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Keep Your Manuscript from Winding up in a Drawer

Keep Your Story From Winding Up in a Drawer

How to Write a Novel to the End: Why Plot Your Novel?

While I’m not against organic writing, for most writers plotting your novel is a good idea. We’ve all experienced stories that turn flat, where a subplot takes over as a character hijacks the story, or that start strong but halt you with an unmovable roadblock.

Let’s face it, those stories often wind up in a drawer.  Why does this happen? Because they began on a spark of inspiration led by gut instinct but no plan. Simply stated, inspiration feeds your soul and instinct draws on your emotions, but plotting brings more of your intellect into the equation from the start.

Keep Your Story from Winding Up in a Drawer by @JanalynVoigt |Live Write Breathe

What is a Plot?

A plot is a series of significant events (scenes) that together make up a story. My series on plotting a novel in three acts covers in detail the six key scenes in the classic three-act plotting structure introduced by the philosopher, Aristotle..

What is a Scene?

A scene is an event weighted by conflict that calls for a decision leading to reactions and consequences that propel the plot closer to its conclusion.

Let’s break this down, more slowly.

A scene is:

  • an occurrance. Your characters express their thoughts, emotions, and attitudes in action and words. They happen to your story rather than your story happening to them.
  • weighted by conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. For example, every writer learns that having your character take a shower is boring. However, the shower scene in the movie, Psycho, is usuallyn not described as boring. The difference? Conflict.
  • calls for a decision. The conflict in the scene should attempt to push your scene’s central character further from his or her aims, creating the need for a decision. As in real life, this choice should be based on the character arc of the scene’s central character and can be wise or unwise .
  • that inspires reaction.  Once made, the protagonist’s decision should evoke reactions, either in the present scene or often in new scenes. Those reacting will be the protagonist and other characters impacted by the decision. Forgetting to factor in reactions is a common mistake made by writers. This is a shame since including a full range of reactions adds rich layers to a story.
  • that bring consequences. The protagonist of your story will have to deal with changes brought about by the decision made in the scene. During the development phase of your story, these consequences should move your protagonist further from a desired outcome. Later, they will thrust the story toward its climactic scene and your protagonist toward victory.
  • that propels the plot.  The scenes in your story needs to be lined up like a dominos that fall to trigger the story’s climactic scene. Any scene that does less should be cut or rewritten. That’s not to say that every moment in your story needs to have screaming tension but all scenes must advance the plot in some way.

Some Final Thoughts

Inspiration can leave you high and dry just when you need it most, and relying on instinct alone can lead you down bunny trails.  The leveling influence of careful thought added to inspiration informed by your instincts as a writer make a powerful combination.  Using your plot as a guideline rather than a straightjacket as you write lets you readily flex between inspiration, instinct, and intellect.


If you’ve benefitted from this article, please consider sharing to help others. Thank you.  Janalyn

  • Careful thought added to inspiration informed by your instincts as a writer make a powerful combination. Click to Tweet.
  • Use your plot as a guideline to flex between inspiration, instinct, and intellect. Click to Tweet.
  • A scene is an event weighted by conflict that calls for a decision leading to reactions and consequences. Click to Tweet.

Related Plotting Articles

Defining Your Characters (Who Are These People, Anyway?)

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Written by Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt

© Janalyn Voigt
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I’m Janalyn Voigt, an author, speaker, and former social media mentor. DawnSinger and Wayfarer, the first two books in my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, released with Pelican Book Group and will be followed by at least two more installments. I’m also working on a romantic suspense novel set in an Irish castle, but then historical fiction has a grip on me too. Being unabashedly multi-genre makes me into what some might term a reluctant rebel, but I prefer to think of myself as a storyteller.

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