Plot. The heart of story. The lifeblood of any good book. Or movie. Plot is vitally important to the forward propulsion of the known universe. Without plot, the entire entertainment world would cease to exist. Books, movies, songs…
You get the point. Plot is important. Very important. But, what makes up plot?
I’m so glad you asked!
Plot can technically be broken down into 2 parts: Rising action and falling action. However, I never did like to fit into the cookie-cutter writing mold, so my favorite way to explain it contains several key points in the story. 5 to be exact.
Inciting incident. Turning Point. Point of no return. Crisis. Showdown. (Bonus 6th: Wrap-up.)
So, what I plan on doing today is to walk you through a successful plot piece by piece. Don’t worry, I’ll explain how each piece of the puzzle fits.
First, let me tell you what this literally means. Incite = to encourage or stir up. Incident = an event or occurrence.
So, the Inciting Incident is literally an event that stirs things up. It’s the part of the story (generally very, very close to the beginning) where everything is tipped off balance. It is what makes the character(s) have to go on that quest. The event that changes everything.
The inciting incident in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is introduced in the first pages. “My dear Mr. Bennett, have you heard the Netherfield Hall is let at last?” (It’s paragraph 3, people. That woman knew how to throw you in at the exact moment everything changes.)
This is most definitely the inciting incident because it is the moment we know something different happened in their life. Before this sentence, they were just minding their own business, going about their own life. After this sentence, Mrs. Bennett spends the entire book talking about Netherfield and Mr. Bingley. (Anyone who doesn’t know what happens at the end of this book is not a true book nerd.)
In the hilarious and widely popular movie The Princess Bride, the inciting incident is a little farther in, but not much. Did you guess it? Yep, the inciting incident is when Buttercup hears that Westley has been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. (Eek! Not the Dread Pirate Roberts! No, he can’t die! Is this a tragedy? But, I digress…)
This is usually my favorite part (I will say this a lot, don’t pay attention. My favorite part changes from hour to hour) of the story. This is when everything turns upside down. The unthinkable happens! Suddenly, there is no choice but to set out on the journey that will propel us to the end of the story. Something has to be done.
A good example of an epic turning point can be found in the movie National Treasure. The turning point comes the instant Ian declares he is going to “borrow” the Declaration of Independence and then proceeds to accidentally blow up the Charlotte.
Turning point? I think yes. That is the very moment that Ben Gates knows he has to do something. He can’t let Ian steal the Declaration! It propels him to begin his epic journey/continue his treasure hunt. It ups the stakes. That, my friends, is what a turning point does.
Point of No Return
Sounds pretty ominous, right? It is.
The Point of No Return comes usually about halfway through the story. This is literally what it says it is. A point where something happens that won’t allow the character to go back to where he/she was before. It makes them change and forces them to finish what they’ve started, even if they don’t want to. They no longer have a choice.
In my novel, Rose-Colored Glasses, the point of no return is when someone starts to meticulously target the main character (Rosie Callahan). The second main character/love interest knows that he can’t back out. He has to help her. He no longer has an option to leave or to let it go.
Same thing with one of my favorite movies, Next. The instant the government and the villains pull the love of his life into their twisted schemes is the instant that Cris Johnson decides he can’t NOT help the government. His point of no return is that he refuses to endanger the woman he loves.
Pretty self-explanatory. Crisis. A point when all is lost.
This is usually achieved when everything has gone wrong. The plan has backfired, the bad guys are hot on the main character’s trail, and the love interest usually hates him. The world seems upside down and you’re actually afraid this character might not come out of this.
Then, right as that first tear builds in your left eye, something else terrible happens. Something that you never expected. Yet another aspect of the story goes completely berserk! Someone dies, or is kidnapped. The main character has an emotional break. SOMETHING! And you just want to scream at the page. Or the screen.
This is a crisis.
Showdown is what people usually call a climax. The final battle.
This is when Thor faces Loki in Thor. It’s when Emma and Mr. Knightley finally communicate in Jane Austen’s Emma. Any time someone is finally getting somewhere, through words or fisticuffs, and it’s the most intense part of the book or movie, it is definitely the showdown. This is where everything will be resolved. Where someone determines whether this story is a tragedy, or if it has a happy ending.
Showdown demands an element of suspense. It demands intensity. And it should always be rewarding to your readers/watchers.
Bonus 6th: Wrap-up
Where we resolve all our storylines and write “they lived happily ever after”. The wrap-up is essential for a good read. If you don’t wrap it up, people will feel like you ripped them off. Let them know what happens, and they’ll thank you.
The only exception to the rule? When you’re writing a series or sequel, it’s okay to let a few storylines hang open, so that you can use them later on. Still, wrap up as much as you can and your fans will thank you later.
And this is PLOT.
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