How To Write a Good Novel: The Crisis Is the Key

The CrisisIf you really want to learn how to write a good novel, there’s one essential element that you must consider as you begin developing your story idea.  If you do this right, it will drive your novel forward with power and make your novel come alive in your imagination.  The key element that can make or break your novel is this: it must include a compelling crisis that sparks the action of your novel and forces your main character to take decisive action to solve the problem the crisis creates.  It needs to be a novel-sized problem; that is, it needs to be difficult enough that your readers feel it will take the whole novel to overcome.

The Three Keys to a Great Crisis

Novelist and literary agent Evan Marshall has defined three key criteria that you should follow to set up a truly compelling crisis that will move your novel forward and give it the juice to be a powerful page-turner.  Here they are:

1.  First, the crisis should be genre-appropriate.  For this, you need to know what genre you want to write in and make the crisis appropriate to that genre.  For example, in a romance novel, you probably don’t want the initial crisis to be a bomb discovered on a bus.  Instead, perhaps your lead would receive a letter that indicates that she has to find a husband in two weeks or she will have to leave the country.

2.  Next, the crisis has to really turn the main character’s life upside-down.  It can’t be just a mild annoyance, it has to be something that your lead can’t ignore and has to do something about right away.  This is what hooks your readers in and makes them want to keep reading.  Can you see why it’s so important to get your readers interested by giving your lead a big crisis to deal with?

3.  Third, the crisis must capture your imagination as the novelist.  It has to be a situation that you want to explore, something that you care about and are interested in.  You want it to be riveting to you personally.  It has to be compelling to you or you’ll have a hard time engaging your readers.  This is the situation that will propel your novel forward and give you the inspiration and energy to finish your novel and see it through to the end, helping your character to come through on the other side.

What’s Your Lead Going To Do About It?

In response to this crisis, your Lead character will decide to solve this problem no matter what it takes.  This decision creates your Lead’s story goal that will guide him through your novel.  Evan Marshall also defines four key elements that must be part of this story goal:

1.  The goal either involves wanting to gain possession of something or seeking relief from something.

2.  There will be terrible consequences for failure.

3.  The main character has a positive, worthy motivation that makes him or her appealing to readers.  The goal reveals your lead as heroic in his own way, worthy of admiration, and essentially honorable at his core.

4.  He must face tremendous odds… it must feel almost impossible for him to succeed.  Raise the stakes until you get there.  When you do, you’ll feel the increased energy and power it gives your novel concept.

Evan Marshall’s system for novel writing guides you to create a powerful page-turner and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for some clear direction to help you write your novel.  If you would like to learn more about his step-by-step system that shows you how to write a good novel with best-seller potential, check out my blog post here:  Marshall lays it all out for you and makes the process of writing a novel feel much more understandable and doable.

Laura M. McKenna loves to write about fiction and novel writing and has contributed frequently to various websites including She is currently blogging about her experiences using the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing software to develop her novel idea at

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