Finding the Right Structure for Your Novel

Trying to find the right story structure for your novel is kind of like being a drunken architect. You only have some idea of what you’re doing, but you’re too excited to step back and wonder if an entire floor made out of gummy bears is practical. It’s your creation—you initially get to decide where the story goes, and what happens when. This can be absolutely daunting, but there are some basic steps to take that won’t leave you locked out of your own creation because you said cotton candy keyholes were the next big thing.

Freytag pyramid

Every writer has seen some variation of the above plot chart in their lives. It states that you must lead into the story with the proper introduction, which many writers translate as “put all of your boring exposition here that the reader will not remember by the time the action starts.” Trust me, I am a victim of this as well, but I’ll get to that in another post.

The meat of the story will therefore be the rising action, which leads up to the long-anticipated climax. Afterwards, you then have to deal with what the hell happens afterwards, and how to write an ending that isn’t sappy (guilty). This overall structure is great for beginning writers and veteran writers alike, but when every book is structured like this, manuscripts can become uniform and not unique to the writer’s style.

If you want to go absolutely haywire and invent your own structure, go ahead. No, seriously, do it. Play around, experiment, get weird. Maybe your story will look like this instead (forgive my horrible Paint skills):

weird plot chartA mountain range or a stick-figure seagull, you decide. If you open up the story by leading up to something important within the first 25% of the book, this will act as a “mini climax” in the first quarter, which raises tension and sets the stakes early so that the reader is drawn in. Then, hit them with the real climax that deals with the consequences of the first one.

Currently, this is what my latest novel looks like:

story plot chart

Yes, those are three individual climaxes, because apparently I believe in anarchy. This sort of structure, however, is very specific to this one book; I doubt any of my other novels will have this structure. Since I know that the characters will have to deal with three separate events in the overall plot, this is simply the sort of structure that currently fits best with how things progress.

Find out what structure is specific to your story, and what progression it needs to be told in its entirety. Maybe that first chart works best for you, which is great. If not, play around with the main points of the plot to see how you can best raise the stakes and lead your readers to the climax(es). You know what they say: sometimes you have to break the rules to see results.

Do you ever have trouble with structure? Have you ever used a really bizarre one specific to the story’s needs?


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