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We all know the Classic Plot Structure, right? It comprises of six steps: the invitation/challenge,  the refusal, the acceptance, the adventure, the near defeat, and the triumph.

As writers, we spend a lot of time trying to unravel the ‘rules we must follow’ from those which are only perceptual and can be bent, or even broken.

The same can be said for plot structure. Does trying to follow the Classic Plot Structure, if that’s what you are schooled to do, stifle creativity?

When I wrote my first two novels, I had yet to learn the concept of plot structure, and wrote by the seat of my pants. Writing my third novel, I used the classic plot structure and I struggled to come up with a storyline that fit the mold.

Now, whether I found it harder because I had written before with freedom, or because it was stifling to my creative process, I will never know.

Of the six ‘plot structure’ steps, two are designed to create tension and make your plot more interesting; the hero’s refusal of the ‘quest’ and the near defeat of the hero.

The ‘refusal’ is where the hero is presented with the challenge/quest.

Scenario 1: When asked, he says “Sure, I can do that, when do we leave?”

Scenario 2: He refuses, saying something along the lines of, “But that sounds dangerous, I don’t want to die.” And then something happens whereby the hero has no choice, he has to act and accept the challenge or he/others will suffer.

Clearly, as a reader, scenario 2 is more exciting and adds more tension.

It is also more exciting if the hero has to ‘seek out’ the danger, and plan an assault, rather than sitting tight and waiting for it to find him.

The same is true of the ‘near defeat’. We know our hero will prevail, even if the final outcome is death, as in Gladiator, where the hero was still rewarded with what his character valued most, being reunited with his wife in the afterlife. However, in terms of tension, it is more exciting if we have that moment of doubt, and the hero appears to be defeated, before, in a twist of fortune, he wins.

But, as a writer, knowing these things, and then writing a plot which utilises them, can be difficult. It may even be the reason a new writer will give up.

Even a great writer has to have a story to tell and, as hard as it is to acknowledge, finding a way of creating questions/tension for your reader, is all that will keep them turning the pages. There are other ‘plot structures’ to consider, but the classic plot structure is the most prevalent for a reason; it works.

If a reader decides they know exactly where your story is going, they lose interest. Other twists and turns during the ‘adventure’ itself are essential, but the ‘refusal’ and ‘near defeat’ are bookend opportunities which are handed to you on a plate. All that’s left to you is plan a story to take full advantage, and that’s easy, isn’t it?

Karen Payton Holt (AKA KPHVampireWriter)



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