All good novels contain a few important building blocks, so it’s a good idea to make sure your novel has all of them.
The major story elements that you really need to get a grip on from before you write the first sentence are:
Now let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.
Most novels start with an idea of a main character, or protagonist. You can have more than one major character, but you should try to be clear who your main protagonist is. They must be someone who can take action and who we follow the progress of in a linear fashion, even if they aren’t in every scene. They should develop in some way, emotionally, spiritually or morally.
Your story can’t take place in a void – or if it does, then I guess your situation is ‘being in a void’. The situation includes the location, time period and other aspects like technological level, culture, important historical factors, etc.
Your main characters has to have a goal. A lot of new writers miss this point, and don’t know why their writing fails to be compelling. Your protagonist will have small scene goals to keep the story trotting along, but they should also have an over-arching story-goal, something major. They don’t necessarily have to achieve this goal at the end, but they have to really want it – as if their life depended on it – which it often will.
Hero walks up to stone, pulls out sword, becomes King. The end. Doesn’t make for much of a yarn, does it? That’s why you need opponents, to cause conflict, to give your hero something to strive against and to give your reader the reason to keep reading. Opponents can be baddies, armies, movie executives, nasty bosses, aliens, the police, forces of nature, or even parents. Anything that can get in the protagonist’s way.
Throughout your story the stakes and tension should be increasingly rising, with each situation more terrible then the last, and you want to end with a huge bang, not with a whimper. So your story must have a disaster to end with. It may have explosions, shooting, crowds, shouting, car speeding to get to the airport before it’s too late… it really depends on the kind of story you’re writing. But it had better be BIG and EXCITING.
Does your story have all of the major story elements? If not, it might be worth having a think about those that are missing and seeing how they will enhance and improve your novel.
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