Writing a novel is hard work. Everyone who has written a novel or tried to write one (or several) would most likely agree with that.
Much of the struggle today—besides from the writer’s fear of failure or judgment or feeling like a fraud or the like—is based in overcomplicating things. The fictional world the story is set in has to be rich in details, the characters complex and fully fleshed out, the scenes meticulously described, the characters’ actions explained so the reader gets what the writer wants to say or show, and so on.
That’s enough to get anyone overwhelmed.
There is, however, a way to make the process of writing a story a lot easier (at least in the beginning so you have a place to start because starting is the first step to actually getting somewhere). This solution I’m talking about is to simply break everything down into the most basic building blocks of a novel.
What is it that a novel truly needs? A world, a cast of characters, and a story/plot. This is the foundation of every novel and it is the place to start (you can figure out everything else later).
In this post, I’ll give a short introduction to these three building blocks (they will be more fleshed out in a series of coming posts) and additional resources of how you can start working on them right now.
In its most basic form, world building is the creation of the world in which your story takes place. All the settings in your story inhabit your world—whether that’s your hero’s bedroom, the forest he walks through every morning, or the hospital in which he’s nursed back from a serious surgery.
This means that your world doesn’t have to be as large as the planet. Your story’s world can be as small as the town where your hero lives, works, and has a social life because that’s the world in which he spends the most time. Obviously, his small world will be influenced by other parts of the planet even though you may not mention them explicitly (like the government, laws, climate differences, scientific discoveries, trade, and other such things).
World building is vital because it can make or break your story. Defective world building may cause inconsistencies, a lack of credibility, even plot holes. A solid world building, however, will eliminate unnecessary confusion.
If you want to start working on your story’s world, you can check out the post Worldbuilding Questions to use while Outlining your Story: 10 Questions to Consider.
If you want more exercises and questions to develop your story’s world, you can check out my ebook How to Get to Know Your Story's World with Worldbuilding Questions.
Characters are one of the most important building blocks of a novel. Without any characters to take action and move the story forward, the story will fall apart.
The truth is that in every sensational story is an extraordinary character (or a cast of extraordinary characters). These types of characters do more than just advance the plot. They jump off the page and grip the heart of the reader.
I have previously written posts about character creation where you can learn a technique on how to categorize your characters and see which archetype the character fits into:
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 1: Categorizing Your Characters
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 2: Heroine Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 3: Hero Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 4: Antihero Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 5: Antagonist Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 6: Sidekick Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 7: Mentor Archetypes
You can also read the box set where I have gathered my ebooks on these topics right here. In this box set, I’ve added additional questions so that you can start creating your characters. If you’re interested in a specific book, you can get them separately:
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Protagonists
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Antagonists
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Mentors
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Sidekicks
If you want to get more in-depth into your character’s backstory, worldview, voice, internal growth, appearance, and more, you can find out more and download the Crafting Sensational Characters Workbook right here.
Story and Plot
What’s the difference between story and plot? To put it simply:
- The story is what happens
- The plot is why it happens, and how
These two components obviously go together and intertwine with each other. One can’t exist without the other. And if you want your novel to work, these two components are vital.
Another thing that should be mentioned here because it goes hand-in-hand with the story and plot is the story structure. You can have an amazing story and plot but without a proper structure, your novel will fall flat. There’s a reason Joseph Campbell could outline and find the Hero’s Journey by researching all kinds of stories across history and that’s because structure matters.
Think of it this way: if the story and plot is the blood of the novel and the world and characters are what makes it all come to life, the structure is the framework that holds it all together in a way that makes the whole novel logical, familiar, and easy to follow.
You can check out my previously published posts about different story structures:
- The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act I (the Beginning), The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act II (the Middle), The Basics of the Three Act Structure: Act III (the Ending)
- The Basics of the Seven Point Story Structure: And How to Use It
- The Hero’s Journey Explained: A Breakdown of its Different Stages
You can also learn more in-depth about outlining and structuring your novel in my ebook Three Different Ways to Outline and Structure Your Story.
I hope you found all this useful. In the coming posts about the building blocks of a novel, I’ll be going more in-depth in each one of them. So, keep an eye out for them in the coming weeks.
Do you want to learn more about the building blocks of a novel?
Build a story from the ground up by learning how J.K. Rowling used building blocks like world building, character creation, story structure and much more to build the foundation for the Harry Potter series. You’ll also learn how to adapt those techniques to fit your own story, no matter in what genre you write.