Mapping Your Plot
In my “Just Write for Kids” course, we spend quite a bit of time exploring different ways to develop plot.
We look at basic three-act storytelling structure:
Act 1 – Set-up/Intro to character(s) and problem
Act 2 – Problem escalates to crisis or turning point
Act 3 – Resolution/Character solves problem and/or learns something, grows or changes in process
Another great way to develop or measure your plot is against the following story structure, or plot sequence:
- Something happens to someone
- Which leads to their wanting/needing something, and/or making a goal
- Which needs a plan of action
- But forces try to stop the protagonist (obstacles occur)
- Yet they move forward (because there is a lot at stake)
- But then, there’s a crisis! Things get as bad as they can
- And they learn an important lesson
- Which helps them overcome the final obstacle
- Thus satisfying the need created by something in the past.
Here’s an example of how this might work as measured against our recent picture book, The Very Fairy Princess:
- Something happens to someone – Gerry learns she will be part of a new ballet, The Crystal Princess, at her ballet school
- Which leads to their wanting/needing something, and/or making a goal – She wants to play the lead – the Crystal Princess!
- Which needs a plan of action – she offers all the reasons why she is perfect for the part (already has the costume, accessories, is a natural etc.)
- But forces try to stop the protagonist (obstacles occur) – she is cast as the Court Jester instead. Worse, she hates her costume, which makes her look like a boy.
- Yet they move forward (because there is a lot at stake) – She really wants to be in the ballet, so she swallows her pride, and plays the jester. She also hides her crown under her jesters hat, so as to still be a fairy princess underneath.
- But then, there’s a crisis! Things get as bad as they can – When it comes time to perform the ballet, everything that can go wrong, does… Gerry steps on Tiffany’s (who plays the Princess) toes, trips over her stick, and her crown slips out from under her hat. She is in serious danger of losing her ‘sparkle’ altogether. Then, Tiffany’s crown falls off and gets crushed – and the ballet mistress expects Gerry to give Tiffany HER crown!
- And they learn an important lesson – Gerry realizes that a Crystal Princess REALLY needs to sparkle, and by lending her crown to Tiffany, her own sparkle comes rushing back.
- Which helps them overcome the final obstacle – By saving the show, and the day, Gerry makes friends with Tiffany. She also gets to be seated in the front of the company photo, and to keep her jester’s stick and hat. Plus, her own crown feels ‘extra-sparkly’ when Tiffany gives it back.
- Thus satisfying the need created by something in the past. – Gerry ends up being a star after all — in a different way than she imagined, but perhaps an even more satisfying one.
This tool can be used to develop an initial plot, or to assess one in progress as part of the self-editing process. And, it can be as valuable for a chapter book or novel as it is for a picture book, since the basic principles of dramatic structure are the same.