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Road Lizard

This thread is about plot. Yes, plot. That nasty four-letter word that your grandmother would wash your mouth out with soap if she heard you say aloud. It goes by other obscenities such as narrative, story, design, events, etc., but it's really not so bad once you understand it.

I admit, I'm no expert on plot, but I do write quite a lot of it, and I really kind of love it, so here's my attempt at explaining the inner workings of a plot.

2/26/2012 . Edited 3/18/2012 #1
Road Lizard

In this first installment, we'll start with the basics…the very basics.

Definition:

Plot

-noun

1. the main story of a novel, play, fic, etc.

2. a series of events that are connected

3. a small piece of ground in which to plant carrots

(Number three isn't relevant in this case…sorry Sky.)

Plotting (for Sophie)

-verb

1. the act of conceiving and arranging the of events of a novel, play, fic, etc.

Okay, so the definitions are broad. Let's break them down, shall we…

The plot is the what and why of a story. It's the events (the what) that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence, and it's the why those events happened. The quality of a plot is judged by how convincing the connection of events is established and if it accomplishes an artistic or emotional effect.

If an author writes, "He was born, then he died," there's no plot for a story. But by writing, "He was born, he lived, then he died, tragically," the writer has provided a plot for the story- why did he die tragically? What occurred in his life that leads to a tragic death? Now, you can begin plotting with that.

Plot is about storytelling. A story could have perfect grammar, great characters, an ornate setting, and a detailed timeline, but without a plot, all you have are story elements; you don't have a story.

Now, having said that, plot isn't always necessary in fanfiction, because, well, the plot has already been created for the fanfiction author. If you write within the canon timeline, and you mainly want to focus on character interaction, there's no need to develop a plot. But if you want to venture outside the confines of canon or create your own fanon, a plot is most often required…and I'll get into the pros and cons of plotting in fanfiction and the limitations of canon in a later installment.

The basic purpose of a plot is to draw the reader into the character's lives and help the reader understand the choices the characters make. Plot should arouse emotion in the psyche of the reader: happiness, fear, pity, etc. By some, plot is considered the most important story element, even more important than the characters, but I believe a good combination of all story elements is ultimately the way to go, though with the plot being thoroughly convincing and adequately researched, if necessary.

Plots are most often driven by conflict, which is an easy way to make events happen. In action/adventure, the conflict is most often with the big bad. In romance, it's the love triangle. In angst, it can be a character's death. In drama, it can be any number of things that would cause a problem for the character(s). It's the sequence of events that occur during the conflict that makes the plot.

Let's go back to my earlier example: "He was born, he lived, then he died, tragically." In adventure it could be, "He was born a hero who was destined to fight the monster. He trained hard in preparation. When it came time to fulfill his destiny, he fought the monster bravely, but tragically, he was killed in the fight."

In romance, it could be, "He was born into royalty and was betrothed to an aristocrat. He found the woman he was to marry attractive, but he fell in love with her handmaiden, instead. He was discovered in bed with the maiden by his new wife, who, in a violent rage, murdered her cheating husband."

Three sentences, that's all it takes to have a story with a plot. You have the beginning, the middle, and the end. Now, of course, you want more events and more detail in your story, but you get the picture.

In the next installment of Plot, I'll explain narrative structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

2/26/2012 . Edited 2/26/2012 #2
Road Lizard

In the next five installments of Plot, we'll dive into the wonderful world of narrative structure! (That was meant to be seething with sarcasm.)

A plot's structure is the way in which the story elements are arranged. Writers vary structure depending on the needs of a story, but the most popular structure used is the five-phase plot structure.

Plot at the most basic level must have a beginning, middle, and end. Plot at a more complex level will have five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, which is still basically a beginning (exposition), middle (rising action, climax, falling action), and end (resolution). This five-phase narrative structure, which is the most commonly used structure, is known as Freytag's Structure.

Now, all those big words may seem intimidating, but once you break them down and apply them, you'll see it's not intimidating at all. You'll actually find the phases and steps are a helpful guideline for plotting and outlining your story.

3/1/2012 . Edited 3/1/2012 #3
Road Lizard

Naturally, we'll start with the beginning:

Exposition

The exposition introduces all of the main characters in the story and the world they live in. It shows how the characters relate to one another, what their goals and motivations are, and the kind of person they are. In fanfiction, this part isn't quite as important as it is in original fiction, because the setting and characters are already predetermined. If the reader is reading your fanfic, it's safe to assume that reader has read the original work and is already familiar with the characters and setting of your fic. However, if you're writing outside of canon (i.e. AU or using OCs), you'll want to take care in the exposition of your setting and characters.

The most important part of the exposition is introducing the main character to the audience. It's the part of the story in which the main character gets to know his or her goal and what is at stake if s/he fails to attain that goal. The exposition could take up several chapters at the beginning of your fic depending on how many characters you're introducing and how elaborate the setting is. I suggest a gradual introduction of these elements to avoid info-dumping and to keep a steady pace and flow to your story. If you're writing a series, the entire first book could be an exposition in itself that's woven into the plot of the book.

Once you've introduced the characters and setting, it's time to introduce the conflict, which will be explained in the next installment of Plot.

3/1/2012 . Edited 3/1/2012 #4
Road Lizard

Rising Action

Rising Action is the second phase in the five-phase structure, which begins after the exposition and kicks off with the conflict. This is the phase of your story where the plot really cranks up and advances.

Rising action begins at the time when all of the major characters have been introduced, their motives and allegiances have been made clear (for the most part, anyway), and they begin their struggle (i.e. your characters begin their quest.)

Generally, in this phase the protagonist understands his goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems hinder his initial success, and his progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase shows us how he overcomes these obstacles. These obstacles are the events (the what) that lead up to the turning point of the story.

Plot devices and plot points are vital elements in this phase. These elements help create events in the story as well as advance the plot.

Definitions:

Plot device: an object or character in the story whose purpose is purely to drive the plot or resolve situations.

Plot point: any event, appearance of characters or objects, or any kind of piece of information which is integral to driving the plot towards its conclusion.

By the end of this phase, your character has overcome his many struggles, and he is finally in a position to go up against his primary goal, which will happen at the beginning of the next phase- climax.

3/10/2012 . Edited 3/10/2012 #5
Road Lizard

Climax

The climax is what it's all been leading up to. (Not that kind of climax; get your mind out of the gutter.) It's where your story makes its turn, reaches its height, and the forces of good and evil collide. The hero and the big bad finally have their battle. *cue climactic music*

This dramatic phase called the climax is the third of the five phases. The climax is the turning point of the story where the main character makes the single big decision that defines the outcome of their story and who they are as a person.

The beginning of this phase is marked by the protagonist finally having cleared away the preliminary barriers and is now ready to engage with the adversary. Usually, entering this phase, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other. Now, for the first time we see them going against one another in direct, or nearly direct, conflict.

This struggle results with neither character completely winning, nor losing, against the other. Usually, each character's plan is partially successful, and partially foiled by their adversary. What's unique about this central struggle between the two characters is that the protagonist makes a decision which shows us his moral quality, and ultimately determines his fate. In some cases, the protagonist here makes a bad decision, which is his miscalculation and so appears his fatal flaw.

This third phase is normally the best part of the story, filled with the most action and adventure. It's the point that the reader has been anticipating, the point where the reader is on the edge of their seat and hanging onto every word.

In the next installment, we tie up loose ends with falling action.

3/18/2012 . Edited 3/18/2012 #6
Road Lizard

Falling Action

So, the protagonist and the big bad had their first big battle, and neither came out of it a winner. They're at a stalemate, but emotions are still churning, and the adrenaline is still pumping, and decisions have to be made.

In the falling action phase, loose ends are tied up. However, it is often the time of greatest overall tension in the story, because it's the phase in which everything goes most wrong.

In this phase, the villain has the upper hand, and it seems that evil will triumph. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing the goal. Good winning over evil is in question. The protagonist must to pick a side. Will he choose good or evil? And this may not be immediately clear to the audience. Once the protagonist decides the path he will take (most often he'll play the hero that fights for good), he's ready to take on his adversary in one final epic battle, which leads to the resolution of the plot.

3/26/2012 . Edited 3/26/2012 #7
Road Lizard

Resolution

In the last phase of the five phase structure, there is a final confrontation between the hero and the big bad, where one or the other decisively wins. This phase is the story of that confrontation, of what leads up to it, of why it happens the way it happens, what it means, and what its long-term consequences are. Questions are answered, decisions are confirmed, and there is finally a winner. The hero has finally resolved his struggle, and whether he was the winner or not, the game is still over and he must face the consequences, be it good or bad.

3/26/2012 . Edited 3/26/2012 #8
Road Lizard

Okay, so now that we've got narrative structure out of the way, and you've learned how to arrange your story elements, you're probably thinking: but how the hell do I implement this crap? I know what I'm supposed to do, but how exactly do I do it?

No worries! I will explain it all…well, try to, at least. In the next few installments of plot, we'll cover plotting, outlining, and devices used to advance the plot of your story.

3/26/2012 . Edited 3/26/2012 #9
Road Lizard

Before we get into plotting, let's get a few definitions out of the way. In this installment, we'll review plot devices.

Plot device

A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story. It's a means of advancing the plot by oftenmotivating characters, creating urgency, or resolving a difficulty.

This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with narrative technique, that is, by making things happen because characters take action for solid, well-motivated reasons. As an example, when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day, that can be argued to be a plot device; when an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself saves the day due to a change of heart, that is dramatic technique.

Familiar types of plot devices include the Deus ex Machina, the MacGuffin, and the Red Herring.

The MacGuffin

A MacGuffin refers to a physical object (or character) which drives the actions of the characters as they search for it or try to obtain it, but whose actual nature is not important to the story. Another object would work just as well if the characters treated it with the same importance.

MacGuffins are frequently found in 'quest' stories as the magic artifact which the hero must recover in order to save the world.

Deus ex Machina

The term deus ex machina is used to refer to a narrative ending in which an improbable event is used to resolve all problematic situations and bring the story to a conclusion.

Red Herring

A red herring diverts the audience away from something significant. These are very common in mystery, horror and crime stories. The typical example is in whodunits, in which facts are presented so that the audience is tricked into thinking that a given character is the murderer, when it is actually another character.

Other devices

Another form of plot device is the object, typically given to the protagonist shortly before, that allows them to escape from a situation that would be otherwise impossible. Examples of this might include the object given to a character which later stops or deflects an otherwise fatal bullet. Other plot devices are simply intended to get the protagonist to the next scene of the story.

Some other plot devices include:

Deathtrap- overly complicated method of killing a character, used solely to provide a means of escape. Often this is combined with an additional plot device whereby the assassin leaves the scene so there is no one to witness the victim's expected demise, thereby giving the captive the opportunity to openly free himself. This is sometimes unknown to secondary or miscellaneous characters, various associates of the villain, the other protagonists, or the audience itself until the character is needed. The character in this way also functions as a deus ex machina.

Story arc- A story arc is a sequence of episodes (books in a series) that puts characters through their paces in response to a single challenge in an ongoing storyline. This can be the focus of the entire series.

4/11/2012 . Edited 4/11/2012 #10
Road Lizard

More terms:

Plot Point

A plot point is any event, appearance of characters or objects, or any kind of piece of information which is integral to driving the plot towards its conclusion. Often a plot point will be introduced at the beginning of a story and passed off by the characters as something obscure or insignificant, only to later be revealed to them as very important to or indicative of events that take place later.

Writers can be very subtle in weaving the plot points into their stories, but if readers are aware of what to look for, they're noticeable.An author should make such plot points memorable enough that the reader remembers the point and goes "a-ha" when it comes time to resolve them.

In contrast to foreshadowing, which may be no more than a hint at things to come added for artistic fluff, plot points are crucial to following the plot. If you miss one, you'll likely be scratching your head later as events play out.

4/16/2012 . Edited 4/16/2012 #11
Road Lizard

Plot Threads (sub-plots)

Most stories will have the focus follow the hero and his friends from their first meeting all the way through to the end. However, that's not to say that events only occur in the hero's vicinity, as if the world revolved solely around the hero or that there is only one story arc being told throughout the narrative. Therefore, some authors choose to show a wider range of action by alternating focus on the various groups of characters who deal with their own contributing story threads that weave back into the greater narrative.

I've personally used this technique of following two or more groups of heroes on their separate quests in a single fic, and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't recommend it.

The reasons being:

1. Switching back and forth between plot threads can become confusing for the reader, because, well, think about who your audience is…

2. These types of fics can be highly complex and can become epically long in a hurry, which demands commitment. Those writers who aren't committed tend to abandon them.

3. There are usually several pivotal characters in this type of story and giving all of them equal development and page time is nearly impossible, which tends to make the story mostly plot-driven and less about the characters themselves.

On the other hand, if you're writing a series, which I doubt you are (I think I'm the only one crazy enough to do that…twice), I'd encourage using a different plot thread in each book of the series and have those plot threads tie into the overall story arc of the series.

Okay, back to explaining plot threads.

When writing a chapter, book, or series, authors may work multiple plotlines into the action as plot threads. These can range from chapters with a specific character focus, to having alternating chapters in a book advancing a separate, yet related, plotline, or having the same cast deal with various problems simultaneously. These different types of plot threads often vary in terms of development and page time devoted to them and their importance to the overall story arc.

There are many different variations. Often the A plot will simply be a short bit at the beginning of the book that gets the characters into the conflict, which triggers the B and C plots. Sometimes the plots are all tied together. For example: to solve the A Plot the B and C Plots must be solved first. Some stories have them all go on simultaneously, and the action cuts back and forth between them. The number can vary, too. Often there's just the main plot and the secondary, which is most commonly used. Sometimes there's four or even more, but that tends to be pretty rare, mostly due to time and focus constraints.

Generally, the fewer the plot threads there are, the more intimate the focus will be. The characters will rarely split up, and if they do the focus will always be on the lead. Whatever else is going on in the setting outside of the MC's line of sight will only be seen via flash back, monologue, or other narrative devices. This style tends to favor action/adventure, mystery and suspense.

Two plot threads allows for a wider, dual narrative that broadens what the viewer knows about the drama and setting, better allowing things like dramatic irony. For example, if the gang chooses to split up, you'll have the POV follow each as they investigate, so the audience can know more than the characters do... at least until they reunite and compare notes. At its most extreme, the action may follow two completely separate POV characters, cutting to and fro.

With three or more plot threads, you usually get a lot of complexity and energy in a story, but the pacing becomes slower. This style tends to favor drama and other genres with stories that have a large and diverse cast. You'll see it very commonly in fics of a serial nature and those 100k+ word long runners, because it tends to drag out the action and keep the readers coming back.

Again, in a single fic, I'd recommend no more than two separate plot threads, unless you're planning a long runner. And if you're writing a series, go crazy, but be careful how much you put in each book; multiple plot threads can make a fic spin out of control before you know it.

4/19/2012 . Edited 4/19/2012 #12
Road Lizard

So, now that we've gotten all the boring stuff out of the way, and you feel like an expert on plot, it's time to start the fun stuff. It's time to start plotting!

Plotting is vital to building a solid narrative, and there's no right or wrong way to do it. Writing is very personal, and each individual has their own style and approach.

There is one universal thing everyone must have to begin plotting, though, and that's an idea.

Step one of plotting: get an idea.

And I don't mean some elaborate story you have cooked up in your head (though if you do have one, all the better), I mean something as simple as a prompt: a phrase, a character, a situation, anything that inspires you.

Now that you've got your idea, it's time to start cooking.

5/1/2012 . Edited 5/1/2012 #13
Road Lizard

Step two of plotting: turn your prompt into an idea for a story.

So, how do you do that? Well, first you have to remember that a story is about the what and the why and the characters that are involved in those events. This is where canon comes into play. You're writing fanfiction, not original fiction (if you're using this as a guide to original fiction, just ignore the references to canon), so you are limited. You're writing a story within a setting that's already been created for you, with characters that have already been developed for you, so you've already got a ton of work done for you, but you're also restricted in what you can do with your idea.

Examples:

1. Your idea or prompt is a battle with a sea monster. Well, a character like Nico or Grover probably wouldn't be the best for that type of story. Percy would fit better, so to fit the story into canon, it'd be best to use the character that best fits the scenario, and Percy best fits the scenario.

2. Your idea or prompt is a character, say Nico. Now, you have to develop a scenario that best fits his character. Battling a sea monster wouldn't really fit his characterization, but battling zombies would.

See where I'm going with this? Canon gives you confines to write within, and to stay true to the characters and the world they live in, you have to respect the confines of canon, otherwise you end up with characters who are OOC and you contradict the original work. (AU and OCs are a totally different ballgame.)

Okay, back to turning your prompt into an idea for a story.

There are two different approaches I take with this: start with a conflict or start with a character.

Approach one: start with a conflict.

You've got a conflict you really want to explore, so now, think back to the original work and decide which characters would be best suited for your conflict.

Approach two: start with a character.

You've got a character you really want to write. Now, create a conflict suited for that character.

Now, ask yourself these questions: who is the character? What does s/he want? What conflict is standing in her/his way?

If you can answer those questions, you're right on track.

Once you've determined your conflict and your characters, you've got your story idea. Congratulations! Write it down!

5/1/2012 . Edited 5/1/2012 #14
Road Lizard

So, now that you've got a few things jotted down: characters, conflict, a few other details, it's time to turn your ideas into a story plot.

Step three of plotting: turn your ideas into a plot.

This is the hardest part, and there are a few approaches you can take:

Approach one: Just start writing and see where it goes.

Many fanfiction authors use this approach, and use it well. Because you've already determined your characters and main conflict, you can come up with events as you go along. As you write, ideas will come to you, and usually, by the time you've really cranked up your writing, you've had enough time and thought put into it that you pretty much know where it's going to go. The problem with this approach is contradicting yourself. As your plot develops, things are inclined to change, since you're working on the fly. You're original idea may be in sharp contrast to what it evolves into as you write, and that leaves room for contradiction from the beginning of the story to where it ends up. The best way to go about using this approach is to write the entire fic before you publish, and fix any conflicting or contradicting elements that may have risen as a result of just winging it.

Approach two: Come up with the ending first.

That's right, the end. Decide how you want your story to end, and that should spark a few plot points for your story. When you get a beginning and ending in mind, then it's time to find the meaty middle, so think about your character and conflict. Flesh them out. Make a backstory to fuel your ideas. Your characters, if canon, have this; use it to your advantage, and add to it if you need to. Give the characters needs, desires, and experiences to drive them. Think about the conflict, the antagonist, and do the same there. Events between the two should be sparking up anytime now. Write them down.

Approach three: Outline.

This approach is my personal preference. It's much like approach one, but there's less work to it. You're still plotting on the fly, but you're just writing brief descriptions of what events you might want to happen; you're not actually developing the details of them, yet. Go back to the five-phase narrative structure here. First, outline your exposition. Write down how you want to introduce your characters and setting to the audience. Flesh out the details you want to convey about your characters, their goals, and their conflicts. Next, outline the rising action. Develop obstacles for your characters and ways for the characters to overcome them. Set a goal for the characters to work toward. Create events. Use plot devices and plot points to advance your story here. Third, outline the climax. Create a turning point of the story. Have the main character(s) make the single big decision that defines the outcome of their story and who they are as a person. Really define your major conflict and struggle here. After that, outline the falling action. Create tension for the characters, determine how you want the final struggle to play out, and tie up loose ends. Lastly, outline the resolution. Create the final confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist, and determine a winner. Answer lingering questions, confirm decisions, resolve the struggle, and deal out consequences. Now that you've got a rough outline of your story, clean it up. Add details you've thought up, remove parts that just won't work, and arrange it neatly into blocks that can be written chapters. You won't necessarily stick straight to your outline, but it's certainly a helpful tool to give your writing a clear direction.

5/20/2012 . Edited 5/20/2012 #15
Road Lizard

So, you've begun turning your story idea into a plot. You've looked over the five-phase narrative structure, you've developed plot points, and you've fleshed out your characters and conflict. Now it's time to arrange your story arc into something workable.

Step four of plotting: organize your plot.

This can be a tedious and frustrating step, but the end result is usually well worth the time and effort. You may find that while organizing your plot points, events, climax, etc., you have some ideas that just won't fit into your plot. It's okay to toss them. You're in brainstorming mode now, anyway, so just come up with something that fits. Or you can adjust your conflict and characters to cater to those ideas to make them fit. Don't be afraid to experiment. Create multiple scenarios and decide which you like best. It may seem like a monumental waste of time and effort. It may seem like you're throwing away more than you're using, but you're actually refining your plot and making it the best that it can be. Go ahead and keep all your unworkable ideas, though. You never know, you might be able to use them in the future. Turn them into plot bunny food.

When you're organizing elements into your story arc, you can work backwards, forwards, start in the middle and work your way out, whatever you're comfortable with. Just remember, your ending should fall in the falling action and resolution phases, the climax is the height in the middle, and all things leading up to the big event is the rising action. Think of it as the beginning: the build up, middle: the main event, and the end: the results. Organize your ideas into those categories, and if your ideas don't fit into those categories, you shouldn't use them, unless it's a sub plot (plot thread).

Adjust or redevelop your plot as necessary to make it workable. It may not be detailed and it may not be pretty, but you'll have enough to start working. Begin deciding which scenes best illustrate the chain of events that leads to the climax. Change them around if you need to or even change the climax if necessary. It's okay to make changes, even drastic ones. Writing is a creative process, and once your creative juices start flowing things can easily need changing to accommodate new and better ideas. This is why organization is so important. When you begin actually writing your fic and you have an organized storyboard, outline, or comprehensive summary, it makes the writing part so much smoother and easier. Writers block happens far less often when you know where your fic is going and how it will play out. All the prep work you've done in plotting results in a guide to direct your writing.

6/7/2012 . Edited 6/7/2012 #16
Road Lizard

Helpful hints and reminders for plotting:

1. The plot is the what and why based on the character(s) motivations.

2. Flesh out your character(s) so you can create accurate reactions to events.

3. If you need a villain, give them a motivation.

4. Know canon.

5. Know the five-phase narrative structure.

6. Be creative, but don't be afraid of clichés either.Original clichés make wonderful fics.

7. Don't get too carried away with sub plots.

8. Use plot devices.

9. Outline.

10. Have fun with it!

Remember: One of the primary purposes of the plot is to force the protagonist to change, usually by recognizing and overcoming some internal conflict. Know your character, and you'll figure out your plot. Conversely, know your plot, and you'll find the character who needs that sequence of events for internal growth.

6/7/2012 . Edited 6/7/2012 #17
The Perfect Mary Sue Killer

WhatWhat is is there besides the classic plot model, as described above?

9/18/2013 #18
The Perfect Mary Sue Killer

****ing autocorrect.

9/18/2013 #19
Auburn Waves

Plot has many different structures depending on the book that you are writing, but the fives part structure is well-known. Other examples include: the heroes journey and the 3 Act Structure.

Also, as you can see, plot should be based ideally on planning.

2/24 #20
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