By Andrea Waggener

Writing a novel can’t be done without first establishing the novel’s plot. What is the plot? The structure of the story. You must know this structure before writing a novel.

There are three main elements to plot:

1. CONFLICT—A lot of beginning novelists make a huge mistake in their writing. They think that things happening, people doing stuff, characters interacting, is plot.

This isn’t plot. This is just stuff happening. A story is more than stuff happening. A story, for the purposes of writing a novel, has conflict.

Conflict is the process of a need or want meeting face to face with an obstacle. Conflict is the core of good story telling.

To figure out the conflicts in your novel, you need to know two things:

--What does your character need or want?

--What is in the way of your character getting what he or she needs or wants?

To create a powerful plot, be sure you give your character many obstacles. Those obstacles can come in three forms. They can be other characters. They can be situations. They can be the character him or herself.

Putting together a series of wants that butt up against challenges is the core of a good plot. You must know your story’s conflicts before writing an novel.

2. STORY QUESTION—The second element of a great plot is creating story questions. Story questions are the questions you raise in your reader’s mind. Every novel needs to raise questions that keep the reader turning pages.

A good novel raises questions on the first page and keeps asking questions (or doesn’t answer the questions already raised) until the last page of the novel.

3. THEME—The last main element of plot is theme. The theme of your novel is some sort of statement about human nature or about life. It’s your message.

What is the point of writing a novel? To tell an entertaining story, of course. But that’s not all you’re doing, right? Don’t you have a message in your idea? Isn’t there something you’re trying to say about the human condition or the world?

Some plots will raise theme naturally. Some plots don’t raise much theme, and you’ll have to think about the message you want to share with your readers and work it into your story. Remember that theme is subtle. Don’t beat your readers over the head with it. Just let the story suggest the theme.

So these are the elements of plot—conflict, story question, theme. Be sure you keep these elements in mind when you create your plot before writing a novel.

Andrea Rains Waggener, author and writing coach, is the author of Novel Writing Made Easy--How To Plan A Novel That Practically Writes Itself and How To Become A Writer Extraordinaire--The Beginning Writer's Roadmap To Writing Success. Get FREE special reports on how to avoid common fiction writing mistakes and sign up for free weekly writing tips at her writing help sites, and

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