Tag Archives: climax

That Freaking Mountain: Plot Structure

In it’s most basic terms plot is what describes the structure of a story. It’s the arrangement of events within a novel.

Why’s plot so important? Well, without it, there’d be no story.

How about plot structure? If the plot isn’t structured correctly, then the story falls flat.

Many people describe plot structure as a mountain. That’s the best way to describe it. If you look at Freytag’s Pyramid, you’ll see his multi-point system. (I bet it’ll look familiar.)

*Gustav Freytag was a German novelist. He saw similarities in successful stories and diagrammed a story’s plot to reflect those similarities.

Here’s his pyramid:

freytag_pyramid

 

Below I’ve expanded on the points included on the pyramid:

  1. Exposition: Setting the scene. This is the start of the story, where the main characters and setting are introduced. Description and background are also provided. The exposition shows how things are before the action begins.
  2. Inciting Incident: Something happens to start the action. The inciting incident occurs between the exposition and the rising action. It’s a single event that starts the ball rolling. Without it, the characters would continue along in the exposition part of the story. Sometimes the inciting incident is called ‘the complication.’
  3. Rising Action: Where the tension increases. This is the series of conflicts leading to the climax, where the story gets more exciting and where the stakes keeping getting raised.
  4. Climax: Moment of greatest tension within the story. The climax is the turning point, the most intense moment of a novel. This is what the rising action was leading to.
  5. Falling Action: Decreasing tension. The falling action includes the events following the climax. Everything that happens in the falling action section is a result of the climax and readers know that the story will soon reach its conclusion.
  6. Resolution: The main problem is solved. The resolution is between the falling action and the denouement.
  7. Denouement: The end. This is the section of a novel where any lingering questions, secrets, etc. are answered. The denouement is often tied up with the resolution, but this concluding section is the final explanation of what happened. It’s the moment where the characters express their emotions about what happened, including events during the resolution, and their reaction(s) to how they’ve changed during the course of the novel.

There’s another version of Freytag’s Pyramid. This one is more commonly used today because it’s more effective. All the parts are still the same, however what’s changed is the length of those parts.

A modified version of Freytag’s Pyramid:

Fig._12

 

In this version of Freytag’s Pyramid, the rising action has increased, while the falling action has decreased. This difference is important because tension keeps readers interested. The more rising action you have, the better. You want the decreasing tension (falling action) to be less than the increasing tension (rising action). Once the climax occurs, nothing else can surpass it.

You can have false climaxes, where the characters are led to believe everything is over and has worked out in some way or another, but you want your true climax to be much closer to the end of the novel than the beginning.

Think of it this way, if you have a 50,000 word book, you want 40-45,000 of those words to come before the climax. Then, the climax itself should last for at least a chapter (depending on how long your chapters are). The remaining word count is left for the falling action, resolution, and denouement.

If this seems like a lot, don’t worry. Manuscripts are never perfect the first time through. Most aren’t ready by the fifth time through either. Get everything written down. Get your story onto paper. Let your madman (inner creative child) go wild. The judge (your inner critic) can come out later.

How much do you take plot structure into account when you write?

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Writing An Ending for Your Novel

Novels take readers on an adventure. They give them a world to escape to, characters they can believe are real, and thrills they can’t experience at home. But, no matter where novels take readers, the audience must be satisfied at the end.

This doesn’t mean everything has to work out perfectly. A few days ago, I finished a novel where the ending felt like a huge copout. I was so disappointed because everyone who died ended up coming back and everything ended up being happy and perfect. There was too much sunshine and too many butterflies. It felt lazy, and I was far from fooled. The ending didn’t make sense and everything that happened over the course of the novel didn’t matter anymore.

Sometimes it’s not quite how your novel ends, but where it ends. If you novel is a stand alone, tie up all the loose ends, including the subplots. If it’s a trilogy, make sure that’s clear. In THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins did a wonderful job of ending the novel, while still leading into the next book.

Emotionally move the reader. People don’t like to feel they’ve wasted money, and if your novel’s conclusion doesn’t have a natural feel to it, people aren’t likely to read your next book. You want readers to experience the same emotions as your protagonist. You want them to believe that the ending was possible. In another novel I recently finished, I didn’t believe the romance at all between the two main characters. It felt forced and very awkward, as if, since the novel was young adult, there had to be a romance. It cheapened the entire experience, and made me scoff at the ending. I’m not reading the rest of that trilogy.

In terms of things NOT to do…

  1. Don’t have an unknown character randomly show up to save everyone.
  2. Don’t ignore an ending that’s been implied at through the entire novel.
  3. Don’t introduce a conflict at the very end just to up the stakes.
  4. If you end with a cliffhanger, have a sequel or the next book in the series ready. It doesn’t have to be completely written, but you should at least have a short synopsis.

A quick checklist on how to write a novel ending:

  1. The ending satisfies the reader.
  2. All major and minor plots are resolved.
  3. The ending is logical and there was a natural progression leading up to the climax and resolution.
  4. There’s a believable emotional impact. The ending should deliver the same level of emotions as the beginning and middle of your novel.
  5. Your protagonist solves her own problems.
  6. If your novel is the first book in a series, tie up some ends and make sure readers know that another book is on the way.
  7. The ending is long and complex enough for the length of the novel. If you’ve got an 80,000 word book, your ending shouldn’t only consist of the last few paragraphs.

What ideas do you have on how to write the ending of a novel?