Illustration by Harriet Lee-Merrion
Before you get pissed at me for calling you a dummy, know this. I'm the first dummy here, and this post is largely me shouting at myself. LOUDLY. It turns out that for the last four years of writing full-time I had no idea how to plot and did it by my gut, which sometimes led me out the other end (Rosehead, Irkadura, Janna), and sometimes not quite (Siren Suicides, The Badlings, TUBE). It was random. If I wrote for too long (Siren Suicides), I got lost in the details. If I got rerouted in the middle of writing (The Badlings), I lost interest in finishing the book and made myself finish it (not fun). If I took a too-long break between drafts (TUBE), I hated the manuscript when returning to it and wanted to trash the whole thing (and I did). Plotting my books ahead of time would've spared me this pain, only I didn't know it.
No more of this shit.
I will attempt to distill for you how to plot your novel from the position of a dummy, me, that is, doing it properly for the first time. (Haha! Properly. Right. Like I know what I'm doing.) So if you're far ahead of me in terms of plotting and have done it before, STOP READING THIS RIGHT NOW. Please read something terribly smart written by people with experience. Here is an awesome post by @chuckwendig on 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story, and here are two awesome posts by Rachel Aaron, How I Plot a Novel in 5 Steps and How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Thousand Words a Day. There are also a ton of amazing books on plotting, and I intend to read a bunch and tell you my impressions.
Let's get down to it.
1. WHAT IS PLOT?
"PLOT is CHARACTER revealed by ACTION." Aristotle said this. A long, long time ago. What a smart guy. In essence this means that if the character of your character (what a mouthful) is not revealed by action, you have no plot (duh). Your character must have a goal and must act to achieve it. Every act of achieving it is an event in the plot that leads to the next event (bad things happen), and the next (worse things happen), and the next (even worse things happen). If Event 1 doesn't lead to Event 2, then it's not a plot, it's a chain of linked events. This hit me a few days ago, so please forgive me for still reeling over it. I want to scream about this from every rooftop. WHY DIDN'T I KNOW THIS BEFORE??
But then again, remember, this post is for dummies. So. Carrying on.