The truth is there is no simple answer, no easy template, no cookie cutter plan to follow. I wish there were. Instead, every novel charts its own course, heads in its own ship through mostly unknown waters. Often writers are surprised where they end up. ‘I thought I was writing about love,’ they say, after the romantic lead dies. ‘I wanted it to be a happy story.’ But where do you take happiness? Does happy ever after make a good story?
With this in mind I’ve decided to blog on what I think I might have learned as a fiction editor.
We’ll start with plot, which will take several blog posts, move onto ‘the beginning’ and we’ll take in character, dialogue and things to do and things to avoid.
For those of you thinking of a novel, it might be a spur to action.


A plot is simply a series of circumstances that drive your story from beginning to end.

However, every story needs conflict as this is what drives your characters to do what they do. The conflict can be open in that the characters face an obvious danger such as threat to their life, their home or their way of life. Or the conflict might be within themselves as they struggle with an internal conflict of how they cope with divorce, family turmoil, etc.

The conflict needs to gain the reader’s empathy, the reader needs to care about what the character wants to achieve.

The conflict can be based on a specific event, For instance:

The Martian by Andy Weir, Mark is accidentally abandoned on Mars. How can he survive and return home? He battles the landscape and the Martian elements to stay alive, In the final crisis, he hopes to be reunited with his fellow astronauts as they risk their own lives to come back for him.

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal follows a boy desperate to be reunited with his baby brother after he goes into foster care.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt needed a school bully to blame Theo for smoking, which resulted in he and his mother visiting an art gallery and being caught in a terrorist bombing. Theo’s loss results in the plot, as he grows into a lonely man looking for someone to trust. 

The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin is based on how a character feels about an event – a husband dies suddenly is not a plot. How the wife deals with the news gives us the story.

You have to let reader know how the characters feel, what drives them.

In general, the genre of the novel will provide the motive:

Mystery/crime – revenge, greed

Literary – inner conflict re. a transforming period of life – divorce, family death, etc.

Memoir – overcoming adversity to live a successful life.

Thrillers – good v evil

Romance – star-crossed lovers

Think about:

What is the conflict within your novel?

Who wants what?

What are the characters willing to do to get what they want?

What stops them?