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Writing A Novel: Plot

What are the elements of narrative structure? Where should your novel begin? What is the resolution? What are the narrative questions you should ask yourself before writing the book? Do you need to outline? This and more!

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Writing A Novel: Plot

  1. 1. PLOT
  2. 2. The Craft Of Writing You start with an Original Idea. You figure out your protagonist, antagonist, and core conflict (conflict lock.— on next slide) Remember to stay open-minded to possibilities.
  3. 3. Conflict Box Protagonist Conflict Protagonist Goal Antagonist Goal Antagonist Conflict A separate slideshow on this available at
  4. 4. Research Research your characters. Research your setting (place & time). Research your plot. Research produces possibilities.
  5. 5. Narrative Questions: Characters Who is my protagonist? What is his goal? What is his motivation for achieving that goal? Who is my antagonist? What is his goal? What is his motivation for achieving that goal? How does this bring them into conflict?
  6. 6. Narrative Questions: Characters Does my story collapse if I remove the antagonist? If I remove my protagonist, what happens? What is at stake?
  7. 7. Narrative Questions: Characters The key to the previous slide is something I focus more and more on after three decades of writing. I write. I let the characters roam and follow them along. I can always go back and adjust, but I’ve found that trying to ‘direct’ where they go makes it seem forced and unrealistic. I call this ‘streaming’. Allowing my subconscious free rein.
  8. 8. Narrative Questions: Theme What is my intent? What tone do I want to achieve in my story? What will be my resolution?
  9. 9. Narrative Questions: Theme For Agnes and the Hitman, Jenny Crusie and I decided we wanted a Grosse Pointe Blank type of theme/tone to the story.
  10. 10. Narrative Questions: Plot What point of view will tell the story best? What will be my setting? (Time and place) What are the pieces of my narrative structure? What is the climactic scene that the entire book is driving toward
  11. 11. Narrative Questions: Plot What point of view will tell the story best? What will be my setting? (Time and place) What are the pieces of my narrative structure? What is the climactic scene that the entire book is driving toward
  12. 12. Book Dissection Do you need to know your ending? Writers debate this. It’s a personal choice, but if you know your conflict lock, you should have an idea. If what happens is a surprise to you, the good news is it will be a surprise to the reader!
  13. 13. Book Dissection Scene Action Purpose 1 Lucy on bridge Intro protag/Antag 2 Wilder out of chopper Intro main secondary/foreshadow climactic 3 Tyler in swamp Up stakes, proxy of antagonist 4 Lucy with Daisy & Pepper, Nash Foreshadow community 5 Wilder with Bryce Begin community
  14. 14. BOOK DISSECTION Is you do something like the excel spreadsheet on the previous slide, you now have a book outline. You delete the action column and use the purpose column. Your action is unique to your story and characters.
  15. 15. OUTLINING How do you organize your life? Daily and overall?
  16. 16. Outlining How you organize your life, is how you will organize your book. If you understand that you can change it, if need be. Bottom line: Get it out of your head. No one can see what’s in your head.
  17. 17. Outlining Use whatever external format works for your creative process. Scrivener, Excel, Narrative, journaling, index cards, crayons, stone and chisel; whatever works. WRITE IT DOWN IN SOME FORMAT, even if it’s the first draft!
  18. 18. Outlining Do you have to outline? NO. Your creative process and/or genre can make a difference: Thrillers/Suspense/Mysteries usually rely more heavily on plot. Science Fiction/Fantasy usually needs world-building. Literary/Romance rely more heavily on character so plot might have to follow out of character.
  19. 19. Outlining Research develops your outline. Use the pieces to make the whole. Consider bookends (time, space, event, character). A bookend is a start point and an end point.
  20. 20. Outlining Arc from inciting incident to climactic scene. Use the narrative structure. Details drive the story. Use whatever format/process works for you. Ongoing process.
  21. 21. Outlining I used to focus more on plot in outlining. Now I focus on character for my ‘outline’. I invent a cast of characters. Get to know them. Then introduce them to a problem and let them have at it. For example: Lonesome Dove. Larry McMurtry introduces us to a great cast in Chapter One. Then Jake Spoon rides up and mentions Montana. Thus we have a Pulitzer Prize winning novel as they travel to Montana and all they encounter along the way.
  22. 22. Plot Plot is a character trying to resolve a problem. The characters’ motivations drive the plot toward the climax. Time is linear. Usually.
  23. 23. Plot The five element plot structure in the next slides is just a template. You can lay it over other types of structures and it matches up relatively strongly. For example, when I wrote with Jenny Crusie, she liked doing four acts with three turning points. But they corresponded with the five element structure. Do you have to follow this? Of course not. It’s craft. We want to be artists. But know the craft before you break the rules.
  24. 24. Narrative Structure Elements Initiating Event. Escalating Conflict. Crisis. Climax. Resolution.
  25. 25. Narrative Structure Initiating Event Escalating Conflict In Crisis Climax Resolution TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY S U S P E N S E
  26. 26. BUT!!! Initiating Event Escalating Conflict In Crisis Climax Resolution TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY S U S P E N S E The History of Setting? Problem? Characters? before the novel begins!
  27. 27. Back-Story The stuff that happens before the story starts. The calm before the storm. Be careful of info dumping it in your story. You can’t use your opening of the book to ‘set-up’ the book.
  28. 28. Flashbacks And Memories The two are not the same. Flashback= what happened. Memory= what someone remembers happening. Memory is tainted by all that happened after and what someone wants now. You must make sure the reader knows when they enter and leave a flashback or memory.
  29. 29. Initiating Event Opening scene does one (or perhaps both) of two things: Introduces the protagonist. Introduces the problem. This decision tells the reader which is more important. The next scene does the other. Where you begin writing does not necessarily equal the beginning of the book.
  30. 30. Initiating Event Can you have a prologue? Yes, despite many naysayers. It’s a scene out of time sequence with the rest of the story. It introduces some essential piece of backstory that is so critical to story it needs to be shown.
  31. 31. The Initiating Event The place where things change, the fight starts, the balance has been upset. The hook. Beware flashbacks and memories in your opening scene. If it’s so important you have to go back in time in your opening scene, then perhaps open with that flashback/memory as a prologues. First sentences are important.
  32. 32. First Sentences
  33. 33. PLOT Why now? What’s changed? Why today? Why not yesterday? Or tomorrow?
  34. 34. PLOT
  35. 35. The Opening Scene If your opening scene often mirrors the climactic scene, just at a lower level, then perhaps you can’t really write the exact opening scene until you get a draft done? The biggest thing to do is: Start the damn book and write it! You can always move your opening forward or backward in time afterward.
  36. 36. The Opening Scene The first scene is important. Your opening scene often mirrors the climactic scene, just at a lower level. Sometimes the opening scene is the protagonist vs. antagonist and the antagonist or a proxy wins.
  37. 37. The Opening Scene Your protagonist, as he/she is at the beginning of the book would most likely fail if suddenly thrust into the climactic scene. If they are going to have arc, then by the end of the book, they are different in some aspect.
  38. 38. Escalating Conflict For both the protagonist and the antagonist. A series of progressive complications that ups the stakes. The stakes get higher, the suspense rises, and the pace of the story gets faster.
  39. 39. Crisis The darkest moment, when it looks as if all is lost. The protagonist reaches the point where she has to make a decision, usually fight or flee. The decision leads to a course of action and it shouldn’t be an obvious choice.
  40. 40. Crisis Note that there are often many moments of crisis in the novel where choices have to be made. This is the one though, that leads to the climactic scene. The inevitable confrontation with the antagonist.
  41. 41. Climax The choice comes to a conclusion. The Protagonist versus the Antagonist and one wins. Both are on stage. No proxies. The solution to the problem introduced in the inciting incident.
  42. 42. Climax You only get one climactic scene. The climactic scene is often the same or a mirror image of the opening scene, just at a much higher level. The protagonist has changed from who she was in the opening scene to the point where she can win (if you want arc). As soon as you finish reading a book, go back and re-read the opening chapter. Out of the climax, comes the resolution.
  43. 43. Resolution The emotional pay-off to the reader. Should be one, short, last scene. All subplots should have been closed out prior to the climactic scene, usually in reverse order from when they were introduced (or will go in your series). A return to stability or a new reality. We SEE the change in our protagonist.
  44. 44. Resolution The end is more important than the beginning. What do you leave the reader with?
  45. 45. Narrative Structure Initiating Event Escalating Conflict In Crisis Climax Resolution TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY S U S P E N S E
  46. 46. DON’T LOOK DOWN Lucy rebuffs Nash and Wilder saves Pepper Lucy realizes something criminal is going on; Wilder is attacked. Realize Nash will kill; Lucy & Wilder bond. Showdown, High Noon Style Fly off into the setting sun S U S P E N S E TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY
  47. 47. Looping and Tightening Everything is important. Try to use every incident multiple times. The more you do this, the tighter your story becomes. Don’t have “throwaway” scenes or characters. Close out loops.
  48. 48. For more free slideshows on writing, survival, history and other topics, go to:
  49. 49. How to write the book How to be an author “A book to inspire, instruct and challenge the writer in everyone.” #1 NY Times Best-Selling Author Susan Wiggs "An invaluable resource for beginning and seasoned writers alike. Don't miss out." #1 NY Times Best-Selling Author Terry Brooks
  50. 50. “In Who Dares Wins, Bob Mayer gives us a unique and valuable window into the shadowy world of our country’s elite fighting forces and how you can apply many of the concepts and tactics they use for success in your own life and organization.” Jack Canfield: Co-creator Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Success Principles “Success in life—as in combat—has always demanded depth of character. Who Dares Wins reveals what it takes for you to move into the world of elite warriors and how their training developed that Can Do spirit and Special Forces ethos of excellence.” Lewis C. Merletti: Director United States Secret Service (retired), Former Sgt 5th Special Forces Group (Vietnam); Cleveland Browns Executive Vice President & COO
  51. 51. New York Times bestselling author, graduate of West Point and former Green Beret. He’s had over 80 books published across an array of genres, including the #1 bestselling series Green Berets, Shadow Warriors, Time Patrol, Area 51, and Atlantis. He’s presented for over 1,000 organizations during three decades of writing full time. If you’re interested in his weekend intensive workshop or having him present for your group, email him at: