Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Building Your Plot

This post may not apply to those of you who are organized enough to make thorough and complete outlines of your stories. But for pantsers like me, knowing how to build a plot is a great help. Now I know there are all kinds of ways to build a plot, but this is one I found in a great book by Nancy Kress, an award-winning author of more than twenty books.

Step One is building the Conflict. We all know that the protagonist has to have external well as internal... to get the story going. And the more problems that confront the MC, the more conflict she is going to have. You start out with Problem A, which should be the main problem she wants to solve. She is working on solving Problem A when Problem B shows up. Now she has two different problems, creating two different kinds of conflict, and before she had actually solved either of them, Problem C arrives. Since A is her main problem, this is going to be the center of the plot, so obviously she can't solve it any time soon. But she can try to solve B, so she is juggling A,B, AND C when Problem D arrives. By this time, she might have managed to solve B or C, but probably not both of them. And now she has D to consider.

Confused? Ok,let me take examples from my current WIP.

Problem A for Gabriela is the voices of the murdered children she hears in her head, calling for her to help them. She doesn't know who these children are, or how she is supposed to help them, so she must discover who they are, how they were murdered, and who murdered them, all in order to put their souls to rest.

However, problems alone don't make for a good plot. Along the way you need to have Complications arise.


1. Gabriela meets Remi, tall, handsome, and not at all who or what she believes him to be.
2. Henri, the carnival cook, meets with an accident...but was it actually an accident?
3. Josie, the Fat Lady of the Freak Show, suddenly dies. Everyone thinks it's because she was so terribly obese...but was it really natural causes? And what will happen when the roustabouts have to Red Light her body?

Then, of course, it's always nice to have an unexpected Plot Twist: the police come snooping around, wanting to know what happened to Josie... they know of her death, they also know the townspeople wouldn't allow her to be buried in their cemetery... so what has happened to her body?

Problem B:  Gabriela enrolls in the high school, since the carnival is stranded for several weeks in town. She immediately becomes the object of bullying:  because of her limp and the scar on her face, the kids treat her as just another "freak." How will she deal with this, when she wants to make friends in order to learn more about the dead children?


 1. Her history teacher takes more than a normal teacher-to-student interest in her. Where will this lead, and is he really a friend, or something else?
2. One of the students, Kathryn,  becomes Gabriela's friend... or is she?
3. Melvin, the 'chief bully,' attacks Gabriela twice. Kathryn comes to her rescue the first time, but the second is so violent Gabriela has to use her powers to defend herself. How will Melvin react to this?
4. Gabriela sees Kathryn talking secretly to the Sheriff. What is that all about?

Plot Twist:

Kathryn is secretly involved with the Sheriff. She is actually his daughter but no one knows this but the 2 of them. She had befriended Gabriela and pretends to help her with information about the dead children, but she is really keeping an eye on her for the Sheriff. She will lead Gabriela in the wrong direction, and finally, will be an ally in the last-minute attempt by the Sheriff to kill Gabriela... but is he really trying to kill her?

I hope this has been enough to whet your interest in one way to build your plot. I will have more about Problems C and D, and the complications and plot twists that go along with them, in Friday's post. Stay tuned!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. I enjoy outlining my novels, repeatedly, so I don't usually run into the pantser problem. However, even the most detailed outlines can take unexpected turns, and this post is amazing. There are so many great tips here. Thanks, Mikki!

  2. You're welcome,Cat! It's just really a different way to outline your plot, but even the word "outline" sends chills up and down my spine, so I prefer "building your plot!" It is an interesting way to do it, however.