Recently I began a series of posts on the elements of writing craft. I listed 5 strategies with brief descriptions of each. My next series of blog posts will explore each of the 5 elements in greater detail. In this post I will share ideas about Plot using a simple story as an example.
As I wrote in “5 Elements of Writing Craft:” Plot is a roadmap from the beginning of a story to its resolution. It is a sequence of connected, causal events that lead to the final dénouement. What does that roadmap look like? It has several points of interest that we have to travel through on our way to our final destination, the end of the story. We call these plot points. Here are the five basic plot points—Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Conclusion.
Introduction: The function of this plot point is to introduce the background information a reader must understand in order to know what is going to happen in the story and why. It introduces the main characters, their personalities, lifestyle, needs and goals. It presents the setting which includes where and when the story happens.
Two children, a shy little girl and her gregarious older brother, live in a cottage in the woods in England. Their father is out of work and money. Their stepmother complains that starvation is at their doorstep and tries to convince Father he must abandon the children in the dark forest to fend for themselves.
Rising action: This will be the longest section of the story. It’s a major portion of the novel because your character is headed toward her goal when an occurrence blocks her. In Rising Action the major conflict begins. The main character must deal with a serious complication or problem. The action gets moving when the main character tackles the problem. In this section you reveal the internal and external conflicts of the characters. Conflicts with society, nature, fate, or other characters. This also shows the progression of the story. In this part of the book, the main character is in crisis and driven to action. Excitement and suspense build. Tension increases. If done well, this section will drive your reader to intense worry about what will happen next.
The young boy overhears the stepmother’s plans. His hopes to attend the village school and become a teacher are threatened as is his very life and that of his shy sister. Now he sets a new goal—survival. He decides to drop breadcrumbs along the path as his father leads the children into the woods. His plan to follow the breadcrumbs home fails. Hungry and tired the two children come upon a candy house. Food! Now they will survive. Alas, an even greater problem arises when they discover the owner of the house is a witch who intends to gobble them up.
Climax: The climax is usually not long. It is the turning point of the story. This turning point may be physical, emotional or both. At this point it may seem the character will fail. The climax will involve suspense, excitement, fear and surprise on the part of the reader and the story people as the characters come face to face with the problem and try to resolve it. This is also the lesson of the story, the message or metaphor that you, the writer, hope to accomplish by writing the piece.
Locked in a cage and helpless, the boy can do nothing but accept his destiny. Fortunately, his little sister gathers her courage and seizes an opportunity to shove the wicked witch into her own fiery oven thus preventing the witch from dining on her big brother. Goal achieved.
Falling Action: The story is ending. Things begin to get back to normal. There is no more conflict. Falling Action shows the outcome of the actions or decisions the character has made.
Little sister releases big brother from the cage. They find the witch’s hoarded gold. They discover their father has been searching for them when he shows up at the front door of the witch’s house.
Resolution: Resolution ties up loose ends and alludes to what the future holds for the characters. The conflicts are resolved and the story concludes with either a happy or sad ending. Make this plot point short.
Father takes the children and the gold home to the little cottage where stepmother no longer lives. The little family is never hungry again.
Plot can make or break your novel, so give it a good deal of thought.
How Subplots Enrich Your Mystery Novel
How to Murder Your Mystery Novel Plot
How to Create a Plot for a Novel