For many, the new year often comes with aspirations of drafting a brand-new novel. Each new idea creates the necessity of laying down the bones of the work—the plot. There are some who are Plotters—those who plan the plot and characters before writing, and some who are Pantsers—those who write as ideas come. Whichever category you may fall into, you will need to sit down and hammer out the specifics of plot at some point in the writing process.
This can be difficult for fantasy and sci-fi writers. Many publishers allow a higher word count due to world building, however, along with that world building, it’s easy for a fantasy or sci-fi writer to have their work balloon out of control, unless there are clear parameters set. Plotting a story is especially crucial for those who write fantasy and sci-fi.
There are a variety of plotting tools available online. Among the most popular are the Snowflake Method, The Hero’s Journey, and the Three Act Structure. The method I am going to use as illustration is the Plot Skeleton.
The Eyes: Before any action takes place, you need to establish the main character’s internal and external need(s). The external need is the obvious threat that the protagonist must face. The internal need sits below the surface of the story, often taking the reader a little longer to identify. It is this need that most often comes out as a flaw within the character and is a lesson the protagonist needs to learn.
The Neck: Once you have an idea of who your character is and what motivates them, there comes the inciting incident. This is the event that pushes the protagonist into action. Harry Potter receives an invitation to Hogwarts. Frodo Baggins must flee Bag End with the One Ring before the Nazgul catch him. Whatever your incident is, it must change your character so they are never the same again. Your story isn’t a story unless your characters have a purpose or journey.
The Ribcage: Throughout the protagonist’s journey, he will face various obstacles that try to prevent him from succeeding. Each adversity he faces he escapes, only to fall into another pitfall. With each plot point the situation should increase in intensity. Many writers choose three basic plot points where the protagonist is close to achieving their goal but is stopped or delayed.
The Thigh-bone: Now we approach the climax. (Some writers prefer to make this their third main plot point.) Here is the moment when all hope seems lost and there doesn’t appear to be a way out for the protagonist. This is the moment when the protagonist realizes they need help. A one-handed Luke Skywalker hanging upside down above Cloud City definitely faces his bleakest moment, in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
The Lower-Legs: Then we come to the moment of truth, which can be an internal realization and/or it can come in the form of external help given to the protagonist. Here the protagonist sees that he can succeed and this drives him to action. A lesson is learned and a solution to his internal conflict has been met.
The Feet: Finally we have the denouement, or wrap up. The reader needs to see what happens after the big climax. This ties up loose ends and sets a feeling of hope for the reader because internal and external needs were met, even if not in a way that was expected.
No matter where you are in your writing journey, every story needs a solid bone structure to bring it to life. Regardless of the method you use, be sure not to skip this necessary step in the writing process.
Laura L. Zimmerman is a homeschooling mama to three daughters and a doting wife to one husband. Besides writing, she is passionate about loving Jesus, singing, drinking coffee and anything Star Wars. You can connect with her through Facebook and Twitter @lauralzimm and at her website Caffeinated Fiction at www.lauralzimmerman.com.