One of the most frequent questions I get is “How do I plot a book?” The answer, honestly, is that there are tons of different ways successful writers plot (or don’t plot) books. Personally, I am a strong believer in having some kind of a plot to guide you before you start writing. I even work with small presses and individual writers, reviewing plots they have developed and telling them what I think is missing or will cause them problems as they start to write. (I poke holes in their plot, and yes, it’s fun… evil laugh) But I know all writers are different and I am also a strong believer in each writer finding what works for them. With that in mind, I thought I’d go over a method a number of writers love and swear by. The W Plot.
A few facts about The W Plot
- The W Plot is an extension of storyboarding.
(But you wouldn’t have to use it with a storyboard if you didn’t want to.) In fiction writing, storyboarding is when a writer creates a visual of their story. Usually, this is using something like Post-it Notes that you stick on a whiteboard (or something similar) and then move the Post-its around as you visualize and tweak the story to follow a desirable arc.
- The W Plot also has some similarities to the Clothesline Plot.
On the image in this article, I listed the Clothesline equivalent for the W points. (Although the Clothesline doesn’t include the Denouement.)
- The W Plot is based on a 4 Act Structure.
You have probably heard of the 3 Act Structure which dates back to Aristotle and is extremely popular, especially with screenwriters.
With the 3 Act Structure, the acts are not the same length. Th first and third acts are shorter than the 2nd where the meat of the story occurs.
The W Plot (4 Act Structure) cuts that 2nd act in two which forces the writer to focus on rising and falling action more. (As you can probably tell, I like this way of looking at story better.)
- The W Plot, like most plotting methods, is a combination of other ideas, not something unique to itself.
I mention this, not to slam The W Plot method, I think it is a great method. But to assure you that if have never heard of it before, you weren’t walking around with a gaping hole in your writing education. 🙂
How to use The W Plot
First, let’s review the Five Points on The W Plot
- Trigger Event – (same as the Inciting Incident in a number of other plotting methods. It’s when something happens that puts the protagonist on the main journey of the book/story. (Check the article linked to in this item for more detail.) In The W Plot this is followed by Setting up the Problem that the protagonist will need to solve.
- 1st Turning Point – A turning point, in general, is an event (scene) that changes the protagonist’s (or story’s) direction. In The W Plot, this occurs at the end of a period of falling action. The protagonist starts out all fired up, discovering new things about the problem, learning what the problem is. She thinks she has a direction to go and then…. wait… something happens that changes where she thought she was going or how she thought she was going to get there. With a revised plan in hand, she goes back to the path and another period of rising action called Recovering from the Problem. (I’m not a huge fan of this term because I find it confusing as to what problem it means. The big overall problem cannot have been solved at this point, or it wasn’t the big overall problem. I might call it renewing the fight or something to that effect.)
- 2nd Triggering Event – (Midpoint in a number of other plotting methods) At this point some new question is raised or some new event happens that sends the protagonist in a completely new direction. This event is big. The protagonist may even discover a new goal here. (In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy reaches the Emerald City and learns she has to kill the witch. Her overall goal remains the same, to get home, but her mini goal switches.) This is followed by a deepening of the problem. She has this new goal or new way she has to use to hit the original goal… things get rough.
- 2nd Turning Point – (Dark Moment in other plotting methods) This is the emotional low of the story. All is lost. There is no way that your character (or hopefully the reader) can see for her to reach her goal. But she must… or at least try to. This is followed by the Resolving of the Problem where she rises up to fight and faces down the antagonist.
- Resolution – (or Denoument) All is well, or not. The battle is over and your protagonist has either won the fight or lost. We see the world as it is now/after the journey.
For the Non-Plotters/Pantsers
As I said above, The W Plot is really meant for storyboarding. It’s meant as a method for those of you who think of scenes or ideas without knowing how they will all fit together. If this is how you write, here is how to use The W Plot to organize those ideas and scenes into an actual story.
- Write a short description of the scene or idea on a Post-it Note. “Hero falls in well.” “Heroine’s dog finds hero in well.”
- Do this for all of your ideas and scenes.
- Draw a W on a whiteboard or posterboard or paint it on your wall!
- Mark the points listed in the image on the W or just have this out for reference.
- Divide your Post-its into either rising (things are going good ) or falling (things are going downhill) actions. You will also want to have an idea of where in the story you want these events to happen.
- Stick them on along the W legs as looks good to you.
- Step back. What are the BIG moments you have? Do you have five to fit the plot points? If not, come up with some.
- Move things around. Look for gaps.
- Come up with new ideas. Discard some ideas.
That’s it. You’ve plotted your book with The W plot.
For the Plotter
The plotter may not need the storyboard aspect of this. For you, concentrate on coming up with the plot points and some scenes that fit on the legs.
Have you tried The W Plot? What about it works for you? What doesn’t work for you?
Resources from other sites:
The Four Act Structure (There is one error in this article that is fairly important. She says, “the third act is as long as the first and third acts combined.” I believe she meant the “second act is as long as..”)
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.