Monday, May 11, 2015

Tanya Stowe: Plotting, Plain and Simple

Talking about plotting seems to cause a great deal of confusion. In my case, it created absolute panic. So I resolved to learn as much as I could about it and created a class I called Story Cake. My goal was to make plotting concepts as plain and simple as possible.

In my view, story is what happens in a book. Telling people about a book, the characters, who they are and what happens to them, is telling them the story. Plotting is how the story is put together—the recipe used to make a story cake. Everyone has the same basic ingredients to bake a cake. What they choose to use and how much they put in is what makes the story cake different and unique.

Good plotting structure is the essential building block of plotting. There are probably as many ways to structure a story as there are writers. There are no right or wrong ways. What’s important to remember is that certain structures create certain reactions. A spy novel might require short chapters but those super short action scenes might not work for a love story where developing the relationship is essential. Short or long scenes, story arcs, turning points, beginning and ending hooks are all effective plotting tools that help paint a word picture for the reader by using shapes on the page.

Another crucial plotting tool is the concept of scene and sequel. For every emotion or action scene, there must be a reaction…the sequel. Scene and sequel. Action and reaction. They go hand in hand. One of the biggest plotting structure mistakes I see happens when a writer creates an eventful scene but fails to follow it up with a reactive sequel. Or the opposite. A sequel is created with no originating scene so the character’s actions seems unmotivated and confusing.

Point of view sets the tone for the entire story. First person point of view gives the reader insight to the intimate thoughts of the protagonist. Deep point of view is told from third person but reveals the character’s thoughts through a stream of consciousness, creating tension and insights not usually available in straight third person point of view. Point of view is often overlooked but it’s a tool that can bring a story to a new and surprising level.

Characterization is the heart and soul of a story. I can’t say enough about characterization. If readers do not connect with a character, they’ll put the book down. Writers need to know their characters on a deep, intimate level. In my experience, when a writer hits a brick wall in their story it usually happens because the writer has pushed the character in the wrong direction. Using charts, interviews and writing detailed back stories—that never go into the book—are all useful tools to help a character get back on track.

One last, important point about characterization. If a protagonist and antagonist are set up properly, the internal conflict of the story will be born naturally from their opposing needs, motivation and actions. Natural conflict keeps a reader turning the pages all the way to the end.

Setting adds flavor to a story. It’s more than just a place where your story happens. It can become a character in the story. Setting can establish emotions, create atmosphere and conflict. Sights, sounds, smells all involve a reader in time and place and make a story felt. A story that is felt is memorable and tempts a reader to come back for more.

Pacing sounds like the simplest of the plotting points but opening up the pacing box reveals some magical tools. Foreshadowing is like whispering secrets in a reader’s ear. Subtlety and misdirection are especially helpful in mysteries. Pacing is the tool that helps writers discover those places where they’ve slipped into “telling not showing.” Slow pacing often indicates too much descriptive telling, especially in transitional scenes.

Voice is easy to identify but not describe. Voice is essentially the author’s style. It reflects their personality and their attitudes. It incorporates their use of words, sentence structure, and punctuation. Voice involves the character’s they create and the dialogue they give their characters. The best way to learn and develop a unique voice is to simply write…a lot.

Good plotting will make characters come alive, revealing their motivation by showing, not telling. It makes the conflict real. Good plotting can teach readers something new. Show them a world they’ve never seen. Give them a flavor of something exotic and potent. Plot points at the right times will compel readers to keep turning the pages just to see what happens next. Plotting can also give the readers a piece of the writer, a look at the world through someone else’s eyes, an opportunity to subtly share our humanity. Good plotting can be the recipe to a great Story Cake that makes a reader say, “More please!”

About Tanya Stowe:

Tanya Stowe is an author of Christian Fiction with an unexpected edge. She fills her stories with the unusual…gifts of the spirit and miracles, mysteries and exotic travel, even an angel or two. No matter where Tanya takes you…on a journey through time from the Old West to contemporary adventures in foreign lands…be prepared for the extraordinary.

Visit Tanya on her website or her Facebook Reader Page.

After an auto accident leaves her crippled and takes her mother’s life, Lara Fallon completes her mother’s dream of opening a school and offering scholarships to promising young artists. Although Lara is struggling with survivor’s guilt, she is thrilled to fulfill one more of her mother’s dreams when she hires Alexander Summers, world-renown Flamenco player and professor of art, to perform at the grand opening of The Fallon School of Art.

But Alex has a secret. He investigates art theft for UNESCO, and when pieces of Chaco pottery suddenly appear on the black market, Alex is certain The Fallon School of Art is a cover for this illegal operation. He’s determined to uncover the link...even if it means romantically pursuing the lovely Lara Fallon.

Alex’s investigation leads him on collision course with Lara’s inner struggle to cope with her mother’s death and her own wavering faith in God. Now, Lara’s school and her heart are in danger. But is her life as well?


  1. Welcome to Write Right, Tanya! Loved this sweet serving of wisdom! You're the best story plotter I know, and you've taught me so much. Thank you!

  2. You are more than welcome, Delia. I'm glad all my research helped someone else! Thanks for having me here on Write Right!

  3. I LOVE the visual of the plotting cake. Great concept, Tanya.

  4. Hi, LoRee! So glad you came by. Tanya's story cake is great, isn't it? :)