My gust blogger today is Winnie Griggs, author of historical romacnes and an occasional contemprorary, but after the publicastion of thirteen novels, she is a good one to share her expertise in plotting.
I hope you enjoy and learn some new ideas from Winnie’s The 7C’s Method Of Plotting
When it comes to plotting, writers fall somewhere on a continuum from the uber-planner who plots everything down to the nth degree, to the writer who takes a hint of an idea and dives right in, trusting that the plot will come to her as she goes along.
I personally fall somewhere in the middle. I usually know who my characters are and what drives them. I also know how they’ll change by the end of the story, and I also know some of the bigger turning points that happen along the way. The rest of it I figure out as I go along.
Over time, I’ve come up with a plotting process that works for me and today I’ll share that with you. But first, let’s discuss what a plot is and isn’t. Plot is not story. Story is the end product, the combination of theme, premise, character, action and emotion, presented in an engaging manner to produce a cohesive whole.
Plot is one part of what goes into crafting a story. It’s the ‘what happens’, the sequence of events that occur as the characters attempt to achieve their goals and solve problems. And to be effective, this sequence of events must be structured such that, no matter how the situation or characters change by the end, the plot has led us there in a smooth and inevitable manner. Unlike real life where things happen randomly or with little impact on everyday life, in fiction, each event must have consequences that impact what happens next and lead inexorably to the story’s conclusion.
To illustrate this difference between plot and story, I’ll use a simple example – Cinderella. At a high level we have these events:
- A quick glimpse of Cinderella in her dreary everyday world
- A ball is announced and Cinderella decides that she wants to go
- Her stepmother and step-sisters conspire to keep her from attending
- Aided by her fairy godmother, Cinderella goes to the ball anyway, but is warned she must leave by midnight
- Cinderella meets Prince Charming and the two fall in love
- Cinderella almost overshoots her deadline and flees, losing her shoe in the process
- Prince Charming finds the shoe and uses it to search for Cinderella
- The stepmother locks Cinderella away
- Cinderella escapes and she and Prince Charming achieve their happily ever after
As I said, high level, but these are the story events – the plot points if you will. As you can see, it’s not the story. It’s much too dry and lackluster to engage readers in any meaningful way. The story itself is much richer and more lyrical, with layers and emotion that are missing here.
So, since plot is the ‘what happens’ in your story, it stands to reason that, to plot, one merely need come up with a list of events that lead us from the opening of our story to the conclusion. Sounds easy, but I think you’ll agree that the tricky part comes in figuring out which particular chain of events are needed to make your story the page turner you want it to be.
After analyzing my own process (always a scary proposition!) I came up with what I call the 7Cs method. These stand for:
- Change & Coherence
You can attack these in whatever order you like, but I usually start with Character and Circumstances.
I explore my characters – their goals, values and especially their backstory – before I begin writing my story. While character does not overtly play into your plot points, it does inform them. Going back to Cinderella, our plot points don’t state what kind of history Cinderella has with her stepmother and stepsisters, or that she lost her father at a young age, or that she’s a dreamer. But because I know this, I know what actions she is likely to take under specific circumstances.
At this time, I also think about what my characters initial circumstances are. Once I really understand my character and their initial circumstances, the next ‘C’ I work on is the Conclusion. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I need to know where I want my character to end up before I start planning how to get them there. In the case of Cinderella, I want Cinderella to go from being unloved to finding true love.
Once I have these three pieces – character, current circumstances and conclusion, I start trying to figure out the events that will get me there.
To do this, I play ‘what if’, brainstorming events and outcomes, looking for the ones that best fit my story and characters, the ones that will provide story energy and keep readers turning pages. I build from the current circumstance, throw in Conflict, figure out the Consequences, then identify the new circumstance and so move forward, repeating the steps, taking the story as far as I can.
You can see this cause / effect chain in the Cinderella example:
Circumstance – Cinderella decides to go to the ball conflict – her relatives erect roadblocks consequence – she is temporarily stymied
New circumstance – Fairy Godmother appears, helps Cinderella go to the ball where she meets the prince Conflict – she must leave before midnight or her finery will disappear.
Consequence – she is nearly caught and must race away and so forth.
The fifth ‘C’, Crisis, is the major event that occurs in the closing act of your story which causes the reader to wonder how your hero will ever reach his reward. In our Cinderella example, it’s when Cinderella is locked away from the prince and it seems they are doomed to be separated forever.
The sixth “C”, Conclusion, I’ve already mentioned. It’s who I want my character to be when the story ends. If I’ve done my job properly, set up the proper chain of events, I will have believably demonstrated her growth and the sacrifice she endured to prove herself worthy of her reward.
The last ‘C’, Change and Coherence, are filters I use to keep me on track. I do this by asking the following questions:
- Did this particular plot point change the situation and/or characters? If it didn’t, then it doesn’t have a place in my story.
- Next, does it have coherence? Does this event flow logically from the prior one, while remaining true to my character, or did I throw it in because it sounded like a fun scene to write or because I wanted to force the story in a particular direction? Note, when I say flow logically, I don’t mean predictable. Surprises are good, so long as you motivate the action in a believable manner.
So there you have it, my 7Cs method of plotting. I hope you find it helpful.
More About Winnie:
Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
On a fun note – having been born on a Friday the 13th, Winnie has always considered 13 her lucky number. This belief was recently reinforced when her 13th book, Handpicked Husband, won a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award in – what else – 2013.
Winnie’s Latest Release:
Rescuer Turned Husband?
Plucky Ivy Feagan is headed to Turnabout, Texas, to claim an inheritance, not a widower’s heart. That all changes when strapping schoolteacher Mitch Parker rescues her in the wilderness. Straightlaced Mitch has never met a woman like Ivy—beautiful, adventurous and good-hearted—but he already lost love once and doesn’t dare try again.
When Turnabout’s gossips target Mitch and Ivy’s friendship, he proposes to save her reputation. But Ivy doesn’t want to marry for honor, and she doesn’t need to marry for money. Ivy will only agree to a proposal made for love’s sake—but will Mitch make his heart part of the marriage offer?
Texas Grooms: In search of their brides. . .
Lone Star Heiress is in stores now where books are sold and can be purchased online as a paperback or eBook at most popular online bookstores.
Thanks, Winnie, for sharing your wonderful 7 C’s of Plotting.