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.
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.
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