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How do you organize the main elements into a story that flows and develops smoothly for a reader? That is a big concern for any writer. The Title, Cover art and the summery all combine forces to grab the attention of the reader. The Characters give them someone to identify with and the setting gives them an interesting place to experience. Now you need a Storyline or Plot to capture the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading. Conflict is another term that is related to plot. Every story has a conflict. This is the issue or problem faced by the characters. It may be a problem they need to solve or an adventure you want them to have.
Some stories have a simple straight-line plot, or put simply, a causal sequence of events. I personally don’t seem to have many of those. Most fiction stories and books have several complex storylines, all going at the same time, layered and interlaced together creating a turbulent maelstrom of intentions and events, a plot within a plot, within a plot. It’s this type that I am addressing with this article.
Begin with an outline. Many writers want to skip this very important step, don’t. Many writers try to let the ending evolve organically relying on a lot of trial and error rather than any kind of plan or organization, it just doesn’t work. You can save yourself a lot of time and energy by laying out the path of your story early on. That includes having some idea what the ending will be. Having a plan laid out, a map of where you are going, will greatly increase your chance of getting there successfully.
Although you need an outline to follow, they are not chiseled in stone. I’ve never had an outline remain the same throughout the creation of a story. They will change many times as you work your way through toward the successful conclusion of the plot. The more complex the plot, the more times the outline will likely be modified. The ending of any fiction story should, at least in some sense, come as a surprise to the reader but be so connected to the novel as a whole that as they look back at it, the ending should seem absolutely inevitable.
With any complex storyline you will always have a main plot underlying all of the minor sub-plots. Fundamentally, the main plot can be more properly called a Story Goal, simply put it’s what the story is about. The sub-plots are mainly centered around the characters, each of the characters in the story will have their own goal or objectives that they are shooting for. The difference between the Story Goal and the character goals is that the Story Goal involves many if not all of the characters and almost every character in your story will have a stake in whether the story goal is achieved. Even though the character goals are usually focused on single characters, they should always be essential to the main plot or removed in the editing process.
The main plot of a story, no matter how complex, will be largely uncluttered. It’s not until you begin adding in all of the sub-plots that the complexity appears. The main plot can be divided into several nodes.
First and foremost you have the Story Goal – the objective that the main character is trying to achieve.
You’ll also have a Consequence – this is what would happen if the Story Goal is not achieved.
There will be Requirements – this is what must be accomplished in order for the Story Goal to be achieved.
Forewarnings – are the events or elements in a story that show that the Consequences may be gaining ground on the Story Goal.
Costs – are the sacrifices that one or more of the character will have to make in order for the Story Goal to be achieved.
Dividends – are the rewards that the characters receive as they try to achieve the Story Goal. It will be something that would never have happened to them if they hadn't made the effort to achieve the Story Goal.
Prerequisites – are the events that must happen in order for the Requirements to happen. Prerequisites are yet another way to show that progress is being made towards the Story Goal.
Preconditions – are small obstacles in the path making it more difficult for the Story Goal to be achieved.
Climax – this is the moment of greatest emotional tension in a story, and is usually the point at which the main character's fortune begins to turn. This is always the deciding point that determines whether the Story Goal will be achieved or not.
The final node is always the Resolution – this is the resolution of the plot. While there are many ways to end a story it always comes down to two possible outcomes. Either the Story Goal was achieved, or it wasn’t. In the classical terms, if the Story Goal wasn’t achieved it will be classified as a tragedy. If it was achieved then your story will be classified as a comedy regardless whether or not it is humorous. Before the days of motion pictures a comedy was simply a story with a happy ending.
The main plot or storyline will always have most or all of these nodes. The sub-plots may have them all, but sometimes they will not. In many stories, especially the ones that are leading up to sequels, the sub-plots will be incomplete. This is the way that many writers leave the readers yearning for the subsequent stories.
Copyright 2010 by Timothy C. Everhart, author of Tianna Logan and the Salem Academy for Witchcraft, found at: http://www.tiannalogan.com/ and at: http://www.pdbookstore.com/.