The Elements of Fiction: Plot

The “plot” of a story is one of the most important things about it, if not THE most important. Because the plot IS the story. It’s the answer to “What is your story about?” Without a plot, you would just have characters sitting around somewhere doing nothing. And no one wants to read that, no matter how interesting, exotic, or eccentric the characters are.

Some authors began writing their stories with the plot already in mind, and fill in the characters as they develop the story idea. Others may begin with a character, and then decide what that character’s journey will be, which develops into the plot.

The seed for my first novel┬ábegan years ago with a character. I could picture it, like a scene from a movie playing out in my head. A female, strong, independent, put into a situation where she felt insecure and lost. Out of her element, in other words. She was in a small Southern town, but she was from somewhere else – a big city. And she had to learn to navigate her new surroundings.

My first question was, “Who is she?” And the next question was, “How did she get there?” Followed by, “Why was she there? And what was she doing there?” As I began pondering those questions, the ideas for the story and the characters began to form in my imagination.

I had to figure out who she was and then I had to give her a reason to be there. And once I figured that out, the other ideas began to fall into place. Now, it took years for those first ideas to formulate into something that resembled a plot. Well, a good plot anyway. Because a story has to be good, of course.

A plot is like the vine that my co-worker had growing out of its pot and up around his floor lamp in his office – it grows, and it changes as it grows. It starts from a small seed of an idea and morphs into something that takes on a life of itself. A plot idea must be many things: interesting, fresh and new, believable, but also engaging to the reader, unexpected, twisty and surprising, and solid enough to carry an entire novel.

But it begins with just one idea.

What kind of plots do you enjoy? Murder, mystery, suspense, thriller, romance, drama? Do you prefer character-driven plots or action-driven plots?

A Little Background

The book is out to the beta readers. My critique group is two chapters away from finishing the book. And I find myself in an odd place – NOT working on the book for a change!

After more than two years of slaving away on this book night after night, it feels weird to be taking a break.

My brain is still working, though, and lately I’ve been churning up a lot of ideas for Book # 2. I have a trilogy planned, and now that Book # 1 is at a resting stage, I find myself thinking ahead, daydreaming about what will happen in the next book.

I’m starting to sit down and get some of these ideas on paper, using my outlining class material and workbook to organize my thoughts.

The first time I set out to write a book, I wandered blindly through a few chapters, writing and re-writing and editing over and over, but never really making any progress past the first few chapters. Once I took the outlining class and got myself organized, the book flowed much quicker.

This time, I plan to do it differently. Start with the outline, flesh out the ideas, and then begin writing the first draft.

I thought you might like a peek into the process of what it takes to write a book, or at least MY process. Every writer is different, and each one has a unique process that brings him or her from idea to finished product.

Here are the steps that worked for me – beginning with a “map.”

This wasn’t actually part of the outlining class, but it came from a book I read called “The Writer’s Compass” by Nancy Ellen Dodd. I’m a visual learner and thinker, so the idea of “mapping” out your story made sense to me.

Here is a picture of my “story map,” which is still hanging on the closet door of my home office.

story-map

You probably can’t see it very well, and even if you could, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense. The point is that it divides your story into sections, and in each section, certain things need to happen to take the characters — and thereby the reader — through the story.

This is what got me started, but in my next post, I’ll talk more about what I learned in the outlining class.

As always, I covet your prayers for the book, that God will take it wherever He chooses, and that it will touch the lives He intends for it to impact. And pray for me, that I would continue to be faithful and obedient to do what He’s called me to do.