Those wonderful ideas percolating in your head are eager to be released and committed to paper. And, yes, perhaps wind up in that novel you’ve been dreaming about.
But first you need a plan.
A plan is essential to weaving your ideas and characters into a tapestry that dazzles readers and rewards them for staying with you. It’s critical that you understand the imperative of building your book in a logical, disciplined way that allows you to offer your readers an inviting beginning that leads to a satisfying conclusion.
Plot development that works to illuminate your characters’ qualities, good and bad, and their struggles and victories is your surest way to success.
So, what makes for solid plot development?
Gustav Freytag, a 19th century German novelist and playwright, built upon Aristotle’s writing theories and in 1863 wrote “Die Technik des Dramas.” Freytag’s model relied on a pyramid structure that started with exposition, climbed upward with rising action, peaked with a climax or turning point, descended with falling action, and reached the other side with resolution.
Ideally, exposition sets the stage for readers. It establishes the protagonist and antagonist, setting, and story conflicts.
Rising action creates conflict and tension, and demonstrates for readers how characters react to them. It identifies the major challenge and dilemma facing the protagonist.
At the climax, or turning point, the protagonist confronts her or his greatest challenge. The result may be success, but could certainly end in failure.
Falling action describes the consequences of the climax, again good or bad. And this leads to resolution.
Denouement, or resolution, explains the effects upon the characters after the climax is decided. Depending on your story and the success or failure of the protagonist, the outcome may be happy or sad.
You’ve got the ideas. Now you’ve got a plan. Put it to good use.
(This blog also appeared as a column for the Winter 2021 edition of “Mountain Whispers,” the quarterly newsletter of West Virginia Writers Inc.)
Fran Allred and Mickey Johnson are the owners of We Edit Books, based in Huntington. They have a combined 68 years’ experience as newspaper and book editors in West Virginia and across the South and Midwest. They can be reached at weeditbooks.com and [email protected].