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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The five parts of a plot

There are many ways to plot a novel. In general, stories build from the beginning to a climax, then wrap up and end. You can use a three-act structure, or a four-act structure, you can have a series of catastrophes and lots of falling action, maybe your "dark night of the soul" lasts until the final page.

You can begin in the middle or present events out of chronological order, but the structure still exists.

This is one way to do it. Personally, I do my plotting mostly backwards -- because I need to figure this all out before I start writing. If you're a pantser and you're working with what you've already written, this can still help. Let's define the steps in their correct order, briefly.

Diagram by L. Blankenship.
Inciting Incident
It's said that there are really only two inciting incidents: the beginning of a journey, or the arrival of a stranger. In other words, the status quo is disrupted and something must happen as a result. 

First Plot Point
The first step is taken toward the climax.

Other Plot Points
These scenes track the progress toward the climax, involving progress made, set-backs, and working through obstacles.

The scene or series of scenes in which the conflict is confronted and resolved.

Also known as the falling action; tidying up, settling, and finishing the story.

As I wrote this series of posts, I was working out the structure of Disciple, Part V. One of the plotlines is: the king must work out a new alliance with the queen of a neighboring country. When I began this, I had a small handful of scene ideas based on things that interest me, and character moments I would like to have. Here's what I worked out:
  • Inciting Incident: The king, Kiefan, comes to see the queen of the neighboring country, Ciara, to work out an alliance. They already have a rocky history and would've been just as glad to not meet again.
First Plot Point: Ciara refuses to see him. 

  • Other Plot Points: Kiefan tries to break the ice, but Ciara makes it clear that he has nothing to offer.
  • Other Plot Points: He keeps after her, over several scenes, because he really needs this alliance. But it's not looking good and they're  getting angry at each other. 
Other Plot Points: Ciara suddenly changes her tune and starts making demands. (This stems from developments in her own plot line.) Kiefan's suspicious, and still feeling insulted, and reacts more harshly than he ought to. Now it's looking like they'll be at war rather than allied. 

  • Climax: A third character must step up and be a go-between here (she has her own plotline too.) She has to explain the situation to Kiefan and make him see that he needs to make some concessions to Ciara -- and she will to him -- in order to make this alliance work. 

  • Climax, continued: Kiefan and Ciara manage to work this out without starting a war. 

  • Resolution: Kiefan gets the military support he needs from the alliance.
Reading this now, it looks a heck of a lot like a standard romance plot. Note: There is no falling in love in this story. Feedback is welcome -- does this seem reasonable? What questions pop up in your mind?

If you have a plot sketched out and you'd like feedback on it, feel free to email that to: unicornbellsubmissions at gmail dot com. I will post them for comments. It won't be a crit, exactly, just a chance to see what questions your plot raises and whether the logic holds together.


Jess said...

This is so helpful~ I was just printing out some similar plot charts (some get really complicated, but this one is easy to apply to any novel). Thanks!

Liz A. said...

Ah yes, the sloped line. Know it well.

Sounds like an interesting story. I hope we get to read it soon.

Alicia Willette-Cook said...

I have one of these diagrams drawn out on paper, pinned to my cork-board. Except it has a ton of intersecting lines as well. Like, Anoria and Bard meet here...(Tell Bard's story???)...Bard goes one way, anoria goes another. Follow Bard first. *Bold Line goes one way...thin line follows anoria* That sort of thing. Probably if my house ever gets raided by the FBI I'll be locked away in a psych ward...

Huntress said...

Established and Aspiring Writers, take note:

*pounding on table*

(rats. broke my table)

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I like the climax in E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey". I guess I should say multiple climax, cause it keeps on cummin'