PART 2: HOW TO PLOT A NOVEL IN 10 STEPS
Once you’ve read the posts above, your plot will begin to take shape in your imagination…
You’ll have a rough idea of what your leading character wants. You’ll know how the events of the novel will change him or her. And you’ll be able to split your story into three acts (the beginning, the middle and the ending).
Now it’s time to dive into the all-important details. We’ll begin, unsurprisingly, with…
Plotting the Beginning
Broadly speaking, the beginning of a plot is about dumping a problem on the main character’s shoulders, then making them commit to solving it. It involves these three steps…
*1. Start With the Status Quo.* We first meet the character in their ordinary world living their ordinary life. Nothing has happened yet.
*2. And Then Something Happens.* The plot kicks in for real when something disruptive comes along to turn the character’s ordinary world on its head.
*3. The Hero Makes a Decision to Act.* Before this, there may be a period of hesitation (such as the cop who doesn’t want to come out of retirement to solve the case). Eventually, though, they’ll commit to their goal.
Beginning a Novel “In Medias Res”
Before we turn to the middle section of your plot, here’s a post looking at a possible variation to the three steps above.
Beginning a plot when “nothing is happening” can be dull. One solution is to begin with the disruptive event in Step 2, and then go back to show how things were in Step 1.
Beginning “in the middle of things” is definitely one to consider if you want an effective way to hook your readers from the very first page.
*Plotting the Middle*
If the beginning of a plot is all about making a character take action, the middle deals with the action itself. More precisely, it deals with a whole series of “mini” actions.
The best way to achieve anything complicated in real life is to break it down into a series of steps. And that’s what the hero of your novel does…
*4. The First Mini Plot.* This is the first small thing the character must achieve to succeed in their overall, novel-length goal. Needless to say, it goes horribly wrong and probably leaves them in a worse position. They’re committed now, though, so there’s no backing out.
*5. More Mini Plots.* The character keeps pushing forward, experiencing more setbacks and the occasional small victory as they go. The tension rises and rises as they move closer to the object of their overall quest.
*6. Rock Bottom.* The middle ends at a moment of disaster. This is the most intense point of the entire plot, when the hero has seemingly failed and everything looks hopeless.
*Plotting the Ending*
The final phase of the plot deals with the consequences of the action. And on the basis that fiction is so much neater than real life, it’s also about tidying up the loose ends.
*Here’s how it pans out step by step…*
*7. Reaction* . The character reacts emotionally to the devastating blow they’ve just experienced. Right now, they’re emotionally dead.
*8. Rebirth.* But they then undergo a sort of epiphany. Something happens to make them realize where they’ve gone wrong all this time and what they must now do to put things right. (Incidentally, this is the point at which the character changes.)
*9. Seizing the Prize (or Not).* Strengthened by their epiphany, the leading man or woman goes on to fight the final battle. And they win! (In a twist on this, they may decide that they no longer want what they thought they wanted. But that newfound wisdom is a kind of victory in itself.)
*10. The New Status Quo.* The conflict is over and all is well in the jungle again. Take this opportunity to tie any loose ends and highlight what has changed between the beginning of the plot and the ending.