Monday, May 28, 2012

Story Element #3: Plot

I just finished submitting my application to East Carolina University. I hope to attend this August, all online of course. Should I get accepted (I'm crossing my fingers), I'll be taking the Graduate Certificate program for Website Development. It won't be long (okay, maybe a year or two) until I'm designing your website! Hee-hee...
So today's story element is PLOT, and from the last two Monday's we have learned that plot, character, and conflict all go hand in hand. Did you know that the basic plot structure can be mapped out as a graph? (You'll find several more below.) Picture books often follow the three-act structure of the big screen. (More on that in a few months.)

Definition: n. A secret scheme or plan, usually illegal. n. The story that is told in a novel, play, book, movie, etc. According to, plot is 
Plot concerns the organization of the main events of a work of fiction. Plot differs from story in that plot is concerned with how events are related, how they are structured, and how they [bring about] change in the major characters. Most plots will trace some process of change in which characters are caught up in a conflict that is eventually resolved.
Notice how "character" and "conflict" are both found in the definition of "plot". The plot is the action, the series of events in the story that help move the characters forward to resolve their conflict(s). When conflict enters a character's world, the plot is catapulted. 

One sub-element of plot is foreshadowing. I'll highlight that in later months down the road. If you feel you need help with plotting, check out The Plot Whisperer, an international plot consultant for writers. Awesome blog! 

Today's book example is:

Title: The Plot Chickens 
Author: Mary Jane Auch
Illustrator: Herm Auch
Publisher: Holiday House
Year: 2009
Word Count: 1027

Now comes the challenging part for me and the most helpful part for you. The opening page(s) create the EXPOSITION, or story set-up.
Henrietta loved to read. Soon she had read every book on the farm a dozen times, so she went to town to find more. When she spotted people carrying books out of the library, she went inside to wait in line.
So we have a character. We know what she likes and wants. Enter conflict:
"We have nothing for chickens here. Try the feed store."
As a teacher, there's this little trick we like to teach our students about stories called Somebody Wanted But So Then. It helps teach summarizing and comprehension skills. It's also great for analyzing and creating plot. Here's how it goes:

Somebody: x
Wanted: x
But: x
So: x
Then: x

Somebody: Henrietta
Wanted: to read books from the library
But: the librarian says there's nothing for chickens there
So: she "clucked at the top of her lungs"
Then: the librarian gave her some books to read

Somebody: Henrietta
Wanted: to try writing books
But: when she tried Rule #1 from the book the librarian gave her, the other hens fought over who the main character would be
So: Henrietta decided it would be Aunt Golda because she was the oldest
Then: Henrietta started typing her story on the typewriter (a "Hunt and Peck" model - what fun!)

Somebody: Henrietta
Wanted: to continue with her story
But: none of the other hens wanted to be the main character anymore because Rule #2 said that "you need to hatch a plot" which "starts with Rule Three: Give your main character a problem." And none of the hens wanted any problems
So: she made up a character and called her Maxine
Then: she developed her plot with Rule #4 by asking what-if questions.

You could also think of it like this: Somebody Wanted But So Then But So Then But So Then But So Then But So Then But So Then. The THEN kind of acts like the next WANTED. That's the rising action.

And now we have the climax. In Henrietta's story, she continues to write her story about Maxine and a big bad wolf. She goes through all eight rules trying to tell her story and the other hens keep trying to end it for her, but she says endings are the hardest part. She finishes her story, revises it, submits it to a publisher, gets a rejection letter, self publishes, and reads her book to the children of the library. Her book even goes on to be reviewed in The Corn Book Magazine. (Get it? Horn Book? Love it!)

Your Assignment:
Comb through one of your current mss and do a Somebody Wanted But So Then on it. See if the tension is mounting and make sure you include a resolution. 

Story Element #1: Character
Story Element #2: Conflict
Next week: Story Element #4: Dialogue

Keep on keepin' on...


  1. Just brilliant, especially the application in The Plot Chickens which I have never heard of but have to read now, especially if reviewed by The Corn Book Magazine!

  2. I hadn't heard of The Plot Chickens, but I just ordered it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It looks great.

  3. Oh, you ladies will LOVE it. It's one of my favorite books.

  4. Sounds like a great book! I use a lot of those plot tips myself. :)

  5. Ooo I love the Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then exercise!! I never knew you were interested in web design/development. Is that new?

    1. Glad you like the story exercise. My interest in web design goes back to 1998, when I learned basic html. A couple years ago, I had the idea to start my own company. So I hope to learn a lot. It won't replace my writing, rather hopefully it will compliment it.

  6. Excellent post. Just discovered your series today. I have never heard the Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then exercise. Can't wait to go home and analyze so PBs! Now off to read #4. :-)

  7. UPDATE: My website is live (launched in February 2014). You can visit Write the Next Book Web Designs and take a look at it!

  8. APRIL 3, 2018 UPDATE:

    In January of 2017, I officially closed the doors to my web design business at Write the Next Book Web Designs and opened Writers Who Run at

    Also, since this blog post is about Story Element #3, Plotting, here's a blog post about the only 5 plot points you need to write a novel.


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