How Do You Plot a Novel?
The Plot is Afoot
Coming up with a plot for your story is often one of the hardest parts of writing a story. You can have the coolest setting in any genre with an awesome character to follow along with, but if you don’t have a plot, you don’t have anything.
“But what is a plot? Why do I need it when I have a great story and character?”
A plot can be defined as the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. (Google)
To simplify this further, it’s a series of events that make up the story. The key to a good plot is laying them out in such a way that you keep the reader engaged throughout those series of events!
“But I have a story already. Isn’t that the same thing!?”
In our opinion, no. You can have a story without a plot. A story is just an idea until you add the plot elements to it. It’s kind of like having a plain donut; it’s still good, but it could be better.
Plotting is also different from outlining. The first is comprising the story elements and how they all fit together while outlining is about the big scope of the story and how you get to the end.
I Have a Story
Going with the idea of a donut, and how the story itself is plain, and without chocolate or sprinkles, we need to figure out what we want to put on the donut. There are tons of options, but we need to be careful not to steal someone else’s donut. That’s bad news.
Let's look at the 5 W’s and how they help us build our plot.
Full disclosure, we may have been craving donuts when we wrote this. If you are now craving donuts, well, we cannot be held liable. Anyway, let’s continue.
Now that we have our idea out, we need to know a few things that will help us figure out what the heck we’re going to write. These are the 5 W’s which we're sure most will be familiar with:
Let’s break these down, starting with the Who.
The point of this is to really get an idea of who your protagonist (the main person you will write about) is.
Example: Jane is a head shorter than everyone else of her race. As a Plottian who is so short, it’s given her a chip on her shoulder, and she’s bitter about it. Moreover, her parents have all but disowned her, saying she’s a freak.
You have the idea, but what the heck are you writing about?
Here, you would expand on the story itself and what you want to happen in it.
When does your story take place? Are you thinking past, present, or future? Well, it will depend a little on the genre you’re writing. Outside of genre, knowing When your story is helps you figure out how to build the world. For example, if you're starting at the beginning of your world’s history, there will not be much in the way of lore, legends, stories, etc.
If you want to add a little history, have some distance between the beginning of your world and where the events take place in the story, then you’d be looking at the “present.” You have room to create legends, stories, world histories, and more by doing it this way.
In the future, you’re typically going to see/use more technology than you would in the past or present time. You’ll have the ability to create a HUGE world history by having it set in the future.
Now, these are not hard and fast rules! It’s more like a sliding scale that can be adjusted based on what you’re looking to do.
This may sound silly, but you need a general idea of where your story is going to take place. We’re not going into full-blown world-building mode here, as it’s a rabbit hole with no end. Instead, you’re going to write some things using a broad brush. We’ll continue with Jane and Jon as an example.
Example: Jane’s planet, Duo, is a twin planet. It’s connected to its sister planet by an immense space bridge. Because of the bridge, the planets do not spin on their axis, so one side is always in darkness while the other is always in light.
Do you see how it stayed broad, focusing on the planets rather than every flora and fauna, creature, race, etc. that inhabits each world? This gives you enough information to know where your story takes place. It should be enough for you to read it and know what the setting is.
From the example, we know the setting is on two planets that are connected by a space bridge. That will obviously have a HUGE impact on both planets, but we’re not going there.
Writing a story isn’t easy, let alone plotting one out that makes sense! It takes hard work, perseverance, and grit. Do you have that? We think you do. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve got what it takes to write a story that’s a winner.
If you read our first post, you’ll have defined your ‘why’ already, but now that you’ve spent some time working on this story, that ‘why’ may have changed or become stronger. This is a chance to reflect and see how far you’ve come.
Bring on the Sprinkles
We’ve covered a lot in this post, and now we’re about to bring it home in this last section. We’re going to take everything we’ve done and put it all together to make one delicious plot donut!
How do we do this? By writing it all out! Here’s an example of what it might look like:
Jane is a Plottian living on the planet Duo. She is a head shorter than every Plottian and is constantly picked on. Because of this, she has a huge chip on her shoulder. Even her parents have all but disowned her.
When Jane crosses the Space Bridge to the sister planet of Duo, she meets Jon, a member of the dark side of the planet who seems to know an awful lot about her. She comes to find out that her family is secretly planning on destroying the bridge to set up a new government with themselves at the head of it.
You get the picture. You need to write out the plot of the story so you can see everything on paper, and not just inside your head where it’s going to be forgotten the next day. This is the moment when your story starts to come to life!
Hopefully, this has helped you think about plotting your stories differently. Or maybe it helped you come up with your own way that works even better for you! Our goal is to think outside of the box when it comes to helping authors write their stories.
If you would like to do the exercises in the worksheet this post is based on, hit the button below to view and download the worksheets for free.