Let’s take a look at perhaps the largest, most prominent aspect of a novel or short story series: the main plot. I’ve said main plot because I plan to discuss side narratives and sub-plots at a later point. This is the backbone of your story, or maybe it’s the whole story. Whichever it is, it’s incredibly important.
About me and you
As with all of my tips, this post comes with a disclaimer. I don’t consider myself as a writer to be either a success or an expert. I’m just connecting you with snippets of experience that I’ve picked up along the way.
And it’s always worth saying that nobody can advise you on how to write. Writing a story is something that we do alone in a dark room while our pet lizard chatters philosophy at us. I intend for these tips to be applied to your story once its finished, in whole or in part. While I can’t tell you how to be an author, everyone can learn to be a better editor.
A lesson from a book
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m currently reading Write A Novel And Get It Published by Nigel Watts and Stephen May (links to Amazon). In it, the author talks about an eight-point plot arc. It’s a way of plotting a narrative over eight stages. Here they are:
- The quest
- Critical choice
This sounds complicated and, to tell the truth, it is. An eight-point story arc is a long way removed from the “beginning, middle and end” breakdown. So what’s it about?
Stasis is where the story begins. Here, you’re setting the scene and showing off your descriptive language. Your protagonist is almost in suspended animation, and then, a triggering event happens. New characters or events happen to your character and they have to react. Imagine you’re walking to the shops. It’s something you do every day. Suddenly, a group of strangers approaches and starts talking to you. Do you make polite chit-chat, run away or scream?
We just went through the quest, surprise and critical choice. I didn’t realise until I wrote it, but there you go. The quest is going shopping, surprise when strangers approach and the critical choice of how to react. Hang on, where are stasis and trigger then? Perhaps stasis is sitting at home, not doing much. The trigger could be craving a cup of tea and realising there’s no milk in the fridge.
One thing we know for certain, giving everything a label can be confusing.
Lessons from a thousand books
I don’t think I’m even close to having read a thousand books. For most of us, the count probably goes up into the hundreds at most. But it’s that experience of reading successful authors’ work that teaches us how to write. You already know how to construct a plot. It’s a subconscious process informed by reading. You don’t need to stick religiously to eight-point plans and draw up spreadsheets for each character.
How to write a plot
Write the story as it comes naturally. You know what to do: “Here’s my character, they’re in this place. Something happened, it’s not good. Now they need to do something. An obstacle stands in their way. That was close, but they got out of it alright.”
You’re plotting out a path from A to B. The journey in between is the story. First time, you write it in the dark. But you have to retrace your steps with a flashlight afterwards. You’re checking for any traps the reader could fall into, places they might get lost or give up in exasperation.
Here’s where your handy map comes in. Check over your story with the eight-point plot arc in mind. Is something missing? It could be that your narrative goes straight from surprise to climax, giving your character no chance to make a critical choice. In that case, they’re just being carried forwards by events. Is that what you were going for? It could work, you never know.
That’s the problem with subconscious memory. You can write a plot, but when you look back on it and it doesn’t look right, you might not consciously know why. After the first draft of a book, story or chapter has been written is when you crack open the rulebook.
Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?
- Tip #1: The Prologue
- Tip #2: The Process
- Tip #3: Writing Faux Pas – Debunked
- Tip #4: A Useful App For Writers