Your Novel’s Set-up

Picture this: A Oregon widower puts aside his own needs for his young daughter who is desperate for a lifesaving liver transplant. A British woman surgeon who specializes in transplants must fight the Oregon hospital’s Chief of Surgery to perform the daughter’s surgery. Put them together and voila! You’ve got a set-up for a novel.
Writing Tip for Today: One of the problems every novelist faces is in knowing how much set-up is needed to hook the reader. Although the above story line isn’t profound, I’m using it to illustrate how little a reader must know in order to buy into the story. The key is to answer where we are, when we are, who’s the character and what’s the problem. Not much more. The why can come out over time. How do you know if you have written too much set-up?
  • Need to Know? Always ask yourself if the reader needs to know what you’ve described. If it could wait (as in back story), I’d consider not using the info until it’s crucial to the story.
  • Too Much Story? If you evaluate and still believe you need a long intro or a complex one, your story might be too complicated. If you can’t tell what it’s about in a sentence, you might be tackling too much.
  • Simplify the Character Goals. If you’re writing historical, be careful not to focus too much on the larger history, especially if it veers away from the protagonist. Great novels often have many plot levels, but they aren’t a first attempt, usually. Novels for younger audiences will also often be helped by simplifying the scope of the book.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Your Novel’s Set-up

  1. I write thrillers and set-up is pretty clear in my genre: make it quick and filled with action. I can rarely get away with much narrative, background. Whatever I need to say must be communicated through action.

    Which I find quite challenging at times!

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