30 Steps to Writing a Fiction Novel in 30 Days – Day 2 Plotting

Welcome to Day Two of my most popular blog series, where I reveal the process that helps me to write my novels over the course of 30 days with 30 steps.  The first post in this series shows an overview of what I plan to cover.  The second post in the series, Day 1 – Brainstorming, gives a description of my brainstorming process, a few examples of what I did, and some examples of writer resources in the form of character profile sheets and a sorting sheet for ideas.  If you aren’t up to date on the series (which admittedly took a very long break) click the links below to see the previous two posts and supporting documents:

What is a plot, you might ask?  It is the ‘Who, what, where, when and why are they jumping through all those hoops?’ in your story.  The answer is whatever you want it to be, because you are the author and you say so.  In a general sense plotting creates a conflict/problem for the main character and determines the solution and how it is achieved.

Today you thought you were going to learn how to create a plot for your story.  Guess what?  I lied.  You are going to create four plots for your novel.  Why?  To understand that we need to talk about a few things; what is a plot (more detail than covered above), and the traditional Three Act Structure of a novel.  What’s this?  Traditional structure?  (Read more about the 3-Act structure here and here, or to be a rebel go and read this article on why the 3-Act structure is rubbish.)

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Anyone who’s previously researched how to write a book has probably stumbled upon this concept.  The first act sets the stage.  It encompasses the opening scene, a little (sometimes a lot of) back story, and whatever the event is which sets the story in motion.  (I’ll talk more about back stories in another post.).  Basically, the first chapter (or few) of the book, and whatever prolog or introduction the author includes

The second act usually includes everything which happens between the first act and the climax.  So, that means everything that isn’t introducing the problem which your character faces, and them finally resolving that problem.  Usually this involves a “journey” of some kind.  The “journey” varies for the type of fiction you are writing.

In an epic, the main character travels and learns how to fight the big bad (or reaches their goal and overcomes the final obstacle) at the end.  See the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for a modern-day version of an epic, or the original Greek Odyssey for a classic example.  The journey for the characters is physical, emotional, and intellectual. 

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In romances the emotional aspect of the “journey” results in the couple learning how to trust and love while overcoming internal and/or external barriers.  Those barriers could be cultural, emotional, or physical.  Much Ado About Nothing is a classic Shakespearean example of romance where the barriers are entirely external.  A villain convinces the man that his woman has betrayed him and culture dictates that they can no longer be together. 

While Twilight is a good example of a modern romance with internal and exterior barriers.  The vampire fears he could accidentally harm the woman he loves while fearing that he does not deserve happiness (internal).  And the human woman is in danger of being eaten by other vampires (external).

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At the end of the character’s journey is Act Three.  The climax.  This is where the Big Bad is defeated or the character’s goal is achieved (or not achieved).  Your character’s triumph over everything which they’ve been battling against, physically, emotionally, and intellectually for the length of the story come to its climax.  At the end of Act Three, all issues are resolved, all problems solved, all travel is complete, and the character’s future is hinted at or outright explained. Or the character is defeated and the story ends.

Each of these Acts needs its own plot.  That is three separate plots.  Those three separate plots need to be linked together with one overarching plot threaded through it.  If you are planning a series, the overarching plot of the series also needs to be threaded through each book as an additional fifth plot.  A fabulous example of this are the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson Series.  Both series lead to a final battle at the end of the last books where the evil they’ve been fighting this whole time is defeated. 

In my opinion, series plots should be completed first, then the individual books in the series can be plotted out afterward with the series plots easily interwoven as you plan.  This is how my books were developed.  If I adhere to my notes, there will never be any errors in continuity (Operative word there being IF.).

Now that we’ve covered why you need four plots per book, lets cover the five elements of a plot.

  1. What is the main character’s Goal
  2. What is the character’s opponent (person/nature/self)
  3. What are the character’s obstacles (Why is it taking them so long to achieve their goal?  What is in the way?)
  4. Final Conflict – how is the character’s goal finally achieved?
  5. Conclusion – What is next after goal achieved?

I apply the Snowflake method of writing to most of my books, combined with a three-act structure and incorporate the five elements of plotting.  In my Maker of Fate Series each book incorporates the series plot, a plot which sets the stage for the next book, the individual book plots, and a plot which sneakily incorporates the history (read; backstory) of the fictional world/universe so that the reader gradually learns how the current state of affairs came into being.  (Click here to read more about the snowflake method from the man who created the snowflake software.  I bought the software but realized that it is easier for the way I think to apply the method to the writing medium I am most familiar with.)

Within a book’s plot there are ups and downs, with each crest of danger/action becoming greater than the last with a lull of (relative) safety between them.  I like to use five crests.  My first crest is in Act One, it is the push which moves the main character(s) from whatever their established life is.  I place the second, third, and fourth crests in Act Two.  Finally, the fifth crest of action/danger is in Act Three where the book has its conclusion.

How do you combine your brainstorming with all this information? 

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Per the Snowflake method I use, describe your story (series/book) in one sentence.  Be as descriptive as possible.  It is okay if the sentence is long and complicated (you can even use bad grammar and run-ons. Why not.  No one else is going to see it.).  Take the main character you created with the information from the previous post.  Who are they?  What do they do?  What do they want?  Now what is in the way of that?  Where did they come from?  Do they have a past they are running from?  Did you create an antagonist?  It’s okay if you didn’t.

For the book I’m writing as an example for this series.  The main character I created is a human female organic farmer.  She’s just starting out on her tiny urban farm and is working part-time as a customer service representative with a drip irrigation company (owned by a family of beaver shifters) to make ends meet and one day fund her dream of starting a truffle orchard.  She’s also new in town, having recently relocated to get away from a married man who stalked and slandered her after she rejected him.

The descriptive sentence I came up with?

“A tiger-shifter private investigator falls for the engaged woman a rich fiancé hires him to investigate.”

That’s right.  Shifters.  I’m hardcore into modern paranormal romance and alien bride romance.  It’s my guilty pleasure (I read them when I want to hear about people desperately in love.).  My Kindle Unlimited subscription, when it’s active, really pulls its weight while I binge read entire series in a matter of days.  However, it’s not what I write.  Yet.  My ongoing series are epic fantasy and science fiction.  Yeah there’s paranormal aspects in my work, and romance too, but that’s not the primary genre of my books.  It’s the rise and fall of empires I usually write, and how individual decisions impact nations and planets. 

Imagine my surprise when all the words which came out in my newest brainstorming exercise were related to animal-shifter romance.

Once there is an idea firmly in a sentence, write a paragraph.  Here’s mine.

“A badass playboy, tiger-shifter private investigator falls for the shy-female-human he is hired to investigate by her rich fiancé.  The investigator believes he’s been hired to discover whether the woman is trustworthy or cheating.  The woman has been spending a lot of time out of town and the fiancé believes she is having an affair.  In the process of investigating, the PI falls for her, but she remains aloof and rebuffs his advances.  The PI reports to his employer where the woman has been spending her time and leaves broken hearted.  Wrapping up some leads he discovers that the woman he’d been investigating was never engaged and he’d been hired by her stalker.  Eventually, the shifter saves the day.  And they live happily ever after.”

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This is a pretty good start.  And I bet a lot of you reading this have already started filling in the blanks with ideas that are popping into your head (Feel free to use that as a writing prompt for practice if you like.  I don’t mind as long as you aren’t trying to sell the idea as your own.).  But there are a lot of questions which need to be answered still.  The next stage of the Snowflake method of plotting is to write out an entire page detailing the plot of the book.  However, you need to answer those unanswered questions before you can do this next step.

Who, what, where, when and why are they jumping through all those hoops?  Because you are the author and you say so. 

Who is the who in your story?  In mine it is my organic farmer, the tiger shifter, and a shadowy nebulous bad guy doing bad guy things.  Spooky.  Maybe not so nebulous.  I’ve got my character sheets, and a couple of place sheets completed for my setting.  I have my tone list and know how I want the story and scenes to feel in conjunction with the plot.  I even know the character’s motivations.  The only thing missing is the when. The where is a little town in Northern California.  A made-up town.  Only thing I don’t have is the When.

What time of year does this take place?  What year?  Over how many days, weeks, months does this occur?  Well.  It must not be a very long period of time otherwise the P.I. would have questioned what he’d been hired for before he stumbled across evidence of nefarious bad guy plot.  Also, small towns get suspicious of hot young bad boy looking dudes hanging out for too long.  Sooo…

The older men and women who think they are all that and the big fish in a small bowl will make it their mission to meet and question the newcomer.  I’ve lived in small towns quite a bit.  They are nosey and not nice places for the unaccepted.  Small town charm is quickly replaced with unsubtle hints that you are not welcome when those considered ‘not good enough’ stay too long.  And I will definitely write that into this book.  Tiger shifter will start out with the welcome and charm reserved for tourists and once he starts asking questions that hospitality will transition to the horrid ambiance which is a small town being creepy because someone is not from there.

But I’m digressing from the point of this blog, which is plotting.  We need three acts and a theme which draws them all together.

My over arching theme is that my main character is being stalked and her stalker is coming for her.  That’s it.  That is the main plot.  She is in hiding and just trying to make a life for a little while until he has enough money to move on.  This fact of being hunted creates an ever-present fear which will make it difficult for her to open up to others and it will keep her a little bit isolated during the story of the book. 

The first act will have to establish the status quo and initiate a push or event which will change the status quo for the main character.  In this case the push will be the stalker realizing that his target has up and left San Francisco and that he will need to get someone else to help him find her.  This will push the Tiger-shifter out of his comfortable big city playboy life and into the cow patty and redwood scented little farming town where the main character lives.

The second act will detail the process of the shifter trying to get close to the main character, the main character’s financial struggles, and her work toward her goals.  She’s just got enough saved up to start looking for a cheaper place to set up shop.  The PI tries to get main character romantically involved with him but she declines.  PI learns that main character is planning to move through his investigating. When the PI reports to the “fiancé”/stalker that she’s planning on moving her operation to a different town, stalker insists that the PI keep her from moving before he had found out where she was planning to move to.  The PI distracts the main character and tries to get her to stay put with offers of financial investment.  Main character’s friends become suspicious of the “investor” and begin investigating him.  Shifter and main character begin to become close. 

Stalker finally decides that he needs to stalk in person, sees how close the shifter and the main character are close and fires shifter in a fit of jealousy.  Shifter decides to tell main character how he feels and she tells him off thinking that he had been trying to use money to get her to sleep with him.  Shifter PI leaves and returns to San Francisco.

Meanwhile…Act three begins.

Stalker now knows where his victim lives, shops, works, and all the other minutia of her life.  He gets ready to confront her and is waiting for her to be alone.  Her friends who were investigating the shifter who was going to invest in her discovers that he is really a private investigator and not who he represented himself to be at all.  They call to warn her, and main character realizes that her stalker must have hired the PI.  She tells them to call the PI to find out if he has given her location to the stalker and that she will flee her home as soon as possible.  Stalker attacks her after call disconnects and stalker confronts her in her home.  The shifter is informed of what he’s done and races back to the main character’s home to make sure she is okay.  There is a fight between the two dudes.  The tiger shifter triumphs despite the odds (maybe stalker is a bigger badder shifter?), the main character is saved, she forgives the PI and they live happily ever after on a truffle farm slash winery.

All of these acts and the over arching theme were present in the one paragraph summary.  And I have expanded on that paragraph to make a full-page worth of summary for the next stage of my snowflake book writing expansion.  I still haven’t determined the time of year, but it is going to be equivalent to current times in my story’s world.  I’m thinking I will choose to make it late spring to early summer as most drip irrigation companies expand their workforce during the late winter and early spring.  This will allow the main character to have been employed for a little while, giving her time to be established as a familiar part of the community.

In all honesty, the plot is completely driven by the stalker.  The emotional responses I envision from the main character are almost entirely influenced by the effects which the stalker has had on her life.  My hero (or antihero to be more accurate) is a basic cookie cutter paranormal romance hottie with money.  If you’d like to read the actual full-page expansion I’ve written, you can download a copy of it below along with the example sorting sheet and character profiles for the characters covered so far.

My original brainstorming sheet was hand written and actually got lost in the move a few weeks back so this digital one is an attempt at a recreation. If you want to use my template there is a blank on on my Free Downloadable Writing Resources Page. If you find my process helpful or would like to see more of my Free Downloadable Writing Resources please let me know in the comments below.

Next post in the series will talk about Creating Your World on Day 3 of Writing a Fiction Book in 30 Days.

Read the first post in the series 30 Steps to Writing a Fiction Novel in 30 Days

Want to read the finished and as yet un-titled book I’m writing for this blog series? Subscribe to my book release mailing list to be notified when it becomes available for pre-sales.

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