Give Your Novel Structure

Give Your Novel Structure

Story structure is the basic framework for the story.  How it’s constructed is down the writer, but to give your novel a good structure, you need to know all the working elements of a great story – a tight plot, underlying themes, unforgettable characters, an exciting beginning, escalating action, drama, conflict, emotion, plot twists and, of course, a satisfactory ending.

The narrative structure should allow the reader to understand what is happening to the characters and understand why the story is happening by using an almost invisible step process. Most people think of story structure as a three-act type of framework – the beginning, the middle and the end, but that’s quite vague and doesn’t truly capture the different aspects.  Story structure doesn’t have to be very complicated.

A basic narrative framework follows a general pattern, something that has a catalyst - an instigating incident that starts the story, followed by escalating actions as the story progresses, with high stakes for maximum tension, with lots of crises and a catastrophe or two, which all leads to a denouement, the conclusion, and then finally, the resolution. 

The catalyst – This is the incident that begins the story and immediately changes the protagonist’s life. It’s a definitive moment that establishes the main story and themes. It’s the hook that grabs the reader’s interest and it shouldn’t let go.

Escalating action – The protagonist must pursue their goal (save the world, fall in love with the girl, or whatever the goal happens to be).  At each turn, he or she will face different problems, dilemmas and obstacles designed to thwart their efforts. 

Some writers talk about plot points – plot point 1, then 2 and so on, but plot points are not formulaic.  Plot points only occur because of the preceding actions of the main characters, so they could come at any time during the story. So rather than count plot points, it’s easier to understand escalating actions and crisis points, which are designed to build tension, create conflict and provide the reader with lots of nail-biting drama.

High stakes – Someone or something will be at stake if the protagonist doesn’t reach his or her goal. Failure would be catastrophic, so it’s imperative the main character does whatever he or she can to reach that goal. The higher the stakes, the higher the tension, atmosphere, conflict and drama.

Crises and Catastrophe – A great story should have a moment within the story when the protagonist thinks he or she has failed in their quest – all seems hopeless. It’s the lowest point for your protagonist. An impending catastrophe or inevitable crisis looms - how will he or she possibly get out of the situation?

Well, that’s the question the reader will ask. It’s also the same question that will keep them glued to the story.

Denouement – The story races towards its conclusion - all the tension, conflict, drama, revelations and plot twists culminate into the conclusion of the story, which is usually defined by a final conflict with the antagonist, and results in the protagonist defeating the antagonist and ultimately, reaching their goal.  Or not, as the case might be. (No one said there must be a happy ending).

At this point, a new dynamic is established – the protagonist will have lost something or someone, won the fight and developed as a person.  They will have learned something about themselves or others.

Resolution – All the plot threads are briefly resolved, and any remaining questions for the reader are answered, leaving them satisfied with the ending.

There’s nothing complicated about story structure. It’s the simple step process all writers can follow as a template. How it’s constructed is down to the writer, but it will give the story a basis to work to.

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