Monday, October 11, 2010

WORDSMITHING 101 ~ Part Four: Plot

You know what it's like when you have a great idea for a new book. It's exciting! You have a scene, characters, some dialogue. You can't wait, and have to begin writing, because all this stuff is inside you. You want to see it come alive on the page.
So, you get a chapter down. You have a few more characters to add. Scene upon scene evolves. Then, before you know it, you have another chapter, and things are beginning to take shape, and you think this might just work. And then you get a few more chapters and you come to a screeching halt because you have hit a wall.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has done this. I get into writing a new book, and the it's like being inside a corn maze. I don't know which way I'm going once I get inside, and sometimes, I come to a dead end and have to go back!
You're asking yourself: What do I want to happen, and what do I need to do to get from one end of this story to the very end? How can I write all that—60K to 80K words, or more—and come up with all the middle stuff and make it all work toward a climax, and then that good ending I know I want to write?
Well, plotting. Of course!
But HOW do you plot a whole book?
Good question.
When I first started out—this was back in high school and college—I just kept on writing and writing. My novels just were going on and on. Maybe there were some high climax parts, romance, etc. But I know I had no idea about plot. I call these my beginner novels. Practice. Boy, did I do a lot of practicing.
The plot of a book is much different from a short story. You have all these sub-plots going, maybe a romantic sub-plot (sometimes called threads), too. How do you mix it all in there and keep the story knitted together? You have to consider the genre as well, because some restrict you from doing certain things. That's why I like urban fantasy. I can do it my way, pretty much.
The basic plot is like a weird looking M with an extension (I had a drawing, but it didn't go through, unfortunately)
Your beginning (first ¼ of the book), should introduce characters and a situation, which is compelling enough, that it will carry your story to the end. You want to start out with some excitement, of course, start out with a bang, but it can't out shoot the climax, because it's up there (notice that the climax is at the very top. Think of these peeks in the plot as you would a mountain range with peeks and valleys. The highest peek is your climax. You need to begin to build tension, holding the reader with all the threads up until the climax, you may have several threads, but not too many for your reader—or you—to keep up with.
Your hero may have to try and resolve a big problem almost right away, complications set in—your character is drawn off what they need to do to take care of this other thing, which seems insurmountable, and your readers have to be allowed to pause and wonder how she will get out of this, or what she will do.
This is called a cliffhanger. To create a cliffhanger you need to ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen here? And have some way of resolving it, but not let your readers see how, and yet do so believably. Conflict isn't easy to put on your characters, the ones you really like, but you need to do it to keep the tension tight, and to show how your character reacts, and changes, or grows, emotionally because of it.
The middle of the book needs to have more cliffhangers, and tension in order to keep the reader interested. If there is a romantic thread, milk it until there is no way to keep the two apart (Michelle Hauf and Jeaniene Frost authors of romance/paranormal romance). If the romance is not an important equation to your novel—just a side dish—you need to bring in something that fits your genre, like a mystery writer needs to build up to her climax (Janet Evanovich). But you don't want to let your readers down in the middle either. So what do you do? What you want is to bring in some dark moment. A different mystery or problem that your character has to solve (J.K. Rowling). But even once she/he solves it—if she solves it—she finds that either doing so creates more problems, or something else happens as a result (Charlaine Harris).
Brainstorm the cliffhangers first, see if they'll work. If they don't you'll think of a better one, I assure you. Keep a notebook handy, by the bed, or somewhere you know you can get to it in the middle of the night—because believe me, as soon as your mind relaxes, you turn out the light, that's when inspiration kicks in.
And notice that the resolution is not very long. One to two chapters at the most, or have a epilogue. Your climax has happened, and now you need to have the bad guy pay, or in some cases, get away, but thwarted, and the rest of your characters lick their wounds and tie up loose ends.
To help you plot your story:
On a piece of large paper—if you can get a roll of newsprint, that is best—draw the plot line in a thick marker and then either write on this paper, or on separate note cards, all the different scenes you have in mind and either pin or tacky-glue them to areas along the plot lines. This will help you see where you are going with your plot. I'm a visual person and have made this plot line permanently on a large sheet of heavy newsprint I got from a printing company, and tacked it onto a large sheet of blue insulating board—tacks go in easily.
If you need more help with plotting I highly recommend “Plot Whisperer” Her site is devoted primarily on plotting the novel. She even has informative videos, and eBooks, etc. that you can find through her site.


  1. Good plot strategy suggestion. I'll have to try it out.

  2. Yep. If you can get something large enough to draw the line, but unfortunately my drawing didn't go through. This was something I sent you. But for everyone else, you can find it over at plotwhisperer's blog.
    At least, I hope it's there. I'll try my best to find the actual link to the plot line and post it later.

  3. Thanks to Google Alerts, i learned of your mention.

    My deepest gratitude for your kind words!

    I also offer a free video plot series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?

    I wish all your dreams come true.

    Happy plotting...

  4. Oh! I than you, dear Plot Whisperer. I hope I got this right. I actually wanted to get my drawing up, but it failed. But, if everyone goes to your blog, they will find lots of things to help them! I do like your videos, and with I had a faster modem.


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