Continuing the discussion regarding plot from last week, I was contacted on social media yesterday by someone else with plot issues. Their story was episodic with no regular plot structure and their story also had no inciting incident. This means that the story had no specific beginning, middle or end, and the possibility that it will sell is slim. First of all, I give them props for recognizing that their book has issues and is not ready for publication. With a little guidance, they will learn what craft elements to focus on in order to begin revisions. Secondly, they asked great questions:
How does someone come up with a plot?
How do you know if your plot makes sense?
How do you know if your plot works for your genre?
These are all good questions, and I hope to answer them over the next few posts.
Plot Structure Basics
You may have seen something similar to the Freytags pyramid below. There are several versions floating around the internet if you care to look. The purpose of these images is to try to explain how plot structure works within the novel.
You may look at something like the above pyramid and see an image that makes complete sense to you. You are able to take that image and know exactly what direction your story must take. But it doesn’t work for me personally because even though I am a visual person, I can’t take that image and translate it into a cohesive plan that I can break down to create a story chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Technically, the image perfectly and logically explains the basics of plot. It’s just not my gig.
Above is another version of plot structure. This image gives you an X and Y axis to help you understand plot and structure for the novel. You can see the visual bumps of the rising action and see on the graph where x equals time and y equals tension, and how the climax equals the greatest amount of tension. This chart makes plotting look like a math problem. I was never great at math so it is still difficult to internally translate the image into a plan for a new novel. I mean, I can do it, but it ain’t easy. This graph makes more sense to me because I can see the crises points. But it still is not overly clear.
In educational circles, these types of plotting visual aids may be useful for some people to help them critique a story, or understand the overall structure of a particular novel. These images do provide the concept that the story tension and conflict should continually rise throughout the novel until the climax, and the story should then end quickly after the climax. Every story thread should also be resolved. You can easily see that there are separate crisis points that arise throughout the novel and you can see the three acts structure (beginning, middle, end). Again, this image provides more information about basic plot structure, but it still doesn’t make the task of plotting a new novel any easier.
So how does a writer select their plot type and work out the details of their story, chapter by chapter, scene by scene? Next week I will begin to break plotting down into manageable steps.