How To Write a Novel — Central Story Thread

Day 14 of writing my novel in public

Photo by ALAN DE LA CRUZ on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 14 — Central Story Thread

Yesterday I had so much fun working on the humour in my book. It wasn’t easy — I had to scratch my head sometimes, go for a walk, give myself some space to come up with ideas — but in the end I’m happy with what I produced.

Today I’m going to look at what I’m calling story threads. This is where I look at the structure of my novel. The work I’m going to do comes from Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula by Stuart Horwitz (my affiliated link for the book is here).

In Book Architecture, the concept is called a Series, but I find I confuse that term with the idea of a series of books, so I’m going to call it a story thread. You’ll see why this makes sense when I look at weaving these story threads to make your book.

So a story thread as defined in Book Architecture is:

The repetition and variation of a narrative element so that the repetition and variation create meaning.

— Horwitz, Stuart. Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula . Book Architecture. LLC. Kindle Edition.

The idea is to look at the people, objects, places, relationships and phrases that repeat and vary throughout the book. Each iteration of the element helps to answer the question that each thread asks and eventually answers.

It is easiest to see by looking at some examples, so I’ll examine some threads from my guidebooks.

Guidebook threads

Throughout writing my novel, I am using two guidebooks that I love to steer my book. These are The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. I’ll look at identifying some threads in these books.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

What I need to look for are the major narrative elements that repeat and vary. A story thread comprises a name, a type, a sentence that describes the variations and iterations, and a question that the thread asks and then answers.

Some examples of threads are:

  • Seasons (type: setting) — track the White Witch’s power vs Aslan’s arrival — Will it ever be Christmas?
  • Mr Tumnus (type: character) — Mr Tumnus betrays the White Witch by not turning in Lucy and pays the price — What will happen to Mr Tumnus?
  • Wand (type: symbol) — the capabilities of the White Witch and the limits of her power — What are the witch’s powers?

Central thread

We consider one thread the central one. It is the thread which:

  • is the easiest to track
  • asks the most basic question
  • returns us to the present timeline
  • reflects the theme

The central thread in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I’ve called White Witch:

  • White Witch (type: central) — the extent of the White Witch’s influence and whether she is winning — Will they defeat the White Witch?

This is easy to track by which characters she has power over. It asks the most basic question, which is the mission for the book — Can they defeat the White Witch? There is only one timeline, the present one, which it follows. And it reflects the theme of good overcomes evil through sacrifice.

Listing the iterations of this thread:

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/13/ Tumnus has taken service under the White Witch but resists giving Lucy to her.

2/25/ The White Witch seduces Edmund with Turkish Delight and promises of power into betraying his siblings.

3/31/ Lucy tells Edmund about the White Witch and he pretends not to know her.

4/45/ Lucy tells Peter and Susan about the White Witch but Edmund keeps quiet.

5/62/ The other children realise Edmund has sneaked off to visit the White Witch.

6/68/ Deep down inside Edmund knows the White Witch is bad and cruel.

7/73/ Edmund visits the White Witch.

8/85/ The White Witch captures Edmund.

9/96/ Aslan learns of Edmund’s betrayal with the White Witch.

10/107/ Aslan makes a pact with the White Witch for Edmund’s life.

11/117/ The White Witch kills Aslan.

12/122/ Aslan returns to life because of Deeper Magic that the White Witch does not understand.

13/133/ Edmund disarms the White Witch.

14/134/ Aslan kills the White Witch.

Gangsta Granny

Some examples of threads from Gangsta Granny are:

  • Granny and Ben (type: dynamic) — how the story challenges Ben’s view of his Granny as boring, smelly and old — Will Ben appreciate his Granny?
  • Murray Mints (type: symbol) — murray mints as a symbol of Granny’s generosity and legacy — How will Granny’s generosity rub off on others?
  • Mr Parker (type: character) — Mr Parker tries to catch the jewel thieves — Will Mr Parker get Granny and Ben arrested?

The central thread for Gangsta Granny I’ve called The Black Cat:

  • The Black Cat (type: central) — tracks reality versus fiction and the truth about Granny — Is Granny really an international jewel thief and Gangsta Granny called The Black Cat?

This is easy to track by what Ben believes about Granny. It sits alongside the most basic question, which is the mission for the book — Can they steal the crown jewels? There is only one timeline, the present one, which it follows. And it reflects the theme of prejudice and accepting someone whoever they are.

Listing the iterations of this thread:

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/59/ Ben discovers jewels in a biscuit tin at Granny’s.

2/75/ Ben follows Granny and stops her robbing a jeweller’s.

3/77/ Granny tells Ben she is The Black Cat, the most wanted jewel thief in the world.

4/87/ Granny tells Ben about the first diamond she stole.

5/117/ Granny tells Ben stories of all the other jewels she has stolen.

6/136/ Granny tells Ben she has one theft undone — The Crown Jewels.

7/151/ Ben devises a plan to steal The Crown Jewels.

8/174/ Granny agrees to Ben’s plan, but they must return the jewels after.

9/243/ Granny admits she made up the stories about stealing jewels.

My central story thread

I have my story mission which is to defeat Miasmus, and my main character Charlie. At a first stab at my central story thread at the moment, it will be around Miasmus’ Plan.

  • Miasmus’ Plan (type: central) — tracks what Miasmus is doing to achieve his secret plan — What is Miasmus’ Plan?

This is easy to track by what Miasmus does. It sits alongside the most basic question, which is the mission for the book — Can they foil Miasmus’ secret plan? There is only one timeline, the present one, which it follows. I will return to theme later when I have worked on more series.

At the moment I have the following iterations of his plan:

1 A stink bomb goes off at a market, covering the theft of ripe cheese and a pile of fish (but they are all rotten).

2 Miasmus sponsors the cupcake competition. Charlie wins and Miasmus wants the recipe but cannot have it.

3 Stink bomb goes off at a sporting event, theft of sweaty clothes and a pile of used nappies.

4 Miasmus persuades Charlie’s dad to let him take Charlie, Sandy and Woofy to work in The Smell Tower.

6. Stink bomb at the botanical gardens, theft of Rafflesia arnoldii (stinking corpse Lilly), and durian fruits.

7 Miasmus forces Charlie to make cupcakes on an industrial scale.

8 A stink bomb goes off at the zoo, covering the theft of the skunk and the manure from the cages.

9 Charlie discovers Miasmus is experimenting with stinkiness and gets caught.

10 Charlie overhears Miasmus planning a mega stink bomb — his Weapon of Mass Olfaction.

11 Charlie tries to defuse the stink bomb but fails. It showers people with petals.

12 Charlie realises that Miasmus’ actual plan was to lace his cupcakes with his stink that will make each person a personal stink bomb.

13 Sandy and the birds help Charlie foil Miasmus’ plan.


Day 14 and I have a central story thread for my story — Miasmus’ Plan. I’m not completely happy with it as the repetition and variation in the iterations is not completely clear, and it doesn’t track as neatly as it could, but it is a start.

Tomorrow I will look specifically at character and dynamic story threads.

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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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