I recently taught a class on plot and how parallelism (also known as chiasmus) can assist in perfecting and avoiding plot holes and plot werewolves (those things that appear innocent at the time of conception and then end up not being so when you shine some light on them later). I’m sharing the highlights here on the blog today, starting with this image. Explanation of each element in the image will be explained below the image
(c) Kevin L Nielsen 2017
Plot Points (Black Text)
Hook – Hint of action that is to come. Inciting incident. The cool, new, awesome thing that makes your novel special, unique, and important. Catches the reader.
Signpost 1 – The Setup stage. Ordinary life is gone and the extraordinary one is revealed. Charcters begin to learn/grow and experience their first try/fail cycles. Introduces the new elements and begins to explain them. Shows initial conflicts and deepens reader’s understanding. A “call to action” if you will
Midpoint – The Heart of your Story. This is the source of betrayal, the new information that changes the characters’ attitudes, makes the readers obsessed with the story, characters start to succeed. This is the moment that, without which, you would have no real story. This is the moment when the character decides to move from reacting to the new world, to actively interacting with it and pursue a specific goal. The Hook and Signpost 1 should point FORWARD toward a specific moment in the Midpoint where the change occurs. Signpost 2 and the Epilogue should look BACK upon the Midpoint.
Signpost 2 – Everything begins to come together. The crucible. Character is changed from a warrior (active fighter) to either a martyr or a hero. Final battle scene (internal or external). Should make the reader pet the book, not want to throw it away. Resolution begins. No new characters or new information added other than that which resolves previous unanswered questions.
Epilogue – Wrap up all (or most) of the loose ends. Answer all the promises made in the Hook and leave the reader wanting more. Can introduce an element that will lead into a sequel. This is the “warm fuzzies” moment that should echo the feeling that initially Hooked the reader in the Hook.
Character Points (Red Text)
Intro – “Orphan” character. This is the baseline for your character, the first moments we get to see them. Shows the character in the ordinary life and either their joy in it, or dissatisfaction with it. First impressions are lasting impressions. Covers from the Hook through part of Signpost 1.
Reactive– “Wanderer” character. Events happen to the character and are not created BY the character. Character learns about the world, but not enough information to answer serious plot questions. First try/fail cycles. Covers from part of Signpost 1 to the middle of the Midpoint section.
Active – “Warrior” character. Character makes decisions and makes events happen instead of reaction after the fact. Proactive. Character moved from victim to hero. Birth of the hero. Covers from halfway through the Midpoint to the middle of Signpost 2
Resolution – Martyr or Hero is born and fully realized. Character finally succeeds (or fails). Covers from the middle of Signpost 2 through the Epilogue.
The Hook and Signpost 1 should point FORWARD toward a specific moment in the Midpoint where the change occurs. Signpost 2 and the Epilogue should look BACK upon the Midpoint. EVERYTHING in the story should either look forward or point toward the Midpoint OR look back on it after it happens. Decisions, choices, actions, thoughts, plot points, etc, before the Midpoint should lead toward that moment of change or betrayal so that it makes emotional resonant sense in all aspects of the story. Decisions, choices, actions, thoughts, plot points, etc, after the Midpoint should be motivated by and be a direct result of what occurred during the Midpoint. If elements exist in your story that don’t point either toward or back at the Midpoint, CUT THEM. They don’t belong.
The plot should reflect around the Midpoint. By that, I mean the Hook should reflect and be in direct correlation to the Epilogue, and Signpost 1 should reflect and be in direction correlation with Signpost 2. Whatever promises you make in the Hook should be answered and resolved in the Epilogue. Whatever setup you make in Signpost 1 should have an analogous “take down” moment in Signpost 2. Each should reflect the other, even down to character decisions and tone.
These reflections simplify the process of plotting a novel. If you have an opening hook, you can leap from there to knowing your ending because one is a reflection of the other. If you know the midpoint, you can figure out what you’d need to lead up to or away from it. If you know any one section of your novel, you can complete the other by reflecting and expanding it. Viola! A perfect plot and character arch on a single page.
PS. I also call this my “one page plot perfection.” If you have questions on the process, please leave comments here on the blog and I’ll answer them as soon as possible.