Plot development can be the most difficult part about writing a story. Whether it is a fiction or non-fiction, your story needs a plotline that is easy to follow and makes sense. Many writers face challenges in this process, especially when there are things that just don't quite add up. For example, have you ever read a book or watched a movie that had inconsistencies or, what many would call major "plot holes"? These mistakes typically turn readers or viewers off from your story, so you want to make sure that you spend a good amount of time outlining the plot of your story. Here are a few tips and exercises that may help your in this process.
The most essential part of writing is being able to identify the conflict. In my previous article, I discussed character development. From completing those exercises, you should have been able to identify your protagonist's main conflict. Now, you need to focus on the story as a whole. What is the central conflict? What is the major goal/goals that your characters are working towards throughout this entire narrative? These are questions you need to consider when you are writing. A good tip here is to write your conflict on a post-it note. Put it in your brainstorming binder to help you remember what the main focus of your narrative is. This should prevent you from straying from the path too much when you are working on your manuscript.
Types of Conflicts:
Another important element of conflict is being able to identify the type of conflict that your main characters are facing in your novel. Is it an internal or an external conflict? Here is an overview of the types:
- Man vs. Man: Two characters against one another
- Man vs. Self: A conflict within the character's mind
- Man. vs. Nature: Think of a bad storm or something in nature that is getting in the way
- Man vs. Society: This could be against the government, societal values, or social norms
- Man vs. Machine: This is typical of many science fiction narratives
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Protagonist vs. Antagonist
You have established who is in your story. Now you need to take some time getting to know their role in the plot of your story. A good way to do this is to create a compare/contrast chart for your main heroes/villains. Good protagonists and antagonists are usually completely opposite of each other, much like the yin and the yang. However, it is also important that they have similarities as well. These likenesses are what brings two opposing forces together, and is usually what will make your manuscript more suspenseful and unique to others.
Think about some of the different scenarios that your hero may go through during the story. Using flash cards, write down a few examples of some interesting scenes that may spark your reader's attention. These note cards will come in handy later when you are trying to order and outline your manuscript. Keep them in a safe place and come back to them when you are ready.
The Freytag Model
Most of you will be familiar with "The Freytag Model" of plot development. This is typically taught to you in school when you are analyzing literature. What people don't know is that this is a great way to outline the main events of your narrative. Draw out the model on your own paper. Take some of the scenarios that you have written down and move them around on your plot chart. See what works and what doesn't work. Try out many different examples. Switch your resolution with your climax and see what happens. Once you have come up with an acceptable plotline that you are happy with, take a picture of it, frame it, or write that down. Make sure you don't lose it! This will be the most important part of your brainstorming binder!!!
After using The Freytag Model, you might also want to create a brief timeline for the events. This will help you visualize how your chapters will break down and in what order everything needs to happen. Again, this is something that you will want to hold on to and keep in a safe place as you are working on your manuscript so that you can make sure that you are staying on track. Another great tip is to create a checklist as you are writing. Write out in what chapter each even should take place, and when you have finished writing that chapter, place a check mark next to that idea on your timeline.
Most readers are able to identify a specific theme in a book that they have read. Even though you might not be thinking about theme as you are writing, it is still a very crucial part of your book. Before you begin writing your manuscript, take some time answering these quick questions to identify the theme of your story:
- What is the purpose?
- What are people to gain from reading this book?
- Are there any symbols that are particularly important?
- What is the main idea?
- What message would you like to send to readers after they have finished reading?
To comment on the last question, it might be a good idea to sit down and write a personal letter to the audience of your book. Identify in this letter what lessons and ideas you would want them to learn from your novel after they finish reading it. When you have finished writing your manuscript, come back to this letter and read it to yourself. Think about whether your intentions and accomplishments were met. If the letter still goes with what you initially said, than you have done your job. If not, you might need to make some changes and re-think your approach.
Pitching Your Story
One of the most crucial parts of completing a book is the pitching process. Agents are going to want to be moved and excited when they hear the pitch. Instead of waiting until after you have finished writing, you should write a pitch for your book BEFORE you write your manuscript. This will not only give you a starting point once it is complete, but it will also help you understand what your novel should be all about. Take out an index card and try to sum up your book in about 25 words or less. Make sure the message is simple, concise, and that it contains a proper hook. A hook is how you want to draw interest from your readers. Once you have written your pitch, keep it in your brainstorming binder as a reminder of what your goals are.
Figuring out the plot of your story can be the most grueling piece of work you will ever encounter. However, you don't have to make it hard. Take notes, pay attention to how your story develops, and keep that in mind before you start typing out your best-selling idea. If you focus and stay on the path of your plot, then you will end up completing a story. Remember, it is important to focus on the main ideas first, then you can go back and add the "fluff" and details to your story that make it out of this world! I hope you enjoyed this installment of tips for writers! The next topic we will be focusing on is choosing the setting of your story. Stay tuned and get writing!