Creating a Plot Graph for Your Novel

Every plot line in a novel has five major points:

  1. beginning (aka inciting incident)
  2. first plot point (1st turn)
  3. mid-point (2nd turn)
  4. climax (everything goes to Hell)
  5. resolution (big sigh)

So if you have 5 major plot lines, that would mean you have 25 plot points in your novel. Note that I’ve picked 5 just because it’s a pretty number. I usually have more like 10. But then, I also usually have cheese for dinner.

If you were to write each of these 25 points on pieces of paper and then plot them on the three-act structure, placing them in the order in which they appear, you’d come up with something like this (note that I’ve used different colors to identify different plot lines):

Plot graph of five plot lines

Still with me? Good. I would HIGHLY recommend you create one of these for your novel. Why? Because if you do, you will discover the following:

1) If you’ve included all of your plot lines on your graph, every scene in your novel will correspond to one of these boxes. Why does this matter? Because, if you can find a scene that does not correspond to one of the boxes, or connect two of the boxes, you should delete it. It’s not moving the plot forward which means it’s useless. Sorry. I know that hurt. If you think I’m wrong, then maybe you need to re-think whether or not you’ve forgotten a plot line or layer. But if the point of your scene is just to provide elevator music between plot point 2 and 3, you need to kill it.

2) There are times when one scene can be used to move multiple plots forward at once (in the graph above, these are the ones that have the same numbers such as 13 and 15). These are referred to as “big” scenes. At the beginning of your novel, you don’t want too many scenes like this, but as the novel moves forward, you want more of them. When you reach the climax, there is nothing better than if you can get as many plots to intersect as possible. This creates what Blake Snyder calls the “All Is Lost” feeling. If you’ve drawn your graph and can’t find any overlapping numbers, try to see if you can combine two by making two things happen at once (or by making one thing create two outcomes). This will tighten your plot.

3) Plots generally need to open and close in a nested fashion. You will notice above the the B plot (in black) opens later in the novel and closes earlier. Conversely, the BIG plot (green) opens at the very beginning and closes at the very end.

4) There is nothing more confusing to a reader than a book that constantly hops between different plot lines. This is why you want to see “chunks”. For example, in the graph above, you will see that 7-10 and 13-16 relate to only two plot lines.

If you haven’t done this before, I would HIGHLY recommend you try it. I would also HIGHLY recommend you try gorgonzola. To die for. Seriously.

Category: On Writing