I cannot stress enough how important it is to plan the structure of your story before you write. Planning reduces the time you will spend later cutting and rearranging scenes. Your story consists of a series of scenes and events. You probably have an idea of what is going to happen in your novel, but you may have no idea when. Take those events and put them in a logical order. Think of an event as being a dot on a connect the dot game. Every dot is carefully placed and spaced so that once they are all connected, you get a clear image.
Events and scenes should not be random. There are three things that need to happen in your narrative.
- The character decides to take action in order to resolve a conflict
- The action
- The resolution of the conflict
When planning your plot, you can use whatever method you like. The most popular form of outline is the plot diagram. It should look something like this:
This is a very simple plot diagram. To be honest, it’s a little too simplistic, but it’s a good template when structuring your plot. Without this structure, your plot could look more like this:
Looking back at the first chart, you’ll notice there are several key plot points: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.
Exposition: Consider this your setup. The exposition establishes the who, what, when, where, and why. In this early part of your novel, usually the first chapter, you should establish who the leading character is and introduce the conflict. Once you introduce your problem, your character must decide how to take action.
Rising Action: Once you’ve introduced the conflict and your character commits to resolving it, the action should start rising in a series of mini-plots. This is one of the reasons plot diagrams are so inaccurate. They show a straight line to the top. It really should look like the lines you’d see on a heart monitor. Action will naturally rise and fall as ocean waters ebb and flow. Too much dropping action, like a blood sugar drop, will result in saggy-middle syndrome. To avoid the saggy-middle syndrome, every conflict should be worse than the one before. Keep raising the stakes.
Climax: This is the turning point of your story. The climax of your story should not be the result of random events, but the consequence of your character’s actions.
Falling Action: These are the events that wrap up the plot. Tie up loose ends and satisfy your audience. This is not the time to introduce a new conflict (e.g.,The Scouring of the Shire), or introduce new characters.
Denouement: Plain and simply, this is the end.
Rule of Thumb:
- Do not introduce a new character in the last 10,000 words of your writing.
- Endings do not always have to be happy.
- Do not use a Deus Ex Machina to resolve conflict.
The main dish is so much better with a side dish. Likewise, your plot is complimented by side plots. A side plot is the same as the main plot, only smaller. It’s like comparing a king size Snicker bar with a fun size. They have the same ingredients; they are just a different scale. Side plots follow the same structure as the main plot. Like side characters, don’t let the subplot take over the main plot. They should enhance, not distract.
Why have side plots
- They lengthen your novel
- They add complexity
- They carry the theme
- They develop characters
- They keep readers interested
- They offer relief from the main plot
Avoid Plot Holes
What is a plot hole? Simply an inconsistency in your storyline. Something that can’t be explained or believed.
How to identify them
- motivation or events that can’t be explained
Some examples of plot holes:
Edward Scissor hands: Where was he getting the ice?
Jurassic Park: They spared no expense, except on security and tech support.
Harry Potter: Can go back in time. Only uses time travel once to save himself and stepfather. Could have used it again to stop the main conflict.
Frozen: What did Elsa eat in her frozen palace? How does ice magic make living snowmen, change a crown braid to a french braid, and completely change an outfit? Only Anna knows about Han’s treachery, but all the townspeople applaud when she punches him.
Toy Story: Buzz believes he is a real space ranger; however, when Andy enters the room, he goes motionless like all the other toys.
The Lord of the Rings: Arguably the eagles. Why didn’t they fly them the entire way. Floating around the internet is a great defense for why the eagles could not in fact take them the entire way, but I’m listing this one because Tolkien didn’t make it clear in his book.
There you have it, a little bit of information about plot to help you plot your . . . plot. Like a road map, a plot diagram will help guide your story in the right direction. Make sure to include those pivotal plot points in your planning, and watch out for plot holes!