Monday, April 25, 2011

Plotting Plots

Thanks to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I find my topics repeating themselves. So, I hope you guys don't mind me recycling posts today. See, I just blogged about this topic on my personal blog, not realizing the same topic was on Wicked Writers. No harm done, though. Saves me time. :)


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There is a formula for correct plot structure. It looks something like this:

  • Introduce characters.
  • Introduce story goal or theme.
  • Characters create a short-term goal as a means to accomplish the story goal.
  • The short-term goal is thwarted. Characters react to this then create a new short-term goal.
  • The new goal is also thwarted.
  • This repeats over and over until the climax is reached (by making the failure worse each time until the tension reaches a breaking point).
  • The characters try one more time. This time they beat the opposition.
  • The story goal and subplots are tied up. The End.

Relativity simple, right? It's a great way to outline a story. The trouble comes when it's obvious that you used a formula. And there are several authors out there who's writing is formulaic. I won't name them, but you can usually tell who they are because they come out with several books a year and they all sound alike. But, this is a great tool for beginners who may need a little guidance or practice in building a strong plot arch.

As for Scene Structure, remember this sequence: "Action, Emotion, Reaction, Decision."

Seriously, memorize it. I have it written down on a sticky-note and posted on my desk. Allow me to explain.

Action: Always start a scene with action. Remember the saying "actions speak louder than words"? It's true for your characters as well. Act first, explain later. Action is what moves your characters forward. Plot is what movies your characters forward. So, action equals plot.

Emotion: Your characters have to have some sort of feelings about the action that just happened. This is usually their first reaction and it's usually the wrong one. That doesn't mean it's wrong for the character or for the book. What I mean is that this is usually a negative emotion, such as anger, sadness, etc. that will make your character do something dumb out of spite. This is good. This is deep point of view and makes your characters real.

Reaction: This is when your characters start to think more clearly and re-asses what happened. They're more level-headed here.

Decision: Your characters make a decision about what to do next, which leads into the action beginning the next scene. The cycle starts over.

This lesson is a quick summary of a long version from the book "First Draft in 30 Days" by Karen S. Wiesner and is hands-down the most valuable book in my personal library.


  1. JD, good job with this. I am going to pin it to my wall. I've been a panster, and so using these structures is difficult for me. Just not intuitive. So much of what I write is how I feel, and that can be good or bad, depending.

    Alex Sokoloff does the 3-4 Act process, and I love her classes. She goes into even greater detail on the "assemblying the allies" and "dashing hopes" over and over again. Then the final "re-setting the course" to win in the end, usually with a twist.

    Since my new one is more RS and edgier with more violence, I'm needing the structure or the timing will be off.

    So, long way of saying, thanks for the help. And hasn't the A-Z blog been wonderful? Met some really great new friends and starting some new, collaborative efforts that I'm excited about.

  2. Ugh! The next thing you're going to do is tell me that there is no Easter Bunny!
    I know that everything that you wrote is absolutely true. Just reading the points kind of sucks the fun out of everything somehow.
    Thanks for the post...I think. ;)


  3. Egad. I've been doing it all wrong. I have my characters crying for no reason and then I show the action that caused the crying. No wonder so many people are confused.

    Seriously, though, thanks for the rules, J.D. They should help me keep on the right track since most of my books have lots of action, reaction and emotion.

    Next time, if you could make the blog an original for WW and then recycle it for the othere guys...

  4. Sharon - I'm glad you find it helpful. A very simple outline or even a quick list of major events can go a long way but also leaves some wiggle room for the random spur-of-the-moment ideas too.

    James - I guess that means you're a pantser too? Geesh, doesn't ANYONE else on WW use notes? LOL. (Psst... I like to know the rules so I can break them! haha). Thanks for the comment... I think?

    Greg - I recycled an original WW post and used it on my other blog last Friday, LOL. I've never recycled blog posts before but um... I'm lacking creativity at the moment.

  5. Super post. I was such a pantster for my first novel. Readers loved my characters but I know my plot had holes. So, I'm trying to plot my WIP, but having trouble balancing that with character development. This helps! :)

  6. Amanda - I'm glad this was helpful. Seriously check out Wiesner's book if you can. Her method can be a bit overwhelming, but you can stretch it out instead of doing all in 30 days, and I think it works better. :-)