Tag Archives: inciting incident

What? I Need a Plot?

Copyright 2013 Joan Y. Edwards

“What? I Need a Plot?” by Joan Y. Edwards

Pick two characters that are opposites and flawed

Lock the main character’s success until the end

Ordinary day and happiness go out the window

Terrible situations come in the door and a fight ensues

Settle down at the end to a better ordinary day


In 2007 I went to a writing conference or read that it is important and helpful to have the plot for your story before you write it. The expression on my face was similar to the girl with the wide eyes in the picture above. “What? I need a plot? I knew beginning, middle, and end. I had that covered.  I had problems. I had that covered. However, I didn’t have all the pieces neatly laid out in a plan for my story in a plot.

The next year I heard, you must have a pitch. Use the plot to write the pitch. I still wasn’t completely sure of what a plot was. Then they told me I needed a pitch to sell my book.

I’ve gone on inner and outer searches for the answer to getting the plot for my stories right, so that I can then get the pitch right. I will say that I tried the idea of writing the plot and pitch first for a book. It works out great to help you get a much better story written.

I have done several blog posts on plot and pitch. Today my goal is to bring simplicity to the explanation of the very complex idea of a plot.

A plot is a chain of events in a story that goes from the beginning to the end to prove or show a particular theme that shows emotional and physical actions and reactions of a main character and how he reorganizes his ideas after several setbacks in order to win and survive happily.

Plot is a synonym for storyline.
You must have a problem to have a plot. No problem – no plot – no story.
A good plot puts complications in motion that stops the main character from solving his problem and reaching his goal.
Choose the best logical order for events that makes your story easy to understand.

  1. cause and effect relationship in chronological order
  2. cause and effect relationship in flashback and foreshadowing – not chronological order (can start in the middle of things and go forward, backward, or into the future
  3. events that happen in chronological order, but are coincidence, not cause and effect


Here are four ways of describing plots: Christopher Booker, Brian Godawa, Robert McKee, and last is the way I’ve most seen it on the internet and in books.

Seven Basic Plots according to Christopher Booker [Source: Wikipedia]

  1. Overcoming the Monster – Magnificent Seven, James Bond, Star Wars
  2. Rags to Riches – Cinderella, Aladdin
  3. The Quest – Watership Down, King Solomon’s Mines, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Raiders of the Lost Ark
  4. Voyage and Return – Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth,
  5. Comedy – Miss Congeniality, Legally Blonde
  6. Tragedy – Macbeth, Bonnie & Clyde
  7. Rebirth – Sleeping Beauty


Brian Godawa’s Plot Structure
Apparent Defeat
Final Confrontation
Self Revelation


Robert McKee’s Plot Structure for Screenplays
ACT 1, ACT 2, ACT 3
Act 1 – Beginning. Introduce the character. Inciting incident (1/4 of book)
Act 2 – Twice as long – Middle. Action builds to a crisis. (1/2 of book)
Act 3 – End. Action builds to climax. Denouement (1/4 of book)


Most used Plot points:
1. Ordinary Day – Exposition
2. Inciting Incident
3. Climax
4. Falling Action
5. Resolution


If you’re at a loss for story ideas to write, here is a website that generates plots:

“A TV repairman who can’t stand attention courts a gorgeous blonde.”
Now that one could be funny. I might write that one.


Here are bits and pieces of things to remember about a plot. These are things I’ve derived from reading, writing, and studying what others believe to be true about the parts to a plot:

A good story tells the emotional highs and lows of the character(s). Put tension on every page. Show the tension from both the inner and outer struggles of the characters.
At a free Plot webinar, Angela Morrison http://www.angela-morrison.com/ said: “Your job as the writer is to make things worse for your character. Chase him up a tree and throw rocks at him. When he throws rocks back, the character changes and grows.”
Pam Zollman said, “Hurt the bunnies. You must hurt the bunnies.”
Show how the character acts and reacts inside and outside through all the events that lead up to his “change” and “aha” moment that make it possible to solve his problem.

Make each word and sentence count. Make certain each word and sentence in your story is necessary. You can’t have any favorite words or phrases just because they sound pretty. The words must highlight character, problem, solution, or setting. If the sentence doesn’t move the plot along, cut it out and save it in a folder named: ‘Great writing for Another Story.”

Readers anticipate good and bad consequences from the main character’s choices. They relate to how they would feel in his circumstances. When you take what happens next as far as you can, generate more plot with a fresh “What if?”
Give reasons for the readers to care. If they don’t care what happens to your main character, then your book is closed. They probably won’t read it.

Make each choice for the main character a dilemma with no good choices to heighten the tension. It’s possible that your main character was afraid that this might happen to him. “What will I do if such and such happens?” Then, Bingo. It really happens to him.
Here I take you through the steps of what I believe is the most often used outline of the ingredients of a plot are:


Ordinary Day Exposition (Beginning)

  1. Start your story with a day that starts out ordinary. Start it out on a day and time when your character is happy. It describes the way it is. It explains the existing setting, order of things; present customs, practices, and power relations with other characters.
  2. Don’t put all of the backstory on one page. Backstory is the events that happened before your story began. Spread your backstory out in your novel. Give the readers only what they need to know to understand a particular action or reaction.If the reader doesn’t need to know your character failed a math test in third grade at the beginning of the story, take it out and put it in right before he takes a math test. This will show the motive of why he’s scared to take the test.

Rising Action (Problems)

  1. Call to Action. The main character is introduced to the conflict/obstacle/problem that he must overcome
  2. Dream Stage, Event happens that your main character can’t ignore. It affects his life in more ways than he ever imagined it could.
  3. Frustration Stage, Each try gets him deeper in despair.
  4. Nightmare Stage It’s his worst nightmare. This is the bottom of the barrel for the character.

 Climax (Middle) (The Fight, Face to Face Encounter with Problem)

  1. Main Character changes for the better. The main character has an inner realization of the true meaning of all the events in the story leading up to this moment. This spiritual “aha” moment promotes a significant change in his ways of thinking and his behavior.
  2. Climax is the major conflict. This is the big scene that decides whether the main character gets what he wants or needs.
  3. Main character must face the problem. He can’t ignore it any more. This is the battle scene.
  4. It is the peak of suspense. [Source: Freeology]
  5. The main character experiences the height of anxiety, nervousness, and tension both mentally and physically.
  6. For the readers, this is the most exciting part of the story because of the uncertainty of how everything is going to turn out. There is a mixture of fear, danger, and hope. There is an air of “It can’t work out for him. It’s going to be bad.” Followed by the amazement and surprise: “Oh my gosh, he’s doing it. Everything will be better.”

Falling Action (Result of Climax Encounter)

  1. The protagonist wins or loses. I was always confused by this. I thought this was still in the climax. However, the fight, the face to face confrontation is the climax.  The result of the fight or face to face, head-on confrontation is the falling action.
  2. Falling Action shows the changes to the characters who are affected by the solution to the main problem.
  3. Shows what happens to the main character after overcoming all obstacles
  4. Shows what happens to the main character if he fails to get his wishes.
  5. Shows what happens to both the good dudes and the bad dudes after the protagonist wins or loses.
  6. Things begin to be normal again.

Resolution (End)

  1. It shows the effects of his winning or losing with the other characters and shows what happens to untie the subplots, too.
  2. It shows that the main character has solved all problems and mysteries.
  3. It brings satisfying closure to the situation.
  4. The outcome turns the protagonist’s life into all new and better ordinary day. He’s happy once again.
  5. If it’s a tragedy, it ends with a catastrophe where the main character dies.

I hope this simplifies or at least clarifies the parts of the plot for you
Print out the “Identify Plot” diagram from the ReadWriteThink.org diagram website. (It’s number 21 in the resources) Save it to your computer. Read it over. It has all the ingredients for a good overall view of a plot:  http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson800/IdentifyPlot.pdf. It has plenty of room for you to write in your ideas for a new story or to revamp an old one. It will help you write a great pitch for your story, too.

Fill the diagram with points that match your favorite movie – one you’ve watched 7 or more times.

Fill in the diagram with points that match the first book you wrote.
Use the diagram to help you plot a television show.

Enjoy writing good stories. Writers do need a plot. Many writers have a “built in” sense of story. I tried to break it down into parts to help you build a strong plot for your next story. It’s going to be the best plot you’ve ever designed for picture book, young adult, or adult novel. Go ahead. Do it. Write the next Best-Selling Book. You can do it.


  1. Angela Morrison. Webinar. “Plot Challenged:” October 2012. http://www.angela-morrison.com/
  2. Blake Snyder. Save the Cat screenwriting: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need: http://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009/
  3. Brian Godawa. “Plotting Details on Story structure:” http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/screenwriter.pdf
  4. Carol Baldwin. Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8 (CD & Graphic Organizers): https://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Story-Fiction-Writing-Grades/dp/1934338354
  5. Christopher Booker. The Seven Basic Plots-Why We Tell Storieshttp://www.amazon.com/The-Seven-Basic-Plots-Stories/dp/0826480373
  6. Christopher Vogler. The Writer’s Journey: http://www.amazon.com/The-Writers-Journey-Structure-Edition/dp/193290736X/
  7. Darcy Pattison. “Character Arc-Epiphanies:” http://www.darcypattison.com/characters/character-arc-epiphanies/
  8. Glen C. Strathy. “How to Write a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps:” http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/plot-outline.html
  9. Freeology.com. “Storymap:” http://freeology.com/graphicorgs/pdf/storymap.pdf
  10. Katherine Patterson. The invisible child on Reading and Writing Books for Children: http://www.amazon.com/The-Invisible-Child-Reading-Children/dp/0525464824/
  11. Marion Dane Bauer. What’s your story? http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Your-Story-Persons-Writing/dp/0395577802/
  12. Nanowrimo. (Diagram-Plot as a Roller Coaster Ride) “Outlining Your Plot:” http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/files/ywp/ywp_10_hs_outlining_your_plot.pdf
  13. Nienke Hinton. “Inner and Outer Conflicts:” http://nienkehinton.blogspot.com/2007/01/inner-conflict.html
  14. Novel Writing Help “How to Plot a Novel:” http://www.novel-writing-help.com/how-to-plot-a-novel.html
  15. Novel Writing Help “What Is a Plot?” http://www.novel-writing-help.com/what-is-a-plot.html
  16. IRA/NCTE  International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English. ReadWriteThink.org. (Diagram) “Identify Plot” http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson800/IdentifyPlot.pdf
  17. Robert McKee Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting: http://www.amazon.com/Story-Substance-Structure-Principles-Screenwriting/dp/0060391685/
  18. “Plot Structure Powerpoint” http://www.slideshare.net/leecountylanguagearts/plot-structure-powerpoint
  19. Syd Field. Screenplay. http://www.amazon.com/Screenplay-Foundations-Screenwriting-Syd-Field/dp/0385339038/
  20. Teacher Printables.net. Character I.D. Personality Info http://www.teacherfiles.com/downloads/graphic_organizers/Character%20ID.pdf
  21. L. Kip Wheeler. “The Structure of Tragedy:” http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Freytag.pdf
  22. Wikipedia. “Plot-Narrative:” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_(narrative)

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Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2013-2019 Joan Y. Edwards
Never Give Up

Joan Y. Edwards
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James N. Frey Books to Improve Your Writing

Dear Readers,

Put these four books at the top of your reading list. They will empower you towards your goal of publication. They are a writer’s private writing course.

I highly recommend them.

…Joan Y. Edwards

Below are my reviews of these four books.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel (1987) by James N. Frey

James N. Frey explains in an easy to read and comprehend voice. It’s easy to learn the writing process with his book. He asks, “What are you trying to prove about human nature?” He explains Egri’s theory that a premise is character, conflict, and conclusion. He explains how to choose the right viewpoint for telling your story. He tells when to use flashbacks and when to leave them out. He gives several ways to gain benefits from a critique group. He shows you with examples of premise and dialogue using popular stories and movies. He also shows you by making up a character or story right before your eyes.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II (1994) by James N. Frey

In this one, Frey says about criticism: “Your ego is filleted right before your eyes.” He says that writing groups give you feedback to make your manuscript more powerful and effective. If you hang in there, you will learn to cope. With your premise, you are saying to your readers, given these characters and this situation, human nature is such that it will end up this way. The ruling passion of a character determines what the character will do when faced with the dilemmas he or she must overcome in the course of the story. What is it he wants more than anything else in the world. In a novel, he tells us that something bad is going to happen, usually at an appointed time and the characters must stop it from happening and that ain’t easy. He says to put sympathetic characters into menace, and light the fuse. Makes your readers worry and wonder about them. He tells you seven deadly mistakes writers make. He advises writers to write what they have a passion for, what they really care about deeply He has examples of stepsheets containing the action and consequences from the beginning to the end of a story:

The Opening Situation
The Inciting Incident
First Complication
Second complication
Third Complication
Fourth Complication
Fifth Complication (Add as many complications as you need for your novel)
The Climax (The Climactic Confrontation)
The Resolution

When you do similar exercises with your own manuscript, Frey’s advice will lead you to a better, stronger story…One that will lead you closer to publication.

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery (2004) by James N. Frey

Frey’s explanation of detective stories, how to use hero myths to help make your story complete.

You can use it to help you critique your own mystery novel and put it on course to success using his  expertise and knowledge.

Frey explains how to use a five-act design for a good mystery.

1. Accepts mission
2. Tested and changed, dies and is reborn
3. Tested again and finally success
4. Traps the Murderer
5. Resolution, tells how events of story impact major characters

He explains how to choose the right viewpoint for telling your story. He shows you how to use plotting in stepsheets. He give you hints on how to find a good agent or editor for your manuscript.

The Key: How to Write a Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth (2000)

by James N. Frey

Frey takes you step-by-step showing you how to write a novel using the monomyth steps of the hero. He actually writes a novel within this book. Starts with the premise, theme, pitch sentence, theme sentence, biography of characters, stepsheets showing the actions and consequences, and resolution. It’s very beneficial for writers because he tells you what’s going through his head, you see the words on the page, you can write your own as he is showing you how with his examples. He compares writers to the heroes who actually go through the same steps as a hero on his journey.

A Hero’s Journey

Call to Adventure
Supernatural Aid
Threshold Guardian-tells them not to go, it’s dangerous
Challenges and Temptations
Abyss: Death and Rebirth
Gift, Prize for the Return

Here is a Wikipedia article explaining the Monomyth – The Hero’s Journey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth. Here is a chart from Wikipedia showing the hero’s journey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heroesjourney.svg

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope that you’ll read one or all of these books for yourself. I want you to see how clearly and simply James N. Frey explains what to put in your novels and the order in which to write it.  This will help you get to the top of your favorite publisher’s list.  I appreciate his allowing me to review his books on my blog.

To those of you who are reading this. Thank you. I am honored. Good luck in publishing your work.

Never Give Up!
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2011 Joan Y. Edwards