Plotting a Story: Filling in the gaps.

When you struggle to connect the main plot points.

Fore word: This is how I do the thing. It’s not the only way to do the thing, nor the “right way,” just one way, which happens to work really well for me. I hope it helps you too, but if it doesn’t, there’s still a good method out there for you. Don’t give up; keep searching and trying new techniques!

Coming out of a main event (plot point) you should have a mix of these things:

  • A protagonist who made choices they were unsure about, and now carries an emotional burden of some kind.
  • Multiple primary and secondary characters who are emotionally and/or physically effected by the event.
  • Characters whose actions and choices during the event conflicted and who are now at odds in some way.
  • Unresolved plot details.

You also likely have new plot information to set up prior to the next main plot point, which might include anything from the main characters sitting down and physically deciding what to do next, to traveling long distances, to the reveal of information which will lead the characters to the next main plot point.

Usually this connective segment, which can range anywhere from one short scene to many chapters, creates a sense of “downtime,” or a lower point of tension which lets your reader relax after the trauma of the last plot point.

Not all of them will actually be low in tension. That’s good! We don’t want to drop all tension at any point in the story. We want to let the reader breathe without losing their interest.

How do we actually create these “downtime” sections?

I had to write two of these exact sections to connect a plot point in AFS last week, and this is the progressions it went through:

STYLE ONE: In which I have limited room for creativity because I know the scene must take place during a border crossing, and my goal is to make the border crossing more than just a boring description of four characters worrying about things while they walk across the border.

1. Write down any leftover tension (emotional, physical, mental).

I knew the character had to go from one plot point to the next in order to recruit another main character and have a run in with the secondary villains. These characters come out of the previous plot point with five specific emotional ordeals:

  1. The protagonist and Pine Head were very close once but are now so badly at odds that they can’t seen to work together.
  2. The protagonist has been working with Fairy Child but doesn’t really know her as a person.
  3. Pine Head’s sort-of-boyfriend Teddy Bear has been experiencing health issues that Teddy Bear doesn’t want to talk about.
  4. The antagonist wants something from Pine Head and the protagonist is paranoid they’ll show up at any point.
  5. The protagonist is realizing he’s not the amazing person he thought he was.

2. Make use of the tension to carry the reader through.

The protagonist fears the antagonist appearing, so that’s just what’s going to happen, and I’ll structure the segment around it. On the way to the main event I’ll add a scene where:

  • The antagonist show up. (Fulfils #4) 
  • Pine Head and the protagonist are forced to work together in a small way, even though they’re still angry. (Fulfils #1)
  • The protagonist forgets about Fairy Child and subsequently realizes he doesn’t actually know or think about her and feels guilty over that. (Sets up #2).
  • Teddy Bear gets hurt. (Reinforces #4)
  • The antagonist implies that the protagonist is a hypocrite. (Reinforces #5)

With these components, I create a full scene (which has a lot of spoilers in it, so I won’t outline it.) This scene is still a fairly high tension scene though. After the protagonist recruits the new character during the next plot point, I want a low tension scene that will lead into the next major plot segment.

STYLE TWO: In which I can do literally anything I want, as long as it’s good and connective.

1. Where does this take place?

Setting is important. A good setting provides unique opportunities for the character to interact with each other and their world in a way they wouldn’t in any other setting.

For this section, the characters are traveling through a rural part of the protagonist’s homeland, in which there are towns build in valleys. I could have them talk while they walk through tree, which would be the epitome of an uninteresting setting. They could enter a town and have some nice little discussions while buying goods at the store, which might give more room for interesting things to happen but is still lower on the interest scale.

I’m choosing to have them enter a town which is having an evening lights festival. The town is built in steps along a valley side, there are traditional games and food abounding, fireworks planned for after sunset, and a spring storm is approaching. This gives the characters a chance to interact with the culture, and a variety of activities and people, and provides a nice aesthetic.

2. Leftover tension and future setups.

During this segment, I have a few points which I need to hit:

  • The protagonist gets to know Fairy Child.
  • The protagonist and Pine Head laugh together like old times.
  • The protagonist can’t tell if Pine Head and Teddy Bear are really dating and approaches Teddy Bear about it.

Addition things I know I want to show:

  • Fairy Child and the New Character are obvious foils for each other.
  • Set up New Character’s developmental arc for this book.
  • Foreshadow a reveal from much later in the book.
  • Have Teddy Bear get his injuries looked at.
  • Reveal a piece of information vital to the next plot arc.
  • Let the New Character and Fairy Child train together in some way.
  • Let the protagonist angst a bit over one aspect of his character development.

3. Combined to create a fluid scene.

Maybe the protagonist goes to see Teddy Bear while Teddy Bear is getting his injuries looked at, while he’s there they talk about Teddy Bear’s relationship with Pine Head. Teddy Bear’s softness toward Pine Head mutes some of the protagonist’s anger and allows him to have a moment of light-hearted fun with Pine Head when Pine Head appears to check on Teddy Bear. Because of this light-heartedness, they decide to grab Fairy Child and New Character and go enjoy the festival for a bit…

4. Don’t glue yourself in place.

I wrote the above process a week ago and have since finished the scene I outlined during it, and while a lot of what I had originally outlined created a fantastic base, there were also things which happened while writing it which I hadn’t expected (but were great none-the-less), so don’t worry if you start writing and realize you have more you want to include or things you want to flat out change. That’s what outlines are for. They give you a foundation on which you can rebuild things without having to rewrite.

Don’t forget to check out Bryn’s debut novel, Our Bloody Pearl

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