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Understanding Plot Points

What are plot points?

Quite simply plot points are individual events that propel your story forward. Something that changes things, say like a first kiss. That one event now changes everything because now they must acknowledge their romantic attraction as it changes the course of their relationship.

Pretty much all romance novels will have the same basic plot points: introduction first acknowledgement of attraction, first love scene or first acknowledgement of the emotional commitment, a dark moment (conflict) and a resolution.

First, before we get into the bare bones of what a sub-plot is and its purpose, let’s visit each of the points I listed above.

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The Introduction: This is where the two suspecting or unsuspecting characters, usually the novels main characters, are introduced to each other or become reacquainted. It can be as simple as the two being introduced through mutual friends at a party. As an example, let’s say the books’ two main characters meet quite by accident. After the first encounter, they keep running into each other, either unintentionally or at functions given by mutual friends. This would be their introduction.

The first acknowledgement of attraction: This one can play out for a good long time, or the characters may acknowledge the fact straight up, first thing after they’ve met. I’ll use my novella, “Timeless Sojourn” as an example. While the  story is told in the first person, in Anne’s voice, you still get a sense of what Geoffrey is feeling for Anne just by his actions. He finds great pleasure in aggravating her one minute, while the next, he’s kind, serious and advising her. Anne, on the other hand, knows she is attracted to Geoffrey but is constantly battling her internal voice. She will admit to herself she is attracted to him one minute, while in the next she will blow him off as being arrogant, and acts as though a man is the last thing she needs in her life. Fortunately, Geoffrey takes the situation into his own hands, “shows” Anne what her decision needs to be, and gets no argument from her.

First love scene: This could be anything from a shared kiss all the way to a steamy bedroom scene. It sets the stage for the characters’ emotional commitment to each other. It could be as simple as one kiss, one like you might remember from high school, the one where, after an evening out, the boy leaves you at your parents’ front door but not before leaving you with a kiss…Or, the two had an enjoyable dinner together with conversation to match. The male lead character’s simple kiss seals their mutual interest and thus begins their emotional commitment to each other.

A dark moment or conflict: This could be between the two attracted characters or an outside source. It can also happen at any point in the novel; either before they have become a couple or while they are together. In either case, it still puts the two in constant contact. It is a situation that has more than one outcome (more on that in a moment). The conflict need not be aimed directly at them as a couple, it can take many forms. It could be as a way to professionally, financially or personally ruin the lead character for example.

A good conflict or dark moment has to show the strength and weaknesses of the hero and heroine. How are they going to respond? Is this going to be a trying moment for their fledgling relationship or are they stronger than the test they are being given? How is it going to take them into the next part?

The resolution: Ah yes, the resolution. I love writing resolutions because so much can be done! There are so many ways the conflict can be resolved.

The type of book you are writing plays a part in how the conflict is resolved. If the book is to be a stand-alone novel, the resolution should come by the end of the book. With a series of novellas or novels, the conflict is usually not finished by the end of the book, it may seem to the reader that it is not finished. That not all is known, which is part of the fun of writing a series…the writer can leave the conflict seemingly unresolved. Let the outcome or part of it spill over into the next book. It baits the reader and leaves them wanting to know more. Sort of like a television soap opera.

Sub-Plots: Now that I’ve shown you how those parts of a novel work, let’s get back to the sub-plots, what they are and how they work…

The sub-plot must, of course, support and advance the main storyline, or the romance between the main characters. The integration of sub-plots into the main plot should be seamless. What makes romance novels unique is the specific details to each plot point, and how each point fits into the main story.

So exactly what is a sub-plot? It is exactly the same thing as the novel’s central plot only much smaller. While the main plot should always begin and end the novel, any minor plots should happen within these.

Sub-plots are useful in turning what might otherwise have been a very slender novel into something more substantial. Short stories usually consist of one plot. Turn this one simple plot into a much lengthier one add one or more sub-plots and you will have something recognizable as a novel on your hands.

Most novels are a truly complex story with multiple strands running through, but beyond merely bumping up the word count and adding complexity to the story, there are even stronger advantages to adding sub-plots to a novel. They help with the characterization and can also help with the portrayal of the theme. Lastly, they add variety to the novel!

And how exactly do you handle sub-plots? The key when plotting a novel with several different plot lines is not becoming confused. Treat the main plot and all the lesser ones as entirely separate mini-novels. There will be a lot of switching and moving around and merging but you should end up with the main plot standing out, but still containing as man sub-plots as you have written. There will be a large amount of common ground between the plot and sub-plots but focusing on each as a separate story and ignoring the others, at least initially, will result in a much stronger novel.

Originally published November 2012 InD’Tale Magazine
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