How to structure a novel

How to structure a novel

You are eager to start writing, to have an outline for the development of the novel you have in your head. However, before writing a line, you will have to take some previous planning steps so that everything goes well.

Planning before writing

It is not a good idea to start writing directly in front of a blank sheet of paper. Normally, this method of working does not end well. Planning beforehand will make the subsequent work of writing much easier.

Here are the six steps that are recommended in any pre-novel process

You may also be interested in knowing how to create the narrator’s voice.

Aspects you should take into account when structuring a novel

1- Choice of genre

Writing a crime novel is not the same as writing a juvenile story. The style and vocabulary vary. However, the most important thing is to choose a genre in which the writer feels comfortable.

2.- Gather and organize ideas

Brainstorm possible stories to write about, choose the most attractive one and, within it, make a small script with the parts that the text could have and the twists and turns that the plot could take.

3.- Make a character sheet

Half a sheet of paper will be enough to draw a basic profile of the characters that will appear in the play (ways of speaking, expressions… the more data, the better).

4.- Required documentation

You may be writing about a police officer at the beginning of the 20th century and not even know if, at that time, fingerprint analysis existed. Or how a police officer of the time was dressed. You need to establish these documentation needs and, based on them, go to the sources and be able to develop those unknown parts of the story.

5.- Define beginning and end

It is essential that the beginning be attractive enough to hook the reader. In addition, the ending must also be determined in order to guide the rest of the writing to that point.

6.- Chapter structure

Once you know the beginning and the end of the novel, once you have ideas about what you want to include in the text, you can make an outline of the structure of chapters of the book. Later you can modify it, since a literary work is a living thing and, as you write it, new ideas will emerge. But at least, it will be important to have that previous structure, an outline. 

Even every day, when you are writing a chapter, it will be good to write your own structure with what you want to include in that part of the text. In this way, you will only have to develop these prefixed ideas and nothing will be left behind.

Start writing

Nothing out of the ordinary. A novel begins with something that, one day, happens in someone’s life. The foundations of any story start at that moment when an event breaks the initial balance of a life.

An example can be found in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, when the protagonist of this famous tale is asked to go to her grandmother’s house with a cake and a bottle of wine. Similar cases can be found in other very zealous literary creations: Alice reading with her sister when, suddenly, a white rabbit appears; Frodo receiving the assignment to destroy the ring; Harry Potter receiving the letter of admission to Hogwards or the awakening of Gregory Samsa experiencing the anguish of seeing his sudden transformation into a huge insect.

At the beginning of any story, the aforementioned equilibrium aside, a second characteristic element appears: someone reveals a wish. In other words, it can be said that at the beginning of a story there is always someone who wants or desires something. And there is always an impediment that prevents the achievement of that desire… an impediment that the protagonist must overcome.

The attainment of that desire is not going to happen the first time, which gives the writer a reason to develop his story (it is obvious that if the protagonist achieved his goal right at the start there would be no story).

A classic structure

We would be talking about a story, a story built around a classic structure: beginning, middle, denouement, conflict and change. In this model we can clearly see a traditional model of building a story with its turning points.

In Motel Chronicles (author: Sam Shepard) we visualize the application of this structure. The approach followed by the author starts with a child determined to imitate the smile of the actor Burt Lancaster. The initial desire has appeared. Now begins the development of the approach from the achievement of this desire by the protagonist. The desire to surpass himself also appears, since the protagonist’s smile does not resemble Burt Lancaster’s at all.

At the moment when the protagonist of the novel, a boy, appears on the scene before the total indifference of his schoolmates, the author places his first turning point. For the story to close, a second turning point is needed.

The child protagonist, faced with his first failure, forces his smile to the point of scaring the others with it. The reason for the fright? His teeth are horrible. It is then that the conflict arises, since the protagonist, convinced that he has perfect teeth, is confronted with the cruel reality.

Faced with the shattering discovery that he has horrible teeth, contrary to what he thought, the second turning point arises: he stops smiling so as not to scare the people around him.

The child no longer smiles, not even at himself alone. It is the moment of change, the shock against reality.