I used to be the type of writer who would sit at her desk, agonizing for hours over the syntax and the proper words to use, while her plot burned down in flames around her. During this novel-writing sabbatical I’ve taken, though, I’ve had time to do plenty of research on structuring a story properly—and my notes are below.
- The Beginning: An inciting incident occurs, and we meet the protagonist as well as other main characters. Recently, it’s been quite the trend to set up chapter one as a normal day at school, etcetera, but that’s the easy way out. Start in media res with a scene that makes your manuscript impossible to put down. Create your conflict and your stakes. Make sure to share some setting details that create your story world. However, flashbacks and backstory should be given on a strictly need-to-know basis. Establish subplots only after the main storyline is given. And don’t forget to end with a challenge (which the protagonist should usually accept).
- The Middle: Remember, this is not a transition from beginning to end, though sometimes it may feel that way. It is the HEART of the story where the most complications take place. The middle creates anticipation for a climax. Conflicts deepen, more backstory is given to round out characters, and the characters emote more. They become committed to their goals as the stakes rise. More trials present themselves. The protagonist’s actions must demonstrate he/she is capable of changing (readers want a dynamic character who is affected by and affects his/her situation).There must be a contrast shown between the protagonist and the other characters—which may be why the middle is so darn hard to write. It’s often the place where beta readers start disliking the protagonist, or when you find yourself wanting to merge a few similar personalities into one character.Demonstrate that the current conflict can’t continue any longer. If your characters were on a rollercoaster, this is the agonizing part where the gears stop groaning and the car pauses at the very, very top, before everything starts rushing down. End with the protagonist in the situation with no return (on the rollercoaster, your characters would be screaming as they rush to the bottom).
- The End: A physical or psychological death of the protagonist before the whole ordeal provides for the conclusion. “Death” sounds like a harsh word, but psychological death just means that the protagonist feels reborn. He/she sees the world anew. Information the protagonist learned through the course of the manuscript is put to use. The pace quickens as chapter become shorter and shorter. A good ending delivers emotion without dragging on (yes, we know it’s hard to say goodbye to your baby), and ties up all loose ends.
Got any more advice? Leave it in the comments!