The Essentials Of Plot (#IWSG)

Or, Plotting for Pansters

So I’ve been engaged quite a bit in the trenches of Plotty-Plotness (i.e., the Plot Mire) of late, what with Project Insanity keeping me so busy and all. The key, I’ve found, is to (heh) have key scenes or sequences at least percolating in the back of your mind for each plot point.

Of course, the really awesome thing about having your key scenes/sequences planned ahead of time when you’re writing novellas, is that, by the end, you HAVE your novella at least outlined. Apparently that’s cheating or something, but hey–whatever makes the job easier, right? Work smarter, not harder I say.

I’m a visual-type person, so I like to sketch it out on white board or piece of paper until I have a plot sketch in seven or so parts:

Here’s a hint: watch a favorite movie on Netflix or via DVD on a computer, where you get the little progress bar down at the bottom. Every time something important happens, check your progress bar to see where you are in the movie.

1. SETUP (0-10%)

This is where you establish all the musts of story: character, world, tone, and lines of conflict. (I think of each line of conflict as individual plot lines, growing hotter the further along the story gets).

Personally, I like to have an opening scene or sequence that will end up mirroring my ending scene/sequence in terms of imagery, to create resonance with my reader. I also like to bring my protagonist around full circle in some way.


This is The Moment, the one that starts everything in motion–the Lighting of the Fuse. Character arc and conflict all get kicked into motion up a rising, building hill toward Midpoint. Think of one of those Mayan pyramid thingies, with the steps built into it all the way to the tippy top.

3. PLOT POINT 1: (25%)

This is a turning point, usually one of failure for your protagonist. Either something they thought isn’t true, or wasn’t what they imagined to begin with. Or it’s the first fight of the story against a lesser bad guy, and the protagonist either loses, or wins but at a tremendous cost.

In my fantasy novel THE MISTREL’S DAUGHTER, my hero’s hometown is attacked for the first time, and though they get out of it, my hero’s secrets begin to unravel and there’s a cost to the town, who’ve been at peace for pretty much forever. And everyone knows the enemy will be coming back sooner rather than later.

4. MIDPOINT (50%)


It really doesn’t get much easier than that, but let’s go a bit further. Go back to the Mayan pyramids. Your hero’s been climbing the steps to the top. He reaches it.

Suddenly, the entire view changes. He can everything around him in a grand vista, including everything behind him, and everything ahead. (Although–and this is important–he might be missing a few essential bits of information because of the canopy of trees below–like, say, tigers or hostile natives).

But it is the point where the hero makes a decision, and stops fumbling around so much. He comes up with A Plan. It’s a good Plan.

Alas, pride often comes before the Fall. Or, in this case:

5. PLOT POINT 2 (75%)

My excellent editor the Pink Hammer calls this point the Doomstick. Because the hero’s Grand Master Plan is doomed to fail to a certain extent, if not entirely. Usually because there’s something he’s missing, such as forgetting that the antagonist has been doing a fair amount of planning himself. And since he has quite a bit more information than the hero, well…

Ah. THERE’S the Doomstick. We were wondering when it was going to come along to muck things up.

In THE MINSTREL’S DAUGHTER, my hero goes to face the Big Bad in single combat, only to be taken prisoner instead. Because Big Bads don’t tend to have an awful lot of honor or integrity, don’tcha know. They don’t tend to play by the Rules.

6. CLIMAX (90%)

The hero has gotten up off the ground, dusted himself off, and is now speeding toward that inevitable, exciting conclusion. There are no other choices to be made–it’s down to him or the antagonist, with probably just a little bit a fate thrown in for good measure. Hopefully, the Big Bad (or, least, the Big Conflict) has been sorted here. This is the Final Battle.


This is where the little plot threads fully tie off (unless you’re writing a series, and there’s One Big Conflict you’re carrying across multiple books). Everyone gets their feelings out, the pressure has been relieved in some significant way. It’s time to look to the future, to Life After The Story.

And there you have it, folks–a plot structure breakdown, point by point. But don’t take my word for it–to take a look at book or movie you know well, take it apart, and see how it works! 🙂




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