Tag Archives: Reversals

Nov 24

“Plot Elements” by Mary Deal

Plot Elements


Mary Deal

Plot elements are always the same when writing any story through the stages of writing development. This includes when writing creative nonfiction.

If you are adept at summarizing stories, I doubt you will ever find stories where any of the points listed below are missing.

Analyze some of your own stories. Notice if you, too, have included each of these elements in your writing.

If any of these elements are missing from your stories, chances are, it will be a story you felt you weren’t ready to sell or publish because something “wasn’t quite right.” Check the stages of writing development of your story for plot elements.

The list below shows the major construction blocks and the order in which they will happen as a story progresses.

Set Up (Want): The protagonist’s or characters’ needs

Rising Action: What the character does to reach his or her desired goal

Reversals (Plots Points): Something happens to the character to thwart him or her achieving their heart’s desire. Either right choices or mistakes are made by the character.

This is one of the areas that allow you to take your story in a new direction from what the character had intended. This is a major portion of the story because your character should be headed toward his or her goal when an occurrence stops them cold.

This will be the lengthiest of the stages of writing development. This section is considered the middle of the story. You’ve heard people refer to “sagging middles?” A sagging middle means the writer did not keep up the action going through the middle of the book. An attention grabbing beginning falls flat when the excitement fades in a dull sagging middle. Then while slogging through a questionable middle, the reader may never make it to the climactic ending.

Recognition: The character realizes what he or she must do, how they must change, in order to overcome their mistakes and achieve their goal(s).

This is one of the plot elements that bring about an Aha! experience. However, the character may not always make the right decision for change.

The Recognition portion of plot elements is NOT the climax. Do not confuse recognition of a problem with the climax of a story.

This is another of the major story building points. Perhaps the character still insists on pursuing what they set out to achieve, in spite of receiving great setbacks. Then finally, once they acknowledge that they need to make changes, those elements and change need to be developed.

This is the second lengthiest of the stages of writing development. Now the character must not only right the wrongs, but also forge ahead to heal the situation.

Climax: The climactic – or at least surprising – result of the action, or where the character ends up, what situation they find themselves in, embroiled or accomplished.

This is also the lesson of the story, the message or metaphor that you, the writer, hope to accomplish by writing the piece. You need not incorporate a moral or ethical message in your stories. However, as you move your characters through their story lives, you inadvertently give the reader a lesson in right and wrong.

Plot elements say this portion of the story should be quick, for added impetus of the realization. It brings the story to a close.

Denouement (Sometimes optional): Of the plot points, this is the lesson learned by the character(s), the after-thoughts, from the character’s choices made in seeking their desire.

If the character happens not to realize his or her mistake, then this is the place where the reader will understand the result of the character’s actions, no matter how naïve or in denial the character remains.

Plot elements are easiest to build in longer stories such as novellas or novels, and creative nonfiction. The length of the story dictates how much time and verbiage can be allotted to developing the steps of the story.

In short stories, the writing is controlled, dependent upon the length of the story. Short stories need to be, at times, punchy, quick. It’s a nice test of making use of fewer words while utilizing all the plot elements.

In building a story through the limitations of Flash Fiction, you will see just how adept you’ve become at writing when you can incorporate all of the above plot elements in very few choice words.

However, do not be mistaken by thinking that in a full length novel you can use more words, take all the time and use all the verbiage you need to make your story work. Novels and long works need just as much attention, if not more, to writing lean as any shorter stories.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Sep 15

Mary Deal Outlines “Outlining a Story”

Outlining a Story

Writing a novel, even a short story, and keeping details and action in some semblance of order can be a daunting task. A loose outline, even a simple list of occurrences, can be the best aid to keep you writing on track.

I began using a structured outline but have since been able to keep facts in order by making a running list of plot points and anything else I need to remember.

We all remember learning about outlines in school. To me, they were rigid with a lot of requirements and I spent more time trying to remember how to title the information than getting the data on paper.

As a writer, you will have had more experience with keeping an accumulation of facts in your mind as you pound the keys. Or maybe you’ve gotten lost in all the twists and turns of your story. Here’s some easy help. For example, let’s say your story is about a woman searching for her abducted daughter.

Keep in mind that all stories need the following:

Setup (want)
Rising Action

Here’s a simple outline to keep the plot on track. My notes in parenthesis are for your understanding and need not appear in your outline unless they further help you.

Title at the Top

1-Abi’s daughter was abducted (told in present time, with some back story (SETUP)

2-Abi learns of a young woman her daughter’s age on Death Row (Rising Action)

a-The inmate faces lethal injection for a crime she didn’t commit

3-Twenty-three years have passed but similarities exist between the inmate and Abi’s daughter

a-Abi begins an intense investigation, including DNA, to learn if the inmate is her daughter
b-Abi pays to restore the sight of the only eye witness.

4-While Abi investigates; her home is torched, as is the sole witness’s home (Reversals)

a-With restored sight, the sole witness skips town.
b-Abi discovers an undercurrent, one to get the inmate to pay for crimes of others

5-DNA proves the inmate is Abi’s daughter (Recognition)

a-Abi fights to prove the innocence of the inmate

6-The case goes all the way down to the needle (Climax)

a-The lethal injection chamber

7-How the story ends after all the action plays out; how the characters’ lives are affected by the climax. (Denouement)

For the sake of this newspaper column, everything begins on the left margin. When you make your list, you can indent the a and b lines to set them off to detect them easily.

It’s as simple as that. The Setup should be brief, intense so the reader is drawn into the plot and can’t leave. The bulk of your story will be contained in Rising Action, Reversals and Recognition. The Climax should be unexpected, brief and stunning, or stinging. The Denouement is a wrap up and should never be more than one or two very short chapters. It can also be handled with anything from a few lines to a paragraph or two.

As you work with your outline, you can lengthen any area. I make more notes for the middle portions because that comprises the bulk of the story.

Another form of outlining: Many people prefer to put each new scene on a 3×5 card and write each scene before going on to the next. I prefer to have a running outline which I sometimes print out so I can see the whole story at a glance.

By the way, the story I’ve just outlined is from my latest thriller, “Down to the Needle.” If you read it, you will see most of the book is NOT included in the outline. Outlines are merely the main plot points but can be as detailed or as simple as you can work with. My outline here is simple. The story itself has so many twists and turns that could only happen by not tightly structuring the creativity of my muse. Read More

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