The Parts of a Novel

the parts of a novelThe first rule of a successful novel is to entertain.

A successful novel is also morally true and emotionally engaging.

A successful novel always emotionally engages the reader and passes onto the reader some true moral meaning.

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If a novel is not entertaining, no one will read past the initial few pages. If it’s not morally true and emotionally engaging, they will not continue to read to the end.

That’s why a successful novel is first and foremost:

  1. Entertaining
  2. Morally true
  3. Emotionally engaging

The Parts of a Novel:

As a minimum, an entertaining story will contain a protagonist who is driven to achieve an objective but faces conflict as someone, or something, attempts to stop him. It then concludes with an emotionally satisfying ending.

As you plan your novel, use the following as a starting point:

  1. Who is your protagonist?
  2. What is her objective?
  3. What is the conflict? Who or what is trying to stop her?
  4. What ending would be the most emotionally satisfying for the reader?

Let’s look at each one in more detail….


The Protagonist (aka lead or hero):

The protagonist is the vehicle that carries the reader through the story. Remember the protagonist drives the story.

It’s essential that the reader is emotionally invested with the protagonist, otherwise the story will not hold the reader’s attention. The reader will stop reading if they don’t care what happens to the protagonist.

In rendering your protagonist ask yourself the following:

  1. Who is the protagonist/main character?
  2. What does she want?
  3. Why can’t she get it? Where’s the conflict?
  4. Who’s trying to stop her?
  5. What happens if she fails?

The Objective:

The objective is the engine of the story. It fuels the forward motion and keeps the protagonist moving.

An objective can be either the drive towards something or the drive away from something. Seeking a treasure, love or a better life or avoiding death, prison or poverty are examples.

A successful story will have only 1 primary objective for the protagonist. This becomes the story question…Will the protagonist reach her objective?

To truly drive the story, the objective must be vital to the protagonist. It must be big. Is it life or death? Wealth or poverty? Love or loneliness?


Conflict:

It’s not enough that your protagonist has an objective, there has to be a reason why he can’t reach it…that’s conflict.

Conflict is two or more opposing forces.

Imagine that there is a line on the ground. You’re at one end of the line and if you walk to the other end, without stepping off, you win a million dollars.

Conflict by Scott ContiniEasy, peasy…right?

Now, add a little conflict. You’re at one end of the line and on the other end of the line is someone else. The first person to walk from one end to the other, without stepping off, gets a million dollars, but somewhere near the middle of the line, you two meet face to face.

Now, imagine that your grandmother is on one end of the line. All she has to do is walk to the other end without stepping off and she wins a million dollars, except facing her is a death row inmate from San Quentin.

All she has to do is get past the convicted mass murderer and she’s a millionaire. On the other hand, all the murderer has to do is get past Granny and he’s a free man AND a millionaire.

Only one person can win. That’s conflict. That’s interesting.

Conflict is what keeps us engaged in a story. It’s why we watch sports. In sports, the objective is clearly defined, but only one athlete or team can win.

A novel will have an overarching conflict that drives the story, but each scene will also have conflict which drives that particular scene.

The degree of interest in a story is directly related to the degree of conflict, otherwise known as tension.


 

An Emotionally Satisfying Ending:

The ending is what a reader will remember most about your novel.

As a novelist, your main purpose is to create an emotional experience for the reader. A reader picks up a novel in hopes of becoming emotionally engaged with the characters, to struggle with them, love with them, cry, laugh and suffer with them.

Through these emotional experiences, a story builds to a concentrated emotional peak. At that moment, the novelist delivers to the reader the answer to the story question… (Did the protagonist reach her objective?)…and with it, a final emotional release.

This release is like a drug. This is the reason people read novels.


Structure and Scenes:

In addition to a Protagonist, an Objective, Conflict and an Emotionally Satisfying Ending, a novel must be properly structured and built scene upon scene in a dramatic three act structure, i.e. Act I, Act II and Act III.  More on this in later posts.


Enroll in FREE novel writing course.

I’ve written an email course on How to Write a Novel. It’s based on my nearly 30 years of study and experience. It begins with story theory and then shows, step-by-step, how I plan and organize a novel before I begin writing. Where possible, I use popular movies to show solid story structure at work. It’s a fun and fast way to learn structure. This How to Write a Novel email course is available at no cost. It’s my gift to you. Enroll here.

Desk with pencil case by Nicola Sapiens De Mitri

 

Photo Credits: Lamp, typewriter and specs by John Levanen, Conflict by Scott Contini, Desk with Pencil Case by Nicola Sapiens De Mitri

 

 

Comments

  1. I love the title for this post! For all the peace loving, “everyone is a winner” mentality I have I must agree with your valid point…everyone loves a good conflict! I guess we dislike it in real life but when it comes to building excitement in a story it’s what keeps you hanging on.

    When I’m reading one of these types of stories or watching it play out in a movie I always await that moment in the end when the protagonist reaches their objective. Yay! I like that emotional release as opposed to the opposite which just leaves me bummed, sad, or annoyed.

    I guess either way you look at it, the writer is truly using writing as a superpower!

    • Hi Jess!

      Thanks for stopping by. Your comment made me smile, because personally I hate conflict. I like living a kind, peaceful life.

      My first dozen attempts at writing a novel resulted in 300+ word manuscripts without conflict! Not even a harsh word. I had written the world as I wished it to be and created boredom in print. The darn things were unreadable. I had to learn to crank up the conflict before anyone paid attention to what I wrote.

      There’s something about human nature that just likes to see a good struggle of wills.

      All the best…

      Gary

  2. alisonklingvall says:

    Hi Gary,
    Wow, you really broke it down to a simple formula.
    I’ve read way more complicated takes on novel writing than this and they tend to shut me down rather than inspire.
    I really appreciate this because I’ve wanted to write for a long time and I kind of know what I want to say but I can never quite get it down and then the whole idea gets shelved again.
    You have provided structure without over complicating it.
    I will work with your questions and refine my existing ideas and also fill out the protagonist a little more (instead of making her a more perfect version of me which I’m pretty sure will not be very likeable;)

    Feeling inspired, what a great start to my day!
    Alison

    • Hi Allison!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m so glad you found something useful in my post. Writing a novel can get as complicated as you want, but that is not the way to start. The most powerful stories are simple stories well told.

      I’ll be adding more posts about writing a novel and hope to have a free eBook out by the end of Oct 2015 that shows how I plan a novel before I begin writing.

      All the best…

      Gary

  3. Great guide! It has really simplified the process of writing a novel. I’m wondering what you mean by morally true. Morality can appear to vary from person to person depending on personal opinions. Are you saying the novel should pass on a good moral lesson to the reader or something else?

    • Hi Alec!

      Thanks for stopping by. You asked a good question.

      You are so right, morality does differ from person to person but there are archetypes of truth all sane people will recognize. The archetypes of truth have come to us through the ages in the form of fairy tales and myth.

      In the context of fiction the moral truth is the moral truth as it relates to the main character and the situation defined by the story, but also as defined by modern psychology and the wisdom of the ages.

      You see we humans recognize truth when we see it. I know that sounds way out there. Let me explain…

      Moral dilemmas are the soul of every successful story, so the moral premise is the practical lesson of that story. It is the truth as proven by the events in the story.

      Consider that a story, whether it is a novel, film or stage play, is the outward physical manifestation of the main character’s internal struggle.

      In the course of a story, the lead character will meet all sorts of “physical” obstacles as he tries to reach some “physical” goal. However, these “physical” obstacles actually represent a single spiritual, emotional or psychological obstacle.

      Before the main character can get past the “physical” obstacles, he must first come to terms with the deeper psychological obstacle that is defeating him.

      That single psychological obstacle is the kernel of the moral premise. In other words, the moral premise is a statement about the main character’s psychological disposition.

      In his book, “The Moral Premise,” Dr.Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D. offers this simple formula for the moral premise:” Vice leads to defeat; but virtue leads to success.” Dr. Williams then goes on to give examples of the moral premise, such as: “Foolishness leads to death; but wisdom leads to life.” Or, “Selfishness leads to isolation; but selflessness leads to community.”

      I hope this helps.

      All the best…

      Gary

  4. Travis Smithers says:

    I must admit I have never sat down to analyze what makes up a novel.
    Reading through your post you can actually have a better understanding why some novels are better than others. The way you explain the brake down of writing it makes a lot of sense of how right you are about what keeps a person motivated to keep reading the novel they have chosen.
    I can see I will have a lot of things I can learn from your experience with writing and your posts.

    • Hi Travis!

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, unless you try and write a novel you really don’t realize how complex it is. I’m writing an eBook now that goes into much more detail.

      I’m pleased you found some value in my post.

      All the best…

      Gary

  5. Jean-Pascal says:

    Hi Gary,

    Thank you for this awesome article. I loved it.
    I am planning to write a novel myself and was feeling a little stuck as to the structure.

    You really helped me with that and I am eagerly expecting your future articles about the three act structure.

    Is there a way I can be kept updated?

    Jean-Pascal

    • Hi Jean-Pascal!

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments.

      I’ll publish a free eBook and email course “How to Write a Novel” later this month, or maybe early November. If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, you can sign up here: http://writingisasuperpower.com/ebook

      Any posts I make about writing novels will be taken from the eBook. So, if you get the eBook, you’ll have it all. The eBook goes into detail about novel structure, plus how I use a storyboard to flesh out my story and stay on track.

      Meanwhile, keep notes of your story ideas. Also, I’m happy to answer your questions.

      All the best…

      Gary

  6. Hi Gary,

    Great site you have here, I learned a lot.
    Writing a novel has always seemed so intimidating to me, after all whats the point of writing something unless it’s going to be enjoyed.

    I like the way you broke down the process of writing a novel into easy to manage steps. The whole process was also tied together very nicely, and made a lot of sense.

    Thank you for this,
    Randy

    • Hi Randy!

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m pleased you enjoyed my post. I’ll be adding more to it in the coming weeks. Also, I hope to have a free eBook out by the end of October that goes into much more detail about how to write a novel. If you’d like to be notified when the free eBook is available you can sign up here: http://writingisasuperpower.com/ebook

      All the best…

      Gary

  7. I loved the article.

    It really gets down to the nitty gritty of writing a good story and it makes so much sense it’s not funny.

    It is true what you say that the reader remembers the end of the story the most, so a great ending is one of the most important pays of writing for an author.

  8. Anh Nguyen says:

    I actually like this post pretty much, I like writing and reading novels.

    Although I think more on the terms that a novel should be true to the author, I like being entertained and get off sometimes when reading fictions so I see your point.

    I look forward to your other articles about the structures of a novel because that’s where I am usually stuck at.

    Cheers!

    • Hi Anh Nguyen!

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment.

      Of course, novels and stories cover a very wide swath. Some of purely entertaining and others go much deeper, but all must hold the reader’s attention.

      All the best…

      Gary

  9. Hey there Gary, I have wondered about this style of living before. I have actually written 2 books but haven’t considered making it a mainstay or way of life. If I had to though I think Id go with factual as oppose to fictional types. Great guidelines and advice so far, someone will find this very useful

    • Hi Elliedan!
      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, the market for non-fiction is much more lucrative then fiction. I find non-fiction easier to write, but I’m more passionate about writing fiction. I can’t explain it.
      All the best…
      Gary

  10. Gary, I had never thought about the framework of writing a novel.
    You have informed your reader well.

    Hillbilly Vapor

    • Hi Hillbilly Vapor!
      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, just like a sentence must be structured, stories must be structured too. The most basic story structure is three acts. Act I is the beginning. Act II is the middle. Act III is the end. It can get very complicated, but that’s it in a nutshell.
      All the best…
      Gary

  11. Hillbilly Vapor says:

    Gary,
    Your page’s appearance was done, I like the illustrations you chose for the page. Your Opening picture was warm and welcoming The other comical and fitting.
    You have a good concept and useful information.
    Personally I found your content to be repetitive, but that is just my opinion. I hope that my opinion is useful.
    Best intention,
    Hillbilly Vapor

  12. BabynoahHome says:

    Hey thank for this. I think you are a writer it remind me my english teacher tell us. how to write a story. this is true must not forget about those technic is a really nice way to write a story. thx to let us know how you do it

  13. john waldie says:

    Hi this is John from nutritional needs for kids. This is my comment. I think this is a great page. Your breakdown on how to write a novel is very straightforward and to the point. I am saying you are an excellent writer I envy you. I am working on this myself so I’m thinking I may just save your sight URL for future viewing. Thanks for the great read

  14. Elizabeth Haran says:

    Hi Gary,
    Glad I got another page to review for you.
    Thank you for your wonderful insight into writing a novel. I am an amateur in the field of professional writing, even though I have been writing all my life.
    I really felt excitement in reading your post because, having had some interaction with you I feel a bit of trust that what you are telling me about writing a novel is fairly complete. You are not leaving out any important bullet points. The details, of course, will need to come later, but you give me enough to make that very difficult first outline.
    I did sign up for your email course on how to write a novel and am sure I will get more quality information.

    Best regards,
    Beth

    • Hi Beth!

      Good to see you again. I’m pleased you are finding some useful information on my site. I try not to leave anything out, but I’m learning all the time. There is a lot more in the course. In fact, many of the fiction articles are extracted from the course. Have you read about the Moral Premise yet? I just posted an article about it. It’s covered in more detail in the novel writing course, but if you want to read the article, you’ll find it here.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      All the best…

      Gary

  15. It is a very informative site for me because steps involved are very clearly explained especially how it could be a business model. The terminology used is quite useful for people who are not into writing. Your writing skills are extremely good and capture the reader’s attention straight away. Great work.

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