The first choice we make (be it consciously or unconsciously) when planning to write a fiction novel is what is going to be the Basic Storyline. What’s going to happen in our novel, what will keep the characters in motion… and the readers hooked. Before getting into our novel’s details, there is a basic question – valid for all the novels – which must have a clear answer:
Will our hero triumph, fail, abandon?
Once we know the answer to this question, we can design an according story, especially in the second act (the body, where most of the writers have problems), full of scenes where the protagonist is tested with obstacles in his path which will later serve him to advance the story.
There are five Basic Storylines, three traditional ones, who function seamlessly with a traditional structure in our story (because they have clearly defined introductions, body, and endings) and two which are suitable for a less traditional structures:
- The protagonist triumphs.
- The protagonist fails or is beaten.
- The protagonist quits or abandons his goal.
- The protagonist does not have a definite goal.
- The reader creates the goal.
These Basic Storylines contain all types of argument, all kinds of tone and genre (comedy, drama, romance, horror, mystery…) and it’s what allows us to write without losing track of the story we had thought.
- The protagonist triumphs
Our protagonist has a goal to reach or a question to answer and succeeds when he gets it done. Most of novels and movies have this type of Basic Storyline, especially action stories. Happy endings abound here.
A clear example of “finding the answer” arguments are mystery / detective novels and examples of “reach a goal” ones are children and adolescent stories, where this goal is quite clear from the beginning (races, contests, tournaments, etc…).
The structures of the Basic Storyline where the protagonist triumphs can be:
Problem → Solution
Mystery → Solution
Conflict → Peace
Confusion → Order
Dilemma → Decision
Ignorance → Knowledge
Question → Answer