First Steps in Plotting a Novel

As we continue to follow “The Journey of a Book” this year, we are making a stop this month at plot. A story is just a report without it. states defines plot as “the plan or main story” of “a movie or literary work.” So if the plot is the plan, how do authors create the plan for their stories? In my writing tips this month, I will break down how I plot, starting with the first steps in plotting a novel.

Like so much in the arts, there is no wrong way to your first step. Many authors swear by such famous plot structures, as the 3 Act Structure or the Hero’s Journey. But if a mash up of plotting structures gets you started, go for it.

Side note: My oldest actually had an English teacher tell him that every single story ever written follows the Hero’s Journey. (The teacher has obviously never read a Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe mystery.)

My Inspiration to Start a Story

Like most artistic endeavors, it’s usually impossible for me to know exactly when and what inspires my story, but I often think of the climax first. Since I am writing a mystery series, my main character is already established as well as her family and friends. When I imagine the climax, I know exactly who the hero is. I also know who the villain is, or at least his or her name, what crime the person has committed, and the relationship to the MC.

Once I have my climax, I know the end of my journey. The question that now faces me is where to begin.

Endings are Easy. Beginnings are Hard.

At least for me. So much is expected of the beginning that I freeze. The beginning should introduce the main character (MC), several major characters, the main problem the MC faces, and the world in which the main character lives. All of this, and I have to write it with enough tension and conflict to keep readers turning the pages.

When I had to start the first chapter of my second Rae Riley novel, I was so overwhelmed with all the duties I had to accomplish in it that I could not get started. That first chapter stymied me for the longest time. I finally decided garbage was better than no garbage and wrote it. After a friend critiqued it, I found it was better than I thought.

Next week, I will get into the details of what I included in the first chapter to show you how to kickstart the plot.

For more writing tips on plot, click here.

Writers, what are your first steps in plotting a novel?

2 thoughts on “First Steps in Plotting a Novel

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  1. I love hearing about how you write mysteries! So interesting that you start with the climax! When I’m starting a new idea, it usually begins with the main character and what she wants to do and what she needs to overcome.

    1. I can’t figure out what my MC’s problem is until I start writing. Then as the mystery progresses, I get an idea for a problem that highlights a theme.

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