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

Joan Y. Edwards
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Story Essential: Plot

Dear Writers:
I’ve been studying about plot. Wikipedia.org says plot is action and reaction of main character made up of scenes and sequels – scene action – reactions, with emotional response and regrouping of ideas to win.

There is a diagram that talks about you start out with a status quo – an ever so ordinary day. A day when your character is happy. Something happens that a your main character can’t ignore. It affects his/her life more than he even wants to think about. It’s his/her worst nightmare. He’s been saying in his mind: What will I do if such and such happens? And the day it actually happens. Then the plot tells how the character acts and reacts until he solves this problem and turns his life back to its ordinary flavor or empowers himself to be different and liking it. He’s happy once again. End of whole plot.

Here’s a plot diagram with more of Straight Line Slanted line Plot Diagram from Teacher Files.com

A story plot has a beginning, middle, and an end.
At the beginning of the story, everything is normal for the main character. It’s a level plane…flat land for him – represented on the diagrams as a horizontal line. Without a plot you have no story. Without a problem you have no story. Goals and complications in getting what the main character wants makes a good story. Here is more information about the five parts of a plot.

1. Exposition(Beginning)
(Only Background information reader needs to understand)

Highlight the backstory in your own manuscript. If it’s all in one place, spread it out. Only put in your story what you need at a particular time. Many times you, as the author, might need to write something so you know it in your first draft. However, when you read it over, 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 just before he’s about to take a math test to show he’s scared of it for this reason.

2. Rising Action Obstacles which the main character has to overcome that leads to the climax. Not the middle of the story. Climax is the middle of the story.
a. Main Problem (Conflict)

b. Inner and Outer Conflicts

c. Brian Godawa’s Plotting Details on Story structure: http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/screenwriter.pdf

Apparent Defeat
Final Confrontation
Self Revelation

d. Character ID Badge Information about your characters you need to know

3. Climax (Middle) (ROCK BOTTOM for Main Character. FACE PROBLEM SQUARE In the FACE, (Most exciting part of the story) The middle of the story. The highest point in the story. The moment of greatest intensity. It brings events to a head and leads to the conclusion

a. Storymap from freeology.com Gives good definition of Climax. Explains the climax. The climax is the moment before we know the answers to the questions the conflict has created. It is the peak of suspense.

4. Suspense – Falling Action, The protagonist wins or loses
Uncertainty and interest about the outcomes of certain actions. Real danger looming and a ray of hope
Arouses interest of the reader This shows change to the characters affected by the solution to the main problem. What happens to the main character after overcoming all obstacles Or failing to get the desire effect. Show what happens to the good guys and the bad guys. These things happen after the climax.. Things begin to fall back into place to be normal again.

Falling Action:

5. Resolution (End) – The outcome of a complex set of events Information to help reader to understand clearly what happened to take care of this challenge. …tie up all loose ends with all characters and subplots, too.

Resources to help you plot your story:

Literary Terms

Epiphany – What is the inner self-realization key change in the character? Spiritual understanding. It may come before the climax or after the climax of the story.

Plot and Character Graphic Organizers

Graphic Organizer PDF files listed separately.http://www.teacherfiles.com/resources_organizers.htm

PDF files Character, Plot, You have to search through each page to see what’s there.

Carol Baldwin’s book, “Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8” also has graphic organizers in it and a CD packed with good writing process explanations: https://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Story-Fiction-Writing-Grades/dp/1934338354

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