How to write a novel is a question I’m often asked. We’re going to use Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and pretend we are writing it from scratch.
How to Write a Novel: Steps 1 and 2
I’m going to assume you have an idea or a premise for your story. Once you have an idea, give the story a title and write a blurb. You’re writing a blurb for yourself. It’s to keep you focussed as you write your first draft.
The title GONE GIRL shows the story is about a female who is gone. Gone can be interpreted in many ways, and at first it looks as if Amy is missing, but really she’s gone on a much deeper level. The title and the blurb are needed together for the reader to know who the protagonist is.
The blurb for GONE GIRL shows the reader Nick is the protagonist (Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors…), but Amy will play an important role in the story ( it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary).
Gone Girl Blurb
You can change the title and the blurb once you’ve written your story. The goal now is to have a framework that keeps you focussed on the story you want to write.
How to Write A Novel Step 3
Choose the protagonist. You must know whose story you’re telling.
The protagonist is the main character who pursues the story goal and has the most to win or lose.
Panster or a Plotter?
Whether you happen to be a panster (a person who writes a novel without an outline) or a plotter (a person who writes a full outline before writing a draft), you can benefit from having a process. You’re the artist, and how you create your story must be done in your own way. I’m here to give you focus while you retain the creative aspect.
As you write more novels, you may find your process changes. My process certainly changed from novel 1 to novel 4.
How to Write A Novel Step 4
Start Your Novel Outline
A blank page can be overwhelming, intimidating, and terrifying…But what if you don’t have to face that blank page?
You’ve already given your story a title and written a blurb. That puts you in a great place to start an outline.
A Story Arc Refresser
The simplest form of the story arc, also known as the narrative arc, is made up of 5 key scenes (plot points) and can help you create your story structure in a way that captivates readers. These scenes are the Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, the Middle, Plot Point 2, and the Climax. These key scenes must appear in the right place for the human brain to love the story.
Don’t worry about key scene placement until you have a draft written.
If you know the key scenes before you write, this is the best place to start an outline.
Every key scene must be written from the POV of the protagonist.
Fictionary StoryTeller makes outlining easy. Add scenes and chapters as you outline. Drag and drop scenes and chapters when you change your mind about where the best placement is.
GONE GIRL Outline
GONE GIRL Inciting Incident
Let’s start with the inciting incident in GONE GIRL Below. I’ve named the opening scene Amy Missing. I’ve set the story arc scene to yes, and the purpose of the scene is the inciting incident.
The inciting incident is the moment the Nick’s world changes in a dramatic way.
Keep in mind this is an outline. In the final version of GONE GIRL, the opening scene is not the inciting incident. When we being an outline, we don’t know where the key scenes will end out. What we are going here is building a framework to write our story.
GONE GIRL Plot Point One
Plot Point 1 is the point of no return. Nick can’t back out of the central conflict. This is the moment when the setup of the story ends and Act I is over.
You’ll notice I’ve only written a summary plot point 1. I’ve set the Story Arc story element to Yes and used the drop-down menu to select Plot Point 1. The scene name is Treasure Hunt Clue.
The outline is already starting to build.
GONE GIRL Middle
The middle is often the hardest part of a novel to write. It takes up 50% of the word count and goes from plot point one to plot point two. This is the whole of act II. By having a structure ahead of time, it will be easier to write the connecting scenes.
Like all well-written middle scenes Nick moves from a reactionary mode to a proactive mode.
So pretending we are the talented Gillian Flynn, we now know how we are going to get Nick to go from reactive to proactive. The press conference puts Nick in a position where he must take control.
GONE GIRL Plot Point Two
Plot Point 2 is a low point for the protagonist. Nick’s actions since the middle have caused disaster. At Plot Point 2, he becomes more determined to reach his goal.
GONE GIRL Climax
A climax scene must have the highest level of conflict, the greatest tension, or the most devastating emotional upheaval. Let’s see what Gillian Flynn chose to do.
GONE GIRL Outline – Story Arc Scenes
This is what we have to start with. If you’re a panster, I believe this is minimum outline that must be created. Don’t worry that this will stifle your creativity. There is lots of space to let the story come to you as you write. You may even choose to change the key scenes. The goal is to do so knowingly and not by accident.
You control the creative design of your story.
After the Story Arc
Remembering I’m pretending to be Gillian Flynn, I think the next part of my outline will be how to begin the story. I want the inciting incident to have a maximum impact on the reader, so I need to get the reader invested in both characters.
Here’s what the outline might look like. I’ve only noted what I want to accomplish, not what I actually want to write. For now, the scene is named Set Up Ordinary Life. I’ll rename the scenes when I add more detail. The purpose of the opening scenes is to introduce the main characters and give the reader time to connect with them.
You’ll continue in this way until you’ve added enough scenes to your outline that you feel confident you can write your story.
Start by writing the scenes you’re most comfortable with. This gives you confidence and the feeling of accomplishment.
How do You Know You’ve Written a Draft
We often refer to a manuscript as a draft, so let’s get specific. A manuscript is considered a draft if it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
So yes…that’s obvious and vague.
A draft means the story contains an inciting incident, plot point 1, a middle, plot point 2, a climax, and a resolution. The first five are key scenes on the story arc.
Once a story has all of these plus the scenes that connect the key scenes together, it can be considered a draft.
A draft must exist before you can determine the impact every scene has on the protagonist, which is really important in determining if the story is going to work.
Then you get to move on to editing that draft!
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