How to write a novel in 30 lines

Now I’ve finished the first run through of edits on book3, I’ve finished my heroine’s story. I’ll leave her for 6-8 weeks at least until I even glance at her again.

So, book4. Yes, I’m acquainted with the main character and I want to tell her story. But that’s it. I need to let her run around in my head a bit, to have some adventures, get into trouble, struggle to get out, land in more – you know the rest. More than anything, I have to get to know her, to find out what she wants, what’s stopping her, what she has to do, or GMC, as creative writing tutors call it.*

My way of doing this is to write down 30 lines of plot. Less an outline, more of a wireframe as I like the 3D analogy better.

Line 1: The beginning – the initiating incident
Line 2: Impact and realisation
Line 3: The plan
Line 6: First enormous set-back (turning point 1)
Line 15: First glimmer of light (turning point 2)
Line 21: Gritting on in face of terrible odds and sacrifice (turning point 3)
Line 25: Despite developments, we might be getting there – the false dawn
Line 28: Catastrophe/black moment – do or die
Line 30: The end – the resolution and loose-end-tying-up

Not all there, but you get the idea.

Off now to fill in the missing lines and to release the muse…


Picture: My photo taken in the Naples Archeological Museum. More here

*Goal, Motivation, Conflict

9 comments to How to write a novel in 30 lines

  • That’s an interesting approach, Alison.

    I wonder if at the end of writing your novel, you find that the characters have developed in a way that you hadn’t anticipated and/or that the key incidents have lead to actions and reactions that you’d never foreseen at the outset, and the end product is very different from the initial 30 line outline.

    Liz X

  • Alison

    All kinds of unexpected things happened on the way, Liz! I completely re-wrote the end of book2 after heart-searching and a long discussion with a beta-reader. He didn’t suggest the change, but our conversation was the catalyst.

    But all three books have ended where they were supposed to. The plots are (I hope!) strong, but it’s the characters, especially the main one, which are the main focus. They’ve developed and matured beyond anything I’d planned.

    The 30 lines are not prescriptive. I think they represent the 15% planner in me. The remaining 85% is, of course, “pants”!

  • It certainly is an interesting way to go about planning your novel. I’m much less structured. At least, I was. ‘The Road Back’ structured itself, and I rather assumed that ‘A Bargain Struck’ – my current wip – would, too. When I found that it wouldn’t, I had to stop and plan the rest of it in a way that I’d never needed to do before.

    Each book is alearning experience in itself.

    Liz X

  • I like your ‘wire frame’ a lot and will try this for novel 4!

  • Alison

    Liz – I couldn’t agree more about each book being a learning experience. By book3 I knew I was writing better!

    The 30 lines are not meant to produce a formula book. Neither do they constitute a formal outline. They’re like a tourist guide – your choice to accept or not the things on the way – but you do get to the end-place you need to.

    Denyse – I hope it works for you. Much as I relish the idea of following a muse in a creative haze, I like some confines/structure. Whatever people declare, I think we’re all a mixture of planner and pantser. 😉

  • That’s great – a very succinct way of getting down the essence of the plot. I’m a planner too, although I do find that once the characters develop the plan changes.

  • Alison

    Always, Chris, always! But I looked back at the 30 lines for book3 and at the moment it’s an 85% match. Wait until the beta readers have been at it…

  • I like your outline. I am a planner but that plan though short is interesting. I am not sure I get to the turning points like this. You must tell us more in Portugal. x

  • Alison

    Even when filling in the gaps, I change stuff as I realise there are contradictions, time-nonsenses and violations of other laws of physics.

    But it makes me hammer out an immediate logic to my plot before I start wasting writing energy.

    Will tell you how I applied this process to book4 when we are in Portugal!