Structuring a novel is hard.
And here at Selfpublishbooks.ie, we’re here to help make the writing process a little bit easier for you.
Here are some of our top tips for structuring the narrative arc of a novel.
Classic, archetypal plot arcs
There are six core narrative types.
Rags to Riches [a complete rise]
Riches to Rags [a fall]
Man in a Hole [fall then rise]
Icarus [rise then fall]
Cinderella [rise then fall then rise]
Oedipus [fall then rise then fall]
These narrative arcs are called ‘archetypal’ because they are the common patterns that countless stories follow. However, that doesn't mean that they have to be followed to the letter of the law. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Use the ‘5 Ws’ to plan each plot arc
The ‘5 Ws’ (‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’ and ‘when’) are the basic building blocks of stories. Because a story is essentially the 5 Ws and think about how each might change and impact your story arc in the process. When planning how your plot arc will develop and change, ask:
How will the cast of my story (the ‘who’) grow or diminish? In what ways will new central or secondary characters create extra tension, plot complications or emotional impact?
What new character motivations (the ‘why’) or external forces will affect the course of the arc? Could a misguided motivation, for example, lead to a fall for a character, followed by enlightenment and change?
How will the setting of your story change (the ‘when’ and ‘where’) and what could this add to story arcs? For example, relocating to a more tense setting as drama increases (e.g. shifting to a courtroom setting in a crime thriller)
The ‘what’ of your story should remain constant. The themes and subject matter of your novel need to have some relation to each other for your story to have a sense of cohesion.
Diagram your dramatic structure
Once you have your novel’s core events and themes worked out, plot these on a timeline similarly.
Visualizing your story this way will help you find ways to add reversals and turns of events sustain narrative tension and keep readers guessing.
Create small arcs within your large arc
A lot of successful novels use multiple arcs that are intertwined, instead of having the dramatic structure often doesn’t unfold in one single, grand arc. Several smaller sequences of rising and falling action within the larger story develop themes and secondary characters.
In other words, use your smaller arcs to build into your main arc and keep the story going.