Last week I promised the coolest young writers in town that I would post our writing club lesson here. Then… well, then a lot of amazing things happened to me and I got a little distracted. I can’t divulge all of the awesomeness yet, but on Saturday I was elected president of Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas. I’m honored and incredibly excited to be leading this talented group of writers here in Little Rock. It’s going to be an exciting year! In the meantime, here is the lesson I promised you:
In writing group we discussed plot by diagramming a traditional plotline. I was surprised how many of our students were familiar with this tool and all of its major parts. Here is an example for those of you who need a refresher.
Introduction – This is the beginning of your story where you are introducing your characters and the setting to the reader. You can give a little background, but the general rule among writers is to go straight to the action and fill in the backstory as the plot unfolds.
Inciting Incident – This is where the story really begins. What happens that starts the journey for your characters? The dog goes missing, the contest is announced, the dead body is discovered, boy meets girl, etc. are all moments that reveal the true goal of a story. If you do not yet know your character’s goal, then you should begin here. Define the goal and then give it a consequence. What happens if they don’t reach their goal? This is the crux of finding your plot. If you can answer those two questions, then you have a plot.
Rising Action – Here the characters move steadily toward the climax of the story, growing ever closer to reaching their goal. However, don’t make it too easy for them. Be sure to add obstacles along the way or else your story will be boring and predictable.
Obstacles – What will happen to keep your main character(s) from reaching their goal? If all they have to do is walk in and take what they want with nothing to stop them, then that isn’t much of a story at all! Show us what gets in the way. These obstacles increase the dramatic suspense, but they also offer opportunities for character development. When your characters are threatened, denied satisfaction, or in danger, we get to see a lot of how they think and feel in those situations. This will draw characters together or push them apart. Make the most of your obstacles by planning ahead and you will have less trouble with writer’s block.
Climax – This is the moment when your character(s) reach their goal. It’s the big scene, so make it count! Readers want to see the struggle, so bring on the action and the drama.
Denouement – This fancy French word is simply the period of a story where we wrap it all up nicely with a satisfying ending. That doesn’t mean it has to be a happy ending, but it should provide some closure. Love a good cliff-hanger? Go right ahead, but be sure you have thought it through and the ending leaves the reader wanting more instead of scratching their heads in confusion.
Our group had a lot of questions this week about character development and point of view. We’ll cover that in detail next week, but for now I leave you with this question:
“What is more important, the journey or the people on the journey?”