When I wrote my first novel, I planned nothing. I had a scene in my mind and two characters, but that was all. I started writing, then I made up characters and plot lines as I went along. While this was a wonderful writing experience, the novel itself was a jumbled mess and of course, never sold. The writing was good, but the novel lacked structure.
Imagine drawing a picture without a model. You can do it, and while the picture may be similar to the object, the portrait would lack certain proportions and details. Just as good painters study anatomy to produce quality portraits, so should writers know about the structure of a story.
What is the anatomy of a novel?
Characters. My novels always begin with a character. More often than not, I imagine a person. Sometimes I know little more about them than their physical appearance and their name. That’s how Lucian and Guillermo began. You may begin your stories with a plot or theme, but mine always begin with a character.
Story/Plot. Story and plot are two very different things, but since we’ll be talking about them in detail in subsequent posts, I thought for today’s purposes, we would put story and plot together. Once I have my protagonist, then I need to discover his/her story or the emotional journey the protagonist needs to undertake in order to experience change. Once I know my protagonist’s story, the plot becomes the physical means by which my protagonist undertakes his/her journey of self-discovery.
Setting. Where does the action of the novel take place? Is it in a building or are your characters on the move? What is the time period? Is it a fantasy? If so how is your world constructed? What do the buildings, the clothing, and transportation look like? What is the political climate?
Viewpoint. In a previous post, we talked about viewpoint along with an exercise on how to find the best viewpoint for your novel, so I’m not going to belabor the topic again. Just keep in mind that viewpoint is a very important part of the structure of your novel.
That is the basic anatomy of a novel. Think about the story you’re writing and take a moment to jot down a few essential notes about each of these sections. Who is your protagonist and antagonist? Who are your main characters? Jot down their names and how they relate to your protagonist. Briefly (no more than a sentence or two) what is your story and plot? What is the setting for your novel? Which viewpoint will you use to convey your story? By the time you’ve answered some of these questions, you should have a rough synopsis for your story.
For those who have spent time working on your novels, how do you write? By the seat of your pants? Or do you outline your novel before you begin writing?