Novel Plotting

Finding inspiration for writing a novel might stem from an idea such as a captivating scene or a compelling character, but how does the writer formulate their ideas into a well-structured story?

Plot Structure of a Novel

 
Some novels dispense with structure altogether, as in J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (Penguin Books, 1969), which describes adolescent alienation in a series of disjoined narratives. However, for the aspiring writer, it might be a good idea to have some knowledge on how to plot the story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It is then up to the writer to experiment with this formula if they wish.
 
Three Act Structure of Plot Writing

The organic process of completing the first draft of a novel will often lack structure and might consist of passages in no particular order. These fragments might indeed be like pieces of a jigsaw that needs to be reassembled and moved around until they fit together in a logical and interesting way. Such strategic placement of scenes requires thought on the set up of the story, the climaxes, the lulls and a point in the story where the characters begin to change to their circumstances. In simplistic terms, the plot structure can be thought of as consisting of three parts:

The Beginning of a Novel

Some might call this the set up of the story, the beginning or the opening. This is where the reader is introduced to the main characters, the time, the place and the situation. The opening chapters provide the reader with some frame of reference from which the story develops. The story might begin with a climatic scene or with a subdued situation that in either case must draw the reader in. Within these initial chapters, there must be a trigger incident, an event that sets the story in motion. This might be a shocking discovery, a conflict or problem. Climatic scenes might occur, but must never out-stage the climatic scenes at the conclusion.
 
 
 

Creating Conflict within the Novel

With the scene set, the main conflict of the story will commence. This will consist of ever-culminating climaxes and unforeseen plot twists that must be faced by the characters. The characters, however, must not remain static as these events unfold, but be compelled to react, adapt or undergo some sort of transformation. This might be to sink or swim, however, character must be revealed as these events occur. Often there will come a point in the middle of the story where there is a point of return.
 
How to End a Story

Two-thirds into the story, the pace notches up and events might begin to unfold in a chain reaction, rather like dominoes. In a good story, there will be some rug-pulling moments and unforeseen events that take the tension to a new level. The reader at this point might fail to see what will happen next and will be compelled to keep turning the pages. The final climax will always be the most culminating and the most unforeseen. Some novels might end abruptly; others might close after tying loose ends. Either way, in an ideal situation, the reader will close the book feeling satisfied.

Suspense Writing

If demonstrated in a graph, the tension within the novel would ensue in a shallow gradient, becoming ever steeper, punctuated with of ever-increasing spikes intermixed with lulls. This does not always happen in all novels, and it does happen that some novels will fail to satisfy. The aspiring writer might be tempted to analyse various novels and ask how some might be improved, and what qualities made others a joy to read. Sound knowledge of structuring the beginning the middle and the end of a story will help resolve problems, such as where to place a scene, or a plot twist. Culminating tension and a weaving plot peppered with seemingly irresolvable problems for vividly-drawn characters always make irresistible reading.
 
 
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© Rachel Shirley 2010
 
 
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