This entry is a very short and very simplified guide to plotting. As with everything else I post here, the techniques contained herein are ones that work for me and are not meant to be taken as gospel. Writing is a very personal endeavour and not all techniques will work for — or even necessarily make sense to — all people.
What I’ll be outlining below mainly pertains to what I call the “physical plot” — the events that happen, as opposed to the emotional/psychological arcs of your main characters.
This is also going to be a fairly short article as it’s pretty straightforward.
Pretty much any story can be broken down into six stages:
- Intro & Catalyst
- Fall & Recovery
Certainly there are stories that don’t follow this pattern, but most do — even biographies tend to follow these stages.
Here’s a little more detail on each of the stages…
INTRO & CATALYST
This is how the whole thing starts, where we meet the main character and where the event or circumstance that sets the story in motion occurs. This can be as simple as two people meeting for tea or as dramatic as a robot uprising on the moon.
Example: A farm boy with undeniable skill at complaining meets two fugitive droids, one of whom carries the plans to an incredible weapon of mass destruction.
Some people call this the Hook, or the Pinch, or I don’t know, Howard. It’s all the same thing: it’s the event that commits your protagonist to follow the path of your story. Again, it may not be something overly dramatic — it could be someone sitting quietly in a café, deciding that yes, this is the year that they will finally write that book on the history of potato farming that they’ve always wanted to write.
Example: If the Stormtroopers tracked those droid to the jawas, that would lead them back… home! But it’s too late, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are dead and our hero commits to his journey.
Insert story here. Seriously — the Journey is the bulk of your story, broken down into what I like to call milestones. You will have numerous milestones within the Journey, some will be physical (Luke needs to get from the Mos Eisley Spaceport to the shattered remains of Alderaan) and some will be character development (Luke needs to become less of a kid and start showing some leadership ability), but all are things that must occur for your story to progress. As a side note, setting milestones within the Journey can be a huge help to both keeping you motivated while writing and keeping you writing period. Write down your next four milestones before you sit down for your next writing session to serve as a map so you always know where you’re headed.
FALL & RECOVERY
I know a lot of people who call this the Crisis, which I’m not sure I like. But really, call it whatever you want — it’s your protagonist’s lowest point, their world is falling apart (not necessarily literally, but it could happen, see Alderaan), the outlook is bleak. How will they ever accomplish what they need to accomplish? And then they recover, they find their inner strength, maybe gain some outer strength from friends, maybe summon a demon. They have fallen to their lowest point and now they have clawed their way back.
Example: Obi-Wan is dead, how can our hero possibly go on? He hasn’t learned what he needs to learn about the Force and now he never will… but he has to fight. His friends need him.
The final battle. Whether it be against a physical enemy or an ideological enemy or an internal enemy, the protagonist fights their battle here. It may be an enormous space battle, it may be someone overcoming their anxiety disorder. For all intents and purposes, this marks the end of the physical plot.
As you may have guessed, this is the end of your story. This is a combination of physical plot and character development, a denoument of the physical while the character has some kind of realization or epiphany about themselves, the world, ground hogs, whatever.
You may have noticed I skipped my example for the Confrontation stage. That’s because in Star Wars, the Confrontation and the End dovetail together completely — you can’t really discuss one without the other. The Confrontation is obviously the trench run and the destruction of the Death Star, but within the Confrontation, we have the character development End for both Luke and Han (Luke trusting in the Force and using it to save the day; Han returning to help, valuing friendship over money). The End then of course continues for the physical plot in the medal presentation ceremony.
And there you have it, a really short and sweet look at basic plotting. As and exercise, take one of your favourite books and one of your favourite movies and see how they would fit into this guide, then give it a try with one of your own works.
Until next time…