Many writers struggle with plotting. In this post, What Is A Plot?, we define a plot and tell you how to use it in a story.
What Is A Plot?
A plot is a series of events that make up a story.
Plots have beginnings, middles, and endings. The first quarter of your book is the beginning, the second and third quarters are the middle, and the last quarter is the ending.
In an 80 000-word novel, this generally means that your beginning is 20 000 words long, the middle is 40 000 words long, and your ending is 20 000 words long.
The Writers Write Definition Of A Plot
At Writers Write, we agree that a story contains the elements defined by Freytag* (at end of post), but we have refined our definition.
So, according to Writers Write, what is a plot?
Remember, a story idea is not a plot. Plotting involves conflict caused by a protagonist and an antagonist who have two opposing concrete story goals. It is built on an inciting moment that has life-changing consequences.
A plot must be populated by believable characters to create empathy in readers. Readers want riveting stories where these characters go from negative beginnings, complicated middles, to generally positive endings.
A plot normally has one or two sub-plots to support the story structure.
In our post on The 4 Main Characters As Literary Devices, we define a plot using the four main characters and other story elements.
“You have a plot when:
Taken by somebody (your antagonist),
Has a negative impact on somebody else (your protagonist).
This creates a problem
That your protagonist must solve (story goal) by acting,
This goes on for approximately 60-80 scenes and sequels.
Your protagonist is supported by somebody (confidant),
And made aware of his or her weaknesses by somebody else (love interest)
Until he or she achieves, or fails to achieve, the story goal. (ending)”
Points 1-4: The beginning (the first quarter)
Points 5-8: The middle (the second and third quarters)
Points 9: The ending (the last quarter)
7 Important Points To Remember
Plotting involves a protagonist with a worthy story goal. This story goal is created by an inciting moment that impacts the protagonist’s life negatively.
- Conflict is created when a capable antagonist is introduced to stop the protagonist from achieving the goal.
This story goal must be strong enough to sustain the length a novel. We want to root for characters who need to fight (for this goal) and who have something to lose if they don’t.
- Remove unnecessary backstory. Readers do not want a detailed biography of your character. You can add this as you get into the main part of the story. For the most part, readers do not enjoy unnecessary prologues and flashbacks.
- The story must make sense. Sometimes it helps to write the ending first. This allows you to only include things that need to be in the story. A good idea can turn into an unnecessary obstacle course if the author does not know where the story is headed.
- Use setting to move your plot forward. Use your setting to reveal something that was previously hidden, create an outside threat, show changes in an environment, or move your character out of their comfort zone into an alien environment.
- Once you have your story, there are many ways to outline a novel. Use the one that suits you best.
*Reference: According to Gustav Freytag, a German writer, a traditional plot is made of: 1. Exposition: The exposition is generally the first quarter or beginning of your book. The story begins when the main characters and setting are introduced. The conflict or main problem is also established. The inciting moment introduces the problem. 2. Rising Action: This is normally the middle of your book (the second and third quarters). Rising action means that a series of events occur that move us closer to the conflict. The storyteller uses tension, cliffhangers, and pacing to get the most out of the rising action. 3. Climax: The climax occurs in the last quarter, or ending, of your book. Your protagonist must overcome their enemy, their own fears, or challenges. This part is packed with drama, action, and excitement. Your characters also undergo some sort of change here. 4. Falling Action: The falling action occurs in the last quarter, after the climax. The author ties up loose ends. This is sometimes known as the winding up of the story. The conflict is mostly resolved and the main character evaluates their part in the story. 5. Resolution: This is at the end of the falling action. The conflict is over. The story has ended. You can also have a denouement here. This is generally a paragraph (or a few concluding paragraphs) that resolves any remaining issues and ends the story.
Suggested Plotting Reading:
- The Top 10 Tips For Plotting And Finishing A Book
- 3 Plot Devices You Should Definitely Be Using
- What’s The Difference Between A Commercial And A Literary Plot?
- 5 Ways To Find & Fix The Plot Holes In Your Novel
- The Secret To Writing A Great Plot Twist
- 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story
- The Pros And Cons Of Plotting & Pantsing
- The Super Simple Story Structure & How to Use It
- 5 Essential Exercises For Plotting
by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson
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