As I’m sure, you are familiar with The Three Act Structure, which describes the three basic segments of your novel (the beginning that establishes characters, settings and problems, has an inciting event and ends on your first conflict; the second act raises stakes to a climatic midpoint and the third act that raises action to the climax and ending). But, I offer you the plotting techniques that will in detail help you understand the structure of your novel!
The Expanding Snowflake Method
This is the one I like combining with other methods and it’s very simple to use. Here are the steps:
- Write a one-sentence-summary of your story.
- Write a paragraph that expands on the sentence summary.
- Write the major characters (their name, their story arc, their goals and obstacles, the conflict).
- Expand every sentence of your summary from step 2 to be a paragraph on its own.
- Write a full page description per every major character, write half a page for minor characters.
- Expand every paragraph from step 4 to a full page.
- Expand every character page into a full story that explains their motives, connections to other characters, journeys and what they learn in the end.
- List all the scenes you want to see in your novel.
- Expand every scene and describe it in great detail.
- Start writing your draft!
This could be a useful exercise even if you don’t want to write a novel with that plot. It’s also useful if you combine it with some other technique.
The Five Point Structure
As its name suggests, this is the structure of a story made out of five points in chronological order. The steps are:
- Exposition is the beginning of your story; this is where we meet your character in their normal surrounding, we are introduced to the setting and presented the main conflict.
- Raising Action is the stage where the story starts to build. A couple of key events occurs here and they ultimately lead your protagonist to the next stage.
- Climax is the moment everything has been leading to. This is the most exciting moment in your story and your protagonist faces the main conflict.
- Falling Action is the stage of tying loose ends in the aftermath of the events that ended.
- Resolution is just another word for conclusion – ending your story.
To be honest, I must say that this method is old and it doesn’t really hold up anymore. There are variations to it and improvements. Such as:
The Eight Point Structure
This is a very detailed plot structure that can serve as a guide to writing your story. To me it seems as if it is a finished book waiting to be filled in. Combined with the expanding snowflake method, this is a winner in plotting. It’s made out of eight steps, and those are:
- Stasis is very much like exposition in a way that it introduces the main character in their normal surrounding – it is an everyday setting. Normal world, if you like. This stage should occupy about 10% of your novel.
- Trigger/Inciting Incident is an event described in one chapter or less that pushes the whole novel in motion and it should happen at about 10% into your novel. It’s an incident that makes your protagonist think.
- The Quest is a direct result of the trigger – your character must decide whether or not to get involved. They usually do (spoiler alert). This segment takes around 15% of your story.
- Surprise is a segment that follows your character’s quest in solving the problem, their attempts and failures. All the little setbacks, small victories, new problems. This is also where your subplot emerges (it’s usually a romantic interest, but you be creative and think of something else). This segment takes about 25% of your story.
- Critical Choice is a segment that has your character make a decision, this is the point of no return. A major plot point happens here and your character is stuck on their journey. This is also where they have a false victory or a false defeat. This leads to the darkest moment, the lowest point for your character. It takes about 25% of your story.
- Climax takes about 10% of your story and it’s the final battle, the final showdown. This is where your character solves the problem. It’s the most intense moment in your novel.
- Reversal is the aftermath of the events that occurred. It depicts the change of your character. It’s also the space for you to tie up all the loose ends. It takes up to 10% of your story.
- Resolution is the end of your story, the world after the final battle. Everything is back to normal but with consequences. This is where you have a deciding role to determine the tone and impression you want your novel to leave behind. It’s the final 5%.
I use this method of structuring my stories and novels but I also write description of every chapter and every character, expanding it until it feels like the story I want, then I rewrite it so that all the little things fit together nicely.
You shouldn’t just follow blindly, and I don’t expect you to, these instructions. Feel free to experiment with them as much as you want!