Novel Structure:
Getting the Mix Just Right

Every book has a format. In creating your novel structure, you should adhere to certain "rules", or you may not keep your readers reading, much less sell your book.

So what makes a good novel great?

Start with the basic ingredients, and mix well.

Staples of All Novels

Every novel has three main ingredients: plot, character and setting. Each part helps create the novel structure you build when you write. Putting your book together into a cohesive, compelling whole takes some thought and a bit of organization.

After all, you can't just dump all the ingredients for a cake into the cake pan and bake them without some stirring, can you?

The same goes for novel writing. You have to mix your ingredients properly to get it "baked" into a finished product.

So what creates this structure?

A careful mix of your three ingredients to make a seamless finished product.

In The Beginning

Every novel has a beginning. So should every scene within that novel. Your scene construction will mirror - in miniature - your novel structure.

Your beginning is your setup. You introduce who is involved in this story. You show us what this story is about and where it takes place. (You can read more on developing a plot here.)

Right from page one, your three main parts - plot, characters and setting - need to be firmly bound together. Each one should influence the other two.

If you have a novel set in the Andes mountains, your characters have to be impacted by that setting, and your plot must be too. You can't have a character from Florida scaling those mountains without running out of breath. Nor would your character likely scale those mountains without a compelling reason (plot).

As I've said on other pages, don't make this beginning a leisurely stroll or you'll lose your readers right at the start. You need to identify the characters and conflict immediately. Jump right in with mixer whirling and make a mess. You'll clean it up at the end.

Preventing Gooey Middles

The middle of any novel is a progression of the events following the inciting incident or hook. None of these events is random, even if they appear that way while the reader absorbs them. You need to have a logical progression from beginning through the entire middle of your book, the "rising action" section of a story arc.

Here again, your plot should be evolving completely from your characters' choices and actions (or inactions). This goes for protagonists and antagonists alike. They should be entwined because every action must cause a reaction.

And don't forget how much your setting may be driving the action. Your hero screaming for help near a snow-laden mountainside can create an avalanche, after all.

Most of this part of your novel structure will be made up of confrontations. The hero or heroine going up against the antagonist repeatedly. Each time, things become more desperate, the squeeze gets tighter and tighter until there is only one solution left.

At the same time, each event should lead to a partial resolution of the conflict, at least the particular scene's conflict, even if it's negative for the protagonist. It may also escalate the conflict and add minor climaxes (chapter-end cliff-hangers).

Neither here, nor at the end should you force your characters to do something, just because it follows your preconceived plot ideas or outline. If they WANT to go elsewhere, let them. It may well lead you down a much better path.

And be absolutely sure every scene, every place and time you put your characters reveals more about them. This is the "mixing" portion you need to see to, all the way through the middle.

Don't Leave It Half-Baked

If you've written (or mixed and begun to bake, if you wish) the middle of your book well, it's going to lead inevitably to the end. The funnel is going to get smaller and smaller, your characters are going to be forced to act in such a way that the only way out is...

...a crisis. Yup. Now you precipitate the climax with a crisis. Something's gotta give - or someone.

Something in your setting can help precipitate this. Clearly your plot must do so. And your characters better have seemed to be headed here without any other possible choices left.

Again, be sure your character's are staying in character and acting consistently. I know, I know! Real people don't act consistently. But your novel structure depends on your cast acting consistently enough to be believable. Right up to the end.

A side note here bears telling: Do not, under any circumstances, let minor characters (or heaven forbid the villain!) steal the scene or the novel. If they begin to do that, maybe you've chosen the wrong hero. Look closely and make sure you're telling the right person's story. If not - yup, go back and start over. It's worth it, to make your book the best it can be.

If all is well, you should be able to take a deep breath and resolve the ongoing conflict. Try to make it seem as though your end is the only resolution possible to this story. Or, do what I occasionally do, and write the end a couple different ways, just to be sure.

Finally, you've completed your novel structure successfully. If so, you'll leave your readers' appetites completely satisfied, and know you cooked up a great tale that couldn't have been written in any other way!

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