Constructing a plot

Repetition—Good & Bad

Improving Your Prose

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Jul 15, 2018
So I keep thinking about writing a proper novel. I've messed about with formulaic romances and re-writes of old stories, and enjoyed constructing characters and writing dialogue and feel as if I've served some kind of apprenticeship. I finally think, it's time I wrote a proper novel - and realise, I really have no idea how to construct a plot, beyond creating a crisis three-quarters of the way through.

Help! I am craftless, techniqueless, but a breezy dilettante. What am I doing here?

I need a crash course. What's the best advice, or the best resources, on the art of plotcraft?
Probably the most accessible is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Don't be put off by the fact that it's pitched at screenwriters or that it seems rigidly formulaic. The gist of it is spot on (and novelists can afford to play fast and loose with its 'rules').

The other one I'd highly recommend (in fact, if I could only recommend one, it would be this one) is a general fiction-writing manual (with an extensive section on plotting) called Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V Swain. It's been in print since 1965, so some of the language feels dated (and sexist), but the core of it is gold and timeless, assuming it's commercial fiction you're interested in writing.

There are so many books these days on plotting and writing in general that you could easily be overwhelmed by choice. If this thread gets many hits, you may well be. But if you flick through a few examples, you'll soon realize that 99% of them are rehashing the same ideas. There's a reason Swain's book has been in print for 53 years. :)
Plotting isn't the only thing to consider. A novel is one hundred thousand words give or take. Most writers run out of story to tell in twenty to thirty thousand words. That's where character building comes into play. You need to be able to consume words/pages with interesting profiles of characters that do not stall the forward motion of the story.
Some good advice here already. (Rich, I read Save the cat. I'm now reading the other one. Very good. Thanks for the tip)

I kicked my latest novel off using the Snowflake Method. The Snowflake M is quite simplistic in its approach, but you can take from it what feels right for you. You start with one sentence (the 'what is it about') then build it up from there, inc the character building Magicman mentioned. I found this method handy as it helped me keep track of my story. It also means, you'll have your one line elevator pitch, your one para synopsis, plus your full synopsis more or less ready before you even wrote much of the actual novel.
The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman is packed with good advice; there are currently copies available on eBay for less than £3...a bargain! :D

A lot of factors affect plotting, including depth of characterisation and whether your story is a standalone novel or part of a series of stories. To my mind, a plot is the scaffolding that supports story house—but as the structure forms and you see the shape of things, appreciating how it feels to be inside that story, then feel free to improvise a little, by dropping a spanner in the works. After all, 'Life is what happens to you while you're planning to do other things.' You don't want your characters to become robots, doing exactly what the reader thinks they'll do.

It's often said that writers are naturally Plotters or Pantsers:

Pantser or Plotter? Deciding Which Can Save Your Writing Life | Jane Friedman

With my own writing of crime novels, I tend to decide themes beforehand, sketching out a basic plot in notes which fits these thematic preoccupations, but listening to what my characters think and how I know they'll act, from having written about them in four previous novels, to decide on how the story unfolds.
Check out Martha Alderson at Known as the Plot Whisperer she is a well respected expert on plotting both novels and screenplays. Her U Tube channel is an excellent source of advice and I highly recommend it. Hope this helps.
Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker may be a good source of info.
It's quite a tome but it goes into detail about the various story arcs and plot forms of all types and genre of stories.
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Repetition—Good & Bad

Improving Your Prose