Rising Tension: One Way to Test Your Plot

Dot TestIn a blog post at Adventures in Agenting, I recently read about a way to test the tension in your plot.

In the plot dot test, you draw a line across your page.  If you are testing a picture book, each unit you test will be a spread.  If you are testing a novel, each unit you test will be a chapter.  I’m going to use the term spread because I just performed this test on a picture book.

For your first unit, make a dot at the beginning of the line and label it 1.  Read that spread and then read spread #2.  Is the tension higher?  If so, make another dot to the right and slightly above the first.  If the tension is the same, they should be parallel.  If the tension drops, the dot will be lower than the first.

Spread by spread, read through your manuscript and judge each spread compared to the one just before it.

Ideally, your spreads will plot out something like your traditional story arc.  You need to have a climb toward the climax with tension dropping off several times immediately following an attempt by the hero to solve his story problem.

This is a good way to test the pacing of your story.  A story that continually climbs in tension but never drops off even slightly, may seem tiring and burn the reader out before they finish.  A story that plots out as a horizontal line isn’t climbing towards a climax.

How did my own story test out?  Close, but I think I am going to add another spread between 10 and 11 so that I have one more drop in tension before the final rise.  I’m not sure yet just how I’m going to do that but this is definitely a tool that I’m going to play around with.