When we are plotting our next best seller, we often think of the characters, the setting, the stuff that happens and how the book will end. Nothing is as crucial to your book’s success than the plot. We agonize over the details, fine tuning them into a cohesive story. I don’t know about you, but with all this daunting detail, I try to make my life as easy as possible. Before I begin wading in the trenches of my sorrow, I break my ideas down to the barest form and then, decide on the plot structure that I will use to best convey my story. There are four basic types.
To begin, we must first define, what the heck a plot actually is. Plot is a series of interconnected events in which every occurrence has a specific purpose. A plot is all about establishing connections, suggesting causes, and showing relationships. To demonstrate this point, I will use a very simple nursery rhyme.
Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well
This a super duper dumbed down plot of an entire story that someone could actually expand upon should they try. Here we can infer that Peter married a woman and either he couldn’t satisfy her or she was a harlot. She was unfaithful to her husband; he killed her and hid her body in a large pumpkin shell. I know right (you’re childhood will never be the same LOL).
The point is, it establishes the premises of their relationship and how each event influenced each other to lead to the climax of murder.
Now that we know what a plot is, let’s delve deeper into the types of plot.
FOUR PLOT TYPES
There are four basic plot structures, Dramatic, Episodic, Parallel, Flashback. Each has their merit and for the rebellious, multiple structures can be combined for a richly satisfying story.
A Dramatic has many incarnations but its also called, a Progressive Plot or a Linear Plot. All this simply means is, it is a chronological structure which first establishes the setting and conflict, then follows the rising action through to a climax (the peak of the action and turning point), and concludes with a denouement (a wrapping up of loose ends).
This by far is the most popular plot type we see in our books today. Dramatic plots are usually told in three acts, the beginning, middle and end.
An Episodic Plot: This is also a chronological structure, but it consists of a series of loosely related incidents, usually of chapter length, tied together by a common theme and/or characters. Episodic plots work best when the writer wishes to explore the personalities of the characters, the nature of their existence, and the flavor of an era.
We often see this in television shows as opposed to books but, one of the best examples of this is in my favorite books and television show, Game of Thrones. We are introduced to the characters and delve into each person’s psyche as well as the things that happen to them. By the time the story converges where all characters are present, it is hard to choose which character you want to survive and ultimately win because we get to know them personally.
This plot type is extremely beneficial when telling an epic like George R.R. Martin’s classic.
A Parallel Plot is when the writer weaves two or more dramatic plots that are usually linked by a common character and a similar theme.
The essential characteristic of a novel with parallel stories is that it is nonlinear. A linear plotline follows one or more protagonists from the introduction of a conflict to its solution in chronological order. A nonlinear plotline jumps around, skipping between timelines and protagonists.
Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare is a great classic example of this. Theseus and Hippolyta, about to marry, are figures from mythology. In the woods outside Theseus’s Athens, two young men and two young women sort themselves out into couples—but not before they form first one love triangle, and then another.
Also in the woods, the king and queen of fairyland, Oberon and Titania, battle over custody of an orphan boy; Oberon uses magic to make Titania fall in love with a weaver named Bottom, whose head is temporarily transformed into that of a donkey by a hobgoblin or “puck,” Robin Goodfellow. Finally, Bottom and his companions ineptly stage the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.
This structure conveys information about events that occurred earlier. It permits authors to begin the story in the midst of the action but later fill in the background for full understanding of the present events. Flashbacks can occur more than once and in different parts of a story.
I often equate flashback to parallel structure at times, but it is its own distinctive plot structure. While it can happen in just about any structure, what makes this unique is that a story can be paused in one time line and told in motion in the other. That means, its not truly parallel because the two timelines are not moving at the same time.
This type of plot structure works great if the entire story is a protagonist reminiscing on the past. Their current timeline does not move, but the scenes in the flashback do. This works well for memoirs etc.
Did I leave anything out? Any major plot structures that I missed? Feel free to drop me a line below. I hope to hear from you soon! Until next time G-Nation; Genesys Out!