How To Write a Novel Step by Step: Your Story Line

Part 4 in a Series of 5

Perhaps you think that you should work on your story line before you should define characters, place, and objects. Okay, do it that way. But I think that you will develop a better story line if you know where you are, who the characters are, and what objects are important.

Elizabeth George is a fine writer and she likes to share her knowledge with other writers. She says that she does not start a story until she has defined her characters and setting and knows how the story ends. She does not like to wait for her characters to come alive and tell her the ending. On the other hand, I’m not great at predicting endings. While I’m writing, I get more excited about what is going on and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen and how things will work out.

I think that Elizabeth George is right. If you can define the ending before you write the novel, go ahead and do that. It will save you time and energy later.

What I mean by this is that when your characters take over your novel and determine the actions and endings in total, you may end up with a scrambled mess that you must untangle. When I wrote Bone China, I didn’t know the actions or the ending. My characters determined these for me. Finally, once I knew the story, I chucked the whole thing in the waste basket and wrote the novel over again.

Writers just hate to throw their precious work away. I’m not like that. I know that anything I write can be improved. The editors of HowToDoThings sometimes tell me so. I jump with glee when they tell me how to make an article better. Why shouldn’t I be happy?

My point is that even though your spouse tells you that you have written a fine piece, it may not be so. You must be your toughest critic and you should be willing to accept help from others when offered.

When I chuck something, I tell my wife, "They are just words."

She says, "And you’ve got a lot of words in your head."

I suggest that you listen to Elizabeth George. Work out as many aspects of your novel that you can before you write the story. Here is how to develop your story line ala Elizabeth George:

  1. Develop the hook. If you want to have your book read from beginning to end, you must snag the reader’s attention. You have to have him or her wonder about what is going to happen next and as the story unfolds.
  2. Develop plot point #1. As your reader becomes familiar with your characters and their actions, something happens to change things.

    Clem stared over the fence across the prairie. A whirlwind kicked up the dust and out of the dust rode an apparition. Clem said, "Isaac, do you believe in ghosts?"
    Isaac looked and said, "Why, that looks like Henry Masters. He's supposed to be dead."
  3. Develop the midpoint. Now the intensity is rising. More complications pop up. Perhaps there is a natural disaster.
  4. Develop plot point #2. All complexities are now revealed and the protagonist has to make a decision as to what to do. Once that decision had been made, the ending of the novel is in sight. Your reader will want to know what happens next as you proceed to the ending. He will be counting the pages left in the novel, hoping that he (or she) does not run out of pages before he is ready.
  5. Develop the narrative climax.

    Mildred looked at her husband and said, "I’m going back to Philadelphia, John. Mother is ill and she needs me. I’m taking the kids." She took an iron fry pan off the stove. "I won’t be coming back, John. It’s not because I don’t love you. I do. But I can’t take this godforsaken place, the wind and dust, the sagebrush, the rattlesnakes, and especially your ruthless friends."

    John said, "You keep saying that you are leaving. This time I think you will. I’m keeping Henry. I need some help around here."

    Her eyes flashed. Threatening John with the fry pan she said, "Over my dead body, John Grover."

  6. Develop the dramatic climax. This is the big event of the story. Did you see the movie, "High Noon?" Did you see the movie "Midway?" The first ended in a gunfight and the second one ended in a battle.

    Mildred leaned over her bleeding husband. "I wasn’t really going to leave you, John. Now damn it, don’t you leave me."

  7. Develop the denouement. Denouement is from the French as if you hadn’t guessed. It means untying. You can’t just dump your reader after the main event. You have to tie loose ends together. You should answer the questions that are still in your readers mind. If you don’t, you will leave your reader unsatisfied.

In the last part of this series, we will take a look at things chapter by chapter.

Writers read. Writers write, right?


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