[Podcast] Author Paula Munier on How to Create the Perfect PlotJun 30, 2023
One of the most common questions we receive from fiction writers is “How do I plot my book?”
It’s the question that dominates writing conferences and a simple Google search provides hundreds of thousands of answers.
But those answers are vague. Generic. They can be confusing and leave you feeling more lost than empowered.
Paula Munier, author of Plot Perfect, teaches writers how to create the perfect plot. Rather than providing generic advice to “outline your central conflict” or “choose an immersive setting,” Paula gets to the heart of plotting. She encourages writers to think of their manuscript as a series of continuous actions.
How do you plot a series of continuous actions? You think of your manuscript in terms of story questions.
What Are Story Questions?
Story questions are the questions readers ask themselves as your story progresses.
These questions can be overarching: Who is the murderer? Will good prevail? Will aliens take over Earth? Story questions are also small: Will the girl kiss the boy? Will they start a fire to keep warm? Will negotiations succeed if they form an alliance?
Your job, as the writer, is to pose story questions in a way that forces your reader to seek answers, encouraging your audience to read the entirety of your book.
Paula outlines three types of story questions: Leading Story Question, Big Story Questions, and Little Story Questions.
The Leading Story Question is the question you don’t answer until the end of the book. And it drives your main plot. Here are a few examples.
For romance: Will they get together?
For mystery: Who is the perpetrator?
For a war story: Will they complete their mission? Who will survive?
The Leading Story Question is generic, and its dependent on the genre of your book. Before you start plotting your book, determine what genre you’re writing in and your Leading Story Question.
How to Create the Perfect Plot
It’s a long way from the start of the book to the end, so Paula encourages writers to break down the plot into Big and Little Story Questions.
Big Story Questions are the questions that dictate your subplots and major scenes. If you’re plotting your book through “The Plot Points Approach,” each major plot point (Inciting Incident, Plot Point One, Midpoint, Plot Point 2, Climax, and Resolution) needs a Big Story Question.
Let’s take Pride and Prejudice as an example.
- Inciting Incident. Two events make up the Inciting Incident: Elizabeth Bennett overhears Mr. Darcy call her barely tolerable, and her sister, Jane Bennett, falls in love with Mr. Bingley. From these two events, readers ask themselves, Will Jane and Bingley marry? What will happen between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?
- Plot Point One. Twenty-five percent into the book, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy leave Meryton. A major turning point for the plot, the reader wants to know, Why did Bingley leave Jane?
- Halfway through the book, Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth. In a surprise twist that propels the second half of the book, Elizabeth refuses his offer. Now, the reader wants to know, Will Elizabeth ever find love?
- Plot Point Two. Two-thirds into the book, Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia, elopes with Mr. Wickham and runs away. An event with potentially terrible consequences, readers ask themselves, What will happen to Elizabeth and Jane now that their reputation is ruined?
- At the climax of the story, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy take a walk together. This is the defining moment of their relationship, and leaves readers asking, Will they profess their love and marry?
While Big Story Questions structure the major plot points of your manuscript, Little Story Questions dominate every scene. LSQs are the questions readers ask themselves in the moment—the questions that typically have an answer in a page or two. Seemingly insignificant, LSQs keep your reader engaged in each scene.
Following our Pride and Prejudice example, the moment Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth is short-lived. Elizabeth delivers her answer within a page, but the reader wants to know about the fallout. Will her mother make her marry Mr. Collins? How will her father react to her refusal? What will happen to her family?
Story questions can be overwhelming. Especially if you’re used to writing on the fly. But Paula reminds writers that every scene needs a purpose.
The simplest way to determine the purpose of each scene is to introduce a story question.
Story questions are key to creating the perfect plot.