by Nigel Watts
Plot and character are equally important and inextricably intertwined. The key to holding a reader’s attention is to pose interesting questions and then delay giving the answers. There are two types of question: suspense questions look forwards for the answers and mystery questions look backwards.
When you are working out your plot remember that it needs a beginning, middle and end, and that during the course of the story something must change. A plot also needs causality, which means that one event causes another event to happen.
You will need at least two characters, one of which should be the protagonist, and you should create conflict for your protagonist. Conflict can operate on three different levels – inner, interpersonal and against outside forces – and it should be resolved at the end of the story. Conventionally the protagonist resolves their own conflict in a final showdown with the antagonist.
The classic shape for a plot is an arc that has eight distinct phases – stasis, trigger, quest, unexpected events, critical choice, climax, reversal and resolution. Within the overall shape of the arc there is usually a series of small arcs, each with its own eight points. Save the biggest arc for the end otherwise there will be a sense of anti-climax.
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