The Basics of Plot. Although you will obviously be familiar with the concept of 'plot', most people don't actually think in a plot-like fashion. As you write a book, the logical, compelling step-by-step sequence that makes up a good plot almost always starts life as a single good idea plus a jumble of images and thoughts without any coherent structure. To create a bestseller with a plot to die for, these almost random images and turning points need to be assembled into a solid plot. Indeed, if possible, they need to be assembled into a sequence that the typical reader will assume to be the ONLY valid order!
When writing a novel, the most effective way to order your turning points is the 'plot card' method. In its simplest form, this involves buying a stack of 3 x 5 cardboard index cards and jotting down one plot point on each of them. You can have as many of these as you like. Doing it with paper and pencil is feasible, although if you want to be professional about it, software is a better route. the 'PlotCard' (tm) online system offered by www.GetPlotted.com is about the best you'll find, with facilities to order cards, assign visual clues to them (such as icons for 'inciting incidents', 'black moments' etc), preview them in the form of a synopsis and so on.
However you decide to do it, when you have enough cards, lay them out in the sequence that seems most 'natural' to you. (If you are using the www.GetPlotted.com Plotcard system, use the little arrows to move the cards around, and preview it regularly to see if it really does make sense as a sequence of events). You can use blank cards as placeholders for chapters that are currently blank (for example, how does your hero find out about the villain's weakness? Use a blank card and fill it in later). Don't be surprised if new ideas spring into your mind as you address these blank cards. It's perfectly normal for a blank card to turn into 3 or 4 more as the story grows and expands. The GetPlotted system allows you to add as many cards as you need - just click the 'new' button, and use the arrows to position it wherever you like. If you are using paper and pencil, insert a blank card and move the rest up (or down!).
You will also start to realize as you add plot points to your novel that some of your original ideas may now be substandard, and can be deleted. Don't be afraid to do this! A good plot is lean, and gets where it's going in a direct fashion. If deleting plot cards scares you, remember that you can always add them back in whenever you like. On the GetPlotted system, a good place to store these 'dead' cards is your 'scratchpad'. It can hold over 150k of text - so don't be shy. If you are stuck with pen and paper, put defunct cards in a separate box in case you suddenly decide to reinstate them.
Most new authors tend to try and run before they can walk - using flashbacks is a common attempt t at this, and trust us, you probably won't write 'The Usual Suspects' first time out!. Until you are comfortable with the process, it is best to stick to standard chronological order, no matter what the actual timescale of the story. As they explain on www.GetPlotted.com, it's important to continually address the 'why' of the story. In other words, avoid randomness. If your hero has to be an ex-football player, why? Is it just because you think it is 'cool'? Or will he need to throw something 120 yards at the end of the book in order to save the day? What is the REASON?! Same thing applies to scenes - if there is no 'why' answer for a card's existence, why is it still in your plot? As we said before, don't be afraid to chop.
You will know when your plot is finished. That is the point at which it seems to you that there is no other possible arrangement of cards that is better, and where every single card serves an essential purpose in moving the story on. When this happens, you are ready to actually start writing. We'll leave that one for another day though!