{PLOT DEVELOPMENT}


Plot is the series of events in a story; it’s the action, the stuff that happens. A good plot is logical, believable, and compelling enough to keep the reader reading.

Two Sentence Test

In order to create a strong structure, identify the main plot. If you can’t tell someone what your story, novel, or screenplay is about in two sentences, you probably aren’t ready to build the structure and should spend more time developing your ideas. Your two sentences should identify the main character, the main character’s goal, and the conflict.

Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files, offers this structure: “WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS, YOUR PROTAGONIST pursues a GOAL. But will he succeed when the ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION?”

Ex. from the film Finding Nemo: When his wife and all but one of his children are eaten, Marlin tries to keep Nemo, his remaining child, safe. But will he succeed when Nemo is caught by a fisherman and an entire dangerous ocean stretches between Marlin and his son?

Point of View

Point of view (POV) is the perspective from which your story is told. Ask yourself, “Who has the most to lose?” or “Who will be hurt by this?” Those questions lead you to characters and often to your POV.

There are two primary points of view used in writing fiction:

  1. First person narration is written from the character’s perspective. It uses “I.” First person automatically heightens your story’s emotion because the reader is in the character’s head, hearing his or her thoughts. Its drawback is that the reader only gets that one perspective. Since the character doesn’t always witness all of the action taking place, it can make including necessary plot elements a challenge.
  2. Third person narration is written as though the writer is in the room with the characters and is recording what happens. With third person, more than one character can be followed and we can read the minds of more than one character, which gives the writer more freedom. The downside is that following too many characters can become confusing for readers. 
Immediate Goal

This is what the character aims for at from the beginning—the Immediate Goal should:

Conflict

Conflict occurs when someone or something decides that the character should not reach the goal. The opponent does not necessarily have to be a Darth Vadar-type embodiment of evil; a well-meaning but misguided relative, for instance, can be just as effective at stopping action as an evil mastermind. Conflict can also be a result of circumstance. In The Outsiders, we learn that the protagonist’s brother, Darry, had received a scholarship to play football; that was his goal. But when his parents died, he had to abandon his dream in order to raise his younger brothers. That’s conflict. Good conflict should:

New Goal

The New Goal is established when the character realizes that attaining his Immediate Goal will not be as simple as anticipated. A barrier has been established by the conflict and the character must overcome that barrier to achieve the goal. The New Goal should:

Sequence of Events

Most stories follow a similar sequence of events. As the main character moves through the sequence, he/she grows or changes. Make sure the beginning of the story leads believably into the middle and the end.  Readers like the ending to be a surprise but appreciate it when there have been clues to that surprise all along.

The typical sequence includes:

Exposition

In the opening of the story, readers meet the main characters and begin to understand the central conflict. Readers also learn important background information. Some stories begin at the beginning (“Once upon a time, there was a frog … “) but often the story begins in media res—a Latin expression meaning “in the middle of things.” For example, E.B. White opens Charlotte’s Web with the line, “’Where's Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Instantly, readers are, like Fern, wondering where Papa is headed with that axe, but they’re also wondering who Papa is and who Fern is and why she cares about Papa and the axe. Having gotten your attention, White then quickly begins to provide answers to those questions.

Rising Action

In Rising Action, tension is mounting. Your character is moving steadily towards the New Goal and the final showdown. This could be a preparation for battle or a confrontation with a lesser foe. Rising Action should:

Climax/Turning Point
The climax is the “beatdown.” where the opposing sides square off and fight it out—not necessarily literally. It is, as writer Jim Butcher puts it, where the story’s question is answered. A good climax should:

Falling Action
Everything that happens as a result of the climax is the falling action. The falling action should:

Resolution (or Denouement)
This is where the loose ends get tied up. The lovers finally kiss, there’s a wedding/funeral, someone receives a medal, or the old cowhand gives a speech to the young upstart who just saved the town. It’s the beginning of a new (and hopefully improved) reality. A good resolution should:

References

Buckham, Mary and Dianna Love. Break into Fiction. Holbrook: Adams Media, 2009.
 
Butcher, Jim. Jim’s LiveJournal. Fundamentals--Story Skeletons. Web. Sept 29 2004. June 17 2010.
 
Knight, Damon. Creating Short Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997.
 
Schaefer, Candace and Rick Diamond. The Creative Writer. Addison-Wesley, 1998.