How Do You Plot Your Novel?
Some writers see plotting as a jumbled up bowl of spaghetti beyond their ability to comprehend. It is, by far, the most nerve-wracking aspect of the writing process. The most boring is editing, but that’s another subject. You may see plotting much like this first chart:
While it gets from A to Z, the ride is enough to give you motion sickness with so many potential avenues. But, in truth, this diagram demonstrates the many ways plots can become more complicated, have twists and turns, and is generally more satisfying for the reader. One rule I follow is that the reader should never, ever see the man behind the curtain (Wizard of Oz…betas, editors, and agents, Oh My!). Readers don’t need to see the map to enjoy the journey.
Most of us were taught in school according to Freytag’s Pyramid. And for schoolchildren or very short stories, it works. The problem for novel writers is its simplicity and its unrealistic proportions.
Exposition, or the introduction of the Protagonist, starts out the story but it is usually quite brief before the Inciting Incident occurs to get the story going. The general opinion of the day is that the writer should jump right in with action and hook the reader early before they get away or, worse yet, bored.
Freytag’s Pyramid makes it seem as though all the action is rising in the first part on the book. No reprieves, no breaks, just a steadily increasing climb to the Climax. The Climax is where the highest pitch of action occurs, where the antagonist squares off with the protagonist. On this Pyramid, the Climax is centered so that the Rising Action and Falling Action are equal, ending with the Resolution, where everything is explained, and Denouement, the ending.
But we all know that the Climax isn’t in the middle of the book. It is a nice representation but not accurate for the novel writers of today. So let’s look at another diagram.
I much prefer this graphic as it properly demonstrates the climb in action or emotion and breaks it down into manageable sections. The plot may be as complicated as the writer wishes but the goal is a steady climb culminating in the Final Climax then a quick Denouement (wrap-up) and the End.
There may even be second or third additional plot lines woven around the main plot but don’t get carried away. Use additional plot lines only to accentuate the main plot, not to send the reader down a dead end road.
In prepping for this article I found my style of writing and it all goes back to Murphy’s Law. Murphy was a true pessimist when he stated “Anything that can go wrong, will.” Some, including Mrs. Murphy, felt that was a tad too cheery and added…”at the worst possible time.” In the world of suspense writing, it goes more like this, “Anything that can go wrong, should.”
The reason I prefer this chart is that it gives a brief respite after each crisis….a time for reader’s to catch their breath. In my books, there is often a touch of whimsy or humor at these points. Somewhat like nervous laughter after a close call. Too much tension and the reader may become burnt out before the final climax.
The falling action is short-lived and provides a wrap-up in a concise manner. I once read that the wrap-up should not be longer than fifteen pages.
Please don’t hold your crisis points to just three if your story absolutely requires more but don’t add more than one or two at the most. Readers don’t like to be toyed with.
And, once you have learned the basics, feel free to deviate from the path a little. You don’t want your work to become formulaic and predictable. I’ve stopped reading certain famous authors because after their first few books I saw their formulas showing…step one, step two, step three. There is little fun in it after you’ve seen the same trick over and over.