The Structure Of A Novel: Twelve Tips

Posted at 03:35am on 27th March 2009

You’ve decided to start writing a novel but you’ve no idea where to begin. Or perhaps you’ve already made a start but haven’t a clue how to proceed. You thought that once you’d started it would simply flow, but now you’re finding that pulling all the strands together to bring the wretched thing to its conclusion isn’t quite that easy. In fact, you’re beginning to wonder if your story is simply going to end up in a drawer along with all the other half-finished best sellers, begun with the best of intentions.

A PLAN FOR NOVEL WRITING

The structure of a novel as an art form was first defined by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. In its simplest form, it consists of a Beginning, a Middle, and an End – i.e. three parts.

Yawn! Yawn! Hardly rocket science! Perhaps not - but before you hit the Back button to exit from this blog post, it’s not quite as simple as it first appears. So let’s just look at this in a bit more depth.

  1. For one thing, the Beginning, Middle and End are determined by the total length of the novel.
  2. Secondly, they are unequal in length. The Middle should be half the length of the entire novel. The remaining half is divided equally in two to form the Beginning and the End (each a quarter of the overall length).

So what goes into each of these three portions? And what makes them different from one another? Before we answer this, let’s remind ourselves that if your novel is to have star page-turning quality, it will have to achieve the following:

  1. To induce concern in your reader about what he or she thinks will happen to the lead character in pursuit of his goal. i.e. his Fate.
  2. To develop and heighten that tension in your reader by creating a sense of what ought to happen to your main character. i.e. his Deserts.
  3. To resolve your reader’s concern, cathartically. i.e. to give your reader a sense of peace and satisfaction about the outcome of the lead’s storyline.

THE BEGINNING

The first quarter of your novel should convey the following to your reader:

  1. ALL your main characters
  2. All essential background information.
  3. The beginning of your main character’s storyline, including his/her Goal.
  4. The beginning of any subplots.

THE MIDDLE

The next portion of your novel, which will be half of its entire length, should contain the following:

  1. The pursuit of your main character towards his/her goal. i.e. the main storyline of the novel.
  2. All subplots.
  3. Lots of suspense and unexpected twists and turns.

THE END

The final quarter of your novel, as I’ve said above, should resolve all the conflict of the main character’s storyline, as well as that of all the subplots. It’s crucial, when writing a novel that you keep your readers in mind. They’ve paid good money to buy your book, and it behoves you, as the author, to deliver.

Your reader needs to be left with a sense of satisfaction. So if your plot follows a Rags to Riches format – a happy ending in which the hero or heroine achieves their Goal, and some, should be the result. If the plot is a Tragedy – as in Romeo and Juliet or Love Story – then your reader will be disappointed if you fail to give them a real weepy ending. Look on the business of writing novels as a contract between you and your readers: they buy your book; you create a world in which they may live, temporarily, and find pleasure and fulfilment in doing so.

For further related reading see the following blog Posts:

Goal
Rags to Riches
Tragedy

Photo: Structure by Brenda M

Your Comments:

Erich Keithly
30th March 2009
at 12:30pm

I love reading your posts on novel writing. Sometimes you have a
nugget of insight I 've been missing, or other times you just
inspire me to sit down and work. The novel structure is always what
holds me back. I'm currently brainstorming a novel structure on
a project, and I want to knowwhen its time to just sit down and
write or when to hold back and just complete the brainstorming
process?

30th March 2009
at 8:15pm

Thanks Erich. It's such an encouragement to me to hear from
readers and to know that what I'm doing is of value to someone.
I wish more people would feel 'safe' to leave comments
because they're of value to all of us.



I think your question as to when to adhere to the structure of
writing a novel and when to give free rein to your creativity is a
good one. However I think it merits an answer that would be better
dealt with more fully. So I'll deal with it in a blog if you
don't mind. Thanks again.

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» Writing & Publishing A Book

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