How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: getting your plot and structure right

Welcome to the second part of our brand new series with Lucy McCarraher!

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fussIs 2013 the year when you will get your first, or next, piece of fiction written? After the process of immersing yourself internally in your characters, setting and story (sometimes evocatively referred to as ‘composting’) that I described last time, it’s time to take the first step in externalizing your work.

One barrier to getting started on a novel is fear of the blank page, the empty book stretching ahead… Another is the mistaken belief that creative writing should only be inspired and free-flowing. On the contrary, most successful writers plan, plot and structure first to create a flexible frame and gripping narrative for their characters and setting, and this first exercise helps overcome both these barriers.

Each writer develops their own preferred method and order of planning. Some of you may prefer to start with Characters or Setting – which will be coming up shortly – but we’re going jump in with the Plot. Some people differentiate story and plot on the basis that The Story is the events and actions in your novel – ‘and then… and then…’ – while The Plot is about cause and effect, why things happen and characters act as they do – ‘because… because…’.

I’m going to combine both, in this first exercise, under the term Plot.

Underlying most good fiction are two structural principles: the Three Act form, which breaks down the narrative into Beginning, Middle and End; and the Story Arc, a framework that can be simple or complex, but should successfully draw the reader through almost any kind of plot or genre.

How to write fiction without the fussThe Story Arc can be summarized as:

The Trigger, the inciting action or event which sets off…

The Quest (anything, from finding love, crossing a continent, to unmasking a murderer);

The Quest involves one to three Reversals, each progressively more detrimental to achieving the goal of The Quest;

…but which lead (often surprisingly) to The Climax – when understanding is achieved;

and finally Resolution, where the last threads are untangled and loose ends tied up.

With these in mind, we will use a simple tool to create the outline structure of your work of fiction – a One-page Overview.

Whether you’re a list-maker, a mind-mapper or box-filler, design on a single page, a numbered, eight-chapter structure. (You can later divide these into 12, 24 or any other number of chapters – or none at all.)

Group Chapters 1 and 2 under the heading Beginning, Chapters 3 to 6 Middle, and 7 and 8 End.

Head them as follows:


Chapter 1 Trigger

Chapter 2 Quest Begins


Chapter 3 Quest Continues

Chapter 4 Reversal 1

Chapter 5 Reversal 2

Chapter 6 Reversal 3


Chapter 7 Climax

Chapter 8 Resolution

Summarize under each chapter, in a few sentences, the elements of your plot that fit the headings. Try and ensure that events in the Beginning two chapters are setting up the main action; that the Middle four chapters contain a rise and fall of events that become increasingly tense; and that the two End chapters bring clarity and resolve (if not a happy ending). How long each element takes to unfold will depend on how you write it at a later date, but this overview will provide you with an initial view of your novel structure and offer the chance to check whether the flow of events fits with a classic tried and tested fiction format. This exercise may sound simple, but to get the balance of your plot right may take a little more work that you expected.

Next time, before we develop and extend your plot structure, we will be working on your characters.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.

Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published

…plus Lucy’s novels here

photo credit: Mike Licht, via photopin cc




  1. What a good reminder about structuring the story, although it reminds me of a 5 year old boy I once taught as a supply teacher. The task was set by the class teacher and the children had to re-tell a fairy tale. They were supposed to divide a sheet of paper into boxes for the beginning, middle and end, where they could then draw a picture and write a sentence.
    This boy showed me his paper with 5 boxes, in 3 he draw/ wrote the beginning, middle and end of the story. I asked him what the other two boxes were for. His reply? “They are for the bit between the beginning and the middle and between the middle and end!” 😉


  1. […] the 3rd part of our series on how to write fiction without the fuss. (Click here to see Part 1, and click here to see part […]

  2. […] a tendency to write itself. However this can apply equally with fiction, too, as you can see from this article within Lucy McCarraher’s wonderful series of tutorials here on […]