How To Plot Your Novel With 8 Simple Questions

The Last SoothsayerThis is a guest post by Adron J. Smitley, author of “The Last Soothsayer: a tale of blood & love“.

Adron J. Smitley is the author of several books about how to better your writing through bettering your plotting, including the highly detailed book for novelists and screenwriters alike “PUNCHING BABIES: a how-to guide.” He is currently finishing the sequel to his fantasy series “THE LAST SOOTHSAYER” which tells the daring tales of a lonely young swordsman seeking love and adventure and who can slow time itself at the cost of his aging. For more information on Adron’s writing works please visit www.amazon.com/author/adronjsmitley or simply Google Adron’s name for further details.

Adron believes the meaning of life is to give life meaning, and he intends on dying old and broke but happy.

Adron J. Smitley

Author

These eight essential questions define the most important parts of your overall story’s plot. Answer them in one specific sentence each for your story:

1.(Inciting Incident) What is the Inciting Incident that happens to your Protagonist which first disturbs their normal, everyday world, connecting them to the Antagonist while setting off the chain-reaction of your story that all things afterwards happen because of?

2.(Plot Point 1) Why and how does your Protagonist finally decide to commit to solving your story’s main problem?

3.(Pinch Point 1) What is the First Obstacle for your Protagonist that represents the Antagonist’s forces in some way while also showing some part of your Protagonist’s character growth?

4.(Midpoint/Reversal) What does your Protagonist learn the truth about that raises the stakes while changing everything from this point forward so that they swear to resolve it because Now, it’s personal?

5.(Pinch Point 2) What happens to your Protagonist that strips them of their Allies and resources to the point that the Antagonist seemingly wins?

6.(Plot Point 2) What needed inspiration does your Protagonist receive that takes them out from their lowest point and propels them into a new plan of attack against the Antagonist?

7.(Subplot Wrap-ups) How are all remaining subplots outside of your Protagonist resolved while they implement their new plan of attack against the Antagonist and their last remaining forces?

8.(Climax/Resolution) How does your Protagonist defeat the Antagonist one-on-one as only your Protagonist can (or die trying)?

You will build the rest of your story around these answers. Why? Because:

#1 happens toward the beginning of Act 1.

#2 at the end of Act 1.

#3 in the middle of Act 2A.

#4 at the end of Act 2A.

#5 in the middle of Act 2B.

#6 at the end of Act 2B.

#7 is the first half of Act 3.

#8 is the last half of Act 3.

Next we divide the 8 essential questions into the 4 Acts of Story, breaking them down into further detail:

ACT 1

Sequence 1: SETTING UP YOUR STORY: shows a typical day in the life of your Protagonist. This is where we learn who the Protagonist is while introducing their normal world, including everyone and everything in it. Everyone has problems in their life, so show the Protagonist dealing with their problems, the more relatable the better.

Sequence 1 ends with the Catalyst. What exactly is a Catalyst? Failing a driver’s test because you forgot to signal properly is NOT a Catalyst, but failing a driver’s test because they drove into a school bus full of children IS.

Sequence 2: OPENING THE DOOR: the Catalyst has disturbed the Protagonist’s normal world for the first time, and it must impact them in a permanent way. Now they deal with the consequences of their failure to prevent the Catalyst, but until they choose to act their world only gets worse. They eventually realize they must leave their old world behind to seek better advice and training from a new outside source in the new, unfamiliar world ahead by completing Plot Point 1.

ACT 2A

Sequence 3: ENTERING A NEW WORLD: the Protagonist has voluntarily made a leap of faith into the new world, which makes Sequence 3 all about the Protagonist being a Fish Out Of Water. They are immediately introduced to the rules of this new world and how it operates, and as with all worldly travels they meet new people obviously more acquainted with it than they are, making new friends and enemies in so doing.

Indirectly, the Protagonist’s actions cause a minor setback to the Antagonist, who may be completely oblivious to the Protagonist’s existence thus far, through Pinch Point 1. At this point all the Antagonist may know is that something is wrong with their plans and may have no idea they are setting up their eventual clash with the Protagonist by trying to pursue their own minor goal.

Sequence 4: ACHIEVING THE FALSE VICTORY: the Antagonist now responds to the Protagonist’s minor interference, causing the Protagonist to form a new goal to deal with the Antagonist’s response. When the Protagonist responds to the Antagonist’s actions, it leads to the Protagonist’s False Victory at the end of this Sequence. That False Victory is more commonly known as the Midpoint “Success.” And why are there quotations around “Success”? Because it is a False Victory at the Midpoint. Basically, the Protagonist gets what they think they want, but it turns out (midpoint twist) that it’s not what they really need.

Somewhere in Sequence 4 we learn more about the Antagonist and his world from an unfiltered perspective. What that means is the Protagonist’s point of view is NOT present during this specific event and thus it is “unfiltered” by another character’s biased point of view. It’s like being a fly on the wall in a room with the Antagonist as they go about their plan while having no idea of that fly’s existence.

ACT 2B

Sequence 5: THINGS FALL APART: the Antagonist takes control after the Protagonist’s False Victory in what is famously known as the Midpoint “twist.” It comes out from nowhere, and the more unexpected the better. After the Antagonist takes control, the Protagonist responds. But because this is the beginning of the Protagonist’s negative rising action, every success the Protagonist achieves also brings an even greater failure. Think of the Protagonist taking one step forward then two steps back while the Antagonist takes one step back then two steps forward in a back-and-forth dance of rising conflict between the Protagonist and the Antagonist’s forces, with Pinch Point 2 showing a defining moment where the Protagonist is truly losing more ground than they are gaining.

Sequence 6: SUFFERING THE FALSE DEFEAT: is all about forcing the Protagonist into an extreme low point where all seems lost and the Antagonist appears to win. The Protagonist’s False Defeat is, obviously, the Antagonist’s False Victory. While the Protagonist is busy trying to stay alive, the Antagonist nearly gets what they want with just one step shy of complete victory. At the end of Sequence 6 it seems everything has been taken from the Protagonist, and usually Allies of the Protagonist are dead because of it. It’s the moment where we feel the Protagonist has lost and can’t possibly stop the Antagonist who is now on the verge of winning.

One sentence encapsulates the end of this Sequence, and that is the Protagonist saying, “I give up.” But there’s also something quite unexpected the Protagonist has yet to realize during their great low depression, and that is the inspiration they need to continue the fight. That inspiration they receive seemingly so unexpectedly makes up the very end of this sequence, and is where the Protagonist receives a revelation of inspiration that has them saying, “No! I must go on!” The Protagonist discovers something that allows them to form a new goal and plan of attack through Plot Point 2, and it seems that it might actually work despite everything that has happened and has been taken from them.

ACT 3

Sequence 7: THE FALSE SOLUTION: with this new bit of inspiration, the Protagonist has developed a new goal and a new plan of attack then implements it here, setting themselves and the Antagonist on a collision course that comes to a final head in the next Sequence. But this new plan of attack is not what the Protagonist needs to defeat the Antagonist despite the progress made because of it. It helps the Protagonist position the Antagonist for their final one-on-one confrontation, but it won’t achieve the needed victory because even though the Protagonist achieves what appears to be a big success here, it is immediately followed by a direct attack from the Antagonist.

Think of this Sequence as the Protagonist taking out the Antagonist’s main henchmen on the way to confront the Antagonist. The Protagonist kicks butt and takes names, but they are still only the Antagonist’s henchmen and not the Antagonist directly. The new plan of attack the Protagonist devised and implements is what the Protagonist thinks they need to do to succeed, and here they achieve that success as subplots wrap themselves up … only to discover that planned success is not what they needed to achieve true victory after all.

Sequence 8: THE TRUE RESOLUTION: is where the Protagonist confronts the Antagonist in a final one-on-one contest that ends in either victory or, less usual, defeat. The Protagonist MUST face the Antagonist “on his/her own.” What that means is if the Protagonist is a part of a Team of Allies in the previous Sequence, either that Sequence (7) ends with a Separation of the Protagonist from the Team, or this Sequence (8) begins with a Separation of the Protagonist from their Team. If no Team is present, because maybe the Antagonist had them all killed in the previous Sequences, then simply replace Team with Resources or Tools.

The Protagonist confronts the Antagonist in another shorter but more intense version of their back-and-forth dance as the Climax with the Protagonist suffering a last all is lost moment in their final crisis where it seems the Antagonist has finally defeated them … until the Protagonist takes their last leap of faith after a final true revelation of inspiration and defeats the Antagonist, achieving their true victory at long last. This, of course, has become famously known as the “use the force” moment from the end of the original Star Wars movie. It’s the moment where the Protagonist pulls victory out from the jaws of defeat and wins the day.

Take note: during the all is lost moment of Sequence 6, where the Protagonist’s Team is broken down and faces death, there is a classic and specific action that takes place known as the Rescue From Without. This moment is where the Protagonist, facing death, is “saved” not by any means of his own but by the means of another, and usually quite unexpectedly. Commonly this is where one of the Protagonist’s most important Allies sacrifices their very life to save the Protagonist from a literal death, and/or where the Shadow Character “Ally” that betrays the Protagonist is killed (though sometimes that death is saved until just before the Protagonist faces the Antagonist directly; a smaller climax before the final climatic battle between Protagonist and Antagonist). This action is repeated during the Protagonist’s second and final all is lost moment during Sequence 8, only this time the Rescue From Without (External) becomes a Rescue From Within (Internal). It’s the last pivotal moment when it seems there’s no question that the Protagonist has lost … only to dig deep down and achieve their greatest success at last.

Victory achieved, we then see the immediate effects of the Protagonist’s success in a show of mastery over their new world.

Now take out your notebook and describe each of the 8 Sequences of your story in one sentence a piece, and you will have plotted the main story points of your novel. The only thing left is for you to write it by logically filling in the caps with as much dramatic conflict as possible. Good luck!