It is no small task learning how to plot a novel. Not only do you have a lot of events to dream up and flesh out into scenes and narrative passages, you also have to present them in such a way that the readers keep turning the pages.
And that is what plot is all about at the end of the day - entertainment.
There are probably countless reasons why you decided to write a novel in the first place. But high on many people's lists is a need to release all the thoughts and feelings churning around inside them.
Plot is the thing that allows you to pour your soul out on paper without sending the rest of the world to sleep.
Plot will play a big part in your novel, then, which is why it's kind of on the complicated side.
Don't worry, though - so long as you go about plotting a novel logically and build it one small piece at a time, you'll be fine.
Before getting down to the details of how to plot fiction, here are three articles to break you in gently to the subject...
Yes, I know that sounds like a stupid question, but I've always been a great believer in beginning right at the grassroots - and the answer to this one might not be as simple as you think.
This article looks at plot in its broadest possible form and lays the groundwork for the detailed articles ahead. In particular, it looks at how important the number "3" is in writing fiction. Just as a play in a theater has three acts, so too does a novel.
Or to put it another way: How to hook the reader.
Hooking readers, when you think about it, has to be the number one goal of any plot. No matter how great your novel might be, if the reader doesn't make it beyond the first chapter then your efforts would have been for nothing. Here, you will learn how to keep them turning the pages.
Last but not least in this introduction to plotting, an article which encourages you to take all of the "rules" outlined in this section and bend them (or even break them) to suit your own purposes. Don't get me wrong, rules are important. But if you truly want to succeed in novel writing, you should never become their slave.
Characters changing during the course of a story is really the whole point of fiction. This article shows how to handle transformation in an effective and (hopefully) subtle way.
Now for the main event: a comprehensive guide to plotting fiction to a professional standard...
"I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don't praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading."
- Kurt Vonnegut
Broadly speaking, the beginning of a plot concerns dumping a problem on the leading character's shoulders and making them decide to take action to solve it. Although it is a little more complicated than that, of course. It involves these three steps...
And in Beginning a Novel "In Medias Res", I show you a neat trick for taking these opening steps and juggling them around a bit.
If the start of a plot is all about making a character take action to solve a problem, the middle deals with the action itself - or, more precisely, a whole series of mini actions.
Mini-plots are a great way to avoid one of the classic mistakes of beginners: the "sagging middle."
And the end of a plot? That deals with the consequences of all those actions. And on the basis that fiction is so much neater than real life, it is also about tidying up the loose ends and leaving the audience satisfied.
So there it is: how to plot a novel in 10 simple steps. Follow them one by one and you, too, will have a gripping plot on your hands.
Now, there is an awful lot of information in the articles above, and so you will probably want condensed versions of all the points raised for handy reference.
I have actually written not just a verbal summary of the steps, but also a diagrammatic representation of them: A Plot Diagram.
One final thing: If after reading everything above you still find it too complicated, you can always turn to story development software to help you out. It won't write your plot for you (and it wouldn't be any fun if it did), but it can nevertheless hold you by the end and keep you from slipping off track.
You can read more about it in my Novel Writing Software Guide.
And that is that - your not-so-brief guide to how to plot a novel in 10 steps. If it all seems like a lot to take in right now, don't be daunted because it will very soon become second nature to you.
Once you have mastered everything in this section so far, there will be two more things to do...
Listed below are the questions readers have sent me in the Fiction Writing Q & A section related to how to plot fiction...