How To Write a Novel — Story Spine

Day 10 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Zakaria Ahada 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 10 — Story spine

Yesterday I looked at my story through the subjective lens of the antagonist Miasmus and his plans. Today I’m going to take a step back and look at it from a more objective perspective.

There is a story summary technique, The Story Spine, made popular through rule 4 of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling, that was created by Ken Adams as an improvisational theatre tool.

Image: Sketchplanations

Guidebook story spine

I’ll start as usual by looking at the two guidebooks that I am using to help write my story — The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Once upon a time, there were four siblings evacuated during World War II to live in the countryside.

Every day, they explored the big house of the professor.

But one day, Lucy explored the back of a wardrobe and found a way into the land of Narnia where she meets a faun Tumnus who tries to kidnap her for the White Witch but cannot go through with it.

Because of that, Lucy returns to the house, but the others don’t believe her. She hides in the wardrobe and Edmund follows her into Narnia, where the White Witch seduces him into betraying the others.

Because of that, all the children enter Narnia where Aslan is returning and breaking the White Witch’s spell, keeping it forever winter and never Christmas. The witch demands the traitor Edmund’s life.

Because of that, Aslan sacrifices himself in the place of Edmund and the witch and her followers humiliate and kill him on the stone table.

Until finally, deeper magic brings Aslan back to life, Edmund repents and they all battle the White Witch and her followers. Edmund disarms the White Witch and Aslan kills her.

And ever since then, the four children are kings and queens of Narnia.

Gangsta Granny

Once upon a time, there was a boy Ben who loved plumbing, whilst his parents loved ballroom dancing and wanted him to be a dancer.

Every day, he had to stay with his Granny, who he thought was boring and smelt of cabbage.

But one day, he discovers a tin of jewels in his Granny’s kitchen and learns she is the jewel thief called The Black Cat.

Because of that, they devise a plan to steal the crown jewels but the neighbour Mr Parker nearly overhears. Granny has to go to the hospital.

Because of that, Ben breaks Granny out of the hospital in order to steal and then return the crown jewels. The Queen interrupts them.

Because of that, Ben admits he was selfish and moaned about his Granny being boring. The Queen pardons them and they return home to Mr Parker and the police, who release them as they find no evidence.

Until finally, Granny admits to Ben that she is dying, his parents accept Ben enjoys plumbing, not dancing, and Granny dies.

And ever since then, Ben fondly remembers his Granny with her cousin Edna.

What I noticed

A couple of things I noticed from doing this exercise.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the ‘Every Day’ is actually only a few times, as we are quickly moved into the story. The rest of the story sticks very close to the spine, and there are no major subplots.

In Gangsta Granny, the spine of the story is Ben’s relationship with his Granny but there is a secondary story, which is Ben’s relationship with his parents. I mentioned their love of ballroom dancing in the spine, but not the fact that after Ben lies about his love of dancing to them, he has to enter the ballroom dancing competition. This is a looser story with three strands that interact but are separate — ballroom dancing, the Black Cat, and Mr Parker.

My story spine

I’m going to create a first version of the story spine for my story. I’m going to give myself just 15 minutes.

Once upon a time, a boy called Charlie could ‘see’ smells, but he hid this from everyone.

Every day, he secretly worked on his baking, hiding it from his dad and his younger sister Sandy, who annoyed him.

But one day, he enters a baking competition and wins, but refuses to give up his recipe to Miasmus.

Because of that, Miasmus invites him to The Smell Tower to bake cupcakes, but Charlie suspects he is plotting something. His sister threatens to tell dad if Charlie doesn’t take her with him.

Because of that, Charlie and Sandy search The Smell Tower for clues about Miasmus’ actual plans.

Because of that, they discover Miasmus is planning to explode a stink bomb at the launch of his latest scent.

Until finally, at the launch Charlie discovers the ‘stink’ bomb, but it explodes with petals. The real threat is the cupcakes which Miasmus has laced with something that makes everyone smell bad. They reverse the effect with a special tummy tea.

And ever since then, Charlie owns his own bakery with his sister.


Day 10 and I have a story spine. There are definitely some gaps in there — the cause and effect is not working properly. I am fitting the characters into the plot, rather than letting the plot arise from the characters. But I have a first draft, something to work with.

Tomorrow I will look at secondary characters.

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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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