Q: Questions And Answers (plot and character)

recently our good friend and even gooder writer (author of the fiction novel entitled how to write a book you should never query) received these questions in her email inbox.  since she is incredibly busy writing book number 2 (how to find the addresses and favorite foods of literary agents) she forwarded these questions onto us. 

 and folks, we think we may do a better job of answering them for you.  *crosses fingers and toes*
(remember, we did just go to a writing conference, so we've got some goodies up our sleeves and pant legs.)

i mean, look at how well-written that first paragraph is.  we knows what we're talking about.


 Dear Pari Fait Plotter,

Can you tell me the absolute BEST way to go about organizing the plot of my novel, or if my plot is already completed, how to BEST double check that all the necessary parts are included?

Missy D Actdeux

Dear Missy,

First, what you need is a basic plot idea.  You'll be able to do it.  I've used the same thing with my second graders. 
  • Protagonist (Who)
  • Goal (Wants)
  •  Motivation (Why)
  • Conflict (But)
  • Plan (So)
  • Resolution (Then)
In short, what does your protagonist want and why?  What happens to keep them from getting it?  So...what will they do about it?  How will they try to get it anyways?

Of course, it can (and should?) get a whole lot more complicated than that.  You know, since it needs to be spread out over a couple of hundred pages.  Here's how:

(novels with romance include the lighter purple plot points)

1.  Introduce protagonist, his/her world, (meets love interest), his/her problem (Some, seriously only the absolute necesseties, backstory to create an understanding and sympathy/empathy for your protagonist), and the inciting incident-the scene that changes your characters ordinary world and sets the plot a-moving.  The protagonist may deny that he/she has to do something in order to solve the dilemma you introduced.  (At this point the problem may be one for society, one your protagonist can ignore.  External conflict.) 

2.  Give your protagonist some motivation(first kiss) Make their problem matter more now.  Maybe your antagonist has made it worse.  Increase the external conflict.  Add internal conflict.  Now your protagonist is going to become actively involved.  Only, don't make it too easy for him/her to solve the problem.  After his/her first try, make the antagonist strike back!

3.  Up the ante again.  Add another layer to the plot.  (the protag realizes love for romantic interest)Really make life difficult for your protagonist.  Now is the time for them to do something so there's no turning back.  His/her life will never be the same.  Remember that backstory and that world you briefly introduced in the first few pages?  Yeah, that's gone now.  Sorry, Protag.  Kiss it all buh-bye.  In order to salvage the rest of his/her life, though, he/she'd better keep trying to move forward and solve the problem/defeat the antagonist!

4.  No matter how hard he/she fought, this is the point when all appears to be lost.  The external conflict is winning.  Your protagonist is weak, hopeless, and fears he/she will never meet his/her external/internal goal.  What else can your protagonist do/sacrifice to get out of the horrid mess you put them in?  What choice will he/she make?  How will he/she grow as a character?

5.  She/he figures it out (creates a noble plan), faces the antagonist in one, final climatic scene...and wins!  (protag and love interest come together) How can you bring this accomplishment, this new world, back around to meet with the opening scene?  How did your opening scene mirror this finale?  How did your character change from how they handled the inciting incident to how they overcame the final dilemma?


with the help of presenters: http://www.loridevoti.com/, Josie Brown and Christopher Mohar and my writing notes from the Writer's Institute


Dear Chari C. Tar,

My characters either lay a little flat or else jump all over the radar on the personality scale.  How can I make sure I'm being true to their true emotions and write them to act appropriately to each situation without making my readers feel like they have multiple personality disorders or have been run over by a steam roller five too many times?

Ira N. Ator

Dear Ira,

There are many different ways writers develop their characters. 

One way is to use an enneagram.  To learn more about the nine personality types go here.  This is to ensure you know your character's main personality and therefore can better understand his/her wants/needs/fears.  Of course, once you choose/recognize which type your character is, you may "borrow" from the neighboring types on the enneagram.  The way I find this most helpful is it may help you to understand how your character may react to a situation/person when under stress (the opposite type on the enneagram).  The key to writing your character is to be consistent with his/her voice and reactions. 

A few basic ideas you should have in mind when creating your characters (and making them believable to your readers) are: 
  • What are they afraid of? 
  • What is their internal need/goal--the one they may not even realize they need to be happy? 
  • What is their internal goal (the one they are aware of)? 
  • What is their external goal-the one they may learn they don't really need to meet the others?) 
  • Also, know what they love deeply and what haunts them. 
  • Know what they think they can't do/ most don't want to do...and then make them do it!  (oops, that's bringing us back to plot, isn't it?)

(with the help of http://www.loridevoti.com/ and my notes during her presentation at the Writer's Institute)


  1. Wow, you guys! This might be the single best post on figuring out how to write a novel I've ever read! It makes so much sense when you explain it like this. Right at this moment, I feel that I could actually do it! Of course, when I face my ms, I will probably be once again assailed by doubt, but surely I will be better prepared to sally forth armed with your helpful post. Thanks!

  2. Lots of information. I'll be checking out that enneagram site for sure

  3. I always use the enneagram when I write, just as a starting point to help me develop distinct personalities for my characters in my head. Think it's a great tool.

  4. You should make this a regular column. Awesome advice. :D

  5. LOL! Personality disorders. These are great tips, and that first method is the one I use most often... Thanks, christy~ :o) <3

  6. I'm so impressed Christy.... This is awesome advice. Thanks!

    Hey, I miss you.... It's been ages.

  7. You done good learning 'bout all this writin' stuff.

    Seriously, well-done! I had no idea about these rules for (cough) manuscripts.

  8. i'm so glad you liked the post! it would be fun to have a weekly column here @erica and christy. we'll have to see if our fiction novelist friend would be up for it! (LOL) i hope you all know im kidding. everyone knows novels are non-fiction only. christy


  9. I'm so glad I found your blog! I'm stopping by from the A to Z challenge and I look forward to reading more from you.

  10. love this post. LOVE your blog. Love even the font. #mustpullselffromE&C'sblog. >:(

  11. Excellent tips love them all :O)

  12. I think that first paragraph was a brilliant piece of literature! ;)

  13. What if my personal multiple personalities won't shut up long enough for me to write? Then what?

  14. no, no, no...i LOVE you all! you've made my day! su...um, i kinda meant your characters multiple personalities, not your own. those you'll just have to learn to deal with!

  15. See, Christy, I told you this one was great!! And thanks for adding in the purple so I can feel like my YA romance actually has a plot. :)

  16. you did. you did. :0) i did that just for you!!!! BECAUSE IT DOES!!! grrrrr, christy

  17. Great post, guys! I loved both questions and answers!

  18. First, where the devil is the Q book??? Surely there is some YA book out there starting with the word Quest that you ladies have gotten your hands on.
    Second, Ira, the Awesome sauce would be a character who has been run over by a steam roller 5 too many times. I'd like to see that action.

  19. This was fantastic! I agree ~ you should make this a regular feature!

  20. *GASP* i totally can't believe i forgot a Q book!!!!! way to drop the challenge ball, christy. erica!!! why didn't you remind me! (see? one of the great things about sharing a blog is you can always blame the other person!)
    whoops. my bad everyone! i'll add a Q book to friday's post!

  21. Thanks for the plotting and character info! I didn't know about that enneagram website - very cool. I will definitely try using that.


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