Plotting A Novel, by Laurie Faria Stolarz
When people first begin a story, they usually get inspired by one of two things: character or plot. There’s no one right way. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks.
I often get email from aspiring novelists seeking advice when they’ve hit a roadblock in their works-in-progress. They tell me that they were initially so excited about their stories but then, when they got to a certain point, they lost steam. When I ask those same people what it is their character wants, what keeps that character from getting it, and what the character needs to learn in order to get it, these writers often don’t have the answers.
Perhaps a little plotting is in order. I’ll discuss more about character in the next post.
Come up with an idea. You want to figure out the driving force of your story. For example, perhaps you want to write about a girl who drops out of high school to pursue her dream of becoming a Hollywood actress. Or maybe you prefer writing about a boy who gets involved in a gang and ends up stealing from his own parents.
Choose the basics of your character. This is stuff like gender, age, situation in life, or whatever helps you picture them enough to get your plot going. In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey is a 16-year-old practicing Wiccan at boarding school.
Introduce your character to an initial action/problem. This is the first event/ problem in the story that pushes the reader forward. For example, maybe your 15-year-old bully of a character learns that her parents are getting divorced and she’ll have to move and start over at a new school. In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey starts having nightmares that her roommate is going to be killed within four days’ time.
Decide what it is your character wants. This drive will influence most if not all of your character’s decisions and actions. It’s your character’s motivation. In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey wants to save her roommate before it’s too late. She also wants to forgive herself for ignoring nightmares that she had three years ago, because a little girl died as a result.
Decide what keeps your character from getting what s/he wants. There are usually one or more obstacles that keep(s) your character from getting what s/he wants. In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey’s obstacles are many: she fears she won’t be able to stop the killer (self doubt); she has botched spells; she relies too heavily on spells and not enough on herself (lack of confidence); she failed to save someone in the past and fears it will happen again.
Have your character learn a lesson. This lesson is usually a real turning point for your character. Having learned this lesson, they can better achieve what they want. In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey learns that she is more powerful than her spells, that her spells do indeed aid her, but it’s the will and power inside her that’s most important.
Climax. this is usually the highest point of tension in the story, the place where most of your action or drama will take place. This may be the point where your character faces his or her biggest obstacle. In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey figures out who the killer is and confronts him.
Resolution. this is the tying up of loose ends. It’s also where subplots get tied up (note: a subplot is any minor plot in the novel. For example, even though Stacey is trying to save her roommate, she’s also battling the crush she has on her best friend’s boyfriend.) Having stopped the killer and saved her roommate, Stacey now goes away with a healthier sense of self. We also learn whether or not she gets the boy.
If all else fails, think of plot in terms of the stuck up a tree approach. In other words, put a someone up in a tree then throw rocks at them to get them down.
Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com
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