Monday, April 26, 2021

The Plotting Dilemma

Writers are always asking me how do you write your books? Do you plot everything in advance or do you do it scene by scene, or do you come up with a whole detailed outline? One thing I have learned over the many years of writing fiction – writers have so many varieties of ways to plot that it all comes down to whatever works for a particular person.  However there are some basics you can learn that can help a writer get the story in order. 

Still another way to plot your book is to do it by using multiple scenes. 
Use one scene to an index card and line up the scenes in order. You can also do this on your computer by putting the scenes onto separate pages into a file that you can save in a folder
 in the computer.  This method is great for the writers who don't like to come up with a formal outline because each scene can be written individually and then shuffled around to come up with the desired plot.  Each scene can be moved back or forth until it is in the "right" place.

Writers who don't like to plot often prefer to write their books a scene at a time.  If they have an idea for a certain event or scene, writing that scene out of order can help the creative process.  Getting the scene down while it is still fresh in their mind can improve the book.. 

A scene shows what happens as the action or the emotional problems/reactions unfold minute by minute. A typical book of let's say 85 to 90,000 words has about 70 or so scenes, give or take a few depending on the length of each scene,  with each scene moving the story forward or giving the reader insight in the growth of the main protagonist.

 Each scene should have a small plot in it:

·         time and setting - however this is often understood by the reader and therefore not always necessary

·         because of the action of the scene, the character MUST react in some manner either to the previous scenes problem or to the plot's overall situratio

·         and also show an emotional change or reaction

·         the reader needs to know (the motivation behind the character's actions)  and understand the goal of the protagonist

·         the conflict can be in the action, or it can be in the emotional tension

·         and finally the protagonist or whoever has that scene's POV needs to make some sort of a decision         

 Scenes can be a variety of lengths, depending on what you choose to include.  Some action-filled scenes may run two to three pages, while a simple conversation may be only half a page...but, on the other hand, it could also be three or four pages.  It all depends on your style, genre and whose POV the scene is in.

Learn to be careful how you treat the setting of your story...pages and pages of description, while maybe interesting, should be broken up and used sparingly and scattered in various scenes.

The main things to remember is that the scene must propel the story forward.  Each scene needs a reason.  If a scene does not serve a purpose, then that scene should be deleted.

  Keep in mind as you begin to put the scenes in order that you will want a variety of action-packed scenes intermixed with slower scenes or reflective moments.  Too many fast-moving scenes coming one right after another can leave a reader breathless, while too many long, emotional scenes can lull a reader to sleep.

Mix the length of the scenes with a progression that makes sense in moving the story forward and that allows the reader time to think and react along with the characters.

Remember - Each scene needs to contain a reaction to what has just happened or to the dilemma with the choices to be decided upon.  A decision, which reveals the character's determination and the direction of the overall plot and some type of goal set up for the next scene should end the scene.  This is called the hook. 

In my mystery, Blues at 11, I worked hard to make certain each chapter contained some sort of hook to pull the readers into turning the pages. What would happen to Anchorwoman Kimberly delaGarza, and could she prove she was not guilty of killing her cheating ex-boyfriend? 


Captain Hook in Peter Pan, although a villain, always caused Peter a great deal of trouble and his problems were almost always a surprise to both Peter and the reader. Writing hooks are like that.  We as authors use hooks to keep the readers turning the pages and to keep the interest in the plot. We don't want the reader to put down the book. We want them to know what will happen next. Hooks are usually used in two ways

             1 - At the end of a scene (or chapter) so the reader will keep turning the  pages

              2 - At the beginning of the scene to get the reader "hooked" into reading                                   all of the following pages.

          Let's see how the hooks work in the various scenes in the movie, Romancing the Stone

·         In one scene in the very beginning of the movie, the opening hook is where Joan returns home to her apartment and finds her place trashed. The closing hook is when her sister calls and Joan learns about the map that has been mailed to her. She then realizes that the bad guys have been looking for the map in her apartment.  This makes her mad and determined to do something about it.

·         The scene in the wrecked airplane, in which Joan and Jack get drunk and Jack finds the map, the opening hook is finding the plane as it is raining and they need a place to stay...finding an old plane in the middle of the jungle certainly is not expected and the ending hook is when Jack not only finds the map, but puts it back.  We, the reader, now know that Jack is up to no good and we wonder what will he do next?

All these elements play a vital element in the plot and that is what the writer needs to keep in mind what the end purpose is. Putting things together so that the viewer or reader can say at the end, "wow, I didn't see that coming," or "I missed that. I should have known."  Those are the type of statements that will have readers coming back for more. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

A Journey to Another Time, Another Place

When I first  began reading romance novels many years ago, historical romances were my first choice. I enjoyed not only getting away from th...