Plot is a planned storyline for a work of literary art. For a plotter, this can mean pages and pages of outlines and sketches, and possibly hours of planning the book before the actual writing takes place. For the pantser, this can mean having a vague notion of where you’re heading and writing toward it. For the in-betweener, this can mean having the vague notion, doing a little planning, and then start the book.
Plot (as it relates to writing): the plan or pattern of events or the main story of a novel, play, short story, or poem, comprising the gradual unfolding of a causally connected series of motivated incidents. [Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary]
Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser, or an in-betweener asking yourself a few questions can help you develop you’re your story. Who? Why? What? Where? When? How? If I can answer all of these, then I know that I’m ready to move on to my Plot Sketch.
Central Idea, plot, or theme: This is the catalyst of the story. This is the reason all the characters are there. The reason why the story is being told. The reason the readers open the book, starts reading, and keeps reading. All other threads and characters are created to achieve the story goal.
Romance plot/subplot: This is optional and depends on the type of book you are writing. If it’s a romance, this thread should be woven through the book along with the central idea. If there is a romance in your story, but it’s not a romance, then there should be a beginning, middle, and end.
Subplots: This secondary plot s can run parallel with your main plot or in contrast to it. The exist to add emotion, action, tone, conflict, or change of scene
Plot Tension: The build up to the main event. There can be moments of almost attain their goal only to have the goal snatched from their hands.
Romantic/sexual tension: This is optional. It is the build up to the main romantic or sexual event.
Release: A resolution to one aspect of the plot or romance.
Reflection or downtime: Another release that happens during a time of incredible tension. This is the middle of your story where the main characters step back from the action and ponder contemplate their happily ever after if not for all the obstacles in their way, or a temporary respite from intense tension. This is the moment that the character realizes they must act and find a new way to resolve the resolution.
Black Moment or Climax: This follows closely on the heels of the character’s reflection and it is the first part of the end of the book. This is the moment in your book where the worst has happened or is happening. Everyone is convinced there will not be satisfactory resolution to the plot, whether evil might overcome good. In a romance there are two black moments, one for the story goal and another for the romance.
Conclusion or Resolution of the central idea, plot, or theme: The main plot has been resolved and it’s time to tie-up loose ends to the subplots. It doesn’t have to be a happily ever after, but the resolution needs to be satisfactory so the subplots aren’t left dangling or the readers cheated.
Aftereffects of Resolution: This is optional. It is the emotional resolution to the main plot or subplots, or an event that carries the story past the conclusion. Think of movies, where they leave it open for the action to continue into the next movie.
Sometime I fill this out the sketch before I start the book, other times I fill it out as I write the book, and there is the occasion that I only partially fill it out and add to it as I write. The benefits of filling it out at all is that it allows me to look forward and know where I’m headed, or look back and know where I’ve been.
It’s easier reading back through the Plot Sketch then it is to read back through the story. Like a reminder of what I’ve written so far. It’s not set in stone and can be changed fill the needs of the story as you’re writing. I don’t always fill it out in detail and sometimes I’ll write notes on it as I go along.
What are some ways you plot your story?
Note: I know some people use the three act play method. This never made sense to me so I can’t write about it with any authority. If there is anyone who would like to do a guest post on the three act play of plotting a story, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below and I’ll contact you.