I’ve had stories in my head for years. But writing them down into story form has been a challenge. It wasn’t enough for me to simply share the life of a character. I had to find a way to make the events follow a pattern of rising action, climax, and conclusion. There are many ways to do this. The way to plot a novel that I found to be the most helpful when I wrote book three of my sci-fi series during NaNoWriMo 2019 is as follows:
1. Ordinary World – This is the introduction of your main character in their normal world. You also want to show what their goals and motivations are, as well as what is at stake if they fail. Don’t dwell too much on the ordinary world. Otherwise, you will have too much boring information. Only the bare bones of your main character’s setting and backstory should be introduced here. Other important elements can be brought in later in the story as they come up.
For my first book, the ordinary world is where Commander Hapker is wanting to prove himself capable of a job in space but is failing badly so far. His goal is to get his new captain to accept him as the second-in-command on a permanent basis. His motivation is to do what his father said he was incapable of doing. If he fails, he will return home to a life he doesn’t want and face the I-told-you-so attitudes of his parents.
2. Inciting Incident – This is where something changes. It introduces a problem that creates conflict for your main character. The inciting incident should happen very close to the beginning of your story.
For my first book, this happened at the end of the first chapter when an enemy ship crash lands on a planet in the territory that Commander Hapker is assigned to.
3. First Plot Point – This is where the conflict escalates for the first time. It’s the point where the character has no choice but to face the challenge.
In my first book, this is where Commander Hapker leads a team to the planet’s surface to check to see if any of the enemy occupants of the crashed ship survived.
4. First Pinch Point – This is where the main character is discovering the depth of the challenge they face. New things are discovered. The tensions rise. It is also where the first major interaction with the antagonist takes place.
In chapter two of my first book, Commander Hapker finds that one of the survivors is a ten-year-old warrior who has just killed four people and is ready to kill more if necessary.
5. Escalating Conflict – Depending on the length of your story, you can have multiple events that each escalate the story. The depth of what your main character faces becomes more and more apparent.
In my book, the plot escalates when Commander Hapker is assigned to watch over the hostile ten-year-old warrior. In my case, this could almost be considered part of the first pinch point.
6. Midpoint – The main character continues to face new challenges. They are on the defense, mostly reacting to the situations that arise. But then something happens to shift them into being proactive.
I’m not going to tell you what that was in my first book. You will just have to read it for yourself when it comes out in 2020. 😊
7. Second Pinch Point – Just when things are going well for your main character, there is another confrontation with the antagonist that makes things much worse than it was before. It is the herald of your climax.
8. Second Plot Point – This is where the main character is at their lowest. The battle is lost and they have no hope of it getting better. They are ready to give up. But something forces them to change their mind and regain hope. That something could be internal—a memory perhaps. Or it could be external—such as encouragement from a friend or the discovery of an object that will help them.
9. Final Battle – The main character uses his newfound hope to battle the antagonist in one final and enormous effort. This is the apex of your story and should be the most intense. There should be a back-and-forth battle where the main character is winning, then losing, then winning again at the last moment.
10. Return to the Ordinary World – This is the conclusion of your story. The main character has won. They return to their ordinary world but as a changed person.
When I first wrote book one, I did not follow this format very well. My first chapter started with action, which didn’t help the reader begin a relationship with the main character. I didn’t do a good job of introducing the main character’s goals and motivations. And without proper goals and motivations, the main character seemed to have no stakes in what was happening in the story. They could fail or not and it wouldn’t matter. Also, my story escalated well enough in the middle but flagged at the end. This was because I made the final battle too easy.
Save yourself the trouble of rewriting your story several times (like I did), by following this basic plot outline. Your story will come out better because of it, and people won’t be able to put it down.