Where your story is going
Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
One of the most important in your work is going to be the plot. This feels a little bit like the chicken and the egg conundrum where you might be asking yourself, “What really does come first: plot, world, or characters?” For the purposes of this series, we’re going to start with the plot.
Where is your story going?
First thing’s first, you need to have an idea.
That seems self-explanatory, but there’s more: you need to have a complete idea. This doesn’t mean that you need to have your whole trilogy planned out before you even start writing; it means that you need to know where the story is going to end. It could be a happily ever after (the guy finally gets the girl and they’ll love each other until their dying days), the chosen one saving the world against an invasion, or the detective catches his or her man, just to name a few.
It’s a lot easier to get to your destination—even if it takes unexpected turns along the way—if you know where it is.
Plotter vs Pantser
Ahh, the age-old debate: do you actively plot your story until you already have it written, or do you wing it? There’s no wrong answer in what kind of writer you are, but depending on the type, you’ll need a different set of skills.
For those of you who have never heard the terms “plotter” and “pantser,” a plotter is someone who will have their whole novel summarized, including having each chapter planned from start to finish to make sure they get to the end of their book—they basically have the whole book written before they really start writing. Don’t worry, this still doesn’t mean that you have to have every chapter of every book in your entire series before you can even start writing book one. You can take it a book at a time.
A pantser is the total opposite: they wing it. The name comes from the saying, “Flying by the seat of his pants.” These writers start with an idea and write until they’ve finished. If you’re a pantser, you’re going to need to be a very good editor. With no direction, things can get weird quick: plot holes come up, character development gets changed mid-book, and the ending of your story can wind up somewhere entirely different than where you thought it would.
Is there another option? Yes. Yes, there is. I’m one of those writers—you can be a hybrid. These writers know where the story is going to end, and the basics of what’s going to happen in each chapter, but they don’t exactly know how to get there. For me, when I make my chapter outlines, it looks a little like this:
Chapter 22: Margaret
Synopsis: Prince Gareth brags about his family’s power; Jerone returns home; Sorren announces the war is over
These are the bare bones of what I want to happen in the chapter, but I have no idea how they’re going to come about.
Structuring your plot
This might seem like we’re going over self-explanatory information, but without the building blocks of writing, any writer is doomed to fail. When it comes to structuring, there is no real breaking the mold and doing something new and fantastic. There are different ways to structure, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to stick with western story telling.
Your book needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. These can also be called acts one, two, and three. This is nothing new, but it can be for writers just now starting on their journey to becoming an author.
The beginning (Act I) is where you introduce your setting, your characters, and where your conflict is introduced. Usually, this is when your main character or protagonist (they aren’t always the same, by the way, but we’ll get into that next week), locks themselves into the story by making a goal or decision that pulls the rest of the characters toward the end goal.
The middle (Act II) is a series of events and challenges that the main character faces to reach their goal that leads to the climax of the story. The challenge is making sure that you don’t end up with a lull working toward the climax. This should happen at the very end of Act II.
The end (Act III) is where your resolution will happen. The climax has come, everything’s gone to crap, and now your characters need to figure out how to meet their end goal. This is a little different for stories that have more than one book...sort of. Your book still needs to have three acts and still needs to have a resolution; it just won’t be the final resolution. There still needs to be at least one loose end that sets up the conflict for the next book.
How does your plot affect your characters?
What I mean to ask is, is your plot event-driven or character-driven?
A character-driven plot relies on the characters’ actions and emotions to move the plot along. This type of plot typically falls upon the villains of the story to work. They actively break rules, while the heroes of the story follow the rules and try to fix what the villain ruins/breaks.
An event-driven plot relies on external factors to create the plot. These type of plots work particularly well in historical fictions: for example, you could write a story about a Jewish family surviving the holocaust. These plots are initiated by something that is not a central character to the story.
Does your plot make sense within your world?
This is where we get into the chicken and the egg conundrum. What really comes first? There are a lot of things that happen simultaneously, honestly. These steps don’t happen in isolation.
While you’re figuring out your plot, you need to make sure that it fits within the world that you’re creating. You can’t very well have a story of the downtrodden rising up in a utopian world. Though, I suppose, you could if that utopia is made by slaves and only the rich get to enjoy the fruits of the oppressed, but I think you get my point. If there are no oppressed, there is no story within that world.
Join me next week when I talk about characters
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