Map your plot! Confession: When talking shop with another writer, if they tell me they don’t plot their novels, my heart sinks. It’s not because I’m a novel snob. (But, I mean, aren’t we all?) It’s because I’ve read too many novels that needed a plot makeover. So much potential, but so much fluff and wandering. You and I don’t roll like that.
Art is personal, and if plotting isn’t your thing, that’s okay. If you like to write a meandering, experimental first draft, and use that *as* your outline–two thumbs up. I’ve just decided life’s too short to gallop the keyboard down false trails, dead ends, and black holes. I have too many other stories to tell; I want to get this one moving, finished and start the next. One way I devote my full attention to the WIP is to make a plan. Here are a few different ways to approach it. Though I’m partial to fiddling with the major plot points, I run my story through each of these formats to see if it makes logical sense and has good pacing.
Beginning, Middle, End
Is there a clear beginning, middle and ending to the story? Do you know how it will end? I know it may seem like more fun to stumble upon the ending as you write, but I want you to consider something. You’ll still have that, “Wow, what!?!” moment of discovery if you map your plot. It just occurs before you start writing, instead of toward the end of your first draft. If you wait to unearth the end of the story as you’re writing it, you may dig up a couple of real stinkers first. It’s just as exciting to find the perfect ending during a plot outline as it is to find it after three false leads.
The middle is arguably the part of the story that benefits the most from plotting. Many novels have an irresistible beginning and a breath-taking ending, but the middle chapters could use some shoring up. Don’t let your middle chapters stay flabby–be a personal trainer and trim the fat.
Major Plot Points
Some would argue that planning your book’s major plot points results in formulaic, dull reading. Natch, I disagree. Figuring out the plot points ahead of time frees me up to crank the conflict/tension to eleven. Like I said, I try to be an agreeable person in real life. That bleeds over to some timid prose, at times. The plot points help me take a hammer to my character’s neat, tidy lives. (Don’t worry, though; I’ll clean that mess up…) These plot points are related to the Three Act Play.
Try to flesh out your:
Inciting Incident — The moment that changes everything for your protagonist. It can be something small, like losing their phone, or something huge, like narrowly escaping death.
First Plot Point: Disaster — The scene in which your protagonist is dealt a major problem. It’s not the biggest problem of the book, but you should make it pretty awful, even if it’s funny-awful or annoying-awful.
Second Plot Point: The Midpoint — Your character must discover a truth, or initiate a change. This is the moment your protagonist begins to shift internally and grow. (Maybe even grow more evil, yikes!)
Third Plot Point: The Crisis — The scene in which your protagonist and the obstacle/antagonist meet for the final confrontation. One must win, the other will lose. For the romance I’ll be writing, my main character has to decide whether to keep a tight hold on his past or to release it and stand on his own to embrace a surprising future. (Pick the future, buddy. Honestly, why cling to the past, anyway?) Your character has to emerge changed, but at a great cost… Remember, for the Phoenix to be reborn, it has to burn!
The Three Act Play
You’re probably familiar with the Three Act Play format. Even if you aren’t, you know it. That’s because all the stories, movies, and plays we love follow this format–from Partysaurus Rex to The Dark Knight. Go ahead, find an epic story that deviates from the ol’ Three Act. I dare you! If you do, it was probably a flop. Why? We all love this format. It goes:
- Act 1: Introduction, Small Problem
- Act 2: Resolution/Discovery of Truth in Small Problem, Crisis
- Act 3: Climax, Resolution
You can get a little crafty with your presentation of these scenes, but don’t mess around too much. There’s a fine line between avante garde and plot-labrynth-of-despair…
Then make your characters miserable . . .
Look over your outline. Identify the areas that are a little mushy. You may want to ensure all your beloved characters find happiness, but keep it out of their grasp until the end. Throw obstacles in their paths, frustrate their plans, and wrench hope from their hearts before you lead them to a satisfying resolution. Don’t torment them just for its own sake, but turn up the heat to build tension for the story’s conclusion. Look for moments when you can raise the stakes and clarify their motivations. But whatever you do, don’t let your characters get by with an easy life… No one wants to read a novel with a happy ending if it didn’t have a miserable middle!
NOW YOU: Are you ready for NaNoWriMo? What do you still need to outline for NaNoPrepMo, Preptober?