Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Noveling 101: #2 Formulating the Plot

Plots, like poetry, the weather, and insane bloggers, are fickle things. Last time, I mentioned using flowcharts instead of chapter-by-chapter outlines to allow for greater flexibility. That's all well and good, but 90% of the time I don't actually have enough material to write a blurb at the beginning, let alone a flowchart. So how to build a plot out of, well, hardly anything at all?

It's killing me to say this, but that 'exposition–inciting incident–rising action–climax–falling action–denouement' from school actually works pretty well. Even if you're planning a structure as insanely complicated as Memento, try putting everything you've got in chronological order. From there on, you'll have to wait until my next post, which talks about how to connect plot points. ;)

But wait, what if there are no handy plot points floating around? Below is a short guide on how to throw together a plot. Try answering the questions with a sentence or two. Note that it assumes you have a setting, an MC and an antagonist already. Also note that after making this 'skeleton', you can choose to start your story from any point.
  1. Exposition: What problem is there in your setting? Is there a tyrant, a cage of pixies or a herd of magical donkeys? Who was the MC before the story begins? Does this past make him/her want something? Who was the antagonist before the story, and why is s/he the antagonist? What does s/he want? Does this conflict with what the MC wants? Remember that at this point, your world is still in equilibrium. Nothing too wild is going on, but it's the foundation of your plot.
  2. Inciting incident: Where your typical contemporary starts. What has changed that the MC or the antagonist is changing the aforementioned equilibrium into almighty conflict? People don't just decide to climb out of towers with a rope of hair, there must be some reason s/he decided to leave the original chrysalis. Sometimes, the MC has to make a choice here that will kickstart the entire story.
  3. Rising action: This is where the fun begins. I normally divide this into three points: (1) What is the immediate effect of the inciting incident? (e.g. princess leaves tower) (2) What other bad things does this lead to? Normally, this is where the antagonist steps in. (3) What does the MC do that distinguishes him/her from passersby and irritates the antagonist the most?
  4. Climax: All right, the antagonist isn't too happy. This is where the antagonist throws his/her worst at the MC. What is the worst loss of the MC? Does the MC overcome this loss? Or is s/he so crippled s/he cannot continue? This leads into ...
  5. Falling action: The prevailing MC sets things to rights, or the prevailing antagonist sets things to wrongs. Whichever way, this is where things start returning to equilibrium. The main question is: how are the main character and secondary characters ending off the conflict?
  6. Denouement: Remember the goals of the MC/antagonist in exposition? Are those goals achieved or not? How are they achieved, or what happens instead? (Optional) Does the MC learn anything? What has changed from the exposition?
In my book (sorry, couldn't resist), it's perfectly okay to not decide on 5 and 6 yet. Yes, you'll miss out on foreshadowing opportunities, but when you actually reach that part, whatever seems most natural and logical often does work. 

As a side note, here's the picture of the plot of my novel, A Song of Steel, structured like the above guidelines. 

Blurring is intentional to avoid spoilers.
You can make out the words if you try, so please don't try.
I wrote it during the fourth chapter, and it's gotten me through 100K words, so try it out for yourself! Remember, this doesn’t have to be a perfect, detailed plot; the main point is to give yourself a direction and get started on the novel. Editing can work miracles, but only if you have something to edit. 


  1. Oh my god. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Why hadn't I seen this on your blog before?! It's helped me loads! I can't thank you enough. Now I know exactly where my story's going. You're the most awesome person in the world. Are you going to make more Noveling 101 posts here or on Tumblr? Again, thanks so much, this'll get me through at least 50k words. I less-than-three you!

    1. Aw, I'm feeling all kinds of loved :D I am, in fact, sludging my way through another Noveling 101 post, which will also be posted on Tumblr. Hold on for a little while ;)


IMPORTANT: Please use Name/URL instead of Wordpress/OpenID to comment, otherwise Blogger hobbits will eat your words. So sorry about this. Thanks!

I respond to all comments and would love to check out your blog if you leave a link :D Unless it's spam. Then I'll delete the comment and put you on the takeout blacklist, what a shame!