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Building a plot
By Rachel Ann Nunes
What is plot? Basically I think of it as the old saying "Out of the frying
pan and into the fire." You must continually maintain the reader's attention.
Four ingredients in plot:
Exposition - the information needed to understand a story
Complication - the catalyst that begins the major conflict
Climax -the turning point in the story that occurs when characters try
to resolve the complication
Resolution - the set of events that bring the story to a close
So do you need to know your entire plot before you begin?
Write what you know best or see #2 below.
Write what interests you. Use research to become the expert.
Make the stakes high. Your character must be suffering. The greater the
despair the more glorious the joy of the resolution.
Main character must continually come up against others as he gets further
and further into trouble. Remember that each character has goals and agenda.
You must have enough conflict to sustain the length of the story you want
to write. Know your audience. You will need more subplots for an adult novel,
fewer for children's books.
Opposing forces should be near equal. For instance, in a fantasy setting,
if the good guy has all the power, then you will not have a conflict.
End chapters with a question or new troublesomething to keep readers
from putting the book down. Yes, there must be highs and lows in a story,
but you do not want to risk having a reader put your novel down at the end
of a chapter.
Continually use tension and urgency. Even if this is a comedy, how the
person succeeds should be a surprise to us.
Chapter 1 should start at the most painful, embarrassing part for your
character. Have one big scene with conflict to begin.
Begin as close to the story as you can (the story went on before, but
we need to start at the time of biggest conflict or despairsee #9 above).
Give settingtime, place, time period. Don't leave us guessing or
we won't pay attention to your story.
Describe at least one major character near beginning. Decide whose story
it is (see Creating
Establish tone and style.
Foreshadow all important elementsfirst part is like prophecy and
the latter part fulfills prophecy. This prepares the reader for the ending.
Hero must take eventually take charge of events at some point in story.
Make plot appropriate to your character. His choices show what kind of
a person he ishopefully someone we care about.
Skip ahead in time over the mundane. We don't care about what he ate
for dinner unless it moves the plot ahead.
Use misdirection to surprise reader.
Try reversing typical stereotypes: the little girl is not so innocent.
The good-looking friend is the serial killer, etc. Think conflict! But don't
No. Much of the plot will come to you as you write, but you must have direction!
This is where an outline can help. But . . .
I hate outlines. I hated them in high school and college, and I still hate
them. I love seeing where the novel is going to take me. Yet many successful
writers find it helpful to make a detailed outline, and you may be one of
those. Try doing a detailed outline, and then try doing what I do to see
which works best.
My outlines consist of an opening scene and generally an idea where I want
to end up, and then a few scenes in between. While I'm writing, I'll type
notes, ideas, and even entire scenes at the bottom of my screen, deleting
them as I use them in the story. Basically, when I see there are no more
waiting there for me, my story's done. If I wrote it out thoroughly beforehand,
I think I might be so bored I wouldn't want to write it. But having said
this, many authors swear by detailed outlines and say they write much faster
with them because their plotting is already finished.
Regardless, you must keep in mind that your story is alive. Outlines need
to be updated as you write, and occasionally thrown out altogether. Let the
story take you where it will. This is one of the greatest joys of writing.