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Gears in ActionCar chases, sweeping romance, murder and mayhem, are all plot elements. There isn’t much of a book if your characters aren’t faced with conflict and an urgent need to get from Point A to Point B. The trick to plot is to tell the story without getting sidetracked. You have to know where you’re going or you’ll meander around and potentially never get there.

But how do you decide on the action? First, know your genre. If you’re writing a murder-mystery, it’s best to have a murder and a climactic catch of the criminal. If you’re writing a romance, you’ll want to try for the boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-sings-a-song-and-gets-girl-back, and happily ever after (HEA) plot.

For a sexy story, it’s a good idea to decide what message you’re trying to convey to the reader. For example, do you want to tell a coming-of-age erotic story? If so, the plot has to revolve around a person growing up sexually. This can be when the character is 20 or 60…doesn’t matter. But the plot has to revolve around the character’s sexual shenanigans that cause personal growth.

Maybe you’re writing an erotic story where the whole story is about a human and alien meeting and getting it on. Aside from the rishathra component (thank you, Larry Niven), you have to have them meet, interact, have sex, and either separate or stay together. You can even leave off the meeting part if you’re going really short. That’s a very simple plot.

Basically, you want a character to do something. Boom. Plot. It’s best, of course, if the reader has some buy-in for the character and cares how the story ends. Even in a very naughty story a reader has to care about someone involved in the action or they won’t care about your story.

Plots can be as simple as the ones I’ve outlined above, or they can be quite complex, with subplots galore. I won’t get into subplots here, but I will share one of my favorite methods for figuring out plots. I like to take a page from the screenwriter’s book of tricks. First, of course, know your genre. Then follow either the 3-Act, 9-Act, or 12-Act structure. I prefer the 9-Act. I learned it many years ago from David Siegel, who had great success with his method. He no longer has his diagram and page online – shame on you, David – but you can find a re-creation of the method in Velikovsky’s book, A Guide to Feature Film Writing. It’s available online. There are a lot of methods in that book. Siegel’s is my favorite.

Another method I would recommend is Jim Butcher’s story arch method, which is more geared toward novels. You might find it easier to use, especially if you’re a series writer.

Give your story a beginning, middle and end. Even flash fiction has those three elements. Don’t get sidetracked into a cul-de-sac you can’t find your way out of. If you’re not an outliner, at least have a game plan that tells you that you want to get from Tree Top A, to Tree Top Z in X number of words, with a climactic Tree Top S in there somewhere. Pantsers, you are probably doing this already, even if you don’t realize it.

Good luck with your plots, friends. Next time, I want to talk about sub-plots.

4 Comments

  1. very informative. being a new writer, i don’t have much to contribute by way of a comment. i am always looking for more to add to my writers’ toolbox.

    • Having a coherent story arch is very helpful. Especially if you’re new to the craft, Grinelda. Every writer develops his/her own method over time, but it’s a good idea to try out a few and see what parts fit with you and what parts don’t.

  2. Plot is the most important element in drama according to Aristotle and I think that is true in a novel as well. Even a character driven novel needs conflict and action to help explicate the character and his motivations.

    My works tend to be plot based (I’m an action kind of girl LOL) with character coming in a close second. I plot everything out before I begin to write, get all the plot points down, and go from there.

    Excellent, informative post, Patricia! Well done. This is a great series of articles.

    • Thanks, Jenna. I’m enjoying digging into the elements of fiction. Even a superficial examination can be a learning experience.

      Having read your books, I’d have to say that your methods are working splendidly. 🙂

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