Five Plot Elements Every Writer Should Use
Five plot elements are necessary to build a story. Each must happen for the story to succeed, and they must happen in the order given.
This is the beginning of the story, often the first chapter, when the main character is introduced. The reader relates to him through small details—his quest to find the perfect birthday gift for his daughter, the way he watches another family at the mall and wishes his own family was complete. Whatever tool you use to establish the reader’s connection, his sympathy with the character, it must be done quickly, before he loses interest.
Setting is also introduced at this point, anchoring the reader in the location, time period, flavor and mood of the story. Is it a western? Set in the American nineteenth century or modern times? Is it a comedy? A murder mystery? Clue in your reader so he can quickly establish himself in the story.
The initial conflict is also introduced at the beginning. The storm is headed toward the small boat with no land in sight. The patriarch of the family has died, pitting son against son. Show the stakes involved in your character’s life. This is where he moves from the ordinary world and receives the call to action.
This is the bulk of the story. Your character is forced to take action. His decisions, influenced by narrower and narrower events, lead him deeper along the path he doesn’t want to take. Tensions increase, and conflict and disaster wait at every turn he takes.
This is it. The big, black moment, the event he’s been pushed toward since the beginning. This is the high point of the story, the main danger. Your antagonist must face his worst fears, both internal and external, and your reader is anticipating disaster and wondering how the hero will survive.
This is a relatively short sequence in the story. Here, the reader finds out the results of the antagonist’s decisions. We discover if he won or lost and the repercussions of his actions.
All the conflicts are resolved, loose ends tied up and the correct ending revealed. There’s nothing more to do but write “the end”.
The five plot elements condense your story into your elevator pitch. Your character, his conflict, danger, results and resolution is the basis of all you need for your query letter, twenty-five words or less pitch and synopsis to those in your life who want to know what you’re working on.
Expand on these elements, adding characteristics, details, decisions and consequences to give you a healthy outline to write against.
This article is one of many included in The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel. It can be purchased on Amazon.
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