How to Structure a Novel
There’s an old saying: ‘everyone has a novel in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’. But we believe that’s largely because the person writing it doesn’t know how to structure their work.
In order to assist our self publishing customers along their literary journey we have created some top tips for how to structure a novel which we hope you will find useful. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking and something that thousands of people start and never finish. Or they fall into the ‘many are started but none are finished’ camp – a minority of writers who, in an effort to avoid forgetting a good idea, have dozens of partially completed novels on the go.
It’s not surprising as - unless you’re someone like the late David Gemmell or Tom Clancy who could prodigiously churn out books on an annual or biannual basis - chances are you’re attempting to write a novel alongside a full time job and other life commitments.
The danger is that ‘life’ becomes an excuse not to write.
Considering the average length of a novel is 80,000 words it represents a major commitment in time, energy and brain power.
Whilst 80,000 words may not seem that much, the average journalist will produce 2,000 words a day, writing about current events. They don’t have the challenge of dreaming up characters, events, places or any of the other the tropes we’ve come to expect in modern fiction. The information is right there waiting for them and they’re professionals. That’s all they do. A full time novelist will write more like 1,000 words a day for precisely the reason that it isn’t all there waiting for them.
For a novelist the challenge lies in extracting what’s in their mind, making it readable and tying it altogether with a plot. It’s not easy. Especially as a large amount of a novelists time is taken up with reading and researching to make sure what they’re writing is:
a) Factually accurate
b) Rooted in fact/science or myth
c) Thematically nuanced
d) Not plagiarised
or e) all of the above
A full time novelist also has to contend with deadlines.
Considering they don’t get paid until their book hits the shelves (or the webpage), deadlines become a pretty important part of their lives. Therefore they need to read, research, write, proofread and edit all in about 4 months – allowing for days off. Whilst the majority of amateur novelists have the luxury of a steady paycheque to fall back on, it does you no harm to impose deadlines on yourself as it keeps you focused.
However, the secret to finishing a novel (and arguably starting one) lies within creating a structure.
Obviously a structure is important and chances are we’re preaching to the converted but there is a difference between knowing a structure is important and actually applying one to your work. The structure is the frame on which all your efforts hang. Get it wrong (or simply don’t bother) and your work will be confused at best, unreadable at worst.
Structuring your novel also makes it easier to write because it’s a plan and plans make everything easier. Don't forget to check out our guide on "How to structure a novel" here.
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