UncategorisedWhere to start when plotting a novel | The Editing Lounge | Shropshire | Shrewsbury | Oswestry

It’s arguable that the most important thing a novel should do is follow an arc of change. If nothing changes, do you really have a story?

So, perhaps the first step to take when plotting your novel should be to decide, at the simplest level, what’s going to change.

That’s easier said than done, but you can make this easier for yourself by deciding what’s going to happen at the beginning of the novel, and what’s going to happen at the end.

When you know what needs to happen at the beginning and the end, it’s easier to fill the middle. So, start by writing a two-sentence summary of your novel. The first sentence should explain what will happen to kick the story off. The second should explain how this situation will be resolved at the end.

Here’s how you can lay pen to paper and get those two sentences down.

Sentence one: inciting incident

First, come up with an inciting incident. A scene that raises the main story question.

This incident should happen early to hook readers. Think about what’s going to cause the story to really begin.

You can launch right into this scene, or you might need a couple of character-building scenes first to help readers care about and/or identify with the main character.

Before you come up with your inciting incident, it’ll be helpful to pin down your genre and theme. Your central plot thread should reflect your genre and create a sense of narrative drive that keeps readers engaged as they turn pages to find out what happens.

Sentence one: inciting incident | The Editing Lounge

Genre and theme

Genre and theme | The Editing Lounge

Your genre and theme should inform the inciting incident. 

  • The inciting incident for an action story is usually a threat from an antagonist.
  • The inciting incident for a romance story is usually two individuals meeting in an unexpected or interesting way.
  • The inciting incident for a mystery story is usually the discovery of a crime or a piece of evidence.
  • The inciting incident for a coming-of-age story is usually an event that disrupts the main character’s perspective on the world or a specific situation.

Sentence two: climax

To write your second sentence, come up with a climax for your novel. This event should answer the question raised by the inciting incident.

Again, genre is important here.

  • The climax for an action story is usually the defeat or success of the antagonist.
  • The climax for a romance story is usually the two individuals either committing to each other or splitting.
  • The climax for a mystery story is usually the bringing of a culprit to justice (or the failure of bringing a culprit to justice).
  • The climax for a coming-of-age story is usually an event that reframes the main character’s perspective on the world or a specific situation as they develop a new outlook and grow emotionally.
Sentence two: climax | The Editing Lounge

Sum up the middle

Sum up the middle | The Editing Lounge

With your two-sentence summary down, you can wedge a third in the middle. This sentence should sum up what’s going to happen between point A and point B.

From here, you should be able to use this three-sentence summary to direct your novel.

These three sentences will be brief. By no means will they substitute for a novel outline. But they should give you the first signpost you need to get your book on paper.

Need more help with your novel? Take a look at how my line editing service works.

About Charlotte

Charlotte McCormac | Line Editor | Copyeditor | Content Writer | Shrewsbury | Oswestry

Charlotte is an award-winning writer and line/copyeditor who writes and edits for clients all over the world. She also works on the fiction team for Ambit, a UK literary and arts magazine. 

She holds an international literary prize from Hammond House Publishing Group, two writing-related degrees, various marketing certifications, and training certificates from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, of which she is a Professional Member.

Charlotte’s work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines, and literary journals, including IndigomaniaDream Catcher, and The Curlew

She has also created a series of free self-editing cheat sheets to help new writers hone their fiction before sending their work off to a professional editor.

CIEP | Professional Member | The Editing Lounge