2. How to Plan a Compelling First Novel Plot

The Novel Formula - A Novel Writing Method: Step Two

The Skeleton - aka. The Universal Storyline

Now we've got a basic premise, which means we've got the beginnings of a story. It's time to give it a few more bones, and see how it starts to take shape.

Luckily, we don't have to grope around in the dark, guessing at what elements we should include and in what order, to create a gripping and satisfactory story with a good beginning, middle and end. That's because there's already an established series of stages that the vast majority of all decent stories go through - The Universal Storyline

It's based on the Hero's Journey and the Monomyth, but adjusted to be more universal to all genres, rather than focused more on 'adventure'.

It goes something like this:

Overview of The Universal Storyline

Act 1
  • Introduction to the protagonist's world
  • Call to action
  • Crossing the threshold
Act 2
  • Mentor teaches the lead
  • First challenge
  • Temptation
  • Dark moment
Act 3
  • Final conflict
  • Return home

This set of stages can be interpreted in a million different ways to create every story from The Lord of the Rings to The Da Vinci Code to Harry Potter.

Next time you're watching a movie or reading a book, look out for the stages and try to identify the ways in which the author has portrayed them.



Detail of the Universal Storyline

In order to create your own stages, you'll need to know a little bit more about each one, so here are brief summaries of each:

Act 1

  • Introduction to the hero's world

You set the scene, introduce your character and their normal life, just in time for them to...

  • Call to action

... be torn from it! Actually it's better if they're not torn, but have to commit to the decision themselves. In any case, the challenge is put forward. You can start building sympathy for your character by ensuring their decision is something the reader can identify with and / or respect.

  • Crossing the threshold

In order to ensure your protagonist has the pressure on and therefore your readers are hooked into wondering how they'll ever get out of this mess, they should cross some kind of threshold that makes it difficult to get back to normal life. It could be a physical journey across land, the removal of allies, self inflicted isolation or becoming wanted but on the run.

Act 2

  • Mentor teaches the hero

Readers want to see a character develop into someone who can overcome the odds. Everybody needs help sometimes.

  • First challenge

Time to put your protagonist under pressure. It may be that they have a first encounter with the villain, or for a slower build, it could be the villain's cronies.

  • Temptation

I can resist everything except temptation, said someone pithy. Add depth to your lead by giving them a challenge they have to find the strength of character to overcome.

  • Dark moment

As you near the climax of your book, circumstances start piling up. Push your lead to the limits to the point they are questioning everything they know, and very nearly slip to the dark side. The closer they get to failing, the more nailbiting it will be. But in the end they pull through, which brings them to...

Act 3

  • Final battle

The final battle! This is the climax of your story and you must pull out all the stops to make it great. We'll work on this in great detail later, looking at what makes a satisfying ending, so for now you should just have a loose idea of whether your hero succeeds or fails.

  • Return home

Once your climax is completed all there is to do is tie up loose ends, will your lead live happily ever after? Do they return home or stay in their new place? Who is with them at the end?


Now, if you're excited about being given the secret formula to writing an engaging and satisfying story, go ahead and write a single sentence for each of the steps.

If you need a bit more help with this stage, click here for examples of the hero's journey in popular fiction.

Once you're ready - click here to go to the third step in the first novel writing guide.

...

8 comments:

  1. This is a bare-bones minimum of what one needs to know for plotting a novel, and you're trying to pass it off as an article??? For shame :-/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm,...sassy-ass response by anonymous. Yeah,...run along little one and piss on someone who deserves it.

      Delete
  2. Hi Anonymous,
    You're quite right, this really is a basic starting point. On this blog we do our best to keep each article of a reasonable length so people aren't put off reading them. If you'd like more help plotting your novel, I would recommend reading through a few more of the articles, which go into detail about lots more aspects of writing. Good luck with your writing!

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