3 Phases of Writing a Novel – Beginnings, Middles and Ends
Another key element of writing a novel that an experienced novelist knows and aspiring writer
needs to know – every novel has 3 phases: a beginning, a middle and an end. Read on…
When rushing through the first draft of writing a novel, a writer often thinks only about getting
the story down in black and white. They don’t worry about the words they use, the punctuation
required, whether the characters are being true to their primary traits, or any of the other
elements of writing that they’ll eventually attend to before the novel is finished.
By the end of the first draft, a writer knows what the story is about, who the lead character is,
what conflict the lead must resolve and how they will resolve it. It is then time for the writer to
revisit the story, performing Revisions that will create a readable, “unputdownable” story.
Part of this revision includes reviewing the different phases of a story – the beginning, middle
and end; phases that ensure the writer fulfills the implicit promises made to readers.
Writing a Novel that Fulfills Its Promises to the Reader
When I begin a novel, one of the first things that I do is jot down in a few sentences what I
believe the novel is about and also in a few sentences for each what will happen in the beginning,
middle and end of the story.
Jotting down these notes is not just for my benefit in writing a novel, although it helps me
immensely to know where I’m headed. While these notes are closely related to who my lead
characters are, what conflict they have to solve, and what will happen in the story to keep them
from solving it, and then eventually solving it, their importance goes much further than that. I
also need to take into consideration how each phase of writing a novel affects the reader.
Every novel makes two promises two readers:
1. An Emotional Promise
2. An Intellectual Promise
The Emotional Promise goes like this: Read this and you’ll be entertained, thrilled, scared,
titillated, saddened, or uplifted, but most of all absorbed.
There are 3 versions to the Intellectual Promise. They are, Read this and:
1. You’ll view this world from a different perspective
2. You’ll confirm what you already want to believe about this world.
3. You’ll learn about a different, more appealing world than this one.
Promise #3 can coexist with either of the first two or stand on its own.
Different genres promise different things. Some examples are:
A Romance novel promises to titillate us, entertain us, confirm our belief that “Love
conquers all”, and transports us to a more romantic, glamorous world than the one we
know, where the heroine is beautiful, fashionably dressed, hotly desired, and ultimately
A Mystery novel promises to entertain us with an intellectual challenge of figuring out
Whodunit, confirmation that our mind can understand the meaning of certain events, the
triumphant satisfaction of justice being served, and sometimes insights into the mind of a
A Fantasy novel promises to entertain us by sweeping us away to a mythical world of
giant kingdoms and create an escape from our life where characters are larger than life
and magically tackle out-of-this-world issues.
A reader may buy a book because it’s in a specific genre that promises the things she’s come to
expect from that type of novel. If you are writing in a certain genre, you must know what those
expectations are and write a story that fulfills them.
Writing a Novel Beginning – the Implicit Promise
By the time a reader has read the opening, or beginning pages of your novel, they should know
the implicit promise of the story. They’ll know if they can expect the story to be absorbing,
thrilling, and so on. The reader will be able to assess whether the story has a chance of fulfilling
Writing a Novel – the First Scene
Without a satisfying beginning, readers are not likely to read further into a story. So while
keeping in mind your promises, the main focus of the beginning of a story, your first scene, is to
entertain the reader and get them interested in the story. You do this with character, conflict,
In your opening, give the reader a person to focus on – it doesn’t have to be the lead character,
but it needs to be someone who is interesting and connected to the story in some way. A good
example of this is the opening in Dick Francis’ thriller novel, Knockdown.
Mrs. Sanders, a wealthy American has hired Jonah Dereham, an ex-prize-winning jockey, to
purchase a steeplechaser for her. Here’s an excerpt from the first paragraph of the first chapter:
“Mrs. Kerry Sanders looked like no Angel of Death. Mrs. Kerry Sanders looked like a rich cross
American lady opening a transparent umbrella against a spatter of cold rain.
“This,” she said in disbelief, “is Ascot goddam Sales?”
She was small and exquisitely packaged in suede with mink trimmings. Her skin put peaches to
rout and her scent easily prevailed over British October weather and a hundred nearby horses.
With forty years behind her, she wore assurance as naturally as diamonds; and she wore
diamonds like crusty knuckle-dusters across the base of all her fingers.
“Ascot?” she said, her voice brimming with overtones of silk hats, champagne, and Royal
Lawns. “This depressing dump?”
Mrs. Sanders is not the lead character in the story but she plays a key role, and she turn out to be
a very colorful character and a thorn in the lead’s side.
Conflict occurs when things aren’t going as expected or hoped for. In the first few paragraphs of
Francis’ Knockdown, we learn that the purchase of the steeplechaser is rife with problems, Mrs.
Sanders herself being only one of them. Before the first chapter is finished the lead character,
Dereham, is harassed and lied to by Mrs. Sanders, beaten and knocked nearly unconscious by
unscrupulous men who want the horse for themselves, and ironically rescued by Mrs. Sanders.
There’s a lot happening in the opening scene of this novel that would satisfy the reader’s passion
for the excitement that a Thriller novel promises. And Francis writes it in a way that is engaging,
interesting, absorbing, and just fun to read.
Good beginnings make use of specific details of speech, setting, character’s thoughts, and
anything else relevant to the story. Writing details into your story accomplishes 3 things:
1. Details create images for the reader that anchor the story in reality. Instead of writing
“Johnny loves his dog”, try, “Johnny was supposed to be back on the job by 1:00, but he
could see that Geronimo was lonely and in need of a walk. He never could resist that
wagging tail and those sweet puppy kisses. Work was just going to have to wait.”
2. Details set your opening apart from hundreds of other openings. Don’t use the generic
details that come to mind when describing something, say a living room. Use fresh,
original details that reveals an imaginative and meticulous eye, one that is truly your own.
(This is not to say that you should use weird or bizarre ways of writing about something.)
3. Details provide credibility. Say your story centers around a coffee house. If you write
about the timer going off every 2 hours to remind the barista to time the espresso machine
or you write about the beeper blasting on the pastry oven, blasting until you get to it to
turn it off, but you can’t get to it because you are in the middle of making a caramel lite
latte for a customer, readers will believe that you know what you are talking about and
could tell a story based on a coffee house. Credibility also mean being accurate in your
You can finish reading this article on our website about writing a novel.