Displaying items by tag: Writing A Novel

One of the first decisions any aspiring novelist will have to make concerns the type of novel he’d like to write. At first glance, this may seem straightforward, but any published author will admit that this is not necessarily so. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a novel in the following terms: ‘a fictitious prose story of book length.’ Furthermore, enter any bookshop and it will become obvious that there are, literally, hundreds of different types of novels with different styles, genres and settings. Every one of them is aimed at a specific kind of audience. The following explanations and specific examples should help a person decide the type of novel to write.

Types of Novels

In simple terms, most novels can be broken down into two broad types:

a) A plot-based novel

In such novels, the writer tends to make sure that the events within the story appear in a sensible order. The characters in the story, though well-thought out, aren’t necessarily the focus of the tale. The emphasis in on the pace of the story and it is the twists and turns of the plot that matter. There’s always a ‘race against the clock’ element in a plot-based novel and each scene is dramatic and full of tension.

b) A character-based novel

In such novels, the characters, who tend to few in number, take centre stage. The writer would analyse how they behave physically, mentally and emotionally in any given circumstance and the emphasis will be on creating detailed, sympathetic and multi-layered personalities. Often, the stories follow the course of relationships that are formed, nurtured and how they are often destroyed.

Following from this, many types of novels published will fall in between these two categories. For example, there are serious memoirs, heart-warming stories, spy stories, historical romps, and scary stories. Indeed, the statement made by Miguel Syjuco (author of Illustrado), when asked about how much reality was reflected in his novels, further illustrates this point: “I like the old writer’s cliché that applies to my book – everything in this book is true, and some of it might even be factual.”

Popular Genres for Novels

Here are six popular genres (and examples of novels in each genre) you’ll find in most bookshops:

  • Literary Fiction – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and The Gathering by Anne Enright.
  • Science Fiction – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
  • Fantasy – The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.
  • Romance – Mills & Boons series of novels.
  • Children’s Novels – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.
  • Crime (take note that this category can be subdivided into courtroom dramas, private investigator stories and others) – Agatha Christie’s series of detective novels and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
  • Historical Romance – The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory.

What Type of Novel Should an Aspiring Novelist Write?

Well, for a start, it is useful to know which type of novel best suits a writer’s style of writing. Do not feel under pressure to produce a particular style of book just because it sounds like the most commercially viable one. An aspiring author must, at all times, keep in mind that it is his novel.

When an author attempts to write a novel in a well-established genre, the advantage is that publishers will easily be able to visualise how the book should be marketed and will, therefore, be more likely to invest in the novel. Another way to look at this issue is, perhaps, to ask the question, “What kind of book do I like to read?” It might be that an author prefers reading a gentle tale of love and betrayal rather than a nail-biting thriller or chilling horror tale. Most authors have said that what they enjoy reading is also the kind of novel they enjoy writing. And, when the passion for writing the story is obvious, chances are that plenty of other people will enjoy reading the story too.

Next, a writer should consider his own experiences, background and specialist knowledge or training; all of them help point him in the right direction. While a writer may think little of his own experiences, remember that he’ll have subconsciously absorbed a vast amount of useful background information and techniques over the years.

For example, say a writer lives in Australia’s north eastern coast and has a scuba-diving licence. He is also a practising lawyer. A legal drama may be just the thing to help him use his legal knowledge and craft a story about the illegal trade of corals from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The ideas made above are but a guide to help any author decide the kind of novel he’d like to write. In the end, while he should obey the conventions within the publishing industry, he could also aim to write the type of novel that will provide something new, unusual and exciting for his readers to enjoy.


Garlitos, Randy. The ‘Ilustrado’ in Miguel Syjuco. 19 September 2008. (Accessed 23 January 2011)

Miguel Syjuco, Miguel. Illustrado. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2010

Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. Random House Trade Paperbacks (April 4, 2006)

Enright, Anne. The Gathering. Grove Press (November 28, 2007)

Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey . Roc (September 12, 2000)

Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia. HarperFestival; Reprint edition (October 26, 2010)

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Arthur A. Levine Books; Reprint edition (July 7, 2009)

Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. Anchor; Mass Paperback Edition (March 31, 2009)

Gregory, Phillipa. The Other Boleyn Girl. Touchstone; First Edition (November 2, 2004)

By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Thursday, 20 September 2012 21:03

Vital Preparation for Aspiring Novelists

If the truth be known, being a novelist is a secret ambition that many people share. However, it is remarkable how very few people do anything about their desire to pen a novel. Some find the process too scary and come up with many excuses to avoid fulfilling their dreams. Some give up the moment they run into severe problems very early on. To succeed at writing a novel, it is vital to prepare for the task ahead by having the right mental attitude, doing proper market research and cultivating good writing habits.

Market Research Conducted By Aspiring Novelists

Like any other industry, the publishing industry is subject to market forces. Therefore, prudent aspiring novelists should understand that publishers tend to invest in books that they know fit the style they normally print and sell. Never assume that stories that were sold 20 years ago are going to sell today – recognising reading trends and fashionable stories are equally as important as good storytelling and gripping plots. Here are a few tips to ensure that any market research done is both fruitful and effective:

  • Browse through a favourite bookshop and choose a few best-selling novels – the authors of these novels clearly understand the market better than anyone else.
  • Buy a few of these best-selling novels and study them in detail.
  • Take note of the length of these best-selling novels to give you an idea of how long your own novel should be.
  • Invest in the latest edition of Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook as this resource gives details of many of the requirements of publishing houses all over the world. In addition, this resource will tell an aspiring novelist how long a manuscript should be, what font to use, how to present a manuscript to an agent or publisher, plot-lines to avoid, what kind of story is popular amongst publishers and even interviews with successful authors.

Writing Habits of an Aspiring Novelist

There are two writing habits that can help any aspiring novelist: firstly, writing a novel is much easier when an effective writing routine in in place. Some authors write well early in the morning and some write better late at night. An effective novelist is also one who usually writes a certain amount each day rather than writing a whole chunk in one go.

Secondly, as writing a novel is a long and detailed project, it is bound to create a huge amount of paperwork. An aspiring novelist must, therefore, find some way of organising all his notes, synopses, character profiles, drafts of the novel and scraps of paper so that they never get lost.

To avoid becoming discouraged when writing a novel, here are two precautions to take:

  • Don’t go back and constantly tweak the first few chapters of a manuscript. Instead, aim to complete the whole manuscript and only then start reworking it.
  • Do not show the manuscript to anyone until the first draft is completed. While the idea of getting feedback may seem appealing, more often than not, an aspiring novelist gets conflicting advice and ends up being thoroughly confused.

If the steps above are taken into account, an aspiring novelist will soon realise that, instead of the gloomy predictions often made about the chances of success in the publishing industry, all the preparations made will actually go a long way towards ensuring the publication success of the novel.


  • Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, A&C Black publishers Ltd.

By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Thursday, 20 September 2012 21:03

How to Find Strong Ideas for Your Novel

You dream of writing a novel, but wonder if the ideas for your story will be good enough. Chances are you have already got a wealth of ideas just waiting to be used in your novel. The following are examples and suggestions to help you use these ideas and dream up characters, sub-plots and settings for your novel.

Where to Find Strong Ideas?

The best place to find strong ideas for your story is to look at your own life: look into your past to find people – from friends and relatives to total strangers and people in the news – who have tales of hardship, triumph and tragedy [How to Write Your Life Story in Ten Easy Steps by Sophie King]. Then, become a keen observer and listen to what people say and how they say it. Sometimes, a poignant remark is made with a turn of the head or a particular inflection in the voice. Such observations, when added to the text of your novel, will make the story resonate with readers that much more.

For example, say your friend lost her father recently, but was not able to make it to his funeral. What you should have observed is this: what was it in her voice that made you aware that, in addition to her obvious sadness, she was feeling guilty that she did not attend the funeral? What aspect of her demeanour showed you that her grief and sorrow was deep? Such details will make your story even more plausible when you come to write it.

Putting a Spin on a Classic Tale

Another tactic that many people use is to put a spin on a classic tale. For example, ‘Bride and Prejudice’ is an Indian movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic tale, ‘Pride and Prejudice’. In the movie, Mrs. Bakshi is desperate to find suitable husbands for her four unmarried daughters – Jaya, Lalita, Lakhi and Maya. The whole family has high hopes that their daughters will marry one of the two rich and single gentlemen – Balraj and Darcy – come to visit. The story takes many twists and turns which all threaten any possibility of romance succeeding. You know you’ve succeeded in using this method when your readers can see age-old characters in new light.

Are Your Ideas Strong Enough for Your Story?

It is important to consider if the ideas you have for your story are strong enough. Remember that the average length of a novel is between 75,000 and 90,000 words. Many aspiring authors find a whole set of ideas and start to write their novel only to find that they are struggling to make these ideas fill twenty chapters. This typically happens when aspiring novelists cannot tell the difference between a plot-line that works and a basic ‘set-up’. A ‘set-up’ is the germ of the idea for your story. It is the basic dramatic situation you have identified. The plot-line is the series of events that happens before or after this basic ‘set-up’.

For example, the basic ‘set-up’ of your story can be that the airplane carrying two rivals in business crashes into the sea. The rivals are stranded on a remote island somewhere in the tropics. Despite their grievances, they know that to survive, they will need to depend on each other. The plot-line happens after this and can include mishaps, dramatic events and a possible romance.

Ideas for your story, if dramatic enough, will make your novel that much more appealing to readers. Use the suggestions made above to locate suitable ideas and then develop them so that they fit into a plot-line that makes sense. Such care and attention to detail will make sure that when the time comes, your novel will be irresistible to a publisher.


Bride and Prejudice. Dir. Gurinder Chada. Perfs. Martin Henderson, Aishwarya Rai, Nadira Babbar, Anupam Kher, Naveen Andrews. 2005. Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC. Miramax Home Entertainment

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Tribeca Books (February 11, 2011)

King, Sophie. How to Write Your Life Story in Ten Easy Steps. How To Books Ltd (October 21, 2010)

By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Thursday, 20 September 2012 21:03

How to Do Research for Your Novel

Today, the average reader will not be pleased if the novel he’s reading does not contain a high degree of authenticity and detail about a particular location or subject matter. An author is expected to have done enough research to be familiar with every aspect of the world he has created in his novel. The following are five resources you can turn to when you do your research and explanations of how to utilise them to maximise the benefit you derive from them.

Using the Internet for Research

It is now common knowledge that there is a website for almost every subject under the sun. Even if a website does not give you the exact information you’re looking for, you will be able to contact the owners via email with a special query or request for information. The beauty of using the internet for your research is that you can do all of this in the comfort of your own home. Even if you do not have a computer of your own, you can still gain access to the internet from a library or an internet café.

For example, say you live in Europe, but would like to write a crime drama about corals being stolen from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. There is no need to go to Australia to do the research. Your first step would be to go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo. Then, type specific keywords like ‘corals,’ ‘Great Barrier Reef’ and ‘Australia’ into the search engine. You’ll probably find close to 100,000 websites dedicated to this subject.

Visiting Libraries, Museums and Stately Homes as Part of Research for Your Novel

If you do not like computers and the internet, one option open to you is the local library. Chat with the librarian, explain what your story is about and the kind of research you need to do. Librarians are usually very enthusiastic and more than willing to help. You may be given access to a variety of sources like microfilmed copies of old newspapers, books, encyclopaedias, biographies, travel guides, historical volumes, costume books and technical manuals on any number of subjects.

Visiting a stately home or museum will enhance any knowledge you have already gleaned from the research done in the library or via the internet. For instance, assume that your story is a historical drama. More than the excitement of seeing something you’ve only read about thus far, you will be in a better position to describe it when you see an actual version of the item in question. Here’s a tip: always contact the curator of a museum before your visit as he may be able to find all sorts of useful and unusual facts that you’ll miss if you go on your own.

Reference Books Are a Great Tool for Research

Reference books are useful when you choose to write a series of novels on the same topic. If you cannot afford to buy these reference books brand new, visit second-hand bookstores and you’re bound to see something you’ll like. For example, the Writer’s Digest Books has a whole series of books to help a writer who wants to specialise in crime investigation: there are books on law enforcement, the characteristics of weapons, how post-mortems are carried out, how evidence is processed and analysed, the fundamentals of character profiling and guides to forensic medicine.

Interview Experts as Part of Your Research

Aspiring writers are often reluctant to contact experts in a particular field. They are put off by rumours that these experts tend to be cantankerous and unwilling to meet them. The truth of the matter, however, is that most experts are thrilled to be contacted as they get to share their knowledge. In addition, if you promise to add their name to the acknowledgements section of your novel, they’re unlikely to refuse your offer to interview them.

Today, the advice given to any aspiring novelist is this: ‘write what you know or what you can find out about.’ As shown above, conducting research for your novel, instead of being a chore, onerous or dull, is actually fascinating and fun. Therefore, do not be scared to set your novel in an unusual place or time because, if you do your research properly, it will only enhance the quality of your novel and make it more attractive to publishers.

Sources Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)

Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Thursday, 20 September 2012 21:03

Spicing Up Your Novel

How many times have you finished reading a book and thought that the story might have become a great one, if only the author had worked on it a little more? If so, what you’re saying is that the author missed some important elements of storytelling when writing the novel. To avoid making the same mistake, consider the four elements of storytelling below when writing your own novel.

The Element of Conflict

Conflict in fiction refers to anything that acts as an obstacle to the protagonist achieving his aim. When you assess your story, consider if the events are running too smoothly and whether the protagonist is being opposed or tested at all. If not, then inject conflict to create more friction and excitement in the tale.

Not all conflict has to be huge, destructive or violent. In fact, sometimes, conflict does not even involve others. An external conflict can be something as simple as the protagonist having a flat tire when he has an important appointment to go to. An example of an inner conflict is a phobia or flaw in the protagonist’s personality. The idea is to pile on the problems and investigate how the protagonist deals with them.

The Element of Jeopardy

Always remember to place your protagonist in jeopardy. This means that the more he has to lose or the more possibility of failure on his part, the more exciting your story will be. Your protagonist has to lose (or, at least, be at risk of losing) everything.

The Element of Action

Today, the average reader has been conditioned by television and wants stories that are fast-paced, move quickly and have crisp dialogue. In literary terms, especially for commercial fiction, authors are expected to do the same in their books. Here are some tips to ensure that you have enough action in your story:

  • Don’t have too many minor characters crowding your novel
  • Make sure you avoid elaborate sketches of location and setting
  • Don’t spend precious words on long conversations that have no bearing on the tale whatsoever
  • Plot your tale so that there are ‘story points’ (thrilling points of drama which propel the protagonist on to the next event in the story) throughout your novel

The Element of Tension

Tension means always playing the game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the reader. Never reveal all of the information at once. Tell the reader enough so that he follows the story and his pulse quickens, but not so much that he can guess the plot. To create tension, authors focus on the element of atmosphere – scenes are written in short and tight sentences, thereby, making the text appear clipped or in staccato tones.

The best example of how to create tension appears in ghost stories. Authors often rely on a gathering storm, which casts a sinister darkness on an abandoned house off a lonely lane. The protagonist is drawn to the house. The front door shuts behind him dramatically. Suddenly, there is a gust of wind and the protagonist looks up. He has just enough time to step away and avoid the chandelier crashing down on him.

As you can see, when conflict, jeopardy, action and tension are used, a simple story becomes more exciting and helps the reader resonate with the protagonist’s predicament. Use the suggestions made above to ensure that your tale is developed properly and, without doubt, it will become irresistible to publishers and readers alike.

By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Theme of Your Story

The dictionary defines a theme as ‘a subject or topic on which a person speaks, writes and thinks.’ In literary terms, a theme is the message you want readers to take away from reading your novel. A theme, therefore, is the essence and backbone of your story; it is the frame on which you add other elements of storytelling like characterisation, texture and plot. The following is an explanation of why you need a theme, how to find one and the tricks that authors use to make their themes unique.

Why Do You Need a Theme?

Laura Backes says, “I think with any story the key is to find the universal, timeless theme that will transcend culture. For example, sibling rivalry is something children of every country can relate to, and if the characters are appealing, and their conflicts are believable, the story will apply across the globe.” Keeping this in mind, you should, therefore, decide what the theme of your novel is going to be before you start planning it.

What happens when you encapsulate the issues in your novel into a theme is that you’re forced to make sure that the story you plan to write is a strong one. If, however, you cannot encapsulate the spirit of your novel easily, it often means that you do not have a clear vision of your book. If you persist in writing your novel without a clear theme in place, you will soon realise that your plot is not sufficiently powerful and your story will falter; you will be forced to go back and rethink your story.

How Do You Identify a Theme?

The simplest way to identify a theme is to ask this question: “What is my story about?” Once you’ve prepared the theme of your story, put yourself in the position of your reader and decide if your theme makes sense. Remember that, in today’s fast-paced world, readers (and, indeed, publishers) are looking for a quick way to know what your story is about.

How Do You Choose a Theme?

Choosing the theme for your novel should never be something you rush. Take your time and consider the message you are trying to share with your readers. Try to make a personal connection with your reader by helping them to identify with your characters. Even if your tale has an unusual setting, there must be something in your story that makes it feel familiar. Here are some tips to help you choose a theme for your novel:

  • Consider the keywords you’d like to use in your theme. They should be of emotional benefit to the kind of reader you’d like for your novel.
  • Remember who your readers are. For instance, if you’re writing a story for children, using big words like ‘circumnavigate’ is likely to confuse them.
  • Keep your theme as short as possible. Usually, themes are between 10 and 200 words long.

Here are 10 common themes used in novels today:

  • Power corrupts even the most pure.
  • There is light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Opportunity seldom knocks twice.
  • Love conquers all.
  • No one is beyond redemption.
  • Dreams always come true.
  • Honesty is the best policy.
  • Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
  • When it rains, it pours.
  • One man’s food is another man’s poison.

One of the tricks that many authors use is to ‘invert’ a theme. Here’s an example that shows you just how this is done: today, the world of medicine is so far advanced that it has become possible to fertilise a human egg in a laboratory and, thereafter, place it in a woman’s womb to allow the foetus to grow and develop fully. In the movie Junior, the theme is ‘inverted’ and the story centres on a fertility research project where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is a man who is impregnated with a viable embryo and, in the end, delivers the foetus safely.

In the long run, having a theme in place before you begin writing your novel helps save time and energy as you will stay true to your story and its narration will be smooth and uncomplicated. In other words, you are unlikely to get lost at any stage of writing your novel. Make the theme of your story unique and you will find that, when the time is right, publishers will not be able to resist the temptation to publish your manuscript.


  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English: Thumb Index [Hardcover]. Ed. Della Thompson. Oxford University Press, USA; 9 edition (August 3, 1995)
  • Backes, Laura. Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read: 125 Books That Will Turn Any Child into a Lifelong Reader. Three Rivers Press (July 17, 2001)
  • Junior. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Perfs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Emma Thompson. Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC. Universal Studios

By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Why You Must Have a Synopsis of Your Novel

Sometimes, you might wonder why publishers ask for a synopsis of a novel when an author makes a submission to them. After all, what is the point of preparing a synopsis of a novel when the complete manuscript is at hand? While you may be confident that you have the whole story mapped out inside your head, the advantages of having a synopsis of your novel far outweigh the trouble you have to go through to prepare one.

What Is a Synopsis of Your Novel?

Many times, authors get confused between a blurb and a synopsis of a novel. In the dictionary, a blurb is defined as “a short publicity notice (as on a book jacket)” . By way of illustration, here is the blurb taken from Khaled Hosseini’s novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns:

“Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.”

The most important thing to note from the above is that the blurb never tells the reader the whole story. It is meant to tease the reader to want to know more, thereby, enticing him to buy the book.

On the other hand, a synopsis of a novel (which is usually no more than 1,000 words long) will explain the basic storyline and is written in the present tense. In particular, publishers will be looking for answers to the following questions when they consider a synopsis of your novel:

  • Whose story is this? In other words, has your protagonist been identified?
  • Where is the story set?
  • What genre of novel have you chosen? Publishers like to be able to categorise novels because it makes it easier for them to sell them to their readers.
  • When does the story take place?
  • What are the main conflicts the protagonist faces and how will he solve his problems?
  • How does the story end?

Why You Must Prepare a Synopsis of Your Novel

Many writers boast that they do not need to work out a storyline before they write their novel. They merely sit in front of the computer, type away at the keyboard and are surprised at how the story progresses. This often results in what the publishing industry tends to call a ‘see-where-it-goes-kind-of-novel’. This, however, is not a recommended method for aspiring authors to use when writing their first novel. The reason is because, more often than not, the aspiring author will end up with a story that is incoherent, dishevelled, chaotic and not acceptable for publication.

What Are the Advantages of Preparing a Synopsis of Your Novel?

One advantage of creating a synopsis of your novel is that, more than convincing a publisher to accept your manuscript, you will have an idea of how the story pans out from start to finish and act as your guide to see if the events in your story flow in a logical and proper order. You will know how all the characters interact with each other. Sometimes, a synopsis of your novel can reveal obvious flaws like whether you’ve devoted too much space to an inconsequential character or ignored a more important one. Furthermore, you will find out if there are enough dramatic high points and conflicts in the story.

Perhaps, the most important advantage of having a synopsis of your novel is that you will be able to asses your main storyline and work out where your sub-plots should appear. Sub-plots should always be woven into the story in such a delicate and neat way to ensure that the story appears seamless. If you’re writing a mystery story, a synopsis of your novel will help you keep an eye on where all the clues and red herrings are placed.

As you can see, a synopsis of your novel does not merely help the publisher get an overview of your story, but helps you keep on track when writing your novel. As such, make sure that the synopsis of your novel is written properly and you will certainly not have to waste time going back to rethink your novel.


By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Thursday, 20 September 2012 21:03

Types of Plots for Your Novel

A plot is about the elements of a story that go into making it better. As an aspiring author, however, it is wiser for you to follow a well-known formula until you have the requisite experience to know how to create unusual and intricate plots.

For a start, remember that there is a difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction. Commercial fiction is usually plot driven which means that the story is heavy on the action and light on character work. In literary fiction, which tends to be character driven, the pace of the story is much slower, with less action and more complex characters. The following are examples of more common plots used in the majority of successful novels.

The quest

The most popular plot is called ‘the quest’. At the start of the novel, the protagonist will find his life suddenly turned upside down. From then on, he is tested in physical, emotional, intellectual and, sometimes, financial terms. To make things worse, everything and everyone is against him. Ultimately, the protagonist will be triumphant.

The prize

‘The prize’ is a slight variation on ‘the quest’. While the protagonist is not in any kind of danger, he still has a goal or ambition he would like to achieve. Success isn’t likely because his circumstances are against him. Eventually, he overcomes all his hurdles to prove himself and achieve his goal.

The race

In ‘the race’, a group of rivals want the same goal, but only one can win. Each character has to struggle with his personal problems. All characters battle fate, and each other, to become the eventual victor. The cornerstone of this plot is the tension in the story. The reader is constantly wondering if each character will triumph over his adversity and, at the same time, consider who the final winner will be.

The contest

‘The contest’ is all about head-to-head confrontation between two powerful and equally matched opponents. The stakes in the story become higher when the two rivals are closely related; for instance, a divorcing couple fighting for custody of their child or a father and son disagreeing about how to run the family business.

The puzzle

In ‘the puzzle’, the protagonist has to follow a series of clues and unravel a mystery. Solving the puzzle is at the heart of the story. Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery novels are an example of the sort of books that use this kind of plot.

The chase

‘The chase’ is a variation of ‘the puzzle’ where the protagonist has to locate the enemy before he commits a horrible crime. Sometimes, although the protagonist and the villain may know each other, the villain has always succeeded in the past. This time round, the protagonist cannot, and will not, fail.

Use any of the plots given above as your starting point when planning your novel. Then, even if you change a single element of the plot, your story will have a new direction and you will have a tale with an original plot.


Sources Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)

Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

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Thursday, 20 September 2012 21:03

Structure of Your Novel: The Three Act Drama

While in the planning stages of your novel, consider whether you’ve got a proper structure in place. Roughly speaking, this means assessing your story to see if it has been divided into the ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’. As you will see from the explanations given below, each of these segments has its own pace and tone.

The Beginning

The beginning is the introduction to your story and also the foundation upon which your story is built. It is the place to get the reader spellbound, racked with curiosity and wanting to know how the protagonist could have gotten into such trouble in the first place. You should, therefore, aim to do the following:

  • Introduce your protagonist, his rivals and the reason for the antagonism between them.
  • Set out an event that will change the protagonist’s life in a dramatic way and requires his urgent attention.
  • Explain what is at stake for the protagonist and his inner conflicts, if any.
  • Establish the time period of the novel.

The Middle

The middle is often the part where many writers struggle to keep the story going. It would be wise to give the reader a ‘breather’ before the action of the finale. The middle allows you to develop your theme, reveal some secrets or details about the protagonist and some background information.

Here’s an example: the protagonist comes home from work hoping to have a relaxing evening. Only when he arrives home, his wife tells him she’s received a letter. Then they hear sirens blaring. He takes her hand and runs to the back of the house as they are literally being hunted. Later, they seek shelter in a deserted home. There, the protagonist tells his wife about his past and the reason why there are people chasing them now.

The End

Usually, the ending is the final show-down between the protagonist and his rivals. Chances are that your protagonist will win. Beware of creating an implausible twist of fate. For instance, if your protagonist is facing bankruptcy, readers will think you’re insulting their intelligence if your protagonist’s rich uncle conveniently dies and leaves him lots of money.

Many times, readers like it when the protagonist has learnt something from his experiences. For instance, an alcoholic may have stopped drinking long enough to beat up his rival, but his addiction remains and he decides to seek help for it. Indeed, such an ending gives you hope to create a sequel for your novel.

When you spend time making sure that every segment of your novel is done properly, you will create a balanced story and a satisfying read for everyone. You can, with great pride, submit your manuscript to publishers in the knowledge that you are on the path to becoming a successful novelist.



  • Bell, James Scott. Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction). Writers Digest Books; 5 edition (October 6, 2004)
  • Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
  • Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101:

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Thursday, 20 September 2012 21:03

Bring to Life the Characters in Your Novel

What do characters like Scarlett O’Hara, Professor Henry Higgins and Clark Kent have in common? They are characters in fictionalised tales which live on in the minds of audiences (both readers of works of fiction and movie-goers) long after many other features of the story are forgotten. Use the suggestions made below to create characters which will be remembered in the same way.

Realistic and Believable Characters

The trick is to give them individual personalities with quirks, mannerisms and a motivation that readers can clearly understand. If your story is set in a make-believe world, you can create exotic characters that are far-fetched, extreme and fantastical, yet believable. Readers will believe in a talking pot if the pot gets grumpy when the fire is too hot, is vain about how the cook always reaches for it first and has a crush on the shapely saucepan.

Bringing a Character to Life

Here, try using a ‘police photo-fit’ approach. First, prepare a list that contains basic information about each character. Then, weave this information into the text. One way of doing this is to use another character’s point of view to describe a character. For example, ‘Gina smiled. Jason seemed so awkward – at 14, his clothes were too big for his tall frame; his large hands flapped about and even his smile was lop-sided. He reminded her of a scarecrow.’

Choosing Names for Your Characters

If you don’t believe how important it is to choose your characters’ names properly, consider this: what is the image that comes to mind when your character is called ‘Henry Winfield III’? Now, what about ‘Bert’? Bert can be an easy-going, reliable working class man. Henry Winfield III is serious, lacks a sense of humour and probably goes fox hunting in the country. Kylie is a young student and Miranda is a housewife living in the suburbs. Can you see how a name can suggest a great deal about a person’s age and background?

Also, if you cannot avoid having two characters with similar sounding names, like Doug and Dave, give one of them a nickname. This will make sure that your readers are not confused by the characters in your book.


Identifying what motivates your characters will help you decide how they are going to act and behave. For instance, a man who steals because he’s greedy will not get the support of your readers. However, a man who steals because he’s desperate to feed his starving family might gain your readers’ sympathy.

Here is a basic template of some of the elements that go into helping you create unforgettable characters:

  • General information – this will include full name, nickname, race, occupation and social class.
  • Physical appearance – this will include age, hair colour, eyes and so on.
  • Favourites – this will include the character’s favourite music, books, expressions and hobbies.
  • Personality – describe the character’s personality. Is he cautious? Is he temperamental? Background – what is the character’s background?
  • Relationships – describe the character’s relationship with his family and friends.
  • Traits – describe the character’s traits. For instance, is he an optimist or pessimist?
  • Problems – what problems does this character face?

The suggestions made above are a start. Use them as a basis to fully develop the characters in your novel. In so doing, you’ll create characters that will become icons for years to come.


  • Kress, Nancy. Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated. Writers Digest Books; First Edition edition (July 15, 1998)
  • Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
  • Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101:

Click here to return to the index of Articles

Published in Articles
Tagged under
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