Have trouble plotting your story? Author Valerie Ullmer has some easy tips to follow…
Whenever I start plotting a new novel, I start at the beginning. Story Structure. Your story, whether a short story, novella, or a full-length novel should be told in three acts, with eight plot points specifically placed along the way.
The Hook. The first line, paragraph, or page that hooks the reader and makes them want to continue the story.
The Inciting Event. This is the turning point where there is no looking back for the protagonist. This could be the meeting of their love interest to a significant change in their life. But one thing they know, they can’t go back to what they used to know.
The First Plot Point (25% mark of your story). This plot point reinforces to the protagonist that in order to find who they are in this new reality or changed world, they have to accept the change and learn to adapt to the new information.
The First Pinch Point. This is where your antagonist first rears his/her/it’s ugly head. The antagonist could be a physical person or a belief that the protagonist has long held (the possibilities are limitless). The protagonist has accepted that change is going to happen…but not so fast, your antagonist is going to stand in your protagonist’s way and make them doubt everything.
The Midpoint or Second Plot Point (50% mark of your story). This is where your protagonist accepts the truth about why the change in their life is happening, but there is no solution in sight. And realizing and accepting the truth doesn’t make their journey any easier. This could be a realization that your protagonist is in love, or the first time they are kissed and that one action changes their feelings for someone or something.
The Second Pinch Point. You didn’t think your antagonist was going away just because your protagonist has forgot about them or they have something else on their mind. Just because your protagonist had a realization doesn’t mean your antagonist is going to let them forget about what’s at stake.
The Third Plot Point (75% mark of your story). Your protagonist thinks that they understand what is going on but they are completely thrown for a loop. They are hurt or feel desperation about a situation they don’t understand. Some call this a dark moment. And again, it changes everything they know about their situation and causes them to rethink their course of action.
The Climax. This is where the protagonist has to face their demons/antagonist in order to move on.
The Resolution. Your protagonist has changed and in romance, this is where they get their happily ever after.
Before you start outlining, you should determine how long your book will be. For novellas, there are anywhere from 10-15 chapters (or more, depending on how you lay out your book), and for novels, there could be anywhere from 20-60, depending on your writing technique. But whatever you do, you should keep in mind the story structure and where your plot points should go in your story.
(Out of a 20-chapter story, your first plot point should be around Chapter 5, your midpoint (2nd plot point) should be around Chapter 10, your third plot point should be around Chapter 15.)
So, keeping story structure in mind, there are several techniques you can use to plot out your book. You can use some or all of these ideas, but the ultimate goal is to create a usable outline that you can reference and/or develop a full story from. My outlines are so detailed that I think of them as a first draft, and it helps my writing in the long run, but how you write/plot is up to you.
Free write. It’s exactly as it sounds. Write down every idea you have about your story. For me, the beginning and the end of the story are usually clear in my mind. I write down everything that might happen in both scenes, whether I use them or not. You don’t have to use any of the ideas you write down and they might get discounted as you continue with your outline, but they are a stepping stone to new scenes and conflict that might arise from these hastily jotted ideas.
Mind mapping. This is perfect for those writers who are visual. You write the central theme or plot in the center and circle it. And with each idea, you write it down and circle it again, making sure you work your way out to see what conflict and solutions you can come up with. But your ideas have to connect. In the end, you can narrow down the ideas you want to keep and go back to story structure and see where your plot points match against your story idea.
What if questions. This is the way I outline and ultimately flesh out my story. With the beginning and ending in my mind, I start the story using what if questions. For instance, in my first paranormal romance, the first question was what if there was a loner vampire assassin who lived in the mountains of Colorado who meets and denies to himself that he has a human mate. This gives you time to write everything that comes to mind as the scene develops and it allows your mind to make connections that you might have missed by working from hastily scrawled notes. And by the time you finish the first scene, you have in mind what happens in the next scene. And so on.
But whatever method you use, please be sure to write down ideas that might pop up in your head for future reference. They might not fit into the scene you are working on, but you don’t want to forget a wonderful idea for later in your story.
There are several writing resources, but the best one that I have found so far is author K.M. Weiland’s site: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com
Valerie writes paranormal and contemporary M/F and M/M erotic romances. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her wonderfully supportive husband and their funny and wise black lab. She’s addicted to coffee, crime shows, and reading and writing character-driven romances.
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