By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills
You’ve most likely heard every plot idea has already been written. Multiple times. From the ancient storytellers who gathered around the campfire, to Greek and Roman mythology, to the richness of the Celts, to the many ways story is offered today.
Plotting is unique to each writer’s personality and method of structuring a novel. Some writers are married to their outlines. Some are seat-of-the-pants writers, and some are a mix of both. Organic writing allows the character to lead the way in story with a heavy emphasis on wants, needs, desires, flaws, and internal issues.
The writer’s plotting style may differ, but powerful stories must be filled with rising tension, conflict, and high stakes. To empower each scene, include the answers to the four questions:
- What is the POV character’s goal or problem?
- What does the POV character learn that he/she didn’t know before?
- What backstory is revealed? Avoid backstory and character flaws in the first approximately 50 pages.
- How are the stakes raised?
This method dives deeper into the concept of each scene containing a goal, conflict, and disaster or high stakes.
Once we’ve established our type of plotting, what elements need to appear in the beginning, middle, and ending? The following provides a loose structure of story.
The first approximately 1/3 to 1/4 of the novel is the most crucial. In those pages a writer must form a sympathetic bond between the protagonist and the reader, introduce other characters, and unfold plot—while building conflict and suspense. Too much exposition and a reader loses interest.
The following elements will help build a strong story.
A strong hook draws the reader into the story. Open in the middle of action. This taste of the conflict to come promises that the entire story will be filled with adventure.
A unique, sympathetic character who endears the reader to the story.
A story disturbance. This is not the story problem, but a frustrating intrusion into the protagonist’s life. How the character responds creates a bond with the reader, who becomes the character’s cheerleader.
Strong characterization of the viewpoint protagonist—and antagonist. These characters must come alive. And the antagonist must be better equipped to succeed than the protagonist.
A problem to solve. This can be something to achieve or overcome.
Stress, tension, and conflict that lead to suspense. A writer establishes these essentials by continuously placing trouble in the character’s path. One way to initiate action is through dialogue in which the characters are at odds.
Establish the novel’s genre: contemporary, historical, romance, suspense, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, western, young adult, or any of the other genre. Romance is often paired with other genres.
Plan the setting, ensuring it is vital to your plot and antagonistic to the protagonist.
After encountering these elements in the first quarter of your story, the protagonist decides to accept the challenge of going after the goal. She steps through the first doorway into the plot with a firm resolve to do everything within her power to succeed, including adding to her arsenal of resources.
Here is where a story can weaken and fall apart. Sometimes the storyline drags. But this doesn’t happen if we carefully plot this section and include subplots with exciting twists and turns.
Consider the character’s traits and the current problem. List the worst possible scenarios. Make a what-if list for all the viewpoint characters. Be creative. A writer discards some of the ideas—and uses others to create an intricate storyline.
Study the character’s psychological traits. Our best scenes will happen when a character behaves the opposite of what the reader expects. But the reader will accept those unexpected actions because the writer has demonstrated the character is not predictable. Suspenseful conflict is achieved with scenes that cast doubt on the protagonist achieving her goal. The antagonist always has more skills and a big plan, and she’s willing to do anything to stop the protagonist.
Heightened tension keeps the reader turning pages. Give the reader a moment to take a gasp of air, then drop her back into the action.
But following this guidance and mastering your plot will ensure you create an engaging story for the reader.
Other items to consider in the middle: Problems involving minor characters who have valid issues or something about a viewpoint character that is separate from the main story idea.
New information, unexpected complications, eliminating a character or changing the setting.
Choices and Doubts:
Reaching the goal is hard work. Our characters have doubts, and at times they make choices in which they must face the consequences.
The latter portion of the middle is where the climax occurs. A torch ignites the inevitable. It’s catastrophe time. Whatever has been crucial to the protagonist has been destroyed. The real character—the inner landscape character—must solve the insurmountable problem.
And she does.
Now the reader can relax and admire the character’s ability to be our hero.
Craft an ending that will satisfy. Avoid a jolt of the unexpected and unbelievable.
What are plotting techniques you can share with us?
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Suspense Sister, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference with social media specialist Edie Melson. She teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at http://www.diannmills.com