Plot Elements

I attended the PNWA conference and one of the speakers was Cherry Adair. She talked about plot. For a good plot it must have these elements: story goal, scene goal, and black moment. A story also needs these 7 things:

  • a succession of significant events with consequences
  • things characters do, feel, think, and say
  • a way of looking and doing things
  • deciding what’s important and showing it to be important
  • showing what matters to your main character
  • one or more characters have something vital at stake
  • something happens

Cherry also suggested not to bog down the opening with details and descriptions, but open with a bang. In other words, start novel with first crisis. There must be some kind of struggle for your main character for the reader to care. The first quarter of the book is the buildup. The middle is the emotional journey and always in trouble. The last act ties up everything. Give characters choices. The main character must grow in some way by the end of the novel. Each scene must have a motivation, goal, and conflict. The higher the stakes the longer the scene.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the point of the scene?
  • What does the reader need to know?
  • What does your main character have to find out?
  • What backstory do you want inserted?
  • What is the time and place?

Emotion, thought, decision, action moves the plot. Define the character’s needs and create obstacles.

black and white blackboard business chalkboard

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The Write Way

There is nothing more tiresome for a reader, than seeing the same words over and over in the same paragraph. A thesaurus and a synonym finder should be a writer’s right hand. Read your work out loud to hear your errors or repetition of the same words. Avoid overusing the word, it without an explanation as to who, it is referring to. Break up any monotonies. Long paragraphs exhaust the eyes. Break them up to make it more appealing to the reader. Think visually as you write. Use all five senses to make your story come alive for your reader.

The Challenge of a Story

Every good story is built around a problem, a conflict, or a challenge for its protagonist. The reader will root for him, agonize over his setbacks, and rejoice in his eventual triumph. A beginning introduces the main character in action and sets up a story problem. A middle shows the character tackling the problem. An ending resolves the problem. The dramatic high point is the climax of the story.

Our forebears communicated knowledge, accumulated wisdom, and common experience through the magic of words. Stories have forecast danger, celebrated heroes, provided building blocks for peace, triggered wars, and vilified enemies. It was a way of entertainment. We look for excitement, wisdom, and comfort from a story. It connects us and takes us to other worlds.

As writers, you give voice to the voiceless. You introduce new ways of thinking and lift the reader closer to the light. There is power and purpose of story. Storytelling is an art and a craft. A good story captivates its audience and as writers we must master the skill.

There are many facets to a story as there are people to imagine it. The seed of a story is encountering the extraordinary in the ordinary. Expose your imagination to possibilities. Each author should approach the structure of a story in a way that is comfortable for him.

In the beginning, define what your hero wants and why he wants it. In the middle, create the obstacles the hero must overcome to reach his goal. And in the end, resolve the situation in a believable way. Once you’ve settled on these fundamentals, build the story around them. Consider the different ways to structure your narrative and choose the methods you prefer. Trust in your story and promise yourself you’ll finish it.