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Five Things About Novel Structure You May Not Have Known

Feb 3 / Rachel Rozdzial

Novel structure—a writer’s secret weapon.

It’s easy to read a book and think that everything on the page fell out of the author’s head fully formed, creating the perfect story. This is an insidious myth, because it erases one of the most important elements when approaching story: novel structure. Novel structure is the backbone that holds up all those glorious plot points, characters, and gorgeous words. Imagine if someone removed your spine—not much else would work. The same holds true for novel structure. It’s more than just a tool in your tool kit. It’s necessary for your story to work. Here are a few facts about novel structure you may not know.

1. It’s easier than you think.

Thinking about crafting the perfect structure for your novel can be daunting. There are a lot of moving parts, and even more words! But structuring your novel doesn’t have to be a chore. There are several methods you can choose from. For instance, just breaking your book up into beginning, middle, and end, is a basic approach to structure. What needs to happen in each of those sections, and how those events affect each other is a great first step. The best tools help you break down your novel's structure into manageable chunks that make sense and which actually help you fit the pieces together better than you might have done without the structure tool. Find what works for you!

2. Novel structure will not stifle your creativity.

There is an idea floating out there in writerland that having any kind of written structure or outline will somehow stop your creative flow. This simply isn’t true. Imagine if you were driving down an unfamiliar road. If you had no idea where you were going, you might get lost or turned around. It might take you a long time to reach your destination. You’d be frustrated and tired and you might not want to continue. But if you had even simple guideposts, you could relax and enjoy the trip, maybe even stop at that cute diner for some pancakes...

The point is, while some people do like to dive in without any idea of where they’re going (pantsers, which we will address in a moment), having even a rudimentary novel structure will help keep you on track, and give you plenty of room be creative within the structure. Also, just because you write something into an outline or plot grid doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. You always have the freedom to go back and fix something that no longer works for you! When you try out a structure tool or process, choose something that supports your creativity.

3. Novel structure will actually make your writing go faster.

I have another terrible analogy for you, so stick with me. Think about when you go to the fridge for a snack. If there are twenty different options you can choose from, you could spend a long time hemming and hawing over what might be tastiest. But if there was only one choice, you could pick up your snack and get on with your day. Again, this is not about stifling creativity by taking away your options. It’s about freeing you up to do the actual writing, instead of worrying about which of the five hunky brothers your main character will end up with.

4. Novel structure can work for any type of writer.

As mentioned above, there are pansters, plotters, and those who fall somewhere in the middle. Pantsers are those who literally write by the seat of their pants with little planning. Plotters are those who, well, plot. And there are many people who do a little of both.

Good news! Everyone can benefit from using novel structure! Dyed in the wool panster? Rough out the novel structure as you go, maybe keeping track of where you are with sticky notes or a vision board. Plotter? Bust out those plot grids and go to town! The key, again, is to make this process work for you.

5. There are a variety of tools to create your novel's structure.

One Note, Scrivener, Trello, vision board, plot grid, beat sheet, good old pen and paper… There are so many tools out there to help you tackle novel structure, and just as many methods. Many of them are free, or very low cost, so you can explore and find which one helps you the most.

Give it a go!

Working on structuring your novel might seem daunting. But there are so many ways to do it right. Try some tools or take some classes. You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain, including a structurally sound novel.