Waddup Savi Crew!
Last week, I wrote all about the importance of setting. If you missed it, please feel free to catch-up here. Today I conclude the “Writing Your Novel” series by talking about the third and final element in any great story—plot.
Plot is a causal sequence of events; in layman terms, it’s essentially “what your story is all about”. Even the most convoluted story can be broken down into a simple form: A + B = C. In other words, B happens as a consequence of A which leads to C and so on.
There are a plethora of plot outline/structure devices out there to utilise. But not every aspiring writer (especially those who don’t believe in plotting, I see you pantsers) are going to use any of these devices for their own stories—it’s a personal choice. In my honest opinion, not every plot outline technique works for me (and believe me, I’ve tried many). However, there is no harm in trying to see if it can work. Your latest and greatest novel idea will thank you.
Here are four plot structure devices (including the one I personally use):
#1 – Harmon’s Plot Embryo
In this plot structure, the circle is divided into eight segments, each representing a stage of the plot. A character is introduced, wants something, enters a new environment, adapts to that environment, achieves their goal but encounters problems as a result, leaves that world and changes as a result.
- Comfort Zone: Anchor the audience by showing who the protagonist is and show their world right before the craziness starts.
- Wants Something: A need is established.
- Unfamiliar Situation: Protagonist crosses the threshold.
- Adaptation: Protagonist faces trials and training to get what he wants.
- Get What They Wanted: Protagonist finds something with potential and meets “the goddess.”
- Pay a Heavy Price: Protagonist meets his maker, takes what he wants, but pays a heavy price.
- Return to Familiar: Protagonist goes back to the familiar situation where they started.
- Having Changed: Protagonist is now capable of change.
#2 – Freytag’s Pyramid
This plot structure believes that the plot of a story consists of five parts: exposition (originally called introduction), rising action (rise), climax, falling action (return or fall), and dénouement/resolution/revelation/catastrophe.
- Exposition: The background information of the plot that includes characters and setting. Inciting Incident is the very first conflict that occurs in the plot.
- Rising Action: The three major events that add suspense or tension to the plot (complications or frustrations) that lead to the climax.
- Complication: (I think the term is rather self-explanatory).
- Climax: The most suspenseful part of the plot. The turning point for the protagonist’s character.
- Falling Action: The three events (or less) that unravel the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist that lead to the resolution.
- Resolution: The conflict is resolved and we discover whether the protagonist achieves their goal or not.
- Denouement: The “tying up of loose ends”.
#3 – Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” Beat Sheet
In this plot structure, created for screenwriting although it can work for novels too, Blake Snyder breaks plots down into something he calls “beats”.
- Opening Image: A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
- Set-Up: Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
- Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up): What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
- Catalyst: The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster on-board the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
- Debate: But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
- Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two): The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
- B Story: This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
- The Promise of the Premise: This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
- Midpoint: Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
- Bad Guys Close In: Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
- All is Lost: The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
- Dark Night of the Soul: The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
- Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three): Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
- Finale: This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
- Final Image: Opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
#4 – Three Acts, Nine Blocks, Twenty-Seven Chapters
This plot structure, often utilised by writers who use Scrivener (which is probably why I like it so much), plot is organised according to—you guessed it—three acts, nine blocks and twenty-seven chapters.
- Block One | Introduction: Introduce Hero and ordinary world. Inciting Incident: A problem disrupts the Hero’s life that will kick off the rest of the story. Immediate Reaction: The Hero deals with the inciting incident and/or the changes that result from the inciting incident.
- Block Two | Reaction: Long-term reaction. The reader begins to understand just how the inciting incident will affect the Hero’s life. Action: The Hero decides to act and makes a decision that will impact the rest of the story. Consequence: The result of the decision made (see Action).
- Block Three | Pressure: The Hero begins to feel the pressure of the task before them and is stressed. Pinch 1: Things get a little more complicated and the Hero wonders if the right decision was made. (see Action) A plot twist happens. Push: The Hero is pushed in a new direction.
- Block Four | New World: The Hero experiences a new world or situation. Fun & Games: The Hero explores and interacts in the new world. This is a good place to build relationships, romantic or otherwise, and develop your character more. Old Contrast: The Hero compares the new world to the old, and is reminded of how much has changed.
- Block Five | Build Up: This is where you prepare for the major turning point in your story. There is some form of struggle, internal or external, that will motivate your Hero to take matters into their own hands. Midpoint: The Hero encounters something that complicates their plans and motivates them to change the course of events. Reversal: Everything goes to hell.
- Block Six | Reaction: The Hero reflects upon what has happened in Block Five. Action: The Hero takes matters into their own hands and solves or works around the roadblocks that occurred (see Reversal). Dedication: The Hero is now determined to overcome the overall issue.
- Block Seven | Trials: The Hero finds a solution, but now must overcome doubt, or some other complication. Pinch 2: Plot Twist! Everything is worse than it was. Darkest Point: Everything seems lost.
- Block Eight | Power Within: The Hero finds the courage and the strength to carry on. Action: The Hero takes action, and overcomes the plot twist, before taking on the overall issue again. Converge: Everything comes together: the main plot, the subplot(s), the conflict, etc. The big event is imminent.
- Block Nine | Battle: The Hero fights the villain and/or tackles the overall issue full force. Climax: The Hero either triumphs or succumbs to a fatal flaw. Resolution: Tie up all loose ends. Make sure the Hero has changed in some way.
*Credit to the following websites:
Harmon’s Plot Embryo: https://slytwintiger.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/harmons-plot-embryo-a-writers-tool-for-both-outlining-and-evaluating/
Freytag’s Pyramid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dramatic_structure
Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet: https://timstout.wordpress.com/story-structure/blake-snyders-beat-sheet/
3 Acts, 9 Blocks, 27 Chapters: https://www.theeducatedwriter.com/blog/2017/9/25/how-i-outline
Next week will be July’s Camp NaNoWriMo! Please let me know in the comments if you will be participating, what you are working on (novel, novella, poem, etc.) and whether you are committed to word count or hourly count. Anyways, I’m rambling again which means it’s time to sign off… Toodles for now.
And remember, no matter where you live, take a little time to enjoy the island life!