When we are talking about writing, we often throw the word plot around quite a bit, but what precisely is a plot?
Simply put, a plot is a sequence of events that are connected to one another through causality. Causality is the relationship between cause and effect; when one event makes something else happen, and that event, in turn, makes something else happen.
Plot is the what of the story (the characters being who, the theme is why).
A husband finds his wife dead and then drinks himself to death through grief.
The husband’s death is a consequence of the death of his wife and the grief that overwhelms him. The two are connected.
What are the elements of a plot?
A plot, generally speaking, has five main elements:
This is the beginning of the story, where the characters are introduced and the setting is established. Usually, the main conflict, or problem, is introduced here.
This is a series of events leading up to the main conflict of the story. They are connected by cause and effect and are usually set in motion by a triggering event. The events in this part of the story tend to escalate up to the point of the climax.
This is the most intense part of the story. This is the turning point, the part in the story that makes the reader wonder what will happen next.
This is the part of the story where events begin to resolve and the consequences of the main characters’ actions are shown.
The conclusion of the story.
As you can see, a plot has a beginning, a middle and an end.
When you’re writing your plot try and picture a thread that links all the major events together. The thread directly links one event to another, the second event is a result of the first event, the third is related to the second and first. It is helpful to remember the words “and so this happens” when you are plotting.
In summary, then, the plot is a series of events connected by cause and effect. It explains the chain of events in a story and connects the actions and events in a logical way.
If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’re not in trouble 🙂
Death’s Apprentice is a writing experiment I’m undertaking where, every Wednesday, I sit down and write a portion of my next novel without having plotted any part of the storyline. This is an experiment for me as I’m usually more of a plotter than a pantser.
But what is a pantser?
A pantser is someone who writes without plotting, they pretty much write by the seat of their pants. They let the situation and the characters determine what happens next.
As a plotter, writing Death’s Apprentice as a pantser is really taking me out of my comfort zone and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
As a plotter, I usually have a fairly good idea of my characters because I write quite detailed biographies for each one. I also pretty much know how my story will end, I just don’t necessarily know all the plot points of how I’m going to get there. Think of it as a bus journey; I know where the destination is, I just don’t necessarily know all of the stops on the way.
A true plotter would probably have mapped out all the stops. I plot as I’m going. This gives my brain time to think and gives me space to breathe. This is how I work but you will find what works for you the more you write and experiment.
What are the advantages of plotting?
You know your characters. You know what drives them; their flaws and their ambitions, their thoughts and desires. It should make writing them slightly easier as you know what they want and what they would do in any given situation.
You know, when you begin writing, the destination you’re heading for. This can give you more confidence as you write.
It keeps your writing on track and you will be less likely to ramble. You will be more likely to stick to the point. This can mean less editing (although that’s not always the case).
What are the disadvantages of plotting?
Sometimes, sticking rigidly to a plot can make your writing boring.
There are no surprises for you to deal with as you write.
Your writing process may lack spontaneity.
It can make the author less open to changing a part of the storyline if something better presents itself.
It can stifle your creativity and make the process boring.
So, what can you do?
Personally, my approach is to plan but remain open to new ideas. I’ve learnt to be flexible and that’s why I plot as I go along.
I make sure I have detailed biographies of my characters and this is one thing I don’t rush. Knowing your characters before you begin to write helps a lot. It gives me confidence as I write and, I think, it makes the characters richer as you bring them to life on the page.
I have a bare skeleton of where I’m going. With Dragon Rider, I knew that Drake, my lead character, would have to face Death in her domain. I knew he would have a face-off with Fenrik, the being that murdered his father. I knew his need for revenge would hinder him. I knew how the book would end. I just didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there.
The most important thing I’ve learnt though is to let things go when they don’t work. My original plan for Death’s domain was so boring and it didn’t make sense. I ended up cutting around 20,000 words and starting again for that section. And that’s okay.
Neither plotting nor pantsing is perfect. No one way of writing is correct and the other wrong. I believe you have to do what works for you and finding what that is will only come with experience and writing practice.
So, what have you found that works for you? Do you write detailed character biographies? Do you have a clear idea of where you’re going? Or do you, indeed, fly by the seat of your pants?
Okay, today’s post is going to focus on The Three Act Structure and why it’s great for everyone, especially newbies.
Reason One – It’s Simple!
The Three Act Structure is probably the simplest way of plotting a story. There are other ways to plot stories but sometimes the different methods can get a little complicated.
Every story has a beginning, middle and end and it doesn’t take a scientist to work out that each of the three acts corresponds to one of these parts in the story.
Act One is the beginning of the story, the place where we meet our hero; an introduction. The technical term for this is stasis. Stasis means a period of inactivity or equilibrium. Our hero is inactive, going about his business as he usually would until he is called into action when a triggering event happens. Basically, act one is setting the story up for the action that follows in acts two and three.
Act Two is the middle of the story, the quest, the action of the story. Our hero crosses the threshold and sets off on his quest. Sometimes, this is called the confrontation part of the story.
Act Three is the resolution, that is, all the consequences that follow the action of act two. The hero is now in a new world and must learn how to live in it.
So, in basic terms:
Act One is the beginning: The hero deciding to act on a goal.
Act Two is the middle: The hero takes action.
Act Three is the end: The hero must face up to the consequences of that action.
Or, even more simply put;
Act One: The hero decides to act.
Act Two: The action itself.
Act Three: The consequences of that action.
Reason Two: It’s a great guide especially for newbies!
The three-act structure can be broken down further, like this:
Stage One – The set up
Stage Two – New Situation
Stage Three – Progress
Stage Four – Complications and Higher Stakes
Stage Five – Final Push
Stage Six – The Aftermath
You don’t need to break your story down into these extra sections if you don’t want to, but if you’re struggling to find ideas for what to write next you could use this as a guide.
For example, in act two we need the hero to make some progress but he can’t get everything his own way. There have to be obstacles in his path which gradually become harder to overcome. There are highs and lows but by the end of act two things should be more intense. Even though our hero has made good progress there will be complications and higher stakes so, by the end of act two, the hero should be at his lowest point.
The three-act structure can keep your story on track.
Reason Three: It’s Flexible!
Because it’s so simple, it’s very flexible. It can be used as a guide for many different mediums. Want to write a screenplay? You can use the three-act structure. Want to write a novel but don’t know where to start? Use the three-act structure.
Reason Four: It’s a great place to start!
Because it’s so simple and flexible, it’s a great place to start learning how to structure a story. There are other ways of structuring but one can often become lost when researching these because they have so many different parts to understand. These days the three-act structure is often seen as a stifling way to write a story, that it’s old fashioned and boring.
I disagree. Once you get to grips with the three-act structure it makes it easier to understand the other forms of plotting. The three-act structure is a good starting point, a great springboard into discovering new ways of structuring. It’s one more tool in the writer’s toolkit.
Reason Five: It helps manage the unmanageable!
You’re new to this writing malarkey, right? You want to write a novel and you have all these ideas swimming around but you don’t know where to start plotting, so you don’t. It’s too much. It’s too overwhelming.
Well, the three-act structure is perfect for you. As I said above, the three-act structure is so easy and flexible it will allow you to tame the beast, so to speak. As a newbie, you can become very overwhelmed with the idea of plotting. Like, where tf do I actually begin? Where does this section go? Okay, so my hero’s been called to action, what next?
The three-act structure allows you to give your thoughts some cohesion, some structure, As I said, it allows you to manage the unmanageable.
It won’t be easy. Writing a novel can be scary and overwhelming. Do it anyway. Use the three-act structure to begin your own adventure.