Do you sometimes get overwhelmed at the thought of actually writing an entire novel? Is there an easy outline to follow as you write your scenes? Take heart, I found a simple structure for novel-writing as I was pantsing my way through my first novel for NaNoWriMo, without any plotting ahead whatsoever!
All great stories have three main components;
- A Beginning – The comfort zone of the protagonist and the inevitable separation
- A Middle – Resistance of the oncoming event and the struggles moving forward
- An End – The hero’s transformation and return to a new normal
Use whatever method you’ve discovered works for you as you collect your ideas for your epic fantasy story; sticky notes, mobile device, notebook, dry-erase board, whatever. Use something you can manipulate. You’re going to want to move things around when you realize a particular scene needs to switch from the beginning to the middle, for example. For this reason, I like to type them out and colour-code the scenes once I figure out where they belong. Highlighting them makes it easier to spot them in the array of my imagination on the screen. Then write, write, write! Every scene that’s been playing around in your head and kept you awake all night or distracted you during a sermon (it’s ok, it was God who gave you your imagination so He’ll forgive you if it veers you off once in a while).Then put them under the headings; Beginning, Middle and End, or if you prefer, Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3.
Once that’s done, rearrange your scenes in the order you think they need to happen.
Remember you’re only writing what’s going to happen in your scenes, not the entire scene right now. This is extremely important if you’re using these blogs to prep for NaNoWriMo where you’ll need to write 50,000 words in 30 days. These blogs are about outlining (preparation) before you actually start the writing process.
The Beginning – Act 1
Begin at the beginning. Sounds like a good idea – very logical. The beginning is where all the groundwork for your story belongs. Here too, you introduce your reader to the when and where of your story. So here is where you put your Setting and World Building ideas and make them into scenes (something happening at the time and place in the world you’re describing). Write one or two sentences about what your scene will be.
The Status Quo
- Introduce your main protagonist (hero) in their normal everyday life and the world they live in. (In LOTR, Frodo is a Hobbit who lives in a small house in a shire. He loves life and he likes people).
- The event that calls the hero to act on something and leave their status quo. (His uncle vanishes and leaves Frodo a magical ring).
- They embark on a journey, either physically or emotionally. Usually, in fantasy, it’s a journey away from home. (In LOTR, Frodo sets out on his adventure).
- Your hero rejects the quest at first either from fear, hesitation or pride. (Frodo is reluctant to leave his comfortable life).
- Your hero will need a mentor, someone who has experience and wisdom which will prove vital to the hero on their journey. Introduce the mentor here. (Gandalf is Frodo’s mentor as he leads him on the adventure).
- The mentor will aid the hero through some sort of transformation.
Acceptance and Action
- Introduce minor characters but introduce one at a time to give your reader chance to familiarize themselves with everyone in the story. (In LOTR, we’re introduced to Sam, Pippin and Merry).
- Their journey begins.
“Don’t do a lot of world-building before you start writing. Do just enough to get the basics clear in your mind, then let the characters reveal things to you as you work”. – J. Anderson Coats, author of The Wicked and the Just.
The Middle – Act 2 Trials, Tribulations, Friends and Foes
The Edge of the Abyss
- Your hero will encounter all of the above; characters who will help your hero or hinder their quest. There will be tests to determine who is a friend and who is a foe. (Orcs, a stranger who becomes a good friend and ally, dark riders on horseback).
- Your hero will need to decide if they will carry on with the quest, turn back, or run. There is a crisis. (Frodo has a crisis of courage, feeling that he cannot go on).
“Write short, sharp, heart-clutching scenes that propel your characters through conflict, adventure and resolution. Let your characters guide you”. – Elizabeth Sims, Novelist, Writing Coach and Editor.
The End – Act 3 The Climax and The New Normal
- Your hero faces their biggest test/fear in a confrontation with death or another big event. (Frodo knows he needs to destroy the ring but it beckons him, and he shows his weakness).
The Resolution and Reward
- Your hero earns the prize and journeys home or on to a new normal. (Frodo goes back to the Shire, but his life will never be the same).
Rearrange your scenes until you’re satisfied with the order they’re in so the story outline starts to make sense to you. Fill in the Middle with several action-packed scene ideas. As always, learn from the masters by reading fantasy and watching fantasy movies. Keep a notepad handy and try to draw out of the story all the points in this blog.
How is your novel organizing coming along?
Until next time, I hope you are blessed.