As I get ready to make a second attempt at plotting out my novel, I’m rereading The Plot Whisperer and The Plot Whisperer Workbook. I’m not even past chapter 2 and I’ve already found a problem with my earlier attempts at plotting which felt confused and haphazard. The best books are plotted at three levels — the action, the emotional arc and the theme. I had all three — sort of.
And, that’s good, sort of. If an editor tells you that your story feels slight, you probably have all action and no character growth. Or your theme isn’t well developed.
I wasn’t heading into a slight plot. I was heading into a haphazard plot. One plot point would be from the action plot. The next might be from the emotional plot or the thematic plot. I couldn’t get things moving forward because I had created a tangled mess.
The first step to untangling it is to understand the three plots.
Action plot. This is the part of the plot that we most often discuss when we say plot. The character has a goal and these are the steps that are taken to reach it. If I had plotted the action and neglected everything else, it would have made sense but it would have been slight. Unfortunately, I created a jumble.
Emotional plot. I notice this one missing from a lot of adult books. Your character needs to grow and change. This might mean that they discover that something they believed at the beginning of the book was a lie. Or they misunderstood something. Or they just needed to come to a more mature understanding. This emotional plot needs to more or less keep pace with the action plot. I often figure this one out last, right after I figure out the theme.
Thematic plot. Is your story about family? Or independence? Or hope? Along with the arc that deals with plot and the one that deals with character emotion, you need one for theme as well.
Now that I’m thinking about them as three distinct entities, I can make sure that all three are present in my story. They will intertwine, but now that I know to keep track of them they (hopefully) won’t again become a tangled mess.