The Writer’s Bag of Tricks (Part Three)

Basic Plot Structure Continued

So let’s choose a plot type that we want for our novel. I chose Overcoming the Monster, but you can choose any plot type that you want, and apply the plot structure to that plot type. The Overcoming the Monster plot type is where the protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (physical, spiritual, social, etc…) which threatens the protagonist and / or the protagonist’s homeland.

We need to break our novel down to the basic elements of our plot so that we can consider what needs to happen for our story to work well. I find that the easiest way to start is to use The 10 Scene Tool (See The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith Jr.), and the first step of The 10 Scene Tool is to set up the first five scenes. Note that the first five scenes are not the first five chapters of the novel. These are the five basic scenes that will ensure that the plot is consistent from beginning to end. We will go through these scenes one at a time.

The Opening Scene

The first scene to work out is the opening scene. The purpose of the opening scene is to create a compelling hook so that your reader is immediately invested in the story. The hook begins in a clear moment of action (or interaction) but reveals enough information to entice the reader while maintaining intrigue. Don’t hide things from the reader, or make it too difficult for the reader to understand what is happening. If the reader is clueless about the events occurring on the page they will put the book down, and that is not a good thing. You want your reader turning pages.

The opening scene puts the reader in the protagonist’s point of view. This could be first person or third person etc… (I will discuss POV later in this series) but the reader will see the events of this scene through your main character’s eyes. We learn the protagonist’s motivation(s) and we also learn what is at stake for the character. There should also be a hint of foreshadowing of what will happen at the end of the novel. Creating some foreshadowing will help your story to arc successfully.

If we apply this opening scene to our plot type of Overcoming the Monster, our opening scene will show our main character living daily life when they learn of some great threat. Some complication of events will move the character forward. This will relate to the inciting incident which is the event that sets your character on the road toward defeating the monster.

In the movie Star Wars, Episode IV we see Luke Skywalker (point of view character) with Uncle Owen purchasing droids to work on the farm (daily life). Luke accidently sees the hologram of Princess Leia (hook) and her desperate plea for help from Obi-Wan Kenobi. The droids escape and Luke goes to look for the droids (the complication that gets the character moving forward). He meets Obi-Wan and learns more information about the battle between the rebel army and imperial forces (stakes). He learns that the imperial army is now close and immediately leaves to warn and protect his family (motivation).

Next time: The Point of No Return Complication

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