Welcome back, writing friends. I’m a big fan of the basics. Even if you’re well schooled on writing basics, I’m guessing that there’s still something you (and I) can take away from today’s chat. So, today let’s talk about plot. What is it? How do you make one? What are some you should to do and, of course, some things you should avoid when building a plot?
What is plot: This is the literary term we use to describe the sequence of events that make up a story. Sounds easy, right? Because we’re talking about the big picture this time around, and the bigger main parts of a story, it might seem like plot is nothing more than a cake walk (and maybe it will be for your story), but if we can ways to tighten up the foundational blocks that build our story up, then hopefully we can avoid the dreaded Plot Holes—the places where details (scene, character, story, etc.) don’t connect and leave the reader confused or lacking resolution that the writer promised to give via story expectations (a.k.a. the way you wrote the story made it seem like you would explain/resolve and you didn’t and no you’ve got bad blood with your reader).
Most plots contain the following:
• Inciting Action/Incident
• Rising Action
• Falling Action
We’ll talk more about each of these, and some helpful tips to make the most out of them. First up, we’ve got Exposition.
Exposition is nothing more than your reader’s introduction to your character’s normal every day life. This includes things like (but certainly not limited too, thank goodness)
• Setting– where does your character live? In our world? A new, made up world? What do they speak, eat, do everyday? This brief intro to your character’s world is necessary for the reader to understand your character. What do they stand to lose/gain from leaving this setting?
• Secondary Characters– now, I don’t think that every secondary character that exists in your novel-verse will show up in the exposition (how boring would that be?), but I do expect to see your MC’s interpersonal skills at lease briefly, so let’s see what kind of people exist in their every day life.
• The Problem– the very best part of the beginning of any novel is introducing the problem, and this is just the thing to transition us into the Inciting Incident.
Inciting Action/Incident is the thing that yanks our dear protagonist from their every day lives, and thrusts them into a world of chaos (or at least the rest of the story). An inciting incident is where the main action of the story begins. Our dear MC has a problem and a goal, so let the games begin (or at least the main part of the story if your main character isn’t Katniss Evergreen).
Rising Action(s) You can think of these kind of like a 5 course meal. You wouldn’t want to bring out the turkey first, right? Because your guests expect every dish to be even better than the last, and how are you going to top your great Aunt Pearl’s recipe for the best deep fried turkey on the planet? Imagine all those sad faces when you follow Aunt Pearl’s famous turkey with a $2 Aldi salad. It’s the same in the novel world. We’ve given your MC a problem, we’ve taken them out of their every day life, and now we need them to go through a series of events that continue to up the stakes (threaten or complicate their ability to accomplish their goal).
This is the part that takes up most of the book, so you’d better believe there are about a zillion blog posts, books, and YouTube videos on how to do this part right. But, to make your lives easier, I’ll just include the highlights for dos and don’ts in a lovely bulleted list set.
Dos-This part of the novel is often revered to as Act II or the middle, and as such it can suffer from something called the sagging middle syndrome. Here is just a small list of things to complicate your MC’s life and add more tension.
• Send your character off on a quest or adventure in hot pursuit of their goal.
• Complicate their problem, then complicate their lives some more.
• Send your character off on a story-problem-related chase with a series of near misses.
• Introduce a villain that is less mustache-and-evil-laugh and more relatable.
• Make your villain accomplish a lot towards their goal (thus making MC’s life harder).
• Have your character fail, and have to try again and again.
• Introduce useful information after an MC failure/chase/adventure/quest.
• Introduce a rivalry.
• Give your protagonist a temptation to make them falter.
• Have them sacrifice something important.
• Introduce a good love subplot <3
• Kill off a character.
• Reveal the true bad guy (who doesn’t love a good red herring?).
Don’t– There are so many awesome ways to write a novel, especially the rising action part, which means there are at least an equal way to poorly write the middle part of your novel. What are some ways you’ve messed up Act II in your own novels? Here are some of the things I’ve seen (or done):
• Return your MC home to wallow in self defeat for 200 pages.
• Solve every problem immediately or with coincidences.
• Send in some magical secondary character whose only job in life is to solve your MC’s problem.
• Introduce a weak villain.
• World build in the middle because you can’t think of anything else to take up story space.
• Have your protagonist succeed at everything they try. Hooray (not really) they’re a genus at everything.
• Let any subplot you introduce in Act II take over the book and forget about your main story goal.
• Break story world rules to get your character out of trouble/resurrect a dead character.
• Let your MC skip through their trials unchanged.
This is, ideally, the part of the book where your character grows and changes to become who they need to be in order to accomplish their goal and solve the story problem (or realize the true story problem). Which leads us to the Climax.
Climax the part of the story where the good guy and the bad guy face off, and the winner takes all. This is the part of the story that we’ve all worked for (you and your readers). It’s the place where hopes and dreams are dashed if your middle section didn’t live up to the hype, or the place where the reader decides that they’d rather go to work sleepy tomorrow because they just have to know what happens next. It’s all up to you dear writer. But please, for the love of all good writing, DON’T give your villain a monologue where they reveal all the deep dark secrets. It’s painful, for them and us. DO give us a kick butt series of chapters that leave us wondering how the MC will manage to pull it together in time.
Falling Action Think of this as the bridge to resolution. It’s where those remaining strands of story problems and questions begin to weave themselves together so that we can all walk calmly to the end of the story. This is the part that gives us the closure that we, the readers, need to accept the resolution. DON’T feel like you have to wrap up every single detail from the story (Nobody cares what happened to the pink shirt with the ketchup stain in chapter 2, but we do care about the subplots so wrap those puppies up). DO give us a good sense of how things have shaken out for our protagonist and the major secondary characters.
Resolution Holy cow you made it to the end of a story. Yay you. Yay the reader. This is where we get to know the MC in their new normal. Think Frodo returns to the shire/those final moments of Harry Potter’s awesome adult life where he sends his kids to Hogwarts. This is the part that we’ve all wanted, but couldn’t imagine until the MC made it through all their trials and temptations.
What plot questions do you have?
What plot issues do you seem to stumble on every draft?
What are you go to plot tricks?
Happy writing, friends!