The Starter’s Guide to Writing Fiction (part two)

In part one of this starter’s guide I listed the essentials to starting your novel, but there’s a little more to it than that. In this sequel, I’ll tell you more about how you can create an interesting plot and outline your novel.

Get your plot together

You have your characters, the main idea for your plot (the challenge your characters are up against) and the setting for your story. With these elements, you can start building the framework of your novel. But one general idea for a plot won’t last you the entirety of your book. You have to make it longer and more interesting. Your main character will be challenged and will fail along the way.

Make it meaningful

Before we start getting into the details of the story plot, you need to decide what your book’s message is going to be? What feeling or idea do you want your reader to have after reading your story? Think about the key message your book or story will convey and consider how you can get this message across to your reader.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every book should have some incredibly profound message. The message could be anything. But in the end, your book should be about “something.” The main character should experience something that changes them as a person. Maybe they realize they don’t have to change themselves for someone else or maybe they stand up for something they believe in. Consider the meaning you want your story to convey.

The Hero’s Journey

Now, there’s several ways to outline your story, but my favorite by far is using the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell. The hero’s journey is literally the journey the hero makes throughout the story and many of the great classics in fiction use this ‘recipe’ for their plot.

Here are the twelve steps the hero has to take throughout the story according to this theory:

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the First Threshold
  6. Test, Allies, Enemies
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  8. Ordeal
  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)
  10. The Road Back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

You can watch a good video on these steps here, giving you famous examples of each of the stages.

The recap Christopher Vogler provided in his book The Writer’s Journey is this:

  1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
  2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
  3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
  4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
  5. CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special Worlds, where
  6. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
  7. They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
  8. where they endure the ORDEAL.
  9. They take possession of their REWARD and
  10. are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
  11. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
  12. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the ordinary world.

Plot points

So now that you know the most famous red thread for storytelling, it’s time to “color it in” with your own thoughts and ideas. Think of everything that is going to happen throughout your story. Where does your character live? How do they get their call to action? Who helps them cross the first threshold? Who is going to help your hero and who’s going to sabotage them? What’s going right and what’s going wrong? And of course, how is your story going to end?

To make things interesting, you will want to have plot twists too, both big and small. A plot twist is when the reader thinks something is going to happen (in a certain way) and something completely different happens; this is often used in thrillers. The author will (subtly) trick the reader into thinking they found out who did it and then – surprise! – someone else who you hadn’t even considered is revealed to have commited the horrible crime!

How I do it

When starting a new book, I usually begin with either a cool character idea or an idea for a plot. I write down the major events that are going to happen throughout the story and then “fill in the blanks.” At first, there will always be holes in your story and things you don’t know how to figure out yet. Allow yourself time to let the pieces fall into place. Plotting a new book can take me anywhere from three weeks to three months.

I get to know my characters, have conversations with them (yes, really) to figure out their voice and way of speaking and decide who befriends or hates who and what’s going to happen to them.

DISCLAIMER: killing off your characters will shatter your soul into a million pieces, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

It has to make sense

Most importantly, your story needs to make sense. Whether you’re writing fiction or high fantasy, you need to make sure the story is logical in the world it plays in. You want to write a believable story and don’t (or at least wisely) use “Deus Ex Machina” which is a plot device used to abruptly solve a seemingly unsolvable problem (for example, a character with all the answers will enter and save the day). If you decide to use this in your story, do it REALLY well or your readers will drop out. And of course, you don’t want that to happen.

That’s it for part two of this starter’s guide! Have fun plotting your novel! I will be back with part three soon where we’ll get into fantasy clichés to avoid and tips for finding and improving your writing style!

With much love,

Maud