Authors across the world have produced a lot of masterpieces and literary treasures, some of which people still revere after decades. As an aspiring writer, you tend to wonder what it is that they got right, that so many other authors did not. What secrets does the author of the #1 bestseller have?
There are several techniques that authors follow to be inspired and write quality content. Some of these are unique, while some others are good generic practices that all aspiring writers should follow. In this article, you will learn some tips and tricks to write an excellent storyline.
A Checklist to Write a Good Storyline
1. A Plot Outline
Before starting the prologue or Chapter 1, you should have a clear idea of the novel outline. Your story's skeleton should consist of the overview of the story (the introduction, key events, and the climax), main characters, and a summary of the plot that you should be able to tell in under a minute. If you can get this underway, it means you have all your basic plot set, which holds the entire novel together.
2. A Strong Opening
How can you capture the reader's attention right from the get-go? A powerful or startling opening line or a gruesome or shocking opening sequence? Remember that the beginning need not be the first incident chronologically.
In thrillers, the prologue usually begins with an ominous incident, the significance of which is known only later in the book. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a simple opening where you introduce all the characters one by one and set the mood or tone of the novel. Another way of beginning a story is to "start at the end," and narrate the remainder of the book through flashbacks or diary entries.
3. The Characters
It is always good to prepare a mental picture of the characters and their traits beforehand so that you can plan how you want to introduce them to the story. The protagonist and antagonist typically have an elaborate introduction sequence, sometimes with a backstory as well. Some characters end up being just names, while others have a deceptive nature to the reader until the end of the tale.
Make your characters realistic; create qualities, strengths, and weaknesses that the readers can empathize with or find a connection with. Your pen and imagination have the power to create powerful and memorable heroes (Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird?) and villains (Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs).
4. Dialog and Narrative Structure
Some characters have become famous because of their nature, while others have become popular because of their punchlines. The dialog is an integral part of stories that most writers underestimate. Conversations can reveal a lot of details about the plot and especially about other people in the story.
A closely linked factor is the narrative format of your story: first-person or third-person. If you want the reader to explore the story from a particular character's point of view, use the first-person narrative. John Watson narrates most Sherlock Holmes stories because we understand the story from the viewpoint of a common man, who also attempts to solve cases with the exceptional Sherlock.
If you want to talk about multiple storylines or wish to reveal information to the reader that none of the characters know, the third-person narrative is better. This format, however, forces you to write using formal language.
5. The Suspense
The build-up of the plot and the escalation of (all the) storyline(s) towards the finale forms the biggest chunk of the book. You must keep the reader guessing at all stages of the book; that is what keeps the story flowing. How much information you reveal to the reader and the characters in the book defines the suspense.
Using plot twists is the best way to surprise the reader, but you need to get the timing right. Note that plot twists can serve as humor elements too. A comedy of errors or a hilarious mix-up (you will find several examples in the works of PG Wodehouse as well as Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series) is effective in engaging the reader.
6. The Setting and Timelines
Where and when is your story happening? Is it restricted to a small, possibly imaginary, town, or does it span across several countries? Does it take place in contemporary settings, or during the Second World War, or in the year 2100?
You need to know enough about the location you choose (people culture, local events, and so on) and the period of the story (influence of a real-life incident on the story, historical accuracy, etc.). You can choose to tweak science and history a bit to make your book more entertaining, but do not go overboard.
7. The Climax
How can you write an ending that will blow the reader's mind away? Have you laid enough clues in the story to lead up a final plot twist? Or do you want to create a "happily ever after" scenario that leaves the reader with a feeling of joy?
If you had to pick one segment of the story to give maximum attention to, it is the climax. There are various types of endings you can give your story, and you can select the one that fits in most naturally.
For a mystery novel, tie up all the loose ends and present a clean solution (most Agatha Christie novels exhibit this very well). If you want to continue the book in a "Part 2", you can either write the climax in such a way that this novel is a standalone book (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) or by preserving some essential information for the sequel (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).
Is Your Story Ready?
The storyline is the heart of your book, and getting it right is paramount to your novel's success. You have the freedom to use your creativity in any way you want, and you can use the best writing apps as well. Ultimately, the effort you put in must make the book the best one possible.