Plot Design

A Series of Essential Events

The main plot is a thread of crucial events that comprise the narrative of what happens within the story (i.e., the cause) and the result (i.e., the effect).

Story Elements

A symbiotic relationship exists between characters, plot, theme, and structure.

  • Characters are who experience the story.
  • Plot is what happens within the story.
  • Theme is why the story matters.
  • Structure is how the story is told.
Story Elements
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Readers expect stories to unfold based on their pre-established notions gained over a lifetime of reading books and watching films.

Story Beats
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The plot follows a logical series of events sequenced by structure.

Plot and Subplots
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To explore other structure models, visit the Books on Writing resources page and check out this series about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Intertwining Characters, Plot, and Theme

Given the mixture of characters, plot, and theme within structure, consider these questions:

  • Characters:
    • Is it clear who is the main character?
    • Will readers relate to this character despite her flaws?
    • Is the lead pursuing a difficult goal, one that if achieved, will solve the story’s central problem?
    • Is it clear who (or what) opposes the lead’s efforts to resolve the story problem, and what will happen if unsuccessful? Check out this post: Villains Are Heroes in Their Stories.
  • Plot:
    • Do events take place early that create tension, causing readers to engage as their concerns increase for the lead character?
    • Do the events create a story problem that captures readers’ attention?
    • Does something dramatic happen to the lead character within the novel’s first page or two?
    • Do the emotion-laced events in the initial scenes encourage readers to bond with the lead character, experiencing her emotions?
    • Are the stakes becoming clear to both the lead character and readers?
    • Do the lead’s efforts focus on solving one escalating problem she can’t avoid and balance the mixture of narrative and action?
    • Does the lead’s pursuit of a difficult goal create conflicts and tension?
  • Theme:
    • What does the lead character need to hear, but she doesn’t want to listen to her most trusted friend or mentor?
    • Do the challenges and conflicts of pursuing that goal convey the meaning and emotional weight based on how they affect the lead?
    • Do the lead’s choices represent one or more dilemmas, ever increasing the story’s tension?
    • Does the lead’s pursuit of goal identify an inner issue to be resolved prior in order to solve the story problem?
    • Does the lead resist the need to change, but as the story progresses, ultimately sees things differently?
    • Will readers learn something from the lead’s struggle that goes beyond entertainment, helping them to deal with real-life issues?
    • At the end of the story, does the success or failure of solving the story problem highlight how the lead has changed?
  • Structure:
    • Does the lead’s backstory trickle out over multiple pages instead of an information-dump?
    • Do the scenes show what the lead character needs to know about self?
    • Do the scenes allow the characters to show rather than tell the story?
    • Do the stakes show the lead faces risks that adversely influence her physically, professionally, and psychologically?

The ability of Scrivener to record Custom Metadata allows you to capture and track answers to the above questions. This post provides an example.