by VJ Miller, Sr.
The Plot Broken Down, as the title says, is advice for the emerging writer but that doesn’t mean the seasoned writer couldn’t learn something or at least be reminded of what has been forgotten. Man wants something, man gets something, man loses something, man reacquires something. That’s an oversimplification of a plot but just about all break down to its simplest form. From this simple form spring variations on a plot that sets it apart from other plots.
If you’re only going to write short stories that simple plot may be all you need because you can easily remember where you want to eventually finish. But what of longer stories, and novellas; these can not only have a main plot but also one or more subplots to keep on track. If you hope to sell to a publisher you’re going to need to show him an outline of the plot and its variations before he even reads your manuscript. A literary agent or manager will be most helpful should you go that route. You most surely will need to prepare a treatment for an agent if you want to sell to movie or TV producers or to a stage play. This is where the Plot Broken Down comes into play in simpler terms.
#1 Story Goal:
Summarize, in sequence: What does the protagonist want to achieve? What problem has to be solved? This usually affects all the characters, good or bad.
My previous article, Character’s Need for a Dossier, can be a great help in rounding out the development of all your characters.
What disaster could happen if the goal is not achieved? What is he/she afraid will/won’t happen? The answer to the first question is the consequence.
What must be accomplished in order to achieve the goal? This may be more than one. As each step is met, readers will feel that the protagonist is closer to the end.
Here you could add side-plots to round out your story. In my novel, Mask of the Crime Czar, I had my protagonist, Jason Parks return to New York to help a friend while turning it into a backstory to explain why he was kicked off the NYPD. I got an entire chapter on, One of our Hookers is Missing that had Jason, as Mindforce, searching deep under the city to rescue hundreds of hookers one of which was the personal squeeze of the secondary Antagonist giving it a coincidental connection to the main story.
These show the consequence of getting closer to the goal. They will make the reader anxious for the safety of the protagonist or who may be close to him.
In my anthology, Realms Uncharted, from the novella, Iceman, Fred Sinclair is a galactic bounty hunter on the trail of an assassin. Chasing him across a desert moon where the twin suns never set. He must recover from his vehicle being shot out from under him then face challenges in the desert that tax mind and body until the final conflict is met.
Some things should mean a lot to your protagonist. What is he or they willing to sacrifice or take pain? What will get readers worked up?
What will balance the scales against cost in dividends to be received? They should be unrelated to the goal – but they might never have occurred if your protagonist hadn’t made the effort to achieve his goal.
This will be a series of events that have to happen in order for the requirements in step #3 to come about. These will be an extra layer of challenges to your plot.
These will be stipulations laid down by various characters that will add another layer of difficulty in achieving the goal.
Outline of Plot:
Jeopardy? What will be too much or too little? It must be believable; if not you must explain how it can be. No surprising rescues. No Dues ex Machina, or God from a machine. Not everything can be resolved by a fluke or divine intervention. Paint your protagonist into a corner if you must but get him out in a plausible manner.
Readers are very intelligent and will pick up on any mistakes you have in timeline or character development. You can lead them down the garden path then shock them with a twist ending ala Twilight Zone. It is okay to do this but you must never, ever lie to a reader. Clues must be revealed in a logical manner but when the final resolution comes to a head you cannot reveal a clue they never had presented. It’s a cheap trick that may lose readers.
A lot of research and character development can happen before you get down to actually writing your manuscript but doing the early work could save you time lost while you scratch your head wondering where you went wrong. Certainly, if while in the middle of your story a great idea for a subplot springs to mind use it. Some things just come forth logically as you get into your story.
Good luck with your writing and much success after it’s published.