So You Want to Commit Novel #3A: Plot

Last week we talked about the synopsis.  Some of you may have noticed a flaw.  How can you write a summary of the plot if you don’t know how you get from page one to the end?  Good point.

My first stab at a synopsis takes the material I do know and shows me a lot of what’s missing.  Now I drag out my pre-writing tools.  The first is a diagram of a fairly linear plot.  Once I get into the book I tend to zig zag to either side of the main line.  But the primary points drag me forward from section to section and keep me closer to the plan than just wandering through the maze of words until I’ve filled the quota, and gotten lost along the way.  We’ve all encountered books that say nothing at with a lot of words.  I don’t like reading them and try very hard not to write them.  Knowing my plot is the key.

I’m not one of those writers who feel that once they know the ending of the book they can’t write it.  The story is done for them.  If I don’t know the end I have no purpose in completing the book.  The journey and figuring how to get from here to there is the fun part.

I’m using the Kevin Costner movie  Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves as my example.

So I start with a straight line across the page.  The far left is the start and the far right is the end.  For the purposes of this essay I’m working with 400 pages, or 100,000 words by typesetter standards.

I mark the beginning as page 1 and the end 400.  Then I draw vertical lines intersecting the plot at roughly pages 100 plot Point I, 200 mid point, and 300 plot point II.

Page 1: State the Story Goal: Robin wants to go home, get married, have a family and NEVER GO TO WAR AGAIN.  But first he has to get out of the Muslim prison alive.  That is a scene goal.

Page 100: Plot Point I: Character makes a commitment to a course of action not foreseeable on page 1.  Robin has to declare WAR on the Sheriff of Nottingham to be free and achieve story goal.

Page 200: Mid Point: Character takes a physical and or emotional risk that puts the goal in jeopardy:  Robin allows Marion into the outlaw camp.  She could have been followed.  She could betray him.  In falling in love both characters leave themselves vulnerable to the dangers of the other.

In this sequence Robin sends the old blind servant home with Marion.  He is the one who leads the enemy back to the camp by mistake, thus tying the action of the first half to the second.

Page 300: Plot Point II: Character is faced with a dilemma.  Neither choice is acceptable and goal cannot be reached.  Nature of the choice can reflect the theme.  The camp is burned and Robin’s followers imprisoned.  The safe thing for Robin to do is go back to the Holy Land as a Crusader, or to the Continent to become a mercenary.  The honorable thing to do is storm the impregnable castle to rescue Marion and his followers.  He’s likely to die either way.

Thus follows the 20 minutes of murder and mayhem at the end of the movie followed by the short resolution.

Page 275 Dark Moment: All seems lost.  Character has made the wrong choice.  Can now make a NEW goal if necessary.  This comes just after the battle at the camp when Robin discovers the extent of his loss.

Page 375 C: Crisis: Tense action scene where Characters go for broke to achieve original or NEW goal.  This is the sword fight inside the castle

Page 398 Resolution: Tie up as many loose ends as possible and keep it short.  The wedding in the greenwood with King Richard’s return.

Pages 50 and 350, Pinch: A theme statement.  Marked as X below.  This is what can turn an ordinary story into a lasting impression on the reader. At the first pinch Robin asks Aziz (they are sitting on a wall which is good symbolic tie to second pinch) why he, a Muslim, was in the Muslim prison.  Aziz replies that he fell in love with the wrong woman.  Robin asks: was she worth it.  Worth dying for.  At the second pinch Robin and Aziz are climbing into a catapult that will throw them over the wall of Nottingham Castle.  Aziz asks is she worth it.  Robin replies: Worth dying for.

Cue theme music, Bryon Adams singing “Everything I do, I do it for you.”  The refrain repeats “Don’t tell me it’s not worth dying for.”

GOAL                                   X PPI                                                            MP                                       D                           PPII X          C Resolution

Phyllis Irene Radford

Based upon Screenplay by Syd Field,  Dell 1982

Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of Book View Café and blogs here regularly on Thursdays, the same day her cozy mystery “Lacing Up For Murder” by Irene Radford is serialized on the front page rotation.

For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC

Or her personal web page


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


So You Want to Commit Novel #3A: Plot — 3 Comments

  1. The thing I don’t understand about people who can’t write the book without the ending being a surprise — how do they manage to revise?

  2. Mary: I need to discover the plot while writing. If I sit down and plan ahead, I do it from a position of not knowing the characters, so the plotpoints I come up with are boring and clicheed, and when I try to force my characters to conform to an outline, they become resistant and refuse to cooperate, because what I’m trying to write are things I made up, not _what happened_.

    Revision is revision and a completely different beast. In revision, I have the story, and I try to tell is as well as possible, so that other people can share the things I love about it without being put off by clumsy prose, not describing anything in enough detail for _them_ to build a picture of it, etc etc.

  3. I’ve written a couple of books where I didn’t know the ending and ended up doing 10 times more revision. With my schedule I can’t afford to do that often. So now I try to know where the characters end up, just not exactly how they get there. My outlines, plot diagrams, and other tools are skeletons of the story. I have to add all the muscles, life blood, internal organs, and stuff them into a sort of skin within the allotted # of pages in the contract.

    Every writer is different. This is what works for me.