What story structure dominates your novel? The choice is yours, the writer. Every novel contains four elements that determine structure; setting, idea, character, and event. You decide which matters most to you and that structure will drive your story.
Setting – We know many stories that are setting driven. How about Gulliver’s Travels or Into the West? These stories always evolve around the setting. Into the West is structured around Indian country and compared to the tame East and the people striving for a better life. The focus or whole point of the story is for the reader to see the differences between the land and the people. How do they handle these differences? What conflicts and resolutions occur from beginning to end? How does this change or transform the characters? The story begins with the arrival and ends when the character(s) decides to stay or leave.
Idea – This structure is simple; it begins by asking a question and ends when the question is answered. We know this structure well. Mysteries are a great example of the idea structure. The story begins when a crime takes place. Everyone wants to know who did it and why. The story is over when we discover the killer and his/her motive.
Character – With character you need to focus on the internal growth of your character(s) throughout the story. The story most likely isn’t about the growth, it’s about the plot, but character growth is important – it makes us care about him/her. Character driven stories start the moment your main character(s) find themselves in a situation or crisis they aren’t sure how to deal with. They are miserable or angry and know they need to make some changes in their life. The story is about how they handle the situation and their process of change. At the end either they make changes or settle into accepting their unhappy situation.
Structure – We all love ‘the sky is falling’ story. You know the earthquake that can potentially destroy the world, or create enough havoc that it is apocalyptic. Perhaps it’s the death of a king or queen, or even the Vikings conquering new lands. In all cases the world our characters exist in is being disrupted or turned upside down.
The story begins when the character’s world is threatening chaos or has already begun. Note that it’s the viewpoint character, not the narrator that guides the reader into the state of circumstance.
At the beginning you don’t need a long, dragging-on prologue to describe the state of the world. Why? To be honest the reader isn’t emotionally invested in the characters at the beginning and they won’t care. I hate prologues – and I never read them. Personally, I think they’re useless.
Begin in the midst of action . . . and pull your reader in slowly . . . carefully . . . make them feel, make them care, make them pull for the character(s) – and you’ve got them until ‘the end.’