Updated Novel Structure Diagram!

A diagram showing most of the major elements of a novel.Hey all, I’ve finally managed to update my Novel Structure Diagram!

It’s been a long time coming, mostly because I used a different program, which was pretty fiddly. It produced a much better diagram though.

Check it out and let me know your thoughts. It’s not all that different to the previous version, but does improve on it in quite a few ways.

As always, you’re welcome to print it out or link to it via your blog or social media sites, but please don’t post it elsewhere.

You’ll find the full sized image on the Novel Structure page.

The Story and the Plot

SwordsIf you’ve been following me in any of the circles I tend to move in, you might know I’m writing a novel about a blind swordswoman, and possibly that I’m struggling with it.

It’s set in the same world as my epic fantasy, but in an earlier time and in a different kingdom.

The plot is simple: it’s about her mastering a sword of power and defeating the ruling Warlord. Think Gladiator meets almost any Chinese martial arts movie in an historical setting, and you’ve probably got it.

Her story, however, is entirely different, and this is what I’m struggling with.

Any reluctant hero could fulfil the plot, but to give it emotional impact, the plot has to become just as personal as the things she cares about. They need to intersect.

What she cares about is her father, the local villagers, and the slave girl her father rescued a few years back.

She also has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s blind, but determined not to let it hold her back.

She’s fought for years to become self-sufficient, to develop her skills with the blade, and to be able to look after herself without help. What she fears most is having that freedom taken away.

Her story, then, has to about protecting the people she cares about while fighting for freedom.

Therefore, to create a novel, the plot and everything she cares about need to come into conflict.

The question is, what’s the best way to do this? I’ve got a bunch of ideas on where I want it to go, but the beginning is really stumping me.

How do I set it up so all this comes through, without looking like I’m trying to set up anything?

If you’ve got any thoughts on matter, I’d be more than keen to hear them.

Otherwise, you’ll find some more interesting posts on story development in The Craft.

Need Vs Want

Give your characters something to pursue - something they desperately want. Do that, and you’ll create a far more interesting story.

Whatever they want, make sure it’s an external goal, something tangible and achieveable.

Put them through some hoops to get to it, but no matter how important it is - ensure they discover they don’t really need it before the end.

Getting what they want never gets them what they really need, and what they need is the important part.

Say your hero wants to rescue the princess (cliche, I know), but it happens (Luke Skywaker, anyone?). More than likely they’re going to do it (Luke does in fact rescue the princess).

However, is it what they need?

Do they really need prove something to themselves instead?

Maybe what they need is true love. Maybe its discovering or accepting something about themselves. Maybe its finally doing what they believe in.

Whatever they need, it will be internal.

Put simply:

  • Wants are an external goal, but getting them won’t fulfil your characters.
  • Needs are internal. When they fulfil their needs, the story is over.

It’s just another element to make your story more interesting and satisfying.

Read more about creating a writing/editing plan for your novel.

What’s the worst thing that could happen next?

Ever hit the wall and have no idea what to write next? Maybe you’ve just reached that point where nothing exciting is happening and you’re losing interest. And of course, if you’re losing interest, forget about your readers.

You might call it writers block. You might call it all kinds of blue-coloured words. You might simply take a break in the hope that inspiration strikes.

Worst scenario: you might give up.

Don’t! If you give up, you could be losing a fantastic story.

Instead, try this exercise:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen at this point in the story?”

Write it. Now. I’ll wait.

Very possibly, I’ve led you astray a little. The worst thing that could happen is all your characters catch a rare form of the flu and die, or an asteroid strikes the planet and they all die, or the sun explodes and they all die… you get the drift.

Okay then, lets peg it back a bit.

Your character tells a white lie – he’s had a fight with his wife, so she’s left him alone to deal with the business of running their ice-skating rink (or maybe something as simple as organising a dinner with friends). He’s too embarrassed to admit it, so he tells everyone she’s sick – caught a chill, and is resting up in bed.

What’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone’s got some medical qualifications and insists on helping.

Of course he could admit to the lie, but…

He tries to cover his lie and convinces someone to ‘play sick’ (maybe an employee, perhaps a neighbour), which not only deepens the lie, but draws someone else into it – and now you can see the snowball effect. “Oh no, it’s VERY contagious…”

And the worst thing that could happen at that point is…?

Okay, lets get back on track. We’re not actually building a story.

However, that sort of thing works particularly well with comedy, but also translates quite well into most genres.

Genre, you say.

Yes

Imagine you’re writing an action story – two tough cops go into a den of drug lords to rescue a kidnapping victim.

It’s time sensitive, and they make the call to go in early. What’s the worst thing that can happen – maybe one gets wounded and has to be dragged out – and the mission fails.

And of course, there are consequences.

Because they went in early and without backup, the kidnapping victim gets killed – and they get the blame. Suddenly they’re off the force, leaving them with the only option available – prove they did the right thing. Yet one of them is in hospital recovering…

You see where I’m going?

More than likely you’ll want to discard the first option (or four) that comes to you, but if you ever get stuck, if things slow down, or you simply can’t figure a way out of the mess you’ve created, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that can happen next?”

When planning goes to… something starting with S.

I prefer writing to planning. I just want to get on with it. Sometimes, even stating what goes in the Beginning, Middle and End is too much effort.

However, to write something more complex than a single POV story I’ve got to plan out the storylines and how they fit together, otherwise I’ll stick with one or maybe two.

For the Welcome To Earth novel I’m in the middle of, I’ve got five Points Of View, and I developed them all pretty thoroughly.

The problem is, once I start writing a story, it almost always takes an entirely fresh turn from anything I’d planned. Sometimes lots of turns.

That can be good. I love finding out what happens as I write it.

But that doesn’t work with multiple storylines that need to interconnect.

Problem is, I never planned this story as a novel. I planned it as a pilot television script, and that’s how I originally wrote it.

And that’s why it all fell apart – it wasn’t suited to becoming a novel, but I thought it would be. I didn’t do any more planning to flesh it out.

And so there it was – forty-five pages of outline in script form, ready to be drawn from, and it wasn’t filled with enough detail.

The big divergence happened when I added an entirely new beginning, changing it from sets of two sequences to three (ie, three for the Beginning, Middle A, Middle B, and the End).

That means I now have to find and develop three entirely new sequences spread out over the entire novel – about 30-40,000 words.

Obviously, I got ‘writers block’. Or, in this case, ‘what the heck do I do with this mess now?’.

The only way I can see to fix it is to shift the main plot to a sub-plot and bring forward the story I’d intended for the sequel, and overlap them. Two storylines, one story. There simply isn’t enough happening in the original script to fill an entire novel.

If only I’d seen that before I began and reworked the outline/script.

The question now is, will it work? Is it even what I really want to do?

I guess I’ll find out.

If you liked this post, you might like my post on creating a writing/editing plan for your novel.

Create a writing/editing plan for your novel!

Here’s a few steps that might help you in drafting and editing your novel.

1. What’s it about? Write one sentence describing your story in 25 words or less.

Yes. 25 words or less.

Rework the story to reflect this sentence, or change the sentence to reflect the story.

I’ve seen several publishers asking for this sentence in their submission requirements.

2. What’s the theme?

This is the point of your novel, and arguably the most important aspect of it. It’s what you’re trying to say – one side of an argument.

Without a theme your story’s just explosions and pretty sunsets. Pointless.

The theme itself is a statement. For example: “Behind every good man is a greater women.” Your story is the argument supporting either the positive or the negative side of that statement.

Think of your story as one side of the debate.

3. Separate the Threat from the Conflict.

Conflict is immediate, while the threat is the potential. Work out the difference in your story.

4. Need Vs Want.

What does your character(s) want? What are they actively pursuing? This is an external goal.

What does your character need? This will be something internal, something they aren’t likely to be aware of – a lesson to be learned, perhaps. The moral of the story.

For example, a high school student wants to be part of the ‘in’ crowd, when what they really need is to be happy with themself first.

Getting what they need will affect how they see what they want, while getting what they want before getting what they need won’t fulfill them.

What they want drives them. What they need completes them.

Getting what they need may make what they want even more worthwhile or it may render it totally obsolete. They may even have to sacrifice what they want entirely if it gives them what they need.

When they get what they need they can finally see what they want in its true light.

5. Identify the main plot points and transitions – beginning, middle, end, inciting incident, midpoint, etc.

If you don’t know what these are, and there’s lots more that I haven’t listed, I’ll be writing another post (or several) in the future covering them. For the moment though, I’ve drawn a diagram.

  • Do they work to best effect?
  • Can they be made to work better?

6. Chapter outline – write a brief sentence describing each chapter.

This will help you identify weak chapters or chapters that do nothing for the story.

You need to justify each chapter’s existence. Each sentence should:

  • State what the chapter’s trying to convey
  • Show how the chapter moves the story along.

7. Write a Cause and Effect. “Because of this, this happens. Because this happens…”

Start big, Ie:

  1. Beginning: Bella moves to Forks – meets Edward.
  2. Middle A: She’s attracted to him – discovers he’s a vampire which is part of the attraction.
  3. Middle B: They hook up – she becomes involved in the ’vampire world’.
  4. End: Bad vampires come after Bella - Edward and family try to protect her.

Each cause has an effect, which leads to the next cause. It’s a logical progression. If you can’t find the logical progresssion, your story has a problem.

Once you’ve got the big steps down, break them into smaller steps.

Your breakdown for the beginning might be two or three pages long (although it can be much less or more). And like the big steps, it needs a logical progression. Find it.

Everything outside the cause and effect must be essential to moving the story forward in some other way.

8. Identify the big structural changes you need to make.

For example: ‘the ending isn’t satisfying enough – must rewrite to ensure the main character struggles more to achieve their goals’.

Like the example, write a list of big points that need fixing. Make these changes before going on. There’s no point in polishing text if big swathes of it might be cut or largely altered.

9. Identify the smaller but important changes you need to make.

For example:

  • Make outer space/ocean/sword/city/weather more of an influential ‘player’ in the story
  • Make the main character more sympathetic
  • Make the antagonist appear nice at first [misdirection].

Write a list of things that need to be done, and make the changes before going on.

10. Edit the words.

Only after you’re happy with the overall structure should you start playing with words, sentences and paragraphs.

Do a complete pass from beginning to end, and once you move onto the next chapter, don’t go back until the next full pass. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the process of polishing something to imperfection. Set some sort of goal and stick to it.

11. Finally, figure out when its ‘good enough’ and get it out into the world.

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