What? I Need a Plot?


Image Copyright © 2013 Joan Y. Edwards

Image Copyright © 2013 Joan Y. Edwards

“What? I Need a Plot?” by Joan Y. Edwards

Pick two characters that are opposites and flawed

Lock the main character’s success until the end

Ordinary day and happiness go out the window

Terrible situations come in the door and a fight ensues

Settle down at the end to a better ordinary day

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In 2007 I went to a writing conference or read that it is important and helpful to have the plot for your story before you write it. The expression on my face was similar to the girl with the wide eyes in the picture above. “What? I need a plot? I knew beginning, middle, and end. I had that covered.  I had problems. I had that covered. However, I didn’t have all the pieces neatly laid out in a plan for my story in a plot.

The next year I heard, you must have a pitch. Use the plot to write the pitch. I still wasn’t completely sure of what a plot was. Then they told me I needed a pitch to sell my book.

I’ve gone on inner and outer searches for the answer to getting the plot for my stories right, so that I can then get the pitch right. I will say that I tried the idea of writing the plot and pitch first for a book. It works out great to help you get a much better story written.

I have done several blog posts on plot and pitch. Today my goal is to bring simplicity to the explanation of the very complex idea of a plot.

A plot is a chain of events in a story that goes from the beginning to the end to prove or show a particular theme that shows emotional and physical actions and reactions of a main character and how he reorganizes his ideas after several setbacks in order to win and survive happily.

Plot is a synonym for storyline.

You must have a problem to have a plot. No problem – no plot – no story.

A good plot puts complications in motion that stops the main character from solving his problem and reaching his goal.

Choose the best logical order for events that makes your story easy to understand.

  1. cause and effect relationship in chronological order
  2. cause and effect relationship in flashback and foreshadowing – not chronological order (can start in the middle of things and go forward, backward, or into the future
  3. events that happen in chronological order, but are coincidence, not cause and effect

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Here are four ways of describing plots: Christopher Booker, Brian Godawa, Robert McKee, and last is the way I’ve most seen it on the internet and in books.

Seven Basic Plots according to Christopher Booker [Source: Wikipedia]

  1. Overcoming the Monster – Magnificent Seven, James Bond, Star Wars
  2. Rags to Riches – Cinderella, Aladdin
  3. The Quest – Watership Down, King Solomon’s Mines, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Raiders of the Lost Ark
  4. Voyage and Return – Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth,
  5. Comedy – Miss Congeniality, Legally Blonde
  6. Tragedy – Macbeth, Bonnie & Clyde
  7. Rebirth – Sleeping Beauty

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Brian Godawa’s Plot Structure

Goal
Plan
Flaw
Apparent Defeat
Final Confrontation
Self Revelation
Resolution

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Robert McKee’s Plot Structure for Screenplays

ACT 1, ACT 2, ACT 3

Act 1 – Beginning. Introduce the character. Inciting incident (1/4 of book)

Act 2 – Twice as long – Middle. Action builds to a crisis. (1/2 of book)

Act 3 – End. Action builds to climax. Denouement (1/4 of book)

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Most used Plot points:

1. Ordinary Day – Exposition

2. Inciting Incident

3. Climax

4. Falling Action

5. Resolution

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If you’re at a loss for story ideas to write, here are two websites that generate random plots:

“Plot: The story starts when your protagonist drives down the wrong street. Another character is a pilot who wants your protagonist to hide him/her.”

“A TV repairman who can’t stand attention courts a gorgeous blonde.”

Now that one could be funny. I might write that one.

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Here are bits and pieces of things to remember about a plot. These are things I’ve derived from reading, writing, and studying what others believe to be true about the parts to a plot:

A good story tells the emotional highs and lows of the character(s). Put tension on every page. Show the tension from both the inner and outer struggles of the characters.

At a free Plot webinar, Angela Morrison http://www.angela-morrison.com/ said: “Your job as the writer is to make things worse for your character. Chase him up a tree and throw rocks at him. When he throws rocks back, the character changes and grows.”

Pam Zollman http://www.pamzollman.com/ said, “Hurt the bunnies. You must hurt the bunnies.”

Show how the character acts and reacts inside and outside through all the events that lead up to his “change” and “aha” moment that make it possible to solve his problem.

Make each word and sentence count. Make certain each word and sentence in your story is necessary. You can’t have any favorite words or phrases just because they sound pretty. The words must highlight character, problem, solution, or setting. If the sentence doesn’t move the plot along, cut it out and save it in a folder named: ‘Great writing for Another Story.”

Readers anticipate good and bad consequences from the main character’s choices. They relate to how they would feel in his circumstances. When you take what happens next as far as you can, generate more plot with a fresh “What if?”

Give reasons for the readers to care. If they don’t care what happens to your main character, then your book is closed. They probably won’t read it.

Make each choice for the main character a dilemma with no good choices to heighten the tension. It’s possible that your main character was afraid that this might happen to him. “What will I do if such and such happens?” Then, Bingo. It really happens to him.

Here I take you through the steps of what I believe is the most often used outline of the ingredients of a plot are:

PLOT

Ordinary Day Exposition (Beginning)

  1. Start your story with a day that starts out ordinary. Start it out on a day and time when your character is happy. It describes the way it is. It explains the existing setting, order of things; present customs, practices, and power relations with other characters.
  2. Don’t put all of the backstory on one page. Backstory is the events that happened before your story began. Spread your backstory out in your novel. Give the readers only what they need to know to understand a particular action or reaction.If the reader doesn’t need to know your character failed a math test in third grade at the beginning of the story, take it out and put it in right before he takes a math test. This will show the motive of why he’s scared to take the test.

Rising Action (Problems)

  1. Call to Action. The main character is introduced to the conflict/obstacle/problem that he must overcome
  2. Dream Stage, Event happens that your main character can’t ignore. It affects his life in more ways than he ever imagined it could.
  3. Frustration Stage, Each try gets him deeper in despair.
  4. Nightmare Stage It’s his worst nightmare. This is the bottom of the barrel for the character.

 Climax (Middle) (The Fight, Face to Face Encounter with Problem)

  1. Main Character changes for the better. The main character has an inner realization of the true meaning of all the events in the story leading up to this moment. This spiritual “aha” moment promotes a significant change in his ways of thinking and his behavior.
  2. Climax is the major conflict. This is the big scene that decides whether the main character gets what he wants or needs.
  3. Main character must face the problem. He can’t ignore it any more. This is the battle scene.
  4. It is the peak of suspense. [Source: Freeology]
  5. The main character experiences the height of anxiety, nervousness, and tension both mentally and physically.
  6. For the readers, this is the most exciting part of the story because of the uncertainty of how everything is going to turn out. There is a mixture of fear, danger, and hope. There is an air of “It can’t work out for him. It’s going to be bad.” Followed by the amazement and surprise: “Oh my gosh, he’s doing it. Everything will be better.”

Falling Action (Result of Climax Encounter)

  1. The protagonist wins or loses. I was always confused by this. I thought this was still in the climax. However, the fight, the face to face confrontation is the climax.  The result of the fight or face to face, head-on confrontation is the falling action.
  2. Falling Action shows the changes to the characters who are affected by the solution to the main problem.
  3. Shows what happens to the main character after overcoming all obstacles
  4. Shows what happens to the main character if he fails to get his wishes.
  5. Shows what happens to both the good dudes and the bad dudes after the protagonist wins or loses.
  6. Things begin to be normal again.

Resolution (End)

  1. It shows the effects of his winning or losing with the other characters and shows what happens to untie the subplots, too.
  2. It shows that the main character has solved all problems and mysteries.
  3. It brings satisfying closure to the situation.
  4. The outcome turns the protagonist’s life into all new and better ordinary day. He’s happy once again.
  5. If it’s a tragedy, it ends with a catastrophe where the main character dies.

I hope this simplifies or at least clarifies the parts of the plot for you

Print out the “Identify Plot” diagram from the ReadWriteThink.org diagram website. (It’s number 21 in the resources) Save it to your computer. Read it over. It has all the ingredients for a good overall view of a plot:  http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson800/IdentifyPlot.pdf. It has plenty of room for you to write in your ideas for a new story or to revamp an old one. It will help you write a great pitch for your story, too.

Fill the diagram with points that match your favorite movie – one you’ve watched 7 or more times.
Fill in the diagram with points that match the first book you wrote.
Use the diagram to help you plot a television show.

Enjoy writing good stories. Writers do need a plot. Many writers have a “built in” sense of story. I tried to break it down into parts to help you build a strong plot for your next story. It’s going to be the best plot you’ve ever designed for picture book, young adult, or adult novel. Go ahead. Do it. Write the next Best-Selling Book. You can do it.

29 Resources are at the end after my signature.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Over 67,500 views and 148 subscribers.

The big celebration comes when we reach 70,000 views. I wonder if I’ll make it before October 9, 2013 – That’s the date of the fourth year anniversary of my blog. Sign up for an email subscription from the left-hand column for a free Never Give Up logo image. When I reach 200 subscribers, I’ll give a free MP3 recording of positive affirmation statements to all who subscribe to my blog.

Thank you for being here.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2013 Joan Y. Edwards

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Resources

  1. Angela Morrison. Webinar. “Plot Challenged:” October 2012. http://www.angela-morrison.com/
  2. Alicia Rasley. “Plotting without Fears:” http://freelancewrite.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sff.net%2Fpeople%2Falicia%2Fart4.htm
  3. Blake Snyder. Save the Cat screenwriting: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need: http://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009/
  4. Brian Godawa. “Plotting Details on Story structure:” http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/screenwriter.pdf
  5. Carol Baldwin. Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8 (CD & Graphic Organizers): http://www.maupinhouse.com/index.php/teaching-the-story-fiction-writing-in-grades-4-8.html/  
  6. Christopher Booker. The Seven Basic Plots-Why We Tell Storieshttp://www.amazon.com/The-Seven-Basic-Plots-Stories/dp/0826480373
  7. Christopher Vogler. The Writer’s Journey: http://www.amazon.com/The-Writers-Journey-Structure-Edition/dp/193290736X/
  8. Darcy Pattison. “Character Arc-Epiphanies:” http://www.darcypattison.com/characters/character-arc-epiphanies/
  9. Glen C. Strathy. “How to Write a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps:” http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/plot-outline.html
  10. Ehow. How to Use Falling Action in Writing: http://www.ehow.com/how_2095686_falling-action-writing.html
  11. Freeology.com. “Storymap:” http://freeology.com/graphicorgs/pdf/storymap.pdf
  12. Kathryn Lance. “What Is Plot?” http://www.klance.com/What_is_Plot.htm
  13. Katherine Patterson. The invisible child on Reading and Writing Books for Children: http://www.amazon.com/The-Invisible-Child-Reading-Children/dp/0525464824/
  14. Linda Cowgill. “Conflict: A Writer’s Best Friend:”
    http://www.plotsinc.com/sitenew/column_art_13.html
  15. Marion Dane Bauer. What’s your story? http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Your-Story-Persons-Writing/dp/0395577802/
  16. Nanowrimo. (Diagram-Plot as a Roller Coaster Ride) “Outlining Your Plot:” http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/files/ywp/ywp_10_hs_outlining_your_plot.pdf
  17. Nienke Hinton. “Inner and Outer Conflicts:” http://nienkehinton.blogspot.com/2007/01/inner-conflict.html
  18. Novel Writing Help. (Diagram) “Plot Diagram:” http://www.novel-writing-help.com/plot-diagram.html
  19. Novel Writing Help “How to Plot a Novel:” http://www.novel-writing-help.com/how-to-plot-a-novel.html
  20. Novel Writing Help “What Is a Plot?” http://www.novel-writing-help.com/what-is-a-plot.html
  21. IRA/NCTE  International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English. ReadWriteThink.org. (Diagram) “Identify Plot” http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson800/IdentifyPlot.pdf
  22. Robert McKee Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting: http://www.amazon.com/Story-Substance-Structure-Principles-Screenwriting/dp/0060391685/
  23. “Plot Structure Powerpoint” http://www.slideshare.net/leecountylanguagearts/plot-structure-powerpoint
  24. Syd Field. Screenplay. http://www.amazon.com/Screenplay-Foundations-Screenwriting-Syd-Field/dp/0385339038/
  25. Teacher Printables.net. Character I.D. Personality Info http://www.teacherfiles.com/downloads/graphic_organizers/Character%20ID.pdf
  26. L. Kip Wheeler. “The Structure of Tragedy:” http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Freytag.pdf
  27. Thinkport “Graphic Organizers” Character, Plot, Sequence of Events, Others. Choose the PDF file so you can print it out. You can save the PDF file to your computer. http://www.thinkport.org/technology/template.tp
  28. Thinkport. “Story Map” (Fill it in): http://www.thinkport.org/d23c5d91-3485-4474-9ad2-e02b94a8e64a.asset?
  29. Wikipedia. “Plot-Narrative:” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_(narrative)

12 Responses

  1. Thanks, Joan, I needed this one to get me started on another writing project. How did you know that? It’s a five out of five!
    Barbara

    Like

    • Dear Barbara,
      Thanks for writing. I’m glad you needed this to get started on a new writing project. Thank you for saying it was a five stars out of five stars. I appreciate your compliment. Good luck with your writing.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

      Like

  2. Great blog. Will link to it on my writing wiki!

    Like

    • Dear Carol,
      Thank you for writing. I’m very glad that you plan to add it on your writing wiki. I listed your book Teaching Story in the Resources.
      Celebrate you and all you do to help people.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

      Like

  3. Joan,

    I love that you presented several different outlooks on plot. That gives wide appeal. I also look forward to trying the diagram provided for plot.

    Thanks for all your research and for making this as clear as possible. You are so good to us–your followers. This is a great one to keep on file.

    Like

    • Dear Linda,
      Thank you for writing. I’m glad that you enjoyed looking at the ways different people explain plot. I do hope it will have wide appeal and assist more people. I believe the plot diagram from ReadWriteThink will help you formulate a great plot for you next story or strengthen a story that is already in the works.

      Celebrate you.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

      Like

  4. Joan, another superb post on writing. 🙂

    Like

    • Dear Tracy,
      Thanks for writing. I appreciate you saying this is a superb post on writing. You make me smile.

      I hope your illustrating and your writing are going well.

      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

      Like

  5. Amazing post, Joan! Thanks so much for sharing your wealth of information with us. I missed seeing you all yesterday!

    Like

    • Dear Becky,
      Thanks for writing. I appreciate your saying this was an amazing post. You’re welcome for my sharing what I’ve learned with you. Each time I study it and share it, it makes it clearer in my mind.

      Good luck with your writing.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

      Like

  6. When I taught ‘plot’ during writing workshops, I always used the old formula: character, conflict, climax, conclusion. The Four Cs work every time!Of course you then get into details…..
    🙂
    Maureen

    Like

    • Dear Maureen,
      Thank you for writing. I”m so glad that you taught plot in your writing workshops. I know those who attended learned bunches to help them on their way. It’s good that character, conflict, climax, and conclusion worked every time.

      Celebrate you and your gift of writing.
      I’m glad your story “Dragon Mountain” is coming out in Boy’s Life magazine in October, 2013. Hip Hip Hooray!

      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

      Like

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