How to Write a Novel (…or at least start)

So, you're considering writing a novel. You've seen that HDL hosts Writers' Workshops twice per month and you thought - hey, why not put that story from my brain onto the page? Great idea! November is National Novel Writing Month and there's no better time to get started. 

But wait! Before your fingers start typing away, there are a few story structure basics that can help you get started. 

Beat Sheets and Story Structures

Every novel follows a basic story structure. Many writers have their own outline that they work with. Here's a summarized version of the popular three-act novel beat sheets from “Save the Cat! Writes A Novel” by Jessica Brody.

ACT 1: Who the hero was

OPENING - Show a snapshot of your hero in their normal world (1%)

THEME STATED- Introduce the problem that will be solved in the book (5%):

SET UP - Introduce the supporting characters and the stakes (1-10%)

INCITING INCIDENT - Show a life-changing event and why your hero can’t go back to their status quo (10%)

REACTION - What will your hero decide to do? How will they prepare? Your hero must make a decision and be proactive. (20%)

ACT 2: What the hero learns

ACCEPT CALL TO ACTION - Your hero must leave his comfort zone (20%)

INTRODUCE THE HELPERS - Who will assist the hero on his journey? (22%)

FUN AND GAMES BEAT – Show your hero succeeding or floundering in his new role. This point in the story isn't usually fun for the hero, but it is for the reader. (20-50%)

MIDPOINT - Insert a false victory or false defeat at the center of the hero’s transformative journey. Raise the stakes, turn up the heat in a love story, insert a game-changing plot twist, etc... (50%)

BAD GUYS CLOSE IN - Or your hero's internal battle gets in the way (50-75%)

ALL IS LOST – Your hero hits rock bottom. Something ends or someone dies. It should be the hero’s fault because they still haven’t learned the novel's lesson (75%)

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL - The hero return to a place of past comforts only to realize it's not enough anymore. He must processes the darkness before the dawn.  (75-80%)

ACT 3: What the hero becomes

AHA! MOMENT - Your hero realizes how to fix the problem and will finally do things the right way. (80%)

FINALE - The hero destroys the bad guys. (80-99%)

FINAL IMAGE - Show the hero in his new life. (99-100%)

Other Story Structure Resources