Module Six: The Plot – Planning
In Module 5, you made decisions concerning the characters, their aims and emotions. This lesson will assist you in constructing the basic structure of your novel.
A Suggested Formula (II)
The following sections can be organised into any number of chapters. (Aim for about 20 chapters in all – you may expand or contract as you write; thus, 6 or 7 chapters to a section.)
Introduce time scales. Perhaps the date (or time) could be noted at the end of each chapter. Keep the passage of time reasonably consistent. Do not allow one third of the novel to occupy a week and the rest, ten years. Unless writing a ‘flash back’, do not make an enormous jump in time within one chapter.
An introduction to the main character(s) or group, their aims and ambitions: only one, or at the most two, main character(s) should be introduced during the first two chapters. If this is not possible, if for example a group acts simultaneously, briefly outline the characters and devote more chapters to their description. Use dialogue/incident to achieve this.
Section A should consist of the following and in this order:
- The relating of a conflict situation by whatever means (e.g. argument, surprise happening, tragic circumstance, mystery), stimulating the predominant emotion(s) in the reader and directly relevant to the plot.
- A struggle by the main character/group to overcome a specific situation. In addition, the introduction of other major or minor characters.
- Drastic failure of proposed plan, possibly leaving the main character/group in a less advantageous position than before.
- A tenuous thread of hope or unanswered questions which entice the reader to continue.
At the end of section A, the reader must possess:
- A deep sympathy for the main character/group
- A clear perception of the problems surrounding the above
- Be emotionally stirred according to the author’s purpose.
Q.1 Write a brief outline of your six or seven chapters in Section A, noting the time or date when the events took place.
- Further background information regarding the characters and their ambitions.
- Opposing characters/circumstances fully outlined. (They may have been alluded to in Section A but not fully explored.) These could be treated sympathetically, consequently challenging the readers’ emotions and provoking thought. A counter plot from the opposition could be included.
- Other situations/characters who will have an ultimate bearing on the main character(s) and plot. These could be related in entirely differing circumstances.
- Struggles and sub-plots on the part of the main character/group which threaten the success of the proposed plan. Other emotions can be introduced here, e.g. a romance within a war narrative can be quite effective. If a group is used, conflict between members of the group can be helpful.
- Ending with a note of despair, main character/group experience stalemate; however, to entice the reader to read on, it should contain the hope of success or decision to try again.
At the end of Section B, the reader must be aware of:
- All the factors which have a bearing on the plot
- Strengths and weakness of main character/group and Opposition
- Speculations as to the possible outcome; the final solution may be contained in this Section but never obvious.
Q.2 Start by writing a list of plots and sub-plots which could occupy this section. Decide which to develop. Then write a brief outline of the six or seven chapters.
This section should commence on a high note. However, it should not be a conclusion to the basic dilemma. It should be unfinished with loose ends still to resolve.
- A plan is conceived which almost succeeds but not quite. However, main character/group is moved into an advantageous position.
- Slight drawback experienced.
- Plans for final victory.
- Execution of plans.
- – This need not be perfectly happy. However, if the main character/group does not attain to their ambition, they must experience some benefits. They may have saved a loved one or left a legacy for others to enjoy or learned valuable lessons. There are a multitude of benefits that could be gained if you wish your book to end unhappily for the main character. Whatever you do, never write a tragedy unless it contains basic lessons about life which the reader can benefit from.
Q.3 Write a chapter plan, making notes of the major events of each chapter.
- You may change the above plan later as you begin to write but ensure the essentials are always included.
- The ebb and flow of the novel (i.e. success, alternating with set-backs) keeps the reader intrigued and prevents the novel from becoming boring.