Plotting and Scope

I sense a sinister plot. Mwa ha ha! I continue the week of pointless writing advice that isn’t well thought out or explained! You can’t stop me. Not reading this only makes me stronger. That’s what they tell me.

You know how to plot. You own a periscope. This means you can stop reading. Should you? No. Ok, maybe. Will you? Uh..

I’m not here to break ground on plotting. There are tons of fantastic articulate writers with profound thoughts on plotting. Save The Cat. Walk the Dog. The Three Act Structure. The Four Act Play. 10 Minute Abs.

If you are unfamiliar with those, it doesn’t matter. You probably have some level of plotting intuitively in your head from years of reading and watching movies and such.

My favorite is the seven point plot structure. I will share it with you now.

3. Has a PROBLEM
4. Attempts to SOLVE
6. Leading to the CLIMAX
7. Resulting in VALIDATION

It’s a simplified view. I think this one has a few holes in it. This seven point plan has been written in a variety of ways. Do not use this to plan/plot your novel. It’s more of a hidden map. Be aware of the structure underneath.

The thing that I like about this plot structure is the PROBLEM/ ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE and SUCCEEDS OR FAILS. The thing that I left out is, paprika, no. Something else. Oh yeah. THINGS GET WORSE. And that is the repetitive cycle of the story. There must always be a problem. The character must always attempt to solve it. The CLIMAX is the problem the character could not solve if they did not change.

A common failure in plotting is this very cycle. Often seen is the character walks in and bad things happen. Then they drive to the next place and bad things happen. Suddenly, they are on a plane and wild bunnies are licking their faces.

See, the character is not engaged, but the bunnies are cute. Ok, that’s a bad example. I love cute bunny stories.

Ok, it’s sort of like this.

Jane is awake. She needs her coffee. She goes to the kitchen and brews a pot. When it finishes, she discovers she’s out of milk! Duh duh daaaaaa! Oh NO! She runs to her car and discovers she’s low on gas! Oh NO! She will have to stop at the gas station and Starbucks on the way to work!

Now you see the other side of the problem.


Scope is the impact/size of the problem. How big are the problems? How big are the consequences when the character succeeds or fails?

Jane walks across the kitchen with her coffee headed to the fridge for milk. Meow, yells the cat. Startled, Jane throws her milkless coffee into the Wizard Circle she drew on the livingroom carpet and accidentally shouts “meeger mager miger”, which as you know, combined with coffee and a Wizard Circle summons a Furry Mocha Dragon of Doom.

Jane ducks left, then right, and dives out the back door where Garbo the Fuzzy Mocha Dragon can’t see her. Safe. Ding dong. Someone’s at the front door. It’s her neighbor, Bob. He’s holding a box full of cute little bunnies. Garbo sniffs at the air. Garbo loves crunchy bunnies.

The key thing is scope. What is at stake. Also, the things that happen must be directly related to the actions of the character. It may not even be an immediate reaction. It could be caused by a long forgotten action of the character. Part of the problem is figuring out why these things are happening, because all things happen for a reason.

It could even be a pre-emptive reaction. Garbo could have been sent by Evil Wizard Rodan the Evil Wizard, so evil and wizardly he’s named that way twice, because Jane is destined to defeat him and full contact checkers and rule Mars even though she really only wants coffee with milk. And four packets of Splenda. Is that too much to ask for in life?

In summary, don’t spill your coffee. Make sure you have milk. Dragons eat bunnies. The plot plan is not a map, more like guideposts. Make it bigger. Make sure there is a reason related to the character and the consequences are significant.

How do you take your coffee? Kristen will be making a Starbucks run and I want you to get your orders in now.

11 Responses to “Plotting and Scope”

  1. Sweet and creamy. And by that I mean, I like your blog with a little more Splenda and that fake vanilla stuff.

    I also like your seven tiered half a pyramid of plot. I really do. But, wouldn’t #7 be “resulting in CHANGE” instead of “VALIDATION” ??? I think there has to be change at the end of a character’s journey, or at least a good cup of coffee. xo

  2. Patrick says:

    Hey Rocki! thanks for stopping by.
    I like that better, “resulting in CHANGE”

    I picked this up from someone and mostly write it from memory. It’s the try/fail cycle that really speaks to me. I always forget the last two. My understanding is that it comes from Algis Budry’s writing book ‘Writing To The Point”.

    1. a character
    2. in a context
    3. has a problem
    4. s/he tries to solve the problem
    5. and fails β€” tries and fails twice more, stakes escalating
    6. victory or death
    7. validation (denouement)

    I’ve also heard it attributed to Scott Meredith, who may have been Algis’s agent.

    I probably should have googled this more before I posted. πŸ™‚ There are a couple of different versions of it out there. This one looks like it’s directly from the book. But I do like “resulting in CHANGE” better!


  3. I’m sure Kristen just also happens to be the name of some fabulous looking fembot preprogrammed to drive to Starbucks and order lattes, because if you think I’m leaving the house, you’re sadly mistaken. And by sadly mistaken, I mean utterly wrong.

  4. Jessie Mac says:

    Do those cute bunnies come with the coffee?

    I like the paprika, not with the coffee, but in the story. It gives it a bit of spice.

    Thanks for the post, Patrick.

  5. Elen Grey says:

    I want whatever caffeine you’re drinking.

  6. Patrick says:

    Kristen – Are you getting me a coffee getting fembot for my birthday? I like that!

    Jessie – I think we have to wait for the fembot. Thanks for stopping by!

    Elen – the caffeine never made it. Did you want to swing by Starbucks for everyone until my new fembot arrives?

  7. Becca Lynn says:

    I’ve noticed that the last few times I’ve logged on to this site, the Anti-Spam word is always the same. Do you do that on purpose?

    And by that I mean, are you stalking me?

    No, but really, I’m stalking you, aren’t I? I come to your blog all the time… enough to notice that the anti-spam word is the same, which means I comment often.

    Since I would call a Twitter stalker a Twalker, would I call a blog stalker a Blalker, or would I even call them anything since they would be beating me to death in my sleep with my own keyboard?

    That sentence ended up in a different place than it started.

    What was I saying? Why did I come here?

  8. Camryn Rhys says:

    10-Minute Abs is a great book on plotting? I think I’m reading the wrong books.

    Or doing the wrong workouts.

  9. Patrick says:

    Becca – I’m afraid to turn around. I don’t want you to poke yourself in your eye when I see you.

    Camryn – It isn’t? I’ll have to watch it again.

  10. Steve says:

    How about throwing in the “standard” sub-plot of good versus evil…Jane’s car has no gas because an evil villain has drained the tank….(could it be a rogue Starbucks coffee employee trying to ramp up business at his store…?)

  11. Patrick says:

    Hey Steve, That’s sort of the point of Evil Wizard Rodan the Evil Wizard, so evil and wizardly he’s named that way twice, in the post.

    Not to question motive, but wouldn’t the Starbucks employee steal the milk, not the gas?