Are you new to fiction writing? If so, you may be confused about plotting.
You have questions:
- What’s a plot?
- Do you need a plot?
- What if you’re convinced that you “can’t plot?”
Let’s answer those questions.
Fiction writing: plotting for beginners
Basically a plot in fiction is a series of events which are linked by cause and effect.
And yes, your fiction needs a plot. Plotless fiction isn’t satisfying to readers and it’s not much fun to write either.
If you’re convinced that the plotting fairy failed to bestow her gifts on you, that’s fine. Some authors love plots and outlines. Other authors would rather stick a fork in their eyeball than develop a rigid outline — I belong to this group.
In Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Create A Character, I shared my cavalier approach to plotting:
Once I have a main character, a BIG problem for the character, and an antagonist, I start writing. I’m a pantser, pretty much. That said, I rely on my intuition. Should some good ideas magically arrive, I might outline the major plot points (beats) of the novel.
I’ve become competent at plotting over the years. However, I know that I’m a natural pantser. When I force myself to plot I risk losing my inspiration for a novel.
Let’s look at a couple of tips which will help you to discover your plot while you’re writing.
Discovering your plot while you’re writing is easy, and it’s fun too.
1. Focus on your characters: give them lots of problems, and make choices
Plotting starts when you have a character with problems and a goal. This isn’t just any goal — it’s a goal he MUST achieve, or die. He may not die physically, but his life is over.
Many of your characters’ problems stem from who they are — as many of our problems do, too.
In Plotting Fiction Made Easy With Strong Characters: 3 Tips we recommended that you give your story people positive and negative character traits, and:
A suggestion: any positive character trait can become a negative trait (flaw.) Traits, both positive and negative, tend to be on a continuum.
Your plot is what your characters DO — and what they do in response to any event depends on their traits (attributes).
For example, let’s say that your novel’s main character, Bill, is arrested for murdering his ex-wife. Bill has a problem. Bill also has a goal: to prove that he didn’t murder his ex-wife.
You’re the author: you have ultimate power. So you choose Bill’s attributes, and decide that he’s: introverted, self-critical, and witty. Bearing these traits in mind, how will he react to his arrest? Who does he call? What does he do next?
Vital tip: once you’ve decided what kind of personality Bill has, that immediately affects what he does.
Bill is your character — you can give him any personality traits you choose. Perhaps you decide that Bill is honest, intelligent, and attractive to women. Now he’s a different kind of person from introverted, self-critical Bill.
This alternate version of Bill will react in a different way to his arrest for murder.
After you’ve created a main character and have given him certain attributes, your plot begins when you give him a BIG problem. Your character’s step by step actions, and reactions, create your plot.
Major tip — the bigger the problem, the better.
Go to Amazon and read the blurbs of bestselling novels for examples of big problems.
(BTW — speaking of blurbs; here’s how to write blurbs.)
2. Plotting fiction: keep your characters acting and reacting
You’ll give your main character a BIG problem — one that seems overwhelming, given the personality he has. Readers like to see main characters fight for what they want.
Fiction is about change, so your main characters need to change in response to the events of your novel. Remember the cause and effect of your plot: something happens, then your character acts, and as a result of his actions, something else happens… And your PLOT grows.
We talked about your novel’s milestones in this blog post. By the end of the setup phase of your novel (the setup is around 25% of a novel) you need to have everything in place for ongoing fireworks as your main character struggles and grows.
Now your story takes a major twist — you need a major change at the end of the setup point; something readers don’t expect.
For example, if you were writing Bill’s story, by the end of the setup Bill is released from jail. He’s out on bail. Not only has poor Bill lost his job so he needs to find money for a lawyer, his teenage children believe that he’s guilty. They’ve gone to live with their grandparents who hate him…
The twist? Bill discovers that his wife was leading a double life.
As long as you keep cause and effect in mind, you’ll discover your plot when you keep writing. Remember cause and effect, write on, and have fun. 🙂
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