Saturday, May 29, 2010

Plotting the Write Way: Simple as PB & J

The plot is the journey you create for both your characters and the readers. Although most stories are character-driven, the plot is just as important. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They have to work together to get the right taste of the sandwich. Not too much peanut butter, not too much jelly. But how can you do this… especially if you aren’t much of a planner?

Every story has a general structure: the plot mountain. If you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer, you should at least create a simple sketch first. When you write, it should be like hiking up the mountain. You already know the basic direction it’s going, but there are a couple of surprises along the way. It’s all about the journey—for yourself, your characters, and your reader. And what you discover on this journey is what will make your story unique.

So when you write—whether an outliner or not—keep this plot mountain in mind:

The exposition is when you introduce the setting and your characters. This is also when you introduce your protagonist's basic need, hidden need, and goal. Near the end of the rising action, include small conflicts which will lead to the huge event at the climax, when the character has to make big decisions. The falling action is when your protagonist should change the most. By the end of the mountain—the resolution—try not to make everything happy, perfect, and as if the protagonist is a totally different person now all because of the climax. That’s not realistic.

Once you reach the climax, remember that this is when you should avoid being nice to your characters. When I came home from the conference last week, I went straight to my manuscript and added more conflict. Don’t be scared of doing that. God allows suffering, so you shouldn’t be too afraid of allowing that to happen to your characters. There should always be a storm before the rainbow appears—and that storm should occur at the peak of the mountain. The “rainbow” should appear near the end of the mountain. Suffering is a time when people learn the most.

Don’t try to cover too much in your plot’s “message”, but don’t let it be too subtle, either. Let something on the outside happen that causes the reader to deal with something on the inside—spiritual, personal questions. Allow the “change” to happen gradually and naturally. Try not to wrap up your plot in a happy ending, where your main character is now perfect and has no more problems to face. Be realistic. Those are the stories that can really relate to readers.

Before you begin to write, ask yourself this question: what’s the purpose of this story? Or, what is it’s theme? Sometimes the answers to these questions will unfold as you hike up the mountain. Also, don’t try to “change” your reader and lead them to Christ immediately. Just write. God will do the rest.

“You can get the horses ready for battle, but it is the Lord who gives the victory.”
~Proverbs 21:31


  1. You sound so mature for 16. I wish I had that kind of drive and passion for something at that age. :O)

  2. I love the line (near the end) about trying to change your reader.

    My book is not overtly religious, although one of the MC's has a lot of religious influences in her life. But it is about changing your life- and I worry a lot that it's too preachy.

    The other significance of that line is something me and my coworkers discuss alot- the lack of books and movies (and music) which fall somewhere between religious and sacriligious. It's like something can't be wholesome unless it's overtly Christian. Who writes that stuff? Christians don't go to Church all say long. What's wrong with a book about a Christian which isn't overtly about Christianity?

  3. I hope you get as much out of my blog as I've gotten out of yours. Very insightful!
    I am now a follower.
    God Bless, Bob

  4. this is awesome. will definitely refer back to this when i start writing again! thanks for the encouragement.

  5. I love your blog, and you've done a great job to assist other writers. Most especially, I love the way you began about God composes, so why shouldn't we. It is great to see a young person so involved in writing and Christ. Thanks for following my blog, and I'm so happy to have met you over Facebook. Blessings, Barb

  6. I once killed a book by plotting it out scene by scene. Because of that, I learned I can't know the complete ending for my characters or it spoils it for me.

    So what I've started doing is just figuring out the black moment. If I know what the characters lose in the black moment, then I have a better idea of what my story is about.

    It's kind of like having a destination but not knowing which route I'll take. I know I'll get there eventually but in the meantime, I figure I'll enjoy the scenery. :)


  7. Hi, My name is Tessa too! I really like your blog. I thought that that was interesting enough to share.

  8. Fiction is very much about balance. In order to for any story to achieve it's potential, character and plot have to walk hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. Character influences plot, and plot pushes character.

    Good post!

  9. Claire Dawn: I’ve only read teen Christian fiction, but I know what you mean. I want my books not to be overly Christian, but I also don’t think it should be too subtle, either. I love movies and books with a good message, and teenagers need more of this. But one that has a certain “lesson” in each chapter does get annoying. It’s not realistic, and it just makes people rebel Christian fiction—-the one thing they should not rebel.

    Bob West & Love Unawakened & Richelle Jean: Thanks for your comments! :)

    B.J. Robinson: Thank you! I love that quote by Audra Foveo-Alba. A lot of people tell me the same thing, that they think it’s incredible to see a teenager so into writing—-but I’m just like any other kid who has a passion for something. Mine just doesn’t involve an instrument or sports, instead it involves writing. And I thank God for that, because I don’t think I could handle being continuously hot, sweaty, and out of breath. :)

    Debra Weiss: I think if you plan too much, then the book will end up being killed, because the chapters will probably seem choppy and structured instead of natural. I’ve never heard of the black moment, thanks for sharing! I’ll have to try that next time. Also, I love the comparison between writing and a journey. Isn’t that how it is with us and God? We know that everything will turn out right if we keep going along God’s path for us (although there will be hard times), but we don’t know every single detail. We just have to keep going and, like you said, enjoy the scenery that God gives you in the very present moment.

    Sarah H: Thanks so much!!! :D

    Tessa Faith: Thank you! Nice name, btw. Haha

    K.M. Weiland: Very true! That’s why I don’t completely agree that all plots are either plot-driven or character-driven, because one without the other isn’t a story. They work together... like peanut butter and jelly :)


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