Before we start discussing plot, and making an outline for your novel, I want to briefly discuss premise and theme: the "why" behind your novel.
Premise answers the question, what does this story mean? What is the purpose of this story, why is it significant? What does it mean for me, the reader? What does it tell me about life, or the human condition? Theme answers the related question, what is this story about? Is it a love story? A revenge story? What type of story is it?
Human minds are designed to make meaning out of the things that happen to us. To "learn" from an experience. Your readers will want to know, what is the point of this story? What is its message, what information or understanding can it impart? We don't want to be lectured, or beaten over the head with a heavy-handed message, but we do prefer a story that has a premise and a theme.
They give a story a universal meaning beyond the specific plot of the tale. Being consciously aware of what that universal concept is can keep us on track in telling the story, and help us determine what is relevant to this story and what isn't, while we're writing it.
But as fiction writers, we don't generally start out with "I want to tell readers XXX" and then create a story that will demonstrate that premise. That's what medieval morality plays did, but I don't suggest you try to write one of those for a modern audience! More often what happens is, we get an idea for a story that intrigues us and we have to tell that story. To uncover the universal premise behind your specific story, ask yourself these questions:
1. What about this idea intrigues me?
2. Why is it important to me to tell this story?
3. Review your notes from day 2 of this challenge, particularly the "What if..." statement you wrote about your story. Your story is the answer to that question. What does your answer to that question reveal about human nature or the human condition in general?
4. What does my main character (and possibly other characters) learn in this story? (premise) How does he learn this? (theme)
5. How is my main character (and possibly other characters) changed because of this story? In what way will she be changed?
NOTE: I will be taking this weekend off from blogging as I am at a writers' conference. Join me again on Monday, when we will begin discussing how to outline the plot of your novel.
See you on Monday!