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Writing Fundamentals: Plot Points

Published August 28, 2016 by nruhwald

Plot-PointsWhat is a plot point?

Like scenes and the four stages of a novel (inciting incident, rising action, climax, and ending), plot points are another structural element of your story which you’ll need to keep track of.

For the writer, plot points are destinations. We write with the purpose of moving the characters towards the plot point. For the character, however, the plot point is a beginning.

A plot point happens when a character makes a decision which sets the story going in a new direction.

In questing stories, often in fantasy genres, plot points are linked to physical locations. In the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, most plot points occur when Frodo decides to go somewhere, and he often adds or subtracts people from his group at this point as well.

  • Frodo begins the quest when he decides to take the ring and meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony in Bree. (Adds Sam, Pippin, and Merry)
  • Frodo decides to go to Rivendell. (Adds Strider)
  • Frodo decides to take the ring to Mordor. (Adds Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, and finally meets up with Gandalf.)
  • Frodo decides to…

You get the point already.

Plot points are also a useful way of determining who your main character is. If you struggle with this question, try mapping the events of the story, and identify which events change the course of the story. Your main character is the person whose actions cause those changes.

The actions of antagonists and other characters happen between plot points and serve to push the main character into making her (or his) decision, but it will always be the main character who causes the story to change.

The Plot Point is Not…

…necessarily super dramatic

It all depends on the novel you’re writing. If the novel you’re writing is about the MC’s relationship between people and not a life and death situation, the plot point could be quite subtle.

I once read a book where the plot centered around a woman trying to gain self-confidence. In this type of book, a plot point could be as simple as a decision to take a self-defence course, or a decision not to attend an event.

The plot point has to be a big deal to the character, and must set the book on a new course. But it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a character leaving a spouse, or taking a new job. That big of a move may very well be reserved for the climax.

…ever ever ever caused by something other than the previous events of the story.

I will talk about this more later on, so I’ll just touch on it now. It has to be the previous events of the story which push the main character into making the decision.

Otherwise, you don’t have a plot point, you have a plot ticket. Plot tickets are to plot points what an ex machina is to the climax. You don’t want a plot ticket.

…laid out neatly like a road map for the character to follow near the beginning of the book.

This is another kind of plot ticket, but this kind is worse because no changes are even being made to the course of the story. I have watched some movies in which the MC was told “you need to get these special items in order to defeat the bad guy. You will find them here, here and here. Off you go.”

I do not like those movies. Sometimes the sub-villians at each of the destinations are interesting enough to keep me watching, but they are never interesting enough to make me think of watching it again without groaning. The story still feels too amateurish.

Normally, these movies are intended for young children who do not know better. This sort of storytelling is marginally acceptable in videogames, but never in novels.

The plot point has to change the course of the novel. Ergo, the MC has to make a decision to do something s/he was not previously planning to do. The story takes a new direction, it does not simply move into the next phase of an already decided-upon plan.

…a complete shock to the reader

While the plot point is a complete change in the story’s direction, there are already forces at work pushing the character into taking the story in that new direction.

For instance, when Frodo reached Rivendell, he wasn’t planning on taking the ring any farther. However, the reader likely realizes that Frodo’s story doesn’t end at Rivendell, and might well have predicted that Frodo’s quest with the ring would continue all the way to Mordor.

 

Planners vs. Pantsers

Do you need to know what all your plot points are going to be in advance?

Short answer: no.

It is widely recognized that there are two generally categories of writers. Those who prefer to plan everything out in advance before they write, and those who do not. I’ve never truly considered myself a “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of her/his pants), because I do quite a bit of planning.

On the other hand, I can list off the top of my head, the plot points I have already written in my current WIP, and the plot point I am writing towards. I also know generally how my climax and ending are going to work. As for the rest of the plot points, I don’t have a clue. That’s not quite true, I do have a clue. But not much else.

I don’t really know how my characters are going to react when I reach my next plot point until I’m actually in the moment, so speculating on the effects of my MC’s next big decision seems like a waste of time. This is probably also why I always write chronologically.

Either way works, but for those of you of the pantser persuasion, I believe you should always write towards a plot point. This will keep your plot on track and driven by your MC.

Cousins of the Plot Point

The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the event that sends your character’s life in a new direction. So, in theory the inciting incident could also be considered a plot point. But it need not be, and most usually aren’t.

Unlike your climax and the inciting incident, this is the one time in your novel when something major happens which does not need to be directly caused by your MC. That said, if your inciting incident is not caused by your MC, the inciting incident will soon be followed by a plot point in which your MC decides what course to take based on the inciting incident.

Returning to the Fellowship of the Ring, the inciting incident in this story is Bilbo’s decision to run off to Rivendell and leave Frodo the ring. Soon afterwards, we have the plot point in which Frodo decides what he’s going to do about it.

However, the inciting incident can be driven by a decision made by your main character, thus making it a kind of plot point. In the newest Star Wars movie, the inciting incident is actually a decision made by one of the characters to leave his previous life. Just in case someone out there has not watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, I won’t go into any more detail.

The Dreaded Plot Ticket

Also sometimes called a plot cookie, you should avoid the plot ticket like the plague.

The plot ticket happens when a change in plot direction occurs, but it is not driven by a decision made by the MC and/or the decision is not driven by previous story events.

For instance, imagine how odd it would have been if Frodo had decided to take the ring and run off to Mordor on his own (with Sam) straight from the Prancing Pony. Weird, right? Why would Frodo do that? How does Frodo even know what he’s supposed to do with the ring? (In most plot ticket blunders, some random thing happens which lets the MC know what s/he is supposed to do. The MC gets handed a “plot ticket” essentially.)

There’s no good reason for Frodo to choose to go anywhere by himself especially given how dangerous his situation is. And beyond that, we don’t want Frodo to leave. We just got introduced to an interesting new character (Strider), and we want to find out what happened to Gandalf.

Now, fast forward, and Frodo has just seen Gandalf “die” and witnessed the destructive effect of the ring on Boromir. The fellowship of the ring is falling apart already, and Frodo doesn’t want the ring or his quest to do any more damage to his friends. So he chooses to go alone (with Sam.)

See how much more effective the plot point is when it’s driven by previous events?

 

The Plot Twist

Plot twists are very effective. I love plot twists. In fact, one of my pet peeves is reading the first chapter and being able to accurately predict the entire plot of the book (*cough* romance novels *cough*). I like surprises.

However, plot twists are not plot points. They may radically change something, but they cannot directly change the course of the novel. Plot twists come out of the blue (with foreshadowing), and plot points do not. Instead, plot twists work very well as one of those events which push the MC into making a decision which completely changes the course of the book, thus creating a plot point.

For instance, Luke Skywalker’s fight with Darth Vader would have ended the way it did whether or not he learned that Darth Vader is his father. Either way, Luke loses the fight and has to get picked up by his friends. At the time, the only thing this really changes is Luke’s mental state. Instead of being disappointed that he failed to kill Darth Vader (and relieved that he survived the fight), Luke is having a massive personal crisis.

However, this emotional trauma dramatically effects the decisions, and thus plot points, Luke makes later on.

 

 

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Trying Something New…

Published August 21, 2016 by nruhwald

…starting in September. Yay!

Well I needed something to cheer me up, given that school will also be starting. For the last two months, I’ve been sharing a small segment of my novel The King’s Children roughly at the beginning of each month.

The response so far has been good. I’m extremely pleased that my readers have enjoyed reading some of my work, and am very grateful to those who have commented. So I thought I would add another more creative monthly feature.

Each month, I’m going to write an article about the world I have created, which I call Desylvar. I like reading this sort of thing about the worlds other people have created, and it’s fun to write, so why not?

Coming up…Next Sunday I will be posting another Writing Fundamentals article about Plot Points.

And after that…is the first Sunday of September, so I will be sharing another segment of my novel. This time, I will be introducing you to Princess Winnowna Illusia, my female protagonist.

That’s all for this week. Happy writing!

52 Top Websites to Post Your Book for FREE

Published August 18, 2016 by nruhwald

Reblogging this to keep for future reference. I hope it will come in handy for my readers as well.

Savvy Writers & e-Books online

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For your book to sell, you need to create the demand. You need an audience, a platform – which you will get when your book is showing up on many websites, visible to readers.

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1. Goodreads
Use your free membership to promote yourself and your books. Reviews are essential and reviews on Goodreads site help your book to really stand out to millions of visitors.

2. Wattpad
Wattpad has experienced explosive growth since its inception and has become the world’s most popular destination to publish and read e-books. Wattpad delivers billions of pages from its library of works created and published by the Wattpad community.

3. On BookTalk,
You’ll find an online reading group and book discussion forum that can help you discover new books. If you’re an author or publisher looking to promote your books, you are welcome to use BookTalk.org as a tool to reach a…

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Writing Fundamentals: Had

Published August 14, 2016 by nruhwald

As in: she noticed how much she uses this word in writing, and had to barf.

“Had,” like those pesky adverbs I’ve mentioned, weaken your writing.

So somebody “had to” barf. Great. Did they or didn’t they actually do it? You don’t know. Probably, since they “had to.” But you don’t get to see it, you only see the necessity of doing it.

She didn’t “have to” barf. She barfed.

See? So much better.

Had been

Possibly even worse, someone “had been” barfing. This is bad, too. You don’t want your reader to see that your character “had been” doing something. You want your reader to see your character doing it.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix, provided it doesn’t cause grammatical or logical issues. If you look through your prose and notice a road “where Tony had been running” simply change it to the road “where Tony ran.”

However, this may cause a bit of confusion if Tony is not currently running on that road, which leads me to the one time you can use the word “had.”

The Exception

In fact, you have to use it sometimes. In general, the word “had” is bad because it detaches the reader from what is currently going on. However, sometimes what you are talking about is in the past.

For instance, if your narrator is describing something that happened past of the past-present you’re writing about, you need to use the word had at least once so your readers know what is going on.

If you’re launching into a section where your narrator is completely mentally present in the past, you can use “had” once to demonstrate that you’re skipping back in time and then continue on as usual.

 

 

 

Jump In

Published August 7, 2016 by nruhwald

This post is going to be a bit shorter than usual, but for a good reason.

I’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about being courageous and seeking new and challenging experiences. Such things are good for authors. How are we to write about characters challenging themselves and overcoming odds if we have not experienced such things ourselves?

The writing life can be scary enough as it is, and to face these challenges we must cultivate a level of bravery. Not fearlessness, necessarily, but a willingness to press forward despite our fear.

So, I’ve been having some adventures this week, and will be “out of office” most of next week doing similar, though more tame things. My blog and my writing will suffer somewhat, but I expect to come back refreshed and with a new perspective.

 

 

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