The General Plot Line (aka the Main Plot)

The plot line is simply a general beginning, middle, and ending of your story. It doesn’t need to be specific, but it shouldn’t be too loose either. Look at the picture above in the title. That’s what a typical plot line does, it rises as action builds and drops as tension drops.  A plot line has to be on the same pace as the story’s content, which is why it’s mapped with plot points. Depending on what you’re writing you may rise and drop a few times before coming to the resolution or end of your story, particularly if you’re writing a chapter book.

Create Your Plot Before Characters*

When it comes to setting, theme.characters and character development, always ensure they’re a logical part of the plot. This is the golden rule for writing. To avoid fitting characters into the plot work, create your plot line and plot points before coming up with characters. You can already have a main character and general major characters in mind, but be prepared to revise them. Remember that characters have to resolve their conflicts on their own, not by some quick act of God or Writer. Conflicts and problems can’t magically be resolved, they need tension, scenes, and climaxes.

Organizing Plot Points

I’ll only be addressing main plot points in this post. For more about them, please read Fleshing out a Story: Subplots and Plots. You should read this after mapping the plot line to shorten your writing time and create stronger characters. It also includes the final planning stage before writing, creating the Author’s Plot Line.

“Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.” — Michael Moorcock

The majority of you need to make the plot line already exists from your Skeleton Plot. Look at the Skeleton and arrange it onto a plot line (using a piece of paper is fine, no one else sees this but you). As you map out the plot points, do it in a logical sequence. Now you can can start expanding on these points, writing a bit about the scenes so you can get a feel for the story.

While expanding think of these plot points as the numbers on a clock. Your story has twelve points (can be more than this, but don’t overexert yourself or the content) or hours to go through. By the end of each hour the story should have progresses somehow as the characters progress closer to their goal.

Many authors plot out a confrontation or spot of trouble for their characters, but they rarely plot how their character stumbled into the situation. Even more importantly, they don’t plot their character’s escape. This either results in an author writing too fast paced, or a dead stop because they can’t imagine these points. It’s best to address these points now on the plot line, especially if it’s crucial to the climax or outcome of the story.

As you get more detailed about the plot points, you’ll need a way to organize them. I personally recommend a list of bullet points which can be edited after the fact. They can be useful guides, and work alongside an plot line easily. Look at mine:

  • Sarah enters the new town a stranger, looking to steal horse (to continue quest). Town’s holding festival to “celebrate” new ruler
  • Sarah pickpockets from a rich man, pockets purse. Spends the night at an inn.
  • Wakes up hearing the news that the leader of the rebelling force, Christopher, has been apprehended and hung that night. Sarah is undecided, should she interfere and risk execution or continue her own quest?
  • As she eats breakfast downstairs, the maid stumbles upon the emptied purse in her room and gets the guards. She’s apprehended, and meets Christopher in the jail cell.

Notice how little I’ve written? The bullet list above is the plot for a chapter book, and covers the first important chapter. Nevertheless it specifies the critical points. Sarah enters the new town a stranger, looking to steal horse (to continue quest). This beginning point will describe main character Sarah and briefly explain her goal. The following bullets describes her morals and the setting she’s currently in, along with the overall setting (“celebrate” their new ruler- alluding to a problematic or dominating force. Will later clarify this “new ruler” is a dark magician conquering the kingdom, the rebel Christopher and Sarah’s mutual enemy.) Sarah’s indecision can give reader insight into her confidence and motivation, or her relevance to the rebellion and the bigger picture. Finally, the major point is having Sarah meet Christopher, someone who will accompany her adventure.

Not every writer uses lists or clocks. Some prefer flowcharts, diagrams, or multiple outlines. As long as you can follow the method and organize your thoughts, do it. Keep in mind your first plot points aren’t likely to be the final version, due to future complications or editorial decisions. To avoid major revisions authors have found explaining the plot to a colleague or fellow writer to be clarifying exercise and a simpler way to refine plot work.

*Ever seen a TV show where the characters say/want one thing, then do the opposite in the following episode? OUaT fans may recall 5×18, where Regina (the Evil Queen) claims her son’s maternal love rehabilitated her and hopes the same can be done for her sister Zelena (the Wicked Witch) through regulated visitations of Zelena’s infant daughter. It’s a touching scene where lovers Regina & Robin Hood (the father, who was briefly enchanted to love Zelena) decide they cannot maliciously separate the infant and desperate mother. Zelena’s pardons (including a pardon for murdering Robin’s wife years ago) and visitation rights exist so long as Zelena quits villainy and corrupting her daughter (who’ll be Regina’s step-daughter. OUaT’s family tree is more complicated than Game of Thrones, readers.) In the following episode 5×19 this familial and powerful scene is basically ignored;  Zelena is sent back to Oz by Regina despite a lack of evil acts.
This complete 180 breaks the golden rule occurring because Zelena’s presence on Oz was necessary for season 6’s plot. Still, Zelena’s brisk departure prematurely cut character development for Zelena as well as moving more of Regina and Robin’s relationship off-screen.