What drives the storyline of a novel?

An incident that changes the direction of a novel is as dramatic as being lost on a road where the road has washed out. Photo: George Armstrong/FEMA
An incident that changes the direction of a novel is as dramatic as being lost on a road where the road has washed out. Photo: George Armstrong/FEMA

WHEN YOU SIT DOWN to write your next novel, don’t worry about a plot.

Don’t try to find all the missing pieces before you start writing.

You don’t even know which pieces are missing yet.

All stories, regardless of genre, hang on one single incident.

It’s always a crisis that leads to a decision, or a decision that leads to a crisis.

Figure out the incident.

That’s the moment when the life of your hero or heroine changes forever, for better or worse.

All you need to worry about is the incident.

The characters will take care of the plot.

They always do.

***

It was an everyday kind of day.

Dark clouds boiling in the West.

Looks like rain.

Sun slicing through the breaks in the cloud.

Maybe not.

She was in love.

She had been before.

But this was different.

Carl was in love with her.

He asked her to marry him.

She said yes.

Carl had left town for the weekend.

His job was bad about keeping him on the road.

But she didn’t worry.

She was in love.

The phone rang.

She heard a woman’s voice.

The words were sharp and brittle.

“I’m Carl’s wife,” she said.

“He won’t be coming back,” she said.

“The funeral is Monday,” she said.

“Don’t bother with flowers.”

One incident.

Unexpected.

Out of the blue.

And her life changed forever.

***

It was an everyday kind of day.

A traffic jam on the freeway.

Looks like a wreck.

No sirens screaming.

Maybe not.

She was right out of college.

She had new job.

Life was as good as it had ever been.

Everything was perfect.

Nothing could stop her now.

She heard a noise.

The car door opened.

She was shoved roughly into the passenger side of her second-hand Audi.

She turned and saw the man climbing into the car.

He wasn’t much older than she.

He didn’t have a name.

He had a gun.

“I can kill you,” he said.

“But I won’t,” he said.

“You have what I want,” he said.

“You’ll have to decide if it’s more important than your life.”

One incident.

Unexpected.

Out of the blue.

And her life changed forever.

***

It was an everyday kind of day.

Plane circling in the sky.

David would land on time.

He glanced at his watch.

Maybe not.

The man beside him was breathing heavily.

He groaned.

He clutched his chest.

“I’ve been shot,” he said.

“I won’t make it this time,” he said.

“Here,” he said.

He handed David a letter.

It was soaked with blood.

“It’s a message to Lola,” he said.

“How will I find her?”

“Don’t worry,” the man said.

“She’ll find you,” he said.

One incident.

Unexpected.

Out of the blue.

And David’s life changed forever.

***

That’s the way it is with life, or with novels.

Everything hinges on one single incident.

Unexpected.

Out of the blue.

And where do we go from here?

In Deadline News, the incident that triggered the story was the brutal death of an elderly woman who ran the only boarding house in an oil boom town.

Unknown

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Related Posts