Plotting: The Nervous System of a Story

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There are two types of writers; those who wing it, and those who don’t. However, there is one thing all writers strive for and that is an effective, engaging plot. The plot is what draws a reader in, it is what makes a story successful and what keeps an audience going. You should consider the plot to be the nervous system of your book. It connects all, feels all, sees all. It controls the senses, thoughts, emotions, and reactions.

Your plot is the entirety of your story and it is the only reason a reader will keep turning pages. Your characters may be good, your narration could be on point, but if your plot falls short and fails to deliver – then your tale may find itself ignored. So how does an author get their book from the keyboard and into a pair of hands? They plot. They scheme. They think it out. It doesn’t matter if you are thinking it out as you rush in, or if you have an entire story-board in front of you with every page mapped out. The truth of the matter is: if you want your readers to feel about your book, you are going to have to give them the nervous system that allows them to.

This can be a simple or complex process. There are multiple charts on the internet that showcase the rise and fall of a plot. They will show you every event leading to a climax, then the points that drop down to a resolution. Some will give you a picture of a hamburger, some will show you graphs, others will tell you to draw it out. It is going to work differently for every author and for every story. The templates work, they are a solid foundation and a great starting point. They help you flesh out what happens next and present a great black and white image. However, there is more to a good plot than a foundation.

You need to consider 3 things when planning your plot. The type of narration. The type of characters. The type of emotion.

The narration refers to the voice of your narrator. This is not your voice, it is a voice written by you specifically to tell your story; it is the tone you write in, not the one you live in. The narration is going to determine how effective a plot is. Lewis Carroll could not have delivered Pride and Prejudice, nor could Jane Austen tell the tale of Katniss Everdeen. The stories would be completely different, and their success would be markedly dulled. When plotting, consider your tone, your approach, and who is telling the story. Is it an 18th century voice speaking? Is it a child, a murderer, the voice of God? Maybe your narrator sounds like Morgan Freeman, maybe like Dame Judi Dench. Perhaps it a cockney accent, perhaps it fits well into the streets of Brooklyn. The narrator is the cortex of the nervous system that is your plot. This is the beginning, the receptor, and the deliverer of your piece. How this narrator sounds effects how the story is delivered. Find your centre and you will find your voice.

Characters are important too when considering plot. Harry Potter by J.K Rowling is a great example of this. How many small characters influenced the plot in the Harry Potter Series? Did Neville Longbottom inevitably influence the story? Was Nagini just a snake? How did these two characters end up altering the course of the story for the main protagonists and antagonists? You need to consider not just your hero and villain, but all the little things around them too. Little things can make big changes, and they offer immeasurable depth. It is worth considering how a simple moment can lead to the ultimate climax.

Finally – emotion. This is a very difficult thing to discuss, but is ultimately the most important factor in delivering an effective plot. Stop for a moment and tell me what emotion you associate with the colour ‘red’. Most will think of anger or passion. The colour ‘blue’ may inspire feelings of sadness or peace. ‘Purple’ could make you think of joy or mischief. These words have emotion, but they lack direction. The direction of your plot is determined by the emotion of your writing. This ties into your narration and the effectiveness of its delivery, as well as into the feelings experienced by your characters. It is also strongly associated with how you want your audience to feel at that point in the story. The last thing you want during the climax of your plot is for a reader to feel calm or bored. You want them turning pages, you want them lost in the world you have created. You do this with the correct delivery of emotion within a text.

So what does it come down to, how do you deliver the most effective plot possible?

You write with the right voice for your story. You give your characters the opportunity to influence events and provide them with depth. You deliver a story of emotion, one that connects to readers and gives them the freedom to get lost in a story whilst also being held captive there by your words.

Use your plot templates, plan your design, or charge in like a bull in a China shop – that part is up to you. Your approach, your story.  The rest is just good writing, and good writing comes down to a good plot. Plan it how you will, but be sure to plot it well.

Give your story a nervous system, then go find its heart.

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