How do you Plot a Novel?

It takes time, planning and hard work to become a successful author. After you have decided on a core idea for your book, you will need to develop this into the full plot to ensure you craft a compelling piece of work. Hayim Oshky, founder of Higher Ways Publishing, explains how to plot a novel like the literary greats.

Compile your structure

Writer’s Workshop notes that a good plot has a clear structure, so this is where you should start. Begin by outlining your protagonist’s motivation, then detail your plot’s rough structure and finish by developing the outcome of the story. You should then detail your subplots, so you can flesh out your novel tie these into the main plot.

Let’s take Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as an example. The main character Elizabeth’s motivation is to marry for love. The main plot arc involves her meeting and disliking Darcy, before eventually falling for him, with the outcome being that they marry. Austen establishes a number of subplots which mirror the main plot to provide readers with a deeper exploration of the book’s core theme.

Strengthen your plot

Now your basic structure is established, you may need to strengthen your novel’s plot if it’s a little threadbare. This doesn’t necessarily involve adding more dialogue, points of view or backstory. The key to strengthening a plot is to add complexity.

Here you might want to turn to a literary technique called mirroring, where you create a situation which reflects the main plot, as illustrated in the paragraph above by Pride and Prejudice. You could alternatively look to add a different genre altogether within a section, a ghost story within a love story for example. The idea is to layer your book and add complexity.

Write your scenes

Now you need to think about your actual scene. According to Advanced Fiction Writing, in Techniques of the Selling Writer author Dwight Slain says there are two literary devices you need to know about here. These are standard scenes and sequel scenes. A standard scene involves a goal – what does the character involved want to achieve, a conflict – what obstacles do they face in achieving their goal and a disaster – how does your character fail to achieve their goal?

Standard scenes should be followed by sequel scenes. These allow you to move your character’s story forward so your novel can reach its climax point. A good sequel scene has three components; reaction, dilemma and decision. So how does your character react to the disaster in the standard scene? Your character will then be presented with a dilemma, as there is no good way to tackle a disaster. After this they will make a decision which will drive the novel’s plot forward.

With the basic structure of your scenes established, you will then need to think about how to write each paragraph. Swain advises you to use what he calls “Motivation-Reaction Units.” This is where you switch constantly between what your character sees and what they do, an approach which allows you to provide the reader with the insight they need to engage with the scene.

Find your plot

Writing literature is an incredibly complex discipline. Use the tips provided in this article as a starting point. Go out and read great authors such as Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Mark Twain, E.M Forster and Alice Walker. Select the key features of their plots to learn more about this pivotal area of novel writing and experiment with different literary techniques to ensure you write a compelling novel.

Thank you for reading… Hayim Oshky.

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