Plotting Methods for Meticulous Plotters
A Guide for the Seasoned and the Not-So-Plot Savvy
This is a subject that a lot of writers tend to struggle with. They have ideas, great ideas, but are uncertain how to string them together into a solid plot. There are many methods that have been devised to do so, and most seem to be based on something you might remember:
The 5 Point Method
This is your basic plot diagram:
Exposition – This is the beginning of your story. This is where you introduce your character (s), establish a setting, and also present your main conflict.
Rising Action – Your story now begins to build. There are often multiple key events that occur where your main character may be faced with a new problem he has to solve or an unexpected event is thrust at him.
Climax – Everything you’ve been writing has been leading up to this moment. This is going to be the most exciting part of your story where your main character faces the main conflict and overcomes it.
Falling Action – This is mostly tying up loose ends after your main conflict is resolved. They are minor things that weren’t nearly as important as the main conflict, but still needed to be dealt with.
Resolution –The end of the story.
This is probably the easiest way to remember how to string together a single (or multiple) plots. It may be easier for some to define the main plot as the central conflict, or the thing that’s causing your main character a huge problem/is his goal.
The 8 Point Method
This method is used to write both novels and film scripts, and further breaks down the 5 Point Method. From the book Write a Novel and Get It Published: A Teach Yourself Guide by Nigel Watts:
Stasis – The opening where the story takes place. Here you introduce your main character and establish a setting (Watts defines it as an “everyday” setting, something normal, but it can be whatever you want).
Trigger or Inciting Incident – The event that changes your character’s life an propels your story forward. This is where you introduce the main conflict.
The Quest – The result of the event. What does your character do? How does he react?
Surprise – This section takes of the middle of the story and involves all of the little setbacks and unexpected events that occur to the main character as he tries to fix the problems he’s faced with and/or achieve his goal. This is where you as an author get to throw complication, both horrible and wonderful, at your protagonist and see what happens.
Critical Choice –At some point your character is going to be faced with making a decision that’s not only going to test him as individual, but reveal who he truly is to the audience. This cannot be something that happens by chance. The character must make a choice.
Climax – This is the result of the main character’s critical choice, and should be the highest point of tension in the story.
Reversal – The consequence of the choice and climax that changes the status of your protagonist, whatever that may be. It could make him a king, a murderer, or whatever else you like but it has to make sense with the rest of the story.
Resolution – The end of the story where loose ends are tied up. You’re allowed to leave things unresolved if you intend to write a sequel, but the story itself should be stand alone.
Three Act Structure
While this method is usually for screenplays, it is also used in writing novels (for instance The Hunger Games novels are split up into three acts). From the The Screen Writer’s Workbook by Syd Field: Acts 1 and 3 should be about the same length while Act 2 should be double. For instance if you were writing a screenplay for a two hour film Acts 1 and 3 would be 30 minutes each while Act 2 would be 60 minutes.
Act 1, Set Up – This contains the inciting incident and a major plot point towards the end. The plot point here leads into the second act and is when the protagonist decides to take on the problem he’s faced with.
Act 2, Confrontation – This contains the midpoint of the story, all of the little things that go wrong for the protagonist, and a major plot point towards the end that propels the story into the third act. This is the critical choice the character must make.
Act 3, Resolution – This is where the climax occurs as well as the events that tie up the end of the story.
Another way to look at this method is that there are actually three major plot points, or disasters, that move the plot forward. The first is at the end of Act 1, the second is in the middle of Act 2, and the third is at the end of Act 2.
The Snowflake Method
A “top-down” method by Randy Ingermanson that breaks novel writing down into basic parts, building upon each one. You can find his page on the method here. His ten steps:
Write a single sentence to summarize your novel.
Write a paragraph that expands upon that sentence, including the story set up, the major conflicts, and the ending.
Define your major characters and write a summary sheet corresponding to each one that includes: the character’s name, their story arc, their motivation and goal, their conflict, and their epiphany (what they will learn).
Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph in Step 2 into its own paragraph.
Write a one page description of your major characters and a half page description of less important characters.
Expand each paragraph in Step 4 into a page each.
Expand each character description into full-fledged character charts telling everything there is to know about the characters.
Make a spreadsheet of all of the scenes you want to include in the novel.
Begin writing the narrative description of the story, taking each line from the spreadsheet and expanding the scenes with more details.
Begin writing your first draft.
This is what I do. I tend to keep in mind the basic structure of the 5 Point Method and just roll with whatever ideas come my way. I’ve never been a fan of outlines, or any other type of organization. According to George R.R. Martin, I’ve always been a gardener, not an architect when it comes to writing. I don’t plan, I just come up with ideas and let them grow. Of course, this may not work for some of you, so here are some methods of organization:
- Character Sheets
And if all else fails, you can fall on the advice of the great Chuck Wendig: 25 Ways to Plot and Prep Your Story.
Remember, none of the methods above are set in stone. They are only guidelines to help you finally write that novel.
Free Writing Resources that are ACTUALLY Useful
Book Ideas for Young Writers (a good list of ideas for creative writing projects)
25 Ways to Plot, Plan, and Prep Your Story (in case you can’t figure out how you want to outline your story…)
The only thing you need (seriously) is Chuck Wendig’s editing trilogy. It provides a thorough action plan and checklist for what you should be editing.
Query Shark (This site criticizes real query letters. An EXTREMELY valuable tool for learning how agents approach query letters.)
25 STEPS TO BEING A TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED AUTHOR: LAZY BASTARD EDITION (A fantastic post that covers EVERYTHING you should do and expect from the publishing process)
How to Beat Procrastination (with science!)
How to Go from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day (A famous post. The real deal. Solid advice for increasing the focus and speed of your writing.)
I will be editing this list over time. Stay tuned.
USEFUL TIPS & GUIDES FOR WRITERS, a masterlist by cyrusassists.
It came to my attention that people really like masterlists around this community, so I threw another one together. It’s not specifically for role-playing, as most of mine are, but everything I linked below was designed to help you with your writing, so you should probably check them out anyway.
- Common mistakes in English writing.
- The Guide to the Writing Process.
- Describing a person: Adding Details.
- Masterlist of choice generators, part one.
- Masterlist of choice generators, part two.
- How to end a novel with a punch.
- The ultimate guide to Grammar and Writing.
- Getting your writing done on an online program.
- Useful profile sheet for creating characters!
- Helpful for when there’s a word on tip of your tongue.
- Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis.
- 25 ways to plot, plan and prep your story.
- 20 writing tips from fiction authors.
- Short writing activities for beginners. [ESL learners]
- How to use an outline to write a first draft.
- 25 ways to improve your vocabulary.
- Using people-watching as a learning experience.
- The DO’s and DON’T’s of adding description.
- How to make simple writing more vivid.
- Advice: How to perfect your writing.
- Template for family tree planning.
- The Writer’s Mary Sue Test!
- How to create characters for your story.
- A beautifully written guide to BODY LANGUAGE: EYES.
- Plotting your novel, by Lee Masterson.
- IUP Writing Center: Descriptive Writing.
- Writing well-rounded characters.
- Masterlist of guides to help describe someone/something.
- Masterlist of positive character traits for your characters.
- Heavenly sounds that help you relax + focus.
- Grammar & style: ways to tighten up your writing.
- Different music playlists to inspire you as you write.
- Survey to help you with fully developing a character.
- List of alternatives to overstated words.
- Masterlist of flaws for your characters.
- Steps to writing more and more.
- A guide to role-playing/writing relationships.
- Guide on staying in character.
- Knowing when to stop: expectations for a satisfying ending.
- Creating emotional frustration in your characters.
- Writing out friendships between multiple characters.
- Writing gender-specific dialogue.
- Writing for the young adult audience.
- Write fiction that grabs the readers from day one.
- Finding solid names for your unique characters.
- 7 ways to make a good story great.
- Story Structure: Skipping Time Between Scenes. [x]
- How NOT to start your story.
- Masterlist of 140 character guides.
- Resource blog for writers, #1.
- Resource blog for writers, #2.
- Resource blog for writers, #3.
- Resource blog for writers, #4.
- Resource blog for writers, #5.
- A lot more writing blogs.
This got pretty long, so I’ll insert the rest beneath the cut!
Finding the information you need as a writer shouldn’t be a chore. Luckily, there are plenty of search engines out there that are designed to help you at any stage of the process, from coming up with great ideas to finding a publisher to get your work into print. Both writers still in college and those on their way to professional success will appreciate this list of useful search applications that are great from making writing a little easier and more efficient.
Find other writers, publishers and ways to market your work through these searchable databases and search engines.
- Litscene: Use this search engine to search through thousands of writers and literary projects, and add your own as well.
- Thinkers.net: Get a boost in your creativity with some assistance from this site.
- PoeWar: Whether you need help with your career or your writing, this site is full of great searchable articles.
- Publisher’s Catalogues: Try out this site to search through the catalogs and names of thousands of publishers.
- Edit Red: Through this site you can showcase your own work and search through work by others, as well as find helpful FAQ’s on writing.
- Writersdock: Search through this site for help with your writing, find jobs and join other writers in discussions.
- PoetrySoup: If you want to find some inspirational poetry, this site is a great resource.
- Booksie.com: Here, you can search through a wide range of self-published books.
- One Stop Write Shop: Use this tool to search through the writings of hundreds of other amateur writers.
- Writer’s Cafe: Check out this online writer’s forum to find and share creative works.
- Literary Marketplace: Need to know something about the publishing industry? Use this search tool to find the information you need now.
These helpful tools will help you along in the writing process.
- WriteSearch: This search engine focuses exclusively on sites devoted to reading and writing to deliver its results.
- The Burry Man Writers Center: Find a wealth of writing resources on this searchable site.
- Writing.com: This fully-featured site makes it possible to find information both fun and serious about the craft of writing.
- Purdue OWL: Need a little instruction on your writing? This tool from Purdue University can help.
- Writing Forums: Search through these writing forums to find answers to your writing issues.
Try out these tools to get your writing research done in a snap.
- Google Scholar: With this specialized search engine from Google, you’ll only get reliable, academic results for your searches.
- WorldCat: If you need a book from the library, try out this tool. It’ll search and find the closest location.
- Scirus: Find great scientific articles and publications through this search engine.
- OpenLibrary: If you don’t have time to run to a brick-and-mortar library, this online tool can still help you find books you can use.
- Online Journals Search Engine: Try out this search engine to find free online journal articles.
- All Academic: This search engine focuses on returning highly academic, reliable resources.
- LOC Ask a Librarian: Search through the questions on this site to find helpful answers about the holdings at the Library of Congress.
- Encylcopedia.com: This search engine can help you find basic encyclopedia articles.
- Clusty: If you’re searching for a topic to write on, this search engine with clustered results can help get your creative juices flowing.
- Intute: Here you’ll find a British search engine that delivers carefully chosen results from academia.
- AllExperts: Have a question? Ask the experts on this site or search through the existing answers.
Need to look up a quote or a fact? These search tools make it simple.
- Writer’s Web Search Engine: This search engine is a great place to find reference information on how to write well.
- Bloomsbury Magazine Research Centre: You’ll find numerous resources on publications, authors and more through this search engine.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus: Make sure you’re using words correctly and can come up with alternatives with the help of this tool.
- References.net: Find all the reference material you could ever need through this search engine.
- Quotes.net: If you need a quote, try searching for one by topic or by author on this site.
- Literary Encyclopedia: Look up any famous book or author in this search tool.
- Acronym Finder: Not sure what a particular acronym means? Look it up here.
- Bartleby: Through Bartleby, you can find a wide range of quotes from famous thinkers, writers and celebrities.
- Wikipedia.com: Just about anything and everything you could want to look up is found on this site.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Find all the great philosophers you could want to reference in this online tool.
If you’re focusing on writing in a particular niche, these tools can be a big help.
- PubGene: Those working in sci-fi or medical writing will appreciate this database of genes, biological terms and organisms.
- GoPubMd: You’ll find all kinds of science and medical search results here.
- Jayde: Looking for a business? Try out this search tool.
- Zibb: No matter what kind of business you need to find out more about, this tool will find the information.
- TechWeb: Do a little tech research using this news site and search engine.
- Google Trends: Try out this tool to find out what people are talking about.
- Godchecker: Doing a little work on ancient gods and goddesses? This tool can help you make sure you have your information straight.
- Healia: Find a wide range of health topics and information by using this site.
- Sci-Fi Search: Those working on sci-fi can search through relevant sites to make sure their ideas are original.
Find your own work and inspirational tomes from others by using these search engines.
- Literature Classics: This search tool makes it easy to find the free and famous books you want to look through.
- InLibris: This search engine provides one of the largest directories of literary resources on the web.
- SHARP Web: Using this tool, you can search through the information on the history of reading and publishing.
- AllReaders: See what kind of reviews books you admire got with this search engine.
- BookFinder: No matter what book you’re looking for you’re bound to find it here.
- ReadPrint: Search through this site for access to thousands of free books.
- Google Book Search: Search through the content of thousands upon thousands of books here, some of which is free to use.
- Indie Store Finder: If you want to support the little guy, this tool makes it simple to find an independent bookseller in your neck of the woods.
For web writing, these tools can be a big help.
- Technorati: This site makes it possible to search through millions of blogs for both larger topics and individual posts.
- Google Blog Search: Using this specialized Google search engine, you can search through the content of blogs all over the web.
- Domain Search: Looking for a place to start your own blog? This search tool will let you know what’s out there.
- OpinMind: Try out this blog search tool to find opinion focused blogs.
- IceRocket: Here you’ll find a real-time blog search engine so you’ll get the latest news and posts out there.
- PubSub: This search tool scours sites like Twitter and Friendfeed to find the topics people are talking about most every day.
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