Plotting Points

by Betty K

Question: My plot begins with the hero facing a large problem, which gets resolved to a certain extent about 20,000 words into the story.

However, at that point another, dilemma occurs which is based on the first problem, but is in itself different.

Then after about 30,000 words another dilemma occurs based on both these earlier situations.

This occurs a couple of more times with the final climax and the ending solving all the dilemmas at once time.

Does this sound sensible and workable. In my earlier self-published book, one reviewer said that he/she didn't like a series of problems; they preferred one large problem that gets resolved at the end.

Of course, that was just one reader's opinion. I would love to hear yours.

Answer: Well, the first thing I might question is the idea that the first problem is "resolved to a certain extent." It sounds a bit like "not pregnant, but only to a certain extent."

Resolution suggests a drop in tension because the problem is solved or, at the very least, it is rendered less significant.

Generally, you want tension to rise in a novel until you get to the crisis. If anything, you want the problem to get more significant, not less. You don't want the tension to go flat periodically ahead of the crisis by solving the problems prematurely.

You can add complications and new problems, but if you're going to resolve problems, you are giving the reader less incentive to keep reading.

I should clarify that... There can be small victories if they serve to encourage the characters to keep up their pursuit of the story goal. We sometimes call this "meeting the Requirements or Prerequisites" or sometimes reaping "Dividends." However, these should be balanced by setbacks or small victories for the other side. We call these "Forewarnings" or "Costs."

The difference is that these little victories increase the tension because they spur the heroes on. It's all about increasing the tension.

The other thing that concerns me, and here I tend to agree with your reviewer, is that a single Story Goal is a unifying
force in a story. It is the thing the plot is about. You can have several aspects to the goal or perspectives on the goal, but separate goals implies separate stories.

Sometimes you can have subplots with different goals (though they are often closely related to the main Story Goal). However, subplots generally run parallel, not sequential to the main plot. All the plots converge around the same point in Act 3 - the climax.

If you have completely separate goals that are resolved one at a time my fear is that the novel would resemble a series of short stories rather than one story. In other words, the reader could read one story, and then comfortably put the book down and walk away - like you can with an anthology of short stories.

Now I know you say all these goals are related, but the test of whether this structure works is still the same: does the tension build towards the climax, or does it periodically deflate?

On the positive side, it sounds as though you are using a 4-act structure, with each of these "problems" being the focal point of one act.

So, can you turn each of these problem into a signpost, a major turning point within the overall quest to achieve the Story Goal?

In other words can problem #1 be the inciting incident that sets the hero on the journey towards the Story Goal? Can the second problem be the event that complicates the journey and makes it more difficult? Can problem #3 be the crisis of the entire story that determines whether the goal is achieved? And finally, can problem #4 be the event that shows the outcome - what success or failure looks like?

The other thing to think about is that, if your story goal will be achieved, your main character should lose most of the conflicts leading up to the crisis. Problems should get worse. If he or she wins every battle leading up to the crisis, then there is no tension because the reader can guess what the outcome will be ahead of time.

Comments for Plotting Points

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Very Helpful Information
by: Betty K Canada

Thank you. Your comments are very helpful. I think I can use the 4 act process and make it work.

Plotting Points (by Betty K)
by: Anonymous

If I understand it correctly your answer to Betty K regarding plot points when there are multiple sequential events suggested that these events can be treated as subplots and each subplot can be used as one of the Acts? What if there are more than 4 compelling events?

I submitted a similar question (can't remember what I titled it) about how to include several decisive historical incidents within Act Two. Maybe that's not the way to get this done. I don't see any way to cut out any of the events.

to Anonymous
by: Glen

Every plot is a series of events. Large events (like a story) are made of sequences of smaller events (acts), which are made of sequences of smaller events.

An act is not a subplot. A subplot is a sequence of events that constitute a causal chain that is separate from but runs parallel to the main plot. Subplots often involve a different set of characters that overlap only slightly with the main plot. Subplots usually begin in act one and end in act four, just like the main plot.

You can have a number of sequential events. But if they are not linked by cause and effect, and if they do not create a dramatic arc, they will not have the build and release of emotional tension. It will make the story more episodic in nature.

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