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The Art of the Plot

plät (verb) the act of scheming or making plots

By Kirsten Nicole

July 5, 2023

Photo Credit on Unsplash by Kelly Sikkema

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to spend time at yet another coffee shop and put together a rough draft plot for my work-in-progress. If you've known me and my writing for any time at all, you know that I am a plot-driven writer, who is in her most natural state coming up with a story idea before any character has entered her mind.

Furthermore, it is not enough for me to only have the spark of a story idea, rather I need an extensive plot outline, a full "big picture view" of the story's arc. Beginning. Middle. End. Likely this is because I am a "big picture" person. I don't pay attention to the details unless coerced, and I like to see the overall direction of the story before I put the time and effort into developing characters and worlds and themes. If you are familiar with writer jargon, you may define this as "plotter." A writer who sits down to write a story with no plot is called a "pantser." Because they fly by the seat of their pants.

That is certainly not how I write. Midnight had a twelve page chapter-by-chapter outline. I need direction and vision before I invest in the story. That said, I still do leave room for change as I go through the writing process. There is freedom to deviate from the plan if I realize there is a more important theme, or subplot, or character motivation to follow.

And I'm sure you've just been dying to know what I use in drafting a plot. Well, wonder no longer! If you're interested in doing some plotting yourself, these are a couple of tools I have found most helpful.

Freytag's Pyramid

Start with exposition: character and setting. Set up the "before" world. What is life like for the character(s) before the inciting incident? But don't dilly-dally too long in the "before" world, because there is so little tension there. And tension, my friends, is what keeps people reading (or watching if you happen to be writing a play ;) ).

After brief exposition, you have the inciting incident: the moment the reader or audience is totally hooked by the story. The moment nothing can go back to the way it was before. The main character must make a choice on how to proceed.

Following the inciting incident, you have the rising action. Rising action involves raising the stakes and upping the tension. The main character encounters obstacles that steadily grow bigger and bigger to keep them from achieving the goal they want to achieve.

Climax is the high point of tension, when all of the forces opposing the main character come together in one final "battle," so to speak.

Following the climax, you have the denouement. This is a French word meaning "resolution." Resolution should be quick, whether it is tragic or satisfying. Remember, the opening sentence is what keeps people reading, but the resolution is what makes people come back. You don't want to hang around in the denouement for long (similar to the exposition) because it lacks tension, which is what keeps the reader engaged.

Now, at the same time that I am considering Freytag's Pyramid, I also answer these three questions about my main character which help the plot as well.

  1. What does the character want?

  2. How do they go about getting it?

  3. What gets in the way?

The answers to the first question should not be abstract like "love" or "appreciation." Rather, concrete goals. Anna wants to find her sister Elsa. Lucy wants to save Mr. Tumnus. Frodo wants to destroy the ring. Etc. Etc. Etc. Of course there are abstract goals that are closely aligned with these physical goals, but you want to have physical goals so the reader has some sort of direction and purpose as they read the story. For example, Anna wants to find her sister Elsa because she wants to love and be loved by her. Lucy wants to save Mr. Tumnus because friendship is important to her. Frodo wants to destroy the ring because he can't let evil prevail.

Once I've identified the big picture of my story, I start into some character development, but a good deal of character development, for me, comes in the writing of the story itself. Many of my writer friends, however, work in the reverse. Character development comes first, out of necessity, and plotting comes in the writing of the story itself.

There is no "one, right way" to begin writing a story. All authors have their own, unique processes, though eventually, most writers will have to answer the above questions and have some semblance of the plot structure found in Freytag's Pyramid. For some writers, that may come after a first draft and in the editing process. For me, it has to come at the beginning.

It is so neat how God designed so much creativity INSIDE creativity!


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