Thou Shalt Not Ignore Plot Structure
The entire sequence of a story from start to finish is called a plot. But, there are moments within the plot where substantial change takes place and these are often called “plot points.” Of course, what we call them is not so important. What’s important is that bit about “substantial change.”
During most portions of a novel’s plot, the status of a story’s protagonist remains basically unchanged (no shocking news or evidence of a secret to be explored, no new threat or challenge, no change of plans or attitude, no sudden loss or win, etc…). And these portions of the story are quite useful for rounding out nuanced characters and building the complex fictional world in which they live.
Plot points, on the other hand, indicate the most important aspects of plot. These are points at which the main character(s) endures critical change, either through internal or external forces. And this change is critical precisely because it alters the storyline from any direction it would have otherwise taken.
Now, a new writer can consult with several how-to-write-better sources in order to study the names and different types of plot points, but the most important thing to ensure is that you have put the time and effort into settling on a structure that best conveys your story. Survey your plot for:
– how many plot points are there. Are there too many for the reader to perceive a clear character arc? Or not enough so as to render the story uneventful?
– how far they are apart from each other. Are they equally dispersed or clustered into bursts with long stretches between?
– how intense each of the plot points are. Do they rise and fall in intensity consistently as the story progresses? Or do they rise and fall in intensity like a roller coaster?… do some plot points sink so low in intensity that they don’t really convey substantial change?
– how pertinent to the main character’s story arc they are. Do some of them seem irrelevant to the actual changes that the character(s) is going through?
If an author can sort all that out, they are much better prepared to submit a manuscript for consideration. Think less about whether the story idea is any good, and a little more about whether the plot structure that has been chosen actually supports the story idea. The intended result is that the inspection of your story’s plot points will expose weaknesses in your storytelling structure, which will inspire you to strengthen those weaknesses before submitting for publication.
Bottom Line for FQP Submissions:
If you submit a manuscript that reveals a structure of plot points that does not support the story you are trying to tell, you basically have two options: Resubmit at a later date with the structure more aligned to the story or work with one of FQP’s developmental editors to resolve the structural issues (typically from $50 – $200.)