When newbie writers first feel the calling of The Craft, they often believe novels stream from keyboards in bursts of inspiration.
Yes, they do. But a modern novel is 60,000-plus word-long creation. Somewhere along the line, those inspired thoughts, words and phrases need to be analyzed and structured. It is the job of the novelist to impose that structure. This can be a challenge.
Many novelists who rely on inspiration alone get lost in the woods, fail to complete work they started, or need to do massive rewrites, wasting time and effort.
The good news is, you can do impose structure on your novel before you begin the actual work of writing it.
How to Write a Novel: Step 2 – Create a One-Pager
– Start with a single sheet of paper.
– Put your working title at the top of the page.
– Divide the paper into four sections.
– In Section One: This is your novel’s opening section. Describe your hero’s current situation. Describe what your hero wants most. Describe what’s holding your hero from going after what he wants most. Describe the incident that forces your hero to try to achieve his goal.
– In Section Two: This is the first half of your novel’s middle section. Here, describe how your hero resourcefully struggles against the antagonistic force that is keeping him from what he is trying to achieve. Remember: Your hero must meet with continued frustration here. In other words, he may score minor victories in Section Two, but he should not achieve his key goal (or the story tension dissipates). He meets with resistance, resistance, resistance.
– In Section Three: This is the second half of your novel’s middle section. It begins with the Midpoint of the novel. To avoid a common blight in novels – saggy (i.e., boring, plodding, tension-less) middles – this section should start with a “Shift.” Jot down how – at this Midpoint, Something happens that points the hero in the direction of resolving the conflict. As noted, we’ll call this something a Shift.* After the Shift, describe how your hero – now smarter and tougher because of all he’s learned on his journey so far – goes after the antagonist more ably and forcefully – but only to meet with Defeat yet again. Section Three – in a well-plotted novel – needs to end with a Black Moment when all seems lost and the hero has, apparently, run out of options. Ask yourself: “In terms of this story world, what’s the worst thing that could happen to my hero?” That’s how Section Three should end.
– In Section Four: In two or three sentences describe how things, yes, get even worse for the hero. Then, how the hero has an Epiphany – how he brings together all he has learned, all his growth, all his capacity to act resourcefully; how he arrives at a way to make one last ditch effort; how he has a Showdown with the antagonist – the Climactic Battle, and how he loses or (hopefully) wins!
Thinking through all of the above and fitting it on one page isn’t easy. But if you take the time to do it, you’ll have a road map that will speed your journey to the final sentence of that successful final draft.
* Examples: In Robin Cook’s first novel, Coma, a doctor who is imperiled after she discovers illegal organ trading in her hospital realizes that the hospital’s directors (the people she hoped would help her) are involved, so she has to find an alternate way to escape the bad guys and stop the baddies. In the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget wants to find true love but discovers her boss, with whom she has been carrying on an affair, has been cheating on her; she quits her job and resolves to change her life for the better.