Trying to Get Novel Structure Right

Several times in my blog posts in December I mentioned that I was working on novel structure. Thanks to the writings of K.M. Weiland online and in her books, the light bulb finally came on in my head. Everything fell into place and made sense. At least, I think everything fell into place.

As a reader of fiction, I just knew when I liked a story and when I didn’t. I never gave the structure of a novel any thought. I didn’t know a novel was supposed to hang on a framework. Call me slow, but I just didn’t.

Over the years, I’ve read about novel structure; however, I started writing a novel without giving structure any thought. I thought the words would just naturally flow in chronological order and, when I had written 100,000 or so of them, it would be a novel.

That’s an over-simplification, but it’s not too far off the point.

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I read numerous articles that said a novel has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, duh! Of course. How hard can that be, right?

But there’s a lot more to novel structure than that – and I’m still learning.

I worked on the manuscript for the novel mentioned above for more years than I want to admit. (The working title is either The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon.) Then, I made some major changes in the story because what I thought was a fact turned out to be a legend. There was an ounce of truth in it, but I didn’t want to perpetuate a myth.

I didn’t write for about a year. I didn’t think I could face starting over, but that’s what I did early in 2019. New story, new characters, same old location, and same time period.

Yet again, I plunged into writing without any structure. I wrote a long and detailed outline and thought I had everything right. Some 90,000 words later, in December 2021 the concept of novel structure kept gnawing at me. It wouldn’t let me go until I put everything else aside and focused on it.

When I thought I had a fairly good grasp of novel structure, I set about to compare it to my manuscript. I was relieved to discover I had some things in the correct order and the correct place. There were some scenes, though that had to be moved. That was a scary proposition! Thank goodness for the “cut and paste” buttons on the computer. If this had happened to me in 1990, I probably would have just thrown the manuscript and my typewriter in the trash.

So, what are the basics of novel structure, as I understand them?

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Remember – I’m still trying to grasp all the details and nuances. Don’t use me as your source. Please use K.M. Weiland’s books and online articles as your source if you plan to follow this structure to write a novel. Here’s the link to her website: https://www.kmweiland.com/book/structuring-your-novel/. Here’s the link to her series of online articles about novel structure: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/secrets-story-structure-complete-series/.

The following percentages are approximations, and the explanations are very brief and written to the best of my understanding.

Hook – Close enough to the beginning to “hook” the reader.

Inciting Event – Approximately 12% into the novel. Introduction to the main conflict.

Key Event – The protagonist’s response to the inciting event.

1St Plot Point – Approximately 25% into the novel. Ms. Weiland calls this the “Doorway of No Return.’ This is when the protagonist decides she’s all in. There’s no turning back.

1st Pinch Point – Approximately 37% into the novel. This is a small turning point. The protagonist is “pinched” by the force of the antagonist.

The Midpoint/2nd Plot Point – Approximately 50% into the novel. (No surprise there.) Internal and external conflict come together and the point of the story comes together. New information is revealed to the protagonist resulting in a paradigm shift. She has a clearer understanding of the threat against her.

2nd Pinch Point – Approximately 62% into the novel. The protagonist realizes like never before just what is at stake.

3rd Plot Point – Approximately 75% into the novel. Ms. Weiland says this includes the “dark night of the soul.” The protagonist must decide if she has it in her to keep fighting for her goal. She might make some progress toward reaching her goal, but then there will be a “low moment” where a lie she’s been telling herself all this time will die. She must face the facts.

Climax – Approximately 88% into the novel. This is where the protagonist confronts the antagonist and we find out if she achieves her goal.

Resolution – Loose ends from the story are tied up, unless the book ends with a cliffhanger to entice the reader to want to know more about this character.

It almost takes the fun out of writing a novel! Writing is hard work, but I’m happiest when I’m writing.

Where my novel stands now

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I’ve been inspired to write a novel series. After brainstorming the backstories of my protagonist in The Spanish Coin/The Doubloon, I realized her backstory would make a good novel.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on unsplash.com

I don’t outline my writing projects in a rigid outline form like I was taught in school. I outline in paragraphs, throwing in bits and pieces of dialogue. The first draft of my outline for “Book One” now stands at nearly 4,000 words, and I’m eager to expand that into a scenic plot outline. (That outline is also in paragraph form, but gets into more detail than the first outline.) Next, comes the writing of Book One.

Book One takes my protagonist back to her childhood in Virginia, moving to Salisbury, North Carolina in 1766, and meeting her first husband. The Spanish Coin/The Doubloon will be the second book in the series. I have the bare bones of the third, fourth, and fifth books planned.

Call me overly optimistic, but that’s where things stand today. If my novel(s) never see the light of day, at least I’ve had the utter enjoyment of researching and writing them.

Since my last blog post, in addition to the above outlining

I’ve done a lot of decluttering since last Monday’s post. I’m getting to the age when I need to think about the fact that someday someone is going to have to dispose of my stuff. I need to make that task as easy for him/her/them as I can. I organized my stash of fabric and filled one large plastic storage bin with “unfinished sewing/quilting projects.”

I scanned some old photographs using the Photomyne app on my cell phone. I watched an hour-long webinar about organizing a large collection of photographs.

It seems like half the things I do these days are to decrease the amount of “stuff” my niece and nephew will have to deal with when I’m gone. I’m not trying to be morbid, but the closer I get to 70 the more I need to realize I’m not going to live forever. I’ve already lived longer than my father.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope to spend as much time writing as I do reading in the coming week. I hope you also have productive creative time.

Stay safe and well. Let me know what you’ve been doing.

Janet

19 thoughts on “Trying to Get Novel Structure Right

  1. With your sense of history, storytelling and creative abilities, as well as with the studies and research you are doing, I am quite certain you will accomplish something wonderful reference your novel. And this post is extraordinary with all the very valuable information and links you’ve proffered. I look forward to reading your books Janet. Have a great week and all the best,
    Francis

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your compliments and encouragement, Francis. Time will tell, but I’m psyched up right now about my novel series possibilities. We’re iced in today, so I’m hoping to get some writing down without some of the usual interruptions. A North Carolina Dept. of Transportation road scraper just went by taking ice off the road, but I have no plans to go anywhere today. I hope you have a productive week, too, whether painting or writing — or a little of both. Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, under ice conditions staying home is most assuredly a wise decision. I am trying to shape the week up so I can begin to write as well as paint, as I’ve a new painting to do, to start, to search really, but it is always exciting to begin the sketching and idea generating part of the whole painting thing, so cheers, I appreciate your encouragement as well, and I think with the approach you have towards your novel, you will use the time wisely and productively.
    Take good care,
    Francis

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am decluttering one drawer a day, then I’m going to try reading my latest blog about those Scots-Irish at the Siege of Derry, Ireland. And put it on Spotify. We are the calm before the storm coming tonight, ice and snow. I am wading through a book “War how conflict shaped us” by Margaret MacMillan!

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  5. This decluttering project is no fun! I spent today going through all my old craft supplies and projects. It was quite a chore. I filled up a large trash can and now have one completely empty drawer! It’s difficult for me to throw anything away. My parents were young adults during the Depression, so I learned from an early age to keep everything “because you never know when you’ll need it.” Today I parted with some things I truly don’t think I’ve ever need. I used to make my own clothes, but I really doubt I’ll ever make covered buttons again! LOL! I parted with a needlepointed Monarch butterfly. It was supposed to be made into a pillow. I stitched it in 1977 and it just screamed 1970s ORANGE. It had to go. If I’d just finish all my cross-stitch projects, I’d never have to buy anyone another gift ever again. I hope you weather this winter storm all right. It wasn’t as bad at my house as was predicted. We had hours and hours of sleet but no freezing rain, which was a blessing. The driveway is still completely iced over even though the sun was out all afternoon. I didn’t want to go anywhere today anyway, so it didn’t matter. Take care. Stay warm. That book by Margaret MacMillan sounds challenging.

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  6. How lovely to hear from you — an honest to gosh published novelist! You’ve made my day. I’m encouraged by your comment. Thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Best of luck with your plans for the week. I was supposed to start writing the scenic plot outline for that new “Book One” for my novel series today. It’s nearly 9:30pm and I’ve yet to type the first word. I accomplished some other things today that needed to be done, but starting to flesh out the first scene in a new book is scary. Exciting but scary. All the best, Janet

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  8. I’ll trade you your butterfly for a 1/2 finished cross stitch wolf in the woods!!?? And yes I bought War as I knew the library wouldn’t let me renew it as many times as I needed to. It’s not my typical non fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wishing you creative luck! It’s like starting a painting, exciting but scary, yet once you get going it becomes like an addiction that you don’t want to abandon. I am sure that writing a novel will have the same effect. So get ready and once you put down that first word, the sentence will flow and the paragraphs after, before you know it you’ll be re-writing. I too have started a new painting yesterday. I researched my composition and sketched it and now I am working on the palette … all the best from a very cold Mediterranean coast.
    Francis

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You have a good 20 years left so give yourself time to finish it but make sure you have plenty of time to reap the rewards! I cleaned up today in my basement, I threw out about 8 full plastic water bottles that expired in 2020! 😂

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  11. I think I have some water bottles like that in my basement. When they start to collapse into themselves, it’s a sure sign they need to go. LOL!

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  12. We downsized and reaped the benefits of decluttering. No fun while you’re going through the effort, but what a relief when you reach the other side.

    I love K. M. Weiland’s books and her website. She’s been a constant source of inspiration for years.

    My view of story structure has evolved. I see it as a map rather than a formula—a set of principles, not rules. Fortunately, that map works for long and short fiction, and can be used to preplan or edit stories.

    Reading the earlier comments, I recall drowning in details—analysis paralysis. I’m not one to give up, so I studied the many story structures, including Weiland’s. Patterns emerged that helped me understand the importance of having a map.

    If anyone wants to tap into my prior research, visit the Tame Your Book website and enter “exploring how to structure a book” in the search field.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you so much, Grant, for sharing your experience and perspective. I’m glad to learn about you and your website, and I’ve signed up for your newsletter and your character template since reading your comment a few minutes ago. I look forward to learning much more from your newsletters, links, etc. I like what you said about story structure being a map rather than a formula. I’ve kept in mind that all K.M. Weiland’s story structure percentages are approximately, and I’m giving myself some leeway. Thank you for finding my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I look forward to learning more from you and your resources.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for joining the adventure, Janet! During the preparation phase before writing, the approximate percentages help plan the essential beats.

    I’ve come across some stories where the beats line up almost perfectly with the percentages. Others, not so much. For example, the analysis of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aligned one-for-one with the beats, but not the percentages.

    Have a fantastic week.

    Liked by 1 person

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