Introduction to Plot

Plot is the same for novels, memoirs, and screenplays. Simply put, plot is a series of scenes deliberately arranged by cause and effect to create Dramatic Action filled with conflict that furthers the Character Emotional Development toward transformation. When the dramatic actions changes the character at depth over time, the story means something or becomes Thematically Significant.

Think of these three as complementary forces in the universe: Character emotional development plot & dramatic action plot = the yin and yang of stories. The Thematic significance plot defines the circle that encompasses the other two plot lines.

For a brief overview of how these three interweaving plot lines work together in a story, Step 18 of the Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? may prove helpful to you.

Blockbuster Plots helps you break your project down into the three types of plot:

  • Character Emotional Development plot is the step-by-step transformation the character undergoes throughout a story. The Character-driven plot is often called a character arc. It is the inner journey the character takes in the story that leads to overcoming a personal flaw or negative character trait and rediscover knowledge or skills lost in the character's back-story (for more information about back-story, view Step 21 of the Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?). The character emotional plot line creates fascination and audience identification. To care about what happens in a story, the audience must first care about the character.
  • Dramatic Action plot is what makes readers turn the pages more quickly and forces movie-goers to the edge of their seats. Dramatic action is filled with conflict, tension, suspense and / or curiosity (for tips on how to create conflict, view Step 19 of the Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?). Dramatic action is the outer journey the character takes that forces the character's inner transformation. Dramatic action provides the excitement on the page. The Dramatic Action gives the character something to be emotionally affected by and/or to emotionally affect.
  • Thematic Significance plot is the point-by-point development in the overall meaning of the story. Thematic significance is generally conveyed through authentic sensory details, metaphor, simile, and mood. Thematic significance portrays the overall story meaning.

Many writers develop one plotline at a time and they tend to begin with the Character Emotional Development line or the Dramatic Action line, while putting off the Thematic Significance line to the end. The plot line you first choose to carry through the entire first draft is most often directly tied to your strength; strength deteremines preference.

Most writers have a preference for one style over the other. Some are adept at developing complex, interesting, and quirky characters while others excel at page-turning action. The lucky ones are writers who are good at creating both the Character Emotional Development plotline and the Dramatic Action plotline simultaneously. As you become aware of your strength and learn to address your weakness, you too, can become one of the lucky ones.

Broadly speaking, writers who prefer writing action-driven stories focus on logical thinking, rational analysis and accuracy. Action-driven writers tend to rely more on the left side of their brain. These writers approach writing as a linear function and see the story in its parts. Action-driven writers like structure and usually pre-plot or create an outline before writing. They also have little trouble expressing themselves in words.

On the other hand, writers who write character-driven stories tend to focus on aesthetics and feelings, creativity and imagination. These writers access the right side of their brains and enjoy playing with the beauty of language. They are more intuitive, and like to work things out on the page. Character-driven writers are holistic and subjective. They can synthesize new information, but are somewhat (or more) disorganized and random. In their eyes, the story is seen as the whole. Right brain writers may know what they mean but often have trouble finding the right words.

By your final draft, you have at least a vague idea of the deeper meaning of your story, what you are trying to say and the ways you have attempted to communicate that meaning through your story to your audience becomes the Thematic Significance plotline. When you crystallize the meaning you are attempting to convey into two specific universal themes, you improve your chances of creating a classic blockbuster project.

Take the Test to find out if your strength is as Character Emotional Development or Dramatic Action writer.

Use the links to the left to learn more about each type of plot.

Visit the Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? for steps guiding you toward the creation of a plot for your story.

Need More?

  • Check out the Plot Books section for more resources
  • Sign up for a Consultation for one-on-one help with your story
  • Plot from Beginning to End Workshops and Plot Workshops to develop your Concept, Logline & Pitch as well as revision workshops and more offered by Literary Agent Jill Corcoran and Martha Alderson the Plot Whisperer at A Path to Publishing.
  • Deepen your plot and rejuvinate your writer's spirit, join Jordan Rosenfeld, author of Make a Scene, and Martha Alderson the Plot Whisperer at an upcoming Writer Path Writing Retreat. Be the first to apply NEW material from their forthcoming book from Writer's Digest, Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story, Scene-by-Scene Through Action, Emotion & Theme.