Because it's just that damn important. (This is quoted from queryshark.blogspot.com from literary agent Janet Reid.)
Your novel MUST answer the following questions:
What does the protagonist want?
What's keeping him from getting it?
What choice/decision does he face?
What terrible thing will happen if he chooses A; what terrible thing will happen if he doesn't?
Here's another form of the same thing:
The main character must decide whether to ________. If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are______. If s/he decides NOT to do this: the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are________.
If your novel is missing any of the above elements, START OVER. REWORK THE PLOT. These form the basic, bare, backbone structure of a story, and if you don't have a solid base, no matter how beautiful your writing is or developed your characters are, your book will flop. These are the questions/elements agents look for, so be sure to include them.
Disclaimer: You may be part of the 2% of absolutely creative literary geniuses who can write a literary masterpiece and NOT include all of the above elements. If you are such a person, by all means, keep doing what you're doing. But for the other 98% of you, fiction novels should follow this structure with only very minor tweaks.
2nd Disclaimer: I've never heard of any of those 2% of stories that don't follow this structure and still work well (but I do know every rule has exceptions, so I'm accounting for that in the first disclaimer). If you know of one such book, please tell me about it in the comments! I'd love to hear about it and see how a novel structured differently can still be a wonderful read.
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