This Business of Writing

Writing a Novel’s Plot

In The Craft of Writing on April 9, 2010 at 7:01 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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As an author learns how to write a novel, he must develop the skill to pen an effective plot, or that string of events through which your major characters move.

The first concept to understand about plot is the recipe. Gather your two needed ingredients, story and conflict, then blend them together and bake it up. You must have both ingredients, story and conflict, for it to taste just right.

Another way to look at this concept is a story asks the questions of what and how, whereas the plot asks the why.

(Read more about PLOT.)

Your plot is not just a jumble of unrelated events. It is comprised of a series of events that follow naturally from one to the next.

A secret to plot is that it is directly related to your major characters’ personalities, especially your hero’s. As one event occurs, the character’s persona encourages him to make a decision as to how to respond to this occurrence. This, in turn, forces the next event. This relationship between characterization and plot is why there are so few plot lines but so many stories.

Of course the main rationale for plot is to entertain your readers, but other than that, what does it do? It’s primary purposes include:

1. Move your story forward and toward its conclusion
2. Give life to your characters
3. Foreshadow coming events.
4. Propel your hero tow
ard his goal and past his many obstacles

Though some disagree with the number of elements in a plot, I see seven major components to plot. They are:

1. Your hero or protagonist: You need someone, or something, to move through your story.

2. The setting in which your hero finds himself: Everything happens somewhere and at some time.

3. The goal your hero must achieve: Every protagonist needs a great quest of some sort.

4. The conflict he faces: During his quest, your hero will come upon difficulties that hamper his forward movement toward his goals.

5. The turning point of your story: At some place in your story, the major character must make a decision that alters everything.

6. The near disaster your hero must endure: Every hero must face an ultimate challenge that can, at least metaphorically, kill him.

7. The resolution of the story. Your story needs an ending, don’t you think and shouldn’t it all come out for the best?

Once you grasp these basic fundamentals, you’re well on your way to an effective storyline.

Now, here are some general tips as to how to develop your plot.

Plot develops by way of the adversity your characters face. Their physical and emotional responses to this adversity is what develops your plot. Imagine “Lord of the Rings” if none of those characters faced problems. Wouldn’t quite have the punch, would it?

You plot should foreshadow all major conflict points. Though mysteries may have a bye in this regard, your plot should identify all troubling events that are yet to transpire. To reword this, what happens early in your story sets up what is to happen later.

Your hero must at some point, take things in hand. He’s the good guy in your narrative and he needs to possess the strength and fortitude to do what his challenge requires of him.

Nothing happens at random. Every part of your plot should have a reason for being in your story.

The plot is not only about your hero. Each of your major characters, of which there should be no more than three, has their own agenda. And these agendas most often conflict with those of the other primary characters.

Your plot should show the personalities of your major characters. That is, the way they react to what happens to them should give your reader a better understanding of who these people really are.

If you’ll insure your plot drives your story and not the other way around, you’ll find your writing life will have a better chance to thrive.

Now, what else might you wish to know about plot?

Until we meet again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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  1. […] Writing a Novel’s Plot @ This Business of Writing by C. Patrick Schulze Plot Patterns and Happy Endings and Middles @ Mystery Writing is Murder by Elizabeth Spann Craig The Benefits of Outlining @ Wordplay by K. M. Weiland The Plot Whisperer Blog by Martha Alderson Posted in plot | Tags: outline, plot, point form […]

  2. Ok, admitting confusion (which has nothing to do with plot) but since it showed up here, maybe you can clarify using insure vs ensure. I’d have used ensure here.

    • Good morning, Terry.

      As to your comment, in less than formal circumstances, “insure” and “ensure” are synonymous these days and both mean “to make certain” or “to make sure.” However, “insure” only applied to the purchase of insurance.
      With that said, were I to edit these posts as much as I do my manuscripts, I would have used, “ensure” as you suggest.

      Thanks for reading, Terry.

      Patrick

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