There are only two basic novel plots. This is something I remember reading years ago, and it has floated to the front of my mind over the past few days as I’ve started thinking seriously about my new novel.
It was the American novelist John Gardner who said it all boiled down to this: the central character goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.
It may seem simplistic but I think it’s true. All novels are about change. Something must happen to the main character, otherwise there is no story. And that change must be prompted by something they do themselves – a physical or emotional journey of discovery – or by someone else – the stranger – who does something to affect their life.
Think about the books you love and see which category they fall into. Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, revolves around the arrival of several (male) strangers. Wolf Hall is about Thomas Cromwell’s journey from poverty to power.
My first novel, Tandem, is actually about both. The Amazon blurb says: “Paula abandons her London life and travels through the night to a Scottish village where she once spent a childhood holiday. Desperate to avoid a painful loss, she tries to hide away. However, the locals are keen to know more about their unhappy visitor and she is soon tangled in the life of 12-year-old Sanders. Can Paula help her new friend? Can we ever run away from the past?”
So Paula embarks on what turns out to be both a physical and an emotional journey, while for the villagers of Craskferry, particularly Sanders, she is the stranger who comes to town and changes lives.
My new novel, Pressmennan, has just one plot theme: it’s all about strangers. What will your novel be about?