If you are confused about how to structure your novel, I congratulate you. It means you at least realize a structure of some kind is necessary. That places you miles ahead of most beginning novelists, who typically plunge ahead into the writing, inspired by a cool initial idea. Many hours later, they realize they’re stuck. They have a story dozens or hundreds of pages long that rambles, repeats itself, backtracks, and generally loses its way. They thought the novel would just unfold of its own accord as they wrote it, then found themselves stunned when it stalled out stuck in the mud on some forsaken backroad.
Jumping into writing a novel without knowing where it’s supposed to go and how it’s going to get there is as hopeless as jumping into your car and expecting to get to New York simply by stepping on the gas. A trip must begin with a map and an outlined path to your destination, or you will never get there, no matter how many dedicated hours you put into the driving.
In the same way, to write a novel that holds together as a unit, that gets the reader from ‘A’ all the way to ‘Z,’ you have to begin with some structure. The plot needs structured, and so do your characters. Only after both of these are carefully thought through and in place should the writing begin.
Whole courses are taught on the art and science of how to structure a novel, and I’d have to write a book to cover everything involved. Fortunately, I don’t need to, because an excellent book already has been written by the award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson. But you don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t want to—the essential principals you need to know for how to structure your novel are simply explained in this article on his excellent website: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/
One Minor Caveat
My only criticism of his method is that, being a scientist as well as a novelist, Randy believes that spreadsheets and special software are needed to organize a book, and I disagree. Great novels have been being written long before technology was invented, and it’s possible to do on 3×5 index cards or in a Word document everything Randy advises you to do on a spreadsheet. But barring that, I totally subscribe to everything he recommends. And he didn’t make this stuff up. Although he puts his own original spin on it, he is clearly and cleverly explaining the principles of great storytelling that have been around since time immemorial.
Wasted Hours Saved
So visit his website, and learn everything you need to know, in a nutshell, about how to structure your novel. Doing so will save you hundreds of hours spent meandering in all the wrong places. Build your structure—your novel’s scaffolding—and then fill in with the actual writing. Your story will come out strong and vibrant the first time, instead of getting stuck in a ditch.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional