There are many ways to “start plotting.” How you begin will depend on your personal preference/style. Some work off of an outline. Others use Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method.” Others use the storyboard method. I use a 12-step plotter, which we will discuss today.
A great plotline moves up and down, in and up, leaving the reader guessing what’s coming next. Nothing predictable or boring. You need high points and low points. And this has to start right away – with the very first line. Remember, you can’t let the reader down after giving him/her a great start. Keep the action going. One way to accomplish this is to think of each chapter as a book unto itself. Each chapter has a beginning, middle and end, and each chapter ending should “tease” the reader, so that he/she doesn’t put the book down. This is quite a trick, but can be done! You should pace the action, gradually building toward the climax (high point/crucial point) in the story. This is so important! Without the climax, the story will fizzle out and the reader will be extremely disappointed.
There are several ways to keep the plot moving along.
- ACTION: A storm blows in off the gulf. Your character experiences the loss of a spouse or sibling. An injury takes place. Any or all of these “actions” would move the plot along.
- DIALOGUE: An effective way to move the action forward is through dialogue. Let the characters “show” the reader what’s happening through their conversations. Instead of a lengthy narrative about, say, an incoming tornado, let the frantic conversation of two characters convey the news.
- NARRATIVE: Use narrative carefully, avoiding passive verbs. You don’t want to “tell” the reader; you want to “show” him.
Of course, the ups and downs must all end with a satisfactory resolution. Otherwise, the reader won’t be keen on purchasing your next book. And speaking of the reader. . .we owe the reader a great plotline!
Consider this quote from author Stella Cameron: “If the reader stops, frowns, re-reads, and stops again--there's something very wrong. The cause of this pause may be loss of viewpoint control, chronological slips, failure to provide adequate pegs into the setting or, much more likely, an inconsistency in plot. These inconsistencies, whether they result in an uneasy sense of implausibility, or actually slap the reader between the eyes with an impossibility--these inconsistencies result from careless plotting compounded by either failure to double check each development, or some vague, but suicidal conviction that no one will notice the blunder!” (Plotting Your Novel by Stella Cameron)
Let’s Get Plotting!
As you go through this exercise, I want you to think of your primary character from your WIP (work in progress). Keep him/her in the front of your mind as you work your way through this. (From this point on, I’ll just refer to your primary character as “her/she”)
STEP ONE: ORDINARY WORLD
If we're going to send our hero/heroine into a new place, make them a fish out of water, then we need to see where they come from. (This section lays the groundwork for “who” the character is and where they’ve come from). It’s important to establish a setting near the beginning of the story, as well. However, you don’t want to open the book with a description. These days, you need to capture the reader right away with a great hook.
STEP TWO: CALL TO ADVENTURE
They get a call to adventure - somebody wants to go out of their way. They literally bump into the hero/heroine but most people are comfortable in their ordinary world
STEP THREE: REFUSING THE CALL
So they refuse the call... heck no, I won't go!
STEP FOUR. ANOTHER FORCE COMES ALONG
The some other force comes along - a wise old man/a supernatural force that forces the hero/heroine to take action; someone they love is going to be hurt; if they don't act the river will overflow, etc.
STEP FIVE: CAN’T GO BACK
At some point, the hero/heroine crosses the threshold to a point where he/she can't step back. They're stuck; they must proceed toward their goal.
STEP SIX: THE ROAD OF TRIALS AND TESTS/ENEMIES AND ALLIES
At this point, the character faces a few challenges. They don’t have to be extreme. Could be internal, even. They’re becoming a little more aware of their various enemies and their allies, as well.
STEP SEVEN: THE BELLY OF THE WHALE
Like Jonah, your character must be caught in the belly of the whale. In Jonah’s case, he ended up there because of his own (earlier) choices. But once inside, he had a little time to think about what had brought him here.
STEP EIGHT: THE SUPREME ORDEAL/LIFE AND DEATH STRUGGLE
The Supreme Ordeal - there's a life and death struggle. In an adventure story, it's literally life and death. In most romances, it's a metaphorical life and death situation.
STEP NINE: A MOMENT OF TRIUMPH
Ah! Time for the reader (and the character) to catch a breath. If you leave this part out, the tension will wind a bit too tight.
STEP TEN: REFUSAL OF RETURN
Oops, you can't hang out there forever. It’s time for your character to get back to the real world. There are real problems to be faced. She must face them.
STEP ELEVEN: THE ULTIMATE TEST
Something forces the characters back into the real world and they have to discover if they have learned the lessons of their respective journeys.
STEP TWELVE: THEY RETURN TO THE WORLD WITH NEW KNOWLEDGE
The audience cheers.....and we reach the end of the book.
That’s it for now, writers! Go forth and plot!
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
Writer’s GPS (Copyright 2005)
(Please do not copy without written permission)
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