Good plot? Hook, Joyride and Payoff.

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The plot for a novel follows the famous three-act-structure, which came from Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist in the 6th Century. He wrote, “A whole is that which has a beginning, middle and end.” I’ve translated it for 21st Century writers: “A plot has a hook, a joyride and a payoff."

The plot for a 21st Century novel follows the famous three-act-structure, which came down from Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist in the 6th Century. He wrote, “A whole is that which has a beginning, middle and end.” I’ve translated it for 21st Century writers: “A plot has a hook, a joyride and a payoff.”

Threes are noted in all forms of culture. Films, books and plays usually have a first act, second act and a third act. In every good novel, a plot is naturally divided into chapters, but it is usually possible to pinpoint the moment when the beginning gives way to the middle, and then the middle becomes the end.

The Hook

At the beginning of your novel, on the first page, you need to hook readers with something happening, or at least with a character worth caring about. There should be dialogue and readers should be exposed to what the protagonists goal is.

The Joyride

Once you have them hooked, you take readers on a joyride giving them “ups and downs” like a roller coaster, a ride for their money. Once you have established the intent of your protagonist, which you do at the beginning of the story, it goes into the second phase, what Aristotle called the rising action. The action clearly grows out of what happened in the beginning. (Cause and effect.)

However, the protagonist runs into problems, which keep them from successfully completing their intention. Aristotle called these barriers reversals. Reversals cause tension and conflict, the engines of a good plot; because they alter the path, the protagonist takes to get to their intended goal.

After the reversal, Aristotle suggested something he called recognition, which is where the relationships between major characters’ change because of the re-versal. That recognition is the irreversible emotional change within the characters brought about by the event. Both the reversal and recognition come from the story being told, not from out of the blue. (No Deus ex Machina aka God from the Machine.) A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.

The Payoff

Readers want to keep on reading your book. They want to be entertained, even more than educated. Readers want to stay with you to the end. So give them a payoff. Give them an ending that makes the whole trip worthwhile. If the ending doesn't deliver, readers feel cheated by the entire experience. The Payoff is the satisfying ending.

The ending is the logical outcome of all the events in the first two phases. Everything inevitably leads to a final resolution in which all is exposed and clarified. Everything is explained and everything makes sense. The best, most satisfying ending resolves everything, even the questions reader might not have thought to ask. You should leave your readers feeling complete.

Your ending need not move them to tears, although there's nothing wrong with that. You don't need to leave them feeling happy, although you can. However, the conclusion should leave them knowing they've witnessed a great fight, and the fight is over. They should feel the issues raised have been addressed and have been resolved. If the ending doesn't deliver, readers feel cheated by the entire experience.

In a novel, the story is structured so all of the action falls into one of three acts, with regular reversals used to bridge each act, and send the narrative into a different direction.

The first act is the setup.

It lasts the first quarter of the story and is where the protagonist is introduced and the dramatic premise and the situation are established. During the first act, the inciting incident occurs to set the plot of the novel in motion. Events are activated that cause the protagonist to follow the path of the narrative, whether they want to or not.

The second act is the longest.

The protagonist will encounter obstacles, which appear with rising potency and increasing frequency in order to block them in reaching their goal. In the second act, the protagonist will clash with the antagonist.

During this stage, the protagonist will seem to be close to accomplishing the ultimate goal, but events will conspire to prevent success. As a result, the protagonist will reach their “bleakest moment” and will often give up in despair, at least temporarily.

The third act is where the story wraps up.

The protagonist returns to the fight and the struggle will renew. The climax is where the battle reaches its peak in emotional and physical intensity.

After this comes the conclusion, where things calm down and an equilibrium similar to the beginning is restored. However, having experienced the events of the story, the characters have grown and evolved beyond what they were at the start, and often have difficulty re-adjusting to the way things were.

If done well, the Three Act Structure is a useful tool in making interesting stories, which develop logically. The classic three-act structure is what unites all stories, including your novel. So be aware of it.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0189VGK32

 

 

 

 

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0189VGK32

 

 
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