How to Structure a Novel

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to get started on a new novel. My usual strategy is to create a quick list of scenes that get me from beginning to end and then I start writing.
BUT, invariably, as I get to know the characters and the story-line better, I go off plan. My narrative goes around the houses and there’s a lot of wasted time and much re-writing. This time I want to avoid all that. So, I’ve been using a couple of resources to help me create a proper story structure and character arcs before I get too deep into the writing.

The Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method was pioneered by Randy Ingermanson and was recommended to me by children’s author Lorraine Hellier.
This method dictates that the writer should start with the simplest premise possible and gradually expand to create plot and character details. For example, step one is ‘Write a one sentence summary of the story’. Step two is ‘Expand to a one paragraph summary.’ By following all six steps, the writer ends up with character bibles, a four-page synopsis and a scene list. The Reedsy website explains how to use The Snowflake Method in an easy to follow way. In addition, there are lots of useful resources on Reedsy such as character and story structure templates to download, which I found useful.

5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out

At time of writing this is a free e-book by KM Weiland. It’s short and easy to read. Most of us will be familiar with the three-act structure but this book provides more plot points on which to hang the story. For example it talks about pinch points which are small turning points between the main plot points.
I found the book very useful.

If you’re looking for more reading on the subject of novel structure, have a look at the five recommendations in this blog post by Rachel McCollin.

Finally, if you’ve got a tried and tested plotting/structure technique, please add it in the comments below!

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  1. #1 by Anne Harvey on June 6, 2019 - 1:22 pm

    Fascinating post, Sally! I’m more of a pantster myself although I do try and work around the three act/turning points structure. Best of luck with your own new venture. I’m hoping to get my third book out by the end of this month, fingers crossed about the formatting with KDP!

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on June 6, 2019 - 3:48 pm

      I’ve been a pantster, Anne, but I end up in a mess! Looking forward to your new novel & good luck with the formatting.

  2. #3 by Maria Smith on June 7, 2019 - 9:12 pm

    Hi Sally, I’m another pantster, I’ve tried to be a plotter, and made myself miserable in the process. I really struggle and veer off and do something unexpected and completely different.
    Using Scrivener helps as you can write out a sentence about each chapter on the cork board and use that as a guide, it’s also very easy to move scenes and chapters around as and when you need to change things.
    Good luck with your new novel!

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on June 17, 2019 - 3:45 pm

      Thanks, Maria. Whichever way you do it, writing is hard work!

  3. #5 by juliathorley on June 8, 2019 - 9:52 am

    There’s lots of useful advice here, thank you. I’m going to send a link to this post to one of the people who came to my workshop yesterday.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on June 17, 2019 - 3:47 pm

      Glad you found it useful, Julia and I hope your workshop participant does too!

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