How To Write a Novel — Phrase Story Threads

Day 19 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Paulius Dragunas 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 19 — Phrase Story Threads

I have spent the last four days exploring story threads. This is based on the Book Architecture method of Stuart Horwitz to create an outline for a book without using a formula. He calls them Series, but I prefer the term threads, and a weaving metaphor which will bring them all together. He has a free resource with examples of the different thread types here.

Today I’m going to look at how a phrase thread becomes a philosophy. A thread is a narrative element that iterates through repetitions and variations. A phrase thread is a phrase that is repeated through a novel, with variations on the phrase itself or the context, to show a philosophy.

I’m using two guidebooks that help me see how to apply the techniques, and make sure that I am keeping to genre expectations. For this project, I’m using The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. I’ll look at some phrase threads from these.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I’ve found two phrase threads in this book. The first is ‘Foolish to shut oneself into a wardrobe’

  • Foolish to shut oneself into a wardrobe (type: phrase) — sensible children think of the consequences — Who is going to cause trouble?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/6 Lucy leaves the wardrobe door open because ‘she knew that it is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe.’

2/20 Lucy does not shut the wardrobe door properly because ‘she knew that it is very silly to shut oneself into a wardrobe, even if it is not a magic one.’

3/21 Edmund follows Lucy into the wardrobe and ‘shut the door, forgetting what a very foolish thing this is to do.’

4/39 Peter holds the wardrobe door closed but did not shut it because ‘he remembered, as every sensible person does, that you should never never shut yourself up in a wardrobe.’

Another phrase thread is Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.

  • Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve (type: phrase) — this strange phrase emphasises the importance of people from our world to the history of Narnia — What is the children’s destiny?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/9/ Tumnus has ‘never seen a Son of Adam or a Daughter of Eve before’. He says he is delighted, but pauses and avoids saying something he had not intended just in time. This foreshadows his attempt to kidnap Lucy for the White Witch that he can’t go through with.

2/14/ Tumnus has orders from the White Witch that if ‘ever I saw a Son of Adam or a Daughter of Eve in the wood, I was to catch them and hand them over to her.’ But he is unable to do the deed.

3/25/ The White Witch doesn’t know what Edmund is, she asks him, ‘Do you mean you are a Son of Adam?’ When he tells her about his siblings, she repeatedly asks him about the number, ‘Two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?’

4/51/ When Mr Beaver meets the children, he asks, ‘Are you the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve?’ He tells Peter to speak more quietly so that spies cannot hear.

5/62/ Mr Beaver reveals the prophecy, ‘when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit on those four thrones, then it will be the end not only of the White Witch’s reign but of her life.’ This is why the White Witch will kill them if she has the chance.

6/72/ Edmund identifies himself to Maugrim as ‘I’m that Son of Adam that Her Majesty met in the wood the other day and I’ve come to bring her the news that my brother and sisters are now in Narnia.’

7/81/ Father Christmas addresses them as ‘Peter, Adam’s Son’, ‘Susan, Eve’s Daughter’ and ‘Lucy, Eve’s Daughter.’

8/96/ Aslan greets them with ‘Welcome, Peter, Son of Adam’ and ‘Welcome, Susan and Lucy, Daughters of Eve.’

9/137/ Aslan crowns the children and tells them, ‘Bear it well, Sons of Adam! Bear it well, Daughters of Eve!’

Gangsta Granny

The phrase ‘gangsta’ repeats in the title and through the book.

  • Gangsta (type: phrase) — what makes a person a gangsta — Can a granny be a Gangsta?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/26/ Ben’s Granny owns books on gangstas. He wonders ‘Why is she obsessed with gangstas? Gangstas don’t live in Bungalows. Gangstas don’t play SCRABBLE. Gangstas probably don’t smell of cabbage.’

2/91/ After Ben hears stories of his Granny stealing jewels, he questions, ‘Could his boring old granny really be a gangsta?! A gangsta granny?!’

3/138/ Ben plans the Crown Jewels heist and decides, ‘His granny was an international jewel thief. A gangsta!’

4/174/ Ben wants Granny to do the heist with him. He asks, ‘Are you still a gangsta?’ She says yes.

5/182/ Ben confirms, ‘He had a gangsta granny now.’ But he needs her to call him Ben not little Benny.

6/184/ Granny abseils down the outside of the hospital. Ben ‘knew his granny was a proper gangsta, but this was off the scale!’

7/215/ About to start the robbery, ‘The unlikely pair of gangstas stood on the riverbank.’

8/244/ After Granny admits she made up the stories about the jewels, Ben says, ‘You’re not my gangsta granny after all.’

9/254/ Granny apologies to Ben and he says, ‘I understand why you did it. And don’t worry. You’re still my gangsta granny!’

10/270/ Granny is dying, and is worried Ben will forget her. Ben says, ‘You’re not boring at all. You’re a proper gangsta!’

11/282/ Granny says he’ll always be her little Benny, and he says ‘And you’ll always be my gangsta granny.’

12/297/ The Queen flashes her Union Jack knickers and Ben thinks The Queen’s a proper gangsta. Just like my granny.

My phrase thread

I’m thinking about a phrase relating to smells that connects with the idea that our perceptions are unique and to be celebrated.

  • Do you smell that? (type: phrase) — to what extent are our perceptions unique and can we accept that and celebrate it? — Do we see things as they are?
  1. Miasmus offers a scent to Charlie and asks, ‘Do you smell that? It is the promise of an adventure.’ Charlie says it smells like old lace.
  2. There is a stench in the air. Charlie asks, ‘Do you smell that?’ His dad says, ‘It’s the dog.’ Charlie and Sandy agree it was Dad.
  3. Woofy wakes up when Charlie is baking in the dark. Charlie says, ‘Did you smell them?’ Woofy licks his hand.
  4. Trying to get past the security guard at the bakery, Sandy says, ‘Do you smell that?’ Charlie picks up on her ruse and joins in so they can get past.
  5. When Charlie realises the cupcakes are dodgy, he asks Sandy, ‘Do you smell that?’ She says she doesn’t, but she trusts he does.


Coming up with a phrase like this, and where I can use it, is hard. I expect that when it comes to weaving the story threads together, I might find more examples, and be able to refine the ones I have already.

Tomorrow I will look at how to use the threads I have to come up with the theme.

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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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