Part ii. Building a Plot

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Scenes are the foundation to building a plot. Scenes are grouped together to form chapters, which are grouped together to form acts, each with a rising story arc as the protagonist seeks a goal and is eventually transformed by her journey. That is a plot.

Brainstorming the Plot

Novels are so complex, with so many critical pieces that must connect together, the task of brainstorming an entire novel can be intimidating-even to seasoned novelists.

But a good plot keeps readers interested and turning the pages because they need to find out what happens next. To design a plot, you must always ask: "What happens next?" followed by the important question: "Why?"

At every turning point in your story, there will be multiple possibilities for what might happen next. Readers primarily enjoy plot twists that surprise them and take them to unforeseen places. It's up to you to navigate where your plot goes and which hurdles you place in your protagonist's way as she fights to reach her goal.

The foundation to a compelling plot is finding that worthy goal for your protagonist to pursue, something that's worth all the complications and conflict you're going to put her through.

The Protagonist's Goal

Your protagonist must have a goal-it is vital for a good plot. As the writer, you need to find that goal for your character, and keep in mind it has to be worth fighting for.

Hallie Ephron of "The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel" uses the example of the protagonist's goal is to change careers. Is it worthy? By itself, not really, but if making a career change means that the protagonist can prove to herself and to her family that she isn't a loser, then it becomes worthy.

Remember, a goal is worthy if the stakes are high and the consequences of failing are disastrous, either in material or emotional terms.

For example, the main goal in my current book, "When Dreaming Becomes Dangerous," is to take down the oppressed dictatorship the non-magical people of Doria like calling a democracy, which vaguely relies on the protagonist to be reached. However, we are seeing that goal be pursued through her perspective. The stakes and consequences are definitely high-if she and the people she finds herself associating with fail, they will all perish. Now, specifically, my protagonist's goal is to know what is wrong with her. The stakes and consequences? Well, if someone else finds out about her powers before she does, her life could be in great danger.

Let's look at a less drastic goal. Your protagonist is trying to get her boyfriend back from the popular girl in school. It seems like a high stakes goal with dire consequences if your protagonist fails-she'll be the laughing stock of her school and miserably alone. Compared to others, it might not seem like the worst thing in the world as it is only high school; it might not be worthy to them. However, to your protagonist, it is.

Stakes and consequences are the things to keep in mind when brainstorming your protagonist's goal.

The Journey and Setbacks

An easy to reach journey isn't interesting. Only a difficult journey with setbacks make it interesting. So setbacks along the way are essential.

Ephron gives a great list of setback examples:

• A weakness in the character like cowardice or prejudice or impulsivity.

• An external event like a war, a plague, or a traffic accident, or a tear in the space-time continuum.

• An opposing character-like her lover's ex-girlfriend or her controlling mother or her mercenary boss-who tries to keep the protagonist from reaching her goal.

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