Established authors have said it before and we’ll say it again: Novel writing methods or structures aren’t an exact science. So, you’re not bound to the rules. You’re welcome to stray from the path they present.
They are simply there to help you discover your narrative’s footing or provide you with a basic blueprint.
Novel writing can take many different forms. And adding to the confusion is the fact that there is no universal method to write a novel.
Thus, the question you may ask is — how then, should a writer approach the writing process?
Well, the answer is subjective. In sifting through the novel-writing methods, one finds a flurry of differing perspectives. And that’s why we cannot give you a one-word answer to this question.
What we can do is, lay out the options in front of you so you can choose on your own — in this post, we dissect the most popular novel-writing methods and each of their structures.
Let’s begin! In three, two, one…
1. Three-Act Structure
The three-act structure is perhaps the most common novel-writing methods in English-speaking countries. It effectively breaks the fiction narrative into a beginning, middle, and an end.
The traditional three-act structure has the following parts:
- Act I – The Setup:
Act One is relatively short. It typically lasts for the first quarter of the novel. The groundwork act of this stage includes introducing the characters, setting up the narrative expectation in terms of character goals and arcs.
- Act II – Confrontation:
Confrontation part is the hardest to plot! It includes character development, the establishment of character or story goals, protagonist’s adaption to whatever’s happening around him, and encounter of minor problems.
- Act III – Resolution:
Act Three takes up the last quarter of your book. There’s steep rising action at the beginning of this act and it usually has three parts: pre-climax, climax, and denouement.
2. Five-Act Structure
Five-Act Structure remains the most-popular framework on which the majority of successful plays, films, and novels are based. Freytag identified the five-act structure with the following parts:
- Exposition: Provides readers with the contextual background to the character’s goals. It has an inciting moment to set the story in motion.
- Rising Action: Introduces obstacles placed in protagonists’ goals or wants.
- Climax: It’s the turning point of the story — the point of highest tension.
- Falling Action: This is the calm after the highest tension. The story starts to head towards the conclusion.
- Denouement: It’s the resolution of the story where loose ends tie up and conflicts are resolved.
3. The Snowflake Method
The Snowflake method encourages writers to start with the simplest premise possible, and then expand it systematically to include character details, plot, obstacles, and more.
Here’s a quick look at how Snowflake novel writing works:
- Write a one-sentence summary of your story
- Expand the one-sentence summary into the one-paragraph summary — describing story narrative, major events, and the end.
- Write your character’s summary on one page — goals, motivations, conflict, and epiphany.
- Go back to one-paragraph summary and expand each sentence into one paragraph.
- Write one-page for each major character — add depth to them.
- Using the expanded plot summary (step 4), make a list of every scene you’ll need to complete the novel.
- Take the scene list and write a multi-paragraph description of each scene.
- Now start writing your first draft.
4. Pantser’s Method
If you’re a type of writer who likes to write without a roadmap (or fly by the seat of your pants), you would identify yourself as a ‘pantser.’
A pantser needs no structure or blueprint. They don’t spend time planning out story structure or evaluating different novel-writing methods.
And this approach isn’t bad at all. Great authors like Stephen King preferred pantsing over plotting.
After all, it gives you the freedom to take your story in any direction — you’re not stuck with an outline and you’re not limited to one set-up. So, if you don’t like the way your story is going, you can change it anytime.
5. In Media Res (Into the Middle of Things)
‘Into the Middle of Things’ is a narrative structure that begins midway through the story. It typically has the following parts:
- Middle Crisis
- Rising Action (often depicted in the form of flashbacks)
- Falling Action (often depicted in the form of flashbacks)
‘Into the Middle of Things’ tends to work best for action-packed novels such as mysteries and thrillers.
Which story structure feels natural to you, as a writer? Or perhaps you’ve written a novel using one of the structures mentioned here? Leave your thoughts and comments in the box below.