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How to structure your novel for success

A well-structured novel can be the edge you have over anybody else who could pick up their pen and write. It’s what can make your book the next bestseller!

What is the structure of a novel?

It is the way your plot unfolds, not just the number of chapters you have in your novel. There are several structures you can use to frame your novel.

Before you start writing, choose a structure, and map out your novel using it.

  1. Freytag’s Pyramid

This is a dramatic structure created by 19th-century German playwright Gustav Freytag. It follows the classic timeline of a buildup to the climax, and then a path down to the ending.

Exposition: This is where you introduce the characters of your plot, the setting, time, and other basic ideas that your readers need to know to understand the rest of the plot.

Rising action: where things start to pick up the pace. Tension increases, readers start to sense a climax, and your protagonist’s objectives are made clear. For example, your protagonist starts picking up hints of a haunted spirit in their house but has not confronted it yet.

Climax: the dramatic confrontation! This is the highest intensity of tension in your plot.

Falling action: the conflict is starting to see a path to resolution. The protagonist is slowly seeing hope, or things are working out for them.

Denouement: this is the ending. You can either have a happy ending or end on a tragic note. You may even choose to leave the ending open to interpretations, or leave it as something for the reader to question.


    2.  Fichtean Curve

In this structure, the novel has multiple crises before getting to the climax. You can start with a short exposition where you establish your characters and their motivations/objectives. Then plunge them into crisis. You can write these crises as obstacles to the protagonist/other characters’ objectives.

In essence:

    1. Establish goals

      • You can choose to skip this and start in the middle of the crisis, or ‘in medias res’. This is when you throw your readers into a crisis from the opening, and then pursue rising action/ introductions while moving towards the climax.
    2. Add obstacle 1 or a crisis that the characters fail to overcome.

    3. Add obstacle 2, characters also fail this.

    4. Add obstacle 3, and you guessed it, characters fail this too.

    5. Climax: create the ultimate dramatic confrontation or obstacle that your characters finally overcome.


Inciting incident

This is the incident that kickstarts the action or movement in your novel. In Freytag’s Pyramid, it occurs during Rising Action. In the Fichtean Curve it can happen closer to the opening, and In Medias Res it can happen in the opening itself.

An example of this is in the Harry Potter series when Hagrid tells Harry Potter he is a wizard.

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