Creating Great Peaks When
Developing a Plot

Maybe you consider developing a plot kind of like drawing a straight line from A to Z.

But be ready to scale some mountains, if you really want to do well at writing a novel. Because it's not a straight line at all. It's more often called the story arc. And it "looks" like this...

Inciting a Riot

The first thing to remember when developing a plot is that your novel should begin with a bang (no, not literally, unless a bomb's going off!). It needs what's called an inciting incident - better known as a reason to read on. (Why are we climbing this mountain?)

This is going to be the beginning of the conflict for your protagonist. Jump right into the action here (whether it's physical, mental or emotional), or you'll lose your readers before you've begun.

So the first step to developing a plot is to figure out what incident really begins your story. (Some people call this a hook, as well. You need to hook your reader's attention to get him to read on.)

Find the definitive moment when your story begins. No, not in the bathroom with the heroine brushing her teeth the morning of the "big day", but in the middle of the fight with her ex-husband in the middle of the office in front of her co-workers and boss, who then fires her.

That's an inciting incident.

Climbing the Mountain

The next steps your plot needs to take are called rising action. This is where the conflict continues, where the heroine gets in deeper and deeper. Each event that follows your hook should add to the tension, build on that incident that started the "explosion" and lead your reader compellingly onward.

Most of the events will be major plot points, with subplots and detail filling them out. It may take three, it may take ten until you come to the next leg of your climb. Take as long as you need, but don't make it fluff just to take up space. (If that's the case, maybe you're writing a novella?)

Don't fall off the mountain. Be sure each section leads unerringly to the next level. If your aim is off, your readers will be disappointed (and hurt when they fall off that cliff), and may put the book down unfinished. That'll mean you're finished. At least this time.

I'm Having a Crisis

Now, your heroine comes to a crisis. Everything has led to this moment, where it's do or die time. If you've built your novel right, there will be no question this crisis had to come sooner or later.

But if you've really done well, your readers will also think, "I didn't expect this! Now you have them!

When developing a plot, be sure you've built up to the crisis until it has to happen, until there's no other way to go (kind of like that thin ridge of rock that's the only way to the summit of the mountain). All the conflict prior to now, all the events and back story lead here and nowhere else.

If your crisis seems flat, you haven't done your job right. There go all those "climbers" (readers) tumbling down the mountainside again. Boy, are you in trouble.

If you've led the way properly to this moment, you'll know it, and your readers will too.

Thar She Blows!

Yup. It's time for the climax (our favorite part!). It may be swift and deadly, but it's what we've been waiting for since page one.

Keep in mind that the heroine can win or lose at this point - a climax doesn't promise a happy ending - but make sure it's logical. Better yet, make sure it seems the only outcome to everything leading up to it.

And don't drag it out for three chapters. A climax becomes anticlimax if you drag it out. Set your sight on that mountain peak and don't look away.

Coming Down Off the Mountain

Ah, the end is near. Developing a plot to the perfect end means creating the perfect resolution to the conflict that began on page one. This takes more care than you may realize. Many an author has caused an avalanche of criticism for finishing a novel poorly.

Don't leave your readers stranded on the mountain tip. You don't want to preach to your readers to make a point. Nor do you want to leave them confused with what your point was (if anything). You want to leave them satisfied, their thirst temporarily quenched, yet yearning for more.

As with the climax, it doesn't help to drag this out. If you have three chapters past the climax, you've probably overdone (yeah, really). If you have one page, you may have underdone (but not necessarily).

If you've created the perfect balance, you've written a winner. You've scaled the mountain and come back down unscathed. Congratulations! When's the next book coming out?



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