he begins to change, eventually using his new-found strength to solve the climactic situation.

    Similar arc but whereas the women are interested in the relationships, emotions and everyday occurrences that cause the change, the men want the action and comedy.

    That’s my two cents to the discussion. I think this is a really interesting topic!

  3. I like this–you’re filling in the details for the heroine’s journey. The only thing I can think of that might be missing is that some of her choices will make things worse, leading up to that final crisis. Although perhaps that’s encompassed in her actions coming back to haunt her! Anyhow, great way to think about this ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I sort of had in the back of mind that a few series mystery novels might follow this pattern, broadly. I’m thinking of an LA detective whose name I can’t remember who is in therapy for anger management, whose house has been destroyed by an earthquake. His entire life is changing and being remade and its through his work that he figures stuff out. So I think you’re onto something–men tend to figure things out through work, whereas women do it through relationship. Kind of fun to ponder.

  5. Cheryl, yes, that’s brilliant, I think that is is a missing step–that her choices first make things worse. All this input is great, we’re going to have the structure of this kind of plot nailed!

  6. My WIP has a bit of this. A retired teacher who is recently widowed, the MC must decide if getting involved with an abused foster child is something she should/could do. Needless to say, obstacles abound. ; )

  7. Thought provoking list, Charlotte. Don’t we all want to read about protagonists overcoming impossible obstacles — rising from the ashes, so to speak — to find success, true love, and joy? As an earlier commenter said, a lot of novels for men follow similar plot lines, but the structure is more subtle and they cope with the obstacles differently in most cases.

  8. Samantha, Those are my favorite stories to read. And I love this kind of tale, when people lose everything and have to find the courage to start over and in the process discover things about themselves they never imagined. I think we’re all on a path to awaken our authentic selves and these kinds of stories just present one aspect of that.

  9. Jessica was asleep! ๐Ÿ˜› Or at least trying to sleep…and then not and deciding to check the comments to this post on her iTouch at 12am and then her iTouch rebelling and refusing to display the page…So my iTouch was hiding from you too!

    Did you realise you had such power over electronic devices J.D.?

  10. Arg! I just wrote a long comment and then lost it. Gonna try again.

    I’ve been thinking about this overnight. I believe this is what Blake Snyder (of Save the Cat fame) would call a Rite of Passage story. It’s about life, where the “monster” is ‘often unseen, vague, or one which we can’t get a handle on simply because we can’t name it.’ He gives examples like drugs, alcohol, puberty, mid-life crisis, old age, romantic break-up, grieving. Usually the people around the hero can see the problem but the hero can’t.

    Snyder says, ‘The story is about the hero’s slow realization of who and what the monster isโ€ฆThe victory comes with the hero’s ability to ultimately smile.’

    In Save the Cat Goes to the Movies, he outlines it further as:

    1. The life problem (usually the title and poster)
    2. The wrong way to fix it (diversion from confronting pain)
    3. The solution to the problem (acceptance)

    The hero comes to realise that *he* must change, not the world around him.

    It makes me think of water skiing.

    To being with the hero is facing the ocean of their emotion (how lyrical!). They must find a way to manage. They want to glide over the top of it, and figure momentum is the best way. So they keep themselves busy. They tell everyone they’re doing fine and they cram their life full of stuff to do.

    But that can’t go on forever. Eventually the boat runs out of gas and they are plunged into the waves. Now they are in an even worse situation than when they started.

    They flail about frantically in the water, positive this is the bitter end, that they’ll drown in the flood of their emotion.

    And then they discover the wonder of natural buoyancy. That by relaxing and accepting their situation they can float through life easier. Actually, the water is lovely and warmโ€ฆand everyone else was swimming here all along. By slowing down you can join your friends and learn the doggy paddle.

  11. I haven’t written fiction in years, but recently I’ve been warming up to the idea. This post and conversation is really inspiring me!

    Jessica’s plot might be slightly different. The theme there is more of acceptance, whereas in your original version, the character actually builds new skills and attitudes in response to the crises. The two types of stories would have a very different feeling at the end.

    In Jessica’s, the reader would probably feel compassion and understanding for the fact that her life is messy, but that’s what it means to be human. In yours, Charlotte, there is more a sense of triumph. Both are good…and they could be blended in that acceptance could be what the character developed in order to triumph, LOL.

    Very fun ideas to play around with.

  12. I’ve got to pull that book out and read it, every time you mention it, there’s great stuff in it. This is really, really helpful, Jessica, thank you. I especially like the part about the “wrong way to fix it,” because I think that’s so apropos. In our learning process as humans, we grasp at solutions in order to get out of pain fast. And often those solutions are the exact wrong thing but we’re so desperate we don’t see that. And yes, “natural buoyancy” also called letting go is ultimately the solution to just about everything. Thanks for all this great info!

  13. Hey Sophia, I’m glad you found me, too. Sounds like we are not only BlogHer ad network sisters, but novelist sisters–both of us writing in the same area and the same plot structure.

  14. I thought you’d like to know that I linked to your post yesterday, in my blog about writing blog topics. Not sure why it doesn’t show up above, but you’ve done a great job here applying the Hero’s Journey to a specific type of story. Thanks for sharing!

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