The development of your story will depend on a number of factors:
- Character development: one or more of your protagonist’s character flaws will need to be mitigated by the end of the story. This may or may not have anything to do with…
- Theme: This is the big, underlying, question you are addressing in the story. It might be a big issue (life and death, or equality, etc) or a simple question (What happens if…?), or something about your protagonist (Can X grow up disgracefully?). If you can have a theme for your novel that is somehow resolved by the end, your story will be more satisfying.
- Plot: To developing an engaging plot (I think this is the hardest, but also most interesting, part of novel writing), you need to layer a number of technical story development tools on top of one another. Basically, to develop a good plot, you need to understand what makes a good story.
We start first with the emotional story arc, which encompass the main emotional shape of the overall story. These are the crucial episodes that must be incorporated to make the story work as a story. These story points are not really negotiable, because they are cultural. The story arc is the bones of the your story, everything else hangs off this basic structure.
There are other types of story arc, depending on what sort of story you are telling. I generally use the adventure arc, which is the one use most common in western culture. The only time I would look for a different story arc is if I were telling a tragedy, where the story arc would be almost inverted
Sitting on top of the story arc, are what are often called Story beats. These are the additional steps in your story that will define the genre of your story, whether it is a love story, an adventure/quest, a mystery, detective, sci-fi, or saga story. Many of these story beats are defined by the genre itself.
The easiest to illustrate is the love story, which must include these Story beats: boy meets girl, girl driven away from boy, girl and boy are reconciled, boy driven away from girl, both reconciled, crisis, changed character for one probably both, final reconciliation or moving on. How many times you repeat these steps for your story is up to you, but without them your story won’t work as a love story.
In addition to the basic story beats for your genre, there are usually at least two or three reveals, where the main characters learn something new that causes the Plot to twist and turn. There may also be an audience reveal, where the readers are privileged with information that the main characters are yet to discover, this can add an element of tension.
Some of your story beats will be the basic Plot points of you Story. These may or may not correspond with main points on the story arc or other plot points, but there will be others too which are unique to your story.
Some of these unique story beats will also relate to your setting: historic eara, Western, Steampunk, sci-fi etc. I write Steampunk stories, but Steampunk, although treated as a genre for marketing purposes is not a true genre. By this I mean it is no a type of story with its own unique story arc. Many different types of story can be placed in a steampunk setting, this is equally true for the western/wild west type story. So anything you particularly want to include or show off in your story that relates to your setting will need to be included as a story beat.
To maximise the twists and turns of your plot, you ideally want every story beat to have a reveal attached that is driving that particular story beat. Each story beat, whether part of the Plot or the underlying story arc, must relate to both the story beat before it and the story beat after it to form a complete, coherent story.
In addition to the Story Arc, Plot Points, and Story Beats, we have to track the protagonist’s moral state. In an adventure story, such as the one I am writing, the protagonist’s moral state declines as the action intensifies and the stakes increase, hitting a low point shortly after the character hits their place of defeat.
To make the story complicated/intearuing/interesting, you may want to include subplots involving some of the minor characters. Each subplot will have its own story arc, plot points, and story beats. These may or may not correspondence to points in he main story.
If you are a writer who likes to plot your story out in detail before you start, you will need to consider all the story arcs, plot points, story beats, and sub plots before you start writing your story so you know where you are going. If you are a ‘panster’ (someone who likes to just sit down and let the story unfold before you – writing ‘by the seat of your pants’), you will need to construct everything retrospectively after the first draft is completed to see if you have missed any important elements.
Sorry, this is quite technical, but I hope it helps.