Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story

Writing a short story can be like a journey into unfamiliar terrain. Just like a holiday in a new city or a hike into the wilderness, we can get lost if we do not have a plan or a map that can show us the way. When we start to write, we may begin merrily, the ideas flow along nicely, the setting is established and the characters come to life. But then we suddenly run out of inspiration, the story seems sluggish, and we may find that we have lost the plot – literally! So if this is you, it is time to take back control of your story.

Story versus Plot

Besides the all-important elements of storytelling – theme setting and story characters – the plot is a very important tool that provides the story with its basic framework on which to build your story-world and the overall narrative structure.

Just like any trade, there are specific techniques or rules, so to speak, that are needed to perform the job well. Writing is no different and there are some narrative building blocks or techniques that will help you to write a better story. You may or may not be familiar with these basic building blocks of narrative, but here is a refresher of their definitions.

Story is the logical and chronological sequence of events in a narrative. Story should not be confused with narrative discourse, which is the telling or presenting of a story from the story’s narrator. Traditionally, a story unfolds in a linear fashion, with a clearly defined, beginning, middle and end (three-act-structure). Once you have become familiar with this traditional storytelling format, you can break the rules. You can start at the end of the narrative or in the middle of the action.

Plot is the order or sequence in which the story events are arranged in the narrative. It gives a story that much-needed symmetry, movement, and flow. Once you decide on the events that make up the plot of the story, your narrative structure will be revealed.

Now that we have the two basic elements of storytelling sorted, it is time to work on developing the plot of your story. Although the Greek philosopher Aristotle set down the basics for story development, that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end, it is not sufficient to write a compelling story. In order to build upon the three-act structure, the most common plotting device is the narrative arc.

The Narrative Arc Plotting Device

The narrative arc plotting device is a very handy plotting tool that can help you to plan and execute each stage or section of your story. It can be used for a short story and especially for writing novels. Here are the five stages of the narrative arc.

1. Exposition

The exposition is the opening statement or situation that is presented to the reader at the beginning of the story. This is where you introduce your theme, setting and the characters. If you want to use this tool for writing a novel, the main characters are usually presented in this section and other minor characters can be added later.

2. Rising Action

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

3. Climax

Climax is the turning point of a story. This section involves a series of heightened complications arising from a major event: an act of violence, relationship angst, etc. This part of the story is where it gets really exciting, the characters clash, emotions are at breaking point. Remember: conflict is necessary for creating great drama.

A. Conflict

Conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces like person versus person, and can also include God/fate, society, nature. The conflict is part of the rising action and increases until the climax of the narrative. The stronger the conflict the more dynamic your story will be.

4. Falling action

The falling action is the result or effects of conflict in a story, or for a longer narrative, the series of events that unfold after the climax. The hero has faced and vanquished his nemesis, he has learned a valuable lesson, or he or she has won their heart’s desire.

5. Resolution

The resolution is the end of the story and is sometimes called the denouement. This is where the character’s problems are resolved to some degree. You may choose to finish with a happy ending or leave some questions unanswered.

Creative Exercises

 

Exercise 1

Take one of your existing stories, or if you have never written a story, have a look for a short story collection from the library. Or if you are feeling especially adventurous, choose a novel.

Analyse the story and see how it fits into the narrative arc pattern.

Write down the key elements in the narrative arc: exposition, rising action, etc.

Ask questions like:

Have you or the author introduced the theme clearly?

Where in the story are the characters introduced?

Where does the rising action start?

Who or what provides the conflict or action?

What is the climax of the story?

What is the falling action?

What kind of resolution has been used – neat and tidy or partly resolved?

 

Exercise 2

Write a story using the narrative arc plotting device.

Write down each of the sections from the narrative arc plotting device: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Under each heading write down some notes on how you will begin your story.

Start by asking some questions.

What is my opening statement or situation?

What kind of action will I use and who will provide the action?

Where will I place the climax?

How will I resolve the narrative?

Once you have written notes on each of these sections, you can start to bring them all together into a whole narrative.

Once you have put the narrative arc plotting device into practice, you may find that it will become an indispensable strategic plan that will help you when you get lost in the narrative maze.

Happy Writing

Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story first appeared in the January issue of Unearthed Fiction.

 

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