Using Journalistic Structure to Outline Your Novel

When you write for a newspaper, your stories have to fall under a specific structure. You take all of the information that you need to add into a story, and you list it from most important to least. It’s referred to as the inverted pyramid. Here’s an example.

30-03_inverted_pyramid_for_about_page

We do this for obvious reasons; the editor might have to trim the end of your story to save room, and the reader is likely only going to read the first paragraph anyway. So, that first paragraph, usually only one sentence, includes all of the important details. It must answer the who, what, where, when, why and maybe the how of the story. Example;

A crayfish faked it’s own death yesterday in my living room to avoid the unwanted affection of a 12 year old girl.

That’s the whole story. Is there more to tell? Yes, of course. But if you know that, you’ve got the basics. The rest of the story, how I came downstairs to find the dumb thing lying on it’s back, and how my kid poked it with a pencil and it jumped back to life like the little faker that it is, can all go below, in order of importance.

Obviously that’s not how we write creatively. That’s cut, dry, space saving, and would make for a terrible novel.

But it makes for a pretty great outline when you’re brainstorming!

Especially if you’re like me. I tend to have a lot of rough details when I’m in planning mode for a novel. This character is going to go do this, and this one will have that happen to them, an this whole list of people are going to die. All of that is important, but I need to get some other stuff in order first.

Who

Who is this book going to be about? There’s a whole cast, but I need to know who’s story we’re telling.

What

What’s happening? I mean the main, overlaying plot. Are there side plots? There are always side plots! But I need the basic, what is happening in this story.

Where

This one shouldn’t take a lot of explaining. What is our setting? Where is this story taking place?

When

The time, duh. Is your story set in the past, the future, the present? In some cases this is going to be dictated by your genre, but not necessarily.

Why

In journalism the why isn’t quite as important. In creative writing, of course, the why is essential. Why is any of this happening? What’s the point? Is it all just a series of random events that don’t have any meaning at all?

Once you have all that down, you can list all of your other details below in order of importance.

So, how about some homework. Take your favorite novel, and write down the five W’s.

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