Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Baby Steps of Writing #5: Telescoping Your Plot

Starting a novel can be intimidating. Finishing even more so. It is my hope that this series will help other soon-to-be or wanna-be writers find a place to begin a novel and better yet, empower them to finish. Here you will find all the advice I wish someone would have given me when I first started writing fiction.

The next baby step we are discussing is how to look at the big picture of your plot and then shorten your scope until you get to the details. Now, if you know outlining story details sucks the joy out of writing for you, don’t follow along these exercises. Read along and think about what each of these highlights is in your own story without delving too deep. If you don’t know if plotting will help or hinder your writing, I plead with you to try. Plotting can do for writer’s block what splashing cold water on your face does to sleep. It will pull you out of the slogging, foggy mind of STUCK.

First thing to do is pull out your banner and reread it. Do you feel that stirring of excitement you originally felt when the Shiny New Idea came to you? Do you remember the vision you have for the story? Have you a direction to move the idea forward into STORY? If not, here’s a neat little trick I learned from Janette Rallison at a writing conference recently (though she attributed to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Author). It’s kind of like a Mad Lib, but with an important purpose:
When _______ (insert Main Character’s name) finds herself in _______ (insert Situation here) she ______ (insert Goal here) but will __________ (insert antagonist or obstacle to goal here) make her ______________ (insert consequence of goal failure here)?


So did that come easily for you, even if it wasn’t pretty enough to put in a query letter?

If yes, then you are ready to think about the story framework, the structure that holds the words together to make a great experience for the reader. Generally learned like this in grade school:

Have you figured this out for your story too? If not, then time to stew over it, to discover where each major acceleration in the plot should be and where things should slow down a bit. Think about that escalation this week and then next week we will telescope in further with the following structure.

Inciting incident (story hook, attention-getter, or a problem eruption)
Plot Point 1 (character’s world turned upside down, their choice to move forward is made)
Plot Point 2 (first big obstacle)

Middle Point (the gear up for serious obstacle confrontation also the joint to hinge on the beginning with the end)
Plot Point 3 (all-is-lost obstacle)
Climax A (lighting the fuse)
Climax B (watching it burn)
Climax C (kaboom!)
Denouement (wind down)
Resolution (satisfying end)

Next up, we will dive into more detail of each item on the list! Happy new (writing) year to all!


  1. Lovely Jackee!! Happy New Year to you and thank you so much for this! I like the Mad Lib with the fill in the blanks bit - I think even I as a most unfocused pantster should be able to try this one out!! I'm off to "stew" now! :-)

    Thanks!! take care

  2. I'm not a plotter, but I'm struggling with the last 2 chapters, so I'm going to give it a shot... I think :)

    I think I'll try that graph idea after I've finished to see how the pace is working! Thanks :)

  3. The fill-in-the-blanks is a great idea. Thanks! I'm a plotter have to work on being more finite.

  4. I love the fill in the blanks idea! I will be using it for sure.

    Happy New Year. my friend!

  5. I don't usually plot first, but with my current project, I've decided to give it a try. It's going well. With my last project, I ended up plotting after I wrote the first draft. This meant for a lot of rewriting. I'm hoping that by plotting first, I will eliminate at least a portion of rewrites. This is the same model I follow. I think it's a great story structure.