Referring back to my first post entitled “Making a List and Checking it Twice”, I will now address the sixth (and by my opinion the most complicated) fundamental element for writing a novel: the Plot.
I’ve had experience concocting plots for short stories or table top PnP games, but I hope to learn more about building complex, compelling plots before I undertake the massive challenge of writing a novel.
In literary terms, the plot is a series of interconnected events, meant to organize information in a comprehensive sequence, which leads the audience to an intended outcome. It is the foundation of a story, built around characters and settings. Every event mentioned usually has a specific meaning or importance; establishing connections, suggesting causes, and showing relationships.
The plot has many different purposes. It begins by establishing the main characters and the setting, drawing attention to the key components which will be explored in the story. It then shows how these important elements are linked together, and how they will affect the outcome. The plot then guides the audience through a logical pattern of events, gradually revealing information, building up tension until it reaches the conflict. This conflict is what motivates the characters to act or change, moving the narrative forward, leading the reader to the climax. Once the climax has been resolved, the audience then follows the plot through the falling action and onto the ending. This entire process is meant to hook the reader, create an emotional attachment that will draw them in, wanting to know what happens next. By the end, the reader should have a sense of completion and satisfaction from the story's conclusion.
The plot itself is composed of five elements:
Welcome to Plot Mountain!
- Exposition: Also known as the beginning or the introduction, this is where the characters, setting and other plot elements are revealed. Depending on the size of the narrative, the introduction can vary from a few paragraphs to a couple of chapters. Another important point in the introduction, is the narrative hook, which the author uses to catch the reader's attention.
Rising Action: The rising action is a series of events building up in intensity, in turn leading to the conflict. Normally the main characters and setting have been established by this point, allowing the author to focus on excitement, tension and crisis. The conflict or main problem is introduced, and though the characters may take actions against it though, they will not succeed in resolving the issue until later.
- Climax: Also referred to as the turning point, this moment in the story is meant to be the peak of highest interest and emotion. It is the point where the characters confront the conflict, and face the possibility that they may or may not succeed in resolving it. The climax guides the reader through the characters interaction with the conflict and (hopeful) resolution of the situation.
- Falling Action: In this part of the plot, the reader knows what has happened following the conflict. The events and other complications begin to resolve as a result of the actions taken by the characters.
- Resolution: Also known as the ending or the conclusion, this part of the plot concludes the falling action by completing all elements addressed in the story; loose ends are tied up, conflicts are concluded, outcomes are revealed and a happy or tragic ending takes place.
Any plot will have these basic elements to it, however the way in which the story elements are arranged will affect it’s structure. Structure will vary depending on the needs of the story, thus dictating how information is presented to the audience. It is like how certain information will be withheld in a mystery novel in order to not reveal the true nature of the plot before the end. There exists various forms of storytelling structure, but here are the basic four types:
- Linear Plot: This is a chronological structure where the story relates events in the order in which they happened. They first establish the setting and conflict, then move on to the rising action, through to a central climax and concludes with a denouement.
- Non-linear Plot: This structure is when the narrative moves back in time, giving the reader information about events that occurred previously; either earlier in or possibly even prior to the story. This phenomenon is often called “flashbacks”. Though they can occasionally be problematic for the reader to comprehend, if done well, they allow the author to begin the story in the midst of the action, coming back at a later point to fill in the background for better understanding.
- Episodic Plot: Also based on a chronological structure, this plot has a series of incidents tied together by a common theme and/or characters. This structure is best used to explore various character personalities, their backgrounds, different settings or eras.
- Parallel Plot: Two or more progressive plots that are intertwined, usually linked by a common character and/or theme.
Additionally to the plot structure, there are various plot types. Now, I have been reading about plot types recently, and the “school of thought” on this subject seems very diverse to say the least. There seems to be six different opinions on the number of possible plot lines (1, 3, 4, 7, 20, 36). I will give a quick overview of each, from my understanding.
1 Plot Line Theory: This version is so basic, that it strips away everything but the actual definition of what a plot is; a series of events leading to the solving of a conflict (Protagonist “A” attempts to solve Conflict “B” in order to reach Goal “C”). It encompasses every form of literature.
3 Plot Line Theory: This version seems to be focused on the resolution of a plot. The three options are based on the possible end results a story may have: the happy ending, the unhappy ending, or the ending that would happen regardless of actions taken. I agree that the ending should have an impact on the path leading to it, but the outcome should not dictate the journey. Though it is important, I still feel this option is too vague.
4 Plot Line Theory: In this version, the storyline is guided by one of the key elements of the story. The four elements are: the milieu (or setting), the idea (or theme), the characters or the event (or conflict). Each of these four possibilities would have a great and varied impact on the narrative. Like the three plotline theory, I feel that the four plotline structure is still a little vague.
7 Plot Line Theory: The seven plotline theory is based on the plot’s conflict. The options are: man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. environment, man vs. technology, man vs. the supernatural, man vs. self and man vs. religion. I personally believe that describing a plot by it’s conflict is the best option, as it gives the perfect idea of the events that will transpire in the story, without going into specifics.
20 Plot Line Theory: Also referred to as the “Master Plots”, this theory seems to be focused on the theme within the story. The plot is built around the underlying message of a story. Here is the list for the 20 Plot Line Theory:
- Forbidden Love
- Wretched Excess.
36 Plot Line Theory: Also referred to as the “Dramatic Situations”, this theory seems to be focused on the subject, or the “what is going on” of the story.The plot is built around the reason behind the story, helping make the subject the centerpiece of the story. Here is the list for the 36 Plot Line Theory:
- Adultery (leading to Murder)
- Being subjected to Cruelty of Misfortune
- Conflict with a God
- Crime Pursued by Vengeance
- Crimes of Love
- Crimes of Love (Involuntary)
- Daring Enterprise
- Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
- Enmity of Kinsmen
- Erroneous Judgement
- Fatal Imprudence
- Love (for an Enemy)
- Love (loss of Loved Ones)
- Love (obstacles preventing love)
- Mistaken Jealousy
- Recovery of a Lost One
- Rivalry (of Kinsmen)
- Rivalry (of Superior and Inferior)
- Sacrifice (of Self for an Ideal)
- Sacrifice (of Self for Kindred)
- Sacrifice (of Self for Passion)
- Sacrifice (Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones)
- Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
- Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
Given the difference in opinions on how Plot Types should be classified, it is normal to still be somewhat perplexed by the structure of a plot. The theories I have come across feel either too vague or too specific to offer any good insight on the various types of plot structure. So, using the details I listed above, I plan on using an amalgamation of the 4 and 7 plot line theory (based on key elements and conflict) for my works in progress. Hopefully you will get to see the end results!
That is all for today, hope I managed to teach you something new! So until next time!