The Art of Plot
I meet many people who express their love for writing, their desire to write, their possession of notebooks brimming with free-floating paragraphs they consider marvelous and wish to share with the world, and their collection of saved voice notes describing either a glorious sunset or a painful break-up. Why don’t you write then, I’d ask, and the answer was invariably the same—I don’t have a plot, I don’t know how to sustain my idea over the course of a novel, I don’t know how to turn my childhood into a memoir, I don’t know how to conclude my short story.
Focusing on the Beginning
Well, let’s not worry about the end right now, let’s just look at the beginning. What should you think about when you’re writing a book? The answer is simple: It’s your character.
Who is your story about, what are they like, and more importantly, what do they want and what stands in the way of them getting it? The options are limitless; Jay Gatsby loves Daisy, but Daisy won’t leave her husband even though he has a mistress. Elizabeth Bennett wants to marry for love and not just security, but who should want to marry a woman who doesn’t know her place? Bertie Wooster is beside himself because his Man Friday is taking his annual leave, and he has an unfortunate habit of getting into sticky situations in his absence. These engaging openings are not unique to classical works alone; they extend to contemporary literature as well. Elizabeth Gilbert knows her New York life and relationship isn’t making her happy; she needs to be in Italy, eating. When Harry Potter discovers his true identity as a wizard, he must go to the Hogwarts School to learn about his powers and confront the dark wizard who killed his parents.
Who’s the Main Character?
For me, deciding who the main character is takes care of so much of the plot for you, and that is where I’d begin. Don’t give us the world—what are we going to do with something that shapeless—give us the world through their eyes. What are they focusing on and why? What are their immediate concerns, what are their desires, what brings meaning to their life?
Blow It All Up!
Now that you’ve set the stage and allowed us to sit down and take it in, blow it all up. Conflict is the lifeblood of storytelling, the thing that will show us our protagonist’s true mettle, or perhaps their erroneous beliefs about themselves. Set the wheels in motion for disaster, and then watch them respond; this is Rising Action. Are they going to fall apart, turn on their friends, betray their loved ones, or will they rise to the occasion? We shall find out at the next step, the Climax. If you’ve ever wanted to write an exciting reveal, here’s your place for it—Mr. Wickham is a cad after all, and now he’s run off with Lydia. And if they thought people looked down at them before, well, it’s about to get a lot worse. Or everything your hero wanted was waiting for them at home, but now they’ve imperiled it all with their misplaced quest.
Bring Some Balance
The next stage of your plot is Falling Action, the moment of truth is behind you, but everyone is still reverberating from the shock of it all. Now you must pick up the pieces, gather your loose threads, and head towards the final plot element, Resolution.
Arriving at Resolution
So, your protagonist got or didn’t get the thing they wanted—what were the lessons learned, how have they changed, what does the reader feel? Sometimes it’s quite soothing to imagine writing as a special gift conferred upon the few—a Dostoevsky here and a Dickens there—rather than a skill people can learn with tried and tested methods that can be applied.
Let the hero’s quest begin. The process of writing a captivating story involves weaving a complex tapestry of characters, desires, and conflicts. While the prospect of crafting a plot may seem daunting, breaking it down into distinct elements can provide you with a clear roadmap to guide your narrative journey.
Before you leave, let’s summarise these elements—Beginning, Conflict, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution—one last time.
Every story begins with a protagonist, their desires, and the obstacles that stand in their way. Setting the stage by introducing characters, their personalities, and their motivations sets the tone for the entire narrative.
Conflict is the driving force of any story, propelling characters into action and revealing their true selves. It ignites the rising action, pushing characters to confront challenges, make difficult choices, and evolve throughout the narrative.
The climax is the pinnacle of tension and drama, where secrets are unveiled, and decisions are made that shape the characters' fates. This pivotal moment engages readers, delivering revelations that leave a lasting impact.
- Falling Action:
After the climax, the falling action explores the aftermath of pivotal events. Characters grapple with consequences, experience growth, and tie up loose ends, providing a bridge between the climax and resolution.
The resolution brings closure to the narrative, addressing characters' desires and the lessons they've learned. It allows readers to witness the characters' transformations and provides a satisfying conclusion to the story's arc.
By mastering these key elements of plot, you can create a compelling narrative journey that captures the imagination and emotions of their audience. Embracing the art of storytelling through these components empowers writers to craft rich, layered stories that resonate long after the final page is turned. If you're eager to delve into the realm of plotting, don't miss the exclusive masterclass offered at Editorially.org.