How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: plot development, beginning and ending

Welcome to Part Six of our popular fiction series. This week, Lucy looks at plot development – specifically the beginning and the ending. 

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 fuss

Over the last four weeks, you have written a plot overview, developed your characters, understood your setting and explored the theme of your work of fiction. The fundamental building blocks are in place – congratulations!

Over the next few weeks, we are going to expand your plot, taking the eight sections from the one-page breakdown, and turning each into a full chapter outline (which you may choose to break into more – or fewer – actual chapters when you start writing). Once you have this extended plot outline, the detailed skeleton of your work will have taken shape and the job of writing – adding flesh to those bones – will be so much less daunting.

Some writers claim to skip this stage, to write from instinct and let the plot and their characters develop freely without plans or preconceptions. My guess is that most successful authors who work like this have written many books (not necessarily all published), during which they have internalised the process that we are making explicit. If you are in the early stages of your fiction writing career, working rigorously through this development approach will stand you in good stead for now, and allow you to make shortcuts in the future.

To recap on the plot outline, we discussed two structural principles for story-telling: the Three Act form, breaking narrative into Beginning, Middle and End; and the Story Arc which draws the reader through the twists and turns of your plot. We created an eight-point plot overview, of which the first two sections were grouped as “Beginning”, and the last two, “End”.

You won’t be surprised to find that we are going to start by working on Section 1 of the Beginning, which was headed The Trigger, but you might not have guessed that, in parallel to this, we are going straight to the final Section 8, Resolution.

How to write fiction without the fussFirst, we are going to make use of the Zeigarnik Effect. In the 1920s, a Russian psychologist called Bluma Zeigarnik noticed, while sitting in a café, that once the waiters opened an order for a table they were able to keep all the details accurately in their minds, until the order was completed and paid for – at which point they lost almost all knowledge of it. Psychologists since have noted that this facility can be made use of in task completion: making a small gesture which corresponds to opening an order helps us to focus on, memorise complex elements of, and complete a task.

So, let’s ‘open an order’ for your entire plot. In your fiction ‘bible, open eight new pages. Head them: 1 Trigger, 2 Quest Begins, 3 Quest Continues, 4 Reversal 1, 5 Reversal 2, 6 Reversal 3, 7 Climax, and 8 Resolution. Remember, in the Story Arc, The Trigger is the inciting action or event which sets off the entire plot; and Resolution is where the last threads are untangled and loose ends tied up.

From your 1-page plot outline, take the notes you made on Sections 1 and 8 and transfer them to the first and last of your new pages. You are now going to expand these brief notes into two chapter breakdowns, each between one and two pages long. Create detailed notes about the scenes you will need to set, and complete; the main plot, and however many subplots you intend to have in your story. In Section 1, it is important to carefully frame the inciting event which will set your cast off on their quest; Section 8 should reflect the way this happens when it is resolved.

These two chapters should be mirror images of each other: one way of looking at the beginning and end of a story is to say the first poses a number of questions and the second provides the answers to them.

The characters’ opening positions should be replaced by more mature attitudes produced by the journey they have been on. The ‘old world’ which you will establish in the opening will be replaced by a ‘new world’ at the end.

The main plot, involving the main characters, should be started in Section 1 and resolved in Section 8, although it may be that one or more of your sub plots will not appear until later in the story and perhaps finish earlier. There might also be deaths, disappearances and replacements on the journey, so a presence in the Trigger section may be balanced by an absence in Resolution.

What you don’t need to know at this moment is what the journey between consists of – we will start on that next week – but if you don’t have a clear idea of the beginning and the ending (although either may be adjusted in the writing), you won’t be able to plot the path from one to the other.

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 take a look at Lucy’s novels here

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