Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z Challenge: P is for Plot

P is for Plot:  Also called the storyline, it is the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, such as a play, novel, or short story. (

What’s a novel without a plot?  Even character-driven tales that focus more on the cast—rather than the overall story itself—have a plot, however vague.  In its most basic sense, the plot is how the events in a story directly and emotionally impact the main character, how it transforms him.  This dramatic action affects the character’s emotional development in thematically significant ways. 

There are five basic elements to a plot: 

Conflict—the very essence of the story.  It raises questions and gets readers involved in such a way as to make them care.

Engage the reader’s sympathies—this is done by grounding the reader in knowledge of the character and enriching the story with personalizing details.

Complications—the conflict must twist, turn, deepen, and grow, sustaining the reader’s interest through constant development and escalation.

Climax—the highest point of dramatic action, when the thematic significance becomes clear, when all the major forces come together for a final clash with the main character, who is able to use his new awareness and skills to confront and conquer his enemy. 

Resolution or Denouement—this is the sum of the character’s actions, an end and a new beginning, where those actions have relieved the pressure, providing a cathartic release.  The protagonist makes peace with his past and returns to the world around him.

In addition to the main plot, each story should have at least one or two subplots, and each of these subplots must have these same five basic elements.  These subplots lend a sense of connectivity to secondary characters.  A novel’s texture is made richer when these secondary characters and subplots connect to the protagonist and the main plot.  Subplots create complications and deepen the main plot and can create range when the characters jump between the subplots and main plot. 

There are several basic plot structures which have been used over and over: 
-  The Quest (Catcher in the Rye)
-  Revenge (The Count of Monte Cristo)
-  Love (Gone With the Wind)
-  Adventure (Huckleberry Finn)
-  The Chase (The Fugitive)
-  One Against (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
-  One Apart (Casablanca)
-  Power (The Godfather)
-  Allegory or symbolic narrative (Lord of the Rings.)

My novel, The Mistaken, is a combination revenge/power/chase plot structure. 

What about your novel’s plot structure?  Have you included all five basic elements in your plot and subplots?    


jp said...

The A-Z has been quite an eye-opener for me. The advice and encouragement shown by people has been quite heart-warming.

I have never considered myself a writer more a story-teller. With a basic lack of imagination I can only relate what has actually happened so if I was considered to have a writing 'style' I suppose it would be more accurate to call it 'conversationalist' as that is pretty much how I write.

I would like to get something in print one day just to 'leave a mark' so to speak and wish I could make use of some of the advice yourself and others have offered.

Interesting post.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great points Nancy. The aspects you point out are all essential to a good story. Mine so far are quest/adventure or quest/adventure mystery.

I'm finding that I have to at least know the major plot points before I start my story.

Lily Cate said...

Hi Nancy! Thanks for visiting me :) Nice place you have here!
My last book was Adventure, completely.
The current WIP is a Quest/Chase, more narrow in focus, but broader in theme.

Maggie McGee said...

i saw your comment on another blog and wanted to see what you were writing about. Very helpful post. I will add you to my favs. Thanks and good fortune with the book!

Freya Morris said...

oooo I guess One against/chase/allegory for me!

I think I've got the plot necessities hammered in... *goes to thinking corner with novel and blog post under arm*

Donna K. Weaver said...

My hubby hates the conflict part, which makes me laugh. I keep telling him when the conflict is over then the book is done. He just wants everyone to be happy and get along. =D

Eva Gallant said...

I have learned so much from this series, Nancy. Thanks so much for the great information!

Chris Fries said...

...and another "great minds think alike" moment -- my post today is also about Plot. ;^)

You give a great breakdown of it, Nancy. Excellent post!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Just not sure which one of those defines either of my books.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I rarely use Allegory or symbolic narrative, or at least not in fiction. I do use bits of the rest and the focus depends upon the story.

One thing I have learned, conflict is vital. And no matter how good you are with it, incorporating conflict sits in the large room in the world, room for improvement, lol!

Nicely put together article, Nancy. :-)


Carrie Butler said...

What a timely post! I'm outlining my next project right now. (I think I'm turning into a Plotter!) This helps. :)

Liberty Blake said...

I am glad you asked twitters to follow you. So far I've only P, but I am coming back to start at A after the kids go to bed tonight.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

My YA series is more a "slice of life" (as my husband puts it) so the conflict isn't as strong as the complications.

Jenn3128 said...

I'm with Donna's husband, sometimes I don't want any conflict in my book, I just want the happily ever after! There are times when one craves the ooey gooey sweetness of a novel.

Sue H said...

I like having plenty of conflict in my stories - it makes the 'journey' more interesting!

Thanks for dropping by my blog earlier - sorry you had a problem (was it something on my blog itself, so I can try and rectify it?)

Hope you enjoy the 'conflicts' in my A-Z challenge story, anyway!


Al Penwasser said...

I don't know. After the climax, I usually fall asleep. always, these are some fantastic posts. I'm learning a lot.

DL Hammons said...

I'm an I'm all about the plot! Yes, I include all five elements you talked about. This is some excellent advice...golden! :)

Tracy said...

hah, I need you to come and teach my students about plot...I've never done an outline; one of those things I fear so I avoid!

Empty Nest Insider said...

You are so organized Nancy, and The Mistaken seems like it has something for everyone in it! I can't wait until October! Julie

J.C. Martin said...

Great reminder of plot and structure! My novel is a combination of quest/adventure/bit of love.

J.C. Martin
A to Z Blogger

Lynda R Young said...

Hmm, I think mine is a little of the adventure and chase.

Chuck said...

Another well written and informative post Nancy. You are a good teacher of your craft.

Lisa Regan said...

I learned a lot about plot from YOU actually! You're a natural. I just always tended to write whatever came out and try to impose a plot onto it later. By the way, THAT DOESN'T WORK!!!! Now I write a little, plot a little, write a little, plot a little. And when I'm done I try to make sure everything makes sense and moves the story forward.